Thursday, July 4, 2013

Ben Ribbens' Dissertation

My previous post mentioned that Ben Ribbens defended his dissertation at Wheaton College. Ben contacted me by email and gave me the following additional information:

Title: "Levitical Sacrifice and Heavenly Cult in Hebrews"
Mentor: Dr. Douglas Moo
Second reader: Dr. C. Hassell Bullock
External reader: Dr. Eric F. Mason.

This dissertation examines Hebrews’ understanding of the relationship between old covenant sacrifices and Christ’s new covenant sacrifice, especially as it relates to the question of efficacy. Most scholars think the author of Hebrews strips the levitical sacrifices of most, if not all, efficacy, but this dissertation affirms a more positive depiction of the levitical sacrifices as sacramental, christological types. In this view, the levitical sacrifices are external rituals which themselves have no atoning efficacy; however, they were sacramentally linked to the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, so that efficacy was proleptically applied to the levitical sacrifices. The author’s description of the heavenly cult establishes the framework for this conception. A mystical apocalyptic tradition regarding the heavenly cult had developed by the first century, in which the heavenly cult validated the earthly practice. When the earthly cult corresponded to and synchronized with the heavenly cult, the earthly was efficacious. Hebrews’ description of the heavenly cult stands in this mystical apocalyptic tradition, thereby suggesting a similar validation of the earthly practice. The earthly, levitical cult was efficacious when it corresponded to or synchronized with the heavenly sacrifice of Christ. Still, the author of Hebrews develops the notion of the heavenly cult in unique ways, as Christ’s sacrifice both validates the earthly practice but also, due to his new covenant theology, calls for its cessation. After proposing this conception of how the old covenant sacrifices relate to Christ’s new covenant sacrifice, it demonstrates how Hebrews’ statements regarding the old and new covenant sacrifices coincide with the proposal. Hebrews makes positive statements about the efficacy of levitical sacrifices that are often overlooked, thereby validating a positive role for the old covenant sacrifices. The critical statements regarding the levitical cult also fit this proposal, as they describe either the earthly/external aspect of levitical sacrifices in their sacramental relationship to Christ’s sacrifice or they describe efficacies that Christ’s sacrifice achieves that the levitical sacrifices never could.

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