A Continuing Look at Hebrews

A Bit About the Creator

In this post, I am continuing on from a previous one where I began discussing the prologue of the book of Hebrews
In Acts 4, Peter and John were presenting their case. They were speaking about this “Jesus” and what they had “seen and heard.” In 4.24 “they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, ‘O Lord, it is You who made the Heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them.”
The creation of the world was unquestioningly accredited to Israel’s ancestral deity, Yahweh, as their Scriptures attested: Exod 20, Deut 4.32; Psalm 146; 148.1–6; Isa 42.5; 44.24; 45.11–12; Neh 9, Job 38.1–41; Matt 19.4. In this story, they quote “David” (who they call their father) from Psalm 2, who they credit as being the servant of Yahweh (the context of Psalm 2 shows Yahweh and the anointed, messiah): “Who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your [the same God, Yahweh they attribute with the creation of the world] servant [someone different, who did not create the world], said, 'why did the gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? 'The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the LORD [Yahweh, the creator] and against his [Yahweh, creator] Christ [not Yahweh or creator]’” Acts 4.25-26.
They continue praying to God, the Father (Jesus himself taught them to pray in this manner, Matt 6.9) as verse 24 presents and the contexts of Exodus, Nehemiah, and Psalms bear out, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your [God, Yahweh, the creator] holy servant Jesus [someone different, not God, Yahweh the creator], whom You [Yahweh] anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” Acts 4.27.
Jesus is clearly portrayed (Matt 27.46; Mark 15.34 from Psalm 22; John 20.17; Rev 3.12;) as having called Yahweh his Father and God. If I am processing this correctly, the disciples pray to God, called the Father (who is Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible– Deut 32.6; Jer 31.9, Isa 63.16, 64.8, Mal 2.10) and to whom they credit the creation of the world. They call David his servant, and then Jesus, as the one anointed by Yahweh.
A similar episode is found in Acts 17 where Paul spoke to the Stoic Philosophers in Athens. Paul declared to them that “the God who made the world [kosmos] and all things in it” (vs. 24) desires all to repent, because this God “has fixed a day in which he [the God] will judge the world in righteousness through a man [someone other than the God] whom he [the God] has appointed” and provided “proof to all men by raising him [someone other than the God] from the dead” (vs. 31). 
Paul did not say that the one raised was the creator of all (as John 1 and Hebrews 1 are often interpreted to say), or that Jesus was this “God.” Quite the opposite, he said that this man has been appointed to judge in righteousness and was raised from the dead by this “God,” as a testimony of that choice.
If Jesus was being communicated as the second member of the Trinity, then why wasn’t he given proper credit for the creation of the world (according to traditional John 1; Col 1; Heb 1 interpretation) in this text? It was the God, called Father who was instead credited with the material creative role. They were not praying to Jesus and certainly not to the spirit as a separate entity. What should a proper Trinitarian response be to these apparently confused disciples?
 Back to Hebrews 1, here is another thought that grabbed my attention. As a member of the human race, I am prone to reflect upon my own mortality. When reaching the phrase regarding those “who are about to inherit salvation” (v. 14), it reminded me of the larger NT theme of God’s restorative eschatology. It drew my attention back to how the writer began the chapter, “in these last days.” In the use of the word eschaton, the writer refers to the time but emphasizes the means by which God is communicating. Perhaps the author believes that these “last days” may continue for any length of time. The point is that God has now spoken through a son, in a way similar to what had been done through the prophets.

The whole point I saw being communicated was that as Christians, we have hope. This chapter seems set to that tune. The old saying goes, “hope is hearing the music of the future, and faith is dancing to it today.” The world is a mess and things are bad, but through this son, God has revealed more of the cosmic plan of remediation and justice than had been revealed before. 
The author of Hebrews continues to develop these themes throughout the book, and as we immerse ourselves in the message, it places our hope on the one for whom we wait. While today and tomorrow may not signify the end, that is not ultimately what matters. What matters is that he has been seated at the right hand of God and at the proper moment, the tide will turn and justice will be the order of the day. I like N. T. Wright’s exclamation in his book Surprised by Scripture, “Jesus is coming – plant a tree.”

