Sunday, October 6, 2013

An Exegesis of Hebrews 10:19-25

            The Book of Hebrews is a very special book in the Christian canon. It has every reason to be held in the highest regard, because it is Scripture, however apart from what is written in the book we know little else about it. The author and audience are both shrouded in mystery.  So who wrote the book? Where was he writing to and whom did he expect to read this work.
Like a lot of people, we were led to believe that the Apostle Paul was the author; however, with greater understanding and newer research we know that it is not him. This still leaves the question of who is the author of Hebrews. According to George H. Guthrie, “earlier suggestions include such noteworthy people as Paul, Luke, Clement of Rome, and Barnabas. More recent proposals set forth for Priscilla, Jude, Apollos, Philip, and capital Silvanus.”[1] There is new scholarship that allows us to understand that Paul did not write this book on several different levels. This author believes that the best viable option is either Apollos or Barnabas.
Just like the author of the book of Hebrews the exact recipients are not actually known; so all we can do is speculate and attempt to make intelligent guesses. Cockerill acknowledges that, “The members of the congregation to which Hebrews is addressed were obviously well versed in the OT and had been followers of Jesus for some time (2:1-4; 5:11-14).”[2] Pretty much every commentator believes that this work is written not to a large church, but to a small home church possibly located in Rome[3]. There are some who feel that it may be written still to a home church but in Palestine, Ephesus or even Corinth.
            We have no clear way of knowing if those in the congregation were Jewish Christians or Gentile believers. Either way they were still facing some pretty harsh troubles. According to George Guthrie, “…Nero’s rising threat to the church accounts for the feat of death and the waning of commitment indicated in Hebrews.”[4] Not only were these believers facing all of these things from the Roman government they also had to deal with consistently public harassment, imprisonment, and the confiscation of property, but not to the point of being martyred.[5]       
            After coming to a place of consensus on who the author may be, the place the letter was intended to be received, and its recipients.  We also begin to have a clearer picture of why the author would need to write reminding his readers of the gifts they have in Christ. Hebrews 10:19-25 is a very inspiring section of Scripture; this section of Scripture is intended to encourage you in your faith, to stir up hope and make you want to live out your faith in your local community of believers.

Exegesis of Passages
            One thing the reader should do is come to the understanding that this section of Scripture is the end of an inclusio that included chapters 4:14-10:18, and is the start of a whole new section all at the same time. David Allen believes, “Guthrie is correct in his analysis of the unit as functioning in an “overlapping” fashion as both the conclusion of the preceding section and the introduction to a new section.”[6] While it may seem insignificant, it matters very much on how the following passages are structured. Peter O’Brien speaking about the parallels between 4:14-16 and 10:19-25 has this to say, “A significant number of verbal parallels between them point to the fact that the two passages mark the beginning and end of the discourse on Christ’s appointment and work as high priest.”[7]
When reading through any passage of Scripture it is very easy to overlook words as individual words and miss the point of them being there. For example take the word therefore, more often than not the average reader is going to see that word and completely miss the reason behind the words placement in the selected verses. Richard Philips in his commentary on Hebrews says, “We should always take note of the Bible’s ‘therefores,’ because they provide the link between cause and effect. ‘Therefore,’ the writer of Hebrews says by way of transition, what we believe must transfer into our life and actions.”[8]
            Another word of great importance is the Greek word adelphos, it is often translated as  “brother” or if you are reading the NIV “brothers and sisters,” upon further study the reader will notice that it is used in the NT 341 times. It may not seem like much but in the context of the book where the author has been warning his listeners against falling away, this term is almost a way of reassurance for those who are in the faith. Cockerill asserts that,  “By addressing his hearers as “’brothers and sister”’ (3:1, 12), the pastor reminds them that they are in fact part of the “’household of God”’ (3:6) whom Christ owned as his “brothers and sisters” (2:11) and affirmed as God’s “children” (2:8-10). This reminder prepares them for the exhortation to mutual encouragement with which this section ends (vv. 24-25).”[9] O’Brien takes it a step further with saying, “Also by addressing the recipients of his message as brothers and sisters, and identifying himself with them (we), he reminds them of what they all have through Christ.”[10]
            The question then arises “What is it that they have through Christ?” According to verse 19 “…we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…”[11] If not put into proper perspective the reader will become confused by what the author is saying here, especially if there is no background understanding of the OT. So what we have that people in the OT did not have was confidence. The word for confidence (parresia) is used 31 times in the NT; while it can mean confidence it can also mean courage, open, plainly, or several different forms of bold. It is used four times in the book of Hebrews and upward of nine times in the Gospel of John. According to Guthrie, “The word “confidence” (parresia), is a rare word in Greek literature, has to do with free and open expression or conduct and, in an ancient Jewish context, relates especially to approaching God in prayer.”[12] Phillips extrapolates on this passage when he says, “We possess what the Old Testament saints did not, namely, the right to enter through the holy place and into the presence of God. Jesus has opened it by his life and his death, so that we have free access to God through him.”[13]
            Many believers today seem to have a shallow view of the privilege it is to be able to go before God in prayer without fear. Under the old system the high priest was only allowed to enter the “Most Holy” place, which was the presence of God, once a year, and it was not without the blood of the sacrifice. Cockerill supports this understanding when he says:
The way to God that was not even revealed under the old system (cf.9:8) is now fully open to the people of God. God’s own enter freely and continuously in prayer, repentance, and supplication to receive the “mercy” of needed forgiveness plus the “grace” for victorious living and perseverance (4:16). They need not “slink” into his presence. This privilege is fully compatible with the climatic declaration in v. 14 that Christ “has perfected” those “being made holy.”[14]

