Summer 2014: The Meaning of Hebrews 9:12
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Summary: The Meaning of Hebrews 9:12 by Edwin de Kock.

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining [a] eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:12 New International Version (NIV)

The meaning and therefore the translation of this verse are in several languages controversial and therefore important for debunking, or upholding, the sanctuary doctrine as taught by Seventh-day Adventists. τα άγια

We begin by contrasting the following texts, in both of which we supply the emphasis. Because this issue was recently raised by somebody from Mexico, the second one is in Spanish.

“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (The Holy Bible, Authorized/King James Version, 1611).

“y no por sangre de machos cabríos ni de becerros, sino por su propia sangre, entró una vez para siempre en el Lugar Santísimo [the most Holy Place], habiendo obtenido eterna redención” ( La Santa Biblia, Antigua versión de Casiodoro de Reina [1569], revisata por Cipriano de Valera [1602], otras revisiónes: 1862, 1909 y 1960).

So did Jesus, after ascending to heaven, go into the Holy Place or into the Most Holy Place?

CC Waiting For The Word on Flickr

Translations, even the best ones, are all imperfect. The New Testament was not written in English or Spanish. Let us therefore go to the original, using the 2012 Nestle-Aland, 28th Revised Edition, accompanied by the English Standard Version.

ούδε δι’ αίματος τραγων και μοσχων δια δε του ίδιου αίματος είσηλθεν εφαπαξ είς τα άγια αιωνιαν λυτρωσιν εύραμενος (oude di’ haimatos tragōn kaj moschōn dia de tou idiou haimatos eisēlthein efapax eis ta hagia aiōnian lutrōsin euramenos). “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (English Standard Version).

The Greek may feasibly be translated as “the holy place” (KJV), but la Lugar Santísimo (“the most holy place”) (Reina/Valera, 1960 revision) is incorrect; for it is the same phrase that this Spanish Bible uses for the Holy of Holies in Heb. 9:3. In that verse, however, the Greek has, not τα άγια (ta hagia), but άγια άγιων (hagia hagiōn). Because in the latter case the word τα (ta, “the”) does not occur, some have argued that this άγια (hagia) is a different word: not a neuter plural but a feminine adjective referring to σκηνη (skēnē, “tent/tabernacle”). Τα (ta) is therefore important. In Heb. 9, τα άγια (ta hagia) occurs only in vs. 12.

The singular form, τα άγια (to hagion), appears in vs. 1 of the same chapter, joined to the word κοσμετικον (kosmetikon, “earthly”). To άγιον κοσμετικον means “the earthly place of holiness,” i.e. the earthly sanctuary.” This singular may be derived from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that the early Christians often used: και διοριει το καταπετασμα ύμιν άναμεσον του άγιου και άναμεσον του άγιου των άγιων (kaj dioriei to katapetasma humin anameson tou hagiou kaj anameson tou hagiou tōn hagiōn) “And the veil shall make a separation for you between the holy and the holy of holies.” (Ex. 26:33) But το άγιον (to hagion) is not used in Heb. 9:12.

There it is τα άγια (ta hagia), which can be legitimately Englished as “the sanctuary,” instead of either “the holy place” or “the most holy place.” Such was the preference of the seventeenth-century scholars to whom the world owes a celebrated translation into the Dutch language, the Staten Bijbel. First published in 1618, a mere seven years after the Authorized/King James version of 1611, it has for those who read that language played a similar role and maintained a comparable authority. For both Heb. 9:8 and Heb. 9:12, it uses the word heiligdom (sanctuary). The same holds true for the Afrikaans translation of 1933. This language, spoken in South Africa, is descended from seventeenth-century Dutch. Therefore, its Bible owes a good deal to the tradition of the Staten Bijbel.

Let us test the feasibility of this other rendering with a translation of these verses from Dutch into English: “ which the Holy Spirit made it clear that the way to the sanctuary was not yet open as long as the first tabernacle endured” (Heb. 9:8). “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered once into the sanctuary and brought about an eternal salvation” (vs. 12).

How well does this hold up in the light of the Greek original? Very well, we think. Heb. 9:1-15, within which the cited texts occur, contrasts the Saviour’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary with that of the priests in the earthly sanctuary with its two apartments. Τα άγια (ta hagia, “the holy places”) are their heavenly equivalent, into which Jesus our High Priest entered after His ascension. Did He go into both of them simultaneously? Obviously not. That would be very strange if not impossible. Instead, there would first be His general intercession. Later, at the right time, the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) of the world would come, from 22 October 1844 till just before the Second Coming.

Let us also note that Seventh-day Adventists do not build their entire sanctuary doctrine, and especially the investigative judgment, on a part of Hebrews. It is not the only New Testament book that deals with this topic. The Revelation likewise has significant things to say about it.

Especially enlightening is Rev. 11:18-19: “And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth. And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of the testament; and there were lightnings, and voices, and thundering, and an earthquake, and great hail.” (Emphases added)

Here it is unnecessary to trouble the longsuffering reader with much Greek, except for the translation of a few words. The first of these is temple. In Rev. 11, it is ναος (naos, “inmost part of a temple”). Elsewhere in the New Testament, the more general word for temple is ίερον (hieron), which describes the whole complex of buildings we read about, for instance in the Gospels and the book of Acts. The naos is the inner shrine within the hieron, i.e. the Holy of Holies. Also note that the Greek word διαθηκη (diathēkē), translated as testament also means covenant. In Rev. 11:19, it is really the ark of the covenant, which is how the NKJV translates it.

Further observe how this Scripture ties up with Rev. 14:7, where the first angel loudly proclaims: “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come.” This echoes Rev. 11:18, which speaks of “the time of the dead, that they should be judged” (emphases added). Another link between these two chapters is “the ark of the covenant” and “the commandments of God”—the standard of judgment—inside it.

Taken together, the book of Hebrews and Revelation provide a good basis for the sanctuary doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

About the author:

Edwin de Kock (born March 9, 1930), writer and world traveler, was born in South Africa and became a U.S. citizen in 2000. His publications are in English, Esperanto, and Afrikaans, prose as well as poetry. He lives in Edinburg, Texas. Professionally de Kock has been mostly a high school and college teacher (Departmental Head, 1983-1990), but sometimes also a translator, editor, lay preacher, and for one year a volunteer missionary in South Korea. His eleven years of formal studies, full-time rating, were in theology, speech training, education, languages and literature. Additionally, as an autodidact and polyglot (acquainted with thirteen languages), he is widely read in history, international culture, and world affairs.

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