Valuing the Views: The Mark of a Healthy Society



Tolerance for opposing points of view is important for maintaining any healthy society. In fact, such a society should relish disagreement as the only true way forward. If all agree, there is nothing more to discover, nothing to drive us onward, which, arguably, is a significant part of what makes us who we are. However, the way in which we handle those differences is what will ultimately define us. It is more valuable to have a unified community possessing divergent views than one of uniformity and enforced presumptions.

Review of Aviya Kushner's "The Grammar of God"

"A Hebrew Speaker's Response to the Bible in English." xxxii.

It is important to note that most of the reading I do is in biblical academia, so my judgment of this book is not based on the same criterion. The reason I mention it is because I read some other reviews of this book in which they were quite unfair, attempting to judge it as a work of biblical or linguistic scholarship. That is not what this book is, nor does the author claim this (see Introduction xxxii); reading the book you will find that to not be the point.

This book was recommended to me and now I am so glad it was; what a fantastic work! I appreciated her insights and background of having been raised in a Jewish home where speaking and reading Hebrew was at the center of the family life.

Again, while it is not a scholarly work, The Grammar of God does contain many trails for the chasing, if the reader possesses the notion. This book will thrill both the grammarian and lover of the Bible, as it is written beautifully and is full of heart. She investigates the histories of English translational difficulties and tells the story of her own personal journey with the realization that "some of the most politically charged issues of our time are rooted in biblical translation." xxiii

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book:
"It [the Bible] is a story that is part of every man and woman who has ever felt the need to claw against destiny, to insist on a different future than what God appears to be offering. And sometimes, in the Bible, what man wants so passionately is unacceptable to God. What man wants is so destructive that is is a threat to the earth, to the creatures that live on it, to other humans." 114.

Also, the book is available in multiple formats and editions, including audiobook.

Trust and Belief

Peter Enns has written a phenomenal book, "The Sin of Certainty." I am not going to take the time to write a review now, but maybe some day in the far, distant future. What I will say, however, is that this book is worth your while to read. If you claim to be a Christian and your heart is still beating, you should definitely plunge in. It is written on a popular level rather than an academic one.

It is an easy read, but it will no doubt challenge certain aspects of your walk with God, and this is a great thing. If you find it heretical (like this group) and decide to burn the book after you finish it (or only begin), then you are all the better for having sharpened your defenses and become more equipped to fight the wiles of the devil, who, apparently, parades through the halls of Eastern University.  

While reading a bit of Hans Küng’s “Christianity” (as I do from time to time for fun), I came across a couple of statements where he had the same critique as Peter Enns in "The Sin of Certainty":
“Jesus nowhere said, ‘Say after me’, but rather ‘Follow me. . . . Faith is now no longer understood, as it is in the New Testament, as primarily believing trust (in God, Jesus Christ) but above all as right belief, as orthodoxy, as a conviction of the correctness of particular doctrinal statements of the church sanctioned by the state.” 

Küng, Christianity: Essence, History, and Future, 50, 198.

So if you don't want to read Enns then read Küng. 

P.S. Enns is funnier.

Grammar Devil

I don't know why I came up with this today, it kind of just happened. For what it's worth, I think it's pretty clever.

