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The Letter to the Hebrews in Eight Minutes

The Author of Hebrews Discovered At Last!

I’ve got to admit, I’d have never suspected William Butler Yeats, but if you can’t trust the New York Times, who can you trust?

He welcomed visitors with large-print messages on the walls. “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise,” was one, quoting Yeats.

So, there you have it. Mystery solved.

(H/T: GetReligion)


Hebrews News

Tommy Wasserman announces the discovery of a new early manuscript of Hebrews.

Ken Schenck announces the successful defense of a new dissertation on Hebrews (and offers his own thoughts about “rest” in Heb 3–4).

SBL 2010

I’ll be driving up from Macon to Atlanta to attend a little bit of this year’s Society of Biblical Literature meeting.

Figuring out my Sunday schedule was fairly easy: In the morning I’ll be taking in the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Section, where I especially am looking forward to Silviu Bunta’s paper on “The Convergence of Adamic and Merkabah Traditions in the Christology of Hebrews.” The late afternoon will find me at the Hebrews Group meeting, hosted by fellow biblioblogger Ken Schenk. After lunch, I’ll either goof off in the exhibit hall or see if I can work in a visit to the Didache in Context Section at least long enough for Perttu Nikander’s paper on “Orality and Writing in the Context of the Two Ways and the Didache.” Then I’ll be at the annual biblioblogger’s dinner before heading back home.

Saturday is a bit more perplexing. Much time in the exhibit hall is definitely indicated, but do I want to go to the Didache in Context Section’s discussion of The Eucharist in the Didache? Or do I want to double up on Hebrews?

Hebrews Awesomeness

Can’t wait for Episode 2: The Devil Strikes Back.

(H/T: Ken Schenck)

Five Paragraphs

Browsing Amazon.com I discovered that Daniel J. Harrington devoted five paragraphs on pages 75-76 of What Are They Saying About the Letter to the Hebrews? (Paulist, 2005) to my published dissertation, thus proving—to my utter astonishment—that more than three people read the thing!

PS: It’s actually a pretty good summary!

A Liturgy from the Book of Hebrews 5

The concluding prayers of my experimental liturgy based on the language of Hebrews are fairly obvious choices. After the Lord’s Prayer and the Breaking of Bread comes the Communion proper:


(Upon receiving the bread: )

We have been sanctified once for all through the body of Jesus Christ. (Heb 10:10)

(Upon receiving the cup: )

This is the blood of the covenant that God has ordained for you. (Heb 9:20)

Prayer after Communion

We thank you, O living God,
that we have an altar
from which those who officiate in the tent
have no right to eat.

Since Jesus also suffered outside the city gate
in order to sanctify the people by his own blood,
let us then go to him outside the camp
and bear the abuse he endured.
For here we have no lasting city,
but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Heb 13:10, 12-14)

(A final hymn may be sung, then: )


Now may the God of peace,
who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great shepherd of the sheep,
by the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you complete in everything good
so that you may do his will,
working among us that which is pleasing in his sight,
through Jesus Christ,
to whom be the glory forever and ever.
Amen. (Heb 13:20-21)

A Liturgy from the Book of Hebrews 4

Here is a first draft of how the first part of the Service of the Table might go in a liturgy drawn strictly from the language of Hebrews:

Offertory Sentence

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,
for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Heb 13:16).

Invitation to the Lord’s Table

Brothers and sisters,
since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary
by the blood of Jesus,
by the new and living way
that he opened for us through the curtain
(that is, through his flesh),
and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
let us approach with a true heart
in full assurance of faith,
with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed with pure water.
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,
for he who has promised is faithful. (Heb 10:19-23)

Opening Dialogue

(In place of the traditional Dominus Vobiscum and Sursum Corda, the following might be used: )

Grace be with all of you. (Heb 13:25)
And also with you.

Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith.
With our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed with pure water
. (Heb 10:22)

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.
For he who has promised is faithful. (Heb 10:23)

The Prayer of Thanksgiving

It is fitting that we should have such a high priest,
holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners,
and exalted above the heavens. (Heb 7:26)

Your throne, O Christ, is forever and ever,
and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions. (Heb 1:8-9)

(The Sanctus hymn may be inserted here.)

In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like clothing;
like a cloak you will roll them up,
and like clothing they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will never end. (Heb 1:10-12)

You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.
Therefore, you have become the guarantee of a better covenant.
You hold your priesthood permanently,
because you continues forever.
Consequently  you are able for all time
to save those who approach God through you,
since you live forever to make intercession for us. (Heb 7:21-25)

When you came into the world, you 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.
See, God, I have come to do your will, O God.” (Heb 10:5-7)

(The Institution Narrative may be inserted here.)

