Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hebrews and Works

1.For several years, I've been puttering around on a book trying to think through how "new perspectives" might impact the study of Hebrews. The last chapter is titled, "Hebrews and God's Covenant with Israel." It seems to me that one thing this chapter should address is Hebrews' sense that there are limits to how much sin the sacrifice of Christ will cover. There is a point where there "remains no more sacrifice for sins" (10:26) or where covering one's sins in effect would crucify Christ again (6:6).

Hebrews of course was not one of Luther's favorites (although it fared better than James), and we can see why. It seems to require works if one expects to reach final salvation. Since I am from the Methodist tradition, I'm hardly bothered. Much of the opposition to the "new perspective" came from Lutheran and Reformed scholars for whom it was a thorn in their theological side. Hebrews is also troubling to those who believe in eternal security.

(The D. A. Carson, Peter O'Brien, and Mark Siefrid led project, Justification and Variegated Nomism (JVN), in part tried to distance Jewish thinking from the New Testament by portraying Jewish thinking in a way that is not entirely dissimilar to Methodist theology and then trying to maintain that the New Testament doesn't teach that theology.)

2. These are points of continuity with Judaism. E. P. Sanders famously suggested that while Jews did not believe that keeping the Law was about "getting in," they believed it was essential for "staying in." Hebrews seems to have this same position somewhat straightforwardly. Faithfulness, obedience, and active faith are essential in order to enter into God's rest, understood primarily as making it to final salvation. So this chapter should address the "rest of God" in Hebrews 4.

Again, JVN tried to distance the NT from Judaism by pointing out that Jewish literature expected works as an essential response to God's covenant. But Hebrews (and the NT) are in continuity on this point, unlike this project's authors. Hebrews starkly indicates that faithfulness is essential for final salvation and holds out the stark possibility of future destruction even after tasting of the Holy Spirit.

3. There are a few verses that the new perspective immediately held the mirror up to.
  • The most obvious is 9:14 - "cleanse your conscience from dead works." In the light of the Reformation, we might think that this verse was about some anachronistic faith versus works. The NIV2011 helps us not think that--"from acts that lead to death."
  • Similarly 6:1 - "repentance from dead works" is best understood as, "acts that lead to death." I believe it was this verse that even William Lane mistook to be about some Lutheran faith versus works.
  • More difficult for me is 4:9 - "anyone who enters his rest has ceased from his own works just as God rested from his." Given the later references to works, I first thought today that this also referred to works that lead to death--sins against the living God, in other words. Michael Teller in class pointed out the comparison to God resting. Since God didn't rest from "acts that lead to death" I'm back to the eschaton interpretation. Matthew Morley pointed out the continued striving in 4:10, which points to a time beyond the present (i.e., the eschaton).
That's it for today on this Ash Wednesday.


Carla Moon said...
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Carla Moon said...
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