A Gravitational Shift: Revisiting Hebrews’ Theology of Scripture

There is little debate that Jews and Christians have different theologies of scripture. While neither tradition is monolithic in its views, some general tendencies are identifiable. As described by B. Sommer, E. Stern and others, Jewish views of scripture have traditionally been what we might call “Torah-centric,” with the Pentateuch as the textual center of gravity around which the rest of the scriptures—and religious experience—revolve. Christian theologies of scripture, while they vary, tend to be “Gospel-centric” in comparison; the Gospels functioning as the textual and hermeneutical nucleus of the Bible. From synagogue to Midrashim, dating back to the Second Temple period, the Prophets and Writings have had the default function of interpreting the Pentateuch; of explaining, illuminating, amplifying and even subverting it in Jewish preaching and exegesis. This creates both a hierarchy and an exegetical division of labor among the Jewish Scriptures. Christian views of scripture, on the other hand, do not often privilege the Pentateuch, more commonly treating all “OT” books as being of equal status, best viewed through the lens of the Gospels. The majority of interpretive activity related to Hebrews, it is safe to say, has a Christian theology of scripture as the point of departure. In this paper I propose, first, that the primacy of the Pentateuch among the Jewish Scriptures and the exegetical function of the Prophets and Writings were almost inevitably elements of the theology of Scripture held by Hebrews’ author. Second, while a great deal of excellent work has been done in Hebrews scholarship with regard to Jewish hermeneutics, exegesis, and homiletic and midrashic analysis, it seems there is room for further consideration of Hebrews’ theology of scripture from this angle, along with its implications. Among the results of this approach are the suggestions (1) that Hebrews uses the Sinai Covenant and experience as the central paradigm for its explanation of Jesus and his ministry—even if it seeks to alter the view of that paradigm and (2) that the many texts from the Prophets and Writings in Hebrews function exegetically and dialogically in relation to specific themes and/or texts from the Pentateuch.