Toward a Theological-Narratival Reading of the Epistle to the Hebrews

The author of Hebrews describes his work as a “word of exhortation” (13:22). In the sermon, the author makes steady use of narratives to warn, encourage, and exhort his hearers. After making some preliminary observations on narrative theory and the appropriateness of a narratival approach to Hebrews, I address the larger stories at play in the sermon. Given time constraints, this paper can deal in specific detail with only two passages: the story of the wilderness generation in Hebrews 3-4 and the story of Jesus in the Habakkuk 2:3-4 citation in Hebrews 10:37-39. These passages depict stories of pi,stij and avpisti,a, which function as two stories into one of which everyone participates. The author leaves his hearers with no doubt about the ending of each story. For those who continue in avpisti,a, they can expect to die in the wilderness and fail to enter the rest (3:12-19). Put succinctly, shrinking back leads to destruction, while faith(fulness) leads to life (10:39). If they are participating in the story of pi,stewj, then they already know their end, since the story has already been told in Jesus. Readers are left to decide into which story to participate, but the author expects better things for his hearers (6:9-10; 10:39; 11:40). Read through the lens of theological exegesis, these narratives function as illocutionary speech-acts that speak as God’s word even to readers in the present. These narratives in Hebrews do more than tell a story – they are pastoral tools.