Book of Hebrews

The Epistle to the Hebrews. Canonicity. -Clement of Rome (1st century A.D.) refers to it oftener than any other canonical New Testament book, adopting its words as on a level with the rest of the New Testament. As the writer of this epistle claims authority Clement virtually sanctions it, and this in the apostolic age. Westcott (Canon, 22) observes, it seems transfused into Clement's mind. Justin Martyr quotes its authority for applying the titles "apostle" and "angel" to the Son of God. Clement of Alexandria refers it to Paul, on the authority of Pantaenus of Alexandria (in the middle of the second century) saying that as Jesus is called the "apostle" to the Hebrew, Paul does not in it call himself so, being apostle to the Gentiles; also that Paul prudently omitted his name at the beginning, because the Hebrew were prejudiced against him; that it was originally written in Hebrew for the Hebrew, and that Luke translated it into Greek for the Greeks, whence the style resembles that of Acts.

He however quotes the Greek epistle as Paul's, so also Origen; but in his Homilies he regards the style as more Grecian than Paul's but the thoughts as his. "The ancients who handed down the tradition of its Pauline authorship must have had good reason for doing so, though God alone knows the certainty who was the actual writer," i.e. probably the transcriber or else interpreter of Paul's thoughts. The Peshito old Syriac version has it. Tertullian in the beginning of the third century, in the African church, ascribes it to Barnabas. Irenaeus in Eusebius quotes it. About the same time Caius the presbyter of Rome mentions only 13 epistles of Paul, whereas if epistle to Hebrew were included there would be 14.

The Canon fragment of Muratori omits it, in the beginning of the third century. frontCANON.) The Latin church did not recognize it as Paul's for a long time subsequently. So Victorinus, Novatian of Rome, and Cyprian of Carthage. But in the fourth century Hilary of Poitiers (A.D. 368), Lucifer of Cagliari (A.D. 371), Ambrose of Milan (A.D. 397), and other Latins quote it as Paul's; the fifth council of Carthage (A.D. 419) formally recognizes it among his 14 epistles.

Style. -The partial resemblance of Luke's style to it is probably due to his having been companion of Paul: "each imitated his teacher; Luke imitated Paul flowing along with more than river fullness; Mark imitated Peter who studied brevity" (Chrysostom). But more familiarity with Jewish feeling, and with the peculiarities of their schools, appears in this epistle than in Luke's writings. The Alexandrian phraseology does not prove Apollos' authorship (Alford's theory). The Alexandrian church would not have so undoubtingly asserted Paul's authorship if Apollos their own countryman had really been the author. Paul, from his education in Hebrew at Jerusalem, and in Hellenistic at Tarsus, was familiar with Philo's modes of thought. At Jerusalem there was an Alexandrian synagogue (Acts 6:9).

Paul knew well how to adapt himself to his readers; to the Greek Corinthians who idolized rhetoric his style is unadorned, that their attention might be fixed on the gospel alone; to the Hebrew who were in no such danger he writes to win them (1 Corinthians 9:20) in a style attractive to those imbued with Philo's Alexandrian conceptions and accustomed to the combination of Alexandrian Greek philosophy and ornament with Judaism. All the Old Testament quotations except two (Hebrews 10:30; Hebrews 13:5) are from the Septuagint, which was framed at Alexandria. The interweaving of the Septuagint peculiarities into the argument proves that the Greek epistle is an original, not a translation. The Hebrew Old Testament would have been quoted, had the original epistle been Hebrew

Pauline authorship. -This is further favored by internal evidence. The superiority of Christianity to Judaism in that the reality exceeds the type is a favorite topic of Paul. Compare this epistle with 2 Corinthians 3:6-18; Galatians 3:23-25; Galatians 4:1-9; Galatians 4:21-31. Herein allegorical interpretation, which the Alexandrians strained unduly, is legitimately under divine guidance employed. The divine Son is represented as the image of God; compare Hebrews 1:3, etc., with Paul's undoubted epistles, Philemon 2:6; Colossians 1:15-20; His lowering Himself for man's sake (Hebrews 2:9) with 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philemon 2:7-8; His final exaltation (Hebrews 2:8; Hebrews 10:13; Hebrews 12:2) with 1 Corinthians 15:25-27; His "mediator" (unique to Paul) office (Hebrews 8:6) with Galatians 3:19-20; His sacrifice for sin prefigured by the Jewish sacrifices (Hebrews 7-10) with Romans 3:22-26; 1 Corinthians 5:7. "God of peace" is a phrase unique to Paul (Hebrews 13:20 with Romans 15:33; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).

So "distributed gifts of the Holy Spirit" (Hebrews 2:4) with (Greek) "divisions of gifts ... the same Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:4); "righteousness by faith" (Hebrews 10:38; Hebrews 11:7) with the same quotation (Habakkuk 2:4); Romans 1:17; Romans 4:22; Romans 5:1; Galatians 3:11; Philemon 3:9. "The word of God ... the sword of the Spirit" (Hebrews 4:12) with Ephesians 6:17. Inexperienced Christians are "children needing milk," i.e. elementary teaching; riper Christians, as full grown men, require strong meat (Hebrews 5:12-13; Hebrews 6:1 with 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Galatians 4:9; Ephesians 4:13). Believers have "boldness of access to God by Christ" (Hebrews 10:19 with Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:12). Afflictions are a fight (Hebrews 10:32 with Philemon 1:30; Colossians 2:1).

