Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Jamieson on Hebrews 9:23

Bobby Jamieson has informed me that his article on Hebrews 9:23 has recently been published:

Jamieson, R. B. “Hebrews 9:23: Cult Inauguration, Yom Kippur and the Cleansing of the Heavenly Tabernacle.” New Testament Studies 62.4 (2016): 569–87.

"The prima facie sense of the assertion of Hebrews 9.23 that the heavenly things themselves needed to be cleansed is often rejected as fantastic or preposterous. Consequently, the verse is often read as describing the cleansing of conscience or the inauguration, not purification, of the heavenly tabernacle. Both interpretations are critiqued here. Positively, this essay argues that in Heb 9.23 Christ's sacrifice cleanses the tabernacle in heaven from antecedent defilement in order to inaugurate the new covenant cult. I argue that the structure of 9.23–8 and the manner in which Hebrews appropriates both cult inauguration and Yom Kippur support this conclusion."

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Relatively New Book with a Chapter on Hebrews

I just learned that this book contains a chapter on Hebrews, entitled "Historical Exegesis in the Epistle to the Hebrews": 

Sargent, Benjamin. David Being a Prophet: TheContingency of Scripture upon History in the New Testament. Beihefte zur Zeitscrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 207. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014.

Aims and scope (from the de Gruyter website):
"This book seeks to identify a distinct approach to interpreting Scripture in the New Testament that makes use of assumptions about a text's author or time of composition. Focusing upon the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Acts of the Apostles and the Davidssohnfrage in the Synoptic Gospels, it is argued that in certain cases the meaning of a scriptural text is understood by the New Testament author to be contingent upon its history: that the meaning of a text is found when the identity of its author is taken into account or when its time of origin is considered. This approach to interpretation appears to lack clear precedents in intertestamental and 1st Century exegetical literature, suggesting that it is dependent upon distinctly Christian notions of Heilsgeschichte. The analysis of the Davidssohnfrage suggests also that the origins of this approach to interpretation may be associated with traditions of Jesus' exegetical sayings. A final chapter questions whether an early Christian use of history in the interpretation of Scripture might offer something to contemporary discussion of the continuing relevance of historical criticism."

Google Books has a preview.

Wenkel on Sensory Experience in Hebrews 12

A new article on Hebrews (available on

Wenkel, David H. “Sensory Experience and the Contrast between the Covenants in Hebrews 12.” Bibliotheca Sacra 173 (2016): 219–34.

"Studies of the contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion in Hebrews 12:18–24 have overlooked the key element of sensory experience. On this basis two propositions are set forth. First, the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of the senses because Mount Sinai was unapproachable yet perceivable by the senses. Second, the new covenant’s Mount Zion is superior because it is unperceivable by the five senses while being approachable."

Friday, September 23, 2016

Docherty on Recent Interpretations of Hebrews 3–4

Docherty, Susan. “Recent Interpretation of Hebrews Chapters 3–4: Critical Issues and Scholarly Trends.” Irish Theological Quarterly 81.4 (2016): 385–96. 

"Chapters 3–4 have emerged as key to much recent scholarly interpretation of the epistle to the Hebrews. This paper offers an evaluative review of major recent publications which treat this section of Hebrews, drawing out some common themes and recurring critical issues. The questions addressed in these studies have significant implications for an understanding of Hebrews more widely, as they impact on judgements about subjects such as the letter’s structure and main message, the author’s use of the Old Testament, and the religious and conceptual background to his thought."

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hebrews Highlights - August 2016

A bit late but here are the highlights from the month of August:

Allan Bevere reflects upon Hebrews 11:1–3, 8–16.

Ben Witherington discusses The Sin of Apostasy in Hebrews 6.

Ken Schenck opines on The Timing of Hebrews.

Henry Neufeld reviews the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible by looking at how it treats Hebrews.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Review of Peeler, You Are My Son

[This review first appeared in Bulletin for Biblical Research 26.2 (2016): 297–99. It is reprinted here by permission.]

Amy L. B. Peeler. You Are My Son: The Family of God in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Library of New Testament Studies 486. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014. Pp. xiv + 224. ISBN 978-0-5676-6501-0. $29.95 paper.

