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The Greco-Roman Rhetorical Features in Hebrews

John R. Neal, Sr. NT9331A New Testament Text-Hebrews December 2013



Various Outlines ..iii-xii A. Thematic Outline iii-iv B. Complex Outline ..v-vii C. Vanhoyes Outline viii

II. Abbreviations ...ix-x

III. Terms/Definitions xi

IV. Introduction 1

V. Structure ..2 A. Types of Rhetoric 3 B. Hebrews: Epistle or Homily 3-7 C. Vanhoeys Rhetorical Analysis ..7-8 D. Similarities with other NT Books ...8-9 E. Christological Themes .9-10 F. Eschatological Themes 10-12

VI. Use of Periodic Sentence .. 12-16 A. Definition and Usage of Term 12 B. Usage of Synkrisis or Comparison in Hebrews ..13 C. Usage of Inclusio in Hebrews .13-16 D. Chiasmus 16-17 E. Use of Rhetorical Persuasion . 18

VII. Conclusion 18-19

VIII. Bibliography 20


Outline of Hebrews Simple Thematic Outline

Theme: The Supremacy of Christ


Christ Superior to the prophets: his absolute uniqueness as Divine Son, Incarnate Redeemer, and Exalted Lord (1:1-3). Christ Superior to Angels (1:4-2:18). A. Proved from the Old Testament (1:4-2:18). B. First Warning: the peril of neglecting such a great salvation (2:1-4). C. Christ the true Man exalted above the angels (2:5-9). D. The purpose and consequence of the Incarnation (2:10-18). Christ Superior to Moses (3:1-4:13). A. Moses and Christ compared (3:1-6a). B. Second Warning: the peril of copying the example of the Israelites in the wilderness (3:6b-4:2). C. Necessity of faith and obedience to enter into Gods rest (4:3-11). D. The sharp and penetrating discernment of Gods word (4:12-13). Christ Superior to Aaron (4:14-10:18). A. Our compassionate High Priest (4:14-16-going back to the subject covered and introduced in 2:11-3:1). B. High Priesthood. 1. General Qualifications (5:1-4). 2. Christs Qualifications (3:5-10). C. Third Warning: the peril of stagnation and apostasy (5:10-6:8). D. Encouragement to persevere (6:9-20). E. The order of Melchizedek (6:20b-7:28-already mentioned in 5:6, 10; the priesthood of Jesus in 2:17; 4:14). 1. Significance of Melchizedek (7:1-10). 2. Imperfections of Levitical Priesthood contrasted with the perfection of Christs priesthood (7:11-28). F. The shadows of the old covenant superseded by the realities of the new covenant (8:1-9:10). G. The redemption procured by Christs sacrifice all-sufficient and eternal (9:1110:18).






Christ Superior as the New and Living Way (10:19-12:29). A. Encouragement to enter boldly into the true sanctuary (10:19-25-compare with 4:14-16). B. Fourth Warning: the peril of despising the gospel (10:26-31). C. Encouragement to endure (10:32-39). D. The triumph of faith and perseverance illustrated by the example of the believers of the former age (11:1-39). E. The supreme example of Christ (12:1-4). F. The significance and value of discipline (12:5-11). G. Encouragement to resume the struggle (12:12-14). H. Fifth Warning: the peril of following the example of Esau (12:15-17). I. Mount Sinai and Mount Zion compared (12:18-24). J. Sixth Warning: the perils of refusing him who speaks from heaven (12:25-29). Concluding Exhortations, Requests, and Greetings (13:125).1


Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979, Repr. 1990), 3-4.


Outline of Hebrews Complex Schematic Outline

a. Heb. 1:1-4 - Exordium I. Heb. 1:5-2:18 Christ exalted and humiliated, a suitable High Priest. A. Heb. 1:5-14 Christ exalted above the angels. B. Heb. 2:1-4 Paraenetic interlude: hold fast. C. Heb. 2:5-18 Christ the Savior, a faithful and merciful High Priest.

II. Heb. 3:1-5:10 Christ is faithful and merciful. A. Heb. 3:1-4:13 A homily on faith. i. Heb. 3:1-6 Introduction: the faithfulness of Christ and Moses. ii. Heb. 3:7-11 Citation of scripture: the faithless generation. iii. Heb. 3:12-4:11 Exposition a. Heb. 3:12-19 The failure of faithfulness. b. Heb. 4:1-5 The nature of the promised rest. c. Heb. 4:6-11 Faithfully enter the rest today. iv. Heb. 4:12-13 Concluding flourish: Gods powerful Word.

