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An Exegetical Worksheet of Hebrews 9:11-14
S1. Read the passage. Record your initial thoughts and questions.
My initial thought is that the author is making the argument that Jesus’ perfect blood and faith in Him replaces the sacrificial system that has been in place.
Questions: 1) What is the significance of Christ being the Chief Priest? 2) What is “the greater and more perfect tabernacle”? 3) Aside from the Holy-of-Holies, what other “Holy Places” are there? Some translations use the plural and some use the singular… (ESV & YLT are plural, NASB is singular…) 4) Why does the author use certain specific words? He did not write merely “sacrifices”, he wrote of bull and goat blood and heifer ashes, why? (Cross-reference this with OT for certain specific sacrifices…) 5) Why does the author use the title “the eternal spirit” in verse 14? 6) Why does our conscience need purging from dead works? (Seems weird word choice.) 7) How does our conscience being purged of dead works allow us to serve God?
S2. Preliminary Exegetical Statement:
Jesus is the chief Priest of an extra-creational and perfect tabernacle. His blood, and not that of any animal, is the only way to purify our conscience for us to serve the living God and not ourselves.
The beginning of this chapter explains the historical workings and operations of the tabernacle and the temple, explaining what the priests did, where they went, when, and how often. The ending of this chapter takes the beginning section that details the temple along with the middle section arguing that Christ is the new High Priest, and transitions to a conclusion. Beginning with the word “therefore”, he author shows that the old covenant has been completed and transferred to a new one, in light of the completed works of Christ’s redemption for us.
The Book of Hebrews’ central theme seems to be that Jesus Christ is presented as the unique High Priest before God. Hebrews assigns this claim of Christ’s priestly lineage to not be tied to a Levite lineage, but to the lineage of Melchizedek, who was according to Hebrews 7:3 a high priest without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning or ending of life. This certainly would point to Melchizedek being superior to the Levite tribe, since according to Hebrews 7:10 Levi was still in Abraham’s body when the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek took place. Tying Hebrews 9:11-14 with the author’s theme of the book is therefore fairly straight forward, in that in this passage the author is further evidencing not only does Christ lay claim to the superior priestly lineage, Christ’s very blood gives Him the right to enter the Holy of Holies as a High Priest. Christ’s perfect and sinless life gives him the authority to any area of the temple or tabernacle and more to that fact, He does not require an animal sacrifice to ceremonial purify Him, as did the Levite priests. And, to go even further, He has the right to enter into the one perfect heavenly tabernacle, of which the earthly one is just a facsimile.
I also see that there are a lot of comparisons being used here. Everything seems to be contrasting old and new, not only in the micro and macro context of the book, but in these verses as well. In the chapter we see the old tabernacle and then the new one. These verses also contrast the old High Priests and the new One. Also, there is the Old Testament, the telling of things to come, and now in verse 11 the author is telling of things that are. The author is careful to use the words “greater”, implying that the Tabernacle that was built under Moses was great, this one was just greater, and in doing so the author was not degrading the importance of the earthly tabernacle. The author compares the cleansing of the flesh in verse 13 to the cleansing of our conscience in verse 14. The author tells of the old sacrifices and now of the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, Jesus. The author implies that sacrifices of goats and bulls were repeated because their blood was not sufficient, however Jesus was only sacrificed once, and that alone is acceptable to God as propitiation for our sin. This jumped out to me that there are a lot of ways you could use these verses in comparison to other Biblical details, showing Jesus as the fulfillment of everything that went before Him.
S4. Lexical Analysis:
Tabernacle (tent) : Here, the author is using the Greek word “skenes”. A well know word in Hebrew history, the author is using this word to draw attention to the reader that the tabernacle that is being written about here is the original and perfect tabernacle. The earthly tabernacle the reader would have known about would have been a copy of this original.
Holy places: Here, the author is using the Greek word “hagios”. This word jumped out at me because of the differences in translations. Some English translations such as the ESV & YLT are plural (places) where the NASB is singular (place). This could possibly be because the author is saying that Christ has the right to enter into the Holy-of-Holies in the earthly tabernacle as well as the one in the heavenly tabernacle. The author could be referring to heaven itself, where Jesus entered not only the dwelling place of God in the tabernacle, but also entered into Heaven itself, which is Holy as well.
Purification: Here, the author is using the Greek word “Katharotes”. This word was another that I thought was loaded, certainly because it has historical connotations to a 1st century reader, but also because of its close proximity to another very specific illustration the author used. In verse 13 the author calls attention to sacrifices to goats and bulls and also to heifer’s ashes. Since these were very specific sacrifices, the specificity might be lost on a 21st century reader, but would have been readily identifiable to those in the 1st century. In the Old Testament time period, on the annual Day of Atonement, the High Priest would off the blood of a bull for his sins and the blood of a goat for the sins of the people. (Lev 16:6-10) Also, for Old Testament Hebrew ceremonial purification, a heifer was sacrificed, its blood saved, and its body burned to ash. The blood was sprinkled on the tabernacle and the ash was mixed with water and sprinkled on any unclean person. The author of Hebrews was saying in this context that purification for any uncleanliness the Hebrews used the blood and ashes of animals, but the author then goes further to show how much more Jesus’ blood purifies us, once and for all and gives us a right relationship with God, to serve Him effectively.
Redemption: Here, the author is using the Greek word “lutrOsin”. The author here uses this word to show that Jesus has liberated us from our sin, and that liberation was purchased by His own blood, where it is also eternal and does not require repeated sacrifices.
Eternal Spirit: Here, the author is using the Greek word “pneumatos aionios”. Referring to the Holy Spirit, the author uses this word to show that the Holy Spirit enables Jesus to not only be the High Priest but also the sacrifice. The author’s use of the word “eternal” or “Aionios” and not “Holy” seems to indicate that the atonement given the believer is eternal.
Conscience: Here, the author is using the Greek word “suneidEsin”. Gundry points that this word is in some translations as “conscience” but it really should be translated “consciousness”, as that would get the correct point across better that the “dead works” the author speaks to are the sins for which we need repentance and forgiveness, which required Christ’s death.
“Now” or “But” (beginning of 9:11): This preposition separates the beginning ten verses of this chapter to this particular selection of verses. This separates the historical detailing of the temple to now talking about Jesus as the perfect High Priest, and High Priest of the original heavenly tabernacle where God dwells, not the copy of it here on earth.
“but” (in the middle of 9:12): this preposition tells the reader that it was not the blood of bulls or goats that earned him entrance to the God’s presence in heaven’s tabernacle, it was His own perfect blood. This word separates the repeated sacrifices that human priests had to make to enter the earthly tabernacle, to the perfect blood and once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.
“for” (at the beginning of 9:13): This preposition marks the transition to where the author is explaining to the reader why the blood of Jesus gave him the authority to enter the more perfect tabernacle and to earn Salvation for the believer.
“how much more” (at the beginning of 9:14): This is a standard Jewish argument used by interpreters of the time. This is the vehicle that the author uses where they take an example, and then supersedes it with their original intent. For instance, I might say today “If ten dollars is good, how much more is 100 dollars?” or “If one cheeseburger is good, how much more is a cheeseburger with fries and a drink?”. It is exemplifying the superior of one thing over another.
S6. Historical Context
The first century hearer was either a Hebrew or a Gentile, and the textbook posits reasons to consider either audience, but it seems to lean towards the direction of a Gentile audience. I think, however, that with these particular verses it could be intended for both at the same time. With a Jewish audience, the author is possibly demonstrating that they do not need to continue with the sacrificial system as Jesus was the one perfect and final sacrifice. Hearers would have been brought up under that system, and sometimes old habits die hard, especially with the culture and family trying to reel them back into the fold as it were. Gentiles might have had other thoughts, as they would see the Hebrews continuing the sacrificial system, and a Gentile hearer might be second guessing their decision to not have a sacrifice required. These verses, to them, may have been reinforcement to their knowledge of their salvation and a reminder that continued sacrifices were not needed ever again. These verses also speak of “dead works”. It seems there is some argument between scholars as to what this would mean to a first century hearer. The author could have been using these words to play off of each other, comparing “dead works” with the “living God” or more specifically “dead” and “living”.) Regardless though, we should ascertain the meaning. One group of writers indicate that these “dead works” refer to the sacrificial system, since they were not indicative of the people’s hearts. The works themselves (of killing animals as sacrifices) did nothing to permanently correct the sin problem, so the work of sacrifice was nothing but dead works. However, another group of writers indicate that the “dead works” refers to sinful acts, or anything that brings defilement to a person. However, either definition of “dead works” results in a person needing atonement for communion with the living God, and Jesus’ perfect blood performs that function for us.
S7. Theological Considerations—Use the discussion in your textbook regarding the theology in Hebrews. How does 9:11-14 fit with the broader theology in Hebrews that your textbook describes? What is being said about salvation, Jesus, etc.?
This selection of verses is speaking to Salvation in a very clear way. This selection of verses begins by pointing to Jesus as the High Priest, and establishing His exaltation above everything created. The author of Hebrews also aims to show Jesus as superior to the Levites in his priesthood. This is shown in the selected verses, as well as Chapter 7, 9 and 10. Another theological aim in Hebrews is Jesus’ humanity and suffering. Certainly in verse 12 when the author is talking about through Jesus’ own blood He could enter the Holy Places, there can be no blood without suffering. This points to our salvation through Jesus’ own blood, and gives us forgiveness of our sins and grants us access to the living God. These verses mark a turning point, where the author is explaining the historical processes of the temple, and now makes the case for Jesus rendering all those exercises moot.
S8. Final Exegetical Statement—(Before you write it, take into consideration all the information you have gathered. Then craft a clear and concise statement that reflects the meaning of this passage.)
Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice, superior to any former sacrifices, and his superior priestly lineage and position as High Priest, gives Jesus the authority to enter the original perfect tabernacle. His blood is an atonement for the sins He took on for us, and grants salvation for believers. His sacrifice is both for ceremonial and permanent cleanliness, and through Him believers have everlasting life and total access to God the Father.
Keener. 1993. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
Clinton. 2002. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary
Burge, Green, and Cohick. 2009. The New Testament in Antiquity
Gundry, Robert H. 2011. Commentary on Hebrews
Burge, Gary M., and Andrew E. Hill, eds. ©2012. The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary.
The Interpreter's Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. 1952. Vol. 11