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New Testament Survey

Hebrews



LOOKING AHEAD TO . . .

Hebrews

Key Verse(s):

Key Chapter(s):

Key Word(s) or Concept(s)

Consider:

            Whom do you think the author is?

                        What makes you think this?

            What is the key ingredient to be included in chapter 11?

            How is Jesus presented?

There are five warnings in this book. There is also one implied warning. Can you identify them?

Suggested Reading beyond the Key Chapter(s):

Hebrews

If one dreams on the heroes of the Bible, one usually ends up thinking of the Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews Chapter 11. Here, the author of this book lists the acts of faith which establish entrance to God’s Hall of Fame.

Yet, this is the mystery letter of the New Testament. Written more in the form of a sermon, its authorship has remained uncertain through the years. One early church father, Origen (3rd Century), has been quoted as saying “that only God knows who wrote Hebrews.” Not much has changed. There is a church tradition that Paul is the author, but as is discussed below, this is far from clear.

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Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1

Authorship

This letter does not contain any of the normal salutations and greetings of the other epistles. The first several chapters are written as a thesis or argumentative sermon in favor of the superiority of Christ over the “Old” or Mosaic Covenant of the Law. Its author clearly was Jewish and was writing to a predominately Jewish audience, but beyond this little is known.

More specifically, the following may be deduced from the book:

But, knowing all of this, where are we left? The historical tradition of Paul as the author has several factors against it when this letter is compared to the remainder of the Pauline epistles. These include:

No mention of Paul’s authorship. If Paul wrote this letter, it would be the only one in which he did not mention his name, his apostolic authority, or his own spiritual experience.

The Greek language and style are much different in this letter than in any of the Pauline epistles. Paul’s writing is abrupt while this letter resembles classical Greek.

While Paul always places his emphasis on the Resurrection, this letter deals with the exaltation of Christ and His High Priesthood. The Priesthood of Christ is not a factor emphasized by Paul in his other letters.

The author seems to have received his information from others while Paul received his directly from Christ (Gal 1, 2). Thus, the author of Hebrews appears to be outside the apostolic circle.

What are the options? Barnabas, Luke, Clement of Rome, Silas (Silvanus), Apollos, Phillip, and Jude have all been mentioned as possible authors by the church fathers.

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The most intriguing suggestion is that of Priscilla. In the ancient world, anonymity for a female writer would have been required. She was a friend of Paul’s, helped to instruct Apollos, was Jewish, and women are included in the Faith Hall of Fame in Chapter 11. She would have been acquainted with those addressed at the end of the letter. Such a result would certainly fit with my view of God’s sense of humor. But, none of these factors, nor any of the factors for the other suggested authors is determinative.

In the end we are left with Origen’s comments. The author is unknown.

Date

Hebrews is known and cited by Clement of Rome in about A.D. 95, so this is easily the outside date for the epistle. Other facts which suggest an even earlier date include the lack of mention of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (A.D. 70). Since this letter is about the superiority of Christ over the Law and its rituals, it would be remarkable if the Temple had already been destroyed and the author did not make use of this factor in his arguments.

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In addition, the inference can be drawn that the author writes at a time when the sacrificial system is still in operation (8:4, 13; 9:6-9; 10:1-3). This, too, must be before the destruction of the Temple (13:23). In addition, Hebrews 13:23 implies that Timothy is still alive.

This all suggests a date of no later than A.D. 68/69.

The Audience

As indicated above, the recipients of this letter were certainly Jewish. The epistle quotes frequently from the Old Testament and its discourse presumes a good knowledge of Old Testament law and history. What is unclear is the location and make-up of this audience.

Several suggestions exist. They may have been Hellenistic (“Greek”) Jews, for all of the quotes of the Old Testament come from the Septuagint. However, the Septuagint was widely used at this time, so this factor is not determinative. Other possible locations include North Africa, Cyprus, Rome, or Palestine.

