Epistle to the Hebrews
|Part of a series of articles on|
|Paul in the Bible|
The text is traditionally attributed to Paul the Apostle, but doubt on Pauline authorship is reported by Eusebius, and modern biblical scholarship considers its authorship unknown, perhaps written in deliberate imitation of the style of Paul. Although the writer's style reflects some characteristics of Paul's writing, there are some differences.
Scholars of Greek consider its writing to be more polished and eloquent than any other book of the New Testament. The book has earned the reputation of being a masterpiece. It has also been described as an intricate New Testament book. Scholars believe it was written for Jewish Christians who lived in Jerusalem. Its purpose was to exhort Christians to persevere in the face of persecution. At this time, certain believers were considering turning back to Judaism (the Jewish system of law) to escape being persecuted for accepting Christ as their saviour, now following this system of grace (saved by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross). The theme of the epistle is the doctrine of the person of Christ and his role as mediator between God and humanity.
The epistle opens with an exaltation of Jesus as "the radiance of God's glory, the express image of his being, and upholding all things by his powerful word". [1:1–3] The epistle presents Jesus with the titles "pioneer" or "forerunner", "Son" and "Son of God", "priest" and "high priest".
Hebrews uses Old Testament quotations interpreted in light of first century rabbinical Judaism. New Testament and Second Temple Judaism scholar Eric Mason argues that the conceptual background of the priestly Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews closely parallels presentations of the messianic priest and Melchizedek in the Qumran scrolls. In both Hebrews and Qumran a priestly figure is discussed in the context of a Davidic figure; in both cases a divine decree appoints the priests to their eschatological duty; both priestly figures offer an eschatological sacrifice of atonement. Although the author of Hebrews was not directly influenced by Qumran's "Messiah of Aaron", these and other conceptions did provide "a precedent... to conceive Jesus similarly as a priest making atonement and eternal intercession in the heavenly sanctuary".:199
By the end of the first century there was no consensus on the author’s identity. Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Paul the Apostle, and other names were proposed. Others later suggested Luke the Evangelist, Apollos, or his teacher Priscilla as possible authors.
In the 3rd century, Origen wrote of the letter,
"In the epistle entitled To The Hebrews the diction does not exhibit the characteristic roughness of speech or phraseology admitted by the Apostle [Paul] himself, the construction of the sentences is closer to the Greek usage, as anyone capable of recognising differences of style would agree. On the other hand the matter of the epistle is wonderful, and quite equal to the Apostle's acknowledged writings: the truth of this would be admitted by anyone who has read the Apostle carefully... If I were asked my personal opinion, I would say that the matter is the Apostle's but the phraseology and construction are those of someone who remembered the Apostle's teaching and wrote his own interpretation of what his master had said. So if any church regards this epistle as Paul's, it should be commended for so doing, for the primitive Church had every justification for handing it down as his. Who wrote the epistle is known to God alone: the accounts that have reached us suggest that it was either Clement, who became Bishop of Rome, or Luke, who wrote the gospel and the Acts."
In the 4th century, Jerome and Augustine of Hippo supported Paul's authorship: the Church largely agreed to include Hebrews as the fourteenth letter of Paul, and affirmed this authorship until the Reformation. Scholars argued that in the 13th chapter of Hebrews, Timothy is referred to as a companion. Timothy was Paul's missionary companion in the same way Jesus sent disciples out in pairs. Also, the writer states that he wrote the letter from "Italy", which also at the time fits Paul. The difference in style is explained as simply an adjustment to a distinct audience, to the Jewish Christians who were being persecuted and pressured to go back to traditional Judaism. Many scholars now believe that the author was one of Paul's pupils or associates, citing stylistic differences between Hebrews and the other Pauline epistles. Recent scholarship has favored the idea that the author was probably a leader of a predominantly Jewish congregation to whom he or she was writing.
Because of its anonymity, it had some trouble being accepted as part of the Christian canon, being classed with the Antilegomena. Eventually it was accepted as scripture because of its sound theology, eloquent presentation, and other intrinsic factors.:431 In antiquity, certain circles began to ascribe it to Paul in an attempt to provide the anonymous work an explicit apostolic pedigree.
