Halakhic Controversy and Hebrews 13

New Testament scholars have found the study of first-century Jewish halakha beneficial for understanding the canonical gospels and the letters of Paul. Hebrews has not received similar treatment. However, the author of Hebrews warns his readers against diverse teachings related to meats or foods that "have not benefited those who walk" (hoi peripatountes) (Heb. 13:9). This phrase suggests that the teachings in view are halakhic in nature (halak = walk). Furthermore, 13:11-13 employs the terminology of “camp” and “outside the camp.” In the Qumran scrolls and early rabbinic literature these same terms are technical halakhic designations utilized in discussions about purity and sacrifice. References in the surrounding context to the Levitical “altar” (13:10), the "sacrifice of praise" (13:15), and "sacrifices pleasing to God" (13:16) strongly suggest that Hebrews 13 is likewise concerned with halakha. This paper shows how first-century halakhic disputes shed light on two important aspects of Hebrews 13:9-16. First, the sacrificial language in the passage appears to reference the activity of the Jerusalem cult and halakhic innovations regarding the shared sacrifices eaten by worshipers. The author addresses his readers’ concerns by redefining the most prominent of the shared sacrifices, the thank offering, commonly identified as the “sacrifice of praise” in Greek Jewish texts. Second, first-century halakhic controversy about the precise scope of “camp” and “outside the camp” helps us to firmly identify the referents of these terms in Hebrews and rules out many of the explanations commentators have offered. The “camp” is Jerusalem; “outside the camp” is outside Jerusalem. These two insights testify to the value of paying closer attention to the Jewish context of Hebrews than has been common in recent decades. If sound, they also have significant implications for the social setting and location of the recipients.