Saturday, October 31, 2009

Heb 3

3:6-7,14-15. One problem the author was addressing is the constancy not only of the current hearers of his letter, but of all of what he calls God's "house" (3:6). God's house is composed of those with a unique confidence (10:19) and a unique boast of their hope (3:6). Consider that this confidence and this boast of their hope may be part of what the writer calls "our confession" (3:1). Jesus is the apostle and the single high priest of this confession (3:1). This is a contrast to the previous system, with different priests and their limitations (10:11).

One interpretive issue throughout Hebrews is the nature this letter, which the writer calls "my word of exhortation" in Heb 13:22. Exhortation tries to get us to go on in some way. The interpretive issue can often be looked at whether the exhortation comes solely by warnings, or also by pointing out what is solidly the case. More on that in a moment.

This "house" includes the writer and his "holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling," (3:1 ESV), and is being built by God (3:4), whereas Moses was (but) a servant in the house (3:5), to testify about things talked about later (3:5; 9:11). This kind of language is definitely of the "what is solidly the case" variety.

The author's perspective looks back to the "day of testing in the wilderness" (3:8). (By the way, this "day of testing" was of man testing God, not God testing man -- keep this in mind in the understanding of what the author is using for an illustration!) In those times, God was angry with all (3:16) of that generation "who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness" (3:17), who "heard and yet rebelled (3:16)." Yet now, "as long as it is called 'today,'" -- there's the time marker -- the writer addresses all who read him, since then as now is a time that is still called "today": exhort one another every day. Without doing that, there may be similar hardening of his hearers (3:13), and "an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God" (3:12) may appear in any of them, as what led to God's anger for forty years.

Whether by warnings, or by pointing out solid things that are the case, the author is going to go on to give something to combat that possibility, so that they will exhort or encourage one another today. Let's see what the argument to support that is. That's why 3:14 starts with "for," which colloquially we could translate "because -- ... " or "since -- ...." Now for some detailed observations about 3:14.

What is the "original confidence" (3:14, ESV) that if we hold, "we have come to share in Christ" (ESV 2007)? Peering into the Greek, we not only see that the 2007 version of the ESV was right to go back to the perfect tense, "we have come to share" (lit., " we have become sharers"), but that "firm" doesn't have the right case-ending in the Greek, to refer to ourselves. (It would have had to be "-ous", but it's "-an": "bebaian.") Not firm people, but -- either -- a firm "original confidence," or a holding of it firmly.

Something else jumps out from the Greek. "the end" -- what does the ending of that word say about it, in Greek?! It's plural!

There are two possibilities about "the ends" It can refer to things at the end, or the ones at the end, i.e., people. In the first case, it is part of the idiom "from beginning to end," which they say in Greek by saying "from beginning to the ends," then "to the ends" refers how long the "original confidence" lasts. It is the "our confidence," the source of our confidence referred to by metonymy, that lasts that long, just as it refers to it by metonymy in 10:35. It does not refer to how long the "holding" lasts, because of its placement in the sentence. If the author is using that idiom, "from beginning to end" as we say in English, the idiom is stuck in between the article and the noun it modifies, which is the way to do it in Greek, but only very awkwardly in English.... "if the beginning-to-end confidence, we hold firmly." By sticking it at the end in English, because we have no place else to put it, we lose where the Greek may have stuck it, in order to modify "confidence." By putting it at the end, instead of between "the" and "confidence," we mistakenly think that "to the end" refers to how long we have to hold it. We lose confidence in "the confidence" because we are thinking the writer tells us we have to hold it to the end. But luckily, if the author is using the "beginning to end" idiom for "to the end," he is definitely referring to the confidence, not to the holding of it supposedly to the end. A relief.

The second possibility is really hard to say in English, no wonder it's not attempted in that language! Telous is plural, accusative, masculine or neuter: only one referent fits that adjective: ourselves! ... "WE HAVE COME TO BE sharers in Christ, if we hold "firmly" (or, "our firm") beginning confidence, until we as the ones at the end hold it." Telous! We, the ones at the end.

Let's step away one moment from the sentence and look at its place in the structure of the argument. This will help us see its place: it is given as a reason to exhort one another so that none of us will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Remember how he started this section, how he addressed his hearers: shares of a heavenly calling. That should help us decide if he is motivating us here by warnings of a non-future or by referring to a solid future.

In all cases, we are told "therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward" (10:35). Christ does not change, yet they were exhorted not to throw away their confidence by trying to place confidence in the old system. This old system was becoming obsolete and growing old and is ready to disappear (8:13).

Therefore we can see that before A.D. 70 the fact that Temple was still standing may, by its enacting of sacrifices, have posed a temptation to Christians. The Hebrews readers were Christians, who share in a heavenly calling, holy brethren with the writer, but tempted to rely on those sacrifices and that system rather than holding fast "our original confidence." "We who have believed enter that rest," as promised in the next chapter (4:3). However, let none of us have an evil, unbelieving heart, for reasons stated, leading to any one of us seeming to have failed to reach the his rest (4:1).

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