The original King James Version of the Bible titled the work "The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews". However, the KJV's attribution to Paul was only a guess, and is currently disputed by recent research. Its vastly different style, different theological focus, different spiritual experience, different Greek vocabulary – all are believed to make Paul's authorship of Hebrews increasingly indefensible. At present, neither modern scholarship nor church teaching ascribes Hebrews to Paul.
A.J. Gordon ascribes the authorship of Hebrews to Priscilla, writing that "It is evident that the Holy Spirit made this woman Priscilla a teacher of teachers". Originally proposed by Adolf von Harnack in 1900, Harnack’s reasoning won the support of prominent Bible scholars of the early twentieth century. Harnack believes the letter was written in Rome – not to the Church, but to the inner circle. In setting forth his evidence for Priscillan authorship, he finds it amazing that the name of the author was blotted out by the earliest tradition. Citing Chapter 13, he says it was written by a person of "high standing and apostolic teacher of equal rank with Timothy". If Luke, Clemens, Barnabas, or Apollos had written it, Harnack believes their names would not have been obliterated.
Also convinced that Priscilla was the author of Hebrews, Gilbert Bilezikian, professor of biblical studies at Wheaton College, remarks on "the conspiracy of anonymity in the ancient church," and reasons: "The lack of any firm data concerning the identity of the author in the extant writings of the church suggests a deliberate blackout more than a case of collective loss of memory." 
The use of tabernacle terminology in Hebrews has been used to date the epistle before the destruction of the temple, the idea being that knowing about the destruction of both Jerusalem and the temple would have influenced the development of the author's overall argument. Therefore, the most probable date for its composition is the second half of the year 63 or the beginning of 64, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.
However, there is no way to prove the actual dating of this writing, even from within the internal structure of the writing. Throughout the writing, all mentions of the priestly acts of worship are connected to the tabernacle in Sinai, as built by Moses, with no mention of the temple in Jerusalem. An argument for a later date of the Hebrew text can be assumed due to the absence of any mention of the temple in Jerusalem. If the Hebrew writer composed this message after the first century it would be entirely possible that the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and that of the city of Jerusalem would not be relevant to the writer. Thus, some academic scholars[who?] hold to a much later date of composition to the Hebrew writing.
Scholars[who?] have suggested that Hebrews is part of an internal New Testament debate between the extreme Judaizers (who argued that non-Jews must convert to Judaism before they can receive the Holy Spirit of Jesus' new covenant) versus the extreme antinomians (who argued that Jews must reject God's commandments and that Jewish law was no longer in effect). James and Paul represent the moderates of each faction, respectively, and Peter served as moderator.
It sets before the Jew the claims of Christianity – to bring the Jew to the full realization of the relation of Judaism to Christianity, to make clear that Christ has fulfilled those temporary and provisional institutions, and has thus abolished them. This view is commonly referred to as Supersessionism.
Purpose for writing
Those to whom Hebrews is written seem to have begun to doubt whether Jesus could really be the Messiah for whom they were waiting, because they believed the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures was to come as a militant king and destroy the enemies of his people. Jesus, however, came as a mere man who was arrested by the Jewish leaders and who suffered and was crucified by the Romans. And although he was seen resurrected, he still left the earth and his people, who now face persecution rather than victory. The Book of Hebrews solves this problem by arguing that the Hebrew Scriptures also foretold that the Messiah would be a priest (although of a different sort than the traditional Levitical priests) and Jesus came to fulfill this role, as a sacrificial offering to God, to atone for sins. His role of a king is yet to come, and so those who follow him should be patient and not be surprised that they suffer for now.[13:12–14]
Some scholars today believe the document was written to prevent apostasy. Some have interpreted apostasy to mean a number of different things, such as a group of Christians in one sect leaving for another more conservative sect, one of which the author disapproves. Some have seen apostasy as a move from the Christian assembly to pagan ritual. In light of a possibly Jewish-Christian audience, the apostasy in this sense may be in regard to Jewish-Christians leaving the Christian assembly to return to the Jewish synagogue. The author writes, "Let us hold fast to our confession".[4:14] The epistle has been viewed as a long, rhetorical argument for having confidence in the new way to God revealed in Jesus Christ.
