[This is the third 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]
Pastoral Exegesis: Fortify the Shepherds, Fortify the Flocks
Understanding Chapter 9 is, of course, essential. But our members, as Bible readers, should be made aware that the commonly available outlines for the Letter to the Hebrews and the section headings given in most recent translations of the Bible come from a Calvinist or a pop-Evangelical theology. That is, the outlines and headings tend to misdirect the reader into a focus on the Sovereignty of God, a theology of Glory, or a theology of temporal gains (of earthly sanctification or of material rewards for faithfulness).
Reading the headings in a Bible version is not reading the context. The headings are not context, nor are they Scripture. They are a human summary. And often they are so wrong that they can undermine a right understanding of the text. The following are examples of headings for chapters 8 through 10 in some common English versions. These versions were chosen because they reflect the liturgical choices of congregations in our fellowship and the popular influence they have on our members. Notice how very different some are from others. Also notice how some of these headings radically reinterpret the text.
|8:1||The High Priest of a New Covenant||A New Plan with Israel||The New Priestly Service||Christ Is Our High Priest||A Heavenly Priesthood||A Better Ministry|
|8:7||A New Covenant||A Superior Covenant||A New Covenant|
|9:1||Worship in the Earthly Tabernacle||A Visible Parable||The Earthly Sanctuary||Old Rules about Worship||Old Covenant Ministry||The Old and the New|
|9:6||Limitations of the Earthly Service|
|9:11||The Blood of Christ||Pointing to the Realities of Heaven||The Heavenly Sanctuary||Christ Is the Perfect Sacrifice||New Covenant Ministry|
|9:16||The Mediator's Death Necessary|
|9:23||Greatness of Christ's Sacrifice|
|Christ's Sacrifice Once for All||The Sacrifice of Jesus||Animal Sacrifices Insufficient||Christ's Sacrifice Once for All||The Perfect Sacrifice||One Sacrifice of Christ Is Sufficient|
|Christ's Death Fulfills God's Will|
|Christ's Death Perfects the Sanctified|
|A Call to Persevere||Don't Throw It All Away||Hold Fast Your Confession||A Call to Persevere||Exhortations to Godliness||A New and Living Way|
|The Just Live by Faith||Warning against Deliberate Sin||Christ or Judgment|
The Message at 8:1 promotes and supports the Zionist heresies. In 8:7 The Holman Bible supports the new version of Moral Influence view of the Atonement in a community that is increasingly opposed to believing the Penal Substitutionary Atonement. At 9:1 the NLT totally confuses Law and Gospel, presenting the New Covenant in Christ as just a new set of rules. The NKJV at 9:1, 6, and 11 overly spiritualizes the text in a way that disconnects the reader from understanding that both the Old and New Covenants are for believers here in this world. And both point to the heavenly realities. All miss the Sacraments in 10:19ff, and all but NKJV in 10:19 shift the focus off God's work to personal spiritual improvement. The Holman and Amplified Bible at 10:26 isolate the warnings about hearkening to God's Word from the immediate context.
Confessional Lutheran pastoral practice always directs the reader to hold the Article of Justification by Faith in Christ at the center of all Scripture reading. This is the heart and focus of what Jesus stated His preachers should teach.
44 Then He [Jesus] said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
[Lk 24 Ascension, Historic Series 3]
Reading the Scriptures is not a means to a temporal benefit, whether the temporal benefit is considered spiritual or material. The purpose for the reading of Scripture is defined by Christ at many points in His earthly ministry. For example, in His response to those Jews who were attempting to discredit and destroy Him in John 5:39:
You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.
[Advent 4, Historic Series 3]
And at the most foundational level Christ taught this in the Petitions of the Lord's Prayer. Indeed, His own explanation of the Fourth Petition emphasized this particular point of not being concerned with temporal issues but with the external righteousness of God:
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
[Mt 6 Trinity 15]
Because we know that the Scriptures teach Christ and His work of redemption as the center and purpose of all the Scriptures we are not merely generalizing a particular theological view over the whole. Reading the Scriptures means listening to what the Scriptures themselves say about how God's written Word should be interpreted. This is true about the whole, but this is known because the Scripture make clear statements about the meanings of particular books and contexts within the Writings. With this in mind permit me to offer an outline that is contextually sensitive to the opening premise/thesis of the Epistle:1