Looking for contextual understanding of Hebrews 10:23
November 29, 2008 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Seeking advice about a quote from Hebrews 10:23, which states "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." This is from one of the books of the New Testament (Epistle to the Hebrews).

I have no religious background knowledge. This quote is referenced in the data portion of a research paper I'm writing. I'm trying to not only understand the quote and what type of message it sends to an audience, but how the quote itself fits into the big picture of Epistle to the Hebrews, and the New Testament. The Wikipedia page is not very useful because it doesn't explain the quote, or the book of Hebrews in context. I'd like to know what was going on before, after, during this time/passage/letter. What is Epistle to the Hebrews for? What is the significance of the message? If you are a religious person, what does this passage mean to you?

A brief summary of events is great...book recommendations or heavy reading material not so much. I just need a basic understanding for now, so that I can apply the knowledge and move on with writing.

Thanks so much!
posted by iamkimiam to Religion & Philosophy (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The context (whole chapter) is Bible Gateway.

Obviously, it would be impossible contextualize this completely, but here's a shot:

This book was written to the Hebrews, and in essence, says that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ has taken the place of the old sacrifices and requirements of the law; believers have direct access to God through Christ, rather than relying on animal sacrifices and other rituals.

There was a lot of pressure from the established religious leaders, not to mention friends and family, as well as one's own traditions, to continue to seek God through the practice of the Jewish rituals. This verse is encouraging believers to hold on to their "confession" that they now have faith in Christ, and to not waver, because "he who promised" (promised to grant us access to God: Christ) is faithful.

Put another way: "Even though there is pressure otherwise, be faithful to him, because he is faithful to you!"
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:31 PM on November 29, 2008

*(is at Bible Gateway)
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:35 PM on November 29, 2008

Here's a brief snippet from the summary in the New American Bible (the official Catholic Bible, which of course has a slightly different translation)...
The author saw the addressees in danger of apostasy from their Christian faith. This danger was due not to any persecution from outsiders but to a weariness with the demands of Christian life and a growing indifference to their calling. The author's main theme, the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus is not developed for its own sake but as a means of restoring their lost fervor and strengthening them in their faith.
posted by drezdn at 5:46 PM on November 29, 2008

Datapoint: Barack Obama quoted a different translation of the line to close out his speech at the Democratic National Convention in August. If you don't want to sit through the whole thing, it's around the two minute mark in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCx0J3NiABY
posted by awesomebrad at 6:31 PM on November 29, 2008

Obama referenced this passage in his acceptance speech at the DNC, by the way... felix betachat did a little analysis of it in the context of *that* speech, but it might not be what you're looking for exactly. I think this is a good description of how religious people relate to the passage, however, and how it might still have relevance today.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 6:34 PM on November 29, 2008

Best answer: To help put it in the context of the Letter to the Hebrews:

From the Reading Guide section for this book, in the Access Bible:

"Hebrews, which claims to be a "word of exhortation" in the form of a letter, resembles ancient philosophical essay letters. That is, it is more like an extended presentation of a position or idea than it is like a piece of personal correspondence. It interweaves two themes: (1) the need to remain faithful and (2) the basis for steadfast faith as found in the description of Jesus' death as victim and priest. Jesus' faithfulness, his sharing of our mortal nature, adn his obedience learned through suffering qualify him as the ideal model of perseverance and faithfulness. The structure of the document, then, consists of alternating presentation of the themes: (1) the examination of Jesus' death, and (2) the exhortation to faithfulness. Overall, the argument goes as follows:

1. Comparison: superiority of Jesus to angels (1.1-14)
2. Exhortation: the example of Jesus (2.1-18)
3. Exhortation to faithfulness: the example of ancient Israel (3.1-4.13)
4. Main thesis: Jesus as suffering but faithful high priest (4.14-5.14)
5. Exhortation to mature understanding and faithfulness (6.1-20)
6. Comparison: superiority of Jesus' priesthood to that of Levites
- A. Jesus and Melchizedek (7.1-10, 15-22, 26-28)
- B. Old levitical priesthood (7.11-14, 23-25)
7. Comparison: superiority of the new covenant through Jesus (8.1-13)
8. Comparison: superiority of Jesus' sacrifice (9.1-22)
9. Comparison: superiority of Jesus' new temple (9.23-28)
10. Comparison: superiority of Jesus' obedience to material sacrifices (10.1-18)
11. Exhortation to faithfulness: hope in the promise
- A. Holding fast to the confession (10.19-39)

