Monday, August 30, 2010

Who He Helps

Hebrews 2:16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.

16 οὐ γὰρ δήπου ἀγγέλων ἐπιλαμβάνεται ἀλλὰ σπέρματος Ἀβραὰμ ἐπιλαμβάνεται.

Given a discussion I have had recently on Facebook, this verse really leaps out at me.  Here we see that Jesus helps the σπέρματος Ἀβραὰμ.  The word σπέρματος is a genitive singular and it means "seed."  This would be very confusing except that this word can also be used in the singular to refer to a collective plural.  It's sort of like how a farmer would buy a bag of seed today.  You could say "seeds," but you don't have to in English and you don't in Greek either.

Why is this significant?  We know from the Old Testament that the "seed" of Abraham has two meanings.  One refers to Christ Himself as Paul explains in Galatians 3:16.  However, one does not have to read much in the Old  Testament to see how Israel is described as the seed of Abraham as well.  As my Old Testament professor pointed out over and over again, the three megathemes of the Old Testament are land, seed, and blessing.

Here we see that Christ helps the seed of Abraham.  Just taking this text at face-value, I don't see what else it could mean other than the author of Hebrews is identifying the church with the seed of Abraham.  It is possible that since this is written to a Jewish audience he is telling them that Christ helps the seed of Abraham, but that is just a subset of all the people who He helps.  I find that logically possible, but highly improbable.

To be fair I consulted my MacArthur Bible Commentary on this verse and, sure enough, that is the argument that he uses.  He writes that since the readers were Hebrews they would identify themselves with this description.  True, but it seems like that ignores the flow of the chapter.  We just had references to the "children God has given me," for example.  Read it for yourself and I think you'll see that the scope of the chapter refers to all of God's children in Christ.  I don't think it makes contextual sense to take this verse and limit it to those who are actually genetically linked to Abraham.

What do we do with this?  As a friend of mine says, Israel is the key to the Bible.  How we read the Bible depends on what we do with Israel.  If we take Israel to refer to the literal people who are genetically linked to Abraham then we read the Bible and particularly the Old Testament one way.  But if we understand the church to be the fulfillment of Israel then we read it another way.  A verse like this has me leaning in the latter category.  But frankly that gives me a lot of hope because that lets me read the Old Testament in a way that it actually has meaning to me rather than to a group of people that I will never truly be a part of, despite being grafted in.

Of course, I still have not studied any of this in a structured way so I am open to criticism and correction.  Please comment if you have thoughts on this matter.  Did I completely miss the point of this verse?

Note: This is the 1000th post for this blog.  I love round numbers like that.  I want to thank those of you who read this regularly.  I really write it for my own benefit as it serves as a way for me to get deeper into something I've read each day.  But if you've enjoyed it or been edified I'd love to know in the comments.


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Congrats on your thousandth post! I'm coming up on that number myself soon. I'm somewhere in the 900's after having been blogging since March of 2006.

I'm not sure if what you're discussing here is the place of literal Israel or not, which leads into the controversy of "replacement theology," but that idea was triggered by your friend saying that how we regard Israel defines how we read the Bible. That's probably quite true.

Most of the Church fathers lean toward or are outright exponents of replacement theology, but that is not where I personally stand on this issue. Fortunately for me, Orthodoxy doesn't dogmatize to that level, and so I am free to hold to the special status of Israel, even unbelieving Israel, until they as a nation recognize Jesus as the Messiah. From my point of view, Jesus is still a Jew. What else would He be? Yet people often talk as if He were a Christian. That's like saying God Himself is an Orthodox or a Calvinist.

I do enjoy reading your thoughts on the various passages of the Greek NT that you write about. I hope that when you have a congregation of your own, you encourage those who can, to learn the NT Greek language, and read and understand the scriptures in the original tongues. For me, it has been a great blessing.

Jason said...


Thanks as always for the feedback and kind words. Yes, I'm discussing the idea of replacement theology here, which, as you noted, is the majority opinion of the church fathers. Of course Jesus was a Jew. But I would say that a good argument could be made that we are now too, if we are in Christ.

You can be sure that I would do whatever I could to instruct my congregation in the languages. I would love to teach classes in the evenings. We would discuss both Greek and Hebrew, though I would probably put a bit more emphasis on Greek. I join Erasmus in saying that reading from the Greek is like "crystal-clear springs and rivers that run with gold," in contrast with the muddy puddles when you read in translation.

It is a blessing for all who do it. By the way, what do you do to master vocabulary?

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

To master vocabulary I simply read the bible in English constantly and then the OT in Hebrew and the NT in Greek. Plus, of course I worship at a Koine liturgy church, so I'm always learning new Greek words as texts come up I haven't heard before.