Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 10 May 2015; Revised 21 September 2021
Scripture: Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version, © 2014 by Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Other Bible versions may be quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the commentary author.
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited and resources consulted may be found at the end of the article. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Important Jewish sources include:
● DSS: Citations marked as "DSS" are from the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish manuscripts of Scripture and sectarian documents found in the Qumran caves. Most of the Qumran MSS belong to the last three centuries BC and the first century AD. Online DSS Bible. Unless otherwise indicated quotations from the DSS are taken from A New Translation of The Dead Sea Scrolls (2005), abbreviated as TDSS.
● LXX: The abbreviation "LXX" ("70") stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. Online. See Barry Setterfield, The Alexandrian Septuagint History.
● Josephus: Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 7599 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
● MT: The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Tanakh for Rabbinic Judaism. Work on developing a uniform Hebrew Bible began in the 2nd century under Rabbi Akiva, but completed by Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. The oldest extant manuscripts date from around the 9th century. Online.
Philo: Citations of Philo of Alexandria, the Jewish philosopher (20 B.C.─A.D. 50) are from The Works of Philo Judaeus, compiled by Peter Kirby, found online at Early Jewish Writings.
● Talmud: Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. The Jerusalem Talmud, identified with "TJ," may be found here. Click here for Talmud abbreviations.
● Targums: The Targums are early Aramaic translations of the Hebrew text with commentary that date from the first century. See an index of Targum texts here.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Parsing data for Greek words is taken from Anthony J. Fisher, Greek New Testament. See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations and pronunciation of Greek words. The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic writings and message I use the terms Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), ADONAI (for the sacred name in Tanakh verses), and Besekh (New Testament).
● Call to Study
Call to Study
Hebrews is the nineteenth book of the Besekh, essentially a circular letter, calling for faithfulness to Yeshua, the perfect fulfillment of Old Covenant institutions and hope. Hebrews sets forth the biblical evidence of the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world. The letter is in fact a "message of exhortation" (13:22), comparable to Paul's "message of exhortation" (Acts 13:15) he gave in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. Like that sermon Hebrews weaves together historical narrative, theological exposition, confrontation, practical guidance and future hope.
Unfortunately, the study of Hebrews is avoided by many Christians, minister and layperson alike. Hebrews is certainly a Jewish book and many Christians are not completely comfortable in a Jewish context. Hebrews may appear to be irrelevant to modern Christians because we are not in danger of falling back to Judaism. Christians may also avoid Hebrews because it is a difficult book to interpret and to apply. In short, we find it difficult to understand, and so we put it aside for something that isn't as complicated.
Christians may ignore the fact that "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22), that Gentile believers are "sons of Abraham," the Hebrew (Rom 4:16; Gal 3:7-9), and that Gentile believers have been "grafted into" the Olive Tree of Israel (Rom 11:11-24) and made citizens in the Commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12-13). Not usually considered is that the root meaning of "Christian" is "Messianic," and according to its first use in Acts refers to an ardent disciple of the Jewish Messiah. See my article The First Christians.
This article will endeavor to answer the basic questions Bible students have about Hebrews. To whom was the letter written? Who wrote the letter? When was the letter written? What are the chief subjects and themes of the letter? Most of all, how is Hebrews relevant to Christian discipleship today? Hebrews is very relevant to all followers of Yeshua, those who identify as Christians and Messianic Jews. To all of us Hebrews speaks in many ways and is vitally important to study.
First, Hebrews presents a wonderful picture of Yeshua. Hebrews tell us who Yeshua is, what he did for us and where he is now. Hebrews demonstrates that Yeshua is the Son of God, the Great High Priest, the Messiah of Israel, the Source of Eternal Salvation, the Perfect Sin Offering, the Mediator of the New Covenant, and the Author and Perfecter of our faith. How great is our Lord!
Second, Hebrews affirms the authority of the Tanakh and shows us how to understand that the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings are all about Yeshua. The message of the Tanakh is essentially the same message as found in the apostolic writings. The books of the Tanakh were the only Scriptures that Yeshua and the apostles knew and they treated the Scriptures as inspired by the Holy Spirit and authoritative for determining lifestyle choices.
Third, Hebrews is confrontational and rebukes sin in the Body of Messiah. The author warns against an attitude of complacency and unbelief and continuing a lifestyle of sinful behaviors that can only bring spiritual shipwreck and endanger salvation. Hebrews is no friend of the doctrine of eternal security, which Jews of that time also believed. Hebrews exhorts believers not to neglect God's Word, intimacy with Yeshua, and fellowship of His people.
Fourth, Hebrews calls believers to endurance and perseverance, especially as days of greater persecution come upon us. Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today, and face the prospect of death every day in many countries of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In the West Christians face the cultural pressure of conformity to liberal philosophies, lifestyle values and consumerism. In either context it can be tempting to abandon the faith and submit to the oppression of the dominant culture, a context to which Hebrews speaks with exceptional power.
Fifth, Hebrews shows us God's plan for our lives, namely sanctification and holiness. The author calls his readers to develop the closest possible relationship with Yeshua, to walk in the Spirit, and to be fervent in faithfulness as exemplified by the great heroes of the Bible. Yeshua intends to perfect his people.
Sixth, Hebrews provides comfort and encouragement. The author assures his readers that Yeshua knows our weaknesses and troubles, our tears and sorrows, which he himself experienced. Yeshua genuinely cares for us.
Let us begin.
