Epistle to the Hebrews (Part Two)
COVERED IN THIS POST:
- Telling us that Jesus was never on earth
- First smoking gun: Hebrews 8:4 – a denial that Jesus had been on earth
- Platonic parallels between heaven and earth
- Christ could not be a priest in the same sphere as the earthly priests
- no sense to a present sense
- The Coming One
- Second smoking gun: 10:37 – “the coming one” has not yet been to earth
- 9:27-8 – a “second coming” or a sequence of events?
- Jesus “suffered outside the gate”
- Jesus “passing through the heavens”
- The inauthenticity of the epistle’s postscript
* * * * *
Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels
(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 116-117)
1 — Telling us that Jesus was never on earth
In addition to a smoking gun, I have called Hebrews 8:4 a “time bomb.” The first half of the verse can be translated in either of two ways:
In a present sense: “If he were on earth [i.e., now], he would not be a priest…” [NIV]
In a past sense: “Now if he had been on earth [i.e., in the past], he would not even have been a priest…” [NEB]
Which “time” does the writer mean?
Some state the general grammatical rule as the following: In a contrafactual (a condition contrary to fact) situation, the same tense of the indicative is used in both parts of the statement; the imperfect tense denotes present time, while the aorist or pluperfect tense denotes past time. In the Greek of Hebrews 8:4, the imperfect tense [ēn] is used for “were/would not be” or “had been/would not have been.”
Present or Past?
According to the rule, this would place the thought in the present time, such as the NIV translation above. But general rules generally enjoy exceptions, or are seen as not always so clear cut. Paul Ellingworth, appealing to A Greek Grammar of the New Testament by Blass and Debrunner, says (Hebrews, p.405):
The second difficulty concerns the meaning of the two occurrences of ēn. The imperfect in unreal [contrafactual] conditions is temporally ambiguous (BD §360 ), so that NEB ‘Now if he had been on earth, he would not even have been a priest’ (so Attridge) is grammatically possible. However, it goes against the context, in at least apparently excluding Christ’s present ministry, and it could also be misunderstood as meaning that Jesus had never ‘been on earth.’ Most versions accordingly render: ‘If he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all’ (REB, NJB; similarly RSV, TEV, NIV…).
Past or present? But since the statement is meant as a contrafactual one (the “if” clause states something that is or was not the case), the choice is critical. To preserve an historical Jesus in the mind of this writer, we must understand a present sense for 8:4. The problem is, a present understanding makes little if any sense, and a past understanding is required by the context. If it is the past, this “time” bomb blows up in the historicist face.
The time of the context
The verses preceding 8:4 address the subject of the sacrifices performed by the respective high priests, those on earth at Sinai and in the Temple, and the one performed by Jesus the new High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. In 7:27, a contrast is made: the high priests on earth offer sacrifices daily, as well as special ones once a year on the Day of Atonement, for the sins of the people; but Jesus had to perform his sacrifice only once for all time, obtaining an eternal redemption. This is a contrast, then, that has application only in the past, for Jesus no longer performs any sacrifice in the present, nor is there any question that he would or could do so.
The parallel between the two is developed further in 8:3:
Now, every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence (it is/was) necessary that this one [Jesus] too have (or have had) something to offer.
In the latter half, the tense is again ambiguous (this time because a verb is lacking in the Greek), though again the NEB notes that it could be either “must have something to offer” or “must have had something to offer.”
But the latter is the only choice possible, for Jesus’ sacrifice has already happened; it need not and cannot happen again. So a present sense is inapplicable, even in theory.
Once Jesus and his sacrifice has been introduced here, the time frame must shift to the past, to a comparison between the high priests on earth and the High Priest in heaven in the past, because that is the only time when the comparison was applicable. There is not even a theoretical comparison to be made for the present. The idea would be ludicrous, and the writer would have had no reason to offer it.
Each in their own sphere
What does this do to the succeeding verse 4?
If he were/had been on earth, he would not be/have been a priest,
there being ones [i.e., earthly priests] offering the gifts according to the Law . . .
The thought here is rather trivial, but the writer has expanded on verse 3 by stating that each type of high priest, in regard to their respective sacrifices, operated in his own territory, Christ in the heavenly sanctuary and the regular high priests in the sanctuary on earth. The two could not overlap.
Verse 5 goes on to emphatically state this Platonic separation of respective territories, with Christ having operated in heaven and the high priests on earth “in a sanctuary which is only a copy and shadow of the heavenly.”
This emphasis not only rules out that the writer is constructing a metaphor for an earthly Calvary, but ought to rule out the very existence of such an earthly event. For a graphic historical crucifixion everyone remembered, one that had started the movement, would surely have compelled him to include it in his picture of the “sacrifice” Christ made (the way most commentators on Hebrews regularly try to introduce it).
But then his Platonic comparison would be foiled throughout. (It would have been foiled even if there had been an earthly crucifixion and the writer chose to ignore it.) For then the blood was not spiritual but human; the sacrifice, being on earth, did not take place in a sanctuary not made by man (8:2), it was not “perfect, spiritual and eternal” (9:14, NEB); the blood of his offering was not heavenly, and cannot cleanse heavenly things (9:23). And if it was performed in the same territory as the sacrifices of the earthly priests, this would produce an outright incompatibility with the statement of 8:4.
A present sense makes no sense
That statement, to repeat, says that the sacrifice of Jesus the High Priest could not take place on earth — he could not perform his function as “priest” in regard to sacrifice — because there are already priests on earth performing the function of offering sacrificial gifts. (Such a restriction ought to have been dubious in the context of an historical Jesus, though that is beside the point.)
But this makes no sense in a present understanding. Did not that very situation exist in the past when he was on earth? How could the author make such a denial for the present time when it was actually the case in the past—if a Calvary sacrifice had taken place?
On any basis or for whatever reason, Christ could not be a priest on earth in the present. It simply doesn’t need stating, whether for the reason given in verse 4 or any other. First of all, the “sacrifice” would have to include the Calvary crucifixion if Christ were filling his role as priest on earth. But this would lead us to a nonsensical idea. Christ could not be crucified on earth in the present because he has already been crucified in the past (whether on earth or in heaven) and this was “once for all,” ruling out any further crucifixion in the present or future.
The writer would simply have had no reason, and certainly not a rational one, for making the 8:4 statement with a present understanding.
It would have been both irrelevant and a non-sequitur in the context of his argument; essentially, it would be gibberish. Consequently, it must be understood as applying to the past. And in that case, the contrafactual nature of “if he had been on earth” makes it a denial that he had been on earth.
One presumes that the sound and smoke from this ‘smoking gun’ has been so obscuring that it has prevented the entire history of New Testament scholarship from reading the verse in any logical fashion. (Ellingworth, despite a half-hearted suggestion, is, like everyone else, at a loss to explain it satisfactorily.) And from hearing its implications as a bell tolling for the historical Jesus.
(This has been a condensation of a 9-page argument in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.231-9)
2 — The Coming One
In 10:36-37, the readers are being urged to hold fast in the face of the persecution which has recently assailed them, and by way of encouragement the writer quotes Habakkuk 2:3 in the Septuagint version, prefaced by a phrase from Isaiah:
You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what he has promised. For “in just a little while” [Isaiah 26:20 LXX] “The coming one [ho erchomenos] will come, and will not delay.”
