The book of the New Testament routinely known as Hebrews is a difficult nut to crack. It is in many ways an enigma, but it is also in many ways the clearest teaching in the whole NT about the value of Christ and his ministry on our behalf before God. By setting forth basic information that we do know about the book, we will begin our study by providing a foundation on which to build.
A. The book itself is anonymous. The introduction, which normally would include the author, recipients, and greetings, instead launches right into the topic of concern. The closing benediction gives some clues: The author and readers appear to be closely associated from 13:19, and Timothy is named in 13:23, but this doesn’t end up helping much. B. Paul was a candidate for a long time, but that theory is presently rejected.
The earliest manuscript we have on Hebrews is P46, and Hebrews is included with Paul’s writings.
The eastern church accepted Paul based on the cautious assessment of notable Alexandrian scholars, but the western church resisted until Jerome and Augustine shifted opinion.
During the Reformation scholars again debated the point, and in the present day general agnosticism prevails.
C. Suggestions have included Luke, Barnabas, Silas, Clement of Rome, Apollos, Priscilla, Philip, and Mary (Jesus’ mother). D. We have to agree with Origen: “But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.”
A. The book does not state anything directly about the recipients. B. Based on the broad themes of the book which continually juxtapose Jesus over and against central aspects of Judaism, it is very reasonable to argue that the readers were Jewish Christians. C. Some have argued that Gentiles could be the recipients, but this is largely based on possible interpretations of individual phrases and verses which do not readily fit into the big picture. D. Most scholars argue that the readers were living in Rome; this is very possible, but not absolutely mandatory from the data.
A. The latest possible date for the book is around A.D. 100, since 1 Clement cites from Hebrews. B. The earliest possible date is around A.D. 65, as the author seems to place himself after the time of Paul and the other apostles from 13:7, 23, and these men began to die in the mid 60’s. C. The other primary factor involves the author’s failure to mention the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, when such mention would have been a slam dunk for his argument. It is likely, then, that it had not occurred. D. A very reasonable date is late 60’s, but this cannot be stated with certainty.
A. The broad theme of the book implies that a group of Jewish believers was considering regressing back into the fold of Judaism, which in essence was a rejection of Christ. B. The readers had undergone some form of persecution in the past and were under a present threat of persecution from 10:32–34 and 12:4. One reasonable inference is that the readers were near to the time of the Neronian persecutions in the late 60’s.
A. Clearly the author wanted to warn Jewish Christians against the possibility of regressing back into Judaism. B. He did this through a positive exposition of the complete supremacy and finality of Christ over every aspect of the Jewish system.
There is a lot we don’t know about the book. Some of the information which is most useful in understanding the meaning of a text is lacking: We don’t know who the author is, and we aren’t all that sure about the readers. Even so, the message of the book is clear, and we will take this up next week.
The Book of Hebrews: Introduction (Part 2)
The book of the New Testament
routinely known as Hebrews is a difficult nut to crack. It is in many
ways an enigma, but it is also in many ways the clearest teaching in
the whole NT about the value of Christ and his ministry on our behalf
before God. By setting forth basic information that we do know about
the book, we will begin our study by providing a foundation on which to
II. Genre: What type of literature is this?
genre of a biblical book is important to know as this helps us have a
context in which to interpret what we read. Unfortunately, with Hebrews
there is debate about what the genre actually is. A. There are three main choices:
Epistle: The book does have the normal ending for an epistle: personal
information, greeting, doxology, and benediction (13:22–25)
Sermon/Exhortation: Notice the references to speaking (2:5; 8:1), to
time (11:32), to the “message of exhortation” (13:22). There are
warnings and admonitions throughout.
Exposition: Much of the book is an explanation of OT Scripture and how Christ has fulfilled it.
The sermonic/exhortation and expository elements are both quite strong,
but I lean towards the sermonic as having preference: The author wants
his readers to understand the truth and ultimately act differently as a
result. C. Recognition of the nature of
this as a sermon is crucial for interpreting many of the exhortations.
The author will use terms in a way that are used not for theological
precision but for rhetorical effect.
III. The Theological Viewpoint of the Author
A. There are two primary components of the author’s theology.
On the one hand the author is steeped in his understanding of the OT
and the promises of God for his people from within that book.
On the other hand the author is firmly convinced of the place of Christ
as the ultimate fulfillment and agent for God’s plan in this world.
The author weds these two together to provide a basis for firm
exhortation of his audience to not draw back from Christ even though
circumstances may be difficult. C.
Central Idea: Jesus’ exalted place as God’s Son and his people’s High
Priest acquired through his suffering, death, and resurrection demands
growing devotion to him from those related to him even in the midst of
difficult circumstances. D. Two central verses: 3:6, 14
IV. A Simple Outline
A. The Prologue: The Son as God’s final revelation (1:1–4) B. The Son as superior to angels (1:5–2:18) C. The Son as merciful and faithful High Priest (3:1–5:10) D. Central Exposition: The Son’s Melchizedekan Priesthood (5:11–10:39)
Introductory Exhortation: A Theme to Move Them toward Maturity (5:11–6:20)
Christ as priest in Melchizedek’s order (7:1–28)
Christ as heavenly High Priest of a better covenant (8:1–13)
Christ’s priestly service in the heavenly sanctuary (9:1–28)
Conclusion of the exposition: Contrast of the Old and New Covenants (10:1–18)
Concluding exhortation: Draw near through Christ in enduring faith (10:19–39)
E. The need for faith and endurance in the struggle (11:1–12:13) F. Final warning and instructions about community life (12:14–13:21) G. Epilogue: Epistolary closing (13:22–25)
is a lot we don’t know about the book. There is a lot of debate about
what we do know. Even so, the message of the book is clear, and we will
begin an indepth look next week.
