15 October 2015

Hebrews 3:7-14

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.” (vv. 13-14)

Psalm: Psalm 110


Sometimes, when reading the New Testament, we can forget that significant parts of it were addressed exclusively to Jews, or, more specifically, Jewish Christians. These include the Gospel of Matthew, the letters of James and Peter, and possibly Jude - and, of course, Hebrews. Other writings were addressed either primarily to gentile (non-Jewish) Christian converts (probably John's Gospel, which is quite anti-Jewish, the Johannine letters, and Revelation) or to mixed Jewish/non-Jewish Christian audiences (notably Luke and Acts, and Paul's letters). Jewish Christians had some very particular concerns. Should they still obey the Jewish law? Should they still follow Jewish traditions? Should they regard Jesus as the divine Son of God, not just as the human Messiah? Did God's ancient promises to 'Israel' still apply to the Jews of their day? We see many of these concerns addressed in Hebrews, and in today's passage the writer quotes from Psalm 95, words addressed to Israel reminding them of their ancestors' experience in the wilderness, following the Exodus from Egypt, and warning them that if they were not faithful to God they would be denied the Sabbath rest of the Promised Land. And now these same words are addressed to Jewish Christians, reminding them of their own ancestors and exhorting them to remain faithful to Christ.

The writer regards words spoken to Israel by the Psalmist centuries before as being spoken again by the Holy Spirit to Jewish Christians who were still unsure about their new identity as "partners of Christ" (v. 14). Many Christians would say, equally, that these words are addressed to us today. But, unless we have Jewish ancestors or have ourselves converted from Judaism, can we really claim that this is the case? This raises a much bigger question about the way in which we view these ancient writings and how we decide in what ways they might apply to us.

To Ponder

  • Is all of the New Testament addressed to us? Even where it clearly concerns contexts, questions and issues that were quite specific to the original readers and hearers? How do we decide?
  • We might think it's easier to decide, as Christians, which bits of the Old Testament are addressed to us. Yet the whole Old Testament is included in the Christian Bible, which gives it all equal status to the New Testament as Scripture. Is that how we read it?
  • Do you believe that the whole of the Bible is to be understood as the Holy Spirit speaking to us today? What responsibility does that place on you as a reader?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.