Habakkuk was referring to God by “ho erchomenos,” but in later times this became a prophetic reference to the Messiah, and the phrase was adopted as a title to refer to him.
If anything, this is a more immediately obvious passage than 8:4 to tell us that Christ had not been to earth. If “the Coming One” refers to Christ, the Savior figure of this community, and he is someone prophesied in scripture, then if he is still to come it follows that he has not come previously.
One advent or two?
The Jewish scriptures may traditionally have been seen as prophesying the coming of a Messiah at the point of the world’s transformation, the apocalyptic End-time, but early Christians are supposed to have reinterpreted that to refer to Christ’s incarnation, and in that context we can assume that the writer of Hebrews would have shared in this reinterpretation.
Consequently, if an historical Jesus existed in the writer’s past, the Habakkuk prophecy should have been applied to that first advent. This is how his readers would have understood it. He could not have passed over that first coming in silence and directed the prophecy at the future Parousia without qualification or explanation.
If “the Coming One” had already come, he would have had to specify ‘return’ or ‘again.’ (To read the word “erchomenos” as able to entail a thought of ‘return’ when so determined by the context would here be to beg the question, since, unlike the Gospels, no such context is supplied.)
Moreover, by ignoring the life of Christ on earth, he would have been tacitly dismissing any benefit or encouragement to be found in what Jesus had said or done in that life as a means of giving hope to his persecuted readers. Clearly, as the writer has expressed things, the scriptural promise of Christ’s arrival on earth has not yet been fulfilled.
In 1900, witnessing the rise of German militarism under the Kaiser, the Englishman Mr. Smith makes a prediction that “we will one day be at war with Germany.”
In 1930, witnessing the rise of Hitler and Nazism, Mr. Jones says, “soon Mr. Smith’s prediction is going to come true and we will be at war with Germany.”
Mr. Brown objects, “But Mr. Smith’s prediction has already come true. We were at war with Germany only a few years ago.”
“Are you sure?” asks Mr. Jones. “I guess I must have missed it.”
And so have quite a few other writers of the New Testament, who in a similar way seem infected with memory loss.
Paul, at the end of 1 Corinthians entreats the Lord to “come,” Marana tha.
The writer of Revelation, in his closing words, echoes the same prophetic words from Habakkuk that were quoted in Hebrews: “He who testifies to these things says: ‘Yes, I am coming soon’.”
A Second Coming?
Shortly before 10:37, a line at the end of chapter 9 is claimed to be the one ‘clear’ reference to a second coming by Christ to be found in the epistles, and I’m surprised Ehrman did not appeal to it in his list of references to “the historical Jesus.” Of course, such clarity is exaggerated. Here are verses 9:27 and 28:
Inasmuch as it is destined for men to die once, and after that comes the judgment, so also Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, ek deuterou will appear to those awaiting him, not to bear sin but (to bring) salvation.
The “ek deuterou” is usually translated “a second time.” But the phrase, like its sister “to deuteron,” can also mean “second in sequence,” without any thought of repetition of the first item but simply that of “next” or “second in time.” (See Jude 5 and 1 Cor. 12:28.)
Moreover, such a meaning fits the context better. In verse 27, we have not a repetition but a sequence: men dying and afterwards the judgment. The “so also Christ” in verse 28 indicates that the writer is presenting a parallel to verse 27, one which specifies not a repetition of the ‘coming to bear the sins of many’ but a ‘next’ action after that one, namely to bring salvation at the Parousia.
Besides, we have to keep in mind that the writer’s focus throughout the epistle has been on a sacrifice which takes place in heaven, not on earth. That event was a singular action, entering the heavenly sanctuary to offer his blood. The Parousia will also be a single occasion of “appearing,” thus much more suited to be called a “second time”—should we wish after all to give the language any sense of repetition—to the “appearing” for his heavenly sacrifice than to a coming into an incarnated life on earth.
3 — Suffering Outside the Gate
Finally, to complete our survey of Hebrews, this late passage may not quite qualify as a smoking gun, though when properly understood it again points to a heavenly setting. Considering that it is regularly appealed to as a strong indicator of historicism (Ehrman includes it in his list of “references to the life of an historical Jesus”), revealing it to be anything but such a thing can only support the compelling case which the epistle to the Hebrews makes in presenting an entirely spiritual Son and his sacrifice in heaven.
(This passage was dealt with only briefly in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.68-69. For a more detailed examination, which I have summarized here, see website Supplementary Article No. 14, “The Cosmic Christ of the Epistle to the Hebrews,” Part Three.)
In 13:11-13, the author has the perfect opening to tell us, not only something about Jesus’ sufferings, but where on earth they took place (he supplies neither):
Those animals whose blood is brought as a sin offering by the high priest into the sanctuary, have their bodies burnt outside the camp, and therefore Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the stigma that he bore. [NEB]
Like Hebrews 8:4 earlier, this passage has begged for a more careful analysis which it has never received. The first thing to note is that the writer is once again attempting (“and therefore Jesus also…”) to make a parallel between Jesus’ actions and those of the high priests on earth. The latter are spoken of as taking place “outside the camp” because the author, as much as possible throughout the epistle, has been making his parallels with the biblical accounts in which the first tent of sacrifice was set up outside the Israelite camp in Sinai.
A bad comparison
But this comparison is problematic. It is not really a parallel at all. The burning of the animals’ bodies takes place after the sacrifice of their blood, and is a discarding of their bodies; nor does it cause the animal suffering. Jesus’ suffering and death—with no burning involved—took place before the sacrifice and was an essential prelude to it; and his body was hardly discarded since he was resurrected. This inappropriate comparison is a signal that the writer’s overriding object was to create as many parallels as he could with scripture, even if they didn’t work very well.
Contrary to claims that the passage is governed by history, this shows the opposite: the author’s process, and what he allots to Jesus, is governed by his focus on creating parallels with scripture.
But what of the change from verse 11 to verse 12, the change from “outside the camp” to “outside the gate”? Is that governed by history, is it a reference to the gate of Jerusalem?
Outside what gate?
Not necessarily. In any context, Jesus did not suffer outside any camp, and so a change needed to be made. If it were a reference to Jerusalem, why did the writer switch back to “outside the camp” in the next verse, urging his readers to join Jesus there? In fact, he is presenting his community as being ‘outside the pale,’ alienated from society and suffering persecution. Why not have them join Jesus outside the gate of Jerusalem, a very apt symbolic image, where they could share in his own sufferings, his own “stigma”?
Scholars have asked why, if Jesus suffered outside Jerusalem, did the author not make a comparison with Melchizedek, who in 7:1 is presented as king and priest coming out of Salem to greet Abraham and accept a tithe. Would that not have invited a parallel between the two priests, officiating outside the gate of Jerusalem?
I suggest that the “gate” is the “gate of heaven.” Jesus had to suffer outside that gate, since suffering and death could not take place within the pure spheres of heaven (where the heavenly sanctuary was located). And since the readers could hardly be enjoined to join Jesus outside the gate of heaven, the writer had to revert to the initial “outside the camp.” The latter may not have been the best solution, but it entailed the all-important image of being “outside” for both Jesus and the community: the community as “outside” the normal precincts of society. And thus it fitted his purposes.
