Tuesday, February 06, 2018

6. Concentrated Hebrews (5:11-6:20--Central Exhortation)

See bottom for posts thus far.

c. The Central Exhortation (5:11-6:20)
     1) The Warning (5:11-6:8)
  • 5:11. Throughout Hebrews so far, the author has alternated between teaching and preaching. At 5:11 we get the most pointed warning yet to the audience, the central exhortation of the sermon.
  • Melchizedek is what sets it off, suggesting that the audience’s weak understanding of Jesus’ atonement stands at the center of their problem. More to come.
  • 5:12. They have been believers for some time--should be teachers by now.
  • The author shames them by saying they need to go back to the ABCs of faith.
  • 5:13. The use of milk-meat is a commonplace of ancient rhetoric (Philo, Epictetus)
  • 6:1. They need to go on to maturity, "perfection." (not referring to an instantaneous event, however).
  • The author seems to suggest that the items that follow were beginning ABCs for the audience. But these are not things a Jew would have learned when coming to Christ. They are things that a Gentile would have learned when coming to Christ. This is the strongest evidence that the audience may actually be predominantly Gentile.
  • 6:1-2. Most of these are common Jewish beliefs: repentance of sinful deeds, faith in God, resurrection, eternal judgment.
  • Baptisms, plural, could refer to baptism in water and in the Holy Spirit
  • Laying on hands was an early Christian practice of anointing and commissioning for service.
  • 6:3-6. These are the key verses in the Bible on the issue of "second repentance." That is to say, can you return to Christ if you have fallen away?
  • There are four key interpretations of these verses and others like them in Hebrews (10:26; 12:16-17): a) that it means what it says (if you apostatize, you cannot return), b) that it is an idle threat that would never happen (what's the point of the threat then), c) that they had not really become Christians but only "tasted" a little (Jesus "tasted" death in 2:9 but really died), and d) they only appeared to be Christians but really weren't (if so, Hebrews doesn't know about this possibility).
  • The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the central passage on this topic. Anyone who longs to return can. This is true not least because it is the Holy Spirit who empowers repentance (cf. Rom. 2:4). In other words, only God allows a person to have the power to repent (6:3), a power that Wesleyans call "prevenient grace."
  • I have found the paradox of Schroedinger's cat helpful here. You don't know whether the cat is alive or dead until you open the box. In a sense, you don't know whether you have ever fallen away until you die. For those who endure to the end, the cat has never ultimately fallen away.
  • 6:4-5. Various descriptions of truly coming to Christ: being enlightened, tasting of the heavenly gift, namely partaking of Holy Spirit, tasting of the powers of the coming age and the goodness of the word of God.
  • 6:6. To abandon Christ is to crucify him all over again, exposing him to public disgrace (honor-shame language).
  • 6:7-8. Hebrews uses a farming image of watering ground. If you keep watering but only get thorns and thistles, eventually you burn the ground.
     2) The Assurance (6:9-20)
  • 6:9. In the end, the author does not think the audience is going to fall away or that God is going to abandon the congregation. 
  • 6:10. For one, they have been noble in their faithfulness in the past--a striking invocation of merit!
  • 6:11-12. They need to endure to the end. This section ends with an inclusio alluding back to their dullness in 5:11.
  • 6:13-20. These verses are a "cool-down" after the very pointed exhortation of the previous verses. The author gives words of encouragement that slide back to the topic of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7.
  • 6:13-15. Abraham is invoked as an example of how God keeps his promises, namely the promise to multiply his offspring. This is of course a key Pauline text as well. The message is that the audience can keep going knowing that God will keep his promises to them as well, the promise of Christ's return and the setting up of God's kingdom.
  • 6:16-18. Here and in Hebrews 7, there is emphasis on God's oath. This is interesting given exhortations elsewhere in the New Testament not to make oaths (e.g., Matt. 5:33-37).
  • 6:17-18. What are the two unchangeable things--the oath and God's unlying character? Or is it the promise and the oath?
  • 6:18. It is impossible for God to lie. Theologically, I would simply say that God doesn't lie. God can do whatever he wants, but he will never want to lie.
  • 6:18-19. Note the emphasis on the hope. The audience has hope. They have an anchor. 
  • 6:19-20. The chapter ends with a return to the theme of Jesus as high priest, thus getting us ready for the resumption of the central argument in chapter 7.
  • Jesus has gone "within the veil," foreshadowing the imagery of Hebrews 8-10.

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)

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