AUTHOR AND TITLE:
For some 1,200 years (from c. A.D. 400 to 1600) this book was commonly entitled, “The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews,” but there was no agreement in the earliest centuries regarding its authorship. The oldest and most reliable title is Pros Ebraious, “To Hebrews.”
As stated, the author is unknown. Many suggestions have been made and very elaborate arguments put forth by scholars, but the fact is the author is nowhere named in the book and is in essence, like its place of writing, date, and even its readership, unknown. Ryrie writes:
Many suggestions have been made for the author of this anonymous book—
There are both resemblances and dissimilarities to the theology and style of Paul, but Paul frequently appeals to his own apostolic authority in his letters, while this writer appeals to others who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry (2:3). It is safest to say, as did the theologian Origendb07 in the third century, that only God knows who wrote Hebrews.fn75
Because of the uncertainty of its authorship, its recognition as a part of the New Testament canon, at least in the West, was delayed until the fourth century when it was finally accepted in the Western church through the testimonies of Jeromedb08 and Augustinedb09. Because Paul was considered to be the author by the Eastern church, it was always accepted.
The issue of its canonicity was again raised during the Reformation, but the spiritual depth and quality of Hebrews bore witness to its inspiration, despite its anonymity.
Chapter 13, verses 18-24, tell us that this book was not anonymous to the original readers; they evidently knew the author. For some reason, however, early church tradition is divided over the identity of the author. Part of the church attributed it to Paul; others preferred Barnabas, Luke, or Clement; and some chose anonymity. Thus, external evidence will not help determine the author.
Internal evidence must be the final court of appeal, but here too, the results are ambiguous. Some aspects of the language, style, and theology of Hebrews are very similar to Paul’s epistles, and the author also refers to Timothy (13:23).
However, significant differences have led the majority of biblical scholars to reject Pauline authorship of this book:
- (1) The Greek style of Hebrews is far more polished and refined than that found in any of Paul’s recognized epistles.
- (2) In view of Paul’s consistent claims to be an apostle and an eyewitness of Christ, it is very doubtful that he would have used the phraseology found in chapter 2, verse 3: “which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.”
- (3) The lack of Paul’s customary salutation, which includes his name, goes against the firm pattern found in all his other epistles.
- (4) While Paul used both the Hebrew text and the Septuagintdb10 to quote from the Old Testament, the writer of Hebrews apparently did not know Hebrew and quoted exclusively from the Septuagint.
- (5) Paul’s common use of compound titles to refer to the Son of God is not followed in Hebrews, which usually refers to Him as Christ, Jesus, and Lord.
- (6) Hebrews concentrates on Christ’s present priestly ministry, but Paul’s writings have very little to say about the present work of Christ.
Thus, Hebrews appears not to have been written by Paul although the writer shows a Pauline influence. The authority of Hebrews in no way depends upon Pauline authorship, especially since it does not claim to have been written by Paul.fn76
aslo see alternative opinions *DB011a,b,c
Since the recipients are not mentioned as in the Pauline Epistles, we might say a word about them. The very nature of the book with its many Old Testament quotations and the emphasis on the sacrificial system strongly suggests they were Hebrews.
Writing in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Zane C. Hodges says:
The identity of the first readers of Hebrews, like the author, is unknown. Nevertheless they were evidently part of a particular community. This appears from several considerations.
The readers had a definite history and the writer referred to their “earlier days” (Heb. 10:32-34); he knew about their past and present generosity to other Christians (6:10); and he was able to be specific about their current spiritual condition (5:11-14).
Moreover, the author had definite links with them and expressed his intention to visit them, perhaps with Timothy (13:19, 23). He also requested their prayers (13:18).
In all probability the readers were chiefly of Jewish background. Though this has sometimes been questioned, the contents of the epistle argue for it. Of course the ancient title “To the Hebrews” might be only a conjecture, but it is a natural one. When everything is said for a Gentile audience that can be said, the fact remains that the author’s heavy stress on Jewish prototypes and his earnest polemic against the permanence of the Levitical system are best explained if the audience was largely Jewish and inclined to be swayed back to their old faith. The heavy and extensive appeal to the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures also was most suitable to readers who had been brought up on them.fn77
DATE: A.D. 64-68
Several things suggest a date sometime between A.D. 64-68. First, the book was quoted by Clement of Rome in A.D. 95 so it had to have been written before that time. Second, it seems quite apparent that the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 for the following reasons.
