Hebrews — Introduction

I was considerably less familiar with Hebrews than I was with any of the other books I’ve studied (Romans, John, Galatians, Philippians, Acts).  After doing my study, I seriously considered not posting any of it. I’ve decided to go ahead, with this disclaimer — Hebrews is a difficult book and there is absolutely no consensus of opinion among theologians regarding the audience or the purpose of the book. I came to a conclusion that will be evident in my notes, but I’m not completely satisfied. These posts reflect my understanding at the time of my study, but I know more study is necessary.

Authorship — The commentaries I am using come to these conclusions:

Paul — Anderson, Stam, Ironside, Saphir, Pink

unknown, but leaning toward Paul — King James Bible Commentary

unknown, but leaning toward John — McLean

don’t take a stand — Vine, Wuest

other claims (not by books I’m using) include Luke, Barnabas and Apollos (among others)

“That gospel which I preach among the Gentiles.” These words are usually read with a false emphasis. It is not “the gospel which I preach.” as contrasted with the preaching of the other Apostles, but “the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles,” as contrasted with his own preaching to Israel. And the contrast will be clear to any one who will compare his epistles to Gentile churches with his sermon to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia. There was not a word in that sermon which might not have been spoken by any Jew who had embraced the faith of Christ at or after Pentecost. It is based entirely on the history, and the promises and hopes, of Israel, and upon the coming and work of Christ as recorded in the Gospels — the salvation, as Hebrews expresses it, “confirmed unto us by that that heard Him.” Writing as an Israelite to Israelites, the words of Hebrews 2:2 are just what we should expect from the Apostle Paul. They are the precise counterpoint of his words recorded in Acts 13:26, 33. And if the one passage be proof that he could not have been the author of Hebrews, the other is equal proof that he could not have been the preacher at Antioch.

We thus see that what appeared to be a fatal bar to the Pauline authorship of Hebrews admits of a solution which is both simple and adequate. And we can understand why the Apostle did not declare himself in the opening words, according to his usual practice. For the writer, I again repeat, was not “the Apostle to the Gentiles,” but Paul “of the stock of Israel,” “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” to desribe the book as “anonymous” is a sheer blunder; for the concluding chapter gives the clearest proof that the writer was well known to those whom he was addressing.

Due weight has never been given to this fact in estimating the value of the general testimony of the Greek Fathers that the writer was the Apostle Paul. To attribute equal value to the statements of certain Latin Fathers of a later day betrays ignorance of the science of evidence. The testimony of the earlier Fathers, moreover, is confirmed in the most strking way by the explicit statement of 2 Peter 3:15, that Paul did in fact write an Epistle to Hebrews. And if this be not that Epistle, what and where can it be? — Types in Hebrews, by Sir Robert Anderson, pages 10-11.

There is considerable evidence of a technical nature which points to Paul as the author of Hebrews.

  1. It is evident from 2 Peter 3:15 that Paul did write a letter to Hebrews. If the epistle we are now considering is not that letter, where is it? What has become of it? We have no evidence of any other such letter. And the next verse, 2 Peter 3:16 indicates that all of Paul’s epistles are inspired of God and that it is “unlearned and unstable” men who “wrest” them “to their own destruction.” Is part of God’s Word, then, missing?
  2. The author of Hebrews wrote from prison in Italy (13:18-24) and we know that Paul was a prisoner in Rome. Also, he hoped soon to be released (13:19, 23; cf. Philippians 2:17-24). Further, he sent greetings to the Hebrew Christians from the saints in Italy, not merely in Rome (13:24), and who would be so apt to know believers throughout Italy as Paul.
  3. The writer addresses those who had (on another occasion) shown compassion toward him in his bonds (10:34). Now we know that Paul had spent more than two years in prison in Caesarea in Palestine (Acts 23:23; 24:27) before sailing for Rome and that many Jewish believers in that vicinity had been solicitous of his welfare.
  4. Timothy is mentioned in 13:23. He had been the writer’s fellow-prisoner until recently and was now expected shortly to travel with him. Was Timothy thus closely associated with anyone else beside Paul? We know how close a companion he was to Paul, how two of Paul’s prison epistles, Philippians and Colossians, were written jointly with Timothy, and how the Philippians letter expresses Paul’s hope to send Timothy to Philippi “so soon as I shall see how it will go with me” (Philippians 2:19, 23). Does not all this point to Paul as the author of Hebrews?
  5. Finally, the style of the epistle, we feel, points to Paul as its author. It is argued by some that the style of the Hebrews Epistle differs too widely from that of his Gentile epistles to admit of its authorship by Paul. But should we not expect an epistle written to Hebrews to differ widely in style and approach from one written to Gentiles? And as to the writer’s thorough and intimate acquaintance with the Law, the priesthood and Judaism, who would qualify as well as Paul? (Acts 22:3; Galatians 1:14). — The Epistle to the Hebrews, by C.R. Stam, pages 15-17.

Date

The evidence clearly places Hebrews within the first century. The allusions to Hebrews by Clement of Rome demand a date prior to A.D. 96. The reference to Timothy as still living (13:23) likewise demands a date within the first century. … Evidently the date precedes A.D. 70; for throughout all the discourses on the tabernacle ritual, not once is any allusion made regarding the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. The Jewish sacrificial system still appears to be in effect (8:4; 10:8, 11). Further, since these [believers] had not undergone persecution unto death (12:4), the epistle apparently predates the last days of Nero in the late sixties. A date within the mid-sixties conforms to the known data. — King James Bible Commentary, page 1672.

Audience — The commentaries all conclude, and I agree, that the audience was Jewish. But which Jews? I will make one point regarding the audience that I didn’t see in any of the commentaries (so far). Is it possible that Hebrews was written to Jews who were saved under the Kingdom gospel (given at Pentecost), who received the Holy Spirit “written on their hearts” as Joel prophesied, but who were still practicing Jews. The temple was about to be destroyed, and so these believers were about to lose the ability to practice their faith. The writer of Hebrews demonstrates how Christ is better than the Jewish system as given in the Old Testament law and encourages the Jews of his day to transfer their faith from the system (which pointed to Christ) to Christ Himself.

Resources — The books I’m using, to one degree or another, in my study are (in no particular order):

Types in Hebrews, by Sir Robert Anderson (Kregel Publications) — This isn’t a verse-by-verse study, so I only dipped into it occasionally. I intend to read it through when I’ve completed the study.)

Hebrews in the Greek New Testament, by Kenneth S. Wuest (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company — 1947)

M.A.D. about Hebrews, by Terence D. McLean (Discerning the Times Publishing Co., Inc. — 2010)

Hebrews, by W.E. Vine (Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Studies in the Epistle to the Hebrews, by H.A. Ironside (Loizeaux Brothers — 1932)

King James Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson Publishers — 1999)

The Epistle to the Hebrews: Who Wrote It and Why?, by C.R. Stam (Worzalla Publishing Co. — 1991) — This also isn’t a verse-by-verse study. I read it before I began and dipped into it when on a topic it covered.)

An Exposition of Hebrews, by Arthur W. Pink (Wilder Publications) — I quit using this regularly after chapter six because it was ponderous and redundant and, frankly, because I found some of Pink’s conclusions ridiculous. I discovered that the thought of having to wade through Pink was keeping me from regularly pursuing, and certainly from enjoying, my study.

The Epistle to the Hebrews, by Adolph Saphir (Christian Alliance Publishing Co.) — I only had the first volume, through chapter 7, but I quit using him regularly much earlier because he is quoted so extensively by Pink.

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