Kenneth Schenck Replies on Hebrews 9:23
As some might have noticed in a comment to my blog entry of two days ago, Professor Kenneth Schenck took an interest in my remarks on his interpretation of Hebrews 9:23, i.e., the cleansing of the heavenly tabernacle. Here's his comment:
I started to give a more precise sense of what I think it means to cleanse the heavenly sanctuary, but it started to get too involved for a comment. I think I'll post it as an entry on my blog tomorrow and post the link here.He followed through and posted an entry on his blog Quadrilateral Thoughts, from which I lift his main points:
If I remember correctly, I say something like the cleansing of the conscience comes the closest to expressing it. I don't think it's a completely adequate expression of what it is for the author, though.
So the age old question is this--why would the heavenly sanctuary need cleansed? It's in heaven. Lincoln Hurst has given us a clarification that alleviates the problem a little, but not completely -- this is about inauguration of a sanctuary. But the reason inaugural sanctuaries need cleansed is still to make them pure and holy. Harold Attridge and others have suggested perhaps what Hebrews is pretty much talking about is the cleansing of the conscience.Professor Schenck's central point is that the author of Hebrews is speaking metaphorically about the inauguration of the new covenant. He is right about this point, as a glance at Exodus 24 shows, for the sprinkling of blood on the people there in verses 7-8, which inaugurates the old covenant, is alluded to in Hebrews 9:19-20. The sprinkling of the earthly tabernacle is not given in Exodus 24, though, for that structure has not yet been built. A consecration of that tabernacle occurs in Exodus 40:9, but through an anointing of oil. However, Hebrews 9:21 insists on a sprinkling and associates it with the covenant's inauguration (possibly drawing on Jewish traditions that linked the two events?), so I grant Schenck's point.
Here is my personal sense of what's going on here in Hebrews. With language that is serving rhetorical purposes, you have to get a full picture of what is going on to really understand the significance of the language. So for Hebrews, the basic rhetorical point is that Christ's death has removed any necessity for the Levitical system and its sanctuary. We can debate whether the sanctuary is already gone and the author is, in a way, consoling the audience (my position) or whether he is dissuading the audience from using a standing structure.
The author's rhetorical strategy to make this point is to construct a complex metaphor in which every key element of the Levitical system is surpassed by Christ's death. So if the Levitical system had priests, Christ is a priest to end all priests, after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7). If the Levitical system had sacrifices, Christ is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices (e.g., 10:14), an "eternal spirit" sacrifice even (9:14).
With regard to the sanctuary, the author drew on existing metaphors that considered heaven the truest sanctuary of God, with the earthly sanctuary modeled after the universe (Philo, Josephus). I personally find no compelling evidence in the argument of Hebrews 8-10 to think that the author sees an actual structure in heaven with two rooms. Rather, I argue that the author sees the highest heaven as a kind of Most Holy Place where God dwells.
So the idea of "inaugurating the heavenly sanctuary" with a better sacrifice does not correspond neatly to one thing because it is part of an overall, complex metaphor. What is being cleansed here? An abstraction. "Inauguration of the heavenly sanctuary" means the commencement of that age of reliance on Christ's death as means of atonement or, in Hebrews' terms, the age of real atonement versus proleptic rain checks looking forward to atonement.
Professor Schenck focuses on the inauguration of the old covenant as a metaphor for the inauguration of the new covenant, hence his remark that "What is being cleansed here . . . . [is an] abstraction." In other words, nothing in heaven is unclean and in need of cleansing. I suppose that one could carry the argument one step further and cleverly note that the absence of a tabernacle at the old covenant's inauguration implies an absence of any heavenly tabernacle to be cleansed at the new covenant's inauguration.
But I think that the writer of Hebrews did think that an inauguratory sprinkling of the earthly tabernacle took place since he says so in 9:21 and that an inauguratory sprinkling of the heavenly tabernacle took place since he says so in 9:23 and goes on to speak of this heavenly tabernacle in the verses that follow. This heavenly tabernacle is the one upon which the earthly tabernacle is modeled, according to Exodus 25, verses 9 and 40, a point referred to in Hebrews 8:5 and also alluded to in Hebrews 9:23.
I'll also grant that one can take this language all as metaphor. One can always do that with language. But the author of Hebrews doesn't appear to me to be making that sort of rhetorical move.
But I'm out of time for today, so more on this another time . . .