«Yesterday, Today and Forever»

The Narrative World of Ps 94 [Ps 95] as a Hermeneutical Key to Hebrews

by Robert Rayburn (Author)
©2019 Thesis 422 Pages


Hebrews is a book of riddles. Recent scholarship has arrived at an impasse over difficulties and apparent contradictions within the argument. A new look at Hebrews is needed. This book examines the use of Psalm 95 in Hebrews. The psalm recalls a narrative world and renews an exhortation that reoccurs throughout Israel’s history. Hebrews takes up this summons and the story behind it (Heb 3-4, 10-12) to urge its audience to be faithful. This exhortation unites God’s people past and present (Heb 1, 13). The results of this study are applied to the new covenant (Heb 8) and reveal that a reexamination of common assumptions about Hebrews are necessary. A review of the history of interpretation shows that while assumptions about Hebrews have an early beginning, they have not gone unchallenged.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1 The Problem of the Use of Scripture in Hebrews
  • 1.1. Introduction
  • 1.2. Thesis Statement
  • 1.3. Context of Research
  • 1.3.1. Narrative Theology
  • 1.3.2. The “Parting of the Ways”
  • 1.3.3. The Formation of Identity
  • 1.4. Why this Study?
  • 1.5. Hebrews and Narrative Re-Presentation
  • 1.6. Thesis Outline
  • Chapter 2 Scripture, Intertextuality and Narrative (Ψ 94 [Ps 95])
  • 2.1. Introduction
  • 2.2. The History of Ψ 94 [Ps 95]
  • 2.2.1. Ψ 94 [Ps 95] in Hebrews and the LXX
  • 2.3. The Interpretation of Ψ 94 [Ps 95]
  • 2.3.1. Part I (Ψ 94 [Ps 95]:1–7c)
  • 2.3.2. Part II (Ψ 94 [Ps 95]:7d–11)
  • 2.3.3. The Shape of Ψ 94 [Ps 95]: Text and Intertext(s)
  • The Covenant Reconstituted
  • The Rebellion
  • The Heading: “Of David”
  • 2.4. Conclusion
  • Chapter 3 The Reception of Ψ 94 [Ps 95] in Hebrews 3–4
  • 3.1. Introduction
  • 3.2. Hebrews 3:1–6 (The Introduction)
  • 3.3. Ψ 94 [Ps 95] Hebrews 3:7–11
  • 3.4. Hebrews 3:12–4:13
  • 3.4.1. Hebrews 3:12–14
  • 3.4.2. Hebrews 3:15–19
  • 3.4.3. Hebrews 4:1–5
  • 3.4.4. Hebrews 4:6–11
  • 3.4.5. Hebrews 4:12–13
  • 3.5. Conclusion
  • Chapter 4 Moses, Faith and The Response to God’s Word in Hebrews 10–12
  • 4.1. Introduction
  • 4.2. Hebrews 10
  • 4.2.1. Hebrews 10:19–31
  • 4.2.2. Hebrews 10:32–39
  • 4.3. Hebrews 11
  • 4.3.1. Hebrews 11:1–38
  • 4.3.2. Hebrews 11:39–40
  • 4.4. Hebrews 12
  • 4.4.1. Hebrews 12:1–11
  • 4.4.2. Hebrews 12:12–24
  • Hebrews 12:12–17
  • Hebrews 12:18–24
  • 4.4.3. Hebrews 12:25–29
  • 4.5. Conclusion
  • 4.6. Summary: An “Historical and Covenantal Hermeneutic”
  • Chapter 5 Introduction and Conclusion: “Then But Now” or “The Same Forever” (1:1–2; 13:7–8, 20–21)
  • 5.1. Introduction
  • 5.2. Hebrews 1:1–2
  • 5.3. Hebrews 13:7–8
  • 5.4. Hebrews 13:20–21
  • 5.5. Conclusion
  • Chapter 6 Implications for the Understanding of the New Covenant (8:8–13)
  • 6.1. Introduction
  • 6.2. The New Covenant at Qumran
  • 6.2.1. The New Covenant and the Establishment of God’s People
  • 6.2.2. The Covenant and Worship
  • 6.2.3. Blessing and Cursing
  • 6.2.4. The New Covenant and the Life of the Community
  • 6.2.5. Conclusion
  • 6.3. The “New Covenant” in Hebrews
  • 6.3.1. The Subjective Side of the Covenant: the Response (8:7–9)
  • 6.3.2. The Destruction of the “First” (8:13)
  • 6.3.3. The New Covenant: God’s Promised Salvation (8:10–12)
  • 6.3.4. Conclusion
  • 6.4. Application to Related Passages
  • 6.4.1. The Sins of the First Covenant (9:15)
  • 6.4.2. Doing Away with the Second (10:9)
  • 6.5. Conclusion
  • Chapter 7 Conclusion
  • Appendix: A Needed Paradigm Shift: “Through the Eyes of Chrysostom or ‘When a Variation Becomes the Theme’”
  • Bibliography
  • Commentaries
  • Primary Sources
  • Reference Works
  • Secondary Sources

