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Perfection Perfected

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The Stoic “Self-Eluding Sage” and Moral Progress in Hebrews

image of Novum Testamentum

Hebrews evinces the linked exegetical aporiae of, on the one hand, tension between the asserted perfection of the believer and exhortations to further perfection and, on the other, a similar tension between Christ’s exalted, preexistent nature and claims about his need for further perfection during his earthly life. The paper proposes the Stoic figure of the “self-eluding sage” as a helpful contextual analogue for explaining the indicative-imperative problem in Hebrews. Originally a product of early epistemological debates among Hellenistic philosophical schools, the “self-eluding sage” (διαλεληθὼς σοφός) was deployed by Philo and Plutarch in Roman-era debates on the nature of moral progress. Terminological and structural similarities between discussions of the Stoic figure and discussions of progress in Hebrews (especially 5:14-6:3) help contextualize the speech’s concern for moral insight and improvement within a general Roman-era focus on moral progress toward filling communal roles.

Affiliations: 1: Bethlehem, pa


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