B. Heb. 4:14-5:10 Christ as a merciful High Priest. i. Heb. 4:14-16 Paraenetic prelude: hold fast and approach. ii. Heb. 5:1-5 The characteristics of high priests. iii. Heb. 5:6-10 Christ as High Priest According to the Order of Melchizedek.2

III. Heb. 5:11-10:25 The difficult discourse. A. Heb. 5:11-6:20 Paraenetic prelude. i. Heb. 5:11-6:3 Progression towards maturity.
Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989), 19.

ii. Heb. 6:4-12 Warning and consolation. a. Heb. 6:4-8 The danger of failure. b. Heb. 6:9-12 Hopeful assurance. iii. Heb. 6:13-20 Gods oath: a sure ground of hope. B. Heb. 7:1=28 Christ and Melchizedek. i. Heb. 7:1-3 Introduction and scriptural citation. ii. Heb. 7:4-25 Exposition a. Heb. 7:4-10 Melchizedek superior to the Levites. b. Heb. 7:11-19 The new priest and the new order. c. Heb. 7:20-25 The priesthood confirmed with an oath. C. Heb. 8:1-10:18 An exegetical homily on Christs sacrificial act. i. Heb. 8:1-6 Introduction: earthly and heavenly sanctuaries. ii. Heb. 8:7-13 Citation of scripture: a new, interior covenant. iii. Heb. 9:1-10:10 Thematic exposition. a. Heb. 9:1-10 The old, earthly sacrifice. b. Heb. 9:11-14 The new, heavenly sacrifice. c. Heb. 9:15-22 The new covenant and its sacrifice. d. Heb. 9:23-28 The new, heavenly, unique sacrifice. e. Heb. 10:1-10 The new, earthly-heavenly sacrifice. iv. Heb. 10:11-18 Concluding flourish on Christs sacrifice. D. Heb. 10:19-25 Paraenetic application: have faith, hope, and charity.

IV. Heb. 10:26-12:13 Exhortation of faithful endurance. A. Heb. 10:26-38 Paraenetic prelude. i. Heb. 10:26-31 A new warning against failure. ii. Heb. 10:32-38 Recollection of faithful endurance.3 B. Heb. 11:1-40 An encomium on faith.



i. Heb. 11:1-2 An introductory definition of faith ii. Heb. 11:2-7 Faith from creation to Noah. iii. Heb. 11:8-22 The faith of the patriarchs. a. Heb. 11:8-12 The faith of Abraham and Sarah. b. Heb. 11:13-16 Faiths goal: a heavenly home. c. Heb. 11:17-22 The faith of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. iv. Heb. 11:23-30 The faith of Moses and followers. v. Heb. 11:31-38 The faith of prophets and martyrs. vi. Heb. 11:39-40 Summary: faith perfected in Christians. C. Heb. 12:1-13 A homily on faithful endurance. i. Heb. 12:1-3 Jesus, the inaugurator and perfecter of faiths race. ii. Heb. 12:4-6 Citation of scripture. iii. Heb. 12:7-11 Suffering as discipline. iv. Heb. 12:12-13 Brace for the race.

V. Heb. 12:14-13:21 Concluding exhortations. A. Heb. 12:14-17 Paraenetic prelude: a final warning against failure. B. Heb. 12:18-29 The serious, but encouraging situation. i. Heb. 12:18-24 Not Sinai, but a Heavenly Zion. ii. Heb. 12:25-30 An unshakeable kingdom. C. Heb. 13:1-21 The life of the covenant. i. Heb. 13:1-6 Mutual responsibilities. ii. Heb. 13:7-19 The implications of Christs sacrifice. b. Heb. 13:20-25 Concluding benediction and greetings.4



Complex Structure by Albert Vanhoye5

a. 1:1-4 Introduction I. 1:5-2:18 The name superior to the angels (Eschatology) a. 1:5-14 Christ the Son of God b. 2:1-4 Paraenesis c. 2:5-18 Christ the brother of human beings II. 3:1-5:10 Jesus faithful and compassionate (Ecclesiology) A. 3:1-4:14 Jesus is faithful B. 4:15-5:10 Jesus compassionate high priest III. 5:11-10:39 The central exposition (Sacrifice) a. 5:11-6:20 Preliminary exhortation A. 7:1-28 Jesus is high priest according to the order of Melchizedek B. 8:1-9:28 Jesus perfected C. 10:19-39 Jesus cause of eternal salvation b 10:19-39 Final exhortation IV. 11:1-12:13 Faith and Endurance (Ecclesiological Paranesis) A. 11:1-40 The faith of the ancients B. 12:1-13 The requisite endurance V. 12:14-13:19 The peaceful fruit of justice (Eschatology) a. 12:14-29 A warning b. 13:1-6 Christian attitudes c. 13:7-19 Dietary observations and fidelity z. 13:20-21 Conclusion

Ibid., 16.


