The Doctrinal Center of the Book of Hebrews -- By: David J. MacLeod

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 146:583 (Jul 1989)
Article: The Doctrinal Center of the Book of Hebrews
Author: David J. MacLeod


The Doctrinal Center of the Book of Hebrews

David J. MacLeod

Dean of the Graduate Program
Emmaus Bible College, Dubuque, Iowa

The question of emphasis (or the doctrinal center) of Hebrews, is a vital one.1 It is generally agreed by interpreters of the epistle that the author did have one “master idea”2 to which all other sections of his theology are subordinate. It is important to establish the center (or unifying idea, or major theme) so that the theological materials of the epistle may be arranged in a way that reflects the author’s own emphasis. Interpreters are not in agreement, however, as to what the doctrinal center of Hebrews is. There is disagreement over two questions: (1) What is the major theme of the doctrinal sections of the epistle? (2) Is the major theme of the doctrinal sections the major theme of the entire epistle or is that to be found in the paraenetic sections (i.e., in the exhortations)? The following discussion presents and evaluates the various proposals.

Proposals Stressing Theology

The High Priesthood of Christ

The traditional view, and the one most widely held, is that the epistle finds its center (its “keystone”3 ) in the doctrine of the high

priesthood of Christ.4 The whole burden of the epistle, according to Moule, can be epitomized in two resounding uses of ἔχομεν: “we have a high priest, we have an altar: sanctuary and sacrifice are ours (8:1; 13:10).”5 The doctrine of Christ’s priesthood is the author’s “central category…which draws together the theology of the Epistle and gives it its distinctive character.”6

Three arguments favor the view that Christ’s high priesthood is the theological center of the epistle: (1) The author himself explicitly says so in 8:1 : “Now the main point [κεφάλαιον] in what is being said [τοῖς λεγομένοις] is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” The epistle centers, then, in the thought of a seated priest. “Understand all that this involves, and i...

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