The title Pros Hebraios, "To the Hebrews" is found on the oldest MSS. Christian versions generally give the title simply as "HEBREWS." Messianic Jewish versions offer a different perspective. The Complete Jewish Bible by David Stern has "To a Group of Messianic Jews: Hebrews." The Messianic Writings by Dan Gruber has "The Letter to the Hebrews." The Messianic Jewish Literal Translation of the New Covenant Scriptures by Kevin Geoffrey has "A Letter to Messianic Jews." The Orthodox Jewish Bible has "Yehudim in Moshiach." The Tree of Life Version has simply "Hebrews."
The term Hebraios (SG-1445) means "Hebrew" or a "Hebrew-speaking Israelite." In the LXX Hebraios translates Heb. Ibri (SH-5680), Hebrew, which occurs as both an adjective and name of the people descended from Abraham through Jacob (Gen 14:13) and members of the covenant people (Ex 1:15-16, 19). The name Ibri may have originally been used by non-Israelites to refer to "one from beyond" or "from beyond the Euphrates." However, the Creator God (Elohim) who revealed Himself to Moses as YHVH, claimed the Ha-Ibrim as His own people (Ex 3:18; 5:3; 7:6; 9:1, 13; 10:3). The Ha-Ibrim became the name by which the covenant people descended from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob would be known.
Noteworthy is that the caption does not read Pros Ioudaioi ("To the Jews") and the label Ioudaios does not occur in Hebrews at all. Not generally recognized by Christian scholars is that Ioudaios is a sectarian label, designating orthodox, Torah-observant Jews (Acts 2:5). The Ioudaioi followed practices and traditions of the Pharisees (Matt 23:2-3; Mark 7:3; Acts 10:28). Traditional Jews spoke Hebrew as their primary language (cf. Acts 6:1; 21:40; 22:2) and conducted synagogue services in Hebrew. Indeed the noun Ioudaismos, "Judaism," first appears in the Maccabean writings for a way of life devoted to observance of Torah laws (2Macc 2:21; 8:1; 14:38; 4Macc 4:26), and then used by Paul to describe his Phariseeism (Gal 1:13-14).
Other ethnic descendants of Jacob, such as the Essenes, Samaritans and Hellenistic Jews were not considered to be Ioudaios. Messianic Jews were labeled as "Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5). The use of Hebraios is significant, since it is the national name for descendants of Jacob in contrast to ethnos for nations or Gentiles, and occurs as such in the Maccabean writings (2Macc 7:31; 11:13; 15:37; 4Macc 1:11; 5:2; 8:2; 9:6, 18), and frequently in the works of Philo, the Jewish philosopher, and Josephus, the Jewish historian (BAG).
Hebraios occurs four times in the Besekh, first by Luke in Acts 6:1 to identify Hebrew-speaking Jewish believers in contrast to Greek-speaking Jewish believers, and then three times by the apostle Paul as a self-description (2Cor 11:22; Php 3:5). Paul's usage of the term illustrates its cultural significance among Jews in the first century. The use of Hebraios is appropriate to the universal appeal of the letter, as it avoids the rivalry of sectarian groups among the descendants of Jacob.
Unlike other epistles in the Besekh Hebrews does not begin the letter with an identification of its intended audience. The caption (explained above) is a major hint of the letter's recipients. There are also many historical and cultural elements in the letter that point to a primarily Jewish audience.
The intended readers are certainly followers of Yeshua (3:1, 14; 4:14; 5:12; 6:10; 10:32-35; 12:22-24) and addressed as "brothers" (3:1, 12; 10:19; 13:22). The word "brothers," plural of Grk. adelphos, lit. "of the same womb," a male sibling, brother. In the apostolic writings adelphos generally refers to blood siblings or fellow Israelites who are of the same blood by virtue of descent from Jacob (e.g., Matt 4:18; 5:22-24; Mark 3:22; Acts 1:14; 3:22; 7:13). In the LXX adelphos is used for the Heb. ach, meaning a male sibling born of the same mother and father (Gen 4:2); also half-siblings (Gen 20:5).
The shared bond between the author and the readers is also evident in the address of "beloved" (6:9), the frequency of the first person plural pronoun hēmeis (1:2; 2:1, 3; 3:1, 6; 4:13, 15; 5:11; 6:20; 7:14, 26; 9:14, 24; 10:15, 20, 26, 39; 11:40; 12:1, 9, 25, 29; 13:6, 18, 20, 21, 23) and first person plural verbs in hortatory passages (2:1; 3:12; 4:1, 11, 14, 16; 5:11-12; 6:1; 10:22, 23, 24, 35; 12:1, 28; 13:13, 15). The shared filial relationship would not automatically preclude Gentiles as recipients since Messianic congregations had diverse memberships. For an analysis of first century congregation constituency see my article The Apostolic Community.
Some commentators suggest the readers were second-generation believers based on 2:3, "how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him" (NIV). The plural pronoun "us" supposedly distinguishes the readers from eyewitnesses of Yeshua, which contradicts the assertion of 1:2, that God had spoken "to us" in the Son. Indeed, the readers had learned from the apostles (13:7), been followers of Yeshua for a considerable time (5:12; 6:10) and had suffered persecution in the past (10:34).
A more literal translation of 2:3 is: "how will we escape, having neglected such a great salvation? which, having received at the beginning, declared by the Lord, and confirmed to us by those having heard" (BR). This last clause of the verse alludes to the testimony of the apostles who proclaimed the good news of the Messiah on Pentecost to the Jewish residents in the land of Israel and the Jewish pilgrims from all over the Diaspora. Those who heard the apostles could be assured that their message accurately represented the person, ministry and teaching of Yeshua.
The location of the readers is left unstated, but the letter would naturally be distributed widely in the Diaspora and even into the land of Israel.
