Hebrews Introduction Pt. II

Studies in the Epistle to the Hebrews

Dating the Epistle to the Hebrews II

I ended my last post with the following:

Another factor in the dating of Hebrews is its usage of present tense verbs in connection with the sacrifices [For a full discussion on this, see Carson, Moo, Morris, pg. 399-400, An Introduction to the New Testament; cf. Lane, lxiii; Bruce, xliii-xliv].


The possible significance of the present tense in connection to the temple rituals is that it may indicate that the Temple was still standing and that the rituals were still being done. If this is indeed true, and Lanes belief that the Epistle was written no earlier than A.D. 60, then it would be that Hebrews was written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. But I want to stress that this is mere speculation, and not necessarily the view of scholars. Regarding the Temple ritual and sacrifices, and the usage of the present tense, Andrew Trotter has this to say:


"The evidence for this early date [pre A.D. 70] comprises several facts. First, all the discussion of the sacrificial system is done in the present tense, indicating to some that the sacrifices were still continuing and that the temple had not yet been destroyed (as it was in A.D. 70 during the Roman wars). This evidence is not as strong as it might at first appear, however, because the concepts of tense in Greek is not so much time-oriented as it is aspect-oriented, and therefore it gives very little indication of time. Even if it did reflect present time in this instance, as some scholars contend, it would not prove conclusively a pre-A.D. 70 dating; other writing much later than the destruction of the temple used the present tense to describe the cultic phenomena that went on there"

[Trotter, pgs. 33-34, Interpreting the Epistle to the Hebrews].


One of the strongest evidences for a pre-A.D. 70 writing is the absence of any mention of the destruction of the Temple. According to Attridge, "Such a reference would, it is argued, appropriately seal Hebrews' descriptions of the inadequacy and outmoded character of the Law and its cult" [Attridge, pg. 8, Hebrews]. Given this is an argument from silence, it is nonetheless believed to be a genuinely strong one at that. "The argument that these physical realities are only shadows of a truer reality in heaven is so strong in the epistle that clear proof of that argument in the form if the events of A.D. 70 would seem too good for our author to omit, if it had already happened…The lack of reference to the destruction of the temple is simply too hard to believe if Hebrews were written after the event. So it seems certain that it was written before A.D. 70 [Trotter, pg. 35, Interpreting the Epistle to the Hebrews].


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