[K:NWTS 10/1 (May 1995) 32-34]
William Lane is not afraid to go down 'roads less traveled' by standard interpreters. In this case, the journey is worth the bumps and bruises that come along the way.
Geerhardus Vos, describing the motivation of the writer of the book of Hebrews, comments: "He sought to cure the readers of their religious externalism, and this externalism was attached to their distorted eschatology. They were dissatisfied because they did not as yet possess the external things, and therefore they were intensely interested in eschatology. The writer shows them that the eschatology is present for the most part, only certain features of it being reserved for the future. The internal, spiritual part is the important part, and this we have now" (The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 53). Vos held that a proper understanding of eschatology was essential to the church's journey through the wilderness of this life. The suffering pilgrims of Hebrews struggled with dissatisfaction and apostasy because they did not understand the 'already/not yet' structure of Biblical eschatology. The Christian 'already' possesses the internal blessings of heaven. He has already come to Mt. Zion. But the external blessings of heaven are still future tense. The pilgrims of Hebrews struggled because they wanted heaven to be manifested externally on earth in their lifetime. The primary purpose of the epistle was to correct their improper understanding of eschatology and thereby strengthen in them in their wilderness journey.
One of the criteria from which a commentary on Hebrews should be evaluated is this belief in the priority of eschatology. William Lane's commentary does give eschatology a high priority. Though he may not be consciously dedicated to the science of Biblical Theology, he does see that eschatology undergirds the theological and practical instructions of Hebrews. For example, when commenting on 6:4 and what it means for the enlightened to have tasted, Lane comments: "the clauses describe vividly the reality of the experience of personal salvation enjoyed by the Christians addressed. The Holy Spirit not only formed the community but was bringing it to eschatological fulfillment. The present period was already pervaded by the power of the coming age, which, through Christ, had made a profound inroad upon the community. Accordingly, in verses 4-5 the writer identifies the congregation as witnesses to the fact that God's salvation and presence are the unquestionable reality of their lives"(v. 1, pp. 141-42). Lane's eschatological sensitivity gives his commentary a different feel from those written by Philip Hughes, F. F. Bruce or William Manson. He stimulates the reader to think in terms of the 'already/not yet.'
Another positive aspect of this commentary is that each section, as well as some sub-sections, begin with extensive bibliographies. This alone makes the commentary worth the investment. For example, when working on 9:23 one is confronted with a heavenly temple. Due to space constraints, Lane's comments are limited to one page. But this only scratches the surface when it comes to the depth of the concept of an eschatological tabernacle. If one goes to the bibliography at the start of this section (v. 2, p. 227, verses 9:11-28), one finds that Lane has cited several articles that expand upon this topic. One stimulating article listed is G. W. MacRae's, "Heaven, Temple and Eschatology in the Letter to the Hebrews" (Semeia 12 : 179-99). In this article, MacRae is able to spend twenty pages exploring the depths of the eschatological temple because he is not limited by space. By using the bibliography, the minister is able to broaden his reading without the painstaking work of searching for pertinent articles. Lane has already done this for the busy pastor. He enables the minister to work on sermon preparation months in advance, with only a few visits to a theological library to obtain the articles.
Finally, Lane's use of intertestamental material is very helpful. At times, he perhaps gives too much credit to external forces for the present form of certain texts. The reader will need to be cautious. This holds true of the entire commentary. Because Lane is often willing to go down 'roads less traveled' by standard interpreters, the reader must stay alert. The journey is at times extremely helpful and at other times leads to difficulties. Either way, it is an invigorating expedition.
If you seek a stimulating and helpful analysis of the book of Hebrews, this is a rewarding commentary. In this reviewer's opinion, it is the best on the market at this time.
Randall A. Bergquist
Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church