The letter does not give an author nor an amanuensis (secretary) as identified in some letters (Rom 16:22; 1Pet 5:12; cf. 1Cor 16:21; Col 4:18; 2Th 3:17). The author is clearly a Jew considering the letter's detailed description of Jewish practices, references to the history of Israel, numerous quotations from the Tanakh and because the revelation of God was committed to the Jews (Rom 3:2). The frequent use of the first person plural pronoun hēmeis in the letter by the writer provides hints about the man behind the letter:
● The Son had spoken to him (1:2).
● The writer received confirmation from the chief apostles of Yeshua (2:3).
● The writer is aware of his accountability to the Lord (4:13).
● The writer has much to say about the high priesthood of Yeshua, but it is hard to explain due to the spiritual condition of the readers (5:11; cf. 1Pet 3:15-16).
● The writer received revelation from the Holy Spirit (10:15).
● The writer is not of those who shrink back to destruction; his loyalty to Yeshua is rock solid (10:39).
● The writer had an earthly father who disciplined him (12:9).
● The writer is confident that the Lord is his helper and there is nothing man can do to separate him from his Savior (13:6).
● The writer has a good conscience and desires to conduct himself honorably in all things (13:18).
● The writer identifies Timothy as a "brother," which in its root meaning denotes being of the same ethnic people (13:23).
Clement, bishop of Rome (A.D. 88-99), in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, written about 95, made clear allusions to the text of Hebrews (17:1, 36:2-5), but offered no comment on its authorship.
The earliest statement on authorship of the letter came from Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 200) who said that Paul wrote in Hebrew and Luke translated into Greek. Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (314-340), provides the historical note.
"He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks ["Hellenists" = "Hellenistic Jews"], and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts." (Church History, VI, 14:2)
NOTE: The church father Justin Martyr (110-165) in his Dialogue with Trypho (Chap. LXXX) lists seven Jewish groups, among whom he identifies Hellenists.
Another early witness of the same time as Clement of Alexandria, the papyrus text called p46, dated about AD 200 (GNT xii), also credited the book to Paul (Kaiser 357). Gill notes that Paul's name appears in the title of the letter in the Latin Vulgate (405) and the Arabic version. In addition, John Chrysostom (347-407), archbishop of Constantinople, wrote homilies on Hebrews in which he assumed authorship by Paul throughout.
Some church fathers discounted Paul's authorship. Tertullian (A.D. 155-220), a Christian apologist from Carthage, is quoted as saying,
"For there is extant withal an Epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabasa man sufficiently accredited by God, as being one whom Paul has stationed next to himself in the uninterrupted observance of abstinence: "Or else, I alone and Barnabas, have not we the power of working?" And, of course, the Epistle of Barnabas is more generally received among the Churches than that apocryphal 'Shepherd' of adulterers. " (On Modesty, Chapter 20).
While the assumption of scholars is that Tertullian was crediting the authorship of Hebrews to Barnabas, his mention of "an Epistle under the name of Barnabas" could just as easily refer to the pseudonymous work "Epistle of Barnabas." Indeed Tertullian provides no actual analysis of the authorship issue regarding Hebrews.
Origen of Alexandria (A.D. 184-253), did provide a thoughtful and informative analysis of Hebrews and its authorship.
"11. In addition he makes the following statements in regard to the Epistle to the Hebrews in his Homilies upon it: "That the verbal style of the epistle entitled To the Hebrews,' is not rude like the language of the apostle, who acknowledged himself 'rude in speech' that is, in expression; but that its diction is purer Greek, any one who has the power to discern differences of phraseology will acknowledge. 12. Moreover, that the thoughts of the epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged apostolic writings, any one who carefully examines the apostolic text will admit.' 13. Farther on he adds: "If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul's. 14. But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it." But let this suffice on these matters." " (Eusebius, Church History, Book VI, 25:11-14)
Origen misapplies Paul's self-evaluation as being "rude in speech" (2Cor 11:6), because this applies to his oral teaching, not his writing. The fact that the "ancients" affirmed Paul's authorship means these were sources much older than Clement of Alexandria.
Jerome of Stridon (A.D. 342-420), a preeminent Latin theologian and translator of the Latin Vulgate, in Letter 53 to Paulinus, bishop of Nola, in 394, wrote "The apostle Paul writes to seven churches (for the eighth epistlethat to the Hebrewsis not generally counted in with the others)." Then twenty years later (414), he wrote to Dardanus, prefect of Gaul,
"This must be said to our people, that the epistle which is entitled "To the Hebrews" is accepted as the apostle Paul's not only by the churches of the east but by all church writers in the Greek language of earlier times, although many judge it to be by Barnabas or by Clement." (Letter 129).
Jerome acknowledges that leaders in the West (e.g., Irenaeus and Hippolytus) did not believe Hebrews to be the work of Paul (Bruce xxxviii). The church fathers were nonetheless convinced of its canonical authority, such as expressed by Augustine (A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, Book I, Chap. 50). No books could be considered canonical that were not written by apostles and if the "thought" of Hebrews could be said to be "of Paul" then it should be included among his letters.
Since the Protestant Reformation Paul's authorship of Hebrews has been widely questioned and a variety of suggestions have been made. Martin Luther nominated Apollos on the assumption that the Greek of the letter had Hellenistic overtones. Apollos, whom Paul commended (1Cor 3:5-6, 22; 4:6; 16:12), is described as a Jew born in Alexandria (Acts 18:24), so commentators automatically assume he was a Hellenistic Jew. However, Luke refers to him as a Ioudaios or an orthodox Jew. See my article Hellenism and the Jews.
