Tuesday, 31 July 2018
Hebrews – an introduction.
An introduction to the book of Hebrews could go on for many long pages and not speak properly of all that it encompasses. And so rather than give an introduction which will inevitably be repeated in substance throughout the entire book, three main points are to be noted. First, “Who is most likely the author of Hebrews?”
No author is assigned to it, and so only an educated guess can be made. The scholar E.W. Bullinger carefully defends the author as Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. He does this by making a detailed list of the words used by Paul in his other epistles and then making a list of the same words in Hebrews. From there, he demonstrates that the number of uses results in a perfection in numbers when Hebrews is added to Paul’s epistles. That listing can be found here – http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/number03.htm#41
And secondly, the words of Peter, the Apostle to the Circumcision (meaning the Jews), demonstrates that this letter is most likely from Paul’s hand. Peter states –
“Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:15, 16
Peter is the Apostle to the Jews. His first letter was specifically written to a Jewish audience. As it says, “To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” The “pilgrims of the dispersion” are Jews. It logically follows that his second epistle is to the same group of people based on his words of 2 Peter 3:1 which state, “Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder).”
As Peter notes that Paul wrote to the same group of people, and as no other letter of Paul meets this requirement, then it is without a doubt that the letter to the Hebrews is from Paul, or that Paul’s letter to the Hebrews has been lost. Based on the numerical perfection of adding Hebrews to Paul’s other letters, it appears that this is, in fact, Paul’s fourteenth, but unsigned, letter.
There would be good enough reason for it not to be signed. Paul’s very name caused (and still causes) deep-seated animosity among the Jews. Therefore, his name is not given in the actual body of the text. Even if Paul is not the author of Hebrews, the letter is purely Pauline in nature. It reflects a well-studied Jew who was fully versed in the law and the prophets, and who was able to lay out a case in a fully convincing and logical manner, just as all of his other letters are laid out.
The second main point of introduction has already been touched upon – “To who is the epistle written?” First, Paul states in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” So in a real sense, the letter is, as all of Scripture, written to the people of the world. But it is also written specifically to the “Hebrews.” It is a letter of doctrine, coming after the church-age epistles, specifically intended for instruction of a Jewish audience. It deals with issues that are particularly essential for Jews to understand what they had missed in the coming of Christ; to correct those deficiencies; and to lead them to an understanding of the greatness of Christ – even His surpassing greatness in all ways. And that leads to the third main point of our introduction, which is, “What is the main theme of Hebrews?”
Hebrews is almost like a spiritual technical manual on how to understand the superlative nature of Christ. The author meticulously details his case for Christ’s surpassing of various things or people who are held in high esteem, both in the Hebrew Scriptures and among the Hebrew people. Although there is an overlapping of some of these concepts, Christ is compared to angels (1:5); Moses – meaning the law which bears his name (3:2); the Sabbath (4:1); the high priest who ministers the Old Covenant – meaning the Aaronic Priesthood (5:1); Melchizedek who ministered as a priest before Abraham, and who was also king of Salem (6:20); the Levitical priesthood itself which falls under Aaron (7:11); the Old Covenant as opposed to the New (8:7); the earthly sanctuary of God (9:1); the ministrations and services within the sanctuary (8:6); the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant (8:12); works in order to please God in contrast to faith in Christ (Chapter 11); and, finally, heroes of Israel’s past (Chapter 11).
In each of these points (and so much more), Christ and His ministry are shown to be “greater than.” Each point in which a Jew could place his hope is shown to be a false hope in comparison to the surpassing greatness of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Thus, the theme of Hebrews is “Greater Than.”
As noted above, this (or indeed any) introduction is insufficient to express the marvelous wonder which lies ahead in the book of Hebrews, and so the only way to discover that wonder is to enter into the book, and to study it. May you be blessed over the next 303 days as we take in the verses of this book, just like we take in each sunrise, one day at a time.
Life application: If you want to grow in your walk with Christ, then stick around for the next 303 verses, first learning them, and then appropriately applying them to your life as context determines.
Lord God, it is always a wonderful thing to start out on a new adventure. But let us never start out any such thing, or even any day of our lives (which really is a new adventure with each rising of the sun), without first asking You to guide us, bless us, and mold us to Your image. And so today we ask this as well. We are opening up the future – moment by moment – and we ask that You be with us and direct our steps as we go. We pray this in Jesus’ beautiful and exalted name. Amen.