Passing through the heavens
In this connection, I suggest we look at an earlier passage. In 4:14, as a concluding exhortation to hold fast to faith, the author adds this justification:
Since we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold to our confession.
If this is taken as a reference to Jesus’ ascension after his time on earth (as is usually the case), it would serve little or no purpose. The ascension, as conceived by orthodoxy, had no role in salvation, and why it would be a reason for holding fast to faith would be obscure. Besides, in detailing Jesus’ itinerary, why mention the spheres of heaven but not earth itself?
The answer is likely that the act of salvation directly involved this passing through the heavens. This would fit the concept of the descent and ascent of the Son, first descending to the lowest sphere to undergo death, then ascending to the heavenly sanctuary to offer his blood in a new atonement sacrifice to God.
I have made the point before that historicist scholars like Ehrman regularly indulge in and require a superficial reading (or rather, ‘reading into’) of the epistolary texts—with blinders attached—to make their case, whereas a less preconceived examination reveals a depth and dimension too readily overlooked, one pointing directly to mythicism. The epistle to the Hebrews is perhaps the best example of this very deficient methodology.
4 — A Pauline Postscript
A few words are needed about the ending of the epistle to the Hebrews. Uncertainty about the authenticity of the final verses (their number varies) has been common in scholarship, and particularly of 13:22-25. These constitute a ‘farewell greeting’ which, with its reference to Timothy, places us in the world of Paul. There are scholars, such as Harold Attridge, who maintain authenticity, but there are too many problems with this. In Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, Appendix 4, I discuss them at length, but here I will mention two. (That Appendix also discusses the question of dating, which almost certainly must be judged as pre-Jewish War.)
In ancient times, Hebrews came to be attributed to Paul, but this enjoys no support today, not least because the soteriology of the epistle is utterly unlike anything Paul has given us. But if the ‘postscript’ was written by the author of the epistle, this would mean that he moved in Pauline circles, leading us to expect his treatise to reflect at least some of Paul’s thought. On the other hand, the postscript is obviously designed to give the impression that the epistle is by Paul.
That impression also creates a clear contradiction with the epistle itself. The implied Paul of the postscript is ostensibly writing to a community that he is not a part of. His remarks about Timothy point up the fact that he is a wandering apostle, accompanied on his travels by a companion. Yet the epistle itself presents the writer as a member of the community he is addressing (as in 10:24-25). (The same incompatibility is suggested in 13:17, which would make that verse a part of the addition as well.)
If Hebrews is truly an independent expression recognizable nowhere else, a unique interpretation of the Savior Christ on the first century scene, we are justified in postulating a Christianity which developed without a single founder or point of origin. It began in diversity, and only later coalesced around a Jesus on earth who seems, all things considered, to be a product of the imagination.
. . . to be continued.
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34 thoughts on “16. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 16”
Good stuff, again, Earl. Can you work the Dead Sea Scrolls Pesherim in here someday? I have always wondered why Jesus is absent there in any form, since I subscribe to Robert Eisenman’s theory (not a theory for me, but a fact) that James was either Righteous Teacher, or John then James, or John then Jesus then James. But where is Jesus anywhere? John is historical, James certainly, also. But no Jesus ANYWHERE. At least not that I have found!
I take Eisenman’s theory that James was the Righteous Teacher as a fact, too. It is quite persuasive. The understanding that the Dead Sea Scrolls sect was, in its final form, the Jerusalem Church, makes me wonder where ‘Jesus’ is in the Scrolls, too.
At the moment, my books happen to be packed up, so I can’t give any specific citations, but on the Where’s Jesus? question, I first consider that no one in the DSS community’s later period is named. This may be a consequence of their position as rebels. In any event, since this is the case, one could as well ask, Where’s James? or Where’s Paul? They’re not in there either. Instead we have the Righteous Teacher and the Spouter of Lies. It is the way they are described that indicates that they may have been James and Paul.
And there is a Messiah in the Scrolls. Some scholars see two of them, but there is only one in certain verses in Hebrew that Vermes, for one, translates as being plural. This Messiah is sometimes called the Branch of David or other terms. If there was a ‘Jesus,’ I think this would be where to look.
The term ‘jesus’ (yeshua), in the sense of salvation, is also in the Scrolls, including a reference to seeing ‘jesus’ in the last column of the Damascus Document. This expectation of salvation” s another aspect of the ‘Jesus Puzzle’ in the Scrolls. The main focus of the community, though, is the Righteous Teacher. The kind of Jesus we see in the Paul and the Gospels may stem from the DSS sect, but if so it’s been morphed into something different, to serve the needs of different communities.
Doherty: In ancient times, Hebrews came to be attributed to Paul, but this enjoys no support today, not least because the soteriology of the epistle is utterly unlike anything Paul has given us.
Perhaps you could devote a future article to this subject.
It seems to me that opinions were quite varied among Christians about what would happen at the Second Coming. Furthermore, opinions varied over time within the mind of any individual Christian, such as Paul. After all, the essence of the future Second Coming was debatable and unknowable.
One opinion was that there would be a cosmic war in which the Underworld and the World and much of the Heavens would be destroyed. Afterwards the lucky, victorious survivors of this war would move into Heaven’s upper layer and praise God forever.
Another opinion was that there would be a mass trial of all human beings. Afterwards, the human beings who were adjudged to be justified would be elevated into Heaven’s upper layer and praise God forever.
There must have been many, varied predictions of what would happen, and individual persons’ opinions would shift as the speculations, discussions and arguments continued.
Depending on what prediction an individual believed, there would be various ideas about how the individual might be “saved” during those future events.
I think it is impossible to pin Paul down completely and clearly to any one prediction about the future events and about what it would mean to be “saved”.
What does this have to do with the soteriological system in Hebrews, which is quite unlike anything presented by Paul? Yes, Paul could change his mind on something like what will happen at the End, but to give us a theory of sacrifice like Hebrews’ which bears no resemblance to anything else he says in all his other letters? How likely is that?
Besides, as I point out, the relationship between the writer and the community he is addressing (he is part of it) does not fit the Pauline persona, just as the postscript, designed to imply Paul as the author, does not fit the body of the epistle.
Mike, are you confusing soteriology and eschatology? Earl is talking about the doctrine of salvation — how a person is justified and saved from sin — not the doctrine of the end times, final judgment, etc.
Please spell out in a sentence or two the soteriological system in Hebrews.
I think Earl already did in the above post:
“In 7:27, a contrast is made: the high priests on earth offer sacrifices daily, as well as special ones once a year on the Day of Atonement, for the sins of the people; but Jesus had to perform his sacrifice only once for all time, obtaining an eternal redemption.”
So Jesus performed a one-time atonement sacrifice of his own body to provide eternal redemption for our sins.
Yes, and it must be emphasized once again (I have to do it all the time, for those who just can’t seem to get their heads around it), the “sacrifice” is Jesus’ bringing his own blood into the heavenly sanctuary and there offering it to God, in Platonic parallel with the similar actions of the priests on earth who do the same thing with the blood of animals for the same purpose: propitiation for sin. And it supplants those earthly sacrifices God no longer wants which are now, the author claims, passing away. It’s a grand concept, quite the most powerful and innovative idea in the entire early Christian literature.
