Research Paper: Overview of the Book of Hebrews

 

Overview of the Book of Hebrews

Authorship

The simple truth of the matter is that no one knows for sure who wrote the letter to the Hebrews. It is apparent that the early church believed it to have apostolic authority since they included it in the Canon. However, we have quotes as early as Origin that support the fact that the author is unknown. Many attempts have been made to argue for one author or the other. Most of these have little support and even less acceptance.

Many people have believed that the author is Paul. There are several reasons why one might believe the author to be Paul. First of all the author did appear, in Hebrews 13:23, to have a relationship with Timothy to whom Paul wrote a couple of letters to. Secondly, the author uses Israel as a bad example in Hebrews 4:11, just like Paul does in 1 Corinthians 10. Thirdly, the author places an emphasis on the new covenant as Paul often does. Finally, the author of Hebrews argues for the end of the Mosaic system, just as Paul does.1 It should be said here that some very influential Christian leaders have held to a Pauline authorship including John Calvin and Clement of Alexandria.

However, there are several convincing reasons why Paul could not be the author of Hebrews. First of all the author of Hebrews refers to Timothy differently that Paul typically does. Secondly, while both authors use Israel as a bad example, they do so by pointing out different things. Paul tends to shows Israel’s idolatrous tendencies, while the author of Hebrews points out their lack of belief. Thirdly, Paul’s letters always say who they are from following a very specific letter form, which Hebrews does not do. Finally, Paul quotes from various texts and translations, as most scholars would, while the author of Hebrews quotes exclusively from the Latin Vulgate.2

Others have suggested that Paul’s missionary partner Barnabas was the author. This is the view that was held by Tertullian, Jerome, Gregory of Elvira, and Filaster. The evidence for this view is far from conclusive. Nevertheless, there are some reasons that support this view. Besides the fact that several very early theologians believed it, Barnabas was a Levite which or course gave him specific intimate knowledge of the priesthood. Also, because he was Paul’s partner on his first missionary journey, he was there when Timothy got saved and therefore knew him.

Nevertheless, despite all of these suggestions and some plausible reasons for one author or the other, there is no sufficient evidence, nor is there likely to be any, for who the author of Hebrews is. Therefore, with Origen, we say only God knows who wrote Hebrews.3

Date

While the exact date of this letter is not certain, it can be narrowed down to a fairly small window of time. Clement of Rome quoted the letter to the Hebrews in A.D. 95. The letter is therefore, obviously earlier than that date. The Temple in Jerusalem, along with all of the priestly rituals, was destroyed in A.D. 70. The author of Hebrews speaks at length about these rituals but does not mention the destruction of the Temple. Therefore, the letter to the Hebrews was obviously written at an earlier date than this. Nero began persecuting the early Christians in A.D. 64 which is not mentioned in the letter either.4 Of course the persecution of Christians by Nero was mostly confined to Rome. If the recipients of this letter were Jewish believers who had fled the persecution in Rome then the date could possibly be moved a few years later than A.D. 64. One cannot move the date back much further than A.D. 64 since Paul speaks of the Christians being mature enough that they should have been teaching by now.

Audience

Unlike many of the letters of the Apostles, Hebrews does not contain an explicit statement of its audience. The first passage of the letter, where one would typically expect to find a statement regarding the intended audience, suggests that those to whom the letter was sent where those to whom God had revealed himself through the prophets and through His son5. This of course could be argued to simply be the perspective of the author. Nevertheless, it seems that most commentators believe the intended audience to be of Jewish descent. It was also clear from several passages that this was sent to a specific group of people. The question then becomes which specific group of Jews is this letter addressing?

The two most popular views are that either these were Jews living in Palestine or they were Jews living in Italy, perhaps even Rome itself. The fact that the author uses extensive arguments which rely on an understanding of the priestly rituals would support the idea that the readers were in Jerusalem. However, the fact that the author quotes from the Latin translation instead of the Hebrew would not make sense. Also the author does not mention the temple which was central to the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem.

