Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hebrews 10:5-7 and Christ's sacrifice

Hebrews 10:5-7 quotes Psalm 40:6-8. When a New Testament writer quotes something from the Old Testament, it is always profitable to try to analyze the particular quoted passage. What is the original meaning of the text? Why did the New Testament writer select that particular text. How does the text support the message of the New Testament writer?
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
    (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” (Hebrews 10:5-7)
The Hebrews author is making an argument in chapter 10. The writer is pursuing an argument that "involves the transitory character of the levitical sacrifices and the permanent character of what Christ has done. The author has found an ideal text for this purpose" (Hagner 154). He concludes with verse 10.
And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)
That is, the levitical system of offering sacrifices is no longer an effective human appeal to God for paying for sins. In fact, according to the writer, it never was an effective appeal to God.
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4)
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:11)
The writer also observes that, if Christ's sacrifice succeeded where the levitical system failed, it is time for the levitical system to disappear.
He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. (Hebrews 10:9b)
This theme began earlier in Hebrews and was stated concisely in 8:13.
In speaking of "a new covenant," he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.
Not surprisingly, the writer of Psalm 40 was not speaking specifically about Jesus. However, the psalmist's meaning relates closely to that of the Hebrews author. The psalmist is promoting the value that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). God intends for the king to learn God's will and to obey it, not to disobey and resort to sacrifices. The psalm focuses upon worship and preaching.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:3)
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation. (Psalm 40:10)
In the middle, there appears our text of interest, emphasizing that God prefers obedience and study to sacrifice.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8)
Wait a minute! What is this stuff about an "open ear" in verse 6? Hebrews 10:5 is talking about a prepared body, not an open ear. Did the Hebrews writer deliberately misquote the verse in order to make his point? Not really. The author is preferring the reading of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Septuagint.
Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me: whole-burnt-offering and sacrifice for sin thou didst not require (Brenton).
On the Greek "body" rather than Hebrew "ears," F. F. Bruce says, "It is... an interpretative paraphrase of the Hebrew text. The Greek translator evidently regarded the Hebrew wording as an instance of pars pro toto; the 'digging' or hollowing out of the ears is part of the total work of fashioning a human body" (240, cf. Hagner 154). God formed the ears, along with the rest of the body, to function in the human vocation of obedience.

Now, the Hebrews author is invoking the Greek version of that verse appreciating how the language works in application to the Lord's own bodily sacrifice that is able to forgive sins.
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God." (Hebrews 10:12)
The Hebrews author invokes the language of the psalm as applicable to Jesus. "We should understand our author to mean that the words of the psalm express the attitude Jesus had in his heart and mind as he lived on earth. His incarnation was itself a living expression of the sentiment of the words from this psalm" (McClister 335).

There is much in the New Testament about the Lord's attitude, self-sacrifice and willingness. We are encouraged to emulate the mind of Christ.

Philippians 2:5; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7

Brenton, Loncelot. The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. Hendrickson, 1851, 1998.
Bruce, F. F. Hebrews. NICNT. Eerdmans, 1990.
Hagner, Donald. Hebrews. UBCS. Baker, 1990.
McClister, David. Hebrews. Florida College Press, 2010.

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