Introduction to the Book of Hebrews Index
Research Material

TITLE:

  • The title given this book in the oldest Greek manuscripts is simply "Pros Hebraious" (To the Hebrews). Inasmuch as the book deals to a large extent with the significance, for the Christians, of the sanctuary and its services, and as these insights must have been particularly significant for the early Hebrew, or Jewish, Christians... the title is particularly appropriate. (7BC 387)

AUTHORSHIP:

  • The authorship of Hebrews has been in dispute since early times. While many attributed the book to Paul, others dissented vigorously. Origen, one of the early Fathers, concluded his examination of the book with the declaration, "Who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows" (quoted by Eusebius Ecclesiastical History vi. 14; Loeb. ed., vol. 2, p. 79). Other Fathers thought Barnabas, Apollos, Clement, or Luke to be the author. (7BC 387)
  • This uncertainty in regard to the authorship of Hebrews was a major factor in the reticence of many early Christians in the western part of the Roman Empire to accept the epistle as canonical. It was, in fact, not until the latter part of the 4th century that Hebrews came to be accepted generally in the West. During the following centuries the discussion regarding the authorship of Hebrews ceased, and most Christians accepted it as the work of Paul. This view was generally held until comparatively modern times, when the question again came under scholarly discussion. As late as 1885 the RV ascribes Hebrews to Paul, but at the present time few critics hold this view. (7BC 387)
  • The evidence against the view that Paul wrote Hebrews have been drawn largely from considerations of the literary style and content of the book. Although it is possible for a writer's vocabulary and style to vary with subject matter, these variances are largely in the technical terms characteristic of the different subjects about which he writes. His more general vocabulary and particularly the words that he chooses almost unconsciously in expressing himself, such as prepositions, adverbs, and especially connectives, are considered by most scholars to be much better indications of his style than is his technical terminology. (7BC 387)
  • When compared with the generally accepted epistles of Paul, Hebrews differs markedly, especially in the small, common connective words with which its author binds together his clauses. Another distinctive difference is found in the handling of quotations from the Old Testament. The accepted epistles employ one group of more or less standard phrases to introduce Old Testament quotations, whereas Hebrews uses another group. Also, the epistle show that the apostle was relatively free in his use of Old Testament materials. Often his quotations follow the LXX, but at times he gives what apparently is his own translation of the Hebrew: at still other times he is content to give only a loose quotation. By contrast Old Testament quotations in Hebrews are virtually always word for word from the LXX. (7BC 387-388)
  • From a broader standpoint, the general literary style of Hebrews is notably different from that of any of the epistles that bear the name of Paul. The style of the latter is marked indelibly by effervescent yet fervent passages that reveal the surging torrent of the author's thoughts at the expense of polished argument, and maintains the highest rhetorical level of any New Testament book. This marked difference in style was noted by writers of the early church, for whom Koine Greek was the native language. Clement of Alexandria (died C.A.D. 215, cited by Eusebius Ecclesiastical History vi. 14. 2-3) suggests that Paul first wrote Hebrews in Hebrew, and that Luke translated it into Greek. Although such an explanation is ruled out by the fact that Hebrews contains a number of plays on Greek words that could not have been translated from another language, yet Clement's statement is significant in that it implies the recognition that the Greek of Hebrews does not appear to be the Greek of Paul. Origen (died C.A.D. 254), one of the prominent scholars of the early church, likewise recognized the difficulty of harmonizing the style of Hebrews with that of Paul. His solution was "that the thoughts are the apostle's, but that the style and composition belong to one who called to mind the apostle's teachings and, as it were, made short notes of what his master said" (quoted by Eusebius Ecclesiastical History vi. 25. 13; Loeb ed., vol. 2, pp. 77, 79) (7BC 388)
  • Certain presumptive evidence in favor of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews rather recently came to light in connection with the discovery of the 3d century Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri. In the codex that consists of the Pauline epistles, Hebrews is found between Romans and 1 Corinthians. Though this fact does not prove the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, it strongly suggests that every early in the history of the church there were those who believed that Hebrews should be included as a part of Paul's writings. (7BC 388)
  • This commentary holds that though weighty arguments have been presented against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, those arguments are not sufficient to offset the traditional belief that Paul is the author. Much of the difference in tone and style of Hebrews compared with the known Pauline epistles may be reasonably explained by the fact that these other epistles are addressed to particular church groups, or to individuals, to meet particular problems. Granted there are certain differences in literary style that cannot be explained on this basis, these differences may be reasonably explained on the assumption that Paul preached certain sermons on the theme of Christ's priestly ministry and that these were taken down stenographically. As is sometimes the case with matter thus recorded, the final literary form of the transcribed copy may be strongly colored by the transcriber. It is easy to see how Paul might never have had opportunity to edit these sermons - he traveled incessantly, with the traveling terminated, erelong, by martyrdom. (7BC 388)
  • It is generally agreed that Hebrews was written before the fall of Jerusalem. Now, the number of church leaders was very small in the years before A.D. 70. Which of those leaders might have set forth an argument as profound as that presented in the book of Hebrews? By all odds the most likely person is Paul. To say that the author was an unknown Christian of that early period simply poses a new problem. How was it that a Christian possessing the theological insights and the logical powers necessary to produce a work like Hebrews should have been anonymous at a time when Christian leaders were so few and the record of Christian laborers so full? (7BC 388-389)

