Rawlings School of Divinity
Master of Arts in Biblical Studies (MA)
Sabbath, Rest, Hebrews
Best, Sean M., "The Theological Implications of κατάπαυσίν and σαββατισμὸς in Hebrews 3:7–4:11" (2019). Masters Theses. 606.
This thesis will argue that rest in Hebrews is entering into humanity’s rightful place, ruling over creation with God, in the full image of God, as intended by God since the seventh day. Rest in the book of Hebrews is a vitally important theme. The word for rest in Greek is κατάπαυσίν and is used eight times in Hebrews 3–4. The definition of rest determines the crux of understanding the warning passage by the author of Hebrews. The basic lexical definition of this word is “rest” or “resting place.” While a basic gloss of the Greek term κατάπαυσίν is easy to find, the contextual meaning of “rest” in all its connotations in Hebrews 3–4 is much more difficult to ascertain.
While the work of Beale and other recent scholarship has furthered our understanding of rest, there are still gaps in explanations of rest in the Bible as it pertains to κατάπαυσις and how various biblical authors, especially the author of Hebrews, understand that rest. This study will evaluate scholarship related to rest and develop a biblical theology of rest in order to bring clarity to how the theme is used by the author of Hebrews and the resulting implications for Christians today. There are several reasons to address the topic of rest in the book of Hebrews. The first reason is primarily exegetical. There is no question that rest plays a crucial role in Hebrews. Rest is also alluded to throughout the letter, especially in the warning passages as “the promise” (Heb 4:1; 6:12, 15, 17, 19-20; 7:6; 8:6; 9:15; 10:36; 11:9, 13, 17, 33, 39). The second reason is polemical or doctrinal. The way one understands rest in Hebrews 3–4 plays a significant role in understanding what is at stake in the warning passages, including the meaning of apostasy and the goal of perseverance. The third reason is practical. The theological implications of rest in the book are not merely for abstract knowledge but rather for motivating the audience to respond in how they live the Christian life.
This thesis is a biblical-theological examination of rest in the book of Hebrews. The method of rhetorical analysis of Second Temple Judaism, primarily Hellenistic practices such as midrash as well as the Greco-Roman thought of Platonism, will be used to analyze Hebrews 3–4. In addition, it is necessary to examine the standard interpretive practices of the time. These include an understanding of typology, Targumim, and Midrashim because these Hellenistic interpretations of Scripture arguably influenced the ancient author. The intertextuality of the letter with other Old Testament and other early Jewish writings will be used to discern the author’s theology of rest. In order to analyze the rhetoric of Hebrews, exegesis of the relevant biblical data from the Old Testament passages that are quoted in Hebrews 3–4 must be done. Other biblical and extra-biblical texts that are linked textually through κατάπαυσις will also be analyzed to discover if they influence the author of Hebrews understanding of rest. Because the author of Hebrews uses other texts to shape his understanding of rest, evaluation of the author's consistency with the original meaning will play a part. I will provide exegesis of the Greek language of Psalm 95 and Genesis 2:2 since the author quotes exclusively from the Septuagint. With these background texts and practices discussed, exegesis of Hebrews 3–4 in light of these other passages will provide the answer to how the author of Hebrews understands rest.
To understand the theme of rest, one must take a cumulative approach to all the various nuances. Rest, in the context of Hebrews 3–4, is an eschatological reigning with God that can be experienced partially in the present, but fully in the future. The rest is available to all those who put their faith in Christ’s work, who has already entered rest. Because of sin, the image of God has been broken, and therefore, sin must be dealt with through Christ’s atonement, allowing the restoration of the image of God in humanity. Responding to the promise of rest, now spoken through the Son, with unbelief like the wilderness generation results in the failure of attaining God’s rest.