Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

Archive for the ‘Hebrews’ Category

July 30th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Satan the Christian?

My family and I are incredibly lucky that a pastor sought us out. Out faith was solid, we had been attending church, but not any one in particular with regularity. A pastor extended us an invitation, no strings attached, and was never pushy, but remained persistent. It was wonderful. Since being involved in this church, we have been blessed by friendly and faithful people, Wesleyan preaching, and a family that we do not otherwise have for the most part. Most recently, the sermons have been inspired by a fairly famous quote from John Wesley. “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”  Imagine that, pastors who are not only committed to trying to do this, but is not trying to do this second hand, or as a result of something else, but is challenging and leading his congregation to become those 100 preachers. It is amazing. I know that other pastors do this, but it seems less and less are trying and that to often those who do try are sort of attempting it on the sly and not as the primary goal. To be fair, that may just be my impression however. I certainly mean no offense to pastors and their individual styles of course, I am simply trying to explain how much I appreciate my pastors and their willingness to take this head on. As always, my opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the church that I attend, or the source material that inspired these thoughts.
So on Sunday, in a service where baptisms were performed, and the special music was amazing (my wife sang, so of course it was), an incredibly profound sentence was spoken by the pastor during the sermon. I do not remember the quote directly, but it went something like this. If the only thing that you need to do to be a Christian is believe that Jesus is the son of God, then even Satan can be called a Christian. There is a trend toward the belief that one does not need to go to church to be a Christian, yet scripture, the book of Hebrews specifically, seems to disagree fairly strongly. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful who promised),  and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25) 
Looking at verse 23, we find the instruction to hold fast to our baptism. I am not going to reprint my thoughts on that here, but I encourage you to take a moment to read them. Wesley would comment in his New Testament notes, “The profession of our hope – The hope which we professed at our baptism.” An important part of our Christian faith is then rooted in baptism, but not simply the act of baptism, the profession of what we believe that called for baptism in the first place. Yes, all should be baptized of course, but yes, all should know what they are professing at baptism either as the one being baptized, or as those entrusted with raising the child being baptized. By the way, the congregation participates too, so you have a part in this. The congregation needs to remember these things and live up to their vows made at baptism as well.
Verse 24 is pretty straight forward on the surface of it. Provoke one another to love. Seems easy enough all in all, save that we rarely seem to understand or agree on what ‘love’ means these days. We have lost the understanding that the audience of Hebrews had about love. (More on love here. ) Consistently throughout both the Old and New testaments, love is tethered to obedience to ordinances and commands of God. We should provoke each other to follow the commands of God, to communion, to baptism, to the instructions of Christ (which are the commands of God of course), etc. Also, we should provoke each other to good works. This is also the message of James, though I dare say James puts it more bluntly. “My brothers, what profit is it if a man says he has faith and does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,   and if one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, but you do not give them those things which are needful to the body, what good is it?  Even so, if it does not have works, faith is dead, being by itself.   But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith from my works.  You believe that there is one God, you do well; even the demons believe and tremble.  But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:14-20) No, this is not works based salvation, but that is a different discussion for a different day. Here James makes very clear that good works are a vital part of the Christian faith.
Finally we come to verse 25, and really the crux of all of this I do believe. Wesley would say: “Not forsaking the assembling ourselves – In public or private worship. As the manner of some is – Either through fear of persecution, or from a vain imagination that they were above external ordinances. But exhorting one another – To faith, love, and good works. And so much the more, as ye see the day approaching – The great day is ever in your eye.” Yes, Christians assemble together for public and/or private worship. It isn’t an option.
Christianity is not always easy. If someone told you it was, I am sorry. It’s easy to know what to believe above Christianity really, but it is not easy to live the life of faith that we are called to. We are called to a faith that is better than that of the demons and Satan, their master. We are called to the faith of Jesus Christ and His Bride, the church. Simple logic says that we can not wait upon Christ, the Bridegroom, if we are not a part of the Bride. In truth, if we are not devoting our time to the Bride, then we are in effect guilty of the same adultery that God divorced himself from Israel for. (see Jeremiah chapter 3) Brothers and sisters, I would have us all live the faith the God, through Christ, has called us to, and not the faith of the adversary. It may not be a pleasant truth, but it is a truth none the less: If we are not living the faith of Christ, through the church, then we are serving the faith of Satan.
October 10th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Is Hebrews 4.12-16 Christological?

English: Fountain Street Church organ, Grand R...

English: Fountain Street Church organ, Grand Rapids, Mi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The word of God.”

That is a title we often use for Scripture and as such, it seems that this is the intent of Hebrews 4.12-13. The message of God. The Law. The Gospel. Something dealing with God’s utterance. I hear that interpretations to the contrary are largely abandoned.

The christological explanation has been generally abandoned since Calvin, even by A. T. Hanson 1965, who interprets the previous passage christologically. If the word of God were intended to mean Christ, one would not expect him to be compared with an inanimate object such as a weapon.1

What sayeth ye? Read Hebrews 4.12-13.

Now read Hebrews 4.12-16 as a whole. This is from the REB:

The word of God is alive and active. It cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword, piercing so deeply that it divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it discriminates among the purposes and thoughts of the heart. Nothing in creation can hide from him; everything lies bare and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render account.

Since therefore we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to the faith we profess. Ours is not a high priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in every way as we are, only without sinning. Let us therefore boldly approach the throne of grace, in order that we may receive mercy and find grace to give us timely help.

Now, back to the notion that since the passage compares the Logos of God to a weapon, it couldn’t mean Christ…

Hebrews is Alexandrian. Most scholars acknowledge this, seeing in Hebrews the connection to Philo, etc… (and Plato).

Which brings me to a sufficiently Alexandrian Jewish book, the Wisdom of Solomon,

All things were lying in peace and silence, and night in her swift course was half spent, when your all-powerful word leapt from your royal throne in heaven into the midst of that doomed land like a relentless warrior, bearing the sharp sword of your inflexible decree; with his head touching the heavens and his feet on earth he stood and spread death everywhere. (Wis 18:14–16.)

By the way, word/Logos here is connected to the whole realm and refrain of the Wisdom of God, a personified attribute of God.

But we also have Revelation,

Out of his mouth came a sharp sword to smite the nations; for it is he who will rule them with a rod of iron, and tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of God the sovereign Lord. (Rev. 19:15.)

My contention, then, is that Jesus is meant here in Hebrews 4.12-16. The Word of God is Jesus, who is the final revelation of God the Father (Hebrews 1.1-3)

  1.  Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993), 261.
April 13th, 2011 by Joel Watts

Scratchpad – Impossible to restore repentance?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

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The question is the title, sorta. It was asked by a classmate. Here is my answer.

______

Yes.

The author of Hebrews believed that at a certain point, it was hopeless for the Christian who rejected Christ to be re-redeemed. This passage is not the only one – although there is a discussion on this passage in the original language as to which is the proper order in translation, and the proper sense of some of those verbs – to address this issue in this epistle.

We find that the premise of warning is the occasion of the letter. It starts with Hebrews 2.1-3. The picture here is clear – if the Law of Moses was strict about rejection, how much more do you think the Gospel is? One is not just rejecting the stone tablets now, but also the Divine Blood. This must not be thought of as backsliding either. Notice the passage here and the beauty of the words. Draw closer, drift away, the whole of verse 2, and neglect.

Notice 3.7-19 which is a warning against unbelief, disobedience, and hardening of the heart. The imagery is powerful. What happened in the wilderness? They suffered and lost their life. Here, the soul is at stake.  Then in 4.1, the warning is made again about coming short of the Promised Rest. 4.11 notes that an effort is needed so as not to fall. The Rest of God is our goal, but if we will not work towards it, we will fall.

This passage in chapter 6 also mentions the word ἀδόκιμος (Heb 6:8). This word was applied to metal objects, such as coins, which were not able to hold the image which had been stamped upon it. These objects were worthless. In 6.8, the author says that those who reject Christ after knowing Him are worthless.

I make a brief note about the ‘how much more’ comparisons throughout the book. The OT was good, but how much more so what Christ has brought. The same is said of the punishments under the OT, but how much more dreadful for those who reject Christ.

I note then 10.26-39 wherein the author notes that deliberately sinning after Christ destroys us with Christ. Compare this notion of deliberate sin with Numbers 15.30, where the sin of the hand held to heaven requires that the person be cut off from the Israel.

Finally, I note 12.15-17 as well.

So yes, according to the Epistle of Hebrews, those who reject Christ – this is not backsliding – after having come to know Him will not enjoy eternal salvation.

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April 13th, 2011 by Joel Watts

Scratchpad: Hebrews and Long Ago Imagery

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This week, we are studying the Epistle to the Hebrews. The question as to talk about one passage and the imagery contained therein.

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Hebrews 1.1-3 is a favorite passage of mine because in it, I find my Christology, especially centered on the word ὑποστάσεως, but the entire chapter is a harkening back to the prophets of a mythological and foggy time, the era of the better days, so to speak. Here, the author sets out the tone of the homiletic discourse and showcases his (or her, since the author is unknown) style of how he will take various passages from the soon-to-be Old Testament and from them, brings forth Christ. Sometimes, I think that the author may be employing a chiastic structure, but the last peak remains firmly unannounced; however, the author starts with God, the highest, and ends with the angels who serve humanity.

Here we have God expressing a divine attribute in the hypostasis of the Son who is seen as the radiance of his glory (v3, cf Wisdom 7.26-28). This Image of God is now declared to be higher than the angels, and to be the creative force behind the original Creation. The Wisdom of God is now beside God on the throne, waiting until victory is ultimately declared. I do find it odd however, that whereas we find Christ is ‘sent out’ to humanity in the Gospel of John, the author of Hebrews notes that a difference between the Son and the Angels is that now the angels are ‘sent out!’

Throughout this passage, the author is using the image of Wisdom in Proverbs and language similar to the brief snippet of the Book of Wisdom as well as quoting from the Psalmists. In this chapter, he uses the creation of the world as the backdrop to show where Christ came from. Further, our author used the imagery of inheriting a name and becoming better than the angels. This author then uses the imagery provided by the Psalms to stand Christ up against the angels. The writer establishes Christ’s pedigree and then establishes His position in heaven and all by using the Hebrew Scriptures (although most likely in the form of the LXX).This will be a trend throughout the rest of the book, to always bring back Christ to the Old Testament. Many books have been written on preaching the Old Testament in the Christian church. This was the first, and by far, the best example of how to do so.

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April 1st, 2011 by Jeremy

Essays on John and Hebrews – Evaluation

This is the third in a series of posts in which I am reviewing Essays on John and Hebrews by Harold Attridge from Mohr Siebeck.  The previous two posts have dealt with the author and contents.

As a doctoral student who has focused on Biblical Hebrew and Applied Linguistics, I am an expert on neither the Gospel of John nor the Epistle to the Hebrews.  However, as someone whose masters work was in Biblical Studies more generally, I am well-versed enough to be acquainted with some of the more important issues within the scholarly study of those two books and to be able to recognize a high quality work when I see one.  In my estimation, Essays on John and Hebrews is a well-balanced and expertly written text that any scholar should very much like to have as a part of their library.

The text is clearly well-balanced throughout, and a couple of easy examples spring to mind from the essays dealing with the relationship between the Dead the Scrolls and early Christianity.  Whereas more sensationalist authors often attempt to show some kind of direct link between the Qumran community and early Christianity, most of the more sober scholarship that one reads suggests otherwise.  Attridge fits squarely within the sphere of this well-balanced scholarship.  Rather than suggesting a direct link, Attridge surveys the Qumran material concluding that it sheds light on Judaism in the first century.  Thus, the Qumran material sheds light on early Christianity in the sense that Christianity emerged in a first century Jewish context, yet he does not propose a direct link.  This balanced approach is representative of the approach taken throughout the rest of the essays.

In addition, the text is quite clearly expertly written.  This is obvious enough from reading the essays themselves; however, the easiest illustration of this for the purposes of this review comes in the extensive bibliography and wealth of material in the footnotes.  The bibliography is 36 pages long and consists of primary and secondary sources in a variety of different languages.  Thus, the author’s perspective is not limited by the sort of English language bias that hampers some works.  In addition, one could gain a great deal of information about John’s Gospel and the Epistle to the Hebrews just from the footnotes, though it could also be easy enough to get bogged down there.  As one example, page 142 of the text consists of only 6 lines of main body text, whereas a good 4/5 of the pages actually consists of footnotes.  This is truly the stuff of an expertly written scholarly text.

If I had to pick out essays that I thought most helpful in my context, I would say that “Johannine Christianity,” “The Restless Quest for the Beloved Disciple,” and “The Gospel of John and the Dead Sea Scrolls” are good candidates.  Incidentally, these are the essays on introductory issues, which serve to help me, since in the area of New Testament studies I would only deal with general issues.  In terms of sheer interest, I found the essays “‘Seeking’ and ‘Asking’ in Q, Thomas, and John” and “An ‘Emotional’ Jesus and the Stoic Tradition” to be enlightening.  My only study of Thomas and stoics came in the form brief treatments in New Testament survey.  So, getting to take a deeper look was beneficial.  Some of the other essays did not capture my own particular interest so much, for example reading about “The Cubist Principle in Johannine Imagery” didn’t do that much for me.  But, I cannot say that there was any particular essay I read that seemed poorly written or poorly researched.

The bottom-line here is that this is, at least in my mind, the kind of book that any serious scholar on John’s Gospel or the Epistle to the Hebrews would love to have in their library.  But, this does bring me to the one fairly serious downside of the text.  Though this is a text any scholar might love to have, the cost of the text would put it out of the reach of many, at least in terms of having it in one’s personal library.  The lowest price on Amazon is right around $170, and Amazon’s own price is $257.50.  Thus, for many scholars, this might be the kind of book that you would want to request that your university or seminary library purchase.  However, if you can afford it, I highly recommend purchasing it for your own collection.

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