Journal – July 25, 2021
24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. 25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS
- Although the Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the most significant writings of the New Testament, it presents many questions: the author, though known to his readers, remains anonymous (see 10:32-34; 13:18-19, 22-23). The province or place of writing is unclear. Suggestions have spanned the Roman Empire. The readers themselves and destination, though evidently a local congregation, are not known with certainty. “They of [apo, from?] Italy salute you” may be somewhat ambiguous (13:24). The date has been questioned. The letter itself, though a glorious treatise on the superiority of our Lord Jesus Christ over all the institutions and personages of the Old Testament, is essentially a sermon, a “word of exhortation” (13:22). ”This writing begins like a treatise, proceeds like a semon, and concludes like a letter.”(A.T Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. V, p.328.)
Countless hundreds of pages have been written on these subjects and issues, often with little agreement. Much of the grammatical, historical, traditional, ecclesiastical, and theological approaches and discussions are beyond the scope of this journal. The following is an attempt to summarize the issues and questions, give answers where these are possible or probable, and give the major views when the questions remain, if necessary.
THE TITLE OF HEBREWS
Most of the earliest Greek manuscripts [NAB, fourth and fifth centuries]have the simple title: “To the Hebrews”. This was the consensus of the second and third centuries. The title, “The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews” dates from the fourth or fifth century and was the result of the consensus of much later scholarship after acceptance by both the Eastern [Greek] and Western [Latin] Churches. This title was continued in the KJV (1611), despite disagreement since the Reformation. The Reformers denied the Pauline authorship. The canonicity of Hebrews largely depended on Pauline authorship by the fourth century AD and the acceptance of the Western Church through the influence of Jerome (347-420) and Augustine (354-430).
THE AUTHORSHIP OF HEBREWS
Endless controversies surround the authorship of this Epistle. A list of possible authors who have been suggested and argued for include: Paul, Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, Titus, Mark, Silas, Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila, and even Mary, the mother of our Lord!
The Apostle Paul has strong modern defenders. Tertullian (155-220) argued that Barnabus wrote Hebrews. Pantaenus (180) and Clement of Alexandria (150-215) held to Pauline authorship with Luke translating a previous work by the Apostle Paul. Origen (184-253) in his writings, attributed Hebrews to Paul in various comments, but stated. “But who wrote the epistle in truth, God knows,” This has been somewhat misrepresented and probably referred to Paul’s amanuensis, not his authorship. Luther suggested Apollos due to his being “mighty in the Scriptures” and possessing great oratorical and presumably literary ability (Acts 18:24). Barnabus has put forth because he was a fervent Jewish Christian and well qualified as “the son of consolation or exhortation” and a Levite(Acts 4:36; Hebrews 13:22). Most scholars think that whoever the author may have been, he was a close associate of Paul.
The internal and external evidence for Pauline authorship. Paul was most eminently suited for this work, as he was a converted rabbi, thoroughly instructed on the affairs of Judaism, especially the
Aaronic sacrificial system. Internally, vocabulary, certain grammatical constructions and phrases parallel those of the apostle. The author was further a close companion of Timothy and was also imprisoned (10:34, 13:23). External evidence in the Eastern Church begins in the second century, with almost universal acceptance of Pauline authorship. The major objections to Pauline authorship include the author identifies himself as a second-generation believer (2:3), whereas Paul was careful to trace his apostolic authority in the salutation of almost all his epistles (Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Collisions 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:1). The author does not identify himself, but Paul did, a trademark of the Apostle in every epistle. The literary style and argumentation are allegedly non-Pauline but betrays another hand. The author uses the Septuagint [LXX] exclusively, even when it differs from the Hebrew; Paul often quoted from or alluded to the Hebrew Scriptures.
Note: At certain places, Paul changes the wording of the text, from both the MT and the LXX. E.g., Romans 11:26, referring to Psalms 14:7 and 53:6. Paul’s changes and applications are inspired. The Apostle Peter acknowledges this (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Paul’s focus was usually upon the believer’s union with Christ individually and upon the church corporately, but he never developed the high priestly ministry of our Lord, unless Hebrews is the one exception.
