victor christensen's blog

The Role of Katapetasma in Hebrews 6:19

Posted in Uncategorized by victorchristensen on July 24, 2009

A Reply to Norman Young’s AUSS Article

Norman Young is a senior lecturer at Avondale College and has been at that institution in a teaching capacity for around thirty years. For his entire time at Avondale he has privately and publicly, in his classes and elsewhere, challenged traditional Adventist doctrine. In particular Young has a strong aversion to Adventist prophetic calculations that revolve around 1844. His ongoing complaints against basic Adventist teachings are identical to those of Desmond Ford.

Young says that he does not deny a pre-advent judgment, but what he does deny is the Adventist interpretation of a pre-advent judgment. He claims that 1844 was a non-event and he rejects the concept that there is a prophetic timeframe for that judgment to take place.

Young takes a preterist position and claims that Antiochus Epiphanes is the little horn in Daniel 8. This interpretation undermines the Adventist understanding of Daniel 7, 8, 9 and 11. He also claims the book of Hebrews teaches that Christ went into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary at His ascension. His position in this area totally negates the Adventist sanctuary doctrine which is based on the concept of a two-phase ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, one that deals with historical continuity, the other that deals with the finalising of world history.

In a paper he wrote in the seventies Norm Young noted that out of some twenty-four occurrences of katapetasma in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint or LXX) twenty-two refer to the second veil of the tabernacle and two do not. Possibly because he discovered an exception to the rule Young stated, “The word itself then (katapetasma) is hardly capable of deciding the issue over which veil is referred to in Heb. 6:19.”[1] In a recent article entitled Katapetasma in Hebrews 6:19-20, published in the Autumn 2001 issue of AUSS, Young dramatically revised his earlier position. He now claims because on the majority of occasions the LXX applies katapetasma to the second veil of the tabernacle that is proof Hebrews 6:19 teaches that Christ entered the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary at His ascension.

Referring to Hebrews 6:19-20 and Hebrews 10:19-21 Young claims: “The parallel nature of the passages leaves little doubt that the inner veil in both texts is the same–that it is the inner veil”.[2]

Young bases his understanding that Christ entered into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary at His ascension on linguistic patterns that he believes he has found in the LXX, and then imports his thesis into Hebrews. He believes the symbolism of Christ’s first century entry the Most Holy Place presents a scenario incompatible with the Adventist sanctuary doctrine. His understanding of Hebrews 6:19 has a wide significance for his theology. It enables him to justify his identification of the little horn in Daniel 8 as Antiochus Epiphanes. It further provides him with an incentive to reject the Adventist interpretation of the 2300 days in Daniel 8:14.

Norm Young’s Misuse of the LXX (the Septuagint)

The writer of Hebrews had access to only one Bible in the Greek language. This means that whatever the linguistic idiosyncrasies of the LXX might be the writer was stuck with them whether he agreed with them or not. The NIV translates ta hagia as the “Most Holy Place”; the NEB translates the same word as “sanctuary”. In expressing our particular preference we can choose between the NIV or NEB and each translation allows for a different interpretation of the text. The writer of Hebrews did not have this option. He had no choice in terms of being able to express a personal preference. A man who has only one Greek Bible to quote from can only quote from one Bible. Yet Norman Young (and others) attempt to label a writer who has no choice with the claim that he was expressing a deliberate option for discernible theological reasons. How somebody who had access to one Bible can be charged with expressing a preference for that Bible above non-existent options is a question yet to be answered?

Because Young makes use of a particular Bible does not mean the he agrees with the translation of every text in that Bible. Yet what he allows for himself, the right to use a translation without endorsing all its idiosyncrasies, he disallows for the writer of Hebrews.

Young insists that because the writer of Hebrews made use of the LXX he must agree with every thing that he imagines the LXX represents. This thesis is not based on any concrete proof but on Young’s personal speculation about what the LXX translators’ motives may have been.

Young does not know why the translators of the LXX used the term katapetasma when referring to the second veil. He assumes it was for cultic purposes. And by working with an assumption he has premised his thesis on what he imagines to be the private thinking of whoever it was who translated the LXX. Is an assumption (or a wild guess) a valid basis for interpretation?

The great weakness in Young’s exegesis of Hebrews 6:19 is that his thesis is not based on Hebrews at all but on the LXX. A close study of his position will show that his understanding of the cultic role of katapetasma is based entirely on the LXX; then this fully developed theory is imported into Hebrews. Young argues that the writer of Hebrews agrees with what translators of the LXX were intending every time they employed term katapetasma. His theory is confronted with an insurmountable problem. The writer of Hebrews could not have endorsed a LXX practice unless he was aware of it. This means that in order for Young’s construction of Hebrews 6:19 to be valid the writer of Hebrews would have had to have been aware of the statistical data that Young provides and have interpreted its theological intention (if any) in the same way he does.

