I have noticed an up-tick in Earl Doherty admiration on the blogs. So, I decided to bring some of the points I made in my articles on the Jesus Myth to the pages of Cadre Comments.
In this post, I examine a passage in Hebrews that proves troublesome to Doherty's theory that the early Christians did not believe that Jesus existed on earth. Hebrews 9:27-28 refers to the second coming of Jesus Christ to earth. Obviously, a description of an upcoming earthly visitation as a second one clearly requires that Jesus had previously come to earth. Here is the NASV translation of the passage at issue:
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
As discussed more fully below, every other translation refers to Christ appearing a “second” time or “again.” So how does Doherty deal with this clear reference to Jesus Christ having already been on earth? By arguing that every modern translation of this scripture is wrong. Doherty argues that 9:27-28 does not refer to a second coming, but to the first coming that follows Jesus' non-earthly death and offering. Doherty offers two arguments. First, one authority suggests this should be translated "next." Second, any reference to a second coming would be intrusive because of the unspecified purpose of keeping 27 and 28 parallel. Both arguments are complete failures and Doherty ignores overwhelming contrary evidence.
Doherty's Translation is Contrived and Completely Unsupported
The Greek phrase translated “second time” is ek deuterou. According to Doherty, “Before the turn of the century, Vaughan (quoted in The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol.4, page 340) translated verse 28 this way: ‘Christ died once and the next thing before him is the Advent.’" It is telling, however, that the only authority Doherty has been able to point to for his own translation is one commentary from the 1800s. In contrast, every translation I could find interprets this passage as either "second" (RSV, NRSV, TNIV, NIV, NEB, KJV, NKJV, ESV, AMP, ASV, WE, YLT, WYC, DARBY) or, less seldom, "again" (CEV, NLT, LNT). I also reviewed numerous commentaries on Hebrews from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives and found none that translated this passage to mean "next" or "after" as does Doherty.
Even more damaging to Doherty's argument is the clear and overwhelming linguistic attestation that ek deuterou means "second." The root term dueteros is used throughout the New Testament to mean "second" (Matthew 21:30; 22:26, 39; 26:42; Mark 12:21, 31; 14:72, Luke 12:38, 19:18, 20:30; John 3:4, 4:54, 21:16; Acts 7:13; 10:15, 12:10, 13:33; 1 Corinthians 15:47; 2 Corinthians 1:15; 13:2; Titus 3:10; 2 Peter 3:1; Revelation 2:11; 4:7; 6:3; 8:8; 11:14; 16:3: John 3:4; 9:20, 11:9; 19:3). Out of 44 usages in the New Testament, the term deuteros is 38 times used to mean "second" and 3 times to mean "again." As for the author of Hebrews, he uses the term repeatedly and exclusively to mean "second." The term is used four other times by the author of Hebrews. Every time it is used mean to mean "second." (Hebrews 8:7; 9:3; 9:7, 10:9).
As for the exact phrase, ek deuterou, is only used in the New Testament to mean "second." It never has any other meaning:
- "He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." Matthew 26:42.
- "Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, 'Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.' And he began to weep." Mark 14:72
- "So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, 'Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.'" John 9:24
- "Again a voice came to him a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." Acts 10:15
- "But a voice from heaven answered a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.'" Acts 11:9.
Accordingly, the evidence of usage in early Christian literature and in Hebrews overwhelmingly supports a translation of "second."
The Use of "Second" is Not "Intrusive," but Necessary and Coherent
Doherty also argues that the term "second" is intrusive because "the writer is clearly presenting his readers with some kind of parallel between verses 27 and 28 (note also the "once" in both parts), it seems unlikely he would introduce an element which doesn't fit the parallel." Doherty argues verse 28 is best translated "Christ was offered once, and after that (next) he will appear to bring salvation." According to him, it must be translated this way because it must parallel verse 27, "first men die, and after that (or 'next') they are judged."
I am skeptical that any "analysis" as subjective as this could overcome the overwhelming linguistic attestation described above. In any event, it is clear that Doherty's purported parallel is contrived and unconvincing.
