EVEN THOUGH IN THIS BLOG I WILL NOT GET INTO THE ACTUAL INTERPRETATION OF HEBREWS 5:11-14, I WOULD LIKE TO USE THIS DIFFICULT AND DEBATED PASSAGE AS THE CONTEXT FOR MY REMARKS. The main reason I think this is a particularly opportune point in my humble writing on Hebrews is simply because of the inherent difficulty of the passage. Difficulty elicits explanation. I am, therefore, merely choosing an already explanatory occasion to explain other related things, related but not necessarily always immediately so. In other word, I’m choosing this occasion to broaden my focus somewhat. My main focus, of course, remains Hebrews. This is a blog about Hebrews. But I intend for the way I blog to change. I’m going to expand my approach to a degree that will surely be noticeable. Some weeks I will be less chronological in Hebrews, going back to passages already covered. This will offer me an opportunity to clarify some things not clarified enough in the first go ‘round and to correct some other things my study thus far has shown me I was wrong on and need correcting. Some weeks I will probably seem to have As a result, I envision my writing in these weekly entries becoming slightly but markedly looser, more personal, less strictly academic, and in this way resembling as much a journal as a blog. I may even take an occasional week off in order to do more reading than my current schedule allows. Some weeks I just need more time to read and think before I write. More about this looser connection in the following weeks. First, back to business and our background passage…
NAS Hebrews 5:11-14 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
AN EXCURSUS, ACCORDING TO THE ELECTRONIC DICTIONARY I HAVE ON MY COMPUTER, IS A MESSAGE THAT DEPARTS FROM THE MAIN SUBJECT. That is true, of course, but splitting hairs somewhat, I would like to respectfully argue that definition, especially in the way I intend to use the word here at this point of my commentary of the book of Hebrews. I don’t like the word depart in this theological context. To me that definition is too strong, too black-and-white. I think that implies breaking off the discussion and leaving the subject entirely. I prefer to see the word depart as describing the concept of excursus more like a parenthesis, a closely related digression, a brief study of a specific subject within or connected to the main discussion.
IN RESEARCHING EXCURSUS ON MY COMPUTER THIS HELPFUL ABBREVIATED CLARIFICATION OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EXCURSUS AND DIGRESSION:
As nouns the difference between digression and excursus is that digression is a departure from the subject, course, or idea at hand; an exploration of a different or unrelated concern while excursus is a fuller treatment (in a separate section) of a particular part of the text of a book, especially a classic.
I THINK IT MAY BE CORRECTLY SAID OF THESE CLOSELY RELATED WORDS, ALL EXCURSES ARE DIGRESSIONS BUT NOT ALL DIGRESSIONS ARE EXCURSES. For years I was confident I knew what an excursus was, but after studying both words, I’m not so sure. One person’s excursus may be another person’s digression. Not a big deal. I pray you will indulge me this preoccupation with a seemingly insignificant concern for I trust it will prove to serve as a fitting introduction to this pivotal and difficult section of Hebrews.
DEFINING AND DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN SIMILAR WORDS IS NOT AS EASY AS ONE MIGHT THINK.
I DON’T USE THE WORD MYSELF ANYMORE OR HEAR ANYONE ELSE USING IT, BUT BACK IN THE DAY AN EXCURSES MIGHT HAVE SIMPLY BEEN CALLED A “TEXT BOX.”
I BELIEVE THERE IS A GOOD LIKELIHOOD THE WRITER TO THE HEBREWS HAD SOMETHING VERY SIMILAR TO AN EXCURSUS IN MIND WHEN HE PENNED THE WORDS TO VV. 11 TO 14 OF CHAPTER 5. Certainly, I have this definition in mind as I write the words of this week’s blog. I am temporarily changing the subject without leaving the subject entirely.
