Sunday, February 14, 2010

Similarities in the Concept of Faith between Paul and the Author of Hebrews

In my post entitled “The Concept of Faith in Hebrews,” I suggested that the concept of faith of the author of Hebrews has both similarities and differences with that of the Apostle Paul. The suggestion was that Paul thought of faith as being particularly operative in the age of Abraham and in the age of the new covenant, and that he tended to think of old covenant Israel as being under the law rather than faith. I also suggested that this common Pauline usage contrasts with the way in which the author of Hebrews views faith as being normative throughout salvation history.

I believe that the differences that I have highlighted are there in the text, although we also need to note the similarities that exist between Paul and the author of Hebrews when it comes to faith. In the new covenant age, the concept of faith for both authors focuses on confessing Jesus as the Christ: the confession in Hebrews centers on Jesus as the Son of God (Heb 4:14), and in Paul the confession is “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9). Their description of faith in the life of Abraham is also very similar. Paul describes Abraham’s faith as being one that believed in the power of God to raise the dead, and to bring that which is not into existence (Rom 4:17). This is very similar to the language found in Heb 11:3, 19. When discussing Abraham’s faith, Paul also relates this to the divine promise given to Abraham in a manner similar to the author of Hebrews (compare Rom 4:17-22 with Heb 11:8-12, 17-18).

Furthermore, even though Paul typically reserves the operation of faith to the Abrahamic and new covenant epochs, it could be argued that following the example of the Old Testament he was also able to speak of unbelief as existing in Israel during the old covenant age (assuming that he also has Israel’s old covenant rebellion in view in Rom 3:3 and Rom 11:20, 23), which in turn implies a requirement for faith during the old covenant age.

All in all, I think that the situation is that when Paul is concerned to contrast the (holistic) old covenant idea of faith in God as mediated through Moses with the new covenant idea of faith in Christ, then he speaks of the works of the law in contrast with faith. Such a contrast is not evident in Hebrews, where the author prefers to use a series of qal vahomer (i.e., a fortiori) arguments, and a number of lesser versus greater contrasts, to encourage his readers to persevere as believers of Christ (e.g., Heb 1:1-13; 2:2-3; 3:3, 5-6; 8:1-2, 5-6; 9:11-14; 10:26-29): if the saints of old believed back then, then how much more should we believe now, given that a greater revelation has come with the coming of the Son of God? The substance is greater than its shadow. So don't revert to the shadow, but stick with the substance!

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