Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thien on the Structure of Hebrews

F. Thien. “Analyse de l’Épître aux Hébruex.” Revue biblique internationale 11 (1902): 74-86.

Good summaries of this article can be found in George H. Guthrie, The Structure of Hebrews, 11 and William L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, lxxxvi. According to them, Thien’s article was very influential on later analyses of the structure of Hebrews, particularly Vaganay and Vanhoye, who in turn would become influential on later interpreters. The structure of Hebrews continues to be a contested subject as is evidenced by the fact that a whole session at SBL in 2006 was dedicated to the subject (cf. Gelardini’s article mentioned in a previous post).

Thien takes issue with how the majority of previous interpreters divided the Book of Hebrews. The general consensus was that 1:1-10:18 comprised the doctrinal section, while 10:19-13:25 contained the hortatory section. Thien points out, however, that exhortation can also be found in the first ten chapters. Moreover, interpreters had difficulty explaining the presence of certain passages, such as 5:11-6:19 which was viewed as a digression.

Thien begins by noting that the author calls his work a “word of exhortation” (13:22). Exhortation is then the author’s primary goal for his work. He wants to prevent his audience from lapsing into Judaism. The author uses both fear and hope/confidence to motivate his audience. These two motifs can be traced throughout the whole document. Moreover, Thien says that all of the examples employed by Hebrews have primarily a hortatory purpose, not a didactic purpose. All this leads Thien to propose a new structure for Hebrews.

Chapters 1-2 form the introduction to Hebrews, while chapter 13 comprises the conclusion. The rest of the work can be divided into three main divisions, each of which deals with two main themes. Thien believes that the themes of all three divisions are anticipated in chapter 2 and then are dealt with in inverse order. Moreover, the themes for each section are introduced prior to that section and then are also treated in inverse order. The motifs of fear and hope/confidence can be found in all three major divisions. The Book can be outlined as follows:

1-2: Introduction
3:1-5:10: Christ is a merciful and faithful high priest
2:17: Introductory verse
3:1-4:13: Christ is a faithful high priest (motif of fear)
4:14-5:10: Christ is a merciful high priest (motif of confidence)
5:11-10:39: Christ is the source of eternal salvation and the High Priest according to order of Melchizedek.
5:9-10: Introductory verses
5:11-6:20: Hortatory introduction (hence is not a digression)
5:11-6:8 (motif of fear)
6:9-20 (motif of confidence)
7:1-28: Christ is a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek
8:1-10:18: Christ is the source of eternal salvation
10:19-39: Practical conclusion (hence does not begin a new paraenetic section)
11-12: Endurance and Faith
10:36-39: Introductory verses
11: Exemplars of faith
12: Endurance/Perseverance
13: Conclusion

While I can perhaps take issue with some of the specifics of Thien’s analysis (e.g., are all the themes of the book really anticipated in chapter 2?), overall I found the article to be useful and insightful.

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