Hebrews: An Introduction

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

Author

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 universality 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 consider 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.

Audience

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 be offered. And that would also imply a date prior to 70 A.D..

Canonicity

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 since concerning its authorship, its canonicity has not been seriously questioned.

Theme

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).

Unique Contribution

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 an access to God that was never available to us beforehand.

Hebrews Study Post List

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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6 thoughts on “Hebrews: An Introduction”

    • No worries. Use whatever translation works for you. If you click on any of the Scripture links they go to BibleGateway.com where you can change the translation to whatever you want, including many non-English versions.

      Reply

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