This argument fails because the author of Hebrews specifically chose a different term to indicate a different meaning. The term used in verse 27 to mean "after" is the Greek term meta. If, as Doherty insists, the author meant to indicate the same sequence for Jesus in verse 28 as he did for mean in verse 27, why did he intentionally avoid using the same word, meta? Why not use meta to write, "after being offered once for the sins of many, will appear ____" or "Christ was offered once for the sins of many and after this will appear ____"? I have been unable to find any reason for using a different term other than the obvious one -- the author used a different term because he meant to say something different. Rather than use meta the author uses a word he has elsewhere used to clearly mean "second." There is no ambiguity here. The author's word choice demonstrates that Doherty's argument is contrived.
Second, the context of the passages clearly shows that the author means exactly what he says -- Christ will come a second time. Doherty misses the obvious connection between verse 26 and verse 28. Verse 26 refers to Christ' first coming, verse 28 refers to his second coming:
(v. 26) or then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. (v. 27) And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, (v. 28) so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (NRSV)
Note the real focus of the author here. Jesus died once as an offering for sin. So to do men die once. Verse 26 explicitly states that Jesus "appeared" before to die for humanity. Verse 28 clearly refers to him "appearing" a second time to those he saved. The sequence is obvious, verse 26 is the first coming and verse 28 is the second coming. Clearly, the parallel is between both Jesus and man having to die only once.
Doherty's Translation Ignores the Obvious Parallels with the Temple Cult
Doherty completely and inexplicably ignores the obvious symbolism here. Throughout Hebrews its author refers to the temple cult system of sacrifice and contrasts it with Jesus' sacrifice and authority as High Priest. That is why the author focuses so much on Jesus having only died once to effect cleansing whereas the temple cult had to make sacrifices every year. Jesus' is superior because he only had to die once.
In verses 27-28, the author is continuing this comparison and symbolism. The High Priest of the temple cult would appear before the people in front of the Holy of Holies where no one else was allowed to enter. The High Priest would then enter the Holy of Holies with the sacrifice on behalf of the nation. Once inside, the High Priest would make his sacrifice to God. All the while, the people were waiting expectantly outside for the reappearance of the High Priest. Why? Because the mere fact that he survived to leave the Holy of Holies meant that God had accepted the sacrifice and the cleansing was effected.
This is the narrative that the author of Hebrews uses to describe Jesus’ sacrifice and second appearance. Just as the High Priest appeared before the people, so to did Jesus when he came to earth. Just as the High Priest took the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies, so to did Jesus through his death and resurrection. Just as the High Priest would reappear to confirm that God had accepted the sacrifice, so to will Jesus appear a second time to his people to show them that God has accepted his sacrifice. Here is how two New Testament scholars describe the parallel of the Priest appearing before the people and then reappearing to confirm the sacrifice was accepted with Jesus’ first visit to earth and then his second coming which confirms that his sacrifice was accepted.
Men and women die once, by divine appointment, and in their case death is followed by judgment. Christ died once, by divine appointment, and his death is followed by salvation for all his people. This is because in his death he bore 'the sins of many,' offering up his life to God as an atonement on their behalf... The Israelites who watched their high priest enter the sanctuary for them waited expectantly for his reappearance; that was a welcome sign that he and the sacrifice which he presented had been accepted by God. His reappearance from the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement was an especially welcome sight.
(Bruce,FF The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised) page 232).
Christ's first coming was as the sinbearer. That task has been finished forever. His priestly work of making sacrifice is done, and His representation of believers in the sanctuary of God's presence is now being accomplished (verse 24). There remains one final action of this high priest. Even as the Jewish priest emerged from the holy of holies, signifying by the very fact of his emergence that his sacrifice had been accepted (otherwise he would have been divinely stricken in the inner chamber), so Christ will also appear a second time. Those who wait him are all true believers, for whom Christ's second coming will mean the consummation of their salvation. All of the blessed results of Christ's sacrifice will be brought to fulfilment. At Christ's second coming, His purpose will be apart from sin, for that was dealt with by His once for all sacrifice when He came the first time. For believers, salvation in its fullest realization will occur as they share God's blessed presence for eternity.
(Homer A. Kent, Jr. The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary, page 190)
Accordingly, Hebrews 9:27-28 refers, quite clearly, to the second coming of Christ to earth.