2017 Hebrews

Session 1

What Exactly was the Son Involved in Creating?

Angela Costley 

The vocabulary of Hebrews’ exordium, is elaborate and there are several key words and phrases which are widely recognized as needing special attention: τοὺς αἰῶνας· (Heb 1:2), ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης and χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως (Heb 1:3) and φέρων τε τὰ πάντα τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ (Heb 1:3).  This paper will focus on the first of these, the ambiguous τοὺς αἰῶνας, and try to answer the question of what exactly the Son is involved in creating.  Firstly, αἰών can mean “a long period of time, without ref[erence] to beginning or end” (BDAG).  We might therefore translate it as “age” or, simply transliterating the Greek itself, aeon. In the plural, “τοὺς αἰῶνας” could thus be seen to refer collectively to all ages, all stages in eschatological history.  The LXX usage of “to the ages” is fairly common (e.g., Ps 60:5 [61:5]; 76:8 [77:8]; Wis 3:8), and this meaning is adopted multiple times in the NT  (e.g., Lk 1:33; Rom 1:25, 9:5; 11:6), including in Hebrews (e.g, 13:8, 21).On the other hand, αἰών can potentially also have a more spatial sense, “the worlds”, as in the creation of heaven and earth.  We likely find this usage in passages such as Wis 13:9 or 18:4. Scholarship is divided as to which is the more appropriate interpretation in Hebrews 1:2; however, we shall see that they are not, in fact, mutually exclusive, and perhaps both senses are implied.

Heaven's revolving door? Cosmology, entrance, and approach in Hebrews

Nicholas Moore 

Terminology of 'entering' and 'approaching' in Hebrews has been seen as clearly distinct (John Scholer) and as fully synonymous (Scott Mackie). This debate is often framed in eschatological terms - when is rest/heaven entered? This paper instead explores these questions from a cosmological angle. Viewing the issue through this lens suggests that the picture is more complex than an eschatological schema alone implies, whilst also lending weight to Scholer's case over Mackie's - that is, that Hebrews carefully distinguishes entrance and approach.

Session 2

Does Christ's sacrifice forgive sins?: A brief discussion regarding Hebrews' appropriation of ἄφεσις within the context of sacrifice and impurity

Joshua D. A. Bloor 

The forgiveness of sins is a salient concept in the NT, yet, is it right to import this category into Hebrews? While the term ἄφεσις occurs twice in Hebrews (9:22; 10:18), some scholars suggest that it is improper to render the term “forgiveness” (Johnson, 1973; Lane, 1991), pointing to the fact that the forgiveness “of sins” (ἁμαρτιῶν) is absent, and an interpolation added by modern translations (9:22). Suggested alternatives for ἄφεσις include “release,” “letting go,” or “sending away.” Others however include “forgiveness of sins” within the larger scope of purification and the general benefits of the New Covenant (Attridge, 1989; Moffitt, 2011; Gäbel, 2006; Ribbens, 2016). In order to make sense of these opposing views, the following paper will explore the issue of hermeneutics and the centrality of impurity/purity—and its relationship with sin—within Hebrews’ argumentation. This paper will ask the question as to whether the concept of “forgiveness” can be reconciled with Hebrews’ insistence on the removal of sin, and the general language of purgation. The paper will conclude by arguing that reinforcing the “forgiveness” of sins is not Hebrews’ prime concern, but instead, the presence and consciousness of sin (9:9; 9:14; 10:2; 10:22), with the aim of bringing the recipients into God’s presence.

