The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (Review)

Until this year, I had never studied Hebrews before. In fact, I believe I had only read it a handful of times. What I was missing out on! I just lectured on Hebrews a couple of days ago and it is such a rich, if enigmatic, theological text. One of the most useful texts in developing my own thinking about Hebrews is the rather recent (2009) collection of essays found in The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (Eerdmans), edited by R. Bauckham, D.R. Driver, T.A. Hart, and N. MacDonald. The essays in the book began life as papers presented at the St. Andrews Conference on Scripture and Theology. A collection on the Gospel of John has also been published. The purpose of this focused gathering (that happens every few years on a new subject) is to “bridge the divide between biblical scholars, systematic theologians and other scholars concerned to read Scripture theologically” (ix). In that sense, this project would fit relatively well in the wider “theological intepretation of Scripture” movement, but (happily) I did not detect a denigration of the traditional historical-critical method found in the essays.

The book covers 7 “conversations”: Bauckham, Bruce McCormach, John Webster and Harold Attridge weigh in on Christology in Hebrews; John Polkinghorne, Eddie Adams, and Terry Wright discuss Cosmology; Richard Hays, Oskar Skarsaune, Mark Nanos, Morna Hooker, and Nehemia Polen on “supersessionism,” Stephen Holmes and I.Howard Marshall look at soteriology; Douglas Farrow and Edison Kalengyo  talk about Hebrews and “the modern world,” Ken Schenck and Daniel Treier deal with Hebrews’ “theology of Scripture”; and the subject of “the call to faith” is treated by R.W.L. Moberly, Markus Bockmuehl, Nathan MacDonald, Carl Mosser, Loveday Alexander, Mariam Kamell, and Ben Witherington.

Wow! Quite a conference it must have been!

I really enjoyed Bauckham’s fine work on Hebrews’ Christology, arguing, as to be expected, that Jesus shares in the unique identity of God as Son, Lord, and High Priest. Bauckham, though, also underscores how important the full humanity of Jesus is in Hebrews.

I was also fascinated by R. Hays’ piece on supersessionism where he challenges such a reading of one scholar in particular – the Richards Hays of 1989 who wrote very superficially about Hebrews’ use of Scripture in his book on Paul! It is interesting to see Hays process of reflection as he re-assesses this epistle. Instead of “supersession,” Hays rather points to the key idea being “new covenantalism.”

Morna Hooker’s essay was also very interesting, arguing that, despite the fact that Hebrews is clearly not written by Paul, we shouldn’t dismiss too quickly the similarities in theological perspective. While Paul focused his theological insights in Christ on the subject of justification, law, and judgment, Hebrews concentrates a similar theological perspective on cult, temple, and priesthood.

Well, I admit I have not had a chance to read each and every essay, but having read a good many, I learned so much. For anyone interested in Hebrews, and especially for those that want to see good dialogue take place between biblical scholars and “theologians,” look no further. I highly recommend this volume.

3 thoughts on “The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (Review)

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