First, surely the author would have mentioned the temple’s destruction along with the end of the Jewish sacrificial system if such an event of this importance had occurred, especially in view of the argument of this book.
Second, the author uses the Greek present tense over and over when speaking of the temple and the priestly activities which suggest they were still going on (see 5:1-3; 7:23, 27; 8:3-5; 9:6-9, 13, 25; 10:1, 3-4, 8, 11; 13:10-11). Third, the author refers to Timothy’s recent release in 13:23, which, if in connection with his ministry to Paul in Rome, requires a date in the late 60s.
THEME AND PURPOSE:
Clearly, the theme of Hebrews is the surpassing greatness of Christ or His superiority, and thus also that of Christianity to the Old Testament system.
Several words, better, perfect, and heavenly, are prominently used to demonstrate this. As his primary purpose, the author seeks to demonstrate five significant ways Christ is superior or better.
As the Son, He is:
The goal of this theme is to warn his readers against the dangers of giving up the substance of what they have in Christ for the temporary shadows of the Old Testament system.
Thus, the readers are admonished to go on to maturity and their reward as faithful believers, partakers of their heavenly calling.
To do this, there are five warning passages inserted to challenge them to progress in their Christian faith (2:1-4; 3:1-4:13; 5:11-6:20; 10:26-39; 12:14-29).
The key words are
- better, which occurs some thirteen times,
- perfect, which occurs nine times, and
- heavenly, which occurs six times.
Thus, the key concept, for Hebrews is
- the superiority or
- the surpassing greatness of Christ.
2:1-4 1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
4:12-13 12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to his eyes to whom we must render an account.
4:14-16 14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.
12:1-2 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Chapter 1, which so strongly declares the deity of Christ as the Son and final revelation of God, is certainly a key chapter, but chapter 11 also stands out as the great Hall of Fame and Faith chapter. In pointing to the many Old Testament saints who lived by faith, it demonstrates the truth of 11:6, “Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
CHRIST AS SEEN IN HEBREWS:
In accomplishing the purpose to show the superiority of Christ, Hebrews undoubtedly becomes the most Christological single book of the New Testament. Here he is declared as Son, as the very outshining and representation of the essence of God (1:3, 13), as the one who sat at God’s right hand (1:3), as the one declared by God the Father as God (1:8-9), as the eternal Creator (1:10-12), and as the eternal Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (7).
Here Christ is presented as the divine-human Prophet, Priest, and King. He is seen as our Redeemer who, having been made like His brethren, has once and for all dealt with our sin and done that which the temporary sacrifices could never do. As such, He has now passed into the heavens as our Great High Priest as one who sympathizes with our weaknesses.
- I. The Superiority of Christ to Old Covenant Leaders (1:1-7:28)
- A. Christ Is Superior to Old Testament Prophets (1:1-3)
- B. Christ Is Superior to the Angels (1:4-2:18)
- C. Christ Is Superior to Moses (3:1-6)
- D. Christ Is Superior to Joshua (3:7-4:13)
- E. Christ Is Superior to the Aaronic Priesthood (4:14-7:28)
- 1. Exhortation to hold fast (4:14-16)
- 2. Qualifications of a priest (5:1-10)
- 3. Exhortation to abandon spiritual lethargy (5:11-6:12)
- 4. Certainty of God’s promise (6:13-20)
- 5. Christ’s superior priestly order (chap. 7)
- II. The Superior Sacrificial Work as Our High Priest (chaps. 8-10)
III. Final Plea for Persevering Faith (chaps. 11-12)
IV. Conclusion (chap. 13)
- A. Examples of Past Heroes of the Faith (chap. 11)
- B. Encouragement for Persevering Faith (12:1-11)
- C. Exhortations for Persevering Faith (12:12-17)
- D. Motivation for Persevering Faith (12:18-29)