The basic thesis of Peeler’s book is that familial language, particularly the language of God as “Father” and Jesus as “Son” and the audience as “siblings,” is fundamental to Hebrews’ presentation of its main characters. She writes, “God’s paternal relationship with Jesus his Son shapes the theology and Christology of the letter, and, in so doing, constructs the identity of the audience, legitimizes their present experience, and supports them in their endurance” (p. 8).
Chapter one, dealing with Hebrews 1, argues that the author’s presentation of Jesus as “Son” and God as “Father” governs their actions throughout the book. This implies, for example, that personal sonship is implied throughout the exordium (Heb 1:1–4) and the catena (Heb 1:5–14); this goes against those who emphasize the author’s use of impersonal “wisdom” themes in Hebrews 1 over and against personal pre-existence of the Son. Peeler does not deny the presence of wisdom Christology here but argues that wisdom (and Davidic) themes are brought “into the framework of a familial relationship” (p. 61). Peeler also argues that the fatherhood of God is basic to Hebrews 1 (pp. 13, 59–61); this implies, moreover, that God is a relational God and will remain such throughout the letter (p. 62).
Peeler argues in chapter two that Hebrews 2 continues to emphasize God-as-father-and-Jesus-as-Son by “tracing the path Jesus took on the way to his exalted position” (p. 65). This chapter makes at least three important observations: (1) God is the kind of Father who uses humbling to exalt (pp. 76, 103); (2) similarly, in the family of God it is suffering that renders one fit for an inheritance (p. 79); (3) the audience is first identified as a family—the children of God and the siblings of Jesus—that is being led into its inheritance (pp. 66, 81, 84–94).
Chapter three deals with the relationship between Jesus as Son and Jesus as Priest—indisputably the two main Christological themes in Hebrews. While some have argued that the two are in tension with one another, Peeler argues as follows:
- Jesus had to be a “son of man” (i.e., a human being) in order to be a priest (p. 108);
- Jesus had to be a “son of God” to be a Melchizedekian priest (p. 137);
- the suffering he endured in order to attain his filial inheritance and the work he accomplished in order to become a high priest forever are one and the same (pp. 124–28, 138–39);
- Psalm 110 brings the two together—in Psalm 110:1 he is appointed “son,” and in Psalm 110:4 he is appointed “priest” (pp. 116, 118–20);
- the two positions have in common not only a divine appointment but a guaranteed permanence (pp. 128–32);
- finally, it is by his high priestly offering and intercession that Jesus makes it possible for his siblings to come into their inheritance: “When Jesus takes his place as God’s heir through the offering of his body, he makes his siblings’ status as God’s heirs a reality” (p. 136).
Chapter four examines the audience’s participation in the path already taken by Jesus, their older brother and high priest, in Hebrews 12–13. God is particularly portrayed as a Father who exhorts his children to faithfulness (pp. 144–63) and as a Father who “leads” his children (pp. 174–75). It should come as no surprise, given the preceding discussions of Jesus’s suffering on the way to his inheritance and exaltation, that his siblings’ path should move in similar directions: if they are God’s children, they will be prepared for their inheritance by discipline (Heb 12:4–13).
In her conclusion, Peeler highlights a couple of unique contributions offered by her study. First, while the sonship of Jesus has always garnered significant attention, this book engages the fatherhood of God in new ways. Second, she argues that a familial framework, rather than the honor-shame framework suggested by notable Hebrews scholar David deSilva, best guides one’s overall reading of Hebrews. Third, this familial framework provides a new way to understand the connection between the Son’s perfection through suffering and the sons’ (and daughters’) perfection through suffering.
Peeler has certainly demonstrated the importance of familial themes in Hebrews, though I wonder if she has overstated her case at a couple of points. First, one wonders how God as Father and Jesus as Son relate to portions of Hebrews not emphasized in the book (esp. Heb 3:7–4:13, 11:1–40)—if indeed such familial themes truly govern the whole epistle. Second, Peeler on occasion states emphatically that God does something as Father, but it is unclear why this is important (e.g., pp. 127, 173). Third, she occasionally seeks allusions to familial themes in texts leave one wishing for further substantiation (e.g., her claim that the πάντες in Heb 8:11 “invokes the inheritance of Jesus by which he brings all things . . . under his domain” [p. 144]). In the end, though, these are minor quibbles about a fine piece of scholarship that makes a solid contribution to scholarship on Hebrews.