Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Center of Hebrews

In a previous post I discussed the central chiastic structure to the book of Hebrews as follows:

A.   Hebrews 8:1-5
B.   Hebrews 8:6-13
            C.   Hebrews 9:1-10
            C’.  Hebrews 9:11-14
B’.  Hebrews 9:15-22
A’.  Hebrews 9:23-28

A.   The temporal, earthly level at which the Old Covenant priestly ministry of the Levites takes place  (8:1-5)

B.   God’s covenant with man and its association with the old and temporal ministry of mediation by the Levitical Priesthood (8:6-13)

C.   The organization of the old ministry and the unsatisfactory nature of priestly service in God’s “House” as illustrated in the earthly priest’s need to “continually” enter through "the first tent", but only through the "second" tent once every year  (9:1-10)

C’.   The organization of Christ’s ministry and the satisfactory nature of priestly service in God’s House because Jesus “entered through the greater and more perfect tent,” thereby obtaining "eternal redemption"  (9:11-14)

B’.   God’s covenant with man and its association with the new and eternal priestly ministry of mediation by Jesus (9:15-22)

A’.   The eternal, heavenly level at which the New Covenant priestly ministry of Jesus Christ takes place  (9:23-28)

In order to see more clearly the literary patterns discussed in each section, I have provided a parallel textual analysis below for each corresponding section:

A.  Hebrews 8:1-5  
  • (v. 3) "It is necessary..."
  • (v. 4) "if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all...[to] offer gifts according to the law"
  • (v. 5) "they [the earthly line of Levitical priests] serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary"  
A'.  Hebrews 9:23-28
  • (v. 23) "It was necessary..."
  • (v. 24) "Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, but into heaven itself, the hight priest enters the holy place year by year"
  • (v. 23) "the copies of the heavenly things [need] to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than [earthly ones offered by Levitical priests]"

B.  Hebrews 8:6-13
  • (v. 7) "For if that first [covenant/priestly ministry] had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second
  • (v. 8) "I will make a new covenant..." 
  • (v. 13) "When [God] said 'a new', he makes the first [covenant/priestly ministry] obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."
B'.  Hebrews 9:15-22
  • (v. 16-18) "For where a covenant1 is, it is necessary that the death of the institutor [of the covenant] be carried [by a priest]. For a covenant is established over dead [animal] victims, otherwise [the covenant] is of no strength at all while the institutor is alive.2 Therefore not even the first [covenant/priestly ministry] was inaugurated without blood" 
  • (v. 15) "[Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant... to set them free from the transgressions committed under the first covenant"
  • (v. 28) "Christ, having been offered once to carry the sins of many, will appear a second time... to bring salvation to those who are eagerly waiting for him."

C.  Hebrews 9:1-10
  • (v. 2) "For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place"
  • (v. 6) "[Levitical] priests go continually into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes... The Holy Spirit showing by this that the way into the Holy Place was not disclosed as long as the outer tabernacle was still standing."
C'.  Hebrews 9:11-14
  • (v. 11-12) "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things things to come... [he entered] through the greater and more perfect tent... having obtained eternal redemption."

With this chiastic framework in mind, two things seem apparent: 

1) The "covenant" in these passages centers upon the priestly ministry: one earthly and one heavenly, one first and one second, one old and one new, one renewed continually year by year and one obtained for all eternity.

2) There does not seem to be a place within the close context of 9:16-18 or even the broader context of 8:1 through 9:14 for the theme of covenant-keeping to shift from away from the sacrificial setting of the earthly priestly ministry and toward the more abstract concept of a "will" or "testament" as is found in many English translations. 

1.  I do not believe that modern Bible versions provide an adequate translation of Hebrews 9:16-17 when they choose to adjust the meaning of the word "covenant", which is used all throughout Hebrews in that specific sense alone, into an entirely different meaning of "will" or "testament" only in these verses. In order to switch over from a discussion about covenant to a discussion about a will or testament, the author would be committing the logical fallacy of equivocation. 
2.  The translation provided above is my own, but is based upon the underlying Greek text and some insights by scholars such as Greg Bahnsen in his lectures on the Book of Hebrews, and Marvin Vincent in his Word Studies in the New Testament. Commenting on Hebrews 9:16-17, both Bahnsen and Vincent note that the Greek explicitly mentions the "carrying" of the dead victim, which describes the institutor of the covenant needing to die representatively and be carried by a Levitical priest. Moreover, in verse 17, the word for "dead" or "death" (depending on the english translation) is plural in Greek, with no other noun to modify, and so it literally reads "dead [things]". In the context of the Levitical priestly ministry in the tabernacle courtyard, the Israelite-worshiper would renew his covenant with God by bringing an appropriate animal to represent him as prescribed in the Law, and the worshiper would then lay his hands on the animal and slay it in order for the priest to literally carry the dead carcass of the representative animal into the very presence of God (via the great altar of ascension and the corresponding sprinkling of blood on the altar of incense in front of the "Most Holy Place" within the first tent).

No comments:

Post a Comment