While many scholars have noted the familial language in the Book of Hebrews, Amy Peeler’s monograph is probably the first full-length study to explore this theme in Hebrews. In the brief introduction, Peeler highlights the familial language in Hebrews: God is portrayed as a Father; Jesus as God’s Son and heir; and believers as children of God, Jesus’ siblings, and heirs. Peeler contends that the familial relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son is foundational for the theology of Hebrews. God calls Jesus to suffer and to be exalted to his right hand, where he becomes heir of all things. This process enables believers to become part of God’s household and participate in Jesus’ inheritance. Peeler approaches her argument in a straightforward manner. The four chapters that form the heart of the book deal with all of the pertinent passages in Hebrews in a sequential manner.

Chapter 1 examines the familial language in the first chapter of Hebrews. Verse 5 is the key verse which establishes the familial relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son: God announces by means of two OT passages that Jesus is his Son and that he is his Father. Verse 5 thus becomes the basis for interpreting the story of God’s Son as narrated in verses 1–4. These verses describe the character of the Son and reflexively also define the character of the Father. In the remaining verses of the catena (verses 6–13), God articulates the privileges and responsibilities that Jesus inherits as the Son. One important insight that emerges from Peeler’s investigation is that Jesus’ preexistence is a personal one: God has a relationship with a person distinct from himself, not an aspect or function of God’s self. Peeler also argues that the name that Jesus inherits from his Father is “Lord God” (κύριος θεός), in contrast to the majority of interpreters who propose that the name is “Son.” “Son” is a title that is unique to Jesus and thus cannot be descriptive of the Father.

In chapter 2 Peeler engages in a close exegetical analysis of Heb 2:6–16. Jesus the Son must become human and experience suffering and death in order to be perfected as God’s heir. As heir Jesus inherits God’s many sons and daughters as his possession and he leads them as the ἀρχηγός into their own inheritance. Jesus displays his character as the Son by trusting God to the point of becoming human and experiencing suffering and death. God reveals his character as Father by using suffering as a means of perfecting his children.

In chapter 3 Peeler turns to the central cultic section of Hebrews (chapters 3–10). She first demonstrates the intimate relationship between Jesus’ Sonship and his high priesthood. First, it is God, in his role as Father, who appoints Jesus to the priesthood. His appointment includes the necessity of becoming human. Hence, Peeler makes the interesting observation that τῷ ποιήσαντι in 3:2 refers both to his appointment as high priest and his being made human. Second, it is precisely the fact that Jesus is God’s Son that disqualifies him for the Levitical priesthood but qualifies him for the priesthood of Melchizedek. Third, Jesus is perfected for the vocation of high priesthood because he is obedient to the Father in carrying out his filial role in experiencing the human condition of suffering and death, and because he receives the inherited blessing of exaltation from the Father. Fourth, it is Jesus’ priestly actions that secure the possession of his own inheritance, God’s many sons and daughters. Jesus’ priestly offering removes sin, achieves cleansing, and obtains redemption for God’s children. Jesus’ death enables them to obtain their inheritance of eternal salvation, and he aids his siblings in their attainment of salvation through his priestly intercession.

Chapter 4 focuses on the final two chapters of Hebrews and highlights the shared status that Jesus and the audience have in their relationship to God. The audience’s relationship to God as children correlates to Jesus’ relationship to God as Son. The author assures the audience that they are children of God by appealing to Prov 3:11–12.  God disciplines the audience like a father disciplines his son. Peeler contends that the author is emphasizing the educative rather than the punitive aspects of God’s παιδεία. Just as God the Father used suffering in order to perfect Jesus the Son, in the same way God is using suffering to perfect the audience in righteousness and holiness. The author employs four positive injunctions to urge the audience to endure suffering and he warns them with the negative example of Esau, who lost his inheritance when he gave away his birthright. The author assures his audience that they now stand at the foot of the mountain where God’s children dwell, and that they are privileged to hear God speaking to them as a Father; hence they should respond appropriately as obedient children. The concluding chapter summarizes the argument of the book and proposes seven ways in which the book makes contributions to scholarship on Hebrews.