The Prologue: Hebrews 1:1–4
Function of the Prologue
In ancient rhetoric the
beginning of a work had to have an appropriate beginning. It needed to
grab the reader’s or hearer’s attention, it needed to preview the
topics which would be covered, and it needed to do these things in an
artistic, pleasing fashion. The prologue does all of these. It is a
single, powerful sentence which highlights major topics of the book.
After reading through it we understand in summary fashion the theology
the author is going to explain, and we have a basis for the
exhortations he will give on how we are to live.
A Few Points on Artistry
author writes a single sentence which he extends at length with various
dependent clauses. His focus is on God’s communication to his people,
and there are several elements about that communication which he
contrasts through parallel arrangements: the time, the recipients, the
agents, and the ways. His opening line uses alliteration with the
letter π. His description of the Son lists seven different affirmations.
full and final communication to his people occurs through his
now-exalted Son who perfectly represents his essence, character, and
A. God’s revelation to his people through the prophets is finalized by his revelation through the Son. (vv. 1–2a)
God’s prior revelation to his people was through the prophets to the ancestors. (v. 1)
God’s present revelation to his people in the final, eschatological time is in his Son. (v. 2a)
B. The Son in his exalted place at God’s right hand perfectly represents the essence, character, and action of God. (vv. 2b–4)
The Son is the God-ordained ruler of all things. (v. 2b)
The Son was the means for God’s creation of all things. (v. 2c)
The Son is the exact representation of God’s character in glory and essence. (v. 3a)
The Son presently sustains the entire creation. (v. 3b)
The Son accomplished cleansing of sins through his death. (v. 3c)
The Son in his resurrection and exaltation took his rightful place at God’s right hand. (v. 3d)
The Son on the basis of his exalted place is so far better than the angels. (v. 4)
The author clearly wants his readers to understand certain truths about
God and Christ as the foundation of his sermon. So we must seek to
understand theological truth so we can then live appropriately. B.
The central force of the prologue is that "God spoke." This requires
much of us. We must first acknowledge that God has spoken, then we must
incline our hearts to hear what he has said and learn from him,
recognizing that by virtue of his being God that he has a claim on
everything that we are. C. The affirmation about God speaking is
that is has occurred through his Son. The truth is as commonly said as
it is right: Jesus, God’s Son, must be at the center of all we do. He
must receive our complete devotion and worship as God’s final
revelation. D. The mention of angels points out competitors for our
attention. In our religious thinking we do not usually exalt angels,
but there are many other things which compete for center stage. The
only one who should hold that place is Jesus himself.
Jesus the Son, Superior to Angels: Hebrews 1:5-14
Placement of this Section
Immediately on the heels of the prologue, which previewed the topic which would be covered-namely, that God's full and final communication to his people occurs through his now-exalted Son-the author begins to flesh out the topic by describing the superior place of the Son to the angels. There is no indication that the audience was in danger of worshiping angels or exalting them inappropriately. Rather, he uses the superiorty of Jesus to the angels to set up his first warning and admonition to his readers, which will occur in 2:1-4.
A Point about Technique
In this paragraph the author strings together seven different O1d Testament citations, which he uses to prove the superiority of the Son. He does this both through the content of the citations and their support of his premise, but he also does this through the rhetorical power of the multiplicity of passages. This stringing together of passages is called a cabana, and the effect is in a sense to overwhelm the listener so that they agree with the argument not just on its logical basis but also through its rhetorical power.
Two Points about Theology
1. The passages cited in this section have an original context they should be understood on their own merits, not solely on the basis of how our author uses them. However when we see the way our author uses the passages, we can make several assertions about how his theology works. 0ur author views the OT as God's true words which bear witness to Christ.
2. Underneath several of the citations runs the concept of the Davldic covenant. The author views Jesus as inaugurating the fulfillment of the promises associated with that covenant with the final fulfillment yet in the future.
The Son's superiority to the angels is established through his nature and relationship to God the Father and their subservient role as God's servants.
A. The Son's unique relationship to the Father ms his chosen Son makes him superior to the angels. (v. 5)
The citation from Psalm 2:7 emphasizes the unique place of Jesus as the enthroned Davidic king. (v.5aB. The citation from 2 Samuel 7:14 emphasizes the unique place of Jesus as the final promised Davidic descendant. (v. 5b)
The citation from 2 Samuel 7:14 emphasizes the unique place of Jesus as the final promised Davidic descendant. (v. 5b)
B.The angels' roles as worshipers of the Son and God's servants make them inferior to the Son. (vv. 6-7)
The citation from Psalm 103:4 emphasizes the transitory role angels have as God's servant. (v. 7)
C. The Son's eternal reign over this world and the entire universe makes him superior to the angels. (vv. 8-12)
The citation from Psalm 45:6 emphasizes the Son's eternal reign over this world. (v. 8-9)
The citation from Psalm 102:25-27 emphasizes the Son's eternal reign over the entire created universe. (vv. 10-12)
D. The Son's exalted place of supreme authority makes him superior to the angels. (vv. 13-14)
The citation from Psalm 110:1 emphasizes Jesus' exaltation to the place of supreme authority. (v. 13)
The angels' subservient place to those who receive the salvation the Son offers makes them inferior to the Son. (v. 14)
A. There are many things in our life which are good and have heir proper place in God's order, but they must never take the place of Jesus as God's superior Son.
B. Jesus holds final and ultimate authority over this world and indeed the universe. We must learn to submit to that authority in all aspects of our life, and we cart rejoice that ultimately no power will ever prevail against him
C. Just as the angels have the privilege of worshiping Jesus, let us worship him as well with unbridled love and devotion.