Hellenistic Influence In The Epistle To The Hebrews -- By: Alan M. Fairhurst

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 07:1 (Jul 1961)
Article: Hellenistic Influence In The Epistle To The Hebrews
Author: Alan M. Fairhurst


Hellenistic Influence In The Epistle To The Hebrews1

Alan M. Fairhurst

WHEN WE REFER to Hellenistic influence in this connection I assume that we have in mind primarily the influence which derived from Plato. This had obviously been through various phases by the time this epistle was written, and the most likely channel of its communication would have been through the Alexandrian scholar Philo, who died about 50 A.D. He was a great exegete of the Old Testament, but his greatness was some-what qualified by his desire to find in it a complete philosophical system equal to that of the Greeks. He was a great apologist, but had many of the weaknesses of those who indulge in special pleading. Another possible source of Greek influence could have been the Greek mystery cults, but this is always difficult to assess as we lack accurate documentation.

Amongst those who have written in English on this subject I would accord pride of place to Prof C. K. Barrett’s brilliant essay entitled The Eschatology of the Epistle to the Hebrews.2 William Manson’s book on the epistle, published in 1951, ascribes to Hellenistic influence only a limited place. With this position Prof. Barrett is in agreement, although his treatment is far more extensive and detailed. Héring would be far less in agreement. One of the real champions of Hellenistic influence was James Moffatt, whose commentary on the book was published in the International Critical Commentary in 1924. It is easy to underrate the work of Moffatt on this epistle, but it ought never to be despised, for it is supported by weighty

scholarship. In his introduction Moffatt argues at length his contention that ‘the philosophical element in his view of the world and God is fundamentally Platonic.’ Westcott in his famous commentary of 1889 is far more guarded and does not commit himself in this direction. Also of crucial importance is Oscar Cullmann’s book Christ and Time published in 1945. He is vigorous in denying Hellenistic influence in this sphere. On the sacramental aspect of the epistle Prof. C. F. D. Moule’s book The Sacrifice of Christ and the several works of N. Dimock are relevant. Amongst foreign work on the epistle which bears on the subject of Hellenistic influence the two volumes of Spicq are a mine of information.

Hellenistic influence in the epistle may have affected cosmology, chronology, soteriology, typology, and even Christology. It may significantly have influenced the eschatological framework of the epistle. It has undoubtedly been an influence on the style of the writer. This is such a contra...

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