The New Interpreters Bible [12]

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General Articles on the Bible; General Articles on the Old Testament; Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus


Numbers; Deuteronomy; Introduction to Narrative Literature; Joshua; Judges; Ruth; 1 & 2 Samuel


1 & 2 Kings; 1 & 2 Chronicles; Ezra; Nehemiah; Esther; Additions to Esther; Tobit; Judith


1 & 2 Maccabees; Introduction to Hebrew Poetry; Job; Psalms


Introduction to Wisdom Literature; Proverbs; Ecclesiastes; Song of Songs; Book of Wisdom; Sirach


Introduction to Prophetic Literature; Isaiah; Jeremiah; Baruch; Letter of Jeremiah; Lamentations; Ezekiel


Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature; Daniel; Additions to Daniel; Hosea; Joel; Amos; Obadiah; Jonah; Micah; Nahum; Habakkuk; Zephaniah; Haggai; Zechariah; Malachi


General Articles on the New Testament; Matthew; Mark


Luke; John


Acts; Introduction to Epistolary Literature; Romans; 1 Corinthians


2 Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; 1 & 2 Thessalonians; 1 & 2 Timothy; Titus; Philemon


Hebrews; James; 1 & 2 Peter; 1, 2, & 3 John; Jude; Revelation





LEANDER E. KecK Convener and Senior New Testament Editor

Winkley Professor of Biblical Theology, Emeritus The Divinity School Yale University Tuomas G. LonG Senior Homiletics Editor Bandy Professor of Preaching Candler School of Theology Emory University

Davip L. PETERSEN Senior Old Testament Editor

Bruce C. BircH Old Testament Editor Dean and Woodrow W. and Mildred B. Miller

Joun J. Couns Old Testament Editor Professor of Hebrew Bible

Professor of Biblical Theology Wesley Theological Seminary KATHERYN PFISTERER DARR Old Testament Editor Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible

The School of Theology Boston University

WiuiaM L. Lanet New Testament Editor Paul T. Walls Professor of Wesleyan and Biblical Studies Department of Religion Seattle Pacific University Ga R. O’Day Homiletics Editor Almar H. Shatford Associate Professor of Homiletics

Candler School of Theology Emory University

* deceased

Clifford E. Baldridge Professor of Biblical Studies

The Iliff School of Theology

The Divinity School University of Chicago Jack A. Keer,


Project Director The New Interpreter’s Bible Director of Bible & Reference/ Academic & Professional Resources Abingdon Press James EArt Massey

Homiletics Editor Dean Emeritus and Distinguished Professor-at-Large The School of Theology Anderson University Marion L. Soarps New Testament Editor Professor of New Testament Studies

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

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Copyright © 1998 by Abingdon Press

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, except as may be expressly permitted by the 1976 Copyright Act or in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission should be addressed in writing to Abingdon Press, 201 Eighth Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203.

This book is printed on recycled, acid-free paper. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

The New Interpreter’s Bible: general articles & introduction, commentary, & reflections for each book of the Bible, including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books. Dance: Full texts and critical notes of the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible in parallel columns. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 0-687-27825-2 (v. 12: alk. paper) 1. Bible—Commentaries. 2. Abingdon Press. I. Bible. English. New International. 1994. II. Bible. English. New Revised : Standard. 1994. BS491.2.N484 1994 220.7’7—dc20

94-21092 CIP

Quotations from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. Quotations from the NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION OF THE BIBLE. Copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Quotations from the following are used by permission: 7he Good News Bible—Old Testmanet: copyright © American Bible Society 1976; New Testament: copyright © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976. The New English Bible, © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and The Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961, 1970. The Revised English Bible, copyright © 1989 Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. The TANAKH: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text. Copyright 1985 by the Jewish Publication Society. All used by permission. Quotations from The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vols. 1 and 2, by James H. Charlesworth, copyright © 1983, 1985 by James H. Charlesworth. Used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

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Huntington, Indiana

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Minerva G. CaRcANO Director

Bit SHERMAN Pastor Emeritus

Mexican American Program Perkins School of Theology Southern Methodist University Dallas, Texas

Woodmont Baptist Church Nashville, Tennessee

Ropney T. SMOTHERS Pastor Ousley United Methodist Church Lithonia, Georgia

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SHARON NEUFER EMSWILER Pastor First United Methodist Church Rock Island, Illinois

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SUK-CHONG YU Superintendent Nevada-Sierra District The United Methodist Church Reno, Nevada


University of North Carolina at Charlotte Charlotte, North Carolina

+ deceased vii

CONTRIBUTORS EUIZABETH ACHTEMEIER Adjunct Professor of Bible and Homiletics Union Theological Seminary in Virginia Richmond, Virginia (Presbyterian Church

Bruce C. Bircu Dean and Woodrow W. and Mildred B. Miller

Professor of Biblical Theology Wesley Theological Seminary


Washington, DC

(The United Methodist Church) I &2 Samuel


Lesugz C. ALLEN Professor of Old Testament Fuller Theological Seminary

PxHyuus A: Birp Professor of Old Testament

Pasadena, California (Baptist) I &2 Chronicles

Interpretation Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Evanston, Illinois

(The United Methodist Church) The Authority of the Bible

Gary A. ANDERSON Associate Professor of Religious Studies University of Virginia Charlottesville, Virginia (The Roman Catholic Church) Introduction to Israelite Religion

C. Curtron BLack Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology Princeton Theological Seminary Princeton, New Jersey (The United Methodist Church) I, 2, & 3 John


Lantz Professor of Preaching and Communication The Divinity School Yale University New Haven, Connecticut (American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.)

JOSEPH BLENKINSOPP John A. O’Brien Professor of Biblical Studies

Department of Theology University of Notre Dame

I Peter

Notre Dame, Indiana (The Roman Catholic Church) Introduction to the Pentateuch

Ropert A. BENNETT, Pu.D. Cambridge, Massachusetts (The Episcopal Church) Zephaniah

M. EuGENE BORING I. Wylie and Elizabeth M. Briscoe Professor of New Testament Brite Divinity School Texas Christian University

ADELE BERLIN Robert H. Smith Professor of Hebrew Bible Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs University of Maryland College Park, Maryland Introduction to Hebrew Poetry

Fort Worth, Texas

(Christian Church [Disciples of Christ)) Matthew iD

CONTRIBUTORS WALTER BRUEGGEMANN William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament

Columbia Theological Seminary Decatur, Georgia (United Church of Christ) Exodus

Davip G. BuTTRIck Professor of Homiletics and Liturgics The Divinity School Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee (United Church of Christ) The Use of the Bible in Preaching RONALD E. CLEMENTS Samuel Davidson Professor of Old Testament King’s College

University of London London, England (Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland) Deuteronomy RicHarD J. Currorp, S.J. Professor of Old Testament Weston Jesuit School of Theology Cambridge, Massachusetts (The Roman Catholic Church) Introduction to Wisdom Literature

Joun J. Couuns Professor of Hebrew Bible The Divinity School University of Chicago Chicago, Illinois

(The Roman Catholic Church) Introduction to Early Jewish Religion Ropert B. Coote Professor of Old Testament

San Francisco Theological Seminary San Anselmo, California

(Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) Joshua

Frep B. CRADDOCK Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament, Emeritus

Candler School of Theology Emory University Atlanta, Georgia (Christian Church [Disciples of Christ]) Hebrews

SIDNIE WHITE CRAWFORD Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible

and Chair of the Department of Classics University of Nebraska—Lincoln Lincoln, Nebraska

(The Episcopal Church) Esther; Additions to Esther JAMES L. CRENSHAW

Robert L. Howers Professor of Old Testament The Divinity School Duke University Durham, North Carolina (Baptist) Sirach

KeirH _R. Crm Pastor New Concord Presbyterian Church Concord, Virginia (Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) Modem English Versions of the Bible

R. ALAN CULPEPPER Dean The School of Theology Mercer University Atlanta, Georgia (Southern Baptist Convention) Luke KATHERYN PFISTERER DARR

Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible The School of Theology

Boston University Boston, Massachusetts

(The United Methodist Church) Ezekiel ROBERT DORAN

Professor of Religion Amherst College Amherst, Massachusetts

I &2 Maccabees THoMAS B. DozEMAN

Professor of Old Testament United Theological Seminary Dayton, Ohio (Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) Numbers

CONTRIBUTORS JAMES D. G. DUNN Lightfoot Professor of Divinity Department of Theology University of Durham Durham, England (The Methodist Church [Great Britain]) 1 & 2 Timothy; Titus ELDON Jay Epp

Harkness Professor of Biblical Literature and Chairman of the Department of Religion Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, Ohio (The Episcopal Church) Ancient Texts and Versions of the New Testament KATHLEEN A, ROBERTSON FARMER Professor of Old Testament

United Theological Seminary Dayton, Ohio . (The United Methodist Church) Ruth

CaIN HopE FELDER Professor of New Testament Language and Literature The School of Divinity Howard University Washington, DC (The United Methodist Church) Philemon TERENCE E. FRETHEIM Professor of Old Testament

Luther Seminary Saint Paul, Minnesota (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Genesis

FRANCISCO O. GARC{A-TRETO Professor of Religion and Chair of the Department of Religion Trinity University San Antonio, Texas (Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) Nahum

CATHERINE GUNSALUS GONZALEZ Professor of Church History Columbia Theological Seminary Decatur, Georgia (Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) The Use of the Bible in Hymns, Liturgy, and Education

Justo L. GONZALEZ Adjunct Professor of Church History Columbia Theological Seminary Decatur, Georgia (The United Methodist Church) How the Bible Has Been Interpreted in Christian Tradition DONALD E. GOWAN Robert Cleveland Holland Professor of Old Testament Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

(Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) Amos

DANIEL J. HARRINGTON, S.J. Professor of New Testament Weston School of Theology Cambridge, Massachusetts (The Roman Catholic Church) Introduction to the Canon

RICHARD B. Hays Professor of New Testament The Divinity School Duke University Durham, North Carolina (The United Methodist Church) Galatians THEODORE HIEBERT Professor of Old Testament McCormick Theological Seminary Chicago, Illinois (Mennonite Church) Habakkuk CARL R. HOLLADAY Professor of New Testament Candler School of Theology Emory University Atlanta, Georgia Contemporary Methods of Reading the Bible Morna D. HOOKER Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity, Emeritu The Divinity School University of Cambridge Cambridge, England (The Methodist Church [Great Britain]) Philippians

CONTRIBUTORS Davip C. HOPKINS Professor of Old Testament Wesley Theological Seminary Washington, DC (United Church of Christ) Life in Ancient Palestine

ANDREW T. LINCOLN Professor of New Testament

Wycliffe College University of Toronto Toronto, Ontario Canada

(The Church of England) Colossians

LUKE T. JOHNSON Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins Candler School of Theology Emory University Atlanta, Georgia (The Roman Catholic Church) James

J. CLINTON McCANN, Jr. Evangelical Associate Professor of Biblical Interpretation Eden Theological Seminary St. Louis, Missouri (Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) Psalms

WALTER C. KAISER, JR. President and Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary South Hamilton, Massachusetts (The Evangelical Free Church of America) Leviticus

ABRAHAM J. MALHERBE Buckingham Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Emeritus The Divinity School Yale University New Haven, Connecticut (Church of Christ) The Cultural Context of the New Testament: The Greco-Roman World

LEANDER E. KECK Winkley Professor of Biblical Theology, Emeritus Yale University Divinity School New Haven, Connecticut (Christian Church [Disciples of Christ) Introduction to The New Interpreter’s Bible

W. EUGENE MarcH Dean and Arnold Black Rhodes Professor of Old Testament Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Louisville, Kentucky (Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) Haggai

CHAN-HIE Kim Professor of New Testament and Director of Korean Studies The School of Theology at Claremont Claremont, California (The United Methodist Church) Reading the Bible as Asian Americans

JAMES EARL Massey Dean Emeritus and Distinguished Professor-at-Large The School of Theology Anderson University (Church of God [Anderson, Ind.]}) Reading the Bible from Particular Social Locations: An Introduction; Reading the Bible as African Americans

RALPH W. KLEIN Dean and Christ Seminary-Seminex Professor of Old Testament Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago Chicago, Illinois (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Ezra; Nehemiah

J. MAXWELL MILLER Professor of Old Testament Candler School of Theology Emory University Atlanta, Georgia (The United Methodist Church) Introduction to the History of Ancient Israel

MICHAEL KOLarcik, S.J. Assistant Professor Regis College Toronto, Ontario Canada

(The Roman Catholic Church) Book of Wisdom xii

CONTRIBUTORS PATRICK D. MILLER Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology Princeton Theological Seminary Princeton, New Jersey

(Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) Jeremiah

GAIL R. O’Day Almar H. Shatford Professor of Homiletics Candler School of Theology Emory University Atlanta, Georgia (United Church of Christ) John

PETER D. MISCALL Adjunct Faculty ; The Iliff School of Theology Denver, Colorado (The Episcopal Church) Introduction to Narrative Literature

BEN C. OLLENBURGER Professor of Biblical Theology Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary Elkhart, Indiana (Mennonite Church) Zechariah

FREDERICK J. MURPHY Professor Department of Religious Studies College of the Holy Cross Worcester, Massachusetts (The Roman Catholic Church) Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature

DENNIS T. OLSON Associate Professor of Old Testament Princeton Theological Seminary Princeton, New Jersey (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Judges

CaroL A. NEWsoM Associate Professor of Old Testament Candler School of Theology Emory University Atlanta, Georgia (The Episcopal Church)

CAROLYN OSIEK Professor of New Testament Department of Biblical Languages and Literature Catholic Theological Union Chicago, Illinois (The Roman Catholic Church) Reading the Bible as Women

Job GEORGE W. E. NICKELSBURG Professor of Christian Origins and Early Judaism School of Religion University of Iowa Iowa City, Iowa (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) The Jewish Context of the New Testament IRENE NOWELL, O.S.B. Community Formation Director Mount St. Scholasticas Atchison, Kansas (The Roman Catholic Church) Tobit

KATHLEEN M. O’CONNOR Professor of Old Testament Language, Literature, and Exegesis Columbia Theological Seminary Decatur, Georgia (The Roman Catholic Church) Lamentations

SAMUEL PAGAN President Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico San Juan, Puerto Rico (Christian Church [Disciples of Christ]) Obadiah

SIMON B. PARKER Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Harrell E Beck Scholar in Hebrew Scripture The School of Theology Boston University Boston, Massachusetts (The United Methodist Church) The Ancient Near Eastern Literary Background of the Old Testament

PHEME PERKINS Professor of New Testament Boston College Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts (The Roman Catholic Church) Mark; Ephesians

CONTRIBUTORS DaviD L. PETERSEN Clifford E. Baldridge Professor of Biblical Studies The Iliff School of Theology Denver, Colorado (Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) Introduction to Prophetic Literature CHRISTOPHER C. ROWLAND Dean Ireland’s Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture The Queen’s College Oxford, England (The Church of England) Revelation ANTHONY J. SALDARINI Professor of Biblical Studies Boston College Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts (The Roman Catholic Church) Baruch; Letter of Jeremiah J. PAUL SAMPLEY Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins The School of Theology and The Graduate Division Boston University Boston, Massachusetts (The United Methodist Church) 1 Corinthians; 2 Corinthians JUDITH E. SANDERSON Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible Department of Theology and Religious Studies Seattle University Seattle, Washington Ancient Texts and Versions of the Old Testament EILEEN M. SCHULLER, O.S.U. Professor Department of Religious Studies McMaster University Hamilton, Ontario Canada (The Roman Catholic Church) Malachi

FERNANDO FE SEGOVIA Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity The Divinity School Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee (The Roman Catholic Church) Reading the Bible as Hispanic Americans CHRISTOPHER R, SEITZ Professor of Old Testament and Theological Studies St Mary’s College University of St. Andrews Fife, Scotland (The Episcopal Church) Isaiah 40-66

CHOON-LEONG SEOW Henry Snyder Gehman Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature Princeton Theological Seminary Princeton, New Jersey (Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) 1 & 2 Kings

MICHAEL A. SIGNER Abrams Professor of Jewish Thought and Culture Department of Theology University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, Indiana How the Bible Has Been Interpreted in Jewish Tradition

MolsEs SILVA Professor of New Testament Westminster Theological Seminary Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (The Orthodox Presbyterian Church) Contemporary Theories of Biblical Interpretation

DANIEL J. SIMUNDSON Professor of Old Testament Luther Seminary Saint Paul, Minnesota (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Micah

CONTRIBUTORS ABRAHAM SMITH Associate Professor of New Testament Andover Newton Theological School Newton Centre, Massachusetts (The National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.) 1 & 2 Thessalonians DANIEL L. SMITH-CHRISTOPHER Associate Professor of Theological Studies

Department of Theology — Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles, California (The Society of Friends [Quaker]) Daniel; Bel and the Dragon; Prayer of Azariah; Susannah ROBERT C. TANNEHILL Academic Dean and Harold B. Williams Professor of Biblical Studies Methodist Theological School in Ohio Delaware, Ohio . (The United Methodist Church) The Gospels and Narrative Literature

GEORGE E. TINKER Associate Professor of Cross-Cultural Ministries The Iliff School of Theology Denver, Colorado (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Reading the Bible as Native Americans

W. SIBLEY TOWNER The Reverend Archibald McFadyen Professor of Biblical Interpretation Union Theological Seminary in Virginia Richmond, Virginia (Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) Ecclesiastes PHYLLIS TRIBLE Professor of Biblical Studies

The Divinity School Wake Forest University Winston-Salem, North Carolina Jonah

CHRISTOPHER M. TUCKETT Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis Faculty of Theology University of Manchester Manchester, England (The Church of England) Jesus and the Gospels RAYMOND C. VAN LEEUWEN Professor of Religion and Theology Eastern College Saint Davids, Pennsylvania (Christian Reformed Church in North America) Proverbs RoserT W. WALL Professor of Biblical Studies Department of Religion Seattle Pacific University Seattle, Washington (Free Methodist Church of North America) Acts; Introduction to Epistolary Literature DUANE E. WaTSON Associate Professor of New Testament Studies Department of Religion and Philosophy Malone College Canton, Ohio (The United Methodist Church) 2 Peter; Jude

RENITA J. WEEMS Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible The Divinity School Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee (African Methodist Episcopal Church) Song of Songs

LAWRENCE M. WILLS Associate Professor of Biblical Studies The Episcopal Divinity School Cambridge, Massachusetts (The Episcopal Church) Judith VINCENT L. WIMBUSH

GENE M. TUCKER Professor of Old Testament, Emeritus Candler School of Theology Emory University Atlanta, Georgia (The United Methodist Church) Isaiah 1-39

Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins Union Theological Seminary New York, New York (Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.) The Ecclesiastical Context of the New Testament

CONTRIBUTORS N. THOMAS WRIGHT Dean of Lichfield Lichfield Cathedral Staffordshire, England (The Church of England) Romans

GALE A. YEE Associate Professor of Old Testament Department of Theology University of Saint Thomas Saint Paul, Minnesota (The Roman Catholic Church)



FEATURES OF THE NEW INTERPRETER’S’ BIBLE _ he general aim of 7he New I/nterpreter’s


in The New Interpreter’s Bible. Dealing with Scripture in terms of these primary units allows discussion of important issues that are overlooked in a verseby-verse treatment. Each scriptural unit is identified by text citation and a short title. The full texts and critical notes of the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible are presented in parallel columns for quick reference. (For the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical works, the NIV is replaced by The New American Bible.) Since every translation is to some extent an interpretation as well, the inclusion of these widely known and influential modern translations provides an easy comparison that in many cases will lead to a better understanding of a passage. Biblical passages are set in a two-column format and placed in green tint-blocks to make it easy to recognize them at a glance. The NAB, NIV, and NRSV material is clearly identified on each page on which the text appears. Immediately following each biblical text is a section marked “Commentary,” which provides an exegetical analysis informed by linguistic, textcritical, historical-critical, literary, social-scientific, and theological methods. The Commentary serves as a reliable, judicious guide through the text, pointing out the critical problems as well as key interpretive issues. The exegetical approach is “text-centered.” That is, the commentators focus primarily on the text in its final form rather than on (a) a meticulous rehearsal of problems of scholarship associated with a text, (b) a thorough reconstruction of the pre-history of the text, or (c) an exhaustive rehearsal of the text’s interpretive history. Of course, some attention to scholarly problems, to the pre-history of a text, and to historic interpretations that have shaped streams of tradition is important in particular cases: precisely in order to

Bible is to bring the best in contemporary

biblical scholarship into the service of the church to enhance preaching, teaching, and study of the Scriptures. To accomplish that general aim, the design of Zhe New Interpreter’s Bible has been shaped by two controlling principles: (1) form serves function, and (2) maximize ease of use. General articles provide the reader with concise, up-to-date, balanced introductions and assessments of selected topics. In most cases, a brief bibliography points the way to further exploration of a topic. Many of the general articles are placed in volumes | and 8, at the beginning of the coverage of the Old and New Testaments, respectively. Others have been inserted in those volumes where the reader will encounter the corresponding type of literature (e.g., “Introduction to Prophetic Literature” appears in Volume 6 alongside several of the prophetic books). Coverage of each biblical book begins with an “Introduction” that acquaints the reader with the essential historical, sociocultural, literary, and theological issues necessary to understand the biblical book. A short bibliography and an outline of the biblical book are found at the end of each Introduction. The introductory sections are the only material in The New Interpreter’s Bible printed in a single wide-column format. The biblical text is divided into coherent and manageable primary units, which are located within larger sections of Scripture. At the opening discussion of any large section of Scripture, readers will often find material identified as “Overview,” which includes remarks applicable to the large section of text. The primary unit of text may be as short as a few verses or as long as a chapter or more. This is the point at which the biblical text itself is reprinted XVI

FEATURES OF THE NEW INTERPRETER’S BIBLE illumine the several levels of meaning in the final form of the text. But the primary focus is on the canonical text itself. Moreover, the Commentary not only describes pertinent aspects of the text, but also teaches the reader what to look for in the text so as to develop the reader’s own capacity to analyze and interpret the text. Commentary material runs serially for a few paragraphs or a few pages, depending on what is required by the biblical passage under discussion. Commentary material is set in a two-column format. Occasional subheads appear in a bold green font. The next level of subdivisions appears as bold black fonts and a third level as black italic fonts. Footnotes are placed at the bottom of the column in which the superscripts appear. Key words in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek are printed in the original-language font, accompanied by a transliteration and a translation or explanation. Immediately following the Commentary, in most cases, is the section called “Reflections.” A detailed exposition growing directly out of the discussion and issues dealt with in the Commentary, the Reflections are geared specifically toward helping those who interpret Scripture in the life of the church by providing “handles” for grasping the significance of Scripture for faith and life today. Recognizing that the text has the capacity to shape the life of the Christian community, this


section presents multiple possibilities for preaching and teaching in light of each biblical text. That is, instead of providing the preacher or teacher full illustrations, poems, outlines, and the like, the Reflections offer several trajectories of possible interpretation that connect with the situation of the contemporary listeners. Recognizing the power of Scripture to speak anew to diverse situations, not all of the suggested trajectories could be appropriated on any one occasion. Preachers and teachers want some specificity about the implications of the text, but not so much specificity that the work is done for them. The ideas in the Reflections are meant to stimulate the thought of preachers and teachers, not to replace it. Three-quarter width columns distinguish Reflections materials from biblical text and Commentary. Occasional excursuses have been inserted in some volumes to address topics of special importance that are best treated apart from the flow of Commentary and Reflections on specific passages. Set in three-quarter width columns, excursuses are identified graphically by a green color bar that runs down the outside margin of the page. Occasional maps, charts, and illustrations appear throughout the volumes at points where they are most likely to be immediately useful to the reader.

CONTENTS VOLUME XII The Letter to the Hebrews Fred B. Craddock

The Letter of James Luke Timothy Johnson A



ie ae LO eee A EE

ee YL

The First Letter of Peter

David L. Bartlett


The Second Letter of Peter Duane F. Watson


The First, Second, and Third Letters of John C. Clifton Black


The Letter of Jude Duane FE. Watson


The Book of Revelation Christopher C. Rowland


Transliteration Schema

Index of Excursuses, Maps, Charts, and Illustrations Abbreviations

744 745 746





i = stne AS Va ed


INTRODUCTION Te Christian faith grows out of and is sustained by the conversation between the church and its Bible. From this engagement, generation after generation, come the beliefs, the ethics, the liturgy, the purposes, and the relationships that define the Christian faith. To be sure, other voices enter the conversation, invited and uninvited, affecting the language used and the conclusions reached; but the primary and most influential partners are the community and the book. Of course, not all persons in the community are equally engaged in the conversation; some prefer to be silent, and some are silenced. Neither do all the books of the Bible participate equally. The reasons for this unevenness usually lie in the contents of the writings themselves, but not always. Sometimes there is quite a distance between what a document has to say and the church’s willingness or ability to hear it. The Letter to the Hebrews is a case in point. Why has Hebrews not had a stronger and more influential voice in the conversation between the church and the Bible? This is not to imply that this letter has been silent or silenced. On the contrary, Hebrews has been called on to say a few words at quite a few assemblies of the church. Most commonly it is to offer the benediction: Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (13:20-21 NRSV)

However, there are other, and some would say more important, moments in the worship service at which Hebrews is invited to speak. Among churches that use the ecumenical


lectionary, Hebrews provides the epistle reading every year on Good Friday as well as on Monday and Wednesday of Holy Week. Likewise, during the Christmas season, the prologue to Hebrews (Heb 1:1-4) always sings the praise of Christ in tandem voice with the prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1:1-14). Congregations that observe the Annunciation to Mary (March 25) and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (February 2) hear every year brief passages from Hebrews. For two brief periods between Pentecost and Advent semi-continuous readings from this epistle give preachers and listeners opportunities for a bit more extended engagement with Hebrews. Interestingly, this letter, which speaks every year on Good Friday, never says a word during the Easter season or on Pentecost. Does this seasonal silence reveal something about the message of the book or merely the preferences of the conversation partner, the church? We may discover an answer as we engage the text. The ecumenical lectionary reflects what is broadly true of the conversation between the church and the Bible; namely, that while Hebrews is invited to speak on occasion, the church is not as attentive to this voice as it is to others, such as Romans or 1 Corinthians. Scholars have intervened on behalf of Hebrews: The author demonstrates greater skill in the use of the Greek language than does any other New Testament writer, including Luke; Hebrews is the finest example of homiletical rhetoric available to us from the first century

CE; this letter offers the most elaborate Christian reading of the Old Testament to be found in the New Testament; as a theologian, the writer of Hebrews is not inferior to Paul or John. These witnesses have been heard with appreciation, but the distance between the church and Hebrews remains. Why? Before the search for reasons takes us inside the letter itself, a partial explanation may

lie in the location of Hebrews within the canon. Ina New Testament of 251 pages, Hebrews begins on page 208. Justified or not, a position near the end is read as a value judgment. The reader of the New Testament moves through the Gospels, Acts, and Paul’s writings as a traveler on a well-lighted street, not quite familiar but providing enough names and addresses so as to remove the sense of one’s being a stranger. However, once past Paul, the traveler finds the road uncertain, the houses dimly lit, and no familiar landmarks. The temptation is to stop and turn back to the Gospels, Acts, and Paul. After all, for these areas there are excellent maps. In addition to its location in the canon, this letter suffers from a title that has a distancing effect on the reader. Granted, the title is a later scribal addition (more later), but still it is the first word the reader sees—large bold print over the entrance to whatever may await the one who enters. Other titles temporarily distance us—after all, we are not Galatians, Corinthians, or Philippians—but these are geographical designations. All of us have traveled enough to know that initial strangeness soon dissolves, and, once inside, we find ourselves more alike than different. But “Hebrews” is not a geographical term; it is ethnic, and ethnic distances are more complex, more difficult to negotiate, requiring more energy than some people are willing to expend.

HEBREWS—INTRODUCTION Once inside, the reader never relaxes, never quite feels at home. The paragraphs are not written in such a way that they can easily be extracted for devotional or sermonic use; rather, they are carefully linked in one long sustained argument. The furniture seems permanently in place. As for the message of the argument, it is offered in an idiom strange to most readers. The writer is certainly not estranged from the Christian tradition that we meet elsewhere in the New Testament, nor is there any attempt to contradict it. Rather, that tradition is recast in Categories and images that make vivid and vital what other writers were content to handle by allusion and implication. As a framework for understanding the redemptive work of Christ, the writer takes us inside the cultus of the tabernacle of Israel’s wilderness journey. Priest, altar, sacrifice, atoning blood, and cleansing rituals— these are not the ancient and remote trappings of a people past but the stuff of the writer’s presentation of what Christ has done and is doing for us now. Most other New Testament writers, in making christological affirmations, use Ps 110:1: “The LORD says to my lord,/ ‘Sit at my right hand/ until 1 make your enemies your footstool’ ” (NRSV). Only Hebrews compels us to look at v. 4 of that psalm: “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind,/ ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’ ” (NRSV). Suddenly a shadowy figure, hardly holding a place in the margin of our memories, moves center stage in the explication of christology. Most readers are not in familiar country. The author assumes an audience familiar enough with the Old Testament to make detailed exegesis of its texts convincing, word studies delightful, and swift allusions powerful. Most congregations will acknowledge, “We are not that audience.” Then can one argue that the theological and practical yield from the extra work required of the reader will make the effort well worth it? Without qualification, yes. In this brief survey of reasons for the church’s relative inattention to Hebrews, one other matter needs to be mentioned: the very stern nature of its imperatives. Even though the writer does not think the readers have reached the point of no return (Heb 6:9), that grim possibility is held up before them in very sharp language. Those who receive all the blessings of salvation and then fall away are beyond restoration (Heb 6:4-6). Those who willfully continue in sin face the fearful prospect of certain judgment (Heb 10:26-29): “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31 NRSV). Be warned by Esau, says the writer, who sold his birthright, then later sought to regain it but “found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears” (Heb 12:17 NRSV). A letter containing such sentences is usually attractive only to those groups who deal easily in judgments and ultimatums. Certainly those churches that not only do not believe they are anywhere near such dangerous spiritual brinks but also do not believe that such brinks even exist will look to other writings for words more gentle and gracious. Especially for those who have luxuriated in a world of grace without ethical demand, who regard all

moral urgings as quaint echoes of a puritan past, Hebrews is not welcome reading. Investigation into the situation of the letter’s recipients will not dull these sharp warnings, but will very likely increase empathy and understanding for both the writer and the readers. 5


Perhaps this is the moment to caution all who read Hebrews, especially those who read With a view to teaching or preaching to others, to be patient. Be in no hurry to collapse the distance between the church and the text. Restrain the appetite for immediacy, for a “lesson for today.” Trust that that will come in due season. Recall the reminder of Clement of Alexandria that the Bible does not yield its hard-won truths to every casual passerby. It is in the service of that needed patience that the following introductory considerations are offered.

HISTORICAL CONSIDERATIONS Author, The King James Version answers the question of authorship quite clearly: “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews.” That heading does not simply reflect the opinion of English translators in 1611; that opinion has a long history. In a papyrus from the third century CE, designated P*° in the Chester Beatty collection, Hebrews follows Romans among the letters of Paul. Both Clement and Origen, leaders in the great Christian intellectual center of Alexandria, judged the content of Hebrews to be from Paul. However, the style of the letter was so different from the remainder of the Pauline corpus that they concluded the actual writing to have been done by another, perhaps Luke or Clement of Rome. This uncertainty, growing out of the language and style of the letter, is preserved in a note at the end of Hebrews in the KJV: “Written to the Hebrews from Italy by Timothy.” In the Western church, early writers and lists do not include Hebrews among the letters of Paul. Tertullian, for example, suggested Barnabas, a candidate supported by three arguments: his close association with Paul (Acts 9:27; 13:2-15:39); his name, which Luke interprets as “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36); Hebrews is called a “word of exhortation” (Heb 13:22; “encouragement” and “exhortation” translate the same Greek word [TapdkAnots paraklesis|; and the fact that Barnabas was a Levite (Acts 4:36). Hebrews exhibits a detailed knowledge of the Levitical priesthood. However, by the fifth century CE, under the strong influence of Augustine and Jerome, the Western church had accepted Pauline authorship, a position dominant until the Reformation. The debate would not die. Students of both Paul and Hebrews found difficulty attributing to Paul the language and literary style of this epistle (if, indeed, itis an epistle), the centrality of the cultus, a priestly christology, and the admitted second-generation position of the writer. Would Paul, who insisted his gospel was not from any human source but from a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11-12), have written: “It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him” (Heb 2:3 NRSV)? There has been no lack of other candidates, Silas, Priscilla, and Apollos among them. Luther’s choice was Apollos, the Jewish Christian from Alexandria, eloquent and well versed in the Scriptures (Acts 18:24). Among recent scholars who have been interested to pursue the question of authorship, the most extended arguments have been in support of Apollos as well.! 1. Anyone wishing to follow this matter further will be well informed by H. W. Montefiore, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: A and C Black, 1964) 9-16; and Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986) 215-16.

HEBREWS—INTRODUCTION There was a time when establishing the authorship of a book was vital in arguing for its canonicity. Today, concerns about authorship are almost totally related to the larger issue of interpreting the text. Knowing the author would be of some help, but neither canonical authority nor theological merit depends on having that knowledge. In the case of Hebrews, although the name is lacking, the writer does have some visibility. The author was a Christian who lived and thought within the apostolic tradition (Heb 2:3). Timothy had been a companion in ministry and might be again (Heb 13:23). The writer was temporarily distanced from the readers but expects to return to them soon (Heb 13:19, 23). Their situation is known in great detail, either through their leaders (Heb 13:7, 17, 24) or by direct association. The writer joined strong pastoral concern with the authority of either person or office. Both the instructions and the exhortations of the letter reveal a person well educated in Greek rhetoric as well as in Judaism, especially Hellenistic Judaism formed in part by the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Greek translation and not the Hebrew text provides the major lines and the subtler nuances of the writer’s argument and appeal. Date. As with most documents of the New Testament, establishing the time of writing of Hebrews cannot be done with precision or certainty. However, with the external and internal evidence available, a chronological frame can be ascertained. The primary external _ evidence is the letter of Clement of Rome to the church in Corinth. In chapter 36 of that letter, Clement quotes and paraphrases key passages from Hebrews 1-3. Clement’s letter is generally, though not unanimously, dated 95-96 CE. Thus Hebrews must be dated earlier, but how much earlier? For an answer, we look for internal evidence. It must be pointed out that three arguments for dating based on internal evidence that once held favor among commentators are now considered seriously flawed. First, the high christology of Hebrews (the pre-existence, incarnation, and exaltation of the Son of God) demands as late a date as possible. This evolutionary view of christology cannot be supported by the New Testament. For example, high christology can be found in Paul’s writing (1 Cor 8:6; 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:5-11), and he quite possibly quoted from earlier sources. Second, since Hebrews describes the priestly activity and culture of Israel using the present tense (e.g., Heb 7:27-28; 8:3-5; 9:7-8), then the letter must be dated prior to the fall of the Temple in the year 70 CE. However, it is not the temple cultus but that of the wilderness tabernacle that is presented for comparison and contrast with the sacrificial work of Christ. As for the use of the present tense, this literary device is commonly used in the service of persuasion, and as we shall see, the writer was a skilled rhetorician. And finally, if the Temple no longer existed at the time of writing, the writer would have used that fact as a strong argument against the validity of Judaism’s claims. The fault of this argument is not only that it is based on silence but also that it fails to understand the author’s perspective toward Judaism and the Old Testament. The writer appeals to the Old Testament as a living Word of God and presents his case for the Christian faith as i


being in continuity with that Word. To read Hebrews as an attack on Judaism is to misread Hebrews. What, then, can we say about internal evidence for dating? Concerning his message, the writer says: “It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him” (Heb 2:3 NRSV). This statement seems to place the author in the generation following the apostles. In addition, we are told that Timothy was still active in ministry (Heb 13:23). If this is the same Timothy who was a young companion to Paul, a date between 60 and 90 CE would likely be appropriate. Since Clement knew the letter by the year 95, then we may consider the years 60-95 CE as the chronological frame for Hebrews. Obviously, we lack precision, but fortunately, precision in fixing the date of writing is not essential for understanding the message of the letter. Intended Audience. For interpreters of this letter, more helpful than knowledge of author or date would be the identification of the intended readers. Who were they? Where were they? Quite early the addressees were identified as “Hebrews” in a scribal conjecture that gave to the document the heading “To Hebrews.” It is with this “title” that the writing appears in the earliest manuscript evidence of its existence, a papyrus (P*°) from the beginning of the third century CE. But the heading raises more questions than it answers. Quite likely the scribe who made the designation did so on the basis of the content of the letter itself. Let us do the same: Allow the letter to characterize its recipients, and then determine if we can give them a name and an address. It must be said at the outset that the intended readers are Christian (Heb 3:6, 14; 4:14; 10:23), lest the heading to the letter lead someone to think the writing was addressed to Jews in order to convert them. The work is not polemical but a strong pastoral exhortation to a church in crisis. The writer knew the readers, having been with them earlier and now hopeful of a return soon (Heb 13:19, 22-23). The relationship between the author and the addressees is not clear. Urging the church to obey their leaders (Heb 13:17) implies that the writer is one in a position of even greater authority, either by reason of office or long relationship. The entire letter carries a tone of authority, of one who has the right and the obligation to remind, to instruct, to warn, and to encourage. The readers along with the writer were second-generation believers (Heb 2:3-4), having been baptized (Heb 6:4-5; 10:22) and fully instructed (Heb 6:1-2). In fact, they had been believers long enough to have become teachers (Heb 5:12), but had been stunted in their growth. In a vigorous pastoral move, the writer on the one hand chastises them for their infantile spiritual state (Heb 5:11-14) and on the other hand assumes that they are capable of following a lengthy and complex christological argument (6:9-10:39). Their earlier instruction not only focused on their “confession” (Heb 3:1; 4:14; 10:23), perhaps a digest of the faith (is Heb 1:1-4 that confession?), but also included extended engagement with the text of the Greek Old Testament. The author’s freedom to argue from nuances of the Greek translation of the Hebrew text and to make allusions to persons and events in Israel’s history certainly implies a familiarity with that material on the part of the addressees. 8

HEBREWS—INTRODUCTION But the readers are a faith community in crisis. Some members have grown lax in attendance at their assemblies (Heb 10:25), and commitment is waning. If the writer’s urgings are problem specific, then we have in the letter a painfully clear image of their condition. Listen: Let us hold fast to our confession. (Heb 4:14 NRSV) Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Heb 12:12-13 NRSV) See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! (Heb 12:25 NRSV) Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy “on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:28-29 NRSV)

The writer does not think the addressees have already fallen away (Heb 6:4-8) or are yet in the condition of Esau, who “found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears” (Heb 12:17 NRSV). In fact, better things are expected of these believers in view of their past record of love and good works, a record that has not totally come to an end (Heb 6:9-10). The author recalls that past during which they were cheerful, generous, and caring under most difficult circumstances and asks them not to abandon what they possessed as dearer than life itself (Heb 10:32-29). What is the root cause of this crisis in the church? The text of Hebrews reflects not one but a number of factors. The delay of the final return of Christ may have had a demoralizing effectin the community (10:25, 35-39). Ithas been speculated bysome that all the attention on the cultus in this letter implies a felt need among the readers for a more adequate liturgical and ritual life. The long-held theory that Hebrews addresses the problem of Jewish Christians returning to Judaism has been argued in terms of a more attractive cultus or of the security of a long and established tradition or of government protection from persecution, a privilege enjoyed within Judaism at various times and places. There is no doubt that the addressees had been under extreme external pressure. Some members had been imprisoned, and others suffered the confiscation of their property (Heb 10:34). They had not yet shed blood for their faith (Heb 12:4), but the writer does use the words “persecution” (Heb 10:33), “hostility” (Heb 12:3), and “torture” (Heb 13:3 NRSV). By no means the least painful form of pressure was public abuse and ridicule (Heb 10:33). More recent cultural and sociological studies of the New Testament have opened our eyes 9


to social, political, and economic values that governed life in the Mediterranean world. Chief among those values were honor and shame. It is difficult to imagine that the Christians addressed in Hebrews were not facing daily the problem of suffering dishonor as followers of one who endured the shame of the cross (Heb 12:2).? Whatever may have been the external factors contributing to the crisis of the community of readers, the fact that the writer responds to them with a lengthy and carefully argued christological presentation strongly implies that at the heart of the crisis was a christology inadequate for their social context. Perhaps they had a christology that was long on divinity but short on humanity, providing no way to fit the flesh and blood, lower than angels, tempted, crying and praying, suffering and dying Jesus into the larger scheme of God’s redemption. Or perhaps their christology ended with the exaltation and enthronement of the Son and offered no good news of his continuing ministry of intercession for the saints. At least in the writer’s view, the crisis can best be met not with improved structures or social strategies but with a more complete christology. Can we, from the text of Hebrews, name and locate the addressees? Not with any confidence. Focus on the cultus does not necessarily place the readers in Jerusalem, nor does an assumption of the readers’ knowledge of the Greek Old Testament argue conclusively for a Jewish past. Paul made heavy use of the Old Testament in exhorting the Corinthians, who were presumably of Gentile background. Jewish and Hellenistic thought had been long blended as evident in such writings as the Wisdom of Solomon and the vast religious-philosophical works of Philo of Alexandria. The clues in the text have been too many and too few, prompting theories of identification ranging from Christian Zionists on their way to Jerusalem to Gnostic spiritualists, pilgrims moving through this alien world to the eternal realms from which they came.* If we broadly identify the readers as Hellenistic Jewish Christians, perhaps the best guess for their location is Rome. When the writer says, “those from Italy send you greetings” (Heb 13:24 NRSV), it is not clear whether the expression locates the writer or the readers

in Italy. Similarities to 1 Peter, a letter written from Rome (1 Pet 5:13), argue fora Roman origin. However, early knowledge of Hebrews by Clement of Rome indicates a Roman destination, and what we know of the house churches in Rome makes that city a likely candidate as the location of the addressees.*

THEOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS Any overview of the theology of Hebrews must be prefaced with two observations: (1) The theology of the epistle is woven into a lengthy argument and can be extracted only at the risk of the loss of its vitality, and (2) the theology of the epistle is rhetorically 2. Astrong case has been made for understanding Hebrews in these categories by David DeSilva, Despising Shame: A Cultural-Anthropological Investigation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, SBLDS 152 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995). 3. For anyone wishing to pursue further these various views, W. L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, WBC 47A (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1991) li-lx, provides a brief but clear discussion along with a thorough bibliography. 4. Ibid., lviii-lx.



presented in the service of urgent pastoral exhortations and can be extracted only at the risk of the loss of its purpose. With these cautions in mind, the reader of Hebrews might

benefit from a brief sketch of its major theological tenets, most of which the writer and readers have in common, and some of which represents the writer’s imaginative elaboration of elements within that common tradition of belief. God. This is not a Christian writing so preoccupied with the person of Jesus or the work of the Holy Spirit that God is pushed into the background as a silent assumption. On the contrary, God is the subject of the opening sentence, the closing benediction, and the narrative of redemption in between. God created and maintains the world through the Son (Heb 1:2-3, 10; 2:10;.3:3-4; 11:3). The entire redemptive career of Jesus, from incarnation to exaltation, was according to God’s will (Heb 10:7). It is God who offered the promise of rest to Israel (Heb 3:7-11) and continues to hold out that promise today (Heb 4:1-11). God enters into covenants with those who trust (Heb 8:8-12) and holds always before us not only the prospect of judgment (Heb 9:27; 10:30-31; 12:23) but also the promise of a better home, an abiding place, a heavenly city of God’s own building (Heb 11:10, 13-16; 13:4). To describe God’s work of love toward believers, the writer uses categories of cosmic proportions. The category of time stretches from creation to consummation; the category of space reaches from the real and abiding world above (Heb 8:4-6; 10:1) to this temporary world of shadows, not substance. The single most recurring characteristic of God as portrayed in this letter is that God speaks. God spoke through the prophets (Heb 1:1), speaks through a Son (Heb 1:2), speaks through the Old Testament (Heb 1:5-12; 4:3, 7; 7:21; 8:8-12) and through the Holy Spirit (Heb 10:15-17). Important to notice is the frequent use of the present tense; God’s voice is a living voice, whatever the medium through which it comes. Jesus Christ. No New Testament writer presents a more human Jesus than does the author of Hebrews. In fact, among all the titles used to refer to the Christ, the writer’s preference seems to be “Jesus.” That Jesus was one of us (Heb 2:11), tempted as we are (Heb 4:15), that he submitted to God in tearful and prayerful obedience (Heb 5:7-8), and was subject to death (Heb 2:14) constituted for some within and without the church a flaw in the Christian faith, an offense to the human quest for honor and place. But the writer of Hebrews, rather than denying or subordinating such a portrayal of Jesus, accents it as essential in the larger scheme of redemption. As a priest, Jesus had to be chosen from among the people (Heb 5:1) in order to be able to sympathize with their weakness (Heb 4:15) and to “deal gently with the ignorant and wayward” (Heb 5:2 NRSV). As we shall see, establishing that Jesus was a priest, even though not a Levite, is the extraordinary theological achievement at the heart of the letter. Being one of us not only qualified Jesus to be a merciful priest, but also equipped him to be the model to whom believers look. He is the pioneer and perfecter of the faith pilgrimage, showing his followers how to bear suffering, endure hostility, and disregard shame (Heb 12:1-3). Believers could not be expected to walk in the steps of one who had not walked in theirs. 11


However, this is not the total picture; Hebrews rivals the Gospel of John in moving beyond the historical evidence to declare who Jesus really is in the grand sweep of God’s saving purpose. Anyone who charges that the writer of Hebrews has reduced christology in order to portray Jesus as a model and guide to a church in crisis has not read the entire book.° Jesus was lower than the angels “for a little while” (Heb 2:9), incarnate (Heb 1:6; 2:14-18; 10:5-7) to make purification for sins (Heb 1:3), but is now seated at God’s right hand (Heb 1:3), a high priest forever, making intercession for the saints (Heb 4:14-5:10; 7:23-25; 8:1-2). In a related but slightly different line of reasoning, the writer presents Jesus as the mediator of a new and better covenant (Heb 9:15—10:18). At the end of the age, Christ will return “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:28 NRSV; 10:37). These can be the achievements only of one who was not only of the people but also of God, and that he was of God the writer leaves no doubt. Jesus’ divinity is anchored in his pre-existence as God’s Son, heir of all things, agent of creation, sustainer of all things, the very mirror image of God’s glory and character (Heb 1:2-3). In their assemblies the readers most likely recited as a confession this inclusive, embracing Christ’s pre-existence, incarnation, and exaltation.

Holy Spirit. Hebrews does not contain any trinitarian formulas. God is the primary character in the narrative, and the person and work of Jesus Christ occupy the central place in the argument developed. However, the role of the Holy Spirit is of such significance as to merit our attention. The Holy Spirit is a revealer, with words of the Old Testament being attributed to the Spirit (Heb 3:7-11; 10:15-17), although some of the same words are also attributed to God (Heb 4:3). The Spirit is also an interpreter of the Scriptures (Heb 9:8). In relation to Christ, it was through the Spirit that he offered himself as a sacrifice without blemish to God (Heb 9:14). In relation to the church, the Holy Spirit comes as gifts to the members, distributed according to the will of God (Heb 2:4; 6:4). Because Christians share in the Holy Spirit, any willful persistence in sin constitutes a grave sin against the Spirit, called by the writer an “outrage” (Heb 10:29). It may also be said of the Spirit in Hebrews that along with God and Christ, the Holy Spirit provides continuity in revelation and in redemptive activity between Israel and the church. Church. Even though the word usually translated “church” (Exxdnota ekklésia) occurs only twice in Hebrews (Heb 2:12; 12:23), it is quite clear that the writer is addressing a congregation, a group identified by a confession of faith (Heb 4:14), having been called together as a fellowship of brothers and sisters, of each other and of Christ (Heb 2:11-17). They assemble regularly to offer the sacrifice of praise to God (Heb 13:13), to provoke one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24), and to identify through compassion and sharing with those members who are imprisoned and tortured (Heb 13:3). In addition to love for one another, they are obliged to love strangers, showing hospitality (Heb 13:1-2), and to make every effort to be at peace with everyone (Heb 12:4). In the two modes of 5. E. Kasemann almost makes such a charge against Hebrews in Jesus Means Freedom (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 101-16.



the Christian life, tenacious faithfulness and continuous pilgrimage toward the city that is to come—that is, possessing both stability and flexibility—Christ is the model. He was unwavering in faithfulness to God and undeterred as the pioneer leading his people to glory. Scripture. The Scripture for the writer of Hebrews is the Old Testament in Greek translation, hereafter referred to as the Septuagint (LXX), even though points at which the writer varies from the LXX as we have it will be noted. Even though the author holds in common with the readers a Christian tradition, no writings from that tradition known to us are quoted as Scripture. The only words ofJesus that appear in Hebrews are at 2:12-13 and 10:5-7, where words from Psalms and Isaiah are attributed not to the writers of those passages but to Christ. The Old Testament comes to the reader in direct quotations, paraphrases, and allusions. Sometimes the original historical context is preserved; sometimes a passage is set in a new context. Interestingly, the writer’s appropriation of the life and faith of Israel is drawn from an earlier appropriation by the psalmist. Why does the author draw so heavily on the retelling of Israel’s narrative in the psalms? Is the reason hermeneutical? That is to say, is the writer’s use of Scripture simply a continuation of what the psalmist had done, putting an old story in a new setting? Or is the reason liturgical, using Israel’s worship materials to interpret and enrich the culture and liturgy of the church? Of course, the reason may be more practical: the psalms best provide the grounds for the author’s own theological and christological construction. In any case, in this rich and imaginative engagement with Scripture, the Old Testament never ceases to be the living voice of God. In fact, the authority of the Old Testament is enhanced for the readers by the writer’s practice of introducing quotations from it with the phrases “God says,” “Christ says,” and “the Holy Spirit says.” As we shall see, the writer of the epistle does not, in an act of interpretive tyranny, simply make irresponsible raids on the Old Testament to construct his own theological house, leaving among his scriptural sources not one stone upon another. Hebrews is not only the most extended treatment of the Old Testament in the New, but is also, along with Luke, the most respectful of continuity. The Bible tells one story, not two, and itis the story of God’s saving initiative toward humankind. This metanarrative is carried forward through many subnarratives.

LITERARY CONSIDERATIONS Those who teach and preach the Bible are increasingly aware that literary factors no less than historical and theological ones demand attention in an honest and fruitful hearing of the texts. Every writer wants both to say something and to do something, and therefore employs available literary devices and rhetorical strategies in order to be clear and to be effective. The careful reader of Hebrews will, therefore, want to attend to the manner as well as the matter of this work. To alert us to the literary and rhetorical skills of this writer 13


and to prepare us for a fuller experience of reading and hearing, we here attend briefly to three matters: integrity, genre, and structure. Integrity. Keep in mind that the word integrity used in a literary discussion refers only to the unity of a writing and not to the merits of its content. In other words, is any part of the text from a different hand or from the same hand but not intended by the writer to be a part of this document? The question arises with Hebrews only with reference to chapter 13. Doubts as to whether chapter 13 was originally a part of Hebrews have been prompted by two observations, one minor and one major. The minor observation is that there is a noticeable shift in both mood and content between chapters 12 and 13. Such a break, however, is not uncommon at that point where a writer concludes an argument and then moves to a list of practical admonitions, usually rather standard, along with words of a personal nature (note Gal 6:11; Rom 15:14; 16:1). There is no Greek manuscript of Hebrews that concludes at chapter 12. The major observation concerns the contrast between the epistolary ending (Heb 13:18-25) and the non-epistolary beginning. In its Opening Hebrews is similar to 1 John alone among New Testament epistles, the others having the customary address, signature, and greeting. This seeming discrepancy has prompted, among other theories, speculation that chapter 13 was added by another person, perhaps a secretary or a disciple or someone imitating Pauline conclusions in an effort to get Hebrews accepted into the Pauline corpus. Analyses of vocabulary and themes in chapter 13 have not supported such theories. In fact, the unity between this chapter and the main body of the letter has been so convincingly argued that very few voices are raised

to the contrary.° Genre. Accepting chapter 13 as integral to the entire writing does, however, pose another question: What does one call a document that ends as a letter but begins as an oration? I have in these introductory comments continued to use the traditional designation “epistle,” and there are some students of Hebrews who do not find sufficient reasons to abandon it. After all, in the ancient Mediterranean world, “epistle” (Etotodr_ epistole) could be used to refer to writings ranging from private correspondence to public statements sometimes posted on bulletin boards. As for the difference between the beginning and the ending, Hebrews is not alone in that feature. For example, James is like Hebrews, but in reverse: It begins as a letter but ends as an oration. Nor can one argue conclusively that the content of Hebrews is not epistolary. Writings indisputably epistolary contain expositions of Scripture with application (1 Cor 10:1-14), moral instruction (Gal 5:13-6:10), and even strong exhortations that seem to interrupt the context (2 Cor 6:14-7:1). Even so, there is no major gain or loss to the interpreter in proving Hebrews is or is not a letter in any formal sense. 6. See Floyd V. Filson, “Yesterday”: AStudy ofHebrews in the Light of Chapter 13 (Naperville, Ill.: Alec R. Allenson, 1967).



However, when a writing bears a self-designation the author has provided a category that helps the reader to understand both the purpose of the communication and the literary strategies employed to achieve it. Hebrews is, says the writer, a “word of exhortation” (Heb 13:22 NRSV). This expression occurs at Acts 13:15 to refer to Paul’s speech in Acts 13:16-41, a speech noticeably similar to Hebrews. Harold Attridge thinks “word of exhortation” is “probably a technical literary designation for a certain kind of oratorical performance.”’ Whether or not there is sufficient evidence to support such a claim, the term does alert the reader to what the writer is doing. For example, every reader of Hebrews observes the alternation between exposition and application throughout the work. But to the question of whether applications are simply postscripts to a major expository argument or exposition of Scripture serves the application, the writer gives an answer: This is not a word of exposition but a word of exhortation. Even the most elaborate expository sections serve as fuel to keep alive a fire that seems to be flickering out. The writer rushes forward after each phase of the argument, eager to press home the lessons from every Old Testament text cited. In the expression “word of exhortation” a host of literary devices and rhetorical strategies find their reason. Notice the force of an argument expressed in double negatives (Heb 4:15; 6:10; 7:20); the energy of words joined without the homogenizing effect of conjunctions (Heb 7:3, 26; 11:32-34, 37; 12:25); the sharp edges of vivid contrasts (Heb 7:18-20, 23-24, 28; 10:11-12); the cumulative effect of repeated phrases, such as “by faith” in chapter 11; and the pleasant attention-getting sounds of alliteration (Heb 1:1; 2:1-4; 4:16; 10:11). Metaphors abound, drawn from athletics, agriculture, education, architecture, seafaring, courts of law, and more. Verbs are noticeably in the present tense, and the language of speaking prevails over that of writing (Heb 2:5; 5:11; 6:9). Greek and Latin rhetoricians had long urged these and other strategies in the service of persuasion. There is no question that the writer is preaching. However, simply to call Hebrews a homily seems not sufficiently to acknowledge its magnitude and complexity. After all, a homily, at least in the early days of the church, was an informal discussion or conversation about a topic (Luke uses the word in his Gospel at 24:14-15), and Hebrews exhibits the formal qualities of a carefully constructed piece of rhetoric. And a homily lacks the complexity of Hebrews, which is not solely a sermon but a sermon containing sermons (e.g., Heb 1:5—2:4; 2:5-3:1; 8:1-10:25). In this respect, Hebrews resembles Deuteronomy, which is Moses’ final sermon to Israel but also is a collection of sermons within the sermon. If, then, in the commentary to follow Hebrews is sometimes called a letter and sometimes a sermon, the reader will understand why both are true but neither is fully true. Structure. While there is broad agreement about the rhetorical skills of the writer of Hebrews, there is no consensus about the structure of this sermon. Some analyses fail because they try to fit Hebrews into one of the three major types of ancient rhetoric: Is it 7. Harold Attridge, “Paraenesis in a Homily,” Semeia 50 (1990) 217.



forensic, persuasion concerning the truth of a past event; or deliberative, persuasion concerning a future decision or course of action; or epideictic (ceremonial), persuasion concerning the virtues of one whose life is worthy of emulation? The fact is that Hebrews contains some of all three. Other analyses prove inadequate because they locate focal points in the expositions or doctrinal portions and merely attach the exhortations as subordinate to the argumentation. The location and extent of hortatory materials make it clear that for the writer these sections are of equal if not greater importance for the purpose of the sermon. At the risk of making oversimplified divisions, the following broad outline may give some perspective:

Exposition 1:1-14 Exhortation 2:1-4 Exposition 2:5-3:6 Exhortation 3:7—4:16 Exposition 5:1-10 Exhortation 5:11-6:20 Exposition 7:1-10:18 Exhortation 10:19-13:25

Such a flat list does not register the cumulative effect of sections tumbling one upon the other. No analysis focusing on exposition alone can be fair to the whole. Perhaps all structural displays fail to the extent that they lose sight of the extremely urgent pastoral situation that prompted Hebrews. A concerned leader seeks to persuade a church from its path of decline in faith and communal love before it is too late. Every communication skill must be called into service because the end is to save a church, not to please an instructor in a rhetoric class. Perhaps this accounts for there being too many rather than too few clues to the structure of Hebrews within the composition; the writer speaks to a crisis. All recent attempts to discern the structure of Hebrews have had to respond to the lifelong studies of A. Vanhoye.® He was impressed by the remarkable symmetry of the work and came to the conclusion that it was structured concentrically, moving toward and away from the central argument. This literary form is called a chiasmus, fairly common in briefer units in the New Testament. In this case, the chiasmus consisted of five parts: 1:12:18; 3:15:10; 5:11—10:39; 1T:1—1 2:13; 12:14—13:25, on the pattern of ABCB A’. This means that parts one and five are parallel, parts two and four are parallel, and part three is the centerpiece. Support for Vanhoye’s analysis has been only partial; but reading Hebrews in this pattern has been stimulating, and modifications of his conclusions have found their way into much of the literature on Hebrews.’ 8. Vanhoye’s literary analyses of Hebrews began in the early 1960s, and his publications have been in French. However, the fruit of his work is available in English in A. Vanhoye, Structure and Message of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1989). 9. Fora review of various structural analyses and their justifications, see W. L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, WBC 47A (Dallas: Word, 1991) lxxv-ciii.


HEBREWS—INTRODUCTION A major problem with Vanhoye’s and other similar analyses, however, is a practical one. Granted, Heb 7:1—-10:18 isa major and complex section for which the writer gradually prepares the reader, but is it the climax? If so, one would expect that after Heb 10:18 the arguments and exhortations would draw heavily from the theological achievement of that central section; otherwise, why have the climax in the center of the composition? But such is not the case. Chapters 11-13 make only minimal use of the lengthy argument about Christ’s priesthood. The final three chapters move the reader to a climax of intellectual, emotional, and volitional energy at the point where homiletically it belongs: at the end. Therefore, the outline offered below as a framework for the commentary is not concentric but rather cumulative. The final exhortation in Heb 12:12-13:19 is the end toward which the writer moves from the very beginning, where the faith held in common with the readers is recited.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Commentaries:

Attridge, H. W. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989. Detailed and scholarly treatment of the text with citations of pertinent primary sources and in conversation with other students of Hebrews. Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. NICNT. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990. Solid evangelical scholarship made available to serious students of the Bible, both lay and clergy. Buchanan, G. W. Hebrews. AB 36. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972. An unusual interpretation of Hebrews as a document of early Christian Zionism. Ellingworth, P. 7he Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993. Studies of words and phrases of the original language of the text, helpful to persons unfamiliar with Greek.

Jewett, R. Letter to Pilgrims. New York: Pilgrim, 1981. An interpretation of Hebrews in the light of the heresy addressed in Colossians. Lane, W. L. Hebrews 1-8; Hebrews 9-13. WBC 47A and 47B. Dallas: Word, 1991. Detailed treatment of ’ the text accompanied by a full bibliography and strong theological reflections. Montefiore, H. W. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Harper’s NT Commentary. New York: Harpers, 1964. Sound scholarship available to non-specialists, often differing from traditional views. Williamson, R. Zhe Epistle to the Hebrews. London: Epworth, 1965. An interpretation of Hebrews in the light of Greek philosophy mediated through Judaism.

Wilson, R. M. Hebrews. NCBC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987. Results of scholarship offered to nonspecialists with brevity and clarity.

The following special studies in Hebrews will enrich one’s understanding of the letter, its theology, literary form, interpretive method, and use of the OT.

Hay, David M. Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. SBLMS. Nashville: Abingdon, 1973. An examination of the uses of Psalm 110 in the NT and other early Christian literature. 17

THE NEW INTERPRETER’S BIBLE Hughes, Graham. Hebrews and Hermeneutics. SNTSMS. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. An analysis of Hebrews as a Christian interpretation of OT texts.

Hurst, L. D. The Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Background of Thought. SNTSMS. Cambridge: Cambridge - University Press, 1990. An interpretation of Hebrews in the philosophical and religious contexts of the first century. Kasemann, E. The Wandering People of God. Translated by R. Harresville and I. Sandberg. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984. A commentary on the major sections of Hebrews in relation to the religious syncretism called Gnosticism. Lindars, Barnabas. The Theology of the Letter to the Hebrews. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. An exploration of the major theological themes in Hebrews. In addition, the reader’s attention is called to articles cited in the Commentary that may offer further help in preaching and teaching Hebrews.

OUTLINE OF HEBREWS I. Hebrews 1:1-4, Introductory Statement of Faith

Il. Hebrews 1:5-2:18, The Son and the Angels A. 1:5-14, The Son Superior to Angels B. 2:1-4, Therefore Listen Carefully C. 2:5-18, The Son Lower Than Angels 2:5-9, He Became as We Are 2:10-18, A Faithful and Merciful High Priest

Ill. Hebrews 3:1-5:10, Christ, the Faithful and Merciful High Priest A. 3:1-4:13, Christ the Faithful 3:1-6, Christ and Moses Compared 3:7-11, The Faithless People 3:12-19, Failure to Enter God’s Rest 4:1-11, God’s Rest Still Available 4:12-13, God’s Word Still Active

B. 4:14-5:10, Christ the Merciful 4:14-16, Hold Fast; Draw Near 5:1-10, Christ Qualified as High Priest

IV. Hebrews 5:11-6:20, Preparation for the Difficult Discussion

A. 5:11-6:3, A Call for Maturity B. 6:4-12, Stern Warning with Hope C. 6:13-20, The Ground for Hope 18


V. Hebrews 7:1—10:39, The Difficult Discussion A. 7:1-28, Christ and Melchizedek 7:1-3, Melchizedek, King and Priest 7:4-10, Melchizedek Is Superior to Levites 7:11-19, A New Priesthood 7:20-25, Confirmed by God’s Oath

7:26-28, Christ, Our Eternal High Priest B. 8:1-10:18, The High Priestly Ministry of Christ 8:1-5, Christ’s Sanctuary 8:6-13, Christ’s Covenant 9:1-10:18, Christ’s Sacrifice 9:1-14, The Old and the New Sacrifice 9:15-22, Sacrifice and the New Covenant 9:23-10:18, The New and Final Sacrifice

C. 10:19-39, Life in Response to This Ministry of Christ 10:19-25, A Threefold Admonition 10:26-31, Warning About the Future 10:32-39, Encouragement from the Past

VI. Hebrews 11:1—12:17, A Call to Fidelity and Mutuality

A. 11:1-40, Learning from Our Forebears in Faith ‘

11:1-2, The Meaning of Faith 11:3-7, Faith: From Creation to Noah 11:8-22, Faith: From Sarah and Abraham to Joseph 11:23-31, Faith: Moses and Israel 11:32-38, Faith: Prophets and Martyrs 11:39-40, Faith: Fulfilled in Christians

B. 12:1-17, A Call to Continue in Faith 12:1-3, Look to Jesus 12:4-11, Regard Suffering as Discipline 12:12-13, Regain Your Strength 12:14-17, Again, Be Warned

VII. Hebrews 12:18-13:19, Final Exhortations

A. 12:18-29, Zion, the Unshakable Kingdom B. 13:1-19, Life in the Faith Community 13:1-6, Mutual Duties 13:7-8, Examples to Follow 13:9-16, Christ’s Sacrifice Revisited

13:17-19, Concerning Your Leaders 19


VIII. Hebrews 13:20-25, Benediction and Greetings

A. 13:20-21, Benediction with Doxology B. 13:22-25, Greetings and Farewell






In the past God spoketo our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. *The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.


Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,? whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. °He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains? all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. aOr the Son

6 Or bears along

(COMMENTARY 40,7 ith a literary artistry unmatched in the NT, “© the writer of Hebrews begins addressing the readers. Verses 1-4 consist of one carefully composed sentence called a “period”—that is, a sentence that makes a complete circle around the track (teptoSo0s periodos). So rich and full is this sentence that it is understandable why English translations would aid the reader by making of it three (NRSV) or four (NIV) more manageable statements. Before attending to its details, let us appreciate the author’s remarkable achievement in this one sentence. The reader’s attention is captured and held by a number of rhetorical devices: alliteration (five words in verse 1 begin with the letter 7 (p); contrast (long ago/in these last days; to our ancestors/to us; by the prophets/by a son); repetition (of relative pronouns and participles); and temporal sequence (pre-existence, incarnation, exaltation). But artistry also serves substance; the sentence expresses the faith held in common with the readers. The passage is not at all polemic, seeking to correct errant views, or pedagogical, pressing new and additional ideas on the recipients. In fact, the writer may be quoting,

in entirety or in part, from the liturgy of the church addressed. Whether these verses contain the “confession” often mentioned (3:1; 4:14; 10:23) cannot be determined. We can, however, appreciate the strategic importance of creating an atmosphere of trust by beginning on common ground. And finally, the writer accomplishes several practical ends in the opening sentence: (1) With a theocentric beginning, arguments of both continuity and discontinuity between Judaism and Christianity have room. God is the subject of both testaments. (2) The categories of speaking and hearing are appropriate to a “word of exhortation” (13:22) and anticipate the oral quality of the entire discourse. (3) The opening sentence is also programmatic in that it introduces most of the major themes to be developed in the “sermon,” even using the language of two OT texts very central to all that follows, Psalm 2 and Psalm 110. And (4) the final clause (v. 4) allows the author to introduce the subject of the first major unit (1:5-2:18), Christ and the angels. Many commentators divide vv. 1-4 into two parts: vv. 1-2, in which God is the actor, and vv.


HEBREWS 1:1-4 COMMENTARY absence of the definite article seems quite purposeful. As a general rule, in Greek the presence of the definite article serves to identify, and its absence serves to qualify. In other words, what is the quality or nature of God’s speaking? It is through the person of a Son and through the relationship of that Son to God. Past segments and forms of revelation are neither minimized nor negated, but the writer’s conviction is clear: In a Son God has spoken the culminating Word. Although God continues to be the subject of the verbs in v. 2 (“appointed,” “created”), the reader’s attention is now being drawn to the Son. In two strong assertions the writer presents the credentials qualifying the Son to be the speech of God. In the first, Psalm 2, which provided the title “Son,” is drawn upon again for the title “heir of all things.”

3-4, in which the Son is the actor. However, this discussion will separate v. 3 and v. 4, reasons for which should be apparent. 1:1-2. The sermon that we call Hebrews is predicated on the affirmation that God speaks (125-133 3:7; 4:3; 5:5-6; 7:21; 8:8-13) and on the injunction, “See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking” (12:25 NRSV). This foundational conviction is broadly framed in wv. 1-2 in a balanced statement. God: spoke in the past

has spoken in these last days

to our ancestors by the prophets

to us by a Son

God’s speaking in the past was “in many parts or segments” and “in many forms.” Such sweeping introductory statements characterizing the past were fairly common among Greek rhetoricians.!° Here the writer describes God’s past revelation in three ways. First, it was in segments or episodes, not continuous. Second, God’s speaking took many forms, and the OT bears witness to these forms: voices, events, visions, dreams, stories, and theophanies, among others. Third, revelation came through the prophets. There is no reason to understand prophets here in a restrictive sense, as distinct from the Law and the Writings. In the broader sense, the term “prophets” was used to refer to those who spoke for God, and for the writer of Hebrews certainly included Moses and David. God’s speaking begins in Genesis (Heb LES) Continuous with and yet distinctly different from past revelation is that which is “to us.” God’s speaking is here presented with two strong qualifying phrases. First, it comes “in these last days.” The expression is not so much chronological as it is eschatological. Such was the accepted meaning among the prophets (Isa 2:2; Dan 10:14; Hos 3:5; Mic 4:1), and for early Christians, the eschaton was inaugurated by the advent of Jesus Christ. Second, God has spoken “by a Son.” There is no need to add “the” Son or “his” Son as some translations do, as though there were a need to specify to whom the writer refers. About that there is no doubt. In the present instance, the 10. For examples, see H. W. Attridge,

“You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. (Ps 2:7-8 NRSV)

This psalm will be one of the major sources for developing the christology of Hebrews. In good rhetorical style, the author introduces early texts and themes that will be addressed fully at a later point. The same is true of the metaphor of inheriting; it will be a favorite term to speak not only of the Son but also of the promised future of the faithful (1:14; 6:12, 17; 9:15; 11:7, 8; 12:17). As for the Son, “heir of all things” describes his pre-existent life with God. Perhaps it is not too soon to become alert to a tension in the christology of Hebrews (which the author does not attempt to resolve) between what the Son has in pre-existence and what the Son gains by reason of his work of redemption and exaltation to God’s right hand. In other words, is his last state a return to the first or is the last greater than the first? As for the “all things,” the writer likely includes, but is not limited to, the inheritance granted the Son-King of Psalm 2. It is enough to say that nothing of

God’s is withheld from The second assertion the Son’s qualifications Word of God: The Son

A Commentary on the Epistle

to the Hebrews, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989) 37nn. 17-18.


the Son. in v. 2 adds further to to be the eschatological was God’s agent of crea-

HEBREWS 1:1-4 COMMENTARY tion. That God worked through an intermediary in creating is an idea that developed in Jewish theology (Prov 8:22-31; Wis 7:22), the intermediary being called Sophia (“Wisdom” [codia sophia|) or Logos (“Word” [\éyos logos]). The church appropriated these terms in developing its understanding of the relation of Christ to God, and praise of Christ as agent of creation entered quite early into hymn and creed (John 1:3, 10; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16). The “worlds” (NRSV) and “universe” (NIV) translate aidvas (aionas), “aeons” or “ages.” The word came to have both a temporal and a spatial meaning. As will be noted later, categories of time and movement toward the future are more important for this writer than are categories of space and distance. 1:3. Here the opening statement takes a noticeable turn, as registered by the translators’ decision to begin a new sentence. Verse 2 spoke of God’s relation to the Son; v. 3 speaks of the Son’s relation to God. Some scholars account for the shift by seeing this verse as all or part of an early christological hymn that has been skillfully incorporated by the writer.'' Certainly elements found in passages widely accepted as hymns (Phil 2:0-112-Col. 1215-20; 1 Tim3:16)_ are. here: the relative pronoun os (hos, “who,” translated here as “he”), balanced phrasing (being, sustaining, having made), and a full display of the Son’s sojourn (pre-existence, humiliation, exaltation). If the author is quoting a hymn, he has woven it well into the larger affirmation. The last two affirmations about the Son move

away from the wisdom source and into the christological theme that will be the major burden of the letter. It is not enough to summarize these two final clauses of v. 3 as the humiliation and exaltation of the Son. The humiliation is cast in sacerdotal and priestly terms: He made purification for sins (cleansing of sins, here and at 2 Pet 1:9). The whole of the Son’s earthly career is gathered up in one image: a priest at the altar making purification for sins. The brief depiction anticipates and begs for the elaboration soon forthcoming. And then in the only finite verb in v. 3 the writer sums up both the completion of the Son’s work on earth and his elevation to the highest station: He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty (a reverential substitute for God). The Son-Priest is enthroned. The source of this portrayal of the Son is Psalm 110, the most significent psalm in the development of New Testament christology'? and the key text for Hebrews. Peculiar to Hebrews, however, is the use of both v. 1 and v. 4 of Psalm 110 to join king and priest in the presentation of Jesus Christ. Son-Priest-King— already the writer has set out the themes of his sermon and the burden of his argumentation. 1:4. This final affirmation about the Son in the introductory statement of faith serves as a transition to the first major unit of the text, 1:5—2:16, in which the subject is the Son’s relationship to angels. The declaration of the superiority of the Son over the angels seems abrupt and polemic in a way that the difference between God’s speaking through the prophets and through a Son did not. Until v. 4 one feels no debate, but rather a confession held in common between the writer and the readers. But now to say that the Son is greater than the angels is to give the impression that some persons of a contrary view are in the audience or are known to the audience. The phrase “superior to” or “greater than” will occur thirteen times in the writer’s presentation of his christology. It can be argued, therefore, that v. 4 was not a part of the confession of faith but has been added by the author to introduce the first major theme. But not necessarily. The statement of faith in 1:1-4 may have been framed in its entirety in a community of faith where angels

11. See J. T. Sanders, New Testament Christological Hymns (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971) 19-20, who follows suggestions of earlier scholars. The writer of Hebrews is indebted to Jewish wisdom theology for the first two of the four statements concerning the Son. As noted earlier, wisdom was God’s agent in relating to the world in creation, providence, revelation, and reconciliation. According to Wisd Sol 7:24-27, Sophia is the mirrored reflection (radiance) and exact imprint (representation) of God’s being. These two terms are found nowhere else in the NT. God’s being is here tmdéotaots (hypostasis), “essence” or “substance.” An interesting use of the word occurs at Heb 11:1: Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for. At Heb 1:3 the writer is saying that what God is, the Son is (cf. John 1:1). The author also appropriates for the Son wisdom’s providential and sustaining relation to the created order. The Son’s word, which will also be in Hebrews God’s word and the Holy Spirit’s word, not only speaks life into being but also sustains it continually. As Paul puts it, “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6 NRSV); and again, “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17 NRSV). The term “all things” (Ta tava ta panta) was in Hellenistic philosophy a technical term for the universe, the totality, visible and invisible. Christian writers, and especially Paul, adopted the expression to announce the cosmic dimensions of Christ’s work. Nothing and no one lies beyond the reach of God’s activity through the Son.

12. The subtitle of David Hay’s Glory at the Right Hand (Nashville: Abingdon, 1973) is Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. He traces the role of the psalm in the christologies of the NT and non-canonical writers.


HEBREWS 1:1-4 COMMENTARY name is most likely “Son” whether the inheriting was in pre-existence (v. 2) or after his humiliation and exaltation. For Paul the name given above every other name was “Lord,” bestowed on Christ after God had exalted him (Phil 2:9-11). Thus far, the writer has not used the designations “Christ” or “Lord,” or the name “Jesus.”

functioned in their theology either as a threat to the superior place of Christ or simply as a foil against which the lofty status of Christ was played. The reader will have to devote attention in the next unit to this question, Why introduce angels into the discussion? As for the “more excellent name” the Son inherited (again, a favorite expression of the writer’s; see Commentary on 1:2), that



1. From the outset the reader is reminded that the subject of the Christian faith is God. It is a regrettable fact that theocentricity is absent from much Christian teaching and preaching. To be sure, writing and speaking about Jesus Christ in a community already firm in its faith in God as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer is appropriate. Such is the case with early Christian documents written from within or addressing Judaism in which faith in God lay at the heart of a long history. But when those writings are taught or preached in cultures for whom faith in God may not already be present, beginning with christology is beginning too late. The appropriate starting point is “In the beginning, God...” even if the discussion will eventually focus on Christ or the Holy Spirit or the church. The writer of Hebrews does not forget this, and by stating rather than assuming the centerpiece of Christian faith reminds the church to be discerning in what it can and cannot assume about the culture to which it speaks. It could be calamitous to get people attached to Jesus without any faith in God. 2. God speaks—never so loudly that every casual passerby hears, but God theless. God’s self-revelation is the cornerstone of both Judaism and Christianity. is a medium of revelation is affirmed in both Testaments, especially in wisdom the weightier freight of revelation is carried by persons, by relationships, and by did not speak to us, we would be left with a painfully vague yearning for God, unsatisfied after a feast of sunsets and songbirds.

speaks neverThat creation literature, but events. If God a hunger still

3. This introductory statement of faith is so worded as to lead the reader to anticipate either a discussion or a demonstration of the continuity and discontinuity between Christianity and Judaism. Every major New Testament writer struggled in some way with this issue, but none opted for discontinuity alone. Later there were voices such as Marcion’s, who called for a Bible stripped of all Jewish writings; but those voices did not prevail. The composition of the Christian Bible testifies to that and calls upon every generation of Christians to deal with the problems of continuity and discontinuity in the formation of its own faith. How will the author of Hebrews deal with this important matter? That it will be dealt with is announced ines

4. The old sentimental image of the early church as at the margins of society is shattered by the artistry and a creedal formula, perhaps framed for the liturgy of the it became official dogma, in which is distilled the heart

a huddle of the poor and unlettered sophistication of Heb 1:1-4. Here is congregation to be sung long before of the Christian faith. Within it is a

christological hymn not unlike others in the New Testament (v. 3).'° 13. See J. T. Sanders, New Testament Christological Hymns (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971).




he confession of faith in 1:1-4, which con-


surprising, given the portrayal of God at the outset as having spoken and continuing to speak (1:1-2). Nor is this way of introducing Scripture passages unique to Hebrews; the writer of Matthew (Matt 122: SD 27 eS 1e037y'So 45) and pPatils (Rom: 10:11-13; 15:10; 1 Cor 6:16), among others, do the same. However, both Matthew and Paul easily alternate between “speaking” and “writing,” while in Hebrews the introductory formula, “it is written,” occurs only once in a direct citation (10:7) and the noun form (ypadat graphai, “writings” or “scripture”) not at all. While the speaker of the biblical citations may vary (God, the Son, the Spirit, or “someone somewhere”) the author’s preference for this method of penne Scripture is abundantly clear. What does this eee mean for the reader? Hearing the OT being “said” to them has significance at two levels for the reader. On one level is the rhetorical impact. After all, Hebrews is a sermon (13:22), and, therefore, we should expect the author to employ rhetorical strategies. Fundamental to the art of persuasion is the task of making what is absent, by time or by space, present to the hearer or reader. A direct quotation accomplishes that far more effectively than does a paraphrase or a summary, and if that quotation is presented as the speech of God, presence is achieved most dramatically. In addition, if such formulations are kept relatively free of the writer’s comments, they are regarded by the reader as far more reliable. As a case in point, notice how minimal is the author’s involvement in 1:5-14— only brief phrases joining seven OT quotations. On the theological level, the implications of the author’s rhetorical style are unmistakable: The OT is the very speech of God. The words of Scripture are not past speech being dragged into the present by means of hermeneutical maneuvers on the part of the writer; they are God’s words to the present.

tains in digest the major affirmations of the

entire letter, concludes with the declaration that the Son is superior to the angels. Most modern readers would have been content with a reference to the exaltation and enthronement of the Son, with no mention of angels. Angels seldom if ever appear in the theologies and christologies of Christian communities today. In Hebrews, however, the author not only introduces them in 1:4 but also discusses them at length in 1:5-2:16. Undoubtedly there are strong reasons for doing so, the discovery of which is a primary task of the investigation of this unit. And it must be done here; angels appear elsewhere in Hebrews only at

12:22 and 13:2 in brief references to the assumed world of the readers and not as factors in any substantive discussion. Before moving to the subject of angels, however, it would be helpful to note the ways this unit contributes to an understanding of the method and the content of the epistle as a whole. First, the reader is immediately immersed in citations from the OT. Scriptural allusions appeared earlier (Ps 110:1 and Wis 7:25-26 at 1:3), but beginning at 1:5 direct quotations begin and continue with great frequency until the end of the letter. Between thirty and thirty-five (depending on whether one counts verse fragments) OT passages are explicitly cited, most of them from the psalms. Some are repeated, bearing the weight of lengthy argumentation; others appear only once but are no less vital to the unfolding message of the writer. No generalizations can be drawn about the author’s principles of interpretation until specific uses of Scripture are examined. Second, in this early unit the reader meets the writer’s habit of introducing biblical quotations with verbs of speaking (“God says”) rather than of writing (“it is written”). This pattern is not


HEBREWS 1:5—2:18 OVERVIEW the gradual unfolding of one-half of the affirmation, and then the ever so gradual unfolding of the other. Such movement of ideas is not only artistic but is pedagogically and rhetorically sound as well. We return now to the central subject of 1:5— 2:16, Christ and the angels, and to the question prompted by that subject: Why all this attention to angels? We have to assume that asserting Christ’s superiority over angels is important for both the writer and his readers. It is not a matter of debating the existence or non-existence of angels; these beings were common to the assumed worlds of late Judaism, Christianity, and other religions of the Near East. Angels (the word ayyeAou [angeloi| means “messengers”) were commonly portrayed as God’s intermediaries in all the ways God relates to creation and to humanity in particular. In some quarters angelologies were very complex, even including angels who revolted against God and devoted themselves to thwarting God’s purposes (Matt 25:41; Rom 8:38; Gal 4:3).!> Are we to assume such a backdrop to Hebrews? Judgment as to why the writer of Hebrews develops a christology over against angels in 1:52:16 should be reserved until investigation of the passage is complete. However, it might be helpful to place the best options before us as we proceed. One option maintains that the writer felt the need to elaborate on the reference to angels in the creedal formula in 1:1-4. All items in the opening confession are developed in the letter, but this one, that the Son is superior to angels, is the least important to the writer and readers and, therefore, is treated first and dismissed. The procedure might be compared to dealing early with “he descended into hell” in a discussion of the Apostles’ Creed in order to give primary attention to its other affirmations. A second view holds that the nature and role of angels was not a live issue for the readers and, therefore, provided a perfect foil for a recital of the greatness of Christ. No debate, no polemic, is involved here. A third position takes the subject of angels more seriously. Two issues are engaged. First, since it was believed that the law was given through angels (2:2), any adequate defense of the superiority of Christianity to an

The modern reader is, of course, nervous. What appears to be an uncritical transfer of content from past to present seems too easy a purchase of continuity between the OT and the NT. The questions are many, but at this point it is enough that we observe the writer’s method and sense something of the rhetorical and theological force.'4 A third and final observation prompted by this unit and helpful toward understanding the entire epistle concerns the structure of 1:5—2:18. Notice two features, the form and the movement. The form is quite clear: exposition (1:5-14); exhortation (2:1-4); exposition (2:5-18). This pattern of alternating exposition and exhortation will be sustained until the writer’s closing remarks. However, that the exposition serves the exhortation will be increasingly clear as the reader moves to the later chapters. At 13:22 all debate ceases; the writer identifies his work as “my word of exhortation.” The movement of the unit, and of the epistle, however, is less obvious but certainly discernible and no less impressive. One example of the way the author moves a subject or theme into the reader’s thinking is 1:3. In a most concise way, the Son is presented as priest and king; he makes purification for sins and is seated at God’s right hand. The scriptural allusion is to Psalm 110, but that text is neither quoted nor discussed further—that is, until 1:13. At that point only v. 1 of Psalm 110 is quoted, apparently solely in the service of the immediate issue, the superiority of the Son over the angels. The reader remembers 1:3, the kingly enthronement of the Son at God’s right hand, but what about the other half of the affirmation of 1:3, the Son as priest? That reappears at 2:17 in a fuller statement: The Son is “a merciful and faithful high priest.” This statement anticipates, but does not yet make use of, v. 4 of Psalm 110. The writer plants the seed and further cultivates the idea at 4:14, but then only gradually. Finally, Ps 110:4 is quoted at 5:6, the reader being reminded of its affirmation at 5:10, again at 6:20, and then finally its full exposition beginning at 7:1. And so the author has led the reader to the very difficult central argument of the epistle, and by what path? First an allusion to the priest-king of Psalm 110, 14. For anyone interested in further study of this form of argumenta-

15. Anyone wishing to review the whole subject of angels will find quite thorough and fair the article “Angel,” Theodor Gaster, /nterpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 6 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962) 1:128-34.

tion, | recommend G. W. Savran, Telling and Re-telling, Quotation in Biblical Narrative (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).



1:5—2:18 OVERVIEW

audience steeped in or attracted to Judaism must establish that Christ is superior to angels. Second, since Christ suffered and died, how can he be superior to angels? That apparent contradiction must be addressed. Some commentators have conjectured that some of the readers may have resolved the problem by holding to an angel christology in which Christ only seemed to suffer and die but in reality was an angel on a mission for our salvation. A fourth and final position on the question of

why the writer argues that Christ is superior to angels insists that the writer is confronting the problem of angel worship in the church of his

readers. The most recent advocate of this view, Robert Jewett, interprets Hebrews by means of Colossians.'° To be sure, within the complex and somewhat obscure heresy at Colossae was the practice of the adoration of angels (Col 2:8-19),!” but to find in Colossians the key to understanding Hebrews is a questionable hermeneutical move. It will be the interpretive task of this commentary to make a judgment as to whether the text best supports this or one of the other options on the subject of Christ and the angels. 16. Robert Jewett, Letters to Pilgrims (New York: Pilgrim, 1981). 17. Revelation also seems to carry evidence of a problem of angel worship (19:9-10; 22:8-9).



5For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father?”?? Or again,

5For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.” 8But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is* forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your? kingdom. ° You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

“T will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? °And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”¢ In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.”¢ 8But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.

°You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions

by anointing you with the oil of joy.”/ '0He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. a5 Or have begotten you 65 Psalm 2:7 c5 2Samuel 7:14; 1 d6 Deut. 32:43 (see Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint) Chron. 17:13

e7 Psalm104:4

9 Psalm 45:6, 7



“In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; ' they will perish, but you remain, aOr God is your throne

o Other ancient authorities read his



they will all wear out like clothing;

"They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same,

'2 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing? they will be changed.

'STo which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? '4Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

But you are the same, and your years will never end.” '3But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a a for your feet”? '4Are not all angels? spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

212 Psalm 102:25-27

a Other ancient authorities lack like clothing

and your years will never end.”?

673 Psalm 110:1

© Gk all of them

COMMENTARY NT writers, Pss 2:7 and 110:1 being prominent among them. But whether an original arrangement or borrowed, it is the writer of Hebrews who makes 1:5-13 an inclusio (a passage that ends as it begins) by beginning and ending with the rhetorical question, “To which of the angels did God ever say?” 1:5. This verse flows directly from two affirmations in the opening confession of faith: God has spoken through a Son (v. 2), and the name “Son” excels that of the angels (v. 4). It is the name “Son” that joins the two quotations, the one from a royal psalm idealizing the king as God’s Son (Ps 2:7), the other from Nathan’s prophecy, not only establishing David’s house forever but also announcing that David’s son would be God’s Son (2 Sam 7:14). The joining of these two texts was not unique to the early church, in which they were important foundation texts in developing christology; they were also linked in messianic

Except for the writer’s connecting comments and closing remark in v. 14, this unit consists of seven quotations from the OT: five from the psalms, one from Deuteronomy, and one from 2 Samuel. All citations are from the LXX; where slight variations occur, it is not always possible to determine whether the differences are the author’s own work or whether they existed in the particular text of the Greek translation being used. Such a pattern of joining a number of quotations is sometimes called a catena (a chain of related expressions or ideas) and sometimes a florilegium (a gathering of expressions on the analogy of a bunch of flowers). One can find parallel arrangements of texts in the mashalim (narratives formed by joining a number of texts) of the rabbis and in writings from Qumran. This particular catena may have been in a Christian tradition prior to Hebrews and was employed here by the writer to address the relation of Christ and angels. The scarcity of commentary by the author and the absence of polemic elaboration may indicate that the readers were already familiar with the catena from another context. Whether the early church had a collection of OT texts suitable for Christian preaching (called “Testimonia”) has been debated since the work of J. Rendell Harris on this sub-

thinking at Qumran.!? Elsewhere in the NT, Ps 2:7 is used in accounts of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10-11 and par.) and as a prophecy fulfilled in God’s raising of Jesus from the dead (Acts 13:3334). That Ps 2:7 would be used by Christians as appropriate at Jesus’ baptism and at his resurrection raised for some the question, When did Jesus

ject.'® Certainly some texts were used widely by

19. Attridge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 53n. 39. 2 Sam 7:11-14 is cited in 4Q Flor 1.10-11; Ps 2:1-2 is cited in 4Q Flor 1.18-19.