That’s Hebrew’s “soteriological system:” a heavenly act whose concept is derived from the earthly example. The preceding death (on a “cross”: 12:2) is not presented as part of the sacrifice. The author never spells out how or where Jesus obtained his blood, and his system of parallels with the sacrifices by the priests on earth rules out that it was blood in human form obtained on earth at Calvary. As long as scholarship insists on imposing an historical Jesus on this document, its understanding will elude them.
The knowledge/revelation about this heavenly sacrifice has been drawn from scripture (see 10:5), just as everything else about the Son in this epistle, words and deeds, his establishment as High Priest, his actions “in the days of his flesh,” has been drawn from scripture. Such a system bears nothing in common with Paul’s system, no priesthood, no blood offered in a heavenly sanctuary, no required superiority to angels, no oath and testament by God, etc. This makes the ‘Pauline’ postscript a clear forgery added to tie to Paul something which is completely incompatible with Paul.
Jesus in Epiphanius, Panarion 30.16.5: “I came to abolish sacrifice, and unless you cease from sacrificing, my anger will not cease from you.” It seems the gospel authors had other ideas, huh?
I would like to offer a little rebuttal to Earl’s remarks about Hebrews 8:4. There is a reason why very few or maybe even just one translation uses “had been” instead of “were” in Hebrews 8:4. That is because this English translation introduces an element that I do not think belongs in this scripture. Here is what Earl writes, along with my comments.
In a present sense: “If he were on earth [i.e., now], he would not be a priest…” [NIV]
He would not be a priest because he was from the wrong tribe, from Judah. (Hebrews 7:14) “For it is quite plain that our Lord has sprung up out of Judah, a tribe about which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.”
In a past sense: “Now if he had been on earth [i.e., in the past], he would not even have been a priest…” [NEB]
Why would he not be a priest “if he had been on earth”? What Law would prevent the celestial Christ from being an earthly priest?
However, more important is the change in meaning that “had been” brings to the scripture. The problem is that “had been” is the pluperfect tense, while “were” is the imperfect or simple past tense. Generally, the pluperfect happens “before” the imperfect. Every Greek texts that I have lists this as the imperfect not the pluperfect. The simple past tense would be were/was. Let me demonstrate how this changes the meaning.
Simple past sense: “If Abraham Lincoln was president, he would not be a foreigner.”
Pluperfect past sense: “If Abraham Lincoln had been president, he would not be a foreigner.”
You can see that the second one clearly denies Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. This is certainly not the idea projected in Hebrews 8:4. There is still another problem. If what you say is true, and Paul denies that Jesus was ever on the earth, that would imply that his entire existence was in heaven. However, Hebrews 9:24 does not seem to agree with that idea. (Hebrews 9:24) “For Christ entered, not into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.” Or “For Christ entered, . . . into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.” Where is the Christ entering heaven from? Where was he before this event? I refer you back to Hebrews 7:14 and why he couldn’t be a priest if he was a man on earth.
Earl indicates that there would be no reason for this scripture if it was presented in the present sense. I disagree, here is why. The immediate context of Hebrews 8:4 is about the priesthood, sacrifices, and mediation. And right before 8:4 it talks about what Jesus had to offer as a sacrifice. That sacrifice was his human life. Paul is simply pointing out that if Jesus was still alive as a man on the earth, He would not have anything to offer as a sacrifice, nor would he be a mediator of a new covenant. (Hebrews 9:15-17) “For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.”
Trouble is, Howard, 8:4 says he “would not be a priest” (if it were a present sense), but this would imply that he was a priest on earth in dying there, but that is exactly what is never said in Hebrews. Christ is only a priest in heaven, in conducting his heavenly sacrifice. So your proposal concerning a possible present sense doesn’t really work.
And in a past sense it is not the pluperfect. That’s the point of Ellingworth’s admission. The imperfect tense (in both parts of the sentence) is “ambiguous”. The imperfect tense can itself convey a past meaning (even if the ordinary grammatical rule would tie it to the present). So you don’t have an older tense in the first part and a more recent one in the second part. Also, in English we would translate using our pluperfect tense, but the sense is simply ‘past’. In this context, the pluperfect serves as a kind of past contrafactual, whereas if we used a simple past tense (“If he was on earth”) it doesn’t convey a contrafactual thought.
Anyway, your comments are insightful, and I wish I had more time to dissect them in greater detail. Perhaps tomorrow.
Earl, I had a couple of things to add.
Notice that in 8:4 it says priest, not high priest. So the sense is that even if Jesus were on earth (at any time) he would not even be a priest according to the written Law, much less a high priest. The immediate subject is Jesus as a high priest, not questions about his physical existence. Even using your translation, I feel the sense would be, If Jesus had been on earth for the purpose of being a high priest, he would not even qualify to be a simple priest under Jewish earthly Law. I don’t believe this statement is directly connected with the idea that Jesus’ sacrifice had already been offered in the past.
I don’t see why this verse has to be connected to the previous one. This is actually pretty common, for example:
Now, every driver in the race was required to have a driver’s license; hence it was necessary for John to have had a license. If John does not have a license, he is breaking the law.
Is there something wrong with my sentence using the past tense in the first part and the present tense in the second? Also, my example is using the same subject of having a license in both parts, but Hebrews 8:3-4 uses two different subjects. The first being “what does Jesus have to offer” and “would Jesus be a priest on earth”. I don’t think they are related at all except in the overall context, so I don’t think verse 3 forces verse 4 to be in the past tense.
“So the sense is that even if Jesus were on earth (at any time) he would not even be a priest according to the written Law, much less a high priest.”
This agrees with what Earl and I said, with the caveat that the author of Hebrews doesn’t limit it to only the Levite priesthood. Of course, one must then follow the logic of Hebrews a little more:
1. Jesus could not be a priest on earth at any time where there are priests there.
2. The role of a priest is to perform sacrifices and offer gifts.
3. Jesus fulfilled his role by sacrificing himself.
4. Since he couldn’t have operated as a priest on earth, he must’ve been performing his priestly duties elsewhere.
5. Hence his sacrifice (i.e, his death) could not have occurred on the earth.
Actually, it doesn’t really matter whether the author was intending for the tense to refer to the present or the past – the result (his death was not on earth) is the same. The past makes more sense because the previous sentence was in the past, and this thought continues it, but even if this sentence is read in the present tense, the effect is the same.
Of course, if 8:4 is a past counterfactual, the statement is stronger, since then it says that Jesus was never on earth. But even in the present tense, it would still only be allowing Jesus to have been on earth before his crucifixion.
Howard wrote: “if he had been on earth”? What Law would prevent the celestial Christ from being an earthly priest”
Didn’t the law of Moses assign the priesthood exclusively to the Levite tribe? If so, that perhaps answers your question. Neither the celestial Christ nor the human Christ descended from Levi. The celestial Christ descended straight from God, who was not a Levite, and both genealogies in the New Testament have the human Christ descending from Judah, who was also not a Levite, lol.
