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About Bruce M. Bruce M. Bruce Manning Metzger February 9, — February 13, was an American biblical scholar and textual critic who was a longtime professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and Bible editor who served on the board of the American Bible Society and United Bible Societies. He was a scholar of Greek, New Testament, and New Testament textual criticism, and wrote prolifically on these subjects.
Metzger is widely considered one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the 20th century. Books by Bruce M. Trivia About The Oxford Compan What we find behind the veil may be beautiful, or terrifying, or both, but we cannot avert our eyes: John's vision is too influential today, in our own political climate, not to look for ourselves. There is an introduction by Amy-Jill Levine and a comprehensive bibliography.
We can draw no conclusions from his silence. He drew the entire inspiration for his argument from his study of the Old Testament.
From the narrative in the Book of Exodus he gained his overpowering sense of the seriousness and awesomeness of the presence of God; and out of the detailed regulations in the Law of Moses concerning the arrangement of the sanctuary, and the office and function of the high priest, he developed his doctrine—the most systematic and suggestive in the New Testament—of Christ divine and human. When in former times God spoke to our forefathers 1. The opening paragraph is a carefully composed piece of Greek.
The details of its style and vocabulary show that the author was by ng means merely a Jew who happened to write in Greek, but a man well educated in Greek culture.
Nevertheless, he took for granted in his readers a number of distinctively Jewish presuppositions. The most fundamental of these was an understanding of world history entirely conditioned by the Old Testament: at a certain time in the past, God had revealed himself to men by means of the Law given to Moses on Sinai. This Law, which was the unique possession of the Jewish people, guaranteed to them a significant role in history. It gave them a detailed moral and religious code by which to regulate their lives; and it contained the promise of a glorious destiny for those who observed it.
The perfect keeping or "fulfilment" of this Law was the state of affairs for the sake of which the world was created, the final age 2 towards which all history was tending. But the empirical facts of history and human psychology made it impossible to think of this Law in isolation.
The Jewish people down the centuries had failed to observe it; and the individual Jew was well aware that it demanded of him a standard of moral and ritual correctness to which he could not easily aspire. He needed some indication of how the divine imperatives of the historic Law of Moses could be accommodated to the actual circumstances of a Jew living many centuries later. He looked, in short, for God's guidance on the way the Law was to be observed, and on the sense in which it could still be understood as giving the clue to the history of mankind and the meaning of the universe.
Such guidance had in fact been given. God had not been silent since the time of Moses. It was true that people differed about the way in which God had spoken. The Pharisees, for example, believed that God himself inspired that learned tradition of interpreting Scripture which they practised themselves ; in Alexandria, on the other hand, it was through the insight of Greek philosophy that thoughtful Jews sought to discern the contemporary meaning of their ancient Law.
But on one aspect of the question they were mostly agreed. There had been a period in Jewish history roughly, from the establishment of the monarchy to the return from exile, the tenth to the sixth centuries B. God spoke through the prophets 1 who, by the oracles they uttered, and by the example of their lives, demonstrated the kind of religion and the kind of morality which the Law was intended to evoke. It is to this stage in God's dealings with his people that the writer refers in his opening words. After the Law itself, the prophets had represented the most powerful and important phase in God's revelation.
But it had taken place all would agree in fragmentary and varied fashion. Nobody could claim that it had been final and exhaustive. By contrast, Christians could now point to a revelation which, though it by no means superseded the original Law of Moses for this too was the authentic word of God , gave a new and decisive turn to the relationship between man and God, and showed for the first time the true meaning of much in Scripture which had previously been indeterminate or obscure. Old truths could now be seen in a new light. This the final age 2. The present age was at some time to give place to a a more glorious future age—this was the usual Jewish way of looking at history.
But the coming of Christ seemed to Christians to be an event of such a decisive kind that they could only think it marked the transition between the two ages. They must now stand at least at the threshold of the final age. For there was no longer anything partial or fragmentary in the revelation of Christ.
