Grace Tasted Death For All Thomas Aquinas On Hebrews 2:9 -- By: Lee Gatiss

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 63:2 (NA 2012)
Article: Grace Tasted Death For All Thomas Aquinas On Hebrews 2:9
Author: Lee Gatiss

Grace Tasted Death For All
Thomas Aquinas On Hebrews 2:9

Lee Gatiss


This article examines the biblical interpretation of Thomas Aquinas, which has until recently been relatively neglected amongst the many works of this leading medieval theologian. Looking particularly at ‘by the grace of God Christ tasted death for all’ (Hebrews 2:9), a key phrase which throws up several exegetical and theological puzzles, it concludes that Aquinas’s approach to it is a prime example of medieval commentating both at its best and its worst. It shows how his lack of knowledge of Greek led him astray, notes his neglect of textual criticism, and examines his reliance on tradition, especially the Hebrews commentary of Peter Lombard. It places his use of the theological formula ‘sufficient for all, efficacious for the elect alone’ when expounding the words ‘for all’ into historical context, surveying exegetical discussion of the extent of the atonement from Origen to Gottschalk to John Owen. Aquinas’s use of the scholastic ‘division of the text’ methodology to identify a melodic line centring on this verse’s theme of ‘grace’ within both Hebrews and Paul (the assumed author) is uncovered, along with other interpretative tactics and a reflective piety which jar against the presuppositions of modern academic biblical studies.

1. Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary On Hebrews

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was one of the foremost theologians and philosophers of the Middle Ages. Known since the Fifteenth Century as Doctor Angelicus, he was a Dominican priest from Aquino, about 125 miles south of Rome. Fifty years after his death he was canonised as a saint, and in the Sixteenth Century he was officially proclaimed by

the Roman Catholic Church as a ‘Doctor of the Universal Church’. His unfinished masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae written between 1265 and 1274, continues to exert a powerful influence over theologians today, both within and outside Roman Catholicism. His influence has been felt particularly since the 1879 Papal encyclical Aeterni Patris which vigorously reintroduced Thomism into Roman Catholic philosophical teaching.

Aquinas wrote several commentaries on the works of Aristotle but it is only recently that ‘scholars have begun to insist on the importance of studying his biblical commentaries’.1 He wrote ten detailed commentaries on books of the Bible, yet the relative neglect of them may be understandable when we discover that they were considered by some ‘too advanced’ for many of his contemporaries.

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