James Swetnam, «The Meaning of toi/j a)kou/sasin at Hebrews 4,2», Vol. 93 (2012) 601-608
The words toi/j a)kou/sasin in Heb 4,2 are frequently taken as referring either to the Israelites of the desert generation who, in contrast to the majority, did believe in God’s care, or to the Christians who, in contrast to the desert generation, do believe. After indicating why each interpretation is unsatisfactory, the note argues from the wording of the entire verse in the context of the epistle as a whole that the words refer to the Christians who heard the words of the Lord as he instituted the Eucharist. He is the one who, through the linkage of faith, makes entrance into God’s rest possible.
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606 JAMES SWETNAM
as colors, and, figuratively, of close union between persons 18. In the Septu-
agint it corresponds to the hithpael of the Hebrew verb br[ which means â€œto
establish a society, to make an agreement, to contract a marriageâ€. That is to
say, to enter into a close union between or among persons 19.
In the context of the explanation given above about the other words of
Heb 4,2, then, the meaning would be that the Israelites of the first Exodus
were unable to enter into Godâ€™s rest because they were not united in faith
with the first Christians who had heard the words of institution of the Eu-
charist. That is, they did not have the living presence of the Word with them
on their journey. The intention of the author of Hebrews, obviously, is not
to blame but to explain. The point is to emphasize for the addressees that if
they remain united in faith with the Eucharistic Word which accompanies
them on their new, spiritual exodus to Godâ€™s eternal rest, they will infallibly
enter into that rest. Success for the group is certain; failure is possible only
for the individual who falls away from the group (cf. 3,12.13; 4,1.11) 20.
The certainty of arrival into Godâ€™s rest for the Christians is, then, de iure
and not de facto 21. This corresponds to the pride of place given in Heb 1,1-
2 to the â€œspeakingâ€ of the Father in the Son, in contrast to his speaking in
the prophets. His final and definitive speaking in a son (the lack of an article
emphasizes the role of son as son, i.e., legitimacy) suggests that this speak-
ing is on a completely different level from previous speakings 22. Faith is
an essential condition for entrance, but faith is not the cause of entrance:
Jesus Christ in his Eucharistic presence and all that that implies is the cause.
It is he and he alone who makes possible, under God, the fulfillment of the
promise of land made to Abraham. (Cf. Gal 3,16.)
4) The meaning of the words introducing 4,2 have to be evaluated not
only in the light of 4,1 but also in the light of the rest of the words of 4,2. The
words kai. ga,r evsmen euvhggelisme,noi kaqa,per kavkei/noi may be translated
Cf. ELLINGWORTH, Hebrews, 243.
Cf. SPICQ, Lâ€™Ã‰pÃ®tre aux HÃ©breux, 81.
Cf. SWETNAM, â€œA Close Reading of Hebrewsâ€, 44.
Those who interpret the â€œwordâ€ which is being obeyed by the Christians
as the word of God in Scripture would seem to be obliged to fall into the de
facto camp. For faith would seem to be of its nature a condition and not a
cause, and the cause of success in the case of both the desert generation and
the Christian generation remains the same.
On the emphasis which the author of Hebrews gives to Godâ€™s speaking
in a son as contrasted to his speaking in the prophets cf. ATTRIDGE, Hebrews,
39. Attridge adds â€œGod, moreover, speaks through this Son not only in word
but in deed, in the entirety of the Christ-event, providing for humanity atone-
ment for sin and an enduring covenant relationshipâ€ (39). Attridge could have
noted that Christ himself becomes the new covenant, as the parallel between
the lo,goj which is the Mosaic Law and Christ as the Eucharistic New
Covenant in Heb 2,1-4 suggests.
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