A Look at Hebrews

The prologue of Hebrews begins by recalling how God had spoken in times past to Israel’s ancestors. God was still speaking, but now God had spoken through a perfect representative. The idea of God using agency seems to be continued here with the contrast between speaking by the prophets in ancient times to speaking by a son in these days.
There are several themes that grabbed my attention as I read through the chapter. The first is the author’s quotation from the Hebrew Bible (HB) in almost every verse. This says something to me; if the author wanted to draw his reader’s attention to a theme of the HB and intended them to gain insight, perhaps I too can gain insight in these ancient contexts when applied in a new way.
The writer cites the HB authoritatively, as in v. 6; “he says.” The writer quotes the LLX of Deut 32:43 and seems to use the “he” in reference to God. Interestingly, this is part of Moses’ speech and not God directly speaking. This writer takes the words of Moses with divine authority, as though they have come from God. Now, God has spoken through a son, divine speech through agency.
In this citation, the writer makes reference to “firstborn.” In the HB, firstborn is a matter of status, position, rank and eventually power, authority, and inheritance. It is not a term that demands a chronological order of any kind. This is a unique (Heb. yachid) son. Such ideas are reflected in Genesis among the patriarchs. There are the examples of Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Ephraim etc., none of which were chronologically first but yet took the preeminence of “firstborn.”
Another thing I noticed is “aiōnas” (world, age, universe) has often been translated as though it corresponds to material ontology. We live in a post-modern world that takes the enlightenment for granted. Therefore, our epistemology is governed by scientific parameters and our ontology is generally material oriented. This is even the case when reading Genesis. When interacting with a text of origins, it’s natural for us to bring our assumptions regarding material ontology to the text as though it shares the same ideals. We are more prone to read ontological creation into a text rather than a functional one (for more on this see John Walton's "The Lost World of Genesis One"). I am not sure that material ontology makes the best sense of the writer’s point regarding Jesus’ relationship to the “eon.” If this did speak of the creation of material ontology, with Jesus as the creator, it would put the writer in a conundrum.

The Hebrew Bible – which is cited authoritatively – would be blatantly contradicted. The reader would have to assume Jesus was “something else” and not human. I would have to assume that he existed before he was born. Does the writer of Hebrews actually start with these parameters? If I were a Jew living in the first century, the God I would be worshipping is the Israelite ancestral deity, Yahweh, the God of the HB. I would have no inclination toward tritheism, but rather would be aware of exalted and idealized human figures. If the writer is indicating that Jesus is ontologically identical with Yahweh, it creates a host of hermeneutical problems and flat out contradictions. If the writer desires to identify Jesus with Yahweh, Israel’s God, that is another matter. His sonship is closer in proximity than any before, he has been the first who was resurrected, he has been given a “name,” he acts as Yahweh does, he carries out divine prerogatives. If I am to assume that Jesus is ontologically identical with Yahweh, and he, through the incarnation, is paradoxically having a human experience, it seems to minimize the strong rhetorical value of his argument with the comparisons of Jesus to the angels, Moses, etc. 
If Jesus is fully God for the writer of Hebrews, then why is it necessary to say he is better than the angels? Wouldn’t that be stating the obvious? Or, as will be encountered later in 3:3, Jesus is “deserving of more merit,” “worthy of more glory” than Moses. If the writer is trying to convey that Jesus just is the mighty God of Israel rather than the anointed agent, priest, prophet, servant, son and savior, why does he feel the need to say that Jesus is deserving of more merit than Moses? It reminds me of the book of Acts. I’ll get to that in the next post.

Ad Hominems and False Prophets

False prophet is a label haphazardly thrown around far too frequently in Christendom today. When I hear someone use this derogatory phrase, I find it to be approximately the equivalent of that individual picking up a megaphone and announcing, "I don't read my Bible closely!" Presuppositions regarding the biblical text abound today, but I'm sure I didn't need to tell you that. This practice of "calling names" with Bible words exemplifies the pervasive attitude which seeks to provide scriptural support for an ad hominem against "them," "those people," the ones who, "obviously," have it wrong. "The Scripture couldn't be more clear," the mantra goes.

A "prophet" (in biblical lingo) is an individual commissioned by the God of Israel (Yahweh) to deliver a given message, verbal or otherwise. This is by no means an individual who is merely "telling the future." Actually, prophets do far more forth-telling (delivering a relevant message to their contemporary hearers), than foretelling (giving a message that means nothing to their contemporaries and is only relevant many years in the future). Therefore, a "false prophet" is one who purports to speak on behalf of or deliver a message for Yahweh (Deut. 18) but rather speaks from himself, "presumptuously."


