Saturday, February 28, 2009

George Peck and the Exegesis of Hebrews 6:4-6

Peck, George. "An Exegesis of Heb. VI, 4-6." The Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review 17 (1835): 221-30.

In his day George Peck (1797-1876) was a prominent clergman in the Methodist Episcopal Church in PA and NY. In addition to serving numerous pastorates and appointments as Presiding Elder (now called District Superintendents), he served as the editor of the Methodist Quarterly Review (1848-1851) and was a prolific author and editor of books. His books include The Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection Stated and Defended (1848); Sketches and Incidents; or, A Budget from the Saddle-bags of a Superannuated Itinerant (1844-1845); and The Methodist Episcopal Pulpit: A Collection of Original Sermons from Living Ministers of the M. E. Church (1848). A picture of his gravestone can be found here.

Hebrews 6:4-6 has been the source of no small controvery between Arminians and Calvinists. Arminians view the passage as an unequivocal assertion of the possibility and danger of falling from a state of grace. Calvinists, according to Peck, have placed a "variety of constructions" upon it to harmonize it with their doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Peck notes the principal Calvinistic interpretations (221-222):
1) The "high attainments" mentioned in the passage do not really describe someone in a state of grace.
2) The passage truly describes someone in a state of grace, but the impossibility of renewal to repentance is not an absolute possibility, but only indicates the extreme difficulty of such a renewal.
3) The impossibility only refers to human abilities, but God can and does renew them.
4) The participle παραπεσοντας is given a conditional rendering: "if they shall fall away."
5) The passage talks about a real fall from a state of grace and the impossibility of their being renewed is to be taken literally and absolutely. But this passage does not prove that someone in a state of grace will fall away. God uses such threatenings, in part, to secure their final perseverance.

Peck quotes at length from Moses Stuart's commentary on Hebrews. Stuart was a staunch Calvinist himself, and he effectively refutes the first four interpretations, only to fall back on the fifth interpretation. Peck essentially uses a Calvinist to argue against Calvinists, so all he has to do is dismiss the final interpretation since Stuart has already done the "heavy lifting" for him.

Stuart argues that the adjective αδυνατον cannot have the meaning very difficult, but must be taken in an absolute sense. This is clear by the author's usage of αδυνατον in 6:18; 10:4; and 11:6. (222-223)

In a detailed exegesis of the participial clauses of verses 4 and 5, Stuart notes that there is a progression from one who has been taught the principles and doctrines of Christianity to one who has fully experienced the powers and influences of the world to come. Hence the passage refers to real Christians and not those who merely profess to be so. (223-225)

Peck also quotes from James MacKnight, another Calvinist, who rejects the conditional translation of παραπεσοντας. The participle is in the same tense as all the previous participles, the aorist tense, and so must be translated in the same way--in past time. (225)

Stuart concludes that the language of the passage demonstrates that the writer is "addressing those whom he takes to be real Christians." Moreover, Stuart admits that the penalty is a real threat that Christians could incur (227-228). So, it would seem that Stuart has "abandoned the Calvinistic views of the perserverance of the saints" (228). However, Stuart's interpretation founders on his Calvinistic presuppositions:

Whatever may be true in the Divine purposes, as to the final salvation of all those who are once truly regenerated . . . yet nothing can be plainer, than that sacred writers have every where addressed saints in the same manner as they would address those whom they considered as constantly exposed to fall away and perish for ever. Whatever theory may be adopted in explanation of this subject, as a matter of fact, there can be no doubt that Christians are to be earnestly and solemnly warned against the danger of apostasy, and consequent, final perdition. What else is the object of the whole Epistle to the Hebrews, except a warning against apostasy? In this all agree. But this involves all the difficulties that can be raised by the metaphysical reasonings, in regard to the perseverance of the saints. For why should the apostle warn true Christians . . . against such defection and perdition? My answer would be: Because God treats Christians as free agents, as rational beings; because he guards them against defection, not by physical power, but by moral means, adapted to their natures, as free and rational agents. (228; bold face mine)
Peck has two responses to Stuart's reasoning. First, he turns Stuart's arguments against Universalism (given elsewhere) against him, since a Universalist could use the same reasoning to argue that God treats all people as free agents and rational beings and so he guards them from perdition, not by physical power, but by moral means, adapted to their natures, as free and rational agents--and in fact Universalists do employ such arguments. (228-229) Second, he rejects both the Calvinist and Universalist interpretations since the language employed in Hebrews is so solemn and severe that it would be hard to take it as merely a false alarm. The Calvinist position impugns God's truthfulness to such a degree that it undermines our confidence in God's trustworthiness, for if God can threaten that which He never will execute, what prevents Him from promising that which He will never fulfill? (230)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Exegesis of Hebrews 10:38

Burgess, William Penington. "Remarks on Hebrews X, 38." Methodist Review 9 (1826): 346-47.