18. J. Rendell Harris, Testimonies, 2 vols . (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1916, 1920).


HEBREWS 1:5-14 COMMENTARY become Son of God? At birth, at baptism, or at resurrection? John and Paul would join the Hebrews writer in adding, Or in pre-existence? New Testament writers show no interest in the question; rather, they employ a number of available categories and images to affirm the unique relation between Christ and God. For example, the writer of Hebrews has just declared the Son pre-existent, the one through whom God created the worlds (v. 2), and now he uses a text portraying the Son as begotten. We may feel christological discontinuity here, but apparently the writer did not. Perhaps it should be said here that of the several ways to express Christ’s sonship, the one most recurring in Hebrews is pre-existence, the essential first phase of the formula: pre-existence, humiliation, exaltation (2:8-13; 7:3; 10:5; 11:26). Two general observations about this verse need now to be made. First, any discussion of the christology expressed here needs to be subordinated to the primary assertion of Hebrews—namely, God is the initiator of all that follows. God speaks, and the king is “Son”; God speaks, and David’s son is God’s own Son. Christology must flow out of theology. Second, if there is among the readers any serious angel worship, then the writer missed an excellent opportunity to counter it with Psalm 2. The context for Ps 2:7 is inter-monarchical rivalry in which kings and rulers conspired against God’s anointed, but to no avail. Israel’s king is God’s Son, and all other rulers will be subordinated to him. This context of the quoted Ps 2:7 would have been a sure weapon against any angels pretending rivalry with God’s Son, were such thinking a problem among the readers. 1:6. This verse consists of two parts: the writer’s introductory comment and the quotation of Deut 32:43, each full of ambiguities. For the author to speak of the Son as “firstborn” is not awkward here; he has already spoken of him as begotten (1:5) and as heir (1:2). The term “firstborn” (tpwtdtoKos prototokos), implying authority, privilege, and inheritance, had been used of David (Ps 89:27), of Israel (Num 11:12; Hos 2:1), and elsewhere of Christ (Rom 8:29; Col 1:15,

verb, hence “bring again” could refer to the parousia, the Second Coming. Some interpreters prefer this reading, but it is more likely that “again” is simply a connective (as at 1:5; 2:13; 4:5; 10:30). Thus understood, the bringing of the firstborn into the world is without chronological clues and, therefore, may refer to the incarnation, to the parousia, to the world to come (2:5), or to the exaltation into the “world” of the angels, who are commanded to worship him. The quotation itself speaks directly to the subject of the unit: Christ and the angels. Although the citation is very similar to Ps 97:7 (“all gods bow down before him” [“angels,” LXX]), most likely the writer has in mind Deut 32:43. Originally the text called for all the sons of God to worship God. A version of the LXX changed “sons” to “angels,” obviously preferred by the writer. The other alteration, directing angelic praise to the Son rather than to God, is the writer’s own modification. However, the author may be citing Deut 32:43 not directly but from the odes attached to the psalter in some manuscripts of the LXX or from a Christian liturgy that made use of the Song of Moses in its own worship (Rev 15:3). 1:7. The fourth of the seven quotations is Ps 104:4, and again the writer uses the LXX translation. The Hebrew reads, “who makes winds to be his messengers and fire and flame his servants,” while the LXX reverses the expressions: “who makes his messengers [angels] to be winds and his servants to be fire and flame.” The writer’s point about angels is clear only when read in conjunction with vv. 8-9. The point is not that God harnesses the forces of nature to serve the Creator’s purpose (Heb. text) but that angels are as transient and temporary as wind and fire (LXX text). This will be abundantly clear momentarily. As to the identity of the “who” (“he” in Eng. text) in the phrase “who makes” (0 to.dv ho poion), it is not necessary to assume the writer has Christ, and not God, in mind. Even though the Son is agent of creation (1:2), the contrast between Christ and the angels is not that of creator/creature but of permanent/transient. 1:8-9. The writer introduces Ps 45:6-7 by saying that what follows applies to the Son. Psalm 45 is a marriage song praising the king as bridegroom and calling on the bride, a princess from

18). But to what event or christological moment does the writer refer with the expression “when he [God] brings the firstborn into the world”? Technically the adverb “again” may modify the



1:5-14 COMMENTARY angels? Several themes are underscored. The role of the Son as creator and sustainer of the universe (1:2-3) is here elaborated to highlight the contrast between Christ as creator and angels as creatures. This leads to a second contrast between the Son, who never changes, and creation, which perishes. In vivid imagery the psalmist pictures creation as old clothes that wear out, as a cloak rolled up and put away. In addition, Ps 102:25-27 contributes beyond this unit to discussions yet to be developed. One observes here the writer’s practice of anticipating future ideas by dropping words and phrases that will receive fuller attention later. For example, just as creation grows old and wears out like clothing, so also the old covenant grows old, soon to disappear (8:13). Again, just as the Son remains the same forever, so also will this unchanging quality characterize Christ’s priesthood::(5:6; 6:20347:35°17)eOr vagain, just: -as creation perishes, so also will there be a shaking and an end to all things in the eschaton, leaving only the kingdom that cannot be shaken (12:2628). Telegraphing ahead themes yet to be developed is sound rhetoric and effective pedagogy. 1:13. The catena in vv. 5-13 ends as it began, with a rhetorical question: “To which of the angels has God ever said?” The writer now quotes the text to which he alluded in v. 3, Ps 110:1. Only its contribution to this immediate context will be considered here. To do more would be to discuss the remainder of the epistle, because not only are portions of this psalm quoted later (5:6; 7:17, 21) but it also provides the scriptural authorization for the unique christology of Hebrews. George Buchanan’s commentary is based on the view that Hebrews is an extended

Tyre, to abandon all former loyalties in recognition of the superior status of the groom. The Hebrews writer does not develop the marriage theme, which would have served well in another context (e.g., Christ and the church). Rather, Psalm 45 yields other themes appropriate to the Christ/angels discussion. First, as the adversative “but” indicates, there is a sharp contrast with the portrayal of the angels in the preceding verse. The angels are changing and transient; the throne of the Son is forever and ever (13:8). Second, because the Son is a king whose reign is marked by righteousness, the writer anticipates the discussion of Melchizedek, king of righteousness, beginning at 7:1. Third, that God “has set you above your companions” has clear implications for the issue of Christ’s relation to the angels. It is striking that the writer gives no special attention to the most shocking feature of the quotation: the king, and hence the Son, is called God. Although many interpreters have devised ways to avoid the direct address, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” seems to be the unavoidable sense. As awkward as it is to many Christians, references to the Son as God can be found in early liturgical texts John 1:1; 20:28; Rom sd; Titus 2:13; 52) Pet del): The second apparent reference to the king (Son) as God is not so persuasive: “therefore God, your God, has anointed you” could be read as a nominative, not a vocative. This is to say, it could be read, “God; that is, your God has anointed you.” But, as stated above, referring to the Son as God seems not to have been the reason for the author’s attraction to this psalm. And so, almost incidentally and from a text not listed among the messianic psalms, comes the strongest attribution of divinity to the Son, even stronger than 1:1-4. If any doubt remained of the Son’s superiority to angels, that doubt has surely been removed. 1:10-12. Psalm 102 is a lament of a person ill and dying, reflecting on the brevity of life, mortality, and vulnerability. The psalmist then contrasts his own condition with the abiding nature of a never-changing God. The Hebrews writer presents this description of God as God’s words concerning the Son. There is no doubt, therefore, that the one addressed as Lord is the Son. What, then, does the quotation of Ps 102:25-27 contribute to the discussion concerning Christ and the

homiletical midrash on Psalm 110.7° This psalm is also frequently employed elsewhere in the NT; in quotation and clear allusion it appears in christological debate, in proofs of the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, and in prophecies of the parousia (e.g., Mark 12:35-37; 14:62; Acts 2:34; 1 Cor 15:25). Psalm 110 is God’s address to the king, and it contains two oracles: the offer of a place of power at God’s right hand (Ps 110:1) and the declaration 20. George W. Buchanan, Hebrews, AB 36 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972) xix. For a detailed study of early Christian uses of Psalm 110, see Hay, Glory at the Right Hand.




of the king’s priestly office after the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4). Only Hebrews in the NT develops Ps 110:4 as a christological text. In fact, later in the epistle the writer drew upon more of the psalm than these two verses. In the present context, only Ps 110:1 is quoted, and it is presented as the words of God to the Son. For what immediate purpose? In addition to the affirmation of the supremacy of the Son, the psalm predicts the final subordination of all enemies of the Son. Later in the epistle the writer will discuss the Son’s victory over the two great enemies, sin and death (2:14-15; 10:27). But within 1:5-2:18 are the enemies the angels? This is very strong language, much stronger than that of Ps 45:7 in 1:9: God “has set you above your companions” (NIV). If angels are Christ’s enemies, then the language here is reminiscent of Paul, who regarded angels among the principalities and powers finally to be brought under subjection to Christ (1 Cor 15:2428; Phil 2:9-11). Apparently, however, the writer realized that the quotation, while serving his purpose, said more than he wanted to say. Therefore, in his own words, without further quotation, he softens, in fact alters, the impact of Ps 110:1 by appending a concluding statement.

the angels, especially in view of the implication that they are enemies of Christ (v. 13). This statement is in the form of a question, but the syntax of the Greek text makes it clear that an affirmative answer is expected: “The angels are ministering spirits, are they not?” For this conclusion, the writer returns to Ps 104:4 (quoted in v. 7), not only for the idea that angels are ministers or servants but also for the language, “minister” (A\etToupyos Jleitourgos) and “spirit” or “wind” (TvedLa pneuma). The word translated “minister,” which gives us the word “liturgy,” prompted the NRSV to translate the expression “in the divine service.” The author’s meaning is very clear: Angels are spirits who minister in God’s service. Unlike the Son, who sits at God’s right hand, angels are sent out on mission, and the beneficiaries of their service are those soon to inherit salvation. Who these persons are and of what their salvation consists are questions yet to be answered by the writer. Verse 14 serves, then, as an important transition. It speaks positively of the work of angels, providing an opening for a statement about one of the significant tasks of angels, the giving of the law (2:2). In addition, it announces salvation, a Subject soon to be developed (2:3-4). And finally, v. 14 introduces those who will inherit salvation, the group to be strongly admonished in 2:1-4.

1:14. No further word needs to be said at this point concerning the Son; his position has been adequately presented. However, the writer feels the need for one more clarifying statement about

REFLECTIONS 1. It may first appear to teachers and preachers that a text preoccupied with angels bears little yield to nourish the church. Angels have, it is true, always lain at the edge of Christian faith, and not at its center; the creeds do not include them. Very likely they were not vital to the faith of the writer of Hebrews; they disappear when he moves to the central substance of his christology. However, for some of the readers angels have moved from the edge toward the center. We do not know how important they were, in what ways they functioned for the believers, or if the Christians addressed sought to worship them, appease them, or simply talk about them a great deal. We cannot borrow from Paul’s churches to clarify Hebrews. What we do know is that the writer was a Christian leader and as such did not confine his interests to the items in his own personal faith. If angels concern the church, they concern him. Moving angels from the margins to a more prominent place demands attention; after all, faith is often a matter of proportion. What does it say about the health of a believing community if it begins to give large attention to angels or, for that matter, to demons, to the Second Coming, to the millennium, to the rapture, or to the pre-resurrection state of the dead? Has curiosity replaced faith? Has the gospel become boring and in need of some new mystery? Maybe the gospel or christology suffers from inattention and so items from the edge are drawn


HEBREWS 1:5-14 REFLECTIONS into the vacuum. It may be that faith in Christ is so weak that the church is looking for supplements, for backup. Add a few angels. Whatever the condition in the church addressed by Hebrews, the writer responds with a strong christology, the fully adequate and final word from the God who has always spoken. Having said that, it should be noted that the author is not hesitant to remind the readers of the positive role of angels in their salvation (1:14). 2. The writer’s use of the Old Testament will be a continuing part of the investigation of Hebrews. However, it is already clear that for the writer and the readers the Old Testament is God’s Word. The author does not dismiss the ancient texts with some dispensational argument so that he may construct Christianity with entirely new material. The continuity between old and new is real because it is one God who speaks, who sustains, who redeems. To be sure, the Old Testament is a book of promise and anticipation, looking beyond itself—but so is the New. Both Israel and the church are self-declared pilgrims, looking for the city that has foundations. Of course, the author affirms Christ as God’s Son whose person and work fulfills hope, but his case is not made by dancing on the graves of the prophets. The writer’s methods of interpretation are not ours; they belong to him and to the teachers of his time and place. But at the heart of his hermeneutics are two principles of abiding value. One is respect for the text as revelatory. The other is the sense that the text belongs to the entire believing community. Hebrews does not present a private interpreter playing with biblical texts to persuade an uninformed church to his view. Rather, it is abundantly clear by the writer’s lack of argumentation that the readers are informed and in agreement with the affirmations expressed in the quoted texts. The writer will soon lead them into difficult and unfamiliar exegetical territory, but at the end of this chapter the readers are responding with both understanding and agreement.





We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. *For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, “how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. “God also testified to it by signs, wonders

Therefore we must pay greater attention to


what we have heard, so that we do not

drift away from it. *For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, *how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It

was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, ‘while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.

and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

(COMMENTARY The writer has not finished with the subject of Christ and the angels. That matter will be resumed at 2:5 with the exegesis of a critical text. He pauses here, however, to drive home the vital

importance of what has been said and will be said. The entire epistle is called a “word of encouragement” or a “word of exhortation” (13:22); either translation is acceptable, and the content of the


HEBREWS 2:1-4 COMMENTARY letter supports both. At 2:1-4 the hortatory portion begins and will reappear from time to time (3:124:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). The balance between 1:1-4 and 2:1-4 is apparent. Having begun with the one who speaks, the writer now turns to those who hear what has been spoken. The author does not separate himself from the

lessness, a loss of attention. This warning comes early, and appropriately so, lest it also fall on indifferent ears.

2:2-3. Verse 2 begins a rather lengthy and complex sentence concluding at v. 4, which, in the service of clarity of translation, has been divided into two (NRSV) or three (NIV) concise statements. The sentence is a conditional clause consisting of an “if” (protasis) and a “then” (apodosis). The “if” here does not express an uncertainty but a certainty and, therefore, could be translated “since” (cf. Phil 2:1). The “then” is rather unusual, consisting of a rhetorical question, the answer to which is already known to both speaker and hearer, and it is inescapably clear. The argument is from the lesser (“If the word spoken through angels”) to the greater (“spoken through the Lord”). This form of argumentation (a fortiori) is a favorite of the writer (7:20-22; 9:13-15; 10:28-29). The sentence continues the language of speaking begun at 1:1, and since both angels and the Lord are referred to as agents, the assumed speaker is God. This assures that even though lesser and greater describe the revelations, in both the word is from God. Even though Exod 20:1 gives no indication of the presence of mediating angels at Sinai, later on the belief came to be held among both Jews and Christians. For example, in the book of Jubilees (Jub. 1:27, 29) an angel dictated the Torah to Moses, and among Christians the belief that the law came through angels is expressed here, at Acts 7:38, 53, and at Gal 3:19. The theological process by which angels made their way into the narrative is not clear. Since wind and fire were spoken of as angels (Ps 104:4), perhaps the meteorological elements at Sinai came to be viewed as angelic agents. In the LXX, angels are present in the final blessing of Moses: “The Lorp came from Sinai/... With him were myriads of holy ones;/ at his right, a host of his own” (Deut 33:2 NRSV; “At his right hand angels were with him,” LXX). Some have suggested that angels became a theological necessity as the distance between a transcendent God and frail humanity came increasingly to be accented. Whatever the origin, angels as mediators of Torah are not portrayed here as rebels against God or as harbingers of what is antithetical to the gospel. On the contrary, the word through angels was “binding” or “valid”

readers in an accusing tone but uses the inclusive “we” throughout. Moving through the lines, one will notice how tightly woven the argument, how vivid the imagery, and how rhetorically skilled the writer is.

2:1. It is understandable that one might regard 2:1-4 as an interpolation into the text.?! The argument at 1:14 seems to resume at 2:5, as though 2:1-4 were not there; there are no quotations from the LXX; and the vocabulary seems different, consisting of several rare words. But exhortations often are literarily and substantively different from exposition; such is their nature, and this is but the first of many alternations between exposition and exhortation. It must also be observed that the subject of angels does not resume at 2:5; it is central to 2:1-4 as well. In addition, 2:1 recalls 1:1 phonetically. Both display the rhetorician’s use of alliteration, in each case the repetition of m (Eng. p), an explosive consonant that, when repeated, impresses an audience. Further, the “Therefore” of 2:1 clearly links the exhortation to what precedes it, not to 1:14 specifically but to the entire presentation of the Son’s superiority to angels. The injunction to “pay greatest [the comparative probably carries the force of the superlative here] attention” uses a word rare in Hebrews (tpoo€éxw prosecho; used elsewhere only at 7:13) but rather common in other NT texts. Matthew uses it repeatedly (e.g., Matt 6:1; 7:15; 10:17; 16:6) as a term of strong warning: “Beware, watch out!” The danger is not that of willful engagement in ethical or doctrinal error but that of drifting or slipping past one’s mooring. This second key word may be a nautical term, appearing nowhere else in the NT and only twice in the LXX (Prov 3:21; Isa 44:4). The condition addressed is a serious one. Toward the message they have heard (its content is not specified; its certainty is the present focus), the readers are displaying a laxity, a care21. As does F. C. Synge, Hebrews and the Scriptures (London: SPCK,

1959) 44-52.


HEBREWS 2:1-4 COMMENTARY sage was confirmed (attested, validated) to us by those who heard him implies more likely a historical occasion rather than an announcement from the heavenly throne. But the question, “When?” is more ours than the writer’s. Neither is the author seeking to argue for a particular tradition by the formula: from God, through the Lord, to those who heard, to us. It could be that the author is anticipating 13:7: “your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you” (NRSV). For one who admittedly was not among the Lord’s hearers, it was important, of course, to state the unbroken continuity of the word (cf. 2 Pet 3:2), but one does not sense that the affirmation is intended to counter another tradition. Rather, the strength of the statement depends on the writer and the readers having had common access and common agreement as to the great salvation about which they had heard. 2:4. The conditional sentence begun at v. 2 concludes with a phrase called an absolute, a grammatical construction important to the sentence but having its own subject and verb and, therefore, making its own statement. God, the sometimes stated, sometimes implied speaker from 1:1 through 2:3 now becomes the actor, the one who through signs, wonders, powerful deeds, and distributions of the Holy Spirit offers supporting testimony to the word spoken (see also 6:5). Signs and wonders had long been joined (Exod 7:3; Deut 4:34; 6:22; Ps 135:9; Jer 32:20-21; Neh 9:10), and early Christians often added “deeds of power” (Acts 2:22; Rom 15:19; 2 Cor 12:12). These expressions, along with “distributions of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:11; Gal 3:5), clearly set the church of both writer and reader within the mainstream of the Christian community portrayed in the NT. It is too easy, because of the unique presentation of Christ as high priest, to think of the church of Hebrews as peripheral or isolated and, therefore, less significant than in Acts or the Pauline epistles as a witness to early Christianity. The signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit are set between two modifiers of major importance. First, these acts of God in confirming support of the spoken word are described as testimony or witness. The fact that they are acts of God does not mean that these acts are overwhelming and incontrovertible proof. God does not coerce faith but joins the rest of us in wit-

(BEBatos bebaios), very likely intended here as a legal term (as at 9:17), given the use of other such vocabulary in the sentence. The compound “transgression [violation, NIV] and disobedience” (not or disobedience, NRSV) serves to underscore the seriousness of any breach of Torah, and the word “disobedience” (“refusal to listen” [Tapakon parakoeé|) Keeps intact the language of speaking and hearing. Every act of disobedience had as a sure consequence a “just EvdiKos [(endikos), a rare word in the NT; cf. Rom 3:8] recompense” (utoSatrosoata misthapodosia; only in Hebrews in the NT). The translation “penalty” or “punishment” is justified here, given the context, but in a positive setting the word can mean “reward”

(HOS8S:51 1226): It is the backdrop of a Torah without legal uncertainties and with careful administration that gives the question, “How shall we escape?” much of its gravity. The greater seriousness, however, is carried by the phrase “spoken through the Lord.” Since. the Son is greater than angels, the word of the Son is greater than the message delivered through angels. At this point, exactly what will not be escaped is not spelled out, but it will soon be clear that the writer has in mind eschatological punishment (6:8; 10:27, 31; see also Luke 21:36; Rom 2:3; 1 Thess 5:3). Again the writer is specific: The danger among the readers is neglect (2:1) or indifference. Jeremiah had warned that such behavior could result in God’s neglecting (8:9; “no concern,” NRSV; “turned away,” NIV) Israel. At stake is a “great salvation” (1:14), which, interestingly enough, is portrayed as something spoken. Its reality and certainty are secured in God’s having said so. That is enough. As a minimum this salvation means exemption from eschatological punishment (9:28; 10:25), but the epistle will also detail present benefits (4:16; 6:5; 8:7-12; 9:13-14, 26-28; 10:2, 15-18, 22). That this salvation was first spoken through the Lord raises the question, “When?” Since the writer uses “Lord” and not “Son,” this influence from Ps 110:1 may imply that the announcement occurred at the exaltation. However, since much attention is also given the incarnation (2:5-18; 5:7-8; 10:1-10), the author could well have had in mind a recital such as is found in Acts 10:36-39 or Luke 4:16-21 or Mark 1:14-15. That the mes-


HEBREWS 2:1-4 COMMENTARY nessing. This means that the signs and wonders may be interpreted as other than acts of God. In the biblical world the question was not simply whether these wonders really occurred but, Who did them? In both the ministry of Jesus (Mark 3:21-27) and the churches of Paul (2 Thess 2:9), deeds of power were also attributed to Satan.

Faith always involves making a decision. Second, all these acts of testimony are according to God’s will. Signs, wonders, and gifts of the Spirit are received from God, precluding all human possession of these powers for purposes of control, manipulation, or persuasion.


REFLECTIONS 1. The many-splendored portrayal of the superiority of the Son in 1:5-14 is a clear reminder that Christian life and thought begin in doxology. But following the liturgy comes the “Therefore,” and 2:1-4 supplies the first of many in Hebrews. In this regard the writer is not unlike Paul, who, having concluded Romans 1-11 with a burst of praise (Rom 11:33-36), begins chap. 12 with “Therefore.” There is always a “Therefore.”

2. One has to be impressed by the strength of the writer’s case for the message of the “great salvation.” Note the source of the message (God); the superiority of the messenger (Christ); the unbroken tradition of the word (God-Christ-his hearers-us); and the corroborating testimony from God (signs, wonders, miracles, gifts of the Holy Spirit). And in view of this forceful reminder of what was theirs as inheritors of salvation (1:14), one has to be a bit surprised that the condition addressed was that of inattention, neglect, indifference, drifting. That there could be apathy toward the gospel may seem unbelievable to the newly baptized, but the fact is that this condition has plagued the church from the first century. Among the seven deadly sins, the ancients saw fit to list d«ndia akedia, usually translated “sloth.” The word means “unconcerned,” “uncaring,” “disinterested.” The writer will mount repeated campaigns against this passivity; with what success, we do not know.

HEBREWS 2:5-18, THE SON LOWER THAN ANGELS OVERVIEW By means of a tapestry of biblical texts the case for the superiority of the Son over angels has moved along beautifully. The catena of 1:5-14 has been haunted by the line “When he had made purification for sins” (1:3 NRSV), but until now its implications have been unaddressed. The writer turns now to do just that, to face the fact that may have prompted interest in angels: The Son became incarnate, subject to all the conditions flesh is heir to, including death. The writer, then, returns to exposition and to the interpretation of biblical texts. The thought of 1:13 (Ps 110:1) is resumed, but the line of reasoning takes a signifi-

cant turn. Instead of continuing the comparison of the Son and angels, the author now argues that just as angels were not the means of redemption, so also they are not the recipients, the beneficiaries of it. With this new orientation toward humanity, toward those “who are to inherit salvation” (1:14), the primary consideration of the epistle will have been established. After 2:16 angels will no longer be a factor in either exposition or exhortation. This unit falls easily into two parts: 2:5-9, which consists primarily of a christological exegesis of Ps 8:4-6[8:5-7 LXX], and 2:10-18, which

HEBREWS 2:5-18 OVERVIEW priesthood of Christ. Portions of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 8 support the argumentation.

elaborates on that exegesis soteriologically and anticipates the fuller development of the high

Hebrews 2:5-9, He Became as We Are NRSV


5Now God? did not subject the coming world,

It is not to angels that he has’ subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 7You made him a little? lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor 8 and put everything under his feet.”? In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. °But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. a7 Or him for a little while; also in verse 9

about which we are speaking, to angels. “But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them,? or mortals, that you care for them?* 7 You have made them for a little while lower? than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor,’ 8 — subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God? left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, *but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made

lower’ than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so

68 Psalm 8:4-6

that by the grace of God’ he might taste death for everyone. 2 Gk he 6 Gk What is man that you are mindful of him? ¢ Gk or the son of man that you care for him? In the Hebrew of Psalm 8.4-6 both man and son of man refer to all humankind aOr them only a little lower e Other ancient authorities add and set them over the works of your hands fOr who was made a little lower g Other ancient authorities read apart from God

(COMMENTARY clear at 1:13, it must be clear now, because what follows is an interpretation of Psalm 8 in which the future and final reign of Christ is central. From the statement that the world to come was not subjected to angels it may be implied that angels do have some governance in this present age. Such a view was at least available to the author (e.g., Deut 32:8; Dan 10:13; Sir 17:17; 1 Enoch

The discussion beginning at v. 5 seems so loosely connected to what precedes it that the conjunction “for” (yap gar) in the Greek text is dropped in the NIV and translated with the rather noncommittal “now” in the NRSV. However, v. 5 does continue an earlier line of thinking, not in the exhortation of 2:1-4 but in 1:13. In fact, v. 5 looks in two directions: back to 1:13, which declares through Ps 110:1 the ultimate sovereignty of the Son, and ahead to 2:8, where Psalm 8 provides the vocabulary of “subjection.” But first the writer wants it clear: The subject about which he is speaking is the world to come, the eschatological age of messianic rule (6:5). If that was not

60:15-21; 89:70-76). Psalm 8:4-6, the centerpiece of Heb 2:5-9, is introduced as speech of indefinite citation: “someone has testified somewhere” (cf. 4:4; 7:17; 12:56). Attridge has found parallels in Philo and concludes that it may have been a common homi-


HEBREWS 2:5-9 COMMENTARY letic practice.2? Sometimes specific citations are unhelpful, sometimes awkward, and sometimes they complicate the discussion. Public speakers know that undivided attention on content can often best be served by indefinite referencing. Certainly in Hebrews this practice does not justify the view that the writer was cavalier in his attitude toward the OT; too many quotations are

God and to the rest of creation (Gen 1:26-28). That the psalm is anthropological in original intent is fully clear. What is not clear is the point in the author’s exegesis of it (beginning at v. 80) at which the reader’s attention is shifted from man(kind) to Christ. Jesus is not specifically mentioned until v. 9, but is the author already thinking of him in v. 80: “In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him”? The question is interesting but not crucial. If at this point the writer is thinking of man(kind), then it is obvious that humanity has not succeeded in holding dominion over all else in creation. Nor is the author moving toward the point that in some future time humanity will complete that assignment from God. If it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, neither is it to humanity. If the writer is already thinking of Christ, then it is likewise clear that the full subjection of the world to come is not yet. The “until” of Ps 110:1 is still in effect: “until I make your enemies your footstool” (NRSV)— even though, as at 2:3, there are ample present benefits of the eschatological age. Perhaps we can safely regard v. 80 as a swing statement, a point at which the writer turns the reader away from any lingering thoughts of the original intent of the psalm toward its present use as a proclamation of the humiliation and coronation of Christ. It does not seem appropriate here to elaborate on possible second Adam or Son of man christologies embedded in the text.”* Neither is developed in Hebrews and, therefore, would require heavy borrowings from the Gospels and Paul. The author concludes his exegesis of Ps 8:4-6 with a bold statement. Having spoken of what we do not see (v. 80) he now announces what we do see (v. 9). The Greek construction is especially impressive. Between two expressions from the psalm (“the one made for a little while lower than the angels” and “the one with honor and glory crowned”) is placed the principal clause, “we see Jesus.” It was important that the two expressions that had been joined as a description of the station of humanity now be separated as two phases of

introduced as the speech of God or of Christ or of the Holy Spirit. As for the quotation itself, several features should be noted. First, the Hebrews text (vv. 6-84) follows Ps 8:4-6 closely except for the omission of one line: “You have given them dominion over the works of your hands” (Ps 8:62 NRSV). This expression apparently was not useful to the writer in the christological interpretation of the psalm. However, we must use terms such as “omitted,” “added,” or “modified” with some caution, since we are not always sure which recension of the OT text lay before the writer.2° Second, the author uses the Greek text (LXX) of the psalm, which had rendered the Hebrew “a little lower than gods ” as “a little lower than angels.” Third, the expression “a little [Boaxt Ti brachy ti]” may have a temporal meaning, “a little while.” This seems to be the writer’s sense in the exegesis (v. 9), and so the NRSV translates it (vv. 7, 9). The NIV keeps the qualitative meaning in its rendering, “a little lower.” On the matter of translation, the NRSV has honored its commitment to more inclusive language by translating “man” and “son of man” (synonymous parallels) as “human beings” and “mortals.” The meaning of the psalm in its own context is not violated by this translation, but the shift from plural to singular in the application of the psalm to Christ is made awkward. Similarly, the phrase “son of man” is lost, and it is possible that this phrase first attracted christological interpretations of the psalm by the early church. The psalm offers praise to God and contrasts the power and majesty of God with the relative insignificance of human beings. It ponders why God would think of or care for humans. The psalmist does not lament human frailty but reaffirms the unique place of humanity in relation to 22. H. W. Attridge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989) 70-71. 23. J. C. McCullough, “The Old Testament Quotations in Hebrews,”

24. Anyone wishing to pursue these christologies further or wishing to be further persuaded that such pursuits are not justified here is referred to Attridge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 73-75.

NTS 26 (1980) 263-79.


HEBREWS 2:5-9 COMMENTARY One final word on the text. In some early versions and in some Greek mss of Hebrews (beginning in the third century), instead of “by the grace of God” (v. 9) is the reading “apart from God.” Careless copying may account for the difference (xwpis 900 choris theou instead of xapitt 8€00 chariti theou). Or perhaps a scribe wanted to follow 1 Cor 15:27 and assure the reader that Christ’s subjection of “all” or his death for “all” did not include God. And, of course, the phrase “apart from God” might have been motivated by a view of the atonement; that is, for Christ to die, God had to abandon him. This alternate reading, however prompted, hardly fits the immediate context of Hebrews or the affirmations made thus far concerning the relation of God to the Son. (See Reflections at 2:10-18.)

the temporal journey of the Son: lower than angels for a little while, crowned with glory and honor forever. There is no shrinking back from or minimizing what happened to Jesus during that “little while.” In fact, at this point, where the author first mentions the name “Jesus,” two strong assertions are made: (1) It was because he suffered death that Jesus was crowned with glory and honor (the exaltation). (2) In his dying, Jesus “tasted death” (Matt 16:28; John 8:52) for everyone. This statement anticipates the theological elaboration of 2:10-18 in which the author will take what may have been for some a theological embarrassment, the suffering and death of Jesus, and demonstrate its central importance for the priestly ministry of Christ. If any preferred passionless angels over a suffering Jesus, they will now hear strong reasons to reconsider.

Hebrews 2:10-18, A Faithful and Merciful High Priest NIV


‘In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. ''Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. '2He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” And again, “] will put my trust in him.”? And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given mie.© '4Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— '°and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. '°For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. '’For this reason he

10It was fitting that God,? for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. ''For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father.’ For this reason Jesus? is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,° !say-


in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,° in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” 'SAnd again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am-I and the children whom God has given me.” 14Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 'Sand free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. '°For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. !’Therefore he had to become

4/2 Psalm 22:22

aGk he

had to be made like his brothers in every way,

673 Isaiah 8:17

c/3 Isaiah 8:18


6 Gk are all of one

¢ Gk brothers



might make atonement for? the sins of the people.

like his brothers and sisters? in every respect, so

Because he Himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being

that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. '*Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

tempted. a17 Or and that he might turn aside God’s wrath, taking away


a Gk brothers

(COMMENTARY 2:10. It quickly becomes clear that the writer’s use of Psalm.8 to acknowledge that “for a little while” Christ was lower than the angels is in no way a concession, a willingness to lose a point in the process of winning an argument. On the contrary, during that “little while” the drama of redemption was played out. The essential vocabulary of that drama has already been introduced: suffering, death, grace of God, for everyone (v. 9); now, consistent with a literary pattern already employed, the writer will elaborate on that vocabulary. Before stating what is achieved by the suffering and death of Jesus, two affirmations are underscored for the reader. First, what occurred during the “little while” of Christ’s incarnation was at the initiative of God. The use of an omnipotence formula (for whom and through whom all things exist, v. 10) removes even a hint of accident, coincidence, or historical contingency. This formula is like Rom 11:36 in its theocentricity; any mention of agency (through the Son) as at 1:2-3 would here be awkward, because in what follows the Son is the object of God’s activity. Second, this activity of God is totally appropriate to the character of God and to God’s relationship to humankind. Speaking of what is proper behavior for God is unique to Hebrews in the NT. Other writers refer to what is proper conduct for John the Baptist (Matt 3:15), for women in the church (1 Cor 11:13), for believers in general (Eph 5:3), or for a young minister (Titus 2:1), but not for God. For this writer to be so audacious clearly indicates how crucial the point is. And what is it that God is doing? According to v. 10, God’s purpose is to lead many children (the word is “sons” (viot Auioi), but is unquestionably inclusive) to glory. Honor and glory belong to

Jesus (v. 9), but now many others will share in that glory (cf. John 12:28-32). The glory with which Jesus is crowned is “because of the suffering of death”; that same suffering will be the means by which Jesus becomes the leader of salvation for many. By his suffering and death, Christ gains glory not only for himself but also for “many children.” In this service he is called “pioneer” (NRSV) or “author” (NIV). The word apxnyos (archegos) is rare in the NT (Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb 12:2) but very important in Hebrews. While the word can be translated as “founder,” “author,” or “leader,” here and at 12:2 Jesus is portrayed as the one who in himself creates the path for his followers. For that work he is made “perfect” (tedeLdw teleioo) through suffering. Perfection is not a term for moral flawlessness; that quality of blamelessness is otherwise stated in 4:15; 7:26; and 9:14. Rather, it refers to the completeness of Jesus’ preparation for his priestly ministry. Any life short of suffering and death would have been less than an identification with humankind and, therefore, less than a full understanding of the human condition. In the LXX, “to perfect” is used to describe the consecration of the priest (Exod 29:9; Lev 16:32; Num 3:3), and in view of the movement of Hebrews 2 toward the presentation of Jesus as high priest, the cultic use of the term in the LXX must lie close to the writer’s intention. Two of the key words in 2:10, “pioneer” and “perfect,” will again be joined in a summary description of Jesus at 12:2. 2:11.If “to perfect” implies sacerdotal activity, the language of sanctifying or making holy clearly brings the reader to the altar of priestly service. In the OT, God is the one who sanctifies (Exod


HEBREWS 2:10-18 COMMENTARY (Isa 8:17) feed into v. 17 with the themes of brothers and sisters and of faithfulness. 2:14-15. The transition at v. 14, “Since, therefore,” announces the gathering up of what has been said thus far and the projection of lines of thought stated here but to be developed later. The summary: Since all human beings share (kexo.vavnkev kekoinoneken; perfect tense, indicating an abiding condition) blood and flesh, Jesus in every way participated (wetéoxev meteschen; aorist tense, indicating a completed act in the past) in the same things. The language is clear: He was as we are, no pretensions, no appearances, no exemptions. “Flesh and blood” (here “blood and flesh”; see John 1:13) was a common way to summarize the human condition (Matt 16:17; 1 Cor 15:50; Gal 1:16). The first projected implication of that summary: Through his death, Jesus destroys the one having the power of death; that is, the devil. To say that Jesus “destroys” (katapyéw katargeo) the devil very likely means “to break the power of.” Paul uses the same word in the same way to speak of Christ’s victory over the principalities and powers (1 Cor 15:24); they are not destroyed but subdued and put in subjection to Christ. So here the devil, who holds death’s power (John 8:44; 1 Cor 5:5; 10:10), is defeated. And what is the power of death? To hold people in bondage to the fear of it. By his death Christ has broken the chains of that fear. How that victory is actually accomplished is not stated. Perhaps the idea was commonplace among the readers and needed no elaboration. Myths of heroes and champions who faced death and through dying set the people free abounded in that culture,”° perhaps providing the church a way of understanding one of the benefits of Christ’s death. Later the writer will present Jesus as a model for those facing suffering and death, and thereby may indicate one way Jesus liberates us from bondage to fear of death (12:2-3). And, of course, his resurrection and exaltation, opening access to God, grant confidence and freedom to the believer (10:19-20; 13:20-21). 2:16. Before continuing to state the benefits of Christ’s incarnation and death, the author

31:13; Lev 20:8; Ezek 20:12), but here the reference is to Jesus. Later the writer will associate sanctifying with the shedding of blood (9:13; 10:10; 13:12), but at this point the unity of the sanctifier and the sanctified is the message. The expression that they are “from one” is variously understood, the “one” being interpreted as Adam or humanity or God. This could be a reference to a common humanity (v. 14), but “the children God has given me” of v. 13 makes it more likely that the writer has in mind one family (NIV) in the sense of both the sanctifier and the sanctified being children of God (NRSV). Since, therefore, the incarnation and its conditions of suffering and death are appropriate to God’s purpose, and that purpose is to lead many to glory, Jesus is not ashamed to be identified with us. His “for a little while” is not an embarrassment to God, to Jesus, or to the church. 2:12-13. In support of the closing affirmation

of v. 11, the writer quotes the OT three times, but all three citations are presented as words of Jesus. Because the Scripture is the living Word of God, for the Hebrews writer any passage may be spoken of as words of God, or as words of the Son through whom God speaks. A pre-existent christology makes it possible to move across chronological and historical distinctions. The citations are Ps 22:22 and Isa 8:17-18, treated as separate quotations. They are joined by the familiar literary link “again” (1:5-6). Psalm 22 is much employed by NT writers (more than twenty times) in portrayals of the crucifixion, but the Hebrews writer dips into the latter portion of the psalm after the radical shift of mood (Ps 22:21). The psalmist proposes a banquet for all the beneficiaries of God’s deliverance: himself, the poor, the sick, the deceased, foreigners, and future generations. They are all brothers and sisters by virtue of both affliction and deliverance. Isaiah 8 is a message of hope in a time of despair. Isaiah expresses hope by his own affirmation of trust or faithfulness (Isa 8:17) and through his children, who are symbols of God’s faithfulness (Isa 8:18). If these three citations strike the reader as saying more than is needed to support v. 110, a closer look will show how vital all three are to the writer’s developing discussion. The third (Isa 8:18), with the theme of children, moves immediately into v. 14. The first (Ps 22:22) and second

25, For example, see Seneca Hercules Furens 858-92; 2 Enoch 22:810. Variations on this theme occur at Eph 4:8-10 and 1 Pet 3:18-22. For a detailed investigation, see Ragnar Leivestad, Christ the Conquerer: Ideas of Conflict and Victory in the NT (New York: Macmillan, 1954).


HEBREWS 2:10-18 COMMENTARY pauses to discuss the angels, who have thus far remained on stage since 1:4. This verse is almost parenthetical, but yet essential for the progress of the argument. With a construction found only here in the NT, meaning “of course not” or “certainly not,” the reader is reminded of the obvious: that the discussion here concerns believ-_ ers, those who by faith are children of Abraham, and not angels. The drama of salvation, which hinges on incarnation, suffering, and death, is not an angel story. While angels are in divine service for the benefit of those who inherit salvation (1:14), they are neither the agents nor the beneficiaries of that salvation. With this sentence angels leave the stage of Hebrews, but they leave honorably. They have their place in God’s work (2:2), but it is not the central place. They enjoy God’s presence, but they do not sit at God’s right hand. Nor are they portrayed as competitors and enemies of Christ, as apparently angels were at Colossae. While we do not know how firmly they were fixed, if at all, in the church addressed by Hebrews, it hardly seems justified to borrow from Colossians and from heterodox Judaism in order to fill in the blanks. They leave as they entered, suddenly and mysteriously, as the writer turns to his principal subject: the high priesthood of Christ. 2:17-18. These verses continue the writer’s presentation of the purpose and benefits of Christ’s incarnation and death. The imagery shifts from that of vv. 14-15, where Christ defeats the devil and breaks the bondage of fear of death, to that of a high priest in God’s service. We should remind ourselves, however, that the difference between a champion who destroys the devil for our sakes and a high priest who ministers in our behalf may be greater for us than it was for the first readers. Lane has located the following passage in the pseudepigraphal 7estament of Levi (18:10-12), which joins the two images: Then shall the Lord raise up a new priest... And he shall execute a righteous judgment earth. And he shall open the gates of paradise and shall remove the threatening sword Adam. And Beliar shall be bound by him, and he shall give power to his children

In addition, the priest-kings of the Hasmonean dynasty (142-63 sce) provide a historical antecedent for this double portrait of Christ in Hebrews. And, of course, there is Psalm 110, the writer’s primary text for developing the priesthood of Christ. While Ps 110:1, 4 is the direct citation, the remainder of the psalm speaks of the conquering power of the priest at God’s right hand. Although priestly language was implicit at 1:3 and explicit at 2:11, here at 2:17 the first application of the title “high priest” to Jesus occurs, and to speak of Jesus as high priest is unique to Hebrews in the NT. There will be occasion in discussing the statement “You are a priest forever,/ according to the order of Melchizedek” (5:6 NRSV) to explore the questions of possible sources for this image of Christ and of its possible uniqueness to the Hebrews community. In this almost abrupt introduction of the title, the author distills into four compact statements the matters for exposition in chaps. 3-10. First, it was necessary that Jesus be in every respect like his brothers and sisters. Note the strong language. Full and complete identification with us was an essential precondition for his ministry. In fact, says the author in the second statement, Christ’s being totally like us was for the purpose of (in order that) being a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of (concerning the things of) God. The two adjectives describing the high priest are deliberately chosen and important. That he is faithful will be presented in 3:1—4:14; that he is merciful, in 4:15-5:10. And no less important, these two qualities will be urged on the readers as essential for all who benefit from Christ’s priesthood. The third statement about Jesus as high priest continues the purposive language: He became a priest in order to make atonement (NIV)/to make a sacrifice of atonement (NRSV)/to make expiation (REB) for the sins of the people. The word translated “atone” or “expiate” (\Adokoyat Ailaskomai) is rare in the NT. A form of the word in Luke 18:13 can be translated “be merciful,” and at 1 John 2:2 and 4:10 the usage is the same as found here in v. 17. At Heb 9:5 the word occurs as a noun of place in a description of the “mercy seat,” an altar in the Temple’s holy of holies on which blood was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement. In Rom 3:25 it is used in a reference to Christ as our “mercy seat.” In the LXX, the

. upon the

against to tread

upon evil spirits. 26. W.L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, WBC 47A (Dallas: Word, 1991) 65.


HEBREWS 2:10-18 COMMENTARY tested. A priest not only offers sacrifice for sins but also makes intercession for those in need. No doubt the readers share the common human lot of multiple temptations, but the writer is not speaking generally but rather specifically. Those being addressed have endured suffering, public abuse, persecution, imprisonment, and the confiscation of property (10:32-34). Although none of them has yet been killed for the faith (12:4), that does not seem too distant a prospect. To them Jesus ministers not only as the pioneer and model who “endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (12:2 NRSV), but also as the high priest making intercession for them from his place at the right hand of God (4:15-16). On these four statements the author will begin to elaborate in the next section, 3:1-5:10.

primary uses express the mercy of God in the provisions for the removal of human sin in order to restore divine-human relations.’” This removal or covering of sin, usually by blood sacrifice, is often called “expiation,” a term no longer familiar to most believers. Neither in the LXX nor in the NT does the word mean “propitiate” in the sense of placating or appeasing God, since it is not human but divine initiative that effects mercy and atonement. Human beings do not act or speak so as to make God gracious; we have already been alerted that the drama unfolding is “by the grace of God” (2:9). The fourth and final statement concerning the priestly ministry of Jesus has to do with his capacity and willingness to help those being 27. See the articles on ikews and derivative terms by H. Biichsel and J. Herrmann in Kittel, ZDNT, 3:300-323.

REFLECTIONS 1. The author of Hebrews reminded us quite early that the beginning and ending of all Christian thinking and living is God. God is the subject of the New Testament as well as of the Old. Having said that, the writer moves us to the primary consideration within theology, and that is christology. Christology is not bragging on Jesus in public; it is thinking about who Jesus is in relation to God and to us. Some pursue this study through the titles used of Jesus; this is important and can be fruitful. The Hebrews writer certainly chooses such terms carefully and introduces them appropriately: Son, Jesus, high priest. But this letter teaches us how important it is to understand the shape of the christology of a given writing. The shape of the christology of Hebrews is clear: pre-existence with God, existence on earth, post-existence in exaltation to God’s right hand. All that is said about Jesus Christ in the letter, and, therefore, all that can be said in lessons and sermons on Hebrews, is conscious of this framework. This pattern, sometimes called descent-ascent christology, is found in the writings of Paul and John, but with major differences. For example, in John the “existence on earth” phase is presented as a full ministry with crucifixion and resurrection, whereas in Paul, Christ’s existence on earth is almost totally condensed into crucifixion and resurrection. As we shall see, Hebrews lies somewhere between the two, but clearly with the focus on suffering, death, and exaltation. Contrast the shape of this christology with that of the synoptic gospels, which frame their christologies on a horizontal line—birth, life and work, death, and resurrection—without any presentation of his pre- and post-existent activities. Preaching and teaching on biblical texts should honor the shapes of the christologies of those texts lest listeners be confused by messages that pour everything every writer says about Christ into every passage. 2. Hebrews interprets Psalm 8 christologically, but not in such a way as to rob it of its original meaning. Rather, it affirms it. The psalm sings of human life as but little lower than angels, crowned with glory and honor, holding dominion over all other creatures. It is this expression of the human estate that attracts the writer of Hebrews to say, “Yes, this is who Jesus is: lower than angels for a little while, crowned with glory and honor with all things subjected to him.” The christological use of the psalm blesses it rather than consuming it;


HEBREWS 2:10-18 REFLECTIONS Psalm 8 retains its own message. It is not necessary, then, to assume that one honors Christ by having the truth of the psalm apply to him alone, underscoring this opinion by lamenting the human condition after the fall with long paragraphs on sin, degradation, and death. Christ does not shine brighter by casting him against the dark background of Genesis 3. Sin and death have entered the world, to be sure, and God’s high aspirations for humankind still await fulfillment; else why God’s gracious act in Jesus? But if nothing of Genesis 1 survived the crash of Genesis 3, then why God’s gracious act in Jesus? The psalmist sang his song in a world much like ours, full of sin and death. Was he softened into sentimentality on a beautiful starry night? Perhaps, but the stars did not amaze him so much as did human beings. Let us not be guilty of the charge that Christians steal Old Testament texts and use them up for their own purposes. These texts are not used up; they still carry their own truth.

3. The church has always struggled with the insistence of Hebrews that Jesus “had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect.” We know what we are like, and we hesitate to admit him into our ranks. We feel the need to add lengthy footnotes (the writer himself will drop one at 4:15) to explain what “in every respect” does not mean. Some early Christians fell into the heresy of denying Jesus’ humanity, saying he only “seemed” to be fully human. He did not really die, some said; on the cross he was given a strong potion in a sponge, fell into a death-like sleep, and awakened three days later, some said. And on and on. It was against such theories, spun to protect Jesus from our common life, that the Apostles’ Creed declared: born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried. No New Testament writer takes the humanity of Jesus Christ more seriously or more purposefully than does the author of Hebrews. 4. It is evident, after only two chapters, that the writer of Hebrews is a pastor, writing a word of encouragement (13:22). For example, in 2:5-18, Christ is presented to the readers as a pioneer, the one who goes before them not only showing the way but also creating a path. Christ is also our champion, defeating the devil and setting us free from the fear of death. In addition, Christ is our high priest, offering a sacrifice of atonement for our sins. And finally, Christ is our representative before God, our advocate, intercessor for all who are being put to the test. “For us and our salvation” runs through the passage like a refrain. But E. Kasemann says that perhaps the writer has gone too far.” So strong are the pastoral concerns, so pressing are the needs that the author bends christology to fit the crisis of the church. By subsuming christology under pastoral preaching, the offense and integrity of christology are consumed without remainder. Christology made to be so functional ceases to be christology and becomes another item in one’s homiletical arsenal. This is a tough one. If christology is not functional, of what value is it? If it is too functional, of what value is it? Before we finish Hebrews, we probably will discover Kasemann overstated his case. In the meantime, the church would do well to ponder the difference, if any, between “Christ” and “Christ for us.” 28. E. Kasernann, Jesus Means Freedom (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 101-16.


HEBREWS 3:1—5:10

(CHRIST, THE FAITHFUL AND MERCIFUL HIGH PRIEST OVERVIEW S we have come to expect of the writer of ® Hebrews, the essential content of the next section is announced in the preceding one by means of a phrase or concise statement. So at 2:17, “so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” (NRSV), introduces the primary subject matter of 3:1-5:10. The modifiers “merciful” and “faithful” will now be developed, but in reverse order, the last one mentioned being the first for consideration. In method of development, this unit will parallel 1:5-2:18 in three important respects. First, at the base of the argument lies a comparison: Christ and the angels, and now Christ and Moses. However, in the first section, the comparison of Christ with angels was sustained throughout, whereas the comparison with Moses quickly recedes (3:16a) in favor of a rather lengthy treatment of faithfulness (3:60-4:13). Second, like 1:5-2:18, this section will consist of alternating exposition and exhortation. Again, however, there is a noticeable difference. In the first section, a brief hortatory unit (2:1-4) divided two rather lengthy expository units (1:5-14; 2:5-18). Here, exhortation occupies a much larger place: exhortation, 3:1-2a; exposition, 3:26-64; exhortation, 3:66-

4:16; exposition, 5:1-10. Whether this increase of exhortation signals the presence of a larger pastoral problem remains to be seen. Finally, the two sections are parallel in the use of quoted Scripture to ground the argument.”? Both Gen 2:2 and Ps 95:7-11 supply proof for the writer’s argument in 3:1-4:13, but especially Ps 95:7-11, which is not only quoted (3:7-11) but also reappears in part at 3:153-4:33:5).7 «Inv4:1 4-510, Ps 2:7:and Ps 110:4 are quoted for use in an argument delayed until Pik, Within this section, therefore, we will follow two major considerations: Christ the faithful high priest (3:1-4:13) and Christ the merciful high priest (4:14-5:10). Each line of thought will begin with exhortation, move to exposition, and return to exhortation (although the closing exhortation of part two lies outside this section, 5:11-6:20).


29. There are allusions to certain OT texts in 3:1-6, but allusions function quite differently from direct quotations. Allusions to earlier texts are woven into the argument or narrative they serve in an indirect manner, sometimes seemingly casual, even unconscious on the part of the writer. The reader’s familiarity with texts so employed is assumed, whether or not that assumption is correct. This indirection is effective, avoiding as it does the delays and obstacles often encountered in direct citation and argument.

HEBREWS 3:1—4:13, CHRIST THE FAITHFUL OVERVIEW Notice that the expected “high priest” has been omitted from the heading above, just as it has been from the heading to 4:14-10. This is not to deny or to obscure the author’s clear use of the

term at the beginning of each unit (3:1; 4:14). That Christ is our high priest will be developed in great detail later. The immediate concern is to present to the reader these two qualities of the


HEBREWS 3:1—4:13 OVERVIEW high priest, faithfulness and mercy, and the wording of the two headings is intended to underscore that fact. In 3:1-4:13, the reader will be impressed with the dominating and pervasive use of

vocabulary developed from the stem word “faith” — (miotis_ pistis): “faithful,” “faithfulness,” “obedience,” “unfaithful,” “faithlessness,” “disobedience.”

Hebrews 3:1-6, Christ and Moses Compared NIV





Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.


Therefore, brothers and sisters,? holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confes-

*He was faithful to the one who appointed him,

sion, 2was faithful to the one who appointed him,

just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.

just as Moses also “was faithful in all? God’s¢

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor

house.” 3Yet Jesus? is worthy of more glory than

than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. “For every

Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. “(For every house is

house is built by someone, but God is the builder

built by someone, but the builder of all things is

God.) SNow Moses was faithful in all God’s* house

of everything. “Moses was faithful as a servant in

all God’s house, testifying to what would be said

—_as a servant, to testify to the things that would

in the future. ‘But Christ is faithful as a son over

be spoken later. °Christ, however, was faithful

God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold —_over God’s* house as a son, and we are his house on to our courage and the hope of which we __ if we hold firm’ the confidence and the pride that boast.

belong to hope. 4 Gk brothers 4Gk this one

>Other ancient authorities lack al/ ¢ Gk his e Other ancient authorities add to the end

(COMMENTARY 3:1. In an “epistle” lacking the characteristic Opening salutation, the writer directly addresses the readers for the first time. The rhetorical flourish, “brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling,” is more than oratory; the terms are appropriate to what has been and will be said. The readers have already been called brothers and sisters (2:11-12, 17), those who are sanctified (2:11), and partners with Christ in the human condition (2:14); but now they are called part-

(2:1-4). The role of Jesus is captured in two terms: “apostle” (atmdéoTodos apostolos) and “high priest” (apxtepevs archiereus), both of which gather up _ previous discussions. That Jesus is high priest has _— been stated (2:17) and will be discussed. That Jesus is apostle has been stated in function, as he _is the envoy of God’s Word (1:2) and work (1:3; 2:12, 16). The title “apostle” is applied to Jesus only here in the NT, but that he was “sent” of | God is the testimony of many (e.g., Matt 10:40;

ners (3:1; also 3:14; 6:4) in a heavenly calling. That the calling is heavenly points not only to its source but also to its goal (2:10). The readers are addressed directly in order to urge them to think carefully, to “give attention to” (Luke 12:24, 27; Acts 7:31-32) Jesus in his unique role

| Mark 9:37; Luke 10:16; Gal 4:4; John 3:17, 34; 5:36). God had many messengers and intermediaries, but Jesus alone is apostle and high priest of “our confession.” Confession may refer to both the act of confessing and the content of the | community’s faith (cf. also 4:14; 10:23). We can-

in their salvation. This insistence on focused attention is understandable, given the tendency among them to drift, to neglect, to be distracted

not know with certainty the content of the con_fession (1:1-4 is a possibility) or the occasions on | which the community confessed its faith, although


HEBREWS 3:1-6 COMMENTARY complicates the exposition by adding yet another meaning to the metaphor “house.” The word olxia (oikia), used six times in this brief passage, means “Israel” (vv. 2, 5), a “building” in the ordinary sense (vv. 30, 4), and “the universe” (v. 4). The author of Hebrews, however, draws once more on the metaphor and makes specific its meaning for both exposition and exhortation: “we are his house” (v. 6). There is no attempt here to argue that the Christian community and not Moses’ Israel is the true house of God. In fact, the writer will later include in God’s house Moses and many in Israel who were faithful (esp. 11:40). Rather, “we are his house” is intended to hold the attention of the readers on what they have been urged to consider (v. 1). In other words, “I am talking to you.” This is evident in the conditional clause, “if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” (v. 60). Courage or boldness is common in descriptions of early Christian witnessing (Mark 8:32; John 7:13; Acts 2:29; Phil 1:20), and in Hebrews it applies both to prayer (4:16; 10:19) and to public statements of faith (10:35). So also is the admonition to “hold on” or to “hold firm” (cf. Luke 8:15; 1 Cor 15:2; 1 Thess 5:21). The expression “the hope of which we boast” (lit., “the boast of hope”) has parallels in Paul (Rom 5:2; 2 Cor 3:12) and probably refers not only to the exaltation of the crucified Jesus but also to the final victory of the saints. As for the comparison between Jesus and Moses, it was almost inevitable that it be addressed; the writer could hardly deal with any aspect of Judaism, its law, its covenants, or its cult, without dealing with Moses. Of all the greats of the OT, Moses alone talked with God face to face. However, since Jesus is presented as a priest, is he being compared to Moses as priest? Not explicitly. Moses was a Levite (Exod 2:1-10), on occasion served at an altar (Exod 24:4-8), and, in fact, was called a priest in the OT (Ps 99:6) and in certain traditions of Judaism.** But here the comparison is not of an old and a new priesthood; that discussion is yet to come, and it will compare Christ and Aaron, not Moses. Moses in 3:1-6 is a servant in God’s house whose greatness lay in his faithfulness and in his witness to God’s Word,

the priestly language of Hebrews favors liturgical settings such as baptism or the eucharist.%° 3:2-6. The single quality of Jesus as apostle and high priest underscored here is fidelity to God (v. 2), and it is this fidelity that joins Jesus and Moses. Notice that there is no putdown of Moses in this comparison, as though Jesus were faithful but Moses unfaithful. On the contrary, the author twice alludes to Num 12:7: “my servant Moses; in all my house he is faithful” (LXX). Very likely “house” here refers to the people of Israel, but it is not yet clear how the author of Hebrews is using the term.*! Even though Moses and Jesus were both faithful, they differ in station: Moses is a servant (the word for “servant” [bepdtwv therapon| occurs only here in the NT, but is taken from Num 12:7 LXX), while Jesus is a “son” (1:2, and frequently thereafter). They differ also in function: Moses serves in God’s house, while Jesus as Son is over God’s house (vv. 5-6). That Moses is a servant in God’s house does not diminish him; Num 12:7-8 makes that clear. Having declared that prophets receive God’s Word in visions and dreams, God says: Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house. With him I speak face to face— clearly, not in riddles; and he beholds the form of the Lorp. (NRSV)

This otherwise clear comparison between Christ (used for the first time in Heb at 3:6) and Moses is complicated by two somewhat parenthetical statements, obviously intended to clarify. First, Jesus has more glory than Moses did, just as a builder has more glory than the building. It is not necessary to press this analogy to say that Moses is the building or that Jesus is the builder in the sense of being the one through whom God made the worlds (1:2). Like any good analogy, this one’s service is completed in the clarity of its own appropriateness. Second, the reader is reminded that while every house has a builder, the builder of the universe is God (v. 4). This unusual note serves to set in perspective both servant and son. However, it 30. E. Kasemann, The Wandering People of God, trans. R. Harresville and I. Sandberg (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984) 167-73. 31. The range of possibilities for the meaning of oik(a (oikia) in Hebrews is immense: “temple,” “Israel,” “family,” “community,” “heaven,” “Davidic dynasty,” or “creation,” with variations on some of these.

32. Philo The Life of Moses 2:66-186.


HEBREWS 3:1-6 COMMENTARY which continues to be spoken (3:5). And the discussion of Moses is here too brief and too embracing to support claims that the writer is engaged in a polemic with readers who hold a Moses christology.** There are reflections of a

Moses christology in the NT (John 6:14; Acts 3:22; 7:37), but not in Hebrews; at least no more than there is an angel christology or a Joshua christology or an Aaron christology. (See Reflections at 4:12-13.)

33. G.W. Buchanan, Hebrews, AB 36 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972) 54, 255. For a quite different view, see M. R. D’Angelo, Moses in the Letter to the Hebrews, SBLDS 42 (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1979) 65-199. 4

Hebrews 3:7-11, The Faithless People NIV


7So, as the Holy Spirit says: _ “Today, if you hear his voice,


do not harden your hearts

as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, °where your fathers tested and tried me _ and for forty years saw what | did.

‘That is why I was angry with that generation, - and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’

"So I declaredon oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”? 211 Psalm 95:7-11

7Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness,

° where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works '°for forty > Years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and I said, “They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.’ " As in my anger I swore, ‘They will not enter my rest.’”

(COMMENTARY This unit consists entirely of a quotation of Ps 95:70-11 LXX. The writer provides commentary in 3:12-4:11, and therefore further commentary at this point would be premature and inappropriate. However, a number of observations about the quotation may be helpful preparation for the commentary. First, the introductory “therefore” joins the quotation to the conditional clause in v. 60, “if we hold firm.” The writer thus telegraphs ahead that the quotation from Psalm 95 will be in the service of paraenesis (exhortation to Christian living), and specifically the matter of holding firm, or fidelity. Second, the quotation is introduced as the words of the Holy Spirit (v. 7). Earlier, scriptural citations were presented as speeches of God (1:5-9, 13) or of Christ (2:12-13). The effect of such attribution is to allow no

discontinuity between past and present people of God. The application of Psalm 95 to the present readers assumes the correspondence between the situations of Israel and the church as the pilgrim people of God, and the phrase “the Holy Spirit says” rather than “the psalmist says” or “the Scripture says” removes the distance between past and present. The verb “says” (kéyw lego) continues the use of verbs of speaking, which began at 1:1 and is appropriate to the homiletical nature of Hebrews. As for the quotation itself, the LXX is followed rather closely, with a few variations. We do not know whether these variations are the work of the writer of Hebrews or due to the carelessness of scribes or whether they are to be accounted for by the writer’s use of a different recension of

HEBREWS 3:7-11 COMMENTARY never see the land of promise. Rather, the author uses the memory of those events as preserved in Ps 95:7-11, returning later (3:16-18) to Numbers 14 to use the fate of Israel at Kadesh as a stern warning to the readers. To what benefit is the psalmist’s account employed? There are at least three. First, the psalmist has provided a model for appropriating the past for present purposes. In other words, the psalmist did for his generation what the Hebrews writer is doing for the readers addressed: making a past word a present word. Second, the account of Israel’s failure as presented in Psalm 95 begins with the word “today.” With that word the writer can transfer the entire exhortation of Ps 95:7-11 to the congregation as direct and immediate address: “This is what the Holy Spirit is saying to you here and now.” And finally, by using the psalmist’s account and not that of the historical books themselves, the author has appropriated a piece of liturgy for a homily that is liturgical in nature. Psalm 95 is a call to enter God’s presence with praise, and in that setting it urges the people to fidelity, avoiding Israel’s ancient failure. The sermon we call Hebrews is a call to come into God’s presence (e.g., 4:16; 10:22), and within that setting is this exhortation to fidelity, likewise avoiding Israel’s ancient failure. If Hebrews was read in a worship assembly of the church, and if some of the members recalled the frequent use of Psalm 95 in synagogue services, the words heard and the words remembered would have compounded effect. (See Reflections at 4:12-13.)

the LXX text. Only two textual notes need to be made here, one having to do with a difference between the LXX and the Hebrew original, and the other with a difference between the LXX and its use by the author of Hebrews. The Hebrew text of Ps 95:8 refers to Meribah and Massah as geographical places where Israel quarreled and tested God (cf. Exod 17:7; Num 20:13). In the LXX, the place names have become experiences: rebellion and testing. One will see the difference by reading Ps 95:8 as quoted here and as it appears in the OT. The second textual note has to do with Ps 95:9-10. In the LXX, the forty years refers to God’s anger: “For forty years I was angry with that generation.” The writer of Hebrews has inserted a “therefore” before the expression “I was angry with that generation,” leaving the forty years to be attached to the preceding statement, “though they had seen my works for forty years.” One might think that this alteration had been motivated by a desire to portray God as acting providentially and graciously for forty years and then becoming angry. However, at 3:17 the author reads the LXX correctly: God is angry for forty years. Apparently both statements stand: The ancestors observed God’s providential activity forty years; God was angry forty years, doubtless the same forty years. One final observation: It is significant that the writer of Hebrews did not return immediately to the historical books (Exod 17:1-17; Num 14:2023, 28-35; 20:2-13) to recall Israel’s rebellion and testing of God, and God’s oath that they would

Hebrews 3:12-19, Failure to Enter God’s Rest NIV


'2See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. '*But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. '*We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. '*As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”?

'’Take care, brothers and sisters,? that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. '’But exhort one an-

other every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. '4For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. !°As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

415 Psalm 95:7, 8

2 Gk brothers




'CWho were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?

'CNow who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? !’But with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? '8And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? 19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

'’And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? '*And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his Test if not to those

who disobeyed?? !°So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. 218 Or disbelieved


(COMMENTARY At 3:12 the author begins the commentary on Ps 95:7-11 in the form of a homiletical midrash; that is, an interpretation of a passage of Scripture for a particular audience in a situation sufficiently similar to that of the text so as to make the application reasonable. Key words and phrases of the text (“today,” “turn away,” “rebel,” “unbelief,” “listen,” “harden,” “disobey,” “rest”) are brought directly to bear on the reader’s spiritual condition. Of course, back of Psalm 95 stands Numbers 14, the account of Israel’s unbelief and disobedience at Kadesh. Poised to enter the promised land, the Israelites were discouraged by the report of the spies, refused to move forward, and threatened to choose new leaders and return to Egypt. Angered by their rebellion, God swore that Israel would not enter “my rest.” The commentary on the quoted psalm assumes that the readers of Hebrews are now at their own spiritual Kadesh and must learn from Israel’s failure. There are three units in the commentary (3:12-19; 4:1-5; 4:6-11), each unit being built around a quoted portion of the psalm. The first unit (3:12-19) is an inclusio, a rather common rhetorical form that concludes with words, phrases, and ideas with which it began. In both v. 12 and v. 19 are the key words BAétrw (blepo, “see,” “see to it,” “take care”) and dmortia (apistia, “unbelief”), which occurs only here in Hebrews.

and present (cf. Col 2:8). The community of believers is to be so alert as to see that not a single one of their number turns away from God. The “evil heart” is characterized by faithlessness and turning away from God; that is, disobedience. The words are taken from Num 14:22, 29, 32; Ps 95:7; and Jer 16:12; 18:12, and, therefore, do not refer to agnosticism or atheism but rebellion against God. What is involved in turning away (apostasy) the writer spells out in 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 12:15-17, 25. It is quite clear from v. 13 that abandoning God involves abandoning the community of faith. 3:13. Such a grim prospect can be avoided by daily exhorting (encouraging) each other, an activity that may imply preaching (Luke 3:18; Acts 14:22; 2 Cor 1:4) as well as admonitions on specific matters (Rom 12:1; 16:17; 1 Cor 16:15; Phil 4:2). The “today” of this verse and Ps 95:7 remains open, and the invitation to hear God’s word still stands; but the implication is that the door of salvation could close. God’s offer is available, but so is the deceptive sin that hardens the heart toward God. The language is borrowed from Ps 95:8 and seems rather general and widely used (Rom 7:11; 2 Cor 11:3; 2 Thess 2:10). Again, sin here seems to refer to faithlessness and apostasy and not to particular moral disorders that often follow turning away from God. 3:14. The epistle here repeats what has been said earlier in chap. 3 but with new emphasis. For example, the affirmation that we have become partners of Christ (v. 1) is followed by a strong conditional conjunction, “if indeed.” Or again, the “confidence” of v. 60 is here expressed with a

3:12. This verse repeats v. 1 in addressing the brothers and sisters, but strengthens the verb from “consider” to the word of warning, “Be alert to the danger” (cf. Matt 24:4; Acts 13:40; 1 Cor 10:18). The danger is presented in a grammatical construction that indicates a possibility very real


HEBREWS 3:12-19 COMMENTARY stronger and more unusual term. The word utdoTtaots (Aypostasis) may be translated “resolution,” “standing firm,” or “the very essence of a matter.”*4 It appears in 1:3 as the “very being” of God and in 11:1 as the very “reality” of what is hoped for. The word must not get lost in subjectivity here. Apparently the author is saying that the fundamental core of one’s faith commitment must be as securely held at the end as at the beginning. By “the end” reference is being made not so much to one’s own death as to the final consummation of the Christian hope. 3:15. The direct address to the readers in straightforward exhortation ends temporarily at v. 14 as the writer again quotes the opening lines of Ps 95:7b-11. There seems to be a shift from exhortation to exposition through v. 19, but this only appears to be the case. Both the quotation and the comments that follow are clearly hortatory; the move is simply from direct to indirect. The writer is speaking about Israel but in so doing is speaking to the readers. Rhetoricians understood that relief from a confrontational style was often more effective than continuous confrontation. As was said of some in Jesus’ audience, “They perceived he was talking to them.” There is, however, some grammatical awkwardness in the shift at this verse. Some commentators find it helpful to link this verse with what precedes it. Attridge suggests that this quotation provides the actual words with which the members are daily to exhort one another (v. 13).% Others join v. 15 to what follows, noting the connection between “rebellion” (v. 15) and “rebellious” (v. 16). The real structural difficulty occurs at the beginning of v. 16 with the conjunction “for,” which seems to continue a line of thought that, in fact, is just being introduced. The NRSV smoothes the sentence by translating the conjunction as “now”; the NIV just omits it altogether.

3:16-19. The quotation is inescapably appropriate to the readers; after all, it is the word of the Holy Spirit (v. 7), and it is a word for “today.” But the situation of the believers being addressed is too critical to allow them to assimilate Ps 95:768a on their own; the writer drives it home with three rhetorical questions and answers (vv. 16-18). The questions draw upon the language of Psalm 95, the answers from what happened to Israel at Kadesh according to Numbers 14. In pressing his point, the writer inserts no exemptions or qualifiers. For example, in v. 16, “all” rebelled. Numbers 14:22 does so state the case, but later exempts Joshua and Caleb (Num 14:30, 38).°° Or again, in v. 17, the forty years is the period of God’s wrath (as in Ps 95:10), whereas the writer had earlier (vv. 9-10) referred to it as the time of God’s gracious providence. The OT views the forty years both ways (cf. Ps 95:10 with Deut 2:7), but mercy and judgment are never far from each other. God made clothes for the guilty pair exiled from Eden and protected the fugitive Cain east of Eden. When the writer concludes with “So we see that they were unable to enter” (v. 19), it is likely that the sad ending to Numbers 14 is in mind. When the Israelites realized their sin, they sought to prove their repentance by attempting to enter the land in spite of warnings that God was not with them. The result was tragic defeat at the hands of the occupants of the land (Num 14:39-45). Perhaps the preacher of Hebrews is preparing the readers for the strong language concerning second chances in 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 12:16-17. As for the shift from “disobedient” in v. 18 to “unbelief” in v. 19, the awkwardness exists in the English and not in the Greek text. The two words are derived from the same root (amioTéw apisteo) and so will often be used interchangeably. (See Reflections at 4:1213.)

34. H. Koester, TDNT, 8:572-89. 35. H. W. Attridge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989) 119-20.

36. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul exhorts and warns the church using Numbers 14, but he repeatedly uses a qualifier, “as did some of them” (see 1 Cor 10:7-10).


HEBREWS 4:1-11

Hebrews 4:1-11, God’s Rest Still Available NIV



Therefore, since the promise of entering

Therefore, while the promise of entering

his rest still stands, let us be careful that

his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach

none of you be found to have fallen short of it. *For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was

it. 7For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not of no value to them, because those who heard © _ benefit them, because they were not united by did not combine it with faith.2 >Now we who faith with those who listened.? 7For we who have have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, believed enter that rest, just as God? has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, “As in my anger I swore, — ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”? ‘They shall not enter my rest, 29% And yet his work has been finished since the though his works were finished at the foundation creation of the world. “For somewhere he has of the world. “For in one place it speaks about spoken about the seventh day in these words: the seventh day as follows, “And God rested on “And on the seventh day God rested from all his the seventh day from all his works.” °And again work.”° °And again in the passage above he says, in this place it says, “They shall not enter my “They shall never enter my rest.” test.” °Since therefore it remains open for some It still remains that some will enter that rest, to enter it, and those who formerly received the and those who formerly had the gospel preached good news failed to enter because of disobedience, to them did not go in, because of their disobedi7again he sets a certain day—“today”—-saying ence. 7Therefore God again set a certain day, through David much later, in the words already calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke quoted, through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” do not harden your hearts.”? For if Joshua had given them rest, God? would ’For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. °So then, a not have spoken later about another day. *There sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of ‘for those who enter God’s rest also cease from God; !for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests their labors as God did from his. ''Let us therefore from his own work, just as God did from his. make every effort to enter that rest, so that no ‘Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that one may fall through such disobedience as theirs. rest, so that no one will fall by following their @Other ancient authorities read it did not meet with faith in those example of disobedience. who listened © Gk he a2 Many manuscripts because they did not share in the faith of those who obeyed 63 Psalm 95:11; also in verse 5 c4 Gen. 2:2 a7 Psalm 95:7, 8

(COMMENTARY is itself transitional, the text shifts from exhorting by means of talking about Israel (3:15-19) to exhorting by means of direct address to the hearers. In addition, v. 1 begins an inclusio, which ends at v. 11. In other words, 4:1-11 is a unit, beginning and ending with strong imperatives (“let us be careful”; “let us make every effort”)

The author continues and concludes the exposition-exhortation begun at 3:7, which consists almost entirely of an interpretation of Ps 95:76, with Israel’s failure at Kadesh and God’s oath as recorded in Numbers 14 always near the surface. However, in several ways 4:1 does mark a transition. Besides the conjunction “therefore,” which


HEBREWS 4:1-11 COMMENTARY and strong warnings (“that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it”; “that no one may fall”). Within the unit can be discerned two subunits, vv. 1-5 and wv. 6-11. Psalm 95:70, 11 is fundamental to this passage, and through it all runs the often-repeated word “rest” (katdtravots katapausis). In 3:7-19 the writer assumed the propriety of applying Psalm 95 to the church of the readers, an assumption perhaps based on the introductory assertion, “as the Holy Spirit says” (3:7). In other words, the words of Scripture are the living voice of the Spirit addressed to us. In 4:1-11, however, it is as though the author realized that some might not be persuaded by this uncritical transfer of a text (Psalm 95) from one time and place to another, and, therefore, the distance between Israel’s history and the Hebrews congregation needs to be negotiated more deliberately. The distance is of two kinds: geographical, in that entering Canaan and entering rest cannot be synonymous, and chronological, in that the rest promised to ancient Israel cannot be assumed as being available to readers centuries later. The author handles the first by recourse to Gen 2:2, the second by a final return to Psalm 95. Overall, the line of thought is clear. Since the promised rest of God is still available (keep in mind the “today” of the offer, Ps 95:70), we must take care (lit., “let us be afraid,” v. 1) that no one fail to enter. Our situation and Israel’s are parallel in that all of us heard the good news (lit., “were evangelized,” v. 2), but we differ from Israel in that we received the good news in faith and are entering that rest. Notice the present tense (v. 3); rest is not only an eschatological future but also a present favorable state, as the sermon will unfold later. But what is this rest? For Israel it was initially a place, a land of their own, but the writer here (vv. 3-5) finds quite a different meaning to “rest.”°” By interpreting the noun “rest” in Ps 95:11 and by citing the verb form of the same word in Gen 2:2 (LXX), “God rested,” the author moves beyond the idea of a land to that of a condition in that we participate with God. The

author made this same kind of interpretive move in treating the word “house” in 3:1-6. “Rest” now becomes a synonym for salvation, the presence of God now and in the future. To the matter of sabbath rest, we shall return shortly. As for the writer’s indefinite reference to Gen 2:2, “For somewhere he has spoken” (v. 4, NIV preferred over NRSV here; see Commentary on 2:6). Having dealt with the shift from Canaan to sabbath rest in vv. 1-5, the author turns in vv. 6-11 to the chronological problem: How can an ancient offer to Israel be understood as an offer to believers in the present? The writer’s reasoning is as follows: God’s offer of rest was not accepted because of disobedience, and, therefore, it remains open to those of faithful obedience. This is underscored by the use of the word “today.” This “today,” says the author, was spoken by God through David in Psalm 95, and David lived much later than the wilderness generation led by Joshua. This clearly means that the offer in Joshua’s day, having been rejected, was at a later day still open. And the offer is to rest from labor, the sabbath rest in which God also participates. Therefore, while the readers are like the Israelites in that they are on a journey and are invited to enter God’s rest, they must be diligent to be unlike the Israelites in the matter of falling short due to disobedience. Such is the general flow of thought in 4:1-11, but we must now return to the passage and face three thorny problems in the text itself. The first appears in v. 1. What is it about which the readers are to “take care,” or more literally, “be afraid”? The word translated “seem” (NRSV) can also mean “judged to be” or “reckoned as” (cf. Prov 17:28; 27:14, where the same word appears), and this stronger meaning fits well with the warning, “Be afraid that.” To seem to be or to appear to be is too weak. The infinitive translated “failed to reach” (NRSV) or “fall short of” (NIV) can also have the meaning “to arrive too late.” With this translation the warning would be “not to think you have arrived too late” to enter God’s rest; that is, the past offer is now closed, and Christians cannot enter. So some commentators prefer,** but there is nothing in this passage or elsewhere in the letter to suggest that this was a fear of the writer or the reader. On the contrary, they are the heirs of salvation (1:14).

37. Buchanan has argued that “rest” does not have a different meaning for Hebrews, but that “the author expected the promised heritage of the land of Canaan under the rule of the Messiah to be fulfilled for Jesus and his followers.” See G. W. Buchanan, Hebrews, AB 36 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972) 65. The writer of Hebrews understands “rest” differently.

38. E.g., H. W. Montefiore, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, HNTC (New York: Harper, 1964) 80-81.


HEBREWS 4:1-11 COMMENTARY The second problem occurs in v. 2 and is rooted in the variations among Greek manuscripts. According to some texts, the sense would be, “the word heard did not benefit them because it met with no faith in those who heard it.” This is perfectly clear and appropriate to the argument, but the best attested manuscripts have the more difficult reading: “the word heard did not benefit them because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” Who were those who listened? Historically Joshua and Caleb, but it is possible the writer refers to himself and his readers. This is the view that will be expressed later (11:40). The third and final problem is not one of text or translation, but of interpretation: What is the rest of God, the sabbath rest? Just as we noted earlier that the political understanding—that is, the conquest of the land by the new Israel (Jesus and his disciples)—is inappropriate to Hebrews, so also is the gnostic.*° That the soul, pre-existent and eternal, enters a body, journeys homeless in the world, and returns to its home is a cyclical view of life that does not blend easily with the biblical view of creation and history. This is not to say that echoes and fragments of such views do not exist in some Jewish and early Christian groups. Philo of Alexandria had allegorized Israel’s history into a narrative of the soul’s wandering toward a spiritual rest. The Gospel of Thomas psychologizes “rest,” making it a subjective possession.*°? And in the canonical NT apart from

Hebrews, rest is spoken of quite apart from notions of the land or the seventh day (Matt 11:2830). All this is to say that the writer of Hebrews is not creating de novo the view that rest transcends place and history, while being experienced here and now (vv. 3, 10). It is an eschatological reality in the sense of being grounded in the ultimate purpose of God for God’s people. It neither began nor ended at Kadesh (Numbers 14). Rest is a primordial reality, existing from “the foundation of the world” (v. 3). This fairly common expression for designating true and non-contingent things of God (Matt 13:35; 25:34; John 17:24; Eph 1:4; Rev 13:8) does not refer to pre-creation activity of God, but to post-creation. God “rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done” (Gen 2:2 NRSV), just as those who enter God’s rest will do (4:10). While the sabbath was later justified on humanitarian grounds (rest for all creation), for historical reasons (remember the exodus), and for liturgical purposes (the praise of God), Gen 2:2 is its birthplace. The sabbath but institutionalized a central truth: God rested and invites others into that rest with all the blessings attendant to the presence of God. The book of Jubilees, a second-century sce Jewish writing, sings of God’s invitation to the angels to join God’s people on earth in a festive day of rest, a celebration in heaven and on earth of God’s rest

from work.*! The church of Hebrews must have been aware of such traditions about “rest.” (See Reflections at 4:12-13.)

39. E. Kasemann, Zhe Wandering People of God, trans. R. Harresville and I. Sandberg (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984) 74-75. 40. Cf. Philo Sayings 51, 52, 60.

Al. Jub. 2:18-21.

Hebrews 4:12-13, God’s Word Still Active



‘12For the word of God is living and active.

12Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. '*And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. '*Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give SS account.



(COMMENTARY The writer-preacher concludes the section begun at 3:1, and especially the exhortation of 3:7-4:11, with a rhetorical flourish on the Word of God. Although 4:12-13 contains the marks of conscious literary artistry, and is in a sense a self-contained unit (an inclusio, beginning and ending with Logos, the Word), it is not necessary to conclude that the passage was borrowed or was composed for another setting. It forms a perfect conclusion to the argument based on Ps 95:70-11, which was introduced as the message of the Holy Spirit (3:7). This forceful reminder of the nature and work of God’s Word is a fitting underscoring of the strong imperatives of the preceding section: “See to it” (3:12); “let us be afraid” (4:1); “let us be eagerly diligent” (4:11). One can find a rhetorical context for 4:12-13 in the larger world of Hellenistic Judaism, with its descriptive phrases concerning Word, Wisdom, and Torah, which are at times used interchangeably. And since this was most likely the thought world of the writer of Hebrews, echoes and allusions may well join these verses to that culture. For example, Wisdom “pervades and penetrates all things” (Wis 7:24 NRSV); or the Word of God has the power “to cut”;*? or Torah was created before the world was made and was God’s instrument in making all things, including humankind.* But one can find resources aplenty in the OT for all the affirmations made here about the Word of God. In fact, the writer is primarily gathering up and reasserting what has been said already in 42. Philo Who Is the Heir of Divine Things? 130. 43. For a concise treatment of Jewish speculations on Torah, Word, and Wisdom, see Fred Craddock, Zhe Pre-existence of Christ in the NT (Nashville: Abingdon, 1968) 31-53.

Hebrews: The God who spoke still speaks, and that word is inescapably valid (2:2-4). In the writer’s theology, words of Scripture are words of God to us today. Hence, the Word is living and active (cf. Isa 55:11), sharper than any two-edged sword (cf. Isa 49:2; Eph 6:17; Rev 19:15). The word that creates is also able to discern and judge (Ps 51:6; Amos 1:2). One should not tarry too long over “soul and spirit, bone and marrow”; these terms, drawn from the anthropology of the day, are simply a forceful way of saying that no part of the human life is beyond the knowing gaze of God. The Word of God serves as the eyes of God, seeing everything the heart devises and feels. These two verses could be read as a digest of Psalm 139: “O Lorp, you have searched me and known me./ You Know when I sit down and when I rise up. .. . Even before a word is on my tongue, / O LorbD, you know it completely. ... Where can I go from your spirit?” Or where can | flee from your presence? ... For it was you who formed my inward parts;/ you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:1-3, 7, 13 NRSV). As the Hebrews writer puts it: “all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (v. 13; see also Rom 8:27; 1 Cor 4:5). The passage ends as it began, with Logos, but here it is not God’s Word but ours, hence the translation “account” (as in 13:17; see also Luke 16:2; 1 Pet 4:5). It is as though the writer were a liturgist who concludes the reading of Scripture with, “This is the word of God,” with the expectation that the readers will respond, not with “Amen” but with their lives.

REFLECTIONS 1. It is somewhat surprising that the author of Hebrews does not introduce the word “faith” until 4:2, a word that will later serve as the key to understanding salvation history from creation to the eschaton (chap. 11). Faith, the writer will say, is the means of apprehending as present that for which we hope, the ability to see as real that which to human eyes is invisible (11:1). The delay until 4:2 cannot be taken, therefore, as a kind of indifference toward the word. On the contrary, the readers have been prepared to hear the word by the writer’s frequent use of terms drawn from the same root, words such as “faithful,” “faithless,” “obedient,” and “disobedient.” By such preparation the readers are helped to see how muscular

HEBREWS 4:12-13 REFLECTIONS and active faith is. Faith is tough and tenacious; it holds fast. It stands firm. It is a “to the end” (3:14) quality. Faith generates companion words: “courage,” “boldness,” and “confidence,” all of which are used in this epistle-sermon. Faith is not mentioned at quiet times, accompanied by sonnets, but in the story of a people struggling in the desert, accompanied by grumbling and rebellion. And faith has content, as the text makes clear by reference to our confession (3:1). In other words, faith is more than an orientation of the heart toward God, although it is that. Faith has something to say about God, and it does so with boldness (3:6) and confidence (3:14). 2. Hebrews speaks about a community (Israel) and to a community (the church). In reciting the story of Israel in the wilderness, the writer clearly understands that the desert journey was a group experience, the behavior of some affecting the behavior of all. There was no subjective captivity of the good news of God’s promise; they heard it together (4:2). Likewise, the message of this letter-sermon is addressed to the whole congregation, and most likely was read at an assembly of the church, a fact we may forget now that we all have our own Bibles. The preacher says repeatedly “us,” “we,” and “you” (plural). There is concern for the individual, but it is a community concern: “that none of you may be hardened” (3:13 NRSV); “let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it” (4:1 NRSV). Shepherding was a congregational responsibility. And so was preaching: “But exhort [encourage] one another every day” (3:13 NRSV). It is very difficult to reclaim ministries once surrendered, but it can be done if those few who now own those ministries are willing to share them again. 3. Since teachers and preachers always struggle with the hermeneutical issues related to the meaning of texts of one time and place for persons of another time and place, it might be instructive to compare the methods in Heb 3:7—4:11 and 1 Cor 10:1-13. A comparison is possible because of a number of remarkable similarities: Both draw on the failure of Israel in the desert, with Numbers 14 being central to the story; both characterize the life of faith as a pilgrimage, beset with tests and struggles; both speak of God’s providence on the way to the promised future; both draw lessons and warnings from Israel’s fall in the desert. It is important also that neither writer evaporates Israel’s history in some grand allegory of the pilgrimage of the soul. History remains history; neither past nor present is consumed by the other. However, the writers move into the present differently. Paul more directly makes the past serve the present by referring to Israel’s experiences as examples (types): “These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us” (1 Cor 10:11 NRSV). Paul thus robs the past of some of its own integrity by viewing it as “for us.” The writer of Hebrews negotiates the distance between past and present without making yesterday the servant of today. This is achieved by mediating Israel’s desert history through Psalm 95. Two interpretive advantages are thus taken: The psalmist stands chronologically between Numbers 14 and the present and hence is able to move the story forward toward the readers; and the introductory “Today” of Ps 95:7b sets the ancient record directly before the Hebrews church as a word spoken to them. As the writer puts it: “The Holy Spirit says” (3:7 NRSV). In other words, every time and place is the “present” of God’s Word. Neither method need be imitated by today’s preacher but should serve to instruct and to urge thoughtful intentionality in one’s own interpretive methods. 4. The introduction of the theme of “rest” into the presentation of the Christian life as that of a pilgrimage provides a striking image of the rhythm of faith: movement and rest. Psychologists and counselors have long understood this rhythm as basic to a healthy life, and leaders of organizations, including churches, are using it to design programming. But Hebrews can be additionally helpful in the reminder that the life of faith is not simply scheduled as periods of movement and periods of rest. Rest, says the text, does not just follow pilgrimage


HEBREWS 4:12-13 REFLECTIONS but occurs during pilgrimage as well (4:3). The rest of God is both present and future. Therefore, just as the Near Eastern proverb says, “There is going in my staying and staying in my going,” so also does the preacher in Hebrews say, “There is rest in movement and movement in rest.” 5. Every now and then we should pause to appreciate the rhetorical skill of the writer-preacher of Hebrews and reflect on its significance. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and that primary purpose undoubtedly fuels all that is being done here. The interplay of exposition and exhortation; alliteration; repetition of words and sounds; perfectly rounded inclusios; the rhythm of direct and indirect discourse; anticipation and restraint—these and other techniques are in the service of persuasion. But rhetoric is an art, and like all art it gives pleasure to the reader or hearer. The skillful writer or speaker, no matter how weighty the issue, how noble the cause, gives pleasure, and that pleasure is not for the purpose of sedating or seducing, or simply to curry the favor of an audience. Pleasure is a fundamental force in human history. Biological continuity, cultural continuity, intellectual continuity—all are indebted more to pleasure than to logic. The ancient Greeks understood that, and so do many African American preachers today. And the Word of God continues in the world, thanks to those who delight in the law of the Lord and to the enjoyment of Scripture by those who speak and those who listen. 6. One can assume that when the Hebrews preacher speaks of the living and active Word of God, probing, penetrating, and revealing, the expectation is that the readers/hearers will associate that word with what has been said (esp. 3:7—4:11). But the Word of God is not being defined; that is, the writer is not saying that Scripture is the Word of God, or Scripture contains the word of God, or Scripture becomes the word of God. Rather, the Word of God is being characterized as to what it does. No claim is being made for the message presented, as if to say, “My sermon is the word of God.” From the beginning at 1:1 it has been abundantly clear that the word is God’s word and any attempts to locate it or define it would be inappropriate. What the author does is appeal to Scripture in such a way as to assume that the readers accept that tradition as normative, and then interpret that Scripture so as to address the readers in their own circumstance. This, too, is done in such a way as to assume that the readers accept interpretation of Scripture as the regular activity of the community. The book and the community are brought face to face by the preacher with the expectation that the community will hear God’s voice speaking to them. As both promise and warning, what they are told is that when God speaks, the word is incisive, revealing what is hidden and giving its hearers the experience of being exposed before God with full accounts to be rendered. To be more precise than that would be to violate God’s freedom to speak or to be silent and the listeners’ freedom to hear or not to hear.

HEBREWS 4:14-5:10, CHRIST THE MERCIFUL OVERVIEW That 4:14-5:10 is a distinct unit is widely recognized, although it has been argued that 4:14 should be joined with what precedes it, returning as it does to the theme expressed in 3:1.44 However, such an arrangement must account for the

abrupt shift from 4:12-13 and for the fact that 4:14 does not so much return to 3:1 as it does to 2:17-18, the very vocabulary of which is repeated in 4:14-16. This unit is a transition passage, concluding what has been said and introducing what is yet to be said. The reader will recognize in the elaborated themes here the hints,

44. Among those favoring this view, W. L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, WBC 474A (Dallas: Word, 1991) 96, provides the strongest support.


HEBREWS 4:14-5:10 OVERVIEW intimations, and brief references in 1:3, 13; 2:1718; and 3:1. But it was the description of Christ as a merciful and faithful high priest at 2:17 that provided the structure for 3:1-5:10. Taking the two characteristics in reverse order, as is the writer’s custom, 3:1-4:12 developed Christ’s (and our) faithfulness; 4:14-5:10 will focus on his mercy. As in previous units in which Christ was presented in a contrast, first with angels and then with Moses, so here he is portrayed as being like and yet very unlike Aaron. The twin credentials

of a priest, to be of the people and to be of God—dqualities already and repeatedly claimed for Christ—are now treated more extensively. Notice the flow of thought: of the people (4:14—-5:3); of God (5:4-6); of the people (5:7-9); of God (5:10). Of key interest in this unit are two moves by the writer: the joining of Ps 2:7 and Ps 110:4 and the introduction of the scriptural ground for presenting Jesus as a priest when genealogically and liturgically he was not. The exposition of “according to the order of Melchizedek” will, however, be delayed until 7:1.

Hebrews 4:14-16, Hold Fast; Draw Near NIV


“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,? Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 'SFor we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. '°Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

14Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of

God, let us hold fast to our confession. !*For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested? as we are, yet without sin. '°Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

214 Or gone into heaven

2 Or tempted

(COMMENTARY Just as the preceding unit was framed on movement and rest, so also here the message joins holding fast and drawing near. These three verses hang on the two exhortations: to get a firm grip (stronger than 3:6) on our confession (cf. Commentary on 3:1) and to approach (as in prayer) the throne of grace. The ground for both appeals is the nature of our high priest. By joining “Jesus” and “Son of God” the writer may be drawing on the language of the confession; we do not know. But we do know that the two terms join the two qualifications of a priest: to be made like his brothers and sisters (Jesus), and to be appointed

of God before as one special

tant, for two reasons. First, it is essential as a basis for assurance that our approach to God will be met with sympathy and understanding; he has been tested as we are tested. That Jesus experienced completely the human condition gives confidence to a prayer life that fully expects both mercy and help. Not forgiveness alone, but forgiveness and help for the improvement of one’s lot. And since Jesus, having been as we are in every respect, passed through the heavens—that

is, entered into God’s presence—access to God has been opened for us, with Jesus already there interceding on our behalf (7:25; 9:24). Second, this presentation of Jesus as being both of the people and of God is a clear anticipation of 5:1-10, where the writer begins the difficult task of establishing that Jesus was and is a priest. Several

(Son of God). The writer has stated this (2:9-18), but now the presentation of Jesus who shares our lot and who also bears a relation to God is made especially impor-


HEBREWS 4:14-16 COMMENTARY In saying that Jesus is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” (v. 15), the writer surely does not refer to physical weakness or illness, although the word often carries that meaning and may be translated “diseases” (Luke 5:15; 8:2; John 5:5). Paul used the word to describe the general inclination of the flesh (Rom 6:19; 1 Cor 15:43), and the moral force of “weakness” is undoubtedly present here as well as at 5:2 and 7:28. This is made evident in the description of Jesus as being sympathetic and yet “without sin.” That Jesus was without sin was variously expressed by early Christian writers John 7:18; 8:46; 1 Pet 1:19; 2:22; 1 John 3:5), in each case with a particular understanding of sin. It is not necessary here to flood the mind with a lengthy catalog of sins and then excuse Jesus from all of them. In the context of 4:14-16, being without sin refers to Jesus’ unwavering firmness in his faithfulness to God. Neither is it necessary to argue that his being without sin somehow lessens his capacity to sympathize with us. It is not by sinning that one is made sympathetic but by being tested as we are tested. As the ancients expressed it, he was as we are, and therefore he will help; he was not as we are, and therefore he can. A closing note on the rhetorical form of 4:15: Notice the use of the double negative and the adversative conjunction. To say that “we do not have a high priest who is not able” is much more forceful than “we have a high priest who is able.” In addition, the negative statement of the positive sets up the conjunction “but,” sharpening even further the affirmation about the priestly ministry of Jesus. Both double negatives and contrasts were rhetorical devices used by skilled communicators of the time. (See Reflections at 5:1-10.)

times now the author has referred to Jesus as high priest, but early Christian documents do not reveal this characterization of Jesus as widespread or well known. By the time the readers reach 5:1, their hands are in the air with a question: How could Jesus be a high priest, given his genealogy, the geographical location of his ministry, and the adversarial nature of his relationship with temple authorities? It is time to establish credentials. Before moving to 5:1-10, however, we need to attend to several significant phrases in 4:14-16. That our high priest “has passed through the heavens” (v. 14) evokes the image of the Jewish high priest on the Day of Atonement, passing through the veil of the Temple and entering the holy of holies, the place of God’s presence as symbolized by the ark of the covenant, which rested in the inner chamber of the tabernacle. That Jesus has entered God’s presence was implied at 1:3, 13, but is now stated with the obvious intention of recalling the imagery of the wilderness tent of meeting as well as of anticipating more detailed discussion of Jesus’ passing beyond the veil (6:19-20; 8:1-2; 9:11; 10:20). As for the source of the idea of passing through the heavens, antecedents are available in the ancient figures of Enoch (Gen 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kgs 2:11), with ascension stories becoming more elaborate in apocalyptic texts of late Judaism.* In gnostic redeemer myths, the savior of human souls had to pass from God through a succession of heavens filled with hostile powers to reach the earth and then return the same way. However, there is nothing here to suggest that hostile angelic forces sought to impede Jesus in his journey to God.*° 45. As held by R. Jewett, Letter to Pilgrims (New York: Pilgrim, 1981) 81. 46. E.g., Ascension of Isaiah 6-7; 1 Enoch 14-19; 70-71.

