In the first two chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer of the epistle employs ten proof texts drawn from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings to make his case that Messiah is more exalted than angels. In this teaching, D. Thomas Lancaster connects the dots between the ten passages to reveal the larger message. A fun exploration of apostolic methods of Bible interpretation.
Each of Lancaster’s sermons about Hebrews seems to have a different emphasis, sometimes radically different. Last week, we focused on a Judaic study of Christology, if we can say there is such a thing. This week, we use the “midrashic method of Bible study,” as Lancaster says, to prove a simple statement: Messiah is greater than the angels.
Actually, Lancaster’s explanation for the distinction between how Christians do Bible study and how Rabbinic Judaism approaches the same task is worth the price of admission alone. It’s the reason (or one of them) why I’m doing a review on the Meaning of Midrash, humble though it may be, based on a series written by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman. It’s not just the way religious Jewish people study the Bible, it is, according to Lancaster, the way the Bible was studied in the Apostolic era; it’s the way that the writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote the Book of Hebrews.
Thus, in order to understand the Book of Hebrews, we need not only to understand something about midrashic Bible study, but we need to apply that method when we read the Book of Hebrews. Otherwise, we’re going to sail right past the meaning and come up with (probably) some pretty goofy conclusions.
This is also why many, many Christians Pastors and scholars, people who are very smart, well-educated, and well-read can be firmly convinced, based on educated and rational grounds, that they know what the Book of Hebrews is saying and yet still (probably) be very, very wrong.
I should note at this point that the very first person to comment on part one of my “Reviewing the Meaning of Midrash” blog post took Christianity/Messianic Judaism to task, rather severely so, for our use of Rabbinic commentary to “prove” Yeshua was Messiah and that Messiah was/is Divine. I can only conclude that any further mention of Midrash from a Christian (me) is going to be viewed unfavorably among Jewish people. I mean no offense, though I understand (to the best of my ability) why you experience offense from me. However, this is the only way I can say what I’m trying to say right now.
Be that as it may…
This kind of goes back to what I said in The Two-Thousand Year Old Christian Mistake. If the most fundamental foundation by which we understand the Bible and our Christian faith is in error, then our theological and doctrinal conclusions are also very likely to be in error. In fact, it’s by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit that the Christian Church continues to serve God just as, I believe, observant Judaism continues to serve God, even though most Jewish people do not currently recognize the Messiah’s face or voice.
So what is the “midrashic method of Bible study” according to Lancaster?
- A Rabbinic dissertation or midrash attempts to solve some sort of identified “problem” or topic in the Bible.
- The solution is stated and then a series of proof texts are presented to support the solution.
- The proof text references assume that the audience has memorized large portions of the Bible, since typically only a short phrase or sentence from each proof text is presented.
- Keyword associations are used to link the proof texts whereby portions of scripture are deconstructed and then reconstructed to create new meanings (which can be terrifically unsafe).
And this is how Lancaster says that the Bible was studied in Apostolic times. If he’s right, then the traditional methods of Bible study we employ in our churches are nowhere near what is required to understand the apostolic texts including the Book of Hebrews.
Some of you think that’s a big “if.”
Lancaster presented ten proof texts along with their explanations and yes, they’re very involved. It would make a very long blog post if I were to try to replicate his commentary here, plus it would be very unfair, since such a detailed review might make it unnecessary for you to actually listen to his sermon.
Here’s the goal of these proof texts again: To prove the Son, that is Messiah, is superior to the angels…not necessarily in the world today, but in the world to come.
…having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
–Hebrews 1:4 (NASB)
You’re probably thinking of Philippians 2:9-10 where it says, “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow,” but according to Lancaster, you’d be wrong. The inherited name is the “Son of God.”
How do we know this? Start in Psalm 2.
Like I said, it would take a lot of space and be very complicated to go through all of these connections and compress a nearly fifty minute sermon into a few paragraphs (OK, more than “a few”).
But Lancaster uses the Rabbinic associative method to link Psalm 2 to 2 Samuel 7 where it speaks both literally of Solomon and prophetically of Messiah, Son of David, building a house, which can be both a house and a family or congregation.
