Reviews of

Jesus’ Death and Heavenly Offering

In atonement, Cambridge University Press, Hebrews, Jonathan Rowlands, R. B. Jamieson, sacrifice on November 23, 2021 at 9:30 am

2021.11.17 | R.B. Jamieson. Jesus’ Death and Heavenly Offering. Society of New Testament Studies Monograph Series 172; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 978-1-108-47443-6.

Review by Jonathan Rowlands, St. Mellitus College.

In this monograph, Jamieson addresses two questions concerning the soteriology of Hebrews. First, when and where does Jesus offer himself? Second, what role does Jesus’ death play? His thesis is immediately clear: “Jesus’ death is not when and where he offers himself, but it is what he offers” (p. 1). In the introduction, by means of outlining his own contribution to the issue, Jamieson offers a helpful fivefold taxonomy for scholarship on the soteriology of Hebrews that anybody approaching the issue for the first time would do well to consult in the first instance (also outlined in a 2017 article in Currents in Biblical Research 15.3).

In chapter 2, Jamieson presents an argument for Jesus’ post-mortem high-priestly work, focussing on when Jesus was appointed high priest (pp. 23-35) and where he enacts his high priestly work (pp. 35-70). Jamieson argues Jesus is appointed high priest at his entry into heaven, after his resurrection. This point “is established by the way Hebrews aligns Jesus’ perfection, resurrection, and appointment to high priesthood” (p. 19). For Jamieson, Jesus’ high-priestly office is predicated upon the perfection he attains through suffering (i.e., through his death on the cross). As such, Jesus only becomes a high priest after his death, on the basis of his indestructible life (cf. Heb. 7.16). This indestructible life is not a quality inherent to his status as divine son, but is a quality obtained at his resurrection, being perfected through suffering. For Jamieson, “appointment necessarily precedes offering,” since the high priest must have something to offer to fulfil their appointed role (p. 23; cf., Heb. 5.1; 8.3). Subsequently, he forcefully argues that the Son’s appointment can only occur following his perfection in resurrection, and more tentatively argues that the moment of appointment was his entry to heaven. The Son is appointed high priest “having been perfected” (τετλειωμένον) through suffering (2.10). It is only after being perfected (τελειωθείς) that the Son becomes “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (5.9).

In chapter 3 Jamieson “confirms and defends the thesis of chapter 2,” (p. 71) through exegesis of Heb. 10.5-14. After engaging Gäbel and Moffitt on this passage, Jamieson seeks to move beyond both by locating the offering of 10.10, 12, 14 in heaven, whilst taking 10.5-7 as explaining the goal of the incarnation to be this very same heavenly offering. Key here is Jamieson’s connecting of 10.12 and 14 “required by the γάρ (‘for’) in 10:14” (p. 76), such that all of 10.10-14 is understood to refer to a single heavenly offering. The reference to the incarnation in 10.5 then “sets the world as the stage not of Christ’s offering but of his obedience” (p. 81).

In chapter 4 Jamieson argues that Jesus’ death possesses “objective soteriological significance” (p. 98). This significance is possessed by Jesus’ death functioning as “vicariously effective as a saving act for others” (p. 109; cf., Heb. 2.9), which “disables the devil’s power of death,” (p. 113, cf. Heb. 2.14-15). In Heb. 9.15-17 Jesus’ death is also “the redemptive enaction of covenant sanctions” (116-7), wherein “Jesus redeemed his people from the curse of the [Mosaic] covenant by suffering that curse himself” (p. 124).

In chapter 5 Jamieson examines the role of Jesus’ death in his heavenly self-offering, claiming Jesus’ death is the content of his self-offering, not the location or moment of this self-offering. This chapter centres on the role of “blood” in Hebrews. Jamieson argues that Hebrews equates blood with death (contra Moffitt), noting “as a metonym for Christ’s death, it is specifically the saving efficacy of Christ’s death that “blood” evokes” (p. 160). It is both the prerequisite for entry into the heavenly sanctuary, and that which is offered in the sanctuary: “Jesus’ death is not when and where he offers himself, but it is what he offers” (p. 128). To conclude, Jamieson summarises his thesis, discussing the coherence of Hebrews’ sacrificial theology (pp. 189-90) before finishing with a broader reflection on the place of Hebrews’ soteriology within early Christianity (pp. 190-93).

There are numerous merits to Jamieson’s monograph. First, Jamieson helpfully corrects simplistic equations of modern historical-critical readings of Leviticus with how the author of Hebrews reads Leviticus. That is, whilst such scholarship does not read Leviticus in light of the Christ event, it neglects to recognise that the author of Hebrews does precisely this. Jamieson notes, “it is possible that we will read straight from what we take Leviticus to mean to what it must have meant for Hebrews, and miss something of what Hebrews took Leviticus to mean in light of the Christ event,” (pp. 15-16), an important point for those undertaking historical-critical readings of Hebrews.

Second, I am broadly persuaded the most controversial aspect of Jamieson’s argument: that the Son’s high-priestly appointment follows his perfection through resurrection. He demonstrates that both the Son’s being perfected and being designated high priest are prior to his becoming the source of eternal salvation (cf., 5.8-10: τελειωθείς … ἐγένετο … προσαγορευθείς). However, whilst it is not obvious that this speaks to the (logical-)temporal relationship between the “being perfected” and “being designated” (except to say that both actions occur prior to the Son’s becoming the source of salvation; a point few would query), Jamieson convincingly draws on 7.28 to further demonstrate the Son’s being perfected is prior to his high-priestly appointment (pp. 30-35).

However, I do think one aspect of Jamieson’s work could be pushed further. Jamieson does not fully explicate the mechanics of the relationship between Jesus’ self-offering and the defeat of the devil in 2.14-15. It does not necessarily follow that Jesus’ self-offering would have such an effect, and quite how Hebrews makes this connection is left unexplained. Jamieson takes καταργέω (2.14) to mean the Son’s death removes the efficacy of the Devil’s power of death (pp. 112-13). Jamieson rightly notes that Jesus’ death accomplishes two feats: (1) to remove the devil’s power through death, and (2) to rescue those in bondage through fear of death. In my opinion, feat 1 naturally leads to feat 2, but it is not self-evident how Jesus’ death leads to feat 1 in the first place. Instead, Jamieson writes “Hebrews focuses on the ‘that,’ not the ‘how’ [of salvation],” leaving the precise soteriological working of Heb. 2.14-15 ambiguous. Jamieson already covers significant ground, and not every issue can be examined, but I would be keen to hear more from Jamieson about the mechanism of soteriology in Heb. 2.14-15. Jamieson is content to argue tentatively (but reasonably) on points that go beyond the text at key moments (e.g., he tentatively identifies the Son’s heavenly entrance as the precise moment of high-priestly appointment in ch. 2, whilst more securely arguing it happens after his resurrection more broadly). Equally, Moffitt’s recent work convincingly demonstrates the place of Jesus’ resurrection in the logic of Hebrews’ soteriology, despite its absence in the text of Hebrews itself. There is demonstrable warrant to go behind the bare words of the text in this manner; I do wish Jamieson had exercised this warrant more extensively on this point, too.

Elsewhere, more detail might be offered concerning Jesus’ “having offered up prayers and supplication,” during “the days of his flesh” in 5.7. Jamieson does address this verse and its implications for his argument, but only in a footnote (pp. 29-30, n. 20). There, he notes “many take the phrase … to indicate that Christ already acts as a high priest during his earthly suffering,” but does not take it as evidence contrary to his thesis since “in 5:7 Jesus does not offer priestly intercession but prays for his own deliverance,” citing extra-biblical evidence of προσφέρω being used in non-cultic contexts as support for the claim that “προσενέγκας in 5:7 employs a standard Greek idiom for petition, and so neither draws on nor influences Hebrews’ description of Jesus offering himself as a sacrifice.” Heb. 5.7 is not a fatal blow for Jamieson’s argument by any means, but I do not envision his detractors being convinced its brief discussion in a footnote. I do think more detailed and sustained engagement with this issue would strengthen and clarify his thesis.

But this is to be picky. Jamieson’s work is a pleasure to read: a rigorous treatment of a difficult issue, it offers depth of insight at every turn, remaining even-handed in tone throughout. Frankly, it is a model of scholarship, never sensationalist and always gracious to its interlocutors (itself a feat). Once neglected, it is a joy to see Hebrews scholarship undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years. Amongst this resurgence in Hebrews scholarship, issues of soteriology remain central. Alongside Moffitt’s and Gäbel’s work, Jamieson’s thesis is essential reading on the topic.

Jonathan Rowlands
St. Mellitus College
jonny.rowlands [at] stmellitus.ac.uk

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