Hebrews 5:1-10, Christ Qualified as High Priest NIV




Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. @He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. *This is why he has to

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. *He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; °and because of this he must offer


HEBREWS 5:1-10



offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the

sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. “And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today | have begotten you”; Cas he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”

sins of the people. _ 4No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. °So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, ‘ “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.a And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”¢ "During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard becauseof his reverent submission. ®Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered °and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation

7In the days of his flesh, Jesus? offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; °and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, ‘having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

for all who obey him '°and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. a5 Or have begotten you

65 Psalm 2:7

co Psalm 110:4

4Gk he

(COMMENTARY It is difficult to explore the concept of Christ as high priest without engaging the question of the source or sources. Answers, however, are not quickly forthcoming, because lines of influence are not clearly discernible. Fragments of related ideas are found in the New Testament outside Hebrews: the tearing of the temple veil at the death of Jesus (Mark 15:38), Jesus’ words, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 NRSV); Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice and, therefore, functioned as a priest; Jesus is the place of atonement (mercy seat) for our sins (Rom 3:25); and other hints and intimations. But the sum of these hardly adds up to a satisfactory answer. The concept may have developed out of the church’s wide use of Psalm 110. Although it is Ps 110:1 that is so much employed, Ps 110:4, which declares “You are a priest forever,” lies close at hand. Other possible influences have been found in the Logos-Priest of Philo of Alexandria, the Messiah-Priest of Qumran, or the priest of late

Jewish apocalyptic visions.*” Of course, it is quite possible that a church that re-read and reappropriated its own sacred texts and heritage in Judaism created a liturgy out of a Christian interpretation of the Day of Atonement. If the exodus and wilderness experiences of Israel were so instructive for the church’s self-understanding, why not also find in the rituals of the wilderness tabernacle precursors of its own view of Christ and the liturgies that enshrine and proclaim his saving activity? We have in common with the congregation of Hebrews the need to follow the writer carefully in the treatment of this concept, which admittedly is “difficult to explain” (5:11). In vv. 1-4 the writer presents the essential qualities of any high priest before moving to the consideration of Christ as high priest in vv. 5-10. 47. Kasemann, The Wandering People of God, 195-217, reviews a range of possibilities arriving at his own view of a gnostic redeemer myth as the source.


HEBREWS 5:1-10 COMMENTARY Of course, not just any high priest is in the writer’s mind; the Aaronic priesthood will lead to the portrayal of Christ’s priesthood. At least logically this is the movement of thought, but theologically, the movement is from Christ to Aaron. This is to say, the writer is very selective in sketching the qualities of a priest, choosing to discuss only those features appropriate to the comparison with Christ. In this sense the writer begins with Christ. Of any priest it must be the case that the person be chosen from among persons whom the priest will represent before God. But the priest must also be chosen of God, to represent God to the people. When the discussion turns to Christ, these two qualifications will be discussed, but in reverse order. 5:1-4. The first qualification, that the high priest be one of the people, enables the one so serving to minister in two ways: to “offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” (v. 1) and to “deal gently” (v. 2). One should not try to be careful in distinguishing gifts and sacrifices; the expression came to be something of a stock phrase (8:3; 1 Kgs 8:64) to refer to the whole sacerdotal activity of the high priest. It will become clear that the writer has in mind the blood sacrifice of the Day of Atonement (9:12). As for “dealing gently” with the people, this was not in the list of credentials for Aaronic priests, but can be inferred from their duties. Forbearance and humility were evident in both Aaron and Moses (Num 12:3; 14:5), but very likely the author is reading backward from qualities of Christ to qualities of the Aaronic high priest. The word translated “deal gently” (ueTptoTrabew metriopatheo ) occurs only here in the New Testament and means “to moderate” or “control” emotion. In extracanonical literature the word was used most often in relation to anger. This is not a quality synonymous with sympathy, the capacity to be one with others, attributed to Christ at 4:15. Here the high priest is to behave with restraint toward the ignorant and wayward, a restraint born of the priest’s awareness of his own weakness. Sacrifices for sin were efficacious under circumstances of unwilling or unintentional errors and breaches of God’s law due to ignorance (Lev 4:13; Ezek 45:20). Luke likewise extends God’s offer of forgiveness to those who acted in ignorance

(Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; 17:30), and according to 1 Tim 1:13, Paul received mercy “because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief’ (NRSV). Such sins, according to the Hebrews author, are viewed quite differently from those committed willfully (6:4-8; 10:26-31; 12:17). The high priest behaved with moderation toward ignorantly erring people because he was himself subject to weakness (lit., “clothed with weakness”). In fact, his own sins made it necessary for him to offer first a sacrifice

for himself and then a sacrifice on behalf of the people (v. 3), as it is written: “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house,” then he shall make atonement “for all the assembly of Israel” (Lev 16:11, 17 NRSV). This difference between the Aaronic high priest and Christ will be noted later. The second qualification, that the high priest be chosen of God, is to the writer so self-evident that the writer feels no need to elaborate beyond the simplest statement of it (v. 4). That Aaron was so qualified has triple attestation in Scripture: at his call (Exod 28:1); at his public ordination (Lev 8:1-36); and at God’s reaffirmation of Aaron’s priesthood following the rebellion of Korah (Numbers 16-18). Notice that there is no putdown or criticism of Aaron. As the writer did not find it necessary, in the development of christology, to speak disparagingly of angels or Moses or Joshua, so here the flaws of Aaron’s person or ministry are not exhibited, as though Christ would shine brighter by comparison. It is enough to say that a priest ministers only when called of God, “as Aaron was.” 5:5-10. In these verses the writer turns to Christ as high priest, addressing the same two considerations: that he was of the people and of God. Now, however, the two themes are treated in reverse order, forming with vv. 1-4 a small chiasm (a literary form of inverted parallels; that is, ABB’A’) The Aaronic priesthood is: of the people (vv. 1-3) of God (v. 4)


Christ’s priesthood is:

of God (vv. 5-6) of the people (vv. 7-9)

B’ A’

HEBREWS 5:1-10 COMMENTARY Verse 10 paraphrases v. 6, reaffirming that Christ is a priest of God. 5:5-6. Christ’s priesthood is by divine appointment. Just as the Aaronic priesthood was not by human initiative but by the call of God (v. 4), so also Christ did not glorify himself. On the contrary, glory and honor were bestowed on him by God (2:9). In support of this affirmation the writer does not argue but rather quotes Psalms 2 and 110. These citations are not introduced here but are repeated from the catena of biblical quotations in 1:5-13. At that point, Psalm 2 opened the catena and Psalm 110 closed it. However, while Ps 2:7 is repeated, from Psalm 110, not v. 1 but v. 4 is here cited, and for the first time. The NT bears abundant testimony to the early church’s use of Ps 110:1 in christological formulations, but only in Hebrews is Ps 110:4 used. This appropriation of the psalm may be original with this author; in fact, the gradual and detailed introduction and development of this theme (5:6; 5:10; 6:20; 7:1) indicates that it is not familiar to the readers. More familiar is the application of Ps 2:7 to Christ; “You are my son;/ today I have begotten you” (NRSV) needs only to be quoted, without supporting argument. The title “Son,” introduced at 1:2, is the constant term for referring to Jesus Christ in chapters 1—4. It would be to deviate from the writer’s point to let the word “begotten” lead to discussion of Jesus’ birth. Here the term is from the language of appointment, not parentage, just as it is in the psalm’s original sense: God appointed or designated Israel’s king as God’s son. Being “God’s son” has roots in royal ideology. Interestingly, neither Matthew nor Luke uses Ps 2:7 in the nativity story. Equally unfruitful would be efforts to define “today” with precision. Adoptionist christologies found support in the use of a portion of Ps 2:7 in the stories of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22), but this verse is also used to argue the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 13:33). And Hebrews places “today” in eternity, prior to creation (1:2). So when is “today”? Pre-existence? Baptism? Resurrection? Exaltation? Precision here is limiting. It is-better to be guided by the psalm’s own meaning: God grants to the king a place above all other monarchs and princes. Let the attention be given to God, whose appointment is sure and final.

Of greater significance is the joining of these two psalms, which offer in support of God’s appointment two apparently quite different proclamations: “You are my son” and “You are a priest forever.” These texts, united by “as” or “likewise” (v. 6; the NIV inexplicably omits the word and thus loses the direct comparison), join two christological motifs: kingship and priesthood. This is not an original conjunction; the figure of Melchizedek unites in himself both king and priest (7:1-3). Nor is there any inherent tension between the two. The misuses of power during the reign of the Hasmoneans were not the inevitable result of combining in one person both political and religious authority. According to 5:5-6, Son, King, and High Priest are joined in Jesus Christ in ways to be explicated later (beginning at 7:1). Some interpreters, however, find more meaning in the union of these two psalm citations. For example, it has been argued that Ps 2:7 and Ps 110:4 serve to present Christ as both pre-existent (Son) and post-existent (Priest). But that affirmation has been well made more than once in chapters 1-2. In addition, it presumes that Christ’s priesthood is a post-incarnation activity. It is that, of course, in that he is continually in God’s presence, making intercession for us (2:18; 4:14-16; 6:20; 7:23-26; 8:1-2); but prior to entering God’s presence beyond the veil, the high priest makes sacrifice for sin. This Jesus did in the offering of himself (2:17; 9:14, 26; 10:10). His priestly service, therefore, cannot be confined to his post-exaltation ministry. F. F. Bruce, in his search to explain the union of the two psalm citations, suggests that it may be a response to messianic expectations at Qumran. In that community, two messiahs were anticipated, the one royal, from the house of David, the other priestly, from the house of Aaron. According to Bruce, the writer is saying that there are not two messiahs but one, and it is Jesus Christ who is both King and High Priest. However, it would seem that such an important apologetic would be more fully argued rather than so subtly presented. Perhaps it is enough here to say that vv. 5-6 have a double function: to recall what has been said (1:5, 13) and to prepare the reader for an argument yet to be made (7:1ff.). We have come to expect of the writer such rhetorical moves. 48. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, rev. ed., NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 94-97. See especially notes 26, 27.


HEBREWS 5:1-10 COMMENTARY 5:7. Having dealt with the qualification that Jesus is of God, the writer now turns to the second essential for being a high priest: Jesus is one of the people. That he shares the common human condition is not introduced here; that characteristic has been stated in 2:9-18 and 4:15, but in 5:7-9 the reader is given an elaboration of those statements. The “for a little while was made lower than the angels” (2:9 NRSV) is elongated into a vivid description of life “in the days of his flesh.” This portrait of Jesus’ earthly life is not, of course, as extended as that of the Gospels, but then it is not so abbreviated as that of Paul. Paul’s gospel concerned a Christ who died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and made appearances to his followers (1 Cor 15:3-8). There is no presentation of Jesus’ words and work, just as there is not in the Apostles’ Creed: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, and then immediately “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” without a single reference to the years between birth and death. Such silence about Jesus’ life cannot serve the present writer, whose task it is to show that Jesus was a high priest “chosen from among mortals” (v. 1) and “able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward” (v. 2). The literary form of vv. 7-10 is striking. The similarity between the structure of christology in Hebrews and that of Phil 2:6-11 (pre-existence, humiliation, exaltation) is evident, but there may be other resemblances. Like Phil 2:6-11, Heb 5:7-10 contains hymnic qualities. For example, v. 7 begins not with the name “Jesus” or even with the personal pronoun “he” but rather with the relative pronoun “who” (ds hos): “who in the days of his flesh.” Hymnic or poetic expressions in praise of a person or god in Greek literature of the time often opened with the relative pronoun.” Note, as examples, Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; and 1 Tim 3:16. In addition, the sentence (translators divide vv. 7-10 for purposes of clarity) is carefully balanced with a series of participles leading to and away from the finite verbs that control the passage: “learned,” “suffered,” “became.” These verses also give the impression of being a summary or a digest of a larger body of material, another characteristic of early Christian hymns

and faith formulae. And finally, the phrases, especially in v. 7, are unique in Hebrews, and may be so because they are quoted from a source familiar to the writer and perhaps to the reader. However, nothing substantive to the discourse hinges on proving or disproving the hymnic nature of the passage, even though curiosity is raised about the nature of Christian sources available to the writer. Whether hymn or not, statements about “the days of his flesh” have been so woven into the broader movement of thought that they do not at all distract or divert attention. The image of Jesus in fervent prayer, with loud cries and tears appealing to the One able to save him from death, brings to mind Jesus in Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:40-46). However, the writer’s familiarity with the synoptic accounts, as some have argued, is not easily established. The author may be drawing on another tradition, or possibly summarizing the entire passion experience. The language of v. 7 carries echoes of Psalms 22; 39; 116; Isaiah 65; and Job 40, but clearly fits the context. For example, Jesus “offered up” prayers, a term used to describe the sacrificial activity of a priest (5:1, 3). That Jesus’ prayers were heard and yet he still suffered poses no theological problem; rather, it locates Jesus more firmly among his brothers and sisters whose experiences are precisely the same. The posture of Jesus is that of one facing death. Even though the expression “from death” (v. 7) can be translated “out of” death, making his prayer a petition for resurrection, there is no reason not to take it in its plainest sense; like the rest of us, he cries out to God in the face of the immediate prospect of death. That he was heard because of “reverent submission” (v. 7) has generated many questions, not so much translational as christological. What is being said about Christ? That he was worshipful, filled with awe, reverent, devout, in fear of God? When the word is an adjective describing a virtue in a person, it can be translated “devout” (as in Luke 2:25; Acts 2:5; 8:2; 22:12). However, here at 5:7 and at 12:28, the author’s only other use of the word, it is in a context of priestly service before God and, therefore, describes the attitude or behavior appropriate to that service: bowing in reverence.

49. An observation developed at length, with many examples, by E. Norden, Agnostos Theos (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1913) 253, 383-87.

Moffatt, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (New York: Scribner’s, 1964) 66.

50. H. W. Montefiore, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, HNTC (New York: Harper, 1964) 97-8; Bruce, Hebrews, 98-100; J.


HEBREWS 5:1-10 COMMENTARY 5:8. While the adversative phrase “although he was a Son,” which opens this verse may be read as the conclusion of v. 7, it seems to serve best as the introduction to the statements that follow. This is to say, being God’s Son did not exempt Jesus from learning, from obedience, from suffering, so complete was his identification with all who share flesh and blood. ,And strikingly, learning is joined to obedience and obedience to suffering. “Learning” (uaSetv mathein) and “suffering” (ta8eiv pathein) were joined in popular wordplays, and the usual sense was, “we learn from our mistakes.” That meaning is foreign here. The writer clearly has in mind the readers who must learn that old proverbs that join obedience with bliss and disobedience with suffering are broken both by the experience of Christ and their own. That the obedient suffer is a lesson difficult to learn, as the author will point out later (12:411). The writer cannot discuss Christ without thinking of the church, nor can he discuss the church without thinking of Christ. By learning obedience through suffering, Jesus is qualified as both intercessor and model. 5:9. This verse gathers up in summary fashion what has been said thus far about Christ’s preparation for and fulfillment of his ministry as our high priest. This statement is, however, little more than what was said at 2:10, and the reader is urged to review comments at that point. One matter deserves repeating: The perfection of Christ is not a reference to moral achievement but to the “completion” or to the “finishing” of his preparation as high priest, and that was through testing, suffering, and death. No doubt the author is using the word “make perfect” in its cultic sense, borrowing the term from its use in the LXX to describe the priest of Israel’s tabernacle. There the word is translated “consecrated”

or “ordained” (Lev 4:5; 8:33; 16:32; 21:10; Num 3:3). In 2:10 Christ is the “pioneer” of our salvation; here he is the “source.” It is not necessary to attempt to be specific as to a particular aspect of Christ’s salvific work; his being a model of obedient suffering, his role as the one offering sacrifice for sin, and his interceding for us in God’s presence are all involved. The expression “eternal salvation” occurs only here in the NT (it is found in the OT at Isa 45:17). The writer shows a fondness for the adjective “eternal” (6:2; 9:12, 14-15; 13:20), perhaps as a way of asserting the once-and-for-all finality of Christ’s work and of assuring pilgrims who otherwise might be discouraged by the transient nature of life. As for the phrase “for all who obey him,” the writer assumes by now that obedience as an ingredient to faith has been amply established in the portraits of Moses, Joshua, Israel, Christ, and Christ’s followers. It is helpful to notice that the word for “obey” is here (and widely in both testaments) a form of the word “to hear,” recalling the repeated references to speaking and hearing so characteristic of Hebrews. 5:10. This verse does not advance the discussion but holds it in place until it is resumed in 7:1. In other words, the writer knows that the quotation of Ps 110:4 at v. 6 is the key to the difficult discussion upcoming in 7:1—10:25, and it is important that what is said in vv. 7-9 not erase from the reader’s mind the affirmation that God has designated Christ a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. So the statement is repeated, as if to say, “I must now make preparatory comments of a serious nature before continuing, but hold this thought.” From a rhetorical point of view, this strategy both builds anticipation and prepares the soil of the reader’s mind for what is to come.

REFLECTIONS 1. Hebrews takes very seriously the historical career of Jesus. Nowhere in the sermon is this more evident than in 4:14-5:10. Whether or not the writer was familiar with the gospel narratives is a question prompted by historical curiosity, but it is not the primary issue. The more significant question has to do with the function of the life of Jesus of Nazareth for the life of the church and for Christian faith. Hebrews has thus far drawn from the life of Jesus two central meanings: As one in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, he is able to

HEBREWS 5:1-10 REFLECTIONS serve as our priest with sympathy and patience; and as one who experienced life as we know it with faithfulness and full obedience, he is the pioneer and model for the Christian pilgrimage. As priest, his sympathy flows out of his being tested, not out of failing the test; therefore, his being without sin is not erosive of his capacity to be touched by our weaknesses. As model, his faithful obedience through suffering qualifies him. This is to say, he lived his own life and faced his own struggles, and hence can be a model. But to say that he acted and spoke as he did in order to be a model is to rob his life of meaning in itself and, therefore, to remove him as a good model. For example, if he prayed in order to be a model of prayer life, then he is not a model of prayer life. This is not to imply that the writer of Hebrews thus evacuates meaning from Jesus’ life. On the contrary, his Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears, was heard for his reverence, and learned obedience through suffering, but the church’s Jesus has sometimes been portrayed as moving through his life as a self-conscious example for-others. Why was he baptized? As an example. Why was he tempted? As an example. Why did he pray? As an example. This is a gross misunderstanding of Jesus and a mishandling of the biblical texts. One finds meaning in Jesus’ life only if that meaning is already there. The two interpretations of Jesus’ life offered by Hebrews do not, of course, exhaust the interpretive potential, but they do prompt the church to understand that life in ways appropriate to its time and place. From Advent through Easter, lectionaries place gospel narratives about Jesus at the center of the worship and preaching of the church, but these texts can be used week by week without dealing with the overarching question: What does the life of Jesus mean for the life of faith? If the gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus, as Paul insists, is all that precedes his death not gospel but preface to the gospel? Or are Jesus’ healing, feeding, receiving, forgiving, loving, and caring also gospel? The author of Hebrews not only offers a way of reading texts about Jesus but by so doing also presses us to think through again this vital question. 2. Assuming that the writer of Hebrews had access to oral or written traditions about Jesus, then it is safe also to assume that there were choices available for locating within Jesus’ life that event or those events that would present both who he was and his significance for the readers. It is striking that, while several summary statements are made about his learning, his being tested, his suffering, and his faithfulness, the strong governing image is that of Jesus in fervent and agonizing prayer. That portrait in 5:7-8 is inescapably gripping, and one can expect that from it the writer will, in the chapters to follow, draw energy and exhortation. The readers will likely be led to see themselves before God in the posture of prayer, offering supplications in submissive reverence. This is the task of the writer as pastor, to join the life of Jesus to the lives of the readers at a point of crucial relevance. This does not mean that subsequent readers of Hebrews must make the same choice, and make the same connections to the church. What it does mean is that subsequent readers must (1) be honest in identifying the writer’s choice with as much justifying support as the text will yield, and (2) be so bold as to identify from the life of Jesus that which most relevantly addresses the church of their own time and place, with as much justifying support as biblical text and congregational context will yield. All interpreters of the Jesus traditions pass a magnet over the texts to draw out the message most needed for the hour, but not all interpreters admit to doing so, claiming instead a disinterested objectivity. Even if such neutral readings were possible, they are never an option for such a

pastor as one meets in Hebrews. 3. Even though extensive commentary on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity waits on further reading in Hebrews, the occasion of the writer’s brief discussion of the priesthood of Aaron and of Christ (5:1-6) provides opportunity for some reflection on the issue. It is distressing how much secondary literature and how many sermons on Hebrews underscore only the discontinuity between Judaism and Christianity with little attention to the lines of


HEBREWS 5:1-10 REFLECTIONS continuity. Certainly there is discontinuity. Claims about Jesus Christ, even in low christologies, state or imply that God has done a new thing in Jesus of Nazareth, but something new has little meaning unless it rests on a broad base of the familiar and the commonly accepted. The writer of Hebrews knows this and develops its themes accordingly, never trashing the history, the institutions, or the rituals of Judaism. It is regrettable, therefore, that the word “antithesis” is used to characterize the entire relationship, producing a kind of dispensationalism that honors neither Judaism nor Christianity and portrays God in trial-and-error activity. Much of such a reading of Hebrews, and indeed of much of the New Testament, very likely proceeds from conversionist theology. Such thedlogy thinks in terms of “old” and “new” separated decisively and totally by the event of Jesus Christ, much as a watermelon responds to a knife. When one’s personal experience is so understood, it often follows that Scripture is so understood. This perspective looks unfavorably on continuities, in life and in Scripture, as though they represented something less than a clean and full break with the past. Such thinking needs assurance that neither personal faith nor christology is compromised by the discovery of continuities in the story of God’s active love from creation to eschaton. Hebrews offers such



HEBREWS 5:11-6:20 PREPARATION FOR THE DIFFICULT DISCUSSION OVERVIEW hat 5:11-6:20 is a discrete unit is clear both by reason of its content and by the literary signals that mark the beginning and ending of the passage. The expression “a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” at 5:10 and 6:20 alerts the reader to the distinct nature of the material between those markers. In fact, one can read the text smoothly moving from 5:10 directly to 7:1. This is not to imply that 5:11-6:20

39 (exhortation, stern warning, and encouragement), and the two passages together shed most of the little light we have on the pastoral situation of the church to which the Hebrews sermon was addressed. The writer of Hebrews, along with other writers of New Testament documents, was moved by two strong impulses. The first impulse was to be inclusive, to invite all persons into the fellowship, to extend hospitality to strangers (13:2), and to implement in every way the “whosoever will” of Jesus’ life and work. This impulse had its opponents, as Acts and the letters of Paul testify, and it may have been that the conditions of persecution and public abuse were persuading some in the Hebrews church to pull back from this opendoor policy (10:39; 13:2, 13). The second impulse might be called “quality control”—that is, holding before the membership the standards of conduct and of relationships appropriate to a community of Jesus’ followers. Inattention to quality of life together brought strong words from Matthew (Matt 18:6-35; 22:1-14), from Paul (Rom 14:115:7; 1 Cor 5:1-6:11; Gal 6:1-5), and from others, but none more sobering and stern than from the author of Hebrews. We have already heard from the writer rather strong admonitions (2:1-4; 3:12-15; 4:1-11), but the passage before us now will introduce a question that disturbed the early church for generations: the question of post-baptismal sins and the possibility of a second repentance.

is an insertion, either by the author or a later scribe; no manuscript evidence supports such an opinion. Neither is it totally correct to label this unit a hortatory digression as some have done. A portion of this unit (6:13-20) consists primarily of exposition of Gen 22:17 as a sure ground for exhortation and encouragement. And “digression” is too disjunctive to describe this passage. Lane is on target with the characterization “appropriate

preamble,”°! since, unlike most exhortations that follow exposition, 5:11-6:20 precedes and anticipates exposition. The readers need to be forewarned and prepared for the very difficult discussion to follow (7:1-10:25) in which the preacher will seek to establish what retrievable history does not establish: that Jesus was and is a priest. The unit before us falls naturally into three sub-units: 5:11-6:3, A Call for Maturity; 6:4-12, A Stern Warning with Hope; 6:13-20, The Ground for Hope. In terms of the movement of its thought, 5:11-6:20 will be paralleled at 10:1951. W.L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, WBC 47A (Dallas: Word, 1991) 134.


HEBREWS 5:11-6:3 _

HEBREWS 5:11-6:3,




"We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. "In fact, though by this time you ought to be

teachers, you need someone to teach you the

11About this? we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. '*For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again

elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 'sAnyone who lives

milk, not solid food; '*for everyone who lives on

the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. 'But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. 6 Therefore let us go on toward perfection,’ leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, “instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal Hees *And we will do* this, if God permits.

on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 'But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. 6 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repen-

tance from acts that lead to death,? and of faith in God, “instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. *And God paying, wewill do so.

aOr him

2] Or from useless rituals

© Or toward maturity

read let us do

¢ Other ancient authorities: oe

(COMMENTARY It is clear to the writer of Hebrews that further discussion of the high priesthood of Christ will not only contribute to the maturity of the readers (6:1) but also require a degree of maturity for its progress (5:14). Therein lies the tension in 5:116:3. Are the readers capable of moving on with the difficult subject matter? According to 6:1-3, apparently they are. Are the readers too dull, too immature, too unskilled in the word to continue? According to 5:11-14, apparently they are. It is obvious that before we can accept the writer’s invitation to move beyond the basics to more profound reflection (6:1-3), we must come to some clarity about the apparent indictment in 5:11-14.

or to Melchizedek. In either case, the subject is hard to explain (more literally, “hermeneutically difficult”). The expression “we have much to say,” while an acceptable translation, gives the impression that the communication problem lies between the preacher and the readers and thus obscures the word-centered nature of v. 11. If we would tolerate for a moment the awkwardness of a literal rendering, an important point might come clear: “the word |[Adyos logos] has much to say to us difficult to interpret.” It is with “the word” that both writer and reader must struggle, for, as Clement of Alexandria has reminded us, the Word of God does not yield its message easily to every casual passerby. By keeping the term “the word” before us, the passage, far from being a hortatory digression, joins the remainder of the letter at many points. The accent on God’s speaking, from 1:1 onward, is recalled, as is the lyrical prose in praise of the living, active Word of God in 4:1213. In addition, the phrase “dull in understanding” (NRSV; “slow to learn,” NIV) is

5:11-14. In v. 11, the subject soon to be presented is identified: It is “about this.” Since

the pronoun ov (hou) may be neuter (“this”) or masculine (“him”), the writer may be referring to the whole matter introduced in v. 10 (Christ’s high priesthood after the order of Melchizedek) or more specifically to “him”—that is, to Christ


HEBREWS 5:1 1—6:3 COMMENTARY educational development.*? Here milk is an image for “the basic elements of the oracles of God,” while solid food is “the word of righteousness,” which is the capacity in the believer “to distinguish good from evil.” Much more is likely involved in the phrase “word of righteousness,” but here the writer focuses only on moral and ethical discernment. Not necessary for purposes of clarity but rhetorically effective is the further multiplication of contrasts: infant and mature; unskilled (inexperienced) and trained by habitual practice. Having one’s faculties (senses) trained by practice is athletic imagery and is common in the NT (1 Tim 4:7; Heb 12:11; 2 Pet 2:14), although some of the vocabulary here is unique in the NT (“faculties” and “practice” or “habit”). The writer will soon provide the readers with some of this exercise by leading them through a larger and deeper understanding of Christ’s person and his salvific work. Perhaps this is the place to pause and note the importance of the word “perfect” (TeAeLdw teleioo ) for the writer of Hebrews and to observe in a preliminary way the variety of uses of the word. The term was used earlier in descriptions of Christ as one who was made perfect through full identification with humankind, including suffering and death (2:10; 5:9). In our theological vocabulary, his incarnation, humiliation, and exaltation perfected or completed his redemptive work, and hence he is “perfect forever” (7:28). There was no reason to translate the word as “mature,” since nothing of moral growth or achievement was involved in these characterizations of Christ as perfect. However, in these verses, at 5:14, and again at 6:1, the term is used to describe the moral, ethical, intellectual, and spiritual goal of the believer’s life—a goal achieved by learning, practice, and teaching others, a goal expected of all who submit themselves to the resources for Christian growth. In the discussion of 5:11-6:20, it is, therefore, appropriate to translate the word as “mature” or, in its noun form at 6:1, “maturity.” Both the NIV and the REB are consistent in the translation at 5:14 and 6:1. For some reason the NRSV reverts to “perfec-

clarified. Literally, the readers are accused of being “dull or sluggish of hearing.” This has been the charge all along (note especially 2:1; 3:7-8, 15; 4:2, 7). And what is not being heard clearly is not the preacher’s sermon but the Word. To think that the issue here is simply a case of an inattentive congregation’s not being able to follow substantive sermons is to miss the gravity of the indictment. It is toward the word already preached and the word now to be further explored that the readers have become dull or sluggish (vw8pds nothros; a word used only here and at 6:12 in all the NT). In vv. 12-14, the statement in v. 11 receives elaboration by means of vocabulary and analogies drawn from educational circles of the Hellenistic world. Anyone moving normally through the stages of education available would be expected to progress from the basic elements to the point of being able to communicate with others in discourses of some complexity. The term “teachers” (8t8doKahou didaskaloi) need not be taken as being addressed solely to the leaders of the church; this was an expectation of the congregation generally, an expectation based on time spent in the faith and in the fellowship. In other words, “You have been Christians long enough to be informed and bold witnesses.” Instead, says the author, “You need to be enrolled in a class on the most rudimentary elements of the oracles of God.” In v. 12 may be an allusion to formal catechetical instruction that later was institutionalized as lengthy (1-3 years) preparation for baptism. We do not know how structured such education was at this time and place, or whether it preceded or followed baptism. The content of such instruction is “the oracles of God,” a familiar designation for the Jewish Scriptures (Num 24:16;*Ps10721I Acts? 7:38: Rom 3:2); but given the author’s Christian reading of those texts, very likely specific content about God and Christ was included. For example, 1:1-4 might be found among such “oracles.” Continuing with the educational vocabulary of the day, the writer says, “You need milk, not solid food” (v. 12). That this language appears in 1 Cor 3:1-3 does not prove a literary relationship between Paul and Hebrews; “milk” and “solid food” were common terms for referring to levels of

52. H. W. Attridge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989) 159n. 59, gives examples of such use in Philo and in Epictetus.


HEBREWS 5:11—6:3 COMMENTARY tion” at 6:1, blurring the distinction between Christ’s being perfected and believers’ becoming mature. Perhaps- the NRSV is anticipating yet a third use of the word in Hebrews, and that is the sense in which Christ perfects his followers (10:14; 12:2, 23). In other words, the Christian life is not completely a matter of spiritual and intellectual growth and ethical-achievement, as vital as that is. Christ’s redemptive act and his continual intercession perfect his followers in that it is he who brings the believers into his own perfection in the presence of God, a foretaste of which is even now experienced by those who trust his grace. Hence, three uses of “perfection” already impress themselves on us: the perfection of Christ through suffering, death, and exaltation; the maturing of believers through the disciplines of growth; and the perfecting of believers through the redeeming grace of Christ. The reader should remain open to even further nuances of this word as we move through Hebrews.°? In all fairness it should be pointed out that a radically different reading of “perfection” in Hebrews has been offered by Kaésemann.°* He regards Hebrews as an interpretation of Christianity on the philosophical framework of what we broadly call Gnosticism, by which we designate a number of systems of speculation about how eternal spirits fell into this world of matter and by what means they can be extricated from this world and return to the eternal realm of the spirit. Basically, salvation comes by possessing the secret knowledge of who we are, whence we came, and whither we go. Not all have or can have this knowledge. Those who are carnal cannot; those who are intellectual may with effort attain it; the spiritual ones can receive it and be saved, gathered to the gnostic redeemer, Christ. Kasemann identifies the perfect or mature ones in 5:14 and 6:1 as those who are spiritual, capable of receiving the secret knowledge. That the concepts and vocabulary of such philosophies were known to some early Christian communities and were here and there embraced in varying degrees is clear. The epistle to the Colossians, the Gospel

of Thomas, the Gospel of Truth, the Epistle of Barnabas, the writings of Clement of Alexandria and of Origen, among others, make this evident. But one is hard pressed to identify the kind of Gnosticism Kaésemann describes as existing in the time and place of Hebrews and to find in the letter evidence that the spiritually elite possessed the secrets to a heavenly return. That the resources for Christian maturity were available to all and that all were expected to “grow up” account quite adequately for the discussion in 5:11-6:20. We return now to the question raised earlier: Is the indictment of the readers as immature milk drinkers a serious one? It would seem so, given the repetition of it in 5:11-14, using a number of sharp images and analogies. And yet it seems not to be so, given the call to move on to maturity (6:1), the complimentary and encouraging words in 6:9-12, and the writer’s reason for speaking in this manner, “so that you may not become sluggish” (6:12 NRSV), even though the readers have already been accused of being “sluggish in understanding” (5:11). Several things are clear. Given earlier warnings about neglect, drifting, inattention, hardening, and falling short, 5:11-14 must be taken as reflecting a real malaise among some if not all the members of the church being addressed. A lethargy has overtaken a community once healthy, active, and courageous (6:9-11; 10:32-36). But the readers are not infants; 1:1— 5:10 is not addressed to the immature. And it is clear that the writer intends to proceed in serving solid food, demanding more and more of them in digesting the profound message of Christ’s high priestly work. Apparently the recipients have been receding, slipping, or perhaps shrinking back from earlier service and witness, for reasons that may come clearer as we proceed. How does a preacher get through to them and halt the regression? Irony? Perhaps. Exaggeration? Perhaps. We can recognize a rhetorical strategy in shocking confrontation followed by softer words of encouragement «(S¢h1-14 “and 621-3; 16:4-8 and: 9-12; 10:26-31 and 32-39). The writer will later urge the readers to “provoke” (tapoEvoyds paroxusmos; “irritate,” “distress,” “pester,” “cut”) each other back to life and faithfulness again (10:24). Because the situation is critical, the preacher has done just that in 5:11-14.

53. These uses of the term will be noted as they appear in the text, but for anyone seeking to engage in a thematic study of “perfection” in Hebrews, David Peterson’s Hebrews and Perfection (London: Cambridge University Press, 1982), will be helpful. 54. E. Kasemann, The Wandering People of God, trans. R. Harresville and I. Sandberg (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984) esp. 187-92.


HEBREWS 5:11—6:3 COMMENTARY however, “Christ” is read as objective, then the instruction here referred to was about Christ and may well have included material such as is found in 1:1-5:10. We prefer precision of reference, but in its absence there is no reason not to accept both interpretations of “the basic teaching of Christ.” When the canon of the NT was determined, both teachings by Christ and about Christ were included. Whether the author intended “the basic teaching of Christ” (6:1) to be synonymous with “the basic elements of the oracles of God” (5:12) is not clear. What follows in vv. 16-2 may be read in either of two ways. One reading elaborates on “the foundation” with three paired expressions:

6:1-3. When the author issues the call to maturity at v. 1, it is important to notice that the connection with what precedes is not “however,” as if to say, “Even though you are immature and cannot grasp what follows, I must continue even if it falls on dull ears.” Rather, the conjunction is “therefore”or “so then” as if to say, “Of course, you can follow this complex discussion, and | expect you to do so.” The preacher has upbraided the readers but still does not anticipate that the sermon will fall to the ground unheard. In the discussion of the several meanings of “perfection” in the commentary on 5:11-14, the expressed preference was for the translation “maturity” at 6:1, continuing the sense of the adjective “mature” at 5:14. However, in the pilgrimage language of 6:1 (“leaving behind... going on”), the eschatological flavor of the word should be kept in mind. This is to say, believers not only practice the disciplines of Christian living that lead to maturity, but also receive a completeness or perfection granted by the perfection of Christ. The serious and sometimes difficult exercises of the Christian life are always performed under the benediction of grace. This awareness may be implied in the writer’s choice of the passive “let us be carried” (bepwe8a pherometha, trans. “let us go on”). We not only move on toward maturity; we are carried along toward perfection. Such a pilgrimage requires “leaving behind” the elementary teachings, but not in the sense of rejecting. After all, such instruction constitutes the “foundation,” says the author, shifting momentarily to an architectural metaphor to underscore the fundamental importance of their primary education in the faith. The phrase translated “the basic [elementary, NIV] teaching about Christ” is problematic both in translation and in reference. Literally, the expression is “the teaching of the beginning of Christ.” If “Christ” is read as subjective, then the writer has in mind Christ’s own basic or primary teaching. The following phrase, “repentance from dead works and faith toward God,” seems to support this interpretation, since, according to the Gospels, Jesus came preaching, “Repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15 NRSV). In addition, the author assumes a knowledge of the historical Jesus (5:7-8), further supporting the view that the basic instruction of Christians involved teaching what Christ himself taught. If,

repentance from dead works — faith toward God instruction about baptisms — laying on of hands resurrection of the dead — eternal judgment The other reading makes two segments of the passage: “the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,” followed by an elaboration in two paired expressions. One could translate this portion: “that is [referring to the foundation], instruction.” about baptisms — laying on of hands resurrection of the dead — eternal judgment In the second reading, the foundation is one of repentance and faith, further defined as teaching in four subject areas. The difference lies in textual variants among the Greek manuscripts concerning the word “instruction”—if in the genitive case, it belongs on the list of six items (first reading); if in the accusative, “instruction” is simply a repetition of “foundation” (second reading). Commentators are divided, and there would be no reason to pause over the difference except for interest in the elements constituting catechetical instruction of believers in the time and place of Hebrews. There seems to be here a formula or portion of a formula for the catechizing of new members. The choice of reading in these comments is the second. This is to say, the foundation laid in the lives of the readers is characterized broadly as consisting of “repentance from dead


HEBREWS 5:11—6:3 COMMENTARY works and faith toward God.” This expression summarizes the entire movement from the former life to the present life. The “dead works” from which the readers have turned need not evoke Paul’s treatments of works versus grace. The writer uses the phrase here and at 9:14 as a general characterization of the activities and rituals of the reader’s former life, whether in Judaism or some Hellenistic religion. If anyone expected “faith toward Christ” rather than “faith toward God,” that expectation can be corrected by the letter to Hebrews itself. God is the source of revelation and of salvation; God is the one who sends Jesus (1:1-5:10). For Christianity to distance itself so far from Judaism that this primary tenet of faith, commonly held, is overlooked, is to allow the effort to be unique to cripple both tradition and faith. The four items of instruction listed as constituents of the foundational instruction may be only a selection from a longer list that provided a catechetical curriculum. If so, these four may be mentioned because they were either unusually significant or problematic for this particular congregation. In any case, the writer has only to mention them without comment, both because they were already familiar to the readers and because to tarry with explanations would contradict the exhortation to leave these matters behind and move on. The modern reader is, of course, curious to know more. As for “baptisms,” the word Battioudv (baptismon) is better rendered “washings”; another form of the word is used regularly in the NT to speak of Christian baptism. Just as Paul had to distinguish between the eucharistic meal and pagan ritual meals (1 Corinthians 10-11), so also perhaps new Christians

needed to understand differences between ritual washings of other groups (Traditional Judaism? Qumran? The movement following John the Baptist? Pagan ablutions?) and the baptism of the church. The same is true of the “laying on of hands,” associated with commissioning, healing, ordination, confirmation, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The twin teachings of resurrection and judgment were certainly basic to the community’s faith, being firmly fixed in Pharisaic Judaism, the teaching of Jesus, and apostolic preaching in the church after Jesus. Some students of Hebrews have noted that the items in the curriculum cited here could as easily have been used in a synagogue of the time. Quite true. But the search for differences between synagogue and church should not be pursued too diligently; to find a practice

or beliefin one is not automatically to remove it from the other. Similarities provided both the ground and the necessity of instruction in order that new believers understand the “of Christ” dimension of basic Christian teaching, especially if that teaching grew out of Judaism. This first of three sub-units within 5:11-6:20 concludes with a common (Acts 18:21; 1 Cor 4:19; 16:7; Jas 4:15), but not empty expression of the need for God’s blessing: “if God permits.” What the author says “we will do” refers to the earlier expression using the first-person plural: “Let us go on.” What “we will do” is to move on toward maturity (perfection), engaging in the rigorous exercise of discussing the person and the work of Jesus as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Thus the author positions the reader on the edge of what will prove both demanding and rewarding.

REFLECTIONS 1. Some may raise questions about the appropriateness or the effectiveness of the writer’s rhetorical strategy: stern charges and warnings followed by words of encouragement and hope. And, of course, we have no way of knowing how this sermon was received or to what effect. We can appreciate, however, the concentration of knowledge and skill in response to one clear and undeniable fact: Hearing is difficult, not only for this audience but also for any audience. The Scriptures honor hearing: “Hear, O Israel; The Lorp is our God, the Lorp alone. You shall love the Lorp your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut 6:4-5 NRSV). Or again, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17 NRSV). The verb “to hear” (axovw akouo) provides

HEBREWS 5:11—6:3 REFLECTIONS the root for the verb “to obey” (imaxovw hypakouo). But the Scriptures also understand the difficulty of hearing: “Morning by morning God wakens—/ wakens my ear/ to listen as those who are taught./ The Lord Gop has opened [lit., “dug out”) my ear” (Isa 50:4-5 NRSV). We know some reasons for this difficulty, hardly overcome except by an act of God: distractions, pre-occupations, physical problems, no confidence in the speaker, old memories awakened, and refusal to listen to that which may alter one’s life. But the Hebrews preacher knows another: a dullness or sluggishness brought on by lack of exercise in communication. The readers have apparently pulled back from bold witness to outsiders and from exhorting and encouraging one another. The loss of a congregational conversation means a loss of hearing. Through lack of use faculties grow dull and the members regress to a former condition of immaturity. Persons who do not contribute to a group’s discussion often say, “But | am listening.” Perhaps so, but not as well. 2. One is impressed by the fact that the preacher of Hebrews shares with the readers difficult and demanding material. The message, deep and complex as it is, belongs to the whole church, and they are trusted with it. From the beginning of their faith pilgrimage this has been so, as evidenced by the foundational instruction previously received. Had the writer chosen to do so, dozens of reasons could have been found in the condition of the readers to justify withholding from them all but the simplest and most easily digested elements of the faith, saying privately, “The weightier matters are to be reserved for discussions among the clergy.” The writer understood, however, that to have done so would have further contributed to the weakened and sluggish condition of the readers. Many pastors have yet to appreciate the levels of maturity that laity can attain when the resources for growth are shared patiently and pastorally, and when the withholding of matters theological, christological, and ethical, no matter how complex or controversial, is recognized for what it is: a means of control. 3. According to 5:14, a mark of Christian maturity is the capacity “to distinguish good from evil.” As much as most of us enjoy an informed theological conversation, maturity for the writer of Hebrews is something much more practical: a discerning spirit able to make its way among the paths that seem right, paths often made more attractive by the apparent support of selected biblical texts, without becoming lost. Being able to distinguish between good and evil implies at least three things. First, the Christian faith, like its parent Judaism, is morally and ethically serious. All relationships and patterns of behavior in daily situations are the subject matter of discipleship and are to be informed by one’s theology. Second, distinctions between good and evil are not always easily made. It is one thing to urge that we do God’s will; it is quite another to discern what that is. To think that between vice and virtue is a line clear and unmistakable is to embrace an illusion. And finally, as the writer says, this capacity to discern comes only by practice and exercise. As everyone knows, practice and exercise often involve falling, being hurt, trying again. The room where this takes place with support and encouragement is the church, where beginners and long-time practitioners are given both resources and opportunity to “move on toward maturity.”



“It is impossible for those who have once been _— “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, those who have once been enlightened, and have who have shared in the Holy Spirit, >who have _ tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the


HEBREWS 6:4-12



tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, ‘if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because? to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to’ those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. *But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. *Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case— things that accompany salvation. '°God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. ''We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. !*We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Holy Spirit, °and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, Cand then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. ’Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. *But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be

a6 Or repentance while

4Gk for his name

burned over. 9Even though we speak in this way, beloved, we are confident of better things in your case, things that belong to salvation. '!°For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake? in serving the saints, as you still do. ''And we want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end, !2so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

(COMMENTARY effect, “We will move on to maturity because the alternative condition is that of falling away, without the possibility of renewal.” At v. 9, the adversative conjunction “but” (5¢ de, trans. “even though”) says, in effect, “But having been persuaded otherwise in your case.” In other words, the harsh warning of vv. 4-8 is not being spoken to persons to whom it presently applies. It looms on their horizon, to be sure, but were it descriptive of their current condition, the message would be wasted on persons unable any longer to hear it. A third and final preliminary comment is a reminder to ourselves to resist letting 6:4-8 become a magnet drawing into its interpretive orbit all the NT passages with dire words about certain sins among believers or about post-baptismal sins in general. In other words, the expression “it is impossible to restore again to repentance,” both in its internal meaning and its application to “those who,” must be understood in its context

Several preliminary comments need to be made before investigating the details of this most sobering passage. First, it is important to notice that 6:4-12 fits a rhetorical pattern now familiar in Hebrews: a stern warning (vv. 4-8), followed by words of encouragement and hope (vv. 9-12; cf. 2:1-9; 4:1-16). In fact, since the strong words of 6:4-8 follow immediately the encouragement portion of the preceding unit (6:1-3), the net effect is that the sober warning of 6:4-8 is surrounded by positive and affirming words. This observation is not intended to soften the blow of vv. 4-8; on the contrary, the context of pastoral encouragement makes these verses seem even more stark by contrast. This observation leads to a second comment. The writer clearly wants the reader to hear the words about the impossibility of restoring certain persons to a second repentance as part of the larger message of pastoral encouragement. At v. 4, the conjunction “for” or “because” says, in


HEBREWS 6:4-12 COMMENTARY in Hebrews and not as one among many rigorous statements concerning sin within the Christian community. It is easy to see why some commentators°> subsume 6:4-6 under the general topic of post-baptismal sin; in one way or another, most NT as well as extra-canonical Christian writings had to deal with the reality of continuing sin in the church. In spite of the ideal that those born of God do not sin (1 John 5:18) or, in Paul’s image, are dead to sin (Rom 6:1-11), the fact is that not only did sin in many forms among the believers need to be addressed but also instructions needed to be given for punishment (1 Cor 5:1-8), or resolution (Matt 18:15-20), or restoration (Gal 6:1-2; Jas 5:19-20). At least one writer dealt with the problem by classifying sins according to seriousness, placing the sin that is mortal (“unto death”) beyond the reach of any restoration (1 John 5:16-17). The Gospel writers report from the lips of Jesus one sin more serious than all others: “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29 NRSV; see also Matt 12:32; Luke 12:10)—a statement so dramatically final that the church has long sought to identify that sin lest some member be guilty of iy This brief rehearsal is enough to show that matching texts that are similar in rigor can lead one away from the issue of substance: What is the condition of those who are, in the mind of the writer of Hebrews, beyond the possibility of restoring again to repentance? What is meant by “falling away” (v. 6)? One senses, in advance of further examination of the text, that moral irregularities such as fornication, anger, or sloth, no matter how gravely regarded, do not at all identify the issue of Heb 6:4-8. The unit falls naturally into three parts: vv. 4-6, the warning; vv. 7-8, the analogy from agriculture; vv. 9-12, the words of encouragement. 6:4-6. The warning itself is framed to achieve maximum rhetorical force. The first word is “impossible” (asvvatos adynatos), which is completed with the infinitive “to renew” (dvakatviCw

anakainizo},which does not appear until v. 6. The descriptions of “those who” in wv. 4-5 come between these two anchoring words. The NRSV obscures this dramatic word order, while the NIV preserves it. There is no finite verb in vv. 4-6; “it is” is supplied by translators to make a complete sentence of the stark, verbless warning. The emphatic “impossible” governs the three verses, but the writer does not specify with whom the impossibility lies: God cannot? The preacher cannot? The listener cannot? One hesitates to say that God cannot, since with God all things are possible. Likewise, it seems inappropriate to lay such a critical burden on the skills or lack of skills of the preacher. As for the listener, here as elsewhere in Scripture psychological probing is an uncertain business and should be kept to a minimum. One can cite case after case in support of the proverb, “The heated iron, once cooled, is difficult to heat again,” but the text is not about what is “difficult.”°”? Nor is it about how anyone feels concerning the gospel. The impossibility lies in the writer’s understanding of the once-for-all act of God in Jesus Christ. The author repeatedly finds the expression “impossible” useful in clearing away from the christology of the letter any modifiers, any alternatives, any exceptions. Note: “through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false” (6:18 NRSV); “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (10:4 NRSV); “gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper” (9:9 NRSV); “the law ...can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach” (10:1 NRSV); “offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins” (10:11 NRSV); “without faith it is impossible to please God” (11:6 NRSV). For Hebrews, impossibilities are implied in the writer’s affirmation: “And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10 NRSV, italics added). At 6:4-6 the impossibility is in restoring (renewing) again to repentance—that is, one does not lay again the foundation that begins with repentance (6:1), an act that would contradict the once-for-all christology.

55. E.g., H. W. Montefiore, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, HNTC (New York: Harper, 1964) 107-9. 56. Variously identified as adultery, or any one of the seven deadly sins, or cowardly hiding from persecutors of Christians. A very early interpretation of this sin was testing or questioning a Christian prophet who “speaks in a spirit” (Did. XI. 7.).

57. A translation, softening the text and preferred by Erasmus and a few others, lacks mss support.


HEBREWS 6:4-12 COMMENTARY The persons addressed by the warning are simply identified as “those who” (v. 4). However, they are described in a series of participles that depict with an extraordinary flourish the experience of entering and participating in the life of the Christian community. 6:4a, “Having once been enlightened.” The adverb “once” (ata€ hapax) commonly refers to that which occurs only once, that which is thus unique, “once and for all.” It occurs in Hebrews in references to the salvific act of Christ (7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:12, 14), and quite likely the writer hopes the connection between their experience and the saving act of Christ will not be lost on the readers. Being “enlightened,” moving out of darkness into light, was a widely used metaphor for the trustful reception of the message about Christ (John 1:9; 2 Cor 4:4-6; Eph 1:18; 2 Tim 1:10; 1 Pet 2:9). The author uses the expression again at 10:32 in recalling the readers’ firm stand in their confession. Whether the enlightenment was related to the rite of baptism is not certain at the time and place of Hebrews.*® 6:4b, “Having tasted the heavenly gift.” The vivid metaphor “to taste” has already been used by the author (Christ tasted death for everyone, 2:9), and it will be repeated in v. 5. It refers to direct personal experience (Ps 34:8; 1 Pet 2:3). The heavenly gift is most likely a reference to God’s grace. That which is “heavenly” is for Hebrews that which is ultimate, true, and from God Sets" 8:5%:.9:2355 112165.412:22); ‘Those who argue that “having tasted the heavenly gift” refers to the eucharist usually do so on two grounds: (1) the verb “taste” and (2) the experiential sequence of baptism (enlightened) and then sharing at the table (tasting the heavenly gift). The persuasiveness of the case depends very much on drawing from sources (e.g., the bread from heaven of John 6) with which we have no knowledge that the writer of Hebrews was familiar.°° 6:4c, “Having become sharers of the Holy Spirit.” The language of partnership has already been used in relation to the heavenly calling (3:1) and to Christ himself (3:14). Like-

wise, God’s distribution of the Holy Spirit in the community was assumed by the author as both the understanding and the experience of the readers (2:4). Hebrews thus confirms what is clear from other NT writers, that the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit are the hallmark of the early church and clearly identify the audience as Christians. 6:5, “Having tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.” The first four chapters have repeatedly asserted not only the power and certainty of God’s speech but also its goodness; that is, God is for us and our salvation. No provision necessary for the believers to enter God’s rest is lacking. In confirmation of this promise, the qualities of that age to come break in upon the present as “signs and wonders and various miracles” (2:4 NRSV), providing what Paul would call an earnest or foretaste of what is yet to be (2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:14). In this and the three preceding participles, the writer withholds nothing in reminding the addressees of the abundance of God’s investment in them. Upon them God has poured out more than they could ever have asked for or imagined. 6:6. It is against this flourish of God’s favor, which has been in the community’s experience both pleasure and power, that the fifth participle tosses an almost incomprehensible response: “and then have fallen away.” The author has here chosen a verb (Tapatittw parapipto) that appears nowhere else in the NT. In the Septuagint the word occurs, being variously translated: “acting faithlessly” (Ezek 14:13 NRSV; “breaking faith,” REB); “dealing treacherously” (Ezek 20:27 NRSV). Although the root of the verb means “to fall,” the usage here by no means is to be taken as “carelessly slipping”; the sense is that of rejection, violation of a relationship, breach of faith, abandonment. At 3:12 a similar word was used (attootfvat apostenai, “to turn away,” “abandon”) to express a turning away from God. Neither at 3:12 nor at 6:6 is the issue simply doctrinal, as though someone were rejecting a tenet of the creed. The act of falling away is not so much against a dogma as against a person, at 3:12 against God, at 6:6 against the Son of God. The remainder of v. 6, crucifying again the Son of God and holding him up to ridicule, makes this abundantly clear. Apostasy, yes, but not as a

58. E. Kasemann, The Wandering People of God, trans. R. Harresville and I. Sandberg (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984) 187-88, thinks the adverb “once” implies that the writer has in mind the specific act of baptism. 59. Fora full presentation of the case for and against the eucharist, see R. Williamson, “The Eucharist and the Epistle to the Hebrews,® N7S 21 (Jan. 1975) 300-312.


HEBREWS 6:4-12 COMMENTARY and the images of the gods in the same way as the others, and reviled the name of Christ.” Pliny’s description of those who turn away from Christ, embrace the imperial gods, acknowledge the emperor as lord, and revile the name of Christ is not unlike that of v. 6: “They are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.” This is to say, the apostates take it upon themselves to join in the shameful rejection of Christ expressed in the crucifixion and voluntarily join in heaping upon him the ridicule and verbal abuse frequently heard at public executions. The contrast with the life they had experienced within the community of grace could not be more stark. The church has heard this harsh and painful warning, and yet has never ceased to struggle with it in the light of its central proclamation of the unceasing and unrelenting grace of God. 6:7-8. This second of the three sub-units of 6:4-12 continues the discussion as evidenced by the conjunction “for,” the same word beginning v. 4. These verses consist entirely of an illustration from agriculture, a common source for both Jewish and Christian preaching (Isa 5:1-7; Ezek 19:10-14; Matt 3:10; 7:16; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 13:6-9). Like any good illustration, the analogy does not draw attention to itself with distracting internal complexities, but in its simplicity serves to drive home with unfailing clarity the point being made. It does carry echoes of OT texts doubtless familiar to the readers: thorns and thistles of Gen 3:17-18, blessing and curse of Deut 11:26-28, and perhaps the fruitless vineyard of Isa 5:1-7. These echoes serve to support the message: Ground cultivated and receiving rain that produces a crop is blessed by God; ground cultivated and receiving rain that produces thorns and thistles is under a curse and destined for burning. The burning is not for the purpose of restoring and renewing the soil but is clearly the deserved “end,” the final punishment (10:27). The illustration looks back to vv. 4-6: the fruitful ground recalling vv. 4-5, the fruitless ground recalling v. 6. But the illustration also looks ahead. The “blessing” anticipates the discussion about Abraham in vv. 13-20, and the “fire” prophesies the severity of the final judgment for apostates (10:27). The

charge of one side of a debate against the other; rather, it is the sin of abandoning God, Christ, and the fellowship of believers (cf. 10:25). This act is far too grave and all-encompassing to be handled adequately by Tertullian’s use of this text to declare that there is no second repentance for the adulterer and fornicator.© Tertullian is writing in response to Hermas, a Christian of the midsecond century, whose apocalyptic work, 7he Shepherd of Hermas, was very influential. In The Shepherd, Hermas agrees with the teaching that there is no second repentance after baptism. However, he claims that through a revelation God had granted him the ministry of announcing one repentance after baptism. This offer, he said, was not for all time and thus to be calculated by believers, but was a dispensation for his own time. Hermas makes these statements in the context of discussing marriage, remarriage, and adultery.°! It is clear, therefore, that while Hermas is generally regarded as the earliest interpreter of Heb 6:4-6, he has moved the issue from falling away or abandoning Christ to that of committing particular sins after baptism. The difference is major. As stated above in comments on v. 4, the “those who” of this warning are not the readers, except in a potential sense. Is the entirety of 6:4-6 merely theoretical, a grim prospect sketched out to frighten the believers into more acceptable behavior? We cannot know, of course, if the writer was thinking of particular persons somewhere when this warning was framed, but it would be a mistake to call it theoretical in the sense of being less serious or less real. The sin portrayed so vividly here was not only a possibility but a documented actuality as well. The Emperor Trajan sent Pliny to the provinces of Bithynia and Pontus to investigate suspected irregularities in the handling of government funds and to bring to justice persons and groups guilty of treason or sedition. In the years 111-113 ck, letters between the two were exchanged. The subject in some of this correspondence was the Christians, a group heretofore unknown to Pliny. In his investigations, Pliny interrogated some who “said that they had ceased to be Christians two or more years previously, and some of them even twenty years ago. They all did reverence to your [Trajan’s] statue 60. Tertullian On Modesty 20. 61. The Shepherd of Hermas Mandate IV.1-4.

62. Pliny The Letters of Pliny, LCL ed., Bk X, 96.


HEBREWS 6:4-12 COMMENTARY illustration functions well; the reader is not allowed to forget the rigorous warning about the impossibility of a second repentance.

but also the fact that they continue to do so. The word for “serve” here (Staxovéw diakonedo) appears nowhere else in Hebrews but was used widely in the early church to refer to a wide range of ministries (Matt 20:28; Rom 15:25; Acts 6:1-3; 2 Cor 9:1; 1 Pet 1:12). Here the writer probably

6:9-12. This third and final sub-unit returns the reader to a positive mode with a message that is emphatic in its confidence and hope. The adversative conjunction “but” signals a radical turn in thought. The readers are addressed affectionately as “beloved” (v. 9), the only time they are so greeted in the sermon. The preacher softens the voice with “Even though we speak in this way” (v. 9; that is, referring to the rigor of the preceding warning; in the Greek text this clause closes rather than opens v. 9, sustaining the positive mode through the entire sentence). However, the strongest signal that salvation and not damnation lies before the congregation is in the opening word: “We are confident [certain/sure/persuaded].” This rhetorical flourish is familiar to readers of Paul, who, after demanding instruction and exhortation, sounded a note of confidence in the readers (e.g., Rom 15:14; Gal 5:10). Repeatedly the writer uses the editorial “we” (we speak; we are confident; we want), enlarging the company of concern beyond the private but without losing the personal relationship. The “those who” of the warning (v. 4) has given way to the pronoun of direct address, “you,” used in every statement of vv. 9-12. That the author is confident of “better things” (a favorite expression of this writer; 1:4; 7:7, 19, 22; 8:6; 9:23; 10:34; 11:16, 35, 40) of the reader—that is, that they will produce a fruitful crop (v. 7)—is in no way to be taken as an apology for the harsh warning. The warning was appropriate; there were clear signs that some were slipping away (“drift”; “neglect”; “inattention”;


of understanding”;

has in mind the behavior of the believers spelled out in 10:32-34: endurance of suffering, bearing public ridicule and verbal abuse, being empathetic partners with those subjected to such persecution, showing compassion on imprisoned brothers and sisters, and cheerfully accepting the destruction and confiscation of property.

This record and the faithfulness of a God who does not forget prompts the preacher, not to further warning, but to gentle urging. Here (vv. 11-12) the words are even more personal (“each of you”; see also 3:12-13; 4:1, 11). Every member of the community is to be diligent, persistent, and to realize the fullness of hope to the end. Here the words not only recall 3:14 and anticipate 9:28 but also join in the New Testament’s admonition to all who cling to faith under great duress (Mark 13:13; Rev 2:10). Such faithfulness enables them to throw off the sluggishness (dullness) that had overtaken them (5:11). This, says the preacher, is what “we want” (v. 11). The word em8upodpev (epithymoumen, “want”) is a strong one, indicating passion or desire. When the object of such feeling is less noble, the word is translated “covet” or “lust.” The intensity of emotion was not only persuasive but no doubt also appreciated by those hearing it as deep pastoral affection. The expression “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (v. 12) reminds the readers of the discussion of entrance into the rest of God, a promise that remains open (4:1, 8). More immediately, however, the writer is preparing for the exposition of God’s promise to Abraham, a promise obtained through faith and patience (vv. 13-20). Although Abraham is the example to be imitated in the upcoming discussion, the theme of imitating those who persevere in faith will be repeated (13:7) and enlarged (11:4-38). In chap. 11, the writer will be careful to point out that the faithful of the past did not, in fact, receive “what was promised, since God had provided something better” (11:39 NRSV), a something that had its fulfillment in the Son. But that is an argument for a later time; it is sufficient


2:1-3; 5:11-12). Nor is the writer simply trying to put a happy face on a sad situation. The preacher knows the congregation and has firm ground for projecting a hopeful future. According to v. 10, two factors have persuaded the preacher of better things from the congregation. One is the justice or faithfulness of God. That God has been at work among them has been amply stated (2:4; 6:4-5). The second factor is that God’s investment in them has borne fruit in their love and service in God’s name toward the saints (fellow believers). It is not only their past record of serving that gives confidence to the preacher


HEBREWS 6:4-12 COMMENTARY at the moment to see the faithfulness of God toward those who live in patient trust. Scripture

yields no clearer model than that of the covenant between God and Abraham.

REFLECTIONS 1. The preacher or teacher in today’s church should not be surprised to find that a discussion of the impossibility of restoring to repentance those who have fallen away does not carry for many parishioners the force of a stern warning. More likely it will sound antiquated or fanatical or foreign. The reasons are several. (1) Repentance has not been understood or experienced as a condition for entering or remaining in the Christian community. (2) The grace of God is commonly viewed as being without ethical or moral expectation but is rather like a giant grading curve on which everyone passes automatically. (3) Both apostasy and heresy are inconceivable to persons who reduce the response to all that God has done and is doing to simply “joining a church.” Under such a circumstance, apostasy is no more than becoming inactive or irregular in attendance. It is only when coming to faith in Christ is experienced as receiving all the gifts of God listed in vv. 4-5 that “falling away” can be seen in all its ugliness and danger. Anyone who takes lightly entrance into the community of faith will not likely be deterred from easy departure by pulpit threats based on 6:4-8. 2. In the history of Christian preaching the sober warning of 6:4-8 has been employed as a weapon against any sin in the church membership regarded as most offensive. Although Hermas was more yielding than Tertullian, both used this text to address fornication, adultery, and remarriage. Single-issue pulpits seem most susceptible to this error, but all of us need to be warned against irresponsible employment of this text in times of anger or disappointment or frustration with the congregation. The message marked “Ultimatum” should be reserved for the appropriate occasion, which most likely will never arise. In the meantime, the difference between the “those who” of the warning (vv. 4-8) and the “you” of encouragement (vv. 9-12) deserves reflection, holding promise for both preaching and pastoral care. 3. When the writer of Hebrews encourages the readers (6:9-12), there is no departure from or lessening of theological seriousness. The preacher does not resort to non-substantive tactics, painting smiling faces on everything and otherwise trying to manufacture good cheer. There is a prejudice in our culture to the effect that everything negative or critical or stern in its expression is somehow deep or profound or substantive, whereas the positive or affirming or encouraging is regarded as shallow and lacking in thought. Preachers are often seduced by this unjustified perception and hence do not support words of hope and encouragement with the same degree of theological reflection as used to undergird other pulpit discourse. In this regard, 6:9-12 is instructive. Here the encouragement of the church is firmly grounded theologically in the justice or fairness or faithfulness of God. God is aware, says the writer, of our excellent record of love and service, a record that we continue to maintain. Not only is God aware, but also God is just and dependable. Hence the congregation can expect continued favor and the support necessary for their diligence to the very end. God is true to God’s own self; therefore, they will not be abandoned on their way to inherit the promises. As Paul expressed it, human faithlessness does not nullify the faithfulness of God (Rom 3:3-4). The relationships of love and service within the congregation are grounds for encouragement, it is true, and the models of faith and patience among those who have gone before likewise spur the members on in spite of severe difficulties. But the solid and unshakable foundation for all their hope is the character of God. So important is this consideration that the writer will develop it further in vv. 13:20,


HEBREWS 6:13-20



‘When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, ‘saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”# And

13When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham,? so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what _ having patiently endured, obtained the promise. Was promised. _ ‘Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as 6Men swear by someone greater than themconfirmation puts an end to all dispute. '7In the selves, and the oath confirms what is said and same way, when God desired to show even more puts an end to all argument. '7Because God clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangewanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was able character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by promised, he confirmed it with an oath. '8God did an oath, '’so that through two unchangeable this so that, by two unchangeable things in which things, in which it is impossible that God would it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled prove false, we who have taken refuge might be to take hold of the hope offered to us may be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before greatly encouraged. ‘We have this hope as an us. 'We have this hope, a sure and steadfast

anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 2°where Jesus, — _ shrine behind the curtain, 2°where Jesus, a fore-

who went before us, has entered on our behalf.

He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

runner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

214 Gen. 22:17

2Gk he

(COMMENTARY In this third and final unit of the section 5:116:20, the writer turns again from exhortation to exposition. It is clear, however, that the exposition is in the service of the word of encouragement offered in the preceding unit (vv. 9-12). In fact, this unit elaborates on words already introduced: “blessing” (v. 7), “promises” (v. 12), “faith and patience” (v. 12), and, further could be understood as a development of the affirmation in v. 10, “God is not unjust.” There are three discernible parts to this unit: vv. 13-15, which deal with God and Abraham; v. 16, which enlarges on God’s sworn promise to Abraham to a principle common to human relations; and vv. 17-20, which apply the sworn promise to us as the ground of our encouragement and hope. Verse 20 closes with a repeat of the ending of 5:10, “a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek,” thus returning the reader to the subject

temporarily delayed while the author addressed the question of the readers’ capacity to understand so difficult a discussion. 6:13-15. These verses develop two themes: Abraham as a prototype of those who trust in God’s promises and God’s promise, guaranteed by an oath. The first theme is familiar not only from the treatments of Abraham in biblical and Jewish literature but also from his frequent appearance in this role in the NT (Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; Heb 11:8-19; Jas 2:21-23, which puts a different accent on the story). The brevity of the treatment of Abraham’s faith, patience, and endurance at this point is probably due in part to the assumption of the reader’s familiarity with the story (cf. 12:17, “afterwards, as you know”), in part to the fact that Abraham will reappear in chap. 11 as the model faith pilgrim, and in part to the adequacy of such a brief statement to make specific


HEBREWS 6:13-20 COMMENTARY confirmation in the oath as well. That the preacher is trying seriously to persuade the congregation is reflected in the use of the forensic language of the courtroom: “swear,” “oath,” “to end debate,” “surely [with certainty],” “provide a guarantee,” “give proof,” “impossible to falsify,” “unchangeable [irrevocable],” “secure an oath”

the general exhortation to imitate “those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (v. 12). The other theme, God’s promise guaranteed by an oath, receives extended treatment, not simply because it is less familiar but rather because it is God’s promise and not our faith or endurance that is the ground of all encouragement and hope (see also 7:20-22, 28). God’s promise to Abraham was twofold: the multiplying of his offspring (Gen 12:2; 15:5; 22:17) and the possession of the land (Gen 12:7; 13:14-17). Abraham’s relation to the land, which he sought in faith, will receive attention in 11:816; here the writer is concerned only with the promise of many descendants. The apparent quotation in v. 14, “I will surely bless you and multiply you,” is not really a quotation but rather a sharpened summary of Gen 22:17: “I will indeed bless you, and | will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” (NRSV). What gives this promise unusual significance is that it follows the most severe trial of Abraham’s faith, the offering of his son Isaac (Gen 22:1-14). God had promised earlier, but now, in view of Abraham’s trust beyond comprehension, a trust that was willing to give up the only conceivable means for gaining that promise of descendants, God undergirds the promise with an oath:

(vv. 13-18). Critical situations call for strong language, and both Abraham and the recipients of Hebrews were in critical situations. That God would make a promise and then confirm it by an oath, swearing by God’s own name and nature, having no one and nothing greater by which to secure the oath, is strong language. Some Jewish commentators on Gen 22:17 discussed the appropriateness of speaking of God’s swearing. Philo, a Jewish philosopher, historian, and biblical interpreter in Alexandria early in the first Christian century, reported that some were offended by the idea, but in his own opinion: There is nothing amiss in God’s bearing witness to himself. For who else would be capable of bearing witness to him? .. . God alone therefore is the strongest security first for himself, and in the next place for his deeds also, so that he naturally swore by himself when giving assurance regarding himself, a thing impossible for anyone else.

The language may have had its origin in oath ceremonies that Israel adopted and adapted from neighboring religions. In systems of polytheism, the lesser beings swore by the greater, but in monotheism, there are no lesser and greater gods. Therefore, God’s own name is the guarantee of a promise God would swear to keep.% 6:16. As indicated above, this verse moves away from the God-Abraham encounter per se and enlarges on the function of oaths in society familiar to the readers, whether that society be Jewish or Hellenistic or a mixture of the two. As in our own culture, an oath raises ordinary human speech to another level of responsibility, for once the oath is given (“I do solemnly swear”), the one swearing comes under the laws of perjury. The oath is thus taken as confirmation of the truth of statements made; therefore, debate about those

“By myself I have sworn, says the LorD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” (Gen 22:16-17 NRSV)

The author of Hebrews may be anticipating another oath of God concerning Melchizedek (7:21, quoting Ps 110:4), but in this context the reference to God’s oath has one clear purpose: to undergird further the reader’s confidence in the dependability of God. Much is at stake for both the writer and the church addressed. If the drifting neglect, the sluggish inattention of the church members, has a portion of its cause in the hardships the people are enduring, then they need to look to Abraham, whose faith endured the offering of an only son. If their behavior has a portion of its cause in a faltering trust in God’s dependability, then they need to remember not only the promise but its

63. Philo Allegorical Interpretations I11.205-6. 64. Hugh White, “The Divine Oath in Genesis,” JBL 92 (1973) 165-79, esp. 172-79.


HEBREWS 6:13-20 COMMENTARY statements ends. If, however, it is established that a person lied under oath, debate resumes and the

the writer intended to evoke by portraying the Christians as those who have fled, those who are refugees. The flight from Egypt comes to mind (the exodus theme was developed earlier in chaps. 3-4). Then again, in ancient times persons fleeing for their lives could run to the place of worship and lay hold of the altar, where they would be safe from pursuers (cf. 1 Kgs 1:50-51; 2:28-30). The writer may be recalling the LXX, where the Greek word used here for “those who flee” (katabuyovtes kataphygontes) is used to describe persons fleeing from avengers to designated cities of refuge for asylum (Deut 4:42; 19:5; Josh 20:9). The NRSV seems to favor this last possibility with the translation “we who have taken refuge:” Since the author does not develop the image, perhaps it is best to leave open the possibility of association with exodus and pilgrimage language, so important and richly suggestive in Hebrews. In any case, we who flee are not scattered aimlessly by fear; rather, we move deliberately toward the hope lying before us. Here “hope” is not a subjective quality describing us but is an objective reality, synonymous with “promise,” what we have been and will be given through the redemptive act of Christ. Then hope is present as assurance (6:11), but it is also eschatological. The participle “set before us” permits both present and future reference. Verses 19-20 not only continue the description of “hope” but also turn the reader’s attention to the work of Jesus as high priest, the major subject next to be developed. In v. 18, “hope” was the goal set before fleeing refugees; in v. 19, “hope” is an anchor of the soul. This nautical metaphor for stability was rather common in Greek literature,°° but is absent elsewhere in biblical writings. Its meaning is clear, however, especially with the modifiers “firm” and “secure.” The word “secure” or “steadfast” (BéBatos bebaios), sometimes translated “valid” or “in effect,” is a favorite of this writer (2:2; 3:6, 14; 9:17) and a most important one for persons who are refugees or pilgrims in the world. The writer now moves from the nautical metaphor to what is almost a personified image of “hope”: It “enters the inner shrine behind the curtain.” The subject is hope, but one

one so sworn is punished. In this formal sense, oaths functioned similarly then and now. 6:17-20. Drawing on this analogy from human discourse, the author now explains the meaning of God’s oath for “the heirs of the promise.” God’s words do not, of course, require confirmation, but God wanted to “show even more clearly” (demonstrate more abundantly) the unchanging nature of God’s purpose. Hence the oath, to confirm even more assuredly to the ones addressed the trustworthiness of God. The writer of Hebrews knows, and the readers must not forget, that this certain truth about God underlies not only the entire message of the sermon but also their lives, individually and as a community of faith. It is to underscore this truth that God does what was really not necessary but was an accommodation to human need; that is, God guarantees a promise. The word translated “guaranteed” (eotTetw mesiteuo, “confirmed,” NIV) is literally “interposed” or “mediated,” but in the legal language of the passage refers to the act of an intermediary in offering security or a guarantee. It is difficult not to hear in the word the description of Christ as mediator in passages yet to come (8:6; 9:15; 12:24). As for the identity of “the heirs of the promise,” the writer is at this point non-specific. At v. 12, those who “inherit the promises” refers obviously to patriarchs and matriarchs whose faith was worthy of emulating. At 2:16, “the descendants of Abraham” clearly are those who are to inherit salvation, and no doubt the readers will embrace the expression as including themselves as being by faith the children of Abraham and heirs of God’s promise. The promise and the oath, both unchangeable, immutable, irrevocable, are the pillars underneath the strong encouragement provided the believers (v. 18). That God could lie is “impossible” (see Commentary on 6:4 for the author’s fondness for this word). In this context, “encouraged” is the translation preferred over “exhorted,” even though both are possible (12:5; 13:22). However, even when taken as “exhort,” tapakaéw (parakaleo )never loses its intrinsic sense of comfort and support. Those who are thus encouraged are identified as “we who have fled” (NIV; “taken refuge,” NRSV). We cannot know for sure what particular image

65. For examples, see W. L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, WBC 47A (Dallas: Word, 1991) 153.


HEBREWS 6:13-20 COMMENTARY can see how easily the writer can move in v. 20 to Jesus, for only the high priest entered the holy of holies, the inner sanctuary, and then only on the Day of Atonement. About this much will soon be said, but for the present the writer’s presentation of hope needs to be heard. Hope is the goal lying before the refugees; hope is the firm and steady anchor of the soul; hope is in the very presence of God, in whom is our assurance and toward whom we move. By introducing the imagery of the tabernacle and the scene of the mediating work of the high priest, the author returns to the subject briefly delayed at 5:10: Jesus as our high priest. At this point three affirmations about Jesus in this role are made: (1) He has entered the inner sanctuary behind the curtain; (2) he is a forerunner; and (3) he has entered “on our behalf” (v. 20). The curtain or veil mentioned here refers to the partition between the holy place and the most holy place in the desert tabernacle (Lev 16:2, 12, 15; Exod 26:3135). It was this corresponding curtain in the Temple that was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died (Matt 27:51; Mark 15:38). That Jesus went inside this curtain specifically recalls the entry into the inner shrine by the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:2). The work of Jesus presented in terms of this cultic activity will be developed later in Hebrews (9:3, 8, 11; 10:19-20). It is enough at this point that the imagery be evoked and that it begin its own impact on the readers in preparation for that discussion. Very likely the recipients were already familiar with symbolic interpretations of the structure, the furniture, and the activity of the tabernacle and its successor, the Temple. For example, in some intertestamental Jewish literature, the curtain represented the division between the lower heavens, where angels dwelled, and the highest heaven, the dwelling place of God. The saints of old who experienced ascensions encountered this division of the heavens.® Some forms of Gnosticism that 66. Testament of Levi3:2-4; 1 Enoch 14:10-20.

may have influenced early Christianity (still an open debate) understood the curtain to represent the barrier between earth and heaven, between the material and the spirit worlds. According to such a reading of Hebrews, Christ, by his descent, penetrated this barrier and by his ascent penetrated it once more, opening the way for his followers to leave the material world and enter the sanctuary of God’s presence. Kaésemann has been a strong advocate of locating Hebrews in — such a gnostic milieu, but with few in agreement.” At 8:1-6, the heavenly counterpart to an earthly sanctuary will receive more extensive treatment.

The second affirmation in v. 20 about Jesus as high priest is that Jesus entered behind the veil into God’s presence as a “forerunner” (1 pdSpoos prodromos). This is the only use of the word in the NT, although it occurs in the LXX and in Greek literature in various contexts: the runner out in front in an athletic event; a herald announcing the approach of an important person or group; a scout in advance of an army; or even the early fruit that promised the arrival of the harvest. In the culture of the tabernacle or Temple, the high priest was not a forerunner. No others, not even priests, followed him into the holy of holies; he went alone. By contrast, Christ, even though his salvific work of offering himself was peculiar to him alone, was a forerunner; that is, he prepared for others to follow.

This interprets in part the third affirmation: Christ entered “on our behalf.” Just as his earthly ministry of death on the cross was on our behalf, so also is his continuing ministry in God’s presence, not solely as intercessor but as the one who makes possible our entry into the heavenly sanctuary. But first the author must find a ground for the claim that Christ is a high priest. That ground is Melchizedek. 67. E. Késemann, The Wandering People of God, trans. R. Harresville and I. Sandberg (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984) 223-25.

REFLECTIONS 1. When the writer of Hebrews develops the twin themes Abraham’s (and our) faith, it is both striking and refreshing that the receives the extended treatment. This is not to say that faith as the to God is neglected in the Hebrews sermon. By no means; faith is

of God’s faithfulness and theme of God’s faithfulness acceptable human response a note sounded repeatedly,

HEBREWS 6:13-20 COMMENTARY reaching a crescendo in chap. hears this and says this, faith trust, are left to have faith in exercise in self-help. Let the not break promises, that God

11. But prior to faith is God’s faithfulness, and unless the church can be urged upon the frustrated, who, lacking a clear object of faith. Without a clear “whom” or “what,” faith becomes another pulpit not cease saying that God is dependable, that God does does not abandon.

2. Like faith, hope is a primary ingredient of a life healthy and alive toward God. But the contribution of 6:18-20 to our thinking about hope is that it is presented not so much as our posture toward God and the future as it is a quality of the Christian message, real and certain in itself, however we may happen to feel on any given day. Hope is out in front of the refugees, beckoning them. Hope is an anchor firm and secure in the very place where God is. Hope has already entered the inner sanctuary, where the act of atonement is offered and received. We must have hope, to be sure, but on occasions when we feel no hope, hope still exists. There is hope beyond hope; therefore, the Christian life is not held hostage to feelings. Hebrews 6:18-20 breaks the subjective captivity of the gospel. 3. Hebrews 6:13-15 dips into Genesis 22 to draw upon God’s promise and oath to Abraham as a resource for the encouragement of the believers. That promise and oath follow immediately the story of Abraham’s offering his son Isaac, but there is no mention of that story to the readers. The writer knows that they know it and that the memory of it will do its own appropriate work in their minds. A lesser preacher would have milked that story for all kinds of hortatory urgings. “You think you have it rough? You think your faith is being tested? You think you are making sacrifices? Look at Abraham, giving up his only son, etc., etc., etc.” There is neither encouragement or effective exhortation in telling those who are suffering that others have suffered more, in telling those grieving that others have lost more, in telling the hungry that others have actually starved. Such spoutings produce feelings of guilt, shame, and anger—all of which are not only unproductive but also destructive of the faith that was already only barely clinging to the altar.


HEBREWS 7:1—10:39 THE DIFFICULT DISCUSSION OVERVIEW Melchizedek to ground a priestly christology in Jewish Scriptures and, most important, in the plan of God before there ever was a tabernacle or a levitical priest. The section before us, 7:1—-10:39, is clearly the central movement of the epistle-sermon. Vanhoye, whose detailed (and sometimes strained) literary analysis of Hebrews as an elaborate concentric composition has influenced most subsequent analyses, regarded 7:1-10:39 as the third of five

he writer of Hebrews comes now to the * subject repeatedly anticipated but rng at s 10 because it was a matter about which“ have much to say that is hard to explain” (Sell NRSV). The subject is the high priestly ministry of Christ. The reader has known since 1:3 that at some point this christological development was coming. Tantalizingly brief references to the effect that Christ functions for us as priest were sprinkled through the discussion (1:3; 2:17-18; 3:1; 4:14-16) until finally, at 5:6, the full assertion is made by means of Ps 110:4: Christ is a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, an assertion repeated at 5:10 and 6:20. The figure of Melchizedek (Gen 14:17-20) will occupy the writer only at 7:1-10, but “the order of Melchizedek” will directly and indirectly undergird the christological argument of this entire section. Therefore, Ps 110:4 is absolutely pivotal for the writer’s portrayal of Christ. In 5:7-9 it was evident that the author had access to traditions about the earthly life of Jesus, whether or not those traditions were mediated through the synoptic Gospels. However, nothing in those traditions (at least in the ones available to us) of the preacher, teacher, exorcist Jesus provides a biblical basis adequate to support a high priestly christology. After all, Jesus was not a Levite, and never in his visits to the Temple in Jerusalem was he there in the role of a priest. On the contrary, according to the Gospel accounts he Was opposed by the priests. The writer looks, then, not to those accounts but to Ps 110:4 for an exegetical foundation. Just as Paul countered Mosaic legalism in the church by going back to Abraham (430 years earlier, Gal 3:17) for the faith covenant that provided continuity between Judaism and Christianity, so also the author of Hebrews went back of the levitical priesthood to

movements in the argument of the text. Two movements (1:5-2:18; 3:1-5:10) lead to this section, and two (11:1-12:13; 12:14-13:19) flow from it. His schema differs, however, from what is offered here in that he includes 5:11-6:20 as a preliminary exhortation and 10:19-39 as a final exhortation, both within the section. He is correct in observing the close parallels between these two exhortations (warning and encouragement), but is not persuasive in arguing for their inclusion in the section. This commentary separates 5:11-6:20 as preparation for the difficult discussion and joins 10:26-39 to 11:1-12:17 as a part of the call to fidelity and mutuality based on the argument of 7:1-10:39. Various commentators use slightly different outlines, but all are offered in the service of the writer’s argument and the reader’s understanding. There are within this section three major divisions: 7:1-28; 8:1-10:18; and 10:19-39. The first establishes Christ’s priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek; the second develops the high priestly ministry of Christ in terms of sanctuary, covenant, and sacrifice; the third speaks briefly of life individually and communally in response to this ministry of Christ. 68. A. Vanhoye, La structure littéraire de I’Epitre aux Hébreux (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1963). For his influence on most subsequent analyses, see Lane, Hebrews 1-8, \xxxvii-Ixxxviii.



HEBREWS 7:1-28, CHRIST AND MELCHIZEDEK OVERVIEW Obscure figures of the Old Testarnent whose portraits are very briefly sketched or whose stories contain elements of mystery attracted great interest in subsequent generations. Enoch vanished from the earth because God took him (Gen 5:24); Moses’ grave was never found (Deut 34:6); Elijah ascended in a whirlwind (2 Kgs 2:11). It was not simply curiosity that drew poets and scholars to these characters; the gaps and ambiguities provided room for traditions to develop around these figures in support of various theologies and institutions. The shadowy and mysterious Melchizedek belongs in this company. His sudden appearance and disappearance (Gen 14:17-20) are an invitation to all who would find in antiquity a precedent or the origin of their own traditions. In rabbinic literature, the account in Gen 14:17-20 is interpreted as the transfer of the priesthood from Melchizedek to Abraham and his descendants. Psalm 110:4, “You are a priest forever according

priest,’° but Kasemann’s case for such speculation’s being pre-Christian and influential in Hebrews is not very strong. Philo of Alexandria allegorically interpreted Melchizedek in Gen 14:18-20 as “the right word or principle””! in each of us. Chronologically, Philo could have been available to the writer of Hebrews, but on this matter they seem worlds apart. In 1956 in Qumran Cave 11 manuscript fragments were discovered that bear witness to one Melchizedek tradition in at least one Palestinian Jewish community early in the first Christian century. According to this very fragmented document (110 Melch), Melchizedek held a position above other heavenly beings, was an agent of divine judgment associated with the final year of Jubilee, and had a significant role on the Day of Atonement. While 110 Melch comments on several isolated scriptures, there

to the order of Melchizedek” (NRSV), was thus understood as having been spoken to Abraham.°? Of course, anyone “having neither beginning of days nor end of life” (Heb 7:3) would have a place in the visions of apocalyptic writings and in those speculations perhaps spawned by apocalypticism, which we refer to as Gnosticism. Along this line,

110:4.72 These brief comments are sufficient to instruct us that the writer of Hebrews was not

is no mention of either Gen 14:17-20 or Ps alone in port of a however, Christ to

Kasemann identifies Melchizedek as one of several incarnations of the primal Adam who was a

commenting on Melchizedek in suptheological position. Hebrews is alone, in its line of thought: from Jesus Ps 110:4 to Gen 14:17-20.

70. Kasemann, The Wandering People of God, 202-5. 71. Philo Allegorical Interpretation II1.79. 72. J. A. Fitzmyer, “Further Light on Melchizedek from Qumran Cave 11,” JBL 86 (1967) 25-41.

69. F. L. Horton, Jr., The Melchizedek Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976) 114-30.

Hebrews 7:1-3, Melchizedek, King and Priest NIV


This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everyhing. First, his name means “king of righteous-

This “King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him”; and to him Abraham apportioned “one-tenth of everything.” His name, in the first place, means “king of righteousness”; next he is also king of Salem, that is, “king of peace.”

ness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” °Without fatherormother, without gene85



ee Gon Hane of days or od of life, ae a

pier io cee withoutre ogy, having neither beginning of. days nor end of

theSon . God he remains a ae lorevel,

life, but resembling the Son a God,he remains

a priest forever.

(COMMENTARY Two brief paragraphs are devoted to the person of Melchizedek and his meeting with Abraham (Gen 14:17-20). The first (vv. 1-3) consists of a paraphrase of Gen 14:18-20 and an interpretation of what the text does not say; the second (vv. 4-10) interprets the significance of the Genesis account. Verse 10 returns to v. 1: Melchizedek met Abraham, a statement that forms the inclusio. In the Greek text, vv. 1-3 constitute one elaborate sentence (“For this Melchizedek . . . remains a priest forever”) that has been divided to accommodate English style. The poetic or hymnic qual- ities of the sentence have been noted by commentators, leading some to theorize that an early Melchizedek hymn lay back of vv. 1-3 and perhaps vv. 1-10.73 Perhaps that is true, but for the Hebrews writer’s purposes, Gen 14:17-20 is viewed through the lens of Ps 110:4, and it is the declaration of the psalm that determines what is and what is not to be interpreted in the Genesis text. Genesis 14 records the victory of Abraham over a coalition of five kings, the rescue of Lot, and Abraham’s meeting with the king of Sodom on his return from the war. During their meeting, King Melchizedek appears, offering bread and wine, but not until Gen 14:186 does Hebrews 7 pick up the story: Melchizedek was a priest of God Most High. That Melchizedek was a king is also important for Hebrews, because Psalm 110, the central text for the christology of the letter, joins kingship (Ps 110:1) and priesthood (Ps 110:4). In fact, at 7:2 the writer elaborates on Melchizedek’s kingship, first etymologically (his name in Hebrew means “king of righteousness”) and then geographically (“king of Salem” means “king of peace”). Even so,

of primary importance here is his priesthood; he blessed Abraham and from Abraham received a tithe of all Abraham had (Gen 14:1920). Thus far, the author of Hebrews has drawn his message from what is stated in Genesis 14, but the interpretive burden increases in v. 3 with the most important assertion of the passage, “resembling [like, in like form] the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” How can such a conclusion be drawn from Gen 14:1720? Using an accepted method of rabbinic exegesis, the writer interprets the silences of the text. According to Genesis 14, Melchizedek suddenly appears, performs a priestly function, and disappears. The text’s silences about whence and whither are interpreted: motherless, fatherless, no genealogy, no beginning, no end. Verse 3 is a classic example of terse, condensed language for rhetorical effect. The writer is not arguing but is giving the recipients an impressive way of reading the text. And why this reading? Because it supports the primary text, Ps 110:4: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (NRSV). If Christ’s priesthood is forever, like that of Melchizedek, then Melchizedek’s had to be forever. The “forever” is derived from the silence of his coming and going. “From nowhere to nowhere” is translated “from eternity to eternity.” While the argument seems to be from Melchizedek to the Son of God, it is, in fact, from the Son of God to Melchizedek. The conviction that Christ is our eternal high priest finds its support in Psalm 110, which then becomes the key for interpreting Genesis 14. It is not enough, however, simply to declare Melchizedek an eternal priest; the author wants to express it in a way that will anticipate the coming argument as to the superiority of Mel-

73. R. Jewett, Letter to Pilgrims (New York: Pilgrim, 1981) 117-18.


HEBREWS 7:1-3 COMMENTARY chizedek’s priesthood over levitical priesthood. Since the levitical priesthood depended on the record of parentage and an approved genealogy and since it passed from generation to generation because of the fact of death, v. 3 is more than a rhetorical flourish. In its poetic description of Melchizedek’s eternality is a distilled statement of

the inferiority of the levitical priesthood, its dependence on the contingencies of parents, genealogy, and death. But the writer will not leave these subtleties to be caught by a few; they will be spelled out so that no one will fail to understand. (See Reflections at 7:26-28.)

Hebrews 7:4-10, Melchizedek Is Superior to Levites NIV


‘Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! SNow the law requires the descendants of Levi

patriarch gave him a tenth of the spoils. *And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly

4See how great he is! Even? Abraham the

who become priests to collect a tenth from the

office have a commandment in the law to collect tithes’ from the people, that is, from their kindred,‘ though these also are descended from Abraham. °But this man, who does not belong to their ancestry, collected tithes’ from Abraham and

people—that is, their brothers—even though their

brothers are descended from Abraham. °This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7And without doubt the lesser person. is blessed by the greater. ®In the one case, the tenth iscollected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. °One might even say that Levi, who

blessed him who had received the promises. ‘It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. ®In the one case, tithes are received

by those who are mortal; in the other, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. °?One might even

collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abra-

say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid

ham, ‘because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body ofhis ancestor.

tithes through Abraham, 'for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. a Other ancient authorities lack Even brothers

Ora tenth

¢ Gk

COMMENTARY and promise. When one thinks in terms of corporate personality or community rather than individuals, then it becomes clear that the primacy of Abraham is more than chronological. In addition, Abraham is the one who received the promises from God {(v. 6; 6:13-15). The promises, confirmed by an oath (Gen 22:17), are superior to the law of Moses, by which the Levites operate (v. 5). The law states that levitical priests are to receive from all non-priestly Israelites a tithe (Num 18:21-32), but Melchizedek received a tithe from the one with the promises. The writer does not at this point develop arguments for the superiority of promise over law as did Paul in Romans and Galatians, but it is clear and

The writer extols the greatness of Melchizedek through several lines of thought, beginning with the matter of the tithe. Although the levitical priests also received a tithe, on several counts Melchizedek is greater. First, he received a tenth of the spoils or booty of war (v. 4). The spoils consisted of the most prized and valuable materials taken from an enemy (gold, silver, ornate furniture and clothing, fine horses, etc). In other words, Melchizedek received a tithe of the very best. Second, he collected a tithe from Abraham, and it is the greatness of Abraham that argues for an even greater Meichizedek. Abraham is the patriarch (v. 4), which is to say that he is the progenitor of all Israel—he is Israel in prospect


HEBREWS 7:4-10 COMMENTARY will become clearer that this is the writer’s position. Third, Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and, in the writer’s value system, the one who blesses is always greater than the one who is blessed (vv. 6-7). Fourth, Melchizedek received a tithe as one who was totally apart from a genealogical record, since he was a priest “in perpetuity” (v. 3), while levitical priests were mortal (ato8vnoKovTes dvOpwtor apothneskontes anthro poi; lit., “dying men,” v. 8) and hence had to be replaced. And finally, Levi himself paid tithes to Abraham in the sense that he was “still in the loins” of Abraham when Abraham paid tithes (vv. 9-10). In other words, the one who received tithes paid a tithe. The writer seems to

recognize a difference in the weight or duality of this final argument, prefacing it with the qualifier, “one might even say” or “so to speak” (v. 9). The line of argument is to our ears unusual and perhaps unpersuasive, but within the writer’s available methods of interpretation and in a culture that thought in terms of the solidarity of the race, both living and dead, the yet unborn Levi could be understood as being represented in his ancestor Abraham. Viewing vv. 9-10 as “artificial” and “playful”’* may be taking the writer’s reasoning too lightly. (See Reflections at 7:26-28.) 74. H. W. Attridge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989) 197.

