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Posted October 23, 2003

Book: Understanding the Book of Hebrews: The Story Behind the Sermon
Author: Kenneth Schenck
Westminister John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, pp. 144

Excerpt from Jacket:

Understanding the Book of Hebrews takes the epistle’s complex argument and re-presents it in terms of the epistle’s salvation story. Writing at a level for college and seminary students, Schenck shows how this early Christian sermon utilizes the events, settings, and characters of the salvation storyline to remind the ancient audience that Christ has provided a definitive sacrifice for sins which makes reliance on levitical means of atonement obsolete.

Schenck identifies the narrative framework of Hebrews and demonstrates how the biblical writer uses it for rhetorical ends. Schenck then argues that the biblical author crafts each part of the story to encourage the audience to hold fast in faith so they will inherit salvation. Featuring informative sidebars and glossary aids, this book will be of great help to those who study or preach from the book of Hebrews.

Excerpt from Book:

The Story World of Hebrews

A story is made up of three basic components: the things that happen (events), those who participate in the things that happen (characters), and the times and places where those things happen (settings). The story that the Epistle to the Hebrews evokes is no different. The drama has events, characters, and settings. The only difference is that the author of Hebrews presents his version of the story in the form of an argument, rather than in a narrative. He is thus able to make “the moral of the story” abundantly clear.

. . . The story world of Hebrews opens with humanity already under the power of the devil (Heb. 2:14). God had intended humans to rule the creation perpetually with glory and honor. (V7), but now death was their consistent fate.

Hebrews does not explicitly state the circumstances by which this situation came about, but it is clear the main obstacle to their intended status is sin (2:17; 4:15). As long as their sin remains, they will die and fail to attain the glory intended by God (2:8). This problem seems to have been beset humanity from its earliest days, even “from the foundation of the world” (9:26), although it was God who created the heavens and the earth.

The principle setting is the earthly, created realm. The characters and events are numerous. People live their whole lives subject to the fear of death. Three is no real atonement for their sins, but God enacts through angels a covenant that points by way of example to the solution he has planned.

The first covenant, the law, involved the continual offering of sacrifices in an earthly sanctuary. It was God’s “word” to that age, mediated by the angels through Moses to God’s people, but it was never intended to be the solution to humanity’s problem. Rather it was a shadowy example of what God was planning to do through Christ.

Table of Contents:

1. The story world of Hebrews
2. Humanity’s problem and Christ’s solution
3. The celebration of the enthroned son
4. Examples of faith and disbelief in the Old Covenant
5. A better sacrifice, sanctuary and covenant
6. The situation of the audience