Issues in Interpreting Hebrews
The Creative Element of Divine Speech in Hebrews 1:5a
Speech - and more specifically divine speech - has become an important topic of discussion amongst Hebrews scholars. The first instance of divine speech quoted in Hebrews is found in Heb. 1.5a, wherein the author cites Ps. 2.7: υἱός μου εἶ σὺ, ἐγὼ σὴμερον γεγέννηκά σε. This quotation opens the famous catena of scripture (1.5-13), outlines the origins of Christ’s Sonship (cf. 1.1-4), and proleptically highlights the importance of the Father/Son dynamic which will culminate in the author’s claim that the audience themselves are υἱοί θεοῦ (cf. 12.4-6). Much discussion has ensued regarding the precise point in the meta-narrative of salvation history at which these words are spoken: when is the ‘today’ in question? Is this spoken to the Son in his pre-existent state, or - as in 1.6 - as he enters εἰς τὴν οἰκουμένην (however one understands this), or do these words follow His atoning sacrifice offered in the heavenly tabernacle?
However, one issue yet to be fully addressed is the nature of the speech at work in this divine conversation. More specifically, is this utterance - “you are my Son ...” - descriptive or creative? This is to say, is this declaration simply a response to something that is already the case (i.e., descriptive) or does this declaration become true because it is spoken by God? In this paper I will argue for a creative reading of Heb. 1.5a over against the more common descriptive reading, suggesting Jesus ontologically becomes the Son only as these words are spoken to Him by God. I will then end by briefly discussing the implications such a reading has not only for the Christology of Hebrews but for the author’s understanding of the power of divine speech more generally.
Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews Revisited
Since the publication of Ronald Williamson’s monograph in 1970, Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews, study of Philo has advanced apace, with many new insights into his theology, his exegesis, and the world of Hellenistic Judaism to which he belonged. This short paper will survey recent developments in Philonic Studies and assess how they might refine our understanding of Philo’s relation to the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Hebrews, Heavenly Temple and Heavenly Sacrifice
Jesus: the minister of the heavenly tabernacle, or the heavenly temple (Heb 8:1-5)? A relevance-theoretic approach to the absence of temple language in Hebrews
The absence of any explicit reference to the temple in Hebrews has proved troublesome for scholars, with various explanations being proposed to explain its omission. Two recent explanations for Hebrews’ supposed lack of interest in the temple, as offered by Jason Whitlark and Philip Church, are here examined from the standpoint of Relevance Theory (RT), which stresses the importance of ostensive (explicit) communication and how communication serves to modify a hearer’s cognitive environment. Both Whitlark and Church suggest that, although the author uses tabernacle language, he intends the audience to understand an implicit reference to the temple in Heb 8:1-5. However, an alternative explanation for how the audience might hear this language is suggested by RT. First, as the author of Hebrews draws ostensibly from the Pentateuch in his depiction of the tabernacle, priesthood and sacrifices, the audience would be unlikely to understand the tabernacle as a coded reference to the temple. Second, by encouraging the audience to view themselves in a situation analogous to Israel in the wilderness, the author modifies their cognitive environment; here, a reference to tabernacle, not temple, would thus be appropriate in describing what the audience draws near to. Indeed, tabernacle language has important implications for the audience. Tabernacle language enables the readers to understand how they are to relate to God in the present as they journey towards their Promised Inheritance and implies that their relationship to the tabernacle, like Israel’s, is temporary only, en route to the goal of their journey: entering Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem.
“The Oil of Gladness” and Priestly Investiture in the Epistle to the Hebrews
The anointment of Jesus with the “oil of gladness” (Heb 1:9) is rightly regarded as a royal investiture. Jesus’s anointment is associated with enthronement, the scepter, and the kingdom (Heb 1:8). The citation in Heb 1:8–9 is also drawn from Psalm 44 LXX, a hymn celebrating Israel’s king. The pronounced relationship between Jesus’s anointment and his kingship, however, may overshadow another function of the oil: high priestly consecration. Like Israel’s kings, Levitical priests were anointed with “holy oil” at their installment (Exodus 29–30, Leviticus 8, 11QT 15:3–16:4). The high priest was also called the “anointed priest” (Lev 4:3, 16:32). Moreover, Hebrews’ “main point” (8:1–2) is that Jesus became a high priest after Melchizedek’s order, a royal ruler and holy minister in the heavenly sanctuary.
Although some scholars have briefly considered a priestly anointment in Heb 1:9, the possibility has not been explored in depth. Moreover, the conversation is rarely brought into conversation with the broader Septuagint and second temple tradition. In this paper, I engage these traditions and propose that the anointment in Hebrews appears to consecrate Jesus for two offices: high priest and king. When read against Jewish apocalyptic and early Christian texts in particular, divineanointment may signal a bodily transformation that safeguards new priests for heavenly space. I therefore propose that Jesus’s anointment may be connected to his inheritance of the “indestructible life” required by priests after Melchizedek’s order (7:16–17), a quality of life that eschews physical weakness and endures forever in the heavens (7:28).
‘He Sat Down’: Christ’s Session in the Heavenly Tabernacle as the End of His Offering
The nature of Christ’s heavenly work in the Letter to the Hebrews has been a subject of debate since at least the Reformation. The prevailing assumption in scholarship and beyond has been that Christ’s atoning work is essentially finished on earth and at the cross, paving the way for his ascension into heaven where his only work is to pray. This assumption has been challenged by Aelred Cody, Walter Brooks, Richard Nelson, and most extensively and recently by David Moffitt. These scholars point to the logic of the Day of Atonement sacrifice to argue that the high priest’s actions within the Holy of Holies – and therefore also Christ’s work in the heavenly sanctuary – form an integral, indeed climactic, part of the sacrifice he offers. This perspective is still being digested by scholars but has increasingly been adopted (see R. B. Jamieson’s CBR taxonomy). However, a significant question remains as to the precise extent and nature of the process of Christ’s sacrifice. This paper will argue that the session of Christ in the heavenly tabernacle is integral to resolving this issue. I will first survey the heavenly session motif in Second Temple texts and across the New Testament. Then I turn my attention to Hebrews, which evokes heavenly session in five places. I will argue that the combination of this royal enthronement motif with the ritual movement of Yom Kippur is an innovation on the author's part, albeit one prompted by Psalm 110. The two are carefully integrated to indicate a definitive end point to Christ’s sacrifice, after his heavenly entrance but not co-extensive with his heavenly intercession.
Response to Nicholas Moore: David Moffitt, University of St Andrews