Hebrews 7:11-19, A New Priesthood NIV


"If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? '2For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. '3He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the

11Now if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood—for the people received the law under this priesthood—what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron? '*For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in

altar. '4For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. And what we have said

things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. '4For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 1SIt is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, '°one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. '”For it is attested of him, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”

the law as well. ‘Now the one of whom these

is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, '°one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible

life. '”For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”? '8The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless '*(for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

'8There is, on the one hand, the abrogation of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual '(for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God.

217 Psalm 110:4



(COMMENTARY The homiletical commentary (midrash) continues, but the person of Melchizedek and Gen 14:17-20 are left behind and in their place are “the order of Melchizedek” and Ps 110:4. Unlike the historical narrative of Genesis 14, Psalm 110 is an oracle of God—that is, a direct declaration of God’s will and word. In form, wv. 11-19 constitute an inclusio, as did 1-10; that is, the writer returns in v. 19 to references to perfection and law, introduced in v. 11. 7:11-12. This unit of the argument opens with a rhetorical question of a standard variety: If this were the case (but it is not; the Greek text presents a condition contrary to fact), then why would the following be said? The question is based on a deduction from Ps 110:4, which speaks of another (of a different kind of) priesthood to the effect that the psalmist would not have spoken thus if the levitical priesthood had been fully effective. The ineffectiveness of the levitical priesthood lay in its inability to “perfect” the people (v. 11). The writer’s fondness for the word “perfection” and the range of meanings in its usage were noted earlier (see Commentary on 2:10; 5:9, 14; 6:1): The Son is perfected through suffering, and the believers are to grow into perfection (maturity). But here the writer introduces yet another use of the term: the perfecting of the people through priestly activity. As is the habit of the writer, an idea is introduced without comment, telegraphing ahead to a discussion yet to come. At this point we may assume that the perfection of the people through priestly activity refers to that right and complete relation to God effected through the priestly sacrifice of Christ. Perfection, then, has both present and eschatological dimensions. The writer will return us to this subject. Important to the argument here is the writer’s joining of the priesthood and the law (Mosaic), first in a parenthetical comment in v. 11 and again in v. 12. The NRSV inadequately translates “for the people received the law under this priesthood” {v. 11). To say “under” might convey simply a temporal sense: The people received the law during the time of this (levitical) priesthood. The NIV more correctly captures the strength of

the prepositional phrase: The people were given the law “on the basis of” this priesthood. This is to say not only that the relation between the law and the priestly system is inseparable, but also that the law was based on the cultus. It is now quite clear that the Hebrews writer has a cultic understanding of Mosaic legislation, as stated in v. 12: “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” In other words, the entire system under which Israel lived would change with the arrival of the “different” priest, the priest after the order of Melchizedek. The inability to perfect the people was the flaw of the entire system and not of the priests themselves. The levitical (Aaronic) priests were called and appointed of God (5:1-4), but they functioned, says the author, in a system that was incomplete, unable to fulfill its adherents. As the argument unfolds, it will be important to keep this writer’s perspective on the law through the rituals of the tabernacle (temple) free from the predominating influence of Paul, whose extensive treatment of the law as a system of works and merit is quite different. 7:13-14. The author finally addresses the objection that has hovered over every reference to Christ as a priest: He was not of the tribe of Levi, but of the tribe of Judah (Matt 1:1; Acts 13:22-23; Rom 1:3). So how could he be a priest? In an interesting move, the writer turns this objection into an affirmation, saying, in effect, “Of course, Christ was not a Levite; that is my point. He was a different (etTepos heteros; trans. “another”) priest from a different (translated “another”) tribe; he was of a different order, the order of Melchizedek.” That Christ was of Judah rather than Levi is not, therefore, a grudging concession but a truth that is obvious (v. 14) and in support of the claim that Christ is a priest like Melchizedek. 7:15-16. What is even more obvious is the superiority of the priest resembling Melchizedek over those of the line of Levi (v. 15). Notice that the writer substitutes “resembling” (v. 15; also v. 3) for “order,” making it clear that Christ’s being a Melchizedek priest is not a matter of lineage or tradition or succession but of likeness or similarity to Melchizedek. That similarity lies in “the power


HEBREWS 7:11-19 COMMENTARY unlike that of a levitical priest, was “indestructible.” The resurrection-exaltation of Christ is surely in the writer’s mind here. Whether one argues that Ps 110:4 led the writer to a priestly interpretation of Easter or that Easter turned the writer to Ps 110:4,7° the conclusion is the same: At 7:17 the two are joined in the word “forever.” As we will see, at v. 21, Ps 110:4 will be introduced not with the language of witnessing but with that of swearing, and it will be used in the service of another point altogether.

of an indestructible life” (v. 16). The resurrection of Jesus is likely in the author’s mind here. The power or authority of Jesus’ work comes from his eternal nature and the life he has, exalted at God’s right hand (Ps 110:1). This eternality had been attributed to Melchizedek (v. 3), and in this respect Christ is a priest “after the likeness” of Melchizedek. In sharp contrast is the authorization of levitical priests by “legal requirement concerning physical descent” (v. 16), recalling statements made about the law in vv. 5 and 11-12. Literally, v. 16 says, “according to a law of a fleshy commandment.” The word “fleshy” (odpkivos sarkinos) does not here carry all the pejorative meanings attached to it in Paul’s letters, but it does speak of the genealogical ground of the levitical priesthood, of the attention given to physical matters in laws regarding priests and their functions, and of the transient nature of both the regulations and the priestly system itself. 7:17. Psalm 110:4 is quoted again, one of three such direct citations in Hebrews (cf. 5:6; 7:21). In 5:6, the quotation is employed to show that just as the levitical priests were appointed by God (5:4), so also was Christ. The words of Ps 110:4 are understood as God’s words addressed to Christ, establishing that he was appointed by God to be a priest. But while Ps 110:4 in Heb 5:6 was used to show that Christ was /ike levitical priests in divine appointment, at 7:17, 21 the same text serves the argument that Christ’s priesthood is superior to that of the Levites. This argument, that Christ’s priesthood is superior to or better than that of Aaron, is the burden of Hebrews 7, and Ps 110:4 carries that burden. Of the ten allusions to or quotations of Ps 110:4 in Hebrews, seven occur in this chapter.” In v. 17, the citation is introduced with the language of witnessing: “For it is attested [NRSV; “declared,” NIV; lit., “it is witnessed” (uaptupeitat martyreitai)| of him.” And the witness is that his priesthood is “forever,” or perhaps more appropriately, “unending.” Hence the psalm is offered as proof of the preceding assertion that Christ’s life,

7:18-19. These verses are framed on the familiar pattern “On the one hand... but on the other,” with the second half of the construction carrying the stronger or more important message. The first half announces the abrogation (annulment) of law. This is legal terminology, much stronger than “change” of law at v. 12. But how does the replacement of a transient priesthood based on genealogy with an unending one based on a life without genealogy (v. 3) annul law? For the writer, law and priesthood are inseparably joined (7:5, 11-12, 16); the replacement of one means the replacement of the other. In addition, the law that established the levitical priesthood was “earlier”; that is, the declaration of priesthood in Ps 110:4 was, in the writer’s view, chronologically later than the law of Moses and, therefore, announced a successor to the levitical priesthood (argument from chronology appears earlier at 4:69). It is interesting that in 7:1-10 the writer argues that Melchizedek, being historically prior to Levi (Gen 14:17-20), is superior, while here God’s declaration about the order of Melchizedek is subsequent to Levi (Ps 110:4) and, therefore, superior. And finally, the law is annulled because it was “weak and ineffectual” (unprofitable, useless). While the author of Hebrews might well agree with Paul that the law is “holy and just and good” (Rom 7:12 NRSV) and that weakness lay not in the law but in the flesh (Rom 8:3), the fact is that the writer is here pursuing another line of thought. In the language of Hebrews, the ineffectiveness of the law lay in its inability to “make perfect” (v. 19; see also v. 11); this is to say, it was not able to bring God’s people to their

75. Since only Hebrews in the NT uses Ps 110:4, it seems unlikely that this verse would have appeared in a list of OT passages useful for Christian preaching. Such lists are referred to as testimony books, although their existence is unproven. Psalm 110:1, however, is quoted or alluded to in eleven NT documents and seems to have circulated widely as useful OT testimony to Christ as Messiah-King. Cf. the chart of citations in David M. Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity, SBLMS (Nashville: Abingdon, 1973) 163-66.

76. In arguing against the popular position that Philo strongly influenced Hebrews, Williamson finds the resurrection of Jesus a sufficient

magnet to draw texts directly from the OT without mediation through Philo. See R. Williamson, Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970) esp. 443-49.


HEBREWS 7:11-19 COMMENTARY intended end. The writer thus looks to Christ, a priest like Melchizedek, to fulfill this eschatological expectation of being in God’s presence, since he is, on our behalf, at the right hand of God (Ps

12:24). As for the nature and ground of this hope, see the Commentary on 6:18-20 especially, but also at 3:6 and 6:11. In 7:19, it is this hope that encourages and emboldens the believing community to approach God. Even though drawing near or approaching God has at times a cultic meaning (Exod 24:2; Lev 10:3), it is best here to take the expression in its broader sense of worshipers coming into the presence of God (Isa 29:13; 58:2; Hos 12:6). (See Reflections at 7:26-28.)

LitOsts): This access or approach to God is present through our prayer and Christ’s intercession (4:1416), but is also a hope (7:19). That this hope is “better” is no surprise to the reader, given the writer’s demonstrated fondness for this word (1:4; OT T5228: 0309230 1'0:34: shi 1165-35.4 405

Hebrews 7:20-25, Confirmed by God’s Oath NIV


79And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, *!but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:

20This was confirmed with an oath; for others who became priests took their office without an oath, *'but this one became a priest with an oath,

because of the one who said to him,

“The Lord has sworn — and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ ”¢ “2Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; “but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely’ those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. :

“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever’ ”— 2accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; **but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save? those who approach God through him, since he

a2] Psalm 110:4

always lives to make intercession for them.

625 Or forever

4 Or able to save completely

(COMMENTARY superiority of Christ’s priesthood over that of Aaron’s line, neither of which is surprising. In fact, both have been so fully anticipated as to seem repetitious. It is the conclusions drawn from them that grab the reader’s attention. Both arguments are, like the one in vv. 18-19, framed on the “On the one hand... but on the other” pattern, but translators obscure the form in favor of diversity of expression, thereby losing the cumulative force of repetition in argumentation.

These six verses fall naturally into two sub-units: vv. 20-22 and vv. 23-25. Verses 26-28 could easily be included here as a third subunit, all three being bound as an inclusio, beginning (v. 20) and ending (v. 28) with the unusual word translated “taking an oath” (6pKkwpoota horkomosia). Since, however, vv. 2028 are a rhetorical flourish serving as a conclusion to the entire chapter, that sub-unit will be discussed separately. ‘ Verses 20-25 contain two arguments for the

7:20-22. The first argument, simply stated, is 91

HEBREWS 7:20-25 COMMENTARY ready familiar from 7:3, 16-17. Here the difference between the levitical priesthood and that of Christ is reframed in terms of “many” and “one.” The Levites are many—that is, generation after generation—because they are subject to death. Christ, however, is one, because he continues forever. He has no successor but “remains” (v. 24; recall the frequency of this word in the christology of John’s Gospel, e.g., John 1:32-33, 38-39; 4:40; 6:27; 8:31; 12:34; 14:10). This line of argument proceeds from Ps 110:40 just as the argument in vv. 20-21 proceeded from Ps 110:4a. And again, the writer draws a conclusion: “Consequently” or “Therefore” (v. 25) Christ is able to save for all time (NRSV) or completely (NIV). The adverbial phrase can be taken either way, but given a context filled with terms like “eternal,” “unending,” and “always,” the temporal sense is to be preferred, but with no loss of meaning if translated “completely.” The beneficiaries of this salvation are those who approach God through Christ the high priest. This metaphor of “drawing near” to God is a favorite of the writer, who is mindful of its cultic base but expands on it to refer to the whole of a Christian’s relation to God (see Commentary on 7:19). The “complete” or “for all time” quality of this salvation rests on two affirmations about Christ. First, he continues alive forever, and therefore his priestly endeavors for his followers never cease. Second, priestly ministry involves making intercession. His sympathy for us because he was one of us (4:15; 5:1; 5:7-9) and his access to God as one appointed of God (5:5-6) and who is now at God’s right hand (1:8, 13) join as the twin credentials qualifying him to intercede on our behalf (4:1416). The writer is not at this point careful to specify the intercession as forgiveness and, therefore, an extension of the benefits of the cross or as More general intercession for the saints, involving occasions of trial and persecution as well as commission of sin.”® But if his salvation is “complete,” it is difficult to imagine the favor of intercession being episodic or reserved for only certain conditions. The word here translated “make intercession” (evtvyxdvw entygchano ) occurs elsewhere in the NT four times, all with this sense of petitioning

that priesthood confirmed by an oath (Christ’s) is superior to priesthood without an oath (levitical, Exod 28:1). This argument is a straightforward interpretation of Ps 110:4a, taken to be the direct speech of God to Christ: “You are a priest forever.” In v. 17, that Christ’s priesthood was unending was argued from his indestructible life; here it is established by God’s oath. Earlier statements about God’s making oaths (3:11-4:3; 6:13-18) have prepared the reader to receive this unusual language about God. But as though God’s swearing was not emphatic enough, the writer underscores it with the rhetorically forceful double negative: “And it was not without an oath!” (preserved in the NIV, lost in the NRSV; for an earlier example of the double negative, see 4:15). The unexpected conclusion to this argument involves a move in thought from priesthood to covenant (v. 22). This is the first use of this word in Hebrews, but its introduction follows a familiar pattern of the anticipatory use of important terms to be developed later (8:6-9:20; 10:16, 29; 12:24; 13:20). Therefore discussion of “covenant” (Sta6yjKkn diatheke | will be reserved until discussion of chap. 8. However, it is important to notice here two features of this covenant. First, “a better covenant” is an extension of the earlier reference to “a better hope” (v. 19). This is to say that the hope of which the writer speaks will have its implementation within a covenant relationship between God and the believing community. Second, of this better covenant Jesus is the “guarantee” or “surety” (Eyyvos engyos).’” The word is quite different from “mediator,” which will be employed later (8:6). One who is a “surety” guarantees the work or commitments of another, even at the risk of property and even life itself. The LXX uses the word at Sir 29:15: “Do not forget the kindness of your guarantor,/ for he has given his life for you” (NRSV). While it is possible to interpret the expression to mean that Christ offers his life as our surety toward God, the context argues for the opposite meaning: The God who promises and makes oaths also guarantees the covenant with Christ’s priestly offering of himself for us. 7:23-25. The second argument of this sub-unit turns on the “transient-permanent” contrast, al-

78. H. W. Attridge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989) 211-12, summarizes a range of views on the nature of Christ’s intercession.

77. \t would be instructive to review the points at which the author has previously introduced the name “Jesus” (2:9; 3:1; 4:14; 6:20).


HEBREWS 7:20-25 COMMENTARY or pleading on behalf of another (Acts 25:24; Rom 8:27, 34; 11:2). The image of Christ alive in God’s presence, ministering on behalf of believers, is a major contribution to the church’s struggle

with the question, How do the blessings of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection survive the constraints of time and place in history? (See Reflections at 7:26-28.)

Hebrews 7:26-28, Christ, Our Eternal High Priest NIV


20Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless,.pure, set apart from sinners,

exalted above the heavens. ?’Unlike the other

26For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.

high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices

27Unlike the other? high priests, he has no need

day after day, first for his own sins, and then for

to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has

the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. #*For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

been made perfect forever. 2 Gk lacks other

(COMMENTARY This final sub-unit of the chapter is a rhetorical flourish on the eternal high priest, recalling the burst of praise of Melchizedek with which the chapter began (v. 3) and, more distantly, the hymn to the Word of God at 4:12-13. Like the other two, five characteristics are listed, and like v. 3, the traits are listed without conjunctions, a well-known rhetorical device for accenting by eliminating the dulling effect of repeated conjunctions. The majestic nature of the passage suggests that a fragment of a hymn or poem is embedded here, but efforts to extract it are inconclusive. In content, vv. 26-28 function not only as a summary of vv. 1-25 but also to anticipate the continuation of the argument in 8:1-10:18. The reader will notice that just as the argument moved from Melchizedek (Gen 14:17-20) to the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4), so also now it moves to Christ as high priest without need for repeated authorization from Psalm 110. In other words, the writer believes the case has been made. In these three verses, Christ as high priest will be presented in terms of character, achievement, and status.

7:26. Both the character and the self-giving of Christ are, says the writer, “fitting” or “appropriate” (mpéT1u prepo, v. 26). This expression was used at 2:10 to speak of God’s making the pioneer of our salvation perfect through suffering. Here the appropriateness seems to have us in mind (“fitting that we should have such a high priest”), although the distinction should not be too sharply drawn. Whether from the perspective of God’s activity or of our need, the fittingness lies in God’s purpose. The three adjectives characterizing our high priest are not common in either the LXX or the NT. The word “holy” (dotos Aosios) is not the one most frequently used but does occur in reference to God (Rev 15:4; 16:5), to Christ (Acts 2:27; 13:35), and to believers (1 Tim 2:8; Titus 1:8). “Blameless” (dxakos akakos) is found elsewhere in the NT only at Rom 16:18. The most cultic of the three, “undefiled” (aytavtos amiantos) appears at Jas 1:27 and 1 Pet 1:4 and again at Heb 13:4, but with a clearly ethical sense. The three words together echo 4:15, but this vivid elaboration adds little to the sense expressed at 4:15. The two participial phrases, “having been


HEBREWS 7:26-28 COMMENTARY separated from sinners” and “having become exalted above the heavens” refer essentially to the same event, the elevation of Christ to the presence of God. It is in this sense that he is apart from sinners and not in any way that would diminish his capacity for human sympathy, a point the writer has taken great pains to make repeatedly (2:10-18; 4:14-16; 5:1-2, 7-8). The one who passed through the heavens (4:14) is now “above the heavens”—that is, in the presence of God Most High (1:3), who occupies the heaven beyond the heavens. In the cosmology of the time, “heavens” (ovpavoi ouranoi) was commonly a plural word referring to regions above the earth occupied by spirit beings, a view reflected especially in Paul’s affirmations of the cosmic scope of Christ’s redemptive work (Phil 2:10-11; Col 1:1520). In expressions of praise, “heavens” is a plural of “majesty.” 7:27. Here it becomes clear why the writer has presented the unique character of Christ in v. 26: He is unlike other high priests who (1) offer sacrifices repeatedly and (2) first for their own sins (5:1-3). In contrast to other high priests, he (1) made one sacrifice once and for all and (2) had no need to offer a sacrifice for himself, being without sin (4:15). In speaking of “daily” sacrifices by the high priest, the writer seems to have collapsed into a single image the entire sacrificial system, both the daily offerings of priests and the annual sacrifice by the high priest (Yom Kippur). Had the writer said “yearly” rather than “daily,” the statement would have been historically correct, but perhaps “daily” was chosen to sharpen the contrast between the repetition of the levitical system and the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ.79 Here in this verse is the author’s first use of 79. W.L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, WBC 47A (Dallas: Word, 1991) 194, summarizes scholarly opinions about the writer’s apparent misstatement.

the expression “he offered himself.” Whether Isa 53:10 lay in the immediate background of the writer’s thought is uncertain; certainly many NT writers expressed in a variety of ways that Christ gave himself for us. However, it is only in Hebrews that the idea and its many inferences are developed into the image of a high priest offering himself as a sacrifice for sin. Up to this point the writer has spoken of Christ’s high priestly work as primarily that of intercessor (2:18; 4:14-16; 7:24-25): his sacrifice of himself for sin is a theme yet to be developed. It is interesting that the discussion moves from intercession to sacrifice when chronologically one would have expected first the sacrifice and then the move into God’s presence as intercessor. Perhaps this is a case of arguing from the matter of lesser difficulty to the greater or, more likely, from the point established by Psalm 110 (at God’s right hand, intercessor), a text widely used in the early church, to texts not commonly cited to establish that Christ’s death was also a high priestly act. We anticipate more clarity to come. 7:28. The chapter closes with a summary framed as contrasts between the levitical high priest and Christ, again referred to as Son (recalling 1:2; 3:6; 4:14; 5:5, 8). The appointment of the high priest is in the one case by law (vv. 11-12, 18-19), in the other by an oath (vv. 20-22). The high priest appointed by law is subject to weakness (i.e., death, vv. 8, 23); the one appointed by an oath is eternal (6:20; 7:3, 21, 25). The oath came later than the law, replacing the weak and ineffectual commandment (v. 18). The law made nothing perfect (v. 19), but the Son “has been made perfect forever” (v. 28). Perfection here carries the force of permanence and finality, clear implications of the exaltation of the Son to the right hand of God (Ps 110:1, 4).

REFLECTIONS 1. Hebrews 7 contains some of the most interesting examples of rabbinic exegesis to be found in the New Testament. There are interpretations of silence (the sudden appearance and disappearance of Melchizedek = motherless, fatherless, without beginning or end), of chronology (Melchizedek is earlier than Levi, therefore greater; Ps 110:4 is later than the law, therefore superior), of the power of oath to abrogate law, and others. These methods should not merely satisfy historical curiosity or serve as models uncritically embraced; rather, they should prompt critical examination of one’s own methods. One of the more interesting of the writer’s

HEBREWS 7:26-28 REFLECTIONS arguments, that Levi paid a tithe to Melchizedek because Levi was in Abraham’s loins

when Abraham paid the tithe (vv. 9-10), deserves special attention because it is predicated on a biblical perspective much larger than Hebrews 7. That perspective is sometimes called “corporate personality,”

a conviction

that the many

are really one, that community


primary, including the departed, the living, and the yet-to-be born. Generations after the exodus, Israelites recited before God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor... . when the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us... we cried to the Lord” (see Deut 26:5-10). Notice the collapse of historical distance before the greater belief that Israel is one. Persons caught in individualism and subjectivism have difficulty not only interpreting such texts but also forming strong communities of faith. 2. If there were uncertainties earlier, chapter 7 makes it abundantly clear that the cultus provides the writer’s perspective on the faith and practices of both Judaism and Christianity. Both law and covenant are discussed, but only in their relation to the sacerdotal system. Paul’s categories of works and faith are not here. The reader of Hebrews is addressed as a worshiper whose life is fulfilled in drawing near to God (4:16; 6:19-20; 7:19, 25). To be sure, Paul had a strong sense of worship, viewing life (Rom 12:1) and work (Rom 15:16) liturgically and often quoting hymns and confessions in his letters. However, it is the writer of Hebrews who makes the case for God, whose presence is the goal of the faith pilgrim, and for Christ, whose life, death, and exaltation make access to God possible. The one perfected through suffering is able to perfect those who look to God through him. Hebrews would, therefore, urge the church not only to take worship seriously but also to _ take it theologically and christologically. Gatherings of the church to massage the self hardly qualify according to the standards of Hebrews. 3. Closely tied to the preceding reflection is the work of Christ as intercessor with God on our behalf (4:14-15; 7:24-25). This dimension of Christ’s saving work is generally neglected, although Hebrews has the support of Paul (the Spirit intercedes, Rom 8:26-27) and John, who deals more lengthily than does any other New Testament writer with the crisis created by the departure of Christ, addressing such questions as, Where is Christ now? and What is his relation to us? (John 13-17). Without this vital doctrine, the church lives in a barren desert between “Christ was here” and “Christ will be here again.” Meanwhile, back at the church, Christian faith consists of believing in an extraordinary past and an extraordinary future. Christ as intercessor transcends the constraints of time and place and restores “today” to the relationship between God and the believer. Many conclude their prayers with “in the name of Christ” with little or no awareness of the christological foundation for the phrase or of the immense encouragement available in the understanding that Christ is continually in God’s presence on our behalf. The study of Hebrews should yield to the reader the sure benefit of this conviction, even to the one who otherwise finds in this sermon-epistle much that is difficult to understand (5:11).

HEBREWS 8:1-10:18, THE HIGH PRIESTLY MINISTRY OF CHRIST OVERVIEW The writer has now established firmly the rank or status of Jesus Christ, and in doing so has

employed the titles on which all further argument _ will depend. He is Son (Ps 2:7; Heb 5:5), King


HEBREWS 8:1—10:18 OVERVIEW yet appointed of God, gave his life for us and is now engaged in the high priestly work of intercession. But that is not the whole story, since Christ’s high priestly ministry requires also a sacrifice in the presence of God. It seems most unlikely that the author will make the case for Jesus’ heavenly ministry by simply jettisoning the earth and all the ugly historical contingencies that Jesus endured “for a little while” (cf. 2:9; 12:2-3). The earth is God’s creation, the arena for Israel’s faith, the locus of Christ’s perfection through suffering, and the inescapable circumstance in which the readers are to be faithful. The burden on the writer is to separate heaven and earth in order to affirm what is better and superior, and yet hold heaven and earth together as the single object of God’s love in Christ “through whom he also created the worlds” (1:2 NRSV). The reader can expect, therefore, not only the continuation and even increase of contrasts (earth/heaven, flesh/spirit, many/one, transient/eternal, old/new, external/internal), but also a presentation of the high priestly work of Christ, which transcends and relativizes all contrasts. The centerpiece for the section is Jeremiah 31. In fact, the preacher will not only quote the relevant portion of that text but will also draw on it, directly and indirectly, to authorize an exegetical homily on covenant and atoning sacrifice. The entire section is exposition; exhortation will follow, beginning at 10:19.

(Ps: 20:4 Hebsti:3;013),.and sHigh *Priest (Ps 1O:4> Hebi2: 175.3313 44055) -10550:20; 17:26; 28). “High Priest” will be the title most prominent in what follows, but the other two are essential to the portrayal of Christ as high priest and, therefore, should not leave the reader’s awareness. Rank, then, is no longer the argument; now the writer-preacher will develop the ministry of “such a high priest.” To do so, it must be established that this high priest had the essentials of a priestly ministry: a sanctuary, a covenant between God and humanity within which a priestly ministry has its efficacy, and something to offer: a sacrifice. But a major question will haunt the discussion until it is resolved: Since Christ’s is a ministry in heaven, eternal and in God’s presence, when and where is his sacrifice of himself to be located? If on earth, on the cross, then it could hardly qualify as a high priestly act, since the writer has made it clear that on earth Christ was not a priest (7:14; 8:4). If in heaven, how is one to understand his offering himself as an eternal, heavenly sacrifice? How does one give one’s life for others in a realm “above the heavens”? If his sacrifice is understood as a heavenly act, then what happens to the cross? Does it evaporate in allegorical and spiritual interpretation, or is it reduced to the status of precondition or preface to Christ’s high priestly work? It would be simple enough if the chronology were thus: Jesus, one of us in every respect and

Hebrews 8:1-5, Christ’s Sanctuary NIV


The point of what we are saying is this:

Now the main point in what we are saying

We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. 3Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. “If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. °They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the

is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent? that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. *For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. ‘Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer

gifts according to the law. ‘They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the 4 Or tabernacle





tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain. ¢ :

heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

25 Exodus 25:40

a Or tabernacle

(COMMENTARY So much was said in chap. 7 that the discussion could continue in any one of a number of directions. The writer, therefore, immediately focuses attention: “The main point is this.” The word translated “the main point” (kedddAatov kephalaion) is the very first word and could be translated “the sum” (as in the only other NT use of the word at Acts 22:28); but here the clear meaning is not so much “summary” as “focus.” 8:1-2. These verses state what the focus is: that we have “such a high priest” (7:26) who is identified by location and by function. His location is “at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” This paraphrase of Ps 110:1 recalls 1:3 (Ps 110:10 was quoted at 1:13). The image of a heavenly throne was deeply embedded in Judaism (Pss 11:4; 47:8; Isa 6:1; 66:1; Ezek 1:26) and abundantly used in apocalyptic literature, including the Apocalypse of John (Revelation 4-5; 7:15-17). The affirmation that Christ is seated at God’s right hand does not serve at this point to declare Christ’s lordship but rather to establish the location of his ministry as high priest. This is to say, Ps 110:4 (that he is a high priest) is joined to Ps 110:1 (his ascension to God’s right hand) to make clear that Christ’s high priestly work will be performed in heaven. (In addition to the explicit use of Psalm 110, there may be an echo of Zech 6:13, where throne and priesthood are joined.) Just as v. 1 identifies the high priest by location, so also v. 2 identifies him by function: He is a minister in the sacred place and tabernacle set up by the Lord, not any mortal. This distinction between the sanctuary and the tent as a whole not only reflects the structure of the desert tent of meeting (Lev 16:16, 20, 33) but also anticipates Christ’s ministry in the inner sanctuary, .where only the high priest enters. The tabernacle the

Lord has pitched (myiyvupt pegnymi, a verb used only here in the NT) is the “true” one—that is, the real, genuine, lasting one (also 9:24; 10:22; recall the frequent use of this word in the Gospel of John to distinguish the real from the apparent, John 1:9; 4:23; 6:32). Commentary on 8:5 will include detailed discussion of the heavenly sanctuary. &:3-4. These verses do not add substantively to the argument but function to set up the many contrasts between the levitical high priest and Christ that will follow. Verse 3 might easily have been framed as a question: Since all high priests are appointed in order to offer gifts and sacrifices (5:1), what will this high priest offer? It is not that the question has not yet been answered; 7:27 tells us that “he offered himself.” But that statement is too sketchy, too ambiguous, open to a range of interpretations. What lies ahead are the details of method and meaning. One thing is sure: His offering will not be “on earth,” because on earth he was not a priest, either by genealogy (7:14) or by law. On earth the levitical priests are the legal appointees (v. 4; 7:16, 18). 8:5. The closing verse of this unit is critical for everything yet to be said, for here the writer states the two-sanctuary position essential for presenting Christ’s heavenly ministry and supports it with God’s instruction to Moses according to Exod 25:40 (Acts 7:44). Perhaps this crucial and extraordinary verse can best be handled in a series of statements. (1) The earthly tent that served Israel in its desert journey was of God, not simply in a general sense but with specific instructions to Moses. The divine communication (“was warned” xonuatiCw chrematizo|) is expressed with the same word used to speak of God’s warning the magi (Matt 2:12) and Joseph (Matt 2:22), reveal-


HEBREWS 8:1-5 COMMENTARY of Hellenized Alexandria. He found Plato immensely helpful for this purpose. Plato contended that the real consisted of invisible forms and ideas of which the earthly and material is but a shadow. Hence the dualistic metaphysics of the real and the shadow. According to this metaphysics, Philo developed elaborate allegorical interpretations of the LXX. In fact, he interpreted the same text cited in Heb 8:5 (Exod 25:40) on the real/shadow schemes.®* Whether the writer of Hebrews read Philo or was a product of Hellenistic Judaism and, therefore, worked with similar vocabulary and thought patterns is much debated.® In either case, the Hebrews writer’s incarnational christology and eschatology signal the degree of modification such dualistic thinking had to undergo to serve the gospel, whatever may have been the sources. (4) As helpful as possible associations between Hebrews and Philo, Qumran, apocalyptists, rabbis, OT writers, or Greek philosophers may be in understanding this epistle, the debate revolving around 8:5 is much larger than that of sources. The question is this: Has the writer, in developing the thesis that the true sanctuary is in heaven, with the one on earth its copy or shadow, abandoned the categories of time and history? The heavenly and the earthly, the real and the copy constitute a spatial framework, whereas the dominant perspective of Scripture as a whole is temporal, portraying God at work through the processes of history, from creation to eschaton. Taken alone, spatial categories (above/below) have no place for salvation history, at least not in any serious way. Do they, therefore, replace the old/new framework? On the one hand are interpreters, such as Kasemann,** who regard the heavenly/earthly language fully adequate for understanding the whole of Hebrews. On the other hand are those, like Williamson,® who admit the presence of a modicum of such language but not of such significance as to modify or reduce the dominant role of eschatology in the letter. Closer to the truth than either extreme position is the plain fact that the

ing to Simeon that he would see the Messiah (Luke 2:26), and directing Cornelius to send for Peter (Acts 10:22). All this is to say that the earthly tabernacle was not of human origin and, therefore, is not deserving of general indictments. Its limitations and inabilities lay in its transient nature and defined purposes, unable to do what it was not intended to do. As Paul said of the law, it “is holy and just and good” (Rom 7:12 NRSV), but.... (2) However, the earthly tabernacle is a copy and shadow of the heavenly one. This is the author’s interpretation of Exod 25:40: “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”® Five texts state that Moses was given a pattern or type (Exod 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8; Num 8:4). In their contexts, all these references serve to enhance the nature of the desert tabernacle; that is, it was not of circumstantial or even Mosaic origin, but everything about it was of God’s design. However, at Heb 8:5 the use of Exod 25:40 is pejorative; the earthly tabernacle was but a shadow of the real tabernacle, the one in heaven. (3) That there is a heavenly sanctuary and that there are correspondences between it and earthly ones is an idea rather widespread in both Jewish and Hellenistic sources. In Greek literature the heavenly or true temple was the cosmos, but it bore no resemblance to the temples of the various cults in the Greek world. On the contrary, the cosmos as temple was the principal ground for attacking earthly temples as centers of deception and superstition. It is unlikely that such literature served as a resource for Heb 8:5. In Judaism, the idea of a heavenly sanctuary found broad and varied expressions, from simple to a sanctuary with two sacred spaces to the grandly elaborate temple of apocalyptic and mystic writers.*! Among those perhaps most immediately in the background of Hebrews was Philo, who reinterpreted Judaism for the cultured and philosophical minds 80. This is not an exact quotation of the LXX. A verb form is different, and “everything” is added, perhaps borrowed from Exod 25:9. It is not clear whether the author of Hebrews was following a different Greek text or was responsible for the changes. It is interesting that Philo, when citing Exod 25:40, also adds “everything” (Philo Allegorical Interpretation

82. Philo On the Life of Moses 2:74. 83. R. Williamson, Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970) 142-59, traces the debate but with a strong position of his own. 84. E. Kaésemann, The Wandering People of God, trans. R. Harresville and I. Sandberg (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984). 85. Williamson, Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews.

I]I.102). Some commentators see here a direct influence of Philo on Hebrews. See K. J. Thomas, “The OT Citations in Hebrews,” NTS 11

(1965) 309. 81. Foran excellent survey, see Aelred Cody, Heavenly Sanctuary and Liturgy in the Epistle to the Hebrews (St. Meinrad, Ind.: Grail, 1960) 9-46.


HEBREWS 8:1-5 COMMENTARY writer has employed the categories both of time and of space. Without reference to former and latter, old and new, former times, these last days, faith pilgrimages, and the judgment to come, the readers of Hebrews could feel abandoned to the conditions of history while God and Christ were busy with important things somewhere above

employ both time and space to frame the message for a church living in a culture with both categories is certainly not unique in the New Testament. Paul could find many continuities with the history of Israel (Rom 9:1-5) and hold great hope for the fulfillment of that history (Romans 11), and he could still speak of a Christ who not only came from Israel but also descended from heaven and ascended to heaven (2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:6-11). To reduce the both-and of Hebrews to either-or would be to oversimplify its message at great loss to the readers. (See Reflections at 9:23-10:18.)

their heads. And without a christology that could more adequately be expressed by heavenly and earthly, by pre-existence, existence, and post-existence, the readers could feel that Christ, indeed, was one of them and even died as they do. But where is the relief from history? For the writer to

Hebrews 8:6-13, Christ’s Covenant NIV


*But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. *But God found fault with the people and said “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, _ because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. ‘No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me,

‘But Jesus* has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. ’For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one. 8God? finds fault with them when he says: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; ° not like the covenant that | made with their ancestors, on the day when | took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord. 10 This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and | will be their God, and they shall be my people. ‘l And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,

a8 Some manuscripts may be translated fault and said to the people.

2Gk he

‘0This is the covenant I will make with the house


5 Gk He

HEBREWS 8:6-13



from the least of them to the greatest. 12For | will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”? 'SBy calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. a12 Jer. 31:31-34

and I will remember their sins no more.” '3In speaking of “a new covenant,” he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.

COMMENTARY 18, it is important to remind ourselves that the author views the whole of religion through the cultus. When discussing priestly ministry, the introductions of “law” and “covenant” are not abrupt shifts of subject; each is inseparably bound to the sanctuary. As for the better promises, nothing is as yet spelled out. We can surmise that what the author has in mind will include inheriting salvation (1:14), entering the promised rest (4:1), and approaching God (7:25), but we wait for further details. Verses 7-8a introduce the quotation of Jer 31:31-34. The function of the introduction is not to draw out the benefits of the new covenant but to underscore the need for it. Had the first been without fault, “no place [“room,” “opportunity”; see Acts 25:16; Rom 12:19] would have been sought for another” (the NIV is preferred here). The fault lies both in the covenant (v. 7) and in the people (v. 8a). In other words, the first covenant is not working to effect the relationship between God and Israel that God desired. Before moving to the quotation about a new covenant, two observations need to be made. First, it is God who gave the old and promises the new; both are God’s doing. This realization should give pause to impulses to attack the old covenant as a preface to extolling the benefits of the new. Unless continuity and discontinuity are kept in tension, both covenants may be misrepresented. Second, since the promise of a new covenant comes within the old, Jeremiah 31 is, in fact, a case of the old critiquing itself. It is important to keep in mind that the Hebrews writer is appropriating a process that is going on within Israel and not between Israel and Christianity. The discontinuity here is to be located

At v. 4 the author used a particle (uév men) that alerts the reader to anticipate in a subsequent clause a particular conjunction (S5¢ de). If de occurs (it may not), then the entire thought can be framed as an “on the one hand... but on the other hand” construction. Such is the case with wy. 4-6. The text says: “On the one hand, if this high priest were on earth he would not be a priest at all. There are on earth those who by law minister in a tabernacle that is a copy and shadow of the heavenly one. Exodus 25:40 confirms this understanding. But on the other hand (v. 6), “Christ has obtained a better ministry.” One can thus understand why many commentators include v. 6 with vv. 1-5. The decision to join v. 6 with what follows is based on the shift in content, a consideration weightier than syntax. The ministry (cf. Commentary on 8:1-2) Christ has obtained is a permanent one (the perfect tense of the verb Tuyxdvw [tygchano]}, conveying that sense. He entered into the heavenly sanctuary to minister on our behalf, and he is still there. His ministry is “more excellent” in that he mediates a better covenant, enacted on better promises. The only other use of the verb expressing the idea of “enacting” in the NT occurs in 7:11. Notice the writer’s continued fondness for the word “better” (kpe(tTwy kreitton, 1:4; 6:9; 7:7, 19, 22), a comparative that carries the weight of a superlative. The better covenant, introduced at 7:22, will be the subject matter of the quotation of Jer 31:31-34 and the discussion that follows. Christ serves this better covenant as mediator (ueottns mesités, 8:6; 9:15; 12:24; unlike “guarantee” at 7:22). Although the writer will more specifically link priesthood to covenant in 10:15-


HEBREWS 8:6-13 COMMENTARY within the old and not between the old and the new. The neat division of the Bible into Old and New Covenants (Testaments) makes it too easy to locate discontinuities between the two rather than to be more careful to see tensions within the Old, within the New, as well as between them. The oracle in Jer 31:31-34 is introduced with “God says,” recalling the pattern in Hebrews of using verbs of speaking rather than “it is written,” and in the present tense, as though directly addressing the readers (e.g.,.1:5-8; 2:12; 3:7). This is the lengthiest quotation in the entire New Testament. This passage comes from the series of oracles in Jeremiah 30-33 offering Israel of the exilic period the hope of restoration to the homeland. But the return will not mean simply a return to the covenant made at Sinai; there will be a new covenant relationship between God and Israel that will be qualitatively different. Hebrews reproduces exactly the opening words of Jeremiah’s prophecies: “The days are surely coming” (lit., “Behold, the days are coming”; see Jer 7:32; 9:25; 16:14; 23:5, 7). As for the remainder of the quotation, there are some variations from the LXX, mostly stylistic, that may have existed in the text used by the writer or may have been made by the writer. One should be cautious about reading into these modifications an attempt by the author to speak more negatively of the first covenant and more positively of the second.®

It would be inappropriate at this point to offer a running commentary on Jer 31:31-34; the writer of Hebrews will draw from it what is useful for the immediate purpose and interpret it according to that purpose. It is enough here to observe that the new covenant promises the inscribing of God’s law on the hearts of believers and the forgiveness of sins. There is no offer of new content but a new manner of the law’s being presented and being appropriated. The relationship between God and the people will be restored and all past iniquities removed forever. It was the fault (v. 7) of the first covenant that this relationship had not been effected. But even these central affirmations are not the immediate concern of the author, as v. 13 shows. It is enough at this point to observe that the very phrase “a new covenant” makes the first one old (obsolete). In fact, the obsolete and antiquated (1:11) is near the point of vanishing. To say that it is “near vanishing” should not be taken to mean that the Temple in Jerusalem is still standing but soon to be destroyed. The earthly sanctuary of Hebrews is the desert tabernacle, not the Temple. The phrase “near vanishing” portends the end of the old covenant effected by the inauguration of the new by Christ’s high priestly act, now to be described. (See Reflections at 9:23-10:18.)

86. J. C. McCullough, “The OT Quotations in Hebrews,” NTS 26 (1980) 364-67.

Hebrews 9:1—-10:18, Christ’s Sacrifice

OVERVIEW trees could obscure the forest. Additionally, keeping the sweep of the entire movement in mind is important, because it will seem for a time that, except for the word “covenant,” the writer has lost touch with the textual centerpiece, Jer 31:3134. That is only apparently the case, because the homily will not only return to Jeremiah 31 in 10:15-18, but also will never take its eye off the

This is by far the largest of the the divisions of 8:1-10:18, and it could well be argued that it should not be regarded as a single division, but broken into smaller, more manageable units.®” However, since the whole of 9:1-10:18 is an exegetical commentary on Jer 31:31-34, it seems wise to keep the reader’s eye on the whole, especially since the passage is so full of details about tabernacles, altars, and offerings that the

two primary theses of Jer 31:31-34: the location of the new covenent in the heart and the promise of forgiveness of sin. The contours of the argument in 9:1-10:18 permit discussion to fall into

87. See, e.g., W. L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, WBC 47A (Dallas: Word,

1991); W. L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, WBC 47B (Dallas: Word, 1991); H. W. Attridge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989).


HEBREWS 9:1—10:18 OVERVIEW and place of the desert tent, these things “are happening.” As for the appropriateness of discussing Christ’s priestly ministry vis-a-vis the tabernacle rather than the Temple, it need only be said that it is the tabernacle that is the copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary (8:5), it was the tabernacle that Moses was commanded to build, and it is the tabernacle that is associated with the old covenant. And, homiletically speaking, a movable desert tabernacle is much more suggestive of pilgrimage, a governing metaphor in the writer’s understanding of the Christian life.

three sub-units: 9:1-14; 9:15-22; and 9:23-10:18. Even within these sub-units, the writer’s literary signals will be observed, permitting focus on even smaller, discrete parts, some of which may have been taken from the church’s liturgical and confessional tradition. Again we need to be reminded that since in Hebrews the desert tabernacle and not the Temple provides the antithesis to the heavenly sanctuary, the present-tense verbs should not be taken as references to what is going on at the time of the writing of Hebrews. Rather, these present tenses are historical presents; that is, in the time

Hebrews 9:1-14, The Old and the New Sacrifice NIV


Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 7A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. *Behind the second curtain was a room ‘called the Most Holy Place, ‘which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. ’Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover.? But we cannot discuss these things in detail now. °When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. *The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. °This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. '°They are only a ‘ matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. ''When Christ came as high priest of the good

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. “For a tent? was constructed, the first one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the

bread of the Presence;? this is called the Holy Place. *Behind the second curtain was a tent? called the Holy of Holies. “In it stood the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which there were a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; °above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat.° Of these things we cannot speak now in detail. 6Such preparations having been made, the priests go continually into the first tent? to carry out their ritual duties; “but only the high priest goes into the second, and he but once a year, and not without taking the blood that he offers for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people. *By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent? is still standing. °This is a symbol4 of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 'Cbut deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time comes to set things right. 11But when Christ came as a high priest of the a Or tabernacle © Gk the presentation of the loaves place of atonement 4 Gk parable

a5 Traditionally the mercy seat


¢Or the



things that are already here,? he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. '*He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. '*The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. ‘How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

good things that have come,? then through the

411 Some early manuscripts are to come rituals

greater and perfect? tent® (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), '2he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. '’For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer,

sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, '*how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit? offered himself without blemish to God, purify our’ conscience from dead works to worship the living God! aOther ancient authorities read good things to come © GK more perfect ¢ Or tabernacle d@Other ancient authorities read Holy Spirit e Other ancient authorities read your

cl4 Or from useless

(COMMENTARY construction, and in Exod 40:1-38 the story of Moses pitching the tabernacle. There are, of course, other references, canonical and extra-canonical, to the building, its furnishings, and its services with some differences in terminology and in the location of furniture. The descriptions in Hebrews, while generally in accord with Exodus 25-31, may reflect a different liturgical tradition and a knowledge of other texts pertaining to tabernacle and temple services.°® One would get the impression from vv. 2-3 that there were two tents or tabernacles, but it is evident that the writer’s references to two tents are actually to be understood as two compartments or distinct areas of the one tabernacle. In this matter, Hebrews is in full agreement with Exodus. In the first compartment or sanctuary, called the holy place (ayia hagia), were the lampstand (menorah) and the table, and on the table were twelve loaves of the presentation (show bread or bread of the Presence). Behind a curtain was a second sanctuary, called the holy of holies (4y.ra dytwv hagia hagion), or Most Holy Place. In this area, says the writer of He-

Verses 1-14 fall naturally into two parts: vv. 1-10 describe the cultic practices of the levitical priests in the earthly sanctuary; vv. 11-14 present Christ’s high priestly offering of himself. The two parts constitute an “on the one hand... but on the other hand” construction, common to the series of antitheses in the argumentation of Hebrews. Verse 1 begins a cultic recital growing out of 8:13, implicit in the reference to the first covenant. Thus translators are justified in adding the word “covenant” in v. 1: “Now even the first... .” Provisions in the first covenant for cultic practices were in two categories: regulations (ordinances, requirements) and a place, a sanctuary. The writer discusses them in reverse order (chiastic), a pattern now familiar to the reader. 9:1-10. 9:1-5. The “sanctuary” is here designated by the word aytov (Aagion), which refers to the entire tabernacle and not to a particular part of it. The adjective “earthly” (“worldly” [koopKds kosmikos]) anticipates its opposite, the heavenly sanctuary. Verses 2-5 are simply descriptive, and as the author states (v. 5), there is no intent to pursue details beyond what is appropriate for the immediate purpose. Anyone interested in further information about the desert tabernacle can find in Exod 25:1-31:11 God’s instructions to Moses, in Exod 36:2-39:43 the account of its

88. See the excursus in Attridge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 236-38, for a detailed discussion of attempts to account for the differences between Hebrews and Exodus/Leviticus on terminology and the placing of the tabernacle furnishings.


HEBREWS 9:1-14 COMMENTARY pates the priestly act of Christ, as does the “once a year,” which, while in contrast with the daily service of the priests, will itself contrast with Christ’s offering “once for all.” The word “offers” (tpocdépw prosphero) also anticipates the way the writer will refer to the self-giving of Christ (9:14, 25, 28; 10:12). In fact, even though it is proper to speak of v. 7 as anticipating the high priestly ministry of Christ, the reality is that it was the high priestly ministry of Christ that guided the presentation of the activity of the levitical high priest.8° The event sketched in v. 7 is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The writer selects appropriate details from what was an elaborate day of rituals (Lev 16:29-31). For present purposes, it is enough to recall that the high priest first sacrificed a bull and sprinkled its blood on the ark of the covenant for his sins and those of his family (Lev 16:6, 11, 14), quite unlike Christ, who had no need to offer a sacrifice for himself (5:3; 7:27). Then the high priest sacrificed a goat and offered its blood for the sins of the people (Lev 16:15, 30). Hebrews qualifies this sacrifice as being effective for inadvertent sins, a distinction quite important to the writer (10:26; cf. Num 15:22, 30). 9:8-10. These verses offer an unusual interpretation of vv. 1-7. The description of the desert tabernacle and its rituals has not been offered as a story of ineffectiveness against which to lay the effective priestly ministry of Christ. On the contrary, the very existence of the first tent (holy place) and its cultus offers a revelatory and prophetic word, although that word can be known only through the Holy Spirit. For Hebrews, the role of the Holy Spirit is not solely that of inspiring Scripture so that biblical quotations can be introduced “The Holy Spirit says” (3:7). The Holy Spirit makes God’s Word present “today,” and discloses (makes clear, reveals; see 1 Cor 3:13; 2 Pet 1:14) what had not been understood. And what is here disclosed by the Holy Spirit? That as long as the first compartment of the tabernacle (holy place) “has standing” (used in both a structural and a normative sense), the way into the holy of holies—that is, the presence of God—is not yet manifest. The holy of holies is closed to both priests and laity. That the high priest enters

brews, was the golden altar of incense (v. 4). The strongest traditions locate the altar of incense at the rear of the holy place near the curtain. Priests, who were allowed into the holy place, burned incense on this altar daily (e.g., Luke 1:8-11). However, biblical references to the location of this altar are not exactly clear (Exod 30:1-10; 37:2520% 240:5,-20;, Level O:k6** 1’ Kgs 6:20, 22). OF central importance within the holy of holies is the ark of the covenant, an ornate chest containing the stone tablets from Sinai. According to Exod 16:32-34 and Num 17:10-11, a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod, which budded, were placed “before the covenant.” Among all references, only Hebrews places them inside the ark with the stone tablets. On top of the ark were cherubim of glory, indicating this place as the throne of divine glory. Between the cherubim was the atonement place, or mercy seat (\Akaotrptov hilasterion; Exod 25:17, 21), the focal point of the activity of the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:14-15; for detailed descriptions of the tabernacle furnishings, see Exodus 25-31). In fact, as the writer says (v. 5), no more details are needed; the holy of holies and the mercy seat within it locate the ritual soon to be described. 9:6. At v. 1 the author gathered up the cultic expressions of the first covenant in two catetories: regulations and sanctuary. Having described the sanctuary (vv. 1-5), the author turns now to the regulations or rituals (vv. 6-10). Verse 6 presents briefly the priestly activity in the first tent (compartment of the tabernacle), the holy place. Into the holy place the regular priests “are always entering” (note the accent on the continual and repetitive functioning) to attend to their ritual duties. The routine activity included trimming the lamp (Exod 27:21), replacing the bread on the table every seven days (Lev 24:5), burning incense (Exod 30:7), and offering the scheduled sacrifices (Lev 6:8, 30; Num 28:1-10). But the writer goes into no detail because no immediate purpose would be served. 9:7. Into the second tent, the holy of holies, goes not any priest but only the high priest. He enters alone, only once a year, and then “not without blood” (v. 7). Notice the writer’s fondness for the double negative for expressing the very important and essential (4:15; 6:10; 7:20; 9:18, 22). The high priest’s entering alone antici-

89. N. H. Young, “The Gospel According to Hebrews 9,” NTS 27

(1980-81) 198-210, esp. 209.


HEBREWS 9:1-14 COMMENTARY alone and only once a year, and never without blood to offer, testifies more to its inaccessibility than to its accessibility. The way into the holy of

(chronos, measurable time). The holy place is, therefore, a figure for a prevailing condition in which the way to God is not open even though gifts and sacrifices are repetitively offered. The condition cries out for the high priestly ministry of Christ, which is also at the present time, but also eschatological and heavenly. Perhaps the best commentary on 9:9-10 is 10:1-2 in that the “symbolic” nature of the gifts and sacrifices of the levitical system corresponds to the “shadow” rather than the reality (cf. 8:5). The author understands that the sacrificial system of the first tent serves a purpose: the ritual cleansing of persons who had been in violation of regulations concerning food, drink, the body, and the essential utensils for daily living. Laws of purity were many, and breaches of those laws called for rituals of restoration. But none of this priestly activity could “perfect” the worshiper (see Commentary on 5:9; 7:11-19). Here the author introduces the word “conscience” (ouvetSnois syneidésis), since it is the conscience that is purged and restored by the offering of Christ. It stands in contrast to “body” (odpé sarx, v. 10), the area of benefit from the sacrifices in the first tent, and also renews attention on the inwardness of the new covenant (8:8-12), which is inaugurated by the high priestly act of Christ. The term “conscience” entered biblical literature from the Hellenistic world, where it meant “awareness of oneself” and was used in both moral and nonmoral senses. In the LXX the word is lodged in the wisdom literature, where it conveys the idea of being aware of sin or wrong in one’s life and can be translated “inner thoughts” or “heart of hearts” (see Job 27:6; Eccl 10:20; Wis 17:11; Sir 42:18). To be perfected in conscience is to be both cleansed of and freed from any hindrance preventing one’s entering into God’s presence. It is to have fulfilled the promise of the new covenant: “I will put my laws in their minds,/ and write them on their hearts” (8:10 NRSV).% But the “regulations of the body” (“flesh,” v. 10) operative in the first tent, the holy place, could not achieve this, and therefore were marked for a “time of correction,” a “time for setting things straight,” a “time of amendment” (v. 10).

holies will be made open by the priestly act of Christ (2:10; 4:16; 10:19-20).% The first tent— the holy place (clearly the antecedent of “this,” v. 9)—is a symbol, a figure, a parable of the present time. Apart from two appearances in


(9:9; 11:19)

the word


(tapaBody parabole )occurs in the NT only in the synoptic Gospels, where it refers quite often to extended metaphors. While the word may designate a straightforward comparison, it often refers to a comparison not readily apparent; that is, figurative speech.*! Both uses in Hebrews carry this meaning; in fact, in 9:9 that the holy place is a parable of the present time is a disclosure effected by the Holy Spirit. Key to the meaning of vv. 9-10 is the expression “the present time.” Since the writer is discussing the cultus of the first covenant, it would be easy enough to think only in temporal terms and interpret “the present time” as “past time.” Dispensational thinking could take over and the image would be a simple one: an old cultus replaced by a new one. And the teasing truth is that temporal categories are important in Hebrews (see Commentary on 8:5) and should never be abandoned. However, in 9:9 the holy place is a parable of the present, not the past. Perhaps, then, the category of space might be helpful. At 8:5 the writer spoke of a heavenly and an earthly tabernacle, the real and the shadow. The difference is not one of time but of nature or quality. The difference between the levitical cultus and that of Christ is not so much one of time but of nature. Ministry in the holy place can be going on even while the ministry of Christ has accomplished what could never be accomplished in the earthly tabernacle. Therefore, a chronology of past, present, and future does not adequately frame the message of priestly ministries that differ more in kind than in time. Perhaps this is why the writer uses katpds (Kairos, time in the sense of opportunity or meaningful time) rather than xpdvos 90. There is no need to read into “the way” the gnostic myth of the flight of the soul from the physical world to the spiritual and finally to God, as does E. Kasemann, The Wandering People of God, trans. R. Harresville \ and I. Sandberg (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984) 75-96.

92. Cf. the use of “conscience” at 9:14; 10:2,.22; 13:18. For more on the term, see R. Jewett, Paul’s Anthropological Terms (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1971) 402-46.

91. F. Hauk, “trapaBoar ,” TDNT, 5:744-61.


HEBREWS 9:1-14 COMMENTARY argument (see Commentary on 9:10).°° In fact, the “sreater and perfect |elCovos kal TeEAELOTEpas meizonos kai teleioteras; \it., “more perfect”] tent” is but another way of referring to the heavenly sanctuary of 8:1-2 (also 6:19-20). There is no strong reason to interpret “through the greater and more perfect tent” as instrumental; that is, “by means of the greater....” This possible, but strained, reading would then understand “tent” in a metaphorical sense as “body,” meaning “by means of Christ’s body.” This interpretation contradicts the use of “tent” (oknvyj_ skene) throughout this section as it does the following

Like “the present time” of v. 9, “the time of correction” is also a kairos, the right time, the Opportune moment in the purposes of God. Both times, therefore, are to be viewed not simply chronologically, as though one time has ended and another has begun. Although time in the usual historical sense is always a consideration in both Judaism and Christianity, in 9:9-10 the references are similar in meaning to “this age” and “the age to come.” The difference is not so much one of present and future as it is of values, orientation, and meaning. Both “this age” and “the age to come” are here now, but they are qualitatively different realms of being. The same is true of “the present time” and “the time of correction.” 9:11-14. Verses 1-10 presented that which exists “on the one hand”; these verses announce, “But on the other hand.” The adversative conjunction makes it clear that the discussion moves in a new direction, that of Christ’s high priestly offering of a new sacrifice. What follows in this paragraph is a development of what was introduced at 8:1-5. 9:11-12. These two verses constitute one sentence, “Christ... entered,” containing several modifying clauses and phrases. The sentence follows the structure of vv. 1-10, where the place and the rituals of the earthly tabernacle were treated, in that order. Here the place is described in positive and then negative terms—the ritual in negative, then positive terms (ABB’A’, a chiasm). “But Christ having come as a high priest of the good things that have come” identifies the time of setting things right (v. 10) and states it as present and accomplished. The “good things” are not specified, but two were mentioned earlier: access to God and the perfecting of the conscience (vv. 8-9). A number of mss have “good things to come” rather than “good things that have come.” This variant reading has probably been influenced by 10:1, but even there “to come” is not futuristic but refers to that which was yet to come from the perspective of the old law, which foreshadowed a future that in Christ is now present. These temporal expressions should not, however, be allowed to flatten out the passage into a past/present scheme only; the spatial categories of earthly/ heavenly, shadow/real are still essential to the

phrase, “not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.” The author has made it clear that Christ’s body was material and of this creation (2:14-18). It is better to take the expression in its straightforward, local sense: Christ went through the tent, entering the Most Holy Place (holy of holies)—the presence of God. That this tent is greater, more perfect (the comparative of “perfect” is not used in English), and not of human construction recalls earlier terminology (8:2, 5; 9:24). The NRSV, by using “he entered once for all into the Holy Place” (v. 12), translates correctly but confuses the image. The Holy Place often refers to the first compartment of the tabernacle (v. 2), but here it obviously refers to the Most Holy Place, the holy of holies (v. 3), the inner compartment, which the high priest alone entered to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat. The NIV properly conveys this image. That Christ’s high priestly ministry on our behalf involved not only intercession but also sacrifice was anticipated at 5:1; 7:27; and 8:3, but now at 9:12 it is boldly stated. The interpreter must move away from the courtroom forensics and judicial language, made familiar by Paul, and focus completely on the cultus. The writer has set the scene in vv. 1-10: The place is the holy of holies, the sole liturgist is the high priest, the central act is the sprinkling of blood on the seat of mercy, and the time is the Day of Atonement. The one essential element is blood; in the language of Hebrews, the effective entrance into God’s presence is “not without taking the blood” (v. 7). The distance from “blood” language an interpreter may experience might be lessened by 93. See Lane, Hebrews 9-13, 236, for an interpretation of 9:10-11 in temporal terms.


HEBREWS 9:1-14 COMMENTARY his or her entering into the thought world of the community for which this ritual was central. Of fering the blood was offering the life (Lev 17:1114), and instructions about the use and disposition of blood were many and very specific:

the blood in the inner sanctuary. Therefore, the atoning work of Christ was not his death on the cross but his once and for all entrance into God’s presence, where he continually intercedes for us.” Taken alone, 9:11-14 can be so read, but the whole of Hebrews will not tolerate this separation of the death from the heavenly installment of Christ. Too much has already been made of Christ’s identification with his brothers and sisters in the flesh, his being tested, and his suffering of death (2:9-18; 4:14-16; 5:7-10) to jettison all that as but a preface to ministry or as pre-priestly. In 10:1-10 the writer will return to the subject of sacrifice, and there the accent will be on the offering of the body of Jesus. More appropriate to Hebrews, therefore, is the understanding that death on the cross, ascension, and entrance into the sanctuary of God’s presence constitute one redemptive movement. 9:13-14. With these verses the author concludes this sub-unit on the old and new sacrifice. Here the meaning of vv. 11-12 is expanded and enriched in the form of an argument @ fortiori (from lesser to greater), a type of argument already familiar from 2:2-3. The “lesser” half of the argument refers again to the rituals of the Day of Atonement, but with the addition of the ritual of the red heifer (for its details and purpose, see Numbers 19). Why there is the reference to this ceremony is not clear. That the heifer was slaughtered and burned “outside the camp” may anticipate 13:12, 13. Even though exegetical traditions differ as to whether the high priest was involved, certain elements in the ritual of the heifer do serve to set up the contrasting sacrifice of Christ: The blood is sprinkled on the outside of the tabernacle, reminding the reader of the external efficacy of the levitical system; the heifer is referred to as a sin offering; and the ashes of the heifer in the water of purification cleanse the bodies (flesh) of those being sprinkled. These rituals have to do only with ceremonial cleansing (vv. 10, 13) from the range of defiling activities and relationships in which the people engaged, such as touching a corpse or being in contact with a foreigner. To be sanctified or made holy is familiar to NT readers as referring to Christ’s gracious act toward believers,

Only be sure that you do not eat the blood; for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the meat. (Deut (2:23 NRSV) For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and | have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. (Lev 17:11 NRSV)

Four statements can now be made that elaborate the condensed but crucial presentation of Christ’s high priestly act in v. 12. (1) Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary, the true and perfect tabernacle, into the presence of God. (2) Christ entered once and for all. This affirmation stands in sharp contrast to the daily repetition of the activities of the levitical priests and the annual ritual by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. (3) Christ offered his own blood, not that of goats and calves (see Commentary on 9:7). Christ offered his own life to God on our behalf, to make atonement, to relate us fully and finally to God, to enact the new covenant, which clearly promises, “I will be their God,/ and they shall be my people..../ For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,/ and I will remember their sins no

more” (8:10, 12 NRSV, quoting Jer 31:33-34). And finally, (4) Christ secures redemption that is eternal; that is, it is not repeated (v. 9) but possesses eschatological finality (5:9). While the word “redemption” (AUTpwots Jytrosis) is rather rare in the NT (9:12, 15; Luke 1:68; 2:38), this metaphor for salvation is common in both Judaism and Christianity, sometimes referring to freedom from slavery, sometimes from prison, sometimes from death, sometimes from sin. The writer does not press the metaphor to refer to any particular transaction, and so it seems best to leave it as open as it is in the text. The sacrifice of Christ is, therefore, consummated in heaven. Some interpreters have argued that Christ’s high priestly work was not consummated in heaven but began in heaven. This is to say that the efficacious act of the high priest was not the killing of the animal but the offering of

94. Argued by W. E. Brooks, among others, but with dissenting voices represented, in “The Perpetuity of Christ’s Sacrifice in the Epistle to the

Hebrews,” JBL 89 (1970) 205-14.


HEBREWS 9:1-14 COMMENTARY bodily rituals of the old system and as a term to locate Christ’s offer of himself; it is in the realm of the Spirit, in God’s own presence. (Associating the Spirit with Christ’s death and exaltation is not uncommon in the NT; see Rom 1:4; 1 Cor 15:45; 1 Tim 3:16; 1' Pet 3:18.) Third; Christ as" the sacrifice is “blameless” or “without blemish,” again preserving the terminology of cultic sacrifices (Exod 29:2; Lev 1:3, 10; 4:3; Num 6:14; as applied to Christ, see Heb 4:15; 7:27). And finally, Christ’s offer of himself purifies the inner self, the conscience (see Commentary on 9:9), from dead works. In other words, rather than cleansing from the defilement of contact with dead bodies, Christ cleanses from the dead works of which believers repent (6:1). The end and purpose of Christ’s sacrifice for us is in order that we may worship (“serve,” NIV) the living God. The verb “to serve” (A\atpevw latreuo) comes from the cultus and has the immediate sense of worship, but throughout the NT it includes service to God much more broadly (12:28; Luke 1:74; Acts 27:23; Rom 1:9; Phil 3:3). (See Reflections at 9:23-10:18).

with spiritual and moral implications, but here it refers to the effects of a ritual system that purified human bodies as well as buildings, cooking utensils, furniture, and all other materials involved in a life ceremonially acceptable in the community of Israel. The “greater” and concluding half of the argument presents the “how much more” of Christ’s high priestly sacrifice. Four affirmations underscore the superiority of his sacrifice. First, his sacrifice is the offering of his own blood, not the blood of another. By speaking of Christ’s blood, the writer maintains the language of the cultus, but what is meant by it is given in the expression “offered himself.” Second, Christ’s offering is “through the eternal Spirit.” This way of referring to the Holy Spirit occurs nowhere else in the NT, but is especially appropriate here. The writer uses the term “eternal” (aiuvios aionios) as a contrast to the daily and annual repetition of levitical sacrifices (5:9; 6:2; 9:12, 15; 13:20). As for the Holy Spirit, the term has already been employed in a variety of ways (2:4; 3:7; 6:4; 9:8), but here probably serves double duty: as a contrast to

Hebrews 9:15-22, Sacrifice and the New Covenant NIV


>For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. ‘In the case of a will,? it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, '’because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. '®This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. '';When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 2°He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 2!In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both

15For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.? ‘Where a will? is involved, the death of the one who made

a16 Same Greek word as covenant; also in verse 1

aThe Greek word used here means both covenant and will


it must be established. !7For a will? takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as

the one who made it is alive. "Hence not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been told to all the people by Moses in accordance with the law, he took the blood of calves and goats,° with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled

both the scroll itself and all the people, *°saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has ordained for you.” ?!And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent¢ and all

620 Exodus


6 Other ancient authorities lack and goats


¢ Or tabernacle



the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremo-

the vessels used in worship. *?Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

nies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.



The writer now returns to the theme of covenant and to the language of Jeremiah 31, the basic text being expounded in 8:1—10:18. It may seem to the reader that the author has strayed from the old and new covenant of Jeremiah 31 with discussions of two high priests, two sacrifices, and two tabernacles, but that is far from the case. Covenant, law, and cultus were earlier joined (see Commentary on 7:11-12, 22; 8:6-7, 13; 9:1); in fact, covenant and law have been understood as inextricably bound to cultus, and a change in cultus meant a change in covenant and law. In the plenitude of meanings explored in the discussion of Christ’s purifying and atoning offer of himself, yet one more is now to be unfolded: the death of Christ as the inauguration of the new covenant. The discussion in vv. 15-22 proceeds in this way: Verse 15 summarizes the act and the benefits of the act of Christ mediating a new covenant; vv. 16-17 make a theoretical argument for the truth of v. 15; vv. 18-21 repeat the argument in practical and historical terms; and v. 22 states an axiom, a general truth that has been both implicit and explicit in the entirety of chap. 9. 9:15-17. Verse 15 not only connects with vv. 11-14 as the phrase “for this reason” (because of this) indicates, but also continues the thought established at 8:6: “He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises” (NRSV). Before developing further the theme of covenant, two benefits of Christ’s death are stated. First, his death provided an inheritance for those who are called—that is, for his brothers and sisters who were to inherit salvation (1:14; 4:1; 6:17). Here salvation is cast in terms of the promised inheritance developed earlier (4:1-11; 6:12-20). How Christ’s death makes this inheritance available will become evident in the writer's play on the word “covenant” as also meaning

“will” (vv. 16-17). Second, Christ’s death sets us free from transgressions under the first covenant. The metaphor of redeeming occurred at v. 12 and has enjoyed wide employment in Christian circles outside Hebrews (e.g., Rom 3:24-26; Eph 1:7). That these transgressions occurred under the first covenant is simply a restatement of vv. 9-10 and refers to the impotence of the levitical cultus to remove sin. No complicated relationship between cultus and sin similar to Paul’s argument about law and sin (Romans 7) is here implied. In vv. 16-17 the writer proceeds to argue the necessity of Christ’s death for the inauguration of the new covenant, and the argument is based on the principle that a covenant takes effect only at death. What is not altogether clear is the author’s meaning when using the word “covenant.” The term S:a8jKn (diathekeé) may be translated both “covenant” and “will.” If the writer is here playing on the ambiguity of the word and means “will” (as both the NRSV and the NIV have it), then vv. 16-17 are clear and straightforward: A will does not go into effect until the death of the one making the will. The application to Christ’s death is self-evident. Such a wordplay is possible here;°° the author has already proved to be quite a rhetorician and certainly wordplays were not only permitted but encouraged by teachers of rhetoric.°” It is not necessary to argue that in Hebrews a word has only a single meaning (cf. the range of meanings in the word “perfect,” noted earlier). However, the difficulty with shifting the meaning of the word from “covenant” to “will” is that while making a clear and selfcontained argument for the necessity of Christ’s 95. The word is used in the title for the Christian Scriptures: the New Covenant or the New Testament (Will). 96. So argues Attridge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 253-56. 97. See discussion and examples in Cornificius Ad Herennium IV. 14. 20-21.


HEBREWS 9:15-22 COMMENTARY substances used, the writer draws the reader’s death, the change of translation interrupts rather attention to one element only: “This is the blood than contributes to the flow of the discussion. The of the covenant that God has ordained for you” word is clearly “covenant” in v. 15, and when the writer proceeds to give an example in wv. 18-21, (v. 20; cf. Exod 24:8). The writer may have used the word is again “covenant.” The question is this: a slightly different translation of Exod 24:8, may Do wv. 16-17 make sense if the key term keeps the have quoted from a liturgy, or may have been sense of “covenant”? Yes, if one assumes the writer paraphrasing. is arguing on the basis of ancient rites of covenant 9:22. At this point the author feels justified in making in which the slaughter of an animal symstating a general truth. The maxim-like affirmation bolically represented the parties who pledged with consists of two parts. First, “under the law almost their lives the keeping of the covenant.”* The person everything is purified with blood” (v. 22a). The or persons ratifying the covenant have thus in a qualifier “almost” is an acknowledgment that in figure given their lives. This may be implied in v. the levitical system there were some rituals of 17, where the expression “takes effect at death” is cleansing using substances other than blood. Secliterally “takes effect on dead bodies.” In support of ond, “without the shedding of blood” there is no this interpretation one may recall the dividing of “putting away” or “removal” of sins (v. 220; the slaughtered animals on the occasion of God’s coveGreek text does not have “of sins” as in the nant with Abraham (Gen 15:6-21) and God’s words NRSV). As this statement looks backward, it refers to an Israel that had not Kept the covenant, “I will _ to the removal of impurities and uncleanness of make like the calf when they cut it in two and the body (vv. 10, 13). Such was the limited passed between its parts” (Jer 34:18 NRSV). In other efficacy of the old system. As this statement looks words, God accepted the blood of the animal as a forward, it anticipates Christ’s atoning work and substitute for the people’s blood, but now that they his mediation of a new covenant under which “I had broken the covenant, the pledge of their blood will remember their sins no more” (8:12 NRSV). (lives) will be collected (cf. also Ps 50:5). One may As a whole the statement is a fitting summary of understand death, therefore, as necessary for the the claims made about blood thus far in this effectiveness of a “covenant” as well as for a “will.” chapter: Blood provides entrance before God (v. 9:18-21. If vv. 16-17 provide the argument in 7), purification of the conscience (v. 14), inauguprinciple, these verses provide the example of the ration of a covenant (v. 18), cleansing of those shedding of blood as essential in the inauguration entering a covenant (v. 19), and purifying of of a covenant. The writer draws on the tradition almost everything (v. 22). Not surprisingly, then, of the covenant at Sinai to make the point. The the writer repeats the phrase already twice used reader who turns to Exodus 24 to read in full the (vv. 7, 18), a phrase cast as a double negative for account of the ritual recalled in vv. 19-20 may be emphasis: “not without” or, as best translated surprised to find noticeable differences. Apparhere, “without blood shedding, there is no forently the writer of Hebrews is either following a giveness.” Again, let it be said to the reader whose tradition other than Exodus 24 or is taking the confession and piety do not include the language “first covenant” in a general sense and hence feels of blood sacrifice that both the understanding and free to amalgamate various rituals performed “unthe appreciation of the message of Hebrews reder the law” (v. 22). To the Sinai ceremonies, quires placing oneself within a cultus in which goats are added from the Day of Atonement, and the above-mentioned vocabulary and actions were water, scarlet wool, and hyssop from the cereintegral to rituals of cleansing, renewal, approachmony of the red heifer. Other embellishments ing God, and community forming. The writer is may be the author’s own or drawn from liturgies unavailable to us.” But for all the complexity of presenting the benefits of Christ for believers in the Sinai covenant ritual and in spite of all the these same images, obviously with hope for the same effects: cleansing, renewal, approaching 98. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, 242-43, defends this position. God, and community formation. (See Reflections 99. N. H. Young, “The Gospel According to Hebrews 9,” NTS 27 (1981) 205. at 9:23-10:18.)


HEBREWS 9:23-10:18

Hebrews 9:23-10:18, The New and Final Sacrifice NIV


3It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. *For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. *Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. ?°Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. ?7Just

23Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better

sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27And just as it is appointed for mortals to die

as man is destined to die once, and after that to

once, and after that the judgment, 7°so Christ,

face judgment, **so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. ] Oj. law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. °But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, “because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. STherefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; Swith burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7Then I said, ‘Here | am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’”? 8First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). °Then he said, “Here a7 Psalm 40:6-8 (see Septuagint)

having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. ] Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it? can never, by the same

sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. *Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? *But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. °Consequently, when Christ? came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; ° in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your

will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book‘ it is written of me).” 8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are of fered according to the law), °then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the aOther ancient authorities read they Gk uncertain



6Gk he ©

¢ Meaning of

HEBREWS 9:23-10:18 NIV


I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. '°And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrtifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. "Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand

first in order to establish the second. '°And it is by God’s will? that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sactifices that can never take away sins. '?But when Christ® had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,”

3and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” !4For

of God. 'Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. 'SThe Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. Firsthe says: '6“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”? Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”? '8And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. 416 Jer. 31:33

by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. "And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” '7 he also adds, “I will remember‘ their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” '8Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. aGk by that will

617 Jer. 31:34

6 Gk this one

¢Gkon their minds and I

will remember

COMMENTARY far to press the analogy in v. 23. Animal sacrifices purify the earthly sanctuary (Lev 16:16; 20:3; 21:23; Num 19:20). Does this mean that the better sacrifice of Christ purifies the heavenly sanctuary? If thus pressed, then there is sin or impurity in the heavenly realm in need of cleansing. Some proponents of this view draw from Revelation 12 (Satan in heaven) and from the belief in hostile principalities and powers in heavenly places, familiar from the Pauline circle (e.g., Rom 8:38; Eph 3:10). However, such excursions take us far afield from the thought world of Hebrews. It seems wiser to take the analogy in a broad and general sense, to understand that Christ has entered the heavenly sanctuary with a better sacrifice—that is, himself—but to draw no more detailed comparisons than the writer does in the verses that follow (vv. 24-26). As for the purging

The argument now moves away from the focus on sacrificial victims and blood and back to the discussion in vv. 11-14. The occasion is the Day of Atonement, the officiant is the high priest, and the setting is the inner sanctuary. However, as at vv. 11-14, the reader is asked to think again in the Platonic categories of the real or true heavenly sanctuary and its earthly shadow or sketch; that is, the one Moses built (see Commentary on 8:1-6). The rites described earlier (vv. 18-21) purified the building, vessels, and people related to the tabernacle, which was but a copy of the heavenly one, but the heavenly sanctuary itself requires a better sacrifice (v. 23). The use of the plural “better sacrifices” is not meant to imply more than one (the writer is adamant about that!) but simply to parallel “these rites.” 9:23-26. Interpreters are divided as to how


HEBREWS 9:23-10:18 COMMENTARY or cleansing in the heavenly or spiritual world, the writer has spoken only of the purifying or perfecting of the conscience of the believers (vv. 9, 14). Whether identifying the cleansing of the heavenly tabernacle with the purifying of the conscience is an interpretation too subjective is a judgment withheld until further discussion by the writer.’ For the present, it is important to maintain the contrasts between Christ ahd the levitical high priest and to underline elements in the contrasts appropriate to the argument. Maintaining the contrasts involves repetition: Christ appeared in heaven itself, not in an earthly copy (8:2-6); Christ offered himself, not the blood of another sacrifice; Christ entered the presence of God, not the inner tent with only symbols of God’s presence; Christ offered himself once for all, not again and again; Christ removed sin, not bodily impurities (vv. 10, 13). Within these contrasts, the writer calls attention to several aspects of Christ’s high priestly ministry. That Christ’s appearance in God’s presence was “on our behalf” recalls the intercessory function of his ministry (2:18; 4:15; 7:25). This accent must not, however, diminish the importance of his act of sacrifice for the removal of sin. The intercession before God is not to be separated from the cross, which preceded it. In fact, the expression “to suffer” (v. 26) is clearly a reference to the death on the cross. That Christ’s sacrifice was “once for all” (7:27; 9:12) is underscored by the absurd alternative: Otherwise it would be necessary for him to die repeatedly “from the foundation of the world”— that is, from the very inception of God’s purpose (4:3). A third and final accent amid the repetitions of vv. 24-26 is the portrayal of Christ’s sacrifice of himself as an eschatological event: “He has appeared once for all at the end of the age” (v. 26). The phrase here translated “the end of the age” is found elsewhere in the NT in Matthew (Matt 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20), but the view of Christ as the central eschatological event is more widely expressed (1 Cor 10:11; Gal 4:4; 1 Pet 1:20). That his coming was called an “appearing” or “manifestation” seems to have become lodged in liturgy (1 Tim 3:16; 2 Tim 1:9-10; Titus 2:11; 1 Pet 1:20; 1 John 1:2). The affinity of v. 26 with 100. See W. L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, WBC 47B (Dallas: Word, 247-48, for an alternative interpretation.

1 Pet 1:20 is striking: “He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake” (NRSV). 9:27-28. Quite possibly these verses contain lines drawn from the catechesis the readers had

received at baptism (6:1-2). The comparison between the common human experience (to die only once and then to be judged) and Christ’s salvific work (offered for sins only once and then to appear again to save) is formally balanced, perhaps an excerpt. In content, the comparison joins a popular truism (one death is ordained for each person), an allusion to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (bearing the sins of many, Isa 53:12), and the cultic imagery common to this epistle (offered for sin). But whether from a catechism or original, the central point is not our death and judgment; these serve as analogies to underscore the emphasis on the once-for-all nature of Christ’s high priestly ministry. The cross and Christ’s entry into God’s presence happened once, are effective for “many,” and will not be repeated. What will happen a second time is his appearing, but this time it will be “apart from sin”; that is, his second appearance will not be to deal with sin, since that work was done once for all. Rather, the Second Coming (that this is a reference to the parousia is clear) will be for the consummation of salvation for those eagerly awaiting his coming. Verse 286 could be translated, “He will be seen by those eagerly expecting him for salvation” (cf. Sir 50:5-10). The writer may here be returning to the image of the Day of Atonement ritual. While all the worshipers waited outside, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, in the very presence of God. Will the high priest reappear, or is it too audacious for any person to approach God? The people eagerly await his “second coming.” 10:1-18. With this passage the exposition of the high priestly ministry of Christ comes to a close (8:1-10:18); exhortation is resumed at v. 19. At v. 18 the writer will also conclude the interpretation of Jeremiah 31 (8:8-12) and the new covenant, the centerpiece text for the entire argument of 8:1-10:18. The discussion in 10:1-18 falls naturally into two parts: vv. 1-10 and vv.

Lle1e. 10:1-10. The reader of these verses will need to be careful, lest the high degree of repetition



HEBREWS 9:23-10:18 COMMENTARY focuses on the objective rather than the subjective side of Christ’s sacrifice), but attention to the spiritual gain for the Christian is increased. No doubt, the writer is now responding to the inwardness of the new covenant (mind, heart, knowing without instruction, favored with God’s mercy and forgiveness) of Jeremiah 31, quoted at 8:8-12 and repeated in part at 10:16-17. A key term in the discussions of the subjective side of Christ’s sacrifice for sin is “conscience.” The reader met the word at 9:9, at which point an unperfected or unpurified conscience was presented as a hindrance to worship—that is, to access to God. At 9:14 it is clear that the benefit of Christ’s self-sacrifice is the purifying of the conscience from dead works (see Commentary on 6:1) in order that worship of God may follow. The major inadequacy of the system of animal offerings was not only the inability to remove the “conscience of sins” (“consciousness of sin,” NRSV; “felt guilty for their sins,” NIV), but also a reminder, by the fact of constant repetition, of the very sin that could not be erased by the process (vv. 2-3). Of the five occurrences of the term “conscience” in Hebrews, the remaining two will be at 10:22 and 13:18, in each case consistent with the uses at 9:9, 14 and 10:2. Thus this ancient word, variously used in Hellenistic, Jewish, and Christian writers to refer to the human capacity for self-knowing, self-accusing, and when liberated, self-affirming,' is the writer’s term of choice for locating the place where the “objective” act of Christ’s sacrifice meets the “subjective” self of the believer. Nearing the end of the discussion of the new and final sacrifice of Christ, the writer now seeks to show more convincingly the contrast between the levitical priesthood and Christ’s by citing a psalm text that will demonstrate that within the old system itself could be found declarations of its own failing. Such is the focus of vv. 5-10, which consist of a biblical quotation with a brief midrash or commentary. Psalm 40:6-8 is introduced as words of Christ at the time of his incarnation, his coming into the world (cosmos). Attributing OT citations to Christ is fully in accord with Hebrews christology (1:1-4) and has been done previously at 2:12-13. Also consistent with the writer’s prac-

lull the mind into missing what is strikingly new here. For example, vv. 1-4 seem at first merely a summary of what has been said since 9:1. However, a closer reading reveals a new perspective and a new accent. The new perspective has to do with the use of the “shadow/substance” schema associated with Plato’s philosophy and introduced into Hebrews at 8:2-6 (see Commentary on 8:5). In chaps. 8-9 the schema used spatial categories; that is, the earthly tabernacle was but a shadow of the true and real heavenly tabernacle. At 10:1, however, the “shadow” and the “true form”! are temporal categories referring to what the law “foreshadows” and the “good things to come” in Christ. That the benefits in Christ are “to come” does not mean that they are totally futuristic from the believer’s perspective but that from the perspective of the law they were “to come.” By returning to the temporal categories (past, present, future), the writer can again discuss the historical dimension of Christ’s high priestly ministry— namely, his death on the cross. With spatial categories, the ministry of Christ was presented as heavenly, in the true tabernacle, while the levitical ministrations were earthly. Now both Levites and Christ are historically portrayed as anticipation and fulfillment. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of this shift to temporal categories, without which the death on the cross (historical) would not be an integral part of Christ’s high priestly service. Christ’s ministry as our high priest would be limited to the heavenly work of intercession in the presence of God. If the death on the cross were but a preface to Christ’s ministry and not part of that ministry, the evaporation of the Christian religion into a gnostic myth could be more easily achieved. It was stated above that with 10:1 came a new perspective (not really new but a return to the perspective of Hebrews prior to 8:2) and a new accent. The new perspective is a move away from the spatial categories (above, below) and a return to the temporal categories (old, new). The new accent is the impact of the high priestly ministry of Christ on the believer. Again, the subject is not new (cf. 9:14, even though most of 9:11-28 101. Use of the term “form” (cix«v eikon) does not imply three levels of being: shadow, form, and reality. Here the “true form” (or lit., “the form itself”) refers to the reality itself. This is not an unusual use of the term. See the articles by V. Rad, G. Kittel, and H. Kleinknecht in 7DN7,

102. See C. A. Pierce, Conscience in the New Testament (Chicago: Alec Allenson, 1955) esp. 40-53, 99-103.



HEBREWS 9:23—10:18 COMMENTARY tice is the use of verbs of speaking (“he says”) rather than “it is written.” In its own context, Ps 40:6-8 is a familiar prophetic warning against excessive dependence on ritual and a testimony to God’s preference for obedience and observance of the law within the heart (1 Sam 15:22; Ps 50:8-10; Isa 1:10-13; Jer 7:21-24; Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21-26). This particular citation, however, fits extremely well the writer’s purpose in a number of ways: the sharp contrast between the levitical cultus and Christ’s willing obedience; the contrast between animal offerings and Christ’s offering of his body; the contrast between ritual and the law in the heart. All of these accents serve well the author’s use of Jeremiah 31 with its description of the qualities that prevail under the new covenant. The sacrifice of his own will to God’s and the inwardness of God’s law mark the high priestly ministry of Christ. Between Ps 40:6-8 LXX and its quotation in Heb 10:5-7 there are a number of minor alterations (perhaps made by the writer of Hebrews), but one difference is both noticeable and important: In the Hebrew text and in some texts of the LXX, Ps 40:6 reads, “Ears you have dug for me” (NRSV, “You have given me an open ear”). The image is of one prepared to listen and to obey (as at Isa 50:5 in the description of God’s servant). However, the writer of Heb 10:5 uses a variant reading of the LXX text of Ps 40:6 that replaces “ear” (wtlov otion) with “body” (odua soma). This alternate reading fits perfectly the argument now being brought to a close; that is, not through the repeated rituals of the law’s system, but “through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all” (v. 10) we have been sanctified (2:11; 9:13; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:12). This sanctification is another way of saying what is expressed elsewhere as the cleansing or perfecting of the conscience. Here the writer is underscoring the interiority of both Christ’s act (a delighted willingness to do God’s will) and its benefit (our sanctification). Without directly saying so, the writer is commenting on the inwardness of the new covenant (on the mind, in the heart, mercy and forgiveness). But the word “body,” so important in 10:5-10, stands firm to prevent a totally subjective reading of Christ’s redemptive work. Thus it is a citation from the OT itself, Ps 40:6-8, that authorizes for the writer a bold con-

clusion: “He abolishes the first in order to establish the second” (v. 9; also 8:13). It is important to note that this conclusion is based on the OT’s self-criticism and attempt to correct itself (Ps 40:68 is but one example) rather than a Christian critique of the OT. Just as Jeremiah saw a new covenant replacing the old (31:31-35), so also the psalmist saw the end of the old sacrificial system and the inauguration of the new. The Christian contribution to the thought here is in hearing in Ps 40:6-8 the voice of Christ himself as the one through whom the old ends and the new begins. The reader is now ready to move on to wv. 11-18—except for the nagging uncertainty of the meaning of the rather parenthetical ending of the quotation: “in the scroll of the book it is written of me” (v. 7). For the psalmist, two possible meanings suggest themselves. The line could refer to the common notion of God’s making entries in a book about each of us, what we are to do and

what we do (Pss 56:8; 139:16). Or the psalmist may have had in mind the book of the laws governing the conduct of the king (Deut 17:18). For the Christian reader, the statement may be taken as a general reference to all in the OT that points to Christ. Such a view permits the kind of christological reading we find in Hebrews. 10:11-18. These verses conclude the exposition that constitutes the central section of Hebrews (8:1—10:18). As a conclusion, these verses offer a summary of points already made rather than new material. From a rhetorical point of view, however, this conclusion is worthy of investigation. For example, notice the contrast between other priests and Christ. They stand, because their work never ends but is, rather, a day-after-day-after-day tedium of ineffectiveness; Christ sits, because his single offering once for all has been completed, and he has only to wait until all its effects are brought to fruition. Citing Ps 110:1, with which this section began (8:1), the author relates that the eschatological consummation of Christ’s sacrifice will see all his enemies become a footstool for his feet. The language of “enemies” is preserved but without identification of who or what they are. The one benefit of Christ’s priestly work that is specified is the perfection of the ones “being sanctified” (ayidfw hagiazo, v. 14, present tense, indicating “in process”). The statement combines the idea of fin-


HEBREWS 9:23—10:18 COMMENTARY to Christ, or to the Holy Spirit. And given the unified vision of what God is doing from the beginning up to and including these last days in which the Son acts finally and sufficiently, the writer is also comfortable in saying that the words of Jeremiah 31 are “to us” (v. 15). The new covenant is now in place, and its benefits are ours. This is the last word. And the very last word is no more—no more remembrance of sin—and no longer—no longer any need for the continuation of cultic acts that by their very repetition testified to their ineffectiveness. Christ, our high priest, has effected forgiveness of sin.

ished work with the acknowledgment that the believers are still moving toward that completion. (For the different meanings of the word “perfection” in Hebrews, see Commentary on 2:10; 5:9, $A 19, 28%.9:9°-10: 1.) At this point the writer returns to Jeremiah 31, having come full circle since introducing this classic text on the new covenant (8:8-12). Only two features of that covenant are here repeated: its inwardness and God’s remembering sin no more (Jer 31:33a, 340). At 8:8 the citation of Jeremiah 31 was introduced as God’s words; here “the Holy Spirit testifies” (3:7). The writer is comfortable attributing words of Scripture to God,

REFLECTIONS 1. The teacher or preacher who leads a group of reader-listeners into 8:1-10:18 will want to think through in advance what may be major obstacles not simply to understanding this section but to appreciating it and to appropriating it as a meaningful way of entering into and being sustained by God’s behavior toward us in Jesus Christ. The density of the text and its unfamiliar vocabulary will be somewhat daunting. The frequent repetition of points already made may dull interest. But perhaps most critical for fruitful engagements with this material will be introducing participants to a world of ritual, for many a strange and new world. There is a tent or tabernacle that is a “tent of meeting,” a place for meeting, not other persons for fellowship and conviviality, but God. In the tabernacle are pieces of furniture, each with historical and theological significance. There are special persons who minister as priests at the tabernacle, with clear regulations as to appointed days and appointed rituals. On the appointed Day of Atonement the high priest enters alone, beyond the chamber where priests serve into the Most Holy Place to minister before the Mercy Seat, the place of meeting between God and persons who wait anxiously outside for the return of the high priest, who has approached God on their behalf. It is on this analogy, by careful comparisons and contrasts, that the writer of Hebrews frames Christ’s redemptive activity on our behalf. Why so much preparatory work by the teacher or preacher? Because many people have no significant ritual life, religious, political, or cultural, from which to draw analogies. There is a sharp decline in those commemorative events, bodily practices, and public recitals by which people remember and participate in their own history. But this effort with persons lacking memory, theological vocabulary, and significant ceremonies can prove not only satisfying but also life changing. If creating liturgical memories needs explanation or justification, one can begin by pointing out how integral to the experience of a baseball or football game are certain always-repeated sights, sounds, and even smells. 2. At 8:1-5 the writer introduces into christology the spatial categories of the heavenly and real and the earthly, which is a shadow or sketch of the real. Temporal categories, by which the writer presents God’s activity in history, culminating in Jesus Christ, have been and will continue to be used. This heavenly/earthly schema is somewhat different from Paul’s descent/ascent christological pattern, but both testify to the early church’s struggle to find categories adequate to carry the weight of a message reaching into all time and space. In every generation the church seeks in its cultural context vehicles for conveying the gospel. In the case of Heb 8:1-5, the source seems to be Plato, mediated through Philo and certain rabbinic


HEBREWS 9:23—10:18 REFLECTIONS exegetes. Identifying sources then and now is important for understanding. However, one wants to avoid the genetic fallacy of thinking that by identifying a source one has explained a concept or image. Oral footnotes, like written ones, often seduce both speaker and listener into thinking a matter has been explained when actually it has only been surrounded. 3. The writer follows the portrayal of Moses’ desert tabernacle as a shadow or sketch of the true heavenly one with repeated discussions of the inabilities of its ritual system (9:1-15, 23-28; 10:1-4). Neither the blood of calves and goats nor the countless other offerings of its priests take away sin. It is very likely that many worshipers before that tabernacle would agree. Prophets warned against excessive dependence on the prescribed rituals (10:5-6, citing Ps 40:6-7), but they did not call for an abolition of tabernacle or temple services. An institution and its ceremonies, which do not provide the ultimate benefit, forgiveness and access to God, can still be of immense value to a community. One should not, therefore, take the designation “sketch” or “shadow” as occasion to speak pejoratively of the tabernacle of Israel beyond such speaking in the text itself. That the desert tent was a copy of the heavenly one (8:5) is not altogether a negative appraisal. And Moses built it according to God’s instruction! Already there is reason enough to reflect on its values. Neither the church nor its several ceremonies assure forgiveness of sin and access to God, but that does not disqualify them as valueless. God can be the source of and authorization for activities, places, persons, and rituals that are not finally salvific but are quite providential in the forming and sustaining of a people. As long as the provisional is not elevated to become the ultimate and absolute, both law and cultus can be held in high and healthy regard as gifts of God. Such a caution also includes the church. 4. The argument of 8:1-10:18 is in large measure an exegesis of Jeremiah 31 (Heb 8:8-12; 10:16-17). Because the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 is discussed in a Christian document, it is easy to forget that the new covenant was God’s promise to Israel through one of Israel’s prophets. A strength of vital religion is its willingness to be self-reflective, to balance calls to remember with calls to move beyond former things, to interpret afresh its own texts and institutions. Jeremiah’s message was not a call to return to Sinai but to accept a new covenantal relationship with God, a relationship characterized as God-centered, relational, inward, and with forgiveness that frees persons to move forward. Hebrews tells the church to overhear Jeremiah’s word from God, to accept it and become heirs of its promises through the mediating act of Christ, but not to become so possessive of it as to forget that it is the offer of a God who is always doing a new thing. Above all, God is a God who enters into covenants with human beings and in those covenants remains faithful. 5. The inwardness of which Jeremiah 31 speaks is characterized by the words “mind” and “heart”; a favorite term for the writer of Hebrews is “conscience” (9:9, 14; 10:2, 22; 13:18). This word has had an ambiguous history among Greeks, Jews, and Christians,’ but in Hebrews it refers at least to the center of our being, doing, and valuing, the “place” in us where the self-giving of Christ meets us and perfects or completes us, and the seat of all conduct and relationships. But two reminders about inwardness are in order. First, the interiority of our faith has its origin and prompting in the interiority of Christ’s own ministry—the sacrifice of his will to the will of God and his delight in doing God’s will (10:5-7). Second, the whole redemptive work of Christ cannot be written without remainder on the human mind or heart or conscience. Out there, historically and objectively, are the person of Jesus, who lived among us as one like us, the cross on which was offered the body of Jesus, the community with whom and among whom the benefits of Christ’s ministry are shared, and the world, created and upheld by the word of his power (1:2-3). 103. See Pierce, Conscience in the New Testament ,esp. 40-53, 99-103.


