Let’s acknowledge the obvious, shall we. NatNav has gone on indefinite hiatus. The material slowed down; work picked up; I’ve been putting more time into other writing pursuits — all true, but none so true as to say that I just ran out of motivation. I’ll keep the site running for a while in case I feel moved to either start things up again or just post links or thoughts on occasion. Thanks for all your support over the last year. See you around!
‘Sacrifice must be abolished in order to establish obedience.’ Or so says the ESV commentary on this passage. I’m wrestling with that.
Is this a practical argument that could be made, say, about institutionalized confession? For instance, might we argue that the psychological ‘out’ that exists in the knowledge that my sins can be individually addressed and forgiven makes it that much easier to sin in the first place? So without altering doctrine (that there is no condemnation for those in Christ), the ritual mechanism gets in the way of obedience. Hmm. I’m not sure. Makes sense, I suppose. That is, it’s plausible, but is it actually true?
I end up distinguishing between holiness and obedience and wondering if God values one over the other. How important is it to lead a ‘sinless’ life? That’s obviously not possible, at least not in terms of the understanding of sin as a nature rather than a list of (mis)deeds. But the Pharisees are good examples of a life that prizes holiness over obedience. That is, they were concerned with being technically perfect within the limits of the law, with leading lives that would win them God’s approval (Kellers’ elder brothers par excellence).
But I think this self-driven pursuit of holiness, expunging all evidence of our sinful nature, ultimately inhibits obedience to the most important commands. Jesus said the two most important commands were to love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and souls and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Preoccupation with making ourselves holy, then, leaves little room for obedience. Where is love in legalism? Where is love in the machine of sacrifice and ritualistic confession?
The only hesitation I have is that I do not mean to embrace licentiousness or dismiss holiness. ‘May it never be!’ Paul says. But holiness has to come from a life lived loving God and others. Acting in love and for love (practically) leads towards holiness in decisionmaking and (spiritually) opens the heart to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Obedience leads to holiness; holiness does not necessarily lead to obedience.
Convenient as it would be to claim that I had planned to take the last two weeks off and combine the passages into one post because they just work better that way, that’s a lie. I just lucked out that way, I suppose. I’ve struggled with these last few weeks of Bible study because it’s the core of our author’s argument, and so he’s going over things m-e-t-i-c-u-l-o-u-s-l-y … So I’m left saying, ‘Again, Old Covenant bad; New Covenant good,’ over and over and over.
One question has arisen in my mind a few times as he bashes away at the inadequacy of the Old Covenant rituals is whether the New merely completes the Old or overthrows and abolishes it. Verses 2-3 and 9 offer a convenient answer. It would seem that the law is proven insufficient because of its built in repetition, and this is because it was only meant as a reminder of sin, not an actual cleanser. I wonder how much this interpretation holds with the original verses that establish the Old Covenant law.* Verse 9 says that Jesus ‘does away with’ sacrifices and offerings and establishes a Covenant based more loosely on doing God’s will.
And so ritual stands for the author of Hebrews as it stands for us, a reminder of our relationship with God, a visible/tangible way to immerse ourselves in worship, but not an element of salvation. Got it? Good.
* A more diligent blogger would do the research; I’m just happy to get a post up this week, considering it’s the week that the blog turns 0ne year old!
Having been derailed from my blogging plan by last week’s vacation and this week’s work catch-up responsibilities, I thought I’d bring us back on pace in one fell swoop by combining last Thursday’s Hebrews 9:1-10 post and this week’s Hebrews 9:11-22 post.
Both passages are part of the author’s argument about Jesus’ sacrifice superceding the sacrificial elements of the Old Covenant. But the whole topic seemed related to an interesting post I read this week on Political Jesus, where Chad suggests that sacrifice is not something God established but a practice started by humans that God later clarified and regulated. It’s an interesting idea, and I can definitely see parallels elsewhere (like one commenter mentions, monarchy). Thoughts?
Back to regular schedule next week, I promise.
The rest of the week is going to be a little hinky. I’ve been out of town this week, and I’ve run out of posts that I prepared prior to my departure.
So let’s be flexible. You may get the rest of the week’s on schedule. Or they may come as late as Monday. It’ll be a surprise!
A commonly noted element of the Crucifixion is that at the moment Jesus died, the temple curtain was torn in two. This happened spontaneously, in that there was no person directly responsible for tearing the curtain. It also happened some distance away from the hill on which Jesus was crucified, so there is no direct, physical link between the two events.
