Πέμπτη, 25 Μαρτίου 2010

Earl Doherty- ''The Sound of Silence'' (1)-200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles

200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles

  • No. 1   Introduction
  • No. 2   Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians
  • No. 3   1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus
  • No. 4   The Epistle to the Hebrews
  • No. 5   James, 1 & 2 Peter
  • No. 6   1 & 2 John, Jude, plus Revelation
  • No. 7   Appendix: 20 Arguable References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles
  • No. 8   Postscript (including a response to J. P. Holding's rebuttal to the Sound of Silence)

Do the New Testament epistles tells us anything about the Jesus of the Gospels? Are the epistle writers aware of such a man, and do they have any knowledge of the Gospel story?
New Testament commentators have long remarked, frequently with some perplexity, on the dearth of references in the early Christian correspondence to details of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. "The early church lost all interest in the earthly career of the man they turned into God." This has been the standard method of explaining the extensive silence on the human Jesus to be found in the canonical epistles. I have questioned the feasibility of such an eventuality taking place, the likelihood that the elevation of a man to Godhead would—or could—entail the complete dismissal of his earthly incarnation as unimportant or of no interest to the first two generations of Christian believers. Other rationalizations put forward to explain the silence have included the claim that, since every epistle writer knew that the details of Jesus’ life and ministry were familiar to their readers (which would be a very questionable assumption in itself), no one bothered to make even a passing reference to any of those details, even in places where they would naturally come to mind. J. P. Holding, in his rebuttal to my views—see Reader Feedback—has put it that "there was no need" to mention all these elements of the Gospel account.
I have already attacked the rationality of such arguments in several places on the site. (For example, the response to William in Reader Feedback set 19.) What I am concerned with here is to provide a comprehensive picture of this pervasive silence on the Gospel Jesus contained in the New Testament epistles. While many aspects and examples of it have been touched on throughout my articles, the full extent of it, the nitty-gritty of it, may come as a surprise to many readers. In the present feature, "The Sound of Silence," I will point out and comment on virtually all the identifiable places in the Pauline corpus (Paul and pseudo-Paul), in Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 & 2 John and Jude, where a reference to some Gospel element, some mention of the historical Jesus, would seem natural, or even called for. One would, of course, not expect to find such a reference in every single instance. But to find it missing in so many instances, covering all aspects of the life and death portrayed in the Gospels, is an astonishing phenomenon which cannot be blithely dismissed or explained away. This is a silence which cuts across every early document, through several authors and a multiplicity of situations, and it creates a very powerful and compelling "argument from silence."
My personal catalogue of silences in the epistles numbers around 250, but I will trim that, along with some combining of closely related ones, to a figure of the most clearly identifiable 200. I’ll start by extracting from these a "Top 20", the ones I find most arresting and most representative. This will be followed by the remainder, going through each document in canonical order. Along the way, I will briefly glance at related silences found in other, non-canonical epistles and early Christian documents, such as 1 Clement and the Didache. I will wrap up this catalogue with some general observations in a Postscript.
To provide a balance, I will list in an Appendix the 20 passages in the epistles which I consider could be said to constitute an arguable reference to the Gospel Jesus and his story, giving brief explanations for them and pointing out where on my site I deal with them in greater depth. Many of these references I regard as derived from scripture, which was the source for so many of the details which ended up in the Gospels themselves. Only two of these passages, possibly a third, would I put down to later interpolation, the first with much support by liberal scholars: 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16, with its reference to "the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus," and 1 Timothy 6:13, with its reference to Pilate. (I will direct the reader to full discussions of these two items.) The third, a possible marginal gloss, is Galatians 1:19's "the brother of the Lord" in reference to James, which I discuss in the Appendix. And those who have read my site (especially Supplementary Article No. 6: The Source of Paul’s Gospel) will know that the passage about Jesus’ words at "the Lord’s Supper" (1 Cor. 11:23f) is readily explainable—and Paul himself tells us so—as personal revelation about a mythological ‘event.’ Personal revelation from Christ in heaven—a view held by quite a few scholars, too—is also the source of Paul’s three or four "words of the Lord" (which includes the Lord’s Supper scene), and I will deal with this particular item at length in the Appendix.
The Argument from Silence
Before getting under way, let’s take a brief look at the "argument from silence." This is a method of reasoning which is often condemned by scholars in the field of New Testament research (though more widely accepted in other areas). But it is an important and legitimate element in the Jesus-as-myth theory. It states in one of its applications that if a document fails to mention something in a context where we would strongly expect to find it, this would tend to show (depending on the state of all the evidence) that the subject is not known to the author and therefore may not exist.
We might illustrate the principle involved with this analogy. If a deceased man’s descendant claims that the man once won a lottery, yet there is no contemporary record of such a win, no entry of a large sum in his bank statements, no mention of it in his diaries and letters, no memory of a spending spree, if on his deathbed he told someone he never got a break in his life, if he died of starvation, etc., we would have some good reason to use the argument from silence to say that the claim is probably false, that in fact he had never won a lottery. (See also my "parable" which opens the book review of Robert Funk’s Honest to Jesus.)
Morton Smith, in condemning one of G. A. Wells’ articles (M. Smith, "The Historical Jesus", in Jesus in History and Myth, Prometheus Books, p.47), calls the argument "absurd," since "silence can be explained by reasons other than ignorance." The latter may sometimes be so, but it points to the fact that the conditions under which the argument is used must determine its validity. Ernst Haenchen, in his commentary on Acts (The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary, p.476), admits it is justified when everything urges the writer to mention something, yet he fails to do so; Haenchen uses it himself to support a contention about Paul. We must therefore ask, in looking at each silence, whether we have good and strong reason to expect that a Christian writer would have said something here about Jesus, and whether there seems any good reason to explain why he did not. If, for example, the writer is making an argument, and he fails to bring in a supposedly well-known point about Jesus that would serve him well, or if a description or discussion invites obvious comparison to an element of the Gospel story and we do not get it, we are justified in finding the omission at least curious.
A silence can be especially compelling if it is expressed in a way which seems to exclude the idea or involvement of an historical Gospel Jesus, and there are many cases like this. Finally, the frequency of the silences has to be given weight. Taken individually, one failure to mention Jesus may be an oversight, a quirk of the author, an odd characteristic of one document or writer; but when it occurs in document after document, in writer after writer, when it extends to every single aspect of Jesus’ earthly life, such pervasive silence must mean something and cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Nor is it valid to rationalize that Paul and the other early writers did not need to mention a given point about Jesus because their readers were already familiar with it. Perhaps so, but do none of us, in our letters and conversations, ever insert things our listeners are familiar with? We might have little to say to each other if we didn’t. Besides, it is insupportable in itself to presume that all these audiences to whom the epistle writers are addressing themselves could have been assumed to be so familiar with all the details of Jesus' life and teachings that everyone would consider it pointless to mention them. Furthermore, such reasoning hardly applies in the context of argument. An argument is delivered more forcefully precisely by appealing to a point that does mean something to the reader or listener, something the audience is familiar with. Adding, for example, the simple phrase "as Jesus himself said" could not help but support many of the views these letter writers are urging, and there hardly seems any good reason, especially a blanket one, for why they would all consistently fail to do so.
"Explanations" are often offered to explain Paul's silence, such as that he had never met Jesus, had different agendas than the other apostles, had particular sensitivities to the authenticity of his own credentials. Such objections falter on one general consideration. Every other epistle writer expresses himself in exactly the same way as Paul in regard to the silence about an historical Jesus. This includes those who wrote later in Paul's name (Colossians, Ephesians, etc.), writers who would have had no reason, nor the necessary insight, to faithfully reproduce Paul's own idiosyncrasies. Many of the individual reasons offered for Paul's reticence on the historical Jesus also fail upon closer examination: they don't "work" when you bring other considerations into play. I have dealt with such points in many places on the site and many will arise in the present feature in the course of examining the passages themselves.
An Opening Summation
Finally, to give the reader an idea of the depth of silence the epistles demonstrate, the blackness of the void they contain in regard to the Gospel Jesus and his story, let me preface my itemization of this silence with a summation. Taking into account my two or three interpolations, and Paul’s few "words of the Lord" as a product of revelation (with the Lord’s Supper scene a mythical creation), let’s put it this way:
If we were to rely entirely on the early Christian correspondence, we would know virtually nothing about the Jesus of Nazareth portrayed in the Gospels. We would not know where he was born or when. We would not even know the era he lived in. We would be ignorant of the names of his parents, where he grew up, where he preached. Or eventhat he preached. We would not be able to identify a single one of his ethical teachings, for although the epistles often make moral pronouncements very close to the ones Jesus speaks in the Gospels, no writer ever attributes them to him.
Nor would we be aware that he performed miracles. Not that he healed, that he cast out demons, that he raised the dead to life. We would not know that he had been baptized, nor would we meet the figure of John the Baptist who performed that rite on him. We would not know that Jesus had walked the hills of Galilee (or the waters of its sea), that he tramped the dusty wildernesses of Judea or entered the ancient walls of Jerusalem. Did he alienate the Jewish leaders, who plotted against him and ultimately bore the stigma of having killed him? We would know nothing about that. Did he celebrate a Last Supper with his disciples? We would not know that for certain. His betrayer, Judas: he and his evil deed would be lost to us forever, as would another betrayal, the denial of him by Peter, his chief apostle.
And what of Pontius Pilate, his executioner? He surfaces only with the letters of Ignatius and in 1 Timothy, both written early in the second century—and there is some doubt about the authenticity of the latter reference. As for the details surrounding the climax of Jesus’ life: his trials before the Jewish Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, his brutal crucifixion, details of which should have been indelibly burned into the consciousness of every Christian writer and believer from the day they transpired, nothing of them would have come down to us. Not the words he spoke—or refused to speak—before his accusers, not the scourging and the crown of thorns, not the raising up of the cross between two thieves or the words he spoke as he hung upon it. Nor would we know where that cross was raised, for the names of Calvary and Golgotha are never mentioned. We would not have heard about the earthquake, the rending of the Temple veil, nor the darkness that covered the earth for three hours at midday during the long agony. As to where he was buried, we would not know that either, and the dramatic story of the finding of the empty tomb three days later would have passed into oblivion along with all the other details of this mysterious life and career. With only the first century Christian epistles to go on, the darkness over the man who is said to have founded the greatest religion in world history would be complete.



 64. - Galatians 1:11-12

    11For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. [NASB]
Nothing could be more clearly stated. Paul has arrived at his knowledge and doctrine of the Christ he preaches through personal revelation. He denies receiving anything from other men, by teaching, by passed-on apostolic tradition. We are entitled, therefore, to regard the gospel he spells out in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, as well as the information he gives the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23f, as a product of revelation, and not handed-on tradition from others. (He uses the same verb,paralambano, in all three places.) This conclusion is thoroughly argued in my Supplementary Article No. 6: The Source of Paul’s Gospel.Paul obviously considers that the revelation he has received from God is more valid and important than anything which other men might have to teach him. But is it conceivable that he could so blithely disparage and reject the value of anything which the apostles who had accompanied Jesus in his earthly ministry might have to offer? Indeed, we never get a hint that Paul derived any information about Jesus from the Jerusalem apostles. Such a turning up of the nose at oral tradition from the men who had known and heard Jesus himself would have drawn justifiable criticism, not only from the Jerusalem apostles themselves, but from other Christian preachers in the field, and Paul would have been forced to respond to it. Some hint of that criticism and its basis would have surfaced in his letters when he discusses the value and validity of his own apostleship and gospel. None ever does.
In such an absence, we can see Paul’s point here. The superior apostle is he who is blessed with direct revelation from God. Others might teach Christ, but they relied on learning about him from those who had favored access to the pipeline of divine disclosure.
We should stand in astonishment at this picture of the premier apostle of the period passionately defining the highest measure of reliability and authenticity for a Christian preacher’s gospel: not that it had its roots in the things Jesus had done and taught on earth, not in Jesus’ own delegation of authority during his ministry, not through any apostolic channel which went back to a genesis in the Lord’s own life, but through a divine revelation, the spirit of God bestowed individually on chosen Christian prophets! Amazingly, Paul is acknowledging no gospel of Jesus going back to Jesus. He is allowing for no primacy of any gospel held by those who had seen, heard and followed the Lord while he was on earth, no superiority of any apostle who had been appointed by Jesus himself. Either Paul was guilty of the most supreme arrogance, or else such concepts simply did not exist for him.

 65. - Galatians 1:13

    You have heard what my manner of life was when I was still a practicing Jew: how savagely I persecuted the church of God, and tried to destroy it. [NEB]
A church founded by the followers of the earthly Jesus, who had personally chosen them as apostles and had directed them to teach all nations—and yet Paul calls it "the church of God"? On the other hand, if that church had formed as a result of God’s revelation through the Spirit (as Paul and other epistle writers repeatedly say), with Jesus merely the content of that revelation, the term is perfectly apt.

 66. - Galatians 2:6

    But as for the men of high reputation [or, seeming to be important]—not that their importance matters to me: God does not recognize these personal distinctions— [NEB]
Here Paul disparages the importance of Peter and the other Jerusalem apostles as being neither of any concern to him, nor to God for that matter. How could Paul, as self-important as he is, dismiss with such disdain the very chosen apostles of Jesus, particularly the one on whom Jesus is supposed to have "built his church" (Mt. 16:18)? Paul then goes on (next passage) to parallel his own appointment to apostleship by God with Peter’s appointment—also by God. Paul not only ignores any superior position of Peter by virtue of having been chosen and elevated by Jesus himself, he excludes it!

 — Galatians 2:8 - See "Top 20" #6

 67. - Galatians 2:14

    But when I saw that their conduct did not square with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas, before the whole congregation, "If you, a Jew born and bred, live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew, how can you insist that Gentiles must live like Jews?" [NEB]
Perhaps no issue in Christianity’s earliest period loomed larger and had a more divisive effect than this one: to what extent were gentile converts to the faith required to conform to the Jewish Law, particularly in regard to circumcision for males and to eating practices? If ever there were a compelling need to draw upon the teaching and example of Jesus, it would be in the context of these crucial debates. Yet in passages like this one, in which Paul recounts how Peter suspended his willingness to eat with gentiles, we get not a hint of any such appeal.Gospel scenes such as Mark 2:15-17 and Luke 5:30-32 have Jesus defending himself against criticism for sharing his table with tax collectors and sinners. Could this exemplary behavior not have served Paul as an argument against Peter’s unwillingness to share meals with gentiles? (The tax gatherers may have been mostly local Jews, but the principle was still the same: engaging in table fellowship with the unclean.) Such considerations belie the whole rationalization that Paul felt no interest in the earthly life of Jesus and would not have wished or needed to draw upon it in his missionary work. The opening line of the above passage should really have read: "But when I saw that their conduct did not square with Jesus’ own conduct . . ."
[ Note that it would not matter if Jesus had actually pronounced on the issue under debate or not. The needs of such polemical situations would inevitably have led to the development of a tradition that he had said something. What we see in the Gospels, of course, is this process in reverse. General developments by reform-minded sectarian circles (here, relaxing the purity rules to allow mixed table fellowship) became focused and personified in a founding figure who had actually taught such things and to whom appeal could now be made for authority. This was one of the paramount purposes served by the Gospels. ]

 68. - Galatians 3:23-25

    23Before this faith came, we were close prisoners in the custody of the law, pending the revelation of faith. 24Thus the law was a kind of tutor in charge of us until Christ should come [or, tutor to conduct us to Christ], when we should be justified through faith; 25and now that faith has come, the tutor’s charge is at an end. [NEB]
In the passage leading to these verses, Paul is explaining and justifying his suspension of the Jewish law as a requirement for salvation. In its place stands only "faith in Jesus Christ" (verse 22). And what is it that marks the great turning point, the passing away of the law’s term of effect and usefulness? Not the arrival of Christ himself, not his career on earth, but the beginning of faith in him, meaning the response of believers to the gospel, revealed to and preached by apostles like Paul.Verse 24’s "until Christ came" (NEB and a few others) is a wishful translation of a simple eis Christon (to Christ), which although conceivably translatable as "to the time of Christ," benefits from the more common translation of "leading one to Christ," meaning to faith in him; alternatively, it could mean to the time of Christ’s revelation. Either one fits the thought voiced in both flanking verses which speak of the arrival of faith, not of Christ himself. Note that in verse 23 Paul speaks of the "revelation" of faith, or the "faith to be revealed." Such an expression makes sense only in the context of what the epistles are continually saying: that the doctrine about the Christ, the very existence of the Son, is something that has been revealed by God in the present time to apostles like Paul (Romans 16:25-27, 1 Peter 1:20, etc.)