ABBREVIATIONS6 Traditional Acts Apoc. Col. 1 Cor. 2 Cor. Eph. Gal. Heb. James John 1 John 2 John Jude Luke Mark Matt. 1 Pet. 2 Pet. Phil. Philem. Rev. Rom. 1 Thess. 2 Thess.

Shorter --------------Col 1 Cor 2 Cor Eph Gal Heb Jas Jn 1 Jn 2 Jn ------Lk Mk Mt 1 Pt 2 Pt Phil Phlm Rv Rom 1 Thes 2 Thes

Full Name Acts of the Apostles Apocalypse (Revelation) Colossians 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Ephesians Galatians Hebrews James John (Gospel) 1 John (Epistle) 2 John (Epistle) Jude Luke Mark Matthew 1 Peter 2 Peter Philippians Philemon Revelation (Apocalypse) Romans 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians

Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Chicago Style For Students And Researchers, 7th ed, rev by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, and The University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 342-43. This paper will utilize the abbreviations in the Traditional column.


1 Tim. 2 Tim. Titus

1 Tm 2 Tm Ti

1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus

Terms/Definitions Types of Rhetoric: Judicial: seeking to convince an audience of the rightness or wrongness of a past action. Deliberative: trying to persuade or dissuade certain individuals concerning the expediency of a future action. Epideictic: using praise or blame to urge people to affirm a point of view or set of values in the present.

Components of a Complete Rhetorical Address: Exordium: stated the cause and gained the audiences attention and sympathy. Narratio: related the background and facts of the case. Propositio: stated what was agreed upon and what was contested. Probatio: contained the proofs based on the credibility of the speaker; appealed to the hearers feelings and/or logical argument. Refutatio: refuted opponents arguments. Peroratio: summarized argument and sought to arouse hearers emotions.7

Dr. William W. Klein, Dr. Craig L. Blomberg, and Dr. Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction To Biblical Interpretation, Kermit A. Ecklebarger, Consulting Ed (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), 357.




The Greco-Roman Rhetorical Features In Hebrews

Introduction Some of the various themes covered in this course on Hebrews deals with such important issues as the authorship of the Hebrews (whether one accepts a Pauline or non-Pauline view of authorship), the date of this epistle (written prior to or after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70), and even the destination/audience the author intends to target (written to or from Rome, or perhaps Jerusalem, and is the letter addressed to struggling Jewish Christians, or to a mixture)? While all of these questions are helpful in placing the letter to the Hebrews in the proper historical context, more recent studies focus on looking at Hebrews from the standpoint of Greco-Roman rhetorical features. This is based upon the development of literary criticism, more on the text as opposed to examining the letter from a form-critical approach. These newer literary approaches do merit consideration and may help find arguments the author is making that may not be obvious to the modern reader. Caution must be met that one does not read a rhetorical approach into Hebrews or any other New Testament book that the original author did not intend. In other words, every New Testament document may not be written from this rhetorical milieu. The theologian must decide if the evidence merits such a reading on a particular text. Does a rhetorical reading of Hebrews seems to be in line with the background of the author (even though he is unnamed)?

Structure of Hebrews There are two basic approaches to studying Hebrews. One viewpoint interprets Hebrews from a thematic scheme. A thematic structure builds an outline around the expository sections of the text, focusing upon the Christological claims, and often comparing or contrasting Christ with various Old Testament characters. This approach, however, does little to indicate the function of the various sections of the text and often skew the interpretation of the text as primarily a dogmatic work.8 Many of the older commentaries read Hebrews through this pair of glasses. A secondary way of interpreting Hebrews is by using a non-thematic approach. Most recent commentaries adopt this tool to understanding Hebrews and see three basic structures (or some variation) to the main body of the book. The rhetorical analysis helps the interpreter find the overall structure of the book.9 Yet Attridge cautions against any of the above two

approaches, but especially a structural analysis perspective. He warns: Structural analyses are, however, notoriously subjective, and what is articulated is often simply the critics prejudices or perceptions of thematic coherences.10 Whoever the author, there is evidence he uses the Hellenistic rhetorical techniques which are common to the first century world. Many scholars take for granted that authors of the New Testament would be well aware of these rhetorical devices and use them in their letter writing to various Christian communities. We want to begin be examining what rhetoric is and notice the different types of rhetorical devices used in different situations.

8 9

Attridge., 14. Ibid., 14-15. 10 Ibid., 14.

