28 February 2012

Long on Hebrews

Another book review:

D. Stephen Long, Hebrews, Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011)

Stephen Long has made a valuable contribution to the Belief series of theological commentaries on the Bible. In it, he argues that the letter to the Hebrews is particularly important for contemporary readers because of the way it integrates doctrine, ethics and politics, and because of its metaphysical sophistication. We live in a world that has been flattened and disenchanted by the forces of secularism, but Hebrews reminds us of the world’s complexity. It also teaches us to read Scripture in light of Christ’s strange victory.

The commentary works through the text of the letter in a verse by verse manner. While not as detailed as some commentaries that focus on every nuance of the Greek text, Long surveys the major theological themes of the letter and examines them in some detail. The themes he focuses on are neatly summarized by his fivefold division of the letter: God Speaks (1:1–2:18); Christ: Faithful and Merciful High Priest (3:1–6:20); Priesthood and Sanctuaries (7:1–10:39); Finding Yourself among the Saved: Faith and Endurance (11:1–12:12); and, Concluding Parakl─ôsis and Theophanic Vision: Pursue Peace and Holiness (12:14–13:21).

There is a tremendous amount of helpful material in his commentary on the text. But I was particularly impressed by his ‘Further Reflections’ sections. These are two- or three-page asides in which he deals with the relevance of sections of the letter to particular contemporary theological issues. So, for example, he offers a very useful study of Protestant gnosticism and modernity. Other topics covered include infant baptism, canonicity, ‘Judaizing’, perfection and deification, the politics of the priest-king (a particularly interesting section in which he proposes Hebrews as a biblical alternative to Plato’s philosopher-kings), and apocalyptic.

Long’s commentary is not a substitute for a careful analysis of the text, but it does serve as a valuable theological complement to such an analysis. This will be a valuable addition to the library of every serious student of the New Testament.

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