This text has long presented difficulty to Bible students, and continues to do so. There is no fixed judgment as to the meaning of the text, especially of "the day" involved in it.
In Biblical interpretation one learns not to be dogmatic in defining obscure texts. If they are left obscure by inspiration, then it is arrogance to assume our version of a text is beyond question. However ingenious our logic may be in reaching our conclusion we deem justified, it must be recognized that our conclusion is but ingenious logic, not divine inspiration. We may satisfy ourselves as to the correctness of a conclusion, but no conclusion we draw is to be regarded as inspired truth. Only that which the Bible clearly declares to be so is divine truth. What we think it declares is human interpretation.
When we conclude that our interpretation is infallibly correct, and must therefore be the equivalent of divine truth, we construct theological platforms of them. They also become another checkpoint of measuring soundness in others. An entire system of theology may be fabricated from mere conclusions drawn from Scripture. This becomes the creed of another denomination. It is unlikely that any unique religious body has ever been formed over what the Bible clearly and undeniably teaches.
Conclusions drawn from Scripture, therefore, become sacred ground upon which we build our denominational altars. Valid appearing Scriptural interpretations are given sacred sanction, and become norms of another faith. They may even be elevated above divine law (Matt. 15:9). These traditional interpretations become so sacred that we feel threatened and outraged if they are questioned, or a variant viewpoint is presented. We may be so comfortable with our traditional views that we feel investigative study is unnecessary.
It has been aptly said that more than having the courage of our convictions, we need the courage to examine our convictions.
Our brotherhood has traditionally contended that "that day" in the above text must unquestionably refer to the Lord's day, and that no other view was possible. But let's consider the following: (1) The text does not clearly state it refers to the Lord's day; (2) the Lord's day is not clearly under discussion in the context; (3) the conclusion that this text does refer to the Lord's day requires skillful manipulation of this and other texts; (4) there are other interpretations of "that day" that have considerable merit.
This is the view held almost universally among our brethren. It is often used to stress the importance of attending the Lord's day assembly, and citing the danger of neglecting to do so. The text is referenced to others bearing upon the day of assembly (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2). But this contention is but conjecture at best, and enjoys no solid Scriptural support. This conclusion may be deemed reasonable, but it must be ultimately recognized for what it is -- an assumption.
There is nothing in the context that would demand that "the day" be interpreted as the Lord's day. The expression "all the more as you see the day approaching" seems to have ominous overtones -- perhaps of some impending crisis -- that would not identify with the Lord's day. Furthermore, there are no signs identifying the approaching Lord's day, while there may have been indications of an impending "day" of catastrophe or danger. This certainly was true with the destruction of Jerusalem.
As to when "the day" was, or what specific assembly was intended, is not stated. Barnes observes, "The term 'day' here refers to some event which was certainly anticipated, and which was so well understood by them that no particular explanation was necessary." (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, Hebrews, p. 237). Since the Lord's day assembly was on a fixed interval, anticipating its approach like some impending event does not seem likely.
Numerous commentators are decisively convinced that this passage refers to the final day of judgment. They can muster an impressive array of arguments in support of this view. Such a respected authority as Lenski states: "There is no question that he hemera ("the day" in Greek) is the day of final judgment which is also called 'that day.' It needs no further modifier in the New Testament" (Interpretation of Hebrews, p. 355). The eminent Greek scholar, B.F. Westcott, agrees with the final judgment view. "Basing his argument upon the usual import of the Greek word here translated 'day,' Westcott is sure that the reference is to the day of judgment" (Burton Coffma, Commentary on Hebrews, p. 236).
It is correct that an impressive number of NT Scriptures refer to the final judgment as "the day," or some similar term (Luke 17:30; Phil. 2:16; 1 Cor. 1:8; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Rom. 2:16; Jude 6; Rev. 6:17). The view, then, that "the day" in the text may refer to the final judgment is not sheer fantasy, and should not be dismissed as a triviality.
Yet this view cannot be established beyond controversy. According to Scripture, there is no way of determining when the Lord will return, hence no way for saints to "see the day drawing near" (Matt. 24:36, 42, 44; 25:13). The second coming of Christ is to be as "a thief in the night" -- hence completely unexpected. (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10).
