Hebrews (07): The New Covenant: Reverse Engineering Hebrews (Heb. 10)

Date: 11/18/2018
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The Engineer/ing of Hebrews - Hebrews is an apologetic to the first century Jewish congregation(s) in Jerusalem who were called to depart from the city by faith and thereby to show fidelity to Jesus as Mediator of the new covenant. That the destination of the writing is Jerusalem, dating prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. is proven by following: a) Hebrews warns of imminent (about to happen) judgment (esp. ch. 10, 12:25-27) which will be temple-related (8:13, 12:27, citing Hag. 1:2, 2:3, 6-9). The destruction of the temple was an explicit prophecy of Daniel (9:26) and Jesus (Mt. 24:1; Mk. 13:2; Lk. 19:43ff). b) The book was written at a time when the temple in Jerusalem is standing (prior to 70 A.D.), as indicated by present tense priestly actions at the tabernacle/temple (e.g., 8:5, 13:10). c) The climactic appeal of the book is for believers in Jesus to “go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (13:13). The term “camp” (parembole) is a technical term used of Jerusalem and the term “tabernacle” (skene) is used of the temple in Jerusalem in the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QMMT, per Mosser). d) The writer specifically appeals, “For here we do not have a remaining/lasting (meno) city, but we are seeking what is about to be” (mello, about to/near in time, 13:15). e) The audience were likely converts to Christ in communities with a strong priestly influence (Acts 6:7, 4:36, e.g., Barnabas a Levite). f) On authorship, “David A. Black concludes that Paul was the primary author of Hebrews with the help of Luke, as amanuensis” (Mitchell, Sacra). Understanding the “apostolic secretary” (amanuensis) concept provides an answer to all disputes on Pauline authorship relating to linguistic style, whether the secretary was Luke (per Clement of Alexandria) or another person. In any case, we are sure that there were many apostolic secretaries (Tertius, Rom. 16:22; Sosthenes, 1Co. 1:1, Silvanus, 2Co. 1:19, 1Th., 1Pt. 5:12; Luke 2Ti. 4:11; tradition says Prochorus of Acts 6:5 as serving John).

Reverse Engineering Hebrews - Given the context of the book, the content of the book is predictable. If we were to know the context, we could reverse engineer much of the content. (Admittedly, there is a level of circularity to this, as there is with any proposal for decoding Hebrews.) Assuming we are confirmed in the context (above), we would expect calls for faith in Jesus as the superior Mediator of the new covenant and His unmediated (via Levitical system) salvation; essentially: turn from the Levitical system instanced in the Jerusalem temple to heavenly Mt Zion, the true heavenly sanctuary and city (9:23-24, 12:22), since they had received an “oracle” to do so having been “warned from heaven” (12:25, chre┬»matizonta means “to make a divine message known” cf Allen, NAC). Instead of staying in the Jerusalem-temple-system, they are called not to “shrink back to destruction” (10:30), not to “come short of the grace of God” (12:15), not to “neglect so great a salvation” (2:3), not to be like them who “have fallen away” (6:4-6), not to “fall through following the same example of disobedience” (4:7, 11), not to shrink back (10:38), and finally to “go out to Him outside the camp” (13:13). He mounts arguments including: a) the superiority of Christ over angels and Moses (mediatorial agents of the old covenant); b) “entering Sabbath rest” which (ch. 3-4) calls for the readers to “hasten” (spoudazo) to enter rather than fall like the 40-year wilderness generation (Num. 14:29: AD 70 is 40 years after Jesus ministry); c) the superiority of the priesthood of Melchizedek over the Levitical priesthood; d) the superiority of the once-for-all offering and sacrifice of Christ Himself; and e) subsuming all of these—-the supremacy of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31ff) over what the writer calls the “old covenant,” stretching over four chapters (8-12), with two citations of the new covenant prophecy of  Jeremiah 31.

Gregg Strawbridge Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more