While 18th/19th century Christian commentators (e.g., Barnes, Benson, Clarke, Faussett, Gill) generally accepted Paul as author, 20th century scholars have mostly rejected Paul as the author, so that the subject is treated as a foregone conclusion. Other names have been suggested besides Apollos, such as Luke, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Silas, Philip, John Mark, and Priscilla (Fruchtenbaum 3). The suggestion of Priscilla is negated by the fact that in 11:32 the author uses a masculine participle to describe himself.
A number of reasons are offered for rejecting the testimony of the earliest witnesses affirming the Paul-Luke collaboration in producing Hebrews. Seven primary objections have been asserted and my analysis follows:
1. The letter does not bear the name of Paul.
2. The letter is not Paul's writing style.
3. The letter indicates an Alexandrian influence.
4. The letter is not translation Greek.
5. The author was a second-generation disciple.
6. The letter indicates deficient Bible knowledge by the author.
7. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, not the Jews.
Objection 1: Not Bearing his Name.
Paul's name does not appear in the letter. There is no greeting from Paul as is typical of his letters.
Two alternatives have been offered on this issue. First, the letter is purposely anonymous, first suggested by Chrysostom. Paul was the apostle of the "uncircumcised" (Gal 2:7), which included both Gentiles and Hellenistic Jews, but the prejudice of the orthodox unbelieving Jews was against him. The central message of the letter focuses almost exclusively on Yeshua and the author did not want to introduce a distraction to that message. If Paul's name had been mentioned, it might have further have stirred up the rage of the orthodox Jewish leaders who hated him.
Second, the letter did begin with Paul's usual greeting, but the leaf identifying him was lost. This is not impossible since two letters of Paul were lost (1Cor 5:9; Col 4:16). The beginning of the letter in 1:1 seems to be abrupt. The phrase "God after he spoke long ago to the fathers" in 1:1 would be a natural conclusion to a long historical narrative such as occurs in Stephen's speech (Acts 7:2-50) and Paul's sermon in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:17-25). Jewish argumentation relied on historical context. Since Paul was writing to Messianic Jews there would be no reason not to identify himself as in his other letters, thus the suggestion of a missing leaf has merit. If someone else wrote the letter that person would have surely identified himself.
Objection 2: Not his Style.
Scholars commonly assert that Hebrews does not reflect the same style as letters in which Paul identifies himself as the author. The Greek composition of Hebrews is said to be much more polished than anything else Paul wrote. Supposedly Paul's authorship can be discounted because of linguistic studies that compare the writing style and vocabulary of Pauls known letters to Hebrews. Unfortunately, the scholars asserting this position do not provide any actual data from linguistic or textual studies to support the claim. On the contrary, a significant correlation can be demonstrated in the vocabulary of Hebrews with the letters of Paul, which is presented below.
In the matter of biblical scholarship the subject of style is always very much in the eye of the beholder. Of course, since Paul typically used a secretary to pen his letters, there is no way to actually determine his writing style. Some commentators (as Gill and Faussett) note as did Clement of Alexandria that the style of Hebrews is very similar to Acts, which would make sense with Luke as the actual writer.
Objection 3: Alexandrian Influence
Some scholars believe the vocabulary, figures of speech and manner of argument indicate an Alexandrian influence and education. Paul was from Tarsus of Cilicia and there is no evidence he ever went to Alexandria. Luke was from Antioch of Syria and it is unknown whether he ever spent time in Alexandria. Apollos originated from Alexandria, making him a favored candidate for authorship of Hebrews. However, there is no substantive evidence for this point of view since Hebrews does not quote from any literature believed to have originated in Alexandria and Hellenistic Jewish literature was widely disseminated in the Diaspora.
The vocabulary of Hebrews does contain many unique words (hapax legomena). While some of these words also appear in Philo, the unique words also appear in Classical Greek literature, the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, and Josephus. The vocabulary and syntax simply indicates competence with contemporary Greek.
Objection 4: Not Translation Greek
Bruce attempts to rebut the authorship claimed by Clement of Alexandria of Paul-Luke collaboration by asserting that the Greek of Hebrews is not "translation Greek" (xxxvi). McKee similar declares, "It bears absolutely no signs of being a translation from Hebrew" (16). Of course there are no extant manuscripts of Hebrews in Hebrew, so no definitive comparison can be made. From a literary point of view Hebrews is one of the best examples of Greek style in the Besekh, similar to Luke-Acts, but to say that it cannot be a translation from Hebrew is nonsensical.
According to early church leaders Matthew originally wrote his narrative of Yeshua's life and ministry in Hebrew (Papias, Church History, Book III, §39.16; Irenaeus, Church History, Book V, §8.2; Hippolytus, On the Twelve Apostles 7; Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chap. 3). There is no extant manuscript of Matthew in Hebrew and all available manuscripts of Matthew are in Greek. There is no reason to question the veracity these four early church leaders for their statements about the composition of Matthew.
Yet, many centuries after Clement of Alexandria provided straightforward information on the composition of Hebrews modern scholars presume to question his knowledge. These critics have essentially stated their prejudiced assumption as if it were factual, and they have produced no evidence to substantiate their assumption.
We should also consider the fact that various translations of Hebrews back into Hebrew have been accomplished by Franz Delitzsch, Ezekiel Margoliouth, Isaac Salkinson and the Bible Society in Israel. How was that accomplished? See my article The New Testament in Hebrew. Baptist scholar Robert L. Lindsey demonstrated that the book of Luke can be easily translated from the Greek back into Hebrew with no difficulty (20).