HEBREWS 9:23—10:18 REFLECTIONS 6. We have had occasion to observe that “blood” is in the ancient texts the equivalent of “life” and that the writer of Hebrews at times makes the exchange so that Christ’s sacrifice is the offering of himself (as at 9:14), presenting to God his life. While modern readers may find this expression more palatable than “shedding blood,” it also moves the act of Christ within the circle of response and responsibility by his followers. This is to say, Christ’s offering of his life to God was the ultimate act of worship in order that we, with purified consciences, may “worship the living God.” What, then, is this worship if it is not the offering of ourselves to God in ways appropriate to the nature of God and the needs that present themselves to us? On this matter, the word of Hebrews is not unlike the urging of Paul to the Roman Christians: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1 NRSV). 7. At 10:15 the writer says that the words of Jeremiah 31 are “to us.” How can that be, given the historical location of Jeremiah and his audience? Paul also spoke of ancient texts as having been written “to instruct us” (1 Cor 10:11 NRSV). He found a linkage in the parallels between the wilderness experiences of Israel and the “wilderness” experiences of the Corinthian church. The writer of Hebrews spoke similarly in discussing the available sabbath rest (Heb 3:7—4:11). But here the words are “to us” by virtue of being words of the Holy Spirit, which makes the past present. Instead of “It is written... ,” which then requires a hermeneutical move from past to present, from “meant” to “means,” the writer’s use of “The Holy Spirit says...” implies that distances between past and present are dissolved. When words of Scripture are presented as words of the Spirit, every generation is in turn addressed; all can say the words are “to us.” This does not mean the writer has made an uncritical argument by proof text. In the exegesis of Jeremiah 31, the case has been made that the promised new covenant is inaugurated by the covenant-sealing death of Christ. The benefits of that covenant are now in effect: The word is “to us.” 8. In the struggle to understand and communicate the content of 8:1—10:18, the preacher will not want to miss the forceful rhetoric of this epistle-sermon. The two most operative rhetorical devices of this section are repetition and contrast. Under the cultural pressure to say something new in a new way, the preacher may too easily abandon the time-tested value of repetition used in the service of memory, clarity, and cumulative impact. As for contrasts, rhetoricians have long known the persuasiveness of sharp, clear, bold presentations framed as old/new, dead/alive, ineffective/effective, apparent/real, endless repetition/once for all, shadow/substance. Consider one example among many. At 10:11-12, two images are offered. One is of a priest, standing, working in the relentless cycle of the day-after-day repetition of the same words and actions. It is the picture of futility. The other image is of a priest who has made a single offering, a one-time-only act, and is now seated, waiting for the full harvest of benefits from that never-to-be-repeated sacrifice. It is the picture of finality. Much that is presented from desk and pulpit is, of course, properly framed as “both-and.” However, in most recitals of events and relationships there are also discontinuities that beg for crispness and clarity. The writer of Hebrews offers a model for casting such material “on the one hand/but on the other hand.”


HEBREWS 10:19-39 OVERVIEW HEBREWS 10:19-39, LIFE IN RESPONSE TO . THIS MINISTRY OF CHRIST OVERVIEW With this unit the “difficult” discussion comes to a close. Perhaps more correctly, the discussion of Christ’s high priestly ministry (7:1-10:18) is now followed with the kind of hortatory material that preceded it. The larger arrangement looks something like this: 5:116:20, exhortation; 7:1-10:18, exposition; 10:19-39, exhortation. Upon closer examination it is clear that the hortatory material in 10:1939 parallels in form that which preceded the

exposition. In 5:11-6:20, the author provides admonition (5:11—6:3), stern warning (6:4-8), and encouragement based on the church’s history of performance (6:9-20). Likewise, here the exhortation consists of admonition (10:19-25), stern warning (10:26-31), and encouragement based on the church’s previous performances (10:32-39). This symmetry is not accidental and testifies to the considerable rhetorical skills of the writerpreacher.

Hebrews 10:19-25, A Threefold Admonition NIV


'2Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, ?°by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, ?'and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. **Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

19Therefore, my friends,? since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, “°by the new and living way that he opened for

us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), land since we have a great priest over the house of God, *2let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. ?*Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. aGk Therefore, brothers

(COMMENTARY addressees (“Let us”). The paragraph is, in the Greek text, one extended sentence consisting of a statement of the christological grounds for the admonition (vv. 19-21) and the admonition itself (vv. 22-25). The christological grounds are two: “having boldness or confidence” and “having a great priest.” The translation “since we have”

In this first of the three distinct paragraphs of this unit, the writer begins to develop the implications of what has been said for the lives of the readers (“therefore”). They are directly addressed (“Brothers and sisters,” trans. “friends” in the NRSV for variety; cf. 3:1, 12), and the admonitions again include the writer along with the


HEBREWS 10:19-25 COMMENTARY sarx) as appositional to “curtain,” (kataTéTaocpa katapetasma) thereby identifying his flesh as the curtain or veil. Such a strict equation raises for many some uneasy questions.’ For example, since the curtain is a barrier, an obstacle to access to God, does this imply that in his lifetime, “in the days of his flesh,” Jesus posed a barrier to God, a barrier that had to be removed if we were to be able to approach God? Certainly nothing in Hebrews about the historical Jesus can be so construed; quite the contrary, his life among us as one who identified in sympathy with his brothers and sisters is most positively portrayed. In addition, nowhere else in Hebrews, with all its discussion of the veil of the tabernacle, is the veil identified as Christ’s body. The REB breaks up the identification of veil and body with the translation, “the way of his flesh.” This rendering may not be justified, but the interpretive attempt is welcomed. This is to say that “his flesh” should be understood in the movement of the entire passage; the way through the veil has been provided by the offering of himself, by his death, by his own blood. Such an understanding is fully in accord with the entire context and says anew what was stated at 9:12-14 (see also 10:10). The first ground, therefore, on which subsequent admonitions will rest is our confidence to approach God, because Christ’s self-offering has made the way available (vv. 19-20). The second is more briefly stated: “and since we have a great priest over the house of God” (v. 21). The writer is not adding anything to the discussion, but is, rather, employing two phrases to evoke for the reader key presentations made earlier; “great priest” recalls 4:14-16 and “house of God” brings to mind 3:1-6. Those passages are clearer and richer in meaning given the discussion of 7:1— 10:18. Having laid this foundation, the author proceeds directly to three admonitions. 10:22-25. First, “let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Our approach to God, of which the writer has already spoken (4:16; 7:19), does not have here a stated purpose, but undoubtedly it is “to worship the living God!” (9:14 NRSV). As will be unfolded, worship has communal and moral, as well as liturgical, impli-

alerts the reader that conclusions are soon to be drawn. The conclusions consist of a threefold admonition, each portion beginning with the hortatory formula “let us”: Let us approach God; let us hold fast; and let us help one another. The first admonition centers on faith, the second on hope, and the third on love, giving the paragraph the balanced and rounded-off quality of a homily. 10:19-21. Not surprisingly, these verses are filled with words and phrases used earlier; after all, subsequent injunctions will depend on and flow out of earlier discussions. The confidence or boldness of which the writer has previously spoken in a strongly subjective sense (3:6; 4:16) now carries more objective weight in that the believer’s boldness has been given firm footing, “authorization,”'* by the entrance of our pioneer, our forerunner (2:10; 6:20) Jesus, who did so in the offering of his own blood. The “on our behalf” quality of his act is implicit in the statement “we enter in the blood of Jesus.” Our entrance is into the sanctuary, the Most Holy Place, where God dwells and where Christ now is (2:10; 4:3, 10; 6:19). The high priestly act of Christ’s self-giving does not leave us outside, as the ancient worshipers stood anxiously awaiting the exit of the high priest, but removes all obstacles to our own access to God. In the vivid metaphor of the Synoptics, the veil has been rent from top to bottom (Mark 15:38 and par.). The cultic language (“by the blood of Jesus”) is preserved, but there is no question, as unique as his act was, that our entry by the “new” (tpdobatos prosphatos, a rare word used only here in the NT) and “living” (4:12; 7:25; 10:31) way will be after the manner of his—and that is by obedience to God’s will (10:5-10). That fact will be spelled out in the remainder of the letter. The translation of nyiv evekatvioev (hemin enekainisen) as “he opened for us” (v. 20) does not quite carry the freight of meaning. More literally, the writer says, “He inaugurated for us,” language that echoes the entire new covenant discussion (cf. 9:18) and sets the reader in that theological context. There has been much debate over the ambiguous phrase “through the curtain [that is, through his flesh]” (v. 20). Essentially the issue is whether the reader is to take “flesh” (adpé

105. The alternative views are clearly presented in F. F. Bruce, The

Epistle to the Hebrews, rev. ed., NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 247-49.

104. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, 279.


HEBREWS 10:19-25 COMMENTARY cations. The writer feels the need to say here what should be assumed without being stated: Our approach should be with sincerity and integrity (“true heart,” Isa 38:3) and with abundant faith (6:11). These qualities are born of the confidence (recall both its subjective and objective sides) granted by the act of Christ on our behalf. As preparation for this worshipful approach to

another to love and good deeds” (v. 24). This is now the second time the writer has called on his readers to “consider,” “to think mutually about a matter” (3:1). What is to be considered are ways to “provoke” or “irritate” one another. The word Tapoévaos (paroxysmos) can also be translated “pester.” Provocation can, of course, have a negative sense (Num 14:11; Deut 1:34; Acts 15:39; 1 Cor 13:5), but the word also had a positive use in the sense of disturbing the apathetic or fearful person into activity. Such is its present use: to produce love and good works. The expression is strong but necessary for a community earlier characterized as inattentive, neglectful, and drifting. To this third admonition, like the first, are attached two participial expressions. The first is negative, indicating that some members of the community are neglecting (“abandoning”; cf. Matt 27:46; 2 Tim 4:10, 16) the assembly, the gathering for worship, and acts of mutual support. The reason for this desertion is not stated; later chapters will suggest possibilities: fear of persecution, heresy, feeling the group is not essential to personal faith, leadership tensions, discouragement over the delay of the parousia. This last possibility is suggested by the second participial addition: “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (v. 250). This call for mutual encouragement recalls 3:13, at which point the NRSV chose to use the other sense of the verb, “exhort one another.” Given the condition of the church reflected in vv. 24-25, “exhorting” may be the better translation here. References to the day of the Lord, the day of judgment, or the day of Christ’s coming were so frequent and familiar that the writer needed only to say “the Day.” Reminders that the day was near (Rev 1:3) were integral to sustaining the eschatological expectation of the community, but with the passing of time and the increase of hardship, in some quarters these reminders suffered declining influence. (See Reflections at 10:32:39.)

God, we will have been granted that total cleansing not achieved under the old cultus. Bringing forward the now familiar image of sprinkling (9:13), the inward purification is of heart and conscience, also familiar terms for the interiority of life under the new covenant (8:10; 10:2). Somewhat surprisingly, the writer adds the washing of the body with pure water. This obvious reference to baptism not only recalls Israel’s cultic practice (Lev 16:4; Ezek 36:25-26), but also tes-

tifies to the early church’s joining of baptism to inward changes in the person being baptized. The language here may be liturgical. The similarity to 1 Pet 3:21 is striking: “And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (NRSV). Second, “let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering” (v. 23). Here is the second half of a rhythm recurring throughout the sermon: Let us approach (move forward); let us hold fast. Already the writer has urged this tenacity (3:6, 14; 4:14) and with special reference to hope, the “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain” (6:19 NRSV). Confidence and firmness to the end must characterize hope, because the final results of Christ’s work are not yet in and there are many enemies (10:13). This confidence is grounded, finally, not in the strength of our grasp but in the trustworthiness, the faithfulness of the one who keeps promises (6:13-18). Hence, “confidence” is never solely a subjective state of the believer. Third, “let us consider how to provoke one


HEBREWS 10:26-31

Hebrews 10:26-31, Warning About the Future NRSV


26For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, ?”but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. “Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy “on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” ??How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? *°For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, | will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

elf we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, @7but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. ??7How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? °°For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; | will repay,”? and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”° “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 430 Deut. 32:35

630 Deut. 32:36; Psalm 135:14

COMMENTARY Warnings to the readers have appeared in hortatory passages with some frequency (2:1-4; 3:12; 4:1), but by far the most severe occurred at 6:4-8. The warning here in 10:26-31 parallels 6:4-8 in both form and function. Each consists essentially of four statements: the previous experience of the believers; the apostasy; the impossibility of renewal; and the final fate.'°° A major difference between the two is that 10:26-31 is framed in the cultic language of the preceding exposition. It might be helpful to review 6:4-8 and commentary as preparation for reading 10:26-31. 10:26-27. The introductory “for” joins what follows to the exhortations immediately preceding (vv. 22-25). More specifically it is likely that v. 25 triggered this warning, because the writer has just referred to neglectful absence from church assemblies and the approach of the day of reckoning. In fact, the first-person plural of vv. 19-25, joining writer and readers in the same community

of grace and duty, continues in vv. 26-31. No one, not even the author-preacher, is exempt from the warning. The very first word in the Greek text (exovoiws hekousios) is “willfully” (“deliberately,” “intentionally”), its position of prominence announcing that it is the key term in the warning. Note also the use of the present tense of continuing action (“keep on sinning,” NIV; “persist in,” NRSV), making it clear that the violation and its penalty consist of sin that is intentional and continuous. In speaking of intentional or willful sin, the author is recalling the language of Num 15:22-31, where it is stipulated repeatedly that atonement ceremonies under the first covenant dealt with “unintentional” sins. The superiority of the new covenant to the old, as has been argued in 8:1-10:18, gives to the words “willful” and “continuous” a special gravity. That the warning is to those living within the new covenant is expressed in the phrase “after having received the knowledge of the truth” (v. 26). Here in digest is a reference to the benefits of the new covenant presented more elaborately in 6:4-5. Having “knowledge of the truth” seems

106. See W. L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, WBC 47B (Dallas: Word, 1991) 296-97, for a clear display of the parallels, not only between the two warnings but also between the encouragement passages that follow (6:9-

12; 10:32-36).


HEBREWS 10:26-31 COMMENTARY to have been a rather broadly used way by which early Christians referred to their faith experience (John 8:32; 17:3; 1 Tim 2:4; 4:3). It comes as no surprise to the reader that for those who thus repudiate the covenant with its benefits, which they had enjoyed, Christ’s sacrifice cannot be repeated (v. 26); that his self-offering was once for all has been repeatedly stated (10:10, 12, 14, 18). Instead of another sacrifice’ for sin, there awaits a certain judgment of fire (v. 27). While a general conflagration was widely associated with God’s final judgment (Isa 26:11; Zeph 1:18; Matt 25:41; 2 Pet 3:7, 12), the language here seems more reminiscent of the fiery punishment of the rebellious Levites under Korah’s leadership (Num 16, esp. v. 35). Those to be punished with raging fire are characterized as “adversaries,” persons who “stand over against” God. The writer may have in mind the enemies to be put underfoot, the image in Ps 110:1 (Heb 1:13; 10:13). 10:28-29. The argument here is on the pattern of “lesser to greater” (a@ fortiori), used also at 2:2-3. Under the law of Moses, the death penalty was stipulated for murder (Lev 24:17), for blasphemy (Lev 24:14-16), and for idolatry (Deut 17:2-7). This last violation is the one in the writer’s mind, since it constituted a breach of covenant, required the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut 17:2-7), and for it punishment was to be administered “without pity” (Deut 13:8), even if the guilty person were a relative or friend. The writer’s logic moves forward without wavering: If this sequence held for those who violated the old covenant, those who reject life under the new can expect even more severity. Greater blessings imply greater judgment; the measure of height is the measure of depth. In three participial phrases the violation of the apostates from the new covenant is graphically presented. First, they have trampled underfoot the Son of God (the NIV is more literally correct here). The verb “to trample” (katatatéw katapated) is used elsewhere to describe what happens to salt that has lost its savor (Matt 5:13), to pearls cast before swine (Matt 7:6), and to seed scattered on a path (Luke 8:5). One can hardly imagine a metaphor of greater contempt. The use of the title “Son of God” further underscores the depravity of the act. Second, they have treated as “common”/

the covenant. Although the phrase “blood of the covenant” recalls for Christians the eucharist (Mark 14:24 and par.; 1 Cor 11:25), there is no evidence that the writer is referring to a sacramental dispute that occupied a later generation.!°7 Here the term refers straightforwardly to Christ’s act of giving himself for our sins (9:12, 14; 10:19). And finally, the violators have “outraged” (evuBpiCw enyobrizo; “insulted,” NIV) the Spirit of grace. The participle is a form of the word transliterated Ayodris, used in the Hellenistic culture to refer to a haughty arrogance that belittles others.' At Matt 22:6 the word is translated “mistreated” (servants); at Luke 11:45, “insult”; and at 1 Thess 2:2, “shamefully mistreated.” These who have “shared in the Holy Spirit” (6:4) now behave toward that Spirit, which had made specific in their lives the grace of God, with words, conduct, and attitude borne of cynical self-importance. That the writer framed this strong sentence as a question (“What do you think these perpetrators deserve?”) does not reflect uncertainty but calls on the readers themselves to pronounce the sentence of judgment. 10:30-31. However, that judgment is not theirs to make. Judgment, like salvation, is God’s work, not the readers’, not their leaders’, and not the writer’s. And lest anyone think that the writer is making the judgment or is calling on the readers to do so, two texts are cited that remind everyone that judgment belongs to God alone (Deut 32:35a with a slight variation from the LXX, and Deut 32:36; also Rom 12:19). While judgment often involves the vindication of God’s people, at v. 30 the accent is clearly on the punishment of apostates. In closing the warning, the writer gathers up all that has been said in vv. 26-30 in a sentence that has the ring of holy law or prophetic pronouncement: “Fearful it is [“Fearful” is emphasized by being placed first in the sentence] to fall into the hands of the living God.” While falling into God’s hands can be an experience of comfort and rescue (2 Sam 24:14), it is not so here. The living God is held before apostates as “a consuming fire” (12:24). At stake is the majesty and holiness of God. 107. Ignatius To the Smyrneans VII. 108. See G. Bertram, “UBpis Aybris,” Theological Dictionary of the NT, 8:295-307. The opposite of Hybris is described by Philo Concerning God 10.5 as the character of God.

“vulgar”/“profane” (koivds koinos) the blood of


HEBREWS 10:26-31 COMMENTARY saries. The position and public esteem of the patron would require severe punishment of the former client. This social, rather than cultic, interpretation of Hebrews views God as patron, Christians as clients, and Christ as the mediatorbroker. Any Christian who violated this relationship, either by neglect or by public words and behavior, would thereby be guilty of holding up the patron to ridicule and shame, while trampling underfoot the benefits previously enjoyed. Such persons would be apostates, and since the honor and majesty of God was at stake, would have to be punished, severely and finally. Whether this cultural analysis provides an adequate rationale for the vocabulary, theology, and argumentation concerning apostasy in Hebrews is a judgment needing further reflection.'° (See Reflections at 10:32-39.)

The behavior described here and at 6:4-8, which the author regards as beyond the restoration of repentance and without forgiveness because there is no more sacrifice for sin, can be understood through the language of covenant. Throwing off the bond of covenant, old or new, was seen as final and fatal. However, an alternative way of understanding apostasy has been offered by a probing of the patron/client relationships that were prevalent in the first-century Mediterranean world. From correspondence and other documents of the time, we have learned that persons in position to bestow favors (freedom, money, political advantage, etc.) entered into relationships, directly or through a mediator (broker), with persons needing and seeking those favors. In return the clients gave to their patrons gratitude and honor. If a client were ever to violate that relationship, either by public denial or gradually drifting away, the affront to the person and honor of the patron would be of such gravity that the patron and client would become adver-

109. For the best case for this cultural analysis (thus far), see David deSilva, Despising Shame: A Cultural-Anthropological Investigation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, SBLDS 152 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995).

Hebrews 10:32-39, Encouragement from the Past NIV


3?Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. **Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35S0 do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. *°You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you~ will receive what he has promised. °’For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one? will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”°

32But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, “sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. *4For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. 438 One early manuscript But the righteous

638 Hab. 2:3,4


possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. *°For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 5” For yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; °° but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who

shrinks back.” But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.


(COMMENTARY Again, returning to the parallel passage at 6:912 might be helpful. It and the present passage are texts of encouragement, recalling former days of faithfulness in the congregation, urging that such behavior be sustained in the present, and anticipating eschatological confirmation and reward. At 10:32-39, however, we are given more details about the recent history of the church. 10:32. The adversative conjunction “but” alerts the reader to a radical shift from vv. 26-31. The fundamental ground for encouragement is in remembering former days. The activation of memory was basic to preaching in both synagogue and church (Lev 19:33-34; the entirety of Deuteronomy,; “1; Cor 15:1;02 Tim 1:6; «2 Pet 3:2), -and those days to be remembered were not necessarily “the good times.” For example, the Israelites were urged to embrace the stranger among them, remembering their own bitter experiences as strangers in Egypt (Lev 19:33-34). So here, the recollection is of times of verbal and physical abuse, but times, nevertheless, when they were firm, bold, and sympathetic. The writer need only briefly remind the readers that their “contest with sufferings” (an athletic image to be developed later in chap. 12) came “after you had been enlightened” (v. 26; 6:4). Becoming followers of Christ did not end hardship but began it in new and intense ways. 10:33-34. These verses lay out in four expressions, framed in the now familiar form of a chiasm, the former experiences to be remembered: A B

B’ A’

publicly exposed to abuse and persecution being partners with those so treated having compassion for those in prison cheerfully accepting the plundering of possessions

This presentation makes clear the two aspects of the congregation’s sufferings: those endured directly and those endured in sympathy with others. Those directly endured were of two kinds: verbal

abuse (reproach, derision, taunt [Jer 20:8; 24:9]) and physical abuse (a general term for all kinds of affliction [Mark 13:19; Acts 20:23; Rom 5:3]). Added to the pain was its public nature, the believers being made a “spectacle” (“theatrical display,” 1 Cor 4:9). But under such humiliating conditions the faithful did not avoid further disgrace by abandoning fellow believers in their times of trial; rather, they entered into their sufferings as partners, as sharers in a common lot. This description is in sharp contrast to the tendency of some to absent themselves from the church assemblies (v. 25). Demonstrating sympathy for those imprisoned involved more than a feeling of sadness or regret; rather, it meant visits, providing food, running errands, and perhaps interceding (Matt 25:36; Phil 2:25). All of these activities meant risking further verbal and physical abuse. The plundering of the property of Christians may refer to official seizure, mob violence, or perhaps to the burglarizing of the homes of

believers who were taken to prison.'!° Citizens of the many provinces of the Roman Empire did not wait for imperial edicts to make life miserable for minority groups, ethnic or religious. However, the Christians were able to endure the loss of one kind of property because they were sustained by the certainty that they had another kind of possession, “better” (1:4; 7:19; 8:6) and “permanent” (7:3; 11:14-16; 13:14). In fact, the Christians not only endured such treatment, but they also “cheerfully anticipated” it, embracing a perspective traced back to Jesus himself (Matt 5:12; Luke 6:22; Rom 5:3; Acts 5:41). 10:35-39. Words of encouragement conclude by urging three qualities that the congregation already possesses, as demonstrated by past performances: boldness, endurance, and faith. In urging that the readers not throw away their boldness, the writer is speaking not only of a quality of tenacity (3:6) but also of the confidence granted them by the high priestly ministry of 110. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, 300, cites Philo’s description of the violence against Jews in Alexandria in 38 ce: “Their enemies overran the houses now left vacant and began to loot thern, dividing up the contents like spoils of war” (Against Flaccus 56). Of course, pogroms against Jews in any city would also affect Jewish Christians (Acts 18:1-2).

HEBREWS 10:32-39 COMMENTARY more reasonable to understand “in a very little while” as the author’s way of introducing the Habakkuk citation on a note of urgency and perhaps addressing a lethargy born of the delay of the parousia. In the citation of Hab 2:3c4, the writer again uses the LXX and not the Hebrew text, and again there are variations from the LXX text. The writer may be following a different text of the LXX or, given the importance of Hab 2:3-4 for the early church, may be using a form of the citation already adapted for Christian use.'!? More likely, however, at least some of the modifications are the work of the writer of Hebrews. Other than Stylistic differences, Heb 10:37-38 varies from Hab 2:3c-4 LXX in three significant ways: (1) The definite article is added to the participle “coming” (referring to the vision in Hab 2:3c) to make it read O€pxduevos (ho erchomenos), “the one coming” and, therefore, messianic; (2) the “my” of Hab 2:4 is moved from “my faith” (“my faithfulness”) to “my righteous one” (i.e., the reader); and (3) the order of the two clauses in Hab 2:4 has been inverted so that “My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back” (v. 38) follows rather than precedes “but my righteous one will live by faith.” The reasons for this inversion of clauses are probably two: (1) In its new location the reference to one who shrinks back clearly refers to the believer (“my righteous one”) and not to the Messiah (“the one who is coming”); (2) by ending with the line about anyone who shrinks back, the writer is able to conclude with an exhortation that both repeats the previous warning (“Do not throw away your confidence,” v. 35) and anticipates the discussion of faith that follows. This is to say, vv. 38639 are perfectly fitted as transitional. From a rhetorical point of view, vv. 38-39 contain two familiar and forceful moves. First, the two verses form a chiasm:

Christ (4:16; 10:19). What is at stake is the final reward, the lasting possession, that God will give in the day of judgment, since judgment includes not only punishment but also God’s favorable response to their work and love (6:10). Likewise, the endurance the congregation needs now as much as ever was formerly a principal quality of the membership (v. 32). Whether the implied loosening of their grip was due to a worsening of afflictions endured or to attrition is not evident. To the “very end” (6:11) can be a long time, but for them “endurance” was the very definition of God’s will (v. 36). At the end of endurance lies the “promise” (€TayyeAta epangelia), a term already familiar as a reference to the salvation provided by Christ (4:1, 8; 6:12, 17; 8:6), which will reappear frequently in chap. 11 (11:13, 17,

33,39). The final quality urged on the readers, faith, is introduced by a composite quotation of Scripture (vv. 37-38) to which the writer adds a brief homiletical application (v. 39). Noticeably absent is the author’s usual introduction of a quotation: God says, Christ says, or the Holy Spirit says. That omission might have been for rhetorical effect in order to follow the general eschatological remark in v. 36 with the sharp and sudden “a little while.” The brief citation (three words) is from Isa 26:20, and it may have been detached from the remainder of Isa 26:20 in early Christian liturgy to serve an eschatological accent. The whole of the verse says, Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the wrath is past. (Isa 26:20 NRSV)

Is the Hebrews writer citing this verse and then “correcting” it with the use of Hab 2:3, 4 because the church addressed had adopted Isa 26:20 as its scriptural support for a pattern of retreat and withdrawal from public life? At least one commentator thinks so.'!' But the general portrait of the congregation (drifting, slipping, neglecting, forgetting, waning) hardly fits the image of a church that has deliberately taken a position of acquiescence, which it supported with Scripture. It is

A B B’ A’

live by faith not shrink back not shrink back have faith

This construction both aids the hearer’s memory and makes the impact of emphasis by repetition.

111. T. W. Lewis, “‘... And If He Shrinks Back’ (Heb 10:38b),” 7S 22 (1975) 88-94.

112. J. A. Fitzmyer, “Hab 2:3-4 and the NT,” in To Advance the Gospel: New Testament Studies (New York: Crossroads, 1981) 236-46.


HEBREWS 10:32-39 COMMENTARY Second, the writer’s arrangement of the material makes possible a more effective final exhortation, “not this... but this,” which denies the negative and affirms the positive: We are not those who shrink back and are lost (destroyed) but those who have faith and are saved (preserve the soul). By

saying that we are not of or among the shrinkers but of or among the faithful, the writer anticipates a roll call of those among whom we live, men and women who did not shrink back but who held firmly to their faith in God. Such will be the content of chap. 11.

REFLECTIONS 1. We have learned by this time that the author of Hebrews is a skillful preacher, and nowhere is that fact more evident than in the hortatory portions of this epistle-sermon. Some of the rhetorical strategies have been noted in the commentary. For example, the balanced admonitions to faith, hope, and love in 10:19-25 are given to the reader in the symmetry of homiletical form. Preachers are warned, however, to beware of pre-packaged sermons, even if they are presented in the biblical text itself. Rather than be seduced into shortened preparation when faced with a text that is preaching itself, one is well advised to dig into the problems addressed by the writer’s homily. The congregation of readers is suffering waning zeal and a noticeable decline in attendance at its assemblies. Why? Is it the problem of individualism? Is nothing significant being said or done? Do those attending face public ridicule? What more likely produces a debilitating lethargy: persecution, lack of attention from the culture, or cultural favor? Perhaps this church has allowed itself to be defined by its opposition and has not really defined itself by God’s gracious act in Christ. Since the time of Socrates, philosophers and theologians have observed a condition that afflicts persons and communities, sometimes without causes known to themselves, called ennui. Sails hang limp, but not for lack of a breeze. In the church the condition is labeled akedia, often translated “sloth” and listed among the seven deadly sins. How is it to be addressed? 2. If the writer of Hebrews thinks the church being addressed is even approaching ennui, then one can better understand the intensity of the warning against apostasy (vv. 26-31). There is a passion in the warning that burns with a fire rarely seen or heard. In the writer’s case it is borne both out of concern for the church and out of a theology that has a once-and-for-all quality. It is covenant theology, which sees God’s gracious act toward us in Christ as sufficient for the human condition of sin. The author cannot imagine anyone experiencing its benefits and then willfully breaking the covenant. Language is strained to describe such an act: The Son of God is trampled underfoot, the blood of the covenant is treated as profane and vulgar, and the Spirit of grace is regarded with haughty contempt. It takes a high view of the Christian faith to make such a “low” possible. For Christians who regard all matters of religion as optional, as opinions of only private merit, and as unworthy of such passion, the language of 10:26-31 must, indeed, sound primitive and unenlightened. Perhaps the readers of Hebrews, drifting and neglectful as they were, saw nothing in the life of their congregation remotely deserving of such a warning. Maybe that is just the point.

3. The readers are reminded (10:32-39) that their sufferings, their verbal and physical abuse, began “after you had been enlightened.” One wonders if these believers were alerted before baptism to the real possibility that discipleship would bring hardship. So easy it is to say that one has pain and troubles in the world, but if one trusts in the grace of Christ, pain and troubles are carried away. Perhaps the old problems do depart, but they are often replaced by large, unexpected ones, known only to, borne only by, those who speak and act for God in the world. Faith and love and hope and generosity and forgiveness have enemies out there,




enemies not yet put underfoot. Until they are, candidates for baptism need to be informed: It is not only disobedience but also obedience that exacts a price. 4. In 10:32-39, the writer turns to the faculty of memory to nourish faith and encourage those who believe. Memory is essential to the life and vitality of both Judaism and Christianity. The exodus continues to be a resource for those who remember; the self-offering of Christ continues as a reality for those who share the sacrament of remembrance. For both synagogue and church memory is of two kinds: the memory of what God has done prior to our own lives, and the memory of what God has done within the span of our own years. It is this second kind that is being activated in Heb 10:32-39. The congregation is urged to turn the pages of its own history, to remember the difficult times, and to recall especially how boldly and graciously they responded to those hardships. The young can borrow these memories and claim them as their own; the ones who lived those memories can be continually refreshed by them. Blessed is the congregation that can call up its own record of love and good works as a resource for times of discouragement.


HEBREWS 11:1-12:17 A CALL TO FIDELITY AND MUTUALITY OVERVIEW hat a new section begins at 11:1 is clear, “for reasons to be elaborated, but not so clear is the terminus. On the basis of common vocabulary and the themes of faith, endurance, and discipline, one could end the section at 12:11. However, 12:12-13 flow naturally enough out of 12:1-11 to argue for 12:13 as the close of the section. As for 12:14-17, the decision is to join them either with what precedes or with what follows. Since 12:18 brings such a dramatic shift in thought and image, it was decided to attach 12:14-17 with the preceding paragraph. No real exegetical gain or loss is at stake; it is in the nature of hortatory material that the subjects treated are multiple and shift easily from one to another. What is quite clear is that 11:1-40 is a unit in form, function, and theme. Technically this unit is exposition, but it functions as exhortation, while 12:1-17 is directly hortatory. The twin themes of faith and endurance in 11:1-40 were introduced in the immediately preceding 10:3639, joining this unit to the context smoothly. In fact, these themes have been anticipated since 6:12-15. “Endurance” (utoyovn hypomone) as a noun occurs only at 10:36 and 12:1, but it is used as a verb at 10:32; 12:2-3, 7. The transition into 12:1-17, therefore, is natural, although 11:40

(“they would not, apart from us, be made perfect”) makes it evident that at 12:1 the subject will shift from faith examples of the past to the present; that is, to Jesus and his followers. The movement, then, is from the earlier experiences of faithful endurance by the readers (10:32-39), to those examples from redemptive history (11:1-40), to Jesus and the Christian community (12:1-17). But this flow of the material toward the future is more than the author’s literary creation. It is chronological in that the sketches of God’s faithful begin at Genesis 1 and continue through Joshua 6, followed by a swift summary of many others. It is theological in that

faith’s endurance and God’s approval are one continuous story of the reliability of God (11:11). It is christological in that the story moves toward Christ, in whom the narrative has its completion and the past faithful their fulfillment. Hence faith is never very different from hope (11:1, 10, 13, 16, 26, 39-40). Enough has been said previously about Christ, in whom God has spoken “in these last days” (1:2), and about those who have entered into the new covenant inaugurated by him to anticipate very clearly the level of expectation in terms of faithful endurance, which will be spelled out in the exhortations to follow (12:1-17).

HEBREWS 11:1-40, LEARNING FROM OUR FOREBEARS IN FAITH OVERVIEW Because 11:1-40 is so obviously a unit in form, function, and theme, and because the reader can move rather smoothly from 10:39 to 12:1, the

question has naturally arisen as to whether this chapter once had a separate existence but has been inserted here by the author or a later hand.


11:1-40 OVERVIEW cumulative effect when employed in argumentation. But with or without anaphora, the rhetorical use of lists, often constructed from a selective reading of a people’s past, was widespread in the Mediterranean world.''4 Aristotle, in his Rhetoric (Book I) discussed the nature and role, strengths and weaknesses, of “examples” in public speaking. He defended their use as both impressive and persuasive when carefully located and arranged in an address. By “examples” he referred not only to persons but also to events, places, relationships, things, etc. Among Jews. and Christians who drew heavily on sacred history for homiletical purposes, lists of persons and their deeds are not uncommon. Brief lists with sermonic functions can be found at Josh 24:2-13 and 1 Sam 12:6-15. In Wis 10:1—11:1, wisdom functions in the recital very much as faith does in Hebrews 11. However, in an apparent effort to underscore that all commendable behavior was made possible only by the wisdom of God, names are withheld, even though the persons, beginning with Adam, are easily identifiable. The hymn to the ancestors (“Let us now praise famous men”) in Sir 44:1-49:16 has much in common with Hebrews 11, but the closest parallel to this text is in the Christian epistle 7 Clement (1 Clem 17:1-19:3).!!5 However, for Clement the virtue being extolled is not faith but humility. But among these and many other antecedents and parallels, Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian, Hebrews 11 remains a composition more properly understood in its own form, function, and context than in relation to possible sources.

In response, let it be said that no extant manuscript of Hebrews is without 11:1-40. In addition, as has been noted, the themes of faith and endurance were introduced in 10:32-36, and the whole of chap. 11 is well joined to that context. Furthermore, the author has already demonstrated the use of exposition of Scripture for purposes of exhortation (3:7— 4:11; 10:30-31, 37-39), which is the nature of 11:1-40. And finally, the theology of this unit is fully consonant with that of the remainder of the epistle. It can be concluded, therefore, that 11:1-40 is the author’s own, and if composed separately, it has certainly been well woven into the fabric of this “word of exhortation” (13:22).!!5 With that in mind, the reader would do well to reflect briefly on this remarkable composition as a single literary piece. Verses 2 and 39 form an inclusio by the use of the unusual passive form of paptupew (martyreo), “to witness.” When so used, it is variously translated “received approval,” “was attested,” “were commended” (vv. 2, 4-5, 39). Throughout the recital of actions by the faithful men and women of old, some form of the word “faith” appears twenty-four times. If one returns to the accounts of these characters in Scripture, one notices that often there is no reference to faith as the moving force in their lives, even though it may be strongly implied. The phrase “by faith” names the perspective of the writer’s rereading of the OT. The eighteen appearances of the phrase “by faith” constitute anaphora, a rhetorical device in which a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of successive clauses, or verses if used in a poem. Anaphora makes an impact on memory when used to teach, impresses listeners when used in an encomium, and has

114. Michael Cosby, The Rhetorical Composition and Function of Hebrews 11 (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1988) esp. 1-24, 93-109. 115. The relationship between 7 Clement and Hebrews is much debated. However, that there is a relationship and that / Clementis from Rome has persuaded many that either the provenance or the destination of Hebrews was also Rome.

113. G. W. Buchanan, Hebrews, AB 36 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972) 184.

Hebrews 11:1-2, The Meaning of Faith NIV


NRSV Now faith is being sure of what we hope

] ] Now faith is the assurance of things hoped _ I for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith? our ancestors received approval.

for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

@Gk by this




(COMMENTARY In this brief introduction, the writer makes the two affirmations that inform and focus the recital that follows: the nature of faith and the approval of God on the life that was determined by such faith. One can argue that v. 1 does not “define” faith; after all, the word tietts (pistis, “faith”) will sometimes indicate trust or belief and sometimes refer to the quality of loyalty or faithfulness. Rather than offering a definition, the author focuses and gives thematic unity to the discussion. In 10:36-39, faith is presented in a context of related words: “assurance,” “endurance,” “firm hope in the promises from which we do not shrink back.” The orientation is eschatological, and that perspective will prevail through v. 40. As used here, faith cannot be severed from hope. The vocabulary of v. 1 will not be carried through the chapter, but were v. 1 to be read as a refrain following each episode of faith, it would fit naturally. Translators of v. 1 are never satisfied even with their own renderings of the two key but very complex terms, Utéotaots (Aypostasis) and édeyxos (elegchos). Both the NRSV and the NIV treat these words subjectively in terms of “assurance”/“being sure” and “the conviction”/“certain.” The REB is almost objective in translating the first as “gives substance to” and subjective in the second, “convinces us.” There is no question that faith strongly involves the quality of human embrace and trust and tenacity, but this does not handle adequately these two words; that is, it is not a case of “believing it makes it so.” The first term is used at 3:14 with the obvious sense of “confidence” on our part, but at 1:3 the meaning is more philosophical, referring to the very essence or substance or being of God. This is to say, the word points to a reality that does not owe its existence to human awareness. Faith, then, joins the subjective and the objective: “Faith is the

assurance of things hoped for.” Interestingly, hypostasis is used in the LXX at Ruth 1:12; Ps 39:7; and Ezek 19:5 to translate the Hebrew word for “hope” (mpn tiqwa). Hence, in this unusual clause, the certainty both of faith and of faith’s object is asserted. This certainty was earlier anticipated in the image of the anchor behind the veil (6:19). The second key word (elegchos) is more at home in a court of law and can properly be translated “proof” or “demonstration”: “Faith is proof of the unseen.” That which is not seen may be a spatial reference pointing to the Platonic realm of the true and real, encountered earlier in discussions of the heavenly sanctuary (see Commentary on 8:1-5; 9:11, 24). However, it may also be a temporal reference pointing to the future, and given the orientation of the entire chapter toward what lay in promise for all the faithful, the latter sense is the dominant one. Hope (3:0; Such segmentation both follows from the premise and strengthens the perception that James has little thematic coherence. Analysis of earlier portions of this composition, however, gives us confidence that if James is granted literary coherence, his argument becomes much easier to detect. In the present case, there are far more obvious links with the previous essay on speech (3:1-12) than with the verses following 4:10, although there, too, James creates a subtle and substantive connection. Most striking is the question in 3:13, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” which picks up so naturally the warning against becoming teachers in 3:1. There is also the word linkage between “bitter” in 3:11, 14; the phrase “in your members” in 3:6 and 4:1; and the repetition of “restless” in 3:8, 16. It is possible to detect a natural transition from the two sources of water and their fruits in 3:11-12 and the two sources of wisdom and their fruits in 3:13-18. Finally, there is the implied violence of cursing one’s neighbor in 3:9 and going to war against others in 4:1. These links to the passages before and after it only serve to highlight how distinctive the literary structure of 3:13-4:10 is when taken as a unit. The section is, first of all, intensely sermonic. It contains a generous portion of those stylistic features associated with the diatribe: rhetorical questions (3:13; 4:1, 5), abusive epithets (4:4, 8), vivid imagery (4:1, 9), virtue and vice lists (3:1415, 17), sharp contrasts (3:14-17; 4:4, 6, 10), and the citation of authoritative texts (4:6). These stylistic features, however, are fitted into a rhetorical structure that forms the two parts of a call to conversion; 3:13—4:6 sets up an indictment, to

The series of imperatives and assurances in 4:7-10 is clearly shown to be answering the section preceding it by the use of the connective “therefore” in 4:7. The terms of the exhortation, furthermore, mirror those in the preceding indictment. Thus the purification of the heart in 4:8 corresponds to the “selfish ambition in your hearts” in 3:14, as well as to the “purity” attached to the wisdom from above in 3:17. The doubleminded persons in 4:8 respond to the “undivided” (a8taKpitos adiakritos) in 3:17. Most obviously, the command to humble oneself before the Lord with the expectation of being exalted (4:10) picks up from the statement that the Lord resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (4:6) as well as the above/below pattern associated with wisdom in 3:13-17. The content of 4:7-10 is that of a call to repentance: approaching God and fleeing the devil (4:8), moral purification and mourning (4:8-9), submitting to God (4:10). The call to conversion is set up by a more complex indictment, which is structured primarily by a series of rhetorical questions in 3:13; 4:1, 4-5. The first and second of these questions are joined: 3:13 asks about the wise and understanding “among you,” and 4:1 asks about the source of wars and battles “among you.” Each rhetorical question is followed by exposition or accusation. In 3:13-14, the initial contrast between wisdom from above and bitter jealousy is explained by a second set of antithetical statements in 3:15-16. Then 3:17-18 picks up from 3:13 the conviction that true wisdom manifests itself in mild and peaceful behavior. The second set of rhetorical questions forms an antithesis to 3:17-18. The bitter jealousy that in 3:14-15 leads to social unrest now is expressed in terms of wars and battles (4:1). Accusations rather than exposition follow this set of questions: Their desire leads to murder (4:1-2). James then tells them why their prayers do not get answered: They pray only to fulfill their own desires (4:3). This is followed by still another rhetorical question, reminding them of a traditional understanding of the irreconcilability of friendship with God and the world (4:4). The climax of the indictment comes in 4:5-6. Notoriously difficult to translate, the rhetorical

which 4:7-10 is the response. 25. See M. Dibelius, James: A Commentary on the Epistle of James, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976); S. Laws, A Commentary on the Epistle ofJames, HNTC (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981)


JAMES 3:13-4:10 COMMENTARY best solution is to read 4:5 as a double rhetorical question: “Does the scripture speak in vain? Is the spirit God made to dwell in us for envy?” The expected answer to these questions is negative. James then introduces Prov 3:34 with the introduction, “but he gives all the more grace.” This

purpose of these verses is plain. The entire exposition comes down to the question of the validity of the scriptural witness concerning the way God works in the world: Is all that Scripture says in vain? Is envy really the proper sort of longing for the spirit God made to dwell in humans? The citation of Prov 3:34 answers the question in the negative and sets up James’s explicit call to conversion. The preceding analysis shows that 3:13-4:10 makes sense as a literary unit. Before turning to the specific theme James develops in these verses, it is necessary to acknowledge that two notorious problems in the text have here been solved in a manner that differs in each case from at least one of the translations provided. The first occurs in 4:2, where the major questions are whether James could actually accuse his readers of killing and, if so, how the sentence should be punctuated. In this case, both translations correctly include the charge “you kill,” but only the NRSV follows the best scholarship in its punctuation by constructing two sentences, each of which begins with frustrated desire and ends in violence. The second problem is much more difficult and has led to a variety of attempts at a solution. Is 4:5 a statement or a rhetorical question or two rhetorical questions? Does the Greek phrase pds bOdvov (pros phthonon; lit., “toward envy”) refer to God as its subject or to the spirit God made to dwell in humans? And what does James mean by “the scripture” that speaks in vain? There are no texts in the LXX close to the contents of 4:5. Is he then making a vague allusion to some specific text, or perhaps to an apocryphal text? Does he intend his question/statement to refer to his citation of Prov 3:34 in 4:6? Or is he referring to Scripture in general? The NIV takes 4:5 as one question and refers the envy to the human spirit, but then adds two other possibilities in its notes. The NRSV, in contrast, makes God the subject and takes the phrase pros phthonon as indicating God’s “yearning jealously” over the spirit placed in humans. The difficulty with this last solution, however, is that the noun $8d6vos (phthonos) is never applied to God in the LXX, and in Greek usage it is always used for the human vice of envy, with which God has nothing to do.”° The

solution is not perfect, but it covers the textual evidence better than the others offered, and it fits the thematic argument James is making in this section, to which we can now turn. As in chapter 1, James establishes a spatial contrast between above and below, exaltation and humiliation. There is first a “wisdom from below,” which is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic and stands in opposition to a “wisdom from above” (3:15-17). The reader recognizes that this wisdom from above is the one that comes from God (see 1:5, 17) as the “word of truth” and the “implanted word” that is to be received with meekness (1:18, 21). Connected to these two sources of wisdom is a second contrast between the “arrogant” (or “proud,” NIV, NRSV), whom God resists, and the “lowly” (or “humble”) to whom God gives gifts (4:6). This language bears within it a spatial imagery: The arrogant person moves upward in self-aggrandizement; the humble person is lowly. Finally, the passage contains a double command (4:7, 10) to “submit” and to “humble oneself” before the Lord, with the assurance that the Lord will respond in kind: “he will lift you

up” (4:10). The spatial opposition between lower and higher, being raised up and being put down, helps to define the religious framework for James’s moral exhortation. Human behavior operates within an overall perception of reality that can be called a “wisdom.” For James, however, only one “wisdom” is true: the one that “comes from above” and measures reality by the God who is the giver of all good gifts (1:5, 17) and alone is able to save and destroy (1:21; 4:12). This is the God who made a “spirit” (tvedua pneuma) to dwell in humans (4:5). The question posed by James, then, is whether the human spirit will live by the wisdom that comes from God or according to an earthbound, unspiritual, “demonic” wisdom that he identifies explicitly with the power of the devil (3:15; 4:7). The moral choice facing humans is also a choice between religious allegiances. The real key to understanding this passage,

26. See, e.g., Plato Phaedrus 247A; Timaeus 29E.


JAMES 3:13-4:10 COMMENTARY however, is the recognition that James describes the wisdom from below in terms that would

the nuance of competition and implicit violence that “pride” does not. Arrogance is the self-aggrandizing manifestation of envy that creates the desire to have that will stop at nothing to acquire what it seeks (4:2). The ancients perceived that there is no boundary to such craving and that the logic of envy leads inevitably to social unrest (3:16), battles, and wars (4:1). Ultimately, envy leads to murder (4:2).°° Killing the competition is the ultimate expression of envy. This is the true face of the arrogance that God resists (4:6). This is the wisdom of the world that turns even prayer into something wicked, because it uses God simply as a means of fulfilling envy’s incessant cravings (4:3). In 4:4, James opposes the two measures in the sharpest possible terms. His readers are not those who live completely by the measure of the world. They are not literally killing each other in order to gain possessions. But they are “double-minded” (4:8). They want to live by another measure, another wisdom, even as they claim God’s measure as their own. James employs the language of the Israelite prophets when he calls them “adulteresses” (the NIV and NRSV attempt to be more inclusive, but they miss the fact that the feminine here is part of the symbolism for covenantal loyalty in the prophets, wherein God plays the role of husband and Israel that of the wife, as in Isa 54:4-8; Jer 3:6-10; Ezek 16:38; Hos 3:1; 9:1). James rebukes them for failing to live by what he regards as a shared understanding (“do you not know”) that friendship with the world means enmity with God (4:4). To fully appreciate James’s stark contrast in 4:4, it is necessary first to remember that in this composition, “the world” is not a neutral term, but is used precisely in contrast to God (1:27) and to faith (2:5; see 3:6). The “world,” in other words, represents the wisdom from below. It is also helpful to know the nuances attached to friendship in the ancient world. These have been examined already in the discussion of James’s designation of Abraham as a “friend of God” (2:23). For the ancients, to be friends with another meant to see things the same way, to share the same outlook.?! To be “friends of the world,” therefore, means for James that one chooses to live by the logic of envy, rivalry, competition,

be instantly recognizable to ancient readers but is not visible to present-day readers dependent on translations. In 3:14, 16, and 4:2, James uses terms meaning “jealousy” (Cf\\os zeélos) or “envy” (b86vos phthonos), and he associates with those terms all the characteristics that ancient moralists connected to the vice of envy. Once we realize that James is using rhetorical commonplaces, we are able to see that topics that at first appear to us as disparate are actually part of a single argument. Greco-Roman moralists defined virtue in terms of health and vice in terms of sickness.?”? The loathsome reputation of envy among the vices is suggested by a saying attributed to Socrates that envy is the “ulcer of the soul,” a description that nicely captures the gnawing character of what Aristotle called a “certain sorrow” experienced because someone has something that we do not.”® Why sorrow? Because envy derives from the “wisdom from below” that identifies being with having. A person’s identity and worth derive from what can be acquired and possessed. In such a view, to have less is to be less real, less worthy, less important. Therefore, one feels a sense of loss and, therefore, of grief or sorrow. Conversely, to have more is to be more real, more worthy, and more important. According to the wisdom from below, humans live in a closed system of limited resources and are, therefore, fundamentally in competition with each other. In the realm of material things, for one to have more means that another must have less. The logic of envy demands competition for scarce resources. When ancient moralists observed the vice of envy as it manifested itself in real human behavior, they saw that it lay behind all sorts of rivalry, party spirit, and competition (see 3:14, 16).”° In this moral literature, as in James, envy is consistently associated with hatred, boorishness, faithlessness, tyranny, malice, hubris, ill will, ambition, and above all arrogance (utepndavia hyperéphania), the word that James uses in 4:6, and that the NRSV and NIV translate as “proud.” The term “arrogance” is better, because it conveys 27. See Plutarch On Virtue and Vice. 28. Aristotle Rhetoric 1387B. 29. Cf. Plutarch On Brotherly Love 17.

30. Cf. Plato Laws 869E-870A; Philo On Joseph 5-12. 31. See Plutarch On Having Many Friends 8; On Brotherly Love 8.


JAMES 3:13-4:10 COMMENTARY cited by James points to that entirely different understanding of reality given by the “wisdom from above” found in Scripture: Life is not about competition for possessions; it is about the receiving of gifts from a God who “gives all the more grace” (4:6). James’s scriptural heritage is obvious as well in the language he uses in the call to repentance (4:7-10). The images of purifying and cleansing derive primarily from Israel’s cultic tradition; people needed to be “purified” to “approach God” in ritual or worship (see Lev 16:19-20). Here James uses the language for moral conversion: They are to “purify their hearts,” which means to become single-minded rather than double-minded. The language of grieving, mourning, wailing, and gloom comes from the prophets, who use such terms for the response of people at the visitation of God (4:9; cf. Jer 4:13-28). But although the language is complex, the message is clear. In a statement of breathtaking simplicity, James tells them to approach God, and God will approach them (4:8). How do they approach? By humbling themselves and being receptive to God’s gifts. How will God approach them? By “giving still more grace” and lifting them up (4:10; see 1:9).

violence, and murder. James’s dualism is complete and unequivocal. Even to “wish” (NRSV) or to “choose” (NIV) to be a friend of the world in this sense is to be “established as an enemy of God.” James’s call to conversion, then, is aimed at those who want not to have to choose, who seek to be friends with everyone, living by God’s measure but simultaneously acting according to the world’s measure. James will not have it. The one who is “wise and understanding” must “show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (3:13 NIV), not by the violence inherent in the competition generated by

envy. James’s exhortation uses the language of Hellenistic moral teaching, but is rooted in the symbolic world of Torah. Those who seek to have two allegiances at once are called “adulteresses” (4:4) precisely because that is the prophetic language for those in covenant with the one God who also seek after idols. And at the climax of his indictment, James explicitly invokes the voice of Scripture. Scripture does not portray the spirit God made to dwell in humans as being for envy. Rather, as Prov 3:34 makes clear, God resists the arrogant and gives gifts to the lowly. The verse

REFLECTIONS This section of James is not only of pivotal importance for the understanding of the composition, containing as it does the essential theological framework for James’s exhortation, but it also provokes reflection on a number of points. It reminds us that conversion is a continuing process and an essential element in spiritual transformation. James is not writing to those “in the world” who explicitly embrace the logic of envy and whose competitive desires lead them to violence, war, and murder. Scholars who imagine that James is warning against some ancient zealot activity miss the mark entirely. He is addressing members of the Christian community who gather in the name of Jesus and profess the faith of the glorious Lord Jesus Christ, but whose attitudes and actions are not yet fully in friendship with God. Too often, conversion is seen as a once-for-all thing. Turning to Christ is thought to be the final answer. Everything in a person’s life before that turning is seen as darkness, and everything after it must, therefore, be cast in light. Such an understanding, however, demands an artificial removal of all ambiguity from Christian life. But James sees that conversion is never complete. There is always double-mindedness, even among those who truly want to be friends of God. The wisdom from below is not easy to abandon or avoid, precisely because it is the “way of the world,” inscribed not only in the language and literature of our surrounding culture but also in our very hearts. Those who recognize this are better able to deal with the continuing ambiguity experienced by all believers, even after an initial conversion to faith. Complete consistency in life is not given by a first commitment. It is slowly and painfully won through many conversions. This realization gives us deeper insight into what


JAMES 3:13-4:10 REFLECTIONS James means by faith’s being tested through many trials (1:2-3), and why it should be counted as all joy when such trials occur. Each such test is a possibility for growth and for a new conversion from the measure of the world to the measure of God. It was just so that, when asked to offer Isaac, Abraham’s recognition that God gives a greater gift enabled him to express his faith through his deeds and show that he was a “friend of God” (2:21-23). This passage is a reminder also that the evil we experience in the world through social upheaval and violence and war and murder is not simply the result of inadequate social structures, but is above all the result of a diseased human freedom that has committed itself to a wisdom from below, which distorts reality—and which finds expression in social structures that make such distortions systemic. James’s analysis of envy and the way it leads to murder is the most explicit and powerful in the New Testament, providing dramatic evidence for the earlier proposition that desire gives birth to sin; and when sin comes to full term, it brings forth death (1:15). No analysis is more pertinent to contemporary North American culture, which is virtually based on the logic of envy. In the Reflections on 3:1-12, we considered how the language of advertising creates a world of values in which “to be” means “to have,” and to have more means to be more, a mechanism that is aimed directly at generating “a certain sorrow” when someone has something that one does not, together with the desire to do anything to acquire that which is sought. Every day on city school grounds, we see the accuracy of James’s analysis, as children murder each other in order to acquire that specific pair of sports shoes or athletic jacket that will make them “someone.” But the logic that envy leads to murder spirals beyond the inner city to the highest reaches of society; indeed, it is the engine generating global conflict and war. Why, asks James, are there wars and battles among you (4:1)? It is because of envy, because of the craving—not only in individuals but also in corporations and states—that demands seizing what belongs to another in order that one might become greater. Because James’s analysis makes use of what is best in Greco-Roman moral philosophy as well as in the tradition of Torah, but is not explicitly attached to christology, it is available to a genuinely ecumenical appropriation. James is virtually unique among the New Testament writings in providing the possibility for a social ethics, not only because of the obvious social dimension of reality that it considers, but also because it locates its moral demands within the framework of faith in the living God rather than specifically in the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Because James attributes social disruption and violence to a disease of the human heart, he does not propose any healing for it except through a turning to God that is explicit and wholehearted. In an age when religious belief does as much to divide as it does to unite, James points to a way of thinking about social ethics that can be engaged by all those who regard human freedom as deriving from and responsible to the God “who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly” (1:5 NRSV). But what James demands of those who think this way is a commitment to simplicity of heart and integrity of purpose that is extraordinarily rigorous. Kierkegaard, who was a lover of this letter, declared that purity of heart means to will one thing. James’s analysis shows how hard that is, and how necessary it is to “approach God” if humans are to avoid that demonic wisdom that makes even prayer a means of manipulating God (4:3). Perhaps that is why the Shaker hymn says, “ ’Tis a gift to be simple, a gift to be free.”




"Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. '*There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—-who are you to judge your neighbor? 'SNow listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” '4Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 'Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” '°As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. '7Anyone, then, who Knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. “Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. *Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. °You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.? "You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

11Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters.? Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. '’There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” '4Yet you do not even Know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. !*Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” !°As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. '7Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin. 5 Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. “Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. “Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure® for the last days. “Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. °You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. "You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

25 Or yourselves as in a day of feasting

a Gk brothers

Or will eat your flesh, since you have stored up fire

(COMMENTARY his section of James again challenges the ~ reader who seeks an obvious literary coherence. James 4:11 certainly seems to represent a

Starting point, since 4:10 rounds off the call to conversion in 3:13-4:10, and since 4:11 takes the form of a negative command such as we find at

JAMES 4:11-5:6 COMMENTARY other transition points in the composition (see 2:1; 3:1; 5:12). But should 4:11-12 be read as a discrete command and warrant, disconnected from any larger argument? At first glance, it would appear so, for 4:13 has its own distinctive introduction (“come now!”), which is repeated in 5:1. Some commentators divide these verses into three discrete sections (4:11-12, 13-17; 5:1-6), which is, in effect, to despair of detecting any overall argument.* For that matter, neither is it easy to decide where the section ends. On the one hand, 5:7 seems to respond to what precedes it, since, like 4:7, it uses the connective “therefore” (ovv oun). On the other hand, 5:7-20 has a positive focus on community attitudes in contrast to the harsh attacks that pervade 3:13-5:6. Despite the literary problems, it is appropriate to consider 4:11—5:6 as a single unit, primarily because it is unified by a single theme. Whether those being addressed are “brothers” (4:11) or “those who say” (4:13) or “the rich” (5:1), their behavior is attacked by the author. More significant, their behavior is in each case identifiably a form of arrogance (Unepndavia hyperephania), such as God is said to oppose in 4:6. This section, then, follows James’s call to conversion with three specific examples of arrogance, and it is connected to the preceding section by his final rhetorical question in 5:6, “Does not [God] oppose you?” (see below for the justification of this translation, which differs from both the NRSV and the NIV). The examples move progressively from the “brothers,” whom we assume to be within the community, to “the rich,” who are preeminently the outsiders for these readers (see 2:2-7). There is also a progression in the degree of arrogance revealed, from the slander that judges another in secret, through the public boasting that accompanies public projects, to the systemic corruption of society and the destruction of the innocent by oppression. Corresponding to these degrees of impact is the respective weight of condemnation, from the reminder of who is judge and lawgiver, through the identification of arrogance as sin, to the threat of destruction in the day of judgment. 4:11-12. Beneath such obvious differences in the three examples, however, a single point is

being made, which further examination of each case reveals. The basic shape of James’s argument is laid out by 4:11-12. He begins with a direct prohibition of slander (lit, “evil speech” [katadahid katalalia|). This may, at first glance, seem to be simply one more example of loose speech that James singles out for attention (see 3:1-12). But the next statement is tantalizing: The one who slanders a brother also slanders the law and judges the law (4:11)! There are several unstated premises here. The first is that slander, by its very nature, involves a secret judging (and condemnation) of an associate. It is clear that to assume the right to judge and condemn another is to claim a privileged position of superiority over that person. Second, James considers such superiority to be false. No one has appointed one person to be the judge of another. Then why is that superiority assumed? Here the logic of envy comes into view once more. Slander serves both to lower the neighbor and to elevate the self; it takes away status from another and ascribes it to the one doing the slandering, who poses as the superior judge. It is, in microcosm and in secret, the perfect exemplar of life as competition. Slander, therefore, is a form of arrogance that seeks to assert the self by destroying another. It can thrive between those calling each other “brother,” because it is evil speech carried out in secret. But how does such speech also represent a slandering and judging of the law? To appreciate this connection, we must remember how James has used Lev 19:13-18 thematically throughout this composition. Leviticus 19:16 prohibits slander against a neighbor. To disobey the prohibition against slander, therefore, is to place oneself in a position of superiority to the law; it assumes the right of picking and choosing which of the commandments are to be taken seriously. Just as claiming to live by the law of love yet discriminating against a neighbor is not to “truly” live by it “according to the scripture” (2:8), so also is claiming to live by love while slandering a neighbor a form of falsehood. James identifies the form of arrogance precisely when he tells the people that they are acting as judges of the law rather than as doers of it. He then counters such pretension with the sharp reminder that the One who gave the law is also the only judge of all humans. The final contrast in 4:12 serves to reveal the

32. See M. Dibelius, James: ACommentary on the Epistle ofJames, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976); J. B. Adamson, 7he Epistle of James, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976).


JAMES 4:1 1—5:6 COMMENTARY foolishness; they are symptoms of something evil (4:16). When James spelled out faith’s perception of wealth and poverty, suffering and success in 1:912, he did so in terms of paradox and reversal; the lowly were to boast in their exaltation, and the rich in their humbling; those who relied on their wealth would pass away in the midst of their affairs, while those who endured testing would gain the crown that is life. In the present passage, the traders’ failure so to think about their lives and so to speak with reference to God’s will is, for those living in the community of faith, to know the right thing to do and fail to do it. For James, this is not simply a moral failure, but a sin (4:17). This statement on the “sin of omission” is a hinge between the preceding example and the one following. If it applies to entrepreneurs who pursue profit without reference to God, it refers even more directly to those who fail to do what the law specifically demands—namely, to provide wages for their workers. 5:1-6. James’s final example of arrogance is the most blatant and evil (5:1-6). Adopting once more the rhythms of the great social prophets Isaiah and Amos, he uses some of his most vivid language in attacking the oppressive rich. In this example, he goes into much greater detail concerning their behavior and the consequences they must face. A distinctive feature of his treatment is the way he weaves those two aspects together, which gives his every statement a harshly ironic dimension. The energy and force of James’s opening words in 5:1 are startling. The rich are to “weep” and to “wail” over the miseries that are coming upon them. Note that what those charged in 3:13-4:6 were supposed to do by way of repentance (4:710) is now happening to the rich by way of judgment. Rather than focus on their misery, however, James describes the fate of their wealth itself: It has become rotten, moth-eaten, rusted (5:2). According to the logic of envy, they had identified their being with their having and thus had been willing to do anything to get more wealth, including fraud, violence, and murder (5:6). They apparently thought that by so doing they were building up treasure for their last days.

reality that slander suppresses: The God who gives the law and who judges according to the law of love (2:12-13) is alone “able to save and to destroy.” Over against this power, James asks, “Who are you?” 4:13-17. The form of arrogance shown in 4:13-17 is not subtle. James characterizes it as ahacoveta (alazoneia), a term that is widely used in Hellenistic literature as the specific quality of the braggart, the boaster, the foolish loudmouth.*$ James summons the people (“come now”) to a consideration of their lack of wisdom from above. Once more, they are given speech to express their plans of future travel, trade, and profit. At the most obvious level, the traders are criticized for their arrogant assumption that they can depend on the future as though it were secure. But at a deeper level, they show that they operate by the wisdom of the world, which is the logic of envy; by selling and getting a profit, they will secure their own future. James responds to them first in the way that Qoheleth would, by reminding them of the evanescent quality of human life (4:14; see Eccl 12:1-8).34 How can they plan for the next year when they cannot guarantee that they will even see tomorrow? The awareness that human existence itself is a “mist that is here and gone” encourages modesty concerning human plans and projects. James also challenges the very view of reality assumed by such friends of the world. Their speech shows that they see the world as a closed system of limited resources, available to their control and manipulation, yielding to their market analysis and sales campaigns. When James tells them that they should say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (4:15), he is not simply recommending a more pious form of speech. Rather, he calls for a profoundly different perception of reality. He is recommending the view provided by faith and friendship with God that the world is an open system, created by God at every moment and infinitely rich in resources provided by God for humans to exist and to prosper, in cooperation rather than in competition and mutual elimination. Within this perspective, their pretentiousness and boasting are more than

With bitter irony, James agrees that they have

33. See Plato Republic 560C; Plutarch On Love of Wealth 1. 34. See also Seneca On the Shortness of Life 1:1-4.

done so (5:3), but it is not a retirement fund:


JAMES 4:11—5:6 COMMENTARY They have prepared themselves for a day of slaughter (5:5). The very possessions in which the wealthy had sought security eloquently proclaim their own fate: Their precious metals have rusted, and “their rust will be evidence against you and it will eat your flesh like fire” (5:3 NRSV). These rich people perfectly exemplify in their attitudes and actions the logic ofenvy and arrogance James sketched in 3:13-4:10. They have devoted themselves to an exploitative manipulation of the earth, living to fulfill their own desires for pleasure (5:5; see also 4:1-3). In order to reach their desires, they have been willing to deprive their hired laborers of the wages that are owed them (5:4). Once more, James appears to be making an allusion to the scriptural context of the law of love in Leviticus, for Lev 19:13 contains a clear prohibition of just such withholding of wages from the laborer. The language used in Jas 5:6 (“you have condemned the righteous one,” NRSV), furthermore, suggests the sort of judicial procedure James had mentioned in 2:6: The rich use the law courts to perpetuate their fraud and to “condemn” the poor. By the “righteous one” here, James does not have any specific individual in mind (patristic writers thought perhaps that he was referring to Jesus; see Acts 7:52); rather, those oppressed in such fashion are “innocent/righteous” in that they have committed no offense and have suffered the loss of what was owed them for their service. Consistent with the entire biblical tradition, James recognizes that such fraud is a form of legalized violence and murder. To withhold from the poor their daily wages is literally to deprive them of the means of life: “to deprive an employee of his wage is to shed blood” (Sir 34:22). Here the logic of envy that James sketched in 4:2 is carried out in action: “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder” (NRSV). Here also is the ultimate arrogance of the rich, who assume the divine power to judge and do so unjustly (“you have condemned the righteous one”), and who arrogate to themselves the divine power to “save and destroy” (4:12); “you have killed the righteous one.”

This brings us to the last clause in 5:6. Like most other contemporary translations, both the NRSV and the NIV translate the Greek as an indicative whose subject is the righteous person oppressed by the rich, thus “who does not resist you” (NRSV) or “who were not opposing you” (NIV). There are good reasons, however, for understanding this last clause as a question with God as its implied subject, thus, “Does he [God] not Oppose you?” The reasons for such an interpretation are basically twofold. First, 5:1-6 has alternated the actions of the rich with the response to those actions by God. The statement that the rich had condemned and murdered the righteous person, the supreme act of arrogance, would appropriately lead to the response that God opposes them. Second, the verb “resist/oppose” (avttTaoow antitasso) is identical to that used in 4:6, where it is used to state that God resists the proud (“arrogant”) but gives grace to the lowly. The use of the same verse here after the recitation of three examples of arrogance seems logically to point to God as the subject. If 5:60 is read this way, then James matches the violence of the rich with force from the side of God, who has heard “the cries of the harvesters” (5:4). The willful denial of this righteous God’s election of the poor to be heirs of God’s kingdom has enabled the rich to make friends of the world and to exploit its systems to their own advantage. But in the perspective of faith, James asserts, God’s power is, if not obvious, nevertheless more real. The world is not, as the arrogant suppose, a closed system whose prize goes to the most ruthless. It is an open system answerable to the God who creates it. In contrast to those who are judges with evil designs (2:4), God judges without partiality and on the basis of human deeds (2:12). The rich who have oppressed the poor will experience in their own flesh how God opposes them (5:3, 6). They will discover in the “last days” how judgment can be merciless to the ones who have not shown mercy (2:13).

REFLECTIONS The more it becomes clear that James consists not simply of discrete exhortations but is making an interconnected argument, the more readers are challenged to engage the text at

JAMES 4:11—5:6 REFLECTIONS a deeper level, thinking through some of the connections that James asserts. It is certainly not obvious on the surface that arrogance is the theme of the present section, just as most readers would probably not identify arrogance as the spiritual or moral attitude most problematic for their world or their own lives. For that matter, neither would many present-day Christians think of themselves as living with half of their minds and hearts within the logic of envy. What is the real connection between envy and arrogance? And how can the process of thinking through these connections begin to locate the fundamental moral and religious issue with which readers in James’s day and in our own are obliged to struggle? If we go back to the definition of envy as a sorrow for something we do not have, we can begin to see how this most “needy” of vices lies at the root of arrogance. The logic of envy, as James has shown us, is based on the perception of the world as a closed system of limited resources for which humans are in competition. Envy and arrogance are the two sides of this competitive battle. It is envy that spurs the “have-nots” to violence against those who have what they want; it is arrogance that spurs the “haves” to boast over those from whom they have taken in order to “be” who they are. The value of the examples that James provides is that they show how subtle and pervasive the manifestations of arrogance can be. We may think of it primarily in its overt form of “king of the mountain,” with the temporary childish victor, chest thrown back, arms akimbo, crowing loudly over the vanquished. James shows us that it is often a more secret and sneaky vice whose violence, though covert, is no less real. James’s first example, that of slander, makes the point beautifully. Once we think about it, we can agree that this “evil speech done in secret,” which seeks specifically to tear down another so that I can appear to be superior (as critic, as judge), is driven by envy. Whatever it is that I think my target now possesses that I do not (status, reputation), my intention is to take it away, at least in the perception of my hearers. When we think a bit further, we can also agree to James’s placing this as a form of arrogance not only against the neighbor but also even against God’s law, which forbids such slander: “Who are you,” says James, “to judge another?” Slander arrogates to oneself divine powers of knowing the hearts of others and of being able to condemn them. Only a bit more reflection is required for us to reach another agreement: that slander is one of the most pervasive and destructive forms of arrogance. It operates so consistently that we may not even be aware any longer of its nature, from the whispered remark behind the hand in the pew or at a board meeting, through the screaming tabloid headlines, to the gossip of television talk shows. The willingness to use speech to destroy others simply in order to realize a temporary sense of superiority has become a manifestation of arrogance so widespread it has become normalized. James reminds us that it is a form of speech that is “death-dealing poison” (see 3:8). With the second example, as well, it is not difficult to find the contemporary analogy to the ancient entrepreneurs who planned their trips and anticipated the profits they might make from trade. James challenges them because of their assumption that their world is predictable and controllable, and that they can define their being in terms of their having. In the present-day world of commercialism and conglomerates and multinational corporations, the logic of envy and arrogance is the connective tissue. And within this world, the bottom line of profit or loss is the only measure worth considering. The commercial apprehension of reality is the perfect expression of the outlook of “the world” closed to God as giver of every perfect gift; success is measured by the amount of “goods” (whichever they are) that can be accumulated. Perhaps the most serious question for Christianity in the present cirumstance is whether it is any longer in a position to exercise the kind of prophetic critique of that outlook such as enunciated by James. Is it not the case that many churches are themselves so co-opted by the logic of envy and arrogance—if not in strictly monetary terms, then in terms of membership and influence— that they cannot perceive that such is the way of the wisdom from below, which is earthbound, unspiritual, and demonic?


JAMES 4:11—5:6 REFLECTIONS Being heedless of anything else but making a profit is one thing; committing actual violence against others in order to live luxuriously on the earth is another and far more perverted form of arrogance. Once more, we see the way in which James is able to connect the diseases of the human heart to the distortions of the social order. Envy and arrogance can take, do take, a public form in economic and political systems that privilege the few and punish the many, that exploit the resources of the earth for the extravagant life-style of those privileged to live in the first world rather than the third, that reduce the laborers in the fields (and factories and sweatshops and fast-food eateries) to slaves by systems of reward and taxation that perpetuate inequity, that so marginalize major portions of the population that they are unable to sustain their existence at a meaningful human level, that commit legal murder against the innocent by means of litigation and the corruption of the courts. Liberation theology has used this passage in James appropriately to challenge the obvious oppressive systems of government and finance that marginalize and abuse the poor peoples of third world countries. Churches in the first world have been much slower (perhaps because of being co-opted by the logic of envy and arrogance) to challenge the systems of meaning that perpetuate such abuses and generate them from within the comfortable corporate headquarters down the street from the local suburban congregation. But James tells us that we cannot close our eyes to these realities, that even if we cannot by ourselves change them, somehow we must by our own lives challenge them and that, in our own envy and arrogance, we stand within that same distorted view of the world and, therefore, under the same judgment of God.




7Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. ®You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. *Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! ‘Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. ''As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. '2Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned. ‘SIs any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. '4Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. !°Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. "Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. '®Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. '°My brothers, if one of you should. wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, *°remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

7Be patient, therefore, beloved,? until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. *You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.’ *Beloved,? do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! !°As an example of suffering and patience, beloved,? take the prophets

who spoke in the name of the Lord. ''Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. 12Above all, my beloved,? do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may 13Are any pray. Are any praise. '4Are

not fall under condemnation. among you suffering? They should cheerful? They should sing songs of any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. !°The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. '’Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. '7E-li’jah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. '’Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19My brothers and sisters,° if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, **you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s¢ soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. aGk brothers


©Or is at hand

¢ Gk My brothers

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(COMMENTARY he last part of James makes a decisive turn ~ inward to the members of the community £ faith with exhortations that are positive and encouraging. It is possible to subdivide the section further. Verses 7-11, for example, have a distinctive eschatological character, and vv. 12-20 can be seen as devoted to speech acts within the assembly. But what joins the entire section together is the turn from condemnation to edification. With the three examples of arrogance in 4:11—5:6, James brought his call to conversion to a conclusion, as well as his depiction of the wisdom from below, which operated in envy and arrogance and led to a world divided by competition and violence. Now James turns to those gathered in “the faith of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (2:1) with instructions on how to build a community unlike that of “the world.” What does a community governed by Jesus’ faith and the law of love look like? How does “friendship” with God affect the way persons speak and act toward each other? James sets out to show how friendship with God leads to solidarity in gift giving and life, just as friendship with the world leads to competition for possessions and murder. 5:7-9. He begins by placing his readers within the context of eschatological judgment. James’s expectation of this judgment—to vindicate the righteous/poor and to punish the oppressive/rich—is neither abstract nor distant. The language James uses makes it clear that the “Lord” whom he expects to come in judgment is Jesus; the expression “the return of the Lord” (tapovota Tov kuplou parousia tou kyriou), which James uses here twice, is not found in the LXX, yet is virtually a technical term for the return of Jesus in the New Testament (see 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19; 2 Pet 3:4; 1 John 2:28). His coming, furthermore, is “near” (5:8); in a statement remarkably close to Rev 3:20, James declares that the judge is “standing at the door” (5:9 NIV). Nevertheless, their present experience is more like those who await “the precious crop from the earth” (NRSV); what they most desire is not yet here. How are those who await this judgment to act? James tells them that they must “strengthen their hearts” (5:8). As always in this composition, the

heart refers to human intentionality; in effect he is instructing his readers to stay focused. This means first that they must be patient. By this, he means more than that they should endure, for the word he chooses (uakpofupta makrothymia), is used for the attitude of “long-suffering” judges. Until the Lord comes, oppression by the rich and powerful will continue. In such circumstances, it would be natural for people to turn on each other. In fact, oppression typically fosters such internal divisions among those under stress. James, therefore, forbids them to “grumble against one another” (5:9). Like the people of Israel oppressed in Egypt, their “complaint” (otevayyos stenagmos) should be turned to the Lord, who can hear them, and not turned against each other (see Exod 2:23-24). If they turn such grumbling against each other, the community itself will become a realm of competition rather than cooperation. 5:10-11. Their patience needs this quality of long-suffering to put up with affliction until the Lord can exercise judgment. James proposes as the model for such endurance the prophets who

spoke in the name of the Lord (v. 10; cf. Matt 5:12; Luke 6:23; 11:49-51). It is startling, perhaps, to see that Job is not only included among the prophets, but is also recommended as the example of endurance. This is not the picture of Job that the dialogues in the biblical book suggest. (Together with the apocryphal 7estament of Job, James seems to be the source for the tradition of the patient Job.) But his reading is not completely off the mark. Job, after all, argued with God even as he looked to God for vindication, but he did not turn in spite against his fellows. And when James reminds his readers that they have seen “the purpose of the Lord,” he reminds them that Job’s endurance was rewarded. The phrase is a difficult one; the NIV translates it as “what the Lord finally brought about,” emphasizing Job’s reward at the end of the biblical story. The macarism of v. 11, “we call blessed those who showed endurance” (NRSV), clearly echoes that in 1:12, “blessed is anyone who endures temptation” (NRSV), showing the connection between this miniature essay and the aphorisms of chap. 1. The statement that God is compassionate and


JAMES 5:7-20 COMMENTARY is feeling good should give expression to that truth in song, recognizing God as the generous giver (1:5) of every good and perfect gift (1:17), as the one who is above all compassionate and merciful (5:11), and the source of authentic human blessedness (1:12; 5:11). The next part of James’s discourse on speech deals with the sick and the response to those who are ill within the community. Like 2:14-26, this passage has received disproportionate attention in the history of interpretation because of debates concerning the sacrament of extreme unction, or anointing of the sick. More recent interpretations have sought to locate the custom of visiting, praying for, and anointing the sick within the life of Jewish communities. Each of these activities is attested, although seldom together as here.* It is probably not by accident that James here uses the word €xkAnota (ekklesia, “church”/ “assembly”) for the first time in the composition, for it is the community as such that is threatened by sickness. Will the community rally in support of the sick and show itself to be in solidarity, or will it isolate those who threaten its possession of health and security? We notice that James empowers the sick themselves with regard to the assembly. They are to “summon” the elders, a word that has a definite connotation of official demand (v. 14). The elders are to pray over and anoint the sick person in the name of the Lord (note again the typical early Christian usage, as in Acts 3:6; 4:10). The elders represent the community’s willingness to overcome the alienation that sickness imposes on the sick. The oil they use for anointing was widely used for medicinal purposes in the Greco-Roman world. There is no gap here between physical and spiritual healing. They happen together. The oil gains its power from the human hands that apply it and that, by reaching across pain and loneliness, re-establish the solidarity of the community. The prayer, likewise, is said “over” the sick person as a sign of the community’s commitment and support in the time of crisis. We recognize in these gestures the practices of the early Christians rooted both in the traditions of Israel and in the ministry of Jesus. James’s language contains two remarkable parallels to the

merciful (v. 11) reiterates the theme of God as constant gift giver (1:5, 17; 4:6; see also 2:13). Throughout his composition, James has focused on speech as the indicator of the human heart. Up to this point, his portrayal of speech has been almost entirely negative, as he showed how the tongue revealed that friendship with the world is enmity with God, or revealed a person who was double-minded rather than simple in friendship with God. In this last section, he devotes particular attention to the positive functions of speech within the community. 5:12. Appropriately, he begins with a condemnation of oaths. The instruction echoes the context of the “law of love,” since Lev 19:12 reads (in the LXX): “You shall not swear in my name wickedly and you shall not profane the name of your God.” The prohibition here, however, is absolute, and it resembles most of all the saying attributed to Jesus in Matt 5:34-37. James’s version is somewhat simpler, suggesting that it represents a stage of the saying prior to its incorporation into the synoptic tradition. The prohibition of oaths is in reality the encouragement of plain speech within the community of faith. It is a call to simplicity in speech as well as in heart. If one’s yes can reliably be depended on to be a yes, and one’s no truthfully communicates no, then speech can be trusted. James introduces this commandment with “above all” because such simplicity in speech is fundamental to every other sort of speech and action within the community. Otherwise, the prayer of one in distress, the song of praise, the call for help, the confession of sins, the correction of the neighbor can all be deceptive and destructive, instruments of manipulation and competition rather than cooperation. James forbids oaths, because he desires a community of solidarity based in mutual trust. Such trust is possible only where speech is simple and unadorned with false religiosity. 5:13-16. James turns next to prayer within the community as an expression of truth. The person who is suffering should not say, “I am being tempted by God” (1:13), or seek to retaliate against the source of distress (5:7). Instead one should let one’s cries reach “the ears of the Lord of hosts” (v. 4), for the Lord is the one who “gives more grace” to the lowly (4:6). The person who

35. See, e.g., 0.B Bat. 116a; b.Hag 3a; Testament of Solomon 18:34.


JAMES 5:7-20 COMMENTARY Gospel accounts of Jesus’ healings. The first is the connection between healing and the forgiveness of sins: “anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven” (v. 15). What makes James particularly intriguing on this point is that he applies the healing not only to the sick individual but also to the community as such: “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (v. 16). James also shares the gospel tradition’s confidence in the power of prayer to heal individuals from their illness and communities from their alienation. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise that person up (5:15), recalling the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ healings (e.g., Matt 9:5-7; Mark 3:8; Luke 7:14; John 5:8) and suggesting the continuum be-

prayers the “earth yielded its harvest,” James implies, so also the Lord will respond to their prayers as they wait for that “precious crop from the earth,” which is the coming of the Lord (v. 7). The prayer of the community that gathers in solidarity to support its sick and, by confessing sins one to another, also strengthens its spiritual weakness is already a victory over the world, which defines itself by envy and competition. 5:19-20. James concludes this section and the letter with an encouragement to mutual correction. Such correction was a staple of ancient moral teaching, both in Hellenism and in Judaism (see Ezek 3:1-11; 18:1-32; Dio Chrysostom Oration 77/78:37-45). It is not a manifestation of that sort of judging or slandering of a neighbor that James condemns in 4:11, for that was the expression of envy. Mutual correction is a form of edification that takes the construction of a community of character seriously. It is a gesture of solidarity for those who have been given birth by the word of truth to seek to Keep each other on the path of truth. Once more, we can detect here an echo of Lev 19:17 (“you will earnestly reprove your neighbor and will not bear sin on his account”), which for James is an expression of the “royal law” of love (2:8). The precise meaning of the final clause is unclear. Is it the brother’s or the sister’s soul that

tween healing and salvation. James makes no great distinction between saving the soul and saving the life, between being “raised up out of the sickbed” and “raised up” in resurrection. His confidence in prayer resembles Jesus’ own: “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matt 7:7; see Jas 1:5-6). 5:17-18. It is in connection with such confidence concerning prayer that James advances his fourth and final example from Torah: the prophet Elijah. Elijah shows that a righteous person’s prayer has great power (v. 16). James refers to the account of Elijah’s “closing and opening of the heavens” in 1 Kgs 17:1—18:45. It is natural that a prophet should have such power, since a prophet’s business is the traffic between God and humans. But James bridges the gap between Elijah and his readers by means of two small, but important, details. The first is that Elijah is called “a human being like us” (NIV, “man just like us”). The Greek is literally, “of like feeling” and, as in passages such as Acts 14:15, serves to link Elijah’s simple humanity to that of the readers: If he could do it, so can they. The second small touch is the implication that Elijah is a “righteous one” (8iKkatos dikaios, v. 166), whose prayer is powerful. This connects him also to the experience of the community that is being set upon by oppressors (v. 6), yet whose prayers will reach the ears of the Lord of hosts (v. 4). Just as in response to his

is saved, or is it that of the one who does the correcting? And what is meant by “covering a

multitude of sins” (v. 20)? The latter phrase may be an allusion to Prov 10:12 LXX, but it is not a clear one (see also 1 Pet 4:8). The best interpretation is that the one doing the correcting will save the other person’s soul from death and that the sins that are covered over (or suppressed/prevented) are the ones the associate might have committed if not corrected. James has sketched how speech can build an alternative community based in solidarity and cooperation rather than in envy and arrogance. It is speech characterized by simplicity and directness, prayer, mutual confession, and mutual correction. And at the end, James tells his readers to do for each other what he has tried to do for them.



REFLECTIONS This last section of James is a rich source of reflection for any community that claims to live in the faith of Jesus Christ or in friendship with God. As has been obvious from the beginning, such a commitment to an alternative “wisdom,” especially when expressed in a communal mode of life, will inevitably come into conflict with the dominant wisdom of the world. Sometimes this conflict will take the form of direct oppression, such as James describes in 5:1-6. More often, it takes the form of internal stress, as the community seeks to build its own distinctive identity even as many of its members are “double-minded,” divided in their loyalties. Such stress might lead naturally to slander and condemnation of one another (4:11), or of “grumbling against one another” (5:9)—modes of speech that bring the competitiveness of worldly wisdom within the community. These are examples of “armored” speech, which seeks to harm the other while protecting the self. In contrast, James offers speech that makes the self vulnerable to others. Note, for example, how the prohibition of oaths in 5:12 actually encourages speech that is simple, unadorned, and unarmored. When one’s yes can be trusted as yes, and when one’s no can truly be heard as no, then members of the community are exposed to one another in truth. The same sort of vulnerability characterizes genuine mutual correction as opposed to slander and condemnation. The proof is how difficult such reproof is to carry out. Most people prefer a form of secret slander to the open and candid correction of another in love. To risk correction is to risk looking foolish in the eyes of others as well as exposure to a colleague’s anger or rejection. James’s most provocative example, however, is the speech of the sick within the community, as well as the speech that should be used with those who are sick. This is because sickness is a profound threat to the identity and stability of any community. Sickness is not the same thing as sin, nor does James suggest that sickness derives from sin. Yet, sin and sickness are analogous in their social effects. The healing of the sick person, therefore, like the restoration of the community after sin, must take into account the spiritual dimensions of this threat. The way James correlates the healing of illness and the forgiveness of sins testifies to his grasp of this reality. The challenge of physical or emotional or mental illness to the community of faith is to test whether it will behave like friends of God or friends of the world. According to worldly wisdom, the logical response to any form of threat is self-defense. Only the fittest should survive, and competition exists precisely to identify them. Envy seeks strength at the expense of others and, as James has shown, leads inevitably to murder. Has someone we know fallen sick? Then that person is weak and should be left behind. The elimination of the sick person leaves more resources for those who are left. Having to share our attention and resources with those who are weak distracts us from our own growth and weakens us in our own struggle for survival and supremacy. The logic of the world, therefore, is to isolate the sick from the healthy. The healthy organism recoils from what is sick in order to protect itself. Sickness, then, becomes the occasion for social isolation and alienation. This “natural reflex” of survival, however, also becomes a form of sin when it leads to the deliberate exclusion of the sick from the community’s care and support, when the physical distance imposed by sickness is embraced as a spiritual alienation from those who are sick and a rejection of them from community. In James, the sick are empowered to summon the community’s elders. This is as remarkable a reversal of the logic of envy as is the way the community is to honor rather than scorn the poor (2:5). Not those who are well, but those who are sick are to define the truth of the situation. And in the speech of those gathered around the sick, James explicitly calls


JAMES 5:7-20 REFLECTIONS for the recognition of the weakness and failure of all, so that not only the person manifestly ill but all those in the community might be “healed” or “saved” by the confession of sins and the prayer of faith. This entire scenario of an intentional community structured according to principles of solidarity and mutual cooperation not only provides the most direct challenge to the practice of our culture concerning the care of the sick, but it also invites us to engage in self-examination concerning all those among us who are in any fashion weak and alienated. It is obvious that the larger society today is based on envy and competition. The sick and the poor (often the same) represent a threat to survival that must be repelled by at best neglect and at worst fraud, oppression, and murder. The harder issue is the extent to which Christianity colludes in an understanding of reality that is based on envy and competition. There is no more visible and obvious indicator than the way churches themselves work with and for the care of children, the poor, the ill, the elderly, the dying. Does the church, like the world, seek its own survival by defending itself against the threat of weakness? Or does the church seek friendship with God by embracing in the same spirit of open gift giving all of God’s creatures, so that the strength of each one is gathered from the shared strength of all? From its opening words to its last, James witnesses to a way of life that is truly radical in its implications. It not only challenges Christians to an integrity in thought, speech, and action, but also, by sketching a vision of the world opposite the one offered by the logic of envy, it offers the possibility for Christians to enter into conversation with others who view the world as defined by a gift-giving God, a conversation in which the insights and clarity of James can contribute toward a genuine social ethics based in solidarity and peace rather than competition and violence.


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INTRODUCTION irst Peter is one of the general or catholic epistles, along with Hebrews; James; 1, 2, +3 John; 2 Peter; and Jude. The general epistles are distinguished from other letters in the New Testament in two ways. First, they are not attributed to Paul. Second, they are (for the most part) addressed not to a particular church but to a group of churches—they are general and, in that sense, catholic.' First Peter is also “catholic” in a larger sense: It speaks to the condition of the churches across the traditional lines of time and place. A letter written for churches that are alienated from the surrounding society and for Christians who are slandered for their faith, it has provided comfort for believers in troubled times from the end of the first century to the beginning of the third millennium. Using the imagery of baptism, it provides a reminder for the baptized of what it means to live out of the sacrament and to live out the sacrament in their lives as individuals and as acommunity. As early as Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians, there is evidence that Christian writers found in 1 Peter words of encouragement that were worth cherishing, repeating, and interpreting. Polycarp alludes to 1 Pet 1:8 as he recalls the suffering and resurrection of Christ, “in whom, though you did not see him, you believed in unspeakable and glorified joy.”* This brings to mind also 1 Peter’s, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an 1. The designation of 1 Peter as a catholic epistle is found as early as Eusebius (c. 300 cE). See Pheme Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995) 1. 2. Polycarp Letter to the Philippians 1:3. See Kirsopp Lake, trans. The Apostolic Fathers, LCL (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969)1:283-85.



indescribable and glorious joy” (NRSV).° So, too, Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians 8:1 reflects 1 Pet 2:22, 24, while both texts also interpret Isaiah 53.* From 1 Peter churches in Europe and America may find clues to faithful living as Christendom fades and Christians again feel like sojourners and aliens. Churches in developing countries will find reminders of like-minded Christians, bearing witness to a faith that is still professed by a small minority, but that history shows will hold fast, grow, and flourish.

