Old and New Testaments: Deuteronomy 32 in Hebrews


The book of Hebrews has prominence in the Hermeneutics for its intertextuality with the Old Testament scriptures. The Book of Hebrews starts as a Sermon and ends as letter. Though there is a much debate on who the author is, the book of Hebrews has significance as it offers base for commentary by having old testament references for a total 82 scriptures including 29 quotations and 53 allusions.

There are different opinions on the usage of Old Testament scriptures that makes one to consider different reasons. According to Ronald Clements as cited in Wayne T Slusser, the usage of OT scriptures addressed the assumed familiarity and knowledge for the reader of Hebrews. Most of the scriptures directs the reader to point to Jewish thought and worship.

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The other purpose in the mind of writer on the intertextuality can be to illuminate the Christian doctrine in the reader. The richness of God and Word of God and the revelation of God is clearly inscribed in the book. Also a clear and concise interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures was given by the Author himself across the chapter.

The intertextuality between the Book of Hebrews and Old Testament also passes many valuable necessary theological themes on Christology, eschatology and Christian life etc.

The list of themes that are covered in the Book of Hebrews can be funneled in the following way:

  1. The Character of God in the context of pre modernity pre-modernity,
  2. Presentation of straightforward timeless truths on the creation,
  3. Straightforward stories from the Old testament on the heroes of Faith,
  4. As prophetic scriptures for the contemporary audience,
  5. Shadowy illustrations of the future,
  6. Parabolically/allegorically narrated corrections,
  7. Inscriptions directly to the audience through God’s Holy Spirit.

Such features made the book of Hebrews distinctions from our contemporary hermeneutics significant for hermeneutics purpose.

Darell L Block, observes the intertextuality between Testament and Old Testament under Four conditions of applicability. They are, “dual authorship, language-referent, the progress of revelation, and the problem of the differing texts” used in Old Testament citations by their New Testament fulfillment(s). The Quotations from the book of Deuteronomy which are used in the book of Hebrews can be well understood on the above implications observed by Darell L Block.

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Dual Authorship

This concept emphasizes that God cannot intend more than the intention of the author through which the revelation is given. So it attributes authority to the man along with God to the inscribed scripture. What is been revealed through the Prophet is the intention of God. Even though God may have a greater understanding about the intention of the passage; the prophet must understand and should acknowledge the same and has to reveal or write what he was trying to say. The concept of “generic promise” gains importance in such instances. Such Dual authorship can be observed under the approach sensus plenior or references plenior.

S. Lewis Johnson and Elliott E. Johnson as cited in Darell L Block., tries to establish a “firm link between God’s intention and the human author’s intention so that the Old Testament prophet’s message remains demonstrably the basis for the divine New Testament fulfillment.”

Supporting the ‘Dual Authorship’ and its reason Bock as cited in Daren Middleton, states that “the prophetic passages all draw on the human author’s words but that the human author did not always fully intend or comprehend the prophetic reference, while God did intend the full reference”.

Also Raymond Brown as cited in Wayne T. Slusser states “Let us apply the term Sensus Plenior (Fuller Sense) to that meaning of his (the Author’s) text which by the normal rules of exegesis would not have been within his clear awareness or intention but which by other criteria we can determine as having been intended by God.” However, this notification by Raymond Brown hints that the double meanings from God are revealed to different authors at different timings as the other sense is revealed to the later author.

Language-Referent

This specific hermeneutical issue emphasizes on the meaning of the exact wording of early scriptures pronounced in the later scriptures. This concept observes the definitions of the words used within the passages or at the level of the referents. Also the concept tries to identify the meaning at different levels like wording and in its context. Semantics is another area of involvement in this concept.

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Examples to such language reference between Old Testament and New Testament can be understood when many “earthly” contexts from the Old Testament were explained as “heavenly thrust.” For example, in Hebrews chapter 1, “the Son” in an ontological sense in referred from the Old Testament’s nonontological sense “son”.

The Progress of Revelation

This concept demands the attention of historical concerns. The issue deals with the historical evidence of the Jesus’ life and ministry as proclaimed in the Old Testament and as executed in the New Testament. Especially many scriptures on the resurrection and ascension were clearly narrated and linked from the Old Testament to New Testament to make the church understand the events.

Some authors observe such Old Testament scriptures as New Testament interpretations as Revelation on revelation of Jesus Christ and the Church. Such passages can be understood as progress of revelation as they interpret the fulfilled life of Jesus as prophesied earlier in the Old Testament scriptures.

Applicability of Sensus plenior

Sensus plenior is the presents the idea that certain biblical passages may have meanings not intended by the author but meanings intended by God. This idea holds justice in the instances where the authors deduct some texts or passage from Old Testament with relevance to the context of the New Testament Passage. Proponents of Sensus plenior believe that unless and until the Old Testament authors have a purpose to attribute meaning and intension to the God’s Words, they would not observe the idea. And they also believe that the text under the Sensus plenior will clearly transcend the original meaning.

However, Moo as cited in Darren acknowledges that Sensus Plenior has almost become short handed for an explanation of a text that cannot be explained by the simple grammatical-historical method. In other words, the additional meaning is not a grammatical-historical interpretation of the Old Testament passage alone, but it is the outcome of grammatical-historical interpretation of the companion New Testament passage. The Old Testament passage represents only one meaning, whereas the New Testament passage can be represented by two meanings, viz., one earlier and other later and fuller meaning.

