Monday, October 18, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Hebrews 2-6

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Hebrews, chapters 2-6.

Chapter 2

  • Verses 6-8 - The author seems to be quoting Psalm 8:4-6, but there are alterations significant enough that the footnotes to the TNIV linked here go to the unusual step of quoting the Psalm version rather than simply referencing it.  Are these alterations significant?  (I should note that the shift from singular to plural seems to be present in the TNIV, but not in other translations.  I'll leave this to others to determine what liberties were taken at what level of interpretation.)
  • Verse 12 - References Psalm 22:22, again with changes (although not so significant that the footnotes spell this out so definitively)
  • Verse 13 - Referencing Isaiah 8:17-18, if fragmentarily.  The author of Hebrews references the Hebrew Scriptures quite a lot, and I'll be pulling back from mentioning each example.  However, the question of why these particular Scriptures are use remains important to understanding the book of Hebrews.
  • Verses 14-18 - While I don't think for a minute that the writer of Hebrews wants to ignore Jesus' divinity (see verse 9), he especially wants to emphasize both the fact of Jesus' humanity, and the reason why it was important that Jesus be human.

Chapter 3
  • Verse 1: "our apostle and high priest" - It's interesting to see Jesus called an "apostle" here (usually I hear "apostle" as a person "sent" by Jesus himself.  I assume here it is intended to point to the fact that Jesus was "sent" by God the Father).  The "high priest" association grows in importance as Hebrews continues, and while I am confident that this term had huge significance to the original audience, I fear that some of this is lost on Christians today.  Especially in Protestant denominations (which tend not to have leaders called "priests"), the natural tendency (it seems to me) is to equate "priest" with "pastor" or "minister" (the kind of leader we do recognize).  But "priest" carries connotation specific to acts of sacrifice (especially for repentance) which don't connect so specifically to ministers in our Protestant churches  (This is especially apparent in denominational differences of how the Lord's Supper is observed, but I don't really want to get into those distinctions here).
  • Verses 7-19 - As David Scholer points out, Hebrews seems to be written out of pastoral concerns that believers might fall away from the faith.  Illustrations like this one from Jewish history would have had particularly profound impact in making such a point.
Chapter 4
  • Verse 12 - What does the author of Hebrews mean when writing about “the word of God”? We use that term about Scripture, including this passage, but the person writing Hebrews almost certainly had no idea that this letter would become Scripture when it was being written. What other kinds of “word of God” might have been in the author's mind?
Chapter 5
  • Verses 6, 10 - The first of several references to Melchizedek, who outside of Hebrews only appears in Genesis 14:18-20 (and is referenced in Psalm 110:4, which is what verse 6 here is quoting).  Comments on David Scholer's lecture on the significance of Melchizedek in Hebrews may be found here.
Chapter 6
  • Verse 9 - Having said some fairly pointed things to the Hebrews, the author now turns to words of reassurance that he (and those with him?) "are convinced of better things" for them.  I can't help but wonder how much of this is a rhetorical device, and how much the author really is convinced of such good things.  If he were, why write the letter?
  • Verse 10: "God is not unjust" - When I hear some people talk about God being "good" or "just," in apparent defense against those who might argue that God is not good or just, their defense often comes off as sounding like "if God does something, that makes it good or just, because God is the arbiter of what is good or just."  I find such defenses unsatisfactory.  I also get the impression that this is not the kind of definition of justice that the author of Hebrews is using here.  The author isn't defending apparently unjust actions as being just because God did them, so as to change the definition of justice to "what God wants."  Rather, the author is appealing to God's nature.  God, being the kind of God that God is, cannot do something unjust.  God is a fair God (more than fair, we might argue, but that gets ahead of ourselves), and will reward the good work that God's people are said here to have done.

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