Some Clarifications on Heb. 2:17

I wanted to make this post separate of my apology to James, mainly because I feel that apologies should stand alone as they are, without dirtying them with lots of explanations and whatnot.  I hold firm to my apology to James and am glad to hear he accepted it, but now I must press on with some clarifications on my last few posts (also I have not been using accents with the Greek because I don’t feel like formatting the font of the Greek to Times New Roman in HTML so it shows nicer–its just too hot to put out much effort today).

(1) The problem I ran into with the Greek in Heb. 2:17 is that it’s rather ambiguous.  Grammatically, there is nothing wrong, per se, if the phrase κατα παντα were rendered as strengthening the verb οφειλω rather than ομοιοω.  And even some of the colleagues I talked to suggested that it was ambiguous, at best.  Even in the Latin Vulgate it is ambiguous (to which Tom Bolin remarks, ‘ambiguity=exegetical goldmine’, and he’s right).

(2) But Richard Carrier pointed me towards 1 Clement 38.4, where the similarly phrased ‘οφειλομεν κατα παντα ευχαριστειν αυτω’ can be found, and in context it renders similarly to how one might translate Heb. 2:17.  This, for me, cemented the translation.  One can render it as the KJV has it rendered, which is fine, but the meaning is the same as it is rendered in the NIV.  (Thanks also to Stephen Carlson for his help as well)

(3) The issue I realized I was having with James’ translation wasn’t so much with the formation of the phrase ‘in all things’, but with how that phrase was twisted to essentially ignore ‘in the likeness of his brethren’.  How James would have us interpret that phrase is to assume that Jesus was completely man but something else.  The issue with that, quite plainly, is that would imply that the author believed Jesus to be both, which is something you don’t start seeing in the Christian community until much later (the idea of Jesus being both God and man in a Creedal sense, which would have been completely foreign to the author of Hebrews, assuming he was writing in the first century).

(4) James wants to interpret this passage in a literal manner (i.e., that Jesus was a high priest to humanity), but this is, once more, an example of a historian anachronistically applying his rationalist mind to a text written for reasons unknown to us almost 2,000 years ago.  Instead, interpreting the priestliness of Jesus as an allegory, along with the illusion of his humanity, fits nicely within the allegorical context of the chapter itself, defined by his sacrifice and his defiance of death.  Indeed, this passage creates a intertextual parallel with the atonement leitmotif from Lev. 16, wherein he represents (as Tim Widowfield points out elsewhere) the sacrificial lamb, the second of the two–the other being humanity, whom he has taken a complete likeness to (and this is supported by the verb ομοιωθηναι, which represents it as though Jesus were wearing a costume), but had not become.

(5) As my 4th point implies, my original post to James (here) was not concerned with the rendering of ‘in all things’, but about James’ interpretation of ‘in the likeness of’.  As of now, that criticism still stands, regardless of the (rightful) inclusion of the phrase ‘in all things’.


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