So with this it can be understood that for a scriptural text to be observed as sensus plenior it must establish an appropriate relation between the ‘literal sense of the human author and the fuller sense intended by God’. This helps the text to avoid gaining the abuse as there is no limit to human interpretation.

Sensus plenior gives an additional or fuller meaning to the passage in New Testament than the original passage in its Old Testament setting. In other sense it can be called as an “application” as it does not eradicate the literal meaning of the earlier Old Testament Scriptures, but simply applies the Old Testament wording to the relevant context in New Testament.

When it is considered as Dual authorship, in understanding the Old Testament quotations in New Testament, The second or Sensus Plenior meaning could not be possible just by examining the Old Testament source of the citation alone, as sensus plenior is concerned and limited with the human discipline and interpretation.

The exegetical procedure adopted by the author of Hebrews in the first two chapters while trying to present the christocentric perspective is justifiable. The author of Book of Hebrews presents Christ as of one whom all the angels of God are to worship (Deut 32:43, LXX), and of one who is addressed as God by God, yet distinguished from God (Pss 45:6-7; 102:25-27; 110:1) in the first chapter of Hebrews.

Tim Clark stresses that, here the author of Hebrews is not venturing into ‘textual minutiae’, and also not claiming to interpret the original texts around the christocentric aspects. The author is trying to magnify the intention of God and presents Jesus as ‘Superior Saviour’ described in Deut 32: 43.

The Scriptures in Chapter of Hebrews are written in a very straightforward way and are making the scriptures in New Testament to claim the judgment proclaimed in the Deuteronomy 32:43, through the scriptures in the Hebrews chapter 1 through the illustration of nature of Jesus.

The scripture of Hebrews 1:6 is a direct quotation of Deut. 32:43 as in LXX. “But when he again brings his Firstborn into the inhabited earth, he says: “And let all God’s angels do obeisance to him.” (Heb. 1:6, 1984 NWT).

The author of Hebrews quotes the above scripture from the Septuagint Version of Deuteronomy 32:43; The verse “Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him; rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him;…” By examining the context of both Deuteronomy 32:43 and Hebrews 1:6, it is evident that the earlier author Moses refers about Jehova God, and the later author of book of Hebrews refers the same scripture to Jesus.

The intertextuality between the above two scriptures Deuteronomy 32:43 and Hebrews 1:6 can also be understood as prophetic revelation to Moses regarding Jesus, but which is only evident through the context in Hebrews 1:6.

The scriptures of Hebrews claims Jesus as King who has come to take vengeance. Another interpretation of the quote in Hebrews presents Jesus as God. The earlier Authors intention of Worshipping the Lord is carried up to the New Testament through, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM” (v. 6).

William Lane as cited in Tim Clark, says that “This well-known passage was subsequently removed from its context in Deuteronomy and adopted for liturgical use in the Temple, synagogue, and Church” (p. 28). William Lane also stresses that Hebrews 1:6 has ‘reference to the worship or homage due to God’. So it can be understood that the original author of Deuteronomy 32:43 is pointing towards worshipping the God. And the later author of Book of Hebrews at this point, begins theologizing, making the claim that Jesus Christ is God. The dual authorship of the intention is evident here.

There is another scriptural evidence of Sensus plenior between the Deuteronomy 32 and the book of Hebrews. The author of book of Hebrews cites the quotation of Deuteronomy 32:35 “To me belongeth vengeance, and recompense”, in Hebrews 10:30b. The earlier author presented it as a verse speaking about God, the character of God. But the in Hebrews the author presented it as a word of God.”

The author, David M. Allen, observed the analysis of Hebrews’ borrowing of Deuteronomy’s covenantal blessing/cursing imagery. The author discusses how sermonic tone positions the reader to their salvation goal. David M Allen also examines the ‘re-presentations’ of Deuteronomy, in the book of Hebrews, and concludes that Hebrews does not just use Deuteronomy; it becomes a “new” Deuteronomy.

References

Darrell L. Bock, Evangelicals and the Use of the Old Testament in the New Part 2. 2008. Web. 

Wayne T.Slusser, The Function of Psalm 110 in the Argument of Hebrews: An examination of the Uses of Psalm 110 found in the P Priesthood Section of Hebrews (4:14 -10:18). 2008. Web.

Darren Middleton, Divine Meaning and Authorial Intention: Sensu Plenior – A Blessing or curse for evangelical Hermeneutics? 2008. Web.

Tim Clark, New Testament Use of the Old Testament: A Case Study from Hebrews 1-2. 2008. Web.

Moyise, Steve, and Maarten J. J. Menken, eds. Deuteronomy in the New Testament: The New Testament and the Scriptures of Israel. 2008. Web. 

David Lincicum, Moyise, Steve, and Maarten J. J. Menken, eds. Deuteronomy in the New Testament: The New Testament and the Scriptures of Israel Library of New Testament Studies. 2008. Web.

Robert L. Thomas, The New Testament Use of the Old Testament. 2008. Web.

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