Sunday, June 05, 2016

Notes on the Epistle to the Hebrews With a Focus on Chapter 9: Part 5

[This is the fifth 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]

Sacramental/Liturgical Understanding: Covenants

τῆς πίστεως ἀρχηγὸν καὶ τελειωτὴν
[He 12:2 Epiphany 4]
The Letter to the Hebrews is centered in the correct Christological exposition of the Divine Service. It is aimed at those who are familiar with the texts of the Divine Service according to the Old Covenant. The goal is to enable the reader to properly hear the Scriptures and benefit from the liturgical service of the New Covenant. That is, this Letter is particularly focused on instructing the reader to benefit from the Divine Service under the New Covenant: Ministry, Word, and Sacrament.
How can such a bold claim be justified? There are several lines of evidence, a few of which are:
    1. The Focus of the Structure of the Letter
    2. The Proportion of Exegesis in the Letter Based on Liturgical Texts.
    3. The Explicit Use of Old Covenant Liturgical Texts and Themes.
    4. The Explicit Use of New Covenant Liturgical/Sacramental Language.
    5. The Pervasive Literary Play Between the Preaching of the Word and Hearkening.
We have looked at the structure of the letter above. We have seen the author's focus on how God Speaks and His people Hear. This is a liturgical structure: Reading/Response. A little later we will summarize the vocabulary of Speaking/Hearing that permeates this letter.


The Proportion of Exegesis in the Letter based on Liturgical texts.

With respect to the proportion of Old Testament exegesis: the book of Revelation has the most, making some 250 or so references to the Old Testament. The Book of Matthew is next, making just under 100 references to the Old Testament. The Letter to the Hebrews is third in its use of Old Testament quotations.
This is significant in one way because of the relative size of the letter. Luke has nearly 20,000 words. Acts, Matthew and John have over 15,000 words, Mark over 10,000; Revelation nearly 10,000; Romans over 7,000; and 1 Corinthians nearly 7,000 words. Hebrews ranks 9th size with just under 5,000 words. That is only 1/4th the size of Luke and 1/3rd the length of the other Gospels or of Acts.
One way of demonstrating this is by dividing the length of the books in words by the number of Old Testament references. If we use only the top three books to get a generalized view. The Letter to the Hebrews ranks 2nd in its use of Old Testament references:
Revelation 9842 words / 256 OT references = 38.45 words/reference
Hebrews 4953 words/ 86 OT references= 57.6 words/reference
Matthew 18345 words/ 96 OT references= 191.1 words/reference
But we should note that if we were to count the actual number of words of the Old Testament used by each of these books the Letter to the Hebrews ranks much closer to that of the Revelation. This is due to the fact that Hebrews contains large quotations of OT text rather than short pieces of text as in Revelation. The sheer number, breadth, and use of quotations from Liturgical texts becomes more plain in what we consider next.