The Context of the Text
The majority of exegetes agree that the so-called “Letter” to the Hebrews is actually a homily, meant to be read aloud to a Christian community gathered for worship. In The Context of the Text: Reading Hebrews as a Eucharistic Homily, I argue that the specific venue for the public reading of Hebrews was a celebration of the Eucharist. It is my contention that the author presumed and exploited this Eucharistic setting in order to bolster his claims about the superiority of Christ and his sacrifice to the sacrifices of the “first covenant”, as well as to entreat his readers to remain faithful to Christian Eucharistic worship. This dissertation begins in Chapter 1 by considering the “state of the question,” examining the positions of scholars who take – respectively – negative, agnostic and positive positions regarding Eucharistic references in Hebrews. Chapter 2 situates the question of Hebrews and the Eucharist within the broader milieu of the liturgical provenance of New Testament writings. Chapter 3 considers the issues of Hebrews’ authorship, date of composition, audience, rhetorical strategy, and literary structure as they pertain to my argument that the text was written for proclamation at the Eucharist. Chapter 4 offers an extensive study of several passages from Hebrews which appear to allude to the Eucharist without mentioning the sacrament explicitly (Hebrews 6:4; 9:20; 10:19-25; 12:22-24; 13:10; and 13:15), setting forth the claim that the allusive nature of these references is explained by the Eucharistic milieu for which the homily was written. In particular, I argue that a Eucharistic understanding of Hebrews 13:10 (“We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat”) is the linchpin for understanding other Eucharistic references in Hebrews and that this verse serves as a major reinforcement of the author’s earlier claims regarding the supreme efficacy of Christ’s redemptive work. I hold that the author’s mention of an “altar” in 13:10 is meant to be understood as a reference to the Eucharistic table and that, taken as such, this statement parallels the claim in 8:1 (“We have such a high priest”) in order to demonstrate that Christians have both a superior priest (Christ) and a superior cultic act (the Eucharist). Finally, Chapter 5 considers interpretive traditions (particularly patristic and Eastern) which bolster the case for a Eucharistic interpretation of Hebrews.