I apologize if I seem to be redundant in my presentation of the current state of Hebrews studies. My original intention was to identify some whys and wherefores, and then jump right into the text. However, I keep coming across these amazing statements by previous authors–statements that reflect gross misunderstanding of the material, and which can only arise through the application of generous doses of anti-Semitism. Since these findings have begun to color my characterization of “the Christian view” of Hebrews, I thought I should share some of the specifics that lead me to my views. That way, you have the opportunity to check up on me, and make sure I am not misrepresenting the state of Christian theology.
Here is a good illustration of what I have been reading:
In my review of standard commentaries on Hebrews, I recently ran across the most amazing quotation I have ever seen! A fellow named William R. Newell, who worked in Chicago with both Dwight L. Moody and R. A. Torrey in the mid-1900’s, was quite renowned for his verse-by-verse expositions of Scripture. During his tenure at the Moody Bible Institute he developed the material that came to be published in 1947 as, “Hebrews Verse-by-Verse”. Of course, this is one of the standard commentaries that one “simply must read” in order to be well informed on topics relating to the Letter to the Hebrews.
Upon opening the book to its table of contents, I immediately noticed something odd. Most writers label their chapters with some catchy title designed to draw the reader’s interest. Newell didn’t do that. His chapter headings are literally “Chapter One”, “Chapter Two”, etc., right on through to “Chapter Thirteen”. One might suppose that the preacher and Bible College Assistant Superintendent had simply suffered from a deplorable lack of creativity when it came time to title his chapters. However, that seems unlikely since the exposition of Hebrews is immediately followed by eight appendices with quite interesting topical titles.
The first of these appendices is entitled, “Why ‘To Hebrews’?” In this chapter, Newell attempts to explain why the author of Hebrews found it necessary to address an audience composed of Hebrew readers at all. Here, we are treated to a brief review of the Babylonian captivity and the return, followed by an elevation of “Church Truth”. In making the case that Hebrews is about the need to replace the Temple with the exalted “Jesus, the Great High Priest”, Newell reached an astounding conclusion. The appendix closes with the following sentences:
But they [the Jewish people] had already a God-given religion. This would ever be coming between them and the blessed, glorious finished work of Christ.
So the book of Hebrews takes that religion from the Hebrews, leaving them only Christ.
(Newell, “Hebrews Verse-by-Verse”, p. 474)
Can you believe a respectable theologian would say something like that? When I first related to my wife what I had read, she pulled the book from my hands, and intently scanned the page for herself. She was sure I had misrepresented Newell’s position, mocking him by somehow altering what he must “really” have written there. But no! The words remained on the page, just as I have related them here.
What is worse, this is a common approach to the letter to the Hebrews. Most theologians read Hebrews, and subsequently, all other letters of the Messianic Writings, with the presupposition that they were written with a single purpose—to reveal the revocation and annulment of all religious institutions that had been ordained by Hashem, himself! To the traditional interpreter, the whole purpose of Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection was to deliver us from the Torah, to remove the commandments of Adonai, to eliminate the Temple and its priesthood.
Something has caused a disconnect, driving modern readers to seek the removal of everything associated with the sanctuary service and the instructions of Hashem in order to replace these things with a “Messiah” whose singular goal was to extract us from an alleged oppression that came with the divine service revealed by Moshe.
But one must ask the question… “Why?” Actually, there are several “Why?” questions that need to be asked. And a few other types of questions as well.
- Why do nearly all standard interpreters seek to destroy through their theological posturing the very ordinances and instructions given by Hashem at Sinai?
- Does it matter that Hebrews is both anonymous and undated?
- How did we come to accept the obvious platonic dualism that comes from interpreting Hebrews in a woodenly literal manner?
- Are there any other interpretive frameworks that we might use as our basis for interpreting Hebrews?
- What shape would our theology take if we stopped using Hebrews to bolster an anti-Semitic, anti-Torah, anti-Temple view?
These are the sorts of questions we will be addressing in the months to come. As we go, we will develop a clear and simple methodology that will help us to understand, not only the letter to the Hebrews, but most Biblical writings. Before we ever get to reading the text of Hebrews, we will walk through some intermediate steps together. These steps will include:
Part 1 – Historical Background
Part 2 – Canon and Commentary
Part 3 – Yeshua as Rosh Galut
Part 4 – Treatment of Hebrews
As we review the introductory material, I’ll try not to bore you. Hopefully, you’ll even come to appreciate this sort of information, and find it exciting, as I do. No matter what, I believe we will be covering some very important background that will shape our perspective, and cause us to see Hebrews in a whole new light… before we ever get to the letter!
So buckle up, and prepare to join us as we travel back in time….
I very much invite feedback and questions, as these articles are designed to get us thinking about the development of Scripture and the literary nature of these writings.