Hebrews is the name given to one of the books in the New Testament. It is included as one of the epistles, or letters, right after Paul’s letters and before the general epistles. But Hebrews does not seem to be a letter. It has no included author, audience, or greeting as is common with other letters. Instead, it seems more like a sermon or Bible study directed by a pastor to his flock.
This post will be a brief overview of the book of Hebrews. It will be followed by studies of individual passages over the next few months.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
The author of Hebrews is unknown. Through at least a part of church history, it was attributed to Paul. But even then it was not universally accepted as his writing. And today there are few who still see him as the author. The style and language of Hebrews differ dramatically from any of Paul’s known works.
Others who have been considered for authorship of Hebrews include Luke, Barnabas, and Clement. But none of these have ever gathered widespread support. Another figure from the New Testament that does have some appeal is Apollos. Apollos was a well-trained Jewish teacher and that fits well with the Jewish nature of Hebrews. But in the end, we have no real idea who it was who actually penned this work.
It does appear that the author had a relationship with those he is writing to. Some have suggested that he was the pastor for a small house church. It is evident in the book that he has a real concern for those he is writing to. And that a significant reason for the writing was to encourage them to remain faithful in the midst of the difficulties they are facing.
The audience this was intended for is likewise unknown. The author never identifies anyone or any location other than Timothy and those in Italy. And that is in way of sending greetings to them from those who are in Italy (Heb. 13:24).
The audience seems to be very familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures, which would seem to suggest a Jewish audience. But the sermon also uses very precise and educated Greek, suggesting at least a Hellenized audience. But, in the end, we don’t know specifically who the pastor had in mind with this sermon.
Date of Writing
The date that Hebrews was written is likewise unknown. Clement seems to quote from it in the first century, so a first-century date would seem assured. Most of the discussion on dating centers around the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. There are arguments for it being written on both sides of the destruction of the temple and the end of temple sacrifices.
Most convincing to me is the argument for a date prior to the destruction of the temple. Hebrews argues for the insufficiency of the temple sacrifices and the Aaronic priesthood. This makes more sense at a time when these were still in operation and his readers may have been inclined to revert back to them.
In addition, there is no reference to the cessation of the temple sacrifices. It appears from what the pastor says in his sermon that they are still being offered. And that would also imply a date prior to 70 A.D.
Hebrews was one of the last writings in the New Testament to be accepted as canonical. The eastern church early on accepted it as being written by Paul, and thus canon. But the western church did not. They quoted from it extensively but did not believe it to belong in the canon.
But by the fourth century, the western church had begun to accept Pauline authorship for Hebrews. And along with this came its acceptance into the canon. By the late 4th and early 5th centuries when the councils were ratifying the New Testament canon, Hebrews was included. While questions have arisen concerning its authorship, its canonicity has not been seriously questioned.
Much of Hebrews is concerned with Christ. He is superior to the angels (Heb. 1:3-14). And superior to Moses (Heb. 3:1-6). He has a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, superior to the Aaronic priesthood (Heb. 7:1-28). He serves as the High Priest of the New Covenant (Heb. 8:1-9:10). And he is God’s perfect sacrifice to once and for all cleanse his people from their sin (Heb. 9:11-10:18).
In the midst of the pastor’s exaltation of Christ, he also offers numerous warnings about falling away from him (Heb. 2:1-4, 3:12-19, 4:11, 5:11-6:12, 10:19-39, 12:14-17). These references are challenging to many who hold that true believers cannot fall from grace. But it clearly was a real concern to the pastor who sought to keep his flock from that fate.
This writing also includes encouragement for living together in community as believers and with God. It is clearly pastoral in nature. He wants his people to know more assuredly who Christ is and what he has done. But also to endure the trials they are facing (Heb. 10:32-34, 13:3) and to continue to meet together (Heb. 10:24-25, 12:14, 13:1-2, 15-17).
I believe the greatest contribution of Hebrews is its Christology. The pastor clearly demonstrates the superiority of Christ to the Aaronic priesthood and sacrificial system. He demonstrates that these were only a shadow of what was to come. A coming that is fulfilled in Christ. Christ is the all in all. There is no longer any value in offering animal sacrifices. Christ is the fulfillment of the Law. And in him, we have access to God that was never available to us beforehand.
Hebrews Post List
- Hebrews: An Introduction - This article gives a brief introduction into the book of Hebrews. It is the first of a series of on this sermon from a pastor to his people.
