Hebrew 9:15 -- Specifically about Israelites and their Descendants?
I'm looking again at Harold W. Attridge's Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, checking up on one of the verses that I cited a couple of days ago, specifically verse 9 of chapter 15:
And therefore he [i.e., Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that once a death took place for the redemption of transgressions under the first covenant, those who have been called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Attridge's Commentary, page 253a)In Sunday's study group, I happened to notice that the verse seems to be focused solely on transgressions committed under the first covenent, and I called attention to this point, asking if the verse applied specifically to the Israelites and their descendants, i.e., only those who were bound by the Mosaic Law.
καὶ διὰ τοῦτο διαθήκης καινῆς μεσίτης ἐστίν ὅπως θανάτου γενομένου εἰς ἀπολύτρωσιν τῶν ἐπὶ τῇ πρώτῃ διαθήκῃ παραβάσεων τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν λάβωσιν οἱ κεκλημένοι τῆς αἰωνίου κληρονομίας (GNT Morph, Blue Letter Bible)
My question didn't really get an answer, which is why I've returned to it today. My hunch is that the author of Hebrews is focused almost entirely upon the meaning of Christ's sacrifice for those under the Law, just as his larger focus is upon the status of Christ in terms of old covenant paradigm. In all cases of comparison, the author of Hebrews finds that Christ surpasses the old revelation.
What interests me is that the writer seems to have no interest in the significance of Christ for Gentiles in his text -- though feel free to correct me if I'm wrong and have overlooked something (and I'm not arguing that the author considered Gentiles to be excluded). In verse 15, at any rate, the author seems to ignore Gentiles. If so, then "those who have been called" (οἱ κεκλημένοι, perfect passive participle of καλέω [kaleō]) might refer to those called into the old covenant, namely, the Israelites and their descendants.
In this hermeneutic, the calling would not fit a Calvinist understanding of the elect individually predestined for grace, but a different calling, that of an entire people -- the Israelites and their descendants -- to the old covenant, within which they are judged by their faithfulness to the Law. Now, however, they might receive through Christ the eternal inheritance if they accept the author's christology of Jesus as the Messiah, the Supreme Sacrifice, the Heavenly High Priest, and the Son of God. His warnings in the opening passages (cf. 2:1ff) imply that his audience has a choice to accept or reject the high christology that he sets out, and his exhortation in the closing passages (12:1-29) that believers hold fast, especially in 12:15f, which implies that one can fall, presupposes that one has a choice. But this is tangential to my main point.
I'm not explicitly supported in my reading of Hebrews generally by Attridge on the point about Israelites (or their descendants) and Gentiles, but neither am I clearly contradicted (Commentary, pages 254b-255b). Concerning the sins committed under the old covnant, Attridge does note that:
The sins involved took place "under the first covenant" (ἐπὶ τῇ πρώτῃ διαθήκῃ). There is no indication that the transgressions were in any sense caused by that first covenant. The old covenant is simply the regime under which were committed sins that could not be expiated. That Christ's sacrifice had such a retrospective effect is also implied by the atonement language that Paul inherited. The later reference to the "perfection" of the heroes of the old covenant that occurs with that of Christians (11:40) indicates one implication of this retrospective effect of Christ's sacrifice. (Attridge, Commentary, page 255a).Attridge would appear to concur with me that the verse focuses only upon those bound by the old covenant. The citation of 11:40 -- "God provided something better for us, so that they might not be perfected without us" (Attridge, Commentary, page 346a) -- shows this retrospective concern for Israelites (and descendants), though without excluding Christians generally, of course, as indicated by the "us" of 11:40. However, I suspect that the author of Hebrews is using "us" to refer specifically to his audience of Jewish-Christians. Recall the "us" of 1:2 in the context of "the fathers" of 1:1, which could imply "our fathers" -- but Attridge rejects this reading of 1:1-2 (Commentary, page 38b), and I won't press it for now.