Hebrews 9:23 - "heavenly things themselves be cleansed"?
Our Hebrews study group encountered a puzzle yesterday, which I'll get to in a moment, but some context is needed, so I'll quote several verses from chapter 9:
 Wherefore, not even the first covenant was inaugurated apart from blood.  For when every command had, according to the Law, been read to the whole people by Moses, he took the blood of the calves, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled the book itself and the whole people,  saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God made with you."  And, similarly, he sprinkled the tabernacle and all the implements of the service with the blood.  Indeed, almost everything is cleansed with blood according to the Law, and apart from the effusion of blood there is no remission.  It is necessary therefore, that the copies of what is in the heavens be cleansed with these things, but that the heavenly things themselves be cleansed with sacrifices better than these. (Harold W. Attridge, Commentary on Hebrews, pages 253a and 260a)What puzzled me -- and also the others when I pointed it out -- was verse 23. This verse observes "that the copies of what is in the heavens . . . [are] cleansed with these things," meaning that "the tabernacle and all the implements of the service . . . [are] cleansed with blood" (verses 21-22), and that's consistent enough with the view that earthly things must be purged of impurity to be prepared for a pure, even sanctified sacrifice. But what is to be understood by the final clause of verse 23? It states "that the heavenly things [τὰ ἐπουράνια] themselves be cleansed with sacrifices better than these," meaning that the heavenly tabernacle and all the heavenly implements of the service require purification. Why?
 ὅθεν οὐδὲ ἡ πρώτη χωρὶς αἵματος ἐγκεκαίνισται  λαληθείσης γὰρ πάσης ἐντολῆς κατὰ τὸν νόμον ὑπὸ Μωϋσέως παντὶ τῷ λαῷ λαβὼν τὸ αἷμα τῶν μόσχων καὶ τῶν τράγων μετὰ ὕδατος καὶ ἐρίου κοκκίνου καὶ ὑσσώπου αὐτό τε τὸ βιβλίον καὶ πάντα τὸν λαὸν ἐράντισεν  λέγων τοῦτο τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης ἧς ἐνετείλατο πρὸς ὑμᾶς ὁ θεός  καὶ τὴν σκηνὴν δὲ καὶ πάντα τὰ σκεύη τῆς λειτουργίας τῷ αἵματι ὁμοίως ἐράντισεν  καὶ σχεδὸν ἐν αἵματι πάντα καθαρίζεται κατὰ τὸν νόμον καὶ χωρὶς αἱματεκχυσίας οὐ γίνεται ἄφεσις  ἀνάγκη οὖν τὰ μὲν ὑποδείγματα τῶν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς τούτοις καθαρίζεσθαι αὐτὰ δὲ τὰ ἐπουράνια κρείττοσιν θυσίαις παρὰ ταύτας (Morphological Greek New Testament [mGNT])
We didn't know and so left the point as homework for next Sunday.
I've since had time to see what Harold Attridge has to say about the verse. He offers an intriguing -- if ultimately unsatisfying -- analysis that refers back to verses 11 through 14, especially verse 14, which states that Christ offered himself through eternal spirit to cleanse our consciences. Attridge argues:
As the reflection on spirit and conscience in 9:14 suggests, the heavenly or ideal realities cleansed by Christ's sacrifice are none other than the consciences of the members of the new covenant, the "inheritors of eternal salvation" . . . . In Hebrews as in Platonically inspired Jews such as Philo, language of cosmic transcendence is ultimately a way of speaking about human interiority. (Attridge, Commentary, page 262b)Attridge may be quite right about cosmic transcendence and human interiority in Philo, but verse 14 follows verse 13 in Hebrews, which Attridge translates together as saying:
 Now if the blood of goats and bulls and the ash of a heifer sprinkled on those who have been defiled sanctifies for the purification of the flesh,  how much more does the blood of Christ, who through eternal spirit offered himself blameless to God, cleanse our conscience from dead works so that we might serve the living God! (Attridge, Commentary, page 244a)The cleansing of conscience in this passage parallels the purification of the people, not the purification of the tabernacle, so Attridge's point about Philo doesn't seem to work here.
This will require further thought . . .