Monday, January 28, 2013

William Lane on Hebrews 9:16-17

Shortly after the new year (2013) I found a copy of William L. Lane's shorter commentary, Hebrews: A Call To Commitment in a used-book store.  (His longer, world famous two-volume commentary on Hebrews can be found here and here.)  I was happily surprised to find that this world-renowned Biblical scholar offers a translation of Hebrews 9:16-17 which is extremely similar to the argument I proposed in earlier posts.  I am by no means a Hebrew scholar.  And I am very happy to have come across this book.  It's filled with all sorts of insights which I had not thought of before as I was teaching through the book of Hebrews years ago.  It makes me want to brush up and teach Hebrews again, actually!

Anyway, I was so surprised by the similarities between his commentary and my own thoughts on the subject that I couldn't resist posting on it once I had the chance.  Below is a brief selection of what he says in his shorter commentary:
The reference to Christ's death in verse 15 is followed by a long parenthesis (9:16-22) which explains why it was necessary for Christ to die.  The explanation of the death is rooted in covenant practice.  The preacher clarifies this matter in verses 16-17: 
For where there is a covenant, it is necessary for the death of the one who ratifies it to be brought forward, for a covenant is made legally secure on the basis of the sacrificial victims; it is never valid while the ratifier lives.  
These verses explain why Christ had to die in order to become the priestly mediator of the new covenant.  In the Old Testament, ratification of a covenant based on sacrifice frequently called for a procedure which clarifies the detail of verses of 16-17.  The ratifying party invoked a curse upon himself when he wrote to comply with the terms of the covenant.  In the transaction the ratifying party was represented by animals designated for sacrifice.  
...The preacher is familiar with covenant procedure, and he appeals to it to demonstrate that the ratification of the new covenant required the presentation of sacrificial blood.  He declares that if a covenant is to be made legally secure, the death of the ratifier must be "brought forward" in a representative sense.  Under the old covenant that death was "brought forward" in terms of sacrificial animals.  In the case of the new covenant, it was "brought forward" through the death of Christ.  Christ became "the cursed one," who in a representative way offered himself on behalf of those who had activated the curse sanction of the old covenant by the transgressions they had committed (see v. 15).  He took the curse upon himself.  Christ's death was the means of providing the sacrificial blood of the new covenant.1

1.  William L. Lane, Hebrews: A Call To Commitment [Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2004] pp. 124-125

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