Reviews of

Pioneer and Perfecter of Faith

In Christology, Christopher A. RICHARDSON, Hebrews, Mohr Siebeck, Nicholas J. Moore, NT Theology, Paul, Pistis Christou on June 21, 2013 at 11:20 am

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2013.06.11 | Christopher A. Richardson. Pioneer and Perfecter of Faith: Jesus’ Faith as the Climax of Israel’s History in the Epistle to the Hebrews. WUNT II/338. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012. XI, 280 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978 3 16 150397 9.

Review by Nicholas J. Moore, Keble College, University of Oxford.

The debate over pistis Christou – whether this phrase refers to faith in Christ or the faith(fulness) of Christ – has generated a large literature focussing mostly on a few verses in Paul. Christopher Richardson’s monograph argues that the concept of Jesus’ faithfulness is clearly present in the New Testament, but in a place that few engaged in the pistis Christou debate have thought to look for it: the Letter to the Hebrews. Richardson’s study (a revision of his doctoral thesis completed under Francis Watson at Aberdeen in 2009) traces references to Jesus’ faithfulness throughout Hebrews in order to demonstrate that this is a recurring and important theme. He then examines Heb 11 (more precisely Heb 11.1-12.3) from the perspectives of the Greco-Roman epideictic category of encomium and the Jewish-Christian category of typology, to show that this well-known list functions not so much as an enumeration of heroes to be followed in their own right, but as a ‘genealogy’ of figures who collectively function typologically to point to Jesus, the ‘pioneer and perfecter of faith’. Jesus’ faithfulness is thus ‘both the model to follow and the means by which salvation […] has been accomplished’ (226; cf. 15).

Richardson’s introduction sets the scene of the wider pistis Christou debate, and introduces the concepts of typology and encomium, the intersection of which are crucial for his thesis. Interestingly, Richardson does not view his study as supporting the subjective reading of pistis Christou; rather he sees Hebrews as unique in the NT: ‘Hebrews alone advances and emphasizes Jesus’ faith(fulness)’ (6); and in a footnote in his conclusion, he expresses scepticism regarding the subjective interpretation of pistis Christou (225). Of course, this would be far from the only regard in which Hebrews is unique in the NT, though one does wonder whether Hebrews scholars have a disposition to (and interest in!) overemphasizing the letter’s uniqueness.

Turning to typology, Richardson offers the following definition: ‘typological interpretation, which is distinguished from allegory and biblical prophecy, involves identifying correspondences or analogies between a person, place, event, or institution in the past (type) and another in the present (antitype)’ (7-8). As for rhetoric, Richardson notes the presence of both deliberative and epideictic genres in Hebrews, and suggests that the structure Heb 11.1-12.3 resembles ‘the literary form of an encomium’ (10), that is, a speech praising a subject, in part by comparison with other noble or virtuous exemplars. The encomiastic topic of synkrisis is mentioned here. Richardson is in good company in reading Hebrews in the light of these rhetorical categories (cf. especially the recent pair of NTS articles by Martin and Whitlark), but his particular contribution is to connect encomiastic rhetoric with typology.

The second chapter surveys all the verses in Hebrews in which Jesus’ faith(fulness) is mentioned or implied (2.13, 17; 3.1-6; 4.15; 5.7-8; 10.5-7; 12.2). Heb 2.13 indicates Jesus’ confidence in God in the face of death, using the words of Isaiah who faced similar suffering. This is taken up again in 2.17, which describes Jesus as ‘a merciful and faithful high priest’ who made atonement for the sins of the people. Richardson offers a detailed comparison of this verse with 7.27, 9.14, 26, 28 and 10.10, 12 and the theme of the once-for-all atonement which Jesus has effected, in order to demonstrate that Jesus was a high priest and made his offering on earth; furthermore, these parallels show that the present tense of eis to hilaskesthai does not suggest that atonement is ongoing. He makes this argument to support reading the reference to Jesus’ faithfulness in 2.17 as part of his earthly life and in particular the crucifixion.

Heb 3.1-6 compares Jesus’ faithfulness with that of Moses, particularly in the domain of his testimony (3.5), which supports the title apostolos (3.1) and suggests the typological relationship between the two is partly based on Moses’ role as a prophet and proclaimer of God’s word. Jesus’ sinlessness in 4.15 suggests not just the omission of sin, but active obedience and therefore faithfulness. Richardson argues that 5.7-8 refers primarily to Golgotha and not to Gethsemane (the consensus view); Jesus displays reverence towards God and obedience even in his suffering. The placement of Ps 40 in Jesus’ mouth in 10.5-7 again highlights Jesus’ obedience, and here Richardson argues for a Davidic typology. The suggestion that David and Isaiah (in 2.13) function typologically is not entirely convincing, given that neither figure is mentioned and the quotations are not dwelt upon at length; the fact that these are the only quotations (along with Ps 22, Heb 2.12) placed in Christ’s mouth, however, may support this idea. Finally Richardson turns to Heb 12.2, where Jesus is the ‘pioneer and perfecter of faith’ (‘pioneer’ encapsulates both Jesus’ leadership in faith and his founding of the audience’s faith; ‘faith’ is thus only secondarily ‘our’ faith, an inference supplied by some translations).

Chapter three provides a careful argument for reading Heb 11 in its wider context of 10.19-12.29, and for seeing the structure of the chapter as culminating in 12.1-3. Richardson suggests that a chiasm surrounds the chapter (10.19-31 // 12.18-29 exhortation and warning; 10.32-39 // 12.1-17 athletic imagery and reflections on painful struggles). He argues that hypostasis and elenchos in Heb 11.1 constitute ‘synonymous parallelism’ (120) and both have a meaning related to confidence and conviction. He also notes the presence of the language and theme of faith both before and after ch. 11. Noting the connection of Heb 11 to what surrounds it is not new, despite the persistence in popular circles of reading Heb 11 in an isolated fashion. Richardson’s particular contribution is including 12.1-3 within the same section, and (more controversially) suggesting that this encourages a christological and typological reading of the preceding exemplars. The second part of this chapter offers a particularly useful introduction to the form of the encomium (138-59), including an outline of its usual structure and the topoi it contains (150). Richardson’s analysis of Heb 11.1-12.3 in terms of an encomium clearly demonstrates the use of encomiastic topoi, though the claim that it is structured like an encomium is overstated: most of the constituent parts of an encomium are identified as overlapping in 12.1-3, with 11.1-3 as the prooimion (introduction) and 11.4-38 forming a very long genos (genealogy). Richardson concedes that the parallel is not exact, mostly because Heb 11 is not an isolated discourse, and emphasizes that the outline ‘is meant only to emphasize the points of contact’ (160) with other encomiastic speeches – and one can agree that he demonstrates this connection compellingly.

Understanding Heb 11 as encomiastic strengthens the case for reading the ‘hero list’ as a series of comparisons with Jesus and therefore as typological; a close study of the each of these figures is the subject of the fourth and final major chapter. Richardson highlights the points of continuity and discontinuity between them and the one they foreshadow, Jesus. Some enlightening details are drawn out – for example the way that Abel, Enoch and Noah correspond to the themes of sacrifice, exaltation, and inheritance respectively, all of which have been previously evoked in Hebrews in connection with Jesus – and careful attention is paid to the OT background and contemporary traditions. There is an interesting argument from LXX Ps 88.51-52 (which contains the terms oneidismos and christos, as does Heb 11.26) that ‘the shame of Christ/the anointed one’ refers to ‘the household or “sons” of Israel’ (206): this is supported by parallelism in LXX Ps 88, which arguably can be seen in Heb 11.25-26 as well (‘to suffer with the people of God’ // ‘the shame of the Christ’). This suggestion merits serious consideration; the choice of word ‘would logically relate to the subject of Moses’ solidarity with the people of Israel and provocatively resonate with the broader context’ (206).  Readers may not find all of the points of correspondence convincing, but the overall thrust of the passage (faith perseveres towards a heavenly, hoped-for reward, often in the midst of suffering, despite the fact that this is unseen) is certainly demonstrated in each of the characters and culminates in Jesus, as Richardson shows.

Having surveyed the argument, I shall consider a couple of points more closely before concluding. Firstly, typology: Richardson’s definition is helpful so far as it goes, but a more extended discussion of typology, including how it is distinguished from allegory and prophecy, would have been desirable. Also, Richardson does not clarify the status the terminology holds – is it a modern interpretative category, or one underlying the author’s approach? He seems to take it to be the latter, but in this case an engagement with Hebrews’ use of typos language would have been useful. To be sure, Richardson notes that the terms typos and antitypos are both used in Hebrews in the opposite sense from the usual modern definition which he reproduces, but he does not comment on this fact apart from to dismiss it by noting that typology is not limited to the occurrence of these terms. Yet the fact that Hebrews uses these terms, and does so in the reverse sense to modern typological terminology, invites an exploration of why this is so and what a category of typology constructed from Hebrews itself might look like. Richardson also speaks of Christ ‘climactically recapitulating’ Israel’s history, a recurrent phrase throughout the study which is potentially very fruitful – though sadly he does not define it, nor does he mention Irenaeus, whose use of the term could prove enlightening here. A minor point in connection with this is that the subject index is rather sparse at less than two pages, and does not include either ‘typology’ or ‘recapitulation’, themes which are central to the study. Also on the theme of typology, in discussion of Heb 11 Richardson notes the omission of Joshua’s name and suggests that this ‘serves a rhetorical purpose’ (212), but he makes no more of this. This seems surprising given that it is precisely Joshua’s faithfulness in bringing the Israelites into Canaan (in contrast to the faithlessness of the wilderness generation) that is in view in the implicit comparison with Jesus in Heb 4, and also given the identity of their names (Iesous). Those looking for a more extended discussion of typology, or further thoughts on a Joshua typology in particular, would do well to consult Richard Ounsworth’s monograph Joshua Typology in the New Testament which appeared almost simultaneously in the WUNT II series and which complements Richardson’s study in this regard.

Secondly, on the relationship of Jesus’ faithfulness to his earthly or heavenly activity (the discussion of 2.17) it seems that Richardson has established a false dichotomy between a once-for-all earthly offering and an ongoing heavenly offering. He is quite right to oppose the idea of continuous sacrifice, an interpretation which is often motivated by Catholic views of the Eucharist and which Hebrews clearly does not envisage given its emphasis of Christ’s decisive session following making purification for sins (1.3 and passim). But just because Jesus’ offering is not ongoing does not mean it must have been made (only) on earth. That it occurred once-for-all does not mean it is a punctiliar event, as Richardson acknowledges (Jesus was on the cross for at least six hours, and the high priest entered the most holy place at least twice on Yom Kippur, the primary model for Hebrews’ reading of Jesus’ death); rather, the uniqueness of the atonement emphasizes its completeness, and this does not exclude the possibility of a sequential understanding of the atonement culminating in Christ’s entry to the heavenly sanctuary. Given the relative timings of the publications, it would be unfair to blame Richardson for not engaging with David Moffitt’s 2011 monograph which argues along these lines (and commendably he is aware of the book and references it at one point). Even without Moffitt’s arguments, however, Richardson’s contention that Christ was a high priest on earth conflicts with Heb 8.4, and his dismissal of this verse as a common Jewish objection based on the regulations of the Mosaic Law (which are set aside, Heb 7) is unconvincing. Furthermore, it would seem that this distinction is not needed to support Richardson’s overall point that Jesus’ faithfulness through his life and particularly the suffering of his crucifixion is in view. This not undermined by Jesus’ high priestly status pertaining only to his exaltation, because as a man he carries that faithfulness with him into his high priesthood (just as he also takes the experience of temptation with him, 4.15).

Attention to these points might have strengthened Richardson’s overall case, but the fundamental thread of his well-written book convinced this reviewer: Jesus’ faithfulness as a human being (in areas where other great examples of faith fell short) is a recurring theme through the letter, a motif which prepares the reader to understand Heb 11 (when read in its context in the letter and in relation to encomiastic rhetoric) as primarily a series of christological types or comparisons culminating in Jesus himself. Richardson’s study is an important contribution which helps to rescue Heb 11 from its isolated (mis)reading, and to restore it to its rightful place as part of Hebrews’ overarching agenda ‘to magnify the person, work, and faith of Christ’ (13).

Nicholas J. Moore
Keble College, University of Oxford
nicholas.moore [ at ] magd.oxon.org

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