The other option is that these were Jewish believers who were living in Italy. In this case the use of the Latin translation would be fitting. Also the lack of a mention of the Temple would make sense. Furthermore, the first quote from this letter in the early Church was by Clement of Rome in A.D. 95. There is also the fact that the word translated “from” in Hebrews 13:24 may refer to those who are originally from Italy but are now separated. 6

Many problems seem to disappear when the Jews in Rome are considered as the likely recipients of this letter.

Occasion

It would appear that the author of this letter was writing to the recipients for a very specific reason. It would appear that the recipients were in danger of reverting back to Judaism. Some would argue that these were genuine believers who were in danger of confusing their religion by needlessly reverting to the legalistic rituals of Judaism. Others would argue that these were merely professing believers who were in danger of reverting to Judaism and missing out on salvation all together. John MacArthur suggests in the introduction to his commentary on Hebrews that it is written to both of these groups as well as to unbelieving Jews so as to convince them concerning Christ.7

Unique Characteristics

The letter to the Hebrews has some unique characteristics that set it apart from the rest of the New Testament epistles.

The first unique characteristic has already been alluded to. That is that this letter does not contain the name of its author or the name of its audience. Despite this omission there are some specific names mentioned that make it clear both the author and the audience knew the same people. Nevertheless this letter does not follow the same form as the other letters in the New Testament. Most letters in the Bible from this time period, as well as extra Biblical letters, followed a very specific Hellenistic form, which the author Hebrews chooses not to follow.

The letter to the Hebrews stands out in that, out of all the New Testament documents, it contains the most elaborate exposition of Old Testament passages. In fact every single chapter in this letter contains multiple quotes from the Old Testament.

The author of Hebrews uniquely focuses on heavenly things. Several phrases throughout the letter show this. Such phrases as “Heavenly Christ,” “Heavenly calling,” “Heavenly gift,” “Heavenly things,” “Heavenly Country,” and “Heavenly Jerusalem” keep lifting the gaze of the reader upward to view the Christ who is seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, which is described in the first four verses of the letter.

The letter to the Hebrews is strewn with repeated exhortations for the believers to remain steadfast in their faith. By this token the letter is more of a sermon than a Theological treatise. The author does not simply want to convince his readers of his viewpoints, but rather to convince them to change their lives and become zealous for Christ above all things.8

Likewise the letter to the Hebrews contains repeated warnings against apostasy. In fact, no little amount of controversy has arisen over certain passages in this letter where the author warns about “falling away.” These will be discussed in more detail later.9

Purpose

This letter was written for the tri-fold purpose of encouraging believers to remain steadfast in the true faith, to warn against sliding back into the old ways of Judaism, and finally to convince believers that the Old Covenant through Moses had been superseded by the New Covenant in Christ. The closing passage of the letter contains the author’s own expression of his overarching purpose. In chapter 13:22 the author calls this a message of exhortation. It would seem that his audience is a mix of people consisting of one group which has grown dull and lifeless in their faith and another that is only partially convince of Christ but is in danger of reverting to Judaism. The author intends to address all of these issues with some rock solid theological arguments, some Old Testament exposition, as well as a healthy dose of urgent warnings and exhortations. Dwight Pentecost expresses the purpose of the author of Hebrews very well when he says, “The author is not so much attempting to enlighten their minds in important doctrinal issues as he is attempting to use those doctrines to move their will to obedience to the truth.”10

