Earl Doherty's use of the Epistle to the Hebrews
by Christopher Price
Another passage in Hebrews that proves troublesome to Doherty's theory is Hebrews 9:27-28, where the author discusses the second coming of Jesus Christ. Of course, because Doherty believes that early Christians expected Jesus to come to earth at the end of time, a description of that upcoming earthly visitation as a second clearly requires that Jesus has previously come to earth.
Either translation shows the obvious problem for Doherty it refers to a second coming of Christ. That this coming will be earthly and visible to all is confirmed by Doherty himself ("It is certainly the coming in glory at the End time that he has in mind").
Doherty argues every modern translation of this scripture is wrong. Contrary to every modern authority from diverse backgrounds, Doherty argues that 9:27 - 28 does not refer to a second coming, but to the first coming that follows Jesus's (nonearthly) death and offering. He says:
Basically, therefore, Doherty offers two arguments. First, any reference to a second coming would be intrusive because of the unspecified purpose of keeping 27 and 28 parallel. Second, one authority suggests this should be translated "next." Both arguments are complete failures.
A. Doherty's Translation is Contrived and Completely Unsupported
There is a reason Doherty has to reach back to the 1800s to find any support for his argument. Every modern translation or commentary I have been able to find rejects his interpretation. And, the overwhelming usage of the term in contemporary literature and in Hebrews itself is that the term means "second."
The only authority Doherty has been able to point to for his own personal interpretation is one commentary from the 1800s. In contrast, every translation I could find interprets this passage as either "second" (RSV, NRSV, NIV, NEB, KJV, NKJV, ESV, AMP, ASV, WE, YLT, WYC, DARBY) or, less seldom, "again" (CEV, NLT, LNT). I also reviewed several commentaries on Hebrews from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives and found none that translated this passage to mean "next" or "after" as does Doherty.
Even more damaging to Doherty's argument is the clear and overwhelming attestation that Ek deuterou means "second." The term "dueteros" is used throughout the New Testament to mean "second" (Matthew 21:30; 22:26, 39; 26:42; Mark 12:21, 31; 14:72, Luke 12:38, 19:18, 20:30; John 3:4, 4:54, 21:16; Acts 7:13; 10:15, 12:10, 13:33; 1 Corinthians 15:47; 2 Corinthians 1:15; 13:2; Titus 3:10; 2 Peter 3:1; Revelation 2:11; 4:7; 6:3; 8:8; 11:14; 16:3: John 3:4; 9:20, 11:9; 19:3). Out of 44 usages in the New Testament, the term deuteros is 38 times used to mean "second" and 3 times to mean "again." As for the author of Hebrews, he uses the term repeatedly and exclusively to mean "Second." The term is used four other times by the author of Hebrews. Every time it is used mean to mean "second." (Hebrews 8:7; 9:3; 9:7, 10:9).
As for the exact phrase, ek deuterou, is only used in the New Testament to mean "second." It never has any other meaning:
Accordingly, the evidence of usage in all other early Christian literature overwhelmingly supports a translation of "second."
B. The Use of "Second" is Not "Intrusive," but Necessary and Coherent
Doherty argues that the term "second" is intrusive because of the unspecified purpose behind a purported "parallel." I am sceptical that any "analysis" as subjective as this could overcome the overwhelming attestation described above. However, it is clear that if such an analysis could be produced, this is not the one. Doherty's purported parallel is contrived and unconvincing.
First, he argues verse 28 is best translated "Christ was offered once, and after that (next) he will appear to bring salvation." According to him, it must be translated this way because it must parallel verse 27, "first men die, and after that (or 'next') they are judged."
This translation fails because the author of Hebrews specifically chose a different term to indicate a different meaning. The term used in verse 27 to mean "after" is the Greek term "meta." If, as Doherty insists, the author meant to indicate the same sequence for Jesus in verse 28 as he did for mean in verse 27, why did he intentionally avoid using the same word, meta? I have been unable to find any reason other than the obvious one the author did not intend to recreate the same sequence and used a different term because he meant to say something different: second, instead of next. Rather than use "meta" the author uses a word he has elsewhere used four times to clearly mean "second." There is no ambiguity here. The author's word choice demonstrates that Doherty's argument is a contrived fallacy.
