But a Body hast Thou Prepared Me

 

 

by Noel Rude

 

When it says in Hebrews 10:5, “but a body hast thou prepared me”—might this mean preexistence—that a human body was prepared for a preexistent being?  The context is the Yom Kippur service (Heb 9:7), “But into the second went the high priest alone once every year …,” and the phrase occurs in a quote from the Psalms (Heb 10:4-7):

 

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith [Psalms 40:6-9],

 

 

Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

 

 

Note that where the book of Hebrews has “but a body hast thou prepared for me” the Hebrew text has “mine ears hast thou opened” (Psalms 40):

 

ז  זֶבַח וּמִנְחָה לֹא־חָפַצְתָּ

6 Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire;

אָזְנַיִם כָּרִיתָ לִּי

mine ears hast thou opened: [1]

עוֹלָה וַחֲטָאָה לֹא שָׁאָלְתָּ׃

burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.

ח  אָז אָמַרְתִּי

7 Then said I,

הִנֵּה־בָאתִי

Lo, I come:

בִּמְגִלַּת־סֵפֶר כָּתוּב עָלָי׃

in the volume of the book it is written of me,

ט  לַעֲשׂוֹת־רְצוֹנְךָ אֱלֹהַי חָפָצְתִּי

8 I delight to do thy will, O my God:

וְתוֹרָתְךָ בְּתוֹךְ מֵעָי׃

yea, thy law is within my heart.

 

The reading found in Hebrews 10:5 (σῶμα δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι ‘but a body hast thou prepared for me’) also occurs in the Vaticanus (B), Sinaiticus (S) and Alexandrinus (A) codices of the Septuagint. [2]  Rahlfs and Hanhart (2006), however, have τα δ κατηρτσω μοι which Pietersma and Wright (2007) translate ‘but ears you fashioned for me’:[3]

 

Rahlfs and Hanhart (2006)

Pietersma and Wright (2007)

7 θυσίαν καὶ προσφορὰν οὐκ ἠθέλησας

6 Sacrifice and offering you did not want,

ὠτία δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι.

but ears you fashioned for me.

ὁλοκαύτωμα καὶ περὶ ἁμαρτίας

Whole burnt offering and one for sin

οὐκ ᾔτησας.

you did not request.

8 τότε εἶπον ἰδοὺ ἥκω

7 Then I said, “Look, I have come;

ἐν κεφαλίδι βιβλίου γέγραπται περὶ ἐμοῦ.

in a scroll of a book it is written of me.

9 τοῦ ποιῆσαι τὸ θέλημά σου ὁ θεός μου

8 To do your will, O my God,

ἐβουλήθην

I desired—

καὶ τὸν νόμον σου ἐν μέσῳ τῆς κοιλίας μου.

and your law, within my belly.”

Thus the Septuagint follows closely the Hebrew, and Hebrews 10 deviates as follows:[4]

 

5 θυσίαν καὶ προσφορὰν οὐκ ἠθέλησας,

5 Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not,

σῶμα δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι·

but a body hast thou prepared me:

ὁλοκαυτώματα καὶ περὶ ἁμαρτίας

6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin

οὐκ εὐδόκησας.

thou hast had no pleasure.

τότε εἶπον ἰδοὺ ἥκω,

7 Then said I, Lo, I come

ἐν κεφαλίδι βιβλίου γέγραπται περὶ ἐμοῦ,

(in the volume of the book it is written of me,)

τοῦ ποιῆσαι ὁ θεός τὸ θέλημά σου.

to do thy will, O God.

 

For many a modern reader such alteration of the text is inexcusable.  But what we sometimes forget is that the ancients not only cited prophecy and employed proof texts, even more often perhaps they simply expressed what they wanted to say in the words of Scripture.  And in so doing they were not claiming that the particular Scripture was prophetic or intended for their particular application of it.  It was that they were so familiar with the Scriptures that they spoke and wrote in its words.  Former generations of Americans would understand this, for they often employed the Scriptures in much the same way.  Consider this observation by Gelernter (2007:31).

 

You cannot understand the literature and experience of seventeenth-century American Puritans unless you know the Bible. There is a fascinating resemblance between Puritan writings and the Hebrew literary form called melitzah, in which the author makes his points by stringing together biblical and rabbinic passages.  The Puritans’ world, like traditional Jewish society, was permeated by and obsessed with the Bible. 

 

Let me quote from the Wikipedia article to shed a little light on the use of Psalms 40:6 in Hebrews 10:

 

What is so special about this particular literary device is that in melitzah the sentences compounded out of quotations mean what they say; but below and beyond the surface they reverberate with associations to the original texts, and this is what makes them psychologically so interesting and valuable. In the transposition of a quotation from the original (in this case canonical) text to a new one, the meaning of the original context may be retained, altered, or subverted. In any case the original context trails along as an invisible interlinear presence, and the readers, like the writer, must be aware of these associations if they are to savor the new text to the full.