HISTORICAL SETTING:

  • The issue that produced probably a deeper cleavage in the apostolic church than any other was the question of the ceremonial law and its observance by Christians. The council at Jerusalem had freed Gentile Christians from its obligations, but psychologically the large Jewish-Christians community in Palestine was unprepared to enter into the same freedom. They doubtless felt that they themselves, because they were Jews, should keep it. Thus they failed to realize that for all men the ceremonial observances had met their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This situation set up an unhealthy tension in the church, inasmuch as one large segment followed an elaborate system of religious life disregarded by the other. (7BC 389)
  • Paul and those close to him had the needed insight into the Mosaic ordinances and ceremonies to evaluate them rightly and give them their proper setting in the plan of salvation. Paul knew their transitory nature and that the time was past due for their abrogation (Colossians 2:16; Colossians 2:17). The Jewish Christians church, centered at Jerusalem, seemed unaware of he calamities soon to befall it. Jewish Christians still kept the feasts; they still sacrificed as in former years; they were still zealous for the ceremonial law (Acts 15). They had but a faint conception of Christ's work in the heavenly sanctuary; they knew little of His ministry; they did not realize that their sacrifices were useless in view of the great sacrifice on Calvary. These thousands of Jewish Christians, "all zealous of the law" (Acts 21:20), would be confronted by a crisis when the city and the Temple should be destroyed. This occurred apparently only a short time after Hebrews was written. (7BC 389)
  • It was high time that the eyes of the Jewish Christians should be opened to heavenly realities. When their Temple should be destroyed, it would be needful for them to have their faith anchored to something sure and steadfast that would not fail. If their minds could be turned to the heavenly High Priest and sanctuary and to a better sacrifice than that of bulls and goats, they would not be dismayed when a mere earthly structure should pass away. But if they had no such hope, if they had no vision of the sanctuary in heaven, they would be bewildered and perplexed as they should see the destruction of that in which they had trusted. It is important that the Jewish Christians should understand these things, not only for themselves, but also for the sake of the Gentile churches throughout the provinces among whom the Jerusalem believers would be scattered during the coming war with Rome. (7BC 389)
  • It seems to have been in this crisis hour that the book of Hebrews appeared. It contained just the help needed: light on the sanctuary question; on Christ as high priest; on the blood "that speaketh better things than that of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24); on the rest that remains for the children of God (Hebrews 4:9); on the blessed hope that is "as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil" (Hebrews 6:19). (7BC 389)