List of Abbreviations

AB Anchor Bible Commentary Series
ACCSNT Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament
ALGHJ Arbeiten zur Literatur und Geschichte des hellenistischen Judentums
ANRW Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt
BBR Bulletin for Biblical Research
BDAG W. Bauer, W.F. Arndt, F.W. Gingrich and F.W. Danker. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Bib Biblica
BibR Biblical Research
BIOSCS Bulletin of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies
BR Biblica Roma
BSac Bibliotheca sacra
BThSt Biblisch-Theologische Studien
BZ Biblische Zeitschrift
BZNW Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für neutestamentliche Wissenschaft
CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly
CBQMS Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series
CBR Currents in Biblical Research
Chm Churchman
CJAS Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity Series
CJT Canadian Journal of Theology
ConNT Coniectanea Neotestamentica
CSEL Corpus Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum
CTJ Calvin Theological Journal
CTM Concordia Theological Monthly
DSD Dead Sea Discoveries
EdF Erträge der Forschung
EDNT Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (3 Volumes). ed. Horst Balz, and Gerhard Schneider. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
EKKNT Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament
EvT Evangelische Theologie
ExpTim Expository Times
←15 | 16→FN Filología Neotestamentaria
FRLANT Forschungen zur Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments
HBS Herder’s biblische Studien (Biblical Studies)
HNT Handbuch zum Neuen Testament
HQR Hartford Quarterly Review
HTR Harvard Theological Review
IBS Irish Biblical Studies
ICC International Critical Commentary
Int Interpretation
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JBTh Jahrbuch für biblische Theologie
JETS Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
JNSL Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages
JPT Journal of Pentecostal Theology
JSJSup Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism
JSNT Journal for the Study of the New Testament
JSNTSup Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series
JSOTSup Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series
JTI Journal of Theological Interpretation
JTS Journal of Theological Studies
K&I Kirche und Israel. Neukirchener Theologische Zeitschrift
KD Kerygma und Dogma
KEK Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar über das Neue Testament
LNTS Library of New Testament Studies
LQ Lutheran Quarterly
LXX The Septuagint
MJS Münsteraner Judaistische Studien
MT Masoretic Text
NABPR National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion Dissertation Series
NAC New American Commentary Series
NACSBT New American Commentary Series in Bible and Theology
Neot Neotestementica
NICNT New International Commentary on the New Testament
NIGTC New International Greek Testament Commentary
NIVAC New International Version Application Commentary Series
NovT Novum Testamentum
NovTSup Supplements to Novum Testamentum
NRT Nouvelle Revue Théologique
←16 | 17→NTA Neutestamentliche Abhandlungen
NTL New Testament Library
NTS New Testament Studies
ÖTK Ökumenischer Taschenbuchkommentar zum Neuen Testament
PBM Paternoster Biblical Monographs
PG Patrologia Graecae
PL Patrologia Latina
PNTC Pillar New Testament Commentary
PRSt Perspectives in Religious Studies
PTMS Princeton Theological Monograph Series
PTR Princeton Theological Review
PTS Paderborner Theologische Studien
QD Quaestiones Disputatae
ResQ Restoration Quarterly
RevQ Revue de Qumran
RNT Regensburger Neues Testament
SBLDS Society of Biblical Literature: Dissertation Series
SBLRBS Society of Biblical Literature: Resources for Biblical Study
SBLSP Society of Biblical Literature: Seminar Papers
SBT Studies in Biblical Theology
SE Studia Evangelica
SJT Scottish Journal of Theology
SNTSMS Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series
ST Studia Theologica
SVT Supplements to Vetus Testamentum
SWJT Southwestern Journal of Theology
TB Tyndale Bulletin
TDNT Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromily. Eds. Gerhard Kittel et al. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967.
ThHk Theologischer Handkommentar zum Neuen Testament
TJ Trinity Journal
TLZ Theologische Literaturzeitung
TSK Theologische Studien und Kritiken: Beitr. zur Theologie u. Religionswissenschaft
VD Verbum Domini
VT Vetus Testamentum
VTSup Vetus Testamentum Supplementary Series
WBC World Biblical Commentary
←17 | 18→ WMANT Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament (I and II Reihe)
WTJ The Westminster Theological Journal
WUNT Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament (I and II Reihe)
ZNT Zeitschrift für Neues Testament
ZNW Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Älteren Kirche

