Are some teachings in the Bible more advanced than others? If biblical teaching was laid out as college courses, would there be 100-level courses and 200-level courses? Does the Bible offer any type of scope and sequence for its teachings?
A High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek
I’ve found answers to those questions from the book of Hebrews. (We don’t know for sure who wrote Hebrews, but there’s a long history of associating it with Paul.) After emphasizing that Christ is our sympathetic high priest, the author states that Christ has become “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (5:9-10). Poised to continue this train of thought he states, “About this we have much to say,” but he then digresses by expressing frustration with his audience’s dullness.
Liquids vs. Solids
The audience is not ready for “solid food” because they are still immature. They need “milk” or “the basic principles of the oracles of God” (v. 12). The implication is that what the author was about to say is solid-food teaching, but he’s frustrated because while his audience should be ready for it, they’re not. Despite the author’s frustration, he’s still determined to serve up a plate of solid food: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (6:1).
Identifying the Liquids
Elaborating on the “elementary doctrine of Christ” (or the “basic principles of the oracles of God” or the “milk”) the author lists the following: “repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (6:1-2). Those are the basics of the faith that the recipients of the letter need to be taught again (5:12). But the author has already expressed his plan to move ahead and he reiterates his intention with the words, “this we will do if God permits” (6:3). His reasoning for not giving a remedial lesson follows: It’s useless to go over the basics again if, after being enlightened, the audience falls away from them (6:4-8). He quickly follows this warning with the encouraging words that “in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation” (6:9). He then encourages his readers to not become sluggish because God’s promises are certain (6:10-20). Finally and most importantly for our purpose, the author’s digression concludes where it began with a reference to Jesus “having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (6:20)—the very thing that he said, “About this we have much to say.”
The next chapter highlights Melchizedek and his unique priesthood with the goal of showing what it means for Jesus to be a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” The main point about Jesus is that since his life is indestructible, he holds his priestly office eternally and therefore “he always lives to make intercession” for his people (7:24-25).
The author has already established that Jesus is our sympathetic high priest because he lived in a human body, was tempted, suffered, and died (2:10-5:10) and now he has established that Jesus is our eternal high priest because his life is indestructible. While the author doesn’t explicitly label this as advanced biblical teaching, when we identify the break in his thought and how he picks up where he left off, his solid-food teaching is easily identified: Christ is our eternal high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
What does this section of Hebrews mean for our teaching? First, there is such a thing as different levels of biblical teaching. While all biblical teaching is important, certain teachings are elementary while others are advanced. And that means we should begin teaching the faith with the basic biblical teachings and then after those teachings are understood we should move on to more advanced biblical teaching. In this passage in Hebrews, the basic teaching—or the milk—is clearly stated: repentance from sins, faith in God, washings (i.e. baptism), laying on of hands, resurrection, and eternal judgment. Rather than seeing that as an exhaustive list, I think it’s best to understand it as a representative list of foundational biblical teaching.
What about advanced biblical teaching? The advanced teaching—or the solid food—is this: Christ is serving and will forever serve as our high priest according to the prophecy that says, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4). Christ is our mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) and our only way to the Father (Jn. 14:6) and that will hold true forever. In order to serve this particular dish of solid food, the author had to have an understanding of Bible prophecy and its fulfillment in Christ, the work of high priests under the law of Moses, the unique priesthood of Melchizedek, and the ability to compare and contrast Christ with former priests. No wonder the author considers this to be solid food.
Second, the writer is a good teacher and he knows where his audience is at in their understanding. But what’s intriguing is that although the author complains that his audience is not ready for advanced teaching he goes ahead with it anyway. The point being that they should be ready for it. It’s tough-love teaching and while it may not be what the audience wants, it’s what they need. “I know you’re not ready to chew on this because you’re still drinking milk, but I’m going to serve it up anyway.”