Verse twenty goes on to explain the rest of verse nineteen while bringing up some questions of its own. There is one concept or word that almost every commentator chose to hone in on, and that is the idea of the “new.” Looking back at verse nineteen will answer the question “What is new?” The way we enter the holy place of God.  Guthrie believes, “The path is “new” in that it departs from the perennial, ritual requirements as detailed under the old covenant system and also that it constitutes a way first walked by Christ “through the heavens” (4:14). Yet the word translated as new (prosphaton) can also carry the meaning of “previously unavailable” which fits the broader context nicely.”[15]
            The Scriptures go on to speak about this new way that he opened. When dealing with the word opened, “the underlying Greek term has been translated as both inaugurate and consecrate (dedicate). It is misleading to affirm one of these meanings to the exclusion of the other. Inaugurate reminds the hearers that Christ has established something totally “new.” “ Consecrate” prevents them from forgetting that he established access into God’s presence by nothing less than his high priestly sacrifice of himself.”[16]
            Through the progression of these verses the reader begins to see the contrast that is being drawn even more prominently than before. It is a contrast between the old means, which was dead and closed to the people, however, in Christ is now new, living and open to them. To show the detail of this comparison Cockerill states, “The Tent that Moses “inaugurated” (9:18) with animal blood demonstrated that access to God was neither revealed nor available (9:8) under its ministrations. The “way new and living” “inaugurated” by Christ with his own “blood” is a sure means of entering the divine presence.”[17] All of the verbiage being used could be very confusing if we were to just stop here and not pursue the rest of the verse much less the rest of the passage.     
            The next part of the verse speaks of moving through the curtain or the veil depending upon which version of the Bible you choose to read. This is one piece of Scripture that the commentators seemed to go back and forth over, not wanting to take it lightly but understanding the challenges the allegory in it raises. Leon Morris clearifies the challenges that arise when he says, “There is a problem as to whether we take “that is, his flesh” (NIV, “body”) with “curtain,” which is the more natural way of taking the Greek, or whether we take it with “way.” The difficulty in taking it with “curtain” is that it seems to make the flesh of Christ that which veils God from men.”[18]  Let the reader understand the impact the author of Hebrews is trying to make by emphasizing the cost paid for the people to have free access to heaven through the death of Christ.  
John Calvin tells us, “Thus we are reminded, that Christ’s glory is not to be estimated according to the external appearance of his flesh; nor is his flesh to be despised, because it conceals as a veil the majesty of God, while it is also that which conducts us to the enjoyment of all the good things of God.”[19] A.T. Robertson goes on to tell us, “The language is highly symbolic here and “through the veil” here is explained as meaning the flesh of Christ, his humanity, not the veil opening into heaven (6:20). Some do take “veil” here as obscuring the deity of Christ rather than the revelation of God in the human body of Christ (John 1:18; 14:9). At any rate because of the coming of Christ in the flesh we have the new way opened for access to God (Heb. 2:17f.; 4:16).”[20] Many other commentators agree that the curtain/veil and the body of Christ are in apposition to one another. By understanding the two words in relation to one another in such a manner it makes sense in seeing the changing of the OT high priesthood now coming under the charge of Jesus Christ as the ultimate high priest since he paid the ultimate cost.
The author moves on again to an area he has spoken of before, that of Christ being high priest, or as used in 10:21 great priest over the house of God. If the reader will remember back to earlier in chapter three the author draws a comparison of Moses as a servant in the house of God and Jesus as the Son of God. Now the Son has become the great priest over the house. O’Brien points out, “The expression great priest is simply an alternative for ‘high priest’, with no difference with meaning intended.”[21]  According to Jamieson, Faucet and Brown, the term high priest has much behind it. This is what they have to say, “As a different Greek term (archiereus) is used always elsewhere in this Epistle for “high priest,” translate as Greek here, “A Great Priest”; one who is at once King and “Priest on His throne” (Zec 6:13); a royal Priest, and a priestly King.”[22] The word megas is used 241 times in the New Testament and has a variety of meanings. The word is used in almost every book in the New Testament, while being used 79 times in the book of Revelation. According to the NASB Dictionary the word megas has been translated as such:
great:—abundant(1), all the more(1), arrogant(1), big(2), completely*(1), fierce(2), great(115), great men(2), great things(2), greater(30), greater things(1), greatest(10), greatly*(1), grown*(1), high(2), huge(1), large(8), larger(2), larger ones(1), long time(1), loud(42), mighty(1), more important(2), older(1), one greater(1), perfectly(2), severe(2), stricter(1), strong(1), surprising(1), terribly(1), too much(1), very much(1), wide(1).[23]


