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Hebrews 5:11-6:3

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic (Cc: GPG) In Response To: Leonard On: Hebrews 5:11-6:3 From: Bruce I had said, it seems at many points as though Paul is arguing against an
    Message 1 of 1 , May 2, 2011
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      To: Synoptic (Cc: GPG)
      In Response To: Leonard
      On: Hebrews 5:11-6:3
      From: Bruce
      I had said, "it seems at many points as though Paul is arguing against an
      earlier established belief (Philippi is one of the clearest cases), and not
      chastising a recent lapse in right thinking. Consider also Hebrews 5:11-6:3,
      where some Christians (and I venture to suggest that they are Alpha
      Christians) are chided for persisting in a childish view of things, and
      asked to grow up, to leave behind their elementary ideas, to eat solid food,
      to go on to maturity, not any more laying a too simple "foundation of
      repentance from dead works and of faith toward God." / Repentance, and
      works, and faith toward God, were precisely the Alpha theology, whereas
      faith in the atoning death of Jesus, that sophisticated sacrificial view of
      Jesus's death (which reaches perhaps its most sophisticated form precisely
      in Hebrews) were the Beta position."
      LEONARD: Leonard: I think the above is a problematic overall interpretation
      of Heb 5:11-6:3, for the following reasons: / 1. The background here is not
      that of two distinct theological groups, one addressing, and attempting to
      convert the other. The homilist is instead addressing his own community,
      preparing them for the mentally tough, theologically advanced and climactic
      section of his doctrinal homily (Heb 7:1--10:18). This is the same group
      addressed in 3:1 (and cf. 10:19) as ADELFOI HAGIOI, KLHSEWS EPOURANIOU
      METOXOI (holy brothers, sharers of a heavenly calling). The difference
      between homilist and bench-sitters in this rhetorical aside is that between
      catechetical basics and advanced theological (if also rhetorical) reasoning.
      It is to the rigors of the latter that the community is being invited, with
      the use of standard Hellenistic topoi.
      BRUCE: What is the purpose of Hebrews? If we take it from the top, as
      presumably we should, it seems to be expounding a view of Jesus which is new
      to its hearers (and unique in the rest of the NT, and thus presumably new,
      period), one which it begins by carefully and laboriously deducing from a
      mass of OT quotes. It does not remind, it expounds, as though from first
      principles. That view envisions Jesus as both "apostle and priest" (Heb
      3:1), which is not anyone else's basic view of Jesus, it is a tour de force
      elaboration of the sacrificial view of Jesus. Since the text spends so much
      time on deriving this view, and so often insists that it is basing itself on
      what everyone already knows and accepts (a tactic of Paul also, though in
      content Hebrews is otherwise not very distinctively Pauline), I think it is
      fair to take Hebrews as an exposition and not a reminder. As something new
      and being introduced, and not as something old and being transitioned to.
      I do not think that Leonard's suggestion, that Hebrews is meant to encourage
      elementary students (catechumens or whatever) to take the next known step in
      their theological progress, fits the text very well.
      LEONARD: 2. There is no indication that Christianity of an Alpha type, in
      Bruce's terminology, is being alluded to in these verses. In 6:1 the LOGOS
      TOU XRISTOU does not refer to sayings of Jesus, but rather to basic (ARXH)
      teaching about Christ, which would presumably include, rather than exclude
      teaching about his atoning death.
      BRUCE: It is Leonard's thought that the atoning death of Jesus is basic to
      Christianity. He has a lot of company in that thought (notwithstanding some
      denials from others, earlier on this list). But the implication of such
      texts as James and the Didache and the Philippians Hymn is that there did
      exist a non-Resurrection strand of Christianity, not as a stage in a unified
      and internally consistent doctrinal progression, but as a separate and
      self-standing entity. The word "presumably" will not close this gap.
      LEONARD: . . . The latter is not what will be argued in the coming section
      of Hebrews, but is rather presupposed there. The homilist does indeed intend
      to introduce a theological novelty in his homily, but this is not the idea
      that Jesus "died for our sins", but rather that he is "our" High Priest, and
      that his unique sacrifice, while fulfilling the intent of the sacrificial
      offerings of the Old Covenant, also renders the continuation of temple
      sacrifices (still ongoing?) otiose.
