Friday, April 25, 2008

Church in Hebrews 2

This section aims to show that according to Hebrews the Church is in a relation of eschatological fulfilment to Israel of the Old Testament.[1]

1. The Hebrews are like and unlike Israel

That there is a close connection between the recipients of the letter and “historic Israel”[2] is apparent from the very start of the letter. 1:1 describes the recipients of previous revelation as “our fathers” and the remainder of the introductory paragraph continues to draw a parallel between this revelation and the revelation given to the recipients of the letter through the Son (1:1-4). In one sense this sets the tone for the rest of the letter; the recipients are like Israel in the sense that they have received a gospel proclamation (4:2), and response to this word can either bring salvation or terrible judgment (2:1-4, 10:28-29, 12:25). Hence the Hebrews[3] are compared to the recipients of the Exodus deliverance in 2:14-15, to Israel in the wilderness in chapters 3-4, and the promises and warnings given to Israel in Psalm 95 and Jeremiah 31 are applied directly to them.[4] In fact, a similarity to Israel is implicit throughout, as evidenced by the frequent quotation from the Old Testament.[5]

However, the warning and judgment passages noted above are more than simply a ‘since them, then also us’ argument.[6] The Hebrews are like Israel but also unlike them.[7] This ‘unlikeness’ is based on the finality and climactic nature of the word spoken to them through the Son.[8] Accordingly, the salvation and judgment offered in the Son is both comparable to, and yet at the same time greater than, that experienced by Israel (1:2-4, 2:1-3, 10:28-29, 11:39-40).[9] Secondly, it can be clearly demonstrated that this connection to Israel is conceived as being in and through the recipients’ connection to Christ, whose relation to the old covenant itself receives a great deal of attention throughout the letter.[10]

[1] See e.g. Giles, Church, 159.

[2] Giles uses this expression. Giles, Church, 159.

[3] At various points we will use the term ‘the Hebrews’ to designate the recipients of the letter.

[4] Giles, Church, 153-154.

[5] Giles, Church, 152-153 highlights this.

[6] This does not mean they are less than such an argument, nor that they aren’t framed so as to read as such. Rather, we are asserting that there is more to be said than might appear at face value.

[7] This is a facet of the broader theme of the continuity and discontinuity between the covenants. See e.g. Ellingworth, Hebrews, 68-69.

[8] E.g. 1:1-2. Guthrie describes this as revelatory climax. Guthrie, Hebrews, 45.

[9] This understanding of Hebrews has been influenced by Charles Anderson, Lectures on Hebrews, October-December 2007.

[10] This is almost so all-pervasive as to not require confirmation by naming specific texts (we could cite the whole epistle in this regard). However, passages that specifically speak of Christ and the old covenant include 7:22-8:7; 9:15-26; 10:1-18.

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