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One of the main interpretive issues of the book is the language found in Hebrews 6:4-6. One’s view on how to interpret this passage goes a long way toward defining whether the audience addressed is that of believers or is a mixed group of both believers and non-believers. Hebrews is noted for a series of five warning sections (2:1-4; 3:7-4;3; 5:11-6:20; 10:26-39; 12:15-29), all of which are directed at the need not to stray from Christ. If the group being addressed is a mixed audience, then the warnings are designed to show that backsliding into the law proves they were never saved (2:3; 3:12-14; 4:1; 10:25, 26, 29). If the audience is one of believers, the purpose of the warnings is similar to that in such books as Galatians and is a call to refrain from putting on the bondage of Judaism (3:1; 4:6; 5:12; 6:4; 10:19, 32; 12:7; 13:1, 20-22). It is, then, a call to repentance for one’s sin (1 John 1:9).

While all of this may help to determine the makeup of the audience, it does little to tell us where they are or who is writing to them.

Theme and Purpose

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For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
Hebrews 10:14

Hebrews is one of the most positive and uplifting books of the New Testament. It is an exhortation of encouragement for the recipients of the letter to endure and advance in their maturity in Christ – to grow in faith (13:22).

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But, as indicated above, it is also a warning to them of the dangers of falling back into the rituals of the law. In this sense, the argument is the same as Galatians and Colossians. The recipients should be aware that the power of Christ, which is governed by faith, is much more powerful than the rituals of the old priesthood. Christ is superior in all ways and the author wants the people to know and understand this. The concept of Christ as the “better” is repeated again and again in the epistle (1;4;6:9;7:7, 19, 22; 8:6; 0:23; 10:34; 11:16, 35, 40; 12:24).

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The implied warning is seen in this concept of Jesus being superior to everything that came before Him. The implied warning might be stated as: This is God’s Son – Listen to Him!

While the book is about faith, several other issues related to Christ are dealt with and touched upon. These include the Incarnation, Christ’s substitutionary death, the relationship between the Old and New Covenants, and the interpretation of the Old Testament in light of the New Testament.

A review of this book shows that Jesus is viewed as being superior:

  • In His Person
  • In His New Covenant
  • In our life in Him
  • As compared to the prophets
  • As compared to the angels
  • As compared to the Moses
  • As compared to the Joshua
  • As compared to the Levitical priesthood (Aaron)

But, mostly, Hebrews is a book about faith. This is the faith called for in all of Scripture. It is the faith to first TRUST IN GOD and then to ACT ON THIS TRUST. The King James uses the word faith 32 times in this book, while the NIV uses it 35 times.

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But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Hebrews 11:6

Outline

I.         Jesus Christ the Son is God’s revelation - Chp 1

II.        The role of Christ in Salvation - 2:1-9

III.       Christ the High Priest - 2:10-18

IV.        Christ is superior to Moses - 3:1-6

V.         The discussion of the disobedient Jewish generation - 3:7-19

VI.        Rest as the promise - 4:1-13

VII.       Christ is the way to God - 4:14-5:14

VIII.      Warning against apostasy - 6:1-12

IX.        God’s oath is unchanging - 6:13-20

X.          Priesthood of Melchizedek - 7:1-14

XI.         Priesthood of Christ is superior - 7:15-28

XII.        The New Covenant is superior - Chp 8

XIII.       A discussion of the temporary Levitical sacrifices - 9:1-22

XIV.       Christ’s sacrifice is superior - 9:23-10:39

XV.        Faith and its examples - Chp 11

XVI.       Christ is our better example - 12:1-11

XVI.       Endurance is the demand - 12:12-29

XVII.     Warnings and requests - Chp 13

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We find Melchizedek (also spelled Melchizedec) in Genesis 14, in the story of Abraham’s victory over several kings who attacked Sodom and Gomorrah and carried Lot into captivity. Abraham successfully rescued Lot. As the patriarch was returning home, Melchizedek comes out to greet Abraham with bread and wine. He is described as the “priest of the most high God” (Gen 14:18). Melchizedek blesses Abraham and Abraham pays tithes to Melchizedek. Melchizedek means “king of righteousness” in Hebrew. He is described as the king of Salem. Salem means “peace” in Hebrew. So, he is peace and righteousness. In Scripture his parents are not given, so the author of Hebrews can use Melchizedek as a picture or type of Christ.

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How do you show your faith?

Could you be included in the listings of Chapter 11?

 

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