Was the writer of Hebrews aware of the exact location of katapetasma everywhere it occurs in the LXX? Was he aware of statistical data as to how often katapetasma was applied to the veil in the court and the Holy place as distinct from the frequency it was employed in reference to the inner veil? Was he aware of the subtle cultic appendages attached to katapetasma that Young believes that he has discovered? And if he was, was he also aware that all this statistical data was freighted with deliberate cultic intention in the exact sense Young claims it is?

If the writer of Hebrews was not aware of the statistical data Young has produced, and if he did not interpret this information in the exact same way that Young does, then our brother has no basis for claiming that the writer of Hebrews interpreted the LXX the same way that he does.

The counter argument to Young’s speculation is a simple truth. The writer of Hebrews made use of the LXX because it was the only Greek Bible available and it was the one used by his constituency. There is no evidence he employed the LXX for any other reason other than the fact he had no choice in the matter.  There is no evidence that Hebrews endorses the alleged cultic practices Young believes he has found in the LXX. The writer simply employed the only Greek Bible available. Evidence demonstrating a cultic endorsement simply does not exist.

Plastic Statistics

By merely reinterpreting the data that Young provides in his AUSS article it can be shown that no matter how many times it is applied to the second veil katapetasma means “veil’ and nothing more than that. The weakness in Young’s LXX management lies in his assumptions about what his own statistics as an exegetical guide represent. Young gives his statistics one spin; they are just as capable of receiving another that has terminal consequences for his thesis.

In the following box I have cited the majority of the texts that Young supplied in his AUSS article to prove his theory that the term katapetasma has an inherent cultic meaning that automatically, and without qualifiers, creates an association with the second veil of the sanctuary. Even a cursory examination will show that the texts do the exact opposite to what Young is claiming. They show that katapetasma requires an external indicator in order to establish a cultic association in any given text. The tabernacle had three veils, katapetasma is applied to all of them. The statistical variation in the application of katapetasma to the sanctuary veils has no relevance. It is contextual indicators alone that determine which veil katapetasma represents.

Exodus 26:33 the katapetasma will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.

Exodus 26:36,37 for the entrance to the tent make a curtain.  … make gold hooks for this katapetasma.

Exodus 27:9            make a curtain for the tabernacle. The south side … is to have a katapetasma.

Exodus 30:6 the katapetasma that is before the ark.

Exodus 35:12 the ark … and the katapetasma that shields it.

Exodus 36:37 for the entrance to the tent they made a katapetasma.

Exodus 38:27 the katapetasma for the entrance to the courtyard.

Exodus 40:3 shield the ark with the katapetasma.

Exodus 40:5 the katapetasma at the entrance to  the tabernacle.

Exodus 40:26 the golden altar … in front of the katapetasma.

Leviticus 16:2 the Most Holy Place behind the katapetasma.

Leviticus 24:3 the katapetasma … in the Tent of Meeting.

Numbers 3:26 the katapetasma at the entrance to the courtyard.

Numbers 4:5 take down the shielding katapetasma and cover the ark with it.

2 Chronicles 3:10,14 the Most Holy Place … the katapetasma.

In Exodus 40:3 katapetasma is linked to the ark. Two verses later in v.5 it is linked to the curtain “at the entrance to the tabernacle.” In two verses that have an immediate relationship to each other katapetasma is given two distinct applications. This demonstrates the fact that on its own, and without qualifiers, katapetasma cannot be employed as an exegetical tool to determine cultic meanings. The truth is, katapetasma means “veil”, and nothing more than that.

What katapetasma means in Exodus 40:3 is determined by external factors alone, and not by the word itself. What katapetasma means in Exodus 40:5 is established by the contextual reference to the curtain “at the entrance to the tabernacle” and not by any latent meaning inherent in the word. The identity of the curtain represented by katapetasma in Numbers 3:26 is established by the reference to “the entrance to the courtyard.” The identity of the katapetasma in Exodus 40:6 is established by the reference to “the golden altar.” The identity of the katapetasma in Exodus 30:6 is established by the contextual imagery contained in the reference to “the ark.” In every context that katapetasma occurs the word itself is culticly neutral.

Who would know what curtain katapetasma represent in Exodus 26:33,36,37,30:6,35:12, 36:37, 40:3,5,21,22 and 26 if the context did not explain the matter? Young only discovered a link between katapetasma and the second veil because imagery external to katapetasma directed his thinking. Katapetasma means “veil” and nothing more. As a term with sanctuary association’s katapetasma is applied to the curtain at the entry to the courtyard, to the curtain at the entry into the Holy Place, and to the curtain that separates the Most Holy Place. Only the contextual imagery contained in references to the courtyard, Holy Place, Most Holy Place, allows us to identify katapetasma with any one of three curtains that belong to the sanctuary.

