Monday, May 16, 2011

Hebrews 9:23 - "heavenly things themselves be cleansed"?

Model in Timna Park, Israel
(Image from Wikipedia)

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:
[18] Wherefore, not even the first covenant was inaugurated apart from blood. [19] 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, [20] saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God made with you." [21] And, similarly, he sprinkled the tabernacle and all the implements of the service with the blood. [22] Indeed, almost everything is cleansed with blood according to the Law, and apart from the effusion of blood there is no remission. [23] 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)

[18] ὅθεν οὐδὲ ἡ πρώτη χωρὶς αἵματος ἐγκεκαίνισται [19] 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 [20] λέγων τοῦτο τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης ἧς ἐνετείλατο πρὸς ὑμᾶς ὁ θεός [21] καὶ τὴν σκηνὴν δὲ καὶ πάντα τὰ σκεύη τῆς λειτουργίας τῷ αἵματι ὁμοίως ἐράντισεν [22] καὶ σχεδὸν ἐν αἵματι πάντα καθαρίζεται κατὰ τὸν νόμον καὶ χωρὶς αἱματεκχυσίας οὐ γίνεται ἄφεσις [23] ἀνάγκη οὖν τὰ μὲν ὑποδείγματα τῶν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς τούτοις καθαρίζεσθαι αὐτὰ δὲ τὰ ἐπουράνια κρείττοσιν θυσίαις παρὰ ταύτας (Morphological Greek New Testament [mGNT])
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?

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:
[13] 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, [14] 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 . . .

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At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Perhaps it is saying angles need purification through Christ as well...

God, in His three parts, is the only purely holy thing. (Well, Jesus said that only God was good - and not he himself...)

Satan and his angelic followers were in heaven but were not pure in righteousness. Far from it, they had in them the eventual rebellion that saw them cast out of heaven.

However, in Job, we start by seeing that Satan still has some room in heaven -- at least in those times where God apparently calls together angels to give a report.

So, perhaps the verse means that everything, even heavenly things like the tabernacle prototype, need santification through the sacrifice of Jesus - God in flesh?

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You mean that the fallen angels might have been thought to have contaminated the heavenly tabernacle?

Interesting suggestion. I have no idea if you're right and no idea how to check.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:58 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

cleanse our conscience from dead works

That's how the Italian official Catholic version translates it, too. Sofar, I had never noticed the "puzzling" detail you point out! Absolutely intriguing.

no idea how to check

Hmm, what about trying to have God send us to heaven? A 'tall' check-point, I understand :-D

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suppose we could take our own lives and find out. Even if the Catholics are right and that this keeps us out of heaven, we can still ask the fallen angels about the issue . . .

My 'secret' to discovering new stuff is to read and ask myself, "Okay, what do I not understand?" That's my hermeneutic of suspension . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

No, not exactly. I mean, perhaps the idea is that the only pure thing is God Himself.

So that everything else needed one particular sacrifice - Jesus or God in the flesh.

There would be no way to check it (until we get there), but the items I mentioned in the first comment show that impurity can inhabit heaven.

I would guess we could say only sanctified impurity can remain or permanently inhabit it, but Job shows that even Satan is not barred from it permanently. (He is described as having to give an accounting of his activities periodically.)

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I would say that on biblical principles, the only holy thing is God. Everything opposed to God is impure, but common things can be purified.

I suppose that fallen angels could have been thought to have rendered things in the heavens impure, but I know of nothing biblical or extra-biblical that would reflect such a belief.

Still . . . the need for a heavenly tabernacle itself raises the question as to why it is needed.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:37 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Do we need an action to impart impurity? I'm split here:

Half of me says, no. Anything not God is by default impure - and thus needing of something to purify them (Christ's blood).

Half of me says, yes. Adam was not on par with God, but doesn't seem to have needed a blood sacrifice until the fatal bite (and was subsequently clothed in the skins of the apparent sacrifice for that sin)...

On the heavenly tabernacle, isn't it a focal point for the worship of God - just as the earthly one?

At 5:56 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

In a fallen world, anything not divine or divinely protected is in danger of contamination by impurity, but in the prelapsarian world . . . ?

As for the earthly Tabernacle, the center of fallen worship is the sacrifice, it seems, but what need for a sacrifice to purify the Tabernacle in heaven?

It remains a puzzle to me.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:12 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Well, if I think about it...If the earth was cursed due to Adam's rebellion against God's command, what about Heaven after Satan's rebellion???

At 6:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hmmm . . . the earthly curse is but a shadow of the heavenly curse . . . ?

Curses! Foiled again!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:26 PM, Blogger Skryfblok said...

I know that a big portion of Seventh-Day Adventist theology is based on the 'Heavenly Sanctuary'. After a quick search, I found this link, which might be of interest:

At 9:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. At that link is found a section, "The Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary," that addresses the issue but in a rather diffuse argument.

I'll look into this further.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:15 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Scott said: perhaps the idea is that the only pure thing is God Himself. So that everything else needed one particular sacrifice...