Types of Rhetoric There are three basic types of rhetoric used in Greek and Roman speaking and writing. First, there is the judicial type which tries to persuade or convince a jury that a persons actions are true or false. Second, there is the epideictic feature which heaps the praises of famous people from the past and utilizes them as roles of virtues and values. Some find hints of epideictic rhetoric in Hebrews. Yet arguing that Hebrews is epideictic tends to put emphasis on the comparison of the Son of God with the heroes of old in the expository parts of Hebrews and thus on the books theological content. Third there is the deliberative rhetorical device that tries to persuade a legislative assembly to take a certain course of action. Saying that Hebrews is deliberative gives pride of place to the hortatory parts of Hebrews and thus to its practical appeal for perseverance.11

Hebrews: Epistle or Homily Cockerill argues that the ongoing debate over whether Hebrews is epideictic or deliberative is misguided. He notes that no scholar can force Hebrews into the context of public celebration appropriated for epideictic rhetoric or into the legislative assembly for deliberative rhetoric.12 Although some consider Hebrews as a letter, many scholars today view the work more as a homily than an epistle.13 The difficulty in identifying the genre of Hebrews is best summed up in Marshalls statement that the book of Hebrews begins majestically like a speech

Garreth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 12. 12 Ibid. 13 Eric Mason, You Are A Priest Forever: Second Temple Jewish Messianism and the Priestly Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 3.


and ends personally like a letter.14 No wonder Attridge refers to Hebrews as a literary riddle, in that the introduction does not read like the conclusion or postscript. Even though the book is early on incorporated into the Pauline corpus, the work does not begin as an epistle with the standard protocol including salutation and naming of the sender and addressees. The traditional letter greetings or salutations are also found in nearly every New Testament epistle and is also a standard formula of epistles of the Greek and Roman era. The only similarity Hebrews has with this typical epistolary style is the benediction, personal remarks, and a final farewell in Heb. 13:20-25.15 While there are some affinities between Hebrews and ancient letters, referring to Hebrews as a letter based solely upon the conclusion or postscript is neither helpful nor convincing.16 Another author even argues that Hebrews should be compared to the Jewish midrash or the running commentaries such as one finds at Qumran (he argues that the text for his overall argument is Ps. 110).17 Perhaps Hebrews is to be understood best as an example of the kind of homily or sermon typical of the synagogue and thus used in early Christian worship. 18 The main body of the text, which the epistolary postscript refers to the book as a word of exhortation, is normally viewed as the product of rhetorical art.19 The author blends a sermon in written form on one single theme he sends to a community of believers for a specific problem. 20 The author of Hebrews is able to bind exposition and exhortation to form a close-knit appeal, a true word of exhortation as described in Heb. 13:22, the same term used to describe the apostle
I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel (Downer (Bristol Je 1949) (Brown 1998)s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; Nottingham, England: Apollo, 2004), 605. 15 Attridge, 13. 16 Ibid., 14. 17 George Wesley Buchanan, To The Hebrews, Translation, Comment, and Conclusions The Anchor Bible, ed Raymond E. Brown (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976), xix-xxi. 18 Cockerill, 12-13. 19 Attridge, 14. 20 Marshall, 605.

Pauls homily or sermon at Antioch of Pisidia in Acts 13:15.

Willis argues that the

Hellenistic rhetoric was adapted by rabbis and used in the synagogues and eventually into Christian preaching as one finds in Acts.21 While some scholars may hesitate to refer to

Hebrews as a homily, yet one cannot doubt the way in which the book of Hebrews does not begin with the tradition epistolary introduction one normally finds in the letters of Paul or Peter, the authors sustained exposition of Scripture, his repeated concern with, and weaving together of, exposition and exhortation, the oral character of the material, the way the author has skillfully arranged his material to persuade his hearers, and his deep pastoral concern all betray the presence of a master homiletician.22 The work of C.H. Dodd in his early twentieth century book, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments, point to some of the key features of early apostolic preaching that one finds in the book of Acts, especially in the preaching of Peter. One of the key components of their preaching is the use and quotation from the Old Testament. The sermons Peter preached, as recorded by Luke in the book of Acts (2:14-26, 38-39; 3:19-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43), focus upon the Old Testament scriptures that hasten the coming of the Messiah who is now identified with Jesus of Nazareth.23 application.24 When a person compares the book of Hebrews with the sermons in the book of Acts, one notes that the Hebrew epistle quotes from the Old Testament passages that predict the coming of the Messiah together with the arrival of the age of fulfillment which will reach its climax in These passages which Peter selects have messianic

Cockerill, 13. Ibid., 14. 23 Lyle O. Bristol, Primitive Christian Preaching And The Epistle To The Hebrews, Journal of Biblical Literature 68, no 2 (Je 1949): 89. 24 Ibid., 89-90.


