Friday, 18 November 2011

No Resurrection in Hebrews? Think again! - Dr David M. Moffitt's illuminating monograph

One of the great privileges of doing research at Tyndale House, Cambridge, is that our library gets new world-class publications on a weekly basis. Today I had a quick look at the brand new monograph by Dr. David M. Moffitt with the title: Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Brill, 2011.

In this volume, David tackles what is often referred to as the "riddle of the New Testament." This "riddle" is the apparent absence of significant reference to or reflection upon the resurrection of Jesus in Hebrews.  This has led some to conclude that Jesus' resurrection was not important to the author, or that it can be excluded completely!
With this in view David rightly asks: What is the status of Jesus' resurrection in Hebrews?
Answer: "I suggest that the event of Jesus' resurrection is not only important for the argument of the Epistle, but specifically that the author's argument depends upon the assumption that the resurrection marked the moment at which Jesus' human body was given indestructible life." 

I found this section in chapter 5 very illuminating:

"... can the events of the Son's incarnation, suffering, and exaltation in Hebrews be seen to be intelligible as an account of the Messiah's serving as the high priest who obtains for his people atonement and entry into the eternal inheritance? If so, how? The argument of this study suggests that the answer lies in the very element of the early Christian proclamation almost universally ignored in modern interpretations of the text: the author's affirmation of Jesus' bodily resurrection unifies and drives the high-priestly Christology and the soteriology of his homily.

It looks like a great volume!

For more about Dr. Moffitt see the link below:


Frederik Mulder said...

Against Moffitt, Markus Vinzent would say:

The general resurrection can be found in the letter, but Christ;s Resurrection does not surface - p52
With Hebrews 6:1-8 in mind he states: There is nothing that makes this list stand out as particularly Christian - p53
Despite the explicit mention of the 'better resurrection' for the martyrs [cf. U. Kellermann, 1979, 119-20], the author does not draw on Jesus' Resurrection, but concentrates on him solely as the true High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek - p55
Hebrews speaks of Christ remaining always alive despite his death 'to plead on their behalf', but is silent about the Resurrection - p55
For Hebrews, however, it is the bloody sacrifice, not the Resurrection, that secures eternal life for him and through him 'to whom be glory forever'

Professor Markus Vinzent said...

Dear Frederik,
Thanks for those snapshots which I am happy to substantiate a bit, let me just add that with regards to Hebrews I am in rare company with Tom Wright who sees in Hebrews no Paulinism and therefore also no mention of Christ's Resurrection. But let me first reqd our colleagues arguments, before prejudging anything. There is nothing on which one cannot be corrected, so I will check in the British Library as soon as possible and report back from what I have learned,
Yours Markus

Frederik Mulder said...

Hi Prof Markus,
NT Wright says things like:
- the writer assumes that the resurrection of the dead is among the basic doctrines that new converts would be taught;
- (cf. Hebr 11:35) The text .. uses the word 'resurrection'in the two senses of 'resuscitation of the very recently dead'and 'resurrection to new bodily life at some stage in the future;
- The future hope, which thus emerges at the climax of the book, appears to draw together the belief that God's future world is ready and waiting in heaven and the belief that it will involve the resurrection of the dead;
- As from ch. 11 in particular, the resurrection is never far away, and becomes explicit in the benediction at the very end of the letter: Now may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will ... Here at last the resurrection of both Jesus and his people comes out into the open. For the rest of the book, though, the main emphasis is on Jesus having suffered and having then been exalted into the heavenly realm, whence he will return (as in Phil 3:20-21) to save those who are waiting for him (cf. esl. Hebr 4:14; 5:5-10; 6:19f.; 7:16; 7:24; 9:24-28; 10:12-14).
For more see The Resurrection of the Son of God, p457-461.

Brian LePort said...

I met Dr. Moffitt at SBL. He talked a little bit about his thesis and it sounds fascinating.

Frederik Mulder said...