Your answer to Howard’s question would actually corresponds to his theory that Hebrews 8:4 was referring to Jesus not being a Levite. But the author of Hebrews tells us why he couldn’t have been a priest on earth, and it wasn’t for that reason. Moreover, Jesus is said in Hebrews to have been a high priest, so that answer would contradict Hebrews anyway.
True enough, But what about the celestial Christ in Hebrews 8:4 that was also not a Levite, but was in fact made a high priest?
Howard, I don’t see what point you’re trying to make with this comment. Could you explain it fuller?
Some further comments (in the light of day) to Howard’s remarks:
You say that Jesus would not be a priest today (on earth) he would be of the wrong tribe. But that is not what 8:4 says. The reason why is stated as: because there are already priests doing sacrifices here in earth, which is something else entirely. And elsewhere the author has said that it is precisely *because* he is from Judah that he can function as a priest, because this new High Priest, in being the source of a new covenant, must be of a different tribe from the one (Levites) who produced the *old* covenant.
There is certainly nothing anywhere about Judah being the wrong tribe if on earth, but an OK new tribe if in heaven. Besides, I pointed out that right after 7:14, the writer dismisses any law about physical descent as having anything to do with Christ’s priestly legitimacy.
You ask: “Why would he not be a priest “if he had been on earth”? What Law would prevent the celestial Christ from being an earthly priest?”
Not so much a “Law” but the necessity and inherent nature of the Platonic contrast and paradigmatic parallel between heaven and earth. To constitute a “superior” sacrifice to the earthly priests’ sacrifices, Jesus’ sacrifice must take place in heaven, in a “sanctuary not made by man,” where superior blood can cleanse heavenly things and gain an “eternal redemption,” something not needing repeating like the sacrifices on earth. That is the point being made in 8:4, that both sorts of priests and sacrifices have to take place in their own territory.
Simple past sense: “If Abraham Lincoln was president, he would not be a foreigner.”
Pluperfect past sense: “If Abraham Lincoln had been president, he would not be a foreigner.”
As I pointed out yesterday, the Greek does not use the pluperfect, it uses the imperfect, and yet it is still ambiguous (despite the general grammatical rule), either past or present. In any case, I don’t find your analogies work. The simple past sense doesn’t gel. Do you mean “If Abraham Lincoln were president *today*, he would not be a foreigner”? That would use the imperfect and have a present sense, not a past one. And your second makes no sense with a present tense in the second half. It would have to be “If Abraham Lincoln had been president, he would not *have been* a foreigner.” But you admit that this idea goes against known history, because Lincoln *was* president, whereas “If (he) had been president” implies that he was not. It is contrafactual as stated. But you can’t assume that Jesus was historical and thus the second analogy can’t represent Hebrews’ understanding because it erroneously contradicts that. That’s begging the question.
Where is Christ entering heaven (meaning God’s highest heaven where the heavenly sanctuary is located) from in 9:24? From a lower part of the heavens. The writer certainly never says that he entered it from earth. Only from a place where he took on the “likeness” of men. If you like, a place “lower than the angels” which could be the realm of the demon spirits.
You say: “The immediate context of Hebrews 8:4 is about the priesthood, sacrifices, and mediation. And right before 8:4 it talks about what Jesus had to offer as a sacrifice. That sacrifice was his human life. Paul is simply pointing out that if Jesus was still alive as a man on the earth, He would not have anything to offer as a sacrifice, nor would he be a mediator of a new covenant.”
Well, the author of Hebrews (hardly “Paul”) never says his sacrifice was his human life, nor does he say that the reason he couldn’t be a priest on earth is because he has nothing further to offer. It is because there are already priests on earth offering sacrifices as propitiation for sin. (He is emphasizing the ‘separate territory’ concept.) You are forcing the text to say something which it does not. And if the sacrifice was his human life, that would make Calvary a part of the sacrifice, which would clash with the way he actually presents and defines the sacrifice (entirely heavenly or spiritual blood) and interfere with the strict Platonic parellel he has made between heaven and earth. His entire soteriological picture simply wouldn’t work.
What could the author of Hebrews have in mind as Jesus’ sacrifice if not his own death? Or are you emphasizing the word “human”?
I think we have a few misunderstandings. If you don’t mind, I would like to clear them up if I can. I am reading Hebrews 8:4 in a similar manor as (1 Corinthians 15:13-14) “If, indeed, there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised up. But if Christ has not been raised up, our preaching is certainly in vain, and our faith is in vain.” So when the author of Hebrews says “if Jesus were on earth” I am taking this to mean that his death, his sacrifice, his resurrection, his appointment to high priest never occurred. Therefore, he would still be a man from the tribe of Judah with no rightful claim to the priestly office because they would still be under the first covenant.
You say: “To constitute a “superior” sacrifice to the earthly priests’ sacrifices, Jesus’ sacrifice must take place in heaven, in a “sanctuary not made by man,” where superior blood can cleanse heavenly things and gain an “eternal redemption,” something not needing repeating like the sacrifices on earth. That is the point being made in 8:4, that both sorts of priests and sacrifices have to take place in their own territory.”
There are a couple key points here. First I agree with you that Christ’s sacrificial offer was made in heaven, Hebrews clearly points this out. However, Christ’s sacrifice and his offering are not the same thing. When Christ was sacrificed at Calvary, he did not offer his blood on the heavenly alter until sometime after he was resurrected. Also, I could be wrong, but I do not recall anything about “cleansing heavenly things.” Jesus’ blood was to redeem mankind. And actually, it is not really the blood. (Leviticus 17:11) “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have put it upon the altar for you to make atonement for your souls, because it is the blood that makes atonement by the soul [in it].” The soul means the life of a living thing. That is why the sacrifice of goats and bulls could not take sin away, the life of bulls and goats are not a propitiatory sacrifice for humans. But the life of a sinless man is enough. So it was this human life and blood that was sacrificed. And like I mentioned about the mediator where a covenant is not in force while the covenanter is still alive, but the celestial Christ is alive. So it would have to be the life and blood of a human that will remain forever dead. That being the man Jesus. Sorry if I went to far into my theology, but I thought it was necessary to explain my position on the topics at hand.
Yes I understand that your whole mission is to show that the man Jesus never existed, and I really don’t mean to introduce the idea without first providing evidence. But in a way, I think I am providing circumstantial evidence or at least some reasons why there was a need for a human sacrifice under the sacrificial model of the Hebrew scriptures.
This sentence really mystifies me: ‘So when the author of Hebrews says “if Jesus were on earth” I am taking this to mean that his death, his sacrifice, his resurrection, his appointment to high priest never occurred.’
So you think that he is saying, “if Jesus was on earth then he would not be a priest, so, since he was on earth, he must not have been a priest”?! Where in this epistle could you possibly find support for that? It repeatedly states that Jesus is a priest; indeed, that seems to be one of Hebrews’ main points.
But there’s a more significant objection – the Greek grammar is counterfactual. Unlike the case in English, were you could say, “if he was on earth,” in the situation where he really was on earth, the Greek construction here means he could not have been on earth, either in the present or past, depending on the context.
And what do you mean by saying that the author of Hebrews thinks that Jesus’ death and sacrifice never occurred? He repeatedly says that they happened. Or are you talking about whether they occurred on earth?
