Jesus, Greater than the Angels? Opening the Book of Hebrews

Jesus, Greater than the Angels?
Opening the Book of Hebrews

Kevin James Bywater

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For years, I wondered why the book of Hebrews began with so much attention on angels (Heb 1:1-2:18). The book seemed to me to be focused more on the priestly service described in the book of Leviticus—tabernacle, priests, sacrifices, offerings, washings, etc.—so why all this attention to angels? One might notice that Jesus was presented as one greater than Moses (Heb 3:1-6), better than the high priests, more effective than the sacrifices. Sure, but why does the book begin with a focus on angels? And just what exactly was the message brought by the angels (Heb 2:2)?

There appears to be some connection between the divine revelation delivered through Moses and the message that came through angels.[1] But what message came through angels? Again, why bring up angels and spend so much time arguing that Jesus is superior to them and that his message is more pressing than theirs (see Heb 2:2-3)?

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OT Law & NT Ethics – 7: The Law and the Gospel (and Abraham)

It has been a while since I posted a new installment in the series exploring the relationship between Old Testament law and New Testament ethics. Sorry about that. Life has a way…of getting in the way. If you’ve not read the previous installments, well, I would strongly suggest that you grant enough time to do so. There is a madness to the method.

Previous Posts in This Series

Here are the earlier posts:

1 – Prefatory Playfulness
2 – Love and Leviticus 
3 – Practice and Priorities
4 – Abominations
5 – Ritual Impurity
6 – The Ten Commandments

Preface

Now, it may be surprising that, while in a series discussing the relationship between Old Testament law and New Testament ethics, one would include a post focused on the gospel. But it shouldn’t be too surprising, I should think.

We often hear law and gospel set in peculiar opposition, as if you cannot have both, as if you must have either one or the other, as if law vs. gospel. To be forthright, I’d like to challenge that, or at least insist that it needs to be seriously nuanced.

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Old Testament Law and New Testament Ethics – 6: The Ten Commandments

6 – Ten Commandments

As our series on Old Testament law and New Testament ethics continues, I thought it best to point our attention to the Ten Commandments in this post. (We’ll pick up the material on sinful impurity soon.) The previous posts are as follows.

1 – Prefatory Playfulness
2 – Love and Leviticus 
3 – Practice and Priorities
4 – Abominations
5 – Ritual Impurity

Unlike the previous posts, in this one I will provide a short essay that derives from a sermon I preached at St. Leonard’s Church in Eynsham, England, on 21 March 2010. At the end of the post you will find the sermon itself, which you can stream or download.

Ten Commandments 

It is commonplace to imitate the Ten Commandments, not necessarily offering an alternative set of moral rules but a set of rules for particular kinds of tasks. Thus we find “the ten commandments of” various professions and practices, of both the remarkable and the routine: of marriage and medicine, and even of the Mafia; of picnicking and painting, and even of politicking. Imitation may indeed be a form of flattery, but it also may trivialize the original, downgrading it from divine command to an inconvenience.

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Old Testament Law and New Testament Ethics – 5: Ritual Impurity

5 – Ritual Impurity

The previous four installments in this series are linked below. While when combined, they exceed 6500 words. This post provides another 2000 words. Once you are a little over halfway, I think the momentum of curiosity will carry you to the end, though I could be mistaken. Regardless, I would recommend that the series be read in order. There is a madness in the method, if I’m honest, though it’ll test our endurance.

1 – Prefatory Playfulness
2 – Love and Leviticus 
3 – Practice and Priorities
4 – Abominations

Some elements in this series will be seen as provocative. That is inevitable — even intentional, at times. So, without further delay, lets move on to some impure thoughts.

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Old Testament Law and New Testament Ethics – 4: Abominations

4 – Abominations

We are now to the fourth installment in this serious on the relationship of Old Testament law and New Testament ethics. We’ve moved from  some Prefatory Playfulness, to Love  and Leviticus, to some instructive analogies regarding Practices and Priorities. I realize we haven’t come very far just yet. Frankly, this is going to take some time.

