Hebrews’ High Priestly Christology: Models, Method and Aim
2. Part I: Hebrews’ Approach to the Temple Cult
2.1. IA: The Efficacy of the High Priest, the Tabernacle, and Sacrifices
2.1.1. The High Priest
2.1.2. The Tabernacle
2.2. Sacrifices and Blood Rites
3. IB. The Sacrificial System and Christ: Application and Modification
3.1. Applying Sacrificial Blood
3.2. Applying the Burning of Sin Offering
3.3. The Sacrificial System as a Model for Christology
|Levitical Model (According to Hebrews).||Christological Adaptation|
|The high priest deals gently with the ignorant and wayward when he offers gifts and sacrifices for sins 5:1–2||Merciful high priest makes a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people 2:17|
|Every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices 8:3||Offered himself 7:27|
|The high priest goes into the second Tabernacle once a year 9:7||Jesus enters the inner shrine, behind the curtain 6:19–20; cf. 10:19|
|Offering the blood of bulls and goats 9:11||Christ offers his own blood 9:12|
|The blood of goats and bulls, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified 9:13||The blood of Christ, purifies our conscience 9:14|
|Animal blood offered in the holy of holies 9:25||Christ offers himself 7:27; 9:14|
|The bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp 13:11||Jesus suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood 13:12|
3.4. Christ’s Modification of the High Priesthood
3.5. Modifying Atonement by Blood: A Single Atonement by Christ’s Own Blood
|Levitical Model (According to Hebrews)||Christological Modification|
|Former priests were prevented by death from continuing in office 7:23||Holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever 7:24|
|The high priest needs to offer sacrifices for his own sins 5:3 7:27||Blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins 7:26–27|
|Sacrifices that cannot remove sin or purify of the conscience 9:9–10, 10:1–4, 11||A single sacrifice that removes sin and purifies the conscience 9:12 10:10, 12–13, 19–21|
|The high priest offers again and again, as he enters the Holy Place year after year, not with blood that is his own 9:25, 10:1, 3, 10:11||Once for all at the end of the age, removes sin by the sacrifice of himself, offered once to bear the sins of many 9:25–28, 10:11|
|Taking the blood that he offers for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people 9:7||Offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears 5:7|
4. Part II: Why Is Temple Cult the Key for Understanding Jesus as Christ?
4.1. Three Explanations
4.2. Hebrews and Pauline Christology
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Conflicts of Interest
As for its geographical provenance, the only hint is the reference to “those from Italy” (Heb 13:24).
However, the fact that the sacrificial cult is referred to in the present tense does not necessarily mean that it still functions. This is merely a literary style, one which is also used by other authors who write about the Temple cult when it is no longer in existence. Cf. Ant. 4 224–257; Against Apion 2.77, 193–198; 1 Clem 41.2; (Lane 1991, pp. lxiii, 218).
(Johnson 2001, p. 111) argues that “the cultus was, ultimately, an inadequate remedy for sin.” See also (Gäbel 2006, pp. 472–83; McKelvey 2013, p. 205; Salevao 2002, pp. esp. 208–10), who also claim (and attempt to explain) Hebrews’ separation from Judaism (e.g., ibid., 171, 197). See also the studies listed in (Ribbens 2016, p. 136, n. 240).
See the list of polemics with the priests and high priests in (Evans 1989). Cf. E. (Regev 2003).
On the meaning and origin of ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ, see (Church 2017, pp. 404–11). Cockerill (2012, pp. 359–60) points out that “pattern and shadow” actually affirm the positive function of the old as an outline or blueprint of the “heavenly” (although there is a certain reservation in 9:23b), anticipating Christ’s ministry. In fact, in ancient Judaism the entire concept of a heavenly Temple aims to legitimize its earthly counterpart (Ribbens 2016, pp. 52–81, 81, 137).
The latter act is an inaccurate simplification of Scripture, since Moses sprinkles the blood only on the altar and the priestly garments (Lev 8:15, 19, 24, 30; 9:9, 12).
In these two passages the author combines the inauguration of a covenant by shedding blood, the consecration of people to office, the ritual purification from corpse’s impurity (by the ashes of the red heifer, cf. Num 19), and the ritual purification from sin on the Day of Atonement (Attridge 1989, p. 257; Koester 2001, p. 415). Heb 9:13 does not conform to the Jewish rite, since there is no sprinkling of the blood of goats and bulls on defiled persons, and the sprinkling of the red heifer’s ashes, used for cleansing in cases of corpse impurity, has nothing to do with cleansing from sin. Daly (1978, pp. 272–73) argues that the author is not concerned with presenting the OT accurately, but freely uses the cultic institutions to serve his own argument.
On the acceptance of the priestly idea of the atoning force of blood, in which blood redeems (like a ransom) and purifies, see (Moffitt 2011, pp. 257–69; Ribbens 2016, pp. 154–59). See also the priestly rites described in 9: 18–22.