THE REASON FOR ANY EXCURSUS, IT COULD RIGHTLY BE SAID, IS CLARIFICATION. The purpose of any parenthetical inclusion or digression should directly or indirectly be to add information to make the discussion clearer to the reader. I believe any Bible student would agree that this particular addition is called for owing to the exegetical and contextual difficulties involved with the writer’s purpose and argument at this point. This section of the book of Hebrews is just flat hard, as MacArthur’s words attest…
“WE HAVE COME TO A SECTION OF HEBREWS OF WHICH THERE ARE NUMEROUS AND OFTEN CONFLICTING INTERPRETATIONS EVEN AMONG EVANGELICALS. The overall passage is 5:11-6:12, and deals with spiritual maturity. The first two parts (5:11-14 and 6:1-8) are, I believe, addressed to unbelievers, whereas the third (6:9-12) is to believers.”
AS WE ENTER INTO THIS CHALLENGING PASSAGE OF HEBREWS, THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPHS, ALSO FROM MACARTHUR, SHOULD BE HELPFUL TO ALL OF US IN THE ORGANIZATION OF OUR THOUGHTS EMANATING FROM OUR STUDY THUS FAR…
“MOST BOOKS OF THE BIBLE HAVE A MAJOR THEME, OR A GROUP OF CLOSELY RELATED THEMES. (I would respectfully but strongly argue that the word most should be all. – TAR.) One of the first rules of sound biblical hermeneutics (systematic [i.e., characterized by studious order] interpretation) is to discover this central theme and to render all other interpretation in light of it. The gospel of John, for example, contains many profound and wonderful truths about God and His plan for man. But the central, overriding message of that gospel is the deity of Jesus Christ. A person who misses this truth cannot fully and properly understand the other truth that John presents in the book.” – MacArthur
ALTHOUGH I HAVE IN MY LIBRARY PRACTICALLY EVERY HEBREWS COMMENTARY OF ANY IMPORTANCE (APPROXIMATELY TWO DOZEN) AND COULD FREELY CHOOSE FROM AUTHORS ARGUABLY POSSESSING GREATER EXEGETICAL WEIGHT (E.G., SCHREINER, COCKERILL, LANE), AT THE MOMENT I FIND MYSELF REGULARLY ADMIRING THE CONSISTENCY AND SIMPLICITY OF MACARTHUR’S ARGUMENT ABOVE THE REST. Therefore, for the sake clarity and brevity, especially in this selective excursus of my blog, I am using MacArthur’s commentary, in spite of its acknowledged exegetical drawbacks, for the main validation of the viewpoint on Hebrews I find myself gravitating toward. That viewpoint might be best described at this point in my study as one which relies heavily on the Jewishness of the inspired Word of God in the book of Hebrews. This prominent feature, I think, is so strong and pervasive that it must be considered as more than just an ethnic or religious characteristic of the writer but an integral part of the very message itself. Convincingly elucidating my conception of this message in best, most Christ honoring way possible is my goal in the blogs ahead.
“THE CONTRAST BETWEEN CHRISTIANITY AND JUDAISM. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the many comparisons and contrasts are basically between Christianity and Judaism. THIS TRUTH IS ESSENTIAL TO PROPER INTERPRETATION OF THE EPISTLE.” – MacArthur
“THE CENTRAL THEME AND MESSAGE OF THE BOOK OF HEBREWS IS THE SUPERIORITY OF THE NEW COVENANT TO THE OLD, THAT IS, OF CHRISTIANITY TO JUDAISM. Within the theme are the subthemes of the superiority of the new priesthood to the old, the new sacrifice to the old ones, the new Mediator to the old ones, and so on. THIS IS THE KEY THAT UNLOCKS EVERY SECTION OF HEBREWS, and to use any other key is to make forced entry.” – Ibid.
“IN THE BOOK OF HEBREWS THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NOT CONTRASTING TWO KINDS OF CHRISTIANITY. The writer is not contrasting immature Christians and mature ones. He is contrasting Judaism and Christianity, unsaved Jew in Judaism and the redeemed Jew in Christianity, He is contrasting the substance and the shadow, the pattern and the reality, the visible and the invisible, the facsimile and the real thing, the type and the anti-type, the picture and the actual. – Ibid.
I’M SORRY, BUT I MUST ADD THAT I THINK IN HEBREWS 5:11-14, THE WRITER COULD BE SAID TO BE DOING JUST THAT: COMPARING MATURE CHRISTIANS WITH IMMATURE ONES.