Since we are scheduled to discuss the subject of abominations in our weekly Bible study this evening, I thought I should post some (though not all) thoughts on the subject. The biblical teaching regarding abominations draws both interest and ridicule, depending on where you’re standing. And when you say the term, abominations, it should be pronounced with some sort of deep, gravelly voice, almost as if either divine or downright villainous — which can be confused, depending on where you’re standing. You can follow it with a bwahahaha, if you feel you need to. 

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Old Testament Law and New Testament Ethics – 3: Practices and Priorities

We’ve been discussion the relationship between Old Testament law and New Testament ethics. What we have discussed thus far is a sort of teaser, a taster, some initial sorts of sorties to help us loosen our grip on certain assumptions by bringing our attention to features of the biblical text that often get overlooked — overlooked especially in the heat of the rhetoric of the so-called culture wars. We yet have a way to go in gaining traction on a huge number of the relevant issues and questions and texts. So, again, you’ll need to be patient. The first two posts were:

In this post I’d like to attempt a few analogies that could help us move forward in our wide-ranging explorations on this very large subject. Imagine situations in our own day when one might assign certain practices for the service of certain ends, and not as ends in themselves. It may sound a bit paradoxical, but let me explain.

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Old Testament Law and New Testament Ethics – 2: Love and Leviticus

Old Testament Law and New Testament Ethics

2 – Love and Leviticus

Note: If you haven’t read the previous post, you shouldn’t be starting here. Just do the right thing and behave yourself. Please. 

The first post in this series was a bit of stream of consciousness, sometimes minus the stream, at other times minus the…. (Look, please avoid micro-aggressions this early in the series.) I hope you didn’t mind, even if you wanted to ask “but what about?” from time to time. As I noted, we’ll eventually get to some, or most, if not all of the but what abouts that might come along. For now, in this post, I’d like us to explore some things often overlooked about the law, Leviticus, and love. 

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Old Testament Law and New Testament Ethics – 1: Prefatory Playfulness

1 – Prefatory Playfulness

I think it is high time to post a series of ruminations on the relationship between Old Testament law and New Testament ethics. There simply are so many mistakes to be made and mishaps to muddle through on this subject, not to mention the myriad of simply sincere disagreements. And there are so very many attendant and related issues. In fact, the wide significance of the subject is such that one could suppose that it touches on all of Scripture, and perhaps on all of life.

Old Testament Law & New Testament Ethics

This scale of significance can be downright off putting. It would be a sign of hubris to suppose that one has figured out all the issues, solved all the problems, and mastered all the implications. It would be worse still if one supposed not only that but also that one was able to persuade all people of these profound truths.

What I would like to offer are some observations and suggestions for your consideration. But I do beg your patience: I’ll leave comments on for this series of posts simply, though most are likely to be disregarded. Time is short. There is much to be done in life. And I really want to avoid the inevitable horde of but what abouts. On this subject, as on none other save perhaps eschatology, does one find conversation partners blurting “but what about” with such haste, rapidity, and regularity. I imagine that a number of but what abouts will be addressed in due course, anyhow, but I’d like to keep the relevant material in the posts and not in an unwieldy wake of comments. So, again, I’ll beg your patience on that front.

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Learning to Love Leviticus

Isn’t that a great title? It is the title of a helpful essay by Christopher J.H. Wright published in Christianity Today. Here is the full title: “Learning to Love Leviticus: Even Those Passages about Shellfish, Mixed Fibers, and Animal Sacrifice.” You should read it.

As I read the essay, the one thing I wish Wright had discussed would be God’s persistent disapproval of what I term “the trinity of inhumanities”: idolatry, immorality, and injustice. We encounter divine disapproval of these elements throughout Scripture. Instead, Wright focused more on those items that do not persist, or that persist only in a kind of principled fashion. Regardless, it is a helpful essay. You should read it. But there is more…

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