(Lane 1991, p. 542; Cf. Moffitt 2011, p. 277; Koester 1962, pp. 299–315) argues that the author intends to show that the sacrifice of Jesus, which cleanses people, is performed outside of the camp. That is, his act of cleansing is performed in a profane place, abolishing all cultic performances. (Lane 1991, p. 445) criticizes this approach, since the text has no cultic sense of a profane space, but is merely a hostile environment. Note that the author extends this metaphor when he portrays his readers’ life as also taking place “outside the camp,” where they are abused, looking for “the city that is to come” (13:13–14).
(Koester 2001, pp. 296, 298). On how the high priest and Christ contend with sin, see Heb 5:1–3; 9:14–15, and the discussion below.
Heb 7:11 (see the comment of Attridge 1989, p. 200); 7:28; 9:14; 9:28 (on which see Lane 1991, pp. 194–95); cf. 10:13–14. On Christ’s perfection, see (Ribbens 2016, pp. 169–77). In 7:11 the Levitical priesthood had failed to attain perfection. Nonetheless, Peterson (1982, pp. 66–73) rejects the possibility of a cultic meaning for this term.
Scholars debate whether this purification applies to the heavenly Temple or its inauguration, or is merely a metaphor for cleansing the conscience. See (Ribbens 2016, pp. 120–24).
(Brooks 1970, pp. 209–10). On Christ’s blood and its effect following the Priestly Law, see 2011, pp. 257–71. Ribbens (2016, pp. 154–59) points out that the blood (of the sacrificed animal) achieves forgiveness for sins (cf. 5:1, 3; 7:27; 9:7) in the new covenant, despite the denial of sacrifice and blood to accomplish forgiveness in 10:4, 11.
(Lane 1991, p. 472; Attridge 1989, p. 250). However, in 12:24 Jesus’ blood is sprinkled to signify the new covenant. See (Attridge 1989, p. 376). On sprinkling for the inauguration of a new covenant or consecration of the priest, see Heb 9:18–21, discussed above. Some regard the shedding of Jesus’ blood as real (Attridge 1989, p. 248; Cockerill 2012, p. 394; cf. Ribbens 2016, p. 118). Others conclude that Jesus atones/purifies “by means of” (dia) his blood, metaphorically, without actually performing the priestly rite: (Brooks 1970, pp. 209–10; Gäbel 2006, pp. 284–85, 288; Moffitt 2011, pp. 224, 273).
(Gäbel 2006, pp. 212–374; Moffitt 2011, pp. 217–20, 256–85). Church (2017, pp. 383–84, 390–91) argues that the curtain does not symbolize a real curtain but represents the access to God now available through Christ.
Jesus’ earthly death on the cross is barely dealt with in Hebrews and is debated by scholars. On the relationship between Jesus’ earthly death and ascension to heaven, cf. (Moffitt 2011, pp. 42, 216–20, 228–30, 276), followed by (Ribbens 2016, pp. 108, 135). Jamieson (2017, pp. 338–68) reviews the debate. For his most recent attempt to explain this question, see (Jamieson 2019).
Note that the biblical command to fast on the Day of Atonement, “you shall deny yourselves” (Lev 16:29, 31), may actually relate to cleansing one’s conscience.
This problem also relates to the very consciousness of sin in a manner that recalls Paul’s equation of the Law with sin (Rom 7:7–25). See (Koester 2001, p. 399; Ribbens 2016, p. 178). The ineffectiveness of sacrifice is enhanced by citing Ps 40:6–8 (Heb 10:5–9).
(Ribbens 2016, pp. 149–63, esp. 160, 162): “That Christ’s sacrifice is greater does not diminish the assumption that the old covenant sacrifices achieved forgiveness of sins… Christ’s sacrifice must follow the pattern of the Levitical sacrifice for it to be accepted as an atoning sacrifice.” Eberhart (2005, p. 60) maintains that Heb 10:14 denies the validity of the sacrificial cult. However, 9:13 uses the effectiveness of the cult as the foundation of the metaphor engaging Christ’s sacrifice.
(Koester 2001, p. 414), referring to Heb 10:1, asserts that the earthly Tabernacle signifies a heavenly reality. Hebrews is most probably influenced by the concept of the heavenly Temple (e.g., in the Qumranic Songs of Sabbath Sacrifices), as well as notions of priestly angelic figures that worship God in heaven (see, e.g., Schiffman 2009).
Ribbens (2016, pp. 163–84) concludes that the advantages of Christ in relation to the Jewish sacrificial cult include the access to God, perfection, and redemption.
Joslin (2008, pp. 253–54) maintains that the Law serves as the fundamental mode of expression for understanding Christ’s work, since it foreshadows his ministry: “without the cultus, Hebrews would not have the canvas on which to paint the portrait of Christ.”