Outline

  1. Theological arguments for the Superiority of Christ (1:1 - 10:18)

    1. God's Revelation through the Prophets is completed in Christ (1:1 - 4)

    2. Jesus Is Superior to Angels (1:5 - 2:18)

    3. Jesus Is Superior to Moses (3:1 - 4:13)

    4. Jesus Is A Superior High Priest (4:14 - 7:28)

    5. A Superior Covenant (8:1 - 13)

    6. A Superior Sacrifice (9:1 - 10:18)

  2. Practical Exhortations and Warnings (10:19 – 13:19)

    1. Exhortation to Endure in the Faith (10:19 - 39)

    2. Examples of Enduring Faith (11)

    3. The Lord’s Discipline A Sign of Sonship (12:1 - 13)

    4. Warning To Not Reject God’s Offer (12:14 - 29)

    5. Final Exhortations (13:1 - 19)

  3. Prayer and Concluding Remarks (13:20 - 25)

Argument

The author of Hebrews divides his letter into two large sections. The first section consists of the authors Theological points, while the second section consists of the author’s exhortations and applications. This is one reason why many commentators have referred to this as more of a sermon than a letter.

1-10:18 Theological Arguments for the Superiority of Christ

The first major section of the book consists of six theological arguments expositing Old Testament passages to point out the Superiority of Christ. Specifically he is arguing that Christ is the fulfillment of all the things that the Jewish religion was intended to point towards.

1:1 - 4 God's Revelation through the Prophets is completed in Christ

As was mentioned earlier the author did not start out with the typical greeting or statement of who he was or even who his audience was. However, as with any good sermon, or theological argument, the author starts out his letter with a powerful Christological statement defining Christ as the son of God through whom all things were made who sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. More than that though, this passage makes the clear point that Christ is Superior to the Prophets. Hodges wrote that, “However highly the readership regarded that former revelation, the writer implied, they must now listen most closely to the Son.”11 The author wrote that the revelation of God which came through the prophets is out done by the revelation of God through his very Son Jesus the Christ. This is an important point for the author to start with because his readers need to understand why the revelation of God in Jesus supersedes that of the prophets.

1:5 - 2:18 Jesus Is Superior to Angels

The next theological argument the author employs is to compare Jesus to the Angels. Nowhere in scripture is there a complete explanation of all the roles Angels play. Nevertheless there are a few places in scripture where one can discern a few things about them more clearly. This is one of those passages. At first it might not seem clear to a modern reader why the author would need to make the argument that Jesus is superior to Angels. However, after only a brief observation of the passage as a whole it becomes clear.

He begins this argument in chapter 1:5-14 by quoting several Old Testament prophecies in a row about Jesus. The author directly and indirectly names Jesus as the King (1:5a), the Son of God (1:5b), the one worship by Angels (1:6), the righteous one (1:9a), the anointed one (1:9b), the creator (1:10), the eternal (1:11), and the right hand of the Father (1:13) all within a span of nine verses. He makes the simple argument that none of the Angels can claim any of these titles.

The next part of this argument, in chapter 2:1-4, appears on the surface to be nothing more than a warning against turning away from Christ. While this is an accurate summary of this passage, there exits three peculiarities in this section. The first of these peculiarities is the most important for explaining why it is important that Jesus is superior to Angels. The author reaffirms Jewish tradition in chapter 2:2 that the Old Testament law was mediated by Angels. This is peculiar simply because it is not mentioned before, and is treated hear as an assumption. The second peculiarity is the simple fact that the author refers to a “great salvation” in verse 3 which he has not yet explained. It could reckoned, from this, that readers were already aware of the Gospel Message of Salvation through Christ. This is important because it shows that the author’s intent was not one of evangelism. The third peculiarity in this section is that the author makes the statement in chapter 2:4 that the message of the Lord was confirmed by signs and wonders and gifts of the Spirit. While these peculiarities are not the main point of this section, they point to significant theological presuppositions of the author. That being said, it should be reiterated that the purpose of this section is that if the message Spoken to the Prophets through Angels was to be taken seriously then we should take the message spoken by the one who surpasses the Angels that much more seriously.

The final part of the author’s argument for Jesus’ superiority to Angels is found in chapter 2:5-17. Here we see the author uses a quote from Psalm 8 to argue that Jesus, and not the Angels, was placed over all things. Ironically the author admits to not knowing where this quote was from. What follows this quote is the first explanation of the Gospel in this letter. Nevertheless, the Gospel message is not the point of this passage. This is made evident by the causation and substation in the section. The word “therefore” in verse 17 makes the author’s purpose clear. He attempts to use Psalm 8 to explain why it was necessary for Jesus to become a man in order to provide our salvation. In other words, He that was higher than the Angels had to be made, for a time, lower than the Angels in order to provide for our salvation.