Luke, being a Hellenized Jew, possessed exceptional linguistic and writing skill as demonstrated in his authorship of his historical narratives of Yeshua and the apostles (Luke-Acts). Since Hebrews has a Jewish context Luke employed a Hebraistic tinted style similar to that of the Septuagint. Luke's syntax is not just a stilted word-for-word translation of Paul's Hebrew text or dictation, but reveals a skilled grasp of the idiosyncrasies of Hebrew idioms. Strictly speaking, Luke did not "translate" so much as "interpret" Paul's Hebrew message for the Greek-speaking Jews in the Diaspora.
Objection 5: A Disciple; not an Apostle.
"After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.." (Heb. 2:3-4 NASB)
The text of 2:3 is thought to support the anti-Paul thesis. Most scholars believe "those who heard" to be an allusion to the Twelve and others who benefited from the personal ministry of Yeshua. This description is thought to exclude Paul, as if he was suddenly teleported from some far off land into Judea after the resurrection. Paul would later state that he had personal knowledge of Yeshua prior to the Damascus Road experience (2Cor 5:16). In reality the comment in 2:3 can serve as a brief summary of Paul's retrospective narrative in Galatians 1:152:9.
We might also consider that verse divisions were an arbitrary decision. In the Greek text "it was confirmed" immediately precedes the text of verse 4, so the verb could just as easily have begun verse 4 rather than being part of the thought of verse 3. In addition, verse 4 clarifies the intent of the verb "confirmed." In other words, the revelation was confirmed to the author "by signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Ruach ha-Kodesh" (TLV), as it had been to the Twelve.
Objection 6: Deficient Bible knowledge.
In 2:6 and 4:4, which contain a quotation from a passage in the Tanakh, the Greek adverb pou is used, translated "somewhere" in many versions. This translation gives the impression that the author did not know the location of the quoted verse in the Bible, Psalm 8:4 in the former and Genesis 2:2 in the latter. Of course, this doubt should extend to any of the proposed authors. Any Torah-observant Jew should know the relative location of these passages. Remember, original autographs of the Scriptures did not have chapter and verse divisions.
The adverb pou simply means "in a certain place" (Mounce) or "where" (Rienecker). It is not as ambiguous as the English translation of "somewhere." In 2:6 the quoted text occurs in Job 7:17, Psalm 8:4 and Psalm 144:3. In 4:4 the quoted text occurs in both Genesis 2:2 and 2:3, as well as Exodus 20:11 and 31:17. So, in a sense the two quotations conflate the multiple locations, and pou is simply used for the purpose of economizing words. Some versions do translate pou as "in a certain place" (AMPC, DRA, KJV, MJLT, MW, NKJV, YLT).
Objection 7: Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles.
Paul is generally recognized by Christian scholars as the apostle to the Gentiles and his letters were written to "Gentile churches" (DSB 1363). In his earliest letter Galatians, Paul said his apostleship was to the "uncircumcised" whereas Peter's was to the circumcised (Gal 2:7-8). When the Jews rejected the message of Yeshua then Paul declared he would go to the Gentiles. Thus, Paul would not have written Hebrews.
To say that God appointed Paul to be an apostle only to the Gentiles is clearly not accurate considering the actual ministry of Paul recorded by Luke in Acts. The original commission from Yeshua for Paul was to take the good news to the "sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15), which included the uncircumcised descendants of Jacob living as Gentiles, as well as the circumcised descendants of Jacob living according to Pharisee legalism. Indeed, everywhere Paul went he followed his own priority of the good news for the "Jews first" (Rom 1:16), by proclaiming Yeshua in the synagogues (Acts 13:5, 14-15, 43; 14:1; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 26; 19:8).
Paul's passion was to win the lost among the Jews (Rom 9:1-5), since he identified with the Jewish people (Rom 11:1; 1Cor 9:20; Gal 2:15; Php 3:5). Paul's declaration that he would go to the Gentiles was made four times when he faced opposition from synagogue rulers, first in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:46), then in Corinth (Acts 18:6), next in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10) and finally in Rome (Acts 28:28). After those occasions of rejection by synagogue leaders Paul continued his priority of going to synagogues to proclaim the good news.
Paul did say that his apostleship was given to him to proclaim the good news to "Gentiles" (Rom 1:5; 11:13; Gal 2:2, 8-9; 1Tim 2:7). However, since Ioudaioi really refers to traditional Jews, then the plural "Gentiles" can include descendants of Jacob that live as Gentiles. Traditional Jews regarded any descendant of Jacob that lived as a Gentile as not being truly Jewish. In addition, Paul said that he had been entrusted with the good news for the "uncircumcised" (Gal 2:7), as well as the "Gentiles" (Gal 2:2, 8-9). Paul treats "uncircumcised" and "Gentiles" as synonyms (cf. Rom 2:14, 26), and many Jews in the Diaspora were uncircumcised (Tarn & Griffith 223-227).
The second part of the objection that Paul only wrote to "Gentile churches" misrepresents the constituency of congregations in the first century. The apostolic narratives and letters use a variety of terms to describe those who received and responded to the Good News of salvation and then formed the membership of congregations in the apostolic era (e.g., 2Cor 12:11; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). Jews were given the priority in hearing the Good News, both in principle and practice. In the congregational membership there were five categories of Jews and two categories of non-Jews. For a complete analysis of congregational membership see my article The Apostolic Community.
In my view the real reason for rejection of the earliest testimony of Paul's authorship is simple. The Latin fathers of Rome in the third and fourth centuries did not want Paul to be the author because they held to the fictitious paradigm of Paul being anti-Judaism and anti-Law. The St. Paul of Christianity would never write such a thoroughly Jewish letter to Messianic Jews to encourage them to maintain their Jewish faith. That same prejudice still exists among modern Christian scholars.