 69. - Galatians 4:4-6

    4But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of (a) woman, born under the law, 5in order that he [God] might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Father!" 7Therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. [NASB]
Many point to this passage as "proof" that Paul knows and is speaking of an historical, human Jesus. I deal with this passage extensively in my Supplementary Article No. 8:Christ As "Man", and it will also be discussed in the Appendix to this feature. Here I will point out the basic difficulties in so relying on this passage.The two "sent" verbs of verses 4 and 6 are exactly the same, yet the latter specifies that it is the Son’s spirit which God sends, not his bodily person. And when is it that God "sent his son"? When "we were children" (4:1) in order to confer the rights of sons, which happens when God sends the Son’s spirit, all of which happens in the Pauline present. Most perplexing of all, why in the phrase "to redeem those under the law" is it, grammatically speaking, God who is doing the redeeming and not Jesus himself? The same oddity occurs in verse 7. As the NEB phrases it: "You are . . . also by God’s own act an heir." Why is Paul incapable of focusing on Jesus, in his recent incarnation and historical deeds of redemption, as the source of all these benefits?
[ I often quote Burton’s observation (International Critical Commentary, Galatians, p.218-19) that, grammatically speaking, the phrases "born of woman [Burton prefers it without the article], born under the law" are not necessarily linked temporally with the "God sent his Son," but are simply stated characteristics of the Son. And why is Paul bothering to say at all that Jesus was born of (a) woman? Would this not be self-evident if he was an historical man? Rather, he needs to make a paradigmatic parallel with those being redeemed, who were themselves born of woman and born under the law. Heavenly counterpart figures could guarantee certain effects on their initiates precisely because they reflected, or underwent, the same features and experiences as their earthly counterparts. Can a spirit world deity be ‘born of woman’? He can in the mythical sense (as with the savior god Dionysos), and he can if scripture says that he was. The famous Isaiah 7:14, "A young woman is with child, and she will bear a son and will call him Immanuel," was a prominent messianic text which early Christians could not ignore. Even the "born under the law" might, in Paul’s very imaginative use of scripture, be derived from his interpretation of Christ as Abraham’s "seed" in Galatians 3:16. ]

 70. - Galatians 4:22-31

    For it is written that Abraham had two sons . . . (etc.)
In Galatians 4:22-31, Paul makes his own interpretation of the story of Abraham and the two sons he had by his two women. The first woman is Abraham’s concubine, the slave Hagar; she gives birth to Ishmael, who stands for the Jewish race who still exist in slavery under the Law and the old covenant. That race and that covenant is represented by Mount Sinai. And what is the other half of the parallel? The second woman is Abraham’s legitimate wife, the free-born Sarah; she is the mother of Isaac, the true inheritor of God’s promise, Abraham’s spiritual heir. In a manner unspecified, Paul links his gentile readers with Isaac; they too are children of the promise, children of Sarah who is symbolized by the heavenly Jerusalem. This represents the source of the new convenant.Paul strains for some of this allegory, but on the surface the whole thing might seem to hang together. Yet something seems to be missing here, something we would expect to find, especially as Christ "born of woman" is still fresh in Paul’s mind. He is talking about mothers and sons. Why is Mary not worked into this analogy, if only as a secondary part of the interpretation? She was after all the mother of Jesus himself who established the new convenant. She is surely a type to Sarah’s archetype (meaning a later representation of some archetypal figure in scripture; or to put it another way, the scriptural figure or element prefigures the later one). So is Jesus himself to Isaac, both symbols of sacrificed victims. (Even though Isaac was not actually killed, he assumed this significance in Jewish thinking.)
Paul has spent much of Galatians 3 linking the gentiles to Abraham through Christ as his "seed": why not double such a link through Mary and Sarah? Could not Mary be allegorized as the mother of Christians? Where, for that matter, is the thing which should have been obvious as the symbol of the new covenant, in parallel to Mount Sinai as the symbol of the old one: not the heavenly Jerusalem but the Mount of Calvary where Jesus was crucified, site of the blood sacrifice which had established that new convenant?
Paul once again shows himself to be totally immune in his thought and expression to all aspects of the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth.

 71. - Galatians 5:14

    For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [NEB]
This is the second time (cf. Romans 13:8) that Paul expresses himself exactly as the Gospel Jesus does and speaks of the whole Law being summed up in this one rule from Leviticus. In neither place does he show awareness of any tradition that Jesus had made this a centerpiece of his teaching (eg, Mt. 22:39). Paul may, if we are to believe the usual rationalization, have had "no interest" in Jesus’ ministry and the things he did on earth, but if he knew the bare fact that Jesus had taught (and how could he not?), he must have heard that the love commandment had figured prominently in that teaching. It is hard to believe that his lack of interest was so profound, indeed so pathological, that he would in several places in his letters speak of the ethics of Christian love and yet refuse to even suggest that such teaching had anything to do with the historical preaching Son of God.


 72. - Ephesians 1:7-10

    (After speaking of the redemption and forgiveness of sin gained through the blood of the Son) 7. . . Therein lies the richness of God’s free grace lavished upon us,8imparting full wisdom and insight. 9He [God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he determined beforehand in him(self)—10to be put into effect in the fullness of time, namely that the universe, all things in heaven and on earth, should be brought into a unity in Christ. [NEB/KJ]
A somewhat convoluted and ambiguous passage in the Greek, but one thing is clear: the absence of any historical Jesus in the thinking of this pseudo-Pauline writer. If Christ’s "blood" is regarded as spiritual and shed in the mythical realm, the rest of the sentence speaks of God’s revelation in Paul’s time, of the mystery that the sundered universe (it was one of the concepts of the era that the evil spirits had divided heaven from earth) was to be brought back into a unity through the Son’s spiritual sacrifice. The "fullness of time" (v.10) is marked, not by the sacrifice itself, let alone by any life and ministry of the Son, but by the revelation of God’s intentions to such as Paul, and the reunification of things earthly and heavenly; the latter is an entirely mythological event which was hardly verifiable through historical or material world observation. Note also that verses 7 and 8 speak of God’s grace being lavished upon us, but is that grace the person and event of Jesus of Nazareth? No, it is the "wisdom and insight" which God has bestowed, again fitting the context of revelation. (This is followed in verse 9 by a revelation word, gnoridzo.) Revelation about the Son, not the arrival of the Son himself.There are many uses of "in Christ" in this passage (see 1:3f), but all of them fit the context of Christ as spiritual channel and divine agency operating in a mythical setting; what we do not find is the phrase attached to any mention of an historical event.

 73. - Ephesians 1:19-23

    19. . . They (God’s resources and power) are measured by his strength and the might 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead, when he enthroned him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all government and authority, all power and dominion, and any title of sovereignty that can be named, not only in this age but in the age to come. 22He put everything in subjection beneath his feet, and appointed him as supreme head to the church, 23which is his body and as such holds within it the fullness of him who himself receives the entire fullness of God. [NEB]
I quote this passage to make a point about one of the vast and fundamental silences found in the epistles, in their frequent portrayal (cf. Col. 15-20, Heb. 1:2-3, etc.) of Christ in such lofty terms. Never is there mention that this cosmic Son of God, on whom is bestowed full divinity and power over all things, filling and sustaining the entire universe, to whom believing humanity is mystically united, was formerly on earth as a humble Jewish preacher known as Jesus of Nazareth. Nowhere does anyone deal with the bizarre and blasphemous phenomenon that a crucified criminal, ignominiously executed on a hill outside Jerusalem, has been raised—among Jews, no less—to such an exalted and unprecedented status, the equal of God himself. No one ever speaks of or defends the need for Christians to believe in this startling transformation of a human man. This is undoubtedly the single greatest silence that resounds throughout the early Christian record.

 74. - Ephesians 2:17-18

    17And he came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near, 18for through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father. [NASB]
Is verse 17 a reference to Jesus’ teaching ministry on earth? Instead of taking the opportunity to refer to some of those teachings (such as Mt. 5:23 which speaks of "peace" with one’s brothers, or the message that is to be brought to "all nations"), the writer quotes Isaiah 57:19, which supposedly speaks of an end-time reconciliation between peoples. Even the preliminary words about preaching good news is based on Isaiah 52:7.This passage is not a reference to an historical event, but an interpretation of scripture, an expression of the early Christian idea (found notably in Hebrews) that the Son inhabited the spiritual world of the scriptures and spoke from there. Another common idea was that Christ had "come" through his revelation by God to Christian prophets. He was now active in the world and speaking through those prophets (the verb euangelidzo, to proclaim good news, is used to describe the work of apostles like Paul). Verse 18 also reflects the role of the spiritual Christ in providing a channel to the Father.
In this connection we might ask why the writer would have passed up Gospel sayings of Jesus about himself as providing access to God, such as John 10:7, "I am the door," or 14:16, "No one comes to the Father except by me," or Luke 10:22, "No one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
(This passage will be dealt with again in the Appendix.)

 75. - Ephesians 2:20-21

    You are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself is the foundation-stone. In him the whole building is bonded together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. [NEB]
A telling omission here. The foundation of Christian belief and the movement itself is the work of apostles and prophets like Paul. This entirely ignores the career of Jesus himself. Christ Jesus as the "foundation stone" is simply the object of the faith laid by the apostles. If Jesus of Nazareth had lived and begun the movement in his name, no Christian writer could have failed to designate Jesus as the initial, primary builder of the church. And where is Jesus’ own quote of Psalm 118:22, referring to himself: "the stone which the builders rejected has become the main cornerstone," as recorded in Mark 12:10?C. L. Mitton (Ephesians, p.113) suggests that the meaning of akrogoniaios (cornerstone) in LXX Isaiah 28:16 determines its meaning in Ephesians, but this merely serves to show that the idea has been derived not from historical tradition but from scriptural exegesis. Mitton also suggests that the apostles and prophets are to be regarded as part of the foundation as well, alongside Christ, but there is no justification for this in the text.

 76. - Ephesians 3:4-6 (+7-11)

    4In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to God’s holy apostles and prophets through the spirit, 6that through the gospel the Gentiles are to be fellow heirs and fellow members of the promise in Christ Jesus. . . . [NIV]
Here we see the sole mechanism of revelation at work in the preaching of apostles like Paul, the revelation of the mystery, the secret, about Christ. It is not on passed-on tradition going back to Jesus himself and his immediate followers that Christian apostles base their knowledge and authority, but on the action of the spirit sent from God. It is true that, while other passages, like Colossians 2:2, speak of God’s long-undisclosed mystery as being Christ himself, here (and compare Col. 1:27) the secret is narrowed to something specific, namely the inclusion of the gentiles in the redemptive effects of God’s salvation through Christ. This specificity is often appealed to as rendering the thought valid within the context of an historical Jesus, on the assumption that the inclusion of the gentiles was not an identifiable mark of Jesus’ own preaching.But is this really a legitimate ‘out’? Would apostles preaching such a doctrine not seek to find its legitimacy and precedent in the preaching of Jesus, to anchor it in the example of Jesus welcoming the sinner, having contact with non-Jews, etc.? It is virtually impossible that they would not, for sectarian impulses are always to give the sect’s important doctrines the strongest possible foundation and authority. Indeed, it is unthinkable that in all the references to revealing the secret of Christ, whatever its nature, no Christian writer would ever express the thought that the first and primary revealer of such secrets had been Christ himself during his ministry on earth. This silence is a devastating one.
Besides, what of Jesus directives (Mt. 28:19, Acts 1:8) to go and preach to all the nations, an instruction which would automatically have encompassed Ephesians’ idea here that the gentiles were to be included in the redemptive promise? How could this writer not possess any tradition of such a directive (even if not an historical one) by Jesus? Mitton (p.123) states (based on the Gospels) that "this breaking down of barriers (between Jew and gentile) had been the mark of Jesus in his life and teachings," but if modern scholars can recognize the obvious, can we believe that Paul and other early writers did not, or chose to ignore it?
[ Consider verses 10-11: "(God’s hidden purpose was concealed for long ages) 10in order that now, through the church, the wisdom of God in all its varied forms might be made known to the powers and authorities in the realm of heaven, 11in accord with his age-long purpose which he effected in Christ Jesus our Lord." Again, the long-hidden wisdom of God in all its forms is revealed not by an historical Jesus in his life and ministry, but only now, in Paul’s time, by apostles like himself and "the church." The role of Christ in verse 11 relates to that "age-long purpose" and not specifically to the present time, in which (as in v.10) Christ plays no role alongside the church that reveals God’s wisdom. Mitton (p.128) insists on interpreting the "in Christ" as referring to the actions or example of Jesus of Nazareth in his earthly life, but it better fits the general meaning of this kind of phrase as used throughout the epistles: God is the agent, Christ is the ‘enabling force’ he employs for both redemption and intermediary communication, all of it within a mythological and spiritual setting in keeping with the philosophy of the time.
And who, in these verses, is the recipient of that long-hidden wisdom of God? If there is any passage which stops us short and indicates that the writer is operating in a different realm of thought from our own, it is this one. The revelation of the wisdom of God is being aimed at the rulers and authorities in the realms of heaven, so that they will become aware of God’s plan and the world’s destiny! In other words, the hostile spirits and wicked powers are real and key elements in the world view and theology of the New Testament writers. (Mitton’s "rather surprisingly" is an understatement, and his suggestion that "this may have meant little more to the writer than it can mean to us, except as rhetorical flourish," reflects the inability of many a modern commentator to perceive and accept the gap that exists between the ancient mind and ours, and with it how shaky are all the assumptions and mindsets we often bring to the originators of the Western world’s faith. See also Ephesians 6:11-12, #85.) ]

 77. - Ephesians 4:1-2

    I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. [NIV]
No reference to Jesus here as an example of such behavior, or to the teachings which contained such recommendations. Yet Matthew (11:29) records a saying by Jesus in which he describes himself using precisely these two words: humble and gentle. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." One might expect this to be a well known saying in the Jesus tradition, one that provoked controversy for its audacity when it was first spoken. Yet the writer passes up the chance to quote it, to reinforce his own urging by pointing out that Jesus had described himself with these selfsame words, providing the ideal example. Even if the saying itself was not widespread, surely the tradition that Jesus was "meek and mild" enjoyed wide currency.In reality, this is a wisdom saying, similar to those placed in the mouth of personified Wisdom in documents like Proverbs, and was eventually placed in the mouth of the Gospel Jesus.

