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Interpreting the Book of Hebrews

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Question #1:  In Hebrews 11:3 it says that God "made the ages", but how can we think of the material with a word that sounds like it deals specifically with the chronological?

Response #1:  First, let me give you my translation of this passage:

By faith we understand that the ages have been constructed by the Word of God, so that what we see (i.e., the material world) has not come into being from the things presently visible.
Hebrews 11:3

We should start by observing that this is very similar to what Paul says in the beginning of the epistle about Christ's construction of the universe:

At the end of these times [of verse one], God spoke to us by a Son, whom He appointed heir of everything, and through whom [Jesus Christ] He [the Father] made the ages.
Hebrews 1:2

The Greek word in both cases is the plural of aion, and while in both cases the word could theoretically refer exclusively to time, in each case the context really demands that it refer to the world as a whole. The idiom used in both verses is a Pauline one. Although not strictly paralleled in the Old Testament, the word 'olam in the later Hebrew of Paul's day admits of this same extension of "age" (strictly temporal) to "world" (space-time continuum). This is not a problem for Paul's theology (or ours) because space exists in time. To say that God created "the world" in our English usage really is a sleights God because it leaves time out of the equation. God did indeed create space and time simultaneously, and without His creation of time there could be no space, no "world". It is purely our cultural perspective that wants to emphasize the material aspect of the universe over the temporal, but, really, the two are indistinguishable. Inasmuch as Hebrews 11:3 is focusing in on the material aspects of the creation, it may very well be that Paul is using aion here to balance things, reminding the reader that there is also time involved in this miracle we see around us – and while science has much to say about the material, it has no satisfactory explanation for time, change, and becoming. That is an issue which, outside of purely spiritual discussions, has been generally been left to philosophy. One possible Old Testament parallel for the Hebrew 'olam being used in the sense of the Greek aion you ask about here is Ecclesiastes 3:11 where God has "put eternity" in the hearts of men, namely, an internal, universal recognition of these essential facts about the world including its temporal dimension, especially the recognitions of one's own limited life-span in the context of an on-going universe (of course that is still time rather than material focused, but, as I say, I believe that is Paul's point here too).

Yours in Him,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

In Heb.2:7-8, why isn't "and didst set him over the works of thy hands" present as it is in Ps.8:6? I noticed that Nestle's and Metzger's Greek New Testaments both have this clause as an inferior reading even though [א] Aleph and [B] Vaticanus contain it. What are your thoughts?

Response #2: 

One of the problems with critical editions is that they keep changing - and not always for the better. The fourth edition of the Aland-Black UBS Greek New Testament (or Metzger, as you refer to it) is far inferior to the third, for example. To my mind, many older editions were just as good or better (the case with the Nestle series as well). The new ones are just different, not necessarily better (after all, nothing really significantly new has popped up in a long time). And all the critical editions of the Greek New Testament have their problems, especially with methodology, as is evident in this case you ask about. The note in Metzger is essentially "lectio difficilior", that is, "leaving this part of the Psalm out is so bizarre it must be right to do so". I think this is a big mistake, and were I doing the edition, I would definitely include it, given that two of the best manuscripts include it as you point out. It is true that it is left out of P46, but it seems to me that a papyrus "paper-back" edition is generally much more prone to omission than a good uncial is to enlargement (even if that papyrus it is one of the Beatty's). Besides, there is no reason why Paul should have left out this one part of the Psalm deliberately. It's things like this that have me spending more time than I would like on analyzing the UBS text when I exegete. They have done some odd things elsewhere as well. You should be aware that there are many (far too many) times when there is a problem with the text they print and they don't even include the alternatives in the apparatus criticus. Nestle (the true Nestle), on the other hand, has it more, but it is much more difficult to use, and even Nestle occasionally leaves out original readings of Sinaiticus [Aleph] (like thrix "hair" instead of iris "rainbow" in Rev.10:1, the original reading at that!).

Hope this helps.

Yours in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.
 

Question #3: 

Mr. Luginbill:

I have questions on two verses, please.

        Hebrews 11:13

        Hebrews 11:39

Could you please explain to me what 'promise' they did not receive?

Thank you for your help.

Response #3: 

 The "promise" (or "promises" plural in the first of these two passages, Heb.11:13) not received by past generations of believers refers to the resurrection (which is yet future) and all that it entails, namely a blissful eternal life with our Lord on the new earth to come (specifically in the New Jerusalem: Rev.21-22), with no more pain, toil or tears, only the rewards and blessings He has promised those who faithfully follow Him (cf. 1Jn.2:25: "for this is the promise which He Himself promised to us: eternal life; cf. Heb.9:15; 10:36-39).

It is true that the word "promise" occurs many times in Hebrews, but all of God's promises are based upon and built upon the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ the promised One in whom we are "heirs according to the promise" (Gal.3:29; Heb.6:17; cf. Tit.3:7). Without Him and our new life in Him, no promise gained in time would mean anything, but with Him and in Him all the promises we receive from God in this life merely reinforce our faith in His fulfillment of the ultimate promise on that blessed day to come – our resurrection, our eternal reward, and our eternity with the Master we love so much.

In Him who is our hope now and forevermore, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bob Luginbill
 

Question #4: 

What does it mean in Heb.11.3, "so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear"?

Response #4: 

I'm not familiar with the version that gives you "so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear" for Hebrews 11:3 – but it is a good translation, and better than KJV's "so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear". I translate the passage as follows:

By faith we understand that the ages have been constructed by the Word of God, so that what we see (i.e., the material world) has not come into being from the things presently visible.
Hebrews 11:3

Hebrews 11:3 is an essential passage for anyone considering the whole issue of science and the Bible, evolution, what have you, because it makes the case quite clear: God is not bound by what the human eye and intelligence are capable of perceiving, and even with intense effort and investigation, science will necessarily draw false conclusions because it will assume that "things have always worked like they do now" which is, of course, not the case as we know very well from scripture (cf. 2Pet.3:3-13).

Some exegetical points:

    1. the infinitive katertisthai is perfect/passive in indirect speech following a verb of thinking.

    2. eis to ... gegonenai is a case of the articular infinitive expressing [negative] purpose (this is a standard usage with eis, and substitutes for a purpose clause)

    3. both phainomemon (gen.plur.neut.) and to blepomemon (acc.sing.neut) are attributive participles, that is, used substantively; hence the respective translations above as "the things presently visible" (lit. "[things] being apparent/visible") and "what we see" (lit. "the thing being seen").

    4. gegonenai, like katertisthai, is perfect (the former in the active voice, but gignomai is intransitive and really almost quasi-passive or stative in its meaning). Both perfects do just what we would expect a Greek (or English) perfect to do, namely, express a present state of being (which by definition depends upon past action). Translate "have been constructed" and "has not come into being" respectively.

In Him,

Bob L. 


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