I place the e-mails I got from both prof Vinzent and dr Moffitt below - I assume they'll have no problem with me putting it here as both expressed interest for further cordial discussions:

Hi Frederik,

thanks again so much for the extract and for drawing my attention to Moffitts opus, I have ordered it and will receive it next week in the British Library. From reading your abstract (and also, because I have to write an article on resurrection for a French volume), I am looking forward to reading the entire volume. The abstract alone makes me, however, suspicious to what extent an interpretive ideology spoils letting the text speak for itself, for example, when the author claims that 'Jesus' suffering exemplifies his greatest moment of testing and faithful endurance' (on which one might agree, reading Hebrews), he concludes 'as a result of his obedience in suffering, God rewarded him with the "better resurrection"', which is, however, a problematic reading, as Hebr. 11:35 certainly speaks of the resurrection of the dead, but with my best intention, I cannot find a hint at Jesus (even not to his cross, despite all the other forms of killings and tortures - all referring to martyrs), here the extract from Hebrews:
11:32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. 11:33 Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, 11:34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight, 11:35 and women received back their dead raised to life. But others were tortured, not accepting release, to obtain a better resurrection. 11:36 And others experienced mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 11:37 They were stoned, sawed apart, murdered with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 11:38 (the world was not worthy of them); they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and openings in the earth. 11:39 And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. 11:40 For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us.
Of course, one can read anything into everything - but if systematic theologically starts replacing what a normal reader can read, it becomes Eisegesis and ends to be Exegesis. But let me not jump too quickly to conclusions, until I have read the book,
Yours Markus

MOFFITT (not knowing about prof Vinzent's response above..:
Hi Frederick,
I would love to have a conversation about my book on your blog with Prof. Vinzent. Just let me know when he is prepared (assuming he's interested).
Grace and peace,

Frederik Mulder said...


Hi Markus (if I may),
Thanks for your interest in my work and for engaging in conversation about it. I do think it will be helpful for you to look over the text before speculating about how much it might be driven by systematic theology. I feel confident in saying that the thesis would not have been passed by my committee at Duke, nor would it have been accepted for publication by the editors of the Novum Testamentum Supplements series were it driven by simplistic theological assumptions and eisegesis. Having said that, I would like to say a brief word about your comments on Heb 11. What, IMHO, has been missed in your assessment of Heb 11 is the larger context. Specifically, the litany of faithful ones in Heb 11 follows close on the author's citation of Hab 2:4 (10:38). In keeping with this, a central theme of Heb 11 is not "faith" per se, but how faith produces/results in life out of death (e.g., Abel speaks though dead, v. 4; Noah and his family lived when the flood came, v. 7; Abraham was as good as dead and Sarah's womb was lifeless when Isaac was born, vv. 11-12; Isaac was given back to Abraham as a parable of resurrection, vv. 17-19; the firstborn of Israel were not killed, v. 28; women received back their dead and martyrs endured because they looked to the better resurrection, v. 35). All of these faithful ones looked forward to the fullness of God's promises - a heavenly or better homeland, better because it is eternal and not subject to death and loss (v. 10, 16). What is fascinating about this list as it relates to Jesus is that he stands at litany's climax (12:2). Jesus, that is, is a member of this list. One key difference between him and the others on the list, though, is that he has received God's promises. Jesus has entered the heavenly homeland and been exalted to God's right hand there (12:2). Thus Jesus is the primary exemplar of enduring suffering faithfully and of being rewarded with life. To be sure, resurrection is not specifically mentioned here with respect to Jesus (I dare say I would not have had a thesis topic if Jesus’ resurrection were obviously mentioned in Hebrews), but the logic of the argument appears to presuppose it. To put the point differently, if the promise of general resurrection (which is mentioned in Hebrews, 6:2, 11:35) applies to those who faithfully suffer in Heb 11, but does not apply to Jesus, the very perfecter and forerunner of faith (12:2), then the exemplary force of the stories in Heb 11 is greatly diminished. If Jesus is not thought to have received God's promised life in spite of death (as the martyrs are promised it), then the exhortation in 12:3 to the readers also rings hollow. I pose a question here: Do you think the better resurrection is limited only to the martyrs in Heb 11 and not to anyone else? I hasten to add that this kind of argumentation is hardly a lynchpin in my thesis. Rather, the case I argue is cumulative and works through several passages in Hebrews. I look forward to further conversation once you've had a chance to see more than a summary of my argument (which in any case is only partially about resurrection in Hebrews). Sincerely,David

Nance said...