 78. - Ephesians 4:8-12

    8Scripture says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train, and gave gifts to men." 9Now, the word ‘ascended’ implies that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth. 10He who descended is no other than he who ascended far above the heavens, so that he might fill the universe. 11And these were his gifts: some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip God’s people for work in his service, to the building up of the body of Christ. [NEB/NIV]
As extremely revealing passage. The writer uses the Psalm quote (68:18) for two purposes. One is to ‘prove’ that Christ descended to earth, since the act of ‘ascending’ on high implied that he had done so from a lower level. (Some translators point out that "lower parts of the earth" could mean the underworld, but this is not likely since the writer speaks of Christ acting among men, not in Sheol.) But why would he need to appeal to such ‘proof’ if Christ had lived a recent life in full view of all? This strange, even bizarre, thought suggests that what was lacking in the writer’s mind was the historical knowledge that indeed Jesus had been on earth.And what had he done while in that lower location? In fact, the writer seems not to be trying to imply a ‘life’ at all, no physical presence on earth. Certainly there is no description of physical events, let alone Gospel details. Rather, he is concerned with Christ’s bestowing of gifts which are spiritual in nature (and bestowed through spiritual channels), namely the calling of various people to roles in the spread of the faith, in the building up of the body of Christ, which is an entirely mystical concept. The gifts enumerated betray no sense of the Gospel career of Jesus of Nazareth, but fit the concept that the spirit of God or Christ had implanted inspirational qualifications for a call to Christian community service. This is the second purpose of the Psalm quote, to indicate that Christ had come down to bestow these gifts—although to do so the writer reverses the actual content of the Psalm’s verse, where the figure addressed is receiving gifts from men. Such were the liberties of midrash.
Note that the significance for the writer of the "captives in his train" relates to the cosmic powers of the heavens, over which Christ is said to triumph through his spirit world sacrifice. (Compare Col. 2:15 and, as always, 1 Cor. 2:8.)

 79. - Ephesians 4:23-24

    You must be made new in mind and spirit, and put on the new nature of God’s creating. [NEB]
Here the writer seems to be unaware of Jesus’ teaching that we must be "born anew," as in John 3:3.

 80. - Ephesians 4:26

    If you are angry, do not let anger lead you into sin. [NEB]
The writer fails to bolster his admonition by quoting the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:22): "Anyone who nurses anger against his brother must be brought to judgment." One of the ironies found in most commentaries, such as that of Mitton on Ephesians, is their unfailing habit of faithfully recording such Gospel parallels without asking why, in contrast, the writers of these epistles pervasively fail to point to Jesus as the source of such ethical directives.

 81. - Ephesians 4:32

    Be generous to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you. [NEB]
Here, too, the writer fails to quote not only Jesus’ teachings on the subject of forgiveness (e.g., Mt. 6:14: "For if you forgive others the wrongs they have done, your heavenly Father will also forgive you," Mt. 18:21, etc.), but Jesus’ own exemplary words from the cross: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34). The latter would have been a powerful illustration of forgiveness under even the most dire of circumstances, and if such traditions and teachings existed, there can be no doubt that the writer of Ephesians would have called attention to them.

 82. - Ephesians 5:2

    Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. [NEB]
Yet another passage which urges love on the believer without noting that this had been a pillar of Jesus’ teaching on earth. We might also take note of the atmosphere of the writer’s reference to the crucifixion. It lacks all sense of the Gospel portrayal of that event as the ignominious execution of an innocent man, an evil deed accompanied by betrayal and taunts and false accusations, all of it provoking God’s divine wrath. (Compare the similar lack of Gospel atmosphere in Romans 8:32.)

 83. - Ephesians 5:8

    For though you were once all darkness, now as Christians you are light. Live like men who are at home in daylight, for where light is, there all goodness springs up, all justice and truth. [NEB]
Would not Jesus’ own description of the believer from the Sermon on the Mount (5:14-16) be apt here: "You are light for all the world . . . and you, like the lamp, must shed light among your fellows, so that when they see the good you do, they may give praise to your Father in heaven"? Or John’s words of Jesus (8:12): "No follower of mine shall wander in the dark; he shall have the light of life." (Compare 12:36.)The writer of Ephesians can know nothing about any teachings of Jesus to so consistently fail to appeal to them in the many and varied contexts of ethical admonition throughout his letter. In this, of course, he joins company with every other epistle writer.

 84. - Ephesians 6:8

    For you know that whatever good each man may do, slave or free, will be repaid him by the Lord. [NEB]
Did Jesus not teach that the good will be rewarded? "Your father who sees what is done . . . will reward you" (Mt. 6:4), "that man will not go unrewarded" (Mt. 10:42), "the Son of Man will give each man the due reward for what he has done" (Mt. 16:27), and so on. How much energy would it have taken for some of these writers, some of the time, to give us a simple "as Jesus said" or "as Jesus taught us"?

 85. - Ephesians 6:11-12

    11Put on all the armor which God provides, so that you may be able to stand firm against the devices of the devil. 12For our fight is not against human foes, but against cosmic powers, against the authorities and potentates of this dark world, against the superhuman forces of evil in the heavens. [NEB]
One of the resounding silences in both Ephesians and Colossians is their failure to point out the victories which Christ on earth achieved against the forces of darkness. Both these epistles illustrate the ancient world’s preoccupation with inimical spirit powers (which they saw as inhabiting the very air around them) and forces of Fate, and the evil effects these had on human lives. This fear of demons, and the search for ways to neutralize their activities through magic and the invocation of protective deities, was especially strong in pagan society. The central declaration about Jesus in both Colossians and Ephesians is that he is such a deity, that his death has rescued mankind "from the domain of darkness" (Col. 1:13), that "every power and authority (i.e., the spirits) in the universe has been subjected to him" (2:10), and that a universe fractured by the power of those spirits has been reunified by Christ’s sacrifice (Eph. 1:10, cf. 3:10). Ephesians 6:11-12 (above) demonstrates this obsession clearly. Many Christians even today perpetuate a similar paranoia in their emphasis on Satan.Every salvation religion of the day sought to fill this need for "armor" and reassurance against the hostile powers. Any savior god worth his or her salt had to possess power over such spirits and be willing to exercise it on their followers’ behalf; Isis, for example, held a prominent role as just such a protector. But what of the great benefit Christ possessed over all the others? How are we to explain the failure of Ephesians and Colossians to point to dramatic, historical evidence which the Gospels record, evidence that Jesus did indeed possess and had demonstrated power over the demons and devices of the devil? For he had shown it even while he was on earth. The unclean spirits had surrendered to expulsion from the sick; they had cried for mercy. Even Jesus’ apostles had been given the power to drive out devils. Yet these two letters have not a word to say about such healing exorcisms. Nor do they hold up Jesus’ declaration (Mk. 3:21-7) that his purpose was to overthrow Satan and all his house.
Given the pagan preoccupation with evil spirits, the claim that Paul had felt no interest in Jesus’ life and deeds is thoroughly discredited, for this aspect of Jesus’ career would have been an immense asset to the appeal of his message, and of great interest to his listeners and converts. More broadly speaking, Christ in his incarnation would have enjoyed a dramatic advantage over his mythical Graeco-Roman rivals: for unlike them, he had recently been on earth in flesh and blood, seen by countless thousands, had dealt with evil forces first-hand, on humanity’s own turf. In his personal dealings Jesus had shown compassion, tolerance, generosity, all those things men and women thirsted for in confronting a hostile, uncaring world. It is simply unthinkable that Paul and the writers of such letters as Colossians and Ephesians would choose to remain silent on all these advantages of the human Jesus when presenting to their readers (gentile and Jew as well) their agent of salvation.


 86. - Philippians 1:6

    Of one thing I am certain: the One who started the good work in you will bring it to completion by the Day of Christ Jesus. [NEB]
This statement in its few words sums up the picture of the early Christian movement. Communities of believers have sprung up in various centers, responding to the preaching of prophets like Paul, through the power of the Spirit sent from God. (The "One" in the verse above is God, as the sense of the sentence makes certain.) The concept that Jesus himself had begun anything is completely missing from the landscape of the epistles.Whether Jesus had had any contact with the Philippians or not, whether he was long dead before the Philippians were converted or not, the image of the Son recently on earth as the force behind the origin and growth of the faith could not help but be present in the minds of preachers and believers alike. And yet it is consistently God who is presented as the mover and ‘personality’ behind the spread of Christianity. Christ Jesus may have provided the sacrifice, but as the above verse would indicate, there is an unmistakable sense throughout the epistles that he was not to put in an appearance on the earthly scene until the day he arrived from heaven to bring about the judgment and transformation of the world.

 — Philippians 3:10 - See "Top 20" #20


 87. - Colossians 1:15-20

    15(The Son) is the image of the invisible God, his is the primacy over all created things. 16In him everything in heaven and on earth was created, not only things visible but also the invisible orders of thrones, sovereignties, authorities and powers: the whole universe has been created through him and for him. 17And he exists before everything, and all things are held together in him. 18He is also the head of the church; and he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. [NEB]
Rivaled only by Hebrews 1:2-3, there is no more cosmic and exalted description of the Son to be found in the New Testament epistles than this 'christological hymn’ of Colossians. The very image of God and bearing his fullness, pre-existent with God before creation, the instrument of that creation and serving as its ruler and sustaining power to preserve its very existence. But the hymn writer has left out any mention of the incarnation, the identity of the man who had been this cosmic Son on earth, let alone anything he had done while in that human form. The writer, along with every other epistle author, has also neglected to explain how a mere man, a crucified criminal, could have been raised to such a lofty height, especially within a Jewish milieu, where separating God from all things human was an obsession. No defense of such an outlandish and blasphemous elevation of Jesus of Nazareth is ever offered.Raised from the dead—but when and where is not stated, and its purpose is to have Christ achieve primacy in all things, a mythological concept in a spirit-world setting. As for being head of the church, Paul’s genuine letters show that this is intended in a purely mystical sense. Why would all of these hymn writers (cf. Philippians 2:6-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, Ephesians 1:19-23) consistently remain silent on all aspects of the Son’s earthly identity and activities?
The answer, of course, is that this language—most graphically here and in Hebrews 1—belongs to the primary philosophical concept of the age, the Son as the knowable image and emanation of a transcendent God and an intermediary force between deity and humanity, an entirely spiritual being. This concept is reflected in the Greek Logos and Jewish personified Wisdom. (See Supplementary Article No. 5: Tracing the Christian Lineage in Alexandria.) This is why the hymn describes the Son in terms of what heis, a present, eternal entity, and not with any sense of a human figure of the recent past upon whom this colossal theological superstructure has been heaped. (See also the section "A Cosmic Force" in my review of Burton Mack’s book, Who Wrote the New Testament?)

 88. - Colossians 1:25-27

    25I have become (the church’s) servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness, 26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27To them God has chosen to make known among the gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. [NIV]
A passage similar to Ephesians 3:4-6 (#76) in which God reveals a long-hidden secret to apostles like Paul through revelation. As in the Ephesians case, the secret is narrowed, this time to the mystical, Pauline concept that Christ dwells in the believer, giving promise of future glory. Again the point must be made that even if we have no record of Christ having preached a specific doctrine like this (though some of Jesus’ pronouncements in the Fourth Gospel come close in spirit), the tendency would have been to impute such a thing to him or to find pointers to it in the things he did say. Moreover, the stark past-present dichotomy—a secret long-hidden throughout past time, followed by its disclosure in the present, an idea found throughout the Pauline corpus—casts not a glance at any intervening career of the Son on earth, much less makes room for Jesus’ role in revealing anything about himself.The next passage also deals with God’s revealed secret of Christ, and this time there is no narrowing of the mystery.

 89. - Colossians 2:2-3

    2I want them . . . to come to the full wealth of conviction which understanding brings, and grasp God’s secret. That secret is Christ himself; 3in him lie hidden all God’s treasures of wisdom and knowledge. [NEB] (Compare also 4:3.)
Here the secret long-hidden by God is not narrowed to a specific element. It is Christ himself who has been revealed in the present time. No thought is expressed that the Son had been revealed by the Son himself, recently incarnated. And the dwelling of God’s wisdom and knowledge within the Son is expressed in the present tense, when we might expect to find a past tense, expressing the natural thought that such things had dwelled in the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, the present implies a spiritual, eternal being, the intermediary Son of contemporary philosophy.

 90. - Colossians 2:8-10

    8Do not let your mind be captured by hollow and delusive speculations, based on traditions of man (man-made teachings) and centered on the elemental spirits of the world and not on Christ. 9For it is in Christ that the complete being of the Godhead dwells embodied, and in him you have been brought to completion. 10Every power and authority in the universe is subject to him as Head. [NEB]
As in the previous passage, God is found in Christ in the present and not in the past in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And if, as many judge (see Bauer’s Lexicon), the "elemental spirits" (stoicheia) of verse 8 refers to the divine entities which the ancients believed inhabited the heavenly bodies and certain aspects of the physical world, where is the contrast we should expect the writer to make between such spiritual entities and Christ? Namely, that the latter had taken on humanity and lived a life on earth.In verse 10 the writer, like the writer of Ephesians (6:12, #85), fails to mention Jesus’ ministry in which as miracle-worker and exorcist he demonstrated for all to see that he did indeed have power over the evil spirits. Such power is referred to in verse 15: "There (on the cross) Christ stripped the demonic rulers and authorities of their power over him, and in his own triumph made a public show of them." [Translator's New Testament; whether Christ or God is to be considered the subject of this sentence is uncertain.] But it is a power clearly exercised in the spiritual dimension, supporting the view that the entire crucifixion took place in the spirit realm.

 91. - Colossians 2:11

    In him also you were circumcised, not in a physical sense, but by being divested of the lower nature; this is Christ’s way of circumcision. [NEB]
Both Nativity stories (Matthew and Luke) are probably products of the early 2nd century, but if Jesus had lived, there would of course have been the automatic expectation that eight days after his birth he had been circumcised, like all Jewish males. Thus the words of this verse might well have confused those readers who always assumed that "physically" was precisely the way Jesus was circumcised.Though the point may at first glance seem fatuous, it actually bears some consideration. For if the Pauline outlook advocated the rejection of the circumcision requirement for gentiles ("There is no such thing as Jew or Greek . . .") in favor of being "in Christ Jesus," one might expect that some accommodation would have to be made for the physical discrepancy between the believer and the historical Jesus. At the very least, we would not expect a Pauline writer to come up with a metaphor which not only ignored the discrepancy, but implied that it did not exist.