Bruce writes that there is a slight possibility that the author was also attempting to argue against the Angel worship which can be seen in Colossians 2:18. However, there is no clear support for this idea.12

3:1 - 4:13 Jesus Is Superior to Moses

The author’s third theological argument is for the Superiority of Christ to Moses. The first point of this argument is made by comparing the two. The author alludes to the deity of Jesus by arguing that he is worthy of greater honor than Moses because the builder of a house deserves more honor than the house itself. Moses was a faithful servant in God's house, but Jesus has been placed over God's house as the Son. Because God made all things through the Son, as the author made clear in chapter 1:2b, Jesus is also the builder of the house. Philip Arthur points out the fact that Moses, while is a shepherd of God’s flock, he is also one of the sheep.13 This, however, is not true of Jesus. Though he was one of us in the sense that he shared the experience of being human, still he is the absolute head. You could say is the only sheep that never needed a shepherd. Therefore, he is our great shepherd.

Next the author uses a quote from Psalm 95 to make the point that just as a whole generation of Jews in the desert did not enter God's rest because of unbelief, the readers of this letter may be in danger of not entering into God's rest if they harden their heart and refuse to believe where God is taking them. This section starts with a causal statement which indicates that this is the authors conclusion based on the previous section. In other words the author draws a parallel between Moses and Jesus, placing Jesus on a much higher level. The author then applies the results of Moses’ ministry to Israel in the desert to that of Jesus now. The readers are faced with the same decision to believe the message so that they may enter into God’s rest or refuse it and receive the judgment of God, just as the Israelites did in the desert.

The author of Hebrews concludes this theological argument in chapter 4:1-13 with a warning. Again this section begins with a causal statement indicating this is as a result of what preceded. Since, Jesus is superior to Moses and since they are faced with the same decision as the Israelites faced in the desert, they now must take heed of this solemn warning. He warns them to evaluate them selves in light of this truth. While there is still time they should make sure they are obedient so that they might enter God's rest and not His judgment.

4:14 - 7:28 Jesus Is a Superior High Priest

The author of Hebrews fourth theological argument is that Jesus is a Superior High Priest. At the outset this argument would raise questions to the Hebrew readers who knew that Priests had to be from the lineage of Levi. Therefore the author needs to explain how Jesus can be a Priest when he is from the lineage of Judah. Then he must show why he is a better Priest. Finally he must show why there was a need for a better High Priest.

The author begins, in chapter 4:14-5:10, by declaring that Jesus is the Great High Priest who came from among the people to serve on their behalf, just as all priests do. Yet, unlike other priests Jesus has no need of someone to make sacrifice for him. In verse 6 the author applies a quote from Psalm 110:4 to say that God designated Jesus High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. He also makes the point that because Jesus suffered death, though he was guiltless, he became a source of salvation for all who obey him. Philosophically speaking there is still a problem here. If Jesus was simply God then he could not be a Priest who is supposed to go to God on our behalf since he was not one of us. On the other hand if he was simply human, then would be no better than the existing priesthood needing to make sacrifice for himself as well. Bruce points out that the author is arguing for the theanthropic nature of Jesus. Jesus, being God, became man and endured all that we endure, and that is one more reason why He is a superior High Priest.14 The purpose of this section is to establish how Jesus can be a priest even though He is not a Levite.

