A Retake On Hebrews Chapter Thirteen
A Retake On Hebrews Chapter Thirteen
It seems to me that this chapter of Scripture is not only misunderstood, but also mistranslated into the English. It is in my reading a Eucharistic admonition and liturgical Preface.
Beginning with v. 1 philadelphia (brotherly love) should be understood as Eucharistic admonition. "Brother" should not be read as a collegial term in the New Testament, but as those who are fellow communicants. And since "love" is a chief descriptor of the Eucharist (which we learn from John 13ff), philadelphia is a pregnant term, not an abstract “brotherly love.”
v.2 should be seen in the same vein. Philoxenia (love for strangers) is not an admonition to offer “bed and breakfast” to “strangers.” But to welcome Christians to their Eucharist, who are recommended and "cleared" by the writer. The reference to angels, which seems to be a recollection of the Lord's visit to Abram and Sarai, is from that very context to be taken in reference to the Lord's Supper. If so, is it possible that our Preface "with angels and archangels” is founded in Christian antiquity?
v.3 the same. The phrase "in the body" refers to the Eucharistic body of Christ which is both the church and the sacrament. Also keep in mind that communion fellowship was not based merely on the same confession of faith as we think today. But also on a fierce love for one’s fellow communicant. A willingness to suffer persecution and death with them, or for them, if the call arose. This is what bound the earliest church so closely together; a lesson we can never fully appreciate short of those same circumstances.
v. 4 in my opinion is wildly mistranslated and misunderstood. Per the ESV “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
But this is not speaking of marriage the institution, as the definite article shows. The writer does not say “marriage” but "the marriage", which is Christian argot for the Holy Supper.
Nor is "bed" the right translation or understanding. But “coitei” is a name for, and reference to, marital union. That which occurs in holy communion between the Bridegroom and the cleansed Bride. Thus the "immoral and adulterous" reference is to those who are "spots in your feast" to use the language of 2 Peter 2:13 and Jude 1:12. Those early "Gnostics" who called themselves Christians but lived unbridled lives. And so sexual purity is at stake, but secondarily, and as a reflection of the purity of "the wedding" that is here the subject.
v. 7 Picking up in v. 7 the "leaders" (hegemon, also in vss. 17 & 24) are not abstract organizational leaders, but another name for the bishops, deacons and presbyters, all who hold liturgical offices. They are the ones who “speak the Word of God” to the gathered assembly, and are worthy of imitation, as Paul writes in his sermons. (And he may well be the author of this document. Don’t believe critical scholars.)
v. 9 in the food of the Supper "the heart is strengthened by grace." This as opposed to Old Testament dietary laws; and therefore another reference to the Lord’s Supper.
v. 10 The altar here should be taken literally, it is the Christian altar, not the altar of the Jews who still "serve", i.e. "worship" in the Old Covenant way. This indicates to me that in the first century there were already dedicated houses of Christian worship, and not just house churches.
v. 15 The "sacrifice of praise" that is "offered" is without doubt Holy Communion. The term "anaphero" / “offer” here used was picked up immediately by the sub apostolic church, and is used uninterrupted to the present day as the verb to describe the church's Eucharistic action.
This word, and its continual use by the church catholic, must lead Lutherans to once again learn about Eucharistic Sacrifice, which must not be ignored because of our former battles with Rome. Yes, Rome is still wrong on important points of its Eucharistic understanding, but the war is over. They are no longer a threat to us, and so may we learn to shed our sectarian practice, that foisted upon us by Luther, Melanchthon and others.
The supreme "fruit of the lips" is nothing other than to "take eat" and "take drink". We should also read Paul’s directions to “confess with the mouth” in Romans 10 in the same vein. As the Lord says in the 80th Psalm, “Open your mouth and I will fill it.”
v. 16 Nor should the word "share" be taken inchoately for it is the Greek word "koinonia." Holy communion. And the "sacrifices" here mentioned is the Eucharist itself which God's people "offer" as well as "receive." In the words of Thomas Aquinas the Supper is both a sacrament and a sacrifice. For, finally, what can we offer to God (sacrifice) except that which he has first offered for us (sacrament). What can we hold before him when we "enter his presence with thanksgiving / eucharistia" except Christ crucified and raised again in Eucharistic sacrifice. “What shall I offer to the Lord?”
For to do so is the ultimate expression of one’s faith in all that God accomplished for our salvation by his Son.
v. 17 “Leader,” also here as earlier, must be understood as the ordained clergy, not general holders of an undefined office. They are the ones who guard the Word and Sacraments, and the souls of the believers as well. Lutherans should learn this well. The pastor stands guard over the Word and Sacraments in every respect.
v. 18 A word should be said about the author's request for prayer. The chief prayer prayed by the Christian are the prayers of the church, prayed in the assembly, in closest possible connection with the Supper. Private prayer is secondary. This is the point of the Eucharistic Prayer. It is not merely a segue into the celebration. But the time and place when the Groom is most fully disposed to hear the Bride's requests. And so the writer asks to be included therein. Private prayer, which is not the focus here, derives from the church's Prayer. And in any event no Christian ever prays alone, even when he prays in private.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
vss. 20 and 21 quoted above must be understood as a Preface, as the hearers of this sermon now pass from the Liturgy of the Word into the Liturgy of the Sacrament. Nearly all the New Testament epistles / sermons conclude this way, with a liturgical Preface. And the epistles are consciously written into this context, written to be read on Sunday in the church’s main Service. Check them all and you will see.
Further, "the blood of the eternal covenant" here referenced is not Calvary but the Eucharist itself. The doxology and the "Amen" further prove the liturgical nature of these verses, this chapter, and lead us in the right understanding of the entire book / sermon.
v. 22 again speaks to "brothers," a strictly Eucharistic term in the New Testament.
v. 24 Lastly the "greeting" that is mentioned in nearly all the epistles at their conclusion should not be understood as good etiquette, but specifically as the welcoming of those named to the altar! Especially see Romans 16 in this regard! And, as the Eucharist is a universal communion regardless of time and locale, the writer and his communicants "greet" the recipients of this sermon.
v. 25 The concluding line is also an element of the ancient Preface. It is similar to that of 2 Cor 13:14 which we learn from Theodore of Mopsuestia in 412 AD was the normal Preface that commenced the Liturgy of the Sacrament. Thus it is not the stand alone “Apostolic Blessing” that Lutherans often think it to be.
May God's Spirit help us to shed our Fundamentalist reading of Scripture which is, first and foremost a liturgical book, not a doctrinal treatise. Doctrine is vital and comes later, but worship comes first.
Peace in Christ to all.
Rev. Dean Kavouras, Pastor
Christ Lutheran Church