Christ Is Better: Hebrews

Sources: John O'Keefe and R.R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible (Johns Hopkins, 2005), chapter 4; Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 3d ed. (Oxford, 2004); I. Howard Marshall et al., Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Letters and Revelation (IVP, 2002), chapter 21.

Reading: Ps. 110.

The Plot of a Text
What is the whole story in which we are characters?
Sensing the plot of an unfolding story requires discernment.
Typology moves "beyond analysis of particular words and images toward the larger, unifying patterns" of Scripture.
Typology works by association, not abstraction.
Israel already sensed patterns in its history (exile and return as captivity and exodus, Hosea 11).
The Church found its story to be Christ-shaped and Christ-centered.

Don't Go Back: Hebrews
Hebrews pursues an extended sermonic argument:
Christ is better (1:1-5:10) than the prophets, angels, Moses, Joshua, and Levites.
Christ's work is better (7:1-10:18) as a priest, for the covenant, in the heavenly tabernacle, as a sacrifice.
This new arrangement between God and the world overshadows the old.
So don't return to the old arrangement! (2:1-4, 3:7-18, 6:1-6, 10:26-29).
Instead, embrace faith, hope, love, obedience, and freedom (11-13).
This argument turns on the specific fulfillments of the promises of the old arrangement in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
Pivotal material includes texts such as Psalm 95 (3-4), Psalm 110 (5-7), and Jer 31 (8-10), interpreted as referring to Jesus and to the present time.
Unknowns?
Despite its brilliance, Hebrews' unknowns (date, occasion, audience, and especially author) made it less respected than the gospels and Pauline letters, especially in the Roman west.
How much would knowing these unknowns today change the letter for us?
The Plot Thickens: Hebrews' Legacies
Its 'high' Christology guides the formation and use of the doctrine of incarnation.
Its typological exegesis of Scripture influences 1500 years of biblical interpretation.
Its resemblance to Platonistic metaphysics strengthens respect in both directions.
Is it Jewish, or anti-Jewish? Its bracketing of Israel's significance is (mis?)read as supersessionism (cf. 11-12).
Its development of Christ's priesthood drives western 'Anselmian' doctrines of salvation.
In all these ways it has trained the Church to follow the 'plot' in its way.