Hebrews – Introduction
Establishes the finality of the gospel by asserting the supremacy of Christ.
a) Jesus is God’s perfect word to man
b) Jesus is man’s perfect representative to God
This book is to serve as a “word of exhortation” (13:22) to encourage the believers to continue to grow and mature.
Points of Interest
a) Hebrews does not begin like a letter but it does end like one. Hebrews begins like a treatise with a systematic argument. It then develops into a sermon of encouragement. Hebrews then ends like a letter with personal comments.
b) Neither the writer nor the community that receives the letter is mentioned.
c) The book of Hebrews was written originally in Greek. This may be the source of the title since it is was a Greek book written in Greek not to the Greeks or the Gentiles but to the Hebrews.
d) Oxyrhychus Papyri (P13) contained Hebrews 2-5 and 10-22
e) The word synagogue (sunagwgh) is not used or avoided by the author.
f) This book presents a window into the differences between the Gentile mind and the Jewish mind. There is a difference in the way the two reason, consider time, present arguments, and view history. It is easier for us (western mind) to understand the epistles to the western world or the Gentiles. Of all the New Testament books this one is written from the Jewish perspective and reasons with the Jewish mind. We find many things in this book strange and difficult, yet the same apostolic message is there.
g) The style of the book follows Philo and his Alexandrian pattern: Quotes from OT and says “God says. . .” and “the Holy Spirit says. . .” He uses the ritual system to prove moral law.
h) The name “Jesus” is used rather than the full title as does Paul: “Jesus Christ”, “Christ Jesus”, etc.
i) The language is a polished and a higher form of Greek than other biblical writers. The vocabulary is highly rated.
j) There are no new doctrines or teachings found in this book which differ from the rest of the NT.
k) Jesus is expressly called the High Priest in this book but this position is not foreign to the gospels and the New Testament:
a. Psalm 110 is used to connect the Messiah to the Priesthood
b. Luke 22:32, Jesus prays for Peter
c. John 17 is Jesus prayer of consecration as he offers his life
d. Luke 12:8, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.”
e. Acts 7:56, Jesus “the Son of man standing at the right hand of God” as man’s advocate
f. Romans 8:34, Christ Jesus “is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us.”
g. 1 John 2:1, “if any one sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and it is he who atones for our sins.”
Who Were the People Who Received the Letter?
1) The Title
a. The title “To (the) Hebrews” (proV ‘ebraiouV) was not the title it was known by in the first century.
b. proV ‘ebraiouV first appears at the head of this epistle at around 180 AD. This Papyri is called the Chester Beatty Papyri. P46 of the Chester Beatty Papyri contains the entire book of Hebrews (along with parts of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians and 1 Thessalonians. On folio 21 the title “To the Hebrews” appears for the first time.
d. Tertullian (220) knows it as “Hebrews”
do not know if this was the original title and if it was, who were the
“Hebrews”? Did they live in
f. We must not let the title dictate who received this letter but instead let the context of the letter speak.
2) They are familiar with the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament since this is what the author quotes to them
3) They are Jewish believers
a. They may from a Greek culture since they use the Septuagint.
may be a fringe group from Orthodox Judaism (traditional rabbinical) since they
have some unique practices that match the Essenes of the
i. Ceremonial washings beyond the law were typical of the Essenes. These “washings” are mentioned in 6:2. These washing preceded all rituals and meals.
ii. The Essenes were waiting for a messiah of David (royal) and a messiah of Aaron (priestly)
iii. The Essenes membership with this community was their New Covenant
iv. The Essenes were an eschatological group who were waiting for the Messiah, a priest and a king.
v. The Essenes set importance on the role of angels in history and in eschatology
The Essenes were a group who lived away from the cities
and took up residence in the wilderness.
They found strength and hope from the Exodus passages about
c. They are told they should have been teachers by now (5:12) which may indicate they were not normal Jews but Levites or converts from the priesthood. If they were from the priesthood then these verses would have been a little more pointed:
i. 5:12, they should have become teachers in the Christian community as they had been under the law.
ii. 3:1 , Jesus is “the high priest whom we confess”, and not the ruling Jewish high priest.
iii. 6:6, “crucifying the Son of God all over again” would mean the priest rejected and killed him the first time and now they are going to do it again.
iv. 13:10, concerning their fellow brother priests who continued in the temple service and ate the offerings it says, “We have an altar from which those who minister in the tabernacle have no right to eat.”
