The Unique Sacrifice of Christ According to Hebrews 9: A Study in Theological Creativity
“… surely the work of an Amos or a Paul, of an Augustine or a Luther must be regarded as contributing to the construction or reconstruction of the notion of God.”1
- 8:1–2: Jesus is high priest at the heavenly sanctuary;
- 8:3–5: The earthly antitype: high priests offer sacrifices at a “shadow” sanctuary of the heavenly one;
- 8:6: Jesus “obtained a more excellent ministry” and “is the mediator of a better covenant”;
- 8:7–13: A quote from Jer 38:31–34 LXX about the “new covenant” serves as proof that the old covenant has become obsolete;
- 9:1–5: A description of the earthly sanctuary, the tabernacle;
- 9:6–10: Rituals at the Day of Atonement, which serve as “symbol/parable” (παραβολή) for the present time;
- 9:11–15: Christ is both high priest and sacrifice; his “blood” (αἷμα) purifies our conscience;
- 9:16–17: Explanation (excursus): in a testament, the heirs can claim the inheritance upon the death of the testator;
- 9:18–22: Blood and covenant;
- 9:23–28: Christ entered heaven and, through his own sacrifice, removed sin.
The symbols of exclusivism belonging to a religion that has become culturally successful are objective factors that will affect the consciousness of a people and promote their cultural and/or political domination, a trend that no subjective factors, such as love and generosity, can overcome. A religion that has achieved cultural success, therefore, must be willing to submit itself to an ideological critique.68
Conflicts of Interest
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(Ibid., p. 140). As Theissen notes, while the Essenes did not participate in sacrificial worship, they did not renounce it in principle. While other Jewish groups ceased to offer sacrifices after the destruction of the temple, they continued to study and expound the sacrificial laws, even though these could no longer be practiced. What is distinctive in Hebrews 9 is the renunciation of sacrifice in principle (ibid., pp. 140–41).
(Ibid., pp. 140–42).
(Ibid., p. 142).
(Ibid., p. 141).
Cf. (Koester 2001, p. 44; Beavis and Kim-Cragg 2015, p. lix). The eloquence of Apollos and his knowledge of scriptures are mentioned in Acts 18:24; Paul, on the other hand, admits freely that he did not rely on rhetorical skills (1 Cor 2:1–5). This could have been the reason for factions in the congregation of Corinth (1 Cor 1:12; 3:4–5). Recently, Clare K. Rothschild has suggested that Hebrews might be a Pauline pseudepigraphon (Rothschild 2009, pp. 1–14).
Cf. (Koester 2001, p. 45).
Cf. (Koester 2001, p. 59).
The distinction between “explicitly” mentioning the role of Jesus as high priest and an implicit reference is due to the fact that already the opening statement of Hebrews, which lists “purification for sins” as well as sitting “at the right hand” of God in heaven as achievements of Jesus (Heb 1:3), could be interpreted as hints to his high priestly role (8:1).
This short contribution cannot explore in detail that the attribution of the high priestly role to Jesus remains somewhat enigmatic and is barely based on historical facts since the New Testament Gospels do not depict him as a priest. On this problem, see for example (Weiss 1991, pp. 228–37; Frey 2018, p. 114). Mary Ann Beavis and HyeRan Kim-Cragg note on this aspect: “The image of Christ’s Melchizedekian priesthood and the comparison of Christ to the high priest provide a model of ministry that transcends criteria of race, class, and gender and raises questions about the ecclesiastical propagation of priestly castes” (Beavis and Kim-Cragg 2015, p. xliv).
A comprehensive discussion of the broad topic of metaphor theory is impossible due to the limited scope of the present essay. We would nevertheless like to briefly point out that the term “metaphor” is derived from the noun μεταφορά, which literally means “transfer” and has already been used in antiquity to designate figurative language or semantic innovation, whereby aspects of one referent are ‘transferred’ to another (Aristoteles, Rhetoric 1411b; Poetic 1457b; see also (Eco 1984, p. 102; Berger 1988, p. 344; Zimmermann 2003, p. 7)). According to this definition, hyperbole, metonymy, and simile are all types of metaphor. By contrast, not every attempt of speaking about events in the past (historical facts) or present would be considered metaphorical language. Furthermore, the fact that the act of speaking is separate from an event does not necessarily mean that speaking as such constitutes metaphorical language, even if every articulation of past or present events always involves and requires an act of interpretation by the speaker. In other words, the ‘transfer’ alone from a past or present event to the realm of speech, or the endeavor of its linguistic representation, is not the transfer that a metaphor usually designates. This means with regard to the language of sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament that descriptive or prescriptive texts about sacrificial rituals such as those in Lev 1–7 or 16 do not feature metaphors; on the other hand, calling a person’s “broken spirit” a “sacrifice” (Ps 51:19) or speaking of Jesus as an “offering and sacrifice to God for the pleasing odor” (προσφορὰν καὶ θυσίαν τῷ θεῷ εἰς ὀσμὴν εὐωδίας, Eph 5:2) does constitute metaphorical language. Considering, therefore, that Jesus was executed by crucifixion and not ritually slaughtered on an altar in front of a religious temple (cf. Karrer 2008, p. 153), it is impossible to claim “that the cultic language of Hebrews is not metaphorical” and that his death was a “real sacrifice” (Stegemann and Stegemann 2005, p. 18).