- Hebrews: The Supremacy of Christ (1:1-4) - In the prologue to Hebrews the author identifies the supremacy of Christ over the prophets and angels as well as summarizing his Christology.
- Hebrews: Superior to the Angels (1:5-14) - This passage uses seven quotes from the Old Testament to demonstrate that Christ, the Son, is superior to the angels.
- Hebrews: A Warning to Pay Attention (2:1-4) - The author of Hebrews here warns us to pay attention to the great salvation we have been given. If we do not, the danger of drifting away is great.
- Hebrews: We See Jesus, Crowned with Glory (2:5-9) - Humanity is not what God created us to be. But we see Jesus, who took on a human nature, tasted death for us, and is now crowned with glory and honor.
- Hebrews: Made Perfect Through Suffering (2:10-13) - Jesus, the author of our salvation, was made perfect, as a savior, through his suffering on the cross. The perfect lamb sacrificed for us.
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Fully Human in Every Way (2:14-18) - Jesus became fully human in every way, allowing him to defeat death and to become our perfect high priest, offering himself as our atonement.
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Greater Than Moses (3:1-6) - To one raised in Old Testament Judaism, there was no one greater than Moses. But Hebrews here affirms that Jesus is greater than Moses.
- Hebrews: Failure to Enter God’s Rest (3:7-19) - Hebrews uses Psalm 95 to demonstrate that failure to enter into God's rest is because of our disobedience and failure to remain faithful.
- Hebrews: Enter God’s Rest (4:1-11) - The promise of entering into God's rest is still open to us today. Unlike many in the past, make every effort to enter into that rest.
- Hebrews: the Active Word of God (4:12-13) - God's word is active and alive. It is not just words on a page. It is his message for us that reaches deep within us to shape our lives.
- Hebrews: Our Great High Priest (4:14-16) - Because Jesus is our great high priest, who has experienced the life we live, we can confidently come to God for his grace and mercy.
- Hebrews: Obedience Learned Through Suffering (5:1-10) - Jesus, the Son of God, learned obedience through his suffering on the cross. He knows what it is to obey the Father, even in suffering.
- Hebrews: Move Beyond Elementary Teachings (5:11-6:3) - The author's challenge to us here is to move beyond the elementary teachings of the faith. To be growing ever deeper in the truth.
- Hebrews: A Most Explicit Warning (6:4-12) - There are a number of warnings in Hebrews about falling away. But this is the most explicit of them. How should be understand there warnings.
- Hebrews: An Anchor of Hope for the Soul (6:13-20) - The promise that God made to Abraham is relevant to those of us who have come to trust in Jesus. And that hope is an anchor for our soul.
- Hebrews: The Priesthood of Melchizedek (7:1-10) - Two priesthoods are examined here. That of Melchizedek and that of Aaron. And Melchizedek's is demonstrated to be the superior one.
- Hebrews: A New Priesthood (7:11-28) - Jesus has ushered in a new priesthood. One that is after the order of Melchizedek, eternal and fully able to meet our needs.
- Hebrews: We Do Have Such a High Priest (8:1-6) - Hebrews has been building toward this point. A high priest after the order of Melchizedek is not just theory. In Jesus, it is a reality.
- Hebrews: A New Covenant (8:7-13) - The new covenant that Jeremiah foresaw has found its fulfillment in Jesus. He is the mediator of this new covenant made with us.
- Hebrews: Worship in the Tabernacle (9:1-10) - The worship in the old covenant tabernacle was a shadow of what was to come. Especially the hiddenness of the Most Holy Place.
- Hebrews: The Blood of the New Covenant (9:11-15) - The old covenant was written on tablets has been replaced with a covenant written on our hearts and inaugurated by the blood of Christ,
- Hebrews: Entering the Heavenly Sanctuary (9:16-28) - The earthly tabernacle was only a shadow of the heavenly sanctuary that Jesus entered into on our behalf, offering a perfect sacrifice.
- Hebrews: One Sacrifice for All Time (10:1-18) - Jesus sacrificed himself for us. One sacrifice that was sufficient for all time. There is now no longer any need to sacrifice for sin.
- Hebrews: Enter the Most Holy Place (10:19-39) - Because of what Jesus did for us, we can have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place with full assurance. We have been cleansed and washed.
- Hebrews: Faith in Action (11:1-31) - The 11th chapter of Hebrews is nicknamed the Hall of Faith. The author here defines faith, and then shows faith in action.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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