Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hebrew 9:15 -- Specifically about Israelites and their Descendants?

Moses with Tablets of Ten Commandments
Rembrandt (1659)
(Image from Wikipedia)

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)

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)
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.

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.

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At 6:05 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Have a migraine at the moment, so I can offer little more than food for thought, but probably couldn't do much better with such difficult questions. Anyway -

Do Melchizedek and Job fit in here? Hebrews was written for the Hebrews. The Old Testament for Israel as well. But, does that mean the covenant was limited to them alone?

The Abrahamic covenant of possessing a specific land was limited to him and his descendants through Jacob, but was the spiritual, redemptive covenant for them alone? Job would seem to indicate, no. Melchizedek (if a real man) would indicate that as well.

more on a different track soon...

At 6:20 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Maybe we can also consider what the law was. Was it always more than the set of textual rules given to the Jews through Moses?

Chapter 8 specifically brings this up in my mind:

"I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts."

This thought is found in Romans as well. And maybe the idea expanded is in all the same: The law is internal to all men, and each man is, unfortunately, unable to maintain it in full, thus the need for a sacrifice - and more importantly, the acceptance of the need for it - which is part of repentence.

Hebrews might be written for a limited audience but does it mean the principles are meant to be limited to them?

It seems even in the Old Testament, the "law" in a broad sense was not limited to Jacob's descendants after the codification through Moses. For that matter, neither was blood sacrifice - practiced as far back as Abel and I've heard Adam (where the skins that replaced the fig leaves came from).

At 6:31 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I wonder how timing comes into play here too:

"None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”"

I think one of the hardest things about the Bible is that it seems to teach about things that are both temporal and eternal at the same time.

What if the 1st coming of Christ for those who remain Jews (in terms of theology) is also the 2nd coming of Christ Jesus for us Christians?

I would think many Christians see the above quote as concerning the situation for believers immediately upon Jesus's cruxification and resurrection - and/or the individual's acceptance of that sacrifice.

I'd think it can also be argued it is a description of the time of the Millenniam (or post-judgement time period). Can it be both or all of these?

I don't know. More and more, I am confounded by the idea that God is not temporal, but we are. We think in terms of time. God's prophesies also speak to our temporaral understanding, but do they not also go beyond that? And thus beyond our understanding?

At 7:02 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

1st and 2nd comings - I didn't get that down as I wanted. Here is the longer quote:

"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them."

The passage mentions Israel and Judah specifically, but is it limited to them?

Can it be viewed as predicting a future time (The Millennium) - in which "all" will know Him - as well as indicating an avenue of salvation for non-Jews after the death and resurrection of Jesus - as well as for those before Jesus - such as Abraham, Moses, Job, Melchizedek and so on?

If the quote concerns the future Millenium in which all will know, it does not mean others could not know before that time.

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The central question for me -- and I think that you've alluded to it -- is whether the author of Hebrews thinks that the Law applied only to the Israelites or also to the Gentiles, but was given only through special grace to the Israelites as a means for them to attain (or attempt to attain) holiness and thereby set an example.

The problem is that we don't know anything about the extra-textual views of the author of Hebrews, and I am not sure that there is sufficient information in the Epistle to the Hebrews for us to decide.

(Sorry to hear about the migraine, by the way -- it must be unpleasant, so I hope that you recover soon.)

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:18 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I think we are limited by the fact he was writing to a specific audience. I think that limits the scope of his language rather than the message he is giving being seen as just for that audience. I'd need more clear language leaving out gentiles.

In his relation of the tabernacle to the heavenly version, doesn't he kinda spiritualize the textual law? And if it is spiritualized, does it not extend beyond those born and raised under the textual law?

I mentioned those accepted as being held under grace prior to the age of Moses (Abraham, Melchizedek, Job...). Accepted by the Israelites of the Hebrews author's time period.

Now, I wonder about gentile converts to Judaism in his day?

How were those individuals treated within the Jewish community of that day?

If it was generally accepted that gentiles could be converts, then I'd have to lean more away from the author of Hebrews having in mind a special grace for Jews (those born under the tradition of the law) alone.

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ruth seems to have converted, but my impression is that conversion was difficult because the Israelites were intended to be a "holy" nation, and in the old covenant, that meant separation from other nations.

Jeffery Hodges

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