Barclay goes on to identify the Christian inspiration (Christ Himself), the handicap (the effects of Original Sin), and the means for perseverance (Barclay references the word "hupomone," which is another way of saying "the patience which masters" things) (173).
In the same manner, Donald Guthrie speaks of the text as showing a "need for discipline" (248). Guthrie observes that the discipline must be Christ-centered and Christ-focused: "Looking to Jesus (aphorontes eis)…implies a definite looking away from others and directing one's gaze towards Jesus. It suggests the impossibility of looking in two directions at once" (250).
John Brown, on the other hand, states that the text is "highly rhetorical; and its meaning will be but imperfectly understood -- its force and beauty will be utterly lost to us -- if we do not distinctly apprehend…those historical facts or ancient customs from which the inspired writer borrows his imagery" (599-600). The statement is somewhat presumptuous of the necessity of applying an academic background to the understanding of Scripture: Brown applauds too much his own technical virtuosity. Nonetheless, he makes the point that the imagery of a race has more to do with the Grecian games of ancient history than with the march of the Israelites through the desert. The Greeks held their celebrated games in which spectators "witnessed" matches of endurance and skill, fighting and running. The allusion makes sense -- and, in fact, is so obvious it barely needs pointing out. But Brown's commentary would be incomplete without it -- indeed, he would have no commentary at all if he did not go to the trouble of establishing at length all that the epistle implies. Who would?
The question is irrelevant, for scholars like Daniel de Silva employ such lengthy commentaries to give weight to their own -- and without such weighty commentaries modern exegesis would hardly be what it is today. Therefore, one must note de Silva's otherwise superfluous statement that "the textual variants…are significant" (426). One may wish to argue differently, but for the purposes of this paper, we will proceed with de Silva's theory that the myriad textual variants do offer something of interest.
The textual variants of which de Silva speaks are based on a range of interpretations of different manuscripts. As de Silva says,
An impressive number of manuscripts, including P13 and P46, read 'hostility from sinners against themselves,' thus underscoring the self-defeating results of rejecting Jesus…It seems preferable to read this variant as an early scribal alteration of Hebrews, by means of which the scribe sought to introduce the philosophical conception of the self-destructiveness of attacking the just person into the text. (426)
Whether or not such a hypothesis is accurate is hardly of importance for de Silva: he has made a pronouncement concerning the historical context of the Epistle, proving the depth of his own scholarly abilities, and is therefore free to carry on with his exegesis.
Key Words and Concepts
Scot McKnight, meanwhile, begins his analysis of Hebrews by apologizing for its tone: "Few are the number of Christians who have not been at least troubled by the warning passages of Hebrews, troubled perhaps to the point of despair or even terror" (21). Such a statement borders upon the absurd -- first for making a sweeping generalized statement pertaining the number of Christians who have found the Pauline Epistle discouraging (what a grotesque aberration!); second for basing a presumptuous and ridiculous conclusion upon such an outrageous premise: that the Epistle has actually been a cause of despair in many faithful. What one senses, in McKnight's apologetic, rather, is his own lack of confidence in Christ, and this is essentially what is projected on the Hebrew recipients of the Epistle in McKnight's analysis: his paper "advocates that the audience of the letter to the Hebrews is the phenomenological-true believer and that the warnings are given to believers who can genuinely commit the sin" (24). Of course, his perspective is not earth-shattering: what it is, however, is the frightened expression of one finds the Pauline warning to be somewhat too admonitory and perhaps even a little too frightening.
Timothy Ledford, however, helps signify the reason for McKnight's lackluster analysis: "The decline of rhetorical studies [has been] caused by the limited usefulness of stylistic studies. Wuellner writes, 'With the rise of historical (= scientific or modern) criticism, rhetoric became marginalized to the point of near extinction or at least increasing irrelevance, in contrast to its fifteen hundred year-long central importance to exegesis'" (9). The downplay of the actual content and rhetoric of Scripture has resulted in the near-futile analyses of today's scholars. Key words and concepts become nothing more than matters for semantic debate.
All the same, Paul Ellingworth identifies Jesus as "the source and goal of faith" in his exegetical survey of Hebrews -- and the supreme key word and concept of Hebrews 12:1-3: "For the first time since 10:19, Jesus is mentioned by name. He is linked in several ways with the readers' faith (and by implication the writer's also): the readers are to 'look constantly' at him; he is the 'pioneer and finisher' of faith; and his perseverance in the face of crucifixion is the supreme example for believers" (639). Thus, at least one scholar identifies the most important aspect of the Pauline Epistle: Christ.
But in a modern exegetical study, Christ may be set aside to concentrate on the grammatical issues of Hebrews 12:1-3. Frank Gaebelein takes ample time to reflect upon the tendentious nature of the grammatical issues in 12:1-3. First there is the fact that the opening word of the passage, "Therefore" (toigaroun), is found only one other time in the New Testament writings -- in 1 Thess. 4:8: "It is an inferential particle meaning 'wherefore then, so therefore'" (135). Second,
There is a difficult textual problem posed by the fact that most of the oldest authorities read the plural eis heautous, 'against themselves'. The singular 'against him' is obviously superior; in fact, a number of commentators maintain that it alone makes sense. But precisely because it makes so much better sense many argue that the plural -- the more difficult reading -- must be accepted. If it is, then the meaning is that Jesus received opposition 'from sinners against themselves'; i.e., sinners doing hurt to themselves" (135)
as opposed to "opposition from sinners against himself." Needless to say, the meaning of the passage is not lost with either interpretation -- for it can be clearly reckoned without undue scrutiny. The grammatical debate of analysts may have some importance in their field of study, but for the common layman, the debate cannot hold much interest. Even St. Augustine was in agreement when he said that meaning is more important than grammar.
David Mark Heath provides a focus "on the form and function of the literary units [of Hebrews] and the relationship of these units to the overall book-level structure" (iii). As always the necessity of Heath's chiastic study is the fact that it has never been done before with regard to Hebrews -- and even Heath himself admits that "the evasive structure, outline, and argument have been difficult for exegetes to harness, but scholars also struggle to state a theme for the book with confidence" (1). One is compelled to sympathize with Heath for his and his colleagues' lack of confidence -- but it appears to be more a condition of modern scholasticism than a reality that the text is so incomprehensible. The emphasis placed on agonizing over every lose thread is representative of academia's loss of orientation. The scholastics of the middle ages had no such loss -- theirs was the age of faith. Ours today is hardly such an age -- instead, it is an age of skepticism, and Heath personifies that attitude in his approach to illustrating the structure of Hebrews.
Of course, Heath can justify the reason for the problematic nature of his study: "The biggest reason for these discrepancies [in structural analysis]…is the frequent switching of epideictic and deliberative sections (i.e., doctrinal and hortatory sections) within Hebrews" (2). Nonetheless, Heath is able to hit upon the correct approach to his exegesis: "the use of inverted parallelism of form and/or content which moves toward and away from a strategic central component" (2) -- meaning, essentially, nothing. Like much of modern scholasticism, the more one speaks, the less he actually says.
Then again, Heath may not be as far off the mark as he thinks: by emphasizing a kind of artistic chiaroscuro (loosely adapted, of course, from chiastic structural analysis), Heath is, perhaps, unintentionally alluding to the overall nature of the Epistle and the structure of the letter which is even apparent in Hebrews 12:1-3: a stark contrast between the light and the dark -- like Baglione's portrait of Sacred and Profane Love. The Pauline epistle highlights the…