by Robert Brow - March 1999

Hebrews 2

For many years I worked with a model to explain the crucifixion which is used in the old Anglican/Episcopal Book of Common
Prayer : "who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world."

Today I found in Hebrews 2 some quite different models to explain the meaning of the cross :

We see Jesus -dia to pathyma tou thanatou- through the suffering of his death -doxy kai timy estaphomenon- crowned as victor with glory and honour.  -opos chariti theou uper pantos geusyai thanato- so that by the grace of God he might know the taste of death for the whole world (2:9).

The result would be that as many children of God were perfected for heaven the originator of their salvation was also perfected through suffering crucifixion. (2:10).

A further explanation of this model of the atonement is that - kekoinonyken aimatos kai sarkos- he shared our human nature so that through death he might -katargysy- (make powerless) the one who has the power of death, that is -ton diabolon- What is the nature of this diabolical power ?  It is to lie to humans so that they were -enockoi ysan douleias-(gripped by the bondage) of -phobo thanatou dia pantos tou zyn- death fear throughout their lives. (2:15).

As I put these two explanations together, it seems that in this chapter 2 of Hebrews our crowning glory is being freed from the
fear of death. And it is interesting that this was the Son of God's main task as -pistos archiereus- faithful high-priest (2:17) in
bringing many children to glory (2:10). That suggests that freeing people who are paralysed by that fear is also the task of our
royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).

Hebrews 11

I noticed that the writer of this Epistle used the noun -pistis- faith over twenty times in the brief forty verses from 10:39 to 11:39. There is also the verb -pisteuo- in verse 6. Obviously the writer had something important about faith that he wanted to convey.

As usual I tried a rough list of different kinds of faith which might have been in his mind as he wrote:

Decisional faith, 11:4
Enoch type faith, 11:5
Seeing faith , 11:2, 6
Perceiving faith 11:6
Revelation faith, 11:7
Obeying faith, 11:8
Empowering faith, 11:11, 34
Promise believing faith, 11:11, 13
Misguided faith, 11:17
Blessing faith, 11:20-21
Courage faith, 11:23
Identifying faith, 11:24
Exodus faith, 11:27-29
Mountain moving faith, 11:30, 35
Welcoming faith, 11:31
Political Liberation faith, 11:32
Enduring faith, 11:9, 36-37

Obviously faith is not one thing, anymore than love is just one thing. Each of these kinds of faith could be given a different name in the same way as the Inuit of the Arctic have twenty different names for snow depending on what you can do with it. Light falling snow is different from a snow drift, and hard frozen snow is not the same thing as the stuff you use to build igloos. Scientists may eventually discover that all these are variants of one molecule H2O, but to insist on calling falling snow, steam, and drinking water by the one name H2O is not useful at all.

Then I noticed the words -pistis elpizomenon upostasis- faith that underlies hope. That suggested a quality of faith that is expressed in various kinds of faith. There was also -yrgysanto dikaiosune- they worked out their righteousness (11:33) in many different ways. This might be similar to Abraham's faith that was reckoned as righteousness (Romans 4:5- 9) and which James said was bound to result in a change of behaviour (James 14-17).

Inevitably my grasshopper mind jumped to a model to explain all this. The faith that makes us right will be evident by our faith to do all sorts of extraordinary things. That may not be all that the writer to the Hebrews had in mind, but it is a start in the right direction. Which reminds me that I much prefer a directional faith, like Abraham's  faith, to a decisional faith which sounds to me like a work, "My decision for Christ is what saved me." We are saved by looking to the power of God by faith alone, but that kind of faith will inevitably show itself.

Hebrews 11:11.

Sometimes another model is introduced deliberately by a translator. -Sarra dunamin eis katabolen spermatos elaben- Sarah received power to conceive seed (11:11). Here is a note I received from Revd. Petroula Ruehlen (Rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Port Neches, Texas): "The NRSV arrogantly presumed to change this into "He (i.e.Abraham) received power of procreation, even though he was too old--and Sarah herself was barren" (11:11). There is no textual basis whatsoever for such a change. If you are interested in this, there is an excellent article with a summary of all ancient sources on the subject in the Feb. 1992 issue of Bible Review. The author is Pieter Willem Van Der Horst, and it is entitled "Did Sarah have a seminal emission"? Have fun."

James .....