Category Archives: Hebrews

What Are You Studying?

Pastors, teachers, and other students of God’s Word, you might enjoy supplementing your studies with some unique and accessible commentary.  My Bible Journal posts have followed the haphazard course of my own studies recently, largely focused on the New Testament.  Here’s an attempt to organize my offerings for you.  Please pass these links on to others if you think they would be helpful!

Remember, you can follow the Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo, or sign up for email notifications (see the button below).

Bible Journal entries are listed below under the relevant books or sections of the Bible.  Find a match with what you are studying, and read along!

**GENERAL BIBLE STUDY TOOLKIT**

Bible Study Strategies (Audio)

Genre Judgment Calls

Pickup Theology

Redemptive-Historical Reading

Self-Evaluation Tool

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology

 

** OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY**

Christ in the OT

The Messiah in the OT

**GENERAL NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY**

Christ in the NT

Christ Jesus Our Lord

Invitational Imperatives (various Epistles)

Providing Perspective (various Epistles)

**GOSPELS**

General Gospels

Eyewitnesses to a Transfiguration

Mapping the Parables

On the Unforgivable Sin

Prompted Parables

Prophetic Puzzle Pieces

Samaritan Stories

“Shhh – don’t tell!”

Mark

Mark is Longer

Luke

Death Meets Life at the Gates of Nain

“Follow, Fast!”

The Cost of Salt

John

Curious Questions (Woman at the Well)

Naming Names

**ACTS**

Paul the Governed (see also Romans)

Prison Diary (Acts 16)

Greek Gods in the NT (Acts 16-19)

Take-Aways from Philippi (Acts 16)

Rome Meets Paul

Before Speaking, Listen (Acts 17)

 **PAUL’S EPISTLES**

Mutual Autobiography

What Paul Said About Jesus (Comprehensive Chart)

Paul on Jesus, Part 1 (The Lord of Time)

Paul on Jesus, Part 2 (History, Salvation, Obedience)

Paul on Jesus, Part 3 (Benefits & Realities)

Romans

Chronology and Meaning (see also James & Galatians)

Paul the Governed (see also Acts)

The Metaphysical Situation (see also 1-2 Corinthians)

1-2 Corinthians

Fortune Cookies

Pickup Theology

Riff on 1 Cor. 13

The Metaphysical Situation (see also Romans)

Theo-logic

Examining Ourselves

 Galatians

A Tale of Two Jerusalems

Chronology and Meaning (see also James & Romans)

In Step with the Spirit

Ephesians

Military Mnemonics

Philippians

Providing Perspective

Philemon

The Mouse that Roared

**NON-PAULINE EPISTLES**

James

Chronology and Meaning (see also Galatians & Romans)

A Topical Concordance of James (includes link to pdf resource)

1 Peter

Providing Perspective

123 John

Euphemistic Faith

**REVELATION**

Hang On ‘Cause Jesus Wins

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Filed under 1&2 Corinthians, 123 John, Acts, Biblical Genres, Biblical Literacy, Christ, Ephesians, Epistles, Galatians, Gospel of John, Hebrews, Instructing the Body, James, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Old Testament, Parables, Paul, Peter, Philemon, Philippians, Redemptive History, Romans, Synoptic Gospels, The Revelation

Christ Jesus Our Lord

[Texts:  The New Testament Epistles]

You probably already realize that “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name.  You may even be aware that it’s the Greek version of the Hebrew word for “Messiah,” naming that Davidic, anointed-king figure who was eagerly expected to come one day and set the whole world to rights again. But you may not have ever sorted out for yourself the multiple uses and appearances of this title in the New Testament, both in combination with Jesus’ name and alone, or noticed the significance of each variation for the NT writers’ purposes.  In this forest of occurrences of “Christ” (480+!), it’s easy to assume there’s only one kind of tree.

Here’s the fruit of some research that I’ve been doing in preparation for a talk I’ll be giving this fall. I don’t want to steal my own thunder, so these are some details that will mostly not be included in that little lecture on the Christ.  They’re just the results of a basic tallying of the frequency of the different uses of the word “Christ” – but I find them fascinating, and maybe you will, too.  I’ve included some further notes at the end for those of you who are interested in knowing the research steps I followed to these intriguing observations.*

Just considering the Epistles, it turns out that there are three main uses of the Greek title Christos with reference to Jesus, with a couple other rare ones making a cameo now and then.  Each conveys a different aspect of Jesus’ identity, corresponding to the writer’s purposes in a passage.  The different letter writers show individual preferences for particular uses of “Christ,” with Paul taking the lead for variety and also uniqueness in his usage of the word.  My findings are sketched for you below.

Jesus Christ:  Whether combined with “our Lord” or alone, this straightforward title has the most formal feel to it, emphasizing Jesus’ Lordly authority; so I’ll call it the Kingly Title.  This is especially apparent in Paul’s usage, where we find it most often in the formal opening and closing sections of his letters.  It almost never appears in the Gospels, except at the very start of Matthew, Mark, and John – the points at which the author is most transparently present in his text, explaining Who it’s going to be about.  The Kingly Title is preferred by Peter, John, and Jude, who use it almost exclusively.  Atypically for Paul, he refers to Jesus almost solely by this title in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

Christ:  In our English translations, Jesus is simply called “Christ” 220 times in the Epistles (compared to about 112 for “Jesus Christ” and 78 for “Christ Jesus”).* Paul, Peter, and the writer to the Hebrews are most likely to adopt this usage.  In Paul’s case especially, the single word “Christ” tends to occur in the thick of his most energetic communication, leading me to call it the Shorthand Name-Title.  Where it occurs without the article (see second note below), it is most clearly being used as another name for Jesus, not so much as a formal title – as we might call our minister “Pastor,” intending only to refer to the man, not his job, even though the name could only result from his having that position.  (But put “the” in front of “Pastor” or “Christ,” and the emphasis changes!  See it?)

Christ Jesus:  This is really my favorite discovery.  You think it’s just “Jesus Christ” backwards, right, thrown in here and there to add a little variety?  That might be the case if everybody occasionally used it, but in fact this one is exclusive to Paul.  The one occurrence outside Paul’s letters is when Luke tells what Paul was up to in Caesarea: “After some days Felix came . . . and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus,” Acts 24:24 – which is exactly how Felix would have heard it come out of Paul’s mouth.  There is a tenderness to Paul’s choice of name-title here, as if he were speaking of someone very precious to him:  not only the lofty King of kings, not only the God-man who fulfilled the Jewish Messiah’s role, but also Paul’s own personal Friend and Savior.  And it’s when Paul is feeling especially tender towards his readers, when he urgently wants them to know the heart of God for them, that this name for his Friend and Savior spills out of him.  Though it occurs in almost all of his letters, it comes especially thick and fast when he writes to Timothy, as if he especially wants to pass on knowledge of the gracious Lord, Christ Jesus, to his dearest child in the faith.  Pay special attention to this one when it occurs in Paul’s writing, recalling that Christ Jesus is our tender Shepherd, too.

 

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*My research steps to discovering the use of “Christ” in the NT went like this (so far):

  • I did a word search for the use of “Christ” in the ESV through https://www.biblegateway.com/, turning up 534 results.
  • I created a table to record the reference & the text of the verses, copying and pasting the texts from the search results (dismissing those that were counted because “Christ” was mentioned in the heading!).
  • I color-coded (using highlighter & font color) to show the different usages.
  • I double-checked the Greek text wherever “Christ” appeared in the ESV without the article (“the”), discovering that sometimes the word “Christ” was not in the original text at all (the editors just thought we needed it, I guess!), and sometimes the word actually DID have an article attached in the Greek. (See second note, below.)
  • I tallied usage according to the different arrangements of the title, keeping separate tallies of the preferences of different NT authors & Paul’s usage by book.

*Our English translations hide a couple details, though.  For one, as I mentioned already, sometimes the translators add “Christ” to make sure we know who the writer is talking about (where the Greek just says “he” and leaves the identity ambiguous).  Also, there is sometimes a subtle distinction between “the Christ” and just plain “Christ.”  Although it’s not uncommon in Greek to add a definite article (the) before a proper noun (“the Jesus,” “the John,” etc.) without affecting the meaning, in the case of “the Christ” one of two things may be happening:  either the writer is merely referring to the Savior Jesus by name-title, or he is referring to – or especially  emphasizing Jesus’ fulfillment of – the specific Jewish Messiah figure.  Evidently the translators voted in favor of the first option more often than the second in the Epistles (83 times vs. 7 times!).  But I think quite a few occurrences of “the Christ” in Greek, translated merely as “Christ,” could arguably have possessed that specific Messianic emphasis in the original.  Maybe I’ll write you a paper on this someday.

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Filed under 1&2 Corinthians, Acts, Christ, Epistles, Gospel of John, Hebrews, Instructing the Body, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Messiah, Paul, Synoptic Gospels

Invitational Imperatives

[Texts:  Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 John]

Among the congregational epistles, the letter to the Hebrews stands out to me as one of the warmest.  It’s an impression that partly derives, I think, from the anonymous author’s liberal use of invitational imperatives, my term for marching orders that graciously involve both writer and reader via the little phrase “let us.”  By including himself in the obligation to obey, the author strikes a note of humility and shared response to the Lord of life, winsomely demonstrating the unity of leaders and followers under Christ’s rule.

Instances of this first-person-plural form of command also appear occasionally in seven of the other NT letters.* Paul in particular seems to use invitational imperatives at strategic moments:  In Romans it’s a friendly way to establish a personal connection with people he has never met face-to-face, as he urges them to join him in using spiritual gifts fittingly, in “walking properly as in the daytime,” in treating other believers impartially, and in “pursuing what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding.”  He also softens the stern tone of his letters to the Corinthians and Galatians by way of invitational exhortations, indicating that he, too, is willing to set aside the “leaven of malice and evil” and instead “do good to everyone.”  And the already affectionate letters to the Thessalonians and Philippians are made still warmer by Paul’s sincerely shared desire to “hold true to what we have attained” and “keep awake and be sober.”

But it’s in the book of Hebrews that this inclusive form of command appears most abundantly,* lending to this complex sermon-letter a surprising amount of personal appeal and unexpectedly humanizing what is to many of us the most difficult epistle to wrap our minds around.  It would be easy to overlook the writer’s devoted investment in the believers he is addressing, occupied as we are with tracking all he says about Melchizedek, God’s “rest,” the Tabernacle and sacrifices.  Becoming aware of the invitational imperatives, though, helps us remember that all the theological truth conveyed in Hebrews is set firmly in the context of this writer’s tender concern for a struggling congregation.

The argument of Hebrews follows a deliberately organized plan, gradually developing the author’s strong case for “holding fast the confession of our hope without wavering.”  Alternating between long passages of theological exposition and briefer personal exhortations, the writer firmly ties the heavenly mysteries of God’s plan of salvation through Christ to the earthly experience of his readers.  Strikingly, invitational imperatives more than balance the dire warnings found in these personalized sections – even though these warnings tend to dominate the letter’s reputation among Christian readers.  The impression that should instead be left in our minds after reading the letter is one of pastoral concern for truth, generously tempered by a love that is willing to come alongside these dear friends in following, suffering, believing, and holding fast.  In our author’s words:

“Let us therefore strive to enter God’s Sabbath rest – and let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace – and let us leave immaturity for maturity (a very humble invitation, indeed, from the clearly mature writer of these words!)Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works (I think he has a head start on this one!)and let us run with endurance – and let us be grateful – and let us offer acceptable worship – and let us go to him outside the camp – and let us love one another.”  In other words, “Let’s live this life of faith together – I’m in it with you, every step of the way.”

Reading these words today, we can’t help but be attracted and encouraged by the writer’s winsome invitational enthusiasm.  No, he did not know us personally when he wrote this, a contextual detail that’s especially important to keep in mind when reading his exasperated rebuke at the end of chapter 5 (how many of us, reading that section, have decided that God was scolding us for our “sluggishness” and unreadiness to be teachers?).  But these ringing invitations to a bold and faithful life in the Lord are applicable to any believer in any context, and there’s no reason why we should not respond to them with confidence and a sense of a shared journey – shared even with people from long ago and far away.

Invitational imperatives remind us that we believers belong to one another, despite vast distances of time and space.  Since this is so, “let us – together! – continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name!”

 

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*A chart of all the invitational imperatives that I found by way of a search in the ESV for the phrase “let us” can be found here.

*Twelve times, the next most frequent use being five times in Romans.

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Filed under Biblical Genres, Epistles, Hebrews, Paul