      BRUCE: True but not the point. The question is not whether the High Priest
      theory of Jesus is new (we agree that it is, and perhaps also that it went
      more or less nowhere in the 1c theological scheme of things), but whether
      any of the recipients of the homily were Alpha adherents. On that, see
      LEONARD: 3. The homilist is not attempting to oppose the views of the
      bench-sitters, but rather acknowledges them as absolutely fundamental
      (QEMELION = foundation). He simply warns that an attitude of "holding to the
      basics" will not constitute sufficient preparation for his audience to fully
      appreciate the theological novelty, and its rational (and rhetorical)
      justification, to which they are about to be exposed.
      BRUCE: I think that the concession of "fundamental" is a gesture of peace, a
      device of persuasion, addressed to holders of a view which was, in fact,
      earlier and thus in a way more "fundamental" than the Resurrection view. But
      the homilist does not mean to concede basic importance to these views. On
      the contrary, he identifies the areas in which the theological difference
      between that view and his own occur: they include repentance as the
      mechanism of salvation, works (stigmatized in Heb 6:1 as "dead," a Pauline
      touch), and faith in God (rather than, as in the Beta view of things, faith
      in the atoning death of Jesus; see again Paul). I do not think that these
      can be seen as stages in catechetical advancement; I think they are
      contrasting and indeed incompatible views of the same subjects.
      LEONARD: The participle AFENTES in 6:1 suggests the idea of moving on,
      moving beyond to "perfection", not that of abandoning. In a word, what is
      reflected in this passage is not Alpha versus Beta Christianity, but rather
      the fundamental distinction between catechesis and more advanced theological
      reasoning. . . .
      BRUCE: Nice try. But the disparagement of works as "dead" (6:1) and the
      accusation that these particular hearers have become "dull of hearing"
      (5:11) do not look like a suggestion to take a known next step, but rather
      like a suggestion to turn from error to truth (namely, the truth being
      pushed by the Heb author, who bills himself as one who can "distinguish good
      from evil," Heb 5:14).
      And is not the whole idea of early and late stages of instruction a little
      against the grain? Early believers were either baptized or not; those who
      were baptized could take part in the Eucharist and other group activities.
      Once one is baptized and thus in, there is no further instruction; baptism
      confers or symbolizes full membership. And what does the Didache give as
      preparation for baptism? Not a two-stage doctrinal training, of which the
      first stage is not so much incomplete as erroneous (see again above), but a
      not extensive and one-time instruction, amounting to a short course in right
      and wrong (the Two Ways), which rests entirely on the grounds that to the
      Heb homilist are inadequate or downright wrong: works of the law. That such
      a system could provide the theoretical and liturgical underpinning for a
      complete and functional kind of Christianity (as the Didache shows it
      doing), is important evidence that such a Christianity did in fact exist. It
      existed, it functioned, and it left texts which attest in detail the *way in
      which* it functioned. Hebrews, needless to add, stands on a different basis;
      so did Paul in Romans. And it is precisely against Paul in Romans that the
      author of James, or of the latest and most controversial layer of James,
      takes up the cudgel on behalf of works against mere faith as the condition
      of salvation.
      These, then, as the texts at large tend to show, were not stages in the same
      thing, but different things, and sometimes the differences led to friction,
      open disagreement, and angry words (see the parts of James called
      "diatribes" by the commentators). James really curses Paul out, as a
      misguided fool. Here, I will again suggest, is the other side of the Hebrews
      coin, in which the Beta speaker urges the Alpha believers in the community's
      midst to wake up, grow up, get a move on, and drop their childish ways.
      If the difference between Alpha and Beta were merely that between
      kindergarten and school proper, as Leonard suggests, whence all this anger,
      this bad language, these curses (for Paul's sentence of damnation for his
      opponents, see again 1 Cor 16:22)? These are perhaps not the sweetest, or
      the most edifying, or the prettiest moments in early Christianity, but if we
      are to read the texts in a grownup and thus inclusive way, I think they will
      have to take their place, alongside everything else, as part of the picture.
      Respectfully suggested,
      E Bruce Brooks / University of Massachusetts at Amherst

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