Monday, October 09, 2006

Hebrews: A Lesson in Intellectual Humility, the Limit of Human Reason, and the Glory of the Crucified God

Everything about the book of Hebrews is difficult. For starters, it is difficult to determine who wrote the epistle. Actually, it's not difficult; it's impossible. The letter is anonymous. This, of course, has not stopped the speculation as to who "really" wrote the letter. Suggestions on its authorship have ranged from the Apostle Paul to Barnabas to Priscilla to Luke to Apollos...to name a few. I have no idea who wrote this great letter, and I am perfectly comfortable with that.

Did you notice that we call the Epistle "Hebrews"? Well, that's an addition as well. It is a sensible one, but we don't know exactly for whom this letter was originally intended. Will that color our understanding? I believe it does. I do not believe that this Epistle was only written to wishy-washy Jews on the edge of quitting the faith. Au contraire! These people had already undergone and held fast under intense persecution. Rather, this letter is written to warn anyone from abandoning the faith for any reason. Leaving Christ for anything else is not only damning, it is intensely foolhardy.

The Greek of Hebrews is difficult as well. It is a challenge to translate. It uses words rarely used in the New Testament, the verbs are in wacky places, and my friends the definite articles are often distant from the words they modify. For a guy who is openly addicted to BibleWorks and three years removed from his last Greek class, it is quite an exercise to get through this magnificent letter.

These three difficulties are only the beginnings of my exegetical tribulations. Once I have it translated, I now have to figure out what to do with the text. That's the hardest part. Issues pop up in Hebrews that are beyond the tether of reason. That is, I am not convinced that we are able to figure out the greater mysteries of this epistle. Some mysteries are meant to be enjoyed and wondered at, not dissected at the bar of human reason.

So it is with this attitude that I will begin looking at the book of Hebrews. Specifically, I want to center on these things:
1. The difficulty of the warning passages.
2. The mystery of the Incarnation.
3. Reasons abrupt halt at the edge of wonderous mystery.

I will not solve the problems of the warning passages satisfactorily for everyone...perhaps anyone. Indeed, it is not even my intention to do so, though it may be a happy by-product that some who read this will be helped by my thoughts. It is my intention to wrestle with the text and to hold it until it blesses me. My highest joy in life is not found in simple answers, but in striving to understand that which is holy and being shaped by the process. Tomorrow, God willing, I will begin by discussing what I mean by the limit of reason and the beauty of mystery and how that will work in the text and my hermeneutic. I hope that it will be of benefit to others besides myself.

2 comments:

Even So... said...

I'm certain it will benefit me, and by extension, others, and I eagerly await it...

Gummby said...

Cool!