In this article Burgess uses 10:38 to argue against the view of perseverance of the saints. The KJV renders the verse as follows: "The just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." The words "any man" have no justification from the Greek. Burgess supposes that the words have been inserted to preserve the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. However, The substantive δικαιος is the subject of both ζησεται and υποστειληται. Thus the passage clearly intends to show that it is possible for the just man to fall away.

Some, however, have argued that this is only a hypothetical statement; that in actuality no just man will ever draw back from the faith. To argue this is to put an absurd interpretation on this verse. Human governments enact laws to prevent the commission of crimes and to punish those who commit such crimes. It is a universal rule that such actions are not only possible, but in fact have been committed. It makes no sense for governments to pass laws that are impossible to break, for example, to prohibit someone from plucking the sun out of the sky. By analogy it makes no sense for scripture to make this claim if in fact it was impossible for the righteous man to fall away. This verse by itself is "enough to overturn altogether the doctrine of the absolute and infallible perseverance of the saints" (347). With this assessment I find myself in full agreement.

Exegesis of Hebrews 11:1

Anonymous. "Illustration of Hebrews XI. 1." Methodist Review 4 (1821): 133-35.

In this brief article the author simply argues that the word ὑποστασις must mean "confidence" rather than "substance" in Hebrews 11:1. He says, "surely faith . . . cannot be the substance of those divine realities for which the believer hopes in a future world" (133). Nor is the object of faith in view, since the author is giving a definition of faith itself. The word ὑποστασις is rendered "confidence" in such passages as 2 Corinthians 9:4; 11:17 and Hebrews 3:14, and it makes perfectly good sense to translate it as "confidence" in Hebrews 11:1 as well. This argument seems to me to be quite sound.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Exegesis of Hebrews 7:3

Anonymous. "Remarks on Hebrews VII. 3." Methodist Review 3 (1820): 97-99.

I have not done much blogging lately, largely due to the fact that I have been busy grading papers and getting my paper ready for the Regional Conference. However, I make no apologies for this. I will not be a slave to my blog; I will post things when I have the time to do so. Anyway, I have also been continuing to track down articles on Hebrews. Lately I have come across a number of 19th century articles including some articles from the old Methodist Review. I prefer, when dealing with a subject, to read the secondary literature in chronological order, as far as possible, since many scholars reference earlier works. I find it useful to have already read the earlier material so that I know what the scholar is talking about!

I plan to blog about some of these early Methodist articles in my next few postings and then continue to work my way forward with more recent materials. I begin with this brief, anonymous article on the exegesis of Hebrews 7:3

The author has a curious interpretation of this verse, which quite frankly I have not heard before. Rather than interpreting this verse as referring to the lineage and lifespan of Melchizedek, the author applies this verse to the Levitical priesthood. It is best to quote the author at this point:

[H]e, Melchizedek, was without father, without mother, in the order of the Levitical priesthood. Without descent from the loins of Levi: Having neither beginning of days nor end of life; that is, he neither began nor ended his life or office in the regular line of the priesthood; but, in all these respects being made like unto the Son of God, whose descent was from Judah not from Levi, abideth a priest continually, . . . having neither successor nor predecessor in the sacred office. (98)

If the author of Hebrews was really intending to refer to the Levitical priesthood in this passage, this seems to me to be very odd language to use. Rather, I think, the author is cleverly using midrashic exegesis to argue that, since there is no mention of Melchizedek's lineage, birth, or death, he must not have had any lineage, nor did he experience birth or death. Hence, Melchizedek's priesthood is perpetual, since he never experienced death (what became of Melchizedek the author never ventures to surmise).

Now, the fact that Jesus did have a lineage from Judah (7:14) could be problematic for the analogy to be applied to Jesus. But I think the author of Hebrews must have Jesus' non-earthly or eternal existence in view, since he later says that Jesus became a priest according to the requirement of an "indestructable life" (7:16). Jesus "abides forever" (7:24) and "always lives" to make intercession (7:25). Moreover, passages such as 1:8, 1:12 and 13:8, which suggest the eternality of Jesus, must also be kept in view.