There is great importance in the grouping of these verses together. Three of the four verses have the commands of “let us”, draw near, hold fast, and consider. Such things hold a weight all their own. While it is great to know that we have a great high priest that intercedes on our behalf. The author moves from telling us about our new way of entering the presence of God to how we should enter his presence. The how of entering his presence is by drawing near to God, with a true heart in full assurance of faith.  
            Let’s tackle this first portion of this verse in two points drawing near with a true heart and what it means to do so in full assurance of faith. The end of the verse will be given attention after the aforementioned points are dealt with. According to Allen,
“The first command “let us draw near” has an implied indirect object that the NIV has supplied: “to God.” “Draw near” appears frequently in Hebrews and in the LXX, where it is used of the priests approaching God with a sacrifice…. There is a clear parallel here with Heb 4:16 where the identical verb form is used. There the focus is specifically on prayer, and this is included in the meaning of 10:22.”[24] The Greek word for draw near proserchomai is used a total of 86 times in the NT and seven total times in the book of Hebrews alone.
             The audience must draw near to God with a sincere heart; unlike the Jews who before they could gain access to anything had to practice so many rituals. Calvin writes, “away then with all the external washings of the flesh, and cease let the whole apparatus of ceremonies; for the Apostle sets a true heart; and he certainty of faith, and cleansing from all vices, in opposition to the external rites.”[25] Now it has been made clear that there is no ceremonial ritual the audience must follow, but they must come with sincere, true, or genuine heart. Guthrie clarifies it even further; “Therefore, if we are to draw near to God, we must do so with hearts genuinely committed to him.”[26]Calvin adds, “…a true or sincere heart is opposed to a heart that is hypocritical and deceitful.”[27] Now with the understanding of what is a true/ sincere heart what exactly does he mean about full assurance of faith?
            We can come knowing that we have committed ourselves fully to God and have the confidence that what we ask he hears us as long as it is according to his will (James 5:14-15). Cockerill argues, “The soon-to-be-described faithful (11:1-12:3) live by the “fullness of faith.” Such “fullness of faith” is based on the proven faithfulness of God and results in obedient surrender to his gracious purposes. The pastor urges his hearers to “draw near” to God with such obedient confidence and singleness of purpose.”[28] How can we better understand what the author of Hebrews is trying to express in the full assurance arena? Guthrie believes, “in full assurance [plerophoria] of faith (cf. 6:11), a phrase that can also be translated “conviction” or “certainty of faith” Plerophoria describes the clear-headed confidence and stability generated in true believers as a result of Christ’s work on their behalf.”[29] As the reader draws near to Christ in sincerity or genuine desire in full confidence that God hears them, there is more mentioned in this verse; having our hearts sprinkled cleaned from an evil conscience and bodies washed with pure water.
            There are many who misunderstand these verses and try to interpret them to deal with Christian baptism. However, O’Brien says that, “A common interpretation of these expressions finds in the imagery of the sprinkled heart and washed body an allusion to the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priestly service. When they were installed into their priestly office, they were sprinkled with blood and their bodies were washed with water (Ex 29:4, 21; Lev. 8:6,30).”[30] While the language used in this sentence might make some think of Christian baptism it is highly unlikely that is what the author originally intended.[31]
