The question is the title, sorta. It was asked by a classmate. Here is my answer.
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.
This week, we are studying the Epistle to the Hebrews. The question as to talk about one passage and the imagery contained therein.
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.
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.
In terms of the division of the contents, the essays are not quite evenly split between John and Hebrews. The main body of the text is right around 350 pages, with around 200 devoted the Gospel of John and around 150 devoted to the Epistle to the Hebrews. This is somewhat reflective of the length of John as compared with Hebrews.
Each of the essays in this volume has appeared elsewhere. This may make the text less valuable for those who may only want to read one or two of the essays. They might be able to xerox a hard copy or get electronic versions through a library. Yet for those who rely heavily on Attridge’s work this text puts many of his important essays in one place.
The essays range from fairly general introductory matters to fairly specialized matters. For example, the authorship of the gospel of John is the focus of one of the essays. For someone like myself, who, either in the context of the university or even in the context of a church parish, sometimes has to give general introductions to Biblical books, essays like this one should be very helpful. I have had the opportunity to read through that essay, so far, and Attridge appears to summarize much of the important literature. As an example of a more specialized essay, Attridge looks at matters like the relationship between logos in the Gospel of John and in Philo. This essay and ones like it may or may not prove useful to me in the contexts in which I teach, as most of the people that I deal with may not want to delve quite so deeply.
With this said, this book could prove helpful for the generalist and the specialist alike. To conclude, I’m also providing the publisher’s description below:
Harold W. Attridge has engaged in the interpretation of two of the most intriguing literary products of early Christianity, the Gospel according to John and the Epistle to the Hebrews. His essays explore the literary and cultural traditions at work in the text and its imaginative rhetoric aiming to deepen faith in Christ by giving new meaning to his death and exaltation. His essays on John focus on the literary artistry of the final version of the gospel, its playful approach to literary genres, its engaging rhetoric, its delight in visual imagery. He situates that literary analysis of both works within the context of the history of religion and culture in the first century, with careful attention to both Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds. Several essays, focusing on the phenomena connected with “Gnosticism”, extend that religio-historical horizon into the life of the early Church and contribute to the understanding of the reception of these two early Christian masterpieces.
This is the first time that I’m reviewing a book for Joel’s blog. But, in seminary, I was taught that a book review should consist of information about the author, an overview of contents, and a reaction. In this post, I’ll give a bit of background information on Harold Attridge whose essays fill out this collection of Essays on John and Hebrews from Mohr Siebeck.
I am not a New Testament scholar, but my first acquaintance with Attridge’s work was in the HarperCollins Study Bible for which he was an editor. When I was looking for a Bible to require for students in an Old Testament introductory course in a situation where the goals were more critical, this is the one that I decided on. Knowing that Attridge had a significant role to play in that work gives me high expectations for Essays on John and Hebrews.
For those who may not be familiar with Attridge’s background, a great deal more information can be found HERE. As a few highlights, Attridge has BA and MA degrees from Cambridge University, and his PhD is from Harvard. He is currently on faculty at Yale University Divinity school as the Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament. He has served as the president of the Society of Biblical Literature. His list of publications is pretty incredible, though some of us might not be terribly familiar with them, as some of them seem pretty specialized. At a more general level, his commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Hermeneia series may be most widely known.
In light of Attridge’s background, if you are looking on a volume on John and Hebrews by a top-notch scholar, this text seems to be a very good candidate. Up next, I will post an overview of the contents of the book.
I will be writing a couple of posts about the book once I have had the opportunity to read through it. However, my first impression is a very good one, though perhaps it is a bit shallow ;-). The book looks and feels absolutely beautiful. It is a tightly bound hardcover. The dustjacket and front and back covers are impeccably clean. Thumbing through, the paper is of a very high quality. It even smells wonderful. Needless to say, it will look great on my bookshelf.
Now, with that bit of scholarly fawning done, I know that most of you will be more interested in the contents. So, in coming days, I will be posting on the author, contents, and my reaction to the book.
Hebrews 6:5 – the writer speaks of the age to come. In the same book (8:13) he speaks of the first Covenant ABOUT to disappear/pass away. Yet, there is internal evidence in the book itself that the great symbol (the temple) of the first Covenant was still standing when these words were written ( Hebrews 10:11) NASB, NIV, RSV, ESV. It was not until 40 years after Jesus’ promise (Matthew 24:2) that there were no more sacrifices and offerings made by ministering/standing Priests.
Also, if the entire New Testament was written before the destruction of the temple – then we have no other scriptural reference or proof text that the ‘ age to come ‘ Hebrews 6:5 or Paul’s written words in Ephesians 3:21 ‘ all generations ‘ ‘ age without end ‘ speak of anything but this present New Covenant, as lasting forever and ever. Would this not negate a belief in an end of this age or the consummation of history?
I’ve spent some time pondering this verse:
NAU Hebrews 6:5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
NLT Hebrews 6:5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come–
NRS Hebrews 6:5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
First, I cannot say that the entire NT was written before the destruction of the Temple. Mark may have been, but only by a year or two, but John’s Gospel and the Book of Revelation are way past the Destruction of the Temple. Even Acts seems to be dated after the Destruction.
The issue with the New Covenant lasting forever and ever is this:
Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power.
For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere. (1Co 15:22-28 NLT)
Further, I think that the (re)New(ed) Covenant was inaugurated upon the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. I also believe that the Temple’s curtain in schism meant that it was no longer valid/needed. Maybe ‘needed’ is a better word here. Therefor the destruction of it, theologically speaking, was mute.
I think that the ‘age to come’ may in fact mean this age and be another way of describing to the Hebrews the current movement. For example, if we were to refer to the Eschaton coming and while in the Eschaton, we stand saying ‘the power of the coming Eschaton.’ Or, better, as the Keener and company write,
Most of Judaism regarded the present age as under sin, but believed that God would rule the coming age unchallenged, after he raised the dead and judged them. Christians recognized that they had begun to experience the life of the future world; they were the vanguard of the future kingdom – Craig S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament, Heb 6:5 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993).
Yup, what they said. In other words, I think that the writer of Hebrews is saying that this Christian age is the promised ‘age to come’.
I could be wrong, however. So, I open the question up to you. What sayeth ye?
In an effort to rid myself of confrontation on issues which I know others would never be persuaded, I deleted a whole host of friends on Facebook; however, I received an email from some one who I had deleted months ago asking me why I had not only removed her, but seemingly everyone else from our (former) Church organization. I responded that one of the reasons was that I simply did not appreciate the attacks – from questioning my membership in the Organization to questioning my salvation – on my use of Scripture in different translations. I didn’t mention the attacks by my brothers and sisters on my friends who came to my defense.
Yes, that’s right – I was going to hell because I used something other than the KJV-1611 (although, it is rightly said that no one else uses it either). I could not respond then, but my pastor at the time had allowed me to read other translations, etc… I did the organizational thing and asked him first, submitting to what the Organizational beliefs were on pastoral authority.
Moving to the email exchange today – I again was implicitly accused of being under the control of Satan, of refusing to obey my Pastor, and further, of being in danger of the Pastor sending me to hell.
You know where this comes from, right?
NKJ Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
NLT Hebrews 13:17 Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.
RSV Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you.
The word in question is Πείθεσθε. The Greek Lexicons point out that this word, in the basic form, is the proper name for the Greek goddess of Persuasion, and add that it does mean to yield, persuade, follow, etc… (See Liddle-Scott, Thayer)
The second word, translated variously as submissivly, is ὑπείκετε, or ‘yield to.’
There is another word which the author of Hebrews uses for ‘obey’ (as in obedience).
NKJ Hebrews 5:9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,
NLT Hebrews 5:9 In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.
I will not bore you with the details here, but the word used here means to listen to, to harken to, to obey. Unlike the root word above, this word takes the stronger sense.
Returning to Hebrews 13.17, the NLT Study Bible’s note reads:
The Greek word translated obey can also mean follow, place confidence in, or be persuaded by.(This section of commentary was written by George Guthrie, NT Prof at Union University.)
While Guthrie’s ‘can also mean’ didn’t make it into the NLT’s translation, it does alter the generally accepted meaning. Plainly, it is not about obeying in a domineering manner those who have the rule over you, but about following their guiding.
Let’s take the next part of this verse, as used against me, the ‘as those who must give account.’ Let’s compare it to James 3.1
NKJ James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
NLT James 3:1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
To break it down, the congregation must follow the leaders (note the plurality here), doing what they say, to ease their burden (not as a manner of getting into heaven), because it is beneficial to the Church (the ‘you’ here is plural) that the leaders are not stressed out. Nothing in here puts the salvation of a soul in the hands of a spiritual leader, nor do we follow the leaders set before us in total submission. Remember, men and women are still fallible, and frail beings, capable of mistakes. Remember as well, that the ministry has more to answer for than the congregational members.
Would we obey them in mistakes? In diversions from the Gospel path?
It is common place in Fundamentalist Churches, who purportedly base their doctrines solely on the bible, to find completely and sole authority resting in one person. Why? Because the words which can be translated as ‘follow’ and ‘yield to’ are done so in the American context. The Scriptures, it is true, tells us to obey those who rule over you, and submit yourselves. But this command must not be seen and understood in our present day (warped) context. In our culture, obey, rule, submission, authority and control are strongly associated words but here, in Hebrews 13.17 which was written some 2000 years also, the word obey means to trust, have confidence in your leaders. And again, the word rule refers to a leader or person who has influence over others. Submit means to listen to, to allow yourself to be persuaded. Isn’t this the core of the ministry? We submit to God, but are influenced by the ministry.
When these three terms are together, there’s no sense of subjection (personal or “spiritual”) or of control, as in our cultural context. The sense is more of a shepherd than is implied by an authoritarian mentality. The role of the true, spiritual, leader is never to order or command, but instead to invite, persuade and influence.
Let us not be afraid to disagree with the ministry or hold the idea that somehow they control our heavenly fate, and undue the work of Christ.
This is a rather undetailed look at this issue – so, feel free to contribute. As a quick note, please do not let a referral to context lead you to believe that the Bible is untrustworthy. Nothing in Scripture chances – what was good then is good today. What the author mean then is what God intends today. We just have to make sure we are reading the author instead of ourselves.