Second, the context of the passages clearly shows that the author means exactly what he says Christ will come a second time. Doherty misses the obvious connection between verse 26 and verse 28. verse 26 refers to Christ' first coming, verse 28 refers to his second coming (RSV):
Note the real focus of the author here. Jesus died once as an offering for sin. So to do men die once. verse 26 explicitly states that Jesus "appeared" before to died for humanity. verse 28 clearly refers to him "appearing" a second time to those he saved. The sequence is obvious, verse 26 is the first coming and verse 28 is the second coming. Clearly, the parallel is between both Jesus and man having to die once.
C. Doherty's Translation Ignores the Obvious Parallels with the Temple Cult
Doherty completely and inexplicably ignores the obvious symbolism here. Throughout Hebrews its author refers to the temple cult system of sacrifice and contrasts Jesus' sacrifice and authority as High Priest with the temple cult. That is why the author focuses so much on Jesus having only died once. Whereas the temple cult had to make sacrifices every year, Jesus' is superior because he only had to die once.
In verse 27 - 28, the author is continuing this comparison and symbolism. The High Priest of the temple cult would appear before the people in front of the Holy of Holies where no one else was allowed to enter. He would then enter the Holy of Holies with his sacrifice on behalf of the nation. Once inside, he would make his sacrifice. The people would wait expectantly outside for the reappearance of the High Priest. Why? Because the mere fact that he survived to leave the Holy of Holies meant that God had accepted the sacrifice.
This is being played out with Jesus. Just as the High Priest appeared before the people, so to did Jesus. Just as the High Priest took the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies, so to did Jesus. The joy that the Israelites felt at seeing their high priest reappear after the offering is actually recounted in Ben Sira 50:5 - 10). Just as the High Priest would reappear to confirm that God had accepted the sacrifice, so to will Jesus appear a second time to his people to show them that God has accepted his sacrifice.
(FF Bruce The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised) page 232)
(Homer A. Kent, Jr. The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary page 190)
Accordingly, Hebrews 9:27 - 28 refers, quite clearly, to the second coming of Christ.
V. Speaking in the Present Tense
Another argument that Doherty makes regarding Hebrews is that he sometimes uses the present tense to refer to the words of Jesus. Exhibit A:
First, Doherty's argument that the use of the present tense is strange or suggests Platonic ideas is simply wrong. In his otherwise favourable review of Doherty's book, Richard Carrier refuted this argument. In his "List of Problems," Carrier explains (note the non-awkwardness of my present tense to refer to something written in the past?):
(Richard Carrier, Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity)
Second, the passage at issue expresses some decidedly non-Platonic ideas. Far from being timeless and static, the author puts all of this in a chronological time frame. The law, although platonically "shadowy," is non-Platonically a shadow of "things to come." (Hebrews 10:1). Christ "comes into the world." These statements reflect Jewish eschatology, not Platonic philosophy.
(David A. DeSilva Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews page 317)
Third, the author of Hebrews explicitly speaks of the incarnation of Jesus into a human body (the term "soma" is used in the LXX, not the Hebrew Bible). Because the practice of animal sacrifice was inadequate, God prepared a body for Jesus so that he could be the once-for-all sacrifice that resolved the issue.
(William Lane Call to Commitment page 134)
Fourth, as I have discussed elsewhere, the Greek term used here is soma. Soma is Greek for "body" and it carries the same emphasis on physicality as does its English equivalent.
(Robert H. Gundry Soma in Biblical Theology page 50)
Finally, the author of Hebrews has a propensity to describe Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit as speaking in the present tense through scripture. Of course, this is hardly unusual because he believes that all three are eternal beings. The Old Testament "is the voice of God; and as a necessary consequence the record is itself living. It is not a book merely. It has a vital connection with out circumstances and must be considered in connection with him." (BF Wescott Hebrews page 477).
Doherty points to two important purported "silences" that are supposed to demonstrate that the author of Hebrews had no knowledge of any earthly ministry. Arguments from silence are notoriously tricky. Knowing what an author intended or considered when writing a particular letter is tricky enough. When you then start reading into what he did not say, you are venturing into very speculative territory. In any event, whatever value an argument from silence can be given, neither purported silence alleged by Doherty is persuasive.
A. The Last Supper
The first purported silence Doherty points to is the "failure" of Hebrews to mention the Last Supper.
Before wading into the substance of Hebrews, we should note that Paul, who was familiar with the Last Supper, only mentions it in one of his seven undisputed letters. I am sure that as creative as Doherty is, if it would suit his purposes he could come up with arguments as to why Paul should have mentioned the Last Supper in the other six letters. Whether Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, or Titus were written by Paul or some of his disciples or admirers, they were likely familiar with the Last Supper narrative Paul recounts in 1 Corinthians, yet no mention of it is found therein. As a result, we should take note of the caution of E.F. Scott. "The Lord's Supper is never mentioned.... Certainly it would be rash to attribute any deep intention to this reticence." (EF Scott op. cit. page 62).
