AUTHOR, PLACE AND DATE OF WRITING
The letter to the Hebrews is anonymous. The tradition of Pauline authorship is not reliable, and there are in fact serious reasons to con-assertion. Luke, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Apollos, Epaphras, Silas, Priscilla and others have been suggested, but in reality test this we simply do not know who wrote this book (see "Who Wrote Hebrews?" on p. 1985). We are aware that the author was well schooled in the Old Testament, acquainted with his audience, capable of writing excellent Greek and a friend of Timothy (13:23).
Hebrews was almost certainly written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In light of the author's determination to demonstrate Christ's superiority over the Aaronic priesthood and the temple sacrifices, it seems inconceivable that no mention would have been made of the destruction of the temple, the ultimate sign of its rejection by God, had that event already occurred. We know too that the book was written at a time when persecution was becoming a serious concern (13:3). While it is true that imprisonment of Christian leaders took place in the early years of church history (Ac 4:3), on balance this suggests a later date for Hebrews; A.D. 60-70 is probable.
If there is uncertainty about the author of the letter, there is also ambiguity about the addressees. The title, Hebrews (or "To the Hebrews"), was not part of the original text and thus is of questionable value, but most interpreters do believe that the letter was written to Jewish Christians who spoke Greek and probably used the Septuagint.
CULTURAL FACTS AND HIGHLIGHTS
The author appears to have been especially concerned that some of these Christians might "shrink back" (10:38), although there seems to have been no danger of their espousing paganism. Hebrews everywhere stresses the superiority of Christ to the glory of the old covenant; thus, it seems more likely that at least some of the readers were tempted to revert to Second Temple Judaism. Against the magnificence of Herod's temple, the worship service carried out in house churches must have seemed paltry indeed. The author of Hebrews, however, sought to warn his struggling audience that the glory of the earthly temple was but a shadow, soon to disappear.
AS YOU READ
Examine the five warnings the author gave the readers regarding their spiritual condition (2:1; 3:7; 5:11; 10:26; 12:25). Note the writer's statements about Jewish customs and his explanation that Jesus brought a new covenant (of grace through faith) that is infinitely better than the old one (of obedience to the law). Pay attention to the repeated use of the words "better" and "superior."
DID YOU KNOW?
The book of Hebrews includes the following themes:
1. The superiority of Christ. Hebrews presents Christ as superior to the prophets (1:1-2), angels (1:4-6), Moses (3:3), Joshua (4:8), the Old Testament priesthood and the high priest (4:14-5:10; 7:1-28), the sacrificial system and the sanctuary (8:1-10:18).
2. Perseverance. Believers are called to a heavenward journey (3:1) but must first undergo testing.
3. Faith pleases God. Hebrews 11 emphasizes a faith that is exercised in numerous large and small ways.
4. Discipline comes to God's children. Hardship is the means God uses to discipline his children.
5. Christian living. Christians are to show hospitality (13:1-3), refrain from sexual immorality (13:4), guard against the love of money (13:5), do good and share with others (13:16), obey their leaders (13:17) and pray (13:18-19).
III. Christ Is Superior to Moses (3:1-4:13)
IV. Christ Is Superior to the Aaronic Priests (4:14-7:28)
V. The Superior Sacrificial Work of Our High Priest (8-10)
VI. Application: Stand Fast (11-12)
VII. Conclusion (13)
HEBREWS 1 The hand was symbolic in the ancient world. It was believed that from it one either bestowed grace or pronounced punishment. In addition, the hand represented the authority of an individual, the instru-ment of carrying out a person's intentions. The right hand, in particular, was special for two reasons. First, the left hand was universally acknowledged to be the one used for sanitation purposes and, therefore, was less respected than its counterpart. Secondly, since most people were right-handed, the right hand was considered to have innately superior strength and capability.
Because of its special physical status, the right hand was assigned important metaphorical significance, frequently expressing blessing, fellowship or comfort. Certain acts of ritual cleansing, as well as the ordination of the Aaronic priesthood, involved the right hand or the right-hand side. The right hand was also used in taking vows in judicial matters, since it was believed to represent the character, will and actions of the individual taking the vow. In literature, it personified a king or deity's character and deeds, while in the Hebrew Bible the right hand represented God's ultimate strength and provision for his people.
To be seated at the right hand of a ruler or host meant occupying a place of high honor. The position itself was considered an indicator of the power and authority of the one holding it. Someone who sat at the king's right hand was, as in the modern English idiom, his"right-hand man,"—the one acting as the principal agent of the king's authority, through whom he carried out his most important work. In addition, sitting at the right hand was a statement of fellowship and favor between the central figure and the individual so honored. Jesus Christ is depicted several times in the Bible as sitting at the right hand of God the Father for eternity (Ps 110:1; Ac 2:33-35; 5:31; Ro 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3,13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1Pe 3:22).
