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Hebrews - a synopsis

God having provided something better for us…" Hebrews 11:40

 

Title

Letter or epistle to the Hebrews or simply To Hebrews. There is no evidence that the title needs the Apostle Paul’s name in it as the King James Versions does.

Who wrote the book

Most today will say "do not know" based on points of syntax or the rigid clarity (for Paul was known to go off on tangents in some of his letters) [1],[3]. The ancient and not so ancient view is that the Apostle Paul was the author:

  • There is no other evidence in favour of any other author[2] .
  • There is nothing incompatible in assuming a Pauline authorship.
  • Most of the internal and external evidence points to Paul.
  • Noting that not one Greek father ascribed anyone else to its authorship.

Noting that:

  • The writer was in prison but hoped to be freed,
  • Timothy was with the writer, but released from prison,
  • Are with people in Italy – hence probably written from Rome,
  • Peter states the Paul wrote to the Hebrews – no other of Paul’s letters are to the Hebrews except this one (2 Peter 3:15-16),
  • Paul always signs to the effect, "Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…", which marked out his letters, especially to the Thessalonians see 2 Thes 3:17-18. Note the word "grace" as a salutation is not used by any other epistle except Paul’s.

Because the purpose of the letter was different to other of Paul the omission of certain elements of the doctrine is no reason to discard Paul as the author eg. The letter does not speak of:

  • Christ as the head of the body,
  • Union with a risen and glorified Christ,
  • One Spirit with the Lord.

The letter is anonymous because Paul was so universally hated by the Jews, hence, to prevent prejudice, he writes it with his special mark - see 2 Thessalonians (my opinion).

  • Hebrews stands and falls on its own: knowing the author is not required.

Why was it written

  • Halley suggests it was to prepare Jews for the fall of Jerusalem, because the physical elements of the law were to be destroyed, no-longer needed, because Christ was far superior.
  • It is one of the two great treatise of the New Testament, the other being Paul’s writing to the Romans.
  • It speaks to Christians who within a few short years have been extracted from 1500 yrs of tradition, based on the Law, where the temple was still standing and operating, and hence faced a dilemma – how do they reconcile the work of Christ with the ongoing Aaronic system of priesthood and sacrifice.

The key verse being:

Wherefore coming into the world he says, Sacrifice and offering thou willedst not; but thou hast prepared me a body. Thou tookest no pleasure in burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin. Then I said, Lo, I come (in the roll of the book it is written of me) to do, O God, thy will. (Hebrews 10:5-7 Darby)

When was it written

Certainly written before 70AD, perhaps in AD 61-63 [1].

Where was it written

Written from Italy ( Rome) to the Jews or Hebrew Christians living most likely in Jerusalem.

To whom was the book written

Christian Jews based on the title, having no manuscript without this title[3] .

May also mean Hebrew speaking people, but the tenet is definitely Jewish with a presumption of an understanding of the Law – see 5:12, 10:25

Of what or whom it speaks[4]

Jesus Christ: the superiority of Christ’s person (1:1 to 4:13)

Jesus Christ: the superiority of Christ’s work ( 4:14 to 10:18)

The Christian ( 10:19 to 13:25).

It specifically mimics Leviticus – the Levitical law - showing the superiority of the priesthood of Christ – being after the order of Melchizedek – as compared with that of Aaron.

Content

Divisions see footnote [2]

1. Christ, the Son of God and His Glory (1:1 to 2:4)

2. Christ, the Son of Man, His glory and His salvation (2:5 to 4:13)

3. Christ as priest in the heavenly Sanctuary (4:14 – 10)

4. Instructions to Christians and exhortationsPrincipal or Key Verses

Hebrews 1:1- 5 (NKJV)

1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

Hebrews 2:1 (NIV)

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

Hebrews 2:9 (KJV)

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

Hebrews 2:17 (NKJV)

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

Hebrews 4:12 (KJV)

For the word of God is quick [living], and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV)

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 5:8 (KJV)

Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;

Hebrews 6:11 (KJV)

And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:

Hebrews 7:25 (NKJV)

Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 8:1 (NKJV)

Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,

Hebrews 9:11 (NKJV)

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.

Hebrews 9:28 (NKJV)

so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

Hebrews 10:11-12 (KJV)

And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;

Hebrews 11:6 (KJV)

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 13:1 (KJV)

Let brotherly love continue…

Statistics[5]

Divisions     4

Chapters     13

Verses     303

Words     6897

Main ideas

The book has seven ideas[6]:

  1. The old Law and Prophecies were a foreshadow of the things to come: the substance of this is found in the New Covenant.
  2. It tells the Jewish Christian that the old was a shadow of the new, meaning the old needs to be put aside and new taken hold of – put on.
  3. The shadows were types of the new, the new antitypes of the old; the old prefigured the real, the real has now come.
  4. He notes that Judaism was good, but Christ is far better: we see the word or idea of ‘better’ (used 12 times) through out the epistle[7]. Note that he is not disparaging of the old, but shows the new is far better.
  5. The Law is shown not to be incomplete but the new is be perfect – perfected in Christ.
  6. The ordinances are shown to be temporary but the new covenant to be eternal; the earthly sanctuary (where men stood) is contrasted to Christ seated in his.
  7. The conditional promises of the old is contrasted with the unconditional promises of the New Covenant.

The old and new are contrasted, with the perfectness of Christ emphasised. This he does with the emphasis on the Heavenlies (15 times) – noting that the Law emphasised the earthly.

Comparison is made of Christ and his work to angels, Moses, Aaron (The High Priest who could not sit down) and The Law (Noting that chapter 11 is for exhortation). Compare this with the mount of transfiguration – Christ is compared with Moses (ie the Law) and the Elijah (the Prophets) but these were to be superseded by Christ ( This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him).

Christ, the Son of God and His Glory (1:1 – 2:4)

Chapter 1 1God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

Christ, The Son of Man, His Glory and His salvation (2:5 – 4:13)

Chapter 2:9 (KJV) 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

Christ as priest in the heavenly sanctuary (4:14 – 10)

Chapter 10:12 (KJV) But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;

End notes

[1] Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, Zondervan, 1969

[2] Gaebelein, Concise Commentary, Loizeaux Brothers, 1985.

[3] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews, Intervarsity, 1983.

[4] "If in this book you choose to look
Five things observe with care
Of whom it speaks,
To whom it speaks
Why and When and Where"

[5] KJV

[6] Chuck Missler – Hebrews, available on CD – see Koinonia House Inc., P.O. Box D, Coeur d'Alene , ID 83816

[7] NIV uses ‘superior’

 

NIV =  The Holy Bible, New International Version Original work copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
NKJV=The Holy Bible, New King James Version Original work copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
KJV=The Holy Bible, King James Version. This book is not copy protected.

 

David L Simon (March 2006) (CCC)
Edited June 2008, 2011, 2013