In the 3rd century AD a thesis like that was worked out by the Egyptian theologian Origen (who was condemned as a heretic by the Church, but just two centuries later), possibly on the basis of that text in Hebrew.

There was anyway some link to/from the late Jewish as well as the early muslim tradition, e.g. the "universal hylemorphism", a philosophy according to which even angels got a body because all created beings "must" be different from God, who is pure Spirit.

In more recent centuries, the idea of a "messy, partially negative heaven" was put forward by such authors as Jacob Boeheme and his 'follower' William Blake.

At 1:17 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

BOEHME (Böhme), that is

At 2:54 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

I looked up Thomas Aquinas's Commentary on this verse, which I transcribe here in Larcher's translation (which can be found various places online):

461. – Having shown what is common to the Old and New Testaments, the Apostle now shows the difference between the two. In regard to this he does two things: first, he shows that there is a better cleansing in the New; secondly, that it is more complete (v. 25). In regard to the first he does two things: first, he shows that both as to what is cleansed and as to that by which the cleansing is effected, there is a better cleansing in the New; secondly, he clarifies what he has said (v. 24).

462. – He says, therefore, Thus it was necessary for the patterns of heavenly things, namely, the tabernacle itself, which, so far as we are concerned, is a pattern, although, absolutely speaking, it is the thing exemplified and its figure, and, therefore, of less value, because the thing exemplified is superior to the figure, as the body is superior to its shadow: to be purified with these rites, i.e., with the sacrifices. But the heavenly things themselves, namely, the New Testament, with better sacrifices than these: better, because the others were cleansings with the blood of animals, but in the New Testament the cleansing is accomplished with the blood of Christ. Now better things are always cleansed with better things. But they were the figures of heavenly things be cleansed with better blood.

463. – But on the other hand, there is no uncleanness in heaven. I answer that according to a Gloss, by heavenly things are understood things which pertain to the state of the present Church, which are called heavenly. Furthermore, believing men bear the image of heavenly things, inasmuch as they mentally dwell in heaven. Or, in another way and better: by heavenly things is understood the heavenly home. And the Apostle is speaking here in the way that the tabernacle was said to be cleansed in the Old Testament; not that it had any uncleanness in itself, but because certain irregularities were washed away, by which they were hindered from coming to the sanctuary. And heavenly things are said to be cleansed inasmuch as a sacrament of the New Law cleanses sins, which hinder one from entering heaven.

He goes on and discusses some subsidiary issues. So, interestingly, (1) Aquinas recognizes the question (463), and (2) thinks that either we are the heavenly things that need cleansing or else that the cleansing is not a removal of things, not impure in themselves, that could hinder us from coming into Heaven unworthily, in the same way that the tabernacle cleansing didn't mean that the tabernacle was defiled but simply made it possible for the priests to do their work in the tabernacle according to the Law. (Aquinas gives two interpretations because, even though he thinks one is better, his account of Scripture implies that any interpretation not ruled out for dogmatic reasons or as inconsistent with the letter of the text are to be accepted as at least possible interpretations.)

At 3:45 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Brandon, it's so good to find an English-speaking fan of "the Aquinas"! I happened to read hundreds of pages by him in Latin: he has been a major source and resource for many years. (What about now? Well, he probably lurks deep somewhere in my very DNA.)

At 3:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Dario and Brandon, for comments. Thanks also to Mr. Aquinas for his interest. Aquinas states:

"And the Apostle is speaking here in the way that the tabernacle was said to be cleansed in the Old Testament; not that it had any uncleanness in itself, but because certain irregularities were washed away, by which they were hindered from coming to the sanctuary."

I think that Aquinas is wrong about this. The earthly tabernacle certainly could become contaminated by impurity, and the cleansing was intended to cleanse it of that.

By analogy, the cleansing of the heavenly tabernacle implies its impure state . . . which remains odd to me.

Could this mean that the author of Hebrews believed that impurity contaminating the earthly tabernacle had some effect upon the heavenly tabernacle as well?

More to consider . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:22 AM, Blogger Brandon said...


I always like looking at Aquinas's commentaries on the Bible; they are often overlooked masterpieces.


Reading it again, I wonder if Aquinas is actually thinking of the cleansing of the priests and Levites (cf. Exodus 29, Numbers 8), in which case the two interpretations he gives are two variations belonging to the same family -- in both cases we are the heavenly things that need to be purified. It's just that the way in which we are varies according to each interpretation.

I also don't see anything in Aquinas's claim (even if read as about something other than the Levites and priests) that requires the view that the earthly tabernacle couldn't become defiled; rather, the question would be, does all the cleansing of the tabernacle with blood actually depend on its having been defiled beforehand? And unless I'm missing some passage, I don't see any text in which sprinkling of blood is linked to cleansing the defilement of the tabernacle itself (indeed, there doesn't seem to be any ritual remedy involving blood for such cases -- again, unless I'm just missing a passage somewhere).

(It's also worth noting that the event of Hb 9:19-20 is pre-tabernacle -- it occurred at Sinai; and the 'almost everything' of verse 22 shows that it isn't just the tabernacle that is in view here. So whatever interpretation we give, it has to be a general interpretation applying to the use of blood throughout the Law to cleanse and consecrate.)

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that if one looks at Hebrews 9 closely, then the tabernacle is clearly included among the things to be cleansed.

The assumption in the Old Covenant is that the camp of the Israelites is constantly at risk of contamination by impurity. For an entire year to pass without some impurity slipping in would be unlikely, so the cleansing would almost certainly be necessary, though I'll grant that the cleansing could be conducted as a just-in-case cleansing.

But why would this extend to the heavenly sanctuary unless it also could be rendered impure?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

"But why would this extend to the heavenly sanctuary unless it also could be rendered impure?"

Heaven did have to be cleansed when the fallen angels were cast out. So, impurity was allowed to enter at least once.

In looking at Origen via Wiki, and remembering a brief comment made by the preacher I listen to, Origen believed that all entities would be redeemed (through Christ's sacrifice???) eventually - which is a topic that has come up here recently.

I would not go close to that far.

I can see the heavenly tabernacle needing the blood of Christ to impart purity but I can't see that blood being extended to the likes of Satan - perhaps primarily due to the idea that Satan's nature would not allow acceptance of the need for the sacrifice - just as his pride would not allow God being superior to him.

At 9:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

But the fall of Satan would have rendered the heavenly tabernacle impure aeons prior to the Son's role as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek, assuming a one-time cleansing at the time of Christ's self-sacrifice.

That seems a long time to endure impurity in heaven.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Good point.

And we have temporality (vs non-linear eternity) in play again - which is something that has been rolling around in my head in reference to the Bible for a few years with little clarity...

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I guess that there's that, but would angels be conceived as existing outside time?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Very roughly speaking, the theme that seems to churns up much of my thinking is - God's perspective is eternal - and only His. His presence is too. That God is outside of and beyond linear time (including Christ). But, man is linear. Our understanding is linear. It is hard to contemplate beyond it (perhaps impossible).

Can things be both temporal and without time at the same time?

Again, very, very muddled.....But it has crept into my reading of the Bible for the last several years...

At 2:34 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

would angels be conceived as existing outside time?

In Medieval theology - see Thomas of Aquino again - angels were believed to exist and experience reality NOT through time, but through "aevum" i.e. a series of mental patterns whose number and connection depended on their own decisions and actions. Each time an angel "did" something, he perceived the world as being changed in comparison with the previous world pattern.

It was a condition midway between time and eternity. As well as a very interesting physical theory, I add. Some year ago I even tried to develop a whole philosophy in the light of it.

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Perhaps what it looks like here, and I'm sure this will be foggy, but...

If Christ is non-temporal, can the point of His sacrifice exist outside the linear date in which it happened?

So, rather than, Jesus died once for all man's sins, those before, during, and after His life time, can we imagine where Christ, as an eternal part of God, offering a continual, eternal sacrifice?

Did God have to wait around for Jesus to be sacrificed to purify the Old Testament saints?

Something like that....

At 3:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

On temporal vs. atemporal, I concede defeat -- it is beyond my ken.

Oh, maybe if I had time to study on it . . .

But the hermeneutic question is . . . what did the author of Hebrews think?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:32 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I’m not sure the eternal (perhaps also non-linear) vs temporal/linear is absent in these passages.

I went back to listen to the preacher’s commentary I use, and he did not directly discuss this in the terms we have, but it got me back into the passage at verse 12 (Amplified Bible):

[12He went once for all into the [Holy of] Holies [of heaven]…but His own blood, having found and secured a complete redemption (an everlasting release for us).

14 How much more surely shall the blood of Christ, Who by virtue of [His] eternal Spirit [His own preexistent divine personality] has offered Himself as an unblemished sacrifice to God, purify our consciences from dead works and lifeless observances to serve the [ever] living God?]

By virtue of His eternal Spirit” For that matter, why “purify” instead of purified".

In listening to the preacher’s commentary I like, he was going over Hebrews 15-22, talking about how the temporal event of the crucifixion sanctified the OT saints as well as those in Jesus’ day and into the future. He pointed to John 8:56 in which Jesus says, “56Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.”

Abraham not only saw Jesus – he saw His sacrifice and rejoiced?

This all makes my head spin...

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'd have to do a lot more research before deciding on this issue -- and probably look into Platonic concepts that the author of Hebrews might be using.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, an eminent British Evangelical scholar referring to Hebrews 9:23, says: “We are taught here quite clearly that it was necessary that the heavenly place itself should be purified.” He continues: “And thus, it seems to me, we arrive at a kind of understanding of what is meant here by the necessity to purify even the heavenly tabernacle itself.” (D. M. Lloyd-Jones, God the Father, God the Son (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996), 346-48)

At 1:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An understanding of the earthly sanctuary service will clarify the cleansing/purifying of the heavenly sanctuary:

At 5:45 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. I'd have to see the argument by Lloyd-Jones to decide if he's right.

Meanwhile, here's a link to the site you noted.

Jeffery Hodges

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