The book could be argued to affirm special creation. It affirms that God by His Son, Jesus Christ, made the worlds. "God... hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son... by whom also he made the worlds". [1:1–2] The epistle also emphasizes the importance of faith. "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear".[11:3]
...the Epistle opens with the solemn announcement of the superiority of the New Testament Revelation by the Son over Old Testament Revelation by the prophets. [1:1–4] It then proves and explains from the Scriptures the superiority of this New Covenant over the Old by the comparison of the Son with the angels as mediators of the Old Covenant, [1:5–2:18] with Moses and Joshua as the founders of the Old Covenant, [3:1–4:16] and finally, by opposing the high-priesthood of Christ after the order of Melchisedech to the Levitical priesthood after the order of Aaron. [5:1–10:18] (Leopold Fonck, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910)
Hebrews is a very consciously "literary" document. The purity of its Greek was noted by Clement of Alexandria, according to Eusebius (Historia Eccl., VI, xiv), and Origen of Alexandria asserted that every competent judge must recognize a great difference between this epistle and those of Paul (Eusebius, VI, xxv).
This letter consists of two strands: an expositional or doctrinal strand, [1:1–14] [2:5–18] [5:1–14] [6:13–9:28] [13:18–25] and a hortatory or strongly urging strand which punctuates the exposition parenthetically at key points as warnings to the readers. [2:1–4] [3:1–4:16] [6:1–12] [10:1–13:17]
Hebrews does not fit the form of a traditional Hellenistic epistle, lacking a proper prescript. Modern scholars generally believe this book was originally a sermon or homily, although possibly modified after it was delivered to include the travel plans, greetings and closing. [13:20–25] 
The Epistle to the Hebrews is notable for the manner in which it expresses the divine nature of Christ. As A.C. Purdy summarized for The Interpreter's Bible (1955):
We may sum up our author’s Christology negatively by saying that he has nothing to do with the older Hebrew messianic hopes of a coming Son of David, who would be a divinely empowered human leader to bring in the kingdom of God on earth; and that while he still employs the figure of a militant, apocalyptic king... who will come again..., this is not of the essence of his thought about Christ.
Positively, our author presents Christ as divine in nature, and solves any possible objection to a divine being who participates in human experience, especially in the experience of death, by the priestly analogy. He seems quite unconscious of the logical difficulties of his position proceeding from the that Christ is both divine and human, at least human in experience although hardly in nature.
Mikeal Parsons has commented:
If the humanity of Jesus is an important theme for Hebrews, how much more is Jesus’ deity. While this theme of exaltation is asserted ‘in many and various ways’ we shall content ourselves by considering how the writer addresses this theme by asserting Jesus’ superiority to a) angels, and b) Moses. The first chapter of Hebrews stresses the superiority of the Son to the angels. The very name ‘Son’ indicates superiority. This exaltation theme, in which the Son is contrasted with the angels (1:4), is expanded in the following string of OT quotations (1:5-13). While some have understood the catena as referring primarily to Christ’s pre-existence, it is more likely that the verses should be understood, ‘as a Christological hymn which traces the entire Christ event, including the pre-existence, earthly life, and exaltation of Christ’. The overall structure of the catena seems to point to exaltation as the underlying motif... At least it may be concluded that the superiority of the Son is demonstrated by this comparison/contrast with angels.
Peter Rhea Jones has reminded us that ‘Moses is not merely one of the figures compared unfavourably to Jesus’; but rather, ‘Moses and Jesus are yoked throughout the entirety of the epistle’. Allowing that Moses is much more than a ‘whipping boy’ for the author, the fact remains that the figure Moses is utilized as a basis for Christology. While there are several references to Moses, only two will be needed to demonstrate Jesus’ superiority. The first passage to be considered is Hebrews 3:1-6. D’Angelo and others regard the larger context of this passage (3:1-4:16) to be the superiority of Christ’s message to the Law. While the comparison between Jesus and the angels is based on a number of OT citations, the comparison of Jesus and Moses turns on a single verse, Nu. 12:7. Like the angels (1:14), Moses was a servant who witnessed, as it were, to the Son. In other words, ‘faithful Sonship is superior to faithful servantship’. The Son is once again exalted. The exaltation theme finds expression in a more opaque way at 11:26. Here in the famous chapter on faith Moses is said to count ‘abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt’. The portrait of Moses drawn here is that of a martyr, and a Christian martyr at that. In effect, Moses joins that great cloud of witnesses who looked to Jesus as pioneer and perfecter of faith. Once again, Christ’s superiority is asserted, this time over Moses and the entire Mosaic epoch.