AUTHOR, DATE, AND AUDIENCE First Peter begins straightforwardly enough: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” An early Christian audience would think what we might: that this was a letter written by Simon Peter, one of the first disciples called by Jesus (Mark 1:16-20 par.), designated by Acts as one of the apostles. Peter was recognized by Paul both as a fellow apostle with special responsibility for the mission to the Jews and as an antagonist on issues relating to the obligation of Gentile Christians in regard to observing the Jewish Law (see 1 Cor 9:4; Gal 2:7-14). Yet in more recent years scholars have raised a number of questions to challenge Simon Peter’s authorship of the first letter that bears his name.° First there is the question of style. The Greek prose of 1 Peter is fairly sophisticated and the syntax fairly complicated. Is it likely that Simon, the Galilean fisherman, would be capable of writing Greek of this sophistication (see Acts 4:13)?° Related to this issue is the fairly clear indication that when the writer of 1 Peter quotes Scripture (the Old Testament), it is the Greek version of the Old Testament that he uses. Usually the citations are very close to the Septuagint. Again, recognizing Peter’s background as one who almost certainly would have known Scripture either in Hebrew or in Aramaic, is this familiarity with the Greek text plausible? Furthermore “Peter” uses the Greek form of his own name, whereas even in writing to Gentiles Paul always refers to Peter by the

Aramaic name “Cephas.”” Further, there is the issue of theological development. All our guesses about the way that doctrine developed in the first century and a half of the church’s existence are in large measure conjectural, but on one fairly plausible reading of doctrinal development, 1 Peter already presupposes conditions that might seem to be later than the time of the apostle. In theology the Jewish/Gentile controversies so central to Paul seem to have faded to the background, and motifs seem closer to those in letters by Paul’s disciples (Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastorals).° 3. The word for “glorified” or “glorious” (S0Ed¢w doxazo) in the two quotations is the same. 4. See Paul J. Achtemeier, / Peter, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 44. Polycarp was martyred in 155 cE. 5. Aclear summary of many of these points is found in Norbert Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, Evangelisch-Katholischer sei fn Neuen Testament (Zurich: Benziger Verlag and Neukirchener Verlag, 1979) 44-46.

7. See Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, 10. 8. So Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, 51.



Indeed, while there is no clear evidence that the author of 1 Peter knew or used Paul’s letters, there are themes and motifs within it that suggest this epistle was written after the ministry of Paul. Parallels most often cited are between 1 Peter and Romans, on the one hand, and between 1 Peter and Ephesians, on the other hand. For instance, 1 Pet 3:8-9 uses language reminiscent of Rom 12:16-17: Finally, all of you, have-unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. (1 Pet 3:8-9 NRSV) :

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rom 12:16-18 NRSV)

It is certainly possible that 1 Peter depends on a recollection of Romans here, but it is also possible that each reflects a growing Christian tradition about non-retaliation, a tradition also reflected in other early Christian literature, such as Matt 6:39. So, too, the close correspondence to some material in Ephesians may reflect the widespread development of particular themes and motifs rather than any direct dependence of 1 Peter on this (deutero-)Pauline letter: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Eph 1:3 NRSV)

(1 Pet 1:3 NRSV)

The strong similiarity between the two doxologies results in part from the fact that both are doxologies and share similar, perhaps liturgical, language to declare the thanksgiving that frequently follows the salutation in early Christian letters. Paul Achtemeier judiciously sums up the evidence for the relationship of 1 Peter to the Pauline letters: While the relationship of 1 Peter to the Pauline way of theological reflection cannot be

denied, how much of the “Pauline” flavor of 1 Peter is the result of a common use of early liturgical or confessional material is difficult to say with precision. Similarly, whether the author of 1 Peter was aware of the Pauline letters, or had read them, or whether the “Pauline” ZS1


material in 1 Peter had already passed into common tradition by the time 1 Peter was written

is equally difficult to demonstrate.’

In either case, the probable trajectory of influence suggests that 1 Peter was written later than the Pauline letters, and perhaps even later than a probable deutero-Pauline book like Ephesians. If this is true, then it is all the more clear that this epistle is pseudonymous. In terms of the social strictures of the letter, the concern for the fixed orders of house or church seem more likely contemporary to letters thought of as deutero-pauline than to Paul himself. The closest analogies are found in Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastoral

Epistles.!° In terms of the spread of Christianity, one has to assume a quite rapid expansion to the churches of Asia Minor so that before Peter’s death (traditionally held to be in the 60s of the common era) there were already churches established in a number of towns in Asia Minor, with their own leaders and nascent structures. On the other hand, none of these doubts provides indisputable evidence that Peter could not have written the letter. They raise a complex of issues that have caused a number of students of the epistle to say that the probability rests with the claim that the letter was written after Peter’s death but in Peter’s name. There are mediating positions that try to find a place between the claim that Peter wrote or dictated this epistle word for word and the claim that a later Christian penned the whole thing, using Peter’s name to give weight to its affirmations and prescriptions. One position interprets the epistle in the light of 1 Pet 5:12: “Through Silvanus our faithful brother, as I reckon, I have written to you briefly, exhorting (you) and bearing witness to the true grace of God” (author’s trans.). While it is logically possible that “I have written you through Silvanus” could mean, “I have written this letter and am sending it through Silvanus,” the fact that “Peter” says, “I have written briefly through Silvanus” makes it more likely that the impression the reader is to gain is that Silvanus was the scribe who

took down Peter’s dictation."! There is ample precedent in the New Testament for letters whose author acknowledges a helper. In 1 Cor 1:3, the address is from Paul and Sosthenes, and in 1 Cor 15:21 Paul insists that the final greeting is in his own hand, indicating that the letter up until that. point had been dictated. Second Corinthians 1:1 addresses the Corinthian church from Paul and Timothy. Galatians ends with the indication that Paul is (now) writing with his own hand (Gal 5:11) (cf. Col 4:18). Philippians is from Paul and Timothy (Phil 1:1). First Thessalonians is from Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy (1 Thess 1:1) and also ends with Paul’s 9. Achtemeier, / Peter, 18-19. 10. It is obvious that if one takes Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastoral Epistles to be Pauline, then the kind of social development 1 Peter reflects may have been taking place in Peter’s lifetime. 11. Leonhard Goppelt thinks that Silvanus helped with the writing. See L. Goppelt, A Commentary on IPeter, ed. Ferdinand Hahn, trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 369. Achtemeier cites the use of similar formulas for the one who carries the letter and argues that this is Silvanus’s role. See Achtemeier, / Peter, 350n. 56.



handwritten greeting (1 Thess 3:17), emphasized perhaps to contrast it with pseudonymous letters written in Paul’s name. Some have thought that the Silvanus mentioned in this epistle is more redactor than scribe, taking Peter’s general themes or fragmentary exhortations and shaping them into a fuller and more coherent letter. If this Silvanus is the Silvanus of 1 Thessalonians and Acts, he was Paul’s companion and might well have been versed in Greek and in the Greek version of the Old Testament; and he would have used that knowledge to present Peter’s themes in a form accessible to the Gentile, Greek-speaking Christians of Asia Minor.! Still another position suggests that | Peter is a letter from the church at Rome to the churches in Asia Minor. The church at Rome honored Peter and remembered much of his teaching, and, therefore, it was bold to write in his name to the other churches in the East without making any direct claim that Peter penned or dictated the letter himself.'* Each of these mediating positions represents an attempt to maintain the integrity of the claim that Peter was responsible for the epistle while acknowledging the doubts that its every word was written or dictated by the fisherman apostle. Obviously, no one has solved the problem of authorship to the satisfaction of every other interpreter. Not surprisingly, there is a congruence between the interpreter’s understanding of scriptural authority and the claims about authorship. Interpreters for whom scriptural authenticity depends in large measure on its factual accuracy are inclined to support authenticity, either outright or in one of the mediating positions. Interpreters who are more skeptical about the factual accuracy of other parts of the New Testament (the authorship of the Pastorals, for example, or the possibility of harmonizing the events of the Gospels into a single synopsis) are more skeptical of Peter’s authorship. In terms of the theological claims of the epistle, the answer one gives to the question of authorship may make surprisingly little difference. Whether it was written by Peter or by a later Christian in his name, the epistle helps to strengthen Christians in times of distress; sets their lives within the history of God’s activity, which moves from creation to consummation; holds up the atoning death of Jesus Christ; and encourages mutual love among Christian people and forbearance of enemies. Nothing in this list would be impossible for the historical Peter to enjoin; nothing loses its power to shape faith if the words were written by some later Christian in his name. The one difficult interpretive issue, however, is the question of the relationship between authorial integrity and doctrinal authority. There are benign and less benign theories of pseudonymity. On the benign theory, the disciple of an apostle writes a letter in the apostle’s name to say what the disciples believe the apostle would want to have said in a particular situation. Whether or not readers were deceived into believing the letter to be authentic, deception was not the point.'4 On the more suspicious theory of pseudonymity, the whole 12. This is the position of E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter (London: Macmillan, 1958) 9-17. 13. This seems to be Goppelt’s position. See Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 51-52. J. Ramsey Michaels finds a mediating position between this one and the claim of Petrine authorship. See Michaels, 7 Peter, WBC (Waco, Tex.:

Word, 1988) Ixvi. 14. I take this position to be close to the consensus of the contributors to Peter in the New Testament, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Karl P. Donfried, John Reumann (Minneapolis and Paramus: Augsburg and Paulist) 149-50.



purpose of writing a pseudonymous letter was to mislead readers into believing that the words of some anonymous Christian carry the authority of the apostle. So, for instance, the author(s) of the Pastoral Epistles tries to correct what he thinks is a wrong interpretation of Pauline doctrine by forging a letter, or letters, purporting to be from Paul and throwing in some false memorabilia about fellow Christians, cloaks, and books, deliberately to throw suspicious readers off the scent.’° The question of the authorship of 1 Peter is probably unanswerable. The question of its usefulness to the church is not. We have every scriptural treasure in earthen vessels, and the historical question about the intention of the original author may be less important than the question of what the letter enjoined of its first readers and how it might have brought comfort to them and, by extension, to their successors in every generation, including our own.'° One’s guess about the date for 1 Peter, of course, is closely related to one’s guess about its authorship. If Peter wrote the epistle, and if the tradition that places his death in the 60s is accurate, then the epistle was probably written toward the close of his life. If the letter is pseudonymous, the range of possibilities grows accordingly, and one’s hypothesis is based largely on one’s reading of the historical circumstances of the epistle. From the perspective of the pseudonymous theory, this letter was written long enough after the deaths of Peter and Paul for Christianity to have spread and received some institutional shape in Asia Minor, and long enough for Pauline motifs to have entered into the broader stream of Christian tradition. On this hypothesis, it is appropriate to suggest that the epistle be dated toward the end of the first century. The other clue that might help with dating the epistle is its references to suffering and trouble for the Christians of Asia Minor. Nero’s persecution of the Christians would have been confined largely to Rome and would have been too early for this letter if it was written in the generation after the death of Simon Peter. The emperor worship that seems to have been instituted under Domitian and carried on by his successors is not mentioned in 1 Peter. On the contrary, the emperor is worthy of honor (1 Pet 2:13). Noris 1 Peter driven by the intense hatred of empire that drives Revelation, written probably around the turn of the first century. Furthermore, the troubles that seem to be bothering the recipients of the letter may be more aptly described as local harassments than as systematic persecution. The people are being slandered and perhaps even accused, but there is no sense that the government has turned against them. All this suggests a date toward the end of the first century, when a growing Christian movement had already stirred up trouble among its neighbors but had not yet attracted the attention of the emperor or been forced to choose between allegiance to him and 15. This is a simplification, but not an unfair one, of Lewis Donelson’s reading of pseudonymity in the Pastorals. See Donelson, Pseudepigraphy and Ethical Argument in the Pastoral Epistles (Tiibingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1986) esp. 54-66. 16. Goppelt puts this argument more elegantly. See Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 52.


1 PETER—INTRODUCTION allegiance to Christ. About 110 CE, Pliny the Younger, writing from Asia Minor, asked the emperor Trajan for advice about how to deal with people accused of being Christians. The correspondence between Pliny and Trajan reflects developments somewhat later than the situation in 1 Peter; emperor worship was now prescribed, and the Christian movement was growing so fast that Pliny thought it needed to be checked. However, the atmosphere of accusation, charge, and slander that 1 Peter reflects was still present in this somewhat later period. Trajan’s response to Pliny shows something of the circumstances of the growing Christian movement in Asia Minor: You have followed the right course of procedure, my dear Pliny, in your examination of the cases of persons charged with being Christians, for it is impossible to lay down a general rule to a fixed formula. These people must not be hunted out; if they are brought before you and the charge against them is proved, they must be punished, but in the case of anyone who denies that he is a Christian, and makes it clear that he is not by offering prayers to our gods, he is to be pardoned as a result of his repentance however suspect his past conduct may be. But pamphlets circulating anonymously must play no part in any accusation. They create the worst sort of precedent and are quite out of keeping with the spirit of our age.!7

Already in 1 Peter, the label “Christian” was making life difficult if not dangerous (see 4:14, 16), and already in 1 Peter there are hints of anonymous accusations and slanderous insults (see 2:12; 3:9, 16). The evidence seems to point to a letter written between Paul’s lettersto the Gentile churches and Pliny’s and Trajan’s letters to each other. Given the evidence of emperor worship as a problem for John of Patmos and not for the writer of 1 Peter, we can also put this letter before Revelation. One might guess that the letter was written sometime around 90 CE, knowing that one speaks at best of probabilities. The evidence that helps to date the letter also helps us to understand the situation of the audience. First Peter 1:1 gives us much of the crucial information. The letter is written to churches of Asia Minor, and they are probably listed in the order in which the letter might be circulated from one church to the next. (See the map, “The Seven Churches of Revelation," 574.) The recipients are “exiles,” as later they are both “resident aliens” and “exiles.” The author is also presumably an exile, since his word for Rome, from which he writes, is “Babylon,” not only a cipher for an enemy of God’s people (as in Revelation), but also the reminder that Rome itself is a place of exile (see Commentary on | Pet 5:13). Recent work in sociological theory has debated whether these Christians can also be described according to their socioeconomic setting—that is, members of a class of resident aliens, living as guest workers in communities where they had no citizenship and no power.'® More traditional interpretations have seen the language of exile as a metaphorical reminder to 17. Pliny Letters 10, 97, from Pliny, Letters and Panegyricus, trans. Betty Radice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard . . University Press, 1969) 291-93. David and Elliot by essays the and 1981), Fortress, (Philadelphia: Homeless the for Home A Elliot, H. John 18. See Balch in Charles H. Talbert, ed., Perspectives on First Peter (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1986).



these Christians that on this earth they have no lasting home; their citizenship is in heaven." Careful study of the letter suggests a third possibility, one that does not necessarily contradict the other two (anymore than they necessarily contradict each other). Language of exile and alienation is language that distinguishes the Christians who received this letter from the larger culture around them. It is that culture from which they emerged, but now they are a slandered minority, exiled as Israel was exiled in Babylon, strangers in a strange land (all the more strange because it used to be home). It is also quite clear that the recipients of the letter were Gentiles who formerly shared the paganism of the neighbors who now reject them (see 4:3-4). As is so often the case with early Christians, these former pagans; who were ethnically Gentiles, took on the identity of Israel, no people become a people (2:10). “Gentiles” in the epistle refers to those friends and neighbors who had not left their old ways in order to join this Israel in exile, this community of faith. If we can judge the social setting of the recipients of the letter from the rhetoric of its specific advice (2:18—3:7), we can also guess that there were more slaves than masters among these Christians, and more believing wives with pagan husbands than vice versa. No advice is given to masters, but much to slaves. Women are told how to get along with their unbelieving husbands, but husbands (who presumably set the religious rules for the household) receive shorter instructions, all of which presume that their wives are believers, too.



This epistle is steeped in Old Testament themes, quotations, and allusions. Although the recipients of the letter are mostly Gentiles, the epistle assumes that the Old Testament had become their Scripture. Several features of the use of the Old Testament are noteworthy. (1) As Paul Achtemeier points out, the letter is permeated by a governing metaphor: the image of the church as Israel. “In a way virtually unique among Christian canonical writings, 1 Peter has appropriated the language of Israel for the church in such a way that Israel as a totality has become for this letter the controlling metaphor in terms of which its theology is expressed.”*° Unlike such New Testament writings as Romans and the Gospel of Matthew, 1 Peter does not attend to the relationship between Christians and Jews as possible heirs to Israel. The epistle simply takes over images and phrases that the Old Testament applies to Israel and applies them to the church. Christians are now the people who were once no people; the church is the community of those who were without mercy but have now received mercy (1 Pet 2:10, quoting Hos 2:23). One image in particular from Israel’s story is crucial to 1 Peter’s claims about the Christians of Asia Minor. Just as God’s people were once exiled in Babylon, so also the 19. See C. Spicq, Les Epitres de Saint Pierre (Paris: Librarie Lecoffre, 1966) 40. 20. Achtemeier, / Peter, 69; the whole discussion is found on 69-72.



recipients of this letter are exiles in Asia Minor (1:1). Just as Abraham was a stranger among the Hittites, so also Christians are strangers within the dominant pagan culture (Gen 23:4; 1 Pet 2:11).*’ Non-Christians are referred to as “Gentiles,” implying that the Christians are “Israel,” though ethnically most of those who would hear this letter were Gentiles, too (2:12). The author hints that he, too, knows what it means to live in exile, since his code name for the city from which he writes is “Babylon” (5:13). The story of Jesus, too, is foretold by Israel’s story. In particular the Servant Songs of Isaiah provide the explicit and implicit background for 1 Pet 2:22-25 (see Isa 53:4-9). First Peter 2:21 introduces this passage on suffering, in a word to Christian slaves: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps” (NRSV). The epistle thus presents a threefold typology. The suffering servant foreshadows the suffering of Christ; Christ foreshadows the suffering of Christian slaves; and slaves model appropriate behavior for all Christians in the face of suffering. (2) Also pervasive in 1 Peter is the use of passages bound together by key words or images, images that link the passages to each other and also to the situation of the first-century Christians (for other instances in the NT see, e.g., Rom 9:14-21; Heb 1:5-13). In this epistle, the most striking examples are found in chap. 2. In 2:4-8, “stone” is the central image, with allusions or quotations from Ps 118:22; Isa 28:16; and Exod 19:6 with Isa 61:6. Christ is the stone, and Christians are the stone; the stones together build a house or temple. Christ is the cornerstone, the stone the builders rejected, the stumbling block. Similarly, in 1 Pet 2:9-11 a host of OT images and phrases related to being a people are built one on top of the other, leading up to the climactic quotation from Hos 2:23 (in these three verses there are allusions to Exod 19:6; Deut 4:20; 7:6; 14:2; Isa 43:20-21 LXX; 61:6—all woven together). (3) First Peter provides a rationale for its own use of Scripture: Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to

you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. (1 Pet 1:10-12 NIV)

For 1 Peter, the OT was not written to point to Israel but to point to Christ and through Christ to point ahead to the life of the church. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the prophets (and was instrumental in Christ’s resurrection, 3:18), also speaks among contemporary Christian preachers. Indeed, the OT was written for the sake of those preachers and the Christian congregations to whom they speak.

21. See ibid., 71.

: 237


(4) Atsome points, at least, the context of the passage 1 Peter quotes adds further light on the significance of that passage in the argument of the letter. For example, 1 Pet 1:24-25 quotes Isa 40:6-8. These verses are immediately pertinent to the epistle’s claim that God’s Word lives and endures. More than that, the larger context in Isaiah reinforces themes found elsewhere in 1 Peter. Isaiah 40:5 declares the revelation of God’s glory, a theme evident in 1 Pet 1:7; 2:12; 4:11; 5:1, 10. Isaiah 40:9 calls for a herald of “good news” to speak to Zion. The verb in the Septuagint of Isa 40:9 is evayyediCw (euangelizo), the same asin 1 Pet 1:12, 25. The larger context of the quotation echoes other themes in the epistle. (5) The “scriptural” resources on which 1 Peter draws may be larger than our. own version of the OT canon. At least in the complicated claim about Christ’s proclamation to the spirits after his resurrection, 1 Peter seems to draw on traditions from / Enoch.”” While the epistle never explicitly says that this extra-biblical material counts as Scripture, the author relies on those traditions in much the same way that he elsewhere draws on canonical OT themes. (6) Finally, 1 Peter implies that the life of Scripture—and its power—lives on in the community of faith. In 1 Pet 1:12, the very purpose of OT Scripture is to provide the good news for Christian preachers. In 1 Pet 4:11, the author is writing about mutual service in the community of faith: “Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God” (NRSV). This may imply a reliance on Scripture as the basis for preaching.** More likely, it claims for preaching a representation of that authority found in Scripture; like the prophets of old, Christian preachers speak of Christ for the sake of Christ’s people.

SOCIAL SETTING AND THE LIFE OF FAITH Social context shapes faith, and faith reshapes the social context. The clearest evidence for the nature of the communities for which this letter was written is 1 Peter itself. Yet on the basis of this epistle one can present reasonable hypotheses about the Christians of Asia Minor, and then, of course, use the hypotheses to help interpret the letter. Study of | Peter suggests that the Christians for whom it was written had an ambivalent relationship to the larger society around them. The references to being sojourners, aliens, strangers indicate the distance of these Christians from the society around them. They were not rescued from exile; they were rescued into exile. Their alienation is a mark of their faithfulness: “Live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors” (1:17-18 NRSV). On the other hand, it is clear that the approval of the larger society is crucial not only 22. See William Joseph Dalton, Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits: A Study of I Peter 3:1 6—4:6, 2nd ed., AnBib (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1989) 166-71. See also Commentary on 1 Pet 3:18-22. 23. Achtemeier acknowledges this possibility. See Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 298-99.



to the Christians’ safety but also to their self-esteem: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul” (2:11 NRSV). Here we might expect an exhortation to shun those pagans whose standards are unworthy of the faithful, but the exhortation continues: “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge” (2:12 NRSV). There is intense concern for the internal life of the Christian community, but the “world” is not roundly condemned (as in the Johannine epistles) except as it represents a set of practices that the Christians have left behind (1:18; 4:3-4). Indeed, the hope of 2:12 that the “Gentiles” might in the end glorify God implies a hope for redemption that extends beyond the community of faith. There is an absolute devotion to God as the only God; honoring the emperor is not only allowed but is commended as well (2:13, 17). It is probably the case that the emperor did not yet make the idolatrous demands that lie behind the book of Revelation, but it is also the case that the reverence for authority in 1 Peter lies very far from the suspicion of authority in the later book. Yet 1 Peter 2 is also quite different from Romans 13; the emperor is merely a human figure, one more authority within the created order. There is no sense that the authority is itself divine (unlike Rom 13:1-2). The behavior enjoined in 1 Peter 2 and Romans 13 is very similar, but there are important distinctions between the warrants given for that behavior. First Peter is, therefore, sectarian without being countercultural.”* It raises problems for contemporary Christian obedience. In a time when Christian social action seems to many an essential element in discipleship, is 1 Peter too sectarian and passive to be a guide for Christians in society? On the other hand, does the epistle’s too easy acceptance of the larger society prevent the author from seeing how profoundly Christians must stand against culture? Does the epistle fail to recognize that Christians, who are resident aliens, must be alien, indeed? Study of 1 Peter further suggests that the Christians for whom it was written lived or were enjoined to live uncomplainingly in social structures that were both hierarchical and patriarchal. Pauline churches never fully worked out the implications of Paul’s gospel in Gal 3:28 that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV). For the churches of 1 Peter, such a radical claim barely appeared on the horizon. This study will suggest that the strong attention to right behavior on the part of slaves and wives (with no attention to masters and slight attention to husbands) probably reflects churches still dominated by slaves and non-slave owners and marked by the Christian wives of pagan husbands. Nonetheless, the demand that slaves and wives be properly subject to masters and husbands enforces a picture of Christianity as meekly submissive— and stands over against quite different visions, such as Mary’s magnificat in Luke 1:46-55. The strongest christological warrants are brought forth to remind slaves to “accept the 24. A phrase suggested by Marion Soards in editorial correspondence.



authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh” (2:18 NRSV). Christ’s suffering becomes a model for the suffering of slaves, and the suffering of slaves becomes a model for all Christians who suffer unjustly for their faith or for doing good. Therefore, the appeal to submissive behavior colors the christology. Not only does Christ become a model for slaves, but also slavery becomes the lens through which the epistle views christology and enjoins discipleship. Furthermore, wives are urged to be quiet about their faith in order to entice their husbands toward believing, not by explicit profession of faith, but by modest and gentle demeanor. The letter—almost—unquestioningly takes up the androcentric assumptions of the larger society. There is one notable exception. There is no claim that Christian wives should give up their faith in order to conform to their husbands’ religion; in this way, 1 Peter stands against the norms of its larger society. Nonetheless, in our time, when the gospel is rightly seen as including a profound concern for liberation, 1 Peter can be seen as profoundly unliberating. And for churches that urgently need to hear women’s voices, the injunctions to quiet demeanor can be seen as profoundly unfaithful. This study will seek to acknowledge the specificity and otherness of the world for which this epistle was written. It will also suggest that across barriers of culture and time, the epistle has a message that is still good news for Christians.

THEOLOGICAL THEMES The motifs of the epistle are best understood in their context, as one reads through its argument and allusions. Several motifs, however, can be extracted as guides to a more thorough reading. God. Only in 1 Peter in the New Testament is God explicitly designated by the noun “Creator” (ktiotns ktistés; 4:19). The whole epistle presupposes that history is in God’s hands, from beginning to end. From the beginning God has created the earth and called Christians to be God’s own people. At the end, God will provide the imperishable award granted to those who have proved faithful. In between times, God provides the Spirit to encourage believers and to inspire appropriate—and joyful—worship. | Christ. Christ is the one who brings believers to God (3:18). He does this especially through his crucifixion and resurrection. His suffering is both the example and the ground for the faithfulness of Christians who also face suffering. His resurrection is the vindication that makes faith possible and prefigures the final victory, when God, having judged the living and the dead, will be glorified forever (4:11).

Suffering. In 5:12, the author says that he has written a letter of encouragement, and certainly a major purpose of the epistle is to strengthen the Christians of Asia Minor in their time of distress. Whatever the nature of that distress, it serves to strengthen their 240


faith for the last days and to bring them into communion with Christ, whose suffering

prefigures and validates their own.?° Baptism. The only explicit reference to baptism is in 1 Pet 3:18-21, where Christian baptism is an antitype to Noah’s escape in the flood and a laying hold of the assurance made possible through Christ’s resurrection. Yet much of the epistle plays on themes that are appropriate to new Christians, whether explicitly growing out of baptismal traditions or otherwise. ; First Peter deals with two contrasts appropriate to baptismal reflection. There are the temporal contrasts between then and now. In some cases, “then” is what the Christians used to be when they were among the Gentiles. “Now” is what they are as resident aliens in a Gentile world (see 4:1-4). In some cases, now is the era in which Christians live by faith even in the midst of suffering, and then is what will happen in the future, when their opponents will be surprised by God’s judgment and Christians will be given their everlasting inheritance (see 1:4-8; 4:7, 12). Now is the time when Christians live by faith; then is the time when that faith will issue in salvation (see 1:5, 9). There is also the contrast between “us” and “them.” They are the Gentiles who represent the life that Christians have left behind. But within the theology of 1 Peter, there is hope even for them, who may be shamed or astonished into the final redemption (see 3:12). Furthermore, appropriate to the life of new Christians is the assumption, also evident elsewhere in the New Testament, that the gifts of the faithful life will be shown in faithful conduct—in traditional terms, the combination of indicative and imperative (see 1:14-15; 2:1-3, which is explicit in its reference to rebirth and implicit in its allusion to baptism). The new life is life in community, with emphasis on shared responsibility, shared worship, and shared identity as a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (2:9 NRSV). Those who seem to outsiders to be barely legal immigrants, sneaked over the border to stir up trouble, are really citizens in the only country that counts and members of the family that nurtures and endures. Life in Exile. Finally, Christians are exhorted to be exemplary aliens in the land that does not welcome them. This means that they are to be as upright as the most upright of their neighbors. More than that, they are to forge for themselves an identity that sets them apart without necessarily setting them in conflict with the pagans around them. They are to return good for evil, blessing for slander—hoping, perhaps against hope, that in the judgment their very fidelity may shame their slanderers into believing.

LITERARY FORM It seems obvious that 1 Peter is a letter, with the style of address and final salutation, the thanksgiving or blessing, and the exhortation that are typical of Hellenistic letters of 25. Brox thinks that 1 Pet 5:12 is the key to the whole epistle, and he uses that as a criticism of a too great emphasis on baptismal themes. See Norbert Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentary zum Neuen Testament (Zurich: Benziger Verlag and Neukirchener Verlag, 1979) 18-19.



the first centuries CE and quite analogous to other letters in the New Testament. It has also been noticed for many years that there seems to be a kind of break between | Peter 4:11 and 4:12, representing either a new subject or a new intensity of interest in subjects already raised. Early in the twentieth century it was proposed that the letter really consisted of two separate pieces joined together. First Peter 1:3—4:11 was a baptismal homily full of the joy of the new life in Christ, and 4:12-5:14 was a word of encouragement in a time where persecution had moved from possibility to reality.2° While this is a possible explanation for the text as we have it, like all such literary constructions, it remains unprovable. This study will affirm that there is clear evidence of themes appropriate to baptism in the first part of the letter, but it will suggest that the last part (beginning with 4:12) is an appropriate expansion and application of themes already introduced, brought to deeper intensity because 4:12 begins the closing exhortation. Whatever the truth about the sources of | Peter, the letter as we have it makes its own literary and theological sense, and we shall read it as one document read or heard by its intended audience from 1:1 through 5:14. Beyond the obvious fact that the epistle moves from salutation to thanksgiving to body to closing salutation, the analysis of the structure of the letter depends in part on one’s interpretation of how the argument or exhortation of the epistle moves. One can detect a continuing alternation between claim and exegetical grounding (cf., e.g., 1:22-23 with 1:24-25; 2:4-5 with 2:6-8). And one can find an alternation between indicative claims and imperative applications (1:1-12 leads to 1:13-16; 2:9-10 grounds 1:24-25 [which validates 1:22-23] and also grounds 2:1-30). David Balch has found helpful internal clues for dividing the body of the letter (1:13-5:11). First Peter 1:13-2:10 works out the themes of the introductory blessing (1:3-12); therefore, these verses form a unit. First Peter 2:11-4:11 is marked by the recurrence of a number of themes—slander, suffering, the contrast between doing good and doing evil, judgment and justice.” There is also a repetition of themes in the beginning and end of this section, in the stress on God’s coming judgment on believers and unbelievers alike (2:12; 4:5) and the stress on glorifying God (2:12; 4:11). First Peter 4:12, with its renewed address (“Beloved”) and its renewed urgency, begins the final section of the main body of the epistle. 26. See the discussions in L. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, ed. Ferdinand Hahn, trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 15-17; and PaulJ.Achtemeier, / Peter, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 58-59. 27. David L. Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in 1 Peter, SBLMS (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1981) 123-29.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Commentaries: Achtemeier, Paul. / Peter. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996. A wonderfully thorough and judicious study of the epistle. The most technical of the works here listed.

Craddock, Fred B. First and Second Peter and Jude. Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995. An excellent, less technical study, especially useful for laypeople and adult Bible classes.


l PETER—INTRODUCTION Goppelt, Leonhard. A Commentary on I Peter. Edited by Ferdinand Hahn. Translated and augmented by John E. Alsup. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993. A very clear discussion of the issues, especially helpful in looking at pertinent extra-canonical material.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. / Peter. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word, 1988. A study of the Greek text with commentary; balanced and useful. Perkins, Pheme. First and Second Peter, James, and Jude. Interpretation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995. Along with Craddock, the most widely accessible of these commentaries, especially helpful for preaching.

Other suggested Balch, David L. Press, 1981. and uses the

studies: Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in I Peter. SBLMS. Chico, Calif.: Scholars Sets the domestic code in the context of other Hellenistic and Hellenistic-Jewish literature code as a clue to the setting and themes of the epistle.

Dalton, William Joseph. Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits: A Study of1 Peter 3:18—4:6. 2nd ed. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1989. A remarkably thorough and influential exegesis of the most puzzling passages in 1 Peter. Elliott, John H. A Home for the Homeless: A Sociological Exegesis of1 Peter, Its Situation and Strategy. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981. Understands the readers of 1 Peter as “resident aliens” in a social and political as well as a theological sense, and reads the letter in that light.

OUTLINE OF | PETER J. 1 Peter 1:1-2, Greetings II. 1 Peter 1:3-12, Praise to God

Ill. 1 Peter 1:13-2:10, God’s Holy People A. 1:13-25, Being Holy B. 2:1-10, Being God’s People

IV. 1 Peter 2:11-4:11, Life in Exile A. B. C. D.

2:11-17, Living Honorably Among the Gentiles 2:18-3:7, Living Honorably in the Household 3:8-22, Faithful Suffering 4:1-11, Living Out Salvation

V. 1 Peter 4:12-5:11, Steadfast in Faith

A. 4:12-19, The Impending Crisis B. 5:1-11, Caring for the Household of God

VI. 1 Peter 5:12-14, Final Greetings 243

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FAG sy


NRSV Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,


Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pon’tus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithyn’ia, who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance.

To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

COMMENTARY rst Peter is written in Greek, and Greek ‘letters of the first century typically began with a salutation: “From X to Y, greetings.” Sometimes the salutation was expanded so that letter writers could give some information about themselves and suggest their concerns for those to whom the letter was addressed.” For Christian writers, the salutation provided the opportunity to begin to present the pastoral and theological motifs of the epistle.2® First Peter 1:1-2 represents the salutation for this epistle. 1:1. The writer introduces himself as Peter. He does not use his proper name, Simon, as recorded in the four Gospels (see, e.g., Matt 1:30; Mark 1:16, 30; Luke 5:8; John 1:40), but only his nickname, “Petros,” Greek for the original Aramaic “Cephas.” Some have seen this as a sign that the letter is late and implies the later church’s devotion to the figure of Peter, leaving aside his probable self-designation as Simon. However, already in 1 Cor 1:12 and Gal 2:11 and six other fimies-(1.Cor 3:22; 9:5: 15:5eGal 1:18: 2:9, 14), Paul refers to Simon only as “Cephas” (kndds

képhas), and in Gal 2:7-8 Paul refers to him simply as “Peter.” Therefore, very early in the Christian community Simon Peter had become Cephas or Peter. The term “Cephas,” or “Peter,” can be translated “rock,” and different Gospels give somewhat different accounts of how Simon the son of Jonah received this name. In Mark 3:16, Jesus seems to designate Simon as Peter at the time that Jesus appoints the Twelve to proclaim the gospel and to cast out demons. The account in Luke 6:14 is similar. (It is possible that Mark and Luke simply record here the fact that at some other time Jesus designated Simon as Peter, but it seems more likely that they thought the naming and the appointment went together.) In Matthew, Simon receives the name “Peter” after his confession of Jesus as Christ, son of the living God, at Caesarea Philippi (Matt 16:18); however, Peter is called Simon Peter by the narrator before that incident. At the story of the call of Simon in Matt 4:18, Matthew seems to indicate that Christians at the time of the writing of the Gospel called Simon “Peter,” but that he was not yet known as Peter within the time of the narrative itself. At any rate, there can be no question that the author of the letter signifies himself to be Simon Peter, Jonah’s son and one of the earliest circle of Jesus’ disciples.

28. See John L. White, Zhe Form and Function of the Body of the Greek Letter: A Study of the Letter-Body in the Non-literary Papyri and in Paul the Apostle, SBLDS (Missoula: SBL, 1972) 7-8. 29. See Norbert Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, Evangelisch-Katholischer

Kommentary zum Neuen Testament (Zurich: Benziger Verlag and Neukirchener Verlag, 1979) 55.


1 PETER 1:1-2 COMMENTARY The writer calls himself an apostle of Jesus Christ. “Apostle” is also Paul’s favorite selfdesignation at the beginning of letters (see Rom ii Com Ll? Cor lel: Gal Il) Bren if Ephesians and Colossians were written by persons other than Paul, they use the designation “apostle” for Paul himself, as do 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Paul, too, certainly thinks of Peter as one of the apostles (see 1 Cor 9:5). In Luke and Acts, the term “apostle” is the Official designation for the twelve who followed Jesus in his earthly ministry and were chosen by him to establish the church in the power of the Holy Spirit.°° First Peter does not elaborate on the call or function of an apostle, as Paul’s letters do. On the one hand, we can assume that for this letter, as for Acts, Peter is self-evidently one of the circle of those who witnessed Jesus’ earthly ministry and resurrection and who bore witness to Jesus in the church’s early proclamation. In its root form, the term “apostle” comes from the Greek verb “to send” (attooTédAw apostelld ) and may go back to the Hebrew notion of the n->vi

(Saliah). The saliah was an emissary sent with the authority, commission, and message of the sender.*’ Therefore, for Peter to be an apostle of Jesus Christ was for Peter to speak with authority given by Jesus Christ and to speak a word that Jesus Christ commissioned him to bring.

It was noted in the Introduction that different interpreters have different understandings of the term “exile” (mapeTtSnyos parepidémos) in the part of the greeting that designates the recipients of the letter. Some scholars think that the Christians who received the letter were “exiled” because they had departed their homelands to become resident aliens in Asia Minor. Other scholars think that all Christians are “exiled” because they are separated for a time from their eternal home.** Language about exile in 1 Peter seems to show an analogy between the Christians of Asia Minor and the Jews who were exiled to Babylon. The stress is not so much on the fact that they

are far from home (whether an earthly home or a heavenly one). The designation emphasizes the fact that they are surrounded and outnumbered by the citizens, the natives, who misunderstand them and who constantly test their faith. One biblical paradigm for these Christians is Abraham. In Gen 23:4 he makes an appeal to the Hittites among whom he lives: “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place” (NRSV).*° Just as Abraham had gone forth from his father’s house, so also the Christians of Asia Minor had left behind the practices of their pagan fathers and mothers to find themselves aliens and strangers in the land that used to be their home. Furthermore, for this letter the exile in Babylon would have been a foretaste of the later dispersion of Jews throughout the known world and their status as a sometimes troubled minority. Again 1 Peter takes a term familiar in its application to Judaism outside of Palestine and applies it by extension to Christians. Followers of Christ in Asia Minor are the new dispersion, scattered among opposing Gentiles, the majority community of the pagans. As noted, of course, most of these Christians to whom the letter was written were themselves pagans before they were called by God to Christian belief. A possible forerunner of 1 Peter is found in the letter that Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon (Jer 29:4-23):34 Thus says the LorD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. . . . But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lorp on its behalf. (Jer 29:4-7 NRSV)

This portion of Jeremiah’s letter foreshadows the call of 1 Peter to its readers. They are to find their identity among the pagans where they are exiled. In part this means being exemplary citizens of a society that abuses them and honoring the authorities that rule this alien land (see 2:13-17). The order of the Greek text is rather different from that of the NRSV. In Greek the greeting is literally “to the chosen exiles of the diaspora,” not

30. In Acts, Paul is usually not counted as an apostle, but see Acts 14:14. 31. See Karl H. Rengstorf, “Apostolos,” in ZDNT, 1:407-46, esp. 414-18. 32. For the first option, see John H. Elliott, A Home for the Homeless: A Sociological Exegesis of 1 Peter, Its Situation and Strategy (Philadelphia:

33. See Paul]. Achtemeier, / Peter, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress,

Fortress, 1981). For the second option see E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter (London: Macmillan, 1958) 118; and C. Spica, Les Epitres de Saint Pierre (Paris: Librarie Lecoffre, 1966) 40.

1996) 81-82.

34. See J. Ramsey Michaels, / Peter, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1988) xlvi. Michaels also cites other examples of the genre.


1 PETER 1:1-2 COMMENTARY “to the exiles of the Dispersion... who have been chosen” (the NIV is more accurate here). It

the context of this letter, God is Father of both the Christians and Jesus Christ.” The Spirit is the one who strengthens Christians in holiness and sanctifies them in their walk. Jesus Christ is both servant and served. The purpose for which the Christians of Asia Minor were chosen was to be obedient to Christ. What makes their obedience possible is the gift of his blood. The phrase probably recalls Leviticus 16, where Aaron is to slaughter a bull and a goat and to sprinkle their blood on the mercy seat in the sanctuary, “because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions, all their sins” (Lev 16:16 NRSV; see also Exod 24:1-9). The theme is similar to that in Heb 12:24. It points the way to one of the great themes of the epistle: Christ’s suffering for the sake of the faithful and as an example of faithfulness. The fact that the first sprinkling took place while the children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness may also underline the theme that they were exiles—not really at home but nonetheless blessed by God’s mercy. There may also be here a hint of the theme of initiation; the author recalls for the Christians the new beginning made possible for them in Christ’s blood. The common salutation of Greek letters was the word yatpetv (chairein), “greeting.” In early Christian letters, a slightly different word was frequently used, ydpts (charis), “grace.” The coupling of this word with “peace” (eiprjvn eirene) is also typical (see, e.g., Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Thess 1:2; Titus 1:4). For Paul, “grace” is the word that defines the right relationship of God to humankind, God’s total self-giving in Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter the word seems to have less fundamental and less rich connotations, to represent one of the gifts God provides more than the underlying presupposition of all gifts. “Peace” is the translation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew or>w (salém), connoting not only peacefulness but wholeness, health, and well-being as well. The prayer that grace and peace might grow, multiply, abound suggests a rather different understanding from Paul’s sense that grace is the reality in which Christians stand, so allencompassing that nothing can add to its immeasurable depth.

may be that for the writer the election and the exile go together. To be chosen is to be exiled from those around you who have not been chosen in the same way and for the same destiny. This would echo Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles of his time. They are the exiles God has sent into exile. Their exile is a part of their calling and their election (Jer 29:4). The letter was addressed to Christians in five provinces of Asia Minor (see Introduction). If there is any reason for the order in which the provinces are listed, it may be that the letter circulated among the provinces in the order listed, though this remains conjecture.* 1:2. The NRSV translation includes part of the Greek of v. 1 in this verse. The Greek text more literally reads: “To the chosen exiles of the Dispersion ...destined by God.” The Greek term that the NRSV translates as “destined” (tpdyvwotv prognosin) refers to God’s foreknowledge, closely related to the sense of divine destiny but perhaps not simply to be equated with God’s destining. What Peter says is that from the beginning God has elected the exiles in accordance with God’s foreknowledge. This reference suggests not only that the God who elects these exiles has known them from the beginning, but also that God already knew of the whole drama of salvation in which they have a place. The verse refers to the activity of God the Father, of the Spirit, and of Jesus Christ. Goppelt is surely right in suggesting that in the Greek the activity of Father, Spirit, and Jesus Christ all explain the way in which these Christians have been chosen, elected.2° The NIV captures this nuance more clearly than does the NRSV by reiterating the “elect” (ExAextds eklektos) of v. 1 in the “chosen” (prognosin) of v. 2, preceding the explanation of how it is that Christians are elected or chosen. The Father is the one who has known the Christians and their story from the beginning. In 35. See Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 8. For reservations about this theory, see L. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, ed. Ferdinand Hahn, trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 4-5. See the map “The Seven Churches of Revelation,” 574. : 36. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 70.

37. See Michaels, / Peter, 10.


1 PETER 1:1-2 COMMENTARY As Norbert Brox points out, however, already in these verses we see great themes of the writer’s affirmation and exhortation to a people in trouble. They are “chosen, destined, sanctified, sprinkled

with Christ’s blood, and brought into the realm | where grace and peace will grow.”** 38. Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, 59.

REFLECTIONS 1. A theme struck immediately by the letter resonates with many contemporary Christians. Are we exiles in the world(s) in which we live? The notion that Christians are “resident aliens,” not really belonging to the troubled and troubling world around us, has from early on had an immense appeal for the faithful. If we understand ourselves to be outsiders, then faithful obedience will require careful attention to what it means to be in the world but not of it. Hauerwas and Willimon have written a book called Resident Aliens.” Drawing on the image from 1 Peter, they ask what is to happen to American Christianity now that American Christendom has come to an end. Only somewhat facetiously they point to the Sunday in 1963 when the Fox Movie Theater stayed open on the Lord’s Day for the first time as the end of the time when Christians could take their hegemony in the United States for granted. On the whole, they argue that the church will find its mission best as a colony rather than an empire. Preaching on | Peter in the light of this analysis, we have to ask whether they got 1 Peter right (Is it as countercultural as their use of the image would imply?) and whether they have the United States right as we move into the twenty-first century. Do Christians still have more power than the first-century Christians of Asia Minor could have envisioned? If so, what responsibility do we have for the world as well as over against it? These are difficult questions, and 1 Peter may help us best by forcing us to raise them. 2. Like the rest of the New Testament, 1 Peter does not present a fully developed doctrine of the Trinity. Yet the letter does claim that the exiles who received this letter have been chosen, elected, in three ways: (1) They have been elected by the foreknowledge of God the Father. (2) They have been elected by the Spirit, who trains them in holiness. (3) They have been elected by Christ, whose blood atones for sins and brings them to God’s mercy seat. If not a doctrine of the triune God, there is at least a threefold understanding of the way in which God acts for believers and in the whole human story. 3. In one sense, the salutation “let grace and peace abound” is highly conventional, the standard stuff of Christian discourse. Yet, what does it mean that already by the end of the first century it was conventional for Christians to greet one another as those whose lives are marked both by grace and by shalom? Perhaps as interesting as the theological insights of the New Testament writers are the signs of the fundamental understandings that marked the life of everyday Christians. If the claim that we live under God’s grace and seek God’s peace is conventional, it is a convention that contemporary Christians could gladly emulate. We sing “Amazing Grace” and sign our letters “Shalom” almost too perfunctorily, too easily. These first-century Christians had left an old world behind to live in a new world marked by God’s graciousness; and the shalom they found they knew was bought at a price—Christ’s suffering and perhaps their own. We seek to find in our worship and our practice the gifts that will enable us to be surprised by the familiar, to claim the traditions as still good news. 39. Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989).


feb CE




5Praise be to the God and Eather of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, “and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, *who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. °In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. “These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, ¢and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, °who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a Salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice,? even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, ’so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. ®Although you have not seen? him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, °for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, "inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!

and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, °for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. '0Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you,

searched intently and with the greatest care, ''trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 'It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

2 Or Rejoice in this

>Other ancient authorities read known

(COMMENTARY : L orbert Brox suggests that the theme of

| 1 Peter can be discerned in the words of 5:12. It is a letter of encouragement,” a 40. See Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, 16.

motif that is evident from the beginning of the epistle. Letters written around the time of 1 Peter often opened with thanksgivings or blessings, and the themes of those letters can sometimes

1 PETER 1:3-12 COMMENTARY that salvation has not yet been revealed and will not be so until the last day. The writer here demonstrates two rather different ways of understanding the relationship of the present to the promises of the transcendent God. On the one hand, there is the reality of God’s present rule “in heaven,” where God’s promises are stored up, treasured, preserved, almost as if believers had a divine safety deposit box. On the other hand, there is the promise that God will one day rule fully on earth, and the salvation kept in heaven almost as a secret will be made manifest to the whole creation. Since the original readers of 1 Peter seemed acutely aware that to the larger world they looked foolish and misled, there will be a kind of justice at that last time when God’s true salvation will be revealed and the foolish will prove to be wise, the wise foolish. The claim that Christians have an inheritance in heaven has a rich background in the Old Testament and is also attested elsewhere in Christian literature (see, e.g., Ps 16:5; Rom 8:17; Gal 4:7). It may be that the notion of rebirth in v. 3 leads to the promise of an inheritance, since those who are born as children of God with that rebirth become “legally” heirs of God’s promises.” Notice, too, the shift in the use of pronouns from v. 3 to v. 4. In v. 3 God has given “us” new birth, and in v. 4 God keeps an inheritance for “you.” Rhetorically this is a shift from the confessional to the homiletic, from the testimony about shared faith to the hortatory reminder to the “you” who read of what this shared faith means in their lives. The qualities of this heavenly inheritance, that it “can never perish, spoil or fade” (NIV), suggest what it means to say that Christians are born anew to a living hope. It is a hope that no power can destroy, tarnish, or mar. What can keep believers steadfast while they await their heavenly inheritance is faith. Faith is, in part, the confidence that believers do have a treasure laid up for them that neither moth nor rust can corrupt. The letter throughout helps its readers to find what does not perish in a perishable and perishing world. 1:6-7. The verb with which v. 4 began, “re-

be discerned in the motifs of the thanksgiving.4' Such is certainly the case here, where themes of suffering and hope come together, themes that will permeate the entire letter.

1:3-5. God is praised here for the ways in which Christians have been elected and redeemed. God, who is “Father” in v. 2, is now explicitly acknowledged as (above all) the Father of Jesus Christ. The writer, who prayed grace and peace for the readers, now insists that God has already provided mercy to those who are chosen. In the face of distress and suffering, what God’s mercy provides is “new birth” and “living hope.” For the earliest generations of Christians, it was clear that Christian life was “new birth.” One was not born into the faithful community, but chose it, often leaving behind the security or the good reputation of the old life for the insecurity—and blessing—of the new (see 2:2, 10 for the blessing; for the difficulty, see 3:16; 4:4). Goppelt points out that the word for “born again” (avayevvdw anagennao ) occurs only here in the New Testament, although the motif is obvious elsewhere (e.g., John 3:3, 5, 7; Titus 3:5; Jas 1:18).4* Hope lives because it is based in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, his triumph over death. Hope lives because death cannot overcome it. Hope lives because even in the face of tribulation it does not back down or grow faint. Living hope is hope that gives life. ; There is a clear parallel here between the new birth of Christians and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both move from death to life; thus the resurrection of Jesus is the grounds for the new life of the believer. It may be that there is an allusion to baptism here as well, with something like the reminder of Rom 6:4: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (NRSV). Verses 4-5 spell out the twofold shape of Christian hope. On the one hand, Christians lay hold of a promise that is already kept in the heavens (see Eph 1:11-14; Col 1:5). That is, however difficult earthly life may seem, God’s promise is signed and sealed and guaranteed. On the other hand, the fullness of 41. See Paul Schubert, Zhe Form and Function of Pauline Thanksgiv-

43. See J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1969) 51-52.

ings (Berlin: A. Topelmann, 1939).

42. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 81.


1 PETER 1:3-12 COMMENTARY joice” (ayahdtdw agalliao | can be either indicative or imperative—either “you do rejoice in this salvation” or “you should rejoice in this salvation.” Even if the verse is descriptive, the implication is clear that despite all odds the Christians of Asia Minor are to find joy even in difficult circumstances. “In this” can mean either “in this promise” or “in God” or “in all these circumstances”—i.e., “in the light of everything we have said.” It might also refer to the preceding promise of the last day. In that case, the verb (though strictly in the present) would have to be understood as future: “on that day you will rejoice.”** The NRSV and the NIV both opt for the more general understanding of this clause, and this reading seems to make clearest sense of the movement of the passage. The Introduction suggested that the nature of the various trials is not clearly specified. First Peter is more likely addressed to churches that know local harassment than to churches that are part of any systematic imperial persecution. The “little while” reminds the Christians that they live in the time between Christ’s resurrection and his return and that the “last time” of v. 6 will not be a long time coming. That is to say, the fundamental realities with which they live are with the guarantee of their redemption, stored in heaven, and the promise of their redemption soon to come to earth. The present difficulties are bracketed and made relative by the abiding promises. Verse 7 suggests either the reason for the present difficulties or the result of those difficulties. It may be that the trials are sent in order to prove the genuineness of the readers’ faith; or it may be that, however trials arise, the result is that the genuineness of that faith will be proved. One’s 44, See J. Ramsey Michaels, / Peter, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1988) 27; L. Goppelt, A Commentaryon |Peter, ed. Ferdinand Hahn, trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 88-89.

reading of this verse depends in part on one’s interpretation of v. 2, where the author refers to the “foreknowledge” (NIV) or “destining” (NRSV) of God in the lives of the believers. Also pertinent is the reading of v. 6. If the believers have had to suffer trials, is that because circumstances have made such suffering necessary or because God has prepared such a destiny?* The image in the verse is quite clear. Just as gold is refined through fire, so also genuine faith is refined through suffering (cf. Ps 66:10; Mal 3:3). Further, genuine faith is more precious than gold, because genuine faith is imperishable, while even the most precious gold will one day perish. Notice how often the epistle suggests that the gifts of the Christian life have two qualities that set faith apart from the values of the larger world. Christian gifts are immeasurably precious, and Christian gifts are unfading and imperishable. We recall from this verse, too, that genuine faith is absolutely essential, because through faith God’s power preserves the faithful—in their faith—until the last day (v. 3) It is equally clear that this whole test is set in an eschatological framework. The genuineness of faith (faith as genuine) will be made clear at the last day when Jesus Christ is revealed, at the end of this “little while” wherein the faithful now suffer. To whose praise, glory, and honor will faith’s reality redound? Perhaps to the praise, glory, and honor of the Christians, but most certainly to the praise, glory, and honor of God as God is revealed in Jesus Christ. 45. Brox suggests that the very use of the term “trial” (Teipaopds peirasmos) suggests that God is, indeed, the one who sets the tests for the sake of proving the faith and refining the gold. See Norbert Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentary zum Neuen Testament (Zurich: Benziger Verlag and Neukirchener Verlag, 1979) 65. Davids nuances the argument to say that while suffering is not part of God’s desire, it is not outside God’s sovereignty. See Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 56.

o, “Ws


EXCURSUS: SUFFERING IN 1 PETER There are four key sets of references to unjust suffering in this epistle. First is the passage about “unjust trials” (vv. 6-7). Second is the long section on slaves who have to suffer unjustly

EXCURSUS: SUFFERING IN 1 PETER (2:18-25). Third is the encouragement for those who apparently suffer for their open confession of their Christian faith (3:17-18). Fourth is the reference to the “fiery ordeal” in 4:12-19. The material in chaps. 1, 3, and 4 may deal with the suffering that comes to Christians for maintaining their faith in the face of opposition. The reminder to slaves is explicitly encouragement to suffer courageously unjust treatment at the hands of their masters, though implicitly this too may include mistreatment precisely because of their Christian faith. Because slaves suffer unjustly, as Christ suffered, they become a paradigm and example for all Christians, slave and free, who suffer unjustly at the hands of their masters or at the hands of society. We cannot be sure whether the suffering that Christians undergo includes actual judicial proceedings, but certainly it includes slander, innuendo, and abuse (see 2:12; 3:17; 4:14). We also cannot be sure whether the “fiery ordeal” of 4:12 is a new and more threatening example of opposition that calls forth the strong response to be brave and to rejoice or whether, as the letter draws to a close, the rhetoric takes on even greater passion. What is clear is that in this epistle the issue is not why bad things happen to good people. Rather, the issue is how to interpret the suffering Christians undergo as a result of their conviction and confession. First Peter interprets the suffering of Christians in at least these ways: (1) Suffering can provide for the refining of faith. As Achtemeier suggests, in 1 Pet 1:6-7 there is a comparison between the lesser and the greater: If fire can purify gold, then how much more can the fire of suffering purify the faith of those who are steadfast?” There is the implication that the suffering may be sent from God and the promise that the value of faith tested by hardship will be revealed at the end (see also Matt 5:11-12). (2) The one who suffers imitates Christ, who also suffered unjustly, not only as Christians’ redeemer but also as their example (2:21-25; 3:17-18; 4:13; 5:13). (3) Suffering is not only the result of human bad will but also is a consequence of the power of the devil (5:8). (4) Nonetheless, part of the power of Christ’s resurrection was his power to proclaim victory over the forces of evil (3:18-20). Therefore, by implication, Christians know that those who cause their suffering will also finally be judged and defeated. (5) Suffering for being a Christian is itself a sign that the end of history is at hand (4:12-16). (6) When Christ does return, those who have suffered for their faith will receive the reward of eternal glory, and the Spirit, which is the firstfruits of that glory, already is given to the faithful who suffer (1:7; 2:11; 4:13; 5:4, 10-11). 46. See Paul J. Achtemeier, 7 Peter, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 100. Cf. Rom 5:3-4; Jas 1:2-4, as cited in Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 91.

o, ~~

7 ~~

1:8-9. Some texts suggest a different reading for the first clause, “Although you do not know him,” suggesting a scribal slip or that the two references in this verse to “see” (using different forms of the Greek verb dpdw [horad]) seem redundant. As both the NIV and the NRSV suggest, however, “see” seems the more likely reading.”



What vv. 8-9 show forth is the present reality of the salvation provided the faithful in Jesus Christ. Although the fullness of Christ’s glory is yet to be revealed, those who are reborn to a living hope even now have the privilege of loving Christ, being faithful to Christ, and rejoicing in him. The doxological emphasis suggests that in v. 7 as here the clearest emphasis is on the way in which the work of salvation redounds to Christ’s praise. It is not clear what distinction is being

47. See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971) 687.


1 PETER 1:3-12 COMMENTARY made when the author says that the readers “have not seen” Christ and “do not see him now.” Perhaps it is simply a way of saying that they were not eyewitnesses to his ministry and that even in the present they know him by faith and not by sight. We notice, too, that the term for “believing” or “faith” has occurred four times in the seven verses of this prayer. Faith is what protects Christians as they await their final salvation (v. 5), but faith is also the way in which Christians relate in the present to the Christ they will see only in the future. Even in the present, faith has its result: the salvation of souls. Therefore, for 1 Peter the Christian promise has at least three elements. It includes (1) the inheritance being kept safe in heaven; (2) the glorious revelation and judgment of Christ on the last day; and (3) the salvation thatis present for believers now as they await that last day. In all these ways, the faith that 1 Peter describes is very much like the “living hope” into which Christians have been reborn. When the letter refers to “the salvation of your souls,” it does not distinguish the soul from the body, but uses the term wuyy (psyche), as the NT often does, to refer to the person, the salvation of the self.*8 1:10-12. These verses stress the particular blessedness of the Christians to whom the letter is addressed. True, they may be undergoing various trials, but the prophets of the OT knew themselves to be servants of these small bands of Christian believers, and the very angels wish that they could know the gospel as these faithful mortals do. One can see both themes present in the Epistle to the Hebrews. In Heb 11:39-40, after the author has brought out the whole roll call of the OT heroes, he adds: “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something

flect [a] tradition of the angels’ lack of knowledge and of their resultant inferiority to human beings. Hence they desire merely to glimpse what is now openly proclaimed in the gospel.”4? It is evident from the context of these verses that the prophets mentioned here are those of the Old Testament. The purpose of prophecy for the writer of 1 Peter was to foretell Christ’s advent, suffering, and glory. The efficacy of prophecy depended on Christ’s own Spirit, which spoke to the prophets. Clearly for the writer of 1 Peter the Holy Spirit who inspired prophecy could not be other than the Spirit of Christ. Perhaps this reference simply communicates the New Testament idea that it is Christ who sends the Spirit; therefore, one can refer, however anachronistically, to the Spirit of Christ.°° Perhaps, however, the epistle claims that the pre-existent Christ was present in the Spirit to the prophets, bearing witness to himself long before his earthly ministry (see E202) In any case, what is clearly underlined is that the same Spirit who inspired the prophets also inspired the preachers who brought the good news (the Greek word is evayyeAtCw [euangelizo], “to preach the gospel”) to these troubled Christians (see also 1:25). Both prophecy and gospel bear witness to Christ’s sufferings and to the glories that follow those sufferings. Both prophecy and gospel, therefore, also foreshadow the story of these Christians who now suffer in the hope of glory.” The “grace” (v. 10) that comes to these Christians is at least in part the encouragement that comes from that gospel, from that story. First Peter uses the OT in the way that the description of the prophets would suggest. Throughout, as we shall see, OT passages are read as predicting, testifying in advance to Christ’s story. And the function of these OT passages is precisely to serve first-century Christians as they seek encouragement. The blessing of 1 Pet 1:3-12 has a double focus: It is a prayer directed to God, and it is an exhortation directed to the reader. God is praised

better, so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect” (NRSV). And Heb 2:16 states: “It is clear that [Christ] did not come to help angels,

49. Achtemeier, / Peter, 112. 50. So the note in Kenneth Barker, ed., Zhe NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985) 1888. 51. So, e.g., Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, 70;J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1969) 60-61, who cites references from the Church Fathers and recalls 1 Cor 10:4. 52. So Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 61.

but the descendants of Abraham” (NRSV). As Achtemeier suggests, this passage “seems to re48. See, e.g., Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 60; C. Spicq, Les Epitres de Saint Pierre (Paris: Librarie Lecoffre, 1966) 53. »


1 PETER 1:3-12 COMMENTARY hope they need for the trials through which they for precisely those gifts in which the readers are called to rejoice. The God who gives hope is __ live. blessed in part so that Christians can take the

REFLECTIONS 1. The claim that Christians are born anew raises some of the same issues as does the image of Christians as “strangers in the world” (NIV) or “exiles” (NRSV) in 1 Pet 1:1. For the Christians to whom the author of 1 Peter writes, it is quite clear that Christian faith represented a conscious and difficult decision to move away from their old lives and from the predominant culture in which they lived. Today “born-again” Christianity can sometimes refer to a particular spiritual experience without radical social or ethical implications. For Christians of Peter’s time, however, it was clear that being born again not only meant adding joy to one’s life, but also leaving behind one’s congenial relationship with neighbors and community. Being born again hurt. 2. Like virtually every New Testament writing, 1 Peter entices us to think about the relationship between present and future in the Christian story. The writer of 1 Peter believes strongly that the fullness of salvation will not be available until God consummates the story that began in creation and will reach its focus in Jesus Christ. The end of the story will be salvation for the faithful and praise and glory for God, but the readers of 1 Peter are not at the end of the story yet; they await that ending with hope. Yet salvation is also a present reality, laid hold of by faith in God and by love for Christ. For Peter as for the rest of the New Testament, we walk by faith and not by sight, but that faith includes the unquenchable hope that one day we will see the one for whom we hope. And that hope is embodied in faith that trusts that God is with the faithful in the present,

too. Jonathan Kozol has written a moving book on the life of poor people in the Bronx, New York. The book is called Amazing Grace, because that is the favorite hymn of many of the residents of that neighborhood and, one suspects, because Kozol is amazed at the grace and courage he found there.” The verse of the hymn that is most deeply loved by the people whom Kozol met catches both sides of 1 Peter’s eschatological reality: final hope and present comfort. Through many I have already ’Tis grace that And grace will

dangers, toils, and snares come; brought me safe thus far, lead me home.

3. The tension between present and future redemption is particularly appropriate in the use of 1 Pet 1:3-9 as a lection for the second Sunday of Easter (Cycle A). The resurrection of Christ provides hope for the future and strength for the present. Christ risen from the dead is both the guarantor of final glory for the faithful and the ground of present Christian joy—even in suffering. Acts 2:22-31, the portion of Peter’s pentecost sermon also assigned for the second Sunday of Easter, plays on a similar combination of present joy and hope for the future. Especially in Peter’s quotation of Ps 16:8-11, the sermon grounds the joy of believers and their hope for ransom from Sheol in the fact that God freed Jesus from death (Acts 2:24).

4. Another theme in 1 Pet 1:3-9 echoes the Gospel lesson for the second Sunday of Easter (Cycle A). The risen Christ assures Thomas, after his bout with doubt, that the greatest blessing 53. Jonathan Kozol, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation (New York: Crown, 1995) 82.


1 PETER 1:3-12 REFLECTIONS is given those who have faith without actually having seen the risen Lord. It is just this blessing that 1 Peter pronounces upon the faithful of its generation: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Pet 1:8 NRSV). Despite all the movies that try to entice us with technicolor portraits of Jesus walking through the Galilee, it is false romanticism to think that our commitment would be improved had we been there to experience his ministry or, like the apostles, seen the risen Lord. Then and now it is finally by faith that we lay hold of the promise that provides hope for our final end and joy for the days until then. 5. A theme emerges here that is as inescapable for contemporary Christians as it was for first-century ones. How do we understand suffering? Commentators read 1 Pet 1:6-7 in quite diverse ways. Is suffering part of God’s plan for believers and for human history, or is it a happenstance whose origin we cannot really discern? Does God send tests in order to refine us, or is it, rather, that when tests come, God uses those tests for the strengthening of our faith? Whether it is the purpose of suffering or only its outcome, what 1 Peter does insist is that for Christians trials can purge and refine and purify faith. Of course, the trials 1 Peter has in mind are those that result from confessing Christ. But Christians in our own time generalize the question. The puzzle that not even this epistle addresses is what most Christians have observed—namely, that the same trials that strengthen some believers destroy others. Persecution can establish faith or destroy it, but even more mundane matters like debilitating illness can lead some to God and others away—and there is no predicting who will turn which way. That truth may be a mystery beyond the purview of the author of 1 Peter and beyond even the most careful discussions of tribulation as refining. 6. No critical biblical scholar is likely to be satisfied with 1 Peter’s description of prophecy—at least not without considerable qualification. Historical-critical studies lead us to doubt that the Hebrew prophets were searching for the date and circumstances of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Yet this strong statement from a first-century Christian to other first-century Christians reminds us that the Hebrew Bible did not become scripture for the church simply because Christians loved the old, old story or were delighted that Isaiah predicted the birth of a child to King Ahaz (in one interpretation of the historical context of Isa 7:14). As 1 Peter and Paul’s epistles and Hebrews and the Gospel according to Matthew especially show, whatever the prophets had in mind, what Christians found in prophecy was the foreshadowing of that great story that “evangelized” them, the story of Christ crucified and risen again. So for contemporary Christian faith, preaching, and theology, it is not enough to place each passage in its original context without asking how the early church might have found Jesus prefigured in the Old Testament, and how we might find him foreshadowed or adumbrated there, too. Put differently, we are still called to ask how we understand Christ better in the light of those texts whose story provided the indispensable context of his story. For 1 Peter, apparently, the same Spirit preaches the gospel from Gen 1:1 through to the Christian preachers. We are invited to find ways to lay hold of that promise, with integrity but without apology.


1 PETER 1:13-2:10 Gop’s HOLY PEOPLE OVERVIEW " his first section of the body of the epistle

mand without promise. The obedience is grounded in the goodness of Christ, whose blood is like that of a lamb without blemish (1:19), the cornerstone of God’s house (2:7). Obedience will find its reward at the final revelation of Christ in glory (1:13). And obedience is nourished by the good gift of God’s own Word as preached to God’s people (1:22-23).

works out the themes of the thanksgiving: How does doxology work out in obedient living? The whole section is grounded in two passages from the Old Testament: the call from Leviticus to be holy as God is holy (Lev 11:44-45) and the promise from Hosea that those who have been no people are now God’s people (Hos 2:23). This call to obedience, however, is not merely a com-

| PETER 1:13-25;BEING H@bY NIV


'STherefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. '4As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; '°for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. '*For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb

13Therefore prepare your minds for action;? discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. '4Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; !°for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.

without blemish or defect. 2°He was chosen before

lamb without defect or blemish. ?°7He was des-

the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. ?!'Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 22Now that you have purified yourselves by 216 Lev. 11:44,45; 19:2; 20:7

tined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 7IThrough him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. 22Now that you have purified your souls by

'8You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, !%but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a

2 Gk gird up the loins of your mind


1 PETER 1:13-25 nee sO. that you have ,love one another oar


ent aubonse: add pour the on. _ bOr constantly Cc ancient authorities read 2. pure heart -@Or through the on of.theliving and enduring God > é

(COMMENTARY First Peter 1:3-12 praises God for the gifts that God bestows upon faithful people. First Peter 1:13-25 shows Christians the responsibility that goes with these gifts. The holy God requires a holy people. 1:13-16. The section begins with “therefore,” indicating that the calls to hopeful life that follow are based precisely in the nature of the God who has been praised in 1:3-12. Because you are called by such a God, therefore.... Further, in the immediate context of 1:12, because you have heard such good news, therefore.... 1:13. The writer of 1 Peter frequently uses participles in ways that are ambiguous. The main verb of this verse is “hope” or “set your hope” (édtioate elpisate), and the other terms that both the NRSV and the NIV translate as imperatives are actually participles. Participles can be used with imperative force, but since the letter gives us only the one imperative, one might think that the participles serve in an adverbial way, to show the conditions under which the readers live as they are called to “set their hope.”*4 A somewhat wooden, but perhaps helpful translation would be this: “Therefore having girded the loins

| of your understanding, and being sober, set your hope entirely on the grace to be given you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This translation underlines the emphasis that connects the first twelve verses of this chapter with the last thirteen: You have been born to a living hope; therefore: hope. Live out your call. This translation also suggests that metaphors lie behind the descriptions of the lives of those who are called to hope. What the NIV and the NRSV translate as “prepare your minds for action” is more literally “gird the loins of your mind,” as a worker might roll up a gown in order to work or _a pilgrim might roll up his or her garment for the journey. “Be self-controlled” or “be disciplined” (vjdw nepho) more literally means “be sober” as opposed to drunk. (The adverb “entirely” [rehelws teleios| might go with “be sober” rather | than with “set your hope.”) Certainly the phrases —_ are already traditional and the translations capture | much of their meaning, but the metaphors may be richer than the more prosaic paraphrases sug__ gest (on the girding, see John 21:18; Eph 6:14; on being sober, see 1 Thess 5:8, which combines images of sobriety and right clothing; 1 Pet 4:7; in Rom 13:13 the call to sobriety is not merely

cal eae amug con of Petrone —Tetaphorica)|. As elsewhere in the NT, these Peter with Special Regard to Ambiguous Expressions (Abo, Finland: Abo

images are invoked in the light of the impending

Academy Press, 1990). Achtemeier thinks that most participles in 1Peter

coming of Jesus in glory (see 1 Thess 5:8).

can be interpreted without resorting to the rare imperatival participle. See

Achtemeier, / Peter,117.







(ydpts charis) here seems to have yet

1 PETER 1:13-25 COMMENTARY “Since the one you already call ‘Father’ is also an impeccably fair judge, be sure that you live in appropriate fear of God’s judgment.” The point may equally well be, “Since the one who judges all impartially is the one you are invited to call ‘Father,’ though you rightly fear God, your fear can include confident reverence.” This would be rather like Paul’s confident assurance in Rom 8:15-17 (see also Gal 4:6). The NIV shades toward the first reading, the NRSV toward the second. What is clear in either case is that the claim that God is “Father” is directly related to the call in v. 14 for the readers to be “obedient children.” This is not just a vague general claim that all Christians are God’s children. Like much Christian exhortation, the verse includes both the reminder of God’s gracious relationship to the Christians and the call to responsible living in the light of that relationship. In this context, the exile seems to be the time of waiting for the full salvation that will come “when Jesus Christ is revealed” (v. 13 NIV). 1:18-19. Verse 18 begins with a participle, the force of which is caught better by the NIV than by the NRSV. This statement is not a new idea but a modification of v. 17: “Live in reverent fear, since you know....” Verses 18-19 present one of the great contrasts that underlie the argument of the entire epistle. Christians base their lives not on what is perishable but on what is imperishable; not on what is base but on what is precious. In v. 7 it was the faith of Christians that is precious and imperishable; in vv. 18-19 it is the blood of Christ. Much of 1 Peter is based on these analogies between the life of faith and the gifts of the faithful God. God’s holiness requires the holiness of Christians. Christ’s precious blood evokes the believers’ precious faith. (For other images of gifts that are precious or imperishable, see 1:23, 25; 2:4, 0-7; 3:3-4; 5:4.) Christ the living stone forms Christians as living stones (2:4-5). The reference to Christ’s blood as being like that of a perfect lamb recalls v. 2 and the reminder that Christians have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood in their initiation into faith and obedience. The reference to the unblemished lamb probably recalls Lev 22:21. The perfection of the lamb may be another reminder from Leviticus: Now just as Christ is holy, so also Christians are to be holy (see v. 16). The claim that Christ is himself the

a slightly different meaning from the earlier use in the epistle. Here “grace” is the salvation that will be granted only at the parousia. The whole verse is an exhortation to have hope in the light of Jesus’ impending revelation. As people who are sober, as people who are ready for action, Christians are to live in hope. 1:14-16. Verses 14-15 also have one main thought in the imperative clause: “Be holy” (v. 15). Again the participle describes the state of those who are called to be holy. They do not conform to their former evil desires. (The description of their former lives is more complete in 4:3. The reference to “not conforming” recalls Rom 12:2.) But it is not enough to leave behind the blandishments of the old life. The readers are positively to embrace the possibilities of the new: “Be holy in all you do” (v. 15, NIV). Thus to be a “child” of obedience is both to leave behind the former pagan ways and to embrace the new ways of holiness. That these Christians are children of obedience speaks primarily of their status as those who obey God, but that they are children may also remind us that they are only recently born anew (see also 1:3, 23; 2:2).°° The reference to their former pagan days as times of “ignorance” recalls Acts 17:23, 30 and Eph 4:18.°° The point of these verses is to compare the one who calls to the Christians who are called. A holy God demands a holy people, just as a God of hope creates a hopeful people. The quotation is from Leviticus (see Lev 11:44-45; 20:7; 29:2). One of the dominant themes of Leviticus is the claim that the holy God demands holiness of God’s own people. Here 1 Peter, like much early Christian writing, takes the words that Moses addressed to the children of Israel and applies them unapologetically to the early Christians. It is significant, perhaps, that Moses spoke these words to Israelites still in the wilderness, in exile, as they awaited the entrance to the promised land. So in the next verse we are reminded that these early Christians live in exile. 1:17-21. 1:17. The ambiguity of this verse provides for two possible interpretations, not necessarily mutually exclusive. The point may be, 55. So Michaels, / Peter, 6. 56. Ibid., 58. Note that here, too, the reference is to the behavior of Gentiles.


1 PETER 1:13-25 COMMENTARY Sacrificial lamb is found also in 1 Cor 5:7 and Heb 9:5 (and these references may recall Isa 53:7).57 The stress on Christ’s sacrificial gift of himself begins to point to a major theme of the epistle: Christians, too, will be called to courageous sacrifice. 1:20. This verse captures the temporal framework of the whole epistle. The time in which the

trans.]) Then Christ’s glory will be the glory of the faithful. Now is the time of exile, but exile is framed by God’s intention from before the beginning of time and by Christ’s imminent return at the end of time. In the meantime, Christians live by faith and look ahead in hope. 1:22-25. 1:22. Obedience is a major concern of this epistle. Faith shows itself and hope realizes itself through obedience (in this sense, 1:2 states the theme of the whole epistle). The first manifestation of obedience is love for other believers. However one understands the social and political situation of the recipients of this letter, they surely found themselves to be a threatened minority in a disbelieving and sometimes hostile world. Not only the demands of the gospel but also the dictates of prudence suggest the importance of mutual love. Benjamin Franklin’s word to John Hancock, spoken under threat of persecution, applies well here: “We must indeed all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” This sentence is also full of participles, which can be taken as either imperatives or adverbial modifiers.°° The main verb, in the imperative, is “love one another” (ayatoate agapesate). The verse could begin “Purify yourselves” or “Since you have purified yourselves.” The purifying may also be related to the sprinkling of v. 2 in a reference to the readers’ baptism.*? (Both the NIV and the NRSV take the latter meaning.) The purifying by obedience may refer the readers to both the purity of the unblemished lamb and the quotation from Leviticus, “Be holy as I am holy.” Although the Greek word for “purify” (dyvigw hagnizo ) is here introduced to the letter for the first time, there remains something of that sense that the life of the Christian reflects the purity of God’s life and of Christ’s sacrifice. Two words are used for “love.” In the participial phrase, the term is diiadeddia (philadelphia), the love of the brethren (“mutual love,” NRSV; “love for your brothers,” NIV). The adjective avutékpitos (anypokritos}, which the NRSV translates as “genuine” and the NIV as “sincere,” is more literally, “not hypocritical,” “not feigned.” In a situation

readers live is the end of time, but Christ has been known by God from before the beginning of time. Here God’s work in Christ is analogous to God’s work in Christians. The faithful, too, have been foreknown, destined for their calling of faithfulness (v. 2). Not only does God’s purpose in Christ foreshadow God’s purpose in Christians, but also God’s great act in Jesus Christ is for the sake of this little band of believers in Asia Minor. Just as the prophets serve not themselves but Christian faithful, so also Christ comes not to serve himself but to serve those who believe in him (cf. v. 12). Since this is a letter of encouragement, we can see how the author strives to encourage these faltering Christians by reminding them that from the foundation of the world God has destined them to be God’s people. From the foundation of the world, God has destined Jesus Christ to redeem them through his blood. And God has sent prophets to interpret God’s work in Jesus—for the sake of these same Christian believers. 1:21. The strong analogy between Christ and Christians prepares the readers for the affirmations of this verse. God has done a great work in Jesus Christ: his resurrection and his ascension to glory (see Commentary on 3:22). God has done this great work for the sake of Christians. Because of Jesus Christ, Christians are given the gifts of faith and hope. Faith sustains Christians’ relationship to God in this present time (at the beginning of the end of the age), and hope lays hold of the promise of glory that is soon to be revealed in Christ’s return. (Both the NRSV and the NIV miss the repetition in vv. 21a and 21c of forms of the Greek word for “faith” [ttotis pistis]: “to you who through Christ, [are] faithful to the one who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” [author’s

58. See Thuren, The Rhetorical Strategy of|Peter with Special Regard to Ambiguous Expressions. 59. So Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 76.

57. See Michaels, / Peter, 66.


1 PETER 1:13-25 COMMENTARY where one Christian may betray another to local authorities, unfeigned love is both virtue and necessity. The second reference to love, in the main verb of the sentence, is dyatdw (agapao}, the most frequently used term for “love” in the New Testament. The whole movement of the verse reminds us of the old summary of early Christian (especially Pauline) ethics: “Be what you are.” Since you have been purified, since you do have genuine love for one another, well, act that out in heartfelt devotion. For v. 22, there is also good textual evidence for the reading, “love one another deeply from a pure heart,” a reading found in papyrus 72 and some other ancient sources. The reading elaborates but does not

change the import of the translation.” The motivation for this love is obedience to the truth. The truth that 1 Peter proclaims requires obedience, not just assent, and is manifested in love, not just in knowledge. 1:23. This verse echoes v. 3 and the writer’s thanks to God for the new birth provided Christian believers through Christ’s resurrection. Now, just as Christ’s resurrection is to eternal life, so also the new life of believers is grounded in an eternal gift. The imperishable seed here is apparently the Word itself, which along with faith and Christ’s sacrifice is another of those imperishable gifts on which these early Christians could found their life and practice.°! As the NRSV points out, the verse could also read “through the word of the living and enduring God,” but the contrast between perishable and imperishable seed and the following quotation from Isaiah 40 strongly suggest that it is God’s Word that lives and endures. Notice the close connection between the living hope of v. 3 and the living word of v. 23. Like the living hope, the living word is itself alive, lively, and life-giving. Notice the close connection between the imperishable salvation of the heav60. See Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament, 688-89; Achtemeier, / Peter, 135. See also the NRSV and NIV notes. 61. See Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 80.

enly inheritance in v. 4 and the abiding word of v. 23. Both God’s gracious activity and the word of the gospel that proclaims that activity endure eternally. By implication, the blood of v. 19 is also imperishable as well as precious. If the references to new birth in 1 Peter go back to a baptismal homily or liturgy, then here word and rite come together as signs of the new life in Christ. Christians are born anew through the ceremony of baptism, but it is the Word that brings them to that new birth. 1:24-25. In accordance with v. 12, the prophecy from Isa 40:6-8 is understood to be a reminder for first-century Christian believers. The contrast between the perishable flesh and the eternal Word not only looks back to the references to imperishability, but also looks ahead to the concern that faithful people not be held captive to the flesh— that which is bound to pass away (2:11; see also Commentary on 3:18; 4:1-2). Not only these verses themselves but also their context in Isaiah help to provide the themes for the epistle. Immediately prior to the verses quoted, Isaiah declares the revealing of God’s glory, as 1 Peter looks to the final revelation of God’s glory in 1:5-7 (Isa 40:5). Immediately following these verses, Isaiah calls for a herald of “good news” to speak to Zion (Isa 40:9; the verb in the Septuagint is evayyeriCw [euangelizo], as in Petal 12 525)5 Now it is clear for Peter that the good news predicted by Isaiah is precisely that good news that the Christians of Asia Minor have heard, and Isaiah’s prophecy fulfills the description of prophecy in 1:2. Isaiah looks forward to the gospel; the Christian preachers preach that gospel; these little bands of Christians have heard that gospel. The gospel they have heard is the word of which Isaiah spoke—it is the word that lives and endures, gives life and stays alive—eternally (for a different application of the Isaiah passage, cf. Jas 1:10-11).

REFLECTIONS 1. From the admonition of Paul through the meditation of Thomas 4 Kempis, Christians have sought to engage in the imitation of Christ (see 1 Cor 11:1). Drawing on the themes of the holiness code of Leviticus, 1 Peter encourages the faithful to imitate God, to be holy as

1 PETER 1:13-25 REFLECTIONS God is holy. Perhaps imitation is not the best word for this relationship. In the covenant there is not equality between the partners but recognition of reciprocal responsibilities: God’s holiness demands the holiness of the faithful. 2. Here as throughout 1 Peter there is a contrast between two ways of living, two directions of the self. The self can be directed toward perishable things—like silver and gold—or toward the imperishable realities—Christ’s redeeming act on the cross and the Word that proclaims that act. This portion of the epistle implies what the whole letter will make clear: Those who set their hearts on the perishable will perish; those who set their hearts on what endures will endure. In his book on the people of the Bronx, Jonathan Kozol contrasts two citizens of New York. One is a newspaper columnist who has given up on invisible realities and divinely driven hopes. She writes: “All right... . Out there, someone is sleeping on a grate... . and the emergency rooms are full of people. . . . [Still] cruelty is as natural to the city as fresh air is to the country....I used to feel this cruelty was wrong, immoral....Now I don’t know. Maybe it’s the fuel that powers the palace.”

While this woman rejoices in the cruelty-fueled palace, a boy named Anthony grows up with not a fraction of her security and worldly wealth. Anthony has his heart set on another vision; aspiring to be a writer, he writes his hope for God’s kingdom: “God’s Kingdom. ... God will be there. He’ll be happy that we have arrived. “People shall come hand-in-hand. ... “God will be fond of you.”®

3. The holiness of God’s holy people is not centered in God alone or in one’s own devotional life. Holiness builds community, the community of mutual love and support. Just as the holiness code of Leviticus sets a people apart from the unholy nations around them, so also the holiness code of 1 Peter builds a community of brotherly and sisterly love. Love for God, purity of self, love for the brother and sister in Christ are all essential ingredients of the community of living hope that 1 Peter seeks to build. In a nation committed to individualism and a time devoted to consumerism, Americans go church shopping. “What can | get out of it?” they ask. This is far from the God who calls us to be a people, who speaks to us far more often than to me. Perhaps the renewal of the church will come when we begin the “Our Father...” remembering the absolutely essential plural of the pronoun.

4. The immediate

history of the Christians of Asia Minor is set in a much


eschatological framework. Their story was destined by God from the beginning and moves toward God at the end. They have been called; they will be judged. The time between these times looks back to that foundation and forward to that consummation. Any reading of 1 Peter that looks only to the daily life of those Christians (or to ours) misses the depth and scope of the hope Peter proclaims. Some years ago an American graduate student returned from studying with the German New Testament scholar Ernst Kasemann. After listening to one of Kasemann’s particularly impassioned lectures, the student complained, “But Professor, that wasn’t a lecture, it was a sermon.” “Of course,” said Kaésemann, “there’s no time left for anything else.”

5. Christian proclamation is held in very high regard in these verses. It is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy and the means by which Christians lay hold of new life. Preaching is a primary way in which faithful people can appropriate what God has done in the cross of Christ. Preaching provides what the whole letter provides, encouragement and witness to the true grace of God (see 1 Pet 5:7). One doubts that the author of 1 Peter would be encouraged 62. Jonathan Kozol, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation (New York: Crown, 1995) 113-14.

63. Ibid., 237-38.


| PETER 1:13-25 REFLECTIONS to attend Christian worship and hear the preacher begin, “I have a few thoughts to share” or “I know this is only a matter of opinion.” Karl Barth’s great book 7he Word of God and the Word of Man shook preaching in this country with the claim that in preaching the two words come together.” For several decades most of us have been retreating from that claim. We suspect that no one out there believes it; of course, that may be because we have stopped believing it ourselves. 6. Since Easter is the presupposition of Christian faith, the whole New Testament can be read as a commentary on the significance of Easter. Yet it is perhaps especially appropriate that the Revised Common Lectionary turns to 1 Peter during the Easter season. For all its appropriate emphasis on the suffering example of Christ crucified, 1 Peter founds its hope and bases its joy on absolute confidence in the resurrection as the event in which both Christian hope and conduct are grounded. On the third Sunday of Easter (Cycle A), 1 Pet 1:17-23 is linked to the conclusion and response to Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:36-41). In the epistle, the author reminds the Christians of Asia Minor that the Word of God preached to them has been the instrument by which God has given them new birth. Quite possibly the author re-calls them to their baptism; certainly he re-calls them to the faith that made them a new people, marked by God’s mercy. Acts enacts what 1 Peter claims. Hearing the word preached by Peter, three thousand people were “cut to the heart” and were baptized. The message of the risen Christ convicts and redeems; born-anew Christians at Pentecost and a generation later in Asia Minor turned from their old patterns of life to devote themselves to the pattern of the apostles. (If I were to preach the two texts, I would certainly sneak in Acts 2:42.) 64. Karl Barth, 7he Word of God and the Word of Man, trans. Douglas Horton (Boston: Pilgrim, 1928).




Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. *Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, *now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4As you come to him, the living Stone—tejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him

3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and °like living stones, let yourselves be built? into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. °For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him? will not be put to shame.” ’To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

will never be put to shame.”? 26 Isaiah 28:16

aOr you yourselves are being built


6 Or it

1 PETER 2:1-10



7Now to you who believe, this stone is oe But to those who do not believe, ] “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,?”¢ Sand, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a ues that makes pee fall’ ¢

“The stone that the builders. rejected — has become the very head of the corner, -

Sand “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

They nie fecdice they aober the message — which is also what they were destined for. *But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. !©Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 67 Or cornerstone

c7 Psalm 118:22


QBut you are a chosen race,a royal priesthood, : a holy nation, God’s own people,? in order that

you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. '° Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 4Gk a people for his possession

a8 \saiah 8:14

(COMMENTARY toward the main verb “crave” or “long for pure, spiritual milk.” Malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander are those habits that are most apt to destroy the mutual love to which 1 Peter calls believers (1:22). Once again we see that a major feature of the new life in which the faithful live is the mutuality and trust that Christians have with one another. That mutuality and trust require shedding the comfortable old garb of familiar selfishness (cf. Gal 5:19-23; the pattern here, in fact, is much more like 1 Cor 6:9-10, with its explicit reference to baptism as the place where these vices are left behind).© 2:2. The epistle here uses a different term to remind believers that they are living a brand-new life. In 1:3 and 1:23 the author tells them that they have been begotten anew or born anew. Here he says that they are “just born” or “newborn” (aptryévvntos artigennétos), the emphasis not so much on being born again as being freshly born. The reminder that the world of faith is a

The letter alternates between affirmation and exhortation. The readers are reminded of the good news they have heard. Then they are called to live responsibly in the light of that good news. Then they are comforted again by the reminder of God’s election and call. This section provides affirmation and comfort. 2:1-3. Like so much of 1 Peter, this passage represents a contrast between the old life and the new. Perhaps it re-calls the Christians to their baptism. Certainly it reminds them that they are called to live lives very different from what they left behind. If the author is re-calling them to their baptism, then perhaps they remember leaving behind their old clothes and being clothed anew in white baptismal gowns. Leaving behind their old clothes, they left behind their old lives of malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander (NRSV). 2:1. Both the NIV and the NRSV translate the opening word as an imperative, “Rid yourselves,” but in the Greek it is another participle (atro8éevor apothemenoi). It may well have imperative force, but it could also describe the circumstances of the readers, “As you rid yourselves of all malice.” In that case, the verses drive

65. Davids notes that instead of the list of virtues we might expect in contrast to the vices Christians leave behind, “we discover a call to

dependence on God.” See Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 81.


1 PETER 2:1-10 COMMENTARY brand-new world for them leads to the image of the infant drinking milk, food both good and necessary. There is no implication here that the “milk” newborn Christians drink is somehow inferior to the solid food they will get later on. In 1 Cor 3:2, Paul associates milk with immaturity and with a life still burdened by the cares of the flesh, still lived with one foot in the old age (see also Heb 5:13). Here, however, milk is gift and grace. It is of the spiritual realm, not of the flesh. Both the NRSV and the NIV call this “spiritual” milk, but the Greek adjective AoytKds (logikos) is not derived from the word for “spirit” (Tvetpa pneuma) but from ddyos (logos), “reasonable,” “rightly ordered.” It is the same term Paul uses in Rom 12:2 for “a reasonable worship.” “Spiritual” is a fair enough translation, but the Pauline contrast between flesh and spirit, which also has its place in parts of 1 Peter, is not in the forefront here. Brox, who translates the term “spiritual,” also points to the other uses of Jogos in. 1 Pet 1:23; 2:8; 3:1. Achtemeier suggests that the derivation of the adjective should be directly related to the word of preaching (as in 1 Pet 1:23) and translates the phrase, “the milk of God’s word.” Just as the promised land flowed with milk and honey for the children of Israel, so also Christian believers receive milk as a foretaste of the fuller salvation yet to come. That is why spiritual milk grows newborn Christians toward salvation as mother’s milk nurtures newborn infants toward maturity. The NRSV translates the last part of v. 2 as “growing into salvation,” the NIV as “growing up in your salvation.” The former translation stresses salvation as goal; the latter stresses salvation as gift. For 1 Peter, Christians live with the promise of the fullness of God’s mercy and have a foretaste of what that mercy will be. The two translations capture those two aspects of the epistle’s hope, although the NSRV seems somewhat more accurately to reflect the Greek text and the usual meaning of the preposition “into” (cis eis).

“Milk” is here an image for the whole range of gifts provided to newborn Christians and should probably not be more narrowly specified as scripture or right doctrine. In this context, pure milk is the opposite of guile and slander. The selfishness of the flesh is what believers leave behind for the purity of the new life in Christ. 2:3. The exhortation ends with an allusion to the OT that sums up these verses and provides the beginning for a section of the epistle that piles up scriptural citations to remind the readers of the promises of this life into which they have just been born: “O taste and see that the Lorp is good” (Ps 34:84 NRSV). Now the milk that the believers drink is not only the gift but also the giver; what tastes good is Christ’s own self. The construction of the sentence, beginning with “if indeed you have tasted” (NRSV) or “now that you have tasted” (NIV, perhaps somewhat better) may indicate that there is an indirect reference to eucharist or the Lord’s supper, just as v. 1 may include an indirect reference to baptism.” In baptism, one puts off the old self; in eucharist, one tastes that the Lord is good. These sacraments shape the wholeness of our lives as individuals and as a people. The continuation of the exhortation in v. 4 suggests that the Lord whom Christians taste and the living stone to whom they come is Christ. In Psalm 34, the psalmist praises God for deliverance from distress, and therefore the whole psalm foreshadows themes that will be increasingly important to 1 Peter’s assurances to people under threat. 2:4-8. Now the image for Christ shifts. Instead of being like milk, life-giving and good to. taste, now Christ is like a stone, a foundation on which to build one’s life.’”? But Christ is also a living stone. Christ is not static or staid; Christ is alive. Christ is not barren or cold; Christ is life-giving. The whole section is built on a collection of OT passages dealing with stones, almost as if there were ready-made a kind of compendium of OT references to stones that early Christians thought

66. See the discussion of the image of milk in L. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, ed. Ferdinand Hahn, trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 129-30.