 92. - Colossians 3:2-4

    2Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3For you have died and your [new] life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, you also will be revealed with him in glory. [NASB]
A passage which vividly conveys the sense that Christ had never been seen by anyone, had never been to earth. The believer’s true destiny, his new life, is "hidden" along with Christ who dwells with God. Both are to "be revealed" when Christ arrives from heaven. In the orthodox interpretation, this would surely be an odd choice of word—phaneroo: reveal oneself or be revealed, become visible, appear, usually entailing the manifestation or the making known of something not hitherto known or experienced. Since the same verb is used in both halves of verse 3—the ‘revealing’ of Christ and the ‘revealing’ of the believer’s true life—one can assume they have a parallel meaning. Since the believer’s destined new life is something which has not yet put in an appearance, the implication is that Christ himself has yet to do so as well.If Christ had recently been on earth and left it, what writer would not simply have said the equivalent of "return" or "come back," some phrase which was cognizant of the fact that this would be a second coming? Ironically, most Lexicons specify that one definition of this verb is its reference to Christ’s Second Advent, but the examples given are of passages like this one in the epistles, where such a meaning is read into the word based on Gospel preconceptions. In actual fact, none of the quoted passages (here in Col. 3:4, 1 Pet. 5:4, 1 Jn 2:28 & 3:2—though the latter refer to God) contain any suggestion of a previous Advent, making such a definition circular and without foundation.
While phaneroo can mean to ‘put in an appearance,’ it is also one of several ‘revelation’ words used throughout the epistles that clearly speak of the ‘making known’ of Christ in the present time (eg, 1 Peter 1:20) which, if one sets aside Gospel preconceptions, tell us that this is a revelation of knowledge about the Son and Savior in a spiritual way, with no physical or visible presence, past or present, involved.

 93. - Colossians 3:9-10

    9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. [NIV]
Another passage suggesting Jesus’ teaching that one must be born anew (e.g., John 3:3), yet the writer makes no mention of it. We might also note that the "image" of Christ must not be too strong in the writer’s mind for him to pass up having the reader put on the image of Jesus, rather than God.

 94. - Colossians 3:12-14

    12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. [NIV]
What perversity could have led all the epistle writers to speak in terms of the qualities Jesus was reputed to have possessed on earth, to speak of the teachings he was recorded to have spoken, and yet consistently fail to make even a passing attribution of such things to him?Does "the Lord" in verse 13 refer to God or to Christ? The Expositor’s Greek Testament observes that "there is no reason for referring kurios to God, since Jesus when on earth forgave sins." But that is reading the Gospels into it, and in fact here the term is almost certainly a reference to God. Not only has the writer just spoken of God in the preceding verse, he speaks of God forgiving the readers’ sins in 2:13. Even 1:14 has God doing the forgiving of sins "in the Son," the same idea as that expressed in Ephesians 4:32. One might also point out that since Jesus on no occasion forgave the sins of the Colossians, the writer would not have tended to express it thus. Jesus’ sacrifice made forgiveness possible, but its source was God.


1 Thessalonians

 — 1 Thessalonians 2:2 - See "Top 20" #3

 95. - 1 Thessalonians 2:4

But God has approved us as fit to be entrusted with the Gospel . . .
In the face of those who could claim that Jesus himself had appointed them to spread the gospel (as in Mt. 28:19), one would think that Paul would be anxious to appeal to his own appointment by Jesus, even if in a vision. Acts has the risen Jesus appear to Paul not only on the road to Damascus, but in the Temple (22:17-21), where he specifically instructs Paul: "Go, for I am sending you far away to the Gentiles." Yet Paul consistently (see #40: 1 Corinthians 1:1) speaks of his call to preach as one from God, and never gives any hint of the Damascus road legend found in Acts.Quite apart from the contradiction with Acts, if Jesus were a force who had recently been on earth, choosing and sending out apostles to spread the gospel, one would expect a strong sense in the Pauline epistles that Jesus himself is the director of the movement and the one who does the calling, whether in the past in flesh or now in spirit. Paul conveys no sense of this whatever, either in relation to his own mission or that of others.

 96. - 1 Thessalonians 2:12-13

12. . . to live lives worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory. 13This is why we thank God continually, because when we handed on God's message, you received it, not as the word of men, but as what it truly is, the very word of God at work in you who hold the faith. [NEB]
Following on the previous item, we can see once again just how pervasive is Paul's focus on God as the figure to whom he and the early Christian movement relate. Jesus is scarcely on the radar screen. As a mental experiment, try substituting the word "Jesus" everywhere the word "God" appears in the above quote, and ask yourself if that version does not convey the thinking and mode of expression we would expect to find in the early Christian record.[ The verses immediately following these (14-16) abruptly switch to that focus on Jesus, for this is the passage which has been judged by most liberal scholars today to be a later insertion. It speaks of the Jews "who killed the Lord Jesus" and contains a reference to what is obviously the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened many years after Paul would have penned this letter. (See my Article No. 3: Who Crucified Jesus? for a full examination of this passage.) Exactly where the insertion starts is uncertain. Some include verse 14 in the interpolation, others begin it only at verse 15. This passage is also addressed in the Appendix.]

 97. - 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

7For God called us to holiness, not to impurity. 8Anyone therefore who flouts these rules is flouting not man, but God who bestows upon you his Holy Spirit. [NEB]
Paul again speaks of God calling the believer to a life of holiness, where we might expect Jesus' own ministry to have been regarded as doing just that. Verse 8 reminds us (and ought to have reminded Paul) of Jesus' own saying in Luke 10:16: "Whoever rejects me, rejects the one who sent me." In fact, the parallel demonstrates how moral admonitions that were earlier set in the context of God's will and teaching, are in the Gospels transferred to the figure of Jesus. That principle is even more evident in the following verse (next item, in "Top 20"), in which Paul declares that "you yourselves are taught by God to love one another."

 — 1 Thessalonians 4:9 - See "Top 20" #4

 98. - 1 Thessalonians 4:14

We believe that Jesus died and rose again. [NEB, NIV]
A plain statement by Paul that both the death and the rising of Jesus are matters of faith, not historical events that were witnessed and remembered. As such, it fits Paul's declaration of his basic gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, that Jesus had died, was buried and raised, all of it derived from the scriptures (kata tas graphas) through revelation (the verb paralambano in verse 3), not from historical tradition. These "events" took place in myth, as revealed by scripture, not on earth in recent history. As such, they were like the salvation myths of the other savior gods of the time. See my Supplementary Article No. 6: The Source of Paul's Gospel.

 99. - 1 Thessalonians 5:2

For you know perfectly well that the Day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night.
One of Jesus' most memorable sayings about the anticipated End-time, as found in Matthew 24:43 and Luke 21:34 (from Q), uses the 'coming of the thief in the night' image in relation to the Son of Man. Despite Paul's profound focus on the imminent End throughout his letters, he shows no knowledge of any saying of Jesus on the subject, or even that Jesus had been an apocalyptic prophet (as in Mark 13). Nor does he ever use the term Son of Man, in relation to Jesus or any other context. Other epistle writers show the same ignorance.[ It is anomalies like this which help discredit the claim that some or all of the Gospels were written before the Jewish War, even in the 40s or 50s. If such writings were indeed contemporaneous with Paul, recording language and traditions that were circulating at the time about Jesus' teachings and activities, it becomes difficult to comprehend how Paul could have been ignorant of them or chosen to ignore them. Rather, the Son of Man, to judge by all the documents in which he appears, seems to have been a phenomenon restricted to the second half of the 1st century, perhaps even post-Jewish War, a peculiar reading and application of the phrase in Daniel 7 which had a brief moment of popularity in certain Christian and Jewish circles and died out by the end of the century. ]

 100. - 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

14You must live at peace among yourselves. And we would urge you, brothers, to admonish the careless, encourage the faint-hearted, support the weak, and to be very patient with them all. 15See to it that no one pays back wrong for wrong, but always aim at doing the best you can for each other and for all men. [NEB]
Passages like this are often claimed by scholars to contain "echoes" of Jesus' teachings. And so they do. What they do not contain is any suggestion that such things are attributed to him by the early Christians. Mark 9:50 has Jesus say: "Be at peace with one another." Verse 15 above echoes Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:39): "Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you." So many epistle passages such as this one inevitably conjure up Gospel scenes, images of the wandering sage, so that we cannot help but surround them in our own reading with the atmosphere of the preaching Jesus. And yet not one of these early writers is similarly affected, not even to the extent of giving us a simple "as Jesus himself taught."

2 Thessalonians

 101. - 2 Thessalonians 1:7

. . . when our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed [at the revelation of, apokalupsei] from heaven with his mighty angels in blazing fire.
     Another example of the impression created by all references to the anticipated arrival of the divine Christ from heaven. Not only is there no suggestion that he has recently been here already, the language used is consistently that of revelation, an ‘uncovering’ of that (namely, Jesus Christ himself) which has previously been hidden, unknown and unseen. (See "Top 20" #17: 1 Corinthians 1:7-8.)

1 Timothy

 102. - 1 Timothy 1:10-11 (cf. 6:3, 2 Timothy 1:13, 4:3, Titus 1:9, 2:1)

10. . . and whatever else is contrary to the wholesome teaching which conforms with the gospel entrusted to me, 11the gospel which tells of the glory of God in his eternal felicity.
In six places in the Pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), the writer uses the phrase "wholesome (or sound) teachings," referring to the moral behavior he is enjoining upon the readers. In five of these, there is no indication as to where such teaching comes from. In fact, here on its first appearance the writer, speaking as Paul, says that such teaching is part of the gospel entrusted to him, something which Paul has regularly told us came from God through revelation. Here, too, he intimates that the gospel is God's message about his own plans and the benefits he is bestowing on the world at the present time (cf. Titus 2:11).The missing thought is obvious: that it was Jesus himself, when on earth, who was the source of this teaching. Thus, in the one passage where such an idea actually appears, it jumps out at us. Moreover, it does so in a way that seems suspicious. 1 Timothy 6:3 reads:

If anyone is teaching otherwise, and will not give his mind to wholesome precepts—those of our Lord Jesus Christ—and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. [NEB/NIV]
The phrase between the dashes looks very much like a later scribal notation made in the margin and subsequently inserted into the body. The word "those" (tois) is redundant and would not likely have been written if part of the original text. The phrase also carelessly fails to cover the succeeding thought, "and to godly teaching," which we would expect to be included in the things the original writer would have wanted to attribute to Jesus.In any case, if the phrase in question was a part of the original text, it need imply no more than that the "teaching" is considered to be revealed directly from the spiritual Christ in heaven, in much the same sense as Paul's "words of the Lord" are now regarded.

 103. - 1 Timothy 2:8

It is my desire, therefore, that everywhere prayers be said by the men of the congregation who shall lift up their hands with a pure intention, excluding angry or quarrelsome thoughts. [NEB]
To say prayers without anger toward one's neighbor: clearly, the writer is unaware of Jesus' own admonitions about such a situation, as in Mark 11:25: "And when you stand praying, if you have a grievance against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you the wrongs you have done." Compare also Matthew 5:23-4.

 104. - 1 Timothy 3:16
This is one of the christological hymns imbedded in the Pauline letters, poetic pieces of liturgy that were probably the product of the earliest groups of Christian believers in the divine Son. The writer introduces it with these words: "And great beyond all question is the mystery of our religion:"

    He who was manifested in flesh, Vindicated in [or by] the Spirit, Was seen by angels; Was proclaimed among the nations, Believed in throughout the world, Taken up in glory. [NASB/NEB]
Here, the starting point for the hymnist is the divine Son in heaven, one who descended and was exalted back to heaven in glory. Another reflection of the Descending-Ascending redeemer motif found also in Philippians 2:6-11. Not only is there no specific reference to a life on earth, there is no glimmer of the character of Jesus of Nazareth. The opening phrase may refer to a revelation of the Son to or in "the sphere of the flesh" (see my discussion of Romans 1:3 in Article No. 8, Christ As "Man", based on C.K. Barrett's suggested translation of kata sarka). The deity in this hymn was seen by angels, but apparently not by humans. He was proclaimed among the nations, but apparently did no proclaiming himself. Nor is there any sign of the physical resurrection from the tomb, a dramatic moment that should surely not have been passed over, and which should have been seen as a greater "mystery" than any other. The term "mystery" itself conveys, and is usually applied to, something which is the object of revelation, an interpretation of sacred texts, or a mystical understanding.

 105. 1 Timothy 4:1

The Spirit says expressly that in after times some will desert from the faith and give their minds to subversive doctrines inspired by devils . . .  [NEB]
By the time we reach the period of the Pastoral epistles (early 2nd century), Christians were beginning to hedge on predictions that the End was near, and allow for the possibility that the "appearance" of Christ Jesus was not just around the corner.  But predictions about the nature and signs of the End-time are a recurring theme in almost all the New Testament epistles, as in this verse of 1 Timothy.The Gospels indicate that an important element of Jesus’ preaching was apocalyptic: describing and predicting the coming end (or transformation) of the world.  Even had he not said much, or even anything, on the subject, the preoccupation of Christian communities with this dramatic looming event would inevitably have led to imputing to Jesus many sayings and predictions on the matter.  (The second layer of Q is generally interpreted on this principle.)
And yet the writer of 1 Timothy attributes the prediction that false prophets will seduce many to abandon the true doctrine, not to Jesus but to the Spirit sent from God, again showing that even in the early 2nd century, Christian communities still functioned by revelation and had no concept of apostolic tradition, the idea of teachings passed on through a chain of transmission ultimately going back to Jesus himself.  There is no mention here that Jesus himself had predicted this very thing.  Mark 13:22-3, in the midst of a great apocalyptic description of what will come to pass, has Jesus say: "Imposters will come claiming to be Messiahs or prophets, and they will produce signs and wonders to mislead God’s chosen.  But you be on your guard; I have forewarned you of it all."  To a man, the epistle writers have forgotten such words and predictions, for never do they attribute a single apocalyptic saying to an historcal preaching Jesus.  (Cf. Jude 17, 2 Peter 2:1, 3:2.)

 106. - 1 Timothy 4:4

For everything that God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected when it is taken with thanksgiving . . .
The writer is here referring in part to food, having condemned (in the previous verse) those who forbid the eating of certain foods. This, according to the Gospels, was one of Jesus' most important reforms, the suspension of the oppressive dietary laws of Judaism. Paul himself and the writer of the epistle of Barnabas (chapter 10) are others who are very concerned with abandoning or discrediting those dietary laws, yet not one of these letter writers appeals to Jesus' own teaching on the matter, as 'recorded' in a passage like Mark 7:18: " 'Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean? . . .' Thus, he declared all foods clean."

 107. - 1 Timothy 4:10

For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. [NASB]
A particularly glaring example of the pervasive theocentric focus of early Christian expression. God is the center of their hopes, their devotion, their thanks. The Savior title is applied as much to him as to Christ. In a movement supposedly begun in response to a human Jesus and incarnated Son, this degree of theocentricity seems off-kilter. But when we view early Christianity as a faith system in which it is God who has revealed the existence and role of a hitherto unknown Son whose salvific acts have taken place in the mythical world, the focus on God and the balance between the two as Savior figures falls into place.