Exegesis of Hebrews 11:6

Polycarp engages in a little exegesis of Hebrews 11:6 in his blog The Church of Jesus Christ. He argues that the εστιν of verse 6 should be translated as "he is the I AM." I do not find the translation particularly convincing. I think that if the author of Hebrews wanted to allude to Exodus 3:14 he would have used the first person singular ειμι to make the allusion more apparent.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Recent Acquisitions

As you may suspect I am quite intrigued with the Book of Hebrews. Consequently, I have tried to get my hands on (literally) everything I can on the book of Hebrews. My collection of books on Hebrews is quite extensive ranging from Jean Mestrezat's collection of French sermons on the Epistle to the Hebrews, dating from 1653-1655 (my oldest books), to the most recent commentary on Hebrews by James W. Thompson in the Baker Paideia series. My collection, which contains many rare titles, is divided into three sections (somewhat arbitrarily) of monographs & studies, scholarly commentaries, and popular commentaries & expositions. Unfortunately, I have fallen behind on the more recent monographs on Hebrews due to my reduced income in recent years and the exorbitant cost of many of these books (especially from overseas presses). Nevertheless, I still regularly get new books on Hebrews. The following is a sampling of some of my newest acquisitions (i.e., in the last two months):

A very rare title is Eduard Karl Aug. Riehm, Der Lehrbegriff des Hebraerbriefes, a massive monograph (two volumes bound in one) on Hebrews dating from 1858-1859.

Another rare scholarly title is that by J. Chr. K. v. Hofmann, a prominent biblical scholar of the nineteenth century. The fifth volume of his Die heilige Schrift neuen Testaments (1873) contains his study on Hebrews.

Two very similar type works are volume 4, part 1 of Henry Alford's Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary and volume 4 of The Expositor's Greek Testament, edited by W. Robertson Nicoll (Marcus Dods authored the section on Hebrews). Both works are reprints of nineteenth century exegetical works based on the Greek text with accompanying commentary.

A very recent monograph is Guido Telscher's Opfer aus Barmherzigkeit: Hebr 9,11-28 im Kontext biblischer Suhnetheologie in the Forschung zur Bibel series (2007).

Review & Expositor, the Baptist theological journal, has dedicated two issues to the book of Hebrews. The earlier issue, volume 82.3 from the Summer of 1985, contains a collection of expository essays on Hebrews by various scholars. It is no longer in print, but I was able to find a used copy through the used book market. Still in print and available from the publisher is volume 102.2 from the Spring of 2005. This collection of essays take a more thematic approach to Hebrews.

I was also able to obtain two rare collections of essays: the first is by the Rev. A. Welch, Minister Emeritus of Whitevale United Presbyterian Church in Glasgow. His book, The Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews and Other Papers (1898), contains two essays on Hebrews: the first, as the title suggests, deals with the authorship of Hebrews, and the second is on Melchizedek, his priesthood and personality. The second book is Ruth Hoppin's Priscilla: Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews and Other Essays (1969). This book is the precursor to Hoppin's later monograph on the authorship of Hebrews.

An older monograph, largely based on the Book of Hebrews, is William Milligan's, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of Our Lord (1908).

I have also procured a number of more popular studies on Hebrews:

Burris A. Jenkins, Heroes of Faith (1896) is a brief study on chapter 11.

W. Douglas Moffat, The Epistle to the Hebrews or the Calling in "a Son" (1905) is a small exposition from the Our Bible Hour Series.

Edward B. Annable, onetime teacher of Hobe Sound Bible College, produced a small booklet entitled The Epistle to the Hebrews (1970s ?)

Paul Muller, Der Hebraerbrief, a small exposition on Hebrews from 1970.

Wallace Wartick, onetime professor at Ozark Bible College in Joplin, Missouri, wrote a study guide entitled Twenty-six Lessons on Hebrews (1979).

William G. Johnsson, who was professor of New Testament at Andrews University, has written a few books on Hebrews including In Absolute Confidence: The Book of Hebrews Speaks to Our Day (1979) and the Hebrews volume for the Knox Preaching Guides (1980).

Forrest Hicks produced a small booklet, The Epistle of Hebrews: A Verse by Verse Exposition (1985), which expounds on Hebrews in outline form.

Three of the books are more recent popular commentaries on Hebrews: George R. Knight (professor of church history at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University), Exploring Hebrews: A Devotional Commentary (2003); David Hocking, The Messiah of Israel: Studies in Hebrews (2007); and Daniel H. King, Sr., The Book of Hebrews in the Truth Commentaries series (2008).

Finally, today I received two new books. The first is a reprint of Horatius Bonar's The Rent Veil, which is a series of devotional essays based on Hebrews. The second book, freshly arrived from Australia, is The Shadow and the Substance: A Commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews by Ian Pennicook, who is the NSW Director of New Creation Teaching Ministry and the Head of Theology at Tabor College's Syndney campus. His book is a popular commentary on Hebrews, originally printed in 1985, but reprinted in 2004.

These books are representative of my fun, eclectic, and comprehensive collection of books on Hebrews.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

David Allen's Lectures on Hebrews

Celucian Joseph at Christ, My Righteousness informs us about three lectures given by David Allen on the authorship of Hebrews. Allen has been a long-time proponent of Lukan authorship for Hebrews. The links to his lectures can be found here.