HEBREWS 2 Almost since its origin, the authorship of the epistle to the Hebrews has been a matter of speculation.The earliest complete copy of Hebrews (in the Chester Beatty papyrus) is situated squarely within the Pauline corpus, immediately after Romans. Although Pauline authorship did for some time become a traditional view, there are serious „0 and ancient reasons for resisting this conclusion:
• The book of Hebrews is anonymous, whereas the other 13 Pauline texts each begins explicitly with the name Paul)
• It is also unlikely that Paul, who unambiguously considered himself an apostle and "eyewitness" of the resurrected Jesus (1Co 15:8-9; Gal 1:11-2), would have referred to himself as a second-generation believer (Heb 2:3).
• The theological perspective of Hebrews (an emphasis on Jesus Christ as high priest and the use of sacrificial categories to explain the significance of his death) are uncharacteristic of Paul's other known writings.
• There are striking stylistic differences between Hebrews and the letters of Paul. The language of Hebrews is breathtaking in its eloquence and structural vision.The author employed a stud-ied,elevated prose,together with rich rhetorical embellishment. In contrast, Paul explicitly stated that he lacked this quality in his writing and speech (1Co 1:17; 2:1; 2Co 11:6).
Interpreters throughout Christian history have wrestled with the issue of the authorship of Hebrews, and many have tried to account for these discrepancies between Hebrews and the other" Pauline writings in various ways:
• Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150-215) theorized that Paul wrote in Hebrew to the Hebrews and that Luke later translated the text into an elevated Greek (cf. Ro 16:22; 1Pe 5:12).
• Origen (A.D. 185-253) struggled with whether Hebrews could have come from Paul but confessed uncertainty regarding the identity of the writer, merely reporting that some suggest Luke or Clement of Rome.
• Tertullian (c. A.D. 1 5 5 — 2 20) first suggested Barnabas as an alternative author, since his Levitical background (Ac 4:36) would explain certain points of emphasis in Hebrews, as well as the fact that his name (meaning "son of encouragement") corresponds well to the Greek expression behind Hebrews 13:22.
• Martin Luther (A.o. 1483 — 1546) proposed Apollos as the writer—a "learned man" from Alexandria who had a "thorough knowledge of the Scriptures" (Ac 18:24).
• Modern scholars have expanded the list of candidates to include Priscilla, Silas, Epaphras and several others. While the named identity of the author of Hebrews remains uncertain, a number of affirmations can be made on the basis of the existing text:
• The author of Hebrews was almost certainly a second-generation Christian (Heb 2:3).
• He was a profound thinker who wrote with an impressive style, vocabulary and cogency and who knew the Greek language well (there are some 151 Greek words unique to Hebrews within the New Testament).
• He was intimately acquainted with the Septuagint' in its Alexandrian form, as well as with Jewish customs and modes of Scriptural interpretation) • Above all, he wrote with a studied conviction that God had climactically made himself known to humanity in his Son Jesus (1:1-2).
HEBREWS 6 By means of oaths people in New Testament times affirmed that they would keep their promises or that their words were true, and in oaths people called down curses upon themselves should their pledges prove false. These commonly took the form of executor-type oaths ("May God do such-and-such to me if I do not perform this act") or surety-type oaths ("May my life be forfeit if this does not happen").
In early Judaism people often substituted something else for the name of God when making a vow. Thus one might swear by the temple, by heaven and Earth or by Jerusalem. This practice may have come into vogue in part to avoid the threat of divine retribution should the oath not be fulfilled. But there was also a concern to prevent God's holy name from being tainted by association with rash oaths and false promises. Jewish writers like Philo, Josephus and Sirach all expressed concern about the use of God's name in oaths and considered such oaths to be violations of the third commandment.
Considerable attention was also devoted to the means by which a person might be extricated from an oath that would prove difficult or impossible to fulfill. In light of the widespread abuse of oaths in his society, Jesus taught that it was best to avoid them altogether (Mt 5:33 —37;cf.Jas 5:12).The use of substitutes would not soften the blow of unfulfilled oaths, since sacred objects like the temple or Jerusalem shared in God's holiness. Moreover, persons of integrity had no need to resort to oaths; others could trust that their "no" meant "no" and their "yes" meant "yes" without the invocation of a third party.
God's oath, however, is wholly unlike that of a mere human being. Knowing that his word will be fulfilled, he can swear by the highest authority—himself—that he will do something without any possibility of failure or change of heart.Therefore,the use of an oath in Hebrews 6:17 is a powerful way for God to express "the unchanging nature of his purpose." God's use of an oath can also be considered an accommodation to our weakness; he does not need to swear an oath, but the oath conveys strong assurance to weak and doubting humans.
