Thursday, January 8, 2015

In Search Of Truth, Hebrews 9:15-22, (Part 1)

Hebrews 9:15-22

(ESV) 15Therefore he is the mediator of a new diatheke(covenant), so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first diatheke(covenant). 16For where a diatheke(will) is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17For a diatheke(will) takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first diatheke(covenant) was inaugurated without blood. 19For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20saying, “This is the blood of the diatheke(covenant) that God commanded for you.” 21And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Before looking at this passage as a whole (which I plan to do next week), I find myself zooming in really close on a specific detail that I just had to get some answers on or it was going to drive me nuts.

I'm currently fascinated by the Greek word "Diatheke", which is translated in this passage as both "covenant" and "will". In English, the author's argument is hard to follow, and it seems as though his metaphor of a "last will and testament" pops up out of nowhere. But in fact the writer is thinking of and applying multiple non-contradictory meanings in his use of a single word, as ancient Hebrew thinkers often did.

The word in this case is "Diatheke", which can refer to an agreement between two parties, or more specifically to a "last will and testament" determining the fate of the deceased person's possessions. Context has to be used to determine which meaning is intended, and the author of Hebrews seems to have both in mind, or perhaps MAINLY the sense of "last will and testament", if what I'm about to speculate is correct.

In verse 20, the author quotes Exodus 24:8. The Hebrew word used for "covenant" in that original verse is "Beryth", which simply refers to a solemn agreement between two parties, not a "last will and testament". But the author of Hebrews quotes the passage using the Greek Old Testament, which uses "diatheke" in place of "Beryth". I have to ask, why? Was there not a Greek word that could have more directly translated Beryth?

Even though Beryth may not in and of itself imply a "last will and testament", the land promised in covenant to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 15:18-21) was referred to as Israel's "inheritance" repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, even though Yahweh could have simply used the word for "gift".

Numbers 34:2 "“Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders),"

Deuteronomy 4:21 Furthermore, the LORD was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.

Deuteronomy 15:4 But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—

Joshua 14:9 And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’

We see the idea of covenant and inheritance fully united in Psalm 105:8-11

He remembers his covenant(Beryth/Diatheke) forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant (Beryth/Diatheke)  that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant (Beryth/Diatheke) , saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.”

I tend to believe that the Jewish scholars who translated the Old Testament into Greek, as well as the New Testament authors, understood that an "inheritance covenant" was specifically in God's mind in his promises to Israel.

So what's the big deal? So what if God described the promises in his covenant to Israel as  inheritance instead of gifts? Because the main difference between a gift and an inheritance is that someone usually needs to die in order for an inheritance to be received.

The Hebrew scholars who authoritatively translated the Old Testament into Greek seemed to recognize at least part of this intent in the text. But years later when Jesus came on the scene the religious leaders and scholars were largely unprepared to accept the idea that the Messiah had to die in order for them to gain the promises of God. Yet right here in the text is a big elephant in the room they should have seen. When we see "inheritance" in the Old Testament, we would be right to ask ourselves "why is it an inheritance? Who has to die?"

From the very beginning God knew that for us to receive all he was offering, he would have to die in order to pass it down to us. Jesus wasn't plan B or a reaction to something God didn't anticipate. God's vision for the future always come true.

This is something I need to remember. For me, part of being a geek is being a dreamer. My imagination runs wild as I think about the future. I have all these ideas and plans for my life that I think are wonderful. But repeatedly I am disappointed as things go in a different direction for me. But God's plans always go the way he intends them to. And part of his plan involves a future for you and I better than anything we can imagine ourselves.

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