Moses as Israel’s First High Priest? An Quick Introduction to Heb 3.1ff (Post 1)

One of the beautiful things about the letter to the Hebrews is the way Auctor ties his sermon together. Instead of being a number of different genres which seem to have no connection whatsoever to its surrounding parts, Hebrews displays a very intricate and cohesive argument. At first glance one may think Auctor is confused, switching from a detailed and theological exposition to an exhortation of warning and concern without so much as a transition. But taking step back to see the discourse as a whole, one soon realizes that the switch in genre is dependent upon the previous argument.

One such example of a cohesive argument is found in the transition from Heb 2 to Heb 3. Auctor’s focus in Heb 2.5-14 is the humanity of Christ and his partaking of flesh in order to share in the experiences of humanity. This theme is introduced by the quotation of Ps 8. This Psalm serves to introduce a break from the focus on angels by illustrating the position of Christ as for a little while “lower than the angels” (ἠλάττωσας αὐτὸν βραχύ τι παρʼ ἀγγέλους, Heb 2.7; cf. 2.9 which identifies Jesus as the subject of the 2.7, contra TNIV). Auctor effectively switches his subject from the comparison of Christ with angels to that of Christ’s solidarity with mankind with the help of Ps 8.

As mentioned above, Heb 2.9 identifies Christ as the one who has been lower than the angels. The reason for his being made lower than the angels was so that he would taste death for everyone. God saw fit to perfect his Son through suffering and death in order that he may understand fully what it is like to partake in human nature (2.9-16). In order for Christ to understand the intricacies and sufferings of mankind it was necessary for him to be made lower (i.e. the incarnation) and to experience suffering and ultimately death (cf. Phil 2.5-11). Christ’s incarnation and suffering was to prepare him to become a “merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God” (ἵνα ἐλεήμων γένηται καὶ πιστὸς ἀρχιερεὺς τὰ πρὸς τὸν θεὸν; Heb 2.17). Because he experienced temptation and suffering, he is able to intercede on behalf of mankind as high priest.

Although the genre switches from exposition to exhortation, the cohesion continues through into Heb 3. Some cohesive indicators tying the previous exposition together with the exhortation are Ὅθεν, the repetition of the high priest (ἀρχιερεὺς, 2.17; ἀρχιερέα , 3.1) and Christ’s faithfulness (πιστὸς, 2.17; πιστὸν, 3.2). Auctor moves his setting from heaven (his comparison of Christ with the angels) to earth by comparing Christ with Moses, the first high priest of Israel. Just as the angels were privileged to see God face to face and serve him, Moses likewise had the same awesome responsibility to serve him as a mediator between God and the people of Israel.

If God permits, my next post will focus on Auctor’s introduction of Moses as the first high priest of Israel and his comparison to God’s ultimate priest Jesus Christ.

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