Wesleyan Theological Society Annual Meeting

Yesterday I received the program booklet for the Wesleyan Theological Society annual meeting which will be held at Anderson University on March 5-7. Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the meeting because it coincides with the Southwest Commission on Religious Studies regional meeting at which I am presenting a paper. I did notice that there is one paper on Hebrews being presented at the WTS meeting:

David Allen Ackerman will present "The High Priesthood of Jesus and the Sanctification of Believers: New Covenant Possibility in Hebrews 7-10" on Saturday, March 7.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cramer's Catenae Graecorum

J. A. Cramer's Catenae Graecorum patrum in Novum Testamentum can be downloaded here. Download them in black and white. They actually read better than the color ones and they don't take up as much space on your hard drive. Volume 7 contains the catenae on Hebrews.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Medieval Manuscripts on the Web

There has been some discussion on the blogs about a site that catalogs digitized medieval manuscripts. Naturally, I had to find out if anything on Hebrews has been catalogued. Sure enough, a digital copy of Nicholas of Lyra's In epistolam ad Hebraeos is available. Better brush up on your Latin - - - and your paleographical skills!

The Quotation of Psalm 40:6-8 in Hebrews 10:5-7

Michael Heiser blogs about Hebrews' quotation of Psalm 40:6-8 in The Naked Bible. He uses it to dismiss the dictation theory of inspiration. This quotation is a clear illustration that the authors of the Bible had considerable freedom in writing their works. He links to an article by Karen Jobes: "The Function of Paronomasia in Hebrews 10:5-7." Jobes rejects the arguments that the "misquote" was as a result of faulty memory or the use of Greek text no longer extant. She contends that the author was using paronomasia for rhetorical effect. Psalm 40:6-8 is put into the mouth of Jesus. Jobes suggests that by identifying these words with Christ, the author wants to express "the dynastic continuity of Jesus with Israel's King David." Furthermore, "the seemingly minor variations between David's speech in Psalm 40 and Christ's speech in the Hebrews 10 quotation of Psalm 40 express the discontinuity." This is an illustration of the author's opening point that in the past God spoke through the prophets, but in the last days speaks through his son.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Conference on the Septuagint and Christian Origins

Chris Tilling has posted an announcement for the Septuagint and Christian Origins conference in Tubingen, April 1-3, 2009. There is one paper on Hebrews:

Gudrun Holz of Tubingen will present "Zur Pentateuchrezeption in Hebr 7,1-10,18" on April 2.

Regional Meetings

Regional SBL Meetings will soon be taking place across the country. Yours truly will be presenting a paper entitled "The Book of Hebrews' Critique of the Levi-Priestly Tradition" at the Southwestern regional meeting in Irving, Texas on March 7 at around 4:30 p.m. Two other papers will be presented at the same meeting:

Viktor Roudkovski of Le Tourneau University will present "Praising Christ in the Book of Hebrews: When Hymns Must Give Way to Encomia" at 4:00.

Heather M. Gorman of Abilene Christian University will present "The Power of Pathos: Emotional Appeal in Hebrews" at 4:40 (unfortunately overlapping my paper).

I was able to find two other paper presentations at other regional meetings:

David Moffitt of Duke University will present "Blood, Life, and Purification: Reassessing Hebrews' Christological Appropriation of Yom Kippur" on March 15 at 10:30 a.m. at the Southeastern regional meeting.

Jeremy S. Miselbrook of Loyola University in Chicago will present "Heaven in Escrow: The Nature of the Sabbath-Rest in the Epistle to the Hebrews" on February 15 at 10:00 at the Midwest regional meeting.
-The following is an abstract of his paper:

“Heaven in Escrow: The Nature of the Sabbath-Rest in the Epistle to the Hebrews”
Heaven now or heaven later? This study uncovers the nature of the “Sabbath-Rest” tradition behind Hebrews. Two main camps have been formed which define the extremes for discussion of the “rest for the people of God.” One perspective views the concept of Hebrews as rooted primarily in the realm of ethical or philosophical terms. Another perspective understands the Sabbath-Rest in Hebrews in strictly realized-eschatological terms with an emphasis on the future. It will be shown that elements rooted in both the ethically-present and the schatological-future likely formed the background of the Sabbath-Rest in Hebrews.

Unfortunately, this is all I could find through the SBL website. Many of the regional sites have not posted any program which is quite surprising at this late date. If you know of any other Hebrews' papers being presented during the upcoming regional meetings, please let me know.

Thayer on the Authorship and Canonicity of Hebrews

Thayer, J. Henry. “Authorship and Canonicity of the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Bibliotheca sacra 24 (1867): 681-722.

