2016.05.07 | Amy L. B. Peeler. You Are My Son: The Family of God in the Epistle to the Hebrews. LNTS 486. London: T&T Clark, 2014. Pp. xiv + 224. ISBN: 978-0-56765-418-2.
Review by Shawn J. Wilhite, California Baptist University.
Many thanks to T&T Clark for providing a review copy.
The fact that familial motifs have remained relatively underdeveloped presents a bit of an anomaly. Given the data of filial language within the first major section of Hebrews — “you are my son” (Heb 1:5), “I shall be to him a father” (Heb 1:5), “God…has spoken to us by his son” (Heb 1:2), “but of the son he says” (Heb 1:8), “…bringing many sons to glory” (Heb 2:10), “not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb 2:11) — Amy Peeler’s volume appears during a time when similar monographs have yet to enter Hebrews scholarship. In You Are My Son, Peeler attempts to fill such wanting lacuna of filial language in her revised dissertation (Princeton Theological Seminary, 2011). Peeler offers Hebrews scholars a helpful and needed work for fatherhood, sonship, and familial language within Hebrews.
In You Are My Son, Peeler argues “that the familial imagery shapes the author’s presentation of the three primary persons of the sermon: God, Jesus, and the humans relationship with them, the author and his audience” (pp. 5–6). Thus, Peeler’s thesis rather modestly offers a reading of Hebrews and the inter-web of familial language and relationships. The theme of divine sonship emerges in other works, and thus is not new — note the works of Julius Kögel (1904), Ben Witherington (2007), James Dunn (1989), Richard Bauckham (2008), among others (pp. 4–5 n.11). Yet, no sustained attention on the filial language in Hebrews exists outside of J. Scott Lidgett’s Sonship and Salvation (1921), and even still relatively lacks attention among major Hebrews commentaries and monographs. Accordingly, Peeler’s work is readily welcomed to step forward into this gap and bring to bear how God is portrayed as Father, Jesus as Son, and paternal relationships between Father and divine Son as well as Father and children of God.
Peeler’s argument follows four major chapters in order to prove such thesis. Chapters 1–3 focus on the role of the divine Son whereas a final chapter devotes attention to the family of God and audience’s role as children. For the most part, Peeler suggests exegetical and literary arguments following the sermon’s order. Chapter 1 suggests Hebrews 1 presents the development and relationship between God and Jesus in terms of Father and Son. As Hebrews 1 unfolds, Peeler argues that contours of familial language in Hebrews 1 construct “an exalted Christology and paternal theology” (p. 10). Chapter 2 moves to evaluate the suffering role of the Son in Hebrews 2 as it relates to inheritance and the family of God themes. Peeler rightfully notes how Hebrews 2 concludes the divine Sonship themes of Hebrews 1 and moves towards the priestly role of the Son (p. 103).
After a concentrated reading of Hebrews 1–2, chs. 3–4 then explores the rest of Hebrews as it relates to Jesus’s priestly role (ch. 3) and the audiences role as the family of God (ch. 4). One particular strength of ch. 4, “‘My Son’: The Assembly of the Firstborn,” is Peeler’s development of παιδεία as found in Hebrews 12. As such, παιδεία is not punitive divine actions; rather, Peeler likens this term to a sport metaphor previously mentioned in Hebrews 12:1–2 and the secondarily related to perfection of the divine Son (cf. Heb 2; pp. 151–63).
NT scholars and Hebrews scholarship should welcome Peeler’s volume as a praiseworthy addition to Hebrews scholarship for a few reasons. First, this book attempts to make a substantial contribution to Hebrews scholarship. According to Peeler, this topic remains an area overlooked or unexplored in terms of the theological, Christological, and ecclesiological implications (p.179). As she concludes her work, Peeler helpfully points to specific areas of contributions. These seven items are where she claims that her volume makes explicit advances.
- Peeler’s work directly addresses those who argue that God’s fatherhood is muted in Hebrews—such as James Moffatt (pp. 181–83).
- The fatherhood of God is foundational to the theology of Hebrews contrary to David DeSilva’s patron-client imagery (pp. 183–87).
- Peeler’s observations challenges those who place inordinate focus upon the humanity of Jesus à la Käsemann, G. B. Caird, L. D. Hurst, and Craig Koester (p. 188).
- The familial theme serves to explain the logic of Christological assertions. That is, Christ’s exalted status precedes discussions on Christ’s humiliation (p. 189).
- The familial theme is another way to convey the Son’s perfection through suffering (pp. 189–90).
- The familial theme informs the manner in which Jesus relates to the priesthood position (pp. 189–91).
- Familial imagery “tips the balance toward the initiative of God in the soteriological interplay between divine and human agency” (pp. 191–92).
Thus, even though others may agree or disagree with these contributions, Peeler now provides an up-to-date foil to consider further. Some may vary in terms of specific advances, yet Peeler’s voice shall serve to progress these arguments.
Second, Peeler’s volume offers simple and clear arguments. She carefully, slowly, meticulously, and cogently displays exegetical analysis of selected Hebrews passages. Finally, Peeler, in my estimation, successfully points out how filial concepts are a thoroughgoing theme in Hebrews that should make a contribution to Hebrews scholarship. This would be an aim that any scholar hopes their hard efforts could offer.
Yet, this work is not without some criticism. One such example is Peeler’s attention to Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2 (pp. 66–76). She does not need to offer a fuller reading of the use of Psalm 8, nor required to offer an exhaustive study, but only what is needed to help buttress her thesis. Yet, this section seemed to lack a critical and sustained evaluation of, at least, an anthropological and Christological reading of Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2. This section also lacked important works on this use of the Old Testament in Hebrews 2. For example, it lacks the following: Dale Leschert, Hermeneutical Foundations of Hebrews (1994); Dirk Human and Gert Steyn, eds. Psalms and Hebrews: Studies in Reception (2010); Gert Steyn, “Some Observations about the Vorlage of Ps 8:5–7 in Hebrews 2:6–8” (2003).
Rather than pointing to other areas of oversight, each book cannot identify all questions or mention each implication. Thus, a few elements from Peeler’s book call for further research and evaluation by others engaging a similar topic. First, what is the relationship between the filial language in Hebrews 1 and the related covenantal motifs of family and inheritance from both Abrahamic and Davidic typology? In other words, what is the relationship of inheritance and familial language in Hebrews 1 that may correspond to Abrahamic and Davidic covenantal language? Second, a further project may seek to build upon Peeler’s exegetical and literary work and place these findings against the backdrop of ancient Jewish and/or Graeco-Roman concepts who employ similar language. Peeler did evaluate some ancient Jewish and Graeco-Roman works, but a fuller study would only buttress and benefit such work.
Thus, Peeler’s work in You Are My Son is both commendable and readily welcomed on a topic that has been overlooked at great length. Peeler’s volume opens up new avenues to pursue perfection themes, παιδεία, priesthood, and communal implications in Hebrews. Peeler’s book successfully demonstrates the importance and appearance of filial language as a pervasive theme in the book of Hebrews. This source will be useful to scholars and advanced students engaging Hebrews studies.
Shawn J. Wilhite
California Baptist University
shawn.j.wilhite [at] gmail.com