The Use of Perfection Language in Hebrews 5:14 and 6:1 and the Contextual Interpretation of 5:11-6:3

By Hill, Craig Allen | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2014 | Go to article overview

The Use of Perfection Language in Hebrews 5:14 and 6:1 and the Contextual Interpretation of 5:11-6:3


Hill, Craig Allen, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


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Two issues that have warranted considerable attention in scholarship surrounding the Epistle to the Hebrews are the concept of perfection as well as the ominous "warning passages." It would seem that these two debates meet in the parenetic section of 5:11-6:12. Possibly the most infamous of the warning passages (Heb 6:4-6) is contained in this section as well as two instances of perfection language (... in 5:14 and ... in 6:1). Although a clear understanding of the various forms of the ... word grouping would indeed have something significant to contribute to the discussion surrounding this warning passage, scholarship has to a certain degree failed to recognize the importance of this passage from the perspective of the theme of perfection.* 1

I. PERFECTION LANGUAGE IN HEBREWS

There are fourteen different occurrences of the derivatives of ... and ...) in one form or another in Hebrews.2 The occurrence of these is as follows: ... (5:14; 9:11), ... (6:1), ...) (2:10; 5:9; 7:19, 28; 9:9; 10:1, 14; 11:40; 12:23), ... (12:2), ... (7:11). In the New American Standard translation all occurrences, with the exception of 5:14 and 6:1, are translated as "perfect," "perfected," "perfecter," or "perfection." Only in the previously mentioned passages does the translation carry the connotation of mature or maturity instead. Du Plessis argues for the "elastic adaptability" of the term in biblical and extrabiblical usage.3 The question still remains to what extent the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews calls on such elasticity of meaning.

Is the author intending that... and ... ought to carry with them the concept of maturity in 5:11 and 6:1 when all other passages seem to be holding a stronger connotation of perfection? Even if in these instances a translation of "mature" or "maturity" is appropriate, can the term be interpreted in light of its overall thematic usage in Hebrews? According to Silva, the concept of perfection and the usage of the term ... are of more than just casual importance to the author.4 Could the ... word grouping be used consistently throughout the epistle in a way that would maintain the force of "perfection" but could also accommodate the context of 5:11 and 6:1?5

This paper seeks to demonstrate three things. First, ... and its cognates are used in a consistent sense throughout the epistle to make explicit statements of either the perfection of the new covenant and the elements thereof or the imperfection of the previous covenant and its elements. Second, a different paradigm of interpretation ought to govern 5:11-14, shifting away from the discussion of Christian immaturity versus Christian maturity and toward a discussion of covenantal imperfection versus covenantal perfection. And finally, such an interpretation should be carried over into the exegesis of 6:1-2 to the effect that in the foundation (...) of "the elementary teachings about the Messiah" (...) the author is referring to beliefs accepted as foundational by means of the previous covenant rather than elementary "Christian" teaching.

II. PERFECTION/IMPERFECTION DUALISM IN HEBREWS

When a critical consideration of the theme of perfection is undertaken in the Epistle to the Hebrews, it should be noted, as Wikgren does, that the author is using a dualism of ideology.6 That is, whenever the author uses "perfection" terminology, there is always an implied or explicit "imperfect" that corresponds. Typological interpretation and application of the OT is common in Hebrews. This is exemplified by several antipodal pairs, type-antitype pairs that form prominent expositional sections of the epistle.7

It is this dualism, which raises many questions,* * 8 that provides answers to the particular questions raised regarding the interpretation of ... in 5:14 and ...: in 6:1. It is important to note that in considering the theme of perfection in Hebrews, every usage of the . …

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