The Christian life is a race (Hebrews 12:1 with 1 Corinthians 9:24; Philemon 3:12-14). The Jewish ritual is a service (Hebrews 9:1-6 with Romans 9:4); a "bondage," as not freeing us from consciousness of sin and fear of death (Hebrews 2:15 with Galatians 5:1). Paul's characteristic "going off at a word" into a long parenthesis, playing upon like sounding words, and repeating favorite words, quotations from the Old Testament linked by "and again" (Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 2:12-13, with Romans 15:9-12; Romans 2:8 with 1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 10:30 with Romans 12:19).

Reception in the East before the West. -No Greek father ascribes the epistle to any but Paul, for it was to the Hebrew of Alexandria and Israel it was mainly addressed; but in the western and Latin churches of N. Africa and Rome, which it did not reach for some time, it was long doubted owing to its anonymous form, not opening as other epistles though closing like them; its Jewish argument; and its less distinctively Pauline style. Insufficient evidence for it, not positive evidence against it, led these for the first three centuries not to accept it. The fall of Jerusalem previous to the full growth of Christianity in N. Africa curtailed: contact between its churches and those Jews to whom this epistle is undressed. The epistle was, owing to distance, little known to the Latin churches. Muratori's Canon does not notice it.

When in the fourth century at last they found it was received as Pauline and canonical (the Alexandrians only doubted its authorship, not its authority) on good grounds in the Greek churches, they universally accepted it. The churches of the East and Jerusalem their center, the quarter to which the epistle was first sent, received it as Paul's, according to Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem (A.D. 349). Jerome, though bringing from Rome the Latin prejudice against this epistle, aggravated by its apparent sanction of the Novatian heresy (Hebrews 6:4-6), was constrained by the almost unanimous testimony of the Greek churches from the first to receive it as Paul's; after him Rome corrected its past error of rejecting it. Augustine too held its canonicity. What gives especial weight to the testimony for it of the Alexandrian church is, that church was founded by Mark, who was with Paul at Rome in his first confinement, when probably this epistle was written (Colossians 4:10), and possibly bore it to Jerusalem where his mother resided, visiting Colosse on the way, and from Jerusalem to Alexandria.

Peter also (2 Peter 3:15-16), the apostle of the circumcision, in addressing the Hebrew Christians of the dispersion in the East, says, "as our beloved brother Paul ... hath written unto you," i.e. to the Hebrew. By adding "as also in all his epistles" he distinguishes the epistle to the Hebrew from the rest; and by classing it with the "other Scriptures" he asserts at once its Pauline authorship and divine inspiration. A generous testimony of Christian love to one who formerly rebuked him (Galatians 2:7-14).

The apostle of the circumcision attests the gospel preached by the apostle of the uncircumcision; and the latter was chosen by God to confirm the Hebrew, as conversely the former was chosen to open the door to the Gentiles (Acts 10). So perfect is the unity that reigns amidst the diversity of agencies. Rome originally received this epistle through Clement of Rome, then rejected it, until in the fourth century she saw her error: a refutation of her claim to unchangeableness and infallibility. But for the eastern churches the epistle would have been lost to the world; so it is well for Christendom Rome is not the catholic church.

Place of writing. -The writer was at the time in prison (Hebrews 13:3; Hebrews 13:19), had been formerly imprisoned in Israel (Hebrews 10:34, "ye had compassion on me in my bonds." So the Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus manuscripts, but Alexandrinus manuscript "on the prisoners".) The salutation which he transmits from believers in Italy implies that Rome was the place of writing (Hebrews 13:24). The rhetorical character of the epistle may be one cause of his waiving the usual epistolary address. The intention expressed (Hebrews 13:23) to visit those addressed shortly with Timothy, just "set at liberty" and styled "our brother," accords with the authorship of Paul.

Design. -The superiority of the gospel over Judaism is shown in its introduction by the Son of God, infinitely higher than the angels, or Moses through whom the Hebrew received the law. The legal priesthood and sacrifices did not perfect as to salvation, but those of Christ do. He is the substance and antitype, to which they, the shadow and type, must give place. They kept men removed from immediate communion with God; we have direct access through the opened veil, Christ's flesh. Hence, as having such privileges we should incur the heavier condemnation if we apostatize (a temptation then pressing upon Hebrew Christians when they saw Christians persecuted, while Judaism was tolerated by the Romans and fanatically upheld by the Jewish authorities). The Old Testament patterns of faith must be their encouragement to persevering endurance.

