Here in lies what I think are one of the most important and theologically profound passages ever written. While some may not see the challenge of this verse, I do hope over the next few weeks to challenge the conventional Christian interpretation of these verses, but also offer what I believe is a more thorough and consistant reading of this passage in its context. The conventional interpretation is so prone to anti-semitic bias and it assumes a supersessionist theology. Let us begin this week on unpacking the meaning of supersessionism.
Supersessionism is a term used commonly in the parts business world of which I am part. One part manufacturer builds a component, but then another manufacturer picks up the contract to make that same component. The new part is assigned to a new part number in order to distinguish it from the old manufacturer’s part. The new part is called a supersession and it replaces the old one. Theologians do the same thing with the parts of the Bible.
Christian interpretation, when reading the Bible, uses supersessionism as a theological tool to gloss over texts it deems irrelevant. The Old Testament is replaced by the New Testament; The sacrifice of Jesus replaces the animal sacrifices; the passover meal is replaced by communion; Christians have replaced Jews as the new people of HaShem. I could go on with many others. “This interpretation is self-evident”, you might say. Indeed it is self-evident, if the assumption is that it is so. Over the next few weeks, I plan to do a careful, critical reading of Hebrews 8. I will show a different way of reading the text that does not assume that Christianiy has superceeded Judaism.
Let’s begin with explaining the Jewish understanding of the world according to Torah, that is the first 5 books of Moses. The world which HaShem created in the beginning, is referred to as “olam ha-zeh” which means this world in Hebrew. This world concludes with a 1000 year Messianic Era where the Messiah will rule and reign from Jerusalem over all the nations of the Earth. Following the end of This World is the World to Come, called “olam ha-ba” in Hebrew. This phrase is also spoken by the writer of Hebrews in chapter 6:5. The writer here tells the readers that they have tasted the powers of the “age to come”, which is the same as saying, “olam ha-ba”. From this verse we can infer that they are:
- not in the “olam ha-ba” yet
- experiencing a taste of the power of “olam ha-ba” in this world
- still living in the “olam ha-zeh”
This perspective accords with the traditional Jewish worldview and eschatology that is from antiquity to today. The author of Hebrew’s usage of this term (indeed, these two terms are used throughout the apostolic writings also) and the same sensitivity to its Jewish meaning in this context, I think, demand a Jewish sensitivity to reading the whole book. I hope you ponder this idea and come back next week as we continue to read Hebrews 8.