Joseph Henry Thayer (1828-1901) taught at Andover Theological Seminary from 1864 to 1882 and was Bussey Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Harvard Divinity School 1884-1901. His most noted work was his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.

This article is derived from a series of lectures delivered at Andover. The article deals primarily with the internal and external arguments pro and con for Pauline authorship and concludes with a consideration on how the issue of authorship affected Hebrews’ acceptance into the canon.

He outlines five basic characteristics of the author: 1) He does not try to conceal his identity; he is known by his audience; 2) He was among the distinguished teachers of apostolic times; 3) He was Jewish; 4) He was not an eyewitness to Jesus, but received the gospel second-hand; and 5) He was a close associate of Timothy.

Thayer first deals with internal arguments in favor of Pauline authorship. Some have suggested that the reference to “bonds” in Heb 10:34 and the author’s request for prayer in 13:19 indicate that the author was imprisoned, thus favoring Paul as the author. But these references are inconclusive. Neither does 13:23 imply that Timothy was imprisoned. The salutation of “those from Italy” (οι απο της Ιταλιας) has two possible interpretations: local separation “those away from Italy” or origin “those of Italy”, i.e., “the Italians.” Thayer concludes that the phrase is indecisive for determining locality.

Thayer notes a number of doctrinal resemblances to Paul with regard to theology, Christology and the Mosaic Law. He also notes a number of similarities in form: the epistle is divided into two parts (didactic/doctrinal and hortatory/practical – later interpreters have overturned this simplistic division of Hebrews); the author utilizes similar imagery as Paul; and similarity in singular expressions. However, these similarities are inconclusive since such similarities may be due to what was common to them and their time. Coincidences in language and thought can be found between any two bodies of writings.

Internal evidence that speaks against Pauline authorship include: 1) the absence of an opening salutation, so characteristic of Paul’s letters; 2) the usage of the OT differs from Pauline usage; 3) the author’s characteristic expressions; and 4) the general differences of style and diction.

Moreover, the doctrinal content of Hebrews differs markedly from that of Paul: 1) the epistle lacks any language of justification by faith. Instead “the fundamental view taken of Christianity in our Epistle is consummated Judaism” (700); 2) the high priesthood of Christ is the consummation of Jesus’ career rather than the resurrection; 3) the author makes no mention of Gentiles being co-heirs with Jews in the gospel; 4) the spiritualizing, symbolic interpretation of the OT exceeds that of Paul. The facts and allusions of a personal nature also speak against Pauline authorship. For example, the epistle is addressed to Jewish Christians, which is a departure from his usual practice; he alludes to the persecution and martyrs of his audience “in cool historic style” (703); and Heb 2:3 is uncharacteristic of Paul who often claimed that he received the gospel by direct revelation from Christ.

Turning to external evidence, the Eastern church, particularly in Alexandria, generally regarded Paul as the author, but the testimony is not unanimous. However, the Western church universally regarded it as non-Pauline until the time of Jerome and Augustine. Thayer concludes that Paul cannot be regarded as the author of the book, but he does not venture to posit anyone else as the author.

The issue of Pauline authorship directly affected the book of Hebrews’ reception in the early church. Since the Eastern church widely believed that Paul was the author, the book of Hebrews was received as authoritative. Hebrews was much slower in gaining acceptance in the West due to doubts about Pauline authorship. Nevertheless, by the fourth century, the Western church also began to regard Hebrews as authoritative.

Thayer’s article is a balanced essay considering both sides of the argument for Pauline authorship. In the end, though, he rejects Pauline authorship. I must concur with Thayer. The book of Hebrews was not written by Paul. The doctrinal content and literary style differs dramatically from Paul’s letters. Moreover, it lacks the opening salutation so characteristic of Paul’s letters, and personal references (e.g., his Jewish background, his apostleship, his sufferings and imprisonment, his personal revelations from Christ, the collection for the saints in Rome etc.) which are so prevalent in his other letters.

Monday, February 9, 2009

UK Theses Available Online

Ben Blackwell on his blog Dunelm Road informs us that UK theses are available at EThOS. Sure enough I was able to find a number of dissertations on Hebrews. I was able to order six of them (the others weren't available yet) and one was available for immediate download: Steven K. Stanley, "A New Covenant Hermeneutic: The Use of Scripture in Hebrews 8-10" (University of Sheffield, 1994). Apparently I have to wait for the others to be prepared for download.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Fan of the Author of Hebrews

This evening I became a fan of "The Author of the Hebrews" on Facebook. Apparently the group was started by the author of this currently defunct blog on Hebrews.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bibliography on the History of Research

Below is a selected bibliography on the history of research on the Book of Hebrews. If there are any other works that should be added to this list, please let me know.

