Category: Book of Hebrews

Theologically speaking, scholars generally regard the book of Hebrews to be  second in importance only to Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament.  No other book so eloquently defines Christ as high priest of Christianity,  superior to the Aaronic priesthood, and the fulfillment of the Law and the  Prophets. This book presents Christ as the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). However,  both the authorship and audience are in question.

The title, “To the  Hebrews,” which appears in the earliest known copy of the epistle is not a part  of the original manuscript. There is no salutation, the letter simply begins  with the assertion that Jesus, the Son of God, has appeared, atoned for our  sins, and is now seated at the right hand of God in heaven (Hebrews 1:1-4).

The letter closes with the words “Grace be with you all” (Hebrews 13:25), which is  the same closing found in each of Paul’s known letters (see Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 16:232  Corinthians 13:14; Galatians  6:18; Ephesians  6:24; Philippians  4:23; Colossians  4:18; 1  Thessalonians 5:28; 2  Thessalonians 3:18; 1 Timothy  6:21; 2 Timothy  4:22; Titus 3:15;  and Philemon  25). However, it should be noted that Peter (1 Peter  5:14; 2 Peter  3:18) used similar—though not identical—closings. Possibly that it was  simply customary to close letters like this with the words “Grace be with you  all” during this time period.

Church tradition teaches that Paul wrote  the book of Hebrews, and until the 1800s, that issue was closed. However, though  a vast majority of Christians—both and scholars and the laity—still believe Paul  wrote the book, there are some tempting reasons to think otherwise.

First and foremost is the lack of a salutation. Some sort of personal  salutation from Paul appears in all of his letters. So it would seem that  writing anonymously is not his usual method; therefore, the reasoning goes,  Hebrews cannot be one of his letters. Second, the overall composition and style  is of a person who is a very sophisticated writer. Even though he was certainly  a sophisticated communicator, Paul stated that he purposely did not speak with a  commanding vocabulary (1  Corinthians 1:17; 2:12  Corinthians 11:6).

The book of Hebrews quotes extensively from the  Old Testament. Paul, as a Pharisee, would have been familiar with the Scripture  in its original Hebrew language. In other letters, Paul either quotes the  Masoretic Text (the original Hebrew) or paraphrases it. However, all of the  quotes in this epistle are taken out of the Septuagint (the Greek Old  Testament), which is inconsistent with Paul’s usage. Finally, Paul was an  apostle who claimed to receive his revelations directly from the Lord Jesus (1  Corinthians 11:23; Galatians  1:12). The writer of Hebrews specifically says that he was taught by an  apostle (Hebrews  2:3).

If Paul didn’t write the letter, who did? The most plausible  suggestion is that this was actually a sermon Paul gave and it was transcribed  later by Luke, a person who would have had the command of the Greek language  which the writer shows. Barnabas is another likely prospect, since he was a  Levite and would have been speaking on a subject that he knew much about. Martin  Luther suggested Apollos, since he would have had the education the writer of  this letter must have had. Priscilla and Clemet of Rome have been suggested by  other scholars.

However, there is still much evidence that Paul wrote  the letter. The most compelling comes from Scripture itself. Remember that Peter  wrote to the Hebrews (that is, the Jews; see Galatians  2:7, 9 and 1 Peter 1:1). Peter wrote:  “…just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave  him [emphasis added]” (2 Peter  3:15). In that last verse, Peter is confirming that Paul had also written a  letter to the Hebrews!

The theology presented in Hebrews is consistent  with Paul’s. Paul was a proponent of salvation by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8, 9), and that message is  strongly communicated in this epistle (Hebrews 4:26:12, 10:19-22, 10:37-39, and 11:1-40). Either Paul  wrote the epistle, or the writer was trained by Paul. Although it is a small  detail, this epistle makes mention of Timothy (Hebrews  13:23), and Paul is the only apostle known to have ever done that in any  letter.

So, who actually wrote Hebrews? The letter fills a needed space  in Scripture and both outlines our faith and defines faith itself in the same  way that Romans defines the tenets of Christian living. It closes the chapters  of faith alone and serves as a prelude to the chapters on good works built on a  foundation of faith in God. In short, this book belongs in the Bible. Therefore,  its human author is unimportant. What is important is to treat the book as  inspired Scripture as defined in 2 Timothy  3:16-17. The Holy Spirit was the divine author of Hebrews, and of all  Scripture, even though we don’t know who put the physical pen to the physical  paper and traced the words.