Peeler articulates her thesis well and clearly lays out her argument throughout the book. By viewing Hebrews through the lens of familial language, Peeler brings into focus interesting new insights into Hebrews. She convincingly demonstrates the importance of the familial motif in the argument of Hebrews. Her analysis does raise a couple of questions for me. First, is it appropriate to say that Jesus inherits his own family members? Inheritance normally refers to the possession of land or property, and not to the possession of one’s own family members. As “big brother” Jesus is the guardian who is entrusted with the care of his siblings until they enter into their own inheritance, but do they become part of Jesus’ inheritance? Second, while Hebrews does emphasize the educative aspects of God’s παιδεία, does it exclude the punitive aspects? The quotation from Prov 3:11–12 uses the language of reproof and flogging. Both terms suggest that correction or punishment was included in the author’s concept of παιδεία. The author does occasionally chastise his audience, and the audience, while certainly sharing many things with Jesus, does not share his sinlessness. Could not God’s παιδεία of his children include both educative and corrective aspects? These two questions aside, readers will find that this monograph makes important contributions to the understanding of Hebrews.

Review of Whitlark, Resisting Empire

[This review first appeared in Bulletin for Biblical Research 26.1 (2016): 141–43. It is reprinted here by permission.]

Jason A. Whitlark. Resisting Empire: Rethinking the Purpose of the Letter to “the Hebrews.” Library of New Testament Studies 484. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014. Pp. xii + 232. ISBN 978-0-56745-601-4. $112.00 Cloth.

A recent trend in NT studies is the attempt to situate the NT writings within the Roman imperial context. While a few smaller studies have tried to position Hebrews as an anti-imperial document, Jason Whitlark’s monograph represents the first full-length treatment of this theme. He attempts to show that “the Letter to ‘the Hebrews’ challenges the claims of imperial Rome in order to resist the pressure and temptation its audience felt to compromise its confession of Jesus Christ” (p. 3). In chapter 1 he identifies his operating assumptions regarding the social location and identity of the recipients as follows: the audience is a Gentile Christian community residing in Rome during the Flavian period (particularly around the reign of Titus in AD 79–82). Whitlark employs an authorial audience approach: the audience would have had certain expectations about the rhetorical strategies regarding critiques of power and would have had contextual knowledge about Roman imperial power.

Chapter 2 argues that rhetoricians often employed figured speech or covert allusion for reasons of propriety or caution. Whitlark identifies three types of figured speech: implication (ἔμφασις), deflection (πλάγιον), and irony (ἐναντία). Readers may detect figured speech either by clues in the literary text itself or by an awareness of the historical context. Figured speech was used in the Roman imperial context because slander of the empire or emperor was deemed treasonous, the presence of informants was pervasive, and imperial audiences expected that figured speech would be used by skilled orators.

In chapters 3 and 4 Whitlark argues that Hebrews urges its audience to resist assimilation to their Roman imperial context. Negatively, Hebrews engages in a veiled polemic against idolatry. Whitlark finds three indicators of this veiled polemic: (1) key terminology: the description of God as “living” and the reference to “dead works”; (2) five warning passages quote OT passages whose larger context warns against idolatry; and (3) the examples of Moses and Esau serve as warnings against the lure of wealth and honor and the danger of sexual immorality respectively. Positively, Hebrews offers a better hope than that associated with Roman imperial power. Hebrews co‑opts Roman imperial terminology claiming that the Christian hope offers a better οἰκουμένη (inhabited world) and a better πατρίς (fatherland). Furthermore, God offers the community rest (κατάπαυσις) from their labors in their perseverance in the face of the oppressive power of Rome.