Next the author takes a moment, in chapters 5:11-6:12, to rebuke his readers. He writes that his readers should be teaching by now, but instead they have grown sluggish and need to be taught the basics all over again. He urges them in chapter 6 to grow up and press on to maturity. One very interesting characteristic of this passage is that the author lists the doctrines he considers to be fundamental. These are the things his readers should be fully aware of, and yet have forgotten, or never fully learned. In chapter 6:1-2 the author lists, “repentance from dead works and faith in God, teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment,” as these fundamentals of the faith. In this same chapter verses 4-6 present problems for many readers until they explore the idea further. It would almost appear to teach that once some one is saved, and then turns away, it is impossible for them to be saved again. Rather it seems evident, in the context of the argument, that the author is beseeching his readers to evaluate if they are in they faith. If they indeed were in the faith, and yet were able to loose their salvation, then surely there would be no more hope for them. However, the author continues by assuring his readers that he is convinced of better things for them. He uses the rest of this chapter to describe how faithful God is to keep his promise to them, and to establish that the High Priesthood of Jesus will last forever. His sacrifice is sufficient for all time because He lives forever.

Returning to his argument about Jesus being the new High Priest in the Order of Melchizedek the author uses the first 10 verses of chapter 7 to explain the nature of Melchizedek’s priesthood. This is an important point for the author to establish in order to validate the Priesthood of Jesus.

In order to wrap up this section the author makes a logical argument for why a new High Priest was needed. He writes that if the law were able to make anyone perfect we would not need better High Priest. However, as he writes in chapter 7:19, the law has made nothing perfect. Jesus, the High Priest who lives forever, can finally do what the law never could. That is to make a permanent atonement for the sins of all who would obey Him.

8:1 - 13 A Superior Covenant

Building on his last argument the author continues the thought in this section to affirm that with the New High Priest we also have the establishment of the New Covenant. He uses the example in verse 5 of how the Tabernacle of Moses was simply a representation of the true and better tabernacle in Heaven, to show that the Old Covenant was simply a representation of the true and better Covenant in Jesus. The author uses a quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34 to show that the New Covenant was prophesied and is now fulfilled in Jesus. The last verse of this chapter shows the authors intent in this line of reasoning. That is to say that the New Covenant has made the Old Covenant of no affect. In the light of his greater purpose in this letter, this is an important point. For those who are in danger of returning to Judaism, they need to know that the Old Covenant has passed away. However the New Covenant, based on Psalm 110:4, is eternal because it has an eternal High Priest.15

9:1 - 10:18 A Superior Sacrifice

The final theological argument made by the author of Hebrews is that the sacrifice of Jesus is Superior to that of the Old Covenant. He does this in three sections. In the first section he describes the Earthly Sanctuary. In the second section he describes the Heavenly Sanctuary. Finally he compares the sacrifices that have been offered in each.

In the first 10 verses of chapter 9 the author describes briefly the contents and rituals in the old tabernacle. He points out how High Priest could only enter once a year with the blood of an animal which was sacrificed for his sins as well as those of the people. He makes sure to point out that these rituals did not cleanse the conscience of the worshiper. These were only good for external signs until the New Covenant would come.

This next section starts with the word “but” indicating that what follows is the exception to what was just discussed. Now he shows how Jesus entered the Holy of Holies in the Heavenly tabernacle with his own blood which is able to purify our consciences. In this section the author makes the point that Christ’s sacrifice is a one time perfect sacrifice that is sufficient for all sin for all time. Dwight Pentecost says that, “…the writer shows that removal of sin and the eternal salvation God has provided through the new covenant is based on Christ’s voluntary, rational, spontaneous offering of uncorrupted blood… Since the new covenant was ratified by the blood of an eternal person, that covenant is therefore eternal and unchangeable, and provides an eternal inheritance.” 16

Finally in chapter 10:1-18 the author concludes his argument regarding Christ’s sacrifice by comparing it with the ones in the Old Tabernacle. He starts off the comparison by pointing out that the old sacrificial system was not able to make anyone perfect, otherwise it would not have to be offered every year over and over. The sacrifice of Christ on the other hand was offered once for all and results in perfection for all who obey Christ. Hughes asserts that the author desires for his readers to the results of this better sacrifice is final.17