The Son was heir to the whole universe. Until you know who the heir is to be, you cannot understand why the father shapes the inheritance as he does; but as soon as the heir is known, you can see the purpose of each detail of what he is to inherit. Now that we know who is to be heir to the universe we can, for the first time, understand the purpose of the universe itself, a purpose which has in fact been there from the beginning, since it was through Christ—that is to say, with reference to him as to the guiding principle of creation—that God created all orders of existence.
To be so completely involved in the nature of all created things, this Son must be almost indistinguishable from God himself—and the writer uses a metaphor of light and a metaphor from the minting of coins to express this near-identity. Yet he was distinct: he brought about the purgation of sins 3 , a highly individual act, which this writer will go on to explain in terms of the function of a priest; and at a definite moment in time he took his seat at the right hand of Majesty on high —a clear allusion to the first verse of Psalm no, a verse which this writer, along with the early church as a whole, regarded as an inspired description of the destiny which Jesus fulfilled after his resurrection from the dead: "The Lord said unto my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand until I make thy enemies thy footstool' ".
One point in this sketch of the destiny and status of Christ is taken up for special treatment: raised as far above the angels, as the title he has inherited is superior to theirs 4. Why is Christ's superiority to the angels so important? We can only suppose that among the readers of this letter were some who were inclined to place angels too high on the scale of heavenly beings, and who failed to see that Christ was far superior to all such intermediaries between man and God.
We know that in some sections of Judaism people went so far as to worship angels and had to be rebuked for it by the orthodox; and such people, when they became Christians, may have been tempted to think of Christ as just "another angel". Alternatively, it was an accepted doctrine among Pharisaic Jews that God might send 'an angel or spirit' Acts Whatever the reason, the writer now devotes the first part of his argument to proving that Christ is immeasurably superior to any angel. God never said 5. All Jewish scholars took it for granted that the whole of the Old Testament was inspired, and that any individual passage, whatever its original context, could be regarded as an authentic utterance of God through the Holy Spirit.
Among Greek-speaking Jews, the version used was almost always the Septuagint, that is, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text which had been made in Alexandria in the third century B. This translation was not regarded as in any way less inspired or authoritative than the original Hebrew.
It was believed to have been made under divine guidance, and every syllable of it was revered as a vehicle of the word of God. Interpreters therefore felt fully justified in concentrating on minute points of the Greek text, and in using the same techniques of interpretation as were used on the Hebrew text by scholars in Palestine.
When this writer expounds his own deeply serious and original understanding of the nature of Christ by means of what seems to us a highly artificial approach to Scripture, he is only following a method widely accepted among his Jewish contemporaries. God never said to any angel, 'Thou art my Son' 5. This is the pattern of the following argument.
Words spoken to angels are compared with words spoken to the Son, and the difference between them shows the inherent superiority of the Son. This procedure was quite straightforward so far as angels were concerned: there were a number of texts explicitly about angels. But what about the Son, the Christ? This was more difficult; for the Old Testament writers did not directly foretell the Christ whom Christians worshipped; they merely used language—sometimes about God, sometimes about particular persons known to them—which later generations came to regard as prophetic of a Messiah who was still to come in the future, and which Christians now saw to be completely fulfilled and explained by the person of Jesus Christ.
It is to such passages as these that the writer-appeals. His readers must have been already accustomed to reading these texts as prophecies about the Messiah, even if they had not yet taken the further step of applying them to Jesus Christ. Without this clue, they could hardly have followed the argument. The words are echoed in the gospel account of Jesus' baptism, and the whole psalm is one of those which seemed to the early church to have been most startlingly fulfilled by Jesus. The fact that it was originally addressed to an actual king of Israel was not important: its real meaning was now finally disclosed by Christ.
This was part of God's promise to King David, transmitted by the prophet Nathan. On the face of it, the promise was no more than a metaphor: God intended to show particular favour to one of David's immediate descendants. But we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that at least one Jewish sect had no hesitation in reading the text as a prophecy about the "son of David" whom the Jewish race still awaited, the Messiah, the Christ.