Selected Works on the History of Interpretation of Hebrews

English Language Works:

Buchanan, George Wesley. "The Present State of Scholarship on Hebrews." Pages 299-330 in Christianity, Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults. Part One: New Testament. Studies for Morton Smith at Sixty. Edited by Jacob Neusner. Leiden: Brill, 1975.
-This essay is divided into two parts. The first part primarily deals with major commentaries dated before the Dead Sea Scrolls had been made available to the scholarly community. The second part treats the history of interpretation through the early 1970s in topical fashion.

Custer, Stewart. "Annotated Bibliography on Hebrews." Biblical Viewpoint 2 (1968): 52-68.
-This bibliography only contains book in the English language. It is divided into Conservative Commentaries, Critical Commentaries, and Other Works on Hebrews. The bibliography is not exhaustive, but contains works that the author deems useful for the pastor.

Hillmer, M. R. "Priesthood and Pilgrimage: Hebrews in Recent Research." Theological Bulletin 5 (May 1969): 66-89.
-This article takes a topical survey covering backgrounds & literary relationships, the use of the Old Testament in Hebrews, Christology, and Eschatology.

McCullough, J. C. "Some Recent Developments in Research on the Epistle to the Hebrews." Irish Biblical Studies 2 (1980): 141-65; 3 (1981): 28-43.
-Deals with scholarship from 1960-1979.

McCullough, J. C. "Hebrew in Recent Scholarship." Irish Biblical Studies 16 (1994): 66-86, 108-20.
-Deals with scholarship since his earlier essays from 1980-1993. It is arranged in topical fashion.

Carlston, C. E. "Commentaries on Hebrews: A Review Article." Andover Newton Review 1 (1990): 27-45.

Guthrie, George H. "Hebrews in Its First-Century Contexts: Recent Research." Pages 414-443 in The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research. Edited by Scot McKnight and Grant R. Osborne. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
-A nice overview of current research on the possible background for Hebrews' thought. Some of the scholarship he surveys is treated more fully in the following article.

Guthrie, George H. "Hebrews' Use of the Old Testament: Recent Trends in Research." Currents in Biblical Research 1.2 (2003): 271-94.

Koester, Craig R. "The Epistle to the Hebrews in Recent Study." Currents in Research: Biblical Studies 2 (1994): 123-45.
-This article nicely complements McCullough's article of the same year. This overview was greatly expanded in his commentary below.

Koester, Craig R. Hebrews: A New Translation with Commentary. The Anchor Bible 36. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Pages 19-131
-This commentary has an extended introduction to the history of interpretation and influence (19-63), the social setting (64-79), formal and rhetorical aspects (79-96), and the theology of Hebrews (96-131), followed by a bibliography (135-68).

Harrington, Daniel J. What Are They Saying about the Letter to the Hebrews? New York: Paulist, 2005.
-This is a nice accessible overview of current scholarship from 1975 on. He only deals with English-language works, but he seems to hit every major monograph of the period up to around 2003, as well as a few selected commentaries.

German Language Works:

Grässer, Erich. "Der Hebräerbrief 1938-1963." Theologische Rundschau 30 (1964): 138-236. Repr. Pages 1-99 in Aufbruch und Verheissung: Gesammelte Aufsätze zum Hebräerbrief zum 65. Geburtstag mit einer Bibliographie des Verfassers. Edited by Martin Evang and Ottow Merk. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 65. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1992.
-A very thorough overview of scholarship for the period covered. It is divided into introductory questions, religious-historical problems, and theological problems.

Feld, Helmut. Der Hebräerbrief. Erträge der Forschung 228. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1985.
-Another thorough overview of research. The book is divided into two parts: literary-historical and theological questions.

Kraus, Wolfgang. "Neuere Ansätze in der Exegese des Hebräerbriefes." Verkündigung und Forschung 48/2 (2003): 65-80.

Gelardini, Gabriella. “Chronologischer Aufriss des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts.” Pages 11-55 in “Verhärtet eure Herzen nicht”: Der Hebräer, eine Synagogenhomilie zu Tischa be-Aw.” Biblical Interpretation Series 83. Leiden: Brill, 2007.
-This history of research focuses primarily on works that deal with the structure of Hebrews.

Some Specialized Histories of Scholarship:

Greer, Rowan A. The Captain of Our Salvation: A Study of the Patristic Exegesis of Hebrews. Beiträge zur Geschichte der biblischen Exegese 15. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1973.

Demarest, Bruce. A History of Interpretation of Hebrews 7,1-10 from the Reformation to the Present. Beiträge zur Geschichte der biblischen Exegese 19. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1976.

Hagen, Kenneth. Hebrews Commenting from Erasmus to Bèze 1516-1598. Beiträge zur Geschichte der biblischen Exegese 23. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1981.

Hebrews 1:10-12 and the LXX Rendering of Psalm 102:23

Bacon, B. W. “Heb 1, 10-12 and the Septuagint Rendering of Ps 102, 23.” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 3 (1902): 280-85.

In this brief article Bacon disagrees with scholars who claim that the author of Hebrews was misled by the LXX translation of Psalm102:25-27 (102:26-28 MT; 101:26-28 LXX), when it inserts κυριε into the text, or that the author created an innovation when he applied the verses to Christ in Heb 1:10-12. Bacon goes back to verse 24 of the LXX which translated the Hebrew ענה as “he answered” rather than “he afflicted.” Thus, “instead of understanding the verse as a complaint of the psalmist at the shortness of his days which are cut off in the midst, LXX and Vulg. understand the utterance to be Jahve’s ‘answer’ to the psalmist’s plea that he will intervene to save Zion, because ‘it is time to have pity upon her, year the set time is come’ (v. 13)” (page 283). He argues that the passage became a locus classicus in early Jewish and Christian apologetics to refer to the Messiah who will “cut short” the days before his return (see, for example, Epistle of Barnabas 4:3; Matt 24:22; Mark 13:20 which Bacon believes are influenced by this verse). Thus, the author of Hebrews had precedence when he applied the psalm quotation in a messianic way.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bartlet on the Historical Situation of Hebrews

Bartlet, Vernon. "Barnabas and His Genuine Epistle." The Expositor. Sixth Series, 5 (1902): 409-27; 6 (1902): 28-30.

Bartlet, Vernon. "The Epistle to Hebrews as the Work of Barnabas." The Expositor. Sixth Series, 8 (1903): 381-96.

Bartlet, Vernon. "More Words on the Epistle to Hebrews." The Expositor. Sixth Series, 11 (1905): 431-40.

James Vernon Bartlet (1863-1940) was an ecclesiastical historian who taught at Mansfield College, Oxford, 1889-1928. He wrote primarily on the New Testament and early church history.

It never ceases to amaze me that competent scholars can look at the same exact text and come up with entirely different interpretations incompatible with one another. Such is the case with our next series of essays. Bartlet differs with Harnack (and George Milligan, and A. S. Peake) regarding the historical setting of the epistle. Whereas Harnack believed that Hebrews was written by Priscilla (and Aquila) to Jewish or Gentile Christians in Rome after the Claudian edict, Bartlet argues that Hebrews was written by Barnabas to Jewish Christians in Caesarea in the crisis years leading up to the Jewish revolt, and in particular, in response to the execution of James in 62 A.D.

In the first decade of the twentieth century Bartlet wrote a series of essays on the historical situation of Hebrews. Like a detective Bartlet pieces together clues from the biblical texts and from patristic writings to build his case that Barnabas was the author of Hebrews:

1) Barnabas was one of the leading Christians in the Jerusalem church. He was sent as an envoy to the Antioch to authenticate and confirm the beginnings of the gospel there. He used his considerable influence to introduce Paul to the Jerusalem apostles. He is mentioned before Paul in Acts 15:12, 25 and was equally called to be an apostle to the Gentiles as Paul was (Gal 2:9) Although he would eventually be overshadowed by Paul, Bartlet believes that many in the early church would have regarded Barnabas as the greater man.

2) Bartlet attributes Barnabas’ influence to the possibility that he was a close associate of Jesus and was among the unnamed followers of Jesus outside the circle of the twelve (see, for example, Luke 24:9). He may have also been among the mission of the 70 (Luke 10:1, 17). Bartlet finds his support in Clement of Alexandria who calls Barnabas an "apostle" and names him as one of the 70 (Stromateis 2.20). It is possible that Barnabas was aware of Jesus’ sufferings and crucifixion during his final week in Jerusalem, which could explain the "extraordinary realism" of Jesus’ temptations, particularly with the Garden of Gethsemane scene in Heb 5:7-8. Of course there is no indication in the gospels or Acts that Barnabas was one of Jesus’ close associates. Barnabas is introduced rather abruptly at the end of Acts 4 (verse 36-37) and there is no indication that he had any prior contact with Jesus. However, the reference in Clement of Alexandria is quite intriguing–does he preserve a tradition that has otherwise been lost?

3) Barnabas was a Hellenistic Jew: he was from Cyprus. Cyprus, Bartlet claims, would have been under the influence of both Alexandria and Jerusalem. According to Bartlet, this "dual training finds its counterpart in the mingled idealism and realism of the thoughts in Hebrews."

4) Barnabas was a Levite. As a Levite he would have had intimate knowledge of the sacrificial system in Jerusalem. Bartlet speculates that Barnabas did not find the sacrificial rites of Judaism adequate to give him a clean conscience from the sense of defiling sin. Barnabas instead found that perfect cleansing of conscience in the final sacrificial work of Christ (cf. Heb 9:9, 14; 10:22).