I might be what you would called biased, as I am a student of Dr. Moffitt's at Duke Divinity School at present, but I think that in this case, in tying Heb 11 to the resurrection of Jesus, he is absolutely right. Cockerill made the same point forcefully in an article in the Tyndale Review a few years ago ["The Better Resurrection (Heb. 11:35):A Key to the Structure and Rhetorical Purpose of Hebrews 11"] --a future resurrection is foundational to the logic of Heb 11, and if one takes seriously Christ's depiction as forerunner in 12:2-3 and the relation of these verses to chapter 11, then is it particularly his going ahead of us into the life of the resurrection that the author has in mind there.

Frederik Mulder said...

Hi Nance,
Quite a good point you're making. I am almost done with my review of prof Vinzent's book... it took me quite some time but I'm glad I did it.

Frederik Mulder said...

Dear Frederik,

sorry that it has taken a few days - but I'd like to get back to David M. Moffitt's new thesis on Hebrews. And I don't mind if you share this with David and the readers of your blog.
Now, having read the book, I am impressed by the rigour of his arguments and also the clear way the book is written, and I feel closer to his views than I thought initially. With him I did acknowledge and pointed out myself in 'Christ's Resurrection in Early Christianity' that Hebrews speaks indeed of Christ (of course as man, how else?) has been elevated above heavens, glorified and as such sits to the right hand of God (Hebr. 6:20; 7:3.24; 7:3; 1:8; 4:14; 7:26). Yet, we only differ on the point which also David, in my view, has not and probably cannot explain. If 'the author is likely to have assumed that after his [Christ's] death, Jesus was the first to experience the better resurrection', why does he not say so? If, as David suggests, 'Jesus' resurrection marks the point at which he [Jesus] came into possession of this glorified humanity', why is this important piece to be conjectured ('likely'), but not present. By the way - what is a 'relative silence in Hebrews' - is the notion there or not? (147). David admits with this ambiguous expression that it is not. But what he is trying to do is, not to state that we have overlooked or misread Hebrews, but that we have to read the 'Resurrection' in between the lines.
The danger of such reading in between lines is, of course, that we are not talking about what Hebrews is saying, but what we are assuming Hebrews means.
Tom Wright's 'Resurrection' book is the crown example of how a scholar can read into texts Christ's Resurrection (and there are more candidates than Hebrews) where the notion itself is absent. His assumption is that Paul's theology is the underlying frame from which we have to read all other early Christian writings (although he makes the one exception: Hebrews). Now, if Wright is wrong and Moffitt right, than we have to extend Wright's hermeneutics to Hebrews, too.
But it is hermeneutics, or interpretation, not reading, what is given to us.
David himself hints at other ways to read Hebrews. When he looks at parallel early Jewish and Christian apocalyptic texts, he shows that they speak of glorification that transforms a human body into a heavenly one, fit to enter heaven (146-7) without relying on a Resurrection typology, so I remain sceptical, but are willing to rethink, if one can show that glorification only works with resurrection and we therefore have to assume what the author left out.
Yours Markus

Frederik Mulder said...

A good review of Dr David M. Moffitt's monograph can be read here:

Joseph Longarino said...

I studied with Prof. Moffitt in his class on the Greek exegesis of Hebrews and so was able to spend some time reading over his dissertation. In the first post from Dec 13, Prof. Vinzent pointed up the issue of "assuming [what] Hebrews means" versus "what Hebrews is saying." In response to this, I think it is important to realize that Moffitt's dissertation aims to expose what Hebrews must be assuming in order for the author's argument to work. This isn't our assuming what Hebrews means so much as it is getting at what Hebrews assumes in light of what the author explicitly says. And ultimately, the argument of Hebrews about Jesus' high priesthood, or about him being superior to the angels, seems to require as an implied (but crucial) premise that after his death Jesus possesses a glorified human body in heaven, which he presumably got when God "led him up from the realm of the dead" (13:20). (To see how the usual non-resurrection-premised reading helps to make a mess of Hebrews' argument, see, for example, A. J. M. Wedderburn's article "Sawing off the Branches: Theologizing Dangerously Ad Hebraeos" in JTS 56.2. Wedderburn carries through the Jesus-as-high-priest-on-the-cross reading to its logical conclusion and shows that, thus read, Hebrews offers an inconsistent argument. Wedderburn himself, however, leaves it at that, whereas Moffitt shows that such a conclusion results from a failure to discern the true logic of Hebrews.)