The Writer Of Hebrews As A Biblical Expositor -- By: R. T. France

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 47:2 (NA 1996)
Article: The Writer Of Hebrews As A Biblical Expositor
Author: R. T. France

The Writer Of Hebrews
As A Biblical Expositor1

R. T. France


The Letter to the Hebrews stands out among New Testament writings as the one which typically ‘expounds’ a selected text at some length, exploring its relevance to the current situation of the readers. This article identifies seven such extended expositions within the letter, and analyses the way scripture is understood and applied in each. While the writer respected the original meaning of the text, his ‘christological interpretation’ leads to new and sometimes surprising applications, which may not be (or be intended to be) ‘scientific exegesis’, but are fully in keeping with the hermeneutical approach of the early Christian movement and of its founder.

I. Introduction

It may be something of a surprise to those brought up in the tradition of biblical exposition to find that the biblical writers themselves do not often seem to use other biblical texts in the same way that we have come to use their own writings. In particular, extended exposition of Old Testament passages in a expository fashion does not seem to be a characteristic of most of the New Testament writers. The Old Testament, cited frequently throughout the New Testament, is, as C.H. Dodd long ago reminded us, ‘the sub-structure of New Testament theology’.2 He also demonstrated convincingly that the New Testament writers were well aware that certain parts of the Old Testament were particularly rich quarries for texts which could be used to portray Christ as the fulfilment of the earlier revelation, and

that their use of texts from within these favoured ‘text-plots’ often shows significant awareness of this literary context, rather than using the words of the chosen text arbitrarily as the basis for a claim to ‘fulfilment’ which bore little relation to what the original author had in mind.3 But for all this awareness of context, their method of using the Old Testament is overwhelmingly by the citation of (or more usually by less formal allusion to) individual texts of a verse or two at most rather than by extended study of passages with a view to drawing out the sense of the text in its wider literary context and applying that sense systematically to their own day. First-century Christians may, of course, have engaged in such study, and the New Testament writers’ focus on certain ‘text-plots’ noticed by Dodd suggests strongly that they did, but if so, that more systematic study has not found an overt place in the writings they have left to us.

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