In summary, the writer [of Hebrews] stressed the Sonship of Jesus and expressed it in a three-stage Christology of pre-existence, humanity, and exaltation.
- The Greek New Testament, Edited by Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, and Allen Wikgren, in cooperation with the Institute for New Testament Textual Research, 2nd edition, United Bible Societies, 1973
- "some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul." Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.3.5 (text); cf. also 6.20.3 (text).
- Alan C. Mitchell, Hebrews (Liturgical Press, 2007) p. 6.
- Bart D. Ehrman, Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (HarperCollins, 2011) p. 23.
- Clare K. Rothschild, Hebrews as Pseudepigraphon: The History and Significance of the Pauline Attribution of Hebrews (Mohr Siebeck, 2009) p. 4.
- Powell, Mark A. Introducing the New Testament: a historical, literary, and theological survey. Baker Academic, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8010-2868-7
- Mackie, Scott D. Eschatology and Exhortation in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007. ISBN 978-3-16-149215-0
- Mason, Eric F. You Are a Priest Forever: Second Temple Jewish Messianism and the Priestly Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews. (STDJ 74; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2008). ISBN 978-90-04-14987-8
- Mackie, Scott D. "Confession of the Son of God in the Exordium of Hebrews". Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 30.4 (2008)
- Utley, R. J.: The Superiority of the New Covenant: Hebrews. Bible Lessons International; Marshall, Texas: 1999, Volume 10, p. 1.
- Oegema, Gerbern S. "You Are a Priest Forever" book review. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Oct 2009, Vol. 71 Issue 4, pp. 904–05.
- Utley, R. J.: The Superiority of the New Covenant: Hebrews. Bible Lessons International; Marshall, Texas: 1999, Volume 10, p. 3.
- A. Louth ed. & G. A. Williamson trans. [Origen quoted in] Eusebius, The History of the Church (London: Penguin, 1989), 202 [book 6.25].
- "Eusebius Church History Book VI Ch 25 v 14". Newadvent.org. Retrieved 19 November 2010.
- "Introduction to the Letter to the Hebrews".  Accessed 17 Mar 2013
- Hahn, Roger. "The Book of Hebrews". Christian Resource Institute.  Accessed 17 Mar 2013]
- Fonck, Leopold. "Epistle to the Hebrews". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. Web: 30 Dec. 2009.
- Rhee, Victor (Sung-Yul) (June 2012). Köstenberger, Andreas, ed. "The Author of Hebrews as a Leader of the Faith Community" (PDF). Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 2. 55: 365–75. ISSN 0360-8808. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
- Attridge, Harold W.: Hebrews. Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989, pp. 1–6.
- Ellingworth, Paul (1993). The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co. p. 3.
- Adolph von Harnack, “Probabilia uber die Addresse und den Verfasser des Habraerbriefes, ” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche (E. Preuschen, Berlin: Forschungen und Fortschritte, 1900), 1:16–41.
- See Lee Anna Starr, The Bible Status of Woman. Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1955, pp 187–82.
- Donald Guthrie, The Letter to the Hebrews, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1983, reprinted 1999, p. 21
- Hoppin, Ruth. Priscilla's Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Lost Coast Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1882897506
- Hoppin, Ruth; Bilezikian, Gilbert (2000). Priscilla's Letter. Lost Coast Press. ISBN 1882897501.