Regardless of "Christian speak," "Christianese," or whatever we want to call the catch phrases that roll off Christian lips today, a "false prophet" is NOT someone who my spiritual guru or I ascertain to hold heretical or heterodoxical (opposite of my own orthodoxy) views, and/or fails to accept doctrines I may believe to be "soteriologically" (a fancy way of speaking about salvation) essential.

If I were a coach, I would challenge the call, and ask for an instant replay. Listen, if there would ever happen to be someone you know of, or God forbid, someone in your life who holds a view different than your own, it does not mean they are claiming to speak in the name of or on behalf of the God of Israel, hence making them a false prophet; there is a big difference. 

Jesus' use of "false prophet" in the Synoptics (all the Gospels but John) is not what many today may think he meant. He was referring to actual prophets, not renegade pastors or teachers from other denominations, with differing points of view. Even the epistle of Peter makes a distinction: 

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves" (2 Pe 2:1 NAU).

A false prophet, a false messiah (christ) and a false teacher are not all synonymous.

A prophet is also NOT someone who may believe - through either discernment and other pieces of evidence - that certain events may be about to unfold, false or not. An example could be a stockbroker at the New York Stock Exchange, who observes a shift or evidence in numbers that there may be an imminent, economic bubble-burst (see The Big Short, 2015). This however, has nothing to do with prophecy, a word from Yahweh (aka. the LORD, God of Israel). Jesus referenced this when speaking to his followers about recognizing the "signs of the times" (Matt 16; Luke 12). 

Christians need to stop inventing definitions for the express purpose of smearing others with whom they may disagree. Someone who has a theological or doctrinal position other than your own does not make that individual a false prophet. It does, however, reveal the ignorance of the accusing individual(s) with the ad hominem baton. 

Acts' Story: Sent from Jerusalem

Acts 8.4-9.43.
The time came and the witnesses to all that had happened in Jerusalem made their way into other regions of the ancient world. New challenges arose, but also many joys unfolded. In this story, we find a mirror to our own world: who are the unsung heroes behind the scenes of our lives? Are we proclaimers of our Lord or rather of ourselves?

Here is the podcast, and on iTunes.

Here is the PowerPoint

Acts' Story: Strife in Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, God’s power through Jesus’ spirit, and the actions of the apostles has taken center stage. In the next part of the story, other characters are faced with obstacles and challenges as the Church grows and continues to spread the word about what God has done for his people through Jesus.

Here is the podcast and here on iTunes.

Here is the video.

Acts' Story: Power in Jerusalem

The story of emergent Christianity continues with the early followers still frequenting the Temple. In this next chapter of the story, Peter and John go up to the temple for the time of prayer. Here, miraculous power is observed through the connection to the name of Jesus. How is it that this power drove the message onward?

Here is the link to the podcast, for those who would prefer it. Also in iTunes.

Here is the video:

Here is the PowerPoint:

