New Covenantalism with Richard Hays

In his essay, “Here We Have No Lasting City: New Covenantalism in Hebrews,” Richard Hays sets out to answer the question, Does Hebrews portray a suppersessionist theology?  Briefly, suppersessionialism is the teaching that the the Church has replaced Israel; Christianity likewise replacing Judaism.  Hays argues, rightly I may add, that Hebrews is not a polemic against Judaism as has been argued for.  Rather, it is an sermon which articulates that the new covenant ( Heb 8 ) is a better one than the first without degrading or demeaning the old covenant.  It is noted that Hebrews contains no mention of the Jewish people, Gentiles, etc. which is common in the Pauline letters.  Rather, the author presupposes a knowledge of OT events and cultic practices.  While the author of Hebrews does utilize the practice of synkrisis in his argument (i.e. the son is greater than the angels, etc.), even this comparison is not to suggest that what is being compared is somehow being ridiculed.  It is true that the old covenant has been replaced by the new, for the old was unable to completely deal with sin.

This is a very brief summary of Hays’ argument.  There is much to me gleaned from a close reading of this text.  Whereas I held to a Hellenistic Gentile audience before reading Hays, I now must once again reassess my opinion as to who Hebrews was written to.  I leave you with this final quote from Hays

To pose the question whether Hebrews is “suppersessionist,” then, runs the risk of imposing anachronistic categories on the text.  Read from a later Gentile Christian perspective — say in Chrysostom’s fourth-century Constantinople, or the liberal Protestant culture of nineteenth-century Germany — Hebrews seems obviously to be rejecting Judaism.  If, however, we stay within the text’s own narrative world, such a claim may appear unwarranted, even puzzling.  For that reason, it may be unhelpful to describe Hebrews’ teaching as a form of “Christianity” over against “Judaism”; rather, it is better described as a form of Jewish sectarianism “New Covenantalism.”

Source:

Here We Have No Lasting City: New Covenantalism in Hebrews. The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology.  Richard Bauckham, et al.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009: 151-73.

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