While the question of immediate or amanuensic authorship may not be answered with complete certainty, the evident Divine inspiration and loftiness of this great epistle is unquestioned. Linguistically, it is the most eloquent work in the New Testament canon. Doctrinally, it reveals the superiority of our Lord over the prophets (1;1-3), angels (1:4-2:18), Moses (3:1-4:4), Joshua (4:5-13) and the Aaronic priesthood (4:14-10:18) in the clearest and most glorious light. Christologically, it explores the finality of our Lord’s high priestly ministry—a subject broached by no other work. Practically, its exhortations are systematically interwoven throughout the epistle with strong language and consummate skill. Thus, although the authorship has been questioned, the Divine inspiration has not.
THE CANONICITY OF HEBREWS
Although not technically one of the General Epistles, as it was addressed to a certain locality and assembly, we place the General Epistles because of convenience and tradition. Clement of Rome quoted from Hebrews in his own writings (c. 95). This epistle was accepted by the Eastern [Greek]Church by the early second century. It was refused by the Western [Latin]Church until the late Fourth Century due to certain alleged influences. As previously stated, the Latin Church finally accepted Hebrews into its canon based upon its alleged Pauline authorship. In the earliest extent Greek manuscripts, dating from the early third century, Hebrews was placed in the Pauline corpus after Romans. Hebrews occurs before 1 Timothy within the Pauline corpus in all three of the early, most significant manuscripts.: Vaticanus
(fourth century), Sinaiticus manuscripts (fourth century), Alexandrinus (fifth century). The Latin Vulgate (fifth century) has the modern canonical order. Because of presumed Pauline authorship, yet addressed to an unknown church. Hebrews was finally assigned a position between the Pauline and General Epistles in the present canon.
THE RECIPIENTS, DESTINATION AND PURPOSE OF HEBREWS
Again, although most agree that the letter is addressed to Jewish Christians—although some argue for Gentile believers, a mixed congregation, or even some former Jewish priests who had fled to the Qumran communities in southern Judah—there is little agreement over the provenance or place of writing and the destination. The most evident conclusion is that this epistle was written to Jewish Christians who were tempted to retreat into Judaism to avoid persecution during the Neronian era (63-68). The alleged destination has varied from Spain in the West to Galatia in the East to Egypt in the South. The words “they of Italy salute you” (13:24) could mean those who lived in Italy and probably Rome, or those from Italy, possibly in Palestine or even Alexandria.
Note: Some hold that these Jewish Christians, after suffering such opposition and, persecution, and wanting to return to Judaism to escape more persecution were “backslidden Christians.” The subject of “backsliding” is discussed in the Book of Jeremiah. The issue in Hebrews is the apostasy from one’s profession of faith by returning to Judaism. Cf. 3:12 in the context of 3: –4:11.
The purpose, as revealed in the contents of this epistle, is four-fold: first, to warn against apostasy
and set the matter of reverting back into Judaism in the most stringent terms as a real possibility. Second to emphasize the typical and transitory nature of the Aaronic priesthood, the Levitical institution and sacrificial system, which all passed away in the progressive revelation of God through the person and redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Third to demonstrate and emphasize the fulness and finality of the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus and the glory of His everlasting High Priestly ministry. This all reveals the temporary nature of Judaism and the finality of New Testament Christianity. Finally, to exhort and encourage these Jewish believers to persevere in the faith and rest in the finality of Christianity and not give up or lose hope.
There is a consensus that Hebrews was written to a congregation of Jewish Christians in the area of Rome who had and were undergoing persecution and had evidently become greatly discouraged and worn down (6:9-11, 18-20). Christianity had become a religio illicita, (Religion Forbidden) and these readers had become wearied and were tempted to return to Judaism, a religio licita,(Religion Not forbidden)to avoid persecution. The writer informs them that to do so would be to turn away from Christ and apostatize (3:12). The various warnings in this epistle enforce the danger and awful consequences.
Note: Much of the information in this introduction was taken from the W.R. Downing Survey of the Bible V.