‘Also, I could be wrong, but I do not recall anything about “cleansing heavenly things.” Jesus’ blood was to redeem mankind.’
I think Earl is referring to Heb 9:23: ” It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” The copies of the heavenly things are on earth, and are cleansed with ordinary sacrifices. Heavenly things are cleansed with a better sacrifice, i.e., Jesus.
Your comment about Jesus’ sacrifice and sacrificial offering being different is similar to another point that I was going to make, so I won’t address it in this comment.
Earl has already addressed this pretty well, but let me spell it out even more clearly:
“If he were on earth [i.e., now], he would not be a priest…”
Your first reason: “He would not be a priest because he was from the wrong tribe, from Judah.”
But Hebrews gives us the reason in the next clause: “for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.”
As Earl has pointed out, Hebrews 7 states that he could be a priest because he is not from Levi, and, moreover, one point of Hebrews is that he is a high priest. Furthermore, if his being of the wrong tribe prevents him from being a priest on earth now, why was he a priest when he was on earth in the past? Why would he be a priest now in heaven?
(Note also that Hebrews does not say that Jesus became a high priest after his death. Rather, it says that he was appointed high priest by the oath of God in Psalm 110:4. So if he were on earth before his sacrifice, then he was a priest then and there as well.)
The verse is stressing that he could not be a priest under those special circumstances, namely, being on the earth, and, if one reads it in the present tense, at the present time. So the reason must be something that applies only to these circumstances as well. Your explanation fails on both counts, since his tribal identification wouldn’t change with time or place.
Your second explanation: “if Jesus was still alive as a man on the earth, He would not have anything to offer as a sacrifice” (because he has already offered his sacrifice).
But again, this is not the reason given. It is not because he has nothing to offer now, but rather because there are others already making offerings. Moreover, why would he be required to keep making offerings on earth as a priest but is not required to make them if he is in heaven? That is, why does his location change the requirement? You still are giving reasons that don’t distinguish where he is operating as priest.
One other comment:
“You can see that the second one clearly denies Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. This is certainly not the idea projected in Hebrews 8:4.”
On the contrary, the grammar in Hebrews 8:4 is precisely counterfactual, so your analogy fails.
I left out something else when discussing your second explanation: The author of Hebrews could not be making the point that Jesus would not be a priest on earth now because he has nothing to offer now, his sacrifice having already occurred, because Hebrews 7 asserts that his sacrifice only needed to be preformed once and not repeated in order to fulfill his role as high priest, which he retains permanently. Nothing in Hebrews qualifies this statement, saying that it is only true if he is in heaven.
You ask, ‘Why would he not be a priest “if he had been on earth”? What Law would prevent the celestial Christ from being an earthly priest?’
The idea that he couldn’t have been a priest on earth is the author of Hebrews’. That’s his opinion, not ours. Why does he think so? “For there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.” That’s his justification. Whether he was motivated by considerations of Laws or Platonism is anybody’s guess, but that’s the reason he gives and what we have to go on.
I have tried to come up with ways of interpreting Hebrews 8:4 that would not require either Jesus not to have ever been on earth or his death not to have occurred on earth. I can think of 3, but they’re all far-fetched. Please refute them.
1. Perhaps the author is distinguishing between sacrifices and gifts. He states that priests must offer “both sacrifices and gifts,” in a way that may indicate that he is stressing both. Jesus is said to have sacrificed himself, once and for all, but there is no explicit mention of what gifts he offers. Then it states that he could not be a priest on earth because there are other priests on earth offering gifts. One solution would be he could offer a sacrifice on earth, even though there are other priests on earth who do that, but not gifts. Then his sacrifice could’ve been on earth, but his gift offering didn’t begin until he ascended to heaven.
2. Alternatively, perhaps Jesus’ death is considered to be distinct from the sacrifice (or the offering of it), so that the death occurred on earth and then Jesus ascended to heaven, was appointed a priest, and offered his own blood as a sacrifice.
3. The third possibility I see is that Jesus’ priesthood would start after his sacrifice, So at the time the sacrifice occurred on earth, he was not a priest, but then he was appointed a priest (in heaven) in recognition of his sacrifice. The difference between this case and the previous one is that here I’m not assuming that his offering of himself was distinct from his death.
How would you respond?
I will try to respond to this tomorrow. This morning I had a cataract operation and the eye is too sore to do any work for the rest of the day. Thanks.
On further thought, it seems that a better alternative would be a combination of these. For example, maybe the reason why only gifts were mentioned in 8:4 and not sacrifices is that the author is referring to the present situation, so Jesus would not be offering sacrifices now anyway (only gifts). Then this exclusion (not being able to have 2 kinds of priests offering gifts at the same time, in the same venue) would apply to sacrifices as well. But that would require that Jesus’ sacrifice (or, more precisely, the offering of it) was not on earth, which is alternative #2 I gave above.
This will be addressed to all who have replied to me. Let me try to clarify what I am trying to say.
Yes, Christ is a high priest in heaven, (Heb. 5:10) and the author of Hebrews has been glorifying how much better this heavenly high priest is, and how much better his sacrifice was compared to the earthly high priests, who could do nothing more than offer up animal sacrifices which really didn’t do anything but remind the Israelites of their sins from year to year. (Heb. 10:3) Now starting in chapter 8 we have:
(Hebrews 8:3) “For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; wherefore it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.”
What did Christ have to offer?
(Hebrews 10:10) “By the said “will” we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.”
(Hebrews 9:11-12) “However, when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass, through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place and obtained an everlasting deliverance [for us].”
Next we have the problem text.
(Hebrews 8:4) “If, he were/had been upon earth, he would not be a priest.”
All I have been saying here is that after the author of Hebrews had been glorifying Christ’s office of high priest, and how much better it was than the earthly high priest, I feel the author here is making a sort of opposite comparison. He’s now saying, just imagine for a minute if this great high priest of heaven were actually a man on the earth, he would not even qualify to be an average priest, much less a high priest according to Jewish law. So the question is why wouldn’t he be a priest? Many of you said it is because what follows.
(Hebrews 8:4) “. . .there being [men] who offer the gifts according to the Law.”
How I understand your responses, is that you are saying he would not be a priest simply because there are others already doing this work. That really doesn’t explain anything. There were a number of priests officiating at the temple. Are you implying that if that the celestial Christ had come to earth, he could not be a priest merely because there would not be any openings in the priesthood. How do you know he wouldn’t come on a day that there were openings in the priesthood? No, there is another reason. The key point in this verse is that these men offered the gifts “according to the Law.” Again, the Law specified that a priest must be chosen from the Levites, along with what to offer and how to offer it.
But as Earl and the others have said, the heavenly Christ can be a high priest only in heaven. That is because the written Law was coming to an end with the inauguration of a new covenant and a new priesthood. (Hebrews 7:11-12) “If, then, perfection were really through the Levitical priesthood, (for with it as a feature the people were given the Law,) what further need would there be for another priest to arise according to the manner of Melchizedek and not said to be according to the manner of Aaron? For since the priesthood is being changed, there comes to be of necessity a change also of the law.”
