16 April 2019
It has long been asserted that Christianity arose from Judaism, which began with the covenant that God made with Abraham, promising him the gift of many offspring and the land of Israel. Moses was presented the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and the law of the Torah was born. When Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, there were some that believed he was the messiah and some who did not, which created the modern-day distinction we see between Judaism and Christianity. However, there are some who dispute this connection. Marcion was one of those who rejected this connection, and he did not accept the Hebrew Bible and certain books of the New Testament for its distinct ties to the Jewish faith. While Marcion rejected the letter to the Hebrews for it being “too Jewish,” it can be seen that when compared to Luke-Acts and Galatians, texts revered by Marcion, the arguments made are the same, using the proof of Abraham’s faith, sin, and sacrifice, and the rejection of Moses is why the Jews should have faith in Jesus.
Both Hebrews and Galatians both use the evidence of Abraham having faith in God to show that having faith in Jesus will reap many benefits, and this use of the patriarch of Judaism is what allows Marcion to label Hebrews as “too Jewish.” Both of these letters were written to established communities that had some Jews for Jesus, but the basis of the letter shows that their faith in him, since he had not yet returned, was waning. The Galatians were continuing to circumcise, as this was part of the Jewish covenant with God, but Paul wanted them to understand that they could not have faith and law working together. They either needed to have faith in God and God’s son, or continue to follow the laws of the covenant, which would distinguish them as either Jews for Jesus or Jews not for Jesus. These letters, and the evidence of faith, are being used to show the Hebrews and the Galatians that they should continue to have faith in Jesus, because people before have had continued faith in God and were rewarded for it. In Galatians 3, Paul writes, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ so, you see. . . the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.’ For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed” (Galatians 3:6-9). The argument that Paul is making here is that God justified Abraham on the basis of faith, so they do not need to circumcise themselves any longer. This argument is repeated in Hebrews, where it is written, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going . . . By faith he received the power of procreation, even though he was too old -- and Sarah herself was barren -- because he considered himself faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11: 8, 11). Galatians and Hebrews both contain the argument that the patriarch of Judaism did not have law to lean on, so he trusted in God and had faith, and he received many rewards. While faith in Jesus might have been waning at the time, Paul and the author of the letter to the Hebrews both want the Jews for Jesus to remember the message, as having faith in Jesus will benefit them greatly in the future, showing that both books contain the same message.
Both the letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Luke assert the fact that Jesus is the only one who can heal sins, as the animal sacrifices seen in Judaism made by the priests on a daily basis do not hold the power to save someone from his or her sins, as they need to be performed repeatedly. While Judaism does not have the same teachings of sin as Christianity, in biblical times sacrifices were a common way to ask God for forgiveness for any sinful behaviors. The sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross is considered the ultimate sacrifice. In Hebrews 10, the author writes, “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10: 3-4). The author is referring to the animal sacrifices made in synagogues, specifically the Temple, regularly, arguing that if they need to be repeated then they are not truly taking away sin. When Jesus died on the cross, he made the final and ultimate sacrifice that saved humankind from their sins, which is something that sacrificial animals cannot do. This argument is repeated in the gospel of Luke, by Jesus himself. When Jesus encounters a paralytic and heals them, he says, “‘Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Luke 5: 23-24). Coming from the lips of Jesus himself, he tells the formerly paralytic man that he has the power to forgive sins, which is something only he can do. Both Hebrews and the Gospel of Luke repeat the idea that Jesus is the only being, human or animal, who has the power to save humankind from their sins, showing that a text labeled “too Jewish” by Marcion has the same lesson as another text.
Hebrews and the gospel of Luke assert that the new covenant made through the life and death of Jesus Christ is superior to the covenant made between God and Abraham, which establishes a superiority of Christianity over Judaism. This is first seen in Hebrews 8, where the author writes, “But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one” (Hebrews 8: 6-7). This establishes that the author believes the new covenant created through Jesus is superior to the covenant created between Abraham and God. Where the similarity between Hebrews and Luke is created is in what the sign of the new covenant is. In Hebrews 9, it is written, “But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come. . . not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9: 11-12). The sacrifice of Jesus’ life and his blood is the sign of the new covenant, which is superior to the sacrificial blood of goats and calves. In the Gospel of Luke, Luke writes, “And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (Luke 22:20). These words are coming from Jesus’ lips, telling his disciples at the final supper that his blood, the sacrifice of his life, is the sign of the new covenant created with God and will allow all those who believe in him to receive eternal redemption. The idea that there has been a new, superior covenant created between God and his people and the sign of that covenant is the blood of Jesus Christ is paralleled in the gospel of Luke and in Hebrews.
The letter to the Hebrews and Stephen’s sermon in Acts use the initial rejection of Moses as proof to show that Jesus should not be rejected. At this time there was still a distinct separation between Jews for Jesus and Jews not for Jesus, so using the proof of a common figure known by both parties was a way to urge those who did not yet have faith in Jesus to have faith. In Acts, Stephen says, “It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’. . . He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. . . Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him . . . But God turned away from them and handed them over to worship the host of heaven” (Acts 7: 35-36, 39, 42). Moses performed many miracles in helping the Jews escape Egypt, just as Jesus performed numerous miracles. However, Moses was rejected just as some are continuing to reject Jesus. Stephen parallels Jesus to Moses to show those who have not yet accepted him that they should, because God turned away from those who did not accept Moses. This is seen again in Hebrews 12, where the author says, “See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking, for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!” (Hebrews 12:25). The author of Hebrews is telling the people those who did not accept Moses were unable to escape divine punishment, and those who did not accept Jesus will likely experience the same fate. The same argument is used in both Hebrews and Acts, that those who do not accept Jesus will be punished by God, just as those who did not accept Moses.
Now, while Marcion believed that the letter written to the Hebrews is “too Jewish,” it can be seen that the author of Hebrews uses many of the same arguments as the authors of Galatians and Luke-Acts. There is use of Old Testament figures, such as Abraham and Moses, to show Jews for Jesus that having faith in the Son of God will prove to be beneficial. Marcion’s rejection of texts that used Judaism or Jewish figures to support the idea that Jesus was the messiah does not get rid of the history of Christianity and Judaism. Marcion might not like the use of the Jewish patriarchs in the New Testament, but it cannot be said that Hebrews is “too Jewish” because the same arguments are made in the Gospel of Luke and Galatians, which are texts that Marcion revered.