ALL GOOD GENERAL INFORMATION ON HEBREWS, I HOPE YOU’LL AGREE, AND THAT IS MY PRIMARY INTENTION THROUGHOUT, WHETHER WRITING MY USUAL BLOG OF EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY OR AN EXCURSUS DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY RELATED TO IT; that is, adding accurate, beneficial information to your and my understanding of this great book.
FOR EXAMPLE, IN THIS FIRST OF SEVERAL EXCURSES I HAVE PLANNED IN THE COMING MONTHS, NAMELY, DISPENSATIONALISM, PROGRESSIVE DISPENSATIONALISM, AND COVENANTALISM, TO NAME THREE KEY THEOLOGICAL SUBJECTS, I AM TAKING THE LIBERTY OF WRITING ON SEVERAL TOPICS THAT I HAVE BEEN STUDYING RECENTLY WITHOUT PAYING PARTICULAR HEED TO TRANSITION WHATEVER IN CONTEXT. This affords me enormous freedom to which I referred to previously. I hope that you find these brief examples of subjects covering both review and new material to be valuable to your own study.
HERE ARE SEVERAL SPECIFIC EXCERPTS FROM MY RECENT READING IN SCHREINER’S FINE COMMENTARY ON HEBREWS (I TRUST YOU WILL GET A SENSE EVEN IN THESE BRIEF COMMENTS OF THE INHERENT DIFFICULTY OF THE BOOK)…
SINCE THE EARLY BLOGS I WROTE. I’VE BEEN HAUNTED BY THE THOUGHT, GIVEN THE DIFFICULTY OF HEBREWS, I DID NOT SPEND SUFFICIENT TIME INTRODUCING THE BOOK’S HISTORY. Hence, my concern with review and addition.
“AT THE END OF THE DAY, WE CAN’T RULE OUT THAT THE LETTER WAS INTENDED FOR GENTILES RATHER THAN JEWS OR INCLUDE BOTH JEWS AND GENTILES (MACARTHUR’S VIEW). STILL the title of the letter and it contents (with the focus on the Mosaic law and the Levitical priesthood) render it more likely that the book was addressed to Jewish readers who wanted to revert to Judaism.
“WHAT WE KNOW FROM THE LETTER IS THAT THE READERS HAD EXPERIENCED PERSECUTION IN THEIR EARLY DAYS AS BELIVERS (10:32-34), BUT THEY, APPARENTLY, HAD NOT SUFFERED MARTYRDOM (12:4). THEY WERE PROBABLY TEMPTED TO RETURN TO JUDAISM, PERHAPS TO AVOID PERSECUTION. SINCE JUDAISM WAS A LEGAL RELIGION UNDER ROMAN LAW, IT WOULD AFFORD PROTECTION FROM ROMAN IMPERIAL POWER.”
MY RESPECTFUL VIEW IS THAT THIS ALMOST CERTAINLY WAS THE CASE. After studying the book of Hebrews these many years and meditating almost ceaselessly upon my finding, I feel like the book does not make consistent sense as it relates to a purpose otherwise…
FINALLY, I CONCLUDE THIS FIRST EXCURSUS – OR. IF SOME WOULD PREFER DIGRESSION – WITH THESE POINTS FROM SCHREINER’S BOOK: “…IT IS IMPROBABLE THAT THE AUTHOR WOULD HAVE FAILED TO MENTION THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE (AD 70), suggesting that he wrote in the 60s before the temple was destroyed.
“READERS ARE IMMEDIATELY STRUCK BY THE DISTINCTIVE MESSAGE AND STYLE OF HEBREWS, FOR IT IS DIFFERENT FROM ANYTHING ELSE WE READ IN THE NT. By different I don’t mean contradictory, for it fits well with Pauline theology. Still the theology is played in a different octave and in a different key. The writer to the Hebrews writes for a particular reason, which becomes evident when we observe the warning passages that permeate the letter. The exact parameters of the warning are debated….”
SOUNDS LIKE I MAY HAVE TO ADD ANOTHER EXCURSUS!
– Professor Thomas A. Rohm