 108. - 1 Timothy 5:18

For Scripture says: 'A threshing ox shall not be muzzled'; and 'the worker deserves his wages.'
On the surface, we have here a saying from scripture (Deuteronomy 25:4), and a saying of the Gospel Jesus (Luke 10:7). And yet, the wording implies that the second quotation is also from scripture, a term which is not likely to have been applied to the Gospel of Luke this early in the second century, when the Pastorals were written. If, as most claim, the writer is not identifying the second quote as scriptural but as a saying of Jesus, why does he not specify that? Why does he identify the source of the first quotation and leave out the proper attribution of the second? More than likely, the second is taken from some writing now lost, and like so much else, ended up in Jesus' mouth under the pen of the evangelists.J. C. O'Neill (The Theology of Acts, p.9, n.1) comments: "The quotation of the saying, 'The labourer deserves his wages' in 1 Tim. 5:18 may be taken from Luke 10:7, but it is strange that the one saying of Jesus to be quoted in the Pastorals, and to be quoted as Scripture, should look so much like a common saying put into the Lord's mouth in Luke."

 109. - 1 Timothy 6:14-15

I charge you to obey your orders irreproachably and without fault until our Lord Jesus Christ appears. That appearance God will bring to pass in his own good time, God who in eternal felicity alone holds sway. [NEB]
This is another passage looking forward to an appearance by Christ which lacks any sense that he had appeared before. But there is also a certain lack of conviction that Jesus is his own agent, that he has a separate character and ability to act independent of God.I have remarked before on the curious and pervasive theocentricity of the epistles, something we should not expect if the movement began as an explosive reaction to a charismatic human man. Yet it is undeniable that early Christian writers seem never to present their Jesus as a strong, independent figure, clearly distinct from God. Often God and Jesus are spoken of in the same breath, like two sides of a single coin (e.g., Jude 4). Both are viewed as divine, heavenly beings. Things are done by God through Jesus, rather than spoken of as done directly by Jesus himself. As noted above, it is frequently God who is Savior, a title we would tend to think of as reserved for Jesus.
Scholars call this a "fluid application." In discussing certain passages in the epistles, they regularly disagree over who is meant by a given reference, such as the title "Lord." Is it Jesus or God? Is Jesus actually called "God" in a number of places (e.g., Romans 9:5 and Titus 2:13)? Are commandments said to come from God or from Christ? (This is a source of confusion in 1 John.) The functions of Father and Son do not seem to be clearly separated yet. There even seem to be passages where God is said to have suffered, an idea which proved a source of horror to later 2nd century Christians and declared heretical.
This ambiguity, the blurring of roles and personalities between Jesus and God which scholars often remark on, is understandable once one accepts that Jesus is not a distinct historical person whom people had experienced and remembered, but a theoretical entity, something one has derived from scripture under the influence of ideas current in religious philosophy. He is an emanation of God, an intermediary force, part of the workings of Divinity, all of it located in the supernatural realm. This manifestation of God is in the process of being defined, being clarified in the minds of writers like Paul. Once we get to the era of the Gospels, which have turned this vague intermediary divine Christ-force into an historical man, Christian writers have a flesh and blood Jesus before their eyes, and they no longer have a problem in referring to him in a distinct manner, allotting to him all the powers and personality of a concrete figure.

 110. - 1 Timothy 6:16

He [God] alone possesses immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light. No man has ever seen or ever can see him. [NEB]
Again, if Jesus had been a man on earth, with his own character and personality and life history, and had been given the lofty status of divinity such as we find in passages like Colossians 1:15-20, then he too would have been regarded as a distinct entity from God and as possessing his own immortality. And if Jesus had been a man recently on earth, one who had in fact seen and come from God, it does not seem likely that the writer would have made the second statement above, at least not without some qualification.

2 Timothy

 111. - 2 Timothy 1:9-10

. . . in the strength that comes from God. 9It is he who brought us salvation and called us to a dedicated life, not for any merit of ours but of his own purpose and his own grace, which was granted to us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10but has now at length been brought fully into view by the appearance (on earth) of our Savior Jesus Christ. For he has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. [NEB]
Once again, the writer focuses on God as the agent of salvation, not Jesus. This passage is extremely important from a number of points of view, and I deal with it extensively in my book. Let me quote a couple of paragraphs from that discussion:"First of all, the NEB's gratuitous 'on earth' does not appear in the Greek. Then note the phrase (verse 10) '...brought fully into view by the appearance of . . .' This is actually two revelation words, the verb phaneroo and the noun epiphaneia. The latter can signify the intervention or manifestation of a god, with no human incarnation involved. What the sentence is really saying, then, is that God's purpose and grace have been revealed by the revelation of the Savior Jesus Christ. No life on earth there.
"Then consider what follows. The 'he' of the last sentence refers to the Savior. But what has this Savior done? He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light (yet another revelation word)—how?—through the gospel. The writer does not say that Christ at his 'appearance' has overcome death and brought immortal life through his own deeds, performed during his sojourn on earth. Instead, these things were accomplished 'through the gospel.' " That gospel is the one Paul preaches, as verse 11 goes on to make clear, a gospel he derived from the scriptures.
The discussion in the book then goes on to analyze the key phrase "granted to us in Christ Jesus from all eternity," demonstrating that the meaning of "from all eternity" (pro chronon aionion) places Christ's redeeming act in a higher, timeless Platonic dimension. (See also Part Two of the Main Articles: Who Was Christ Jesus?)

 112. - 2 Timothy 3:14-15

14You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom (tinon, plural) you have learned them; 15and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. [NASB]
The writer has been speaking of living "a godly life as Christians," and here he goes on to allude to the source of that morality. He refers to unnamed teachers or community leaders from whom his readers have learned these things; he refers to the scriptures which contain words of wisdom about what must be believed and followed to gain salvation. But he cannot bring himself to mention Jesus himself as the ultimate source of any of these teachings. This is clearly not a question of whether there is a "need" to tell the readers what they already know; in fact he tells them what they already know in the things he does say. Rather, this profound silence on any mention of Jesus the teacher, the source of Christian ethics and enlightenment, can only lead to one conclusion.


 — Titus 1:2-3 - See "Top 20" #7

 113. - Titus 2:11-13

11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. [NASB/NIV]
How does the writer, speaking as Paul, characterize the present time when salvation has arrived? What Christian would not say that this great turning point in history was marked by the advent of Christ on earth, teaching and performing his acts of salvation? Instead, he can only speak of it in terms of "the grace of God dawning upon the world" (to use the NEB's poetic translation).Is this a metaphorical reference to Jesus himself? Some commentators would like to suggest so, though this seems an interpretation born of desperation. And all translations of the succeeding phrase render the idea in the neuter: "It teaches us . . ." Moreover, the rest of the passage above creates a jarring anomaly. The grace of God has taught us how to live, while we wait for the appearance of the Savior. If we were to substitute for the grace of God the idea of Jesus working on earth, teaching how to live (and how could such an image not be in the writer's mind?), his return to the similar idea of coming to earth after the interim waiting period would inevitably require an expression of the concept of "return," of coming back. We never get such an expression. Rather, the whole atmosphere of these verses is that the anticipated appearance of the Savior on earth will be his first time here.
God calls and reveals, apostles preach, people believe and wait, the Savior comes. Such was the pattern of the early Christian faith movement—until the Gospels came along.

 114. - Titus 3:4-6

4But when the kindness and love of God our Savior dawned upon the world, then, not for any good deeds of our own, but because he was merciful, 5he saved us through the water of rebirth and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, 6whom [i.e., the Holy Spirit] he [God] poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. [NEB/NIV]
Once again, as in Titus 2:11, the present time is characterized as the "dawning upon the world of the kindness and love of God, not the incarnation of Jesus bestowing such things in his own right and person. How has God "saved" in the present time? Through the baptismal rite and the power of the Spirit, two things 'Paul' focuses on as features of the early Christian apostolic movement: sacrament and revelation. The final verse might be claimed to refer to Jesus' own career as the channel of that Spirit. But not only would this be a rather restrictive characterization of what Jesus had done on earth, the thought accords much better with the interpretation of Paul's Jesus Christ as a spiritual force now active in the world, serving as a channel through which God makes himself known and bestows his benefits. (For a fuller discussion of that ubiquitous Pauline phrase "in, or through, Christ" see Part Two of the Main Articles: Who Was Christ Jesus?)


 115. - Hebrews 1:1-3

1When in former times God spoke to our forefathers, he spoke in fragmentary and varied fashion through the prophets. 2But in this the final age he has spoken to us through the Sonwhom he has made heir to the whole universe, and through whom he created all orders of existence: 3the Son who is the effulgence of God's splendor and the stamp of God's very being, and sustains the universe by his word of power.
When he had brought about the purgation of sins, he took his seat at the right hand of Majesty on high . . . [NEB]
Unlike many New Testament epistles, Hebrews cannot be spoken of as an "occasional writing," written 'off the cuff.' Rather, it is a carefully thought-out theological treatise, designed to enlighten and encourage the community of which the writer is a part, apparently in the face of difficulties and the threat of members losing heart and fervor. Accordingly, we should have every right to expect that the essentials of the community's faith would be reflected in this epistle, not the least of which would be an identification of the object of that faith with the historical man presumed to lie at its root. We should also expect—and certainly so in a work of this length—a fair amount of 'biographical' reference to incidents, teachings, and background such as we find in the Gospels, reflecting the life and deeds of the man on whom the epistle writer and readers have founded their community and theology.Whether in fact we find such things will be seen as we go along. I have broken up the first three verses of the epistle's opening, the better to focus on the points to be made.
The first section speaks of the Son 'who has spoken to us' in this final age. Yet in the entire epistle there is not one saying of Jesus on earth offered to the readers, nor even a reference to him as a teacher. We will see that in a few places the writer would have had a perfect occasion to offer a Gospel or Gospel-like saying to illustrate the point he is making. Yet in all cases, and in many other places throughout the epistle, the "voice" of the Son is entirely from the Jewish scriptures, as though the Son is regarded as a spiritual force who communicates with the world through the sacred writings. This is a feature we find in other early Christian documents, such as 1 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas.
The opening verses of Hebrews ranks with the hymn of Colossians 1:15-20 as the most exalted description of "the Son" found in the early Christian documents. This cosmic being, through whom God created the world and maintains its continued existence, is spoken of as constituting his very image, embodying his very nature, reflecting his divine splendor. The Son is an emanation of God himself, as close to the ultimate God as one can get and still be seen as a distinct entity. As such, he falls into the same category as the intermediary Logos of Platonic philosophy, similar to what we find in Philo of Alexandria; and he is similar if not identical to contemporary portrayals of personified Wisdom, that communicating aspect of God in Jewish wisdom tradition, such as we find in Proverbs, Sirach, and especially the Alexandrian Hellenistic-Jewish document known as the Wisdom of Solomon.
While wondering how Jews could possibly have performed such a blasphemous elevation on a human man—a crucified criminal, in the public eye—we have to ask why a description of the Son would not have included any reference to his human identity and career on earth. This will be particularly perplexing when we get to the next item. But here, in verse 3, the cosmic dimensions in which the Son is portrayed almost demand a justification for creating such a product out of a human man. And in the latter part of the verse, his entire life's work seems to be relegated to a single phrase: "when he had brought about the purgation of sins." Is this a reference, at least, to Calvary? In chapters 8 and 9, the writer's discussion of Christ's sacrifice, which brought about that purgation, shows that it is not, but is rather an act which Jesus as High Priest is presented as conducting entirely within the heavenly sanctuary, in the upper spiritual world.

 116. - Hebrews 1:4-14

4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 5For to which of the angels did God ever say: "You are my Son, today I have become your father . . ." (continued below)  [NIV]
With this, the author begins an extended argument to prove that the Son is superior to the angels. That proof is a quotation of various scriptural passages, some regarded as the voice of God speaking to or about his Son, others speaking about the angels, the sentiments of the former being judged more exalted. Yet not a single element of the Son's earthly existence is placed on the table in support of that argument. The fact of the resurrection itself should have blown the competition out of the water. The Son's human incarnation and his career in flesh would surely have rendered the scriptural argument he appeals to almost insignificant.We should note that this writer can have no tradition about Jesus' baptism as presented in the Gospels, when the voice of God out of heaven was reputed to have spoken the above words from Psalm 2:7, acknowledging Jesus as his Son. His quotation of this verse makes no mention of the scene by the Jordan.
[ Some commentators have wondered why the writer introduces the contrast of Christ with the angels. Why is he so concerned with proving Christ's superiority? A movement founded on the career of Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnated Son of God and his reputed rising from the grave could hardly fail to envision him as 'higher than the angels.' On the other hand, if all these entities are elements of the heavenly world and its workings, and knowledge about them is derived from scripture, recourse to scripture would be necessary to prove the Son's superiority to the angels.
The issue behind this superiority of the Son is contained in the thought of verse 2: that God's old way of speaking through the prophets has now been supplanted by a new one: the voice of the Son speaking through scripture—which is to say, the way this sectarian group (and the early Christian movement as a whole) has itself interpreted scripture and its belief in the newly discovered Son. Since the angels were associated with God's revelation in the past, the medium of the new revelation, namely the perceived spiritual Son speaking and inspiring the sect through the sacred writings, has to be proven to be superior to the old. But if the Son had been on earth, teaching and working miracles, if he had been crucified as a sacrifice and resurrected from his tomb, there would no question in anyone's mind of the superiority of this new medium, and thus any comparison with the angels (and certainly one based on scripture) would be completely unnecessary.
If the situation were that the readers were in danger of abandoning belief that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the Son of God, then the writer would fashion his arguments along such lines—which he does not. (We find a similar situation in 1 John, where commentators suggest that the opponents in chapter 2 are in some way denying something about Jesus of Nazareth, yet the writer there fashions no arguments around such a figure, failing, in fact, to mention him at all.) ]

. . . 6 Again, when he presents [the verb eisago] the first-born to the world [oikumenen], he says: "Let all the angels of God pay him homage." . . . [NEB]
Some claim that the use of the word "oikumene" supports a human incarnation. But the thought does not relate to an earthly scene. Regardless of how this word is used in other, or even the usual, contexts, here it is the venue of a heavenly event. One of the meanings of the verb eisago is to "introduce," and so I prefer the NEB's translation of this verse as: "when he presents the firstborn to the world." "First-born" is a Philonic-style description of a Logos-like entity, the first product or emanation from God. And the word oikumene cannot have the narrow meaning of "earth" or "inhabited world" here, but must mean something like "universe" or "cosmos," since God is presenting his firstborn to the angels, not to humans. (The angels are hardly considered inhabitants of the Roman empire.) The 'time' of that scene is also not recent history, since it is tied to a verse from scripture (Deut. 32:43 LXX), as though the latter illustrates the occasion of God's presentation of his Son.Note that the verb here is in the present tense, which is a common way early Christian writers have of offering passages from scripture. This is best interpreted as representing the concept of a timeless present, or a 'mythical present.' (We will look at an even more telling example of this in 10:5.) Scripture is a window onto that heavenly world in which the Son lives and acts.
This passage concludes with the thought: "To which of the angels has he ever said, 'Sit at my right hand until I make thy enemies thy footstool'? What are they all [i.e., the angels] but ministrant spirits, sent out to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" But to which angels did he give incarnation? Was the Son not 'sent out' in a way more dramatic than that of any angel, for the sake of the saved? One would not know it from this epistle.

