The Use of Exodus in Hebrews

Written by King L. She Reviewed By Michael Kibbe

The goal of this book, a revised version of the author's dissertation (Dallas Theological Seminary), is to examine the prescriptive ontology that Hebrews derives from its use of Exodus (p. 9). To be more specific, it examines the foundational role that Exod 3:14 (alluded to in Heb 11:6) and Exod 25:40 (cited in Heb 8:5) play in the epistle's broader conception of the God-world relation.

The book opens with two basic premises. First, the current diversity in Hebrews scholarship is a “crisis of faith” (i.e., diversity of interpretation) resulting from the fact that Hebrews scholars have read Hebrews descriptively but not prescriptively (exactly what the author means by “descriptive” and “prescriptive” is unclear) (pp. 5, 94, 121, 157). Second, the necessary model for reading Scripture prescriptively has been offered in the work of Fernando Canale; the “crisis of faith” indicates that scholars have not paid sufficient attention to Canale (pp. 7, 57).

Following from these premises, She claims the primacy of Exodus for a prescriptive reading of Hebrews. First, the ontology of Hebrews is founded upon the divine nature of Jesus, “Christ as YHWH”-this is the substance of the “confession that the recipients of Hebrews are in danger of deserting” (p. 19). Since divine ontology is the central problem in Hebrews and the ontology of Jesus is derived from its allusion in Heb 11:6 to Exod 3:14, that allusion is the centerpiece of the epistle (p. 165). Second, Exodus also undergirds Hebrews' perspective on the God-world relation through its citation of Exod 25:40: “see to it that you do everything according to the pattern you saw on the mountain” (p. 46).

This multifaceted dependence on Exodus leads to further conclusions. First, the central background of Hebrews' rhetorical situation is that of the golden calf incident-this is how Hebrews defines apostasy (pp. 27, 29, 144, 149). Second, Hebrews is entirely, in She's terms, “autopistic” (dependent on biblical concepts) rather than “axiopistic” (dependent on extra-biblical concepts, i.e., natural theology and philosophy) (pp. 53-55, 111).

The contribution of this book is largely in the issues it raises. How do NT books reflect the ontology of their OT sources? Does diversity of interpretation imply a “crisis of faith” for evangelical readers of Scripture? What value may we place on pre-modern biblical interpretation in light of its metaphysics?

Beyond these stimulating questions, however, this book is extremely weak. Consider, first of all, She's dependence on Canale. She assumes Canale's version of the Hellenization thesis without mentioning a single pre-modern source, claiming, “Scriptures have never [prior to Canale] been accorded the foundational role in Christian reflection about God” (p. 59), and referring to Canale's 1983 dissertation, “Biblical ontology (pedagogy) does exist and it was born in 1983” (p. 78). She goes on to suggest that, for classical (i.e., pre-Kantian) theology, “the pre-existence or theophany of Christ in the OT is not real because it is understood as a timeless divine entity” (p. 107), and “[c]lassical theology is contrary to Auctor's ontology for he is convinced of the reality of history and its significance for eternity” (p. 93).

Second, one finds repeated misuse of secondary sources. She cites scholars as supportive of an argument when in fact the cited piece says nothing of the sort (e.g., Hafemann on pp. 31-32; the correlation of Canale and Seitz on pp. 35-36; Thiele on pp. 40-41; McKnight on p. 57; Sterling on p. 122). He cavalierly dismisses Hays on intertextuality (pp. 65-66) as well as numerous Hebrews scholars (e.g., Son, Emmrich, Gelardini, pp. 166-68) simply because they understand the NT to interact with extra-biblical sources. He also constantly argues that a point is valid because “scholars” have argued it, and a glance at the footnote reveals one or two unpublished dissertations as constitutive of “scholars” (pp. 15, 64, 130, 136, 151, 159).

Third, the interaction with Hebrews' use of sources is sorely lacking in scholarly rigor. Intertexts, for She, are solely based on the notes in the NA27 (pp. 11, 35). Hebrews could not have formulated its Christology in conversation with any extra-biblical sources because Second Temple Judaism did not have a high Christology (p. 157). Hebrews must be using Exodus because the two share some common cultic terminology (even though the same terms are found in droves in Leviticus and Numbers as well) (p. 38). The suggestion that “[t]he most important allusion is Exod 3:14 (Heb 11:6) because it serves as the ontological marker to indicate the identity and activity of God in biblical history” (p. 48) would, in theory, be a powerful claim with serious ramifications for further study of Hebrews, but She makes no argument on its behalf.

Fourth, the book contains numerous outlandish claims and unwarranted personal attacks. For example, She claims that scholars have misunderstood Canale because Canale told him so in a personal conversation (p. 57). On another occasion, “It is well-known that main stream evangelical seminaries advocate the multiplicity of sources as the foundation of theology,” and “bible students are 'instructed' to construct doctrines in light of the creeds of church councils lest they be branded heretics or are unable to graduate with their theological degrees” (pp. 58-59). The role of the creeds in the contemporary church is certainly a matter of debate; to so quickly dismiss them altogether is unwise.

In conclusion, I could not disagree more strongly with the presuppositions, content, and conclusions of this book. The use of Exodus in Hebrews is a topic worthy of our attention, and as such it deserves better treatment than She provides.

Michael Kibbe

Michael Kibbe
Moody Bible Institute
Spokane, Washington, USA

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