Barry Newman's Blog

October 27, 2012

The Sacraments (part XII)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 9:56 pm

Re: Hebrews 13: 10

In chapter 13 the writer to the Hebrews exhorts, “Do not be led astray by diverse and strange teachings.  For it is good for the heart to be strengthened with grace, not meats which have not profited those who have ‘taken that line’. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin, are burned outside the camp.” (13: 9 – 11).

The idea that this text is in part a reference to partaking of a meal considered to be “the Lord’s Supper” stems from the use of the word “altar”.  Mention has been made earlier to the reference to “table” in 1 Corinthians 10.  In that instance “table” probably refers to a meal placed upon a table.  Certainly 1 Corinthians 10 also makes mention of an altar but there a general argument is being made that when one eats sacrifices one is closely associating oneself with the character of the altar upon which the sacrifice is being made. (10: 18 – 20) The point being made relates to not eating food that has been offered to idols.

If we understand the reference to “altar” as a reference to a special table set aside for what is thought of as “the Lord’s Supper’ we are in danger of viewing what happens at what is being considered  “the Lord’s Supper” as involving a sacrifice again of Jesus, either in a spiritual or physical sense.  This Jesus however is the one who died once for all. (Rom 6: 10; 1 Pet 3; 18)

The writer to the Hebrews at this point in chapter 13 is concerned with his readers not being drawn into false teachings which seemingly focus on or are predominantly concerned with what one eats.  In his reference to “those who serve the tent” we are surely meant to assume that these false teachings emanate, at least mainly, from a Jewish quarter.  The writer simply wants to indicate that for “us” and in reality, things are radically different from a Jewish legal perspective. In “our” case, “we” have an altar (as though there is one) which they (who only see things from that perspective) have no right to.  The writer goes on, “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.” (13: 11) The statement drives us to recognise that such bodies being burnt are not available for eating. It is probably a further way of indicating that “they have no right to eat from our ‘altar’ – for in their case, they could not even partake of the animal food in those sacrifices”. And then as he marvellously develops his thought, the writer refers to “Jesus who also suffered outside the camp …” and then says, “Let us go to him outside the camp and bare the abuse he endured.” (13: 12, 13).

Typically the writer uses images from the Law to convey new kingdom realities.  In this case his prime concern is the instruction to resist false teaching emanating primarily if not entirely from Jewish opponents recognising that as a consequence one might well suffer but this would be only to affiliate oneself with Jesus who suffered and indeed suffered for our sins.  It is not at all obvious that the reference to “altar” is a reference to something associated with anything considered to be like “the Lord’s Supper”.

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