This writer evidently assumed that his readers were used to taking it in the same way. In the original Hebrew, this verse reads "Bow down, all gods, before him"—the poem is about the absolute supremacy of God compared with the worthless idols of the pagans. In the Greek version, the Septuagint translators, bothered perhaps by the implication that there exist such things as other "gods", rephrased the verse in the form given here. But in both versions it is God himself whom angels or gods must worship—there is nothing whatever about the Son.
To see the force of the argument here, we have to read on. Verse 11 of the same psalm runs in the Greek , "Light dawns for the righteous". This was regarded in many Jewish circles as almost a technical expression for the coming of the Messiah. Therefore so the argument must have ran if the end of the psalm was about the Messiah, so were the earlier verses. If so, there could be no question about Christ's superiority to the angels.
Of the angels he says 7 —and the verse quoted Psalm But of the Son 8 —and another psalm-text follows This was court poetry: the king was literally praised to the skies, so much so that it appears he was actually given the terrific title "God". Ultimately, it is a question of punctuation and there was no punctuation to speak of before the time of Christ , A different punctuation yields the meaning given in the NEB footnote.
But the kings of Israel had never lived up to this high vocation; and these words of Scripture were therefore believed to refer to a figure of the future. Who this figure was is given away by the last line of the quotation. Christ, therefore, was given the highest title of all: God. This, to us, is the most puzzling of the series. The original psalm speaks of God the creator the context and the language leave no possible doubt about this.
But for Christians, the word "Lord" was ambiguous. God was Lord, but so was Jesus Christ. There is slight evidence to be found in small details of the Septuagint translation of the psalm that this part of it was already, in the century or so before Christ, being interpreted as a prophecy about the coming Messiah. If so, it is a little easier to understand how the Christians felt able to take the "Lord" of these verses as referring to Christ instead of to God the creator.
This, at any rate, must have been the interpretation held in common between this writer and his readers. On the basis of this interpretation, he could use the quotation to prove the superiority of Christ to the angels.
There was no doubt in the minds of Christians that this referred to Christ. Had not Jesus himself used it of the Messiah Mark With this quotation, already alluded to in verse 3 above, the series of proof texts is rounded off. They all show given a certain method of interpretation the decisive superiority of Christ. The angels, by comparison, are but ministrant spirits 14 —this follows from Psalm already quoted; and possibly the experiences of the earliest Christians, such as those described in the first chapters of Acts, caused the writer to add that these angels are sent out to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.
Thus we are bound to pay all the more heed 1. It is characteristic of this author frequently to bring his argument round to a point where it bears directly upon the way of life of his readers. Angels, it has been shown, are far inferior to Christ. But there was a word spoken through angels , which was none other than the Law of Moses itself a tradition, later than the Old Testament, held it to have been transmitted to Moses by means of angels.
This was a law which had to be obeyed: any transgression or disobedience met with due retribution 2. How much more binding, therefore, was a word announced through the lips of the Lord himself? Of course, it could be said that the angels, through whom the original law was spoken, were also witnesses to it: this gave it high authority. But here again the Gospel was not at all inferior: to it too God added his testimony 4 through the remarkable events which marked the early years of the Christian church.
But it was not sufficient to demonstrate the superiority of Christ to all powers under God. This Christ was also the Jesus who suffered and died on earth. The two aspects are held together in a quotation from another psalm Psalm 8. But to our author it was open to question whether a passage of Scripture meant only what it appeared to mean on the surface. Any curious inconsistency in the language could be regarded as a clue which might lead to discovering a deeper meaning underneath. And so here: ' Thou didst put all things in subjection beneath his feet ' 7. If by "man" were meant human beings in general, this would be simply untrue.
In fact we do not yet see all things in subjection to man 9. Therefore a particular "man", or "son of man", must be meant. Who was this? The psalm offered a further clue: it was someone who was ' for a short while lower than the angel s' 7 the original probably meant "a little lower", but for a short while lower was a possible translation. This sounds a hard riddle—but not for Christians.
