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New Testament Survey
Lesson Sixteen

Hebrews

The book of Hebrews is considered to be one of the most magnificent books of the New Testament.  Its language is some of the purest Greek in the New Testament.  Its logical arguments are among the most scholarly and polished of all literature.

The book of Hebrews is peculiar in construction and its use of key words.  The book is a masterpiece of clear and logical development.  The theme is made clear at the beginning of the book and then it builds on that theme throughout the entire book.  There are no digressions and only brief and infrequent parenthetical interruptions.  Each new thought is introduced only after the groundwork has been carefully prepared. The reader is therefore ready to receive the next step in revelation.

The book has many key-words in a way different than all the other New Testament books.  The other books have one major key word and then a number of subordinate key works that group themselves around that major word.  In the book of Hebrews there are several key words which stand in almost the same importance as the others, to the overall message of the book.

The Gentile church was growing rapidly and was independent of Judaism by heritage and conviction. The result would be a sharp and final separation between the two. Jewish Christians still held on to the observances of the law, even though they had received Christ as Saviour.  The tension between Jews and Gentiles that existed throughout the thirty years of the early church became stronger as the church grew in numbers of adherents and world growth.  This rivalled the position of the synagogue. The Jewish rejection of Christ and the message of the church came to the place where Paul lost any hope of national repentance.  He desired it, even to the point of wishing himself cut off, if they could be saved, but it was not to be (Rom. 9:3).  In Acts 28:28 he declared he would turn to the Gentiles and they would hear the message.

The chasm widened because of two factors.  Peter had said the message was to the Jews and all them that are afar off, thus showing the gospel was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews, establishing its universality.  Traditionally the Jew was exclusive and the idea of a common fellowship was abhorrent to him.  The second factor that separated was a historical event that was about to happen as Hebrews was written.  That event was the fall of Jerusalem in A.D.70. Judaism as a political system and a religious system were one.  When the political system was destroyed the Jew had no land, temple or government so he had lost his essential system.  The loss of these outward expressions forced Judaism to worship God through the study of law so legalism became stronger than ever before.

Jewish Christians had unique problems because of this tension. All Christians acknowledged that the Old Testament was inspired Scriptures and carried divine authority.  They were the foundation of their faith and practice.  The problem was in interpreting them. The rabbis had a static interpretation while the Christians interpreted them in the light of the revelations of Jesus as the Messiah.

The Jewish Christians had a problem in regard to their national situation.  Jesus had prophesied the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem in Matt. 24.  This He showed was the judgment of God for their rejection of Him as their Messiah. If the Jewish Christians turned from the law to grace and left Jerusalem and centred their worship in the church, they would be considered traitors by those who held to the law.  On the other hand, if they returned to legalism they would be rejecting Christ and lose all He came to bring them.

The decision they were making was extremely difficult and many in Palestine and the Dispersion were wavering.  Jewish Christians almost exclusively had a better training then the Gentile Christians, they had a more intelligent faith and already knew the Scriptures.  Their decision to remain loyal to Christ and the message of grace or to turn back to Judaism would influence greatly the outcome of Christian missionary endeavours.  Therefore, it was important for their sake, as well as that of the growing church that they be shown that God was doing a new thing, and they must moved ahead with Him in faith rather than draw back.

The book of Hebrews was set in this context and written to meet this dilemma.  It is unknown where the book was being sent. It has no formal salutation.  In old manuscripts its title is simply "to the Hebrews".  The recipients of the book were well versed in the Old Testament and its sacrificial system.  They also knew the gospel, which had been preached to them by men  who were knowledgeable about the life of Christ and demonstrated the gifts of the Spirit (2:3,4). The recipients themselves were Christians who had endured emotional and physical persecution for their faith (10:32-34).

The geographical location of the recipients is a matter of dispute. The determining of that rests on the interpretation of the phrase "They of Italy salute you."  If it means the author was in Italy and sending greetings back to the Hebrew Christians then they were outside of Italy.  It could mean that they lived in Italy and their friends were from Italy, who had travelled from there to their present location and were now sending greetings back to them. The Greek preposition "apo" translated "from", would support this later conclusion.

