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The Anchor as an Early Christian Symbol

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

By Gabe Holton

Hebrews 6:13-20

As both an ancient symbol of the Christian faith and an indication of sea travel, anchors have been used for a number of purposes. At Anchor House, we derive our own logo and name from Hebrews, which refers to Jesus as the anchor and hope of our souls. This idea is the heartbeat of our mission as we share the love and hope Jesus offers to those we minister to.

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain (Hebrews 6:19)

One of the things I have found interesting at my time at Anchor House is the enduring symbolic use of the anchor. Since the birth of the church, Christians have used the anchor to represent the one they serve. Scholars and archaeologists have found over 70 epitaphs of anchors on graves with Christian inscriptions. Anchors were utilized as a symbol to represent the hope we have in Christ even in death.

Anchors were also used as a "code" for others Christians to know where a church was or other Christians might be. Especially during the Roman persecution of the church, anchors were used instead of crosses for Christians in hiding. With the reality of crucifixion and other execution methods on their minds, the anchor was a safe way for Christians to conceptually symbolize their faith. Later, the anchor would have a resurgence in the church as a symbol of martyrdom when Christians were executed by having a millstone tied around their necks and thrown into the ocean. The meaning of the anchor remained the same throughout time: Christ is the hope of our souls in wealth or poverty, in freedom and persecution, and life and death. At Anchor House we try to show this truth in our ministry, trying to show the hope we have in Christ for all we may encounter.

Hebrews 6:13-20

13 When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, ‘I will surely bless you and multiply you.’ 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. 16 Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute. 17 In the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, 18 so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. 19 We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek (NRSV).

Faithful Response

How are we, 21st century Christians living in a time of prosperity and not being persecuted, supposed respond to the hope presented to us in this chapter? I intend to show how this passage displays the steadfastness of God's promises to his people that he still extends to his church in our present time.

I split the passage into three separate sections: (1) God is trustworthy because he fulfilled his promise to Abraham (6:13-15), (2) God shows his steadfastness through his covenants (6:16-18), and (3) Christ, our anchor is the high priest forever 6:19-20). Splitting the passage into these three sections will help trace the way God is showing he is the faithful anchor to his people.

God's covenantal fulfillment is a key to understanding his character throughout the Bible. In the first section of this passage (13-15), the reader is reminded of God's steadfastness to Abraham in his covenant with him. His promise, of course, was to make him a great nation and multiply his people more than the stars (Genesis 15), which he does through the Jewish people.

The next section (16-18) shows how and why God works through covenants. Because human beings swear by oaths, and by a being greater than themselves, they are a trustworthy promise to others. Even today, we swear by oaths in courts of law, sealing our own honesty and testimony that is considered legally binding. In the same way, God uses oaths (covenants) to show that he is worthy of our trust as well.

Understanding the context of the passage as a whole makes the last section (19-20) much more meaningful in light of the whole. Yes, Christ is our anchor, our hope, and our salvation, but how much more trustworthy is this statement when backed by the eternal God who has been proven to keep his promises? This truth turns what is often condensed in a single Bible verse into an affirmation of God's character as a trustworthy anchor for our souls. The mission and goal of Anchor House, which we display through our name and logo, is to share this same God whose promises remain the same since before time and still now.

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