Useand Interpretation of Old Testimony in Hebrews
Theimportance of the bible cannot be gainsaid as far as the guidance ofhuman beings in the contemporary and traditional human society isconcerned. Indeed, every other Christian teaching that is worthlistening to has to be rooted in the bible. Written about twomillennia ago by different authors who were inspired by God, itcontains teachings pertaining to the history of mankind, trends,stories on the reigns of different kings and even words of wisdom byvaried kings such as David and Solomon. As much as the Bible isdivided into two sections, namely the Old Testament and NewTestament, it is evident that the later is connected immensely to theformer. Indeed, even a superficial examination of the New Testamentwould reveal the frequency by which its authors and the individualsthat they write about make quotations from the Old Testament. This isnot surprising especially considering the authoritative role of thescriptures in the religious life of the Jews. It may be surprising,however, to not the varied techniques by which the scripture isutilized and interpreted by the early church and even Jesus himself.To them, the Old Testament’s meaning cannot be limited to itshistorical or literal meaning rather it incorporates other dimensionspertaining to meaning. Further, it is evident that the interpretivetechniques that the early church and Jesus used are similar to theones utilized by other Jewish interpreters of the early rabbinic andsecond-Temple Periods. First, Jesus or even the early church couldinterpret a text in the Old Testament literary in line with theintended meaning of the author. Secondly, the early church and Jesuscould come up with not-so-obvious and subtle interpretations of textsfrom the Old Testament and in some instances by the use of certainexegesis rules learnt from the early rabbinic texts. The interpretivetechnique could be referred to as midrashic. Third, an individual mayfind the pesher interpretations of the New Testament, as scholarscall them, which are characterized by coming across a secondeschatological meaning of a text from the Old Testament that did notoriginally have an eschatological meaning. Further, the New Testamentuniquely incorporates what is referred to as typologicalinterpretation where an individual, thing, place or eventincorporated in the Old Testament is seen as foreshadowing theeschatological reality that it bears functional or analogicalsimilarities to. It goes without saying that the New Testament isprimarily about the life of Jesus. In essence, certain statementsthat Jesus made in the New Testament show a direct connection to theOld Testament. For instance, in Luke 24:44, Jesus told his disciplesthat every other thing that had been spoken to the disciples aboutHim in the Psalms, Prophets and the Law of Moses must come to pass.This implied that every other part of the Old Testament was lookingforward to Christ (Saebo44). On the same note, the unity of history is shown in both the Newand Old Testament texts by the typological correlations pertaining tothe varied events.
Oneof the most common interpretation techniques of the Old Testament inHebrews is midrashic interpretation. This does not incorporate asingular interpretation method rather it outlines a general techniquefor the interpretation of the Old Testament. The fundamentalcharacteristic of the every other Midrashic interpretation is theaspect of being not-so-obvious and subtle in interpreting the OldTestament. Certain interpretive rules, in some instances, may be usedin making implicit meanings of Old Testament explicit (Saebo39). In essence, Midrashic interpretations start in the premise thattexts from Old Testament incorporate a deeper meaning that is exposedthrough careful observation and, in some cases, through applying aninterpretive rule. For example, in the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews6: 13-14), the author states that God, in the promises that he madeto Abraham swore by Himself as there exists no other being greaterthan Him and by whom he could swear. Citing one of the promises thatGod made to Abraham in Genesis 22: 17 where He States “I willsurely bless you and I will surely multiply you”, Hebrew 616explains that God swore by himself unlike the case for human beingswho can swear by things or individuals that are greater than them(Docherty28). The interest of the author in the oath that God made to Abrahamemanates from the interest that he has in Psalms 110:4, which hemakes a messianic interpretation of in Hebrew 5:5-10 in line withPsalms 2:7 which states that “Yahweh has sworn and will not changehis mind, `Youare a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”.In essence, the author of the book of Hebrews insinuates that thethings that he can determine pertaining to the oath that God makes inGenesis 22:16-17 can be transferred to Psalms 110:4 and utilized inthe interpretation of the oath that Yahweh made to the son that hewill be a priest forever in line with the order of Melchizedek inPsalms 110:4. This means that the author of Hebrew opines that inPsalms 110:4, as much as the passage does not make an explicitstatement of this fact, Yahweh swore by himself just as he did whenhe made an oath to Abraham simply because there exists no greaterperson whom He could swear by. Considering that God swore by himself,it is only logical to indicate that the oath that was made to Christin Psalms 110:4 will come to pass (Saebo49). In essence, the author points out in Hebrew that the characterof any promises made by God to believers must come to pass as long asYahweh swore by himself when swearing that Christ would forever be apriest in line with the order of Melchizedek (Docherty 37). Further, the author notes in Hebrew 6:18 that God swore or madean oath to Christ as in Psalms 110:4 so that believers may beimmensely encouraged to take the hope that has been provided to them.This is based on two unshakable facts including the fact God took theoath by Himself and the promise that God made to Christ in Psalms110:4.
