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Hebrews

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Introduction to Hebrews

The epistle to the Hebrews is a unique book in the New Testament. It begins as an essay (Heb 1:1-2), progresses as a sermon (Heb 2:1-4), and ends as a letter (Heb 13:23-25). Its contents are deep and challenging. Many Christians find it difficult; some equate its difficulty with the book of Revelation.

But for Christians willing to take the time to read and reflect upon it, they will be:

  • Reminded of how blessed they are to have trusted in Christ
  • Impressed with the superiority of Christ and His New Covenant over Moses and the Old Covenant
  • Warned of the danger of apostasy and the need for steadfastness in their faith
AUTHOR

The author does not identify himself. Many believe it to be the apostle Paul (e.g., Clement of Alexandria) and have offered arguments in his favor (cf. Commentary on Hebrews, Robert Milligan, p. 5-19). Yet it seems unlikely when you consider the author's statement, "...was confirmed to us by those who heard Him" (Heb 2:3). This suggests the author received the gospel message second-hand, while Paul declared that he had not received the gospel from or through men (Gal 1:11-12).

Other names have been proposed over the years: Barnabas (suggested by Tertullian), Apollos (suggested by Luther), even Priscilla (suggested by Harnack). Perhaps Origen says it best, "But who wrote the epistle, to be sure, only God knows."

RECIPIENTS

The general consensus is that this letter was written to Jewish Christians. There is uncertainty as to where they and the author were at the time of composition. Many believe the recipients were in Palestine, and the author in Rome. Others suggest the readers were in Rome and the author elsewhere, based upon a possible implication in Heb 13:24. In any case, they were Jewish Christians whom the author knew personally (Heb 10:34; 13:19).

DATE

We know the epistle was written prior to 96 A.D., because Clement of Rome quotes from Hebrews in his letter that was written at that time. There are certainly strong indications that it was written prior to 70 A.D....

  • There is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple
  • The author writes as though priests were still offering sacrifices - Heb 8:4; 10:11

If the Jewish Christians were in Palestine, it was likely before or at the beginning of the Jewish Wars (ca. 66-70 A.D.; cf. Heb 12:4).

The time frame of 63-65 A.D. is often suggested.

PURPOSE AND THEME

The author wrote this epistle to prevent his readers from abandoning their faith in Christ (Heb 2:1-4). To encourage his Jewish brethren not to go back to the Old Law, he endeavored to show the superiority of Christ and His Covenant (Heb 8:1-2,6). A key word found throughout the epistle is "better":

  • Christ is "better than the angels" - Heb 1:4
  • We enjoy "the bringing in of a better hope" - Heb 7:19
  • Jesus has become "the surety of a better covenant" - Heb 7:22
  • He is also "the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises" - Heb 8:6
  • The heavenly things benefit from "better sacrifices" - Heb 9:23

Indeed, the purpose of this epistle was to exhort his readers to remain faithful to the much better things they have in Christ (Heb 13:22). As for its theme, I suggest the following:

The Superiority Of Christ and The New Covenant
OUTLINE

Here is a simple outline of the book, with its main divisions...

  1. The superiority of Christ - Heb 1:1-8:6
    1. Better than the prophets, as a much better Spokesman - Heb 1:1-3
    2. Better than the angels, by virtue of His Deity and humanity - Heb 1:4-2:18
    3. Better than Moses, for He is the Son who provides a heavenly rest - Heb 3:1-4:13
    4. Better than Aaron, as His priesthood is a superior one - Heb 4:16-8:6
  2. The superiority of the New Covenant - Heb 8:7-10:18
    1. For it is based upon better promises - Heb 8:7-13
    2. For it is based upon a better sanctuary - Heb 9:1-28
    3. For it is based upon a better sacrifice - Heb 10:1-18
  3. Exhortations drawn from this superiority - Heb 10:19-13:25
    1. Draw near to God and hold fast - Heb 10:19-39
    2. Run the race of faith with endurance - Heb 11:1-12:29
    3. Miscellaneous exhortations - Heb 13:1-25
KEY WARNINGS

A unique feature of the epistle to the Hebrews are the warnings throughout the book. As we conclude this introduction, perhaps it may be profitable to summarize them.

  1. The warning against drifting - Heb 2:1-4
    1. Through neglect we can easily drift away
    2. The solution is to give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard
  2. The warning against departing - Heb 3:12-15
    1. Through sin's deceitfulness we can become hardened and develop a lack of faith by which we can depart from the living God
    2. The solution is exhort one another daily and remain steadfast
  3. The warning against disobedience - Heb 4:11-13
    1. Like Israel in the wilderness, we can fail to enter our rest through disobedience
    2. The solution is diligence and heeding the Word of God
  4. The warning against dullness - Heb 5:11-6:6
    1. Dullness of hearing can make it difficult for us to appreciate the extent of our blessings in Christ, and even falling away to the point of crucifying the Son of God afresh!
    2. The solution is grasping the first principles of the oracles of God, and then pressing on to spiritual maturity and perfection
  5. The warning against despising - Heb 10:26-39
    1. It is possible to so despise God's grace as to no longer have a sacrifice for sins, but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment
    2. The solution is to hold unto our confidence in Christ, and believe with endurance
  6. The warning against defying - Heb 12:25-29
    1. It is possible to refuse to listen to the One who now speaks from heaven!
    2. The solution is to look diligently to the grace of God, receiving it in such a way so we may serve Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear

With such warnings, this book is indeed a "word of exhortation" (Heb 13:22)!

REVIEW QUESTIONS
  1. Who is author of the book of Hebrews?
    • Only God knows
  2. Who were the original recipients of this epistle?
    • Jewish Christians, possibly in Palestine or Italy
  3. When was it written?
    • Likely between 63-65 A.D.
  4. What has been suggested as its purpose? Its theme?
    • An exhortation to remain faithful to Christ
    • The superiority of Christ and the New Covenant
  5. What are the three main divisions of this epistle?
  6. List the six warnings found in this epistle.
    • The warning against drifting - Heb 2:1-4
    • The warning against departing - Heb 3:12-15
    • The warning against disobedience - Heb 4:11-13
    • The warning against dullness - Heb 5:11-6:6
    • The warning against despising - Heb 10:26-39
    • The warning against defying - Heb 12:25-29
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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