Some have suggested, although the evidence for support is small, that it was written to the Hebrew Christians in Rome.  They support this view from the fact that the oldest known quotation of Hebrews is in 1 Clement, which was written from Rome.  The theory is that they were uncertain as to whether they should continue in their following of Christ or turn back to the synagogue.  Another theory that is older  suggests it was written to the Jewish Christians in Palestine for the same reason.

1. The book contains 13 chapters consisting of 303 verses.

2. The question of who authored the book of Hebrews has been a matter of dispute over the years.  There is no name given in the book itself, nor are there any circumstances or connections that would identify him, with certainty.  Various authors have been suggested.  The Eastern Church for its early days considered Paul to be the author most likely indirectly.  Eusebius claims that Clement of Alexander said Paul wrote it in Hebrew and Luke translated it into Greek. Barnabas has been suggested as the author, as has been Apollos, Timothy and even Priscilla.

We hold that Paul was the author of the book and suggest the following reasons why this is so.

a. The weight of tradition favours Paul.  Pantaenus a leading teacher in Alexandra was referring to it as a generally accredited Epistle of Paul. Eighty years after his death it was generally accepted that the Epistle was Pauline.

b. There is indication that Peter attributed the authorship of the book to Paul, (2 Pet.3:15). Speaking to Jewish Christians Peter says that Paul had written to them. Hebrews is the only possible choice, unless the writing Peter refers to has been lost.

c.  The book has Pauline characteristics within.  Even those who dispute Paul's authorship acknowledge this to be true.  This is probably one of the strongest arguments for Pauline authorship of the book.  There is the tone of apostolic authority all through Hebrews. He uses words of certitude and fidelity which seem to be of greater firmness than that a disciple would use.  The use of the pronoun "we"  is not found in John, Peter, James or Jude, but is constantly found in the writings of Paul, and in Hebrews.

d.  The major objection to Pauline authorship falls short of being conclusive.  They claim the Greek style is different from Paul's writings.  The classical idioms, the more finished and rhetorical nature, the careful arrangement of thoughts and the systematic plan of the book is unlike the way Paul wrote on other occasions.  Yet we know Paul was highly educated, well read and so presumably capable of such writing style.

No author can be stated that is beyond dispute.  There are grammatical and literary difficulties to the authorship of Paul but they tend to be overstated.  There is a substantial difference between the Greek of the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation but John is recognized as the author of both. Most of Paul's earlier epistles were written amidst a busy ministry schedule and missionary enterprise, or came as a result of the rise of false doctrine or other dangers that required emergency treatment. They were the written in the emotion a father was feeling for his own children in the faith and were written to Gentiles.  Hebrews was one of the last written, probably while he was in prison, where he had time to meditate and be unhurried and it was to his countrymen.   When we look at all these things, realizing Paul was well educated and versatile, they sufficiently cover the literary objection to the authorship of Paul.

3. The dating of the book also is uncertain.  There are those who regard the time of writing as very early. This is unlikely since the writer relies heavily on the books of Galatians, Romans, and 1 Corinthians.  It this is so the date must be after A.D.56.
Other scholars have held for a very late date.  Clement of Rome quoted from it so it could not have been later that A.D. 96.

The date must be somewhere between these two extremes. Internal evidence suggests that the Christians to whom the book was written were second generation (2:3).  The church had existed long enough to have advanced in development (5:12).  The church was old enough that some of its earlier leaders had died (13:7).  The references to the Jewish temple and its ceremonies are in the present tense, so it was written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

We would suggest that the date is somewhere around A.D. 67.

4. If our date is correct, or at least in the vicinity, and Paul was the author as we suppose him to be, then it was written during Paul's second imprisonment, from the Mamertine Prison in Rome, where he awaited execution.