 117. - Hebrews 2:1-4

1Thus we are bound to pay all the more heed to what we have been told, for fear of drifting from our course. 2For if the word spoken through angels had such force that any transgression or disobedience met with due retribution, 3what escape can there be for us if we ignore a deliverance [salvation] so great? For this deliverance was first announced through the (lips of the) Lord (himself); those who heard (him) confirmed it to us, 4and God (added his) testimony by signs, by miracles, by manifold works of power, and by distributing the gifts of the Holy Spirit at his own will. [NEB]
I have chosen the NEB translation here to illustrate once again how ideas determined by the Gospel story (the words in round brackets above) can be introduced, at times blatantly, into the thought of the epistles. In verse 3, no words conveying the NEB's idea of the Lord's own "lips" are present, or of hearing "him," implying the preaching Jesus. As mentioned earlier, no words of such a preaching Jesus are to be found in this epistle, and the idea in verse 1, that the community must heed what it has been told, is evidently not to include the sayings and teachings of Jesus himself, which are never referred to. (We shall see that they are conspicuously absent at a few points later in the epistle.)This passage has been examined in detail in my Article No. 7: Transfigured On the Holy Mountain: The Beginnings of Christianity. Here I will point out that the occasion being described has all the marks of a revelatory experience which lay at the community's inception. Those who experienced that revelation, one which seemed to convey God's guarantee of salvation, passed on their convictions to others. The fact that the writer (verse 4) mentions miracles by God which either accompanied the revelation or subsequently verified it (the meaning is not clear), rather than miracles of Jesus which in the Gospels are designed to validate his teachings, indicates that he has no Gospel tradition in mind here.

 118. - Hebrews 2:11-13

11. . . For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12when he says, "I will proclaim thy name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing thy praise." 13And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again, "Behold, I and the children whom God has given me." [NASB/NEB]
The above quotations are from the biblical Psalms (22:22) and Isaiah 8:17 and 18. They are used to illustrate the contention that the Son is not ashamed to call believers his brothers. Yet more than one commentator has wondered why the writer did not draw on any of Jesus' sayings on the subject as recorded in the Gospels. Luke 8:21, "My brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it," or Mark 3:35, "Whoever does the will of God is my brother," would have served his purposes well, and would moreover have been an example of the voice of the Son who "speaks in this final age." Matthew 25:40 would have served: "Anything you did for one of my brothers . . . you did for me." Or even John 20:17: "Go to my brothers and tell them that I am now ascending to my Father."In this passage, we again encounter that characteristic use of the present-tense form. The Son is "saying" these Old Testament quotations, as though the voice of the Son is heard within scripture. If Jesus had been a human figure, whose words and deeds were well remembered from recent history, it is difficult to envision the kind of mindset which would have translated him into this timeless, mystical entity embodied solely within the sacred writings.
[ The passage surrounding this quotation contains various references to the idea of Christ's "flesh" and "blood" and his sharing of characteristics with the children/believers mentioned in the above verses. As close as he might seem to come, the writer still never steps over the line and makes a direct and unmistakable reference to an earthly life, and in fact there are telltale features here that place such language within a mythical, paradigmatic setting of the relationship between the higher world divinity and his material world human counterpart. Those aspects, in regard to this passage and others, have been discussed in other articles on the site and will be reexamined in the Appendix: 20 Arguable References to a Human Jesus in the New Testament Epistles. ]

 119. - Hebrews 2:14-15

14. . . and so he too shared ours [flesh and blood], so that through death he might break the power of him who had death at his command, that is, the devil; 15and might liberate those who, through fear of death, had all their lifetime been in servitude. [NEB]
Jean Héring (Hebrews, p.xi) refers to this epistle as an "enigma" for its failure to mention the resurrection of Jesus. It is notably missing in this passage. What, after all, does the standard picture of Jesus' conquest of death consist of? It focuses on his resurrection out of that state, back to flesh and appearing to his followers. Yet here the writer can speak of "breaking the power of death" and point only to the death itself as bringing this about. Even in regard to that death, we shall see that the writer's focus on Jesus' redemptive act is not at all on the business of dying (something he never locates in a specific time and place, nor does he discuss its component elements or meaning), but on his actions as High Priest in heaven's sanctuary, bringing his blood to the spiritual altar as a sacrifice to God, in a counterpart manner to the offering of the Day of Atonement ritual in the earthly Temple (or its Sinai precedent).[ The only conceivable allusion to the resurrection is found in 13:20, in a passage which in any case has been questioned as authentic to the original epistle: "May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep . . ." Here the Greek verb is "anago," meaning to "lead up," not the usual word applied in other New Testament passages to the idea of resurrection. The whole phrase is modeled on a scriptural passage, Isaiah 63:11: "Where is he that brought up from the sea the shepherd of the sheep?" Elsewhere, not even an allusion to resurrection is made when speaking of Christ taking his place in heaven immediately following the death/sacrifice. (As in 10:12: "Christ offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat at the right hand of God." Compare 12:2 and 1:3). ]

 120. - Hebrews 3:15-4:2 / 4:6-8

15When scripture says, "Today if you hear his voice, do not grow stubborn as in those days of rebellion,' who, I ask, were those who heard and rebelled? All those, surely, whom Moses had led out of Egypt. . . .. . . 2For indeed we have heard the good news, as they did. But in them the message they heard did no good, because they brought no admixture of faith to the hearing of it. . . . [NEB]
Here the writer is referring back to a longer quotation he has just made of Psalm 95:7-11. The "today" he speaks of is his own present time, with again a reference to the idea of hearing a divine "voice," and in this case the Son is undoubtedly in mind. The comparison is between Israelites in the time of Moses, some of whom failed to heed the voice of God and suffered for it, and present members of the writer's community, some of whom are in danger of ignoring the new voice of the Son offering salvation and thus reaping terrible consequences. The key element of the comparison is hearing the "voice" and heeding it.What is notably missing here is any conception that the "voice" of the Son was heard in another context, a recent and dramatic one, and was also not heeded by many: namely, those who heard Jesus' own preaching during his lifetime and failed to respond to his message, even to the point of killing him.
A few verses later (4:6-8), the writer draws an even more stark parallel, which makes no room for any such preaching of Jesus:

6. . . and since those who first heard the good news failed to enter through unbelief, 7God fixes another day. Speaking through the lips of David after many long years, he uses the words already quoted: "Today if you hear his voice, do not grow stubborn." 8If Joshua had given them rest, God would not thus have spoken of another day after that. [NEB]
Let's be clear that the first phrase above refers to the Israelites under Moses. Those are the "days of rebellion" mentioned in 3:15. The reference to Joshua in 4:8 clinches it. The writer has all along been contrasting the present situation in his own community with the days of Moses. He may be using this example to make a general condemnation of all Jews as unresponsive and not heeding the truth prior to his own community (a common manner of thinking by the sectarian mentality).Following that rebellion, that spurning of God's "rest" by many Israelites in the days of Moses and Joshua, God has set "another day" to deliver his message and offer people a chance to respond to it. And what is that day and that people? It is the writer's own. His silence indicates that he has no idea of an earlier day which would have been of even greater significance, namely the day when Jesus himself preached, and many failed to heed his message. Somewhat in the manner of Titus 1:3 or Romans 1:2-3, this passage leaves no room for an historical Jesus in the picture the author of this epistle paints of the history of his faith movement, between the days of Moses and the time of his own community.

 121. - Hebrews 5:5-6

5So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him: "You are my Son; today I have begotten thee." 6And he says in another place: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." [NIV]
Once again, the author shows that he knows nothing about a baptism of Jesus in which God's voice out of heaven spoke the words of Psalm 2:7. (Verse 6 shows that the source of the words in verse 5 is scripture, not historical tradition.) Note that Jesus' entire role, in the view of this writer, is that of High Priest, whose activities the epistle places in a heavenly sanctuary, not on earth. This reference to God appointing Jesus in his role as provider of salvation seems to entirely lack an earthly or historical dimension.

 122. - Hebrews 5:7

In the days of his flesh [en tais hemerais tes sarkos autou], he offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his piety (reverence toward God). [NASB]
This passage is dealt with at length in my Supplementary Article No. 9, A Sacrifice in Heaven: The Son in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Here let me make a couple of basic points. The reference cannot be to the Gospel scene in the garden of Gethsemane, since it does not fit that context (as many scholars, such as Paul Ellingworth, have recognized). There, God did not answer Jesus' prayer that the cup of suffering be allowed to pass him by. The above verse refers instead to a "deliverance out of death," which can mean the raising of Jesus (in his spirit state) to heaven after death. But even that narrow an idea of 'resurrection' is not in view here. Rather, the writer goes on to say that the result of such prayers was that, through obedience and suffering, the Son became perfected and a source of salvation, through his designation by God as High Priest. There is not the slightest glance at a rising from a tomb on earth, an act which constitutes the Gospel 'deliverance' of Jesus from the fate of death, and the source of later Christian views of salvation.And what of the phrase "in the days of his flesh"? This is perhaps the most graphic of all the references in the epistles which employ the stereotyped phrase "in flesh" (kata sarkaen sarki, etc.). My fullest and most recent discussion of this term is found in my Response to Pete in Reader Feedback file 14. "Flesh" seems to be, in the minds of the early Christian epistle writers, a shorthand way of referring to that state which Jesus (and other savior gods) assumed during their mythical activities, when they approached the world of matter and took on a "likeness" to material characteristics. In early Christian thought, that realm within the lower levels of the spiritual world, and Christ's activities within it, are discernible through scripture, and this passage illustrates that very thing. What is it that Christ is said to have done "in the days of his flesh"? Not the prayer in the Gethesemane garden, nor any other Gospel-based piece of historical data, but actions lifted out of scripture itself. Scholars such as Ellingworth, Montefiore and Buchanan have pointed out that the words refer to two passages in the Psalms, 116:1 and 22:24 (LXX). Like Ephesians 2:17 (#74), an epistle writer, at first glance, seems to bring Jesus to earth, and what does he offer as his activities in that sphere? The words and content of scripture.
This is the sole source of 'information' about what Jesus had done "in the days of his flesh." The total absence of any historical traditions from which writers like that of Hebrews could draw, whether as an example of Jesus' obedience to God, or of his humility and suffering (as in 1 Peter 2:22, 1 Clement 16, or Barnabas 5, all of whom can only quote from Isaiah 53), is strong indication that no oral traditions about an historical Jesus existed in the early Christian communities, and that their Christ lived only in scripture-revealed myth.
(Hebrews 5:7 will be revisited in the Appendix.)

 123. - Hebrews 5:12

. . . you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God (ton logion tou theou), and you have come to need milk and not solid food . . . [NASB]
This community can have no concept of a teaching Christ, for the theology the writer is trying to get across to his readers ("about Melchizedek," verse 11) is entirely based on scripture, the "oracles (word) of God." The Jesus of the Gospels may have had nothing to say about Melchizedek or himself as High Priest, but any community which constructed a theology about its founder could not fail to develop traditions that he had in fact taught something which would support that theology.If the writer and his community are advocating a christology which goes against the grain of the wider Christian movement (and every commentator would agree that Hebrews does so), we would expect to find an attempt, no matter how artificial or unfounded, to ground that christology in the teachings of Jesus himself. Such an attempt, or even an awareness of the problem, is nowhere in evidence. Instead, the entire basis is sought in scripture.

 124. - Hebrews 6:1-2

1Let us, then, leave the initial teaching about Christ [NEB: let us stop discussing the rudiments of Christianity] and advance to maturity, not laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works, faith in God, 2instruction about baptisms, and laying-on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. [NAB]
Here the writer is making a capsule summary of the basics of the community's belief and practice. They include teaching about Christ, repentance, baptism, the promise of eternal life. Anything proceeding from Jesus himself is notably missing. Even faith itself is centered on God, not on Jesus or anything he did. One might think that one of the rudiments of the new religion would be the faith that its founder, Jesus of Nazareth, was the Son of God and Messiah. Jesus' own teachings should also have formed one of the foundations of the faith.

 125. - Hebrews 6:13-18

13For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying: 14"I will surely bless you and multiply you." . . . 17So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he interposed with an oath, 18so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. [RSV]
An astonishing silence, similar to one we will encounter again in 2 Peter 1:19. The hope of the writer and his community in the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham is based on the wording of scripture, perceived as an oath by God to the dependability of his promises. Where is the hope based on the life and deeds of Jesus? Why was the career of the Son on earth not regarded as supporting God's promises, even if this took the form of invented sayings by him to provide that support, something which I noted earlier would inevitably have developed? When the writer, a few verses later (6:20), gets around to mentioning Jesus, it is entirely in terms of his spiritual-world activities in the heavenly sanctuary, as an eternal High Priest succeeding Melchizedek.

 126. - Hebrews 7:1

This Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of God Most High, met Abraham returning from the rout of the kings and blessed him; and Abraham gave him a tithe of everything as his portion. [NEB]
This verse is based on a short passage from Genesis, 14:18-20. And yet, the writer leaves out one key phrase in that piece of scripture. "And Melchizedek king of Salembrought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High." Now, why would a writer, one of whose primary concerns is to draw parallels between scriptural precedents and the christology and practice of his own community, leave out an obvious prefiguring of the Christian Eucharist in the action of Melchizedek bringing out bread and wine when greeting Abraham? The inevitable answer has to be that he and his community knew of no Eucharistic sacrament, nor any establishment of such by Jesus at a Last Supper.This silence on the Christian Eucharist recurs even more dramatically in 9:19-20 when not even the words of Moses at the establishment of the Old Covenant on Sinai can prompt the writer to mention the almost identical words of Jesus at the establishment of the new one, as recounted in the Gospels' Last Supper scene. (See "Top 20" #12.)

 127. - Hebrews 7:12

For a change of priesthood must mean a change of [the] law. [NEB]
Again, when a concept of this magnitude takes place in a sectarian community—here a fundamental change of the idea of the high priest, from human to heavenly—one involving the very foundation of the Jewish covenant heritage, grounding it in something Jesus had taught would be desirable, even essential. The Gospels represent Jesus as pronouncing on the continued applicability of the Jewish Law, generally in the direction of 'relaxing' it, though Matthew goes against the grain and makes Jesus declare that not a letter of the law can be set aside. If this writer and his community had any tradition at all that Jesus had taught about the law, this would have to be taken into account, and there would be a scramble to find some way of making Jesus' words support their revolutionary attitude toward the high priesthood, in conjunction with their unusual christology. Instead, we find not a hint in the epistle of any awareness of such an issue.Nor can one take refuge in postulating that this community knew little or nothing about Jesus' actual earthly teaching. The opening words of the epistle—"now in this final age he has spoken through the Son"—show that the concept of a teaching Jesus would have been of central interest to the community, leading either to an investigation of what Jesus had actually had to say, or to the development of an invented substitute. The inevitable conclusion is that the writer of Hebrews has no conception of a teaching career on earth for his High Priest Jesus.

