Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Perfects in Hebrews 12

Well, I noted how naturally an aspectual approach accounts for the perfects in Hebrews 11. But the ones I'm particularly interested in are those in Hebrews 12:18 and 22.

Why the interest? Because in my experience these verses are used to emphasise the present reality of having already entered into the heavenly assembly of God through his gathering us together. It particularly plays a crucial role in the theology of church-as-gathering in the theological circles that have been formative for me.

However, if the perfect only encodes heightened proximity aspectually, then it seems to me the more natural reading is to see this as emphatic, rather than as portraying the coming as a past event with present implications. Thus I would almost render 12:22 as "But we are immanent to Mount Zion...". Such a reading makes more sense of the letter's recurrent call to "draw near". Particularly in chapters like 3–4 and 11 the picture is of a certain promise that must still be laid hold of by the individual. An emphatic verb form is used because the once-for-all sacrifice has already been made by the great high priest, Jesus. But the book is a warning not to abandon the covenantal relationship that he has established. It is our only genuine means of approaching God's presence.

But having made these observations, I think there is little other support scripturally for the gathering of God's people in heaven being an eschatological event that is already realised in us. Rather, Christ stands in God's presence and, though our union with him (our being "in Christ"), we have total confidence to draw near ourselves knowing our future is assured. (In Paul's language, we are so identified with Christ that we have already died and our future life is that of Christ's—Colossians 3:3–4). Christ is the eschatologically realised gathering. We remain to participate.

Can someone tell me where I'm getting this wrong? Thanks.


Con Campbell said...

Hey Russ, thanks for the thoughtful post. Regardless of the theological issues at work, those two perfects can be translated as they are traditionally, if they're regarded as historical perfects. They certainly have the right lexemes to qualify. This doesn't mean that they must be historical perfects; only that they could be. I leave the rest to you!

BTW, I think Eph 2:6 is another reference to our heavenly gathering.


Russ said...

Thanks Con. No argument that they could be. Just not sure why they would in context. The exhortation is always to draw near, not declaration that we are.

Thanks for the ref to Eph 2:6, though. Hadn't picked it up but will add it to my thinking.