In Jesus It may have been hard lor some copyists to accept that the crucifixion happened by God's gracious will, and this would explain the change. Yet "apart from God" also makes good sense. Christ went to his death deliberately, of his own personal will, even if it was in fact God's will that he should die. Jesus, then, was superior to the angels; yet there was a period when he was lower than they, a period which involved suffering and death. This much has been proved from Scripture.
But it has still to be shown what was the meaning and purpose of this suffering. The clue was that he should stand for us all. The image that is now to be elaborated, and which will give the key to this part of Jesus' work, is the image of a priest. To perform the function of a priest at the temple in Jerusalem did not demand any qualities of character or spirituality: it was only necessary to be a member of the appropriate family, and to be without any physical deformity.
The purpose of the priesthood was to perform all the rites connected with the sacrifices in the temple. This the priests did on behalf of the people as a whole, and in order to do it they underwent ablutions and rites of cleansing, so that, when they performed their ritual duties, they would be ritually pure, or "perfect".
When a local expression of Contemplative Fire seeks to establish itself as a praying, liturgical community, our vision and values and core charism are shared with local church leaders and communities and their blessing sought. It was that original ritual which Jesus fulfilled; and so this writer goes on, Let us then go to him outside the camp The high priest of Christians has similarly passed through —but further still, through the heavens , to the is throne of God himself. But there may well have been other people called Timothy. This conclusion is by no means certain: they could equally well have been Gentiles who had spent many years attending a Jewish synagogue before they became Christians like the recipients of Paul's letter to the Galatians: see above, pp. But there is one frail link by which this letter can be attached to a known fact of history.
If Jesus was to be likened to such a priest, he must be shown to have fulfilled similar conditions. First, he must have been able to represent others, to stand for us all. This he could do only if he had as much solidarity with the people whom he represented as the Jewish priestly families had with the rest of the Jewish race.
It was axiomatic that a consecrating priest and those whom he consecrates are all of one stock Did Jesus, a being ' far above the angels', have this solidarity with men? He did; and this is proved again by some quotations from Scripture. The force of these quotations depended on knowing the Christian interpretation of them. The first, ' I will proclaim thy name to my brothers ' Psalm No Christian could doubt that the speaker in the whole of the psalm was Christ.
Therefore the psalm proved that Christ had human brothers. In much the same way, several of the verses in the eighth chapter of Isaiah seemed to contain clear allusions to the Christ who was to come "Emmanuel", "the rock of stumbling". Therefore, if verses 17 and 18 of that same chapter included the words' I will wait for the Lord I will keep my trust fixed on him Here am I, and the children whom God has given me ' 13 , it could be inferred that Christ was the speaker, that his relationship with God was based, like that of any man, on trust , and that his relationship with other men was as close as that of children in the same family.
All this showed that his solidarity with men was at least as great as that of a priest with his people. Secondly, Jesus must have been made ritually pure or perfect Was he so prepared? He was—not by any ritual act, but through sufferings , an idea which breaks out of the conventional priest-imagery altogether. No such experience was demanded of the Jewish priest, indeed rather the opposite. The difference can be seen most clearly in the case of the high priest on the annual Day of Atonement. For a week before this day, the high priest had to isolate himself from all social contacts lest any chance meeting should make him ritually "unclean".
He had to be, so far as possible, totally insensitive to personal or family ties, so that no private concerns should interfere with his performance of the great ritual act upon which, once a year, the whole Jewish people depended for its sense of the continuing favour of God. Jesus' priesthood was totally different. Instead of being dispassionate and aloof, he was merciful and faithful His solidarity with his brothers involved entering into the darkest corners of their experience; he was not just their priest, he was also their leader who delivers them 10 , by treading the path of human life and death, and so breaking the power of him who had death at his command, that is, the devil 14 this is the author's one major excursion into the mythological manner of speech which is exemplified in Romans 6.