Author: Although some include the Book of Hebrews among the apostle Paul’s writings, the certain identity of the author remains an enigma. Missing is Paul’s customary salutation common to his other works. In addition, the suggestion that the writer of this epistle relied upon knowledge and information provided by others who were actual eye-witnesses of Christ Jesus (2:3) makes Pauline authorship doubtful. Some attribute Luke as its writer; others suggest Hebrews may have been written by Apollos, Barnabas, Silas, Philip, or Aquila and Priscilla. Regardless of the human hand that held the pen, the Holy Spirit of God is the divine author of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16); therefore, Hebrews speaks with the same canonical authority as the other sixty-five books of the Bible.

Date of Writing: The early church father Clement quoted from the Book of Hebrews in A.D. 95. However, internal evidence such as the fact that Timothy was alive at the time the epistle was written and the absence of any evidence showing the end of the Old Testament sacrificial system that occurred with Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70 indicates the book was written around A.D. 65.

Purpose of Writing: The late Dr. Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute and writer of the best-selling book Kingdom of the Cults, quipped in his usual tongue-in-cheek manner that the Book of Hebrews was written by a Hebrew to other Hebrews telling the Hebrews to stop acting like Hebrews. In truth, many of the early Jewish believers were slipping back into the rites and rituals of Judaism in order to escape the mounting persecution. This letter, then, is an exhortation for those persecuted believers to continue in the grace of Jesus Christ.

Key Verses: Hebrews 1:1-2: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”

Hebrews 2:3: “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation…”

Hebrews 4:14-16: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Brief Summary: The Book of Hebrews addresses three separate groups: believers in Christ, unbelievers who had knowledge of and an intellectual acceptance of the facts of Christ, and unbelievers who were attracted to Christ, but who rejected Him ultimately. It’s important to understand which group is being addressed in which passage. To fail to do so can cause us to draw conclusions inconsistent with the rest of Scripture.

The writer of Hebrews continually makes mention of the superiority of Christ in both His personage and in His ministering work. In the writings of the Old Testament, we understand the rituals and ceremonies of Judaism symbolically pointed to the coming of Messiah. In other words, the rites of Judaism were but shadows of things to come. Hebrews tells us that Christ Jesus is better than anything mere religion has to offer. All the pomp and circumstance of religion pales in comparison to the person, work, and ministry of Christ Jesus. It is the superiority of our Lord Jesus, then, that remains the theme of this eloquently written letter.

Connections: Perhaps nowhere in the New Testament does the Old Testament come into focus more than in the Book of Hebrews, which has as its foundation the Levitical priesthood. The writer to the Hebrews constantly compares the inadequacies of the Old Testament sacrificial system to the perfection and completion in Christ. Where the Old Covenant required continual sacrifices and a once-a-year atonement for sin offered by a human priest, the New Covenant provides a once-for-all sacrifice through Christ (Hebrews 10:10) and direct access to the throne of God for all who are in Him.

Practical Application: Rich in foundational Christian doctrine, the Epistle to the Hebrews also gives us encouraging examples of God’s “faith heroes” who persevered in spite of great difficulties and adverse circumstances (Hebrews 11). These members of God’s Hall of Faith provide overwhelming evidence as to the unconditional surety and absolute reliability of God. Likewise, we can maintain perfect confidence in God’s rich promises, regardless of our circumstances, by meditating upon the rock-solid faithfulness of God’s workings in the lives of His Old Testament saints.

The writer of Hebrews gives ample encouragement to believers, but there are five solemn warnings we must heed. There is the danger of neglect (Hebrews 2:1-4), the danger of unbelief (Hebrews 3:7–4:13), the danger of spiritual immaturity (Hebrews 5:11–6:20), the danger of failing to endure (Hebrews 10:26-39), and the inherent danger of refusing God (Hebrews 12:25-29). And so we find in this crowning masterpiece a great wealth of doctrine, a refreshing spring of encouragement, and a source of sound, practical warnings against slothfulness in our Christian walk. But there is still more, for in Hebrews we find a magnificently rendered portrait of our Lord Jesus Christ—the Author and Finisher of our great salvation (Hebrews 12:2).