Regarding the above argument, a comparison with Moses, not the Last Supper, fits in exactly with the author's theme. He is comparing the old covenant with the new one. Throughout Hebrews the Old Testament is used to foreshadow Jesus. The old covenants were inaugurated with blood. So too did Jesus inaugurate the new covenant with his own blood.
In any event, the author of Hebrews was likely familiar with the Pauline version of the Last Supper but neglected, for whatever reason, to make any use of it in this one letter. It was undoubtedly an important part of Paul's teachings to his churches, and we know that Paul was in contact with the Jerusalem Church and spent time with it. It is also clear that some of Paul's followers were important members of the Roman church. Hebrews was, most likely, written to or from Rome. The author shows some signs of Pauline influence. And, he is familiar with Timothy, Paul's companion. Given his familiarity with Pauline thought, Pauline friends, and churches influenced by Paul, it is extremely unlikely that he had never heard of Paul's version of the Lord's Supper. As such, his "failure" to use it was by choice or neglect.
Furthermore, it appears that there were two prominent versions of the Last Supper in early Christian circles--making it an old and well attested tradition. The first was Pauline and finds its way into the Gospel of Luke. The second is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Interestingly, Doherty uses the Matthew/Mark version to argue that the author of Hebrews must have used the Last Supper if he was familiar with it. It is more likely, however, that he was familiar with the Pauline version of the Last Supper:
Notably lacking from Paul's version is the statement that Jesus' blood is shed "for the forgiveness of sins." Instead, Doherty has to refer to the Matthew/Mark version of the Last Support to find this statement.
B. The Resurrection
As Doherty recognizes, the resurrection is clearly attested by verse 13:20-21: "Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen."
What is "brought up from the dead" if not a reference to the resurrection? Doherty has no answer to this question. Instead, he hints at it not being "original" to the text. He gives no support for this allusion. Nor does he list any authority that reaches this conclusion. Indeed, he gives it no attention whatsoever. It's an obvious throwaway. It is in all of the texts and no commentary that I have read while researching this book have suggested it is an interpolation (and I have reviewed quite a few).
Doherty's only other argument is that this reference uses a term related to a passage in the Old Testament. But so what? No Jew worth his salt writing to other Jews would ignore Old Testament parallels or verbiage when discussing a belief so central to their religion as the resurrection. Whether cloaked in Old Testament language or not, it remains a reference to the resurrection. It in no way suggests that the words do not mean what they mean.
Besides, the term is used elsewhere to clearly refer to the idea of being raised from the dead. Paul uses it in Romans 10:7-8 refer to the resurrection of Christ from the dead:
It is also used in the Septuagint to refer to the concept of being raised from the dead.
So we see that Hebrews clearly does refer to the resurrection of Jesus. And Doherty's "startling void" is nonexistent.
Having reviewed Doherty's comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews, we can see many the flaws in his conclusions and methodology. In bullet points, here are the lessons we have learned:
Bruce FF The Epistle to the Hebrews 1994
Carrier, Richard Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity 2002 (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.shtml - accessed 10/12/03)
Danielou, Jean 'The New Testament and the Theology of History,' in ed. Kurt
Doherty, Earl The Jesus Puzzle Canadian Humanist Publications, 1999
Hughes, Graham Hebrews and Hermeneutics Cambridge, 1980
Guthrie, Donald New Testament Introduction Intervarsity Press, 1990
Johnson, Luke T. The Writings of the New Testament Fortress Press, 1986
Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew (3 volumes) Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1991 -
Nairne, Alexander The Epistle of Priesthood Edinburgh, 1915
Scott, EF The Epistle to the Hebrews Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003
Wells, GA Earliest Christianity 1999 (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/g_a_wells/earliest.html - accessed 10/12/03)
Williamson, Ronald Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews Brill, 1970
Lampe, GWH. and KJ Woolcombe Essays on Typology London, 1957
Wright, NT The New Testament and the People of God London, 1992
Thayer, Joseph Thayer's Greek English Lexicon Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996
Painter, J., "World" in eds. Joel Green et. al. The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters Downer's Grove, 1993
Painter, J., "World, Cosmology," in eds. Gerald Hawthorne, et. al. The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels Downer's Grove, 1992
© Christopher Price 2003.