Young’s argument that katapetasma has the function of a cultic indicator in Hebrews 6:19 is not supported by the LXX in the way he imagines. In every sound exegetical enterprise contextual imagery carries greater weight than etymological considerations. Young has forgotten that. In spite of an impressive appearance his AUSS article does not achieve the outcome he hoped for. If the Adventist exegesis of Hebrews 6:19 is wrong Young has still yet to prove it.

The LXX

According to the Dictionary of New Testament Background the version of the LXX we have today is an eclectic document derived from “variants [found in]164 manuscripts.”[3] This suggest extant copies of the LXX could differ widely from the one available to the biblical writers. This also means if we have a version of the LXX today that did not exist when Hebrews was written our version of the LXX  cannot be used to exercise exegetical control over the book of Hebrews.

We are told that the LXX has “had a lengthy history of textual transmission.”[4] It has also had a lengthy history of textual amendment. According to Jerome one example of textual interference was provided by Origen. Jerome believed Origen’s treatment of the LXX perverted the Greek text. In his letter to Augustine he wrote: “I am surprised that you do not read the books of the Seventy translators in the genuine form in which they were originally given to the world, but as they have been corrected, or rather corrupted, by Origen.”[5] To what extent did Origen amend the Greek text of the LXX in a way that effected later revisions of it?  We don’t know.  Jerome speaks of “the books of the Seventy translators in the genuine form in which they were originally given to the world.” What we do know is that the version of the LXX “in the genuine form in which [it was] originally given to the world” represents a version of the LXX that no longer exists.

The Hexapla itself is said never to have been copied: what remains of the versions which it contained (mere fragments) were edited by Montfaucon in 1714, and in an abridged edition by Bahrdt in 1769-70. The Hexaplar text of the Septuagint was copied about a half century after Origen’s death by Pamphilus and Eusebius; it thus obtained a circulation; but the errors of copyists soon confounded the marks of addition and omission which Origen placed, and hence the text of the Septuagint became almost hopelessly mixed up with that of other versions.” [6]

Accepting the definition that a revision is a text that does not agree entirely with the source from which it was translated Origen’s revisionist approach to the LXX led to further revision of a document that had a long history of copyist intrusion. And all of this revision has had one effect. It has denied access to the version of the LXX that was cited by the biblical writers.

A considerable number of MSS. exist which give information as to Origen’s hexaplaric text and particular passages in the other columns, But these do not go towards enabling us to recover the LXX text as it existed before Origen; and this remains the greatest problem which confronts the textual student of the Septuagint.[7]

In effect, the great task of Septuagint textual criticism is to reconstruct the pre-Hexaplaric text, which means undoing Origen’s labors so as to rediscover the form of the “Septuagint” in the second century. Without Greek manuscripts predating Origen, however, that goal is not easily reached. [8]

Since it is a fact that “the text of the Septuagint became almost hopelessly mixed up with that of other versions” the LXX as it now exists cannot be invested with any authority to determine biblical outcomes. The reason is simple. The LXX that we currently possess is not the LXX of the Bible. In the words of Jerome, we do not have LXX writings “in the genuine form in which they were originally given to the world”. And if we do not have a version of the LXX it its “genuine form” any attempt to turn the version we do have into a controlling mechanism for defining Bible teaching is not only unwarranted but also potentially misleading and dangerous.

Young is attempting to take a version of the LXX that did not exist when Hebrews was written, and one competent LXX researchers say contains many unknown amendments, and use it arbitrarily to control a biblical outcome in Hebrews. His mistake is that he has proposed a thesis based on a revision of the LXX that may contain a different statistical application of katapetasma to the version employed by the biblical writers. What he requires to validate his thesis is access to the same version the writer of Hebrews used. Only then can his thesis on word patterns be demonstrated. Since Young does not have an original document he cannot prove his thesis.


[1] Norman Young, The Checkered History of the Phrase “Within the Veil.”, Appendix Three, A-16 – A23 in Desmond Ford’s 1980 Daniel 8:14 The Day of Atonement and the Investigative Judgment.

[2] Norman Young, Katapetasma in Hebrews 6:19-20, Autumn 2001 issue of AUSS p.172

[3] Dictionary of New Testament Background InterVarsity Press, 2000 p.1103

[4] Ibid p.1102

[5] From Jerome’s Apology, Book II, Nicean and Post Nicean Father’s, Second Series, Vol.3.

[6] Septuagint Introduction (Zondervan, from the original 1851) p.iv.

[7] Sir Frederick Kenyon The Text of the Greek Bible, (1920), p 35.

[8] Invitation To The Septuagint, Moises Silva & Karen Jobes, Baker Academic, 2000, p.53

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  1. Resources for 2 Chronicles 3:10 - 14 said, on March 1, 2012 at 6:28 am

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