the Parousia.25 The author of Hebrews quotes from various Old Testament passages that speak of the Messiah as being the Son (Heb. 1:5-13; 2:6-3); Jesus is this Messianic Son. When looking for passages from the Jewish Bible that speak to the last day of judgment, the author uses the illustration of those who wandered in the wilderness for forty years as a warning for Christians not to miss out on that Heavenly Promised Land (Heb. 3:7ff.). The Levitical sacrificial system points to the atoning death of Christ (Heb. 4:16ff.). The prophet Jeremiah foresees the day of a new covenant (Jer. 31) that is fulfilled in Christ (see Heb. 8:1ff.).26 The numerous quotes Peter makes in his sermons clearly point to Jesus as being the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies. In Hebrews the author alludes to many passages, some not as obvious as others, but all proving that Jesus is the expected one. The Hebrew epistle compares Jesus to being like the high priest Melchizedek (Heb. 7:1ff.). This Melchizedek is a shadowy-figure who serves as both priest and king. The patriarch Abraham offers to

Melchizedek a portion of the plunder of the battle and who in return gave Abraham br ead and wine (according to Gen. 14:18-20).27 The writer of the Hebrew epistle uses this typology to show that, while Jesus is not a high priest from the lineage of Aaron or Levi (because he descends from Judah), yet he fulfills the requirements to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4).28 Comparing Hebrews use of the Old Testament with the sermons in the book of Acts supports the argument that Hebrews is originally a sermon or speech that is written down for a particular audience and a specific situation.29 Bristol states, There can be no doubt of the

25 26

Ibid., 90. Ibid. 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid., 90-91. 29 Ibid., 91.

influence of primitive Christian preaching concerning the place of the OT in providing the source of proof that all the emphasis of Christian salvation has had its prediction in OT writings. 30 While there are similarities between the use of Old Testament scripture in Pauls and Peters sermons with that of Hebrews, yet some of the passages such as those dealing with Melchizedek have no parallel in any other New Testament book.31 While Hebrews is similar to a synagogue homily, yet the letter is much more than a sermon addressed in the synagogue. The book is a Christian synagogue homily. The homily in the synagogue is based upon the ancient rhetoric for the purpose of interpreting and applyin g an inspired and authoritative Scriptural text. Hebrews uses this technique to make an

Christological interpretation and application of that text.32 While some point to the epistolary ending in Heb 13:22-25 as evidence of more of a letter than a sermon, yet this ending does nothing to dissipate this sermons power. The preachers homily is sent as a letter to be read in the assembled worship of the congregation about whom the pastor was concerned.33 Cockerill finds three main parts or sections to the authors written sermon: (1) 1:1-4:13; (2) 4:14-10:18); and (3) 10:19-12:29.34

Vanhoeys Rhetorical Analysis Yet not everyone agrees with Cockerills conclusions. Scholars such as Vanhoey and Attridge see in the book of Hebrews elements of both an epideictic oration and deliberative

30 31

Ibid., 91. Ibid., 92. 32 Cockerill, 15. 33 Ibid., 15-16. 34 Ibid., 62.

rhetoric.35 Vanhoey analyzes the structure of Hebrews as consisting of an elaborate concentric composition which consists of an Introduction (1:1-4) and Conclusion (13:20-21), with five chiastic sections sandwiched in between the beginning and ending of Hebrews. These five chiastic sections are: (1) Heb. 1:5-2:18 the name of Jesus is superior to that of the angels (Eschatology); (2) Heb. 3:1-5:10 Jesus is both faithful and compassionate (Ecclesiology); (3) Heb. 5:11-10:39 the central exposition (Sacrifice); (4) Heb. 11:1-12:13 Faith and endurance (what Vanhoye calls Ecclesiological paranesis); and (5) Heb. 12:14-13:19 The peaceful fruit of justice (Eschatology).36 Hebrews both begins and ends with the fitting bookends of eschatology. Some scholars like Vanhoeys analysis because he is able to bring out the alternation between exposition and exhortation while at the same time finding the formal balance within the main body of the text.37 Still others look for a more simplistic layout of the epistle. Nevertheless, there can be a danger in taking too formal of an approach to Hebrews and run the risk of separating the book from the clear apologetic goal that the author intends to achieve by stressing the superiority of Christ to the old covenant.38

Similarities with other NT Books From a structural standpoint, there are some definite parallels between Hebrews and the other New Testament books. There are parallels between Stephens speech in Acts and the Hebrew epistle. Both the Acts 7 speech and Hebrews portray the children of God as on the
Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1998), 690. 36 Ibid. 37 Attridge, 15. 38 Brown., 691.