Some seem to deny this appreciation when they interpret the entire sacrificial system in the heavenly Tabernacle as metaphoric, a figurative language symbolizing the eschatological dwelling of God with His people. See Church (2017, pp. 400–1, 404–21), building on Heb 9:11, in which Jesus passed through (dia) the heavenly Temple, and “pattern and shadow” (8:5) as symbolic foreshadowing, and on “these last days” (1:2). Schenck (2007, pp. 144–81) regards the heavenly Tabernacle as a metaphor for heaven itself. In my view, however, the cultic system is far too detailed and complex to be considered a metaphor.
Heb 13:10 argues that “we have an altar from which those who officiate in the Tabernacle have no right to eat,” but it is unclear to which contemporary practice the author is referring. Suggestions include the Eucharist and the heavenly Temple (Lane 1991, pp. 537–38).
Isaacs (1992, p. 25 n. 2) lists several scholars who argue that the author addresses early Christians who desire to return to Judaism. Cf. also (Moule 1950, p. 37; Motyer 2004, p. 189).
(Koester 2001, pp. 382, 428; Gäbel 2006, pp. 484–88). Brown and Meier (1983, pp. 151–58) see here a threat of reversion to the Jewish sacrificial system by early Christians in Rome after 70, reviving the cult based on the Tabernacle. Moule (1950, pp. 35, 37–39) suggests that Hebrews aims to explain why only early Christianity has no sacrificial system. In quite a different vein, (Koester 2001, pp. 78–79) suggests that Hebrews is competing with Greco-Roman cults, since it gives the readers “a focus for their worship that allows their community to maintain an identity distinct from groups associated with other sanctuaries.” However, the author’s examples and explanations are restricted to the Torah and contemporary Jewish practice.
Rev 7:9–10, 14. Note that the author regards the Lamb as a sacrificial symbol (Rev 5:12; 13:8) and relates to Jesus’ death and blood as a ransom for the believers’ sins (Rev 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11). However, these themes are not developed in relation to the Lamb’s dwelling in the heavenly Temple.
For a search for the origins of the idea of Christ’s atonement, see (Hengel 1981, pp. 49–75). In his discussion of the sin-offering metaphor, Hengel (ibid., 52) suggests that “Christ developed his saving power directly in the heavenly sanctuary and not just on the altar… access to the direct presence of God himself had been opened up to the believer” (note the similarity to Heb 10:19). Williams (2015) suggests the death of the Maccabean martyrs as Paul’s model for this aspect of his Christology. On Jesus’ death “for sins,” see also Rom 4:25; Gal 1:4. Dunn (1998, pp. 207–33) discusses the centrality of Jesus’ death and its soteriology for Paul. Dunn (ibid., 176) explains the brevity of Paul’s language (e.g., Rom 3:21–26) as resulting from a quote of a summary statement which was noncontroversial for early Christian readership.
On Paul’s cultic metaphor of sin offering, see R.P. Martin (1986, pp. 140, 156–57 and references); Dunn (1998, pp. 181, 217, 219, 222, 440–41). Hebrews may also expand the notion of justification (e.g., Rom 3:21–26; 5:1–2, 6–10; 8:10). On the cultic aspect of justification, see (Dunn 1998, pp. 386–87).
Hebrews contains some general themes parallel to Pauline Christology: Christ as the image of God (Heb 1:3; 2 Cor 4:4), his agency over creation (Heb 1:2; Col 1:16), and his obedience (Heb 5:8; Phil 2:8). Both discuss the new covenant (Heb 9:15; 2 Cor 3:6). See (Cockerill 2012, p. 39). O’Brien (2010, p. 19) compares Hebrews with 1 Cor 1:15–20; 8:6 and Phil 2:6–11. Rothschild (2009) argues for Hebrews’ literary reliance on Paul, based on similar scriptural citations, and the use of ostensibly similar terms and concepts. In her view (ibid., 209), the idea that Christ is “better” may be a development of Paul’s old-new rhetoric (1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6, 14–17). See also Georgi (2005). Nevertheless, Hurst (1990, pp. 107–24) concludes that the similarities do not attest to a direct connection between Hebrews and Paul. Rather, Hebrews develops some central Pauline themes, especially in relation to faith, and both interact with the same traditions.
Pauline Christology may have been confusing, requiring clarification and interpretation, as Dunn (1998, p. 231) notes: “the significance of Christ’s death could be adequately expressed only in imagery and metaphor… Paul uses a rich and varied range of metaphors in his attempt to spell out the significance of Christ’s death… no one metaphor is adequate to unfold the full significance of Christ’s death… they do not always fit well together.”
Cf. Hegesisppus, apud. Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 2.23.8, a scene situated in the Jerusalem Temple.
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Regev, E. Hebrews’ High Priestly Christology: Models, Method and Aim. Religions 2021, 12, 971. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110971
Regev E. Hebrews’ High Priestly Christology: Models, Method and Aim. Religions. 2021; 12(11):971. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110971Chicago/Turabian Style
Regev, Eyal. 2021. "Hebrews’ High Priestly Christology: Models, Method and Aim" Religions 12, no. 11: 971. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110971