 128. - Hebrews 7:15-17

15The argument becomes still clearer, if the new priest who arises is one like Melchizedek, 16owing his priesthood not to a system of earth-bound rules but to the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. 17For here is the testimony: "Thou art a priest forever, in the succession of Melchizedek." [NEB]
A life that cannot be destroyed. Surely, if anything illustrated this feature of Jesus it was his resurrection from the dead. Instead, the sole basis the writer offers for this claim about Jesus is Psalm 110:4. The life that cannot be destroyed is presented in terms of its future continuation, in the role of heavenly High Priest, as guaranteed by the words of the Psalm.Everything that Hebrews says about its heavenly figure is grounded in comparisons with scripture, chiefly about Melchizedek, the archetype of the new high priesthood. We might also note that if Jesus is "like" Melchizedek (and so much of the writer's christology is based on that justification), what do we make of that verse passed over earlier (7:3) which describes Melchizedek as being "without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest for ever"? This judgment of Melchizedek is based on scriptural readings, but should not both the writer and his readers have felt a conflict between such characteristics and the Gospel story which gives Jesus both mother and father, and a beginning of days and an end of life?
Instead, in the thought of this epistle, the Son of God is an entity who eternally exists in the spiritual world and conducts his work in that realm, and all evidence of him comes from the sacred writings. As Hebrews 13:8 will say, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever." Such a sentiment shows a complete unawareness of the life and historically unique events recorded in the Gospels.

 129. - Hebrews: Chapters 8 & 9
Chapters 8 and 9 are the theological heart of the Epistle to the Hebrews, for they describe the saving sacrifice of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. The philosophical grounding of this description is Platonic, in that a comparison is made between Christ's activities in "the real sanctuary, the tent pitched by the Lord and not by man" (8:2)—in other words, in heaven—and the tent on earth (9:1f) in which the human high priest conducted the counterpart earthly sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. (The author has in mind not the current Temple cult, but the legendary first establishment of the sacrificial system in the days of Moses at Sinai.) This counterpart comparison between the heavenly and the earthly, between the "genuine" and primary spiritual embodiment and the material "copy," is thorough Middle Platonism, with the higher spiritual version regarded as superior to the lower material one.
9:11 states that "the tent of Christ's priesthood is a greater and more perfect one, not made by men's hands, that is, not belonging to this created world; the blood of his sacrifice is his own blood, not the blood of goats and calves" [NEB]. In Hebrews, Christ's "sacrifice" is defined as the bringing of his blood into the heavenly sanctuary, a higher world counterpart of the high priest's actions on earth. But what is the nature of that "blood"? 9:14 calls Christ's offering of his own blood "a spiritual and eternal sacrifice" [NEB]. 9:23 says: "If, then, these sacrifices [of goats and calves in the earthly sanctuary] cleanse the copies of heavenly things, those heavenly things themselves require better sacrifices to cleanse them" [NEB]. The clear implication is that Christ's sacrifice, together with the blood itself, is a spiritual thing. In the Platonic system, it could not be any other.
Quite apart from the lack of any reference to a sacrifice on Calvary, or indeed on earth generally, the resounding silence here is to the one consideration which would destroy the writer's carefully crafted Platonist comparison, his contrast between the heavenly and the earthly. If Jesus had lived on earth and been a human being, if his sacrifice had taken place on a hill outside Jerusalem and the blood he shed there had been material, the author's comparison would not work. Christ's blood would, historically speaking, not have been "spiritual." This would have contaminated and confused the entire picture he paints in these chapters, and thus he should have felt forced to address the anomaly. Since he does not, we are led to assume that no historical Jesus, no sacrifice on earth, lurked in the background to disturb this finely drawn duality.
[ Modern scholars generally like to play down the Platonic principle in Hebrews, no doubt because of the problems it creates. But scholars earlier in this century, such as James Moffat and Marcus Dods, had no hesitation in seeing Hebrews' placement of Christ's sacrifice within a Platonic world view. Moffat, it is true, did his best [International Critical Commentary, Hebrews, p.124] to make 9:14's reference to "blood (sacrifice) through the eternal spirit" fit into an earthly context as well, though he allowed that "what took place in time upon the cross . . . took place really in the eternal, absolute order." And more recently, Paul Ellingworth has pointed out [New International Greek Testament, Hebrews, p.457] the uncertain nature of the 9:14 phrase, arguing against a "timeless" or spiritual meaning. He is partially right on the 'timeless' idea, but the use of "hapax/ephapax" (once for all) in regard to Christ's heavenly sacrifice is determined largely by the writer's desire to contrast that sacrifice with and make it superior to its earthly counterpart, the repeated "daily" sacrifices of the high priests (7:27; cf. 9:25). In the context of these chapters as a whole, the higher/lower world dichotomy is unmistakable. ]

 130. - Hebrews 8:4

3Every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices: hence, this one too must have something to offer. 4Now if he had been on earth, he would not even have been a priest, since there are already priests who offer the gifts which the Law prescribes, 5though they minister in a sanctuary which is only a copy and shadow of the heavenly. . . . [NEB]
This passage might be called a "smoking gun," for it virtually spells out that Jesus had never been on earth. Though the point may seem trivial (and it is), the writer is comparing the heavenly High Priest, Christ, with his earthly counterparts, and here he makes the passing comment that Christ on earth would have nothing to do, since there are and have been priests who perform this role which the Law requires.The tense here is ambiguous. The Greek for the key phrase is "ei men oun en epi ges" or literally: "now, therefore, if he were on earth," with the verb "were" in the imperfect. This is, strictly speaking, a past tense, and the NEB translation above reflects this, with its clear implication that Jesus had never been to earth. Scholars, naturally, shy away from this meaning. Paul Ellingworth [NIGT, Hebrews, p.405] admits that the NEB is grammatically possible, "since the imperfect in unreal conditions is temporally ambiguous." But he counters: "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.' He thus opts for a translation like most others, "If he were [now] on earth, he would not be a priest at all."
Even with the latter translation, however, there is an awkward silence. The writer offers no qualification for an idea which could be misconstrued as covering past times. He shows no cognizance of the fact that Jesus had been on earth, and that an important part of his sacrifice had taken place there, the shedding of his blood on Calvary. The implication that he would have had nothing to do on earth, since there were already high priests there, goes against the obvious fact that he had had very much to do on earth. Ellingworth goes on to say that, "The argument presupposes, rather than states, that God cannot establish two priestly institutions in competition." This is indeed the case, yet with Christ the High Priest on earth, performing an important part his sacrifice on Calvary, such a competition would in fact be present, and the writer should have felt obligated to deal with it.
The epistle's fundamental point is the setting up of two counterpart sacrificial systems, the old and the new, the Sinai cult on earth and the heavenly sacrifice of Jesus which supplants it. The presence of Jesus on earth, crucified in the earthly sphere in the present or the past, would have foiled such a Platonic duality.
[ Note the contrast here with the terms "flesh" (sarx) in 5:7 and "world/universe" (kosmos) in 10:5. Whereas the epistles often use both these terms, especially the first, in speaking of Jesus' activities, they never use 8:4's "ge" (earth), save for here where the thought is clearly that Jesus had never been to that place.
This passage, along with chapters 8 and 9 generally, is thoroughly discussed in Article No. 9, A Sacrifice in Heaven: The Son in the Epistle to the Hebrews. ]

 131. - Hebrews 8:8-12
Considering that the epistle writer himself (along with most Christians) seems oblivious to the void in the Old Testament passage he quotes here, we may step outside the strict boundaries of this "Sound of Silence" feature and observe a telling silence in one of the Hebrew prophets. Jeremiah 31:31-34, as quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12, has this to say:

"The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will conclude a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt; because they did not abide by the terms of that covenant, and I abandoned them, says the Lord. For the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord, is this: I will set my laws in their understanding and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach one another, saying to brother and fellow-citizen: 'Know the Lord!' For all of them shall know me, from small to great; I will be merciful to their wicked deeds, and their sins I will remember no more at all." [NEB]
The scriptures were scoured by Jew and Christian alike for foreshadowings of the Messiah, and yet in perhaps the most prominent and direct forecast of the future made by a biblical prophet, one involving the fundamental idea of a new covenant to replace the old, there is not a glimmer of a Messiah or a Son of God. If the Deity was regarded as encoding into the sacred writings all manner of details about the life and work of Jesus, how is it that an open and unambiguous statement of God's plans for the future does not contain him? If salvation is now to be dependent on knowing and believing in Jesus, why is God's own forecast of his future requirements limited to 'knowing the Lord," meaning himself? If Jesus' sacrifice was required to forgive sins, why does God's reference to the cancellation of sins make no mention of it?The writer of Hebrews is using Jeremiah's prophecy to 'prove' the dissolution of the old covenant and thereby justify his own community's substitution of a new one, based on the idea of the Son's sacrifice in heaven. He, too, seems unaware of the void in the biblical passage which contains no forecast of his own christology of the Son as High Priest.

 132. - Hebrews 9:11

But now Christ has come, high priest of good things already in being . . . and thus he has entered the sanctuary once and for all and secured an eternal deliverance. [NEB]Or,
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things which have come to be, he entered once for all into the sanctuary . . . [NAB]
Somewhat like the silence in 8:4, this passage has a definite implication that Jesus had never "come" to earth. Whether that coming is expressed in the perfect tense (with present implications), as in the NEB translation, or in a strict past tense, as in most others, such an arrival is linked exclusively with his entry into the heavenly sanctuary, which is a spiritual higher-world event. Ellingworth [op.cit. p.449] admits that "The reference is not to the incarnation, but to Christ's entry into heaven." His following comment is an understatement: "The question of whether the author thought of Christ as high priest from birth does not arise." We could expand that to say, the question of whether Christ had "come" to earth at all, to live a life and undergo a death prior to his "coming" into the heavenly tabernacle to perform his sacrifice, also does not arise. Is the author so devoid of all interest in the span of Jesus' life on earth that he can impart to it no significance or mention whatsoever?Jean Héring (Hebrews, p.77) notes: "But the objection will be raised that the sacrifice was accomplished at Golgotha and not in heaven. Yet that event had a supernatural effect; it opened the way which leads to the heavenly Holy of Holies." This 'objection' is not only apparent to the minds of later Christians, it illustrates that to properly describe the sacrifice of Jesus, even in its "supernatural" implications, some reference to Calvary and the physical dimension on earth must be made. This is precisely what is missing over the entire length of Hebrews, not to mention virtually all the vast landscape of the New Testament epistles.

 — Hebrews 9:19-20: See "Top 20" #12

 133. - Hebrews 9:24-26

24For Christ has entered, not that sanctuary made by men's hands which is only a symbol of the reality, but heaven itself, to appear now before God on our behalf. . . . 26. . . But as it is, he has appeared once and for all at the climax of history [literally, at the completion of the ages] to abolish sin by the sacrifice of himself. [NEB]
The previous item (#132) questioned the meaning and significance of the word "coming" where it seems to be linked exclusively with the entry of Jesus into the heavenly sanctuary. Was the writer blind to any "coming" to earth?Here we face a similar, but even more graphic and revealing situation. Verse 24 above speaks solely of Jesus' appearance (the verb emphainizo) before God, meaning in heaven. When we go on to verse 26, it too speaks of an "appearance" (the verb phaneroo), in this case at the end of the ages. The natural flow of meaning is to take the latter appearance as synonymous with the former one, in other words, it is the appearance in heaven. Since that latter appearance (in verse 26) is defined as the abolishing of sin by his sacrifice, and since such a sacrifice is always and exclusively spoken of as the entry of Jesus into the heavenly tabernacle, we must assume that in verse 26, too, the writer has in mind the heavenly event. The "appearing" at the climax of history and the abolishing of sin by his sacrifice, is a reference to a spiritual event in heaven, not an earthly one on Calvary in incarnated form.
But this creates a devastating silence on any "appearance" on earth. If Jesus' sacrifice in heaven is defined as the appearance which took place at the completion of the ages, where is the incarnation, which also should have been seen as taking place at such a time? There is no sign in this entire passage that the writer is making a switch, between verse 24 and verse 26, from the heavenly appearance to the earthly one. In verse 26, in fact, the verb used is phaneroo, one I have often pointed out would be an odd one to use to signify incarnation. It means to "reveal" or "be manifested." It can also mean to 'put in an appearance,' but here it can be aligned with all the other usages of this word, and related ones, in the epistles (eg, 1 Peter 1:20, Romans 3:21 and 24, Romans 16:26, etc.) where the meaning is clearly the revelation of Christ or the bringing of him to the light of knowledge, usually by God. This enriched meaning of "appearance" in Hebrews 9:26 reinforces the concept that Jesus, for this writer, is a spiritual entity, revealed in this last period of the world as having undergone a heavenly sacrifice, the most important element of which is the entry into the higher world sanctuary. Neither room nor importance is given in any degree for a presence on earth or a sacrifice in those lower physical precincts. All of these points are discussed at length in Article No. 9, A Sacrifice in Heaven: The Son in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
[ The following verses, 27-28, contain a reference to Jesus' subsequent appearance when the End-time actually arrives. This is claimed to be the one clear place in the epistles where a reference is made to a second coming. If it were so, it could be placed in opposition to a first coming which constituted the one into the heavenly sanctuary. But there is an alternate understanding for the key phrase which renders the idea "next" rather than "second." This question will be examined in the Appendix, but is also covered in the Epilogue to Article No. 9. ]

 134. - Hebrews 10:5-6

That is why, at his coming into the world, he says:
"Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire,
But thou hast prepared a body for me.
Whole-offerings and sin-offerings thou didst not delight in.
Then I said, 'Here am I: as it is written of me in the scroll,
I have come, O God, to do thy will.' " (Psalm 40:6-8 LXX) [NEB]
Perhaps the most significant passage in the early Christian documents which employs the idea of Christ speaking from scripture. The "he says" has been labeled the 'historic present' (Moffat, ICC, Hebrews, p.xxii) or 'timeless present' (Ellingworth, NIGT, Hebrews, p.499), but there is nothing of history here, and a close parallel is 1 Clement's use of the present tense in 16:15 to introduce the voice of Christ describing himself through the writings. (I prefer the term "mythical present," giving a picture of spiritual world realities.)The key and distinguishing phrase here is "at his coming into the world," for which there is no parallel in any of the other passages using such a present tense. Either it refers in some way to Jesus' incarnation to earth, or it does not. If the former, the idea should have been expressed in the past. Some translations (RSV, Héring) simply place the thought in the past tense ("when he came into the world he said"), others try to offer some justification for linking it with the earthly advent, creating awkward images of the spirit of Christ speaking to the Father at the moment of birth.
If it does not (and the writer nowhere speaks of such a birth/advent, nor does he suggest that this was the prophecy of an historical event), we are left with a view of scripture as the material-world's window onto the realm of the spirit, where Christ acts. The atmosphere is identical to 2:14 (above, #119), in which Christ speaks from scripture about men being his brothers, and to 1:6 (above, #116), where God "says" things in scripture to the angels, when he presents the Son, his "first-born," to the world. The latter, despite the use of the term "oikumene," is clearly a heavenly event, and everything in 10:5 suggests that these words and the occasion on which they were 'spoken' is the same, or at least of the same sort. (Note that the word for world in the first line above is "kosmos," which even more than oikumene in 1:6 can refer to the total 'universe' encompassing higher and lower realms.)
Christ and his supernatural world exist or are embodied in the pages of scripture. Within that mythical realm, he obediently takes on a 'body' (soma) prepared for him by God, to serve as a sacrifice which will supplant the old ones on earth that God no longer wants. This is an extension of the higher/lower world dichotomy set up in chapters 8 and 9, in which Christ's sacrifice in the heavenly tabernacle supplants the priestly sacrifices on earth. In fact, the reference is virtually identical, for verse 10 goes on to say that "we have been consecrated, through the offering of the body (soma) of Jesus Christ once and for all." The latter's use of the term soma in conjunction with the idea of "offering" places such a body, and the act being described throughout this passage, within the heavenly sanctuary, for the "offering" which is done "once for all" and which provides salvation is always located in that upper world, non-material setting. This illustrates that the concept of "body" can be located in the higher spiritual world, along with the concept of "blood." And by extension, the concept of "flesh."
These verses in Hebrews are a very revealing indicator of what sort of source—namely scriptural passages which referred to sacrifice, body, and elsewhere things like nailing and piercing—would have lead the earliest Christian thinkers to develop the concept that the spiritual Christ had descended and taken on lower forms. And that he had been crucified for sacrificial, redemptive purposes—all of it under wider influences of religious and philosophical expression, both Jewish and Hellenistic. For now, it all took place within the baser celestial spheres, at the hands of Satan and the demons. Later, the Son would descend all the way to earth.