move and fulfilling the Old Testament promises.39 The opening verses of Hebrews (1:1-4) are a reminder of the description of Jesus in the opening verses of the Gospel of John (1:1-5). John and Hebrews spend much time focusing upon Jesus as the Son, the Son of God.40 The epistle of 1 Peter and Hebrew are also similar in that bother were written to encourage perseverance in the face of persecution. Hebrews and 1 Peter both refer to Christians as pilgrims (Heb. 11:8-16; 12:22; 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11). Both authors refer to Jesus as the Shepherd (Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4).41 Pfitzner uses the above examples, plus internal evidence, to show that the Hebrew utilizes epidictic rhetorical devices. This type of rhetoric extolled the greatness of a person or even promoted values that others should follow. Amplification by means of comparison was a standard feature of epideictic oratory. 42 Pfitzner makes reference to Aristotles use of amplification in Rhetoric 1.9, 38-40. Jesus in Hebrews is compared to the angels, Moses, Aaron, Melchizedek, and the old law to the new. Epideictic oratory also deals with both praise and blame. As an example, he notes the use of blame in Heb. 5:11-6:8 which is followed immediately by praise in Heb. 6:9-12.43

Christological Themes Another advantage of a literary approach to the General Epistles, such as Hebrews, is how the study of rhetorical devices helps shed light on various themes in the New Testament letters. One such theme that is peculiar to Hebrews is the authors Christology. The writer of

39 40

Cockerill, 24. Ibid. 41 Ibid. 42 Victor C. Pfitzner, Hebrews Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), 21.


Hebrews depicts Christs role as High Priest more than any other New Testament writer. One finds in Revelation 1:13 where Christ appears in high-priestly attire.44 Paul speaks of Jesus role as intercessor for prayer (Romans 8:34), which suggests a high-priestly ministry.45 Several passages in the New Testament affirm the sacrificial nature of Jesus death (see Matt. 26:27; Jn. 1:29; Rom. 3:25; 8:3; 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19-21; Rev. 5:12). However, in the book of Hebrews, the author develops the idea of Jesus as being the eternal, obedient Son who selflessly offers himself as an offering and thus fulfilling all that the Aaronic priesthood anticipated.46

Eschatological Themes The use of a literary approach also sheds light on Hebrews emphasis on eschatology. Even though Hebrews is not an apocalyptic book, yet the author does argue for the tradition of the futuristic two-age eschatology characteristic of the apocalyptic writings. The prophets of the Old Testament hastened the coming of Gods saving act where he would usher in his kingdom. The apocalyptic authors stress the evil that exists in this world/age dominated by Satan and the cataclysmic, world-changing nature of Gods coming salvation that would inaugurate the new age of divine rule.47 The book of Hebrews concurs with the authors of the New Testament that Gods intervention takes place in two stages. The first stage takes place when Jesus comes to fulfill the Levitical sacrificial system and completely removes sin (Jer. 31). The second stage

44 45

Cockerill, 24. Ibid., 25. 46 Ibid. 47 Ibid.


is when Jesus comes again, the second coming, where he will usher his own into the final gift of salvation (see Heb. 1:13; 2:5-9; 9:26-28). At this time will be the final Judgment Daypunishment of the wicked and reward of the righteous who will enter into Gods eternal kingdom (12:25-29).48 The book of Hebrews seems to have some connection with the Jewish apocalyptic, non-canonical books such as 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, and 4 Ezra. These three books tended to combine belief in an already existing heavenly eternal world with commitment to a future, world-shaking in-breaking of the kingdom of God. The various texts that are part of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm this combination.49 While there may not be any connections between Hebrews and the Neo-Platonism and dualism of Philo, a first-century contemporary Jewish exegete, both Hebrews and Philo seem to utilize the same variants of the Greek text of the Old Testament not found in the LXX. 50 The author of Hebrews quotes extensively from the Old Testament, some twenty-eight times he quotes from the Greek Old Testament using an introductory formula such as somewhere it says. The preacher quotes twenty-five of these passages once, two of them (Ps 2:7; Jer 31:3134) twice, and one (Ps 110:4) three times, making a total of thirty-two quotations.51 The

quotes the preacher makes helps contribute to the rhetorical structure of this sermon. 52 These quotes form the basis for his teaching on Christ and salvation. These passages undergird his warnings. In accordance with the rest of the New Testament pattern, the book of Hebrews


Ibid., 25-26. Ibid., 26. 50 Ibid., 26-34, 29. 51 Ibid., 42. 52 Ibid., 42-43.


may allude to or echo other literature but quotes only from the canonical books of the Hebrew Old Testament canon.53

