Zwingli and Bullinger as Exegetes of Hebrews

The importance of Romans for the Reformation is widely known. However, all Reformers read this Pauline letter in the light of other texts of the New Testament. In particular for the “Reformed” tradition with its roots in the Swiss Reformation, the Epistle to the Hebrews played a key role. Zwingli and many after him learned there to emphasize the “ephapax” of the redemptive work of Christ, which lead to a significant difference to Luther. As Hebrews teaches, Christ’s sacrifice and death was an event, accomplished at a certain point in in time, and is valid and effective forever. As a consequence, the decisive moment or act in restoring the broken relationship between God and Men does not lie in individual faith; instead, faith is a kind of recognition and personal acceptation of an already accomplished reconciliation. This has also consequences for the understanding of the Lord’s Supper: It is a meal and celebration of remembrance and thankfulness. For Zwingli’s successor Heinrich Bullinger, Hebrews was a key text for his Covenant Theology which included Israel and the Christian Church into one eternal covenant, taking on different forms in the History of redemption. Christ is the one and only real “High Priest” and has to be interpreted against the background of the Old Testament, which included a significant continuity. This is also the case for Bullinger’s concept of “faith”: “Faith” is not only the counterpart of “religious works” in the context of the question of men’s individual “justification”. It entails patience, suffering and hope, and leads to a certain conduct of life not only of the individual but also of the whole Christian community. For Bullinger, Old Testament figures are examples and ideals for a clear understanding of the New Testament teaches about “faith”. It can be stated, that the interpretation of Hebrews lead the Zurich Reformer to theological insights that transgressed the actual theological debates of his time, at least in part. However, Bullinger also had to struggle with some passages of Hebrews, as he clearly rejected the idea of the impossibility of a second repentance as opposed to the Reformed doctrine of grace.