10:19 – 13:19 Practical Exhortations and Warnings

The second major section of the letter, chapters 10:19 through 13:19, is a series of exhortations and warnings which essential make up the author’s practical application of the truths he has just laid out in the previous theological arguments. Pink says that it is at this point that the author having established a foundation, and proven the superiority of Jesus over Judaism, begins to build upon that foundation.18

10:19-39 Exhortation to Endure in the Faith

The author begins his first exhortation with several causal statements showing that this is the conclusion of the past three theological arguments, which happen to rest on the foundation laid by the first three. He writes, since Jesus as our High Priest has made a sacrifice which allows us to come before God, then let us remain firm in our faith and help each other to stand firm as well. The author makes the point that we may approach the same God, with confidence, that the Israelites approached with great fear at Mount Sinai.19

This exhortation to remain firm in the faith is followed by a stern warning against turning away. The author elaborates on how God takes sin very seriously and urges his readers not to return to a lifestyle that offends the Son of the living God. It has been noted by some that the warnings in this passage differ from those in chapter 6 in two ways. These warnings use much harsher language and also contain an additional clarifying statement of intentional sin. Some suggest that chapter 6 was written as warnings for unbelievers while the warnings in chapter 10 are written for believers. This argument could be supported by the use of the word we in verse 26 placing the author among those who he is warning.20

He urges them to remain confident in their faith and not to shrink back. It would seem that the author views shrinking back from their faith as a sign that their faith is not valid, and would therefore result in their destruction.21

11 Examples of Enduring Faith

The author devotes the entire eleventh chapter to showing how various people throughout the Old Testament were commended for their faith. He goes through Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets.

John MacArthur, in his commentary on Hebrews, explains is some depth why it was important for the author of Hebrews to stress this foundation of faith in the Old Testament. By the time of Jesus, Judaism had become an extremely legalistic religion focusing exclusively on good works as the means for salvation. The author needed to establish that salvation by grace through faith, which is a cornerstone of the New Covenant, is not a new concept, but in fact the original concept which has just been lost in the years of tradition.22

This chapter starts with one of the best definitions of faith in scripture. This definition is expressed in a Hebrew Parallel fashion, using two phrases back to back that say essentially the same thing. In this definition the author is appealing to the root of the Hebrew faith: the belief in an invisible God. Again the author needs to draw his reader’s attention to the fact that their religion was founded in faith in the invisible. John Calvin suggests that the definition here of faith is not an all encompassing definition but rather one that specifically fits to the author’s purposes in the passage. Calvin believes the author’s purpose in this passage is to encourage his readers to be patient on the promises of the Lord.23

12:1-13 The Lord’s Discipline a Sign of Sonship

In chapter 12:1-12 the author of Hebrews seeks to apply the examples of faith he has just listed in the previous chapter to his readers. He wishes to encourage his readers to follow the example of faith set forth by their ancestors. The “great cloud of witnesses” the author refers to in the first verse of this chapter is, according to Barnes, the author’s way of saying that all those he had listed in the previous chapter as having such great faith look on now as witnesses to our lives to see what kind of faith we will live by.24

Starting in verse 5 the author encourages his readers to endure their hardships as though their Heavenly Father where disciplining them, like a son, so as to help them grow into maturity. The author goes so far as to say, in verse 8, that if you do not experience discipline from the Lord, then you are not truly his sons. Barnes writes, “We should receive every affliction as full proof that we are not forgotten by the High and Holy One.”25

The author is sure to make sure his readers understand the purpose of such discipline in verse 11. The purpose is to produce peace and righteousness. Calvin makes the observation that children tend to hate discipline because they cannot yet understand how much it will benefit them. This is enlightening in the light of the fact that the author’s purpose is to urge his readers on to maturity. It is only when a child is grown that it understands how much his father’s discipline has helped him. It can also be deduced that the author hopes to encourage his readers to have patience. God’s work in them, growing them to maturity, may take quite a while and may cause them to endure a great many hardships before it is through, but will result in a greater peace.26

