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Book of Hebrews: Introduction

Hebrews
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Author

The author of this book is unknown although many Bible scholars and teachers say that it is most likely the Apostle Paul. This assumption comes from the way it is written. It is said that the thoughts are Paul's thoughts, but the writing style is someone else's. The salutation fits those of other epistles penned by Paul. It is also said that though it is assumed that the language is Paul's, Luke wrote it while he listened to Paul speak. Other suggested authors are Barnabas, Luke, Apollos, Timothy and others.

There is an argument the authorship of Paul. It was a common writing style in Bible times for the author to sign his name at the beginning of a letter rather than at the end like we do today. As the apostle Paul has written in 2 Thessalonians 3:17 that whatever he writes, he signs.

Ultimately the author is the Holy Spirit. We will not get bogged down on who the earthly penman is because there is so much more to this book than that. Because the author is unknown does not make it an issue of whether or not this book belonged in the canon. We learn that the secret things belong to God. If He wanted us to know the author, we would know. The controversy concerning its authorship is not a matter of faith of fellowship. If God wanted it revealed, He would not allow it to be a mystery. There are some versions of the Bible that has a heading that reads, "The epistle of Paul to the Hebrews"

Relevance

This book was written because of the threat of Judaism to the Jewish and Gentile Christians. It is a threat today of ignorance. For some reason some Christians are adamant about relegating Old Testament commandments to New Testament commandments. The book of Hebrews makes it lucid regarding what binds Christians today. Whether Christians are under the Old Law or the new law should not be an issue, but because it is, just like it was when this was written, it has to be addressed. This relevancy of the Old Law for Christians was an issue in the first century and still is today after all these years, therefore the book of Hebrews is relevant today.

Date

The Jews desired strongly to return to Judaism because the temple was still standing. It had not yet been destroyed. Therefore it was written before AD 70 because AD 70 was when the temple was destroyed, probably in the late AD 60's.

To whom was it written

Once we began reading through the text, we will learn that this book was not written to a certain demographic but rather to Jewish Christians. We can know that this book appeals to Jewish Christians because of all the references to the OT. Also, this book references many Jewish heroes whom this Jewish Christians, before their convert to Christianity, would be familiar with.

Some commentators have suggested that they these Jewish Christians lived in Jerusalem or Rome. Good arguments have been made on both sides which we will not get into in this class. All of this is just to give us an idea of the setting in which this took place, to take our minds there. What we know for sure is that it was written to believers. We read this in 3: and 2:3. They had endured hardships because of their stand for the Gospel (10:34)

Why it was written

The superiority of NT over the OT is a primary factor of this epistle. It is a devastating argument against the Calvinistic heresy that it is impossible for a child of God to fall from grace and be lost. The Jewish Christians had became dull of hearing (5:11) and were in danger of drifting away (2:1; 3:12). This book exhorts them to remain faithful Christians (13:22) The Christian Jews were under assault for having severed their ties with the Mosaic regime. The allegation was being made that Jesus Christ was not the Messiah and the genuine Messiah had not yet appeared. These allegations were made by false teachers. This author presents persuasive reasoning that He was prophesied in the OT. How many of us know of someone who after they were converted to Christianity, were ridiculed for having decided to give their life to Christ. For a new convert, this can be a lot of pressure. Perhaps it was the same for these Christians, but I imagine a bit more intense.

Language of Book

The word "superiority" is used frequently in Hebrews. This is important to keep in mind because the point of this book was to encourage the Jewish Christians to remain faithful in the face of persecution. These Christians wanted to lapse into Judaism to avoid persecution directed at Christians. This is why the author kept making the arguments and emphasis on the superiority of Christianity over Judaism.

There are about 80 something direct references to the OT in Hebrews and these are traceable to at least 100 Old Testament passages. Many of them are from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew text).

The language of this book is steeped in OT and the framework consists of practical expositions of selected OT texts. We will see many references to Psalms and Leviticus. Out of the 305 verses in the book, 172 of them are exhortation, so it consists of special appeals to its readers. I think one of the key verses is 13:7-9 where the author reminds us that the Gospel has not changes, and Jesus Christ is always the same. Therefore we are not to be led by strange teachings. We often hear people say, "the times are changing," or, "times have changes" as if God changed, too. How do we respond to that? Christ has said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away in Matt. 24:35. This means that the world will perish before His word will changed. And even then, the world will pass away and His word will still be the same. So no matter how much more tolerable society becomes sin will always be sin. It will always be condemned. This is what the author conveys to its readers. This book is full of warnings, "fear not" and "let us" is used often as we will notice going through the book.

Words like 'sacrifices,' 'offerings,' priests' are embedded in Hebrews because it is ritual or ceremonious in nature. It has a lot of priestly terminology. For example, "draw near" is used and it means to approach God. This is what the priests would do in performing his priestly service. "Perfect" is used in the sense of consecrating a priest to his office. It is also a language of comparison and analogy. When we study through we will find comparisons such as the speaking of the prophets and the speaking of the Son (1:1-2); the message declared by angels and the message of salvation declared by the Lord (2:2-3); the glory of man and the glory of Jesus (2:7-9); the rest in Canaan and the rest in Heaven (4:1-13); Aaron as high priest and Jesus as High Priest (5:1-10); the blood of bulls and goats and the blood of Jesus (9:12-14), etc.

References used: Everyone's Guide to Hebrews, Neil R. Lightfood