- "The Canon Debate", McDonald & Sanders editors, 2002, chapter 32, p. 577, by James D. G. Dunn: "For Peter was probably in fact and effect the bridge-man (pontifex maximus!) who did more than any other to hold together the diversity of first-century Christianity. James the brother of Jesus and Paul, the two other most prominent leading figures in first-century Christianity, were too much identified with their respective "brands" of Christianity, at least in the eyes of Christians at the opposite ends of this particular spectrum. But Peter, as shown particularly by the Antioch episode in Gal 2, had both a care to hold firm to his Jewish heritage, which Paul lacked, and an openness to the demands of developing Christianity, which James lacked. John might have served as such a figure of the center holding together the extremes, but if the writings linked with his name are at all indicative of his own stance he was too much of an individualist to provide such a rallying point. Others could link the developing new religion more firmly to its founding events and to Jesus himself. But none of them, including the rest of the twelve, seem to have played any role of continuing significance for the whole sweep of Christianity—though James the brother of John might have proved an exception had he been spared". [Italics original]
- "Introduction to Hebrews". The New Analytical Bible and Dictionary of the Bible (KJV). Chicago: John A. Dickson Publishing Co., 1950. p. 1387
- "Supersessionism | Theopedia". www.theopedia.com. Retrieved 2017-09-26.
- See Whitlark, Jason, Enabling Fidelity to God: Perseverance in Hebrews in Light of the Reciprocity Systems of the Ancient Mediterranean World (PBMS; Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2008).
- Zupez, John (1973). "Salvation in the Epistle to the Hebrews". Bible Today Reader. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. pp. 2590–2595.
- See also Antithesis of the Law.
- also translated "exhorting"
- Ehrman, Bart D. (2004). The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford. p. 411. ISBN 0-19-515462-2.
- "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Epistle to the Hebrews". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 2017-09-26.
- TIB XI p. 588The Interpreter's Bible: The Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard versions with general articles and introduction, exegesis, [and] exposition for each book of the Bible in twelve volumes, George Arthur Buttrick, Commentary Editor, Walter Russell Bowie, Associate Editor of Exposition, Paul Scherer, Associate Editor of Exposition, John Knox Associate Editor of New Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Samuel Terrien, Associate Editor of Old Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Nolan B. Harmon Editor, Abingdon Press, copyright 1955 by Pierce and Washabaugh, set up printed, and bound by the Parthenon Press, at Nashville, Tennessee, Volume XI, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Pastoral Epistles [The First and Second Epistles to Timothy, and the Epistle to Titus], Philemon, Hebrews [Introduction and Exegesis by John Knox]
- Parsons, Mikeal (1988). "Son and High Priest: A Study in the Christology of Hebrews" (PDF). Evangelical Quarterly (60): 205–208.
- Attridge, Harold W. Hebrews. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1989.
- Bruce, Frederick F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964. Rev Ed 1990.
- Guthrie, Donald The Letter to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983
- Hagen, Kenneth. Hebrews Commenting from Erasmus to Beze. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1981.
- Heen, Erik M. and Krey, Philip D.W., eds. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2005.
- Hughes, P.E. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.
- Hurst, L. D. The Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Background of Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
- Koester, Craig R. "Hebrews". Anchor Bible 36. New York: Doubleday, 2001.
- Lane, William L. Hebrews 1–8. Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 47A. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1991.
- Lane, William L. Hebrews 9–13. Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 47B. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1991.
- O'Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans / Nottingham: Apollos, 2010.
- Paul Ellingworth Reading through Hebrews 1–7, Listening especially for the theme of Jesus as high priest. Epworth Review 12.1 (Jan. 1985): 80–88.
- Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews. New International Greek Testament Commentary, Eerdmans, 1993
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Epistle to the Hebrews|
Online translations of the Epistle to the Hebrews:
- Online Bible at GospelHall.org
- NET Bible
- Bible: Hebrews public domain audiobook at LibriVox Various versions
- The letter to the Hebrews in "biblical literature", Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
- Goodspeed's introductory analysis of Hebrews, 1908 at earlychristianwritings.com
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Epistle to the Hebrews
- Easton's Bible Dictionary 1897: Epistle to the Hebrews
- Holiness in Hebrews – Wayne G. McCown p. 58
- Hebrews from the Biblical Resource Database[dead link]
- Eusebius' Church History 3.3.5 includes comment by Eusebius on canonicity of Hebrews and also extensive note by Philip Schaff on topic
- Encyclopædia Britannica: Hebrews, Epistle to the, 1911 version
Epistle to the Hebrews
| New Testament
Books of the Bible