5) Barnabas may have visited Italy, if not Rome. The Clementine Recognitions (1:7) preserves a tradition that Clement heard the gospel from Barnabas in Rome. The Gnostic Acts of Peter preserves a tradition that Barnabas and Timothy were together with Paul in Rome, and were sent by him to Macedonia.

6) Heb 2:3 does not count against Bartlet’s thesis because Barnabas would have been simply identifying himself with his readers; he rhetorically includes himself with his readers.

7) There is a strong tradition that connects Barnabas with Hebrews. The strongest of these traditions is found in Tertullian’s On Modesty 20:

I wish, however, redundantly to superadd the testimony likewise of one particular comrade of the apostles,–(a testimony) aptly suited for confirming, by most proximate right, the discipline of his masters. For there is extant withal an Epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas–a man sufficiently accredited by God, as being one whom Paul has stationed next to himself in the uninterrupted observance of abstinence . . . And, of course, the Epistle of Barnabas is more generally received among the Churches than that apocryphal "Shepherd" of adulterers. (Quotation from the Ante-Nicene Fathers)
Tertullian proceeds to quote from Heb 6, so it is clear that he has the canonical epistle in mind. Tertullian does not seem to waver in his belief that Hebrews was written by Barnabas. Thus Bartlet finds strong support for Barnabas’ authorship in Tertullian (and some other more obscure patristic witnesses). While I, at this point, find no major objections to Barnabas’ candidacy as the author of Hebrews, I often found Bartlet’s reconstruction highly speculative at points. He takes passing references in his sources to build a whole scenario. But perhaps the biggest objection to Barnabas’ candidacy is Bartlet himself who changed his mind years later and attributed the authorship to Apollos!

We now turn to Bartlet’s reconstruction of the situation of the recipients of Hebrews:

1) They were Jewish Christians who were beginning to fall away from the faith after a long period because of persecution and perhaps because of the delay of the parousia. Heb 3-4 contains a severe judgment on Israel’s past: their leaders failed to bring them into God’s rest.

2) The language of priesthood, sacrifices, covenant and commonwealth suggests that the recipients lived within the sphere of Jerusalem and its temple. They lived in Palestine.

3) They lived somewhere along the seacoast between Joppa and Caesarea (most likely the latter since it had the closest relations with Italy). Bartlet finds support for this in the nautical metaphors that Hebrews uses: a ship drifting away from its moorings (2:1); Christ as the anchor of the soul (6:18). The race metaphor of 12:1 would have been more familiar with Jews living near Caesarea where "non-Jewish sports were within the experience of even Hebrew Christians." I find this highly speculative. The metaphors that the author of Hebrews uses are not particularly extraordinary or obscure and would likely have been readily understood even by Jews living further inland. Besides ancient Jerusalem also contained a hippodrome–Jews would not have been ignorant about Greco-Roman sports.

4) The letter was only sent to one small community. The author tells them to greet "all" of their leaders, so only a section of the community is being addressed. The author perhaps aimed to bring this community in line with the views and practices of the local leaders.

5) The community consisted of wealthy and influential members (6:10; 10:32-34; 13:1-6). Bartlet supposes this is the reason why the community had not suffered unto the "shedding of blood" (12:4) or why they had not been imprisoned. They would have been among the more respected element among the Jewish people. Moreover, their wealth and status could suggest that they were more susceptible to worldliness, thus explaining the exhortations against the reliance on wealth (11:25-26; 12:16; 13:5-6). The exalted diction of the epistle also seems to indicate that the audience was among the intellectual elite among the Jewish Christians in Caesarea.

6) Bartlet imagines that the crisis was precipitated during the tenure of the Roman governor Felix when a struggle erupted between the Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants of Caesarea for control of the city. Nero ruled in favor of the non-Jews around 61 AD. The crisis was exacerbated by the execution of James in 62 AD. Bartlet speculates that Barnabas might have felt the need to step in to fill the void created by James’ death. Bartlet thus situates the writing of the letter quite specifically in the summer of 62 AD.

7) Barnabas was writing from Italy, but not Rome. He was most likely writing from a seaport town, perhaps Brundisium, on the verge of sailing back to Palestine. He was hoping that Timothy would join him on the trip, having recently been released from prison (Heb 13:23).
Bartlet concludes with an explanation on why the epistle lacks an opening address. First, it may never had an address. But more likely the address, due to its very particular and restricted nature, would have been left off when the epistle was copied for a more general audience. If the address had been of a more general nature, then the address would not have disappeared. He gives the instance in which a copy of Romans from which all local references had been excised (according to Origen).