After you came as a high priest
of the good things that have come,
then through the greater and perfect tent
you entered once for all into the Holy Place,
not with the blood of goats and calves but with your own blood,
thus obtaining eternal redemption.

May the eternal Spirit,
through whom you offered yourself
without blemish to God
rest upon this offering of bread and wine,
and may your precious blood
purify our conscience from dead works
to worship the living God! (Heb 9:11-12, 14)

The Eucharistic Prayer is probably the most problematic text in the liturgy because different communions have different standards as to what should be included and how it should be phrased. The proposed text cleaves closely to the actual language of the book of Hebrews, and thus does not include an Institution Narrative (although there is a pretty good place where one could be inserted, as I’ve indicated). Also, it seemed most fruitful to cast the entire prayer as addressed to Jesus. It thus comes across vaguely “East Syrian” in form.

A Sanctus would easily in the location I have indicated (perhaps introduced with language reflecting Heb 1:6). I would also suggest that theologically appropriate elaborations on the Epiclesis could be inserted if desired between “…this offering of bread and wine” and “and may your precious blood….”

I don’t like that Heb 10:22 features in both the Invitation to the Lord’s Table and the Opening Dialogue, which in itself is a good argument for sticking with the traditional Sursum Corda. Still, I’ve provided the alternative texts in case somebody can propose something better.

A Liturgy from the Book of Hebrews 3

In my experimental liturgy drawn from the language of the book of Hebrews, the Service of the Word begins with the following prayer for Illumination:

Prayer for Illumination

Your word, O God, is living and active,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing until it divides soul from spirit,
joints from marrow.
May your word judge the thoughts
and intentions of our hearts. (Heb 4:12)

Scripture Lessons

(The first and second lessons conclude with: )

We have tasted the goodness of the word of the Lord. (Heb 6:5)
Thanks be to God!

(The Gospel lesson concludes with: )

For indeed the good news has come to us. (Heb 4:2)
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!


After the readings and the sermon, we move to the Affirmation of Faith and finally the Prayers of the Faithful:

Affirmation of Faith

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors
in many and various ways by the prophets,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,
whom he appointed heir of all things,
through whom he also created the worlds.
He is the reflection of God’s glory
and the exact imprint of God’s very being,
and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
When he had made purification for sins,
he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
having become as much superior to angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Heb 1:1-4)

Prayers of the Faithful

In the days of his flesh,
Jesus offered up prayers and supplications,
with loud cries and tears,
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Heb 5:7)

Brothers and sisters, let us pray to the God of peace (see Heb 13:20).

For the concerns of our nation and of the world. May we not grow weary or lose heart as we look forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Heb 11:10; 12:3).
God of peace:
Hear our prayer.

For this fellowship and for the church in every place, that mutual love may continue. (see Heb 13:1)
God of peace:
Hear our prayer.

That we not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.  (Heb 13:2)
God of peace:
Hear our prayer.

For those in prison and those who are being tortured. May we remember them as though we ourselves were tortured or imprisoned. (Heb 13:3)
God of peace:
Hear our prayer.

That marriage be held in honor by all, and the marriage bed undefiled. (Heb 13:4).
God of peace:
Hear our prayer.

That our lives be free from the love of money, and that we may be content with what we have. (Heb 13:5).
God of peace:
Hear our prayer.

That our leaders [especially N., N.] may keep watch over our souls, remembering that they will give an account. May they do this with joy and not with sighing. (Heb 13:17).
God of peace:
Hear our prayer.

For those who endure hard struggle with sufferings [and especially for N., N.]. (Heb 10:32).
God of peace:
Hear our prayer.

For the spirits of the righteous ones made perfect. May we consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith, that we may have a part with [N., N., and] the great cloud of witnesses enrolled in heaven. (Heb 12:1, 23; 13:7).
God of peace:
Hear our prayer.

The Peace

Greet all your leaders and all the saints. (Heb 13:24)
Grace be with you. (see Heb 13:25)

A Liturgy from the Book of Hebrews 2

Continuing with my draft liturgy drawn from the language of the book of Hebrews, after the Bidding Prayer comes the Introit, followed by the following penitential rite:

Call to Confession

Since we have a great high priest
who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses
but we have one who in every respect
has been tested as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness,
so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:14-16)

Confession of Sin

(Silence may be kept, then:)

Father of spirits,
looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,
we lay aside every weight
and the sin that clings so closely,
that we may run with perseverance
the race that is set before us. (Heb 12:1-2).

Declaration of Forgiveness

The Holy Spirit says,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,”
and, “I will remember their sins
and their lawless deeds no more.” (Heb 10:15-17)

Hymn of Praise

(Instead of a hymn, a psalm such as Psalm 2, 8, 40, 95, 104, 110, or 118 may be appropriate at this point. All of these psalms figure prominently in the book of Hebrews.)