Monday, April 28, 2008

Church in Hebrews 3

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More of my efforts to show that according to Hebrews the Church is in a relation of eschatological fulfilment to Israel of the Old Testament.

2. Christ, the Church, and Israel

So far we have seen at the very least that the Church is deeply analogous to Old Testament Israel, and that this is so by virtue of the Church’s connection to Christ. However, more can be said here, since the importance of Christ in the Church’s identity has further implications for the Church’s relation to Israel. Christ’s work is described throughout Hebrews as fulfilling promises, types, shadows, offices and rituals that were given to Israel in the Old Testament.[1] This basic relation of Christ to Israelite history is also true for the Church. The community that benefits from Christ’s fulfilling of Israel’s shadows is therefore a part of this fulfilment of Israel and her history. In the Church Israel’s salvation history, her covenant, her promises, reach their teleological climax.[2] The Church is in this sense the ‘true’ or ‘new’ Israel, and that by virtue of Christ.[3]

This can be established at several places in the text, but we will start with Hebrews 8 since in this section (8:1-10:18) we find some of Hebrews’ more sustained reflection on Christ’s relation to the old covenant order.[4] In 8:1 the discussion of Christ as High priest in the order of Melchizedek comes to a head with the commencement of a comparison between “the true tent’ in which Christ serves and that which is described as a shadow of it, namely the earthly tabernacle built by Moses (8:5).[5] As high priest in this true tent Christ mediates a better covenant (8:2-6). This covenant (and the deficiencies of the old one) were spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (quoted in 8:8-12). Christ’s unique priesthood, fulfilling the shadows of the old covenant, guarantees for the Church the new covenant of Jeremiah’s prophecy.[6] In 9:15 this is described in terms of inheritance, which indicates these ideas are an expansion of what has been already asserted in more compact form in 2:16 where Christ as high priest helps Abraham’s offspring. The same themes can also be found in 6:13-20 where the promise to Abraham is expounded. Taken together, these passages show that what the Church receives from Christ’s high priestly ministry is what was promised to Abraham, and what was promised for a renewed Israel in Jeremiah 31. Hebrews 11:39-40 makes this even more explicit, where it is claimed that the saints of the Old Testament “did not receive what was promised” but only attained perfection[7] along with the Church. The same pattern is displayed in negative form in the discussion of God’s rest (3:7-4:14).[8] What faithful Israelites looked forward to, what faithless Israelites forfeited, is the possession of the Church.

[1] See discussion below for a fuller explanation. But see also discussion of typology and the Old Testament in Giles, Church, 154-155.

[2] That is, their intended ‘goal.’ This concept is clear in 11: 39-40 with regard to the promises and covenants given to faithful Israelites. See also Giles, Church, 153-159.

[3] “New’ alone would imply the Church was a new version, a second, a renewed Israel. That does not account for the fulfilment/climax motif found throughout Hebrews.

[4] Guthrie sees 8:3-10:18 as forming the second major half (5:1-10 with 7:1-28 forming the first half) of material in Hebrews on Christ’s “[r]elation to the Earthly Sacrificial System” – material which runs from 4:14 to 10:25 in total. 8:3-10:18 he designates as dealing with the superiority of Christ’s offering. Guthrie, Hebrews, 39-40.

[5] Guthrie sees 8:1-2 as a moment of transition and summary. Guthrie, Hebrews, 278-279.

[6] See also 7: 22. The significance of the priesthood as the guarantee of the whole covenant whether old or new) comes from Charles Anderson, Lectures on Hebrews, October-December 2007.

[7] That is, “cleansing of conscience, sanctification, and ultimate glorification” only “made possible by Christ’s sacrifice”[7] Attridge, Hebrews, 352.

[8] Note especially the description of this as a promise in 4:1.

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