69. On the possible reference to eucharist, see J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1969) 87. Brox thinks we may have here

67. Norbert Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, Evangelisch-Katholischer

catechetical material on the new life in Christ. See Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, 91. In either case, the stress is on the transition from the old

Kommentary zum Neuen Testament (Zurich: Benziger Verlag and Neukirchener Verlag, 1979) 92. 68. Paul J. Achtemeier, / Peter, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 143, 147.

ways to the new. 70. For this image see John H. Elliott, The Elect and the Holy (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966) 26-33.


1 PETER 2:1-10 COMMENTARY could be applied to Christ.7! The OT texts on which the letter draws are Ps 118:22; Isa 8:14; 28:16. 2:4. This verse begins with another participle, a form of the verb “to come” (mpooépxouat proserchomai). The NIV keeps something of the adverbial reading of the participle; “as you come”. represents the circumstances under which believers are being built into a spifitual house. The NRSV interprets the participle as an imperative, “Come to him.” The main verb for this clause is found in v. 5 “you are being built” or “let yourselves be built” (oikoSopeto8e [oikodomeisthe] can equally well mean either one). The verse uses two adjectives for Christ as a stone that are typical of 1 Peter’s terms for evaluating the worth of the gifts God gives in Jesus Christ. The stone that is Christ is both living and precious. So in 1:3 the hope into which Christians are born anew is living hope, and in 1:7 the faith Christians show is “more precious than gold.” Verse 4 shows the contrast between human valuings and God’s valuing. Humans have rejected this stone as if it were dead and worthless. God has chosen this stone as living and valuable. The stone is also “chosen,” “elect,” as the Christians to whom the letter is written are elect as exiles (1:1); that is to say that the Christians, like Christ, are rejected by humans—their pagan neighbors— but are elected and precious in the sight of God. The “precious” and the “elect” quality of the stone is there in the OT source, Isa 28:16, which is here combined with an allusion to Ps 118:22. The adjective “living” is apparently the epistle writer’s own contribution. Christians, therefore, participate in the life of Christ, with both its threat and its blessing. We have already seen how Christians are asked to live in imitation of God: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1:16 NRSV). Now the implication is that Christian life imitates or partakes of the reality of Christ’s own life. He is a living stone, and Christians are living stones as well, full of life and life-giving. 2:5. This verse provides the main verb of this sentence and either reminds the believers that

they are being built into a spiritual house (NIV) or exhorts them to let themselves be built into a spiritual house (NRSV). The images pile together. Stones are built into houses, but houses are also temples; and in temples holy priests offer spiritual sacrifices.’* Spiritual sacrifice is surely a reference to the whole shape of the faithful life—the life of holiness. The packed sentence begins to point to one of the main themes of this section of 1 Peter. The gracious God who has sent Jesus Christ through him has called and blessed a new people: God’s people, God’s household, God’s new priesthood. The verse, therefore, serves several functions. It underlines the close relationship between what God has done in Jesus Christ and what God is doing in these Christians. It reminds the Christians that despite their apparent disgrace in the eyes of the world they are precious in God’s sight. It calls them, in somewhat different words, once again to live out their calling, to be holy even as God is holy. (The verses may also point ahead to the reminder of 4:17, that judgment begins “from the house of God.” It is not just that these believers worship in the house of God; they are

the house of God.) 2:6-8. Now the two references that are combined in v. 4 are cited more fully in wv. 6-7. The introductory “therefore” indicates again that 1 Peter finds confirmation for its Christian claims in the prophetic affirmations of the OT (see 1:10-12). The image from Isa 28:16 fits beautifully the epistle’s picture of the household of God. All Christians are living stones, built into the edifice. But the cornerstone is Jesus Christ. He is the cornerstone because the whole building rests on him. He is the cornerstone because the building takes its design from him. No Christ; no building. (The citation of Isa 28:16 does not correspond exactly to either the MT or the LXX. The notion that those who stumble shall be put to shame does represent the LXX; in the MT they scurry about or away, hence the NRSV translation of Isa 28:16, “One who trusts will not panic.”) The “chosen and precious cornerstone” turns the allu72. Brox points out that the “holy priesthood” of v. 4 is picked up in the “royal” priesthood of v. 9. Since the whole imagery of these verses is so closely interwoven, he argues that the spiritual house is also the royal house and that the imagery, which is somewhat elusive, suggests that Christians are built into a holy temple. See Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, 98.

71. Notice at least the combination of references similiar to 1 Pet 2:6-8

and Matt 21:42, 44 and themes like 1 Pet 2:6, 8 in Rom 9:33. For the claim that this is traditional material that antedates 1 Peter, see Brox, Der

erste Petrusbrief, 100; Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 89.


1 PETER 2:1-10 COMMENTARY preaching that has been good news and salvation to believers (1:25), the word that endures forever, while those who disobey that word stumble and fall away, like flesh, like the grass. The epistle is like a tapestry with recurring motifs and colors or like a symphony in which a theme recurs again and again in slightly different form. To read one verse is almost always to recall others. Although 1 Peter does not begin to present any full-fledged discussion of providence, call, and predestination, what is clear throughout is that God is in charge of the story of Jesus Christ, of the world’s story, and of the story of individual believers. If some believe, that is because God has chosen them; if some do not believe, that disbelief also lies in the plan and providence of God. 2:9-10. These verses are woven carefully together. Verse 9 represents an array of images drawn from the OT that contrast the believers from the stumbling unbelievers of v. 8. Verse 10 sums up the promise to the faithful as it is found in the passage from Hos 2:23. The two verses make a stunning claim. To unbelievers it seems that the Christian believers have been rejected, as Christ was rejected; they are aliens and exiles, foolish and straying. To the eyes of faith it is clear that Christians are chosen exactly as Christ the cornerstone is chosen, precious and beloved of God. From the perspective of faith, the world is turned upside down. Pagan unbelievers, who seem secure in their positions and their prestige, are stumbling and falling. Christian believers, who seem foolish and useless, are God’s own people—holy, blessed, royal. Verse 9 shows the ingenuity of the author in

sion of v. 4 into an explicit citation. That Christ is chosen reminds the readers that the whole pattern of salvation is part of God’s electing plan from the beginning—centering in Christ but including all believers. That Christ is precious reminds the readers of the pervasive distinction between valuable and tawdry goods, the things of heaven and the things of this world. It is also possible that the reference to the stone established in Zion reminded some readers that in Christ they will come “home” to the holy city, Zion—home from their exile and dispersion. Verses 7-8 use two other quotations to make a key point: God’s faithfulness requires responding faith. Those who have faith know that the stone is precious, but to those who do not have faith the same stone is not a cornerstone. On the one hand, unbelievers reject the stone; they lay it aside as worthless. On the other hand, the “stone” rejects them. It causes them to trip and fall. Those who know who Christ is build their lives on him; those who do not accept him stumble and fall. In a way people pronounce judgment on themselves. See Christ aright, and you are built into God’s household; see Christ wrong, and you stumble, trip, fall. There is another possible interpretation of v. 7a: “Honor” is given to those who believe. This means that believers partake in the honor of the “honored” stone, Jesus Christ. It also distinguishes them from the unbelievers, who, far from being honored, will be “put to shame.”’? The OT references are Ps 18:22 (again the allusion of 1 Pet 2:4 becomes an explicit citation) and Isa 8:14. There is a very similar use of Isa 8:14 in Rom 9:33, where Paul talks about the destiny of Israel. Again the distinction is between the faithful, who receive God’s righteousness, and the unfaithful, who stumble. In Romans, however, the stumbling stone is not so directly identified with Jesus Christ. Again in v. 8 it is clear that faith is not just a matter of believing; it is also a matter of obedience. Just as faithful Christians have been chosen and destined for obedience (1:2), so also the unfaithful outsiders have been chosen and destined for disobedience (see 1:14, 22). What they disobey is the word, presumably the word of

drawing his images from two OT passages.’4 The basic passage, which the others seem to interpret, is Isa 43:20-21: The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom | formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. (NRSV)

The Septuagintal phrase for the last line is more 74. Brox seems basically correct in suggesting that this is not typological exegesis. The author is not saying that these passages applied first to Israel as type, and then to the church as antitype. He simply reads the OT as applying to believers (as 1 Pet 1:12 would indicate). See Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, 103.

73. See Goppelt, A Commentaryon I Peter, 145; Achtemeier, 7 Peter, 149, 160-61.


1 PETER 2:1-10 COMMENTARY like “so that they might narrate my praiseworthy deeds”; 1 Peter instead suggests that the faithful celebrate God’s praise in doxology.

mended as holy but also called to holiness. The blessing carries further responsibility. First Peter builds its claims on two fundamental distinctions: the distinctions between the larger world and the community of the faithful, and the distinction between then and now. The first part of 2:9 reinforces the distinction between outsiders and insiders, those who appear to prosper (outsiders) and those who have really received the promises of God’s own people (insiders.) The allusion to Exodus 19 draws a distinction between then and now. Then you were in Egypt; now I have brought you out on eagles’ wings. This distinction builds to the climax of the verse. Once the believers were in darkness, and now they are in light (see the close parallels in Eph 5:8; Col 1:12-13). What brings them into the light is the call of God. The Christians have already learned that God calls them to holiness (1:15). They will learn that God calls them to obedient suffering, if faith requires suffering, and that God calls them into God’s eternal glory in Christ (5:10). Holiness, obedient faithfulness—even if it requires suffering—and eternal glory are all aspects of that light in which the faithful now live and in which they

In the context of Isaiah we are reminded that the chosen people are in the wilderness, exiles,

yet even in the desert God shows them to be God’s own and cares for them tenderly. Three phrases in v. 9 are drawn from the Isaiah passage: “chosen people,” “people belonging to God,” and “declare the praises of him” (NIV). Michaels suggests that the addition of cis (eis, “for”) to the LXX’s “a people of possession” reminds the readers that the fullness of their belonging to God is still reserved for the eschatological future.” The references to “royal priesthood” and “holy nation” are apparently drawn from Exod 19:6 (Exod 23:22 LXX). Again the setting is the wilderness, as Moses speaks to the people still waiting to enter the promised land. The context in Exodus as a whole foreshadows these assurances in 1 Peter: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom [1 Peter’s “royal

will live forever. In the light of what God has done for them and in the light of Isa 43:21, believers are not only to obey but also to declare God’s praises. In the context of both Isaiah and 1 Peter, this probably means that Christians are to praise God in worship and thanksgiving.”” The response to being insiders and not outsiders is praise; the response to having been in darkness and now being in light is praise as well. Verse 10 draws on Hosea to bring together the two contrasts that are central to this passage and to the whole epistle—outside/inside; then/now. Once no people; now a people. Once outside; now inside. The citation is from Hos 2:23. God has told Hosea as a sign of judgment to name Hosea’s own children “not pitied” and “not my people.” Now in a prophecy of hope, God tells Hosea that his children, and the children of Israel,

priesthood”) and a holy nation.” (Exod 19:4-6a NRSV)”° The issue for the people of 1 Peter is their status in the eyes of God versus their status in the eyes of the larger world in which they are despised exiles. The story of the exodus, recalled by these verses, reminds them once again that God delivered the despised people of Israel from their enemies, and after the time of their wandering brought them to the promised land. Surely those who read and hear | Peter are to find comfort in this story themselves. The claim that they are a holy people also recalls 1:15-16. They are not only com75. J. Ramsey Michaels, / Peter, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1988) 109. 76. In translating Exodus, as for 1 Peter, there is difference of opinion on whether the word translated “royal” is an adjective or a noun. If itis a noun, the word means “sovereignty” or “monarchy” or sometimes “pal-

ace.” If an adjective, it means “royal.” Selwyn thinks that the word order (parallel in the Greek text to “people chosen” and “nation holy”) and the usage elsewhere in roughly contemporary literature suggests that Baotdevov (basileion) is the noun and tepdtevpa (hierateuma) the adjective; thus the translation would be something like “a priestly royal house.” This would represent a further variation on the motifs of 2:5, “spiritual house/holy priesthood.” See E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter (London: Macmillan, 1958) 165-66. Goppelt leans toward the other interpretation, noting that the word order is dictated by the LXX quotation;

77. Part of the debate between Balch and Elliot is over the question of whether the believers in 1 Peter are called to evangelize or only to “thank God.” The issue rests partly on the understanding of “declare” (kahew

kaleo )in this passage. See John H. Elliott, The Elect and the Holy (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966) 41-43; David L. Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in 1 Peter, SBLMS (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1981) 132-33; Achtemeier, / Peter, 166. See also Michaels, 7 Peter, 110, who says that lexically either interpretation is possible.

but he also says that nothing crucial depends on one’s translation choice

here. See Goppelt,

A Commentary on I Peter, 149n. 65.


1 PETER 2:1-10 COMMENTARY names and to new reality recall the readers to their baptism; certainly they are part of a new community. Certainly the passage is a reminder of that new life that baptism represents, a life in which old ways and worldly expectations are entirely reversed and undone.

will again know God’s pity and will again be God’s people. Just as Hosea’s children changed their names, so also the Christians of 1 Peter know a new reality in Jesus Christ. They are those on whom God has had mercy. They are God’s own people. Again it is possible that the references to new

REFLECTIONS 1. First Peter 1:1-10 reminds us that the difference between Christians and non-Christians is not that we see different things but that we see the same things differently. Those who believe and those who do not believe both see Jesus Christ, the rock. For believers, that rock is the cornerstone or the capstone of their lives as individuals and in community. For unbelievers, that rock is simply to be rejected. What makes the difference between the two ways of seeing is faith. Today two quite different views of the role of Christian theology vie for pre-eminence in the church. Some maintain that faith and the theology that explains it are the property of faith communities. We teach and learn the language and stories of faith with each other, and it is in the context of that communal language and practice that the stories touch us and direct us. Others are eager that Christian theology go public, that we find claims and suppositions that can be presented and defended outside the confines of the church. First Peter, like much of the New Testament, presents a view of faith rather different from either of these current claims. For this epistle, the great story that feeds faith is absolutely public. It is a word declared aloud about deeds seen clearly. The story of Jesus is not hidden. The language about Jesus is not esoteric, confined to insiders, like the secret language of lodges and clubs. Yet the fact remains that when different people hear that very public story, each responds very differently. Some hear the story and find in it the narrative of the way God has had mercy on those who had found no mercy and draws forth a people from those who had no sense of belonging. Jesus is Christ and Lord, cornerstone of the lives they build and the communities they build. Other people hear the same story and find it dull or pointless. The dispute is not about whether Jesus ever lived or about the reports of his words and deeds. They dispute what God did through Jesus, if God did anything at all. Those who hear the story in faith praise God for God’s wonderful deeds. Those who do not hear the story in faith laugh and stumble. It complicates this discussion that, for 1 Peter as for much of the New Testament, the distinction between those who have faith and those who do not is found in the call and predestining of God. But the Christian testimony from the beginning has been something like that. It is not the smartest, the most pious, the most virtuous who know that Christ is cornerstone and not stumbling block. Rather those who have faith know Christ this way—and that faith is always gift, not achievement. One way to insist that faith is a gift is to say that it is destiny and not achievement that makes faith possible. 2. The powerful claim of 2:5, 9 that in Christ Christians have become a royal priesthood is not directly a claim about the orders or offices of church life (any more than the claim that believers are “kingly” is directly a prescription for ordering the political realm). Luther’s strong affirmation of the priesthood of all believers may rest in part on a reading of this text, and from the earliest days of the church the richest theological claims have often been based on re-reading Scripture in the light of one’s own time and under the direction of God’s Spirit.” 78. See the helpful excursus by Brox on the post-New Testament history of the concept of general priesthood. Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, 108-10.


1 PETER 2:1-10 REFLECTIONS The claim here, however, is not about how believers function in relationship to each other. The claim, based on Exodus, is that as God chose Aaron to be a priest for the sake of God’s glory, so now all Christian people are called by God and all are called to offer sacrifices—not the sacrifice of the altar (neither animal sacrifice nor eucharist is in view here) but the sacrifice of faithful obedience and the life of love that goes with that. The sacrifice these Christians were called to live—and we are called to live as well—is a life without malice, guile, insincerity, envy, or slander, which 1 Peter says we have put off with our faith. A traditional communion prayer captures this motif from the epistle beautifully: “Here we offer ourselves in obedience to you, through the perfect offering of your Son, Jesus Christ, giving you thanks that you have called us to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, your own people; and to you, O God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, be ascribed blessing and honor and glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.”

3. In the history of Christian faith there has often been a tension between ecclesiology and eschatology—the doctrine of the church and the hope for God’s final reign. First Peter describes the polarity of the Christian life in terms that embrace both ecclesiology and eschatology. On the one hand, there is the language of community, often expressed in the distinction between insiders and outsiders. We are the chosen race, the royal priesthood (or holy palace), God’s own people. Those others are chosen only for stumbling and are separate from God. On the other hand, there is the language of eschatology, the sharp distinction between then and now or between now and the reign of God not yet fully come. Once we were in darkness, but God has called us to light; once (like Hosea’s children), we were without mercy and were no people, now as God’s own people we live in utter mercy. Once we carried those old vices; now we have put them off and taste of God’s own goodness, rich and life-giving as a mother’s milk. The eschatological language tempers the ecclesiastical language. To be sure, some are in and some are out. But every Christian remembers that only yesterday he or she was out and that only by God’s grace has been brought in, received mercy, made a member of God’s people. In the great story God has authored and continues to author, who knows who will find mercy and light tomorrow, who will next be included in God’s dear people?

4. Whatever our reaction to the exclusiveness of the claim that Christians are God’s own (only?) people—by no means unique to 1 Peter in Christian literature—the positive side makes its claim in our generation as in the generation for which the epistle was written. For believers, Christian identity is our identity. Christian community is our community, and Christian family our family. Especially in a time of ongoing racial tension Christians rightly recall that as Christians (not as Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, or Asian people) we are a chosen race. For Christians who take 1 Peter seriously, the line on the application that asks for race ought to be filled in: “Christian.”



aving been comforted by the reminder of

= @ their identity as God’s people, the readers are now instructed how to live as God’s people in the midst of indifference and even opposition. Both structurally and morally the exhortation to honorable living in 2:11-4:11 is the center of 1 Peter. It represents the author’s most elaborate discussion of the shape of Christian life in a hostile world. The section is a mixture of fairly traditional Greek and Roman exhortation and of a vision of life seen through the Christian story of the cross. Perhaps more accurately, the epistle uses the story of Christ’s passion as a lens through which to view the traditional injunctions in a new way.” For contemporary Christians, the section is difficult in part because structures that seemed to the author commonplace and appropriate seem to contemporary readers antiquated and oppressive. We can understand the import of these verses for contemporary practice, however, only when we give them their due as part of a program for first-century Christian behavior.

from acceptable communities of belief and authority. In sociological terms, the Christians who first read 1 Peter were part of a sectarian movement. As with sects in our own time, argues Elliott, one of their concerns was to form a strong group identity, and the way in which they did that was to adopt standards for the ethical life that set them apart from their non-Christian neighbors. For the Christian community, in other words, there exists a different standard of values, namely the will of God and the exemplary obedience of Jesus Christ, which distinguishes it from outside society. In the estimation of the Gentiles the Christians amount only to a motley collection of lowly aliens, ignoble slaves, religious fanatics and “Christ-lackeys” obsessed with selfhumiliation. Within the family of God, however, and in God’s estimation, Christians enjoy a new status which can only be retained by avoiding conformity to the degrading social norms of the Gentiles. .. . Over against the futile world of the Gentiles the Christians constitute an alternative and superior form

of social and religious organization.®! David L. Balch, who has studied 1 Peter by paying special attention to the codes of behavior in the household (2:13-3:7), also recognizes that new Christian believers are cut off from some aspects of the predominant “Gentile” society. He argues, however, that the main purpose of the exhortations to humble behavior is not to set up a superior and unique set of Christian practices but to help Christians live as exemplary citizens, citizens who outdo the Gentiles precisely in living according to the highest standards of the larger society.®

Significant contemporary interpretations of these verses of 1 Peter have drawn upon socialscientific models to provide hypotheses about the situation of the earliest readers of this letter. Not surprisingly, different commentators have drawn rather different conclusions.

John H. Elliott, in his book A Home for the Homeless, has maintained that the Christians who received this letter were sociologically, and not only spiritually, sojourners and exiles.®° They were among the marginalized people of Asia Minor, living at the edges of power and prestige. As Christians, too, these believers were divorced

81. Ibid., 128. 82. See Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive, 87-88. Elliott argues that Balch relies too exclusively on the household codes in interpreting the overall social strategy of the epistle. See John H. Elliott, “1 Peter, Its Situation and Strategy,” in Charles H. Talbert, ed., Perspectives on First Peter (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1986) 61-78. Balch responds that the household codes in 1 Peter are better understood by sociological theories of acculturation than by those of conflict and that part of the strategy is to counter the Roman fear that foreign cults threaten both the domestic and the civic order. See Balch, “Hellenization/Acculturation in 1 Peter,” in ibid., 79-101.

79. This point is made well and repeatedly in Ferdinand-Rupert Prostmeier, Handlungsmodelle im ersten Petrusbrief: Forschung zur Bibel (Wiirzburg: Echter Verlag, 1990) esp. 53-55, 420. 80. John H. Elliott, AHome for the Homeless: ASociological Exegesis of I Peter, Its Situation and Strategy (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981). On the social location of these early readers, 23-26.


1 PETER 2:11-4:11 OVERVIEW We shall need to return to these different hypotheses as we look at particular verses in this section of the letter. Both a careful reading of 1 Peter and attention to the nature of minority believing communities suggest that “sectarian” communities do not necessarily choose between a strong sense of their unique identity and a desperate concern to be approved by the larger society.*° The Pastoral Epistles in the New Testament and any number of contemporary “marginalized” Christian communities show considerable evidence of both strategies. On the one hand, sectarian Christians stress the unique and special gifts of their community; on the other hand, they make perfectly clear that their community can trump the larger society in the very values it most espouses. Thus some contemporary Christians may feel embattled in an increasingly secular society. They deride the society for its values, yet they try to outdo “outsiders” by their zeal for other societal values. They may abhor what they see as sexual leniency but cling fervently to patriotism. They may deplore the popular media but borrow extensively from the strategies of popular entertainment. The mix of separation and accommodation is not confined to either the “left” or the “right” among contemporary Christians. Some Christians argue vehemently against abortion but show strong support for the death penalty. Other Christians staunchly oppose executions, while their position on abortion is indistinguishable from

To be entirely anachronistic, the debate between Elliott and Balch represents an argument over whether the community to which 1 Peter was written is more like the Amish or more like the Seventh-Day Adventists in our own time. Both stand apart from the majority society in their theology and in some of their values, but Adventists tend to participate fully in commerce and comity, while the Amish stand more apart.® However one hypothesizes about the communities for which 1 Peter was written, the fourfold movement of this section of the epistle is fairly clear. In the first subsection (2:11-17) the issue is how Christians should interact with those outside their own households and outside the community of faith, and in particular how they relate to governmental authorities. In the second subsection (2:18-3:7) the issue is how Christians should relate to others, particularly non-Christians, in their own households. Again the question is how to bear faithful witness in a predominantly nonChristian environment. The third subsection (3:822) deals with a particular problem in relation to the pagan environment: the problem of suffering. The final section (4:1-11) places the whole issue of faithful Christian behavior in the larger context of the new life Christians have received through Christ and the reminder that they will be called to account at the last judgment.

that of other more “liberal” Westerners.* 83. Elliott at some points suggests that it is the motivation more than the shape of Christian behavior that marks it off from that of the respectable “Gentiles.” See John H. Elliott, “1 Peter, Its Situation and Strategy,” in Talbert, ed., Perspectives on First Peter, 66. He sees the stress on mutual humility of all Christians as also being different from Hellenistic household codes. 84. Balch, in fact, argues at one point for this twofold aspect of sectarian development. See David L. Balch, “Hellenization/Acculturation in 1

85. See especially Balch, “Hellenization/Acculturation in 1 Peter,” in ibid., 74. He further suggests that the themes of missionary concern in 1 Peter do not fit with Elliott’s strongly sectarian hypothesis.

Peter,” in ibid., esp. 86-96. Elliott’s contribution to the discussion is John H. Elliott, “1 Peter, Its Situation and Strategy: A Discussion with David

Balch,” in ibid., 61-78.

1 PETER 2:11-17, LIVING HONORABLY AMONG THE GENFILES NIV ‘Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. '*Live such good

NRSV 11Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. '*Conduct yourselves hon-

1 PETER 2:11-17 NIV


lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. '3Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, '4or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do

orably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.?

13For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of

every human institution,’ whether of the emperor as supreme, ‘or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those

wrong and to commend those who do right. '°For it is God’s will that by doing good you should

free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. '’Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood

who do right. '°For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. '°As servants‘ of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. '7Honor everyone. Love the family of believers.?

of believers, fear God, honor the king.

Fear God. Honor the emperor.

silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. '*Live as

aGk God on the day of visitation for human beings ¢ Gk slaves



6 Or every institution ordained a Gk Love the brotherhood

(COMMENTARY will further suggest, they are aliens to the world of fleshly desires and at home in the sphere of the soul. It has already been suggested that the readers are aliens and exiles (“strangers,” NIV), not so much because of their social status as marginalized people or because they are separate from their heavenly home. They are aliens and exiles because they are believers amid an unbelieving community; they are a diaspora among a vast majority of “Gentiles” (see 1:1). The NRSV translates v. 11 more literally than does the NIV: “I urge you... to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.” The verse sets up a kind of parallel. The dominant pagans are associated with the values of the flesh; the “exiled” Christians are associated with the values of the soul. The tension between Christian outsiders and pagan insiders is not merely the struggle between two social groups; rather, it is part of the battle of two different spheres, two kinds of desires, two longings. Pagans long for the things of the flesh; Christians long for the gifts that strengthen the soul. As we shall see, the struggle between flesh and spirit is part of the struggle between God and Satan (see 5:6-11). Here again the NRSV has the more literal translation; “flesh” (sapKikds sarkikos) wages war

2:11-12. 2:11. These verses set the focus for the long discussion of proper behavior that follows. The address to the audience, “beloved,” and the direct exhortation, “I urge you,” indicate the beginning of a new major section of the epistle. The verb “T urge” (tapaxadew parakaleo) is typical of the introduction to paraenetic material in Paul’s letters but is also a standard term for moral exhortation in other Greco-Roman writings.®° It stresses the urgency of the exhortation and the authority of the writer to beseech, if not to direct, the readers. The address to the readers as “beloved” recalls both their love for one another (1:22) and the fact that they are called and chosen by God (1:2).°” The NIV translation “dear friends” leaves out the second aspect of this and undervalues the first. The stress is rather on the readers as “beloved” of the author. The salutation also sets up a contrast between the truth of faith and the appearances of this world. In the light of faith this band of Christians are the beloved; in the light of the

world they are exiles and aliens.®* As the verse 86. See]. Ramsey Michaels, / Peter, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1988) 115. 87. See L. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, ed. Ferdinand Hahn,

trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 155. 88. See Norbert Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentary zum Neuen Testament (Zurich: Benziger Verlag and Neukirchener Verlag, 1979); Ferdinand-Rupert Prostmaier, Handlungsmodelle im ersten Petrusbref, Forschung zur Bibel 63 (Wiirzburg: Echter Verlag, 1990) 141-42.


1 PETER 2:11-17 COMMENTARY against “soul” (bux psyche), not against “your soul.” This is not only a battle within the life of each Christian but a battle within the cosmos between opposing forces. Furthermore, the outcome of that battle is not really in doubt. Those who listen to 1 Peter remember that the author has already assured them using the words of Isaiah:

with Gentiles, though we have seen that most of the readers certainly were ethnically Gentiles, too. “Gentile” here is a description of one’s faith community, not of one’s ethnic origin. The Christians who were once “no people” are now “the people”—Israel (see 2:10). The verb avaotpédw (anastrepho),which the NIV translates as “live” and the NRSV as “conduct,” is another of those participles that may be translated in the imperative. If, however, one reads it as modifying the main verb, then the verb it qualifies is “refrain” in v. 11: “Refrain from fleshly you live honorably among the Gentiles.” However the word is translated, it is clear that living honorably and refraining from evil desires are two sides of the same coin. To live honorably among the Gentiles is to live according to standards more honorable even than those the Gentiles hold in honor. There is some evidence from non-Christian sources that what appeared to Christians to be virtues were seen by their detractors as vices, signs of wickedness, or superstition. “It was often the very abstaining ‘from fleshly desires’ that caused pagans to despise Christians. ... Thus Tacitus claimed that ‘they were hated because of their vices’ (Ann. 15:44), and Suetonius refers to them as ‘a class of people animated by a novel and dangerous superstition’ (Nero 16:2).”% The stress on the undeserved slander received by the Christians foreshadows the retelling of the story of Christ, whose passion places the suffering of each Christian in perspective: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (2:23: NIV}. In v. 12 it is Chfistians who are called to entrust themselves to God, who will judge justly in the day of visitation. Christian hope in the midst of slander and suffering is sustained by the eschatological faith—that God will give victory to God’s people. The battle Christians wage for the soul against all fleshly desires foreshadows the victory God will consummate on the day of visitation. Here the NIV translates more strictly and, therefore, more helpfully than does the NRSV; this


“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever,” (1:24-254 NRSV; cf. Isa 40:6-8)

Although the NIV misses the connection between 2:11 and 1:24, it does catch something of the meaning that 1 Peter gives to the term “flesh”: “I urge abstain from sinful desires.” Whether or not the author of 1 Peter knew Paul’s letters, he certainly picks up something of Paul’s anthropology here. For Paul, “flesh” was the realm of selfishness, the power that worked destruction both within the individual believer and in the life of the church. While “fleshly” behavior for Paul sometimes referred to unacceptable sexual conduct, in its broader meaning “flesh” was the power that turned people in upon themselves, away from the neighbor and away from God (see, e.g., Rom 7:14-20; Gal 5:16-21).%° For the writer of 1 Peter, the self-centered behavior of the pagans is what Christians have left behind, and yet Christians constantly fight a rear-guard action against the very forces they have defeated in their baptism and rebirth. 2:12. Here the author continues to draw the contrast between Christians and the world in which they find themselves as strangers. The behavior that outsiders malign is, in fact, behavior that is honorable and that honors God, and in the day of God’s visitation the true values of the Christians will be confirmed—even in the eyes of the “Gentiles.” Note how closely 1 Peter identifies the readers with Israel and the non-Christians 89. The classic and still instructive discussion of these categories is found in Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, trans.

Kendrick Grobel (New York: Macmillan) 1:205-10, 232-39. Goppelt suggests that because the contrast between flesh and soul/life (psyche) is not Pauline, 1 Peter draws on general Christian tradition, not on the Pauline corpus. See L. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, ed. Ferdinand Hahn, trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 156-57n. 10.

90. Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 97.


| PETER 2:11-17 COMMENTARY is a visitation not only of judgment but also, of course, of grace (cf. Luke 19:44). While there is a kind of missionary appeal here, the hope that the Gentiles will be impressed by the honorable behavior of the Christians, hope is still eschatological hope. There is no easy assumption that faithful behavior will win admiration in this world; rather, at history’s end, when God comes to visit, the outsiders will behold the good deeds of the faithful. Then, at last, at the last, they will glorify God. This is the judgment toward which the epistle already pointed in 1:17, reminding the readers that God is both Father and impartial judge. It is God whom the Gentiles will glorify, however, not the Christians themselves. The verse keeps the same balance as that of the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16 NRSV). The good deeds of believers do not redound to the glory of believers; they redound to the glory of God. Psychologically as well as theologically it is striking that the epistle here at least resists the temptation to assume that the day of visitation will mean wrath and destruction for those who have acted destructively and wrathfully against Christians. Instead, the hope is that those who have not understood the good conduct of the faithful in the everyday world will at the final transformation also be transformed—from unbelief to faith (contrast Revelation 18). 2:13-17. Beginning with v. 13 and continuing at least through 3:22, 1 Peter spells out what it means for Christians to “conduct themselves honorably” among the Gentiles. The author writes with a twofold hope. First,.there is the hope that the Christians of Asia Minor may be spared unjust slander and may indeed impress their accusers with the excellence of their behavior. Second, and even more basic, there is the hope that these Christians will live a life that honors God, who has chosen them in Jesus Christ.

2:13-14. It is unclear whether v. 13 is the introductory sentence for only the immediately succeeding verses on the relationship of Christians to government or whether it is, rather, an introduction to the whole series of injunctions regarding proper obedience. Certainly the verb that


begins this section, “Be subject” (Utotdoow hypotasso ), provides the basic command that shapes a whole series of proper relationships for Christian people.! Already in v. 13a we see a juxtaposition or a tension that informs the whole discussion of proper Christian behavior. Christians are supposed to “accept the authority of every human institution” (NRSV) or to submit “to every authority instituted among men” (NIV); but they are to do this “on account of the Lord.” The tension is even clearer if the first phrase is translated more literally “pe subject to every human creature.”® If the “Lord” in the second part of the phrase is the sovereign God, then Christians are enjoined to be subject to created authorities for the sake of the Creator. If the “Lord”—as is often the case—is Jesus, then Christians are admonished to follow his example of humble subjection.” It is possible that the kinds of behavior here encouraged give clues to the accusations that outsiders brought against the Christians.%* What the letter urges them to do is to show the accusers to be hopelessly false and misguided. It must also be admitted that much of this advice seems to represent a fairly standard adaptation of approved cultural standards of behavior to the particular case of Christians. There are some important differences, but also considerable family resemblance between this passage and Rom 13:1-7 (see also Titus 3:1 and, a little farther afield, 1 Tim 22179). Certainly one concern for early Christians was that they not be accused of being unpatriotic, and the first concern to appear in the list of injunctions speaks to that issue. The contrast between 1 Pet 2:13-14 and Rom 13:1-2 is instructive. In Romans, Paul writes: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist 91. Kelly argues that, indeed, this verse is the topic sentence for the whole section concluding with 3:22. See J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1969) 108. Similarly, Michaels Suggests that the injunctions that follow 2:13 are “case studies” of proper subjection. See Michaels, 7 Peter, 123. 92. So Michaels translates itotdynte Tdon avOpwmivny Ktice (Aypotagete pase anthropiné ktisei). See Michaels, 1 Peter, 121. 93. Davids argues for the second interpretation; see Davids, The First Epistle ofPeter, 99. Spicq thinks there may be an implicit argument against idolatrous worship of the emperor, who is, after all, only a creature. See C. Spica, Les Epitres de Saint Pierre (Paris: Librarie Lecoffre, 1966) 101. 94. See David L. Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in 1 Peter, SBLMS (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1981) 82.

1 PETER 2:11-17 COMMENTARY have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom 13:1-2 NRSV). Here the reasons for loyalty are much more simply pragmatic. Emperors and governors are one example of those “human creatures” to whom Christians are called to show humble honor. Moreover they are useful because they uphold at least minimal standards of behavior. The description of the relationship of God to emperor to governors does not imply any divine chain of command, as if God authorizes the emperor, who then authorizes the governors. Rather,

ity over the Christian; in themselves, the governors are owed no allegiance by Christians. Authority and allegiance belong to God alone. Nonetheless, Christian freedom is freedom to do what is right, not what is wrong. And_doing what is right includes being properly submissive to governing authorities. Therefore, the evil that Christians are to avoid is the evil that authorities are instituted to punish: the violations of moral behavior that even nonbelievers would condemn. And the evil that Christians should avoid is the evil of failing to give proper submission to those authorities who punish immoral behavior. To avoid such evil is to act honorably among the Gentiles, to avoid slander for Christians, and, more important, at the last day to lead the Gentiles to glorify God (v. 12). 2:17. This verse is a chiasm, a rhetorical figure in which the two outer members are linked thematically to each other and the two inner members are linked thematically to each other as well: ABB’ A’.

God creates the emperor and the governors, and the emperor gives authority to the governors for the sake of good order. 2:15. As this verse makes clear, Christians should Support good order because they want to silence their detractors. Since emperors and governors pro-

mote good order, it is to the advantage of Christians to be subject to them.” This verse beautifully conjoins the two major reasons 1 Peter stresses for proper behavior: to put to shame your accusers in their foolishness, and because it is the will of God, and not just for the sake of self-satisfaction. A similar combination of sanctions for right behavior is presented in 1 Timothy: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and for all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Tim 2:1-3 NRSV). 2:16. Clearly for the author of 1 Peter, “honorable conduct” means not only honoring those with governing authority, but also doing nothing to draw the wrath—or the attention—of governors. The verse captures the almost paradoxical vision of civic behavior that 1 Peter—and other early Christian writings—commends. Because Christians are servants (slaves) of God—only!— they are free in their relationships to political authorities. In himself the emperor has no author-


Honor everyone B_ Love the brotherhood B’ Fear God A’ Honor the king

The B and B’ phrases are internal not only to the figure of speech but also to the life of the Christian community. As insiders, Christians have two responsibilities: to love their Christian brothers and sisters and to fear God. As “outsiders” in dealing with the outside world, Christians are to honor everyone (every created human person or institution, v. 134), in particular the emperor (v. 130). The verse may be partly drawn from Prov 24:21: “My son, fear the Lord and the king, and do not disobey either of them” (author’s trans.). If so, it is particularly striking that 1 Peter shifts the injunction: Fear the Lord, but (only) honor the king. Recall the twofold address with which this whole section began: Christians are “beloved,” insiders called to love one another and to fear God. Christians are “aliens and strangers,” outsiders directed to honor every creature, even their pagan

95. All this tends to confirm Balch’s perspective on the social context and values of these early Christians as 1 Peter understands them. Balch’s argument in part is that for both Hellenized Romans and Hellenistic Jews there is a correlation between the good order of the household and the good order of the state. See Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive, 76. First Peter at least asserts the importance of good household order as an apologetic device against accusations of civic disruption. See ibid., chap. 6.

96. Balch cites Danker’s suggestion that the Proverbs verse may be altered in the light of Mal 1:14, and the whole following section shaped by Malachi’s stress on Israel as God’s servant. See ibid., 96.


1 PETER 2:11-17 COMMENTARY wraps up the first verses of this “station table”?” but it also provides a transition to the further discussion of proper honoring and loving in the verses that follow.

opponents, and in particular to honor the emperor (see v. 11). It is also striking that the injunctions for “inside” behavior are stronger than are those for “outside” behavior. Outsiders and rulers are to be honored. Christians are to be loved, and God is to be reverenced with godly fear. In many ways this chiastic injunction not only

97. Goppelt’s term; see his excursus in Goppelt, Peter, 162-79.

A Commentary on I

REFLECTIONS 1. Eschatology shapes the whole letter. These Christians have been called from the beginning, and they will be judged at the end. An unfading and precious inheritance has been laid up for them in heaven. The time in which they now live is the meantime. It is important, a field for faithfulness, but it is made relative by the decision that chose them from the beginning and by the judgment that will determine their end. Everyone who reads the New Testament carefully has to deal with eschatology, because Matthew awaits Christ’s coming in glory and Revelation proclaims God’s apocalyptic victory and every book in between deals one way or another with Christ, the alpha and the omega. To think aright about | Peter is to think about how we live in the meantime. Sometimes we envision the eschaton best as history’s end. Sometimes we envision the eschaton best as history’s depth, present as well as hoped for. Commenting on 1 Pet 2:12, E. G. Selwyn quotes Cranmer’s prayer as a reminder for those times when eschatology not only draws us to the future but also permeates the present: “Lord, we beseech thee, give ear unto our prayers, and by thy gracious visitation lighten the

darkness of our hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord.”” 2. If not baptism, at least the insistence that Christian commitment requires new beginning, new birth, shapes 1 Peter from beginning to end. In the light of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary includes 1 Pet 2:2-10 as a reading for the fifth Sunday of Easter (Cycle A). Oddly, the lectionary omits the first verse of the chapter and of the paragraph. In this reading, Christians are enjoined to act like newborn infants, without any notice of what we must leave behind to be “born again”: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander” (1 Pet 2:1 NRSV). Like too many sermons on the Nicodemus story, this truncated lectionary reading runs the danger of emphasizing how nice it is to be born anew without recalling how painful it is, how much of the old life must be left behind. For Nicodemus, what needed to be left behind was his status in the synagogue; for the readers of 1 Peter, it was the comfortable co-existence with pagans. No one who thinks very hard about the human comedy will doubt that sometimes malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander are just as hard to leave behind as are prestige and power. Giving up gossip may be as hard as giving up clout. The lectionary does hold on to the great affirmations of the text—what it means to be born anew, not just to be an individual with a warm relationship to Jesus, to be part of a race, a nation, a people. The risen Christ does not live only, or even primarily, in the hearts of each believer; he lives triumphant with the God who sent him and in the community that serves him.

3. Our understanding of the social location of the recipients of 1 Peter (at least as the letter implies that location) helps us to interpret the significance of the epistle. Our understanding 98. E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter (London: Macmillan, 1958) 171.


1 PETER 2:11-17 REFLECTIONS of our own social location will help to determine how we appropriate the epistle for our own time. Are we strangers and aliens, so radically divorced from the culture around us that we are called to stand over against the values of the larger society and to build enclaves of Christian fidelity? Are we the happy citizens of a society in which Christian values generally win out, so that our proper function is to lend the blessings of the church to the successes of the culture? Or are we (like the implied hearers of the epistle) caught somewhere in the middle—citizens of a society in which we are never entirely at home, but which is still created by God and where good things sometimes happen to good people? Do we want at the same time to strengthen our place as a peculiar people and to be in’ conversation and community with all neighbors who are a part of other peculiar communities? We will answer that question in part out of our denominational as well as out of our theological convictions. First Peter points us to a Christianity that is sectarian enough to know what it stands for, “churchy” enough to promote good citizenship, and “universalist” enough to hope that in the last day even those who have scoffed at our pious silliness will see the light and glorify the God who created us all. 4. Even today the general outline of the appropriate relationship between the Christian community and the larger world that we find sketched in 1 Peter seems appropriate. On the one hand, there are those standards of behavior and commitment that are internal to the Christian community, that set us apart from the larger world, and that we hold to as being the signs of the holiness to which God calls us. On the other hand, there is a whole host of secular goods that do not conflict with our Christian convictions—marks of good citizenship, neighborliness, even social zeal, that may not be rooted directly in the Christian story, but that help us to live as Christians in a pluralistic world. Otherwise how could we vote, run for city council, or join the P.T.A.? There is a tougher question. Is it possible that some worldly values might actually enrich the faithfulness of our commitment to God and to our neighbor? Much rhetoric about the distinctive fidelity of Israel in the midst of a pagan world misses the fact that monogamous marriage, for example, entered Judaism and then Christianity from the “pagan” Greco-Roman environment. Much contemporary Christian rhetoric bemoans the Enlightenment and its stress on rationality and toleration as a falling away from the purer faith of a more theocentric age. But along with the undeniable loss, was there not also some gain in the emergence of sufficient toleration to dampen our ancestors’ enthusiasm for going to war in the name of denominational purity? Much of the contemporary debate on sexuality insists that the secular world should not distract the church from what Bible and tradition have taught. But is it possible that secular studies of the genesis and social location of sexuality have something to teach us that we might incorporate into the enrichment of our faithfulness? If for the Lord’s sake we are to honor “every human creature or creation,” might that at least mean that we are invited to pay some attention to insights that emerge from Athens as well as those originating in Jerusalem? 5. In some ways, our social location is very different from that of the recipients of this letter. In ways that the Christians of Asia Minor could not have dreamed, Christian people now often are the “human authorities” of whom 1 Peter speaks. We have the power that those Christians were told to honor. What does Christian fidelity look like when we not only are called to obey the laws but also to make the laws? How does one move from an ethic for a small minority in an empire to an ethic for at least a nominal majority in at least a nominal democracy? There are at least a couple of clues in 1 Peter. The right role of government is still to “ounish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.” Christian people need to think about the relationship of punishment to praise and the distinction between right and wrong. Obviously neither of those relationships can be spelled out simply or simplemindedly. In a pluralistic society, Christians will want to argue for the right but not to impose our


1 PETER 2:11-17 REFLECTIONS understanding of the right as if from above. For people whose social agenda is set in large measure by the New Testament, there will always be the question of whether there are modes of punishment and praise that might entice evildoers to become doers of good, that might bring slanderers to the point where they can praise God in the day of God’s visitation. Furthermore, the Christian freedom to which this letter points includes at least implicitly the freedom to dissent from the mandates of society—not only of the emperor but also of the republic—if there is a conflict between being God’s slave and being slave to the state. We are called to honor the emperor, but to fear God; and on those occasions when we must choose whether to serve the one we honor or the one we revere, the choice should not be too difficult to make—though often incredibly difficult to carry out. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and a host of the less famous stand as constant reminders that sometimes Christian freedom means freedom from society’s rules, and not merely freedom to obey willingly. o, “ye

K2 ~~


K2 “~

ExCURSUS: THE HOUSEHOLD IT‘ABLES The material in 1 Pet 2:18-3:7 is formally very like the sets of exhortations on household order in Col 3:18-4:1 and Eph 5:21-6:9, and it is quite similar to material found more dispersed through the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 2:8-15; 5:1-2; 6:1-2; Titus 2:1-10; see also Did. 4:10-11; Ignatius to Polycarp, 4:3-5:2). The concern for proper order within Christian community and family appears again in 1 Pet 5:1-5. Further, the concern for proper submission within the household is closely related in 1 Peter to proper submission to governmental authorities (as also in 1 Tim 2:1-2; Titus 3:1). David Balch argues persuasively that the antecedents for these household codes are to be found as early as Plato and Aristotle and are continued among Stoics and the Hellenistic Jews Philo and Josephus.” In these non-Christian writings there was great concern for the proper management of the household, with some sense that the security and unity of the state depended on the security and unity of the families within that state.’ So, too, in 1 Peter the overall injunction to orderly behavior begins with the appeal to obey human authorities, starting with the emperor. Governors, masters, and husbands are all examples of the general category of those people who have special authority. Balch argues that the social context for the code in 1 Peter is to be found in 3:15: “Always be ready to make your defense” (NRSV). Part of what Christians have to defend is the accusation that their religion overturns the approved social order. Following the household code is a way of making sure that there is no substance to these pagan accusations.’ The following interpretation will acknowledge much truth to Balch’s claims, but the close parallels to Colossians and Ephesians (where there is not the same concern with confounding pagan opponents) suggest that—whatever its origins—the household code now seemed an appropriate way of encouraging social order within the Christian community. Indeed, in the case of slavery, for 1 Peter the right domestic order is an enfolding of right christology. Slaves suffer unjustly, as did their Lord (2:20-25). 99. Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive, 14-15, 25-56. 100. Ibid., citing Friedrich Wilhelm, 14. 101. See ibid., 90. ~*,





1 PETER 2:18-3:7



18Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and

18Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. !°For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 7°lf you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 2\For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” *3When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. **He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,? so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds’ you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. *Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight. °It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by accepting the authority of their husbands. “Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord. You have become her daughters as long as you do what is good and never let fears alarm you. 7Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex,‘ since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life—so that nothing may hinder your prayers.

considerate, but also to those who are harsh. !°For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. ?°But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. ?'To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22“He committed no sin,

and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 4He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. °Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. “Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. °For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, Slike Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. 7Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

@Or carried up our sins in his body to the tree ¢ Gk vessel

a22 Isaiah 53:9


© Gk bruise


(COMMENTARY Both formally and materially these verses comprise the center of the exhortation for Christians to exhibit good behavior in the midst of an unbelieving society. The exhortation to slaves is so shaped by the author’s christology that it becomes evident that these verses are intended directly as an admonition to household slaves and indirectly as an admonition to all Christians who serve Christ, the suffering servant. Unlike the exhortations in Col 3:22—4:1 and Eph 6:5-9, 1 Peter addresses only household servants and not their masters. In part this probably reflects the reality of the churches of Asia Minor; they were composed far more heavily of servants than of masters.'° Furthermore, the attempt to show “good behavior” before pagans may be a response to the accusation on the part of nonChristian masters that Christianity was inciting newly converted slaves to insubordination.'™ It is also clear that the household slaves are examples and paradigms for Christians and, as Elliott points out, that the “household” is a ruling metaphor for the Christian community. It is, perhaps, also for this reason that servants are addressed as “household servants,” not (as in Colossians and Ephesians) as “slaves,” and that the admonition to them is the first of the household injunctions, not (as in the other epistles) the last.!% It may also be that for 1 Peter Christians are slaves (oixétat oiketai) only of God, while they may very well be household servants of earthly masters. So they are slaves of the God whom they fear, but household servants of the masters whom

they obey—for the Lord’s sake.!% 2:18-20. These verses begin the section that is often characterized as a Haustafel, a “table” of rules for the household. Yet it is clear that the concern for a right order within the house is not divorced from the concern for right order within 102. See Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 114-15; Michaels, / Peter, 138. Achtemeier, however, is skeptical of drawing any social implications from this lack. He stresses, rather, the paradigmatic role of slaves as examples for the obedience of all Christians. See Paul J. Achtemeier, / Peter, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 192. 103. Balch proposes this possibility, Let Wives Be Submissive, 95. 104. See the helpful discussion in John H. Elliott, A Home for the Homeless: A Sociological Exegesis of1Peter, Its Situation and Strategy (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981) 205-7. 105. See Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 194, for a similar suggestion.

the community and even the empire. For this reason, Goppelt notes how closely this material is tied to the preceding section and says that all would be better designated “station code” rather than “household code.” The issue is, in the whole of society, how Christians should live out their own “station” in relationship to those with other

stations. !°° 2:18. The exhortation begins again with a participle that can probably best be interpreted as an imperative (as both the NRSV and the NIV do). It reprises the verb with which | Peter urges believers to be subject to every created human being or institution (v. 13).!°? Masters (Seomdétat despotai), like the emperor and the governors, are among those created powers to whom Christians are properly subject. But the readers recall the larger claim of v. 13: They are subject only on account of the Lord. When the author tells them to be subject “in fear” (NIV, “with all respect”; NRSV, “with all deference”), he probably continues to keep the injunction in this larger theological framework. They are to be subject to earthly masters because, as v. 17 has enjoined, they fear God.!% The assumption of v. 18 is that it is no test of Christian fidelity to be subject to good masters; the test is what a Christian does in the face of treatment that is cruel. In this sense, the issue is more complicated than that of obedience to the emperor. There the author assumes that the function of the emperor is to reward right behavior and to punish wrong behavior. Now Christians are enjoined to be subject to masters—even when they behave harshly. One can say that the dilemma of Christian servants suffering unjustly drives the author to the affirmation of Christ’s suffering as comfort and example. But one could equally well say that the story of Christ’s passion as seen through Isaiah 53 shapes | Peter’s description of the proper life of the household servant. The unjust suffering of Christ provides the paradigmatic image that allows the author to interpret the meaning of the unjust 106. Ibid., 165. 107. On participles functioning as imperatives, see footnote number 54, above. 108. See Michaels, / Peter, 138.


1 PETER 2:18—3:7 COMMENTARY suffering of Christian household slaves. By extension, the unjust suffering of Christ provides the image that allows the author to interpret the unjust suffering of any of his first readers. “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (NIV). This is an injunction not only for household slaves but also for all those whom the author assumes find them-

10, 13; 4:10; 5:10, 12. In these cases, the word carries richer theological meaning than it does here, though the implications are somewhat different from those of Paul’s use of the term.) The term ovuveiSnov Oeod (syneidesin theou) in v. 19, which the NIV translates as “conscious of God” and the NRSV translates as “being aware of God,” sometimes means “consciousness” or “awareness,” and also sometimes means “conscience” (as it apparently does in 3:16, 21). Selwyn affirms this interpretation: “The conscience of the Christian slave provides a fortifying motive

selves suffering unjustly.!° 2:19-20. The concern with the Christian’s right conduct before God reminds us that two theological premises introduced this whole section on right conduct: the eschatological hope that Christians’ behavior would convince unbelievers of the rightness of their cause at the time of God’s visitation and the reminder that all Christian submission is undertaken, not for the sake of the created authorities, but for the sake of the God who created them (vv. 12-13). Furthermore, the conduct of slaves is a particularly pointed working out of the larger claim about Christian freedom that 1 Peter makes in direct relation to obedience to governing authorities: “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil” (2:16 NRSV). These household slaves, too, are really God’s slaves, not the master’s. Therefore, they are free; and yet precisely for God’s sake they are to use that freedom to do what is right—even when what is right includes totally unwarranted suffering. Two terms in v. 19 are familiar in NT literature,

for the patient endurance of injustice, and is also

satisfied in it.”!!° Whatever the details of particular vocabulary, the general thrust of these verses is clear. As part of the call to be subject to human creations for the sake of the Creator, household slaves are to be subject to their householders—not only when the masters’ demands are just, but also when they are unjust—for such obedience is pleasing and acceptable to God. In this concern for the approval of God, the sense of God’s immediate presence (the consciousness of God) and God’s final judgment (the visitation of God) come together. 2:21-25. Now this injunction to submissive behavior is grounded in the story of Christ’s passion, a paradigm not just for household servants but for all Christians who suffer injustice. Verse 21, in remarkably compact terms, sketches both an ethic and a christology.'!! The first readers of this epistle were those who had been “called.” From the opening salutation throughout the letter, the author has reminded the Christians that their status is a matter neither of historical accident nor of their own decision. They have been called to be who they are, written into a story by God, who is the author of their story and of all history. Now it is clear what their role is, what part they have been called to play. They were called to suffer for righteousness’ sake. This is not bad luck or ill fate; it is their vocation. If we are right in seeing the letter as being shaped in part around themes of

and each is used here somewhat differently from the manner usually expected. The term that the NIV translates “it is commendable” and that the NRSV translates “it is a credit” is often translated “srace” (xapts Charis), although here it seems not to carry the rich connotations of the term when it is used by Paul or in Ephesians. “It adds to your account” would be a more literal translation. This reading is confirmed when the term is used again at the end of v. 20. Suffering for the sake of righteousness represents a credit—with God. Again the immediate concern for impressing the neighbors by correct behavior is set in the larger context: Christians do this for God’s sake. (The writer of 1 Peter also uses the term charis in 1:2,

110. E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter (London: Macmillan, 1958) 177. Spicq also translates ouvel8nots (syneidesis) as “conscience” which the slave has from God. C. Spicq, Les Epitres de Saint Pierre (Paris: Librarie Lecoffre, 1966) 108. 111. Michaels suggests that the reference to the “grace” Christians have before God recalls the whole “grace” that God provides in Jesus Christ; this may bea stretch. See J. Ramsey Michaels, 7 Peter, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1988) 108.

109. This reading is influenced by Prostmeier’s thoughtful interpreta-

tion of these verses. See Ferdinand-Rupert Prostmeier, Handlungsmodelle im ersten Petrusbref, Forschung zur Bibel 63 (Wiirzburg: Echter Verlag,

1990) 155-58.


| PETER 2:18-3:7 COMMENTARY baptism and rebirth, then Christians are asked to remember their baptism as a mark of their call. This vocation is grounded not only in God’s call but also in Christ’s passion. Christ’s passion establishes the vocation in two ways: (1) Christ suffered for the Christians (some early mss read “Christ died on your behalf”; that reading is most likely an assimilation of 1 Peter to the more familiar Pauline formula, or to 1 Pet 3:18).!!? (2) Christ’s suffering serves as the example for the appropriate behavior of the Christians. The Greek word for “example” is utoypappos (hypogrammos), which more literally means the pattern that a child, learning to write, traces over.!!> The idea of “walking in his steps” follows the same motif. Christ’s passion is the path Christians take; they trace his pattern, walk in his steps. Verses 22-25 draw very heavily on motifs from Isaiah 53; it may even be possible to say that they are a kind of homiletical elaboration on themes from Isaiah’s great Servant Song. Here are the verses that 1 Peter draws from as found in the Septuagint: He bears our sins and suffers pain for us, yet we accounted him to be in distress, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded for our sins, wounded for our iniquities; the chastisement [matSeia paideia] of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. We have all gone astray like sheep; every person has gone astray on his own path, and the Lord has handed him over for our sins. Yet on account of the evil that was done him, he does not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep that before its shearers is silent; so he does not open his mouth.

And I shall give the wicked for his grave and the rich for his death, because he did nothing unlawful and no deceit was found in his mouth. (Isa 53:4-7, 9, author’s trans.)

The first two verses of this reading of Isaiah 53 (in 1 Pet 2:22-23) shed light on the second claim 112. See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New

Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971) 690; Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 109n. 10. 113. See Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 109-10; Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, 179.


of 2:21: Christ is the example, the paradigm for Christians. The second two verses explicate the first claim to the readers in v. 21, that Christ suffered “for you.” In elaborating on the promise that Christ is a paradigm, v. 22 quotes directly from Isa 53:9, and the rest of the passage presents themes from Isaiah’s passage to illuminate ways in which Christ served as an example for suffering household servants and for all suffering Christians in the communities to which 1 Peter was written. The reminder from Isa 53:9 that Christ “committed no sin,/ and no deceit was found in his mouth” (v. 22) makes Christ the forerunner of those household servants who “suffer for doing good and you endure it” (v. 20). Therefore, by extension Christ becomes the forerunner of all Christians who suffer unjustly, those who “now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1:6 NIV). Christ lived out his calling as predicted by the prophets, that he should suffer (1:11). Now Christian servants and all Christians undergoing trials live out their calling too (2:21). For Christ, for household servants suffering injustice, for all Christians undergoing tribulation for their faith the end of suffering is glory that comes from God. That glory has already been granted to Jesus Christ (1:11). It relates directly to the eschatological promise to those household servants who were suffering unjustly when 1 Peter was written, who “have God’s approval” (v. 20), and it is the promise for all the suffering Christians who read or hear 1 Peter. Just as Christ’s sufferings led to his glory, so also their suffering tests that faith that “may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:7 NRSV). An additional benefit of this faithfulness, even in the midst of suffering, is that when Christ is revealed, at least some of those who malign the Christians will “see [their] honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge” (2:12). One can assume that among the slanderers are slavemasters who were anxious about their house slaves’ new religion and that among those slandered are the slaves who suffered reproach precisely for their newfound faith. Verses 22-23 show what suffering slaves and all suffering Christians are to do in the meantime,

1 PETER 2:18-3:7 COMMENTARY before God’s glorious visitation. They are not to give slander in return for slander received, but they are to be like their Lord as he is foreseen in Isa 53:7, 9. The echoes of some of the gospel material are very strong here as well. The passage recalls Mark 14:53-61, Jesus’ silence before false accusations, and Mark 15:19, where Jesus is silent before his taunters. For slandered Christians, the passage recalls Matt 6:43-44 and Luke 6:28. So

citation from Isa 53:5 in v. 24. Now Jesus is the wounded surgeon whose wounds heal the wounded believers.!!° At the conclusion of this rich meditation on Isaiah 53, the author draws on another prophet, Ezekiel, for whom the word of the Lord is: “So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd.... My sheep were scattered, they wandered... over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them” (Ezek 34:5-6 NRSV). The oracle moves, however, to promise, as the author, and perhaps his readers also, knew: “IT myself will be the shepherd of my sheep... says the Lord Gop” (Ezek 34:15 NRSV). In 1 Peter, Jesus has become the true shepherd; the words are fulfilled in him. The Christians, who before coming to faith were wandering far and wide, have now returned to him—shepherd and guardian, overseer, bishop of their souls. Though to the world the Christians look like wandering sheep (aliens and exiles, 2:11), they know that they are at home in the shepherd’s fold (the “beloved,” 2:11). The image of the shepherd will recur in 5:4, where Peter and the elders are implicitly deputy shepherds as well. As with so much of the NT, these verses are not a full-fledged doctrine of the atonement at all. Rather, they give us a rich mix of images and allusion, drawn largely from Isaiah 53 and from Christian formulas (“he suffered for you”) and from elsewhere in this epistle. The strategy is homiletical rather than systematic. The purpose of the rhetoric seems clear: to strengthen Christian believers, especially household slaves, in faith and in obedient behavior. They are strengthened because they look to Christ as example and as redeemer; through his silence, obedience, and trust he has opened to them the imperishable inheritance that no earthly master can tarnish or destroy. Notice that the whole use of Isaiah 53 in these verses demonstrates precisely that understanding of Hebrew Scripture that 1 Peter has praised in 1:10-11: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry . . . [concerning]

for 1 Peter, Christians, like Jesus Christ, are to trust their lives to God, who they have already been told is both Father and a just judge (1:17; again the gospel tradition suggests a kind of parallel in Luke 23:46).''4 Here the author reminds Christians to do what he has already assured them they are able to do in Christ Jesus: “Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory” (1:21 NRSV). Now in vv. 24-25—still drawing on Isaiah 53—1 Peter elaborates on the already traditional Christian claim that Christ suffered “for you.” The passage makes two claims about the ways in which Christ represents the believers, or stands as substitute for the believers, in bringing them safely before the one who judges justly. Explicitly 1 Peter says that Jesus took believers’ sins to the cross, thereby delivering them from sin. In theological terms, this could represent either substitutionary atonement wherein Christ, though sinless, took upon himself the punishment for human sin on behalf of believers, or an atonement of victory wherein Christ vanquished sin through his fidelity on the cross (for images closer to the first option, see 2 Cor 5:21; for the second, see Col 2:13-15). Both the NRSV and the NIV may overinterpret (or misinterpret) the phrase about getting rid of sin. The Greek phrase translated quite literally means “in order that having departed from sins

we might live in righteousness.”!!° This is not an explicit statement about Christian freedom (as in the NRSV) or about “dying” to sin (as in the NIV). Implicitly 1 Peter says that as the lamb of God, Jesus suffered for those Christians who before their conversion had themselves been straying sheep. Surely the reference from Isa 53:6 in v. 25 recalls for the readers Christ himself as the sacrificial lamb in 1:19. And there is yet another image of the salvation worked in Christ in the

116. For a powerful poetic reference to Christ as wounded healer, see T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, “East Coker,” canto IV, line 1, in The Complete Poems and Plays (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962)

114. See Spica, Les Epitres de Saint Pierre, 111.


115. See Seiwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, 181.


1 PETER 2:18-3:7 COMMENTARY anastrophé ) is the same word used in 2:12, and the hope that wives will bear witness to their husbands by their good conduct becomes a concrete example of the broader eschatological hope that the Gentiles may see the honorable deeds of believers and glorify God at God’s visitation (2:12). While these verses attempt to indicate that Christian women are upholding the orders of the household, there is quiet subversion here, since the assumption within that social setting was that wives would follow the religious practices of their husbands and that the unbelieving husbands would be among those Gentiles who maligned their own believing spouses as evildoers (2:12).!° Verse 2 can be translated more woodenly as “when they see the pure conduct in fear [or reverence] of your lives.” In the light of 2:17, the NIV and the NRSV rightly understand the fear as being fear of God. Again wives are obedient to their husbands, not for the sake of their husbands or out of fear of their authority, but “for the Lord’s sake” (2:13). Pheme Perkins helpfully points out that, unlike in the case of household slaves, this passage does not presume that the husbands are behaving abusively, but only that they are unbelieving or even refusing to believe.!?° 3:3-4. These verses describe the appearance of such pure and reverent lives.!2! The adornment of the “quiet spirit” reminds us that Christian women are to win their husbands “without a word” (v. 1). That is, it is not merely the case that conduct speaks louder than words in winning recalcitrant husbands; more than that, the appropriate conduct includes demure silence. Wives are not to argue their husbands toward faith. As is so often the case in this epistle, these verses echo an earlier claim. The quiet behavior of the Christian wives is “unfading God’s sight” (NIV)—just as the inheritance of Christians is “unfading” (1:4) and the seed of God’s Word is “imperishable” (1:23). Their behavior is “precious” (toAuTedns polytelés; 3:4) as their faith is “precious” (polyteles; 1:7). The reminder that true adornment is spiritual and not cosmetic is

the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory” (NRSV). 3:1-7. Now the author turns to husbands and wives. As in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, wives are addressed first, but in 1 Peter, the heavier weight of both words and argument rests with the injunction to the wives. Comparing 1 Peter to other Greco-Roman literature on the household, David Balch suggests that “slaves and wives are addressed first by these early Christian moralists because they were the focus of an intense social problem between the church and Roman society. Romans frowned on their wives and slaves being seduced by bizarre foreign cults, and this led the author of 1 Peter to address the household code to those who were the focus of the tension.”!!” 3:1-2. The introductory “in the same way” provides a rhetorical transition; but more than that it suggests that the willing subjection of wives to their husbands follows the same pattern that the letter prescribes for household servants in relation to their masters and for all believers in relation to governmental authorities. Indeed, the participle that both the NIV and the NRSV render as an imperative, “accept the authority of your husbands” (NRSV) and “be submissive to your husbands” (NIV), is another form of the verb in 2:13, where the author enjoins the readers to be subject to every “created authority for the Lord’s sake.” Among the created authorities are not only emperors and householders but also husbands. Here again, wives are to be obedient not for the sake of the husband but for the sake of the Lord, serving the created human authority for the sake of the Creator. The letter is more explicit about how serving the husband might mean serving the Lord. Service can provide a means to witness. Husbands who have not been persuaded “by the word”—who may even oppose the word—might be convinced “without a word” (the wordplay occurs in the Greek, as well as in the English translations) by the behavior of their wives. Achtemeier persuasively argues that this represents an admonition to Christian wives to avoid speaking explicitly about their faith, not to avoid speaking altogether.''® The word for “conduct” (dvaotpobn

118. Paul J. Achtemeier, / Peter, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 210. 119. See Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive, 99. 120. Pheme Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995) 56-57. 121. Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive, 101-2, presents a number of near parallels from Greco-Roman literature.

117. David L. Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in I Peter, SBLMS (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1981) 96-97.


1 PETER 2:18-3:7 COMMENTARY similar to 1 Tim 2:9. In that epistle, there is some sense that the adornment of physical beauty is itself licentious and demeaning. Here it seems rather that Christian women are called to choose between the lesser and the greater—the perishable beauty of physical adornment and the imperishable beauty of a gentle spirit.!22 3:5-6. The “holy women of old” become examples for Christian wives as Christ is an example for Christian slaves. Obviously the examples of Sarah and the other wives provide nothing like the rich christological reflection of the passion story, but the rhetorical strategy is similar: Encourage faithful behavior by recalling exemplars from the heritage of faith. The description of the faithfulness of these women, that they were submissive to their own husbands, exactly recapitulates the exhortation to the Christian wives to be “submissive to their husbands” (v. 1 NIV; the NRSV makes the two phrases exactly parallel). That the women in the OT story were “holy” recalls the earlier exhortation to all Christian women and men to imitate the holiness of God and the reminder that Christian people are now a holy nation (see 1:16; 2:9). According to 1:14-16, Christians show their holiness by acting like “obedient children.” Now Sarah is held up as an example of obedience; her obedience to her husband is by extension also an instance of obedience to God. Pheme Perkins points out that the analogy can only go so far. Sarah shared in the faith of her husband; Christian wives are encouraged to stand fast—quietly but firmly—in their own convictions.!”° Sarah calls Abraham “lord” in the Septuagintal version of Gen 18:12, though the larger context of Sarah’s disbelief in the light of the angel’s announcement is not a noteworthy example of obedience either to her husband or to God. In 1 Pet 3:6, Sarah has become a model of the whole range of right Christian conduct, and Christian women are her daughters because they imitate her behavior (cf. Paul’s different understanding of Christian men and women as Abraham’s children, Rom 4:13-25). The final exhortation to the women not to “sive way to fear” echoes Prov 3:25 and is

probably an encouragement to hold fast their faith even while being submissive and obedient to their husbands.!*4 The Proverbs injunction is preceded in Prov 3:21-22 by the plea to let wisdom and prudence be “adornment for the neck,” a theme echoed in 1 Pet 3:3-4. 3:7. Here the husbands are addressed briefly.!%° Of course, the assumption is that believing husbands will have believing wives and households, so the issue of the relationship to an unbelieving spouse does not arise. What does come to the fore is the obligation of the husbands to behave lovingly to the wives, not in submission (or even mutual submission as in Eph 5:22) but in “respect” (NIV) or “honor” (NRSV). The term “honor” (tiuLy time} is the same term used to tell Christians what is due the king in 2:17. The phrase “in the same way” may hint at a fuller mutuality between husband and wife, a mutuality expressed differently because of their different stations. That wives are weaker “vessels” probably refers only to their physical strength, and perhaps also to their vulnerability—a warning against any possible abuse.!?¢ There is no indication here, as in the Pastoral Epistles, that women are somehow more subject than men to false faith or mistaken beliefs; on the contrary, the apparent assumption that there are more believing wives than husbands in this community indicates that women can be equally strong in faith. Husbands are to behave toward them with “knowledge,” the understanding that recognizes their vulnerability but also honors their gifts. Indeed, the fundamental equality of men and women in the light of God’s coming reign is underlined by the reminder that they are “joint heirs of the grace of life.” Since 1 Peter so strongly stresses the imperishable inheritance given the faithful (1:4), the implication here is that whatever the relative social standing of men and women in this perishable world, in the indestructible realm of grace they are equal. The notion that failing to give due respect to one’s spouse might hinder one’s prayers apparently plays on the assumption of much early Christian writing that the life of prayer is nourished by faithful behav124. So J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1969) 132. 125. Achtemeier, / Peter, 217, suggests that all males in the Christian community are addressed.

122. L. Goppelt, A Commentary on J Peter, ed. Ferdinand Hahn, trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 218, lists a number of close non-Christian parallels from Greco-Roman writing; Michaels, 7 Peter, 159, lists Jewish and Hellenistic parallels. 123. See Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, 58.

126. On the issue of what “weaker vessel” might mean, see Davids,

The First Epistle of Peter, 122-23.


1 PETER 2:18-3:7 COMMENTARY behavior that engender right prayer (note that the exhortations to children and parents in Eph 6:1-4 are missing in this section of 1 Peter, yet a somewhat analogous concern for intergenerational order is found in 1 Pet 5:1-5).

ior and hindered by behavior that violates the neighbor or the spouse (see also Jas 4:3).!2” In 1 Pet 4:7, the author calls for the discipline and right 127. So Norbert Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentary zum Neuen Testament (Zurich: Benziger Verlag and Neukirchener Verlag, 1979) 149. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 134, thinks the last injunction applies to both wives and husbands.

REFLECTIONS 1. With good reason we are glad to be beyond a society in which slavery is part of the social order. Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved is the irrefutable rejoinder to any who still try to romanticize American slavery or to make a distinction between benevolent and malevolent ownership of other humans. The mysterious “Beloved” comes to represent all those whose identity disappears in slavery: “Everybody knew what she was called, but nobody knew her name. Disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her, and even if they were how can they call her if they don’t know her name? Although she has claim, she is not claimed.”’” Finally for all the difference between first-century and nineteenth-century slavery, the refusal to condone any slavery is now an established Christian principle, indicating that to be Christian in our time is not simply to accept the values of our honored and faithful forebears in the faith. Yet in 1 Peter the. household slave in his or her obedience is a paradigm of faithful Christian behavior, modeled on Christ’s fidelity and modeling fidelity for other believers. In many ways, 1 Pet 2:16 provides the basic guideline not only for the behavior of these household slaves but for all Christians as well: “As slaves of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil” (NRSV margin). Christian freedom lives out Christ’s freedom, and Christ’s freedom did not include the freedom to repay evil for evil, but the freedom to repay good for evil. For a host of reasons, we cannot simply take 1 Peter as a clear and infallible guide to contemporary faithful behavior. Our understanding of slavery has unalterably changed. Our sense of the power and the intractability of social forces is mitigated by the knowledge that as citizens and Christians we have the power to make changes in those structures. Yet the difficult and paradoxical shape of Christian life as here delineated stands over us as a challenge and even a possibility. No one can take my freedom from me; but because I am God’s slave, I am free not to resist violence with violence, not to fight fire with fire or to oppose the lies of the oppressive with my own list of persuasive exaggerations and caricatures. 2. The Revised Common Lectionary turns to 1 Peter 2 as a reading for the fourth Sunday of Easter (Cycle A), but evasively assigns the passage 2:19-25. Thus the lectionary manages to hold on to the christological and soteriological affirmation without the sociological context to which it was addressed. The hard task of preaching is to be as honest as we can about both the concrete context for a biblical passage and our own, sometimes quite different, context. In 1 Peter slavery represents both a social reality and a metaphor for Christ’s obedience and for the obedience of Christians. The brave (and honest) interpreter will not look at this passage apart from attention to the tough question of this epistle’s attitude toward slavery. If our social context is entirely different, do 1 Peter’s metaphors function faithfully for our time? If they can do so, it will not be because we have abstracted them from the real world of social relationships. In the lectionary reading, 1 Peter is linked with Psalm 23 and John 10. We find the image 128. Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987) 274.


1 PETER 2:18-3:7 REFLECTIONS of believers as sheep more comfortable than the image of believers as slaves. Yet perhaps both pictures are more problematic than we are wont to admit; or perhaps in the interplay of the two images we can find clues to what it might mean in our time to be faithful to the One who was both our shepherd and the lamb who was slain (1:18-19; 2:25).

3. With good reason Christians find godly and humane grounds to resist images of the household that depend on the submissiveness of wives to husbands. Contemporary feminist concerns for restructuring relationships—including marriage—are not merely a reflection of the triumph of secular values or the, enticements of modern egalitarian political thought. From the clear fact that women were among Jesus’ closest followers to Paul’s bold call that in Christ there is neither male nor female, the New Testament provides its own powerful counterpoint to images of subordination in relationships between men and women (see Gal 3:28). Indeed, one should not underestimate the countercultural implications of this passage from 1 Peter. While the author advises Christian women to behave honorably among unbelievers so as not to stir up unnecessary trouble, he holds firm in the conviction that the wife has the right to her own Christian faith, whether the husband believes or not. In the Roman Empire of 1 Peter’s time, that was a subversive claim, however clothed in modesty and silence.'” Furthermore, the fact that both wives and husbands are addressed and their responsibilities to each other explicated suggests mutuality, if not equality, in their relationship.’ And while as aliens and strangers in the world there is a distinction between the power and authority of wife and husband as God’s beloved, they are both—equally—“heirs of the gracious gift of life” (3:7 NIV). Nevertheless, as with the question of slavery, Christian perspectives on the relationships between women and men are appropriately subject to reevaluation as circumstances and knowledge change. Our study has recognized that the Christian household codes were profoundly affected by the best “pagan” wisdom of their time, and it would require a fantastic feat of intellectual isolationism for contemporary Christians to ignore the discussionsof our own time about gender, patriarchy, and the possibilities and limitations of “liberation.” Different Christians will come to different understandings of marriage and family, and they will do so out of faith. It seems implausible to assume that as we move into the twenty-first century faithful Christian marriage will precisely replicate faithful Christian marriage in first-century Asia Minor any more than faithful Christian citizenship would simply honor the emperor. Obedience to God in our time and place will not look exactly like obedience in 1 Peter’s time and place. Christian freedom is not so simple or so simpleminded as that. We will learn from 1 Peter that Christian marriage includes real mutuality, a gentle spirit—for men and for women alike—and constant communion with one another and with God in the gift of prayer. 4. The relationship between the life of prayer and the life of charity is attested throughout the canon. In Amos, God despises the feasts and solemn assemblies of those who do not do justice (Amos 5:21-24); and in Matthew Jesus tells us that we should not come to the altar until we have sought reconciliation with our brothers and sisters (Matt 5:23-24). In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells the Corinthians that if they take the Lord’s supper without discerning the “body” they eat and drink judgment on themselves (1 Cor 11:29). In part, at least, this is an exhortation to attend to other Christians who are members of the body with aydtn (agapé, 1 Cor 11:29). James insists that prayers are not answered if they do not derive from selfless motives (Jas 4:3) and that it is the prayers of the righteous that are “powerful and effective” (Jas 5:16). Of course, one great stream of biblical faith insists that the sinner’s prayer 129. See Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive, 84-85. 130. See ibid., Appendix V, 142-49, for a persuasive discussion of the basic similarity between the most “enlightened” pagans and Christian household codes on the mix of honor and submission assigned to wives. Overall, Eph 5:21 advocates a somewhat more inclusive notion of mutual subjection than is found in 1 Peter.


1 PETER 2:18-—3:7 REFLECTIONS for mercy is blessed in God’s sight, but we note that it is the prayer for mercy that is blessed—not prayers that presume on God’s favor for the unrepentant. (As Matt 18:23-35 reminds us, even the prayer for mercy presupposes our willingness to be merciful.) The life of prayer informs the life of action; but active obedience also enriches the life of prayer. We pray that we might act graciously, but we act graciously in order that we might learn to pray. 5. Interpreters assume that behind much of the christology of the New Testament is the influence of the Servant Songs of Isaiah. In this section of 1 Peter that influence is evident and pervasive. Using Isaiah 53 as the basis for his reflection, the author claims both that Christ suffered for us and that Christ suffered before us. He suffers for our sake and thereby provides present grace and eternal redemption; but he is also our forerunner and paradigm. Our faith in him will not deliver us from the responsibility to follow “in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). And following in his steps does not simply mean being nice or having integrity or strengthening one’s devotional life. Following in his steps means following to Golgotha. We are only strengthened to go to Golgotha because he has gone before us; but because he has gone before us, there is no pretending that we can escape that terrifying pilgrimage. Despite the comfortably “Christian” culture in which we live, we know people who took up their own crosses. A young man quit a lucrative job in a major merchandising chain because it was involved in shady marketing practice and wanted him to acquiesce. A Chinese student who came to the United States to study law found an apartment at the divinity school and was invited to join in the community Bible study. She has now become a Christian, but because of her outspoken views can probably never return to China and her family again. A congregation made explicit the fact that it will welcome gay and lesbian members, and its denominational association severed all ties. Christ’s cross does not always protect us from our own crosses. 6. In the larger context of 1 Pet 2:11—3:7 Christians in general (2:12) and wives in particular (3:1-2) are urged to practice evangelism by evangelical practice. Wives are explicitly told that it is better to be quiet about their faith and to convince their unbelieving husbands by their excellent behavior. The whole community is not necessarily enjoined to silence, but there is the clear implication that deeds speak at least as loudly as words and that, from an eschatological point of view, good behavior will reap the harvest of conversions. In part this is a counsel of prudence. Women will not get in trouble for acting decorously, while constant verbal plugs for the gospel may make for marital strain. Household slaves are probably not in the position to argue with their masters, but they are in an excellent position to live in ways that elicit admiration. In our own time, when the worst consequence of outspoken evangelism is usually that we feel a little foolish, we may need to be reminded of the power of speaking Christ’s name aloud, and in unfamiliar places. Nonetheless, part of Christian fidelity in our day. as in the time of 1 Peter is the life lived obediently—sometimes decorously, sometimes outrageously, but always faithfully, visibly.

L PETER 3282226


PEE relics



$Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. °Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may

8Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and

a humble mind. °Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. !°For

inherit a blessing. '°For,


1 PETER 3:8-22 NIV


“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil

and his lips from deceitful speech. "He must turn from evil and do good;

he must seek peace and pursue it. '2For the eyes of the Lord are gn the righteous

and his ears are attentive to their prayer,

but the face of the Lord is against those who do onl 'SWho is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? ‘But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear’; do not be frightened.”* 'But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, !“keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. '/It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. '8For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, ‘through whom? also he went and preached to the spirits in prison ?°who dis-

“Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; 'l let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. '2 Por the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 13Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? ‘But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear,? and do not be intimidated, 'but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; !*yet do it with gentleness and reverence.’ Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. '’For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. '*For Christ also suffered¢ for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you? to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, '°in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits

in prison, *°who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during

obeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, ?!and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge® of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 2!And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for’ a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

412 Psalm 34:12-16 614 Or not fear their threats 8:12 418,19 Or alive in the spirit, '%through which response

4 Gk their fear 6 Or respect ¢ Other ancient authorities read died d Other ancient authorities read us eOr a pledge to God from

¢14 Isaiah e21 Or

3:8-12. This section concludes the discussion of appropriate social relations for Christians and provides the introduction to the discussion of the Christian relationship to the larger society, where the faithful often must suffer for their faith.

3:8. This verse clearly refers to relationships within the church community. “All” Christians— slaves and masters, husbands and wives—are to live according to the virtues set forth in this verse and, by their appropriate behavior within their


1 PETER 3:8-22 COMMENTARY community. There is an allusion to Ps 34:8 in 2 Pet 2:3 as well! The “life” and “good days” to which the psalm points are interpreted as marks of the eschatological promise, of the blessing that those who bless will receive. (For “life” as an eschatological gift, see also 3:7.) The injunction to be careful in speaking, and especially the reminder to avoid deceit, recalls 2:22, where under the most difficult circumstances no deceit was found in Christ’s mouth. In following the direction of the psalm, Christians continue to walk “in his steps” (2:21). (The concern with the proper use of the tongue is also found in Jas 3:1-12.) Balch points out that the call in 3:11 to “seek peace” is a summary of the themes of the preceding household rules.!** And the reminder that God’s ears are open to the prayers of the righteous becomes a further explanation of the warning that the prayers of Christian husbands would be hindered unless they behaved uprightly toward their wives (3:7).!°° In all these ways, the psalm citation provides a rich and compelling summation of the themes of the preceding verses. In the contrast between the righteous, whom the Lord hears, and the evil, whom the Lord ignores, the psalm also moves the argument of 1 Peter toward the fuller discussion of unjust suffering at the hands of those who are evil. On the one hand, the psalm warns Christians not to practice evil, but it also inevitably draws toward the discussion of those who practice evil toward Christians. 3:13-22. These verses remind us of what our whole study of the epistle has shown: First Peter was written for a community that was suffering slander, if not persecution, from an unbelieving world. The question Christians face is how to hold fast to the promise of God’s blessing and at the same time act appropriately toward those who are hostile to the faith. 3:13-15a. These verses suggest that on the whole Christians need not fear harm if they are zealous for the good—but the possibility of unjust suffering is not to be ruled out. (They are warned

station, show forth harmony, sympathy, brotherly love, compassion, and humility. The NIV and NRSV translations are probably right to render this verse as a series of imperatives, although it is written as a series of participles and might almost as well be descriptive as prescriptive: Here is who you are as Christian people (similar to 1 Corinthians 13, which Paul wrote to exhort the Corinthians to love but did so by describing that love).!3! 3:9. This verse continues the theme of faithful Christian behavior but begins to shift the focus from Christians’ behavior toward each other to their actions toward the larger (hostile) society. This, too, represents a further application of the station tables, since by implication both slaves and wives are enjoined there to repay the opposition of their masters/husbands with obedience and kindness (2:18; 3:1-2). The exhortation to non-retaliation is congruent with demands we find in other early Christian literature (see Matt 5:38-42; Luke 6:29-31; Rom 12:19:21); The correlation between blessing one’s enemies and receiving a blessing also fits a major theme within the eschatological understanding of the early church: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:14-15 NRSV; see Luke 6:35). First Peter has noted this theme in its description of Christ’s own suffering

(2:23). As so often in 1 Peter, the ethical injunction is set within the providential context of a call. Christians have been called both to bless and to receive a blessing. That call includes a present obligation and an eschatological promise (see 1:15; 2:9, 21; 5:10). Although the language is different, 1:1-9 has a similar combination of stressing God’s choice, suffering in the present, and a future blessing for the faithful. 3:10-12. The quotation from Ps 34:12-16 provides not only a warrant but also a further elaboration of the shape of the faithful Christian 131. Achtemeier keeps the adverbial force of the participles, with the main verb only implied; see Paul J. Achtemeier, 7 Peter, 220. Michaels points out that the virtues enjoined are quite similar to those in Rom 12:9-13. There Paul also writes descriptively, implying the imperative. See Michaels, / Peter, 173. 132. See Pheme Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995) 60.

133. See Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 138. 134. David L. Balch, “Hellenization/Acculturation in 1 Peter,” in

Charles H. Talbert, ed., Perspectives on First Peter (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1986) 94-95. Balch also notes the similar use of the phrase (from Ps 34:156) in Heb 12:14 and 7 Clement 22. 135. See Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, 60.


1 PETER 3:8-22 COMMENTARY against offenses that deserve punishment in 4:15.) The “blessedness” pronounced on those who suffer for righteousness recalls both the claim of v. 9 that those who do not return evil for evil will receive blessing at the end and the promise of the psalm cited in v. 12 that God’s eyes are on “the righteous.” The term “blessed” (jakdptos makarios), however, is not the same term as that found in v. 9 (evAoyia eulogia)s It is, rather, the “plessedness” pronounced in the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed, the passage is reminiscent of Matt 5:11-12a: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (see also 1 Pet 2:20; 4:14; Luke 6:22). We remember that the injunction to slaves in chap. 2 becomes paradigmatic for all Christians who have to suffer for their faith. The exhortation “Do not fear what they fear” is a quotation from Isa 8:12-13, where the prophet is told to take his cue from his faith and not from public opinion. We should not fear what everyone else fears but “the Lord God of hosts... let him be your fear” (NRSV).!%° First Peter takes the reference to the Lord God as the one to be feared and sanctified in Isaiah and applies that word to the Lord Christ. Let Christ be the object of your godly fear; let him be the one you sanctify in your hearts. “Sanctify” (ayrdC€w hagiazo) is the same verb as that in the Lord’s prayer: “Your name be sanctified” (Matt 6:9, author’s trans.). The epistle has already quoted the next verse from Isa 8:14 in the context of the judgment against unbelievers who stumble on the rock that the builder rejected (2:8). Perhaps it is not too long a stretch to suggest that in the overall context of 1 Peter and of Isaiah 8, Christians are here reminded that the rock in whom they put their trust is the rock on whom unbelievers stumble and fall. Again we have the exegetical method that the writer of 1 Peter commends in 1:10-11, to find in the prophets those words that point to the present salvation of 1 Peter’s readers and hearers.

3:15b-16. Here the writer spells out the way in which Christians, even when they suffer evil for doing good, may fear Christ and sanctify him in their hearts. The defense that the faithful are called to make might include defense in a legal proceeding, but more likely it means simply to give an account in the face of those who slander and abuse, as v. 16 would suggest.'!9” Notice that those to whom Christians give an account will themselves have to give an account to God on the judgment day (4:5). That such a defense is to be made “always” and to “everyone” indicates that Christian witness is offered eagerly, and not just under compulsion. For 1 Peter, the whole content of the Christian faith can be summed up as “hope”—a motive and motif that runs through the whole epistle (see explicitly 335 bo, Z2Sr5|. implicitly 138-0212 4-13: 5:4, 6, 10). The gentleness and reverence that Christians show to outsiders in defending their hope mirror the sympathy and humility they show to one another in their communal life (v. 8). The appeal to a clear conscience is an appeal again to make sure that any charges brought against Christians are for their goodness, and not for their participation in evil. (on conscience or consciousness, cf. Commentary on 2:19). The shame that their slanderers may face is probably both the immediate shame of bringing false accusations and the ultimate shame of standing before the God who judges and may yet redeem them (see 2:12; 4:5).!%8 3:17-18. In discussing these verses, Brox points out that v. 17 has something of the same tenor as 3:14 and 4:14. It is a description of the blessedness that is part of God’s will for those who are faithful.'9° Kelly elaborates: “When welldoers suffer, they have the satisfaction of knowing that their suffering is not the moral consequence of their well-doing, even if it is their good actions which have brought their enemies’ hostility down upon them. Indeed, in so far as they can discern 137. Selwyn lists other NT instances of atohoyla (apologia) or the root verb atodoyeouat (apologeomai) with similar meaning: Luke 12:11;

136. Selwyn thinks that the subjective genitive of the LXX has been interpreted here as an objective genitive—not “do not fear what they fear” but “do not fear with the fear of them.” He cites Ps 64:2. See E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter (London: Macmillan, 1958) 192. Brox points out that the situation of Israel before Assyria has become an example for Christians before their unbelieving opponents. See Norbert Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentary zum Neuen Testament (Zurich: Benziger Verlag and Neukirchener Verlag, 1979) 159.

21:14; Acts 19:33; 22:1; 26:1-2, 24. See Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, 193. 138. On the eschatological implications, see J. Ramsey Michaels, / Peter, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1988) 190-91. He also shows the resemblance of the whole purpose clause to 1 Pet 2:12, both grammatically and theologically. 139. Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, 162.


1 PETER 3:8-22 COMMENTARY an example for maligned slaves to follow (2:21), but then it also becomes clear that his suffering is the grounds of their righteousness. Apart from Christ’s suffering it would not be possible to follow him in obedience. In chap. 3, likewise, it becomes clear, in general scope if not in detail, that Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection are not only the example and motivation for Christian hope in suffering, but also are the grounding for Christian baptism, which makes possible the good conscience in which fidelity—even faithful suffering—is exercised. (There is a somewhat similar pattern in 4:12-14.) In fact, it is the parallel between these two passages, with their balance between the suffering of Christians and the redemption accomplished in Christ’s suffering, that may help us to make sense of one of the most puzzling passages in 1 Peter, the claim that Christ preached to the spirits (3:19-20). We can perhaps best understand this passage by going through it verse by verse. Verse 18 depends on the antitheses that in dramatic form show the astonishing nature of Christian redemption. Christ suffered once for all (as opposed to the ongoing suffering of Christian followers). Christ suffered as the righteous one (for the unrighteous). Christ died in the flesh (but was made alive in or by the Spirit). The first and second of these affirmations are powerful, but no longer surprising. In a context in which Christian slaves in particular and the whole community of believers in Asia Minor in general are being encouraged to stand fast in hope, there is comfort in the claim that the daily slanders that Christians suffer are finally overcome by the one great passion of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. For all believers who know that they are also sinners (see 4:3), there is comfort in the realization that the death of the righteous Christ frees repentant sinners and “brings them to God.” The puzzling phrase is that Christ was “put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (NIV) or “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (NRSV). While resurrection throughout the NT is a great mystery, there is not generally the sense that some part of Christ died and some other part was brought to life, as if the body died and the soul lived. There are somewhat similar phrases in Rom 1:3 and 1 Tim 3:16, both formulas perhaps adapted by the letter writers to

God’s hand in their afflictions, Christians have

grounds for rejoicing.” !4° Verse 18 presents the underlying christological grounding for the blessedness of Christian suffering. There is a remarkable range of variant readings for the first phrase of the verse. The 7extual Commentary on the New Testament chose the text used by the NRSV rather than that used by the NIV—“Christ suffered for sins” (Xptotos TEP auapTLav ETabev Christos peri hamartion epathen) rather than “Christ died for sins” (XptoTos Tepl duapTiav amé8avev Christos peri hamartion apethanen). The phrase seems more consistent with the argument of the epistle, and it is easier to see why later scribes would substitute the traditional phrase “he died” for the less traditional “he suffered” in conjunction with “for sins.” In either case, the notion of suffering clearly means “suffering unto death” in the context of the reference to Christ’s passion, resurrection, and ascension.'*! It is not only that such suffering will receive vindication in the last judgment, but that by such suffering Christians imitate the redemptive suffering of Christ himself. This is a pattern already seen in the discussion of the obligation of Christian slaves to suffer unjust treatment (see Z2\-25): Indeed, the whole pattern of 2:18-25 is very like the pattern of 3:13-18. This suggests again that the relationship of slave to (unbelieving) master has become paradigmatic for the relationship of Christian to (unbelieving) opponent. “If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (2:20 NRSV) “If you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.” (3:14 NRSV)

“For to this you have been called, because [éTt hoti| Christ also suffered for that you should follow in his steps.” (2:21 NRSV) “For [Aoti] Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” (3:18 NRSV)

In chap. 2 the suffering of Christ first represents 140. J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1969) 145.

