Saturday, April 18, 2009

Another Article on Hebrews 9:16-17

Keating, H. S. “On Hebrews ix. 16, 17.” Expositor. Third Series, 4 (1886): 240.

Here is another article on this hotly contested passage. In contrast to the previous two articles I reviewed (Purton; Gardiner), Keating takes the meaning of διαθηκη in Hebrew 9:16-17 to be testament. He argues that the Jews got the idea from the Romans.

According to Keating, the paterfamilias sold his family and estate to a trusted friend (called the heres) who would carry out his wishes after his death. The heres “was looked upon not merely as a distributor of goods, but as the purchaser and master of the family.” Keating suggests the following interpretation:

“By the first διαθηκη the Hebrews were purchased and became the bondsmen of the Law . . . but by a new διαθηκη our Lord purchased them with His blood (Acts xx. 28), as the heres . . . purchased the inheritance, and having thus purchased the inheritance of the Law, became the new master of the bondsmen of the Law, and the mediator, or executor of a new dispensation. But inasmuch as the right of the heres can only come into operation after the death of the testator (the Law), it is evident that, if the new dispensation has begun, the Law is dead and is no longer their master.”

Keating’s article is very brief and so he doesn’t expound on how this conception fits into the larger argument of Hebrews 9. Does the author of Hebrews have such a conception about the law? But, more damaging, there appears to be something self-contradictory about this interpretation. If the Lord in fact purchases them by His blood, then he purchases them by His death, but Keating says that the testator (the Law) also dies. So, both the testator and the executor have to die to carry out the will? It may be that the audience of Hebrews was familiar with Roman wills, but Keating’s particular articulation of how this works in Hebrews doesn’t seem to jive with the larger context.

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