The epistle ends in the Pauline manner with exhortations and prayers for them, and especially his wonted apostolic salutation, "grace be with you all," his "token (of identification) in every epistle" (2 Thessalonians 3:17-18; so 1 Corinthians 16:21-23; Colossians 4:18). Every one of his epistles has the same closing greeting, which is not in any epistle of the other apostles in Paul's lifetime. After his death it occurs in the last New Testament book, Revelation, and subsequently in the epistle of Clement of Rome. This proves that by whomsoever the body of the epistle was committed to writing (whether an amanuensis or else a companion of Paul, such as Luke was, transfusing Paul's inspired sentiments into his own inspired diction), Paul by his express "token" at the close sanctions the whole as his own.

Persons addressed and date of writing. -As there was no exclusively Jewish Christian church he does not address the rulers, but the Jews of the Palestinian and adjoining churches, Jerusalem, Judea, and Alexandria, wherein Jewish Christians formed the majority. It was from Alexandria the epistle came to the knowledge of Christendom. The internal notices accord with Jerusalem being the church primarily addressed. He addresses the Jews as "the people of God" (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:9; Hebrews 13:12), "the seed of Abraham," the stock on which Gentile Christians are grafted (compare Romans 11:16-24). But they must come out from earthly Jerusalem, and realize their having "come to the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:18-23; Hebrews 13:13).

Those addressed are presumed to be familiar with temple services, with discussions of Scripture (32 Old Testament quotations occur, including 16 from Psalms), and with the Alexandrian philosophy. Some of them had relieved the distressed with their goods (Hebrews 6:10; Hebrews 10:34; compare Romans 15:26; Acts 2:45; Acts 4:34; Acts 11:29). Anticipations of Jerusalem's doom occur (Hebrews 6:8; Hebrews 8:13; Hebrews 10:25; Hebrews 10:37; Hebrews 12:27). A reference to James's martyrdom at Jerusalem probably occurs (Hebrews 13:7) (A.D. 62). Paul's first imprisonment at Rome ended A.D. 63, so that this epistle was probably written in A.D. 63, shortly before his release.

It was certainly before Jerusalem's overthrow, for he implies the temple service was then going on (Hebrews 13:10; Hebrews 8:4-5; Hebrews 9:6-7). The mode of address, hortatory not commanding, is just such as Paul would have used in addressing Jews. He enjoins obedience to church rulers (Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:24), thus meeting the possible objection that by writing this epistle he was interfering with the prerogative of Peter the apostle of the circumcision, and with the bishop of Jerusalem (James's successor, if by this time James was martyred). Hence his delicate mode of address: "I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation" (Hebrews 13:22).

The difference of style from that of his epistles to Gentiles was to be expected. But distinctively Pauline phrases and ideas occur, as shown above. Compare the Greek idiom, Hebrews 13:5, with Romans 12:9; Romans 13:18, "we trust we have a good conscience," with Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Timothy 1:3. He quotes the Old Testament as a "Hebrew of the Hebrew" (Philemon 3:5) writing to Hebrew, "God spoke to our fathers," not "it is written." The use of Greek, not Hebrew, and the quotation of the Septuagint version of Old Testament prove, that it was written not merely for Hebrew but for Hellenistic Jew converts in Israel and the East. Many had left Jerusalem and settled in Asia Minor in the troubled times that preceded the fall of the city.

The epistle comforts them, persecuted as they were by Jewish brethren, and disheartened at the prospect of soon losing their distinctive national privileges, by showing that in Christ they have a better Mediator than Moses, a better sabbath than the Judicial, a better atonement than the sacrifices, and a better Jerusalem than the earthly one. He fortifies them with arguments against their unbelieving brethren. Established in the faith by this epistle they were kept from apostasy; migrating to Pella they escaped the doom of Jerusalem. Throughout the epistle no allusion occurs to the admission of Gentiles to the church, and no direction as to the proper relations of Hebrew to Gentile Christians. The comparative purity of the Greek, the periodic style, and the frequent plays upon similarly sounding words (Hebrews 6:8; Hebrews 13:14), confirm the view that the present Greek text is the original one.

Divisions. -The doctrinal body of the epistle is divided into three parts: Hebrews 7:1-25; Hebrews 7:26-9:12; Hebrews 9:13-10:18. Its theme is, Christ our High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, The first part sets forth what this is, in contrast to the Aaronic priesthood. The second that He is Aaron's Antitype in the true holy place, by His previous self sacrifice on earth, and is mediator of the better covenant which the old only typified. The third part that His offering through the Eternal Spirit is of everlasting power, as contrasted with the unavailing cycle of legal offerings.

The first half of this third part (Hebrews 9:13-28) shows that both our present possession of salvation and the future completion of it are as certain as that He is with God, reigning as Priest and King, once more to appear, no longer bearing our sins but bringing consummated salvation; the second half (Hebrews 10:1-18) reiterates the main position, Christ's high priesthood, grounded on His self-offering, its kingly character and eternal accomplishment of its end, confirmed by Psalm 40 and Psalm 110 and Jeremiah 31 (Delitzsch.) The first main portion, chapters 1 through 6, prepares the way for the doctrinal. The third (Hebrews 10:19 through Hebrew 13) resumes the exhortation of the first (compare Hebrews 10:22-23 with Hebrews 4:14-16); its theme is, our duty now while waiting for the Lord's second advent.