Why is this significant? The curtain was the divider between the outer sanctuary of the temple where the priests went about their regular, priestly business and the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt and where only the High Priest was allowed to enter once a year and with sufficient ceremonial purification in order to intercede with God on behalf of the people. Jesus’ death removed this intercessory barrier between us and God, between our sinful state and forgiveness/redemption. Jesus is both in our hearts and at God’s side, and there is no need for a ceremony of intercession. If the Old Testament is the story of a God making Himself known to His people, the New Testament is the next degree of intimacy where He removes the barriers that stand in the way of our communion with Him.
Also, this may not be accurate, but I wonder if there’s a connection between the broken rocks Matt mentions and the breaking of the Rock on the cross for our sakes. Another symbolic point of convergence between the spiritual and physical realms? Perhaps…
Nothing high concept this week, just a few elements of the story in Leviticus that I think are worth digging into a little bit more.
16:1 | Aaron’s sons’ death is glossed over in this passage, but they entered the Holy of Holies without purifying themselves beforehand, and they offered what Lev 10 calls ‘unauthorized fire’ in that it was a self-initiated sacrifice rather than one commanded by God. The text also suggests they may have been drunk at the time, which would have been an obvious sign of disrespect and undervaluing their holy calling.
16:13 | Aaron is commanded to use the censer to make the Holy of Holies so cloudy as to obscure the Mercy Seat in order that he (or whoever the successive high priest is) will not accidentally see the Lord and die. Both this item and the above one about Aaron’s sons emphasize just how much of the Levitical law was aimed at demonstrating the gulf between God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness.
16:21 | This is where we get the concept and term of ‘scapegoat.’ God is setting the pattern here of substitutionary atonement*, the idea that your sins can be borne by another and taken away so they won’t be counted against you. Obviously, the scapegoat is a model of Jesus, who takes our sin and filth away.
16:31 | I think it’s interesting that this passage institutes Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as an eternal statute. The people of God are instructed to observe this ceremony ‘forever.’ How does that translate between testaments? Again, why don’t we celebrate Jewish holidays in the church?
* I’m sure I’m using the wrong theological term here. As always, remember that I am but an amateur…
My buddy Dustin sometimes talks about this idea that always seems unsettling to me. He says that we ought to consider that the New Covenant, the status of our relationship with God after the resurrection of Christ, might not be the second half of a two-chapter story. Perhaps there were earlier chapters before the written record of the Bible, which God has not judged necessary to reveal to us because it’s not part of our salvation history. This might explain some of the discrepancies* between scientific and Biblical understandings of the distant past.
Or, and this is the more unsettling and more relevant suggestion, perhaps there is a next chapter. We understand Jesus as the Messiah promised in the OT who will come again at the end of the world, as promised in the NT. But what if there are more visits planned between now and the end of the world? What if there are even Newer Covenants to be revealed to us. Now, I’m not suggesting that this is true or that there is any evidence for it, but I think it’s useful to think about how unnerving that is, how dissonant with our understanding of Scripture and God and the world.
Now, that feeling is likely what the Jews of, say, 400-100 BC would have had if you told them that the Messiah was going to come in the form of a rural carpenter’s son, initiate the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, die without a single political or military accomplishment, rise from the grave, ascend into Heaven, and then come back in the indefinitely distant future to wrap things up. They would either reject your idea out of hand or be disturbed by the implications that it would have on their worldview, religion, and identity. They would not be able to see any evidence of such a sequence of events in any of the Scriptures. Sure, we can read Isaiah 53 or Psalm 110 and see those prophecies in hindsight (and I’m not suggesting we’re wrong to do so), but the average Jew in the centuries before Jesus would not have found anything in his religious study or practice that prepared him for what was going to happen. In the same way, there could very well be implications and connections in our Scripture — OT and NT — that could, in hindsight, be seen as prophecies for an unexpected third/next chapter in God’s story.
Again, I don’t think this is true. I’ve never heard someone suggest something specific in this regard. Dustin’s objective (I gather) is to be open-minded about how we form our expectations of God based on our understanding of Scripture. My objective is to relate this back to the Jewish experience in the first century to better understand how revolutionary the Christian claim of a New Covenant actually was.
* Of course, this notion of a discrepancy presumes a literal reading of the Bible as scientific historical text, which is problematic at best. Instead of ‘discrepancy,’ we could say that this hypothetical prologue or pre-Old Testament chapter could account for the gaps in our understanding of the more figurative/spritual/metaphysical language in that part of the Scriptures.