Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Drama of Discipline: Toward an Intertextual Profile of Paideia in Hebrews 12

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Drama of Discipline: Toward an Intertextual Profile of Paideia in Hebrews 12

Article excerpt

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When the concept of discipline (paideia) is examined in the biblical writings, often an interpreter makes a choice between the punitive or educative sense of the term. Does it mean correction for disobedience or does it mean the process of education or training for a task? In Heb 12:3-11, this interpretive choice becomes critically important. The term paideia itself is one of the verbal elements that stitch the tapestry of this section together.1 In particular, determining the appropriate conceptual background that informs this concept is necessary for understanding its meaning and function in Hebrews 12. In contrast to other portions of Hebrews and other portions even of this passage, one might say Heb 12:3-11 has not received an inordinate amount of analysis. Accordingly, this study seeks to demonstrate the strategic significance of this passage, examine the nature of paideia, and then provide a profile of two OT contexts that likely inform the concept of discipline in Hebrews 12: the directly quoted context of the book of Proverbs and the less recognized intertextual backdrop of the book of Deuteronomy.


Why is it the case that Heb 12:3-11 is sometimes downplayed or neglected? Does this passage contain an "offensively banal piece of advice" as some readers might conclude?2 And, if not, what is its role in the flow of the discourse? In light of the tightly crafted nature of most of the letter, the function of the discussion of divine discipline in Heb 12:3-11 is an important interpretive question. Though N. Clayton Croy notes that this passage is sometimes neglected, he contends that it is not "inconsequential, a sort of epistolary backwater."3 Rather, in its synthesis and development of the themes of sonship, suffering, and perseverance, this paragraph unit expresses "supremely the letter's paraenetic aim: to reinvigorate the flagging faith of the readers."4 Matthew Thiessen also notes that "one is hard-pressed to find much discussion of 12.5-13."5 This study joins Croy and Thiessen (inter alia) in attempting to fill in a bit of this scholarly lacuna.

There are several sometimes neglected features of this passage that make it particularly prominent in this section. First, Heb 12:3-11 is the first paragraph unit following the rhetorical peak of 12:1-2.6 These justly famous first two verses of chapter twelve are the last of a long string of exemplars that populate the "great cloud of witnesses" in chapter eleven of those who endured various trials "by faith." As readers of Hebrews have always noted, this passage is a striking and stunning description of Jesus as one who has accomplished the perfect work of redemption by enduring the shame of the cross. After the Christological climax of the "author and perfecter" of our faith who ran his race with endurance for the joy set before him, the shift to paideia in 12:3-11 can seem abrupt and almost parochial. Though this shift is perhaps one of the reasons why the passage is sometimes neglected, it also represents part of its unique significance. What does the writer say when he has said all there is to say about the finished work of Jesus? The urgency of this question points to the critical importance of the passage.

Second, the center of this passage is the quotation of Prov 3:11-12, where the term and concept of paideia is introduced. Significantly, the writer fashions this particular quotation of Scripture as a forgotten exhortation (rcapaxA^O'swç). The task of exhortation is critical for the purpose of the letter.7 However, the writer only uses this expression to describe a written text one other place, when he characterizes his own composition as a whole as a ... . There in Heb 13:22, the writer urges, "bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly."8 Here in Heb 12:5, he urges, "you have forgotten" the ... that is "addressed to you as sons. …

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