            Verse 23 is of great importance since without it we would be unable to complete our trifecta of faith, hope, and love. First thing the author tells us is that we (us) should hold fast our confession. We should possess, or keep hold of with a firm grip, what is translated as confession could also be called our profession. What profession? Some may ask. Most commentators are in agreement when they say that it is the public pronouncement that one has made about their belief in Jesus Christ.
What the ESV denotes as without wavering (aklinēs), the NIV uses unswervingly.  This rich word literally means, “that which does not bend” or “that which is straight,” which communicates the concept of stability or immutability. It could be used, for example, of a lasting friendship, or of one not being moved from a given perspective or judgment.”[32] This word is only used in the NT this one time, it is found nowhere else in the NT.
We hold firmly to that confession without moving because the one who promised is faithful. This is a great Christological statement reinforcing the belief we are to have in who Christ is and what he is supposed to mean to us. God himself has made the promise sealing it with an oath (6:13-20; 7:20-22, 28) and has repeatedly proven himself to be true. The revelation of his ultimate faithfulness came in the form of his son serving in his high priesthood, by this his people know that we can persevere until the end as God intended.[33]
When we are instructed to consider how we can stir one another up for love and good works, that is not an invitation to become judgmental busybodies, but more of a mandate to take a lively interest in those in the Christian community around you.[34] If we pay close attention it can be observed that some versions say “stir up” while another may say “spurring”. The word usually used here is used in a negative sense, but here any of these other words could have been used render the idea; to stimulate, incitement, rouse, or stir up.[35] The word in the Greek that is used here is only used in one other place in the book of Acts as a sharp disagreement between Barnabas and Paul over Mark (Acts 15:39).
Verse twenty-five is a great reminder that we should not keep ourselves away from fellowship with other believers. Not only does it hurt us,  but it hurts those who could be growing from our gifts.  A lot of commentators speak about the gathering together and how it could be not to neglect the coming together as a Christian community instead of a Jewish community.  It is possible, given the obvious root of the word, that the author was contrasting the Christian assembly with the Jewish assembly, or that he was stressing the actual continuity between Israel and the church as the people of God.[36] What should be observed is that it does not say that in order for you to grow you have to attend a mega church, it mentions gathering together. 
Meeting for worship as a church should always be our priority, but there are other forms that Christian fellowship can take; spiritual friendships, Bible studies, fellowship, and accountability groups are also great places to foster Christian growth as long as they do not detract from a believer’s commitment to the local church.[37] So we must continue in our service to the church, or else we will be neglecting to come together as is the habit of some. There are some commentators who think this is in reference to apostasy while others think it is just neglect. O’Brien says, “The failure of some to continue attending the gatherings of the community is cast not simply as neglect but as wrongful abandonment.”[38]