In chapters 5 through 8 Whitlark addresses four ways in which Hebrews resists the claims of imperial Rome. First, Hebrews implicitly declares that the emperor is powerless to safeguard the permanence of the imperial city and its empire. Only the Christian community can lay claim to a king who guarantees access to an eternal city, the heavenly Jerusalem. Second, in 2:14–15 Hebrews correlates the devil with the Roman imperium, its power over life and death. Jesus, however, has defeated the devil and has liberated Christians from the fear of death. Hence, Rome is unable to force ultimate allegiance to its rule. Third, Hebrews draws from the image of Hercules in depicting Jesus as the liberator from death. The figure of Hercules was often appropriated by the Roman emperors for their own claims. Hebrews undermines the claims of the Roman emperors and exposes them as imposters by depicting Jesus as the only one who can fulfill the hopes represented by Hercules. Fourth, Hebrews employs a syncrisis of the old and new covenants in order to counter the theodical challenge of the Flavian triumph to God’s sovereignty and honor. Chapter 8 offers an ingenious solution to the problem of why Hebrews never mentions the temple. The tabernacle (and, by implication, the temple) was never meant to be a permanent memorial to God’s glory. Rather, it pointed beyond itself to a greater purpose, which found its fulfillment in God’s enthroned Son. Hence, God’s purposes were not thwarted when the Romans destroyed the temple. Hebrews is thus able “to counter the claims of Flavian triumph without having to address them directly” (p. 184).

In the final chapter Whitlark summarizes his argument and draws out the implications of his study for relapse theories, for the place of Hebrews in the NT canon, for the relationship of Hebrews to early Christian martyrdom, and for the issue of domination and resistance that informs imperial-critical studies of the NT.

There is much to commend about this study. Whitlark writes well and he develops his argument in an effective manner. His study is a helpful reminder that the audience of Hebrews lived within a Roman imperial context and he draws upon a wealth of research about ancient Rome to support his claims. Naturally, there will be some who may not be entirely persuaded by his argument. It is a tricky venture to argue that an author employs figured speech because one has to expose secondary or hidden meanings behind the plain meaning of a text. For example, is the reference to the devil really an oblique allusion to the Roman Empire, or is it really just a reference to the devil? Does the figure of Hercules really lie behind the author’s depiction of Jesus? Is the promised rest really meant to imply deliverance from oppressive Roman power? A plain reading of Hebrews reveals very little that could be construed as an overt or direct challenge to imperial claims. One can make perfectly good sense of Hebrews without positing that it is an anti-imperial polemic. If Hebrews is indeed engaged in a figured critique of Rome, its rhetoric is so subtle that its purpose has been lost most interpreters of the book. Yet, while individual components of Whitlark’s argument may not be entirely persuasive by themselves, together they have a cumulative force that leads to a very plausible reading of the book. Whitlark has written an important monograph that will certainly need to be taken into consideration by any future studies on Hebrews.

[Full disclosure: Jason and I both received our doctorates at Baylor University, and he was a colleague of mine at Baylor. Nevertheless, I was skeptical of his thesis when I first became aware of it. However, this is a very impressive book; it is well researched and well argued. He has moved me at least to the status of "okay, it is possible." I would still like to see evidence that other early Christian writers—who lived within the boundaries of the Roman Empire—read Hebrews as an anti-imperial polemic.]

Review of Easter, Faith and the Faithfulness of Jesus in Hebrews

[This review first appeared in Bulletin for Biblical Research 25.4 (2015): 582–84. It is reprinted here by permission.]

Matthew C. Easter. Faith and the Faithfulness of Jesus in Hebrews. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 160. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xv + 263. ISBN 978-1-107-06321-1. $99.00 cloth.

This monograph, a revision of the author’s doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand under the direction of Paul Trebilco, seeks to understand the motif of faith and faithfulness in Hebrews through a narrative lens.

In the introductory first chapter Easter surveys previous studies on the faith motif in Hebrews concluding that these studies have not adequately brought together the christological, ethical, eschatological, and ecclesiological dimensions of faith. Easter seeks to remedy this situation by placing these four dimensions into conversation with one another by applying a narrative approach to Hebrews. In particular, he is concerned to uncover the narrative identities that emerge from the story world of Hebrews, which he summarizes as “(1) the default human story, characterized by unfaithfulness, concluding assuredly in eschatological death . . . and (2) the story of faith in the face of death, concluding assuredly in postmortem life” (p. 32). The remaining chapters of the book are organized in accordance with this schema: Part II focuses on “the default human story” (chapters 2–3), Part III deals with “the rewritten narrative” (chapters 4–6), while Part IV is concerned with “participating in the new story” (chapters 7–8).