Gospel as Peace: Final Part

In his book “Surprised by Scripture,” N. T. Wright has a fantastic chapter; “Jesus is Coming – plant a Tree.” He describes this hope of renewal when God’s people will live on the renewed earth in peace with one another and with creation itself. 
“‘When Christ shall come,’ we sing in a favorite hymn, ‘with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.’ What we ought to sing is, ‘When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and heal this world, what joy shall fill my heart.’ In the New Testament the Second Coming is not the point at which Jesus snatches people up, away from the earth, to live forever with him somewhere else, but the point at which he returns to reign not only in heaven but upon the earth.”[1]
The new creation God is wielding through Jesus is a wonder surpassing even that of Eden. Violence between God’s creatures and creation has no place there. 
“The Liberation of creation is to happen at the end of history, when Christian believers will attain their full salvation in the glory of the resurrection. . . . Like the Kingdom of God, we cannot achieve the liberation of creation but we can anticipate it.”[2] 
The Bible gives a meta-narrative, but its way of telling the story is often through symbolism, mythologized or parabolic form, and falls outside the kind of reality that includes static knowledge.[3]
Bauckham summarized the meta-narrative[4] in this way: it is the story of humanity and all the nations that comprise it. This story involves God’s chosen clan whose objective was to model a proper community of faith. The story takes a large step forward in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. The story as a whole then expanded to include the rest of the nations within this community, as originally intended. Through Jesus, as idealized Israel and humanity, God has inaugurated the new creation and revealed that restoration is on its way. 
“What we can know from the Bible’s prophetic visions is that it is a new future for the whole creation, not just for humans.”[5] 
We are able to anticipate this kingdom, but it does not mean taking preemptive measures regarding God’s eschatological action. Establishing the kingdom in its universal fullness is God’s prerogative.[6]
Heaven is neither our inheritance nor our hope. The “gospel” has often been reduced merely to “accepting Jesus” as Lord for the purpose of entering into personal salvation and thereby leaving the body and corporeal reality upon death. This is borderline Gnosticism.[7] Thus, sharing the “gospel” with someone is giving them the “secret knowledge” by which they too can escape “hell” and flee into an eternal heavenly bliss. I suggest that this paradigm misses the whole intended point and purpose of our participation in this good creation. 
“Our inheritance is the whole renewed, restored creation . . . the whole world is now God’s holy land. That is how Paul’s retold Exodus narrative makes full and complete sense.”[8] 
I love the way Wright framed it in another place, 
“We find, not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven, but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace.”[9]
God introducing shalom into chaos is a theme found throughout the Bible. At creation, the earthlings are made from the ground and placed in a garden to manage, enjoy and dwell with God in an intimate environment. As the narrative depicts, God dwelt with humanity in perfection, everything was right. There was safety and shalom, no fear or violence; everything was in its proper sphere. Humanity chose to rebel, but God continues the work toward restoration. Jesus, through obedience, [10] has become the ultimate ruler, mediator and high Priest of God’s kingdom. This is our hope: if God raised Jesus, we too can be raised.[11]
“The task of creating communities where shalom is lived out may not be easy, but we can know whether or not we are successful in our efforts. How can a community tell if it is practicing shalom? Fortunately, a consistent standard is given throughout the sacred Scriptures. Shalom is always tested on the margins of a society and revealed by how the poor, oppressed, disempowered, and needy are treated.”[12]
As Christians, may we strive to do everything in our power to defeat chaos with shalom, but leave the rest to God. We can pray as though everything were dependant upon God, but we must act as though it is dependant on us. Fear is powerful, but it is no match for hope.



[1] N. T. Wright, Surprised By Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (New York, NY.: HarperOne, 2014), 102.
[2] Bauckham 2010, 99-100.                                                                          
[3] Ibid., 143.
[4] Ibid., 144.
[5] Ibid., 125.
[6] Ibid.
[7] The view of a “lesser God” within the Hebrew Bible as a mean, violent God contrasted with Jesus, the meek and mild peace-loving savior is stronger in some Protestant traditions than others.
[8] Ibid., 93.
[9] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (London: SPCK, 2007), 26.
[10] Acts 2; Phil 2; Heb 5.
[11] Acts 17; 2 Cor 4:14.
[12] Randy Woodley, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision (Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012), 15.
Photo credit: Jon Imhoff, Glacier National Park, MT

Acts' Story: Anointed in Jerusalem

Much of Luke’s purpose is recognized through the story he tells. He demonstrates how Israel’s earlier history was being realized in new ways. He told his story with Israel’s legacy as a backdrop, and stuck to a pattern of using Hebrew Bible themes for the sake of showing the continuity of salvation history.
The people for whom he wrote would have readily understood the themes from which he formed his story, as these were quite familiar.

In the same way that story can powerfully motivate us today, so it did for them. But it was not just any story; it was the legacy of an entire people. By retelling, howbeit in new forms and different ways, the truths of the past were carried into their present to bring to light how God was at work. Without the spirit there would be no story to tell, there would be no assembly and no way to follow.

Here is the PowerPoint: