Book Review: Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today

coverpichebIn short, I highly recommend Edward Fudge’s new commentary on Hebrews.  I have found it intellectually rigorous, exegetically responsible, theologically rich and pastorally sensitive.

I review this book from the perspective of one who has taught Hebrews on numerous occasions in both academic and congregational settings.  In my own ministry I have attempted to do what Fudge proposes to do in this book: to marry the head, the heart and the hands of the interpreter as well as those of his/her audience.  That is, I, along with Fudge, propose to bring both intellectual rigor and spiritual vitality to the exegetical task.  In Fudge’s language, this is a “bridge commentary” for the “serious Bible student who seeks scholarly content in non-technical terms” (p. 19).  It is an attempt to do in print what all of us who are confessing Christian exegetes ought to do with our lives: to allow and foster and seek a dynamic relationship between the life of the mind and the life of faith.  In this effort I congratulate him, because in my estimation he has done very well.

The book is arranged in a straightforward and simple way.  He has divided the text of Hebrews into 48 pericopae.  This alone betrays careful thought and analysis of the letter and comparison of a vast amount of literature and commentaries (no two commentators divide Hebrews in quite the same way).  Each pericope forms the basis for a chapter of the book which contains a title, the text, a “Why and Wherefore” explanation and commentary proper under the subtitle “Unpacking the Text.”  I find this arrangement most helpful and natural for thorough exegesis in narrative form such as Fudge proposes.  As I read the thought occurred to me over and over again: Edward Fudge has not only studied Hebrews, he has taught Hebrews.

His exegesis is based on the Greek text, but the absence of Greek in this case is a plus since a majority of his intended audience likely do not have the capacity to grasp these sorts of technical grammatical discussions. Instead, Fudge has compiled (from KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, ESV and HCSB) what he terms The Common Version.  No matter what version of the Bible is used by members of a Bible class, there will be substantial agreement between it and the text used in this commentary.

The introductory chapter is brief and addresses only the most essential information preliminary to exegesis.  Since many of the introductory matters concerning Hebrews are hypothetical, there is no real loss in Fudge’s brevity; it is adequate for the task at hand.  His bibliography is substantial and reflects his wide reading across denominational and confessional lines.  He has interacted with critical, mainstream Protestant, conservative and moderate evangelical as well as Catholic monographs and periodical literature.  By my count there are 51 monographs, 83 articles and 25 other reference works.   He has examined much of the relevant literature on Hebrews published in English this century.  Of these there are 27 items from authors of Stone-Campbell persuasion.  There are, however, some omissions of Churches of Christ scholarship from his bibliography: Burton Coffman, George DeHoff, E. M. Zerr are commentators widely read in Churches of Christ but not found here.  Also of significance is R. H. Boll’s short monograph.  Missing are the Annual Lesson Commentary notes on Hebrews, the 2006 Freed-Hardeman Lectures (particularly Jack Lewis’ and Kevin Youngblood’s chapters), and the Transforming Word Commentary just out from ACU Press.

I read in detail his exegesis of these pericopae: 1.1-4; 4.14-16; 5.11-6.3; 6.4-12; 7.1-3 and 12.18-24.  Fudge has provided for us a responsible historical-critical exegesis grounded in the language and structure of the text, sensitive to the social and rhetorical situation in life of the authors and recipients (as far as is known or hypothesized) and, furthermore, one that is pastorally sensitive in its application of the message of the text.  Fudge examines well both what it meant for the original author and recipients and he attends to what this text means for Christians today.

Where the text is ambiguous, Fudge trusts his readers enough to let them know such.  When the text is open to a possible interpretations, Fudge fairly presents options in clear terms.  Whether or not one agrees with specific points of interpretation, it will be clear that he is fair to the evidence and supports his conclusions with exegesis and theology.  As I read, I noted that in those places where I disagreed I felt compelled to “search the Scriptures more diligently.”  I am not at all surprised this book has received favorable reviews across a wide Christian spectrum.  Fudge has done his homework and is fair to the evidence; he also has something to teach us, and does so with clarity, candor and earnest spiritual concern.

I am pleased to recommend it; and I shall be pleased to use it as the Lord gives me opportunity to teach and preach from Hebrews in the future.

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Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today

coverpichebEdward Fudge has a new book coming out.  Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is a narrative commentary intended to bridge the gap between scholarly discourse and popular exposition.  Tomorrow I will post to this blog my review of the book. Today though I will give the necessary info about how you can get your copy (my review will be positive: I think you should get a copy) and a few preliminary remarks Edward sent me.

Edward Fudge is an attorney, living in Houston, who cares deeply about the life of the mind and living out the faith in the marketplace.  His online presence is at www.EdwardFudge.com.  I first learned of him in high school (when I read his little pamphlet on tongues-speaking).  In college I came to appreciate his heritage in Churches of Christ from reading his autobiographical Beyond the Sacred Page and his scholarship in his earlier commentary on Hebrews (Our Man in Heaven) and in his in-depth study of endless punishment (The Fire That Consumes).  I have for years been on the receiving end of his occasional email ministry GracEmail.  It was through the email list that he announced his new book and asked for volunteers to read and review it on their blogs. 

The book will be available in print in a few weeks from Leafwood Publishers.  All the necessary information about how to get your copy is on the Leafwood website.

Here is a Q/A which covers the introductory bases well: 

A neglected book

 

Q:        Hebrews is not a book we hear discussed very often. Why do you suppose that is the case?

 

EWF:  You are right about that. This neglect is very unfortunate, in my view, because Hebrews is one of the most Jesus-focused, gospel-packed books in the New Testament. You will see the evidence for that on almost every page of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today.

 

Q:        Why do most people miss this focus?

 

EWF:  It comes from a lack of real study of Hebrews. Folks go away from it without ever seeing and appreciating the book’s real message. They assume it is just an old book about even older Jewish rituals, sacrifices and priests, with no meaning or value for them. 

 

Who wrote Hebrews?

 

Q:        Do you know who wrote Hebrews?

 

EWF:  I know as much about it as anyone else, which is finally nothing for sure! J Origen told the truth about two centuries after Christ when he said that the author “is known to God alone.” It almost certainly was not Paul, for a variety of reasons. My personal vote among the candidates goes either to Barnabas or to Apollos.

 

Q:        Why do you favor Barnabas?

 

EWF:  The author of Hebrews calls his own work a “word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22). The same Greek expression is found at Acts 13:15, where it is translated as “word of encouragement.” There, Paul and Barnabas are invited to address a Sabbath synagogue audience, which they do for the next 31 verses. Their remarks are called a “word of encouragement.” Not only is Barnabas involved in that, his name means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36) – a comment on one of his chief characteristics. He is also a Levite, who would be very interested in the subjects of priesthoods, sacrifices, and their results. These themes  permeate Hebrews and can also encourage us today, as I show in Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today.

 

Q:        What can you say in favor of Apollos?

 

EWF:  Well, for starters he is called “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). This fits Hebrews very well since its author clearly was exceedingly familiar with his ‘Bible,’ which was the “Old Testament” as we call it. (Hebrews actually tells the Story of the Son of God — from heaven to earth and back to heaven again — based on four different Psalms.) Apollos was also “an eloquent man,” as was the author of Hebrews). And he was from Alexandria, Egypt – a city of learning noted for a particular type of Scripture interpretation. The author of Hebrews reads his Bible in a similar manner.

 

 

Why was Hebrews written?

 

Q:        Do we know why Hebrews was written?

 

EWF:  Yes we do, although we don’t know exactly to whom, when, where, or precisely what was going on. But we do know that, for a variety of reasons, the original recipients of Hebrews were worn out, disheartened, tempted, and seemingly about ready to walk away from their faith. The book hints at some possible causes, including persecution, passing of time, being misfits in their culture, the appeal of sin, and so forth.

 

Q:        That situation sounds very up-to-date! How does the author of Hebrews respond to it?

 

EWF:  I love it! To revive his readers’ spirits and to renew their commitment, the unknown author re-tells the Story – the story of the Son of God who became a man, to live and die as our representative, and who is now in heaven representing us as our High Priest. Hebrews is thoroughly focused on Jesus! Its message is always contemporary. We can never go wrong by focusing on the Savior himself. I am very pleased that several reviewers have described Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today in those same terms.

 

A ‘bridge’ commentary

 

Q:        You call Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today a “bridge” commentary. What does that mean?

 

EWF:  When it comes to Bible studies, there are two worlds out there which often never come together. One is the ivory-tower world of academic specialists with all their scholarly issues and technical jargon. The other world is where most believers live and work and worship. Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today attempts to bridge this gap. For example, I worked from the Greek text of Hebrews but Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today doesn’t have a single Greek word in it. Although the bibliography covers eight pages and includes 80+ scholarly articles from theological journals, this book uses everyday language. By linking scholarship with simplicity, I hope to give the reader the best of both worlds.

                                                                                                                                    

A narrative-style book

 

Q:        You also describe Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today as a “narrative-style” commentary. Tell us about that.

 

EWF:  That refers to the fact that Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is written as flowing narrative, although it discusses each verse of Hebrews in detail. It does this in 48 chapters, each covering a portion of the Scripture text. Each chapter begins with a very short section called “Why & Wherefore,” which relates that section to the big picture. That is followed by “Unpacking the Text,” which goes into detail, but in narrative style, with subheads to make it read more like a typical book.

 

Endorsements

 

Q:        I see that Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is already endorsed by a considerable variety of notable scholars and church leaders, even before its release. Isn’t that a bit unusual?

 

EWF:  What is somewhat uncommon in the case of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is the theological and international diversity of the endorsements. Hebrews contains a number of quite controversial passages, about which Christian “tribes” traditionally disagree. I am very pleased, therefore, that this book is recommended by knowledgeable reviewers across the spectrum.

 

For example, the quotes on the back cover of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today come from Methodist, Calvinist, Church of Christ, Baptist, mainline Protestant, Pentecostal and Emergent church scholars. The full text of these seven endorsements, plus 29 others, fills the first six pages of the book. You can read the endorsements online already, with photos, biographical comments and (where applicable) website links of the reviewers here