Use of Periodic Sentence Definition and Usage of Term The term periodic sentence refers to a carefully structured statement in which a balance is created by word order, or syntax, that may be described in terms of a path around or literally to go around in a circle and return back where the sentence began. According to the rules of the ancient rhetorical handbooks, the foundation stones of the periodic sentences are the clauses (kommata = brief phrases and kola = complete clauses) antithetically, while others employed parallelism or a series of subordinate clauses. Most of these handbooks (written by men such as Aristotle, Theophrastus, Demetrius, and Cicero) all gave attention to the periodic sentence.54 Demetrius argues, in his Elco. 16-18, that the periodic sentence is composed of two to four clauses or kola. This refined style gives grandeur to a speech, according to Eloc. 45-47, but the literary style is inappropriate for letters (Elco. 229). While the apostle Paul does occasionally demonstrate such stylistic refinement (see 1 Cor. 13; 2 Cor. 4:16 -18), yet he does not employ the periodic sentence. One finds in Lukes prologue to his gospel a good example of this style. The author of book of Hebrews also uses the periodic sentence in Heb. 4:12-13; 5:7-10; 7:1-3; and 12:18-24.55

Ibid., 43. James W. Thompson, Hebrews, Paidea Commentaries On The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 6. 55 Ibid.



Usage of Synkrisis or Comparison in Hebrews No other New Testament book uses comparison more than that of the book of Hebrews ( , better than). The ancient Greek and Roman rhetorical theorists defined synkrisis

as a comparison for the purpose of evaluation.56 The particular comparisons could take the form of comparing the good with good, or the bad with bad, or even the good with bad. The synkrisis rhetorical device could be used in speeches of either praise or blame. The fourth century B.C. rhetorician Aphthonius helped develop synkrisis in such a sway so he could compare fine things with good things or poor things beside poor things (according to Prog. 3). Nicolaus claimed, Our subjects will be great when they seem greater than the great (Prog. 61).57 The topics rhetoricians would cover in using this method of comparison or synkrisis of individuals would be birth, ancestry, education, health, strength, and beauty. This rhetorical technique was taught to young teenagers in the academy. In the Parallel Lives of Plutarch, he made a comparison of Greek and Roman leaders, which was a major example of extended synkrisis.58

Usage of Inclusio in Hebrews The term inclusio or inclusion comes to us from the Latin and means imprisonment, confinement, or a shutting off. This literary term is used for similar wording placed at the beginning and end of a section as a framing device.59 This rhetorical feature is a signal to

Ibid., 13. Ibid. 58 Ibid. 59 Ibid. Richard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, Fourth Edition (Louisville: Westmister John Knox Press, 2011), 35.



the reader that the unit is complete.60 In some cases an inclusio marks off the place for a digression from a subject to which the speaker returned, while in other instances the repetition was helpful as emphasis in oral address.61 At times inclusion sets off smaller units of scripture, as in Matt. 6:19-20: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures but lay up for yourselves treasures 62 The usage of inclusio also sets apart larger units, as in the case of Matt. 7:16-20, where Jesus begins and ends with the phrase, from their fruits you shall know them. The teaching that falls in the center or middle of an inclusion is like the ham inside of a ham sandwich. The beginning and end act like the bread on the outside of a sandwich.63 The book of Hebrews contains several long and short sections set off by inclusio. The author of Hebrews does not always place the key words at the very beginning and the very end of a unity, since the writer often follows the end of the inclusio with a connecting sentence that relates one unit to the next. These connecting clauses often affect the beginning sentence of a unit in the same way. In other words, the author often repeats the same word at the end of a unit to bring the readers mind back to the beginning.64 An example of such a connecting unit or clause is in Heb. 1:4 ( ), which connects Heb. 1:1-3 ,66 Other

with vv. 5-13. The catchword that ties these two units together in v. 4 is

examples of inclusio from the book of Hebrews are: Heb. 1:3, 13 (right hand of God), 3:12, 19

Buchanan, xxv. Thompson, 13. 62 Buchanan, xxv-xxvi. 63 Ibid., xxvi. 64 Neil R. Lightfoot, Jesus Christ Today, a commentary on the Book of Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 47. 65 Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Marini, and Bruce M. Metzger, The Greek New Testament, Fourth Rev Ed (Stuttgart: Duetsche Bibelgesellschaft/United Bible Societies, 1994), 741. 66 Buchanan, xxvi.



