The sacrificial Christology of Hebrews : a Jewish Christian contribution to the modern debate about the Person of Christ
The Epistle to the Hebrews has been characterised as being a late and strongly Hellenistic text, which displays a high incarnational Christology very similar to, if not as fully developed as, that expressed in the Fourth Gospel. These scholarly assumptions have resulted in Hebrews remaining peripheral to the modem debate about the person of Christ, an approach which this thesis explores and questions. Some modem scholars have recognised that the Epistle also contains an important depiction of the historical human Jesus. This has led many scholars to argue that the Epistle contains two conflicting and juxtaposed portraits of Christ - one concerned with the human historic Jesus - the other concerned with Christ the Divine Son of God This thesis attempts to examine these assumptions and explores the possibilty that Hebrews simply juxtaposes different Christological portraits. Through the exploration of questions of authorship,audience and the background of thought which enables the most assured reading of this enigmatic text, this thesis questions some of these traditional scholarly assumptions. This survey demonstrates how a case can be constructed for an earlier dating of this text, which also recognises its essential `Jewish' Christian character. Some modem scholars recognise that Hebrews contains a distinctive portrait of the human historic Jesus. On the basis that modem study has advocated that Christology should be constructed from below, this thesis first considers the historical Jesus which is the central concern of the Epistle's thinking about the person of Christ. Close study of significant textual features demonstrates that Hebrews' Christology displays a pronounced concern to secure Jesus' close solidarity with humanity, a solidarity which is functionally necessary given the Epistle's use of Old Testament concepts of priesthood in order to explore the meaning of Christ's redemptive activity. Subsequent consideration of the contrasting `high' Christological elements within the Epistle demonstrates both why these have dominated scholarly discussion, and also, more significantly how they also focus attention on the redemptive activity of Jesus' life. Whereas concepts of Divine Sonship and Priesthood might be expected to establish Christ's exalted status, this study demonstrates how these concepts also stress ideas of humiliation and human solidarity. This rather unexpected finding is reflected in a marked ambiguity in the language Hebrews chose to use in expressing his teaching, and I maintain here that this is not an unintentional outcome of the Old Testament citations used but the reflection of the author's deliberate theological intentions. Attention is then focused on a fuller consideration of Hebrews' use of Old Testament concepts and traditions concerning priesthood in constructing its theological and Christological argument. The consideration of these features is divided into two separate but inter-linked studies. The first of these explores concepts of priesthood and sacrifice by consideration of the motifs of human solidarity, the union of priest and victim and ideas concerning a sinless high priest. These discussions include a consideration of Hebrews' use of the idea of `perfection' and its teaching about the sinlessness of Jesus. It is then shown how these ideas provide a basis for uniting the contrasting portraits of Hebrews' Christology. The second of these studies explores Hebrews' use of the traditions associated with the Old Testament priestly figure of Melchizedek, by means of which the Epistle establishes the superiority of Christ's priesthood and redemptive activity. In establishing this superiority Hebrews demonstrates the redundancy of the Levitical priesthood and cultic traditions. This approach typifies Hebrews' positive attitude towards Old Testament religious traditions, which he believes have been both superseded and fulfilled in the person of Christ. Modem scholarship has characterised this approach as an eschatological approach to the revelation of God. The concluding chapter of this thesis considers Hebrews' understanding of Christ's work - both in terms of his past redemptive activity and his present heavenly work of representation and intercession. It is maintained that Christ's work, especially his redemptive activity, is the central concern and focus upon which Hebrews' Christological scheme is constructed, a scheme which unifies the human and divine in the historical Jesus. Hebrews' teaching results in a very dynamic depiction of the person of Christ, which suggests that Hebrews contains many valuable insights on which those involved in the modem debate about the person of Christ might draw.