The Most Shocking Verse in Hebrews?

The most shocking verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews? No, I’m not referring to that verse near the end of the epistle where the author, apparently seriously, refers to having written “briefly.”

I’m referring to Hebrews 10:19, which says “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place.”

I don’t think that Christians today, familiar with the fact that the author referring to the celestial “Holy of Holies,” are likely to be as jolted by this phrase in the way that the earliest readers of this letter would have been.

Especially if the temple still stood, but perhaps even if the letter was composed later, the fact remains that readers would have been familiar with the presence in the temple in Jerusalem of the Most Holy Place, where the high priest alone entered once a year on the Day of Atonement.

The high priest could scarcely be said to enter with confidence. It was, to be sure, a moment that was accompanied with awe and dread.

But even if the high priest did feel confident, they certainly didn’t take anyone else in with them. That was expressly prohibited.

And so, for those who knew the meaning of these words in reference to the earthly temple, the phrase would have been striking, even shocking, even if they knew it was a metaphor in this particular context.

And yet it failed to strike me just how shocking this statement would have sounded to first-century Jewish ears until very recently.

  • Andrew

    Perhaps it wasn’t so shocking because Greco-Roman ears were the ones hearing/reading it, not “first-century Jewish ears.”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Are you claiming to know this? If so, how?

      • http://historical-jesus.info/ Bernard Muller

        Yes, “Hebrews” was addressed to Gentile Christians, and NOT to Jewish ears. Explanations here:
        http://historical-jesus.info/hjes3x.html
        Then search on ” 28.1.5 “.
        Cordially, Bernard

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Perhaps. The author seems to clearly be a Jew steeped in Greek philosophy, and the recipients seem to be concerned with whether Jesus was greater than Moses, angels, etc., with no mention of the concerns Paul wrote about when addressing Gentiles, such as food sacrificed to idols.

          • http://historical-jesus.info/ Bernard Muller

            “Jew steeped in Greek philosophy”.
            He also knew well the Septuagint in order to draw out-of -context quotes & paraphrases for his own agenda.
            According to my own studies, he was Apollos of Alexandria, writing to the Corinthians.
            I also think Apollos was responsible for having Jesus pre-existent as a god, maker of the universe, Son of God, and offering himself as sacrifice for atonement of sin (all of these concepts found in Philo of Alexandria’s writings).
            These ideas got well accepted by his audience and Paul, sometime reluctantly and with delay, had to adopt most of them.
            All of that is explained on the webpage I indicated earlier.
            Cordially, Bernard

  • Aaron

    It doesn’t seem that shocking to me, because we are talking about “entering” the spiritual, heavenly Temple through prayer, not actually sauntering into the earthly Temple in Jerusalem. In Judaism, prayer is called the “[sacrificial] service of the heart,” and it is common to refer to prayer as entering the Temple and even the Holy of Holies. In Jewish practice one is instructed to see oneself in prayer as standing directly before the throne of glory.

  • Bob MacDonald

    James – I think you are right – it is shocking and would have been so to the initial hearers. But it is a critical aspect of the image of the tabernacle. The word in Tanakh that speaks to the similar gift to those who were pre-Jesus is ‘presence’.

    Whoever the epistle is written to – and I doubt that there is one answer that must be believed, the invitation is to all to approach and to enter. These keywords stand out (among many) in the homily.


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