(unfaithfulness), 4:14; 5:10 (high priest), 8:7-13; 10:16-17 (new covenant). In the first two major sections of Hebrews (1:1-4:13 and 4:13-10:31), these sections are framed by using inclusio.67 There are also examples of longer or more extended inclusions. In Heb 3:1-4:14, this unit contains terms like heavenly, or Jesus, or high priest, and confession. This same section finishes up with almost the exact same terms such as high priest, heavens, Jesus, and even confession. The use of extended inclusio is also found with high priest in Heb. 5:1-10, sluggards in Heb. 5:11-6:12, the use of Melchizedek and met in Heb. 7:1-10, and the term peace in Heb. 12:14-13:20.68 Hook words or key phrases are often used along with inclusion at the beginning and ending of sections to tie the theme together and also as a lead in to the next section. An example of such hook words are: (1:4) angels angels (1:5) (2:13) children children (2:14) (2:17) faithful faithful (3:2) (2:17) high priest high priest (3:1) (3:19) enter entering (4:1) (4:5) enter enter (4:6) (4:14) have have (4:15) (6:12) promises promise (6:13) (8:13) the first the first (9:1) (9:23) heavenly heaven (9:24) (10:39) faith faith (11:1) (11:7) heir inheritance (11:8) (11:39) having been witnessed to witnesses (12:1)


Thompson., 15. Lightfoot, 48.


(11:40) us us (12:1) (12:24) speaking ,,, speaking (12:25).69

The use of inclusio and these hook words act like book ends on a book shelf to help keep the thoughts and arguments of the author in line. Without the use of rhetorical analysis in New Testament Studies, the reader or interpreter would miss out on this literary nuance. One can easily see how a thematic approach would not follow the flow of an authors arguments in a letter.

Chiasmus. Another important rhetorical device is known as chiasmus, based upon the Greek letter which is used to symbolize the inverted sequence or crossover of parallel words or ideas in a bicolon (distich), sentence, or larger literary unit. Others prefer the term inverted parallelism to describe this feature.70 Like the inclusion, these form a sandwich-like expression, but in a much more precise way than the inclusion requires.71 The basic pattern of chiasm is: a, b, b, a. In Matt. 19:30, Jesus proclaims, many first ones will be last/ and the last first. In this passage, first ones (A) and first (A) parallel one another, and in the second part will be last (B) and the last (B) parallel each other. Here in Matt. 19:30 the chiasm occurs again in Matt. 20:16, thus forming an inclusion with a chiasm at both ends (another example of this feature is Matt. 10:28; Matt. 12:49-50).72

69 70

Ibid., 48-49. Soulen and Soulen, 35. 71 Buchanan, xxvi. 72 Ibid., xxvi-xxvii.


In Heb. 4:16b, we find an example of Buchanans definition of chiasmus in the Hebrew epistle. The text reads: (A) (B)/ (B) (A).73

Roughly translated, So that we might receive (A) mercy (B) and grace (B) we might find (A). The phrase we might receive parallels we might find, and the term mercy is synonymous with that of grace and both from a hendiadys here. 74 The chiasm can also

take the form of a, b, c, c, b, a (four parallels instead of just three). In Heb. 12:2, there is also example of chiasmus with the pattern of a, b, c, d, d, c, b, a.

A B C D * D1 C1 B1 A1

The Greek New Testament, 749. Buchanan., xxvii. 75 Ibid., 41. The Greek New Testament, 4th Rev. Ed., 773. Estella B. Horning, Chiasmus, Creedal Structure, and Christology, in Biblical Research 23 (1978): 38.



Use of Rhetorical Persuasion The way orators crafted their speeches (both oral and written) help in persuading or convincing their audience of their position. Books were written training rhetoricians in this art. First of all, in ancient speeches there is the introduction or exordium where the speaker intends to introduce his particular topic and make the audience favorably disposed. Secondly, there is the narration or narratio of the speech that consists of the facts pertaining to the case.76 Third, there is the probatio or the main body of the argument where the orator would give his proofs and then finally the preoratio or the concluding section where the speaker would summarize the speech, often with increased emotional intensity.77 Orators would use a technique known as hook words in lengthy speeches or literary writings to tie the message into one unit. The term hook word refers to the device of linking apparently unrelated topics together by concluding one section with the topic for the next unit of the book. Hebrews does this rather well.78

Conclusion The traditional approach to understanding the structure from a thematic perspective seems to lack the tools needed to interpret such a complex literary work. The newer literary approaches see the need to read the New Testament through the lenses of rhetorical criticism. There is much evidence that points to ancient writers using rhetorical techniques to persuade their audience. If there is any example of this going on in the New Testament, there is no doubt

76 77

Thompson., 16. Ibid. 78 Ibid., 14.


the author of the Hebrew epistle does utilize rhetoric to persuade Jewish-Christians not to abandon their faith and go back into Judaism. While some scholars may disagree on how the book should be outlined and even some approaches may press the rhetorical point of view too far, still this approach far outweighs the past hermeneutical stance. The book of Hebrews is much more than an apologetic or dogmatic work. This letter is a Christian homily in written form that borrows somewhat from each of the three types of rhetoric: judicial, epideictic, and deliberative. Such a complex book deserves to be read from the point of view of the original author so that the modern interpreter does not reach conclusions never meant by the inspired writer.


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