Schreiner, Joslin discuss Hebrews ‘warning passages’ at Alumni Academy
The book of Hebrews urges believers not to fall away but instead to behold the excellencies of Christ, said two New Testament professors at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the Summer Alumni Academy, August 6-7.
“It’s worth it to stick with Jesus, no matter what happens, because he’s better; he’s better than anything or anyone else,” said Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern.
Schreiner and Barry Joslin, professor of Christian theology at Boyce College, lectured on the book of Hebrews at the Alumni Academy. Each has written a commentary on the epistle — Schreiner most recently in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation Series, while Joslin’s forthcoming work will be released in the Christian Focus Commentary Series in 2018.
Much of the challenge of understanding Hebrews lies in the many warning passages, which actually comprise the theme of the letter: “Don’t fall away, because Christ is a better priest, a better covenant, and a better sacrifice,” Schreiner said.
Schreiner traced the various interpretations of the warning passage in Hebrews 6 — including the Arminian view that Christians who fall away from the faith will be under God’s judgment, and the Reformed view that the warnings describe individuals who are “almost Christians” but haven’t fully believed. He then offered his own reading of the passage, arguing the warning passages act as the means of preserving elect believers from falling away.
“The warnings are always effective in the lives of the elect. God uses the warnings as a means to keep us [in the faith],” Schreiner said.
Joslin described his own struggles with the warning passages of Hebrews dating to his high school days. During his first year in the Th.M. program at Dallas Theological Seminary, Joslin decided he should finally wrestle with the book. Every day for the next three years, Joslin read commentaries, took reams of notes, and slowly walked through the text of Hebrews. Although there are difficult passages, they are not impossible for Spirit-indwelled believers to grasp, Joslin said.
“These are the Scriptures, God has given them to all of his people in every age. He intended them to be understood. They are not beyond the believer’s ability to understand,” he said.
Christians should push themselves to understand the Bible deeply and accurately, even the most difficult texts like Hebrews, Joslin said. While Hebrews requires a significant level of familiarity with biblical theology and extensive knowledge of the Old Testament, widely available resources make such understanding possible.
“There’s never been a time in church history where there’s been so many tools, from an extremely academic level to an extremely easy level, to understand the big picture of Scripture from Old Testament to New,” he said.
Since any interpretation of Scripture should focus on a fundamental “human concern” applicable to any generation of Christians, according to Schreiner, the interpreter of Hebrews should recognize that the human concern of Hebrews is cleansing from guilt. Just as the original hearers wanted to return to the Levitical cult (or the Old Testament sacrifices) for cleansing, modern believers will often feel tempted to fall away from knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Alumni Academy provides free ongoing instruction for alumni and prospective students of Southern Seminary. To find out more about the program, visit events.sbts.edu.