Some commentators have accepted Paul's authorship of Hebrews without discussing the issue at length, such as Albert Barnes and Adam Clarke. Other advocates for Paul's authorship (such as Thomas Coke, A.R. Faussett, John Gill and Henry M. Morris) cite cogent reasons for believing Hebrews was the work of Paul.
● The order and method of Hebrews are like his other letters, first treating of doctrines, and then proceeding to practical exhortations.
● The author mentions "our brother" Timothy (13:23), who was Paul's ministry companion. Timothy's name appears 24 times in the Besekh, elsewhere only in Luke's narrative of Paul's ministry and in Paul's letters. Paul refers to Timothy four times as "our brother" (2Cor 1:1; Col 1:1; 1Th 3:2; Phm 1:1).
● The letter was written from Italy (13:24), where Paul was held in custody (Acts 28:16).
● The ending of the letter (13:25) is typical of Paul's letter endings (cf. Rom 16:24; 2Cor 13:14; 2Th 3:18; Titus 3:15).
● The testimony of the Apostle Peter is greatly in favor of Paul's authorship. The text of 2Peter 3:15-16 clearly states that Paul had written a letter to the Messianic Jews in the same Diaspora regions to which Peter had written (1Pet 1:1; 2Pet 3:1). Gill further comments that in none of Paul's epistles is there a greater revelation of divine mysteries; and in it also are things hard to understand (cf. Heb 5:11; 2Pet 3:16).
Stern points out that some Messianic Jewish scholars have accepted Paul as the author of Hebrews (661). The German Messianic Jew Dr. Joiachim Heinrich Biesenthal (18041886) wrote commentaries on the Gospels, Acts and Romans. In 1878 he published a commentary on this letter called Das Trostschreiben des Apostels Paulus an die Hebrδer, in which he expressed the view that Paul wrote it "in the dialect of the Mishnah, the language of the schools," i.e., Hebrew.
The Messianic Jewish commentator Yechiel Lichtenstein agreed in his Commentary to the New Testament (Institutum Delitzschianum, Leipzig, Germany, 1904), saying that Paul's approach and subject matter in this letter differ from those in his other letters because they had a mixed audience and in this he was following his own advice in "becoming a Jew to the Jews" (1Cor 9:1922). (Stern 661)
Stern has no aversion to Paul's authorship but other Messianic Jewish scholars, as Fruchtenbaum, McKee, Sacks and the editors of the Tree of Life Version (TLV), are more definite in expressing skepticism of Paul as author and leaving the matter unsettled as to the actual author.
In my view the early declaration of Paul's authorship by Clement of Alexandria is perfectly reasonable. He was much closer to the production of the letter than scholars living hundreds and thousands of years later. Who are they to presume to know more? There is nothing in the letter that could not have come from Paul with Luke as his secretary and translator. There are many words unique to Hebrews, but these do not preclude Paul's authorship, but rather reflect Luke's deft hand at translation.
Paul was uniquely qualified to write the letter to Messianic Jews. Paul, whose Hebrew birth name was Sha'ul, was raised in a traditional Jewish family (Acts 21:39; 22:3). When he stood before the Jerusalem ruling council he declared, "I am a man, a traditional Jew, having been born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but having been educated in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, having been instructed according to the exactness of our fathers' torah, being a zealous one of God just as you all are today." (Acts 22:3 BR). In his letter to the Philippian congregation he listed his credentials as "circumcision on the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; by way of Torah a Pharisee" (Php 3:5 BR). Who else but a "Hebrew of Hebrews" could write such a Jewish letter to Hebrews?
Contrary to common perception that Paul was only an apostle for Gentiles, Yeshua's commission clearly intended him to proclaim the good news to Israelites (Acts 9:15; cf. Acts 13:16; 28:20; Rom 1:16; 1Cor 9:20). According to Luke's narrative in Acts Paul fulfilled this mission with unparalleled zeal and proclaimed Yeshua the Messiah to Jews in Damascus, Jerusalem, Cyprus, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, Lystra, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. For a summary biography of Paul's life see my article The Apostle from Tarsus.
While the existing MSS of Hebrews may lack Paul's name I believe a textual analysis of Hebrews provides support for Paul as author. See the following section.
Specific correlations can be made between the text of Hebrews and the letters recognized as authored by Paul, as well as Luke's narrative of Paul in Acts of the Apostles.
● 1:5 and 5:5 the quote from Psalm 2:7 occurs elsewhere only in Paul's sermon in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:33).
● 1:6 the quote from Deuteronomy 32:43 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 15:10.
● 2:6-8 the quote from Psalm 8:4-6 occurs elsewhere only in 1Corinthians 15:27.
● 10:30 the quote from Deuteronomy 32:35 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 12:19.
● 10:37-38 the quote from Habakkuk 2:3-4 is quoted elsewhere only in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11.
● 11:18 the quote from Genesis 21:12 appears elsewhere only in Romans 9:7.
Concepts, Idioms and Phrases
● The Son being the "heir of all things" in 1:2 conveys the same thought at Romans 8:17.
● The statement in 1:3 that the Son "holds all things together" echoes the same thought as in Colossians 1:17.
● The mention in 2:4 of the "distributions of the Holy Spirit according to His will" repeats the statement of 1Corinthians 11:11 that the Spirit distributes the gifts as He desires.
● The idiomatic expression "under his feet" in 2:8 occurs elsewhere only in 1Corinthians 15:25, 27 and Ephesians 1:22.
● The phrase di hon ta panta ("because of whom all things") in 2:10 occurs elsewhere only in Philippians 3:8.
● The phrase di hou ta panta ("through whom all things") in 2:10 occurs elsewhere only in 1Corinthians 8:6.
● The Greek word order of "blood and flesh" in 2:14 occurs elsewhere only in Ephesians 6:12.