Similarly,Hebrews uses the Pesher interpretation to derive the meanings of sometexts in the Old Testament. This form of interpretation aims atuncovering an eschatological meaning for texts from the Old Testamentthat do not originally incorporate eschatological meanings. Theinterpretations would be made based on two assumptions. First, thetime of the interpreter is of eschatological fulfillment, and sometexts from the Old Testament incorporate eschatological referencethat is hidden until eschaton. More often than not, there exists somelink between the texts and the new eschatological meaning, which isusually an idea or key word. It may be said that an individual’sacceptance of pesher interpretation’s validity is subject to his orher evaluation of the authority and credibility of the interpreter.The author, In Hebrews 12:26-27, makes an eschatologicalinterpretation of Haggai 2:7. He starts by stating in Hebrew 12:26athat God shook the earth when giving the law. This was the same casein Judges 5:4, Exodus 19:18 and Pslams 114:7, 77:18, and 68:7-8.However, in Hebrews 12:26b, the author states that God promised toshake the earth and the heavens, and goes ahead to quote Haggai 2:7to cement the point, thereby giving the passage a pesherinterpretation different from the original meaning. At this time, theprophet Haggai prophesies the presence of the Lord and that He willshake the heavens and earth, dry land and sea, as well as all thenations and make all the “desired” in all nations to return(BotterweckandHelmer48). This prophesy was aimed at comforting and encouraging Joshua theHigh Priest, Zerubbabel and the generation that had come back to theland. The fact that Haggai makes reference to the handing down of thelaw by the shaking of the earth is not explicitly stated but isprobable. Further, there is no specification pertaining to themeaning of “the desired of all nations”, although in the contextit would seem to be the valuables that are brought to the Temple fromall nations. This is insinuated by the verse where the Lord Almightystates that “AndI will fill this house with glory”and the declaration that “Silverand Gold is mine”.In essence, God’s second shaking of the earth, heavens, dry landand the sea would bring Jerusalem wealth from other nations, whichexplains the promises of prophet Haggai in Haggai 2:9 that the “theglory of this present house will be greater than the glory of theformer house”as the returnees may have expressed their disappointment with thetemple that had been rebuilt. The author, in Hebrew 12: 28a,identifies the things that are not shaken as the kingdom that isbeing received, which means that it was an ongoing or continuingprocess. Further, he distinguishes the created or earthly things fromthe heavenly or uncreated ones and insinuates that only the later isreal while the former would be removed through shaking. In essence,the fulfillment of the new covenant would be completed after alltemporal things are destroyed (Docherty 45). Earlier, the author had insinuated in Hebrews 11-12 about theheavenly Jerusalem as the ultimate promise that God has made to allpeople who have faith. This is symbolic of eternal salvation, inwhich case it may be assumed that this is what cannot be removed inthe second shaking. This means that the eternal salvation issynonymous with the kingdom that cannot be shaken that believers arein the receiving process. This is also reminiscent to the thingswritten in Isaiah: 66:22 and 65:17, where a promise is made for thecreation of a new earth and Heaven.
Further,typological interpretations of a place, event, thing or person in theOld Testament foreshadows an eschatological reality that usfunctionally or analogically similar. It is assumed that thesignified eschatological reality can only be fully comprehended ifthe salvation that points forward to eschatological assumptionsexists. In Hebrews, the author makes a semantic identification of thevaried uses of the word “rest” to ensure that every otherinstance where the word appears would be assumed to speak about thesame thing (BotterweckandHelmer35). This is accomplished though the assumption of typologicalcorrespondences between the varied types of rest (Promised Land andSabbath rest), and the antitype, which is the eschatologicalsalvation. For instance, in Hebrew 4:3a, the author states that “wewho believe enter the rest” in contrast to them. This is quotedfrom Psalms 95:11. However, it is worth noting that the Psalmist wasmaking reference to the events in exodus, in which case rest, for himmeant the Promised Land. The author of Hebrews, however, insinuatesthat the rest that the individuals in exodus did not enter is thesame rest that the believers get into. This, nevertheless, cannotimply that the rest that the author speaks about is the Promised Landrather the author may equate the rest that believers enter with therest that the generations in Exodus failed to enter as the PromisedLand is seen as a category of eschatological salvation. Scholars notethat the use of the present tense “we enter the rest” is aimed atcreating the impression that the eschatological salvation as rest isa present reality although it has future consummation.
Lastly,Hebrews uses the Old Testament to show that Jesus is the fulfillmentof the prophesies made in the Old Testament and that he does notsimply represent an entirely new method of doing things rather He isalso supreme and greater than the old ways. When writing about theMosaic Law’s temple system, the author states in Hebrews 8:6 thatthe “ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as thecovenant of which He is mediator is superior to the old one and isfounded on better promises. This means that Jesus is superior to theOld Testament system and that he supersedes and encompasses the oldtechniques of doing things. Jesus, for instance is said to have apermanent priesthood because he lives forever, in which case he hasthe capacity to save entirely individuals who go to God through himas He always exists to intercede for them (BotterweckandHelmer57). This is the same case in the first chapter of Hebrews, it isstated “And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, Hesays, "AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM. This may havebeen taken directly from Deuteronomy 32:43. In Psalms 45, the notionof being God and King is combined. In the first few verses, it isevident that the Psalmist was talking about a human king, while fromverse 6, he shifts the reference to God. Scholars have noted thatHebrews prophets and poets held the belief that a prince in the houseof David was a vicegerent of the God of Israel and that he belongedto a dynasty that God made promises to bound up by the accomplishmentor attainment of his purpose in the world.
Botterweck,G J, and Helmer Ringgren. TheologicalDictionary of the Old Testament.Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973. Print.
Docherty,Susan E. TheUse of the Old Testament in Hebrews: A Case Study in Early JewishBible Interpretation.Tübingen:Mohr Siebeck, 2009. Print.
Saebo,Magne. HebrewBible, Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation.Göttingen:Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000. Print.