 135. - Hebrews 10:9

. . . And then he says, "I have come to do thy will." [NEB]
If 5:7 did indeed spell knowledge of the Gospel scene in Gethsemane, it would be curious that when the writer wishes to demonstrate that Jesus was obedient to God's will in accepting death and that he declared such obedience, he would not draw on Jesus' own words at that moment. Matthew has Jesus at Gethsemane say, "Yet not as I will, but as thou wilt." And Luke similarly, "Yet not my will but thine be done." (Both based on Mark.)

 136. - Hebrews 10:12

But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. [NIV]
Passages like this indicate that the writer of Hebrews has no concept of the resurrection as portrayed in the Gospels. Similar to 1:4, "when he had brought about the purgation of sins, he took his seat at the right hand of Majesty," the sacrifice is immediately followed by the arrival at the throne of God in heaven. (See also the same progression in 12:2 which, because of its passing reference to "the cross," will be discussed in the Appendix file.)Even if one defines the act of sacrifice as the event in heaven when Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary with his blood, one still looks in vain in this epistle for any allowance for or mention of a time on earth between the initial shedding of the blood (however that may have been conceived) and the offering of it within heaven's tabernacle. Trying to take it into account necessitates some awkward images and questions as to where Jesus' blood, shed on Calvary, was stored during the period of lying in tomb and making post-resurrection appearances on earth, and the entering of the heavenly sanctuary with that blood in tow.

 137. - Hebrews 10:15-16

15Here we have also the testimony of the Holy Spirit: he first says, 16"This is the covenant which I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will set my laws in their hearts and write them on their understanding." [NEB]
Not only is this another quote of Jeremiah 31:31f. which lacks any prophecy of the Son (the passage is regarded as spoken through the Holy Spirit), the writer refers to this passage as "testimony" to the promised new covenant, created, in the thought of this community, by Christ's heavenly sacrifice (although Jeremiah contains no allusion to this either).But with this focus on "testimony" to the new covenant, a further glaring silence reveals itself. One of the central events of the Gospel passion account is the Last Supper scene. It presents Jesus as pronouncing the establishment of a new covenant through his sacrifice, symbolized by the bread and wine of the meal. Just as we noted a complete silence on the Eucharist and Jesus' Last Supper words in 9:19-20, when the writer quotes the near identical words of Moses at the establishment of the old covenant (see "Top 20" #12), here too he fails to offer any of the Gospel sayings about that covenant, such as Mark 14:14, "This is my blood of the covenant, shed for many." (Compare Matthew 26:28 and Luke 22:20.)
It is impossible to believe that the community of Hebrews had any eucharistic rite, or any knowledge of such a sacramental meal established by Jesus. Its omission in the thought of a writer who is focused on the concept of a new covenant and Jesus as a priestly figure is one of those cases where the argument from silence is logically and irrefutably valid. Nor could this community, possessing the theological interests it did, possibly have remained ignorant of circulating traditions which told of the Last Supper and its significance. If it knew of Jesus sufficiently to create the cosmic christological interpretation found in this epistle, it would hardly have missed out on traditions about such an important episode of the passion.
We are forced to conclude, whether an historical Jesus existed or not, that no such event took place at the beginning of the movement. By extension, we can reject Paul's account of the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 as referring to a known historical event, or as something circulating through oral tradition based on eyewitness attendance.

 138. - Hebrews 10:37

For 'soon, very soon' (in the words of Scripture), 'he who is to come will come; he will not delay . . .' [NEB]
The latter quote is from Habakkuk 2:3f. Literally, the Greek reads: "the one coming will come." Ho Erchomenos, "the Coming One," was a popular title for the expected Messiah, the one prophesied in scripture. Borrowing the 'soon's from Isaiah 26:20, the writer of Hebrews is declaring that the one long promised will arrive on earth shortly.The void here is surely evident. Had not the Coming One, in the view of Christians, already come? If the writer knew of a human Jesus on whom his heavenly High Priest was based, could he possibly have left out that first advent in his prophetic equation? Is there any room for the historical figure between the scriptural promise and the future expected arrival? Not in these words.
Here is another in a growing list of statements by the early epistle writers which makes no allowance for the existence of an earthly Jesus in the historical past. I pointed out in the Introduction that when a silence is not just a silence, but entails an exclusion of the thing whose existence is in question, the argument from silence has a special and compelling validity. Nor will it do to object, as Mr. J. P. Holding has a habit of doing, that there was "no need" to mention such a thing, as everyone already knew it. In the above sort of case, this is not the point. The point is how the writer expresses himself. I may have just married for a second time (a hypothetical example only), and my friends may be aware that I had a first wife even if I don't speak of her, but I am not in that case likely to tell them that my recent marriage ceremony was a new experience for me.

 139. - Hebrews 11

And what is faith? . . . [NEB]
With this question, the writer launches into a paean to those, in Jewish history, who have demonstrated faith and trust in God, and thereby received a range of benefits. Down the ages the litany rolls, from Abel and Enoch, to Abraham and Moses. In verse 32 he asks: "Need I say more?" He refers en bloc to figures like Samson and David, with their stories of trial, warfare, distress and even death: "These also, one and all, are commemorated for their faith."He might very well have said more. Is it too much to expect that the figure of Jesus would have crossed the writer's mind in this connection? Would he not have been seen as one who placed faith in God throughout his life, had taught that very thing, and had demonstrated it in the endurance of his passion and death, finally to receive the ultimate benefit for such faith—his resurrection from the tomb?
We might note a couple of further silences in this passage. Verse 37, in describing the fates of some of the biblical figures, says: "They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were put to the sword, they went about dressed in skins of sheep or goats, in poverty, distress, and misery." For us, the figure of John the Baptist comes to mind here, not only for his death at the hands of Herod Antipas, but in the phrase "skins of sheep or goats," which is reminiscent of John's "rough coat of camel's hair" as described in Mark 1:6 and parallels. In view of the Gospels' focus on John and their presentation of him as Jesus' herald (derived from the Q tradition), this is something one would expect should have been familiar to most if not all Christian communities. (In "Top 20" #11, I also pointed out 1 Clement's lack of mention of the Baptist in that passage [17:1] where he refers to "those who went about in sheepskins and goatskins heralding the Messiah's coming.")
And what of Christian martyrs who exhibited faith and suffered for it? Acts portrays a well-established 'Hellenist' community in Jerusalem, whose leader Stephen dies by stoning for defending Jesus as Lord and Son of Man. One might expect that such a prominent figure and his fate would be known at least in the area of Palestine, where Hebrews is usually considered to have been written. However, there is no mention of Acts' Stephen to be found in the entire first hundred years of Christian writing, and he is likely a fictional creation.

 — Hebrews 12:15-17: See "Top 20" #13

 140. - Hebrews 12:18-29

18Remember where you stand: not before the palpable, blazing fire of Sinai, with the darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, 19the trumpet blast and the oracular voice which they heard . . .22No, you stand before Mount Zion and the city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem, before myriads of angels, 23the full concourse and assembly of the first-born citizens of heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of good men made perfect, 24and Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, whose sprinkled blood has better things to tell than the blood of Abel.
25See that you do not refuse to hear the voice that speaks. Those who refused to hear the oracle speaking on earth found no escape; still less shall we escape if we refuse to hear the One who speaks from heaven. 26Then indeed his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, 'Yet once again I will shake not earth alone, but heavens also.' . . . 28. . . Let us therefore give thanks to God, and so worship him as he would be worshiped, with reverence and awe; 29for our God is a devouring fire. [NEB]
With these verses (I have broken them into paragraphs for clarity's sake and made a few cuts), we arrive at the climax of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The entire content of the letter: the doctrine of the new covenant established through the sacrifice of Jesus, his entry into the heavenly sanctuary, the exhortations to faith, all seem laid out like some carefully planned build-up to this final peroration, urging steadfastness on the readers and giving dire warning against apostasy. If this were music, Hebrews would be one vast movement of a symphony, unfolding through its broad, intricate themes to a last mighty climax.Yet we must ask what this first-century symphonist has given us in his great Coda. His major themes have been built around the contrast between the old and new covenants. Like a good composer, he develops these musical motifs through the course of his work, and he recapitulates them when he gives us his summing up, restating them in powerful, clear form.
Yet these are strange and unexpected melodies. From the opening verses the author of Hebrews establishes his contrast between the old and the new: how God spoke in former times through the prophets, and how he has spoken now in this final age through his Son. Angels had been associated with the former voice, and the Son has been proven superior to them. In his summation in chapter 12, he again gives us the voices of the old and new covenants. But neither at the beginning nor the end, nor indeed at any point in the entire work, do we hear words from the Son himself on earth.
As the writer began his work, calling on divine words to express the new salvation and provide proof for the Son's role in it, the voice was solely that of God, as recorded in the Old Testament, with that voice occasionally placed in the heavenly Son's mouth. Here at the climax, after reminding his readers of the voice of God at Sinai, he turns to the voice which Christians must heed today. What voice does he give them? It is the voice of "the One who speaks from heaven," words once more from the Old Testament. It remains the voice of God. The writer of Hebrews, like all his first century fellows, is deaf to the melody of Jesus, to the rich music of the Gospel teachings, for he has given us not a note of it.
But the void in the music of Hebrews goes even deeper, as it does in the rest of the early Christian literature. Here in chapter 12 the author has first invited his readers to stand in their mind's eye by the mount of Sinai where the old covenant was granted. When he brings them to the scene of the new covenant, it is to Mt. Zion and not to the mount of Calvary. It is to the new, heavenly Jerusalem, and not to the hill beside the earthly city, nor to the empty tomb which lay in the same vicinity. How can images of these places and the significance they bore, transmitted through oral tradition and nourishing the faith and fervor of every Christian community, not dominate the writer's thinking and expression?
It matters not that scholars might claim (and often do) that a writer may, for example in this case, wish to contrast the earthly Mt. Sinai with the heavenly Mt. Zion; or that his argument or personal disposition lent itself to using Old Testament imagery exclusively. What possible disposition could lead him to exclude from his writings all the motifs of his new faith, to construct his elaborate theology without them? Here and elsewhere, the true governing factor is surely overlooked. If the Gospel story had been known, the line of argument would have been shaped to accommodate that knowledge. If the story of Jesus of Nazareth were at home in the minds of these writers, it would have imposeditself upon their discussions, their thought processes. Moffat, in his study of Hebrews, would have us believe that the author did not make use of the idea of Jesus' resurrection because he was confining his High Priest analogy to the biblical prototype of the Day of Atonement sacrifice and there was no 'slot' for it! Can we possibly think that any such consideration would lead a Christian writer to reject the rising of Jesus from his tomb as 'unusable' and ignore it for 13 chapters?

 141. - Hebrews 13:2

Remember to show hospitality. There are some who, by so doing, have entertained angels without knowing it. [NEB]
Following the mighty peroration of chapter 12, chapter 13 of the Epistle to the Hebrews is more than a denouement, it is a let-down. Some have suggested it has the feel of a tacked-on piece, designed to turn a theological treatise, an ambitious homily, into a standard epistle in keeping with the second century's preference for that genre as a vehicle for imparting doctrinal views. Others suggest only some of the later verses are subsequent additions.In any case, such additions are not late enough to reflect an historical Jesus. The above verse raises the image of entertaining an even greater anonymous guest. Surely there were some who, during his ministry on earth, had entertained the Son of God without knowing it!

 142. - Hebrews 13:5-6

Do not live for money; be content with what you have; for God himself has said, "I will never leave you or desert you." And so we can take courage and say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?" [NEB]
The author quotes Psalm 118, but what of Jesus' moving and poetic equivalent in the Sermon on the Mount about putting away anxious thoughts and worries about the necessities of life? "Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all" (Mt. 6:32). The writer draws also on Deuteronomy (31:6) for the assurance that God will not desert the believer, but did not Jesus say the same thing to his disciples? "And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mt. 28:20). Matthew's saying may be his own invention, or a tradition that did not happen to reach the community of Hebrews, but where such an important need was concerned, a tradition about such an assurance would have been very likely to develop on its own.

 143. - Hebrews 13:7

Remember your leaders, those who first spoke God's message to you; and reflecting upon the outcome of their life and work, follow the example of their faith. [NEB]
Once again an early epistle writer (or interpolator) brings home to us the stark reality that the Christ belief movement which constituted earliest Christianity began with a response to a perceived revelation by God, to a message imparted through such revelation by God. Any idea of a message or a beginning in a Jesus on earth, preaching and acting in his own right, is notably missing. Missing, too, is the concept of apostolic tradition, the idea that word and doctrine about Jesus was spread through a chain of apostles going back to those who had actually followed and learned from him on earth.Here the "example" comes from the community's own leaders. The faith and christology of Hebrews is an independent, self-generated one, the product of a sectarian group who have taken their beliefs from scripture and the philosophical trends of the time.

 144. - Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. [NEB]
For this, the last silence in what is possibly the most revealing of all the New Testament epistles, I will simply quote the final paragraph in my Supplementary Article No. 9, A Sacrifice in Heaven: The Son in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which I would recommend for a fuller examination of many of the points raised in this Sound of Silence installment."Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever," the author intones in 13:8. Could a divine Son, pre-existent in heaven before his incarnation, who was born fully human in Bethlehem in the days of Herod the Great, who grew up and ministered in Galilee, was slain in Jerusalem and rose bodily from the dead to return to heaven—could he be spoken of in this fashion? But of a mythical Christ who operated entirely in the spiritual sphere, in a timeless, Platonic existence, one who had never been to earth and was known only by divine revelation from the pages of scripture, such an affirmation would be perfectly apt.


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