 

A similar literary procedure called paranomasia that was employed by ancient Greco-Latin authors is invoked by one author to explain Hebrews 10 (Jobes 1992):

 

The author of Hebrews 10 was expressing the line of dynastic continuity between David and Jesus by putting David’s words in Christ’s mouth. But in so doing, the author also expressed the profound discontinuity by crafting four seemingly minor changes that made the quotation uniquely appropriate for Christ. The author of Hebrews eloquently uses rhetorical technique to persuade his audience that “in the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets … but in these last days he has spoken to us by his son.”

 

Now by substituting σῶμα ‘body’ for ὠτία ‘ears’ in Heb 10:5, what did the author of the book of Hebrews intend?  Was he referring to incarnation or spirit possession? 

 

I can think of three possibilities.  Perhaps the author of the book of Hebrews was calling attention to the fact that Jesus was willing to sacrifice the body God had given him (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1Cor 11:24; Col 1:22), or perhaps he meant the body the messiah leaves behind (1Cor 10:16-17): “… The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”  As again he emphasizes (1Cor 12:27): “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”  Even if this alteration of Psalms 40 refers to messiah’s body that was sacrificed, this still does not prove preexistence, for both individually and collectively God has provided us a body to spend for his purpose.

 

What was unique about Jesus, however, was not that he was willing to sacrifice his body and die for his friends (John 15:13)—many a soldier has done just that.  What was unique about Jesus was his resurrection from the dead—not to renewed physical life—but as “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:9) by a resurrection from the dead (Luke 20:36; Rom 1:4; 1Cor 15:20; Col 1:18; Rev 1:5).  And so I should think it would make sense if the author of the book of Hebrews meant the resurrection, as Paul does in 1Cor 15:44: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”

 

And isn’t this even implied in Hebrews?  Notice verses 8-9: “Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God...”  If an animal sacrifice was NOT what God wanted, why would he want a human sacrifice?  And if, as God says (Ezek 33:11), “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked”, how would a substitutionary death satisfy him?

 

Rather Hebrews may be saying that what God wanted was a living messiah who would do his will and stand in the gap for God’s people (Ezekiel 22:30).

 

And thus Hebrews goes on to say (verse 10), “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  This may sound like a blood sacrifice, but just keep reading and it becomes clear that it is not Jesus’ death that matters most, rather it is his fulfillment of Psalms 110:1: “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.”  It is Jesus’ role as mediator, symbolized by the priest who pierced the veil into the Holy of Holies, just as Jesus pierced the veil of his flesh (verse 20) into the immortality of the resurrection.  The blood is merely symbolic of the fact that he had to die in order to take on the spiritual body whereby he could approach God (1Tim 6:16).

 

As Paul says (Col 2:9), “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”  The context is now, when Paul was writing, not “in the days of his flesh”:

 

Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.  Hebrews 5:7-10

 

He had to be perfected first—only then could he become the heavenly priest.

 

Notice the imagery.  Jesus is not so much the slain goat as he is the priest (Heb 4:14-15), “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”  Thus just as Moses was an advocate for Israel (Exodus 32:9-14; 30-32), so is Jesus (1John 2:1), “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous ...”

 

Can one absolutely prove that the alteration of the Psalm to say, “but a body hast thou prepared me,” must mean only the “spiritual body” of the resurrection (1Cor 15:44)?  Probably not.  But then neither is it a proof text for preexistence.


 

[1] Rashi, here for כָּרִיתָ ‘you will dig’ (of אָזְנַיִם כָּרִיתָ לִּי ‘you will dig out ears for me’) has, עֲשִׂיתָם חֲלוּלוֹ לִשְׂמוֹעַ ‘you made them hollow for hearing’.

[2] The Codex Sinaiticus can be accessed on line at http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/.

[3] Older translations assume σῶμα ‘body’.  Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton (1851), for example, has, “but a body hast thou prepared me”.  The reason for preferring ὠτία ‘ears’ is probably as expressed by George H. Guthrie (in Beale and Carson 2007:977), “Although it is true that LXX B S A have soma, these probably should be read as corrections by scribes wishing to bring the manuscripts in line with Hebrews’ quotation.”

[4] Hebrews 10 has σῶμα ‘body’ instead of ὠτία ‘ears’, ὁλοκαυτώματα ‘burnt offerings’ (plural) instead of ὁλοκαύτωμα ‘burnt offering’ (singular), εὐδόκησας ‘you were pleased’ instead of ᾔτησας ‘you demanded’, and θεός τὸ θέλημά σου ‘God thy will’ instead of τὸ θέλημά σου ὁ θεός μου ‘thy will my God’.