Heb. 2:17 and οφειλω κατα παντα τοις αδελφοις ομοιωθηναι

It seems I owe James McGrath and apology.  (I’m sorry, James!) In an earlier post, I stated that words he had bolded in a translation did not appear in the text.  In fact they do appear in the Greek, but they can be read in a different order than how James’ translation had placed them and I hadn’t thought to consider the word order when I made the comment.  In my ignorance, I made a lapse. So I hope he can forgive that mistake on my part.

Though that is settled, I still have a contention with the way James is interpreting the text.  Heb. 2:17, even with the appropriate strengthening of ομοιωθηναι, should be read as ‘He had to be made in the likeness of his brothers in all respects.’   But reading ‘in all respects’ to mean ‘in every conceivable respect’ makes little sense given the context, since this sort of thinking implies a sort of Nicene creed (trinitarianism).  It is a bit anachronistic to presume that the author of Hebrews was thinking of Jesus as a human.  Indeed, not only is it anachronistic in the sense that such thinking is from late antiquity, but also stems from our position in history, looking back through three quests for the historical, earthly Jesus, long after the figure and character of Jesus has been ‘humanized’.  Even though I had been wrong about the word order in the translation, I was not wrong about its meaning, nor about its usefulness (since it still reads ‘in the likeness’, denoting that the author of Hebrews still saw Jesus as an a figure giving the illusion of a human).

I’m also a bit surprised that James used Hebrews as part of his treatise against Doherty on Paul, since Hebrews was not written by Paul and its dating and authorship are unknown (though the date is tentatively set during the early Christian period, mid-late first century).

That being said, I offer James my apologies once again, but stress that, as I’ve done before, he be more cautious with his wording in his polemics.

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting this, Tom! Apology and warning accepted! :-)

    It actually had a pretty amusing impact, as Steven Carr read your post and quickly ran over to my blog to tell me that I had made a blunder and Tom Verenna had set me straight – and then had to acknowledge that he has no Greek and didn’t really know what he was talking about. Oops!

    My mention of Hebrews is not because I consider it Pauline but because it is one of the epistles that Earl Doherty says lacks any indication of a historical Jesus, and so I addressed the view of that author for that reason.

    At any rate, I think that Hebrews gives the impression that Jesus was human so as to serve as a high priest for human beings. And while I agree with your point that many New Testament authors seem eager to exalt Jesus to a status that is more than human, I do not find it as impossible or difficult as Doherty and others think I should, to trace the trajectory from an actual human being to increasing exaltation of him by those in the religious group that came to be focused on him.

  2. James,

    Grammatically it works the way I interpreted it, but contextually, no, it does not. I had to do a little research and consult with some colleagues first to be sure though.

    However i disagree, and must disagree, with your interpretation. Again I stress your historicizing of the text, and how anachronistic it is. Jesus was the high priest, but in an allegorical way which the context supports. In fact the main reason to accept the rendering of the Greek is to recognize the allegorical fabric, that is, that Jesus is the priestly sacrifice, but still only in the likeness of man. If you insist on implicating the author of Hebrews as a Creedist, you are going to have to explain that during this time period.

  3. Tom: “I’m also a bit surprised that James used Hebrews as part of his treatise against Doherty on Paul…”

    I was equally surprised that an academic would use the NIV. I don’t mean to offend any fans out there, but for serious study it’s just too unreliable.

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