Monday, May 30, 2016

Notes on the Epistle to the Hebrews With a Focus on Chapter 9: Part 1

[This is the first section of  a paper I wrote for the Great Plains Pastors' Conference (of Circuits 7, 8, & 9) which is titled Notes on Reading the Letter to the Hebrews With a Focus on Chapter 9. It was delivered at Bethany Lutheran College on Wednesday, May 25th
 τὸν τῆς πίστεως ἀρχηγὸν καὶ τελειωτὴν Ἰησοῦν]

Introductory Remarks

Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως
At various times and in various ways
πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις
long ago God spoke to the fathers by means of the prophets,
ἐπ’ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ
in these last days He has spoken to us by means of the Son...
[He 1:1-2 Christmas Day 1st Service]

My original assignment was an exegesis of Hebrews chapter 9 [Judica: Lent 5]. But in constant rereading of Hebrews and in reading through papers, commentaries, and other sources I was lead to frustration.

First, there is too much going on in Hebrews to write a short exegetical which would be fair, accurate, and pastoral. This means either greatly limiting the scope or trying a different approach.

Second, despite the many helpful detailed comments by Luther and other Confessional Lutheran commentators [Footnote 1] there was very rarely an approach that helped Pastor and Layman actually read the Letter without getting bogged down, overwhelmed, and distracted by extra material. Of course, pastors can and should spend the time to read these resources. But that is a matter of longer-term study. Distilling these down to a paper would not be an exegetical study. It would be a study in the historical interpretation of the epistle. Even with this in mind, I am afraid I am both presenting too much material and being too brief and disconnected on several issues.

Third, most of the commonly available commentaries and notes out there which do aim to help the reader actually read and understand the text are based on a theology of glory rather than on the theology of Justification by Faith through the humble service of God in the Incarnation of the Son.[Footnote 2]

I hope in this paper to present some observations, tools, and resources to fortify pastors in a way that more directly enables them to edify their congregation members in their own reading of the Letter to the Hebrews. This is not a parsing exercise. This is an effort to enable people to read the text of Hebrews, to make use of its teaching on the Sacraments in the Divine Service, to proclaim the text of Hebrews and sing in hymns what this letter teaches about the grace of God to us in the Christ.
… whom He has appointed heir of all things,
through whom also He made the worlds;
who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person,
and upholding all things by the word of His power
[He 1:3 Christmas Day 1st Service]


1. Luther's “Lectures on Hebrews” (LWAE 29:109-241) are helpful, but far to long and involved to summarize handily for pastoral application in the parish. If the goal is encouraging reading of the text and right understanding too much detail ends up distracting. As Prof. R. Honsey once said, “Luther could say in three pages what most could say in a paragraph.” Similarly, if the goal is to produce a resource for preparation of a sermon or a Bible study the obligations of time in the parish ministry necessitate a different approach. I have a copy of Vor Herres og Frelsers Jesu Christi Nye Testamente: med fortaler og anmærkninger af Dr. Martin Luther samt med M. Veit Dieterichs summarier og Franciscus Vierlings fortaler og slutningsbønner . If translated this might be a helpful tool for the parish, like some of the work done in the Concordia Self-Study Bible. The German Language edition is available here 
2. On volume stands out as particularly useful. This is Charts on the Book of Hebrews (Kregel Charts of the Bible and Theology) byHerbert Bateman IV, Kregel Publications, 2012. It presents a wealth of information on the interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, summarizing these interpretations for comparison in chart form, and giving a listing of sources for these interpretations.