All abbreviations of ancient texts and authors are according to Religion Past and Present, 4th ed., edited by Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski and Eberhard Jüngel (Leiden: Brill, 2014).

Chapter 1 The Problem of the Use of Scripture in Hebrews

1.1. Introduction

God has spoken to the fathers through the prophets and to us through the Son (Heb 1:1–2a). The author of Hebrews (henceforth Auctor ad Hebraeos or Auctor) begins his “word of exhortation” (13:22; cf. Acts 13:16–41; 2 Macc 15:8–10) with a reference to the word of God in the past and the present.1 The introduction to Hebrews (Heb 1:1–4) goes on to summarize the major themes of the letter within the context of God speaking to His people. However, the nature of the word of God in the past and in the present is one of the central interpretative questions of Hebrews, and the relationship between the word past and present has occupied a special place in Hebrews’ scholarship. The assumed relationship between the word and its audience, past and present, has heavily influenced the understanding of the book as a whole. This relationship is most often characterized in terms of contrast: “God spoke through the prophets but now He speaks through the Son” (cf. ESV, NIV, RSV). While recent studies have questioned this understanding of Auctor’s introduction, it remains to be seen whether or not this contrast of past and present is the best reading of the text or whether it coincides at all with the rest of the argument of Hebrews. The introduction itself allows for a number of readings and so far the various studies of the twenty-one words of Auctor’s initial declaration have not produced a consensus.

Providing a satisfactory explanation of what it means that God spoke “through the Son” is easier said than done. As a whole, Hebrews has proved a difficult text to understand. Interpreters are faced with a number of challenges; these difficulties are well-known. To begin, the modern interpreter lacks the “encyclopedic ←19 | 20→knowledge” of Auctor and his audience.2 This term refers not only to the immediate culture, time and place, but also the way in which Auctor understands and interacts with the past. That an original author’s viewpoint cannot be entirely recreated, leaving only possible readings of the text, is compounded in Hebrews’ case by the complete lack of information regarding the Sitz im Leben of either Auctor or the audience. In the case of Hebrews this lack is especially important, and efforts to compensate have not produced a consensus of interpretation.3 ←20 | 21→However, there is another interpretative context that is directly and obviously pertinent. Auctor interacts with the story of God’s people found in the ancient Scriptures perhaps more than any other author in the early Christian writings.4 ←21 | 22→It is currently difficult to avoid the terminology “Old” and “New Testament” altogether; however, and throughout this work we will endeavor, wherever possible, to refer to “the first thirty-nine books” or the “ancient Scriptures” rather than “Old Testament” and the “Hebrew Scriptures” to refer to the Hebrew text; the LXX for the Greek translation of the Hebrew (albeit not a singular version but the complex textual tradition that makes up the LXX); and the “last twenty-seven books” or the “early Christian writings” for the “New Testament.” We avoid the terminology “Hebrew and Greek Bible” as it seems to imply two distinct revelations, something Auctor ad Hebraeos would have undoubtedly rejected.

