Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Perfecting of Jesus as High Priest upon the Cross

An investigation of how the LXX deals with the Hebrew concept of filling the hand has interesting implications for the concept of the perfection of Jesus in the letter to the Hebrews. Now perhaps you are wondering: what has the Hebrew idiom of filling the hand (see “Fill the Hand: A Hebrew Idiom of Ordination and Consecration”) got to do with Jesus’ perfection? Let me explain, and then you can let me know what you think.

The LXX translates the Hebrew idiom מלא יד in four ways. Firstly it can be translated using the expression ἐμπίπλημι τὰς χεῖρας to fill the hands. This occurs in Exod 28:41; Judg 17:5, 12 [Alexandrinus]. The second option simply uses πίπλημι rather than ἐμπίπλημι. This occurs in 2 Kgs 9:24; Ezek 43:26. The third option is for the Hebrew idiom to be translated using the expression πληρόω τὰς χεῖρας to fill the hands. This occurs in Exod 32:29; Jdg 17:5, 12 [Vaticanus]; 1 Kgs 13:33; 1 Chr 29:5; 2 Chr 13:9; 29:31. The fourth and final option is to translate this Hebrew idiom using the expression τελειόω τὰς χεῖρας to complete/consecrate the hands. This is the situation in Exod 29:9, 33, 35; Lev 8:33; 16:32; Num 3:3. Leviticus 21:10 also belongs in this category. It uses the perfect passive participle of τελειόω, but without the phrase τὰς χεῖρας.

It is this final option with the verb τελειόω that is quite fascinating. It is to be noted that τελειόω τὰς χεῖρας is what is found in Leviticus, and particularly in Lev 8, the chapter that deals with the ordination of Aaron as the high priest. The מלא root actually occurs seven times in Lev 8. In Lev 8:22, 29 mention is made of the ram of ordination אֵיל הַמִּלֻּאִים, which is translated in the LXX as κριὸς τελείωσις. In Lev 8:28 the baked wave offering is described as a consecration מִלֻּאִים to God. In Lev 8:31 mention is made of a basket of consecration סַל הַמִּלֻּאִים. Then in Lev 8:33, we have three instances of the מלא root occuring in close proximity: Moses is to command Aaron and his sons not to leave the tent of meeting for seven days, literally, until the day of the filling מְלֹאת of the days of your filling/consecration מִלֻּאֵיכֶם, because for seven days he will fill יְמִלֵּא your hand יֶדְכֶם.”

The LXX translates the first four instances of the מלא root in Lev 8 using the noun τελείωσις. In Lev 8:33, it translates מְלֹאת using the verb πληρόω, but it uses τελείωσις for מִלֻּאִים, and the verb τελειόω for יְמִלֵּא. We have to say, therefore, that the τελειόω family of words is very prominent in the narrative of the ordination of Aaron as high priest in the LXX.

My suggestion is that this use of the τελειόω group of words in Lev 8 is relevant for understanding the concept of the τελείωσις of Jesus in the letter to the Hebrews. This is because Lev 8 juxtaposes the concepts of consecration/perfection and priesthood, and Hebrews does likewise in relation to the perfection and priesthood of Jesus.

The τελειόω group of words is used in Hebrews in a number of places; but, limiting our investigation to instances where Jesus is explicitly the agent or patient of the action denoted by τελειόω, the τελειόω group of words occurs five times.
    ● The verb τελειόω is used in Heb 2:10 where it is said that God made Jesus perfect through sufferings.
    ● In Heb 5:9 τελειόω is again used to speak of how Jesus was made perfect, which follows on from the idea in v. 8 of Jesus learning obedience through suffering. Once again, the idea seems to be that Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross brought him to perfection in the sense that he completed what was necessary for him to be fully qualified to live in the presence of God and to function as a high priest for God’s people.
    ● The verb τελειόω is also used in Heb 7:28. Here Jesus is spoken of as being appointed as God’s Son (who has a priestly function), having been perfected eternally. The perfection in view here is presumably connected with his offering up of himself as a sacrifice, which is mentioned in Heb 7:27.
    ● The verb τελειόω is also used of Jesus’ eternal perfecting of believers through his offering up of himself: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14). If Jesus brought believers to perfection through his sacrificial death on the cross—note also the use of τελειόω in Heb 9:9 where it is implied that Jesus’ sacrifice is the only kind of sacrifice that can perfect those who worship God—then it makes sense to say that Jesus’ own perfection was achieved in a similar way, i.e., his death on the cross was the climax of the process of his perfecting, the process of the learning of obedience through suffering so as to qualify him to live in the presence of God and to function as a high priest.
    ● Finally, in Heb 12:2 the noun τελειωτής perfecter is applied to Jesus: he is “the author and perfecter of faith.” This presumably means that Jesus is the one who begins and completes faith in the sense that he is the one who has gone beforehand on the journey of faith, as well as being the one who has completed the journey of faith, enduring the cross, despising the shame (Heb 12:3). His perfection of faith makes our journey of faith possible, and gives it an assured destination.
All in all, the juxtaposition of the concepts of perfection and priesthood in Lev 8 and in Hebrews suggests that, in the mind of the author of Hebrews, Jesus’ ordination as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek formally took place at the cross. The cross was where the process of Jesus’ ordination as our great high priest was completed. The cross was where Jesus was filled with high priestly power and authority. He offered up his life as the אֵיל הַמִּלֻּאִים, the ram of ordination. In this way, by the singular offering of himself, he not only perfected himself for the office of high priest, but “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

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