141. See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971) 692.


1 PETER 3:8-22 COMMENTARY their circumstances.'*? We have already seen in 1:24 that the flesh is associated with the perishable, on the basis of Isa 40:6-8. Michaels’s suggestion that the flesh represents Christ in his earthly limitation and the Spirit in his resurrected glory is as plausible

one moment in that saving act is hard to reconstruct does not make the basic thrust of the letter’s claim any less clear or any less powerful. There are three basic interpretations of the claim that Jesus preached to the spirits in prison. The third interpretation is the most persuasive, but questions remain. The three options noted here are nicely outlined in the NIV study Bible. (1) Before his incarnation, Jesus preached to the disobedient people of Noah’s time, perhaps through Noah himself. (2) Between his death and resurrection, Jesus descended to the place of the dead and preached to the spirits of the evil people of Noah’s time. (3) Between his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended to the realm of the wicked angels (sons of God) who are mentioned in Gen 6:2, 4 as forerunners of Noah and the wickedness of Noah’s time. There Jesus proclaimed God’s victory over all principalities and powers. In deciding which interpretation is most likely, one should begin by noting that it may not be the case that this claim about the risen Christ’s preaching to the spirits represents the same affirmation as 4:6, where the gospel is proclaimed even (or also) to the dead. For instance, in 3:19 the spirits receive some kind of proclamation (the verb is knpvoow [kerysso]), while in 4:6 the dead have clearly received the proclamation of the gospel (evayyeriCw euangelizo). We need to begin by trying to understand 3:19, and then in studying 4:6 see whether the affirmations are really the same. In 3:19 it is clear that the proclamation described took place after the resurrection, and it is the risen Lord who did the proclaiming. The puzzle is, Who were the spirits to whom such proclamation was made? The epistle tells us that they are spirits who did not obey during the time of Noah. This suggests two possibilities. Either these are the spirits of the people whose disobedience is contrasted to Noah’s obedience, and who perished in the flood. Or these spirits are the offspring of the intercourse between the “sons of God” and mortal women, described in the puzzling passage Gen 6:1-4, a passage that precedes the story of Noah and also leads into it. (Genesis 6:5 seems to be a comment on Gen 6:1-4; the behavior of the sons of God and the mortal women is part of the wickedness God condemns.)

as any: “If ‘flesh’ is the sphere of human limitations, of suffering, and of death (cf. 4:1), ‘Spirit’ is the sphere of power, vindication, and a new life.”! In the larger context of chaps. 3-4, “flesh” also might be the realm of human passions and intentions, those misdirected volitions that put Christ to death; if so, he was put to death “by the flesh” but raised “by the Spirit.” This is also a possible translation of

the Greek.!“ 3:19-21. In part one suspects the reference to “Spirit” here provides the transition to the claim in vv. 19-20 that Christ preached “to the spirits.”

The €v ® (en Ao) with which v. 19 begins may not be a direct reference to the Spirit (as in their different ways the NIV and the NRSV both take it), but rather a circumstantial adverb, “in which circumstances” or “when” (cf. 1:16).!# Verse 196 is the subject of much scholarly discussion. When did Christ do this? What spirits? How does this verse relate to 4:6 (if at all)?!4° While trying to adjudicate the various claims, two disclaimers should be kept in mind. First, the material is complicated, its historical and religious background uncertain, and its meaning unclear. This statement is one of those NT passages from which contemporary readers realize that the first Christians lived in a world with radically different presuppositions from their own—some of them so different that they cannot be reconstructed with any confidence. Second, the way in which one interprets the meaning of vv. 19-20 is not particularly crucial for understanding the larger argument of the epistle or even of the chapter. What the epistle here affirms is that the saving act of Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension is laid hold of by believers in their baptism. His saving act and their baptism together “bring [the faithful] to God” (3:18). That the nature of 142. See Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, 196-97. 143. Michaels, / Peter, 205. 144. This is close to Achtemeier’s proposal, PaulJ. Achtemeier, / Peter, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 239. 145. See Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, 197. 146. For discussions, see Michaels, / Peter, 196-211; Selwyn, The First Epistle ofPeter, 314-62; Bo Reicke, The Epistles ofJames, Peter, and Jude, AB 37 (New York: Doubleday, 1964) 109-15; Achtemeier, / Peter,



1 PETER 3:8-22 COMMENTARY is never used. On the contrary it is commonly

William Joseph Dalton, in a thorough and largely persuasive discussion of this passage, has searched other literature roughly contemporaneous with 1 Peter and found evidence that there was considerable speculation about the offspring of the angels discussed in Gen 6:1-4.!4” He judiciously set this passage in the context of the whole epistle:

used for the ascent of Jesus into heaven.”!°$ Selwyn points out that “in the Patristic evidence before A.D. 190... despite the popularity of the doctrine of Christ’s ‘harrowing of hell,’ 1 Pet. iii 18ff. is never quoted as authority for it.”!4 According to Dalton, the purpose of 3:19 is to provide encouragement for the exhortation of 3:14, “Do not fear what they fear, and do not be

The strategy of the letter is not to fire the addressees with new enthusiasm for the conversion of the pagan world, but to enable them to reflect on their Christian calling and the value of suffering for Christ’s sake, so that they can stand firm and faithful despite their experience of alienation. This last point is particularly important for the understanding of 1 Peter 3:19: Christians are not being called on to imitate the example of Christ by going out and heroically proclaming the gospel to the most notorious sinners. On the contrary, the strategy of 1 Peter is the strategy of survival.!48

intimidated.”!°> Encouragement is given in the memory of the risen Christ, who, vindicated by God, ascended to the presence of God. On the

way to God’s throne, he stopped at the prison of the evil spirits of Genesis 6 and there declared his victory over them and over evil. Other “ascension” material in the NT may be pertinent. The hymn in Phil 2:6-11 suggests Christ’s victory over powers “underneath the earth” as well as in heaven. Ephesians 1:20-21 notes that Christ’s ascension places him over all subordinate spirits but with no reference to their location. First Timothy 3:16 includes the distinction between the realms of flesh and spirit, the idea of vindication, and ascension to glory. It may also reflect something of the same thought world as 1 Pet 3:19-21. While I am largely persuaded by Dalton’s

In searching comparative literature for an understanding of who the spirits might be, Dalton focuses especially on the book of Enoch, in which spirits (as usually in the NT) are supernatural spirits and not the souls of dead persons.!4° Furthermore, in / Enoch 10:4-13, the warning for Noah to prepare for the flood is closely connected with the “binding” of the angels in Gen 6:1-4. These angels were blamed for leading people astray in the rebellion that led to the flood.!*° Dalton further thinks that the prison in which the spirits were imprisoned was for the wicked spirits awaiting judgment and that it was probably

extensive argument, other interpreters are more inclined to believe that Christ preached to the souls of those people who were destroyed in

Noah’s flood. Others maintain that the prison of evil spirits was to be found in the underworld and not in the mid-heavens.'*° Given our present state of knowledge, it is hard to see how these issues can be finally resolved. . What is clear is that v. 19 takes its place in

located in the lower heavens, between earth and

the throne of God.'°! While the verb knptcow (kérysso) can refer to preaching the gospel, both in the NT it often has the more general meaning of “proclaiming” or “declaring.” In this context, it refers to a declaration of victory.'°? Dalton also says that when the NT writers refer to Christ’s descent into the realm of the dead, they always explicitly say that Christ went “down”: “The verb Topevopat poreuomai [I go] found in | Pet. 3:19,

153. Ibid., 162. See also Acts 1:10-11. Dalton does not here list any

examples. The verb is also used in 3:22, with clear reference to the ascension. See ibid., 162n. 73. 154. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, 340. 155. Dalton, Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits, 124, 127. 156. For the first argument, see Pheme Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and/ude, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox,

1995) 65; L. Goppelt, A Commentary on | Peter, ed. Ferdinand Hahn, trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 259, who thinks Christ preached the gospel, not victory, there. On the second argument,

147. W. J. Dalton, Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits: A Study of I Peter 3:18-4:6, 2nd ed., AnBib 23 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1989). 148. Ibid., 23. Dalton also argues that vv. 19-21 are a baptismal catechesis inserted within a hymn fragment (3:18-22), but this sourcecritical claim is not crucial to his argment. See ibid., esp. 26. 149. Ibid., 153-54. 150. Ibid., 167-68. These are apparently the same spirits mentioned in 2 Pet 2:4 and Jude 6. 151. Ibid., 159-61. 152. Ibid., 153-59.

see Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude, 109-11, who thinks

the “spirits” may have included the disobedient people of Noah’s time as well as the angels, that the location of their prison may be in the underworld, and that Christ preached the gospel to them in prison, an example to the readers of 1 Peter to be forthright in declaring the gospel to their pagan opponents (109-11). Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 155-57, reads the text much as Dalton does. Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief,

181, acknowledges our distance from this tradition and remains agnostic about its details.


1 PETER 3:8-22 COMMENTARY the whole movement of 3:18-22, wherein Christ’s

appeals (or makes a pledge) to God may be simply a rhetorical play on the ways water is used (see Eph 5:26). It may, however, as Dalton suggests, represent a contrast between baptism and circumcision, which removes the unseemly foreskin from the body without working the salvation that is available in baptism. The clearest analogy would be Col 2:11-12: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (NRSV, using the marginal reading for v. 11). Here the “putting off” of baptism is implicitly contrasted with the “putting off” of the circumcision that is made “with hands,” the physical removal of the forseskin.!°° Dalton also points out that the syntax of this verse implies a strong contrast between what baptism is and what it is not. Were the reference to washing, the epistle would more likely read “Not only through the removal of dirt from the body, but also as a appeal.”!°° Further clarity about the meaning of this passage depends in part on how far one would think either the author or the recipients of this letter would be sensitive to distinctions between circumcision and baptism. Even harder than understanding the first part of this contrast is understanding the second part. The NRSV understands baptism here as “an appeal to God for a good conscience,” or as in the marginal note, “a pledge to God from a good conscience.” The NIV translates the phrase “the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” The NIV study Bible interprets the translation as: “The act of baptism is a commitment on the part of the believer in all good conscience to make sure that what baptism symbolizes becomes a reality in his life.” The word variously translated as “appeal” or “pledge” is €tepuitnya (eperotema). Dalton

suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension comprise the normative narrative that gives courage and significance to the suffering Christians of Asia Minor. Christ’s suffering gives meaning to their suffering, and his victory provides them the promise of eschatological victory as well. (The passage also recapitulates and expands on the description of the work God does in Christ, which consists of Christ’s suffering and subsequent glory, 1:11-

£2:) Just as the reference to Christ’s resurrection “in the Spirit” led directly into the reminder of his proclamation to the spirits (v. 19), so also the reference to the disobedient spirits of Noah’s time leads into the description of Noah as prefiguring Christian baptism (vv. 20-21). Using the flood as a type for Christian baptism requires some metaphorical athleticism, since Noah’s family was saved from the water and Christians are saved through the water—though one can say that the water that destroyed the disobedient provided safety for the obedient (avtitutos antitypos; cf. Heb 9:24; for tUttos [typos], see Rom 5:14; Heb 8:5). The few who are saved are Noah and his family. There is certainly the implication that the Christians of Asia Minor, though few in number, are saved, while the far more numerous host of the disobedient are destined for destruction—unless, of course, they are shamed into repentance. In this regard the reference to God’s patience also has typological force.'°’ The God who was patient in the time of Noah is also patient now in the time of 1 Peter. The end is coming, but has not yet come. There is still hope that the disobedient “Gentiles” may be shamed into believing (as in 3:16).'°° Verses 21-22 comprise the one passage in 1 Peter in which baptism is mentioned explicitly, though, as noted above, remembrance of baptism provides an implicit background for many of the

letter’s themes. The contrast between the washing that removes dirt from the body and the baptism that

159. The term for “putting off” is different in Colossians (améK6vols apekdysis) from that in 1 Peter (ad8¢01s apothesis). Dalton, who makes the argument for a reference to circumcision, shows other places in the NT where “putting off” refers to those practices that the (newly baptized) Christian leaves behind. See ibid., 200-202. 160. Ibid., 203. The discussion of the foreskin as “filth” in Jewish and

157. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 158, sees the reference to

God’s patience as a reading of Gen 6:3. 158. Dalton agrees with the typological and eschatological force of the reference but doubts that it has much to do with hope for the pagans. This is in keeping with his insistence that Christ’s preaching to the spirits did not include any hope of their repentance: See Dalton, Christ’s Proclama-

early Christian writing is less persuasive, as is the comparison with Jas 1:21. One needs to be persuaded of the reference in the James passage to make it work in 1 Peter. See ibid., 203-6.

tion to the Spirits, 191.


1 PETER 3:8-22 COMMENTARY approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering” (NRSV).!°! The key question is what interpretation makes most sense in the light of the larger movement of 1 Peter’s discussion of Christ’s passion and victory and of the believers’ baptism and faith. In this context it seems most likely that the “conscience” to which the letter refers is that assurance by which believers lay hold in baptism of the victory Christ has attained on their behalf. 3:22. This verse is very close to 1 Tim 3:16 in its affirmation.'® It brings the passage on baptism full circle to a reminder that the shape and significance of the Christian life are grounded in the story of Jesus’ suffering and victory. It is not, finally, baptism that saves, but the resurrection of the Christ into whom the faithful are baptized. In baptism, Christians with good conscience and full assurance lay hold of that victory that Christ achieved over his sufferings and that he promises over their sufferings as well.

shows how seldom the term is used to mean “request” or “appeal” in other Greek literature, though his own preference for “pledge” relies largely on literature considerably later than 1 Peter. The writer of 1 Peter uses the word “conscience” (ouvetdnots syneidesis) also in 2:19 and 3:16. In each case the term seems to refer not so much to a subjective attitude as to an orientation of the person toward God. In 2:19 it is the conscientious relationship toward God that makes suffering endurable and worthy. In 3:16 it is conscientious confession that will help shame the Opponents before the judgment of God. Suffering and confession grounded confidently in God show forth “good conscience” and bear the fruits of faithfulness. Just as faithful suffering and faithful confession are grounded in God and directed toward God, so also conscientious baptism puts off what is fleshly and cleaves wholeheartedly to God, who is Spirit. It is that wholehearted binding to God that is either pledged or (less likely) besought in whatever words the baptized person professes. The power of God as Spirit, the power that saves the baptized, is manifested in Christ’s resurrection, which is the Spirit’s work or occurs within the sphere of the Spirit’s power (see 3:18). Perhaps the best parallel is Heb 10:22-23: “Let us

161. See Ibid., 211. Much of Dalton’s discussion of the “pledge” involved in baptism refers to uses of €mepuitnua (eperotema) and to baptismal practices from the late second century and later.

162. This again lends some credence to Dalton’s reconstruction of the basic shape of this passage and its affirmation of Christ’s subordination of the spirits by his resurrection and ascension.

REFLECTIONS 1. This section of 1 Peter raises an issue for contemporary Christians that is central to much early Christian literature: the issue of non-retaliation in the face of evil. The call to endure suffering rather than to return it in kind is set here as elsewhere in the context of the eschatological promise: The one who blesses now, and perhaps especially the one who blesses the enemy, will “inherit a blessing” when the full inheritance promised in Christ comes to fruition at the last days. Among Christians who are or have been the victims of abuse and oppression, the call to non-retaliation has of late had a bad reputation. Cannot this represent the means by which oppressors play on the piety of the oppressed simply to prolong evildoing? As usual it is easy for those of us who are relatively powerful in our society to urge non-retaliation on those who are relatively powerless. Nonetheless the larger context nuances the claim that Christians are to suffer for doing right rather than to return evil for evil. Within the context of 1 Peter, Christians are to suffer if need be, but not to suffer silently. They join the struggle against oppression by speaking honestly and powerfully of what they hold dear, making their defense unapologetically. Christ himself becomes an example of this activity, of course, and when we read the Gospel accounts of his passion we note that he was by no means altogether passive. His silence and his speeches manifest power in weakness, and that power is as clear as the


1 PETER 3:8-22 REFLECTIONS weakness. Thus for Christians the unwillingness to abuse and to slander does not mean the Willingness to take abuse and slander without speaking the word that might convict or even convince those who do the abusing and slandering. In twentieth-century America, the great example of non-retaliation is Martin Luther King, Jr. But his nonviolence was not non-resistance. On the contrary, the courage he and his followers showed was the courage of active, and risky, faith. Further, the claim that those who suffer unjustly will inherit a blessing is not simply a promise of pie in the sky. It sets the hope that informs the whole context of 1 Peter—that Christ’s resurrection and ascensidn are the guarantee of the victory of his cause over the forces of evil. Christians can refuse to do violence to those who oppress them because Christians are biding their time, or biding God’s time, until the (near) moment when they will be vindicated and their oppressors shamed. 2. It is, perhaps, in this context that we can make the best sense of the passage about Jesus’ declaring or preaching to the “spirits in prison.” That the evil spirits who led people astray in Noah’s time are in prison is itself a sign of hope. That Christ preached victory over them (as Dalton interprets this event) makes clear that the fulfillment of that hope is accomplished in Jesus Christ. The christological image of Christ as victor lies just beneath the surface here. To be sure, Christ suffered as Christians suffer, but in his resurrection he not only overcame suffering but he also raised his flag of victory over the evil forces that bring suffering on the just and the faithful. The recounting of this proclamation is itself a way of grounding hope; so contemporary Christians, too, need to live with the promise that the apparent victories of this world are not the final victories—that the final victory is in God’s hand and is foreshadowed by Christ’s resurrection. It is this theme of Christ’s victory over suffering and evil that makes 1 Pet 3:13-22 an especially appropriate passage for Easter (Cycle A, Easter 6 in the Revised Common Lectionary). Any occasional annoyance at the tendency of the lectionary to avoid tough verses fades before the assignment of this text on preaching to the spirits. Surely the lectionary rightly sees this as a passage grounded in the triumph of Easter, in many ways similar to the great hymn in Phil 2:6-11. As with Philippians, the christological affirmation has ethical implications. Here, in the light of Christ’s triumph, Christians can stand fast in the face of opposition. So, too, the text fits well with the assigned text of Paul’s speech at the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-31). Paul begins his sermon with an appeal to the common religious experience of his audience but ends with the shocking and difficult claim that the God in whom we live and move and have our being is also—and above all—the God who has raised Jesus Christ from the dead. This is the promise Dionysius the Areopagite and the woman named Damaris heard and believed, as have all the believers to whom 1 Peter was written, all of whom turned from the worship of many idols to serve the true God, who has made “angels, authorities and powers” subject to the risen Lord.

3. First Peter 3:18-22 is again assigned as the epistle reading for the first Sunday in Lent in Cycle B. By beginning with v. 18, the reading moves away from the stress on Christian courage in the face of opposition to the appropriate Lenten stress on Christ’s passion for the sake of sinners. The Old Testament reading, Gen 9:18-19, provides the data for 1 Peter’s claim that eight persons were on Noah’s ark. The Gospel lesson, Mark 1:9-15, provides an example of proclamation from Jesus’ ministry, perhaps to balance the proclamation to the spirits after his death and resurrection—though if this interpretation is right the content and purpose of proclamation in the two instances were strikingly different.

4. The injunction to “not fear what they fear” (3:14 NRSV) represents an insightful reading of the nature of idolatry. Idolatry is not only worship of the wrong god, but also it is fear of the wrong power. It is to give the non-gods the power that should belong only to God—to


1 PETER 3:8-22 REFLECTIONS frighten us, to make us awe-struck. The antidote to false fear is right worship: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” Paul reminds us that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23 NRSV). In the context of 1 Peter, all action that is based on fear of powers less than God is also sin. Excessive nationalism may be the other face of excessive fear of others. Egotism is the game we play to fend off the fear of our own insignificance. The need constantly to assert the superiority of our race or our faith or our way of living poorly masquerades our fear of others—that they may take away what we hold most dear, that what they hold most dear is better than what we have. For the people to whom Isaiah spoke in the passage quoted in 1 Peter, what they feared was Assyria and its power. All of us have constructed Assyrias in our imaginations, dreaded forces so threatening that we cower in fear. Isaiah’s strong word is still a word for us: For the LorD spoke thus to me...and warned me not to walk in the way of this people saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread. But the Lorp of hosts, him you shall regard as holy. (Isa 8:11-13 NRSV)

First Peter simply underlines and elaborates that claim by reminding us that the one we hallow in our hearts is the Lord Christ, who alone brings us to the holy God. 5. There is a rich understanding of the meaning of baptism in this passage. According to 1 Peter, the waters of baptism have symbolic or sacramental power. But that power is confirmed through the conscience or intention of the believer; and yet the believers can only lay hold of the victory God has already won in Jesus Christ. The waters are prefigured by the waters of the flood, and just as those waters had tremendous power to destroy the sinful (and to save the righteous), so also baptism has tremendous power. It does not work superficially, like washing your hands—or on another reading, like circumcision—but it works to bring the whole person into a lasting relationship with God. Baptism also requires the “conscience” or “intention” or “pledge” of the person being baptized. There is no sense here that baptism operates outside of the determination of the person being baptized. Precisely what the difficult phrase in 3:210 means is very hard to determine, but we can be quite sure that baptism involves the volition of the one who chooses to lay hold of God in Christ. (Of course, we have seen from the beginning of this epistle that the antecedent act is always God’s call and election of the faithful.) But, above all, baptism enacts the power of Jesus Christ, who, in his resurrection, ascension, and power over all the lesser authorities, also has the power that baptism requires; he has the ability to bring us to God. (Note that the stress here, unlike in Romans 6, is on Christ’s resurrection and victory, not on his dying and rising.) This passage says nothing explicit about the means of baptism or the required age of the person being baptized. It does point to a theology of baptism in which the sacrament, the intention, and the work of God in Christ are conjoined. In our time, when baptism has too often become the ecclesiastical equivalent of the baby shower (for infant baptism) or of getting a driver’s license (for adolescent “believers’” baptism), 1 Peter calls us again to the utter seriousness of the sacrament—the mystery of faith conjoined with the mystery of Christ, gifts that lie too deep for words.


1 PETER 4:1-11





Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. 2As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evif human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—tiving in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. “They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. *But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. °For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live os to God in regard to the spirit. ’The end of all things is near. Fherelore be Clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. ®Above all, love each other deeply, because

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), 2so as to live for the rest of your earthly life? no longer by human desires but by the will of God. *You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.¢ But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. °For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they

might live in the spirit as God does.

7The end of all things is near;? therefore be

love covers over a multitude of sins. °Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. !°Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. !'If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. ®Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of

sins. °Be hospitable to one another without complaining. !°Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. ''Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. aOther ancient authorities add for us; others, for you © Gk rest of the time in the flesh ¢ Or they malign you a Or is at hand

(COMMENTARY There is an almost circular movement from 1 Pet 3:8 to 1 Pet 4:11. In 3:8-17, the Christians of Asia Minor are encouraged to live lives that are faithful and mutually upbuilding. In 3:18-22, this behavior is grounded in the suffering, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. In 4:1-11, the christological claims of the epistle again become the grounds for moral exhortation—for directions for the faithful life. 4:1-6. 4:1-2. The epistle makes clear that it is the story of Christ’s suffering, death, restrrec-

tion, and ascension that provides motive and measure for the life of faithful Christians, “since, therefore Christ suffered... arm yourselves.” The difficult part of the first verse of this chapter is the reference to life in the flesh and the relationship of that description to the larger claim that those who suffer in the flesh have somehow “finished with sin.” We have already seen the clue to the claim that Christ suffered in the flesh in the discussion of 3:18. The claim that Christ died in the flesh or suffered in the flesh is



1 PETER 4:1-11 COMMENTARY the realm of the flesh, one has already enlisted on the other side: the side of righteousness against sin; the side of the Spirit against the flesh. Choosing life rather than death, the faithful Christian has “ceased from sin,” moved from the realm of the old into the new. This contrast will continue to control this section through its conclusion in v. 6. We can schematize the contrasts of these two verses. To the world against which Christians do battle belong the “flesh” and “sin” (v. 1) and “human desires” (v. 2). To the realm in which faithful Christians live belong “the same intention” as Christ’s and “the will of God.” The contrast recalls Jesus’ words to Peter in Mark 8:33: “You are setting your mind not on the things of God but on the things of humankind” (author’s trans.). Christians in both texts are seen as living in a battle between two realms. Of-course, until Christ returns the realm in which we live (as in v. 20) is “the realm of the flesh,” so that even though Christians have suffered in the fleshly realm and put sin to rout, it is still within the realm of the flesh that they are bound to live. The NRSV marginal note, therefore, is much more helpful than the translation “earthly life.” The realm of the flesh is under sentence and will be undone, but as yet it provides the sphere for Christian living. 4:3-4. These verses characterize the nature of the realm of the flesh and the shape of its opposition to the faithful. What is particularly striking is that the realm of the flesh is also the realm of the Gentiles. All the more obvious, therefore, is the reason why the realm of the flesh is both the realm the faithful have left behind and the realm in which they have to live out the rest of their earthly days. They are in the world, but not of it; among the Gentiles, but not of their number. (One needs to remember that “Gentiles” are “non-Christians,” and not “non-Jews” in 1 Peter.) Kelly is certainly right in seeing rhetorical sarcasm in v. 3. “You have already spent time enough” means that you have already spent more than enough time.'°” The phrase the NRSV translates as “what the Gentiles like to do” represents the Greek term BovAnwa (boulema). Boulema means “the intention” or “the will” or “the disposition” of the Gentiles, so that the will of the Gentiles is

not simply the claim that his body suffered and died. In this verse even more than in 3:18 it seems clear that (as is often the case for Paul) the flesh is not only the realm of mortality but also the realm of selfish desire that stands in opposition to the will of God. The term “flesh” here is closely parallel to the words of v. 2: “human desires.” In the realm of human desires, Christ suffered and died in order to triumph over those human desires in the power of the Spirit.!° When the readers of the epistle are told to “arm” themselves, it is presumably to do battle against those same fleshly powers that provided the context for Christ’s suffering. The metaphor is military and looks ahead to the battle against Satan, the roaring lion of 5:8.' Tt seems plausible to suggest that the realm of the flesh is the realm where Satan can tempt and hurt the faithful, though it is not necessarily the realm under his control. The “same” understanding presumably means the “same” understanding that Christ had and corresponds to the intention or understanding of v. 2, “the will of God.” (Cf. Phil 2:2 where the Philippians are told to have “the same love.” Does that mean mutual love, or does it mean love like the love that is “in Christ” in 2:1?) In this context, the claim that “whoever suffers in the flesh has ceased from sin” makes rather more sense. This must be a parenthetical application of the story of Jesus to that of believers. It is not a further explication of the meaning of Christ’s death, since he did not have to “cease

from sin.”!° Suffering in the flesh does not mean having bodily pain; it means doing fierce battle against the forces of human desire—the realm of the flesh—and bearing the suffering that comes with that battle.!°° When one does battle against 163. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 276-77, correctly points out that the christological formula “flesh/spirit” is here applied anthropologically. Perhaps more accurately, the anthropological implications of the christology are spelled out. 164. Goppelt lists a number of uses of the military image for faithful Christian life. See ibid., 179n. 13. 165. For a Pauline reading in which Christ has taken on sin, though without being sinful, see Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 166. 166. This is somewhat different from Goppelt’s reading that the suffering unto death of Christian people is a necessary part of the conquest of sin (Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 281-82), and from Perkins’s more direct tie to baptismal language about dying and living again in Christ (Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, 68). Kelly presents both a christological (Christ brought sin to a halt) and a baptismal (Christians have died to sin) interpretation as possibilities (Kelly, The Epistles ofPeter and Jude, 167-68). First Peter 2:24 lends some weight to the christological proposal. Davids examines several proposals, none of them precisely like the one suggested here. See Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 148-50.

167. J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1969) 179.


1 PETER 4:1-11 COMMENTARY contrasted with the will of God (using another Greek term, 6€Anya [thelema]) in v. 26 (in Rom 9:19, boulema is used for the will or intention of God). The phrase “will of the Gentiles,” therefore, is directly parallel to “passions of humans” in v. 2a; the term for “passions” (€mL6vptar epithymiai) recurs in the catalogues of vices in v. 3. These Christians had formerly lived according to human passions and Gentile intentions; now they will live according to the will of God. (The whole “then” but “now” pattern was anticipated in 1:14-15.) The catalogues of vices here recall other NT lists and, therefore, may be seen as fairly standard rather than as representing some particular insight into the unique vices of the pagans of Asia Minor. See Rom 13:13-14 and Gal 5:19-21, cited by Kelly,'® but also 1 Cor 6:9-11, which shows the same temporal distinctions between what these Gentile Christians used to be and what they are now. The old ways are the “futile ways inherited from your ancestors” (1:18 NRSV). Selwyn gives the most thorough discussion of each of the offenses listed, along with appropriate parallels from non-Christian literature.!°° The fact that the list climaxes and concludes with the reference to lawless idolatry recalls Rom 1:18-27. In 1 Peter, as in Romans, idolatry is the fundamental mistake of the pagan, and the other vices are manifestations of that profoundly erroneous orientation. The epistle now returns to a familiar theme, the way in which pagans slander the Christians. Now this description is given a particular motivation and a theologically loaded description. The motivation for the “Gentiles” to slander the Christians is that the believers had formerly joined in the dissipation the pagans still enjoy. The pagans are astonished that their former partners in dissolution now stand aside, and—jealous or angry or appalled—the pagans speak evil against them. The description of this slander is not only that it is untrue and vicious but also that it is blasphemous (for earlier descriptions of the pagans’ slandering of Christians, see 2:12; 3:9, 16; for Christ as an example of one suffering such slander, see 2:22-23). The most obvious and probably the most persuasive explanation for this slander against Christians is that for pagans to speak against those

who are faithful is to speak against the one in whom they have faith—and that is blasphemy.'”° Certainly in Mark 3:28-30, the false accusation against Jesus— that he acts under the authority of Satan—is blasphemy, because it slanders the Spirit of God, which empowers and validates his ministry. We have already seen here that the suffering of Christians replicates the suffering work of Jesus, and that slander against Christians recalls slander against Christ. So perhaps it is not inappropriate to say that when the faithful are maligned, the God they worship is maligned—and that is blasphemy. 4:5-6. These verses place the distinction between then and now and between Gentiles and believers into the even larger eschatological framework, in the perspective that informs the wiholesepistie_(see [55,75 13; 4:13,.17% 5:4). Then (formerly) those who are now Christian joined the pagans in their dissipation. Now the pagans judge and misjudge the Christians for their faithfulness. Then (finally) the pagans will themselves be judged by the One who judges the living and the dead. There is a nice verbal echo in this passage. In 3:15, Christians are always to be ready to “make a defense” or to “give an account” to those pagans who demand it of them. In 4:5, it is the pagans who will need to give an account to the God who even now “stands ready” to judge them. One may recall that this final judgment may not lead only to condemnation, but instead, for some at least, to shame and perhaps—by implication—to repentance (see 3:16). The reminder that God is judge of both the living and the dead leads to the much interpreted and much disputed claim of v. 6. Before attempting a provisional solution to its problems, we note two things. First, it is the claim of v. 5 that is central to the argument in this portion of 1 Peter; v. 6 is an expansion and elaboration on that verse, and one need not be clear about the meaning of the elaboration in order to understand the fundamental claim that God is judge of all. In other words, the amount of exegetical ink used on this passage is not proportional to its centrality to the 170. See L. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, ed. Ferdinand Hahn, trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 287, for a similar reading. Selwyn points out that BAaodnew (blasphemeo ) can also be used of slandering other people without the theological overtones, but reading Matt 12:31-36 (some of it par. Mark 3), he comes to a suggestion much like that in this study.

168. Ibid., 170. 169. E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter (London: Macmillan, 1958) 211-12.


1 PETER 4:1-11 COMMENTARY they think about these dead persons, hope that they, too, may be heirs of life through the Spirit. Notice, too, that the contrast between flesh and spirit, which has permeated vv. 1-6, plays a crucial role in this climactic verse as well. Like the living, the dead have been judged in the realm of the flesh, but as with the living there is hope that they may live in the Spirit. Many interpreters think that the function of this passage is to declare that judgment and salvation extend to those who lived before Christ’s coming, to whom he declared the gospel after his crucifixion and resurrection. Goppelt thinks the affirmation is an expansion of the claims of 3:1819 and a kind of affirmation of what Paul wrote in Rom 14:9: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living” (NRSV). Just as after his resurrection Christ preached to the rebellious spirits, so also he declared good news to those who had already suffered death as a consequence of their sins in the flesh. Perhaps he declared good news only to those whose behavior had already marked them as righteous. Perhaps he preached good news to all, so that the possibility of repentance and new life extended to all who had died before Christ’s coming.'”? An alternative explanation for this verse is provided by Dalton. He also finds a Pauline parallel, not in Romans but in 1 Thess 4:13-17:

purposes of the letter. The issues are fascinating as we try to reconstruct the thought world of some early Christians, but it is not central to either the kerygmatic or the paraenetic strategies of 1 Peter. Second, 4:6 has often been combined with 3:19 as if these were clearly descriptions of one event. However, the language and function of the two passages are rather different, and v. 6 needs to be interpreted on its own terms. There are two possible interpretations of the claim that the gospel was proclaimed to the dead. The first is that the gospel was proclaimed to those who had died prior to Christ’s coming—either in Hades or wherever was understood to be the abode of the dead. The second is that the gospel was proclaimed to those Christian believers who had died after Christ’s coming but before the writing of 1 Peter and, therefore, before the final judgment. Though they are not now alive, their previous sins (in the flesh) have been judged, and they will—with the Christians of 1 Peter’s time— live forever with God in spirit. There are persuasive arguments to be made for each of these claims, and the evidence for each claim consists in large measure in evidence against the other. Thus the discussion of the meaning of the passage can begin by noting that the “event” of 1 Pet 4:6 needs to be distinguished from the

“event” of 1 Pet 3:19-20. It was suggested in the commentary on chap. 3 that the “spirits” to whom Christ preached were not the spirits of the departed dead, not even the spirits of those people who had disobeyed in the time of Moses. They were, rather, spiritual beings, either the angels of Gen 6:1-4 or their offspring, who dwelt in some abode below the heavenly home of God, and to them Christ declared victory as he ascended to heaven.!7! In v. 6 the reference is clearly to the proclamation to “dead” human beings, and what is proclaimed is not victory; it is explicitly the gospel. The point of the verse is twofold: First, it emphasizes the universality of judgment—God judges both the living and the dead. Second, it provides hope for the Christians of Asia Minor as

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.... For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will tise first. Then we who are alive, who are left. (NRSV)

The context of 1 Peter 4 is the eschatological judgment, when the dead will rise and the living and the dead will be judged. There is no reason given in this passage to think that it was Christ who proclaimed the gospel to the “dead.” Rather, he was the subject of the gospel that was preached while they were still living. Dalton suggests that this also makes the best sense of the conclusion of the verse, which he

171. Perkins thinks that the two passages refer to the same event, in both cases to preaching to the spirits of departed persons. See Pheme Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995) 68-69.

172. See Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 288-91. His reading depends in part on a somewhat different interpretation of 1 Pet 4:1 than given here, Death in the flesh is the necessary precondition for salvation (ibid., 290).


1 PETER 4:1-11 COMMENTARY translates, “In order that, though judged in the flesh in the eyes of people, they might live in the

the sphere of the flesh, where Christians suffer and are slandered, and the sphere of the spirit, in which they will be vindicated and will have life. 4:7-11. 4:7. The eschatological basis for this epistle’s hortatory emphasis comes to the foreground again. Christians need to live in the sphere of God, into which they have entered through baptism, because the judgment of God is not some distant possibility. It is at hand, at the door, drawing near. The two imperatives become another way of summing up what the epistle has said about standing fast in the midst of the Gentile world. “Think wisely” (owbpovéw sophroneo ) as opposed to the foolishness of your former life. “Be sober” (vjhdw nepho) as opposed to the various forms of excess in which your neighbors revel. The call to sobriety reminds the readers of 1:13, where the author also uses the term nepho (“be sober”) as an exhortation in the light of Christ’s impending final revelation, and it points ahead to 5:8, where sobriety arms the believer against the weapons of the devil. It also contrasts with the third verse of this chapter, the reminder that the Gentiles prefer drunkenness to sobriety, and the implicit reminder that not so long ago, so did the hearers of this letter.!” The writer provides the two exhortations to “think wisely” and to “be sober” and then closes the verse with a bare prepositional phrase, “for prayers.” Does this mean that wisdom and sobriety are the preconditions for right prayer, as both the NRSV and the NIV translations seem to assume? (A possible parallel would be the exhortation to husbands about proper living in 3:7; see 3:12.)!”? Or does it mean that thinking wisely and keeping sober prepare the Christian for prayer?!®° Or is prayer itself the primary means of thinking rightly and staying sober? 4:8. “Above all” echoes directly the “end of all” of v. 7. As all things come to an end, above all things hold fast to love. Love here is love for the other members of the community and brings

spirit in the eyes of God.”'”> The verse has a double contrast again: on the one side, judgment in the realm of the flesh, according to human standards; on the other side, vindication in the spirit according to God’s standards (see Commentary on 4:2-3). That is, although the pagan slanderers might think the death of Christian believers is proof that their claims about God’s vindication are false, in fact God will vindicate believers by bringing them at last to salvation.'7* How can we decide between these options? Certainly Dalton is right to see a parallel (an inclusio) between 3:18 and 4:6: “He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” // “they have been judged in the flesh... (but will) live in the spirit.”'”° The overall claim again is the correspondence between Christ’s suffering, death, and consequent victory and the suffering, death, and consequent victory of believers. In this context, 1 Peter is read most consistently if the issue in 4:6 is the fate of believers who (like Christ) have suffered unto death and who, like him, will be vindicated in the spirit.'7° Nonetheless, whichever way one interprets this verse the overall claim of this section of the epistle is that God is the righteous judge of all and that, therefore, Christians are to stand firm in their resistance to their old idolatry—despite the slander of their former fellow carousers—trusting to God, who will judge them justly and give them life in the Spirit. The phrase kata 8eov (kata theon) might mean that Christians are to live in the Spirit “as God does” (NRSV), that they will live “by God’s standard,” or that their life is “in God’s sphere” as opposed to the human sphere.!”” The whole claim is set in the contrast between 173. W.J. Dalton, Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits: A Study of 1 Peter 3:18-4:6, 2nd ed. (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1989). 174. Dalton finds a close parallel here in Wis 3:4. See ibid., 238; the whole argument is found on 230-41. 175. Ibid., 240-41. 176. The NIV translation basically reads the text Dalton’s way by inserting “now” before “dead.” Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 273-76, also reads the text largely as Dalton does. See also Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 153-55; and PaulJ. Achtemeier, / Peter, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 291. Brox remains agnostic about whether the dead hear the gospel when they are dead or heard it during their lives; the overall point of God’s vindication

178. For other uses of the first verb see Rom 12:3 in the eschatological context of the Christian transformation, and Mark 5:15, where the man who has been driven by demons when released by Christ is in his “right mind.” For the second see in addition to 1 Pet 1:13 and 5:8, 1 Thess 5:6, 8, where the term is used in a very similar eschatological setting, and 2 Tim 4:1, where Timothy is urged to be sober “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and coming” (NRSV). 179. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, 216, makes this connection. 180. So Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 156-57.

of those who are faithful remains. See Norbert Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief,

Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentary zum Neuen Testament (Zurich: Benziger Verlag and Neukirchener Verlag, 1979) 195-201. 177. For the second alternative, see Davids, The First Epistle of Peter,



1 PETER 4:1-11 COMMENTARY us back to the strong stress on upbuilding community life we have already seen in 3:8. The difficult part of the verse is the second half: “Love covers [over] a multitude of sins.” What can this mean? The phrase may already have been almost proverbial for early Christians. It occurs in Jas 5:20, where the particular manifestation of love—bringing back a straying Christian—covers a multitude of sins. Behind it lies Prov 10:12, and in various forms it is found in a number of early Christian sources.!®! Selwyn cites those who interpret this declaration as meaning that love covers over the sins of unbelievers and opponents.!®? In the context of this epistle, however, the concern about covering sins seems to be a concern about the life of believers, not of those who are hostile to them. The statement cannot mean that sins are excused by love, since the sphere of sin is the sphere that is judged by God and left behind by believers (4:2-4). It cannot mean that love hides the multitude of sins, since the all-judging God sees with eyes that miss nothing (4:5-6).!88 Rather, the point seems to be that as suffering Causes sin to pause by moving the faithful Christian out of the realm of sin, love (which is the manifestation of faith) is a sign and fruit of the move from the old sphere, where sin had power, to the new sphere, marked by sobriety, faith, and love. It is a sign not of the flesh but of the spirit and, therefore, of life according to God’s purposes (4:6).'*4 Just as faithful suffering in the flesh brings sin to a halt (4:10), so also faithful loving covers sin over, puts it finally in the past. 4:9-11. These verses show what this love looks like in the community of faith. Hospitality was an important Christian virtue. Hospitality included both the willingness to serve as host for one’s fellow Christians in worship and fellowship and the willingness of the local community to serve as host for itinerant prophets and preach181. Fora list see Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 178. 182. See Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, 217. 183. Though this seems to be the meaning Selwyn finds most likely. See ibid., 217. 184. Kelly’s interpretation is rather close to this. See Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 178. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 157-58, notes that in Proverbs the phrase refers to “covering over” another’s sins without exacerbating a bad situation, though he acknowledges that may not be the meaning here. J. Ramsey Michaels, / Peter, WBC (Waco, Tex: Word, 1988) 247, argues that “sin” is primarily a social phenomenon and that the love of the community can virtually blot it out.

ers.'8° In 1 Peter, the context seems to be especially hospitality within the community of one’s fellow Christians. But what does it mean to be in community according to the love that covers sins? The reminder that Christians are to be hospitable without complaining is a word pertinent enough in every generation that it needs no further comment. Verses 10-11@ are similar to the discussions of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians and in Ephesians 4. The three key words of v. 10 in remarkably short compass show forth the epistle’s understanding of charisms and responsibilities in the church. Christians are “gifted”; Christians are “stewards”; Christians “serve.” Christians are gifted; their roles in the church are not their own accomplishments but are entirely from God. Christians are stewards; they are responsible for the faithful use of those gifts.!°° Christians serve; the right use of the gifts God has given is for mutual upbuilding, for the sake of other Christians. The gifts God has given are also “manifold,” so the examples in v. 11 must stand for a larger list of ministries. The two examples given, however, are exemplary as well as illustrative. God gifts Christians to speak, and God gifts Christians to act on behalf of one another. In a brief phrase, 1 Peter provides a very high doctrine of proclamation, though of course there is no indication that preachers are a particular subgroup of Christians. One suspects the model is more like 1 Corinthians 14, with various Christians speaking in worship. Of course, this is both a promise and a warning. When one speaks, the promise is that the words may be God’s own words to the people. Therefore, Christians should pay heed to what they say; they should live up to the high calling of faithful speaking. The exhortation recalls the strong view of proclamation in 1:12, that through the Holy Spirit, Christian preachers have brought to their congregations mysteries so mighty that angels fear to look upon them. Serving, which is a gift in the first place, is not possible through the strength of the server, but 185. For examples of other pertinent texts, see Michaels, 7 Peter,

247-48. 186. Kelly points out that the word “steward” (oi KovoLos oikonomos) is usually a technical word for the slave entrusted with management of the master’s property. See Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 180. The NRSV makes it sound more like a simile than a job description: “like stewards” rather than “as stewards.”


1 PETER 4:1-11 COMMENTARY only through the strength that God provides. So, then, God gives gifts; God gives words; God gives strength. Verse 11 moves toward doxology. Since it is God who gives the gifts, gives the words, and gives the strength, then in all these things—in all things indeed—it is God who is to be glorified. That glorification is through Jesus Christ, whom the whole epistle has shown to be the One who brings Christians to God (3:18). One niay notice in these few verses the repetition of forms of the noun “all things” (tds pas). The end of “all things” is near. Above “all things” have profound love for one another. In “all things” let God be glorified. This is not conversa-

tion about middling matters or modest steps. This

is the one God claiming the glory due to God through Jesus Christ. Soon that glory will be made manifest as all things come to an end. Now above all things (all those things that are passing away) that glory is served through the love that Christians show to one another. Because God is both the source and the end of all things, giver of gifts and words and strength through Jesus Christ, therefore the exhortation is bound to end in praise.!%” 187. The doxological delight that God has glory forever becomes again a comfort to Christians who now live “in the spirit as God does” (4:6). Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, 220, has a thorough discussion of doxologies in the NT.

REFLECTIONS 1. E. G. Selwyn (whose book of grammatical notes contains a hidden wealth of homiletical hints) quotes Lancelot Andrewes, who reads | Pet 4:1 along with Romans 6: To cease from sin, | say, understanding by sin, not from sin altogether—that is a higher perfection than this life will bear but as the Apostle expoundeth in the very next words (Romans 6:13)... from the dominion of sin to cease. For till we be free from death itself, which in this life we are not, we shall not be free from sin altogether; only we may come thus far .. . that sign “reign not,” Wear not a crown, sit not in a throne, hold no parliament within us, give us no laws; in a word... that we serve it not.”!%

2. The NIV translation of 4:4 (“they think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation”) probably rests on a text from Strago cited by Selwyn and referring to rock pools filled to overflowing at high tide. This may be something of an etymological stretch as a translation, but it has the homiletical payoff of finding in the situation of the first-century pagans a striking analogy to the situation of Noah’s contemporaries, who drowned in their own flood.” 3. This section of the letter draws heavily on a polarity or dialectic that can be characterized as the contrast between living in the sphere of the flesh and living in the sphere of the spirit. On the one hand, that contrast is between unbelievers and believers; on the other hand, it is a contrast between the past and the present. For the writer of 1 Peter, the unbelievers are those who live by “human desires” rather than by “the will of God” (4:2). Those human desires stem from idolatry and result in all manner of licentiousness. To be Christian for this epistle is, as we have seen, to be a sojourner or resident alien; and one way to define a faithful person is to say that he or she stands against the fleshly devices and desires of the pagan outsiders. However, for 1 Peter even those who live in the fleshly sphere have not been entirely excluded from the possibility of mercy. In 3:16 there is the hope that at the judgment day those who have reviled the Christians may yet be shamed (to repentance), and so the judgment declared in 4:5 may not mean the end of hope even for those who have lived according to the flesh. (See Commentary on 2:12.) 188. Lancelot Andrewes, Sermons, vol. ii, pp. 202ff.; quoted in Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, 210. 189. See Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, 212, who is not sure that the tidepool example is pertinent.


1 PETER 4:1-11 REFLECTIONS The discussion of insiders and outsiders in this epistle is finely nuanced. On the one hand, Christians find their identity in their distinction from the larger world of pagan dissipation. On the other hand, they do not declare the pagans hopelessly lost to salvation, and they surely remember that those who now celebrate Christ’s goodness were themselves also the “unrighteous” whom Christ has brought to God (3:18). Therefore, the contrast between the sphere of the flesh and that of the spirit is also a contrast between past and present. The “sins” of the pagans are the very sins in which the readers have themselves spent time aplenty. Now in the present they can live by the will of God and in the hope of glory at the end of all things, but they also know that they have not long been free from the reign of flesh. In this contrast, therefore, there may be a model for an understanding of the relationship of Christians to the larger unbelieving, or pagan, society. On the one hand, we find our identity in part over against them, praying to desire the things of God and not to be captive to human and fleshly passions and desires. On the other hand, we know that just yesterday we were subject to the very same forces we now condemn in the world around us, and therefore it may well be that tomorrow other pagans will find the judgment and mercy of God. As Christians we stand apart from the world and its tests; but we have not been apart from that world for long, and our hope and sympathy for those who are still bound by the flesh should reflect honesty about our own recent and narrow escape.

4. Kierkegaard wrote a masterful sermon on 1 Pet 4:8 and the love that covers a multitude of sins. He interpreted the text as meaning that the love of the faithful covers over the sins of others, and does it with such power that it makes one want to rethink the interpretation of the passage suggested by this commentary. Kierkegaard wrote first of the power of love to cover over sins, and then of the fact that it takes multifaceted love to find the many ways necessary to cover the multitude of sins. The sermon ends with an interpretation of a familiar gospel passage—as a story about | Pet 4:8. When the scribes and the Pharisees had taken a woman in open sin, they brought her into the midst of the temple before the face of the Saviour; but Jesus bowed down and wrote with His finger in the ground. He who knew everything, knew also what the scribes and the Pharisees knew, before they told Him. The scribes and the Pharisees soon discovered her guilt, which was indeed easy since her sin was open. They also discovered a new sin, one of which they made themselves guilty, when they artfully laid snares for the Lord. But Jesus bowed down and wrote with His finger upon the ground. Why, | wonder, did He bow down; why, I wonder, did He write with His finger upon the ground? Did He sit there like a judge who listens attentively to the story of the accusers, who, listening, bows down and jots down the principal points so that he may not forget them, and may judge strictly; was the woman’s guilt the only thing which was noted by the Lord? Or did not He who wrote with His finger on the ground, rather write it down in order to erase it and forget it? There stood the sinner, surrounded perhaps by those even more guilty, who loudly accused her, but love bowed down and did not hear the accusation, which passed over His head into the air; He wrote with His finger in order to blot out what He himself knew; for sin discovers a multitude of sins, but love covers the multitude of sins. Yes, even in the sight of the sinner, love covers a multitude of sins. For by one word from the Master the Pharisees and the scribes were struck dumb, and there was no longer an accuser, no one who condemned her. But Jesus said to her: “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more,” for the punishment of sin breeds new sin, but love covers a multitude of sins.'”

5. In remarkably brief compass, 4:10-11 gives a picture of the mutuality of church life the author envisions for the churches in Asia Minor. The promise of 4:6 is that those who have 190. Soren Kierkegaard, “Love Covers a Multitude of Sins,” in Edifying Discourses: A Selection, ed. Paul Holmer, trans. D. and L. Swenson (London: Collins, Fontana, 1958) 78-79. The whole sermon is found on 63-79.


1 PETER 4:1-11 REFLECTIONS died and will be resurrected will live “in the spirit as God does” (NRSV). In striking ways the community of faith already lives in the spirit and Christians represent the life of God to one another. Those who proclaim—whether through sermon or spiritual saying or prophecy—speak as those entrusted with God’s oracles. They become God’s voice to one another. Those who minister or administer are servants of God’s strength. So God’s power and God’s strength are manifested in the church through the service of Christians toward one another. The gifts that come from God are returned to God through praise. Like the creation itself, the church comes from God and returns to God; its life from source to goal is doxology, and that doxology is lived out in the love Christians’ show to each other. Pheme Perkins spells out the practical implications of this: “Passages like this one remind Christians today that faith requires community. Believers should be active members of local churches that are gathered for prayer, for mutual support, for celebration. They are also reminded that local churches should be places in which all members of the church share the particular gifts that God has given them.”””' 191. Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, 71.



irst Peter 4:12 marks the break that some


commentators think indicates that the

author or compiler of the epistle now moves from a baptismal homily to a more direct letter of exhortation and injunction. Reasons for skepticism about the “two part” theory of the composition of the epistle are indicated in the Introduction. It is argued there that there is not an evident break in the occasion for the epistle between 4:11 and 4:12. Three further comments may be added. First, the reconstruction of hypothetical sources behind extant writings is notoriously tricky. Suggestions about the editorial policy behind 1 Peter may be suggestive or even plausible, but given the limits of available evidence they can hardly be compelling. Second, even if it is the case that the author of this epistle joined together two disparate sources, or one source and his own later letter, the document that he wrote is the document that extends from 1:1 through 5:14; therefore, he presumably found continuity between the earlier and the later parts of his epistle. The job of the exegete is to try to seek the basis for that unity, both in the history behind the letter and in the literature of the letter itself. Third, to shift from the perspective of the author to the perspective of the readers, both original and modern, the document we read or hear is 1 Peter, and it needs to be understood as one piece of literature, however many literary sources may lie behind it. It has its own integrity and moves toward its own purposes. As we both try to understand how


first-century congregations may have heard this letter and try to understand its significance for faithful people today, we need to attend to the letter as a whole. Therefore, we can consider the section from 4:12-5:11 as an expansion and intensification of themes already apparent in this epistle. The subsection 4:12-19 reinforces the author’s reminder that suffering is an inescapable part of the life of his hearers. Such suffering shares in the suffering of Christ himself, and it carries with it the promise of final glory. Indeed, the very fact of suffering shows that the final judgment and blessing draw near. Verse 19 draws the hortatory conclusion from this analysis of suffering and provides the transition to 5:1-11: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good”

(NIV). First Peter 5:1-11 (as with other passages in this epistle) specifies what doing good might include. In a pattern rather like the household or station codes of 2:18-3:7, the household of faith is now addressed. Elders are reminded of their responsibilities for those under their care, and those under their care are reminded of their proper deference to their elders. All of the Christians who hear or read this letter are called to stand fast and faithful under the stress of opposition. All are assured that the outcome of this difficulty lies in the hands of a gracious God.

1 PETER 4:12-19



"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. '*But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. “Tf you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 'If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? !8And, “Tf it is hard for the righteous tobe saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” '9So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 'But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad

and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory,? which is the

Spirit of God, is restingon you.? But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal,

or even as a mischief maker. !°Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. '7For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey ihe gospel of God? 8And > “Tf it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the



Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator,

while continuing to do good.

218 Prov. 11:31

aOther ancient authorities add and ofpower © Other ancient © authorities add On their part he ts blasphemed, but on your part : he is glorified

(COMMENTARY 4:12-16. Because Christians know that the glory and power belong forever to God through Christ, they are able to face the ordeals imposed upon them during the passing age in which they live. In many ways the whole section of 4:125:9 drives toward the benediction of 5:10-11. It is in that confidence that Christians are able to live faithfully. We have no way of knowing whether the “fiery ordeal” of which the author writes is some cataclysmic event more dramatic than the obvious opposition and slander that the first part of the letter has presupposed. The “ordeal” may represent the visible sign of the eschatological claim of 4:7, “The end of all

has prepared the readers for this climactic exhortation, and the passage itself is set within a strong sense of eschatological expectation (see 4:13). On the one hand, there may be some further outbreak of opposition that warrants this apparently more energetic response. On the other hand, this may be a rhetorical move as the letter draws to its close, rehearsing the themes of the epistle but modulating into a new key. Goppelt writes: “What is new is not the situation but the parenetic interpretation that is now given for this situation of permanent social discrimination and legal uncertainty....To this point the readers have been admonished to refute discrimination by just behavior in order to avoid conflicts... . Here

things is near” (NRSV). In this way, the author 309

1 PETER 4:12-19 COMMENTARY there will be only joy. The pattern is one we have seen throughout 1 Peter. Christ suffered and was raised in glory; now you suffer, but when he returns you will share that glory. Verses 14-16 remind the readers that the life that shares Christ’s victory is a life marked by the power of the Spirit (see 3:18; 4:6; on the role of the Spirit in the life of the congregation, see also 1:2, 12; on the relationship of “spirit” and “glory,” see 2 Cor 3:18; on the promise of glory, see 2 Cor 4:17¢ Gol: 3:4-:).% The. Spirit is. expiicihy presented as the first fruits of the eschatological promise, because as Christians await glory in (4:13), the Spirit of glory already rests upon them (4:14).!°* Because the Spirit rests upon them and is a foretaste of glory, Christians who are “insulted” because they carry the name of Christ (NIV) are also “blessed.” Here as in 3:14 the term for “blessed” is wakdptos (makarios). In both cases blessedness, the eschatological gift, is pronounced on those who suffer unjustly. In 3:14, Christians suffer for doing what is right. Here the christological definition of what counts as right is made explicit; the blessing is pronounced on those who suffer in Christ’s name. This suggests that something of what it means to share in the sufferings of Christ (v. 13) is to suffer for Christ’s sake. In both cases the phrase is closely parallel

it is not the occurrence of suffering but the fundamental necessity of suffering that is ad-

dressed?17? “Beloved” (ayatmtot

agapetoi) is a reprise of the address of 2:11. As in that case, this address marks the beginning of a section of direct and quite personal exhortation and carries with it a kind of urgency. Also as in 2:11 the first readers are invited to think of themselves both as “beloved” of the author and as loved by God in Christ (see 1:3-4, 9-10). The imperative to not be “surprised” (Eeviteo8e xenizesthe) uses the same word as 4:4 where the Gentiles are “surprised” by the faithfulness of the Christians. One does not need to be surprised if one reads what is going on in the light of God’s providence. The pagans, who have no clue, are astonished; Christians, who have every clue they need, should not be astonished at all. That the “fiery ordeal” is also a test or temptation brings the readers back to 1:6-7. There they were reminded that for a little while they may suffer various “tests” so that the genuineness of their faith may be proven “as through fire.” The root word for “fire” (ttp pyr) is the same used in 1:7 and 4:12. Now the fire is burning, and the faith is under trial. Verse 13 states with great clarity and intensity one of the main themes of the epistle. The readers have already been reminded that Christ’s suffering was both the example for their suffering and the grounds of their salvation (3:18; see also 2:21-25, addressed specifically to slaves but clearly with implications for all believers who undergo suffering). Now they participate, share in, have the communion of Christ’s suffering. The verb form of kotvwvia (Koinonia) is used here, a word that can represent mutuality, communion, or fellowship. In 1 Corinthians 10 the fellowship also includes the communion of the Lord’s supper, where Christians participate in Christ’s suffering in a somewhat different way (see 1 Cor 10:16). Again 1 Peter presents the “already” and the “to be completed” vision of salvation in Jesus Christ. Because Christians share in his suffering, they can already rejoice; but when his glory is revealed they will rejoice exceedingly. Put in other words, now suffering and joy combine; then

to Matt 5:11-12.!% The claim that Christians are being reviled for being Christian is a theme that recurs throughout 1 Peter—not so much a sense of physical persecution but a sense of insult, slander, accusation. As in the earlier admonition to slaves (2:20) and to the entire Christian community (3:17), the epistle reminds the readers that in suffering the Christian participates in Christ’s suffering, only if the one who suffers does so unjustly, as Christ did. The list of possible offenses for which Christians might suffer recalls the list of their former 193. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 323. 194. Does the Spirit’s “resting” upon believers recall the Spirit’s descending on Christ at his baptism and resting on him (Matt 3:16, with another term for “resting”}? See also Isa 11:2, which could obviously be read messianically but here is interpreted as pointing toward believers. Michaels, / Peter, 264. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 324n. 32, thinks that Num 11:25 and the spirit given the elders is the closer parallel. 195. Some texts add to 4:14, “On their part he is blasphemed but on your part he is glorified.” See NRSV note. Metzger notes the lateness of the texts, and his committee thinks the phrase is an explanatory gloss, though the theme fits well enough with the rest of 1 Peter. See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971) 695.

192. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 311. Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, 211, calls it an “escalation.”


1 PETER 4:12-19 COMMENTARY behaviors in 4:3-4.!°° What surprises the pagan Opposition is that Christians no longer act in such ways; and Christians need not be surprised if they suffer the consequences of their neighbors’ astonishment. The term “Christian” (xptotiavés christianos) in v. 16 was not yet widely used of Christ’s followers in the New Testament. The use of the term in Acts 11:26 and 26:28 by non-believers’ may suggest that the term was coined by outsiders.!%” The use of the term here may also indicate that 1 Peter was written somewhat late in the first century, when the phrase had become more commonplace. The claim that one should glorify God “for that name” or “by means of that name” calls us back immediately to v. 14. Those who are insulted “in the name of Christ” should rather glorify God “by the name of Christ(ian).” Again it is a matter of “glory.” Those who suffer unjustly for Christ’s sake will participate in Christ’s glory at the eschaton (4:13). In the meantime they can be encouraged because the spirit of glory rests upon them (4:14), and, therefore, they should glorify God (4:16). The NRSV catches and the NIV misses the threefold use of terms related to

how far it should be pressed. Nor am I at all sure... whether a pardon ought to be granted to anyone retracting his beliefs, or if he has once professed Christianity, he shall gain nothing by renouncing it; and whether it is the mere name of Christian which is punishable, even if innocent of crime, or rather the crimes associated with the name. For the moment this is the line I have taken with all persons brought before me on the charge of being Christians. I have asked them in person if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakeable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished.!%

4:17-19. These verses again place the “fiery ordeal” in its appropriate eschatological context. This difficulty is not merely trouble; it is the prologue to judgment day. Thus in v. 17 the author makes the eschatological claim in yet another way. While distinctions between katpds (Kairos), meaning time as the significant moment, and xpdvos (chronos}, meaning time as it ticks on, may be overdrawn, the use of kairos here is congruent with the eventful use of the term in other NT passages, like Mark 1:15. The passage from 1 Peter, too, is about time that is fulfilled and comes to its climax in the mercy of God. Fulfilled time includes judgment, as the whole letter has affirmed. The passage says that judgment begins with the house or household of God, that is with the Christian community, and apparently includes the suggestion that the present suffering may be part of that judgment, the sign of the movement toward history’s climax. Achtemeier catches the nuance of the passage: “The the final judgment of which the present suffering of the Christians is not so much a harbinger or proleptic participation as it is part of it, indeed the

“glory” in vv. 13-14, 16. The whole passage also echoes v. 11. One does wonder whether here we have gone beyond the neighborly insult and abuse to the implication that Christians are sometimes being turned in and tried precisely for being Christian. Pliny’s letter to Trajan probably comes from a somewhat later time than 1 Peter, when Christianity was growing apace in Asia Minor and when Opposition was more organized and more widespread. Nonetheless, Pliny’s words suggest further developments of a pattern already nascent in the situation 1 Peter addresses: I have Christians. the extent them, nor

never been present at an examination of Consequently I do not know the nature or of the punishments usually meted out to the grounds for starting an investigation and

beginning of it.”!% The picture of the church as God’s house has been underlined by the injunctions of 2:18-3:12, where the instructions for particular Christian

196. Inthe Commentary on 4:3-4 the similarities to 1 Cor 6:9-11 were noted. The term d\AotpietticKoTos (allotriepiskopos), translated by the NIV as “meddler” and by the NRSV as “mischief maker,” occurs only here in Greek literature of this era. Achtemeier translates it as one who “defrauds others” and provides an excursus explaining his interpretation. See PaulJ.Achtemeier, 7 Peter, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996)

198. Pliny Letters x.96. Trajan’s response is x.97. See LCL 285-87. 199. Achtemeier, / Peter, 315. For a discussion of the background for

the joining of suffering and judgment, see Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 330-32. The background for the claim about the household of God may be Ezek 9:6 or Jer 25:29. See Norbert Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentary zum Neuen Testament (Zurich: Benziger Verlag and Neukirchener Verlag, 1979) 222.

3027311-12° 197. Seeibid.,

313. Other early Christian and non-Christian references are cited in L. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, ed. Ferdinand Hahn, trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 327n. 41.


1 PETER 4:12-19 COMMENTARY stands ready to judge the living and the dead does not exempt believers from that judgment (see 4:1,

households are generalized into a reminder of the mutual sympathy that should mark the shared household of believers—the church. The image of the household for the body of believers takes us back to 2:5, where Christians are reminded that they are to be built “into a spiritual house.” The house is marked by Christ’s being its cornerstone and by its distinction from the larger world outside—those who are not yet, at least, part of the “royal priesthood” and “holy nation.” The same contrast between insiders and outsiders is still at issue in this verse with the comparison between the appropriate judgment for believers and the even greater judgment for those who disbelieve (see also 2:17 for Christians as the “family of believers” ).2° The contrast drives toward, or is driven by, the quotation from the LXX version of Prov 11:31, quoted in v. 18. Both v. 170 and v. 18 draw on the traditional rhetorical move from the lighter to the heavier, or from the lesser to the greater. If judgment on those who are faithful will be fearsome, how much more terrible will be judgment on those who do not have faith? Nonetheless, the purpose of the warning here is not to pronounce God’s judgment on the outsiders but to remind insiders that they, too, continue to stand under judgment as well as mercy. Even though those who have suffered in the flesh “have finished with sin,” temptations to sin remain—and the one who

SE The “therefore” of v. 19 makes clear where this whole passage, beginning with 4:12, is meant to direct the readers. In the face of present persecution and coming judgment, faithful people are called to do two things. First, they are to trust in God, who will judge, but who will do so with justice and mercy. That God is here called “faithful Creator” reminds the Christians of Asia Minor that from the beginning of time to the end of time they live under the providential power of God (see, e.g., 1:5). This is the only place in the NT where God is referred to by precisely the term “creator” (ktlotns ktistes).2°! Second, because they trust in God’s mercy and acknowledge God’s judgment, they are to continue to do good. The whole epistle has spelled out in considerable detail what “doing good” means (the term dya8otrovéw [agathopoieo| is used also at 2:14-15, 20; 3:6, 17) 202

When the author says that the faithful readers are “suffering in accordance with God’s will” (NRSV), he probably does not mean that it is God’s will that these people should suffer. Rather, he is saying that given suffering, one should respond according to God’s will and not lose heart or return evil for evil.

200. Goppelt thinks that those who will receive greater judgment are not simply those who disbelieve, but those who disobey the gospel by opposing Christians. See Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, 332.

201. Ibid., 335. 202. See ibid., 336.

REFLECTIONS 1. The great challenge of interpreting the New Testament for contemporary Christians is not dealing with mythology but with eschatology. These verses simply bring front and center what is the background of the whole epistle. History moves toward God’s final judgment and mercy in Jesus Christ, and for 1 Peter history is moving toward that final day at amazing speed. The suffering that Christians undergo is in part a further sign that judgment time is already under way and will soon reach its consummation. By the time of the writing of 2 Peter it was already clear that the expectations of the earlier Christian church had not been met as expected: “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:8-9 NRSV). In our time it is not only that the final judgment has been delayed, but also that we cannot simply think


1 PETER 4:12-19 REFLECTIONS about that event in traditional terms, where Christ comes from “on high” to signal the beginning of final judgment. The solution to the puzzle of how to understand eschatology for contemporary Christians is beyond the scope of these reflections or their author. Yet two familiar reminders still seem helpful. First, in part, talk about eschatology is a reminder of the transcendent significance of our lives. Decisions we make are not only our business but also stand within the providence and judgment of God. Our acts have consequences beyond the visible and measurable—consequences that are invisible and eternal. Second, the eschatological framework of 1 Peter declares what we can still lay hold of only through hope: that not only individual lives and decisions but also the movement of history is shaped by God from creation to consummation. The fullness of that consummation is beyond either our predicting or our imagining. But that consummation is foreshadowed in the victory we have seen—the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death. That affirmation (declared, e.g., in 1 Pet 3:18-22) provides the sign that enables us to lay hold of God’s future in confidence. Jonathan Kozol, visiting the poverty-stricken people of the Bronx, New York, found that their faith was too simple or too deep to lend itself to easy demythologizing of final promises. In a neighborhood full of the ugliness of poverty and

drugs and despair, Kozol visited P.S. 65: I ask the children to tell me something they consider beautiful. Virtually every child answers, “Heaven.”?”

2. As with so much of 1 Peter, and as with so much of our lives, we are faced in these verses with the question of how to understand the suffering of faithful people. The passage makes three suggestions that by no means exhaust or solve the issue but are helpful encouragements to those who suffer. First, suffering may, indeed, provide the test by which our faith and convictions are strengthened. Second, suffering provides the opportunity for us to participate in Jesus’ own story, not only his passion but also the promise of glory that is at the end of that story. Third, as we have seen in 1 Pet 4:19, faithful people are invited to suffer “in accordance with God’s will.” This does not mean that God wills each individual his or her suffering, but that when suffering comes it provides the opportunity for us to live according to God’s will, in trust and in doing good. No one, of course, should take these verses as encouraging Christians to seek suffering in

a misguided attempt to imitate Christ. Rather, these verses assure us that as suffering came to Jesus unbidden, it may also come to us, and from his story we can take comfort. No one, as well, can simply take these assurances as sufficient solution to the enormous issues of theodicy. Rather, they provide practical intermediate steps to help Christians get through the sufferings that are sometimes inescapable without losing either hope or charity. 203. Jonathan Kozol, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation (New York: Crown, 1995) 123.




To the elders among you, | appeal as a

Now as an elder myself and a witness of

fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings 5 and one who also will share in the be

the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the



1 PETER 5:1-11 NIV


revealed: ?Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but

elders among you 2to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight,? not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it*—not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. “And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. °*In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders.¢ And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 6Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. ’Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. ®Discipline yourselves, keep alert.? Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. °Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters? in all the world are

eager to serve; *not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. *And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade

away. ‘Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”? Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. ’Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

undergoing the same kinds of suffering. ‘And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. ''To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. ''To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

aOther ancient authorities lack exercising the oversight © Other ancient authorities lack as God would have you do it ¢Or of those who are older @ Or be vigilant € Gk your brotherhood

a5 Prov. 3:34

(COMMENTARY The word translated “I appeal” (NIV) or “I exhort” (NRSV; tapaxadéw parakaleo) in v. 1 is often used in epistles to mark the beginning of final remarks (see Rom 15:30; 1 Cor 16:15; Heb 13:22): Perhaps in the light of the preceding eschatological exhortation, the author returns to a kind of station code. Now he speaks not of the right order within the households of Christian people, but of right order within the church, within the spiritual household where judgment has already begun.2

5:1-5. In these verses, “elders” are clearly church leaders, but the more literal connotation of their designation as “older Christians” also enters into the balanced exhortation to the “younger” in v. 5. The pattern of balanced exhortation reminds one of the balance between wives and husbands in 3:1-7 (in each case, there is more elaboration of the responsibilities of the first member of the set). 5:1-4. Throughout the epistle, Christ has been set forth as an example for those who read or hear this letter. Now the author sets himself (or his fictional self) forward as the exemplary figure. As a fellow elder he is an example for the elders.

204. See Ferdinand-Rupert Prostmeier, Handlungsmodelle im ersten Petrusbref, Forschung zur Bibel 63 (Wiirzburg: Echter Verlag, 1990) 178.


1 PETER 5:1-11 COMMENTARY The Greek for “fellow elder” is one word (oupTpEOBUTEPOS sympresbyteros), like the English “co-elder” or “co-pastor.” As one who knows Christ’s sufferings and Christ’s glory, the epistle writer is an example to all the Christians to whom he writes. Of course, the author’s claim that he was a witness to Christ’s suffering is in part an

a line of precedence. Christ is the chief shepherd and overseer. Peter also gives an example of tending and overseeing the flock. Now these elders of Asia Minor are to follow in these apostles’ footsteps. The fundamental reminder to the elders is that the flock to which they tend is God’s flock, and they are its caretakers, not its masters. Within that understanding the specific responsibilities of the elders are sketched out briefly. They are to serve ungrudgingly (not under compulsion) and gladly, not for personal gain but so that others might gain, not by haughtiness but in humility. (The reminder that Christian leaders should not “lord it over others” is also found in Matt 20:25; Mark 10:42.) The great chain of exemplary behavior continues. Christ is the example for Peter; Peter is the example for the elders; the elders are the example for the flock. 5:5. As is so often the case in 1 Peter, this injunction has an eschatological sanction. The good shepherds will be rewarded by the Good Shepherd at the time of his appearing. The crown of glory they will receive is another of those “unfading” gifts that 1 Peter promises to those who have faith (see 1:4 for a variant of the same term; for a similar theme, see 1:23). This verse is the balancing exhortation to the “younger”—presumably both younger members of the church and members of the church who are not leaders, not “elders.” The “likewise” is the mark of reciprocity of Christian life as the epistle commends mutual respect (see 3:1, 7; similarly 1 Cor 7:3-4). The instruction to the youths is brief: “be subject to the elders.” The verb “be subject” (utotdcow hypotasso ) is the same word used in 1 Pet 2:13, 18; 3:1, 5, and (for angelic powers) 22. Verse 50 presents the more general exhortation that includes elders and younger Christians alike, so that while the younger Christians are called to submission, no Christian is exempt from humility. The “all” of v. 50 recalls the “all” of 3:8 where the specific “station” exhortations are now generalized to the claims of faithfulness upon all Christian people.2°” The quotation is again from the LXX version of Proverbs (here Prov 3:34). The preceding proverb reads, “The Lorp’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the abode

attempt to establish his apostolic authority.2°° The term for “witness” (\Wdptus maftys) may by this time already have taken on something of the meaning of “martyr,” one who not only witnesses but also shares in that suffering. In that sense, the author is a follower of Christ and a forerunner of the Christians of Asia Minor who faced their own more modest martyrdoms. Moreover, as one who now shares in the glory that will be revealed, the author lives in that eschatological “between the times” where he has placed his readers, waiting for a consummation that is not yet complete but already manifest (see, e.g., 1:3-5, 8-9, 23; 4:1314). The exhortation to the elders rings familiar in other exhortations to church leaders of the first century. The passage is particularly reminiscent of Paul’s exhortations to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, where elders are also designated as shepherds and as overseers and where they are also warned against using their ministry for gain. In that chapter, Paul uses himself as an example of pecuniary restraint (Acts 20:33-34). The qualifications for bishops in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and for elders in Titus 1:5-9 also show parallels with this passage.” The phrase that the NRSV translates “to tend the flock of God” more literally means “to shepherd the flock of God”; it points ahead to the call to await the chief shepherd in 5:4 and back to the reference to Christ as shepherd and guardian of souls in 2:25. “Guardian” in 2:25 translates éttakxotros (episkopos, NRSV). The verbal form of that noun is found in 5:2 as “serving as overseers” (NIV). In a tradition that the author and his audience may have known, the risen Christ appointed Peter to shepherd his sheep (John 21:16). In the larger context of the letter, and perhaps the even larger context of early Christian tradition, therefore, the elders stand in 205. See E.G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter (London: Macmillan,

1958) 228. 206. On the shepherd image, see also / Clem 4:43 cited in Goppelt,

A Commentary on I Peter, 344.

207. See Prostmeier, Handlungsmodelle im ersten Petrusbref, 173.



| PETER 5:1-11 COMMENTARY of the righteous” (Prov 3:33 NRSV). If the readers knew their Scripture well enough to know the context, this would echo the concern for God’s house in 1 Pet 4:17. The proverb that the author quotes here places the issue of human reciprocal respect in the context of the greater issue of the will and judgment of God. It also recalls the hope that Christians are to have for the last day and “the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed” (1:13 NRSV). 5:6-11. 5:6. This verse sums up the instructions to elders and youths and provides a transition to the closing encouragement in the face of suffering. The quotation from Proverbs has already given the call to humility its proper grounding in the intention of God. Now the author reminds the reader that the fundamental humility that marks Christian life is precisely humility before God. The pattern of humility now and exaltation to come states in new words the tension or dialectic of the whole epistle. Now humility, then exaltation; now suffering, but then glory. The whole pattern was introduced in 1:3-10, is now reiterated toward the end of the epistle, and really governs all the comforts and injunctions in between. 5:7. Here the readers are reminded that the power of God that humbles them also comforts them; God, who is strong, is also strong to save. The NRSV play on words, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you,” unfortunately is not found in the Greek, but nicely catches the theological balance anyway. The comfort moves to warning and then will move to comfort once again. God’s mighty hand is opposed by a power. weaker than God, but it is a real power nonetheless. 5:8. This verse begins with two bare imperatives summing up the appropriate response of faithful people in the face of present danger and coming judgment. Twice already we have encoun-

tered the call to sobriety (1:13; 4:7). This behavior is the appropriate response in the light of the dangers of Satan and the powers of God, and it stands in contrast to the licentiousness of the readers’ former behavior (see 4:3-4). The call to be alert is characteristic of apocalyptic warnings, as in Mark 13:34. The two verbs occur together in| “EhessOther ancient authorities read on your account ¢ Other ancient authorities read will be burned up

4Or earnestly desiring



(COMMENTARY 3:1-2. After the digression of 2:100-22, the author returns to the main argument of the letter body with a transition in these verses (based on Jude 17). Whereas the digression describes the false teachers in the present tense, the reference in v. 1 to this being the second letter intended as a reminder recalls 1 Peter and reestablishes that the letter is a testament of Peter regarding the future. The transition prepares the churches for “Peter’s” prediction in vv. 3-4 that false teachers will arise after his death (cf. 1:12-15), a common theme in farewell addresses. The author exhorts the churches to remember OT prophecy and Jesus’ commandment (ethical teachings), given through the apostles who founded the churches in faith (i.e., “your apostles”), concerning the parousia and its accompanying judgment. Reminding the audience of these teachings and appealing to the OT, to Jesus, and to the apostles is the same strategy the author used in 1:12-21. By referring to the audience as having “pure thinking” in a moral sense (cidtkolvns dtdavoia eilikrines dianoia; “sincere intention,” NRSV; “wholesome thinking,” NIV) and by reminding them of Jesus’ commandment, the author distinguishes the audience from the false teachers who have forgotten the commandment (2:21) and who follow after their own lusts (3:3). 3:3-4. As mentioned in vv. 1-2, there were OT prophecies of scoffers who mocked the delay of divine judgment (Amos 9:10; Mal 2:17) and early Christian prophecies of the arrival of false teachers in the last days. These Christian prophecies are attributed to Jesus (Matt 7:15;

teachers will indicate to the churches that they are the scoffers who were predicted to come in the last days. In v. 4 the author presents the accusation of the false teachers as part of the prophecy of Peter: “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors [lit., “fathers”] died [lit., “fell asleep”|,all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” (cf. 2:30). This accusation is in the form of a rhetorical question, reminiscent of such questions raised by scoffers of God in the OT (beginning with “where is” [mod éoT.v pou estin|}, including questioning of God’s intervention in judgment (Jer 17:15; Mal 2:17 LXX). The promise mentioned is part to those of Jesus referred to in 1:4, including some which seem to limit the parousia to the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries (cf. 3:13; Matt 16:28 par. Mark 9:1 par. Luke 9:27; Matt. 24:34 par. Mark 13:30 par. Luke 21:32; John 21:22-23; cf. Matt 10:23). The false teachers are denying the parousia because, according to apostolic proclamation, the fathers, the first generation of Christians, were to have experienced the parousia, but died without its materialization. 3:5-13. Besides the death of the first Christian generation, the false teachers seem to be basing their scoffing and denial of the parousia on the premise that the world has not experienced judgment of cosmic magnitude like that expected to accompany the parousia (cf. vv. 10, 12). This is the argument the author refutes in vv. 5-7. The denial of the false teachers has parallels in the Epicurean denial of providence, or divine intervention, in the world in both creation and judgment. The Epicureans denied God’s providence and the reality of judgment on the basis of the delay or slowness of divine judgment.?? In vv. 5-13 the author refutes the false teachers’ two-pronged accusation of v. 4. Refutation is indicated by the shift from the prophecy of false teachers and their accusation given in the future tense in vv. 3-4, to the author’s refutation of the accusation in the present tense in vv. 5-13. The

24:11, 24; Mark 13:22), to Paul (Acts 20:29-30; 1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Tim 4:3-4), and to others (1 John 4:1-3; Did. 16:3). However, these prophecies are not merely reiterated here; rather, Peter is portrayed as giving an analogous prophecy of scoffers of the parousia and judgment. In v. 3, “scoffer” (Eutatktns empaiktes) is a derogatory term for someone who despises and ignores religion and morality. It is partially defined as “indulging their own lusts” (NRSV) or “following their own evil desires” (NIV; €mtOuuta epithymia)—that is, to follow the flesh rather than God’s direction

29. See J. Neyrey, “The Form and Background of the Polemic in 2 Peter” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1977) 203-5; “The Form and Background of the Polemic in 2 Peter,” /BL 99 (1980) 420.

(2:10a, 18). The words and deeds of the false 355

2 PETER 3:1-13 COMMENTARY out judgment (v. 4), these verses refute the accusation that the promise of the parousia is false because it did not occur during the first Christian generation. That v. 8 begins further refutation is indicated by the opening phrase, “do not ignore this one fact,” which is similar to the opening phrase of v. 5. Whereas in v. 5 the false teachers are accused of overlooking God’s Word in judgment, in v. 8 the churches are urged not to overlook God’s forbearance. In v. 8 the author reworks Ps 90:4: “For a thousand years in your sight/ are like yesterday when it is past,/ or like a watch in the night” (NRSV). This verse was used to prove that human life is transient, while God is everlasting (Sir 18:9-11) and that the period before the eschatological end would seem long to humanity, but not to God.» The author affirms that what may seem like a delay of the parousia is not a delay from God’s perspective, and the author still expects the parousia to come in the lifetime of those whom he addresses (1:19; 3:14). The formula “not... but” (oU...dAd ou... alla), which the author uses to reject the false teachers’ accusations, begins v. 9 (as also 1:16, 21). This verse explicitly refutes the main point of the accusation that the promise of the parousia is false because it was temporally limited to the lifetime of the apostolic generation. The author does not address the problem of the failure of the parousia to occur within this limited time. Rather, he admits the delay and affirms the eventual fulfillment of the promised parousia. He alludes to Hab 2:13, a central passage in Judaism’s reflection on the problem of the delay of God’s judgment.s The delay does not indicate a false: promise, but God’s forbearance as provision for the repentance of sinners. The argument that God’s judgment is delayed due to God’s forbearance was traditional (Joel 2:12-14; Jonah 4:2; Rom 2:4; Shepherd of Hermas, Visions 8:11:1), and it was often used to explain the delay of eschatological judgment.*4

accusation that the world has continued without judgment is refuted in vv. 5-7 (as in 2:30-10a), and the accusation that the promise of the parousia is false because it did not come during the lifetime of the first Christian generation is refuted in vv. 8-13. This defense in vv. 4-13 is partially derived from a Jewish apocalyptic source or argumentative scheme that, in spite of its delay, defended the doctrine of God’s intervention with judgment in history.*° 3:5-7. The opening phrase of v. 5, “they deliberately ignore this fact,” implies that the false teachers can make their accusation only by ignoring the facts of the creation, the flood, and the fiery judgment described in these verses. As in Genesis 1, the author of 2 Peter here stresses the role of God’s Word in creation. By God’s Word the heavens and the earth were created (v. 5); by God’s Word water was stored up for world judgment at the flood (v. 6); and by God’s Word fire is stored up for cosmic judgment at the parousia (v. 7).2! The unexpressed conclusion is that God clearly has and can intervene for judgment by the same Word that underlies creation itself. The affirmation in v. 7 that the present heavens and earth have been stored up for destruction by fire “py the same word” underlying the flood indicates that the author believed he was drawing this information from prophecy. This prophecy may have been the Jewish apocalyptic source he was using or OT texts (e.g., Deut 32:22; Isa 66:15-16; Zeph 1:18). The argumentation of vv. 5-7 is tied to that of 2:30-10a. The example of the flood affirms that God’s judgment is active in history (2:5-6). The example of Sodom and Gomorrah affirms that the judgment of the ungodly will be by fire (2:6). Like the watchers, the unrighteous are kept for judgment (2:4, 9). Now it is affirmed that the heavens and the earth are kept for the judgment of destruction by fire and the destruction of the godless. 3:8-13. Whereas vv. 5-7 refute the false teachers’ accusation that the world has continued with-

The parousia and judgment are affirmed in v. 10. The affirmation opens with the verb “will come” (€xw echo) to emphasize that, although God’s patience delays the parousia, surely it will

30. A source or scheme also used to explain the delay of the parousia in / Clem. 23:3-4 and 2 Clem. 11:2-4. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 283-84. 31. Whereas the NRSV leaves it ambiguous, the NIV takes the referent beginning v. 6, “by means of which” (8i dv di hon), to be the waters of v. 5. Itis the waters of creation that were the means of the flood. However, the referent is more likely to be the waters and the Word of God of v. 5. This understanding assumes that there is parallelism in 3:5-7, with all three verses assuming that God’s Word is the means of accomplishing judgment.

32. 2 Apoc. Bar. 48:12-13; Pseudo-Philo Biblical Antiquities 19:13.. 33. See 1OpHab 7:5-12; Heb 10:37; 2 Apoc. Bar. 20:6; 48:39. 34. See / Enoch 60:5; Ignatius To the Ephesians 11:1.


2 PETER 3:1-13 COMMENTARY come. It refutes the false teachers’ accusation underlying vv. 4 and 9 that the Lord’s delay in fulfilling this promise voids that promise. The simile of the thief probably comes from Jesus’ parable of the thief in gospel tradition (Matt 24:43-44 par. Luke 12:39-40; 1 Thess 5:2; Rev 3:3; 16:15). The simile is quite effective in conveying both the unexpectedness of the parousia and the threat of judgment it brings to those who impose on the patience of God by delaying their own repentance.

At the parousia the heavens will pass away and then the elements will dissolve with fire. Here “elements” (ototxeia stoicheia) may denote either what constitutes things in creation (earth, air, fire, and water) or heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars). The author’s dependence on Isa 34:4 LXX indicates that the elements are not primarily those of creation, but are the heavenly bodies instead. However, since the earth is preserved for a fiery judgment (v. 7) and since a new heaven and earth will be coming (v. 13), whatever constitutes things in creation, including the earth, will be dissolved as well. This scenario corresponds to the picture of the end times that is found in early Christian eschatology in which both the earth and the heavens pass away (Mark 13:31 par. Matt 24:35 par. Luke 21:33; Matt 5:17-18; Luke 16:17; Rev 21:1). The resulting state of the earth and the deeds done upon it are described as “found” (cupeOrjoetat heurethesetai; “disclosed,” NRSV; “laid bare,” NIV).°° Without the obstruction of the heavens, which are now burned away, the works 35. There are several textual variants here. “Will be found” (cUpeOhoetat heuethésetai) and “will be found destroyed” (ebpeOrjoeTar hudpeva heurethésetai lyomena) are the two major variants. In the context of cosmic conflagration, the latter reading makes better initial sense. The former reading is usually questioned on the grounds of internal evidence. How can the world “be found”? However, “found” (heurethésetai is the preferred reading because it has the superior external evidence, and internally it is used of the faithful Christians’ being “found” at the parousia (3:14). Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, WBC, 316-21.

of humanity will become visible to God and vulnerable to judgment.*° This is the destruction of the ungodly, when the earth is destroyed by fire (v. 7), and why the faithful are exhorted to be “found” (heurethesetai) at peace and without spot or blemish at the parousia (v. 14). This state is one aspect of the biblical image of the wicked’s trying in vain to hide from God’s eschatological judgment (Isa 2:19; Hos 10:8; Amos 9:1-6; Rev Oaloaby/p AS was common to epistles and testaments, the author ends his refutation (3:1-10) by exhorting the churches about behavior appropriate in the light of the certainty of the parousia and judgment (3:11-13). The new heavens and earth are the home of righteousness, and righteousness will characterize its citizens as well. The author assumes that while Christians are waiting for the parousia, living godly lives (being morally vigilant, 1 Corl 6:13; Gol: 4:2: d-Pet.5:8). will hasten its coming (here expressed as “the day of God”). This is a corollary of v. 9, which claims that God delays the parousia to allow for repentance, and it stands in contrast to the false teachers’ assumption that its delay makes the parousia void and ungodly behavior inconsequential. Verse 13 is a positive affirmation of the parousia and a new heaven and earth based on the promises of Christ (1:4), which contrasts its denial by the false teachers (3:9). Common to Jewish apocalyptic,?” the content of the promise is derived from Isa 65:17; 66:22 and was adopted by early Christianity (Matt 19:28; Rom 8:21; Rev 21:1). The fire of judgment will return creation to chaos so that a new creation may emerge. 36. Cf. 2 Clem. 16:3. 37. See 1 Enoch 45:4-5; 72:1; 2 Apoc. Bar. 32:6; 44:12; 57:2; 4 Ezra dss

REFLECTIONS 1. It is noteworthy that one way of remaining faithful in our Christian doctrine and ethical walk is to continually remind ourselves of the teachings of Scripture and tradition that have been handed down to us. It is not enough to read them for confirmation or church membership classes and then put them aside. Our Christian heritage needs to be celebrated and brought back to our consciousness continually in new and exciting ways in order for it to remain a

2 PETER 3:1-13 REFLECTIONS vital part of our lives. This heritage needs to be incorporated into preaching, teaching, and liturgy and become a continual reminder of the purposes and promises of God.

2. The scoffers are indicative of our tendency to despair of the promises of God when God does not respond to our pleas within the time span we have set as reasonable or convenient. We would like God’s help, insight, power, and strength when we want it, not when God in sovereignty deems it appropriate. We may not scoff verbally, but our prayer life, church attendance, and overall life-style may begin to suffer as we despair of God’s promises. However, based on God’s work, God’s timetable, and God’s mercy, we can affirm that God will act on promises given.

3. The argumentation in 3:5-7 leaves lingering questions about creation. It does not teach that the heavens were created long before the earth (“heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed...” NRSV); rather, like Gen 1:1, it teaches us that both the heavens and the earth were created long ago. As in Genesis, the understanding of creation is Near Eastern—the earth and sky were created by the pushing back of the waters of a primeval ocean above, below, and around the earth (Gen 1:2, 6-10). At the flood this primeval ocean was released from the bounds imposed by creation, and the world returned to chaos (Gen 7:11). 4. Patience (“slow to anger,” 3:9) is often cited as a character trait of God (Pss 86:15; 145:8), based on God’s self-revelation in Exod 34:6-7. This mercy is an outgrowth of God’s love in putting up with sins of sinners and withholding the judgment the sin deserves at the time it is committed. This gives the sinner time to repent; but this time of mercy is not unlimited. Judgment will eventually come for the unrepentant, and the time of its coming is as unpredictable as the coming of a thief. Thus we should not take so much comfort in the patience of God that we do not immediately repent when we stray from the way of righteousness or ignore our obligations to evangelism with a false sense that there is plenty of time to attend to the unrepentant. 5. In the light of the eventual destruction of all creation and the evil within it, and the fact that the new heavens and earth are the home of righteousness, we are advised to live “lives of holiness and godliness” (3:11 NRSV). Such a life-style is partially defined by 1:5-7. Our call to right living is partially motivated by our desire to live eternally in righteousness with God when all that is subject to corruption is destroyed. 6. In 3:9, 12 the churches addressed by the author of the epistle are the ones whom God is patiently waiting to repent, especially those whom the false teachers have led into sin (2:14, 18; 3:17). The author is not saying that the time of the parousia depends on the action of the church—delayed for unrepentance and lack of evangelism (3:9) and hastened for godly living (3:12)—as though God had no say in the matter. Rather, in God’s sovereignty and by God’s mercy and love there is allowance for the spiritual state of the church and the world to which the church is to proclaim God’s love and mercy. God’s forbearance is also motivated by the desire that all people repent (Ezek 18:23, 32; 33:11; 1 Tim 2:3-6), and such forbearance alerts us to the fact that the time to evangelize is limited.






'4So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 'Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. '°He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. "Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. '*But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

14Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, '°speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. '’You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. '*But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.? aOther ancient authorities lack Amen.

(COMMENTARY 3:14-16. These verses comprise the closing of

with God), without spot or blemish (morally blameless; v. 14). “Found by him at peace” (NRSV) is probably a better understanding than “found at peace with him” (NIV). As 3:10 indicates, what is primarily being described is the act of Christ’s finding the Christian at the parousia and, secondarily, the state in which the Christian is actually found. This state of being “found” by God at peace is Opposite that of the false teachers, who are blots and blemishes on the love feast (2:13). Christians are often expected to be without spot or blemish at the time of the parousia (Eph 1:4; 5:27; Phil bstOr 2:15; Col T2241 Thess: S213;-o:2o° Jude 24). Striving for this state is part of the Christian’s walk, making every effort to support the faith (1:5) and being “very eager” to confirm their call and election (1:10). In vv. 150-16 the author bolsters the entire message with his portrayal of Peter. Peter is an

the body of the letter, beginning with direct address. The body closing reiterates and emphasizes what has been said and urges attending to, and taking responsibility for, the matters discussed. It corresponds to the rhetorical peroratio, which reiterates the main points of the probatio and appeals to the audience’s emotions to persuade them to respond as desired. Exhortation based on the promise of the parousia and the assurance of judgment, begun in v. 11, continues in vv. 14-16. This section reiterates topics from vv. 8-13 as it instructs the churches in how to live while awaiting the parousia. In v. 9, the Lord’s patience is to allow for repentance, and here this patience is expressed as salvation (v. 15). In v. 10, the Lord is said to come as a thief, and the earth and everything done on it are “fo