Monday, November 02, 2009

Is this a logical problem?

I'm still reviewing Barry C. Joslin's Hebrews, Christ, and the Law, and I'm struggling a bit to understand its logic. I earnestly welcome clarification from anyone who thinks they understand the logic behind this statement:
Drawing from the only other mention of Melchizedek besides Psalm 110:4, he describes his meeting with Abraham when Abraham was returning from the slaughter of the kings in Genesis 14. Hebrews is only concerned with Melchizedek insofar as much as [sic] he relates to Christ, and receives attention simply because his priestly office and this meeting with Abraham supply evidence for the writer's main thesis, viz., that there is a new priesthood that is superior to the old. (135–136; my emphasis)

Forget the grammatical problem in the middle of the quote; any work of this length and sophistication will suffer a few problems like this. Forget even the non sequitur at this quote's beginning, in which Joslin refers to Genesis 14 as "the only other mention of Melchizedek besides Psalm 110:4." Nothing about Genesis 14 is "the only other mention"; Genesis 14 provides the account of Melchizedek and Abraham, and Psa 110.4 is "the only other mention" of Melchizedek. But Joslin misses this because he isn't concerned with Melchizedek; he's only concerned about priesthood, and Melchizedek is a label that simply means "not-Levitical" (see 135, n. 7). The text might as well have said Christ is a priest forever according to the order of Gidget, and only the consonants מלכי־צדך [mlky-ṣdk] in Psa 110.4 prevented him from doing so.

But I'm struggling with the point that Joslin reads into Hebrews 7. Given the text's logic—that Levi was still in Abraham's loins when Abraham offered his tithe to Melchizedek and so Levi offered tithes to Melchizedek—I don't see how the writer's point could possibly be that Christ belongs to a new priesthood, and that this new priesthood is superior to the old one. If anything, it seems to me that Hebrews places the Levitical priesthood in the category new; Christ's priesthood, then, being according to the order of Melchizedek, is both older and, therefore, superior.

Am I missing something here?!

4 comments:

Don said...

"Am I missing something here?!"

Nope. Got it in one.

Daniel said...

I might be wring in understanding you but I think the problem you are having might be having is place the new priesthood/Melchizedek argument plays the overall argument of Hebrews. The author Hebrews is trying to convince his reader not to apostatize and go back to non-Messianic Judaism. The role the new priesthood argument plays is to show that in the Ps 110 David said that the Messiah would be King and Priest, but if that were so he could not be a Levite, but a Judahite, so there must be a different type of priest, one like Mel who is not Aaronic. And if there is a new priesthood, there must be a whole new covenant because the priesthood was inextricably bound up with the covenant. Since Jesus is that new priest, there is a New Covenant and the Old has passed away.

So Mel is not an old priesthood that Christ comes into, he is just a non-Aaronic/Levitical priest. If there is to be a new priesthood, it must be like Mel, i.e. non-Aaronic/Levitical.

Is that helpful or even what you were looking for?

carlsweatman said...

Yeah, I'm having a hard time seeing how Joslin got to that conclusion as well. Even if Joslin is using 'new' and 'old' ontologically rather than as linear reference points, the entire phrase still remains overly obscure.

Having not read Joslin's book, I can only make guesses: but I think he has forgotten or overlooked the pattern of logic that has been at work throughout Hebrews up to chapter 7 (and beyond). The comparisons are not necessarily about newer vs. older; instead, it appears to be about complete vs. incomplete--or dare I say: better vs. not. In each case where reference is made to the complete (better), which appears to be counterintuitive, the author employs an example (from the OT) to prove his case. Melchizedek is no different.

Sam said...

I used to think Paul was the master of the run on sentence, but this guy wins.

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