Bible Professor Publishes New Commentary
Q: Did anything surprise you as you examined the text so closely?
A: Actually, writing a commentary is always full of surprises. But Hebrews is unique in that there are so many puzzles in it and surrounding it. Even folks who have not studied Scripture formally will likely ask one of the most burning questions about Hebrews: Who wrote it? And there are many more questions of this sort that one meets nearly at every turn. Why all this talk about angels in the first two chapters? Is it really impossible to be restored to repentance after committing apostasy? What's the deal with that mysterious figure, Melchizedek
Commentaries, in fact, are written precisely in search of answers to such questions. But with Hebrews, it often seems to be the case that as soon of you think you have an answer to one of its puzzles, the solution slips away from you. This is probably why the interest in Hebrews is so abiding. Its challenges remain fresh with each generation of interpreters!
Whoever wrote Hebrews, what continually surprised me all along were the evidences throughout the book (especially when read in the Greek text) of how masterful and rhetorically accomplished the author really was. Even in English, one soon gets the impression that we are dealing with a towering intellect.
Hebrews is a great book of the Bible when thinking about Asbury's liberal arts identity. Hebrews is an excellent example of someone who has brought his deep learning and rhetorical expertise to bear upon his interpretations of Scripture and to press upon his readers the claims of the gospel.
Q: How does Hebrews influence Wesleyan theology?
A: Great question. It deserves a more complete and complex answer than is possible to give here. The Wesleyan-Holiness tradition has highly prized Hebrews. Unfortunately, our tradition has not always interpreted some passages in Hebrews responsibly. For example, the image of entering into God's rest in Hebrews 3-4 has often been interpreted as an individual's personal experience of entire sanctification. There is a grain of truth to this, but the thrust of Hebrews' idea here is entering into the eternal rest of God, which is also God's final, eschatological rest. In other words, the author of Hebrews is urging his readers to not miss out on final salvation.
Nevertheless, Hebrews' distinctive ideas of Jesus as our Great High Priest, the mediator of the new covenant, and the definitive sacrifice for sins are all clustered around the concept of sanctification or purity. God is holy. And the only way we can approach him in worship is through holiness. Hebrews insists that it is only through the death of Jesus Christ that we can be sanctified at the very core of our being--our conscience. Such radical, inward moral transformation allows us to approach God with confidence.
In a nutshell, a more comprehensive notion of sanctification could not be conceived than what we encounter in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The promise of profound, inward holiness is essential to a Wesleyan vision of theology and spirituality.
What some might perceive as a rub against Wesleyan theology — though I do not wish to see it that way — is Hebrews' emphasis on God's sovereign, fatherly discipline. Especially in Hebrews chapter 12, the author speaks of our progress toward holiness within a divine program of paideia, i.e., "education." This opened up a significant insight for me. Holiness is something we do not achieve on our own through simply trying to do better. While we must surely commit ourselves to God's will, it is indeed God's providential work in all of the circumstances of our lives--including suffering--that really sanctifies us, morally transforms us, and draws us closer to him. In the Wesleyan tradition there has been an emphasis upon one particular decisive experience that brings one into entire sanctification. But Hebrews does not view our transformation as a simple commercial transaction. We are expected to offer our unqualified commitment to God--we must consecrate ourselves wholly to him. But God is the one who does the sanctifying work in his own time and in his own ways. What is amazing, though, is that the end God has in mind is our sharing in his very own holiness: God's eternal blessedness, happiness, and goodness (Heb 12:10).
Just one other comment about Hebrews and Wesleyan theology: In my view, in the controversy between Reformed theologians on one side and Wesleyan-Arminian theologians on the other concerning the question of whether one can lose one's salvation, Hebrews clearly supports the Wesleyan position. However, readers will have to consult my commentary in order to understand the greater nuance and pastoral wisdom that are required when dealing with this controversial matter.
Q: What are your hopes for how the commentary will be used?
A: My primary goal is for this commentary is to help advance the challenge of Hebrews itself. Two interrelated emphases lie at the heart of this epistle. The first is that Jesus Christ is God's definitive revelation and decisive sacrifice for sins. Jesus is our Great High Priest and the only means for our salvation. The second is a call to radical commitment to Jesus Christ. Repeated exhortations are not expressed as a suggestion, but as a necessity. If Jesus Christ really is who Hebrews says he is, then nothing less than total devotion to Christ will do.
Secondarily, my hope is that this commentary will help to open up Hebrews to pastors and students. I can envision pastors using my commentary in preparation for sermons on texts from Hebrews. I can also envision theological/ministerial students using my commentary in courses that formally study the Epistle to the Hebrews. There may also be some extremely interested laypersons who will read the commentary with some interest. Of course, I am certain that other biblical scholars and teachers will put my work under a microscope.
I should note that — although I have attempted to provide a solid, authoritative guide to interpreting Hebrews — it is in many ways a door into the vast scholarship on this majestic work. My commentary is not a one-stop resource; it is a first-stop resource.