Course Name: Formative Christian Thinking
First Essay: Christology in Hebrews
The author of Hebrews contributes several unique portraits of Jesus Christ some of which are not found in any of the other epistles in the New Testament. The two main portraits that are presented in Hebrews is Jesus Christ as the High Priest and his Sonship in relation to God. This is then supported by a number of smaller portraits pertaining to his character, priestly functions and his soteriological role in relation to the new covenant. His thesis is well thought out and presented in the manner of a theologian.1
One will notice that the author displays a strong Jewish background as he employs his keen understanding of the Old Testament right throughout his thesis. He does this by using metaphors and highly symbolic themes that hark back to time itself founded on God’s promises in the Old Testament. The author compares and contrasts continually between the types, anti types and shadows of the messiah as represented in the Mosaic covenant Heb 7:1 – 10:18. Including the roles pertaining to the tabernacle and Levitical priesthood compared to that of the perfect heavenly expression which according to the author finds its full realisation in the Royal High Priesthood of Jesus Christ. Some scholars like James D. G. Dunn perceive this to be a signature of ‘. . . Platonic Dualism . . .’.2 However, this argument seems to me to have some problems, since we find symbolism right throughout the bible and is clearly demonstrated in Gen 1:14b. According to F. E. Gaebelein ‘Symbolism is as old as humanity’.3 In addition Donald Macleod states that ‘ . . . We have little evidence that the writer to the Hebrews had any contact with Platonism, and none at all of any indebteness’.4 1. Donald Guthrie, ‘The Letter to the Hebrews; An Introduction and Commentary’ Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (2nd series, 1983), p.21. 2. He bases this on Heb 8:1 – 10:18 ‘ . . . along the lines of Platonic Dualism, contrasting the heavenly realm of ideas/ideals and the earthly world of imperfect shadows/copies . . . merges it with the Judaeo-Christian dualism [contrasting] old age new age, old covenant and new covenant.’ James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996) p. 53. Also see footnote 25. 3. F. E. Gaebelein, ‘Symbolism’, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopaedia of the Bible (1st edn., 1976), p.551. 4. Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ (1998), p.53. In addition God of the bible appears to be affected by us mere mortals whereas this is impossible from a Platonic perspective. There is no consensus regarding the identity of the author which is why Donald Guthrie asserts that: ‘ . . . most of them are purely conjectural . . ..’5 Like him I will not devote time to this exercise. However, as to when it was written there seems to be some set boundaries such as just before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed dating it just before or shortly thereafter around seventy A. C. E but definitely before ninety six A. C. E. As F. F. Bruce points out that reference to this epistle was made ‘. . . in Clement of Rome (c. A.D. 96) . . ‘6 However, there is also debate regarding the identity of the recipients who this letter was addressed to. The key focus of Hebrews is on the better covenant and to stay focused on Jesus who is presented in His exalted glory seated at the right hand of God Heb 8:1.7
Jesus Christ as the Son of God
The author right from the beginning builds on the Old Testament for his argument. The first five verses appear to be somewhat similar to the opening verses of John’s Gospel. Compare Heb 1:2b ‘ . . .by His Son . . . through whom also made the worlds . . .’ with John 1:3 stating that ‘All things were made through Him, without Him nothing was made that was made.’ Hence both authors base their whole thesis on the fundamental...
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