On scholarly hypotheses regarding the dating of Hebrews, see above. Had Hebrews been written before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., then the precise description of the sanctuary and priestly duties during Jewish worship rituals in chapter 9 would have been superfluous as the audience/readers would have been familiar with both. After the destruction of King Herod’s temple, however, such details would have started to fade from the collective memory. Furthermore, the peculiar circumstance that the author(s) of Hebrews preferred to evoke the tabernacle makes more sense post destruction. From this point in time forward, the temple in Jerusalem ceased to be the location of reference for sacrificial concepts and metaphors; it gradually came to be replaced by the sanctuary described in the Tora as Israel’s portable “tent of meeting” (Exod 25–31, 35–40; cf. (Eberhart 2018, pp. 34–39)). It should be noted, however, that some aspects of the tabernacle featured in Heb 9:1–5 differ from its scriptural sources, for example the position of the golden altar of incense (θυμιατήριον), which is located in the holy place according to Exod 30:1–6 but in the Holy of Holies according to Heb 9:4. For a comprehensive comparison, see (Thompson 2008, p. 178; Karrer 2002, pp. 143–44; Holtz 2011, pp. 366–67; Beavis and Kim-Cragg 2015, p. 91).
On scholarly theories regarding the meaning of sacrificial rituals in Second Temple Judaism see (Drexler 1993, pp. 1–2; Gerlitz 1995; McClymond 2008, pp. 3–17; Eberhart 2018, pp. 14–29). For summaries of the history of research on the theory of sacrifice from various perspectives, see (Milbank 1995; Eberhart 2017, pp. 2–12).
See also (Ullucci 2012, pp. 92–95).
Cf. (Eberhart 2011a; 2011b, pp. 17–32). Although the present essay focusses on cult metaphors in Heb 9, it is interesting to note that in later chapters, the dynamics of approach are still conveyed in, for instance, 12:18–24 according to which the congregation is said to have “come to” (προσέρχομαι) Mt. Zion and the city of God, but not to Mt. Sinai (see also 4:16, 10:22). As Mary Ann Beavis and HyeRan Kim-Cragg note: “The first covenant, associated with Moses and Mount Sinai, is obviated by the new covenant, associated with the messiah, Jesus, and Mount Zion” (Beavis and Kim-Cragg 2015, p. 165). This difference is evoked by a different destination for pilgrims.
Cf. (Eberhart 2005, pp. 37–64; 2018, pp. 111–13). Due to the limited scope of the present essay we will not pursue other innovative features of sacrificial metaphors in Hebrews. For example, it has already been shown that the “transition from many to one priest implies a transition from many sacrifices to one” (Cortez 2006, p. 543 [italics original]).
(Ibid., p. 395).
(Ibid., p. 246).
(Ibid., p. 239).
(Ibid., p. 125).
(Ibid., p. 338).
(Ibid., p. 23).
(Ibid., p. 6).
(Ibid., p. 8).
(Ibid., p. 7).
(Ibid., pp. 29–30).
(Ibid., p. 41).
Cf. (Ullucci 2012, pp. 91–93).
It has been observed that this quotation is the most extended one in the entire New Testament; cf. (Fuhrmann 2007, p. 300). Comparing the MT Vorlage and its LXX rendition reveals that even the translator(s) of the book of Jeremiah approached their task with a considerable sense of creative license. Overall the Greek version of the book of Jeremiah as such features multiple adjustments intended to conform to the different cultural context of the Hellenistic Jewish diaspora community of Alexandria where the translation was produced; cf. (Vonach 2011, pp. 2696–814, 2723–31). In particular, Jer 31:33LXX reads against MT: “I will put my law into their mind” (δώσω νόμους μου εἰς τὴν διάνοιαν αὐτῶν), thus actualizing and explaining the Hebrew בקרבם for its Alexandrian audience (ibid., p. 2729). The author(s) of Hebrews quoted this adjusted version.
The book of Jubilees displays a characteristic construction of self-identity through a dynamic understanding of covenant. According to William K. Gilders, it “narrates the context of its own revelation as the making (or, rather, the remaking or renewal) of the covenant at Sinai” (Gilders 2012, p. 913). The early Jewish group at Qumran even considered itself the community of the renewed covenant. According to 1QS 10:10, the “covenant of God” was “entered” (i.e., affirmed) every morning and evening (ibid., p. 914). Both of these examples show the conceptual importance of covenant theology in Second Temple Judaism and the creativeness of its usage. By contrast, Philo shows a propensity to avoid the word “covenant” (e.g., in his Life of Moses or in Special Laws) or to redefine it from its original meaning.
As Mary Ann Beavis and HyeRan Kim-Cragg note: “The homilist is not arguing … that ‘Christianity’ has replaced ‘Judaism’” (Beavis and Kim-Cragg 2015, p. 87). We might add that it would be anachronistic to accuse the Prophet Jeremiah of a Christian agenda of supersessionism.
(Ibid., p. 181). For Hays suggestion to this effect, (Hays 2009, pp. 166–67).
(Ibid., p. 196).
(Ibid., p. 214).
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Eberhart, C.A.; Schweitzer, D. The Unique Sacrifice of Christ According to Hebrews 9: A Study in Theological Creativity. Religions 2019, 10, 47. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010047
Eberhart CA, Schweitzer D. The Unique Sacrifice of Christ According to Hebrews 9: A Study in Theological Creativity. Religions. 2019; 10(1):47. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010047Chicago/Turabian Style
Eberhart, Christian A., and Donald Schweitzer. 2019. "The Unique Sacrifice of Christ According to Hebrews 9: A Study in Theological Creativity" Religions 10, no. 1: 47. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010047