The reliance on Scripture provides the modern commentator a unique avenue for analyzing the book of Hebrews. Encyclopedic knowledge may be different between an author and an intended audience, though to a much lesser extent than an ancient author from a modern interpreter. Unlike the modern interpreter, the original audience of the letter was in the position to receive a text intentionally composed for them by an author who knew them and knew something of their situation. Auctor’s purpose was to communicate what was foremost in his mind to his audience by means of his text. Therefore, one can examine the text for clues Auctor may have left to help his audience access their shared encyclopedia.5 Certain types of clues in the text provide the interpreter an easier task. As an example, intertextual references are relatively easy to identify and to verify. In contrast to the encyclopedia, about which we may hypothesize, intertextuality refers to actual, identifiable cues, indicators or references to other texts.6 The ←22 | 23→investigation of these cues should lead to a greater understanding of Auctor’s argument. At the same time, we may discover that the way Auctor uses Scripture is itself a significant part of the argument, one which the audience would be sure to appreciate.

1.2. Thesis Statement

It is the thesis of this work that Auctor uses a kind of historical hermeneutic in his selection and citation of texts of Scripture that recollects and recreates a particular narrative world: a hermeneutic that is foundational for his argument. It is key to understanding his argument that the use of this hermeneutic was not an invention of Auctor but a tradition which he self-consciously adopts. He draws upon this recalled narrative throughout his argument but especially in what we ←23 | 24→may call the “Moses,” “exodus” or perhaps “entrance texts” (Heb 3–4, 10–12). It is fundamental that he expects his audience to know and understand the stories of ancient Scripture (cf. 1:1–2; 13:7–8). The way in which Auctor refers to the history of God’s people is itself fundamental to his argument and shapes the way the argument is intended to work in the minds of his audience. Auctor’s use of this narrative world, through his citation of Scripture and the exhortations based upon it, results in placing his audience directly in line with the ancient people of God as recipients of God’s word, obliged to respond. It also indicates Auctor’s belief that God spoke the same message through ancient Scripture and through the Son. For Auctor ancient Scripture is the living word of God and addresses the current audience in the same way as it addressed the ancient people of God, not a revelation superseded and made redundant by events. According to Auctor the demands of Scripture are the same in his day as they were in the days of David and Moses, just as the right response to the word remains the same. Furthermore, this belief in the transtemporal applicability of Scripture unites all the people of God as travelers on the same journey to the same destination. This kind of investigation, an examination of intertextual cues provided by Auctor by his citation of Scripture, will illuminate a narrative world that we will argue is inhospitable to many common assumptions underlying the interpretation of Hebrews.

