Sabbath school commentary for January 8–14, 2022.
For this week, the Adult Bible Study Guide defines several characteristics of Jesus: creator, promised savior in Genesis, Davidic messiah, and son of God. It repeats some of the points made last week on Seventh-day Adventist Christology. For a quick summary, one might just read the fundamental belief on God the Son.
God the eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Through Him all things were created, the character of God is revealed, the salvation of humanity is accomplished, and the world is judged. Forever truly God, He became also truly human, Jesus the Christ. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived and experienced temptation as a human being, but perfectly exemplified the righteousness and love of God. By His miracles He manifested God’s power and was attested as God’s promised Messiah. He suffered and died voluntarily on the cross for our sins and in our place, was raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven to minister in the heavenly sanctuary in our behalf. He will come again in glory for the final deliverance of His people and the restoration of all things.
Beyond the theology, one moment in the Sabbath school lesson that caught my attention was this sentence: “The first paragraph of Hebrews reveals that Paul believed he was living in ‘the last days.’ ” Hopefully we’ll get into the shifting eschatological understanding of first-century Christians sometime in this quarter. But, speaking of the author, the lesson this week also makes a special note of the writing style:
In the original Greek, Hebrews 1:1–4 is only one sentence, and it has been argued that it is the most beautiful in all the New Testament from the point of view of its rhetorical artistry. Its main assertion is that God has spoken to us through His Son, Jesus.
It is a beautiful flow, especially in the Berean Study Bible:
On many past occasions and in many different ways, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets. But in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. So He became as far superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is excellent beyond theirs.
For those interested in the literary flow of the text, the visual layout of the New American Standard Bible helps to show the sophisticated structure of Hebrews 1. As I covered during the first week, this attention to the actual writing is one reason scholars debate authorship and many don’t confidently attribute it to Paul.
Literary scholar Félix Cortez, associate professor of New Testament literature at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, is the principal contributor of this quarter’s Adult Bible Study Guide.
As I watched a video of him present on Hebrews 9, I appreciated that despite the lesson’s inflexible statement that Paul authored the book, Cortez himself allowed for some wiggle room. About eleven minutes in, he says: “Paul or the author of Hebrews, whoever it was.” Throughout his talk, he repeatedly uses the ambiguous phrase “the author of Hebrews.”
This was for the Adventist Theological Society’s symposium on atonement in 2013. It’s too bad that the Adult Bible Study Guide doesn’t reflect this nuanced understanding. Looking back to a previous Adult Bible Study Guide from 2016 provides some explanation.
The book of Hebrews, however, does not tell us who wrote it. Some proof does point to Paul as the author of Hebrews. Some proof does not point to Paul as the author. Ellen White names Paul as the author of Hebrews. This quarter’s lessons also will say that Paul wrote Hebrews.
I guess that settles it.
Once again, a biblical discussion is too-quickly quashed via a reference to Ellen White. Perhaps it’s a defense against uncomfortable questions about her authority on authorship? If that’s a discussion some biblical research authorities don't want to deal with, this official conversation stoppage fails to respect those who want to follow the Berean model of scripture study as stated in Acts 17:11 (NLV):
And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.
I didn’t realize Thessalonica was in Maryland too.
These Berean believers were not just reading the Bible, they were searching the Scriptures to question authority. In this case, the very author, Paul, we’re asking about. If questioning authority was good enough for open-minded early Christians, shouldn’t it be good enough for scripture searchers today?
PS: If you like the graphic used for this article, it’s from the great Adventist History Podcast. It is a t-shirt and might make for a fun conversation starter the next time you do Sabbath school.
PPS: While we’re celebrating open-minded fellow believers, and podcasts, you might enjoy this week’s discussion of the Adult Bible Study Guide via Sabbath School Rescue, created by two Southwestern Adventist University religion teachers, Buster Swoopes Jr. and Michael W. Campbell. Of course this duo is known as Campbell Swoopes.
PPPS: Finally, the title is an homage to one of my favorite religion professors at Andrews University, A. Josef Greig. He showed up to the first day of a course in philosophy lecturing in a baseball hat that read: Question Authority.
Alexander Carpenter is executive editor of Spectrum
Title image: "Because She Said So Tee 2.0" from the Adventist History Podcast
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