This view is maintained by numerous reputable Bible scholars, including our respected brother Robert Milligan. His strong affirmation that this text refers to the destruction of Jerusalem is significant. It at least demonstrates that some of our highly regarded brethren do not accept that "the day" refers to the Lord's day.
Milligan writes: "To me at least it seems perfectly obvious that the Apostle refers here to a day that was then very near at hand: a day that was about to come on that generation, and try the faith of many. And hence I am constrained to think with Macknight, Scott, Stuart, and others, that the reference is most likely to the day of Jerusalem's overthrow" (Commentary on Hebrews, p. 284).
Albert Barnes believed that the fall of Jerusalem was intended by the text. He thought that such an event was clearly predicted by the Lord, identified by sure signs, and assured that this event would occur during the life of that generation (Matt. 24:1-34).
This view is not lacking in considerable logical support. While Jerusalem's destruction would be anticipated with great fear, greater fear would lie with Jews, not Jewish Christians to whom Hebrews is addressed. Jewish Christians would not be targets of special persecution, so as to discourage weaker ones in the faith. In fact, according to some records, no Christians perished in the fall of Jerusalem. ,Applying this text to the destruction of Jerusalem, while having some merit, is not satisfying.
A view that appears most practical is that "that day" refers to a time of further persecution facing the Jewish Christians. It is a view that certainly synchronizes with the context better than any of the others. Rules governing correct Biblical interpretation demand that passages must not be isolated from their context; they must be understood in their contextual setting. Moreover, the author of Hebrews appears to take unusual pains to clarify the text by providing ample contextual explanations. When the context is clearly understood, therefore, it appears the author is directing attention to a period of oppression facing Jewish Christians, and appeal was made for their steadfastness.
The security Christians have in Christ is emphasized in the context, as opposed to insecurity in turning from him (Verses 19, 22, 23, 24). If one turns utterly from Christ, apostasy and its eternal consequences wait the defector (Verses 26-31). These brethren are reminded of victories gained in past struggles, and are exhorted to remain faithful under coming adversity (Verses 32-39). When all these considerations of the context are viewed, we believe it can be seen that a period of persecution of Jewish Christians is being anticipated. The view does conform to the details of the context, while the other viewpoints do not.
Again, it is to be noted that the text does not discuss neglect of the assembly, but abandonment of it. This would best apply to those on the verge of totally renouncing their Christian faith under the adversities of the coming conflict.
This study may raise a number of questions relevant to our present situation. Must Christians attend every meeting scheduled by a congregation? We must answer in the negative. What Scripture would demand that they do so? Programs, meetings and activities of churches are expedient or judgmental arrangements, since inspiration does not require them. If assemblies other than the Lord's day assembly are matters of judgment, how can it be wrong or sinful not to observe them? It cannot be right to make matters of judgment equal to divine law.
Editor's Note: Questions, comments or criticism of Demetrius' article should be addressed to him in care of The Examiner. He has presented an excellent study for our consideration.
Editor's Observations: It should be apparent to all Bible students that the expression "forsaking the assembly" (a noun) is not found in the NT. Nor is there anything equivalent to it found therein. "The assembly," as so often used today referring to a definite corporate assembly that must not be forsaken because it is required by God, is from men, not from God.
Indeed Christians should not "forsake" (completely abandon) "the assembling of themselves together," but there is no specific "assembly" (meeting) that is required of God and if missed ("forsaken"?) is sinful. The emphasis in the passage is upon the value or need of "assembling of yourselves together," getting together for their mutual benefit to "encourage one another unto love and good works" (Heb. 10:24). This was the purpose of their "assembling" or getting together. It was especially needed at that time in view of the impending persecutions and hardships.
They did not get together as a corporate body for the purpose of worship. There is no example of such in the NT; and there is no instruction that saints are to go to some "assembly" on any special day, at the scheduled time and place, to engage in what we call "worship services." As Demetrius makes clear, it is unlikely that there is any reference to "the Lord's day" (Sunday?) in this passage.
Christians do need the strength, instruction, sharing, love, encouragement, and service that they can give to and receive from one another. But there was no specific, definite, functional unit or corporate body institution, what we now call "the local church," to which they belonged (as members), binding upon them the responsibility to attend "the assembly " at any time! -- CAH