HEBREWS 11 Christian readers are often puzzled when they read a quotation from the Old Testament in the New Testament and then, in looking up the actual Old Testament text, discover that it is somewhat different from the cited quotation.Often,this difference is based on the fact that the Old Testament was translated from the standard version of the Hebrew Bible (the Masoretic text), whereas the New Testament is citing the same passage as it appears in the early Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint.
The Septuagint was used by Hellenistic Jews and by the early church. Most scholars believe that the Greek translation of the Pentateuch was produced by Jewish scholars in the mid-third century B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt. The rest of the Old Testament (along with some other books, including the Apocrypha) was completed during the following century or two. Some parts of the Septuagint reflect a more literal approach to translation, while others provide a freer rendition. Some portions are also more skillfully translated than others. Sometimes the Septuagint translators began with a Hebrew text that differed slightly from the standard, Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible.
The Septuagint is the version of the Old Testament with which early Greek-speaking Christians would have been familiar. Naturally, then, most of the Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament reflect its influence. In the vast majority of instances the Septuagint agrees with the Masoretic text—if not word-for-word, at least in basic thrust. In a few cases the Septuagint may even reflect the original Hebrew text better than the Masoretic text does.The Masoretic text may, for instance, contain a copyist's error, so that it does not at a given point accurately reflect the original Hebrew text., Sometimes in such cases the Greek reading in the Septuagint allows scholars to reconstruct what was in the original Hebrew manuscript (most modern translations of the Old Testament are based on the Masoretic text, with occasional emendations drawn from the Septuagint).
When a New Testament author followed the Septuagint, the validity of his argument is not usually dependent upon peculiarities of the Septuagint rendering as over against the Masoretic text. In other words, the New Testament writers did not cite the Septuagint because it said what they wanted it to say, while the Hebrew text did not, nor were they implying that the Septuagint is superior to the Hebrew. Rather, they cited the Septuagint because their readers were familiar with it—as well as, in general, with the Greek language. It was important to bear in mind that the Septuagint was prepared not by Christians but by Jewish scholars before the coming of Christ. Therefore, when the authors of the New Testament quoted the Septuagint,they could not be accused of using a translation that was prepared with their vested interests in mind.
When Hebrews 11:21 states that"by faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff," the last clause agrees perfectly with the Septuagint rendering of Genesis 47:31.The Masoretic text, on the other hand, states that Jacob worshiped "on the top of his bed." The author of Hebrews quoted the version of Scripture known to his readers to make the point that Jacob was a man of faith and that, even as he lay dying, his faith led him to bless his sons (trusting that God would fulfill the blessing). Whether Jacob was leaning on his staff or lying on his bed is not essential to the argument in Hebrews. Citing the text in the form known to the author's contemporary readership would not have diminished its validity but rather would have made it easier for the audience to recognize a Scriptural citation.
HEBREWS 12 The majority of the earliest believers in Christ were Jews. Although the Jewish people as a whole did not accept the claims of Jesus, the earliest Christian documents do bear witness to a significant Jewish response to gospel preaching. Luke reported that 3,000 people responded to Peter's Pentecost sermon (Ac 2:41) and that about 5,000 believed at a slightly later time (Ac 4:4). When the apostle Paul went up to Jerusalem around A.D. 58, the leaders of the Jerusalem church informed him of 'how many thousands of Jews have believed" (Ac 21:20). Since the population of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was only around 40,000 people, these figures testify to the growth and historical existence of Jewish Christianity.
The existence of Jewish churches finds explicit testimony in diverse sources (Ac 8:1; Gal 1:22; 1Th 2:14), and archaeological excavations have revealed synagogues with Christian symbolism at Nazareth and Capernaum.: These church communities endured a series of persecutions in the midst of a tumultuous era in Jewish history. Early leaders we arrested (Ac 4:1-3; 12:3), people were ostracized from synagogues because of their faith in Christ (1k 6:22; Jn 9:22; 16:2), and some suffered physically and endured the seizure of their property (Heb 10:32-34). One of the leading instigators of persecution appears to have been Saul of Tarsus (Ac 9:1; Php 3:6). In A.D.62 the leader of the church in Jerusalem, James the brother of Jesus, was publicly executed by the reigning high priest Ananus (Josephus, Antiquities, 20.9.1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.23.21 —28).' Despite such external pressures, the Jewish churches continued to expand and witness.
At the outbreak of the first Jewish revolt against Rome, the Jewish-Christian community refused to participate in the conflict.This refusal reflected a profound change in the Jewish-Christian understanding of its purpose and mission. According to Eusebius, the church of Jerusalem was warned through an oracle to flee the city and seek refuge across the Jordan in a city named Pella (Ecclesiastical History, 3.5.3; cf. Lk 21:20-21; Rev 12:6). Some in the Jewish-Christian community returned after the war under the leadership of Simeon, the cousin of Jesus (Ecclesiastical History, 4.22.4).
In theology and practice Jewish Christianity possessed certain characteristics that set it apart from the emerging Gentile Christianity: