Posted by: mattcolvin | March 16, 2012

Notes on Hebrews 5-7

Abel and Melchizedek, from the Ravenna Mosaic in the Basilica of San Vitale (no, not Dick Vitale).

3rd Week in Lent: Hebrews 5-7.

5:8-9 – Jesus “learned obedience (ὑπακοήν) and having been perfected became the cause of salvation for those who obey him (τοῖς ὑπακούουσιν αὐτῷ).” Let us not miss this argument: because Jesus obeyed, those who obey Him are saved. This is formally identical to Romans 3:22’s “righteousness of God which is by faith (διὰ πίστεως) of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe (τοὺς πιστεύοντας).” I would submit that these two verses are talking about the same thing, however much it may drive some people nuts to admit that true faith and true obedience are the same thing.

5:12 – ὀφείλοντες εἶναι διδάσκαλοι διὰ τὸν χρόνον — “though you ought to be teachers because of the time.” The recipients of the letter are behind their grade level. The natural result of growth in Christian maturity is that one becomes a teacher. This might not be a matter of office-holding or ordained ministry, but growth is always so that others may benefit.

6:7-8 “For the land (ἡ γῆ) which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8 but if it bears thorns and briers (ἀκάνθας καὶ τριβόλους), it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.”

This is clearly a channeling of many other Biblical passages, especially the song of the vineyard from Isaiah 5 and Jesus’ parable of the soils in Matthew 13. I would submit that, as so often in the book of Revelation as well, ἡ γῆ means specifically the land of Israel, not just any land, let alone the earth as a whole. After all, the context in Hebrews is about whether to return to Judaism and Torah.

6:19 – This verse is a tremendous catachresis, mixing the metaphor of an anchor (ַἄγκυραν τῆς ψυχῆς ἀσφαλῆ τε καὶ βεβαίαν) with the high priest’s entry into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. The word for “entering in” is ἐισερχομένην, with a feminine ending to match the anchor!

7:16 – This is a momentous sentence, teaching that Jesus’ Melchizedekian priesthood does not depend upon a covenant like the Torah. It is not κατὰ νόμον ἐντολῆς σαρκίνης, “according to a law of fleshly commandment”, or perhaps better, “according to a Torah-style covenant of fleshly commandment.” Rather, Jesus’ priesthood depends on “the power of an indestructible life” (δύναμιν ζωῆς ἀκαταλύτου). Covenants are breakable, especially ones that are matters of fallen humanity (“the flesh”) trying to keep commandments. But Jesus new immortal life is secure and not contingent on anything anymore.

7:20 – “Some people” (οἱ μεν) — Aaronites, presumably — are “made priests without the swearing of an oath,” in contrast to Jesus, whose priesthood is confirmed with an oath from Psalm 110:4, “YHWH has sworn and will not repent: you are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” This is yet another contrast between the firm security of Christ’s priestly office, and the contingent insecurity of Judaism’s Aaronic priesthood. Our author appears to be implying that since God did not swear any oaths about the Aaronites, He has left Himself a loophole to terminate that priestly office. Christ, by contrast, has eternal tenure in His priesthood.

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