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The Apologetics of Hebrews – Can You Defend a Dead Church?

In Hebrews 2:1-4 I believe the author of Hebrews provides a basic apologetic outline, and I think it’s a very useful one to follow. After the first two verses, which start from a platform that was already accepted by the audience, the author emphasizes the importance of the decision. If he is right in what he says, the decision is critical in an eternal sense. The elements are these: 1) It was delivered by the Lord, 2) Affirmed by the testimony of those who witnessed, 3) Given divine witness through (a) signs and wonders and (b) the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Looking first from the viewpoint of process, this argument, and indeed the general argument of Hebrews, is based on ground that will be accepted by his audience. They believed that the Torah was firmly established, and many, at least, believed that it was delivered by angels. Throughout the book, we have this focus on sourcing material from the Hebrew scriptures. Those who argue a simple supersession should pay attention to the form of the argument. At the same time as the author argues that Jesus is greater than, he also argues that the revelation in existing scripture is great and should be honored. Too often we fail to found what we have to say on what we already hold in common, when that can be supported.

The first element of his argument has two parts, the words spoken by Jesus, and the affirmation of those words by witnesses. For someone who tends fideistic like myself, this is a bit of a rebuke. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus spoke, or that there were those who heard. I’m even optimistic that we can get a picture of Jesus from the gospel record. But I tend to ignore that part of the argument and go straight to the experiential second part. This argument says that the faith is founded on historical realities, and that this is worthy of our attention.

The second element of his argument again consists of two parts, the signs and wonders that follow the gospel, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, delivered as God wills. I’m of course more comfortable here, as my experience (in particular) has much to do with experience (in general).

I was reading this from The Learning Bible (CEV) this morning, and saw that their note refers these signs and wonders (semeiois kai terasin) refer to past events (from the viewpoint of the readers), such as the exodus from Egypt. I would disagree. That is an element either of the first part, or more properly of the commonly accepted foundation of the Hebrew scriptures. Rather, this is the miraculous events/signs that followed the apostles as we read in the book of Acts, for example. It was by acting on behalf of his apostles that God affirmed their witness of Jesus, both in terms of the truth of the stories they told, and in terms of its continued relevance to those who heard.

The second part is the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is, I believe, the life of the church. We can see how critical this is in 1 Corinthians 12-14, for example, and I see this as a loose, but nonetheless real point of connection with Pauline theology.

It’s this last point that I think is the most important in the church today. I believe all these elements should be part of our apologetic, yet having a faith that truly takes hold of hope and makes it possible for one to live differently is, I think, the most important element, and is also the key point of Hebrews. If the church does not show evidence of the gift of the Holy Spirit I think that all the other elements will tend to fail. It is sort of like one builds a machine to accomplish a particular task, explains the science behind it, then the technology that goes into producing the device, and then finally applies the power. But the machine doesn’t accomplish the task.

By “evidence of the Holy Spirit” I don’t mean speaking in tongues, as many in the pentecostal movement believe, but rather in terms of bringing people together and empowering new life in the one God has anointed forever. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 14, we can do without speaking in tongues; it doesn’t build the church. But we can’t do without building.

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  1. Steve Kindle says:

    Regarding the note in The Learning Bible–What you are learning is a theology that incorporates the notion that miracles (such as those performed by the apostles) have ceased. This leads some, such as John MacArthur, to refer to speaking in tongues as inspired by Satan. My point is not to defend the position on miracles either way. It is to remind people that so-called study bibles come with an agenda and we need always to keep this in mind. If I’m right, about the LB, the commentary on 1 Cor. 13:8 note will make the same point. If it doesn’t (I don’t have a copy of the LB CEV) I apologize. Henry, would you look this up, please?

    1. The comments at 1 Corinthians 13:8 are equivocal. I think the Learning Bible, as a study Bible, doesn’t have a very firm theological position, but I suspect its editors/writers did not want to make a definite affirmation of modern miracles, or of the gifts of the Spirit being operational in the 20th/21st century church, in order to avoid that controversy. It was originally produced under the auspices of the American Bible Society, which even more makes me tend to think they were trying for a bit generic.

      You are definitely right, however, that one needs to pay attention to the theological biases of study Bibles.

  2. Steve Kindle says:

    Boy, it’s hard to win an argument when one side is equivocal! (Smiley face here) Thanks for looking this up.

  3. ainsleyblair says:

    From the time I intentionally gave my heart to the Lord (preschool years), I have read and studied the Bible, EGW, and other theological/inspirational books. It seems God worked with His creation (mankind) in ways they could understand – together with the times they lived. They wanted a king – He reluctantly gave them a king. Etc. From Eden to the times we are living in now, God interacts/intervenes for our best good and (in His wisdom) the best good of the universe. My name is Carroll Dunston. FB account is Carroll Blair Dunston.

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