d. They had never seen Jesus preach (2:3)
e. They had once faced persecution early in their Christian life (10:32-34) but martyrdom had not occurred (12:4)
This could indicate they had not been in
f. They had shown evidence of their faith by standing with those who had been persecuted. (6:10; 10:34)
g. They had stopped growing in their faith and had drawing back to the place the instructions would have to begin over. (5:11-14; 10:35-39)
h. They are believers even though they need further instruction and their faith is deficient. (5:11-6:3)
i. They would appear to live in a city (13:14)
j. They had stopped going to church (10:25)
i. A Jew who became a Christian would be forsaken by his family, cut off from his inheritance, taken outside the city and banned from the temple.
ii. The temptation to renounce their public confession of Christ was great.
iii. Attending church and gathering with other believers just added to the problem.
had some connection with
The readers were in
The writer was in
Conclusion: The original
readers of this letter were living in a city.
They were Hellenistic Jews who read the Septuagint and had not been
mainline Rabbinic Jews. They had instead
either been Essenes (
Date of the Book
36:1 This is the way, dearly beloved, wherein we found our salvation, even Jesus Christ the High priest of our offerings, the Guardian and Helper of our weakness.
2 Through Him let us look steadfastly unto the heights of the heavens; through Him we behold as in a mirror His faultless and most excellent visage; through Him the eyes of our hearts were opened; through Him our foolish and darkened mind spring up unto the light; through Him the Master willed that we should taste of the immortal knowledge Who being the brightness of His majesty is so much greater than angels, as He hath inherited a more excellent name.
3 For so it is written “Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers aflame of fire”
4 but of His Son the Master said thus, “You are My Son, I this day have begotten you. Ask of Me, and I will give you the Gentiles for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession.”
5 And again He says unto Him, “Sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
i. This indicates the old covenant was still functioning but would soon disappear.
ii. If the temple had already been destroyed (70 AD) then clearly the new covenant had come spiritually and the old covenant had ceased and disappeared physically.
Conclusion: I feel strongly that the book was written before 70 AD for a variety of reasons.
I would venture a guess at a
more specific date after Paul’s death which at the earliest was the fall of 67
AD and latest was the spring of 68 AD. The Jewish Wars with
What Was the Author Like?
1) The author seems to share a common background and theology base with the readers. If they are Jewish then he may be Jewish. If they are Hellenistic Jews they he himself may have a Greek background.
2) The author quotes from the Septuagint.
3) The author (and, the readers) is fully acquainted with:
a. OT persons
b. OT institutions especially concerning the temple services
c. OT text
d. The Mosaic Law
e. The Authority of Scripture as God’s inspired Word
4) The author uses rabbinic teaching styles and tendencies:
a. He establishes points and defends arguments from the silence of scripture (7:3; 14)
b. Extrascriptual traditions (angels giving the Law in 2:2)
Who Wrote the Book of Hebrews?
(which means Son of Encouragment), sold a field he owned and
brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” Acts 4:36, 37
Canonicity – When was the book accepted as scripture?
2) These are some of the other early church fathers who knew and used Hebrews:
a. Polycarp in “Polycarp to the Philippians”
b. Justin Martyr in “First Apology”
3) The Muratorian Canon, a list of the accepted books, is a fragment of parchment that has a list dated from around 170-190 AD leaves out of its accepted books: 1 and 2 Peter, James, Hebrews and 3 John. This list originated in the West.
church historian Eusebius (260-340) listed Hebrews among the epistles of Paul.
Eusebius also explained that some rejected it because the church in
367 Athanasius of
6) In 397 the Third Council of Carthage ratified the accepted opinion that the 27 books of the New Testament were canon
This answer hinges on the
phrase “those from
a. Jewish character of the book.
to the heavenly
c. Problem is the readers were said to be generous (6:10; 13:16) but we know from Paul’s letters the Jewish Christians were suffering from famine and poverty and were themselves receiving financial aid from the Gentiles.
a. The style of writing is similar to Alexandrian thought and Philo’s style.
b. This destination is unlikely since they were the first to ascribe it to Paul which is clearly incorrect (in many people’s opinions)
theory is that Apollos wrote Hebrews around 52-54 from
1. This second (ii) one is more natural (John 1:44; Acts 6:9; 10:23 all use “apo” or “from”
fact that Clement in
c. Paul would have converted many of the Jewish leaders at the end of Acts. These leaders would have turned their synagogues into Messianic synagogues. When Nero’s persecution of 64 AD broke out the Christians would have suffered but the Jews were protected by the law. (Or, the persecution could have been in 49 AD under Cladius.)
e. The reason it was so Jewish in flavor was because these were Messianic Jews still meeting in synagogues, which was something Paul tried throughout Acts