            This has been a powerful journey that the author of Hebrews has taken the audience on. It is my hope that your confidence in God and the profession you have made about him, allowing you to draw near to God with a clear conscience. May you never feel as though you do not need the local body, because when that happens you will not be able to use the gifts given to you and you will not fulfill Scripture therefore being disobedient, because you are not keeping the commandment given to you.  Grace and peace I offer to you until the Day draws near.

Allen, David L. Hebrews. NAC. Nashville: B&H Publishers, 2010.
Calvin, John. Calvin's Commentaries. Hebrews. Edited by John Owen. Vol. 22. 22 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005.
Cockerill, Gareth Lee. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Edermans Publishing Co., 2012.
Guthrie, George H. The NIV Application Commentary-Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Hacking, Philip H. Opening up Hebrews. Opening Up Commentary. Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006.
Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
Morris, Leon. Hebrews. EBC. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelien. Vol. 12. 12 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.
O'Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. PNTC. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Edermans Publishing Co., 2010 .
Phillips, Richard D. Hebrews. REC. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006.
Richards, Lawrence O. The Bible Reader’s Companion. Electronic ed. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991.
Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933.
Thomas,  Robert L. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998.
Utley, Robert James. The Superiority of the New Covenant: Hebrews. Vol. Volume 10. Study Guide Commentary Series. Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1999.
Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.
Westcott, Brooke Foss, ed. The Epistle to the Hebrews the Greek Text with Notes and Essays. 3d ed. Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament. London: Macmillan, 1903.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996.
Wright, N.T. Hebrews for Everyone. London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003-04.
Wuest, Kenneth S. Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

[1] George H. Guthrie, Hebrews. (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998)23.
[2] Gareth Lee  Cockerill,. The Epistle to the Hebrews. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Edermans Publishing Co., 2012)16.

[3] Guthrie, Hebrews. (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998)21.
[4] Ibid., 22-23.
[5] Cockerill. Hebrews., 17.
[6] David L.Allen, Hebrews. (NAC. Nashville: B&H Publishers, 2010)144.
[7] Peter T O'Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews. (PNTC. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Edermans Publishing Co., 2010)360.
[8] Richard D.Phillips, Hebrews. (REC. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006)358.
[9] Cockerill, Hebrews., 466.
[10] O’Brien., Hebrews., 362.
[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).
[12] Guthrie, Hebrews., 342.
[13] Phillips., Hebrews., 359.
[14] Cockerill., Hebrews., 466.
[15] Guthrie., Hebrews., 342.
[16] Cockerill., Hebrews., 467.
[17] Ibid., 468.
[18] Leon Morris, Hebrews. (EBC. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelien. Vol. 12. 12 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981)103.

[19] John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries. Hebrews. Edited by John Owen. (Vol. 22. 22 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005)235.
[20] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933).
[21] O’Brien, Hebrews., 365.
[22] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
[23] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).
[24] Allen, Hebrews., 514.
[25] Calvin., Hebrews., 236.
[26] Guthrie., Hebrews., 343.
[27] Calvin., Hebrews., 237.
[28] Cockerill., Hebrews., 473.
[29] Guthrie., Hebrews. 343.
[30] O’Brien., Hebrews., 367.
[31] Cockerill., Hebrews., 475.
[32] Guthrie., Hebrews., 344.
[33] Cockerill., Hebrews., 477.
[34] Phillips., Hebrews., 364.
[35] Allen., Hebrews., 517.
[36] Ibid., 518.
[37] Guthrie., Hebrews., 353.
[38] O’Brien., Hebrews., 370.

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