Witherington’s latest work is an 800 page masterpiece. In order to help me keep track of my thoughts on this book, and in part to showcase more of the book than a review, I am posting ‘reflections’ on each chapter.
Perhaps it is the reader, but it seems to me that Witherington’s writing style changes based on the book that he is tacking. As I delve into BW3’s take on Hebrews, the writing style is noticeably different than the previous chapter. It is not boring, dry, or mundane nor does it pander or patronize, but strikes an even balance for readability for those who are reading this in seminary or higher education and those reading this to further their Christian life.
He tackles Hebrews by first connecting it to the ‘Pauline circle’ of thought and acquaintances (BW3 settles on Apollo) by connecting it to strictly Pauline thoughts and word usages. Moving into the subject matter, he looks at the uniqueness of the author of Hebrews and what he used to tell his story instead of what has been used by other New Testament writers. Further, as Witherington shows, the author of Hebrews moves not from a clear separation from the Judaism of the Old Testament but towards a continuity between the Prophets and the believers in Christ.
He takes the standard conservative approach to reading Hebrews – which, frankly, I don’t see how anyone can get around. Without exclusively the full deity of Christ, the doctrine found within Hebrews is a leap above that of Matthew but still falls below John’s high Christology mark. Witherington does a good treatment, however, of the priesthood and signals the reader of the not just the importance but the uniqueness of the use of Melchizedek as a type of Christ, something generally not found within mainstream Judaism(s) of the time.
He handles the issue of Apostasy almost as if he is proposing that it is the central issue of the ethics of Hebrews. I would agree with him. He builds up the reality of losing faith and finding no hope to return and uses it to discuss the issue of faith and faithfulness in which he shows the difference in use, and theology/ethics of such uses. Further, he brings in the cultural surroundings of the author in exploring the unique language which helps to further the story along.
He closes this rather short chapter by saying,
A careful reading of Hebrews shows why it is that separating theology and ethics in the New Testament is an exercise in futility rather than fertility. It is true that one can talk about the two separately with profit, but if one actually wants to describe the New Testament thought world in some reasonably holistic way, such a way of parsing things out is inadequate.
I completely agree.