His solidarity with men meant far more than being-able to stand, before God 17 on their behalf: it meant that he could help those who are meeting their test now 18 , up to, and even through, the moment of death. It was true, his function could be defined like that of the high priest, as being to expiate the sins of the people But the means by which he did this were such as to give new content altogether to the concept of priesthood. This high priest was faithful 1 —a new idea, and one that plays an important part in the letter.
For an illustration of what this means, the reader is referred to a passage in Numbers I will speak to him mouth to mouth. He would speak to him mouth to mouth. Every house or household: the Greek word is the same has its owner, and "his house" could certainly mean "the owner's house", i. But it is also true that every house has its founder 4. This little misunderstanding disposed of, it is possible to use Moses' "faithfulness in God's household" as a pointer to the nature of Jesus' faithfulness.
Jesus of course was superior to Moses , both as the founder of a house is superior to its owner, and also as a son 6 is superior to a servitor 5. But Jesus also has a household we are that household of his 6 , and this household is the setting, so to speak, in which he exercises his faithfulness, just as God's household was the setting in which Moses exercised his own lesser faithfulness. This gives some idea though more about this will follow of the sense in which Jesus, the High Priest, is faithful.
In the Greek, the connection 7 is emphatic: Christ is faithful; we have become Christ's partners 14 this follows from what has been said about his solidarity with us ; therefore we must not be faithless. Characteristically, the writer turns the argument into a moral one; and he marks the transition by means of a long quotation from Psalm 95 The second line of this yields an immediate moral lesson: ' do not grow stubborn ' 8.
But the bearing of the rest of it on Christian belief and conduct depends, again, on a detailed and technical process of interpretation. Who, I ask, were those who heard and rebelled? It was obvious enough that those who But to whom, then, were the verses addressed? This was a more difficult question, and could be answered only when the whole passage was considered. The key was in the last words: ' they shall never enter my rest ' This implied, surely, that someone else would. The obvious candidates were the very next generation, those whom Joshua had brought into the promised land which was often described by the same word, rest 4.
But the psalm under consideration implied that the "rest" still had not been entered when the psalm was written, and the psalm was spoken through the lips of David after many long years 7 , that is, some centuries after the time of Joshua. The rest referred to , therefore 3 , must have meant something other than the historical possession of the promised land. What it meant could be shown from another passage of Scripture, ' God rested from all his work on the seventh day ' 4 Genesis 2. It might be thought that this referred only to God's own "rest" which he had 3,5 been enjoying ever since the world was created 3.
But the words, ' They shall never enter my rest ' 5 , showed that this "rest" did not belong only to God, but was also a future reality intended as a kind of sabbath rest for the people of God 9. The psalm, therefore, was addressed to the future inheritors of this "rest". The option to enter it was still open.
It only remained to ask, what were the qualifications for entering? This could be answered from the psalm itself. It was said of the desert generation,. In other words, we perceive that it was unbelief which prevented their entering The opposite, belief or faith, the same word , was the particular attribute of those who believe in Christ, who are partners with the faithful high priest. This faith would guarantee their entering so long as they held fast to it, and did not fall by following this evil example of unbelief 4. Once again, the writer brings his argument round to a point of direct moral exhortation.
For the word of God is alive and active The word , in this brief poem , may be taken to embrace the whole of the divine revelation: the original Law given to Moses, the sporadic guidance given by the prophets, and the definitive revelation given in the Son. As such, it is of the strongest moral force and penetration. Any kind of failure to conform to it is still as serious as it ever was. Since therefore we have a great high priest Once a year the Jewish high priest passed through the outer sanctuary which any priest could enter, on through the curtain beyond it, and into the Holy of Holies itself.
This "passing through" was the great moment of his priesthood, it was the act for which the high priesthood existed. The high priest of Christians has similarly passed through —but further still, through the heavens , to the is throne of God himself. Yet he is still in contact with men, because of his likeness to us Both by the measure of his sympathy with those who are tested every way , and also by his perfect access to God, he fulfils all the functions of an ideal priesthood.
