Sunday, February 25, 2018

11. Conclusion to Hebrews (13:1-25)

IV. Letter Conclusion (13:1-25)
  • Although Hebrews was probably a short sermon or homily, it ends like a letter. The final chapter gives us just a few more tantalizing hints of the sermon's context.
  • 13:1-6. This section has miscellaneous admonitions that might go with any letter to a body of Christians. 
  • 13:1. They should love each other. 
  • 13:2. They should show hospitality to people they do not know. Clearly the Christian love ethic not only applied to other believers but to everyone. Hospitality was a core value of the ancient world where traveling was often very dangerous. Modern Westerners are sometimes blind to this value, downplay it, or even make fun of it. But this is sheer ignorance of the ancient world. Anyone who does not hear this dimension of the Sodom/Gomorrah story in Genesis 19 or the story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19 is an incompetent interpreter.
  • The mention of angels here may actually suggest an allusion to the Sodom and Gomorrah story. It was not only Jews who believed that heavenly beings sometimes disguised themselves as human beings and walked the earth. The Baucis/Philemon story in Ovid is an example, and it is quite possible that Acts 14 involves this story. Certainly there are many stories of individuals today who have wondered if helpers who have come along under unusual circumstances might have been angels.
  • 13:3. We hear later in the chapter that Timothy is about to be released from prison (13:23), so praying and caring for those in prison and being tortured was not just an irrelevant comment. 13:7 seems to indicate that earlier leaders of the audience had died for their faith.
  • 13:4. Marriage is to be honored. The sexually immoral and adulterers are singled out for God's judgment. It is not entirely clear what sexual immorality is in view. The individuals in question are presumably married, so the author could refer to visiting prostitutes. 
  • 13:5. In every generation, the temptation to be materialistic or to pursue greed is always present.
  • 13:5-6. Meanwhile, God will take care of his people. The precise wording of the quote in 13:5 is only attested elsewhere in Philo.
  • 13:7-19 gives instruction that is more specific to the audience.
  • 13:7 most likely suggests that some of the previous leaders of the community died for their faith, especially those who first brought the good news to them. This verse may then allude to the previous persecution mentioned in 10:32-34 and 6:10.
  • 13:8. While it is true that Jesus is the same "yesterday, today, and forever," the point of the statement surely relates to the persecution of the previous verse. Just as Jesus stood by the audience in their previous persecution, he will stand by to help them in their current crisis and he will be with them forever.
  • 13:9-10. These are truly curious verses, even "strange." Apparently, there is some "strange" teaching in the audience's environment that involves food. These foods seem to relate in some way to a sacrificial altar. 
  • It is a food that someone might think "confirms the heart." One might think it refers to the food laws if it were not for the mention of foods connected to the wilderness tent. Those who serve the tent, Levitical priests, have to right to eat from Christ's table. It is probably too early for this verse to allude to the Christian Eucharist, although it is possible.
  • We can imagine that some strange teachings developed in synagogues after the temple was destroyed. Perhaps some Jews came to believe that atonement could only now take place in the context of synagogue meals, since the temple was not standing. Any option we come up with can only be speculative.
  • 13:11-13 then turns the metaphor in yet another direction. First there is the image of burning the carcasses of the animals sacrificed on the Day of Atonement in the wilderness outside the camp. So Jesus' body (note the implicit dualism) was crucified and his blood shed just outside Jerusalem. The implication of the continuing metaphor is that what is a disgrace in the eyes of the city of Jerusalem, in the eyes of mainstream Judaism, is in fact an honor for the believer. Our table is not their table.
  • 13:12. Jesus was crucified just outside what was then the walls of Jerusalem. This was the Roman practice, to make an example of insurrectionists by crucifying them on the way leading into a city. (Although the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is now within the walls of Jerusalem, the traditional location of Jesus' crucifixion was actually outside the city walls at the time. 
  • Jesus' blood outside the camp made holy or sanctified the people--he truly cleanses sins.
  • 13:13. So the audience is encouraged once again to despise the shame of being a Christ-follower. They are to bear the abuse of non-believing Jews. Again, perhaps synagogue pressure to conform in some way or to rely on it for atonement somehow is in mind here.
  • 13:14. The dominance of Jerusalem in the preceding verses suggests that Jerusalem is the city that will not remain. This verse may very well be an allusion to the recent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The imagery connects to 11:10 and 14-16.
  • 13:15-16. The sacrifices that believers offer instead are sacrifices of praise and the sacrifice of giving to others who are in need.
  • 13:17. The audience is encouraged to submit to its leaders, which could be city-wide Christian elders in a city the size of Rome, if that is the destination. Pastors in all times and places would love for their congregations to heed this instruction.
  • 13:18-19. The author himself now asks for prayers for him and others like Timothy (13:23) who are apparently in trouble with local government. The author asserts that his conscience is clear and thus that there is no legitimate reason for government to punish him. He has been with them before and asks to be restored to them. Hugh Montefiore speculated once that this could be Apollos writing to Corinth, but this is a fairly idiosyncratic position.
  • 13:20-21. These verses are a benediction, even though they are not yet the end of the letter. God is called a God of peace, and the author has urged that the audience pursue peace (cf. 12:14).
  • 13:20. God "brought up" or "brought again" the great shepherd of the sheep from the dead, Jesus. 
  • 13:21. By the blood of the eternal covenant God will equip the audience to do every good work so that they can do God's will, to do what is pleasing before him.
  • 13:22-25. This is the final closing of the sermon/letter.
  • 13:22. The author calls Hebrews a "word of exhortation," suggesting it is a homily such as might be read during a synagogue service (cf. Acts 13:15).
  • 13:23. Here is the mention of Timothy, which suggest the author is in the Pauline circle (assuming it is the same Timothy we know from Paul's writings). Timothy is most likely to have been imprisoned at Ephesus, which suggests at least a possible point of origin for the sermon. Obviously this is far from provable.
  • 13:24. "Those from Italy greet you." It is once again only a sliver of evidence, but there are three possibilities: 1) the author is writing Italy and has some people from Italy with him, 2) the author is in Italy and is greeting the audience from there, or 3) he is referring to some well-known Italians (Priscilla-Aquila?). 
  • The first is the option taken most often, although it is far from certain. Why would you not mention the city you were in if you are writing from Italy? Rome fits the evidence we have in terms of past persecutions. The Western church seemed to know that Paul was not the author better than the Eastern church did. The preposition apo might slightly suggest more than the author is referring to individuals "away from" Italy.
  • 13:25. A closing not dissimilar from Paul, a wishing of grace.   

I. Sermon Introduction (1:1-2:18)
     A. Exordium (1:1-4)
     B. Celebration of the Enthroned Son (1:5-14)
     C. Background of Salvation (2:1-18)

II. The Argument (3:1-10:18)
     A. Enter into God's Rest (3:1-4:13)

     B. The High Priestly Argument (4:14-10:18)
          1. A Superior Priest (4:14-7:28)
               a. Hold Fast (4:14-16)
               b. Appointed High Priest (5:1-10)
               c. Central Exhortation (5:11-6:20)
               d. The Order of Melchizedek (7:1-28)
               e. Superior Sanctuary and Sacrifice (8:1-10:18)

III. The Application (10:19-12:29)
     A. You Need Endurance (10:19-39)
     B. Witnesses of Faith (11:1-40)
     C. Run the Race (12:1-29)

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