12:14-29 Warning To Not Reject God’s Offer

In this next section the author warns about the severity of the consequences of rejecting God’s offer. He does not do this by naming the consequences specifically but by describing how fearsome the power of the Lord can be and drawing the conclusion that it would be a terrible thing to reject some an awesome God. The author describes heaven and earth as trembling in His presence. MacArthur makes the point that the readers of this letter had already experienced some opposition to their faith. They knew that following Christ in a culture that hated the very mention of His name could cost them their lives. To Many devout Jews, the followers of Jesus and His teachings threatened the very core of their beliefs. Therefore, they hated Jesus to the point of wanting all who followed Him dead. In light of this, the author of Hebrews uses imagery from Mount Sinai to show how much more fearsome God is than the Jewish authorities. If in establishing His first Covenant with Israel God’s presence was so mighty that not even an animal could touch the Holy Mountain without dying, then how much more fearful would it deny God’s words, when it is His very son through whom He establishes this New Covenant.27

Essentially the author is warning his readers to not return to Judaism or else they will stand under the judgment of this same awesome and fearful God of Mount Sinai. In verse 28 the word translated as “so” shows that his point follows. That is that his readers should worship God in reverence awe and fear, as He is a devouring Fire that will inevitably consume all who oppose Him.

MacArthur suggests that the author is comparing Mount Zion with the Heavenly Jerusalem. He writes that Mount Zion could not be touched, and its law brought only condemnation so that no one could be saved through it. The Heavenly Jerusalem is approachable and offers salvation for all who have faith.28

13:1-19 Final Exhortations

In this section the author begins to wrap up his letter with a list of final exhortations. He urges them to continue in brotherly love, to love the less fortunate, to honor marriage and avoid sexual immorality, to be content with what they have, to avoid the love of money, to fear nothing for the Lord is with them, to imitate their spiritual leaders, to not be carried away by strange teachings, to not neglect doing what is good, to obey their leaders, and finally to pray for him to be restored. It would seem the purpose of this section of the letter is simple. The author has made his arguments, and fulfilled his main purposes for writing the letter. Now, as he prepares to conclude his letter he begins to list all of the other things which he did not have time to expound upon. This section does not begin with any kind of structural marker indicating that it is a conclusion of previous arguments. Neither does it reference or summarize the main points of his arguments. He simply uses these closing verses to go through all of the other things that he wants his readers to remember.

13:20 Prayer and Concluding Remarks

Finally the author closes the letter with a prayer that God will bless his readers. He also sends news of Timothy’s release, and sends greetings on behalf of those who are from Italy. Pink makes the observation that while the author, who had requested that his readers pray for him in verses 18-19, was now exemplifying this for his readers by praying for them. Despite the lack of connection in the previous section to the letters main theological arguments, this closing prayer does touch on some of the author’s main points. He points out that the New Covenant is an eternal covenant in the blood of the great shepherd who God raised from the dead.29 It is also significant that the author of Hebrews addresses his prayer to the God of peace. This shows some insight into the author’s motives. The Jewish believers needed to receive peace from God. Peace to know that what they believed was true and worthy of their steadfast and unswerving devotion.30

Summary

In Summary the author makes his first point that Jesus is a greater revelation of God than the prophets ever were or could be. Secondly the author makes the point that Jesus is Superior even to the Angels through whom the Law was mediated to Moses, because He is son. Therefore, the message of Jesus should be taken even more seriously than the one given to Moses through the Angels. Thirdly our Author makes the point that Jesus is superior to Moses in that He has been placed over the house of God which Moses was merely a faithful servant in. Therefore, if we wish to enter God’s rest we must head the message of Jesus. Fourthly the author makes the point that Jesus has become a superior High Priest makes intercession for us before God forever since He lives forever. Fifthly out author makes the point that out new High Priest Jesus has inaugurated the New Covenant which was prophesied and which surpasses the Old Covenant which will pass away. Finally out author makes the point that the sacrifice of Jesus is superior to any Old Covenant sacrifice in that it is sufficient for all sin for all time. It is a once for all sacrifice that does not need to be repeated. After these theological arguments our author urges his readers to stand firm in their faith and grow into mature believers capable of teaching a new generation. He lists for them examples throughout scripture of people who remained steadfast in their faith and urges them to follow their example. Next the author encourages them that the hardship they endure is loving discipline from their Father in Heaven who wants them to grow into mature sons. Before coming to his closing exhortations the author warns his readers not o reject the gracious offer of such an awesome God. Finally he urges them to continue in all the good things they have been taught, and then ends the letter with a prayer for God to bless them.

Conclusion

This is a heavily theological book. There are many passages, which were not dealt with in this paper, that have caused great concern for immature believers who did not understand them. The focus of this paper was to discern the purpose of the author in writing this letter and therefore the discussion of these “problem passages” will have to be discussed elsewhere. It is the belief of this writer that the “problem passages” cease to be problems when they are viewed in light of the author’s purpose. In other words, taken in context the “problem passages” are not a problem at all.

The letter to the Hebrews is written by an undisclosed author to an undisclosed group of Jewish believers who were in danger of reverting back to Judaism. Therefore, the author wrote a letter utilizing The Old Testament Scriptures to encourage these believers that Jesus was the better choice, not a replacement but a fulfillment of their religion. He utilizes exhortations mixed with warnings to urge these readers on to maturity in Christ. This letter still exists for this purpose today. While the human author had a specific purpose in writing this letter to his audience, let it not be forgotten that the Holy Spirit who inspired this letter and protected it throughout the ages in the Canon of Scripture has his own purpose that is applicable to us. In this case those purposes appear to line up remarkably well with the purposes of the human author. It is truly amazing how God can inspire scripture that applies equally to people who live two thousand years apart. It would be interesting to know if the author had any clue how the eternal High Priest he described was going to use this letter in His eternal work.

 


 

1 Stanley D. Toussaint, The Epistle to the Hebrews, unpublished class notes for BE 107 (Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall Semester, 2008, 2008). 1.

2 Ibid., 1.

3 John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary., The Bible knowledge commentary : an exposition of the scriptures, Old Testament ed. (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1985). 777-8.

4 Toussaint, The Epistle to the Hebrews. 2.

5 Arthur Walkington Pink, An exposition of Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1968).

6 Toussaint, The Epistle to the Hebrews. 2.

7 John MacArthur, Hebrews (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983).

8 Pink, An exposition of Hebrews. 15-16.

9 Ibid. 17.

10 J. Dwight Pentecost, A faith that endures : the book of Hebrews applied to the real issues of life (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Discovery House Publishers, 1992). 167.

11 Walvoord, Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary., The Bible knowledge commentary : an exposition of the scriptures. 781.

12 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews : the English text with introduction, exposition, and notes, The New international commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1964). 9.

13 J. P. Arthur, No turning back : an exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Grace Publications Trust, 2003). 63.

14 Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews : the English text with introduction, exposition, and notes. 84.

15 Pentecost, A faith that endures : the book of Hebrews applied to the real issues of life. 133.

16 Ibid. 155.

17 R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews, an anchor for the soul, 2 vols., Preaching the word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1993). 24.

18 Pink, An exposition of Hebrews. 583.

19 Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson's new illustrated Bible commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999). 1651.

20 Ibid. 1652.

21 Ibid. 1654.

22 MacArthur, Hebrews. 285-6.

23 Jean Calvin and William B. Johnston, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second epistles of St. Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963). 260-1.

24 Albert Barnes, Barnes' Notes (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998). 289.

25 Ibid. 297.

26 Calvin and Johnston, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second epistles of St. Peter. 320.

27 MacArthur, Hebrews. 410.

28 Ibid. 413.

29 Pink, An exposition of Hebrews. 1265.

30 Pentecost, A faith that endures : the book of Hebrews applied to the real issues of life.