In chapter 2 Easter maintains that Hebrews has a pessimistic anthropology. God intended that human beings would receive glory, honor, and dominion, but his plans have been thwarted due to humanity’s struggle with unfaithfulness and sin. Humanity is incapable of overcoming sin apart from divine enablement. The inevitable consequence for those trapped in the default human story is postmortem retribution. In chapter 3 Easter argues that, in Hebrews, the eschatological hope is a homeland in the heavenly realm built by God, which is reserved for human beings with enduring lives. However, prior to Jesus, no human being, including Israel’s heroes of faith, has attained this eschatological hope.

In chapter 4 Easter explains that humanity has a shared destiny with Jesus. Through his sinless life, Jesus has broken out of the default human story and has realized the eschatological hope. Hence, humanity is able to participate in the same eschatological hope. In chapter 5 Easter focuses on the faithfulness of Jesus, giving particular attention to Heb 12:1–3. As the pioneer of faith, Jesus is the preeminent faithful one who successfully completes the race of faith in the face of death. As the perfecter of faith, Jesus obtains eschatological life for those participating in the same story of faith. In chapter 6 Easter contends that Hebrews appropriates Hab 2:3–4 to bring the two narratives into contrast: timidity leads to death (the default human story), while faith leads to life (the rewritten story).

In chapter 7 Easter investigates how humans can participate in the story of faith rewritten by Jesus. He organizes the chapter according to the four dimensions of faith. Faith is christological in that Jesus is the preeminent faithful one who enables the faith of believers and serves as a model for them, but he is not the object of faith. Faith is eschatological because it is directed toward the eschatological hope and guarantees its realization. Ethical faith is manifested in obedience and endurance in the face of suffering and death. Ecclesiological faith involves participating in the corporate aspect of faith by persevering with the traveling people of God. In chapter 8 Easter summarizes his argument and draws out some implications of his study.

In my opinion, this monograph makes a few contributions to the study of Hebrews. First, Easter’s narrative approach highlights the narrative identities contained in the story world of Hebrews. Second, he makes a convincing case that Heb 12:1–3 evokes both athletic and martyrological imagery. Third, he integrates the christological, ethical, eschatological, and ecclesiological dimensions of faith in Hebrews. In my opinion, Easter usually makes sound exegetical decisions in his discussions, but I would like to address his treatment of a few passages in Hebrews.

First, Easter avers that Heb 2:1–4 does not contain a lesser-to-greater argument because it lacks a key linguistic marker: a comparative adjective. However, Hebrews 2:3 uses the interrogative πῶς, which is used in other lesser-to-greater arguments in both the LXX (Exod 6:12; Deut 31:27; 1 Sam 23:3; Jer 12:5) and the NT (Rom 8:32). Moreover, lesser-to-greater arguments are found elsewhere in the NT without any clear linguistic markers (Luke 13:15–16; John 7:23). Hebrews 2:1–4 argues that if disobedience to the message of God mediated by angels resulted in certain punishment, the consequences for disregarding the message of God mediated by the Son will be even more unavoidable.

Second, in his discussion of perfection on pages 94–99, Easter seems to equate perfection with enduring life after death in certain passages in Hebrews. This seems to be an overly simplistic equation. How in fact is Jesus perfected through sufferings if he does not attain perfection until after his death? How does Jesus’ offering actually perfect the believer? It is best to understand perfection in terms of vocational perfection. Jesus is perfected for his role as high priest, while believers are perfected in their roles as worshippers. Chapter 3 also raises the question regarding the fate of Israel’s heroes of faith. If they did not receive their eschatological reward, then what happened to them? Easter leaves this burning question unanswered.

Third, I did not find his handling of Heb 10:37–38 to be persuasive. Easter claims that the “coming” in 10:37 is not a reference to the parousia but to Jesus’ “coming to individuals after [their] death” (p. 170). However, the expression “the coming one” is usually found in contexts where there is the expectation of the coming messiah, and the future tense verb ἥξει and the verb χρονίζω are used elsewhere in the NT in contexts referring to the parousia. The idea seems to be that the parousia becomes the incentive for believers to persevere in their faith. Moreover, it seems to me that in the next sentence “the righteous one” refers to believers in general and not to Jesus. Despite these shortcomings, readers will find much of interest in this contribution to Hebrews study.