Thursday, February 23, 2017

My Review of Griffiths, Hebrews and Divine Speech

This review originally appeared in Review & Expositor 112.4 (November 2015): 628–29. Thanks to Nancy Declaisse-Walford and Review & Expositor for permission to publish this review here. 
Jonathan I. Griffiths. Hebrews and Divine Speech. Library of New Testament Studies 507. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014. xvi +200 pp. $112.00. ISBN 9780567655523.

This monograph, a revision of the author’s doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Cambridge under the direction of Peter Head, is probably the first full-length exploration in English concerning the motif of divine speech in the Book of Hebrews. It achieves this task through an exegetical analysis of eight key passages, giving particular attention to the significant role that the terms λόγος and ῥῆμα play in the author’s theology of divine speech. The book contains a straightforward structure beginning with an introductory chapter, followed by eight chapters that treat each one of the key passages in sequential order (1:1–4; 2:1–4; 4:2–16; 5:11–6:12; 6:13–7:28; 11:3; 12:18–29; and 13:7, 17, 22), and ending with a concluding chapter. The book is punctuated with two excurses that are rather important for his overall argument.

Chapter 1 presents the purpose, thesis, and methodology of the study. The chapter also gives a brief consideration of the historical and intellectual contexts, the genre, and the structure of Hebrews. Griffiths considers Hebrews to be a homiletical address with an epistolary postscript. He offers his own structural analysis in an excursus that follows the chapter. In chapters 2–8 Griffiths engages in a detailed exegetical examination of all the key passages in Hebrews that touches upon the theme of divine speech. He addresses the critical issues and weighs the interpretive options for each passage. Each chapter ends with a conclusion summarizing the results. His exegesis is guided by three lines of inquiry, whose conclusions are encapsulated in the final chapter.

The first line of inquiry considers whether Hebrews contains a logos Christology. While Hebrews never explicitly identifies Jesus as the logos, it evinces “a discernible and sustained ‘word’ Christology” (p. 162). The term λόγος is never used to identify Jesus; instead it primarily refers to divine speech, but secondarily to the author’s own message. The term ῥῆμα also refers to divine speech, but Griffiths discerns a distinction between the two terms: “while λόγος typically imports the communication of information (particularly the Gospel message), ῥῆμα occurs in contexts where a physical manifestation of God’s speech is in view, particularly as it is expressed in the created order” (p. 164). The second line of inquiry concerns the interplay between divine speech, Christology and soteriology. He concludes that salvation is obtainable through a positive response to the divine word which finds its fullest expression in the person and work of Christ. But an encounter with the divine word may also be an occasion for judgment for those who reject it. The third line of inquiry explores the author’s own view regarding his discourse in relation to divine speech. Griffiths contends that the author identified his own sermon as a form of divine speech. God often uses human agents to communicate his divine message.

The book contains a number of strengths. First, it is written with lucid, flowing prose. Second, it is well-researched as is evidenced by the copious footnotes and fulsome bibliography. Third, the exegetical discussions are sound and generally persuasive. Griffiths does not force the exegesis, even in places where it could support his thesis (for example, he does not discern a logos Christology in 4:12). Fourth, the second excursus provides a useful overview of the term λόγος and its relationship to word/wisdom personalizations in other ancient literature.

I have a couple of quibbles with the book. First, I did not find his proposed structure for Hebrews to be entirely persuasive. Griffiths discerns eleven cycles of a threefold pattern of exempla, explanation/application, and exhortation in Hebrews. His divisions, however, seem to split up blocks of material that naturally go together. For example, some of the more natural divisions of Hebrews would be 2:5–18; 3:1–6; 3:7–19; and 4:1–13. By contrast, Griffiths detects cycles at 2:5–3:3; 3:4–13; 3:14–4:1; and 4:2–11. In my opinion, his proposed structure is the weakest part of the book. Second, Griffiths makes a novel suggestion that 4:12 is alluding to the Ehud story in Judges 3. This is an intriguing suggestion since Ehud announces to the king of Moab that he has a “secret word/thing” or a “word/thing of God” for him (there is a word-play in the Hebrew). The “word” of course is a two-edged sword that he thrusts into the king’s belly. In the Septuagint the phrase for two-edged sword (μάχαιραν δίστομον) is the same one Hebrews uses as a metaphor for the word of God in 4:12. The allusion, however, is unlikely since there is nothing in the context to suggest that the author had this story in mind and an allusion to Ehud would be overly subtle. Finally, I have a suggestion for further exploration. The author of Hebrews often attributes scripture quotations to God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. While Griffiths notes this feature cursorily in his final chapter, it would be profitable to reflect more fully on how scripture as divine speech contributes to an understanding of the author’s theology of divine speech. Despite these minor reservations, I think that Griffiths has made a commendable contribution to Hebrews research.

No comments:

Post a Comment