“For If They Did Not Escape”: The Judgment of Israel at Sinai in Hebrews 9 and 12

Justin H. Duff 

Why is the strength of a διαθήκῃ confirmed over dead bodies? This question, which is prompted by Heb 9:15–17, has long perplexed readers of Hebrews. The interpretive difficulty arises from the number of plausible conceptual backgrounds available for the passage, backgrounds which range from the stipulations of a Greco-Roman testament to the self-maledictory oath of an ancient near Eastern covenant. An often overlooked clue appears in Heb 9:18–20, where the use of purifying blood to inaugurate the first covenant at Sinai (cf. Exod 24:5–8) is grounded in the connection between death and διαθήκῃ in 9:15–17. In light of this, I suggest an alternative conceptual background that is articulated in early rabbinic retellings of Exodus 19–20, retellings that narrate the death of the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai. These retellings suggest that Israel could not bear the strength of the Sinai theophany, particularly the voice of the Lord, and subsequently died and were raised by the Lord. The accounts are not uniform and cannot be confidently dated earlier than the second or third century C.E., but they contain a number of intriguing parallels with Hebrews 9 and 12 and may illuminate both the sense in which Israel “did not escape” (οὐκ ἐξέφυγον) when she refused to hear the earth-shaking voice of the Lord (12:25–26) as well as the connection between death and διαθήκῃ in 9:15–17.

Session 3

Running the race or striving in the wilderness? A re-consideration of the background of Hebrews 12:1

Zoe Hollinger 

Scholarly consensus understands Heb 12:1 to have a race metaphor in view. On this reading, the audience are exhorted to run a race equivalent to our modern day marathon. This paper will contest this interpretation and propose that the audience are instead envisioned as striving in the wilderness as they journey towards the Promised Land, where Jesus their ἀρχηγός has gone before them. I will demonstrate that this background is preferable to a race metaphor on contextual and semantic grounds. First, a race metaphor is not consonant with the context of Heb 12:1. The exhortation is preceded by chapter 11, which, in Thiessen’s words, characterises Israel’s history as ‘an extended wilderness period.’ It is followed by Heb 12:5-13, which draws on Deut 8 and Is 35, both of which describe Israel’s wandering in the desert. Second, looking specifically at Heb 12:1, I will argue that, although τρέχωμεν…ἀγῶνα can refer to a race, it can also describe a struggle more generally, and that this understanding coheres better with the nature of the ἀγών, and the concepts of ‘weight’, ‘sin’ and ‘endurance’ in the verse. Parallels between Heb 12 and Philo’s depiction of Israel’s wilderness period as an ἀγών will also be deduced in support of a wilderness background. Furthermore, such a background fits with the author’s characterisation of Jesus as an ἀρχηγός (12:2), a designation used of the leaders of the wilderness generation in the LXX. If these arguments are correct, then, rather than introducing a race metaphor into his argument and abandoning it within a matter of verses, the author of Hebrews continues to situate his audience in the wilderness, an understanding which is consistent with the larger narrative of the book. 

The Transformation of Creation in Heb 12:26-29 in Light of the Eschatological Hope of Some Second Temple Texts

Jihye Lee 

In Heb 12:26-29, the author envisions the shaking of the heaven and earth, which brings the μετάθεσις of the created things. Then, he presents the hope of the unshakable kingdom, Zion (v. 22), which the people of God will enjoy. One major interpretative view argues that this passage reflects on Platonic cosmology, which distinguishes between transitory material and eternal reality. According to this view, Hebrews supports the idea that the created world will be “removed” (μετάθεσις) while the people of God will inherit the unshakable heavenly world. I argue instead that Heb 12:26-29 reflects an eschatological hope similar to some Second Temple apocalyptic texts. Specifically, the author makes the point that the eschatological consummation involves the transformation/change (μετάθεσις) of the created world in order to be united to the heavenly world. I support this claim by adducing several Second Temple Jewish texts in which Zion, the eschatological inheritance of God’s people, is presented as the restoration of the primordial bliss originally intended for Adam to enjoy in Eden (an Urzeit-Endzeit eschatology). It is further to be noted that this eschatological vision includes the consummation of the privileges in the Promised Land. The eschatological and immortal heavenly world is in continuity with the historical venues on the earth for the relationship between God and his people. In some of these texts, the shaking of the earth is specifically related to the idea of renewal of creation (4 Ezra and 2 Baruch).