So the bottom line is that, yes, the heavenly Christ is a high priest, he did offer his blood as a sacrifice once for all time. These things did happen in the past as of the writing of Hebrews 8:4. All I was disagreeing with is that 8:4 should not be taken as a factual statement concerning Jesus physical existence. To me it was simply a hypothetical statement to bring out the contrast that this great high priest in the heavens would not even be a mere priest if he were a man living on earth in the Jewish system. I could be wrong, but even in the gospel accounts of the man Jesus, I do not think he was ever considered a priest. And for those that do believe in a historical Jesus, this is the link to Hebrews 8:4 and the full explanation why he wouldn’t be a priest, because the man Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. So when Hebrews says “if he were on earth” those who believe in an historical Jesus automatically imagine that this is implying that he would be the same man as before, a man from the tribe of Judah, an thus not able to be a priest.
For those who believe in a celestial Christ that was never a human, I have a question. Hebrews simply states that “If he had been on earth” it doesn’t say if he had been a “man” on the earth or anything else. If this were to actually happen, what do you think the author of Hebrews meant? Would the celestial Christ come to earth as his true self, would he come in the likeness of men, or would he take on human form? I ask this because two of these do not support Hebrews 8:4, unless someone can show me different. Based on examples from the Hebrew scriptures, when ever a heavenly beings did appear on earth, it was usually in the likeness of men. However, I don’t recall any of these heavenly beings losing the position they possess. Angels were still Angels on earth, Archangels were still Archangels on earth. Why wouldn’t a heavenly high priest still be a high priest if he were on earth?
Regardless of why having Levite priests on earth prevents Jesus from having (or being) a priest on earth the effect is the same. Whether it was because Jesus was not of Judah or any other reason doesn’t affect any of the conclusions. Earl’s and my arguments aren’t affected by that and do not contradict this aspect of your theory.
“But as Earl and the others have said, the heavenly Christ can be a high priest only in heaven. That is because the written Law was coming to an end with the inauguration of a new covenant and a new priesthood.”
This doesn’t quite work, though, since Jesus was already a priest and had been for some time, even though the Levite priesthood hadn’t ended yet. Why would the impending cessation of the Levite priesthood prevent him from being a priest on earth now, but not in heaven? If it is because there are already priests on earth, then this would be true regardless of whether the Levite priesthood was ending?
But, again, I don’t this makes a difference for what we’ve said.
“All I was disagreeing with is that 8:4 should not be taken as a factual statement concerning Jesus physical existence. To me it was simply a hypothetical statement to bring out the contrast that this great high priest in the heavens would not even be a mere priest if he were a man living on earth in the Jewish system. ”
It seems the problem with your argument is grammatical. In Greek the grammatical construction used is a counterfactual – so it can’t have been true. Thus of course the verse is hypothetical, in the sense that it considers a situation which it acknowledges couldn’t have been true.
‘So when Hebrews says “if he were on earth” those who believe in an historical Jesus automatically imagine that this is implying that he would be the same man as before, a man from the tribe of Judah, an thus not able to be a priest.’
Nowhere in Hebrews does the author state or imply that Jesus was not the same person in heaven and without (except so far as he was perfected). It never states that he was a “man” at one time and then not a man. It’s just “if he were on earth,” not “if he were a man on earth,” and the “he” refers back to the heavenly priest mentioned in the preceding verses.
“Why wouldn’t a heavenly high priest still be a high priest if he were on earth?”
Ask the author of Hebrews. How would I know? All I know is that he says that he wouldn’t be.
I think the discussion here has demonstrated how problematical for historicism Hebrews is and particularly verse 8:4. I commend Howard for his efforts, but the explanations he is forced to attempt are so convoluted that it is impossible to think that such meanings could lie behind the simple statements made by the writer surrounding 8:4. and his readers would never understand them.
As for the question of “sacrifices and gifts” raised (in theory) by malcolm, we don’t need to see the author as making any distinction between the two. First of all, one of the meanings of “gifts” (dora) is simply “sacrificial gifts and offerings” (see Bauer def.2), though the term can also encompass general gifts to God such as food. The inclusion of both terms, gifts and sacrifices, in 8:3 is either covering both bases in stating what “every high priest is appointed to offer”, and maybe to some extent indulging in that Jewish literary practice of repeating two words or phrases which mean the same thing (can’t recall the technical term for that offhand), such as in the Gospel passion scene: they divided my garments among them and for my raiments they cast lots. Here both refer to the same thing.
Nowhere does this author make any separate issue about “gifts” involved in his comparison, and in fact there is no mention of gifts in regard to Christ’s duties. In 8:4, the “gifts” by the priests on earth according to the Law, have to be sacrifices because they are being compared to what Christ has offered and there is nowhere any distinct comparison of such things to what Jesus offers in heaven, which is entirely a single sacrifice, no “gifts”.
Now let’s look at Howard’s latest effort. He tries to link two verses in two chapters:
(Hebrews 8:3) “For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; wherefore it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.”
What did Christ have to offer?
(Hebrews 10:10) “By the said “will” we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.”
Despite the fact that 8:3-4 or any other description of Christ’s sacrifice makes no mention of a “body” he seizes on the word “body” in 10:10, “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” and thinks to make this a reference to the crucifixion on Calvary. He is making two mistakes. He looks back to the discussion about a “will” in ch. 9 and seems to identify the word “will” in 10:10 with this idea. But it is not. The “will” in 10:10 refers to the will of God in 10:7 and 9.
Why has he suddenly used the word “body” here in connection with Christ’s offering, rather than “blood” which is what he has referred to everywhere else? Because he is repeating the word “body” in the quote from Psalm 40 a couple of verses earlier; “thou hast prepared a body for me”. In the succeeding verse 12, he once again refers to the sacrifice in the regular terms, in the heavenly sanctuary.
As for the business of a “will” (testament) in ch. 9 which discusses a will taking effect after a death, which Howard again wants to locate on Calvary, I say this in my website article:
“For a will to come into effect, the death of the testator must first take place as a necessary prerequisite. But the death is not the ‘act’ by which the beneficiaries receive their benefits; the testator does not undergo death in order to promulgate the will. It is the act of drawing up the will before death, and then its application after the death has taken place which brings the will into effect. We can apply this process to the Hebrews’ scenario. Preceding the death are the promises; after the death those promises, made possible by the prerequisite death, are applied through God conferring the benefits once he has received the offering of Christ’s blood in the heavenly sanctuary.”
A couple of scholars view this passage about the “will” as something a bit confusing in the author’s ongoing argument, as it makes less sense than he is used to conveying. R.M. Wilson even voices the opinion that the writer should have left it out!
In any case, there is nothing in any mention of the death of Jesus in Hebrews that necessitates placing it on earth, and no direct inclusion of it in the definition or workings of the sacrifice and process of redemption. Such a portrayal is so bizarre (and so striking to scholars and general readers that they are led to insist on including the Calvary death in the thinking of the author’s sacrifice even if it isn’t there) that we have to conclude that it is entirely determined by scripture and that no history was involved to force on him that imposition which scholars are so adamant to include. And as I repeatedly say, such a placement would screw up his Platonic parallels and everything he says in comparing/contrasting the heavenly priest and his act with the earthly priests and their acts.
Earl, I have a few comments and questions regarding your latest post.