The linkage got kind of tricky when we arrived at the third text Deuteronomy 32:43, because the writer of Hebrews used an alternate version found only in the Septuagint, and almost all of our Bibles use the Masoretic text. However, the quote references the joy of both the Jewish people and the Gentiles, which is important later in the study and important in general.
It also speaks of the angels worshiping Messiah, which connects to the fourth text, Psalm 104 quoted in Hebrews 1:6. Lancaster was speaking fast and furious, so it was tough to take notes on everything he said (his speaking notes would be a great download to offer with the recording for people like me). This point goes back to point two when it speaks of a Throne and a Kingdom forever and is echoed in text five, which is Psalm 45, Solomon’s wedding song. This is also a Messianic prophesy since it addresses the Son of David. It also speaks of the Throne and the Scepter.
An apparent contradiction is revealed since Hebrews 1:10-11 states everything that God has made, both Heaven and Earth, will be destroyed so that only God remains, but the sixth proof text, Psalm 102 tells us that Hashem’s Throne will last forever, even when everything else perishes, as is stated in verse 12. Verse 18 of this Psalm says the words were recorded for a future generation, which Lancaster says is us, we who are servants and children who will also be eternal with God.
Proof text seven is Psalm 110 and the key in this scripture is not just that Messiah is sitting at God’s right hand but that the Throne we have been referencing is God’s Throne and is also the Throne of Messiah, which is how Messiah’s Throne can be forever.
The next referenced text is Psalm 8 which is quoted in Hebrews 2:5 and speaks of all things subjugated to the Son, but this is not apparent now because we are reading about the age to come.
Text nine is Psalm 22 which is the classic prophesy of the suffering and crucifixion of the Son. Verse 22 says the Son has brothers and verse 23 identifies some of those brothers, the congregation as “you who fear the Lord,” which is taken to mean God-fearing Gentiles. Verse 24 follows up with identifying the offspring of Jacob, the Jewish people also as that congregation.
While Psalm 22 says that God has not hidden his face from Messiah, the tenth proof text, Isaiah 8 says God has hidden his face, in this case, speaking of the current exile of the Jewish people…but the exile will not last forever.
The conclusion of the lesson ties everything up, but you need to listen to the sermon to get Lancaster’s summarized points in his own voice along with all of the details I had to leave out of my review. However, the big point, like in the last couple of sermons, is that the original audience of Hebrews as well as we modern readers, should place our hope and faith in Messiah, so that we will become part of the body of his servants, of his children, his congregation, and be built up into a house for Hashem.
What Did I Learn?
As I mentioned above, it wasn’t just Lancaster’s whirlwind tour of the Bible that I found illuminating, it especially was the method he used to open up the scriptures. I won’t pretend that there aren’t a lot of pitfalls, trap doors, and sinkholes in employing this method, especially when traveling at rocket-like speed through different parts of the Bible, but if indeed we can say this replicates how the apostles and disciples would have understood the New Testament (or all scriptures) in general and Hebrews in specific, then there are also many definite advantages.
As I’ve said previously, this isn’t going to sit well with people who are used to studying the Bible through normative Christian processes. It’s not that Christians don’t have a rich and well-defined scholarly approach to Bible study, but the premise upon which Christianity builds that study may not lead down the path of the original author’s intent and what the original audience, especially a first century Greek-speaking Jewish audience, would have heard.
But what about the guidance of the Holy Spirit? I’ve said before that the Holy Spirit can guide us, but I don’t think He will overwrite our free will. If we are determined not to see a particular perspective, even if the Spirit is pointing our nose right at it, then we won’t see it. We have the Bible and we have the Holy Spirit, but we also have free will and the desire to confirm what we think we already know, rather than (sometimes) learn what God really has to say to us, especially if it is unexpected or contrary to long held belief and tradition.
As I also said above, this re-enforces my desire and intent to review the Midrashic approach to scripture as presented by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman and Chabad.org. That doesn’t mean that everything R. Freeman teaches and everything the Chabad believes completely or even greatly meshes with the study on Hebrews, but at least gaining some additional familiarity with how Rabbinic interpretation works, especially if indeed this is how Hebrews is written, may well give those of us who don’t have the benefit of a classic Jewish education a bit of a leg up.