Saturday, August 1, 2009

Through the Veil/Flesh

Gardiner, Frederic. “Various Topics: On Heb. x. 20.–δια του καταπετασματος τουτ' εστι, της σαρκος αυτου.” Journal of the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis 8 (1888): 142-46.

The expression της σαρκος αυτου is epexegetical or in apposition to καταπετασματος. The preposition δια must be local and not instrumental, thus creating the difficulty that it was Christ’s flesh that was the obstacle for His and our entry into heaven and thus had to be removed. But he rejects the idea that the flesh was Christ’s earthly part that had to be left behind at his death, since in Luke 24:39 Christ speaks about his resurrected body as having flesh. Gardiner, however, argues that this instance of zeugma [when one part of speech governs two or more other parts of a sentence] is a form of breviloquence or brachyology in which the author “puts all together in an expression which in the strict sense of the words is absurd, and which yet truly conveys his meaning more forcibly than could be done by any other form” (145). Such instances can be cited in 1 Tim 6:17; 4:3; 1 Cor 3:2; Luke 1:64; 1 Cor 7:36; Acts 27:22; and 1 Tim 5:23. Likewise in Heb 10:20 we have a compact expression combining two diverse thoughts. The veil is that which separated humanity from the presence of God, and the flesh is the means by which one enters through the veil (just as in 9:12 Christ enters into heaven by means of his blood). Thus the preposition δια is local when used with καταπετασματος, but should be construed instrumentally when used with της σαρκος αυτου.


  1. Yes - instrumental - is there any grammatical or usage reason that it should not be so? The flesh of Jesus never is a barrier, but rather it is the means to the revelation of God in God's self and for his children. As you note, his flesh, the veil - rent in twain from top to bottom, is the means whereby we approach and enter the Holy place, I hear this as the place of the Presence and of the Covenant Mercy that we all need and would be astonished by if we obey the invitation.

    The phrase within the vail is for the High Priest only - and has a curious construction in Leviticus 16 as well as Exodus and Numbers where this phrase occurs: מִבֵּית לַפָּרֹכֶת literally it seems 'from the house into the vail'. (I am spelling that word wrong since the KJV spells it wrong also) In the Hebrew New Testaments I have seen it is simply הַפָּרֹכֶת. Interesting that the version in Torah is not used - perhaps because that way is open through his flesh - which of course the priests of today would associate with the Eucharist. But that does not exhaust its meaning.

    It may be that I have not understood your comment because I don't do Greek - that's why I looked at it in Hebrew - perhaps undoing too much emphasis on the specific functions of prepositions - a most flexible part of speech.

  2. Hi Bob:

    Perhaps I should clarify that what I have posted is a summary of Gardiner's argument. I think the question is whether δια can function in a dual way in this sentence. Clearly δια functions locally with καταπετασμος, "through the veil." The question is whether it also functions locally with σαρκος, since it is in apposition with καταπετασμος. Gardiner says this was the standard way of interpreting the passage (at least in his time). Gardiner tries to argue that δια can be construed as instrumental with σαρκος because the author of Hebrews is using a compact expression. He gives a great example from Paul who says, "I gave you milk to drink, not solid food." Clearly Paul did not mean to say that he didn't give them solid food to drink, since one cannot drink solid food. But the meaning of the compact sentence is clear enough. Gardiner argues that a similar thing is going on in this sentence in Hebrews. So, the way I read your comment, you are in basic agreement with Gardiner's argument. I haven't looked at all the commentators on this passage, but for the moment Gardiner's argument seems plausible to me. I hope this clarifies what I wrote.

  3. Thanks Brian - that's very helpful. You might be introducing me to a Greek way of thinking!

  4. was there a literal temple veil rent on the day of Jesus's crucifixion or were the New testament writers referring to the same thought as Paul

  5. I would think that the gospel writers meant a literal, physical rending of the veil of the temple. Whether the gospel writers saw any symbolic significance in the rending of the temple veil is a matter for debate, but I would think it did have some theological significance for them, or else why would the gospel writers bother to mention it? As for Paul, I am not sure what passage you are referring to. If you mean Hebrews 10:20, first, I do not think Paul wrote Hebrews, and second, the gospel writers do not seem to be aware of Hebrews.