Hebrews

Author: There is perhaps no greater mystery in the New Testament than who wrote the book of Hebrews.  Contrary to many epistles, the author never identifies himself.  While for centuries the book was treated as an epistle of Paul, this view has been rejected for several hundred years.  While definitely scholarly, the language used in the book does not match Paul’s other writings and Paul identifies himself in his other writings.

Whoever did write Hebrews was well educated and carried some amount of authority within the church and therefore his words would have been well received.  While Paul’s authorship has been rejected by most scholars today, it appears as though the author is familiar with Paul’s writings and may very well have been a companion of Paul.

While there is far from a consensus on who wrote the book of Hebrews, two names are suggested more than any others – Barnabas and Apollos.  Both were well educated men and both worked with Paul.  Other possibilities include Luke, Aquilla, or even Priscilla.

Date: While we don’t know who wrote the book, we can be reasonably certain when the book was written because of a lack of reference to the fall of Jerusalem.  In AD 70 Jerusalem was ransacked by the Romans and the temple was destroyed.  Given the fact that the book is addressed to the Hebrews and discusses the temple, this event would surely be mentioned if it had taken place already.  The temple is referred to in the present tense and not as something that had gone away.  Aside from this, we can’t be sure of the writing other than to say that it was before the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

Recipients: As the name implies, the book is written to Hebrews.  More specifically this is written to Christian Jews.  There are some passages in Hebrews which appear to indicate a potential loss of salvation for the recipients if they should fall away from their faith.  Because this does not align with Calvinistic theology, some have decided that these passages are speaking to different groups of people but not true Christians because they do not believe that salvation can be lost.  Whatever the case, it is clear through the reading of the book that the writer is trying to warn the recipients about falling away or relying on old Jewish beliefs.

Theme: One can summarize the book of Hebrews with the statement “Jesus is better than…”  Jesus is shown superior than many different things in the book.  The idea is meant to convey that Jesus is better than the old system that the Jews lived under and thus it was foolish to abandon faith in Jesus in order to return to the old, inferior beliefs.

Theology: Hebrews is a controversial book in that it contains the strongest argument for the idea that it is possible for a Christian to lose their salvation.  Repeated warnings about falling away and returning to the old sacrificial system are difficult to interpret another way if they are written to genuine Christians.  Because of this, some believe that Hebrews is not addressed to Jewish Christians but is rather a last ditch effort to save the Jews because the temple would soon be destroyed and they would no longer be able to present sacrifices.  Without the temple to make sacrifices the Jews’ salvation would thus be in question.  Because of this, the theology of the book strongly hinges on who the book is written to.

Distinctive Characteristics: The book of Hebrews is full of Old Testament references because the first ten chapters are comparing Jesus to the old way of doing things in Judaism.  Jesus is shown to be superior to Moses, the priests, the old covenant, and even angels.

Famous Chapter: While Hebrews 11 may not be the most theological chapter in the book, it is the most well known as the “Hall of Faith.”  This chapter records the deeds of great heroes of the Old Testament and upholds them as standards of faith that we are to follow after.  This chapter has many people that we would expect to see listed as well as some that may be surprising because they have a few blemishes on their record.  This however can be considered encouraging as well because one does not need to be perfect in order to still be commended for their faith.

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