- B. Witnesses of faith and steadfastness and hope (11.1-39)
12. Exhortation to more general virtues
- A. Difficulties and discipline require courage (12.1-29)
- B. Community issues: love, marriage, and authority (13.1-19)
13. Letter closing: blessing and greetings (13.20-25)

Hebrews regularly uses the scriptures to interpret the role and status of Jesus and to encourage the believers. It cites individual verses of psalms as well as lengthy quotations, and is familiar with narrative as well as legal materials. Scripture serves as the best argument to clarify Jesus' priesthood and to exhort to faithfulness. While most New Testament documents understand the Bible as prophecy, Hebrews takes this process one step further by using the Bible to outline a religious system superior to any other.

Furthermore, the author regularly argues that Jesus is "better than" the most important and exalted persons or things in the Judean tradition. Jesus is superior to heavenly angles and earthly worthies, such as Moses and Aaron. His priesthood surpasses that of Levi, and his sacrifice that of the old order. The covenant he mediates is better than that of Israel.

The author applies to Jesus traditional concepts used to speak about a true deity. Gods in antiquity were named "immortals" in contrast to mortal men and women; they never die, but we do. Moreover, a true god must be both uncreated in the past and imperishable in the future. Just this sort of language is used of Jesus in two places..." [continues for another page].
posted by Houstonian at 7:46 PM on November 29, 2008

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful."

I believe confession is used here in its sense as in a confession of faith. The central tenent of the Christian faith is that although Jesus died for humanity's sins, he will come again and deliver the believers into heaven. Thus, the point is continue to have faith that Jesus will come amongst man again and deliver him into heaven as Jesus is faithful and will fufill the promise he made.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:32 PM on November 29, 2008

Best answer: Well, the Apostle Paul is the writer of the book of Hebrews, and he was a Hebrew himself. It's important to remember that while Paul was a christian most Jews or Hebrews were not fond of christians! And so one way Paul could help the Jews relate to his new faith and thereby convert some was by drawing a comparison of animal sacrifices (something they knew) was a confession of there faith in God and his preaching the christian faith like Christ (his confession of faith in God.) He was trying to find common ground with them.
posted by erase24 at 4:01 AM on November 30, 2008

Best answer: The central section of the Epistle to the Hebrews (5:11 to 10:39) develops a series of parallels between the religion of the Jews and the new religion of Christ. Christ is the High Priest (8:1) who offers sacrifice (8:3), enters the Holy Place (9:11) and opens the way for us to gain access to God (10:19). The purpose of these parallels is to argue that the old covenant of the Jews (9:1-10) has now been decisively superseded by the new covenant established by Christ (9:15-22). The old covenant had to be renewed each year by animal sacrifice and the shedding of animal blood (9:7), but the new covenant has been established once for all by the sacrifice of Jesus and the shedding of his blood (10:10). And the author wraps all this up in a final exhortation, urging his readers to hold fast to their faith in Christ: 'Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful'.

We don't know who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews (though it's now generally agreed that, whoever it was, it wasn't St Paul). Nor do we know who he was writing to. It has traditionally been assumed that the Epistle was written 'to the Hebrews', i.e. to a group of Jewish converts to Christianity. However, some scholars now argue that it was probably written to a mixed community of Jewish and Gentile Christians, perhaps in Rome. We don't know exactly what prompted the Epistle, but there are repeated warnings against letting go of faith (4:14) or growing weary and fainthearted (12:3), which suggests that the community was facing decline or maybe persecution. This helps to explain the anxiety evident in Heb 10:23. Hold tight! Don't lose heart! Stick together! 'Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.'

In the Christian tradition, this text is seen as an exhortation to persevere, stay faithful and resist the pressures of the outside world. Within this general tradition it's possible to identify differences of emphasis between Protestant and Catholic understandings. Protestants tend to put the emphasis on faith, and to see 'holding fast the confession of our hope' as one of the fruits of a true justifying faith (cf Ironmouth's comment above). Catholics regard hope as one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), and therefore tend to see 'holding fast the confession of our hope' (and the exhortation to 'love and good works' that follows it) as a virtue in its own right, without necessarily feeling the need to refer it back to faith. Within my own tradition (Anglicanism) the text has a special liturgical significance as one of the passages read on Good Friday, which puts the emphasis very much on the sacrifice of Jesus and the need to hold firm at a time of crisis.
posted by verstegan at 8:33 AM on December 1, 2008

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