Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Letters of Light
Letter to the Hebrews, Introduction
First, bear in mind that this book is not a letter in the strict sense of the word. Notice there’s no salutation (as in the letters of Paul). Rather than a letter, this piece of Biblical literature is more of an extended sermon. In chap 13.22 the author refers to the work as a “message of encouragement/exhortation,” the same phrase used in Acts 13.15f about a sermon Paul preached. The date it was written is widely debated with sometime before 70 AD being the most popular. Why? Because the letter refers to sacrifices being offered in the Temple in Jerusalem; the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Already in the 2nd century, it was referred to as the Letter to the Hebrews. Why? Because it’s clear that it is meant for a Christian audience of Jewish background. There are over 50 citations from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the contents is largely comparison between the First Covenant (Mt Sinai) and the New Christian Covenant (Calvary/Resurrection). Some believe that these Christians were considering forsaking the New Christian Covenant because Jesus turned out to be not the warrior Messiah they expected. Others think that these Christians were growing weary of 1) opposition/persecution from the outside and 2) weariness form the inside (the demands/discipline of life in Christ was “getting old.”)
Ch 13.24 seems to suggest that the sermon was written in Italy (possibly Rome?). Now to the most frequent question about Bible books- who wrote it? Probably not Paul (although for a long time it was called “Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews”). Eusebius, a Christian historian says that although there are Pauline themes in the sermon, it just doesn’t sound like Paul (the grammar and style of this book is probably the best Greek in the New Testament; Paul was more colloquial). Eusebius lived in the 2nd into the 3rd century AD, so doubt about Paul being the author began very early. We’ll see that there is no name of the author in the text (as is the case in Paul’s letters). Eusebius said: “Who wrote the letter is known to God alone.” Some suggested authors are Barnabas or Luke (companions of Paul in Acts), Clement (the third successor to Peter as leader of the community in Rome) or Priscilla (remember Priscila and Aquila from Acts 18.2?). Most scholars believe that the book was written by someone who knew Paul and built on his teachings. The reference to Timothy as “our brother” (13.23) sounds like the sermon may have been written by someone belonging to Paul’s circle of co-workers. We don’t know who wrote it, but the important thing is: It was written!
Some things to look for in Hebrews: clear statements regarding the true divinity and true humanity of Jesus; Jesus as the High Priest offering the perfect sacrifice (Himself); Jesus as the fulfilment of the promises made in the First Covenant; a lot of encouragement to persevere on the road of discipleship.
Something to consider:
Where do you find encouragement to persevere when the challenges of Jesus start to “get old” for you?
Read Hebrews 1.1-4