A New and Living Way: Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews
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The New Testament book known as the epistle to the Hebrews contains little obvious reference to Jesus' resurrection. Modern interpreters generally account for this relative silence by noting that the author's soteriological and christological concerns have led him to emphasize Jesus' death and exaltation while ignoring, spiritualizing, or even denying his resurrection. In particular, the writer's metaphorical appeal to the Yom Kippur sacrifice, with its dual emphasis on the slaughter of the victim and the presentation of the victim's blood by the high priest, allows him to explain the salvific significance of Jesus' death and exaltation. The crucifixion can be likened to the slaughter of the victim, while Jesus' exaltation in heaven can be likened to the high priest entering the holy of holies. In this way the cross can be understood as an atoning sacrifice. Such a model leaves little room for positive or distinct reflection on the soteriological or christological significance of the resurrection.
This study argues that the soteriology and high-priestly Christology the author develops depend upon Jesus' bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven. The work begins with a survey of positions on Jesus' resurrection in Hebrews. I then present a case for the presence and role of Jesus' bodily resurrection in the text. First, I demonstrate that the writer's argument in Heb 1-2 for the elevation of Jesus above the angelic spirits assumes that Jesus has his humanity--his blood and flesh--with him in heaven. Second, I show that in Heb 5-7 the writer identifies Jesus' resurrection to an indestructible life as the point when Jesus became a high priest. Third, I explain how this thesis makes coherent the author's consistent claims in Heb 8-10 that Jesus presented his offering to God in heaven. I conclude that Jesus' crucifixion is neither the place nor the moment of atonement for the author of Hebrews. Rather, in keeping with the equation in the Levitical sacrificial system of the presentation of blood to God with the presentation of life, Jesus obtained atonement where and when the writer says--when he presented himself in his ever-living, resurrected humanity before God in heaven. Jesus' bodily resurrection is, therefore, the hinge around which the high-priestly Christology and soteriology of Hebrews turns.
SubjectReligion, Biblical Studies