The current study is built on the observation that Auctor ad Hebraeos adopts and adapts a particular scriptural hermeneutical complex in the application of his argument to his audience. The complex is constructed by the use of a number of different discourse levels or horizons identified through particular intertextual cues. Each level is a reference to the worship of God in a particular time and place in the history of God’s people. They are identified by an appeal to and interaction with particular events and times in Israel’s history through Auctor’s interaction with ancient Scripture. The different levels comprise various moments in time, moving from Auctor’s vision of the future eschatological fulfillment of God’s plan to Auctor’s and the audience’s own day back through Israel’s history (e.g. the time of David and the exodus) to the creation. Each horizon exhibits the same particular pattern or model of response to the word of God, which Auctor wishes to commend to his audience. Though we believe this hermeneutic applies also to the central doctrinal section of the letter (Heb 4–10), it is most clearly observed in the exhortations throughout the book and particularly the extended exhortations in chapters three and four and ten through twelve. The key to this complex is Auctor’s citation of Ψ 94 [Ps 95]. The psalm itself demonstrates a similar approach in its call to God’s people to worship and confess. For example, the reference to “today” first in the psalm and then again in Hebrews relies on the ambiguous nature of its referent. To which day does the author refer: to the ←24 | 25→present, to the particular historical event referenced or to some other day? This ambiguity is aided by a number of factors, one of which is an interesting use of the second person pronoun. The pronoun in the psalm unites the worshipping community singing or reading the psalm with the deuteronomic community hearing Moses’s warning to heed the warning not to repeat their parents’ rebellion (Ψ 94 [Ps 95]:7c; Deut 1–4). Auctor then adopts the same ambiguity in addressing his own audience (Heb 3:7; 4:2, 7). The reader is left with the question: “Who is he referring to, Israel on the banks of the Jordan, Israel under David, a later worshipping community, the current audience or everyone?” As we will see, the psalm and Auctor’s treatment of it in Hebrews provides the key by which we may unlock this hermeneutical box. Auctor picks up on the psalm’s treatment of Israel’s history, using it to establish his own modus operandi, while simultaneously accessing the narrative world it recalls. Through an interaction with the psalm and other texts Auctor weaves this hermeneutical complex into the fabric of his argument.

We observe this phenomenon through the layering and subsequent confusion and collapse of the various narrative worlds into a single reality. It begins with (1) Auctor’s own day and with his own discourse as an argument addressed to his present audience. It has immediate implications in its own day (“today,” 3:7, 15). The next level (2) is Auctor’s citation, Ψ 94 [Ps 95], spoken by David to a generation of Israelites many years before. The citation itself plays an instrumental role in the construction of this complex and conjures up a particular narrative world and utilizes that world in making both a theological and practical point.7 As with level one, this discourse had immediate impact in its own day (“today,” 4:7). The next level (3) is indicated in several ways in the citation and throughout Hebrews and refers to the second generation of God’s people, then removed from Egypt and encamped on the banks of the Jordan after the forty years in the wilderness. The final level (4) is the generation of the exodus, which rebelled against God encamped in the Wilderness of Paran near Kadesh. In each case, God addresses His people and they are challenged to persevere in faithfulness to Him. The practical effect of Auctor’s use of this stratified construction is the recognition of a secondary level between (1) and (2). This level (2a) amounts to the possibility of a continuous reoccurrence of the reception ←25 | 26→of Ψ 94 [Ps 95], the ability to apply the content of the text to any generation of God’s people (“every day,” Heb 3:13). It is a perpetual call to repentance and faithfulness on the part of the people of God adapted to the life and time of the particular worshipping community.

Table 1.1. “Levels of Discourse in Hebrews 3–4”





Reference Text



“Do not harden your hearts; strive to enter that rest; go outside the camp,” etc.

Generation of Hebrews before entrance into the New Jerusalem


(Holy Spirit)

Ψ 94 [Ps 95]; Gen 2:2; et al.

3:7-4:13; cf. 13:13


Variously “Respond; come/enter”

Reoccurring Reader/Worshipper (“You”)


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (February)
New Testament Use of the Old Narrative World Psalms, Hebrews New Covenant Chrysostom, Augustine Supersessionism
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 421 S.

Biographical notes

Robert Rayburn (Author)

Robert G. Rayburn II is a Presbyterian Church in America minister and U.S. Army Chaplain. He studied history and philosophy at Covenant College (Lookout Mountain, GA) and completed a Master of Divinity at Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO) and a Doctorate of Theology in New Testament at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany.


Title: «Yesterday, Today and Forever»
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423 pages