Theme

The theme of the book is the superiority of Christ.

Christ


Christ is seen as the Son and image of God, the captain and author of our salvation, the Sanctifier, the Apostle and High Priest, Son over His own house, as ruling at the right hand of God, the perfect sacrifice, the testator, the never changing one and the Great Shepherd.

Key Words


The key words are better [13], perfection [13], eternal [5], heaven(s)[5], and  partakers [6].

Key Verse


Heb.1:1,2 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, (2) hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds.

Purpose


1. The book was written to show that Christ is the only means of acceptance with God.

2. He shows the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant was a type of the true sacrifice.

3. It was given to remind the Christians that they must guard what they have received and not let them slip away.

4. They were exhorted to appropriate all they had in Christ so that they might become mature and stable Christians.
   
5. They were to move in God and not stop at the beginning elements of the Christian faith.

6. It was given to show that Christ was the heir of Abraham and that Abraham foresaw the fulfilment in Him.

7. The writer shows that the New Covenant is the final and complete covenant.

8. Those of the New Covenant are one with the people of faith under the Old Covenant.



 *****

Events and Characters


Christ is appointed heir of all things and holds them by His power. He gained the throne man lost and His throne is eternal.  He did this by His earthly ministry that was confirmed by those who heard Him by signs and wonders.  He was made perfect through suffering, one with the human race, He did battle with evil and won thereby releasing His people and bringing reconciliation. He arose as Son over His own house, the church.  He now leads the advance and we must be careful we do not fail to enter all He has provided because of our unbelief. We can enter into His rest.

He offered Himself for our sins as the sacrifice and the High Priest.  He is of the eternal order, the Melchisedec. He became the author of eternal salvation. When we turn away from this we become dull of hearing and are immature.  The challenge is to leave the old ways and move into this New Covenant way and to grow to maturity in Him.  God has made irrevocable promises to Abraham in Christ.  Melchisedec was a type of this offering and even Abraham gave tithes to him. So did his descendants because they were still in his loins.  The old could not bring completion but only the New Covenant had the potential of perfection.  Therefore Christ is not after the order of Levi, a symbol of the Old Covenant but after the order of Melchisedec, a symbol of the New Covenant.  Christ is the minister of the true tabernacle, being the Mediator of a better covenant which has replaced the old.  The old with all its trappings are replaced by the once for all perfect offering of Christ.  He shed the blood of the covenant in His death and appeared in the presence of God for us.

The blood of the old could never take away sin; therefore, there was a necessity of a more complete sacrifice.  Now we can come into the presence of God with confidence because of the perfect sacrifice. Therefore we are to be faithful in assembling together.  The rejection of the New Covenant will bring the judgment of God.  It is a fearful thing to fall into His hands.  We have faith in His blood so we can remain confident.  Faith is the key, as those of the Old Covenant demonstrated their faith so we are people of faith and join that great cloud of witnesses.  We are in good company so put aside every hindrance and look to Jesus so that you might be successful in the great race.     

The Lord will chastise us when we need it but it is for our benefit.  His discipline is always redemptive and constructive rather than destructive.  We have received His dominion so we can be steadfast. Christians are to continue in love, pray for the suffering, honour the marriage relationship, learn to be content and submit to those over us in the Lord.  We are to be established in grace and not carried about be every wind of doctrine, especially those doctrines of the Old Covenant, and carnal sacrifices. We must go outside the camp, separate ourselves, remembering we seek a city to come.  Therefore we offer the sacrifice of praise.


Lessons to Remember


1. Christ upholds all things by His power.

2. We must take care to guard what we have in Him, and not let them slip.

3. We have been delivered from the power of sin because He, through the cross, conquered the devil.

4. Christ is Lord of the house, whose house we are.

5. Unbelief will hinder us from entering into the promises that rightfully belong to us.

6. We, by being hung up on ceremony, are still weak using milk when He wants us to move into the meat of the New Covenant.

