This week at work I have the privilege to sit in on Dr. D.A. Carson’s lectures on Hebrews. Carson is a brilliant theologian and a very capable exegete for a tricky book like Hebrews. With all of its complex Old Testament quotations it does require a competent biblical theologian who understands the sweep of the biblical narrative to make sense of the book. Dr. Carson is known for this type of thing.
I was particularly interested in his treatment of Hebrews 5:11–6:2:
About this [the connection between Christ and the OT figure of Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
Up until this point many themes in the OT have been tied to Christ including the themes of the Davidic King and God’s rest. The writer of Hebrews has been pulling quotes from several OT sources. Here in this text the writer of Hebrews begins to explain now how Melchizedek in the OT is related to Christ, but due to a lack of maturity the OT connections may be lost on the readers. In Carson’s view the milk here is not the A, B, Cs of the Christian faith, but the elemental themes of the OT, which would have been familiar to the Jewish audience. Thus, Carson says, the writer of Hebrews mandates that Christians are so maturing that they can put their Bibles together and grow from elementary ‘givens’ of the Bible and press on to see how the OT points forward to Jesus. And that is exactly what the writer has been doing up to this point, working out OT texts to show how thematic strands culminate in the Savior. And thus the Melchizedek context fits what we read in 5:11–6:2. Hebrews really makes it clear just how important the salvation-historical self-consciousness was to the early Christians.
In Carson’s view, the writer of Hebrews is not only encouraging Christians to deepen their biblical knowledge of Scripture in general, but to read the OT carefully and to trace out the many ways in which the OT trajectories find their fulfillment in the Savior. This is, at least in part, what it means to feast on steak. Today we call this biblical theology, the discipline that seeks to restore this awareness of progress along the salvation-historical line. Carson seems to prove the value of biblical theology exegetically from this passage.
So where does one begin the study of biblical theology? There is no replacement for reading and re-reading the text of the Bible, listening for the themes that echo throughout the Bible. For me one of the most helpful supplementary books is the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Carson recommended the book in class). Also, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology by Charles H. H. Scobie is very useful, but not for its depth or for its reliability on all exegetical points. I like Scobie as an introduction to the broad sweep of OT themes that find their fulfillment in the NT. I commend these books to you, especially if you find your diet lacking in protein.