You say: “and thinks to make this a reference to the crucifixion on Calvary”
Actually, I never intended to make such a connection. As you see I did not comment after I listed those scriptures. I was merely repeating what the author of Hebrews said about what Christ had to offer. It should be noted that I do believe that heavenly beings have heavenly bodies of some sort. – 1 Corinthians 15:44
“He looks back to the discussion about a “will” in ch. 9 and seems to identify the word “will” in 10:10 with this idea.”
Not at all, ch. 9 is talking about the new covenant, which some people translate as will? I am referring to God’s will, what God wants done, and one of those things was for Christ to sacrifice himself. And that sacrifice is brought about by the death of the body.
“The “will” in 10:10 refers to the will of God in 10:7 and 9.”
I know, that is what I was referring to, I’ll let the following quote from Ellingworth, P., & Nida, E. A. A handbook on the Letter to the Hebrews, explain my position
“(b) “ That will” is literally “by which will,” referring back to “thy will” in verse 9. “Thy will” there means “God’s will.” The question arises whether the “ will” that people should be purified from sin is (i) God’s will or (ii) the specific act by which Christ offered himself in sacrifice, in response to what God wanted him to do. Choice (ii) fits in more clearly with the context, and choice (i) could have been more naturally expressed in Greek in other ways.”
I really don’t see what the issue is here in using the word “body” in the text. Isn’t saying that Christ offered himself basically the same thing? (Hebrews 7:27, 9:14; 25-26) It is also in harmony with your view as long as you imagine that heavenly beings were believed to have some sort of none physical bodies.
I’ll close with the following quote, not that it is presented as evidence for my case, but simply to show that I am not pulling these ideas out of the air.
“In a statement remarkable for its density, the writer defines the means and the ultimate source of consecration. The immediate ground of consecration is the totally new offering of the body of Jesus Christ as the inaugural act of the new covenant. The ultimate source is the will of God (cf. di Pinto, Volontà di Dio, 10–11; Johnsson, “Defilement,” 344–45). . . The reference to the body (σώματος) of Jesus Christ constitutes a clear allusion to the utterance in v 5, “You prepared a body [σῶμα] for me.” The body of Jesus was the instrument of his solidarity with the human race (cf. 2:14). He entered the world to do the will of God; in him, intention and the commitment of the body were perfectly integrated. The term “body” shows that the contrast the writer wishes to establish is not between the sacrifice of animals and the sacrifice of obedience, but between the ineffective sacrifice of animals and the personal offering of Christ’s own body as the one complete and effective sacrifice (cf. F. J. Taylor, ExpTim 12 [1960–61] 168–69; W. Manson, Epistle to the Hebrews, 144–45; di Pinto, Volontà di Dio, 54, 59).”
Lane, W. L. (2002). Vol. 47B: Word Biblical Commentary : Hebrews 9-13. (265). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
I would like to share my own thoughts about Hebrews 8:4 but they will be hard to follow unless I first provide a little background. As some readers of Vridar may be aware, I hold an admittedly eccentric view of the epistle to the Hebrews. I have laid it out in the comments section of one of Neil Godfrey’s review posts of Paul-Louis Couchoud’s book The Creation of Christ. The post is entitled: “How Christ Jesus became Flesh—the role of the Celestial High Priest (Couchoud continued)”.
In summary my position is that Hebrews is a proto-orthodox work and was written about 130 CE to sanitize and co-opt “Paul”/Simon of Samaria’s teaching by creating a Judaized version of it. By “Judaized” I mean that, in contrast to Simon’s system, Hebrews presents the visible world as good, the Son of God as in possession of a real human body, and the purpose of the Son’s coming as propitiation for sins. In effect, Hebrews is a pure proto-orthodox substitute for the supposedly blasphemous system of “Paul”/Simon in which the Son of the highest God came into the world in the likeness of a man to free mankind from the bondage of the flesh and the sin-inciting Law both of which were imposed by the inferior angels who made the world. One of those inferior world-making angels was the God of the Jews.
The initial myth, I submit, simply had the Son of God descending through the layers of heaven into this world for a few hours, taking on the appearance of a man (Simon Kyrenaios), and then, by means of another transformation, switching places with a failed messiah who was being led out of a Judaean city for crucifixion. The Son of God’s aim in surreptitiously descending and switching places with the failed messiah was to deceive the “rulers of this world” (1 Cor 2:8) into unjustly killing him, thereby winning from them man’s freedom. After his burial the Son descended to the underworld to harrow it, and then rose back to his Father in heaven. Thus, in the initial myth the Son of God did not live a life on earth, i.e., no birth, no teaching, no disciple-gathering, no miracle working.
It was this initial myth that the proto-orthodox author of Hebrews aimed to Judaize, much like—after a Simonian gospel was composed with an allegorical life of Simon just a couple of years later—the proto-orthodox likewise judaized it. (Basically, Marcion was right!) To Judaize the Simonian myth, the proto-orthodox author of Hebrews tried to force it into a Jewish sacrificial mold. He only partially succeeded. He wants the Son, for instance, to be both the priest and the sacrifice. Okay, but then what is one to do with the Roman executioners? Normally, they should get to play the role of the priests too, inasmuch as the priests were the ones who slaughtered the animals for sacrifice. But making the executioners priests would detract from his portrayal of the Son as priest. Hmmmn. His solution? Just don’t mention the executioners. Perhaps no one will notice.
Interpreting Hebrews 8:4-5 in line with the above summary, I think that a distinction must be made in how the words “had been on earth” are understood. The verse reads as follows:
I agree with Earl Doherty’s analysis of why the verse should be translated as a past contrafactual. I also agree with him that this verse rules out any belief by its author that the Son had lived a life on earth. And in that sense it is indeed a “smoking gun”. But I don’t think the verse rules out the kind of brief stop-over for the Son that I describe in my summary above.
To illustrate: Suppose I say, “If I had been in Canada, I would not have been a lumberjack.” One could legitimately conclude from that statement that I have never made Canada my domicile, that I did not live and take up a profession there. However, one could not legitimately conclude that I had never been to Canada even briefly. I may, for instance, have had a three hour layover at the Montreal airport while waiting for a connecting flight to some other country. Or perhaps I attended a weekend convention there. Or went on vacation there.
So I would argue that the sense of “had been on earth” in 8:4 is actually “had lived a life on earth”. It is the reference to Jewish priests in the second part of the verse that gives it that sense. So, in effect, the sense of Hebrews 8:4-6 is:
“If the Son had lived on earth, he would not have been a priest,” one of those “who offer gifts according to the Law and serve what is only the example and shadow of heavenly things”… for “he has obtained a more excellent ministry” and “is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.”
Earl (or anyone that’s tracked this convo):
While reading your ongoing review of Ehrman, I stumbled across Richard Carrier’s review of your first book. He seemed to want to school you on Greek contrafacuals as they relate to Heb8:4, basically appealing to statistical precedence in the lexicon. I noticed that in your reply to his review, you interestingly proposed the possibility that Heb8:4 defies that precedent since it suggests an ONGOING state of affairs. Thinking back to my Greek study, I found myself agreeing that the imperfect better serves this purpose than does the aorist. So I was wondering if Carrier, who I find to be a superb textual analyst, has commented on your comment at all, and furthered the Heb8:4 debate?