Saturday, February 03, 2018

Hebrews 12:16--'Not Appreciating Sacred Things'

"and watch that among you there is no one who is sexually immoral* nor anyone who does not appreciate sacred things, like Eʹsau, who gave up his rights as firstborn in exchange for one meal" (Hebrews 12:16 NWT 2013).

μή τις πόρνος ἢ βέβηλος ὡς Ἠσαῦ, ὃς ἀντὶ βρώσεως μιᾶς ἀπέδετο τὰ πρωτοτόκια ἑαυτοῦ. (NA28)

βέβηλος occurs 1 time in the GNT; βεβήλοις occurs 1 time (1 Tim. 1:9) and βεβήλους is found 3 times (1 Tim. 4:7; 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:16).

As you can see, the adjectival form of the word occurs 4 times in Timothy and once outside those letters. Why is that the case? Why does Hebrews use βέβηλος like the Pastorals do?

Victor C. Pfitzner (Hebrews, 180) states that βέβηλος "has cultic connotations, suggesting the distinction between the holy and the profane." In other words, Esau spurned what is holy/sacred by bartering an item that possessed the divine benediction.

David Allen writes: "Esau's rejection of his birthright was tantamount to spiritual prostitution and de facto adultery" (Deuteronomy and Exhortation in Hebrews, 136).

Allen also believes that apostasy is "the dominant heuristic motif in 12:16-17" (ibid.).

Older commentators did not want to apply πόρνος to Esau, but more recent works do, even if it is not clear why 12:16 gives him that designation. William Lane (Word Biblical Commentary) relates that "Elliott" tried contending that ἢ in 12:16 is disjunctive--separating πόρνος from βέβηλος and distinguishing two kinds of people. Lane reckons that the suggestion is less than convincing since ἢ "is never strictly disjunctive" (although he sees no reason to think Esau was a literal fornicator). βέβηλος is understood here as "irreligious," "secular" or profane.

According to Westcott, "The word describes a character which recognises nothing as higher than earth: for whom there is nothing sacred: no divine reverence for the unseen" (The Epistle to the Hebrews, 408). He consider Esau to be "the embodiment" of βέβηλος.

Compare Leviticus 10:10; 1 Samuel 21:4 (LXX).

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