Admonition and Error in Hebrews -- By: Noel K. Weeks

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 39:1 (Fall 1976)
Article: Admonition and Error in Hebrews
Author: Noel K. Weeks

Admonition and Error in Hebrews

Noel Weeks

One of the most difficult problems facing the exegete who deals with the New Testament epistles is the reconstruction of the error(s) against which the letters were written.1 It is obvious that our concepts of the errors combated will affect our interpretation. Failure to raise this problem may lead to the overlooking of exegetical possibilities. Given that the heresies combated have some Jewish background, the New Testament writers were not forced to take issue at every point raised by the heresy. They could accept the Old Testament data as common while subjecting it to a very different interpretation. Much that strikes us as simple teaching may indeed be polemic in that it is designed to demonstrate a different interpretation from that held by the heretics.

We may well suspect that Hebrews is polemical and antithetical in its instruction. The Superiority of Christ to angels to Moses, and of his priesthood to that of Aaron, is directed against those who do not recognize that superiority.2 We may further suggest that even in its practical admonitions the polemic is never absent. For example Hebrews 2:2, 3 accepts the gravity of the “angelic” revelation only to stress the far greater revelation that came through the Son. Chapter 3 begins with an

argument for the superiority of the Son to Moses. The admonition that follows points out (3:16) that the movement led by Moses ended in rebellion and death. Not only does Moses occupy a lesser place; the deliverance led by Moses is also not to be overrated.

It follows therefore that our interpretation of the difficult admonition passages in 5:11–6:12 and 10:26–39 will reflect our understanding of the heresy involved. The practical problem is that we are forced to infer the nature of the heresy from the nature of the polemic. It is hard to prove that a certain view of the heresy is correct. The best that can be argued is that a particular view of the heresy provides a solution for various exegetical problems in the text of the epistle. In describing the heresy we have little hope of giving a full picture of its system of doctrine. Some individual characteristics are the most we can extract from the answer of the writer to the Hebrews.

The heresy saw certain of its practices or experiences as rela...

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