● The mention of "dead works" (6:1; 9:14) resonates with Paul's rejection of "legalistic works" as of any value in salvation or righteousness (Rom 3:20, 27-28; 4:2; 9:32; 11:6; 1Cor 9:20; Gal 2:16, 18; see these verses in Stern's Complete Jewish Bible).
● The "first covenant" (8:13; 9:1, 15, 18) corresponds to the "old covenant," which is only mentioned in 2Corinthians 3:14.
● The statement in 11:12 that Abraham at age 100 was "as good as dead" is phrased exactly as it is in Romans 4:19.
● The "heavenly Jerusalem" in 12:22 corresponds to the "Jerusalem above" in Galatians 4:26. (The only other mention of a heavenly Jerusalem is in Revelation.)
● The instruction in 13:17 to obey congregational leaders is comparable to the instruction in 1Corinthians 16:16; 1Thessalonians 5:12-13 and 1Timothy 5:17.
● The entreaty "pray for us" (proseuchesthe peri hēmōn) in 13:18 occurs elsewhere only in 1Thessalonians 5:25 and 2Thessalonians 3:1.
● The exact phrase "our Lord Yeshua" (ton kurion hēmōn Iēsoun) in 13:20 occurs elsewhere only in Paul's speech in Acts 20:21 and in Ephesians 6:24.
● The expression "the God of peace" in 13:20 occurs elsewhere only in Paul's writings (Rom 15:33; 16:20; Php 4:9; 1Th 5:23).
● The exact phrase "our Lord Yeshua" (ton kurion hēmōn Iēsoun) in 13:20 occurs elsewhere only in Paul's speech in Acts 20:21 and in Ephesians 6:24.
● The expression logos paraklēsis ("word of exhortation") in 13:22 occurs elsewhere only in Acts 13:15 when the synagogue leader in Pisidian Antioch asked Paul if he had a "word of exhortation" and Paul got up to proclaim his message of the Messiah.
● The exact closing phrase "grace be with you all" (ē charis meta pantōn humōn) in 13:25 occurs elsewhere only in Titus 3:15.
● The exact phrase apo tēs Italias ("from Italy") in 13:24 occurs elsewhere only in Acts 18:2 to describe the point of origin of Aquila and Priscilla with whom Paul stayed and worked in Corinth.
● The noun hupostasis ("nature") in 1:3; 3:14; and 11:1, occurs elsewhere only in 2Corinthians 9:4 and 11:17.
● The adjective diaphoros ("excellent") in 1:4; 8:6; and 9:10, occurs elsewhere only in Romans 12:6.
● The noun peribolaion ("cloak") in 1:12 occurs elsewhere only in 1Corinthians 11:15.
● The noun parakoē ("disobedience") in 2:2 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 5:19 and 2Corinthians 10:6.
● The adjective endikos ("righteous, just") in 2:2 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 3:8.
● The verb stephanoō ("crowned") in 2:7 (also in 2:9) occurs elsewhere only in 2Timothy 2:5.
● The adjective anupotaktos ("not subject to rule") in 2:8 occurs elsewhere only in 1Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:6 and Titus 1:10.
● The verb metechō ("to partake of, share in") in 2:14 (also 7:13) occurs elsewhere only in 1Corinthians 9:10, 12; 10:17, 21, 30.
● The noun douleia ("bondage") in 2:15 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 8:15, 21; Galatians 4:24; and 5:1.
● The noun homologia ("agreement, confession") in 3:1 (also 4:14; 10:23) occurs elsewhere only in 2Corinthians 9:13 and 1Timothy 6:12-13.
● The noun kauchēma ("ground of boasting") in 3:6 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 4:2; 1Corinthians 9:15-16; 2Corinthians 1:14; 5:12; 9:3; Galatians 6:4; and Philippians 1:26; 2:16.
● The verb sklērunō ("to harden") in 3:8 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 9:8 and Acts 19:9 where it describes the reaction of synagogue leaders to Paul's ministry.
● The noun dokimē ("trial") in 3:9 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 5:4; 2Corinthians 2:9; 8:2; 9:13; 13:3; and Philippians 2:22.
● The verb sugkerannumi ("mix with, unite") in 4:2 occurs elsewhere only in 1Corinthians 12:24.
● The adverb kathaper ("even as, just as") in 4:2 occurs twelve times in Paul's letters (Rom 4:6; 12:4; 1Cor 10:10; 12:12; 2Cor 1:14; 3:13, 18; 8:11; and 1Th 2:11; 3:6, 12; 4:5).
● The verb katapauō ("to cause to cease") in 4:4, 4:8 and 4:10 occurs elsewhere only in Acts 14:18 where Paul was trying to restrain the crowd from deifying him.
● The noun apeitheia ("disobedience) in 4:6, 11, occurs elsewhere only in Romans 11:30, 32; Ephesians 2:2; 5:6 and Colossians 3:6.
● The noun teleiōtēs ("perfection, maturity") in 6:1 occurs elsewhere only in Colossians 3:14.
● The noun plērophoria ("full assurance") in 6:11 and 10:22 occurs elsewhere only in Colossians 2:2 and 1Thessalonians 1:5.
● The adverb ephapax ("once") in 7:27; 9:12 and 10:10 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 6:10 and 1Corinthians 15:6.
● The noun mesitēs ("mediator) in 8:6; 9:15 and 12:24 occurs elsewhere only in Galatians 3:19-10.