7. The things we do effect our descendants.

8. He entered into the Holy Place of heaven on our behalf so we can now come confidently to Him.

9. Rejection of Christ and the New Covenant is to come under the judgment of God.

10. Whatever we receive from Him or achieve in Him must come through the operation of faith in our lives.

11. It is important to lay aside all hindrances that we might press to the mark of our high calling and attain it.

12. The Lord will chasten us if we are His sons and we know it is for our benefit.

13. We are to love the brethren, entertain strangers, and keep ourselves pure.

14. Contentment is a valuable jewel.

15. We are to remember and submit to those over us in the Lord.

16. The beast was burned without the camp, Christ suffered outside the city so we are to separate ourselves from all that defiles.

17. The sacrifice of praise and worship is what God desire us to offer to Him.


*****


Outline


I  Christ Superior to the Prophets     1:1 - 3

II  Christ Superior to the Angels     1:4 - 2:18

III  Christ the Superior Apostle     3:1  

IV  Christ Superior to Moses     3:2 - 6

V  Parenthesis on Danger of Unbelief     3:7 - 19

VI  Superiority of Christ's Rest     4:1  -  10

VII  Danger of Unbelief     4:11  -  13

VIII Superiority of the Priesthood of Christ     4:14- 7:28

    A.  Superior to Aaron     4:14 -  5:4
    B.  Superior to Melchisedec     5  -  7:28

IX  Superiority of the New Covenant     8:1 -  9:28

X  Superior Sacrifice    10:1  -  31

XI  Superior Way (Faith)       10:32-12:29

XII  Superior Performance        13:1  -  25

    A.  Social        1  -  6
    B.  Spiritual        7 -  17
    C.  Personal        18 - 25   


Outline (Alternative)


I  The Better Messenger: The Son         1:1  -  2:18
    A. Qualifications         1:1  -  3
    B. Superiority to Angels         1:4  -  14
    C. Peril of Neglect (Parenthesis)      2:1  -  4
    D. The Incarnation         2:5  -  18
 
II  The Better Apostle        3:1  -  4:13
    A. Superiority to Moses           3:1  -  6
    B. Peril of Unbelief (Parenthesis)      3:7  -  19
    C. Superiority of His Rest           4:1  -  10
    D. Peril of Disobedience (Parenthesis)     4:11  -  13

III  The Better Priest      4:14  -  7:28
    A. Comparison with Aaron     4:14  -  5:4
    B. The Order of Melchisedec     5:5  -  7:25
        1.  Appointed     5:5  -  6
        2.  Author of Salvation     5:7  -  10
        3.  Peril of Immaturity (Parenthesis)     5:11  -  6:12
        4.  Forerunner     6:13  -  20
        5.  A Living Priest     7:1  -  17
        6. Constituted by Oath     7:18  -  25
    C. Relation to Sacrifice     7:26  -  28

IV  The Better Covenant     8:1  -  9:28
    A. The Establishment of the Covenant     8:1  -  13
    B. The Content of the Old Covenant     9:1  -  10
    C. Christ and the New Covenant     9:11  -  28

V  The Better Sacrifice    10:1  -  31
    A. Impotence of the Law    10:1  -  4
    B. The Offering of Chris     10:5  -  18
    C. The Peril of Rejection (Parenthesis)    10:19  -  31

VI  The Better Way: Faith    10:32 -  12:29
    A. The Need of Faith    10:32  -  39
    B. The Examples of Faith    11:1  -  40
    C. The Exercise of Faith    12:1  -  17
    D. The Objective of Faith    12:18  -  24
    E. The Peril of Refusal (Parenthesis)    12:25  -  29

VII  Conclusion:  The Practice of Faith    13:1  -  25
    A. In Social Relations    13:1  -  6
    B. In Spiritual Relations    13:7  -  17
    C. Personal Salutations    13:18  -  25

*****
Feed Yourself Students:

Before the next lesson arrives do the following:

1.  Read through the Book of James 3 times.

2.  Pick one chapter to analyze.



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