Let us therefore boldly approach the throne of our gracious God. It has been shown that the category of the actual Jewish high priest was far transcended by Jesus; but there were still one or two more points of correspondence to be brought out. The high priest was taken from among men and appointed their representative before God 1.
That is to say, every candidate for the high-priesthood had to belong to a particular family, and was duly appointed : no one could seize the office for himself. Now it was known that Jesus did not belong to the high-priestly family which traced its descent back to Aaron 4. Did he therefore seize the high-priesthood, instead of being called by God , as Aaron and his descendants were? On the contrary, the two psalm verses 5, 6 which form the basis of the whole argument 2.
Secondly, the high priest was very much a man like other men, beset by weakness 2 , and therefore bringing his prayers and sacrifices before God out of the same situation as that of those whom he represented. Was there anything to correspond to this in Jesus' life? The writer tells us that there was. In the days of his earthly life he offered up prayers and petitions, with loud cries and tears, to God 7. The image is still that of a priest, "offering up" his prayers for himself and others, but it is filled out here with what seems to be a historical reminiscence.
The gospels do not report any episode in Jesus' life which exactly fits this description. Jesus prays in a general way in the manner of a high priest in John 17 , and in Luke But the only place where an actual struggle in prayer is described is in the episode at Gethsemane. There, we can well imagine that he prayed with loud cries and tears ; and there are a number of points of contact between Luke's account of this episode But the natural meaning of the statement in Hebrews that his prayer was heard is that, being threatened with death, Jesus prayed, and was delivered in answer to his prayer.
In Gethsemane, on the other hand, his prayer was not answered in this sense: he was not delivered "from death". It is only by assuming that the prayer alluded to here was a prayer to be delivered, not from death itself, but from the consequences of death as the NEB suggests by taking "from death" to mean from the grave that the two descriptions can be made to match.
Possibly some other episode was in the writer's mind, which happens not to be recorded in the gospels; or possibly he was thinking of Jesus' humble submission on the cross, and of the prayers which Jesus offered up just before his death. About Melchizedek we have much to say This mysterious figure who suddenly appears and as suddenly disappears in the narrative of Genesis 14 , provoked much speculation among Jewish scholars, and the writer is to devote a substantial section of his work to him.
But first, he breaks off in order to ask whether his readers are any longer fit for a lesson of this kind. The deeper meaning of Scripture so at least it soon came to be held among Christian scholars in Alexandria could only be known to those who had advanced some distance in the knowledge of God. Mere beginners had to remain at the level of the literal meaning of the text, the ABC of God's oracles It might equally well mean the elementary truths of the Christian gospel. But it is very similar to a phrase used by Paul of the Old Testament Romans 3.
Jewish boys, for example, were not expected to understand and obey God's Law until they were 13 years old. Under that age, they could not be expected to discriminate between good and evil. Were the readers of this letter in danger of reverting to a similar moral infancy?
We ought not to be laying over again the foundations 1. It is tantalizing to try to discover from this passage exactly what the foundations consisted of, and how new converts to Christianity were given their first instruction. The difficulty is that we do not know whether these particular converts were Jews or Gentiles before they became Christians. If they were Jews, then the foundations were presumably distinctive Christian doctrines—but although laying-on-of-hands 2 sounds sufficiently like the rite by which Christians received the Holy Spirit, cleansing rites is a curious way to describe Christian baptism.
If they were Gentiles, then much of the initial instruction must have been indistinguishable from the teaching that was given to any Gentile interested in Judaism—and nothing in the list is so obviously Christian that it could not also describe a course in the elements of the Jewish faith. To either faith, most of these things were fundamental. But the writer is concerned for a maturity which took all this for granted and pressed on to a higher stage of knowledge. It is not that his readers have never reached this stage. On the contrary, having once been enlightened 4 , there is a risk they may have fallen away 5.
How could you tell whether in fact a Christian had fallen away?