Intracanonical Echoes in Unexpected Places (Or, What Hath Galatians To Do with Hebrews?)

I must apologize, my gentle snowflakes, for not having yet posted the sequel to my earlier piece on pluralization in Biblical translation, but I simply haven’t had the time or energy to finish it. I expect to post it within the next couple of days. In the meantime,  however, I would like to call to your attention an intriguing paragraph from an older book that I have obtained only in recent days, and which I’ve been reading with great delight: the late estimable Stephen Neill’s Jesus through Many Eyes: Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1976; reprint, Cambridge: James Clarke Lutterworth, 2002). Bishop Neill writes:

The central section of the Epistle [to the Hebrews] deals with priesthood. T. W. Manson once made the brilliant suggestion that the key to understanding this part of the Epistle lies in the Epistle to the Galatians. The writer of Hebrews had read and understood that letter. He had grasped [St] Paul’s remarkable doctrine of the ceremonial Law as ‘the interim’ between the period of the forward-looking promise, which was the period of Abraham, and the period of the promise fulfilled, which was the period of Jesus Christ. He said to himself, ‘How will that work out, if we apply it to the ritual law of sacrifice?’ He found that here too the principle of the ‘interim’ appliesthe Law made nothing perfect (7:19)” (page 109, brackets mine).

This is the most exciting suggestion I have stumbled upon in quite some time, as it tentatively brings together three  long-standing research interests of mine that have so far met at very few junctures: the interpretation of Galatians, the interpretation of Hebrews, and the relationship between the Testaments. Sadly, Manson will be of little help beyond his brilliant suggestion, as Neill ruefully comments in a footnote that this idea was offered to him by Manson in conversation, and that he was able to find no detailed exposition of it in any of his published writings. That is very unfortunate indeed, but no matter: I have still got some reading to do!

(Incidentally, T. W. Manson’s On Paul and John, which I encountered in Spanish translation when I was all of 16, was the very first book on Biblical theology that I ever read. That little book, which still is somewhere around here, gave me an appetite for that discipline that has not diminished with time. For that I thank Manson, and I find it quite  fitting that such a felicitous suggestion should come from him.)

4 responses to “Intracanonical Echoes in Unexpected Places (Or, What Hath Galatians To Do with Hebrews?)

  1. Nick> Witherington?! Well, it’s probably a worthless suggestion not worth pursuing, then. ;-) I suspect from your comment that you might not recall, but do you have any idea of where one may find this paper (Festschrift, journal, etc.)? Thanks for the heads up!

    On Tue Dec 15th, 2009 9:37 AM EST


  2. You know, the title of this post reminds me of Richard Hays’ book on Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul which gets me thinking that ‘Hays’ sounds suspiciously like ‘haze’ and as we all know most of the Christian world (to include the Orthodox Church) is in a ‘haze’ of sorts. I contend that they’ve failed their mission due to this ‘haze’ and are in danger of going back to the law like the group of Hebrew Christians that Paul [yes, Paul wrote it, we can get into a lengthy debate about that and the merits of pumpernickel bread in the comments to this post if you’d like!] wrote the epistle/homily of Hebrews to, which brings me to my next point, as the Infallible Moisés Silva says: “Any attempt to understand Paul’s use of the OT in the letter to the Galatians requires a full appreciation of the distinctive qualities of this document.” (“Galatians,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament [eds., G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007], 785.) So take that! :-P


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