● The use of the noun suneidēsis ("conscience") in 9:9, 14, and 10:2, occurs elsewhere only on the lips of Paul (Acts 23:1; 24:16), or in his letters (Rom 2:15; 9:1; 13:5; 1Cor 8:7, 10, 12; 10:25, 27, 28, 29; 2Cor 1:12; 4:2; 5:11; 1Tim 1:5, 19; 3:9; 4:2; 2Tim 1:3; Titus 1:15).
● The verb periaireō ("take away") in 10:11 occurs elsewhere only in Acts 27:20, 40 and 28:13, plus 2Corinthians 3:16.
● The noun paroxusmos ("provocation") in 10:24 occurs elsewhere only in Luke's narrative of Paul's dispute with Barnabas (Acts 15:39).
● The noun episunagōgē ("an assembly") in 10:25 occurs elsewhere only in 2Thessalonians 2:1.
● The adjective hupenantios ("opposite") in 10:27 occurs elsewhere only in Colossians 2:14.
● The noun oiktirmos ("compassion") in 10:28 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 12:1, 2Corinthians 1:3; Philippians 2:1 and Colossians 3:12.
● The noun oneidismos ("reproach") in 10:33; 11:26 and 13:13, occurs elsewhere only in Romans 15:3 and 1Timothy 3:7.
● The verb hupostellō ("draw back") in 10:38 occurs elsewhere only in Paul's speech to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:20, 27) and in Galatians 2:12.
● The noun ekbasis ("outcome") in 11:15 and 13:7 occurs elsewhere only in 1Corinthians 10:13.
· The particle toigaroun ("consequently, therefore") in 12:1 occurs elsewhere only in 1Thessalonians 4:8.
· The noun agōn ("contest, race") in 12:1 occurs elsewhere only in Philippians 1:30; Colossians 2:1; 1Thessalonians 2:2; 1Timothy 6:12; and 2Timothy 4:7.
· The verb aphoraō ("look away from") in 12:2 occurs elsewhere only in Philippians 2:23.
· The noun paideutēs ("a teacher") in 12:9 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 2:20.
· The verb ektrepō ("to turn away") in 12:13 occurs elsewhere only in 1Timothy 1:16; 5:15; 6:20; and 2Timothy 4:4.
· The adjective bebēlos ("profane") in 12:16 occurs elsewhere only in 1Timothy 1:9; 4:7; 6:20; and 2Timothy 2:16.
● The noun philoxenia ("fellowship") in 13:2 occurs elsewhere only in Romans 12:13.
● The adjective aphilarguros ("without love of money") in 13:5 occurs elsewhere only in 1Timothy 3:3.
● The verb tharreō ("to be of good courage") in 13:6 occurs elsewhere only in 2Corinthians (5:6, 8; 7:16; 10:1, 2).
● The mention of Timothy in 13:23 occurs elsewhere only in Luke's narrative of Paul's ministry (Acts 16:1; 17:14-15; 18:5; 19:22; 20:4) and Paul's letters (Rom 16:21; 1Cor 4:17; 16:10; 2Cor 1:1, 19; Php 1:1; 2:19; Col 1:1; 1Th 1:1; 3:2, 6; 2Th 1:1; 1Tim 1:2, 18; 6:20; 2Tim 1:2; and Phm 1:1).
According to NIBD the purpose of the letter was to show that "Christianity is superior to Judaism" (469). We must ask "which Christianity?" The antisemitic Christianity of the church fathers and the Reformers like Martin Luther? The Christianity of the church councils that went to extraordinary lengths to expunge the Jewish roots of the faith? Guthrie labels the section of 1:1−10:18 as "The Superiority of the Christian Faith" (61). If he meant "Christian" as it is used in Acts 11:26 ("Messianic"), then the statement would be accurate. But, since Guthrie, like other Christian scholars define "Christian" according to its use in modern times, then the statement is not accurate. Hebrews is not about "Christians" vs. Jews.
The purpose of the letter may be determined from its dominant theme, set forth from the first chapter, that of declaring the superiority of Yeshua, the Son of God. Paul had spent thirty years proclaiming the good news of Yeshua as the Messiah and Savior of Israel from Damascus to Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch to the provinces of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia, and finally to Rome. In every city he began in the Jewish synagogue and his heart was always to convince his own people, the chosen people of their true Messiah (Rom 9:2-5). Whereas previously he always communicated the message orally he now determined to set down in writing the fullness of the revelation he had received about Yeshua (cf. Rom 16:25; Gal 1:2; 2:2; Eph 3:3).
The letter does identify a serious problem that provided an additional reason for writing. Paul addresses his concern about spiritual decline in some areas. Even though his readers had been disciples for quite some time (Heb 2:3), some were on the verge of backsliding into unbelief (3:7-12). Some had become spiritually weak when they should have become teachers (5:12). Some of the recipients had even been forsaking assembly with the disciples on Shabbat and neglecting charitable works (10:24-25). Some were rebelling against congregation leaders (13:17). The letter warns of the certainty of divine judgment for persistent sinning (10:26, 35).
The persecution experienced in former days had apparently abated (10:32-34). Luke had recorded numerous incidents of open hostility by unbelieving Jewish leaders against the messengers and followers of the Messiah: in Damascus (Acts 9:23), in Jerusalem (Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-18, 40; 6:9-12 7:54-59; 8:1-3; 9:29; 12:2-3; 21:27; 22:22; 23:1-22), in Paphos (Acts 13:6-8), in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:45), in Iconium (Acts 14:2,5), in Lystra (Acts 14:19), in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5), in Berea (Acts 17:13), in Corinth (Acts 18:5-6), in Macedonia (Acts 20:3, 19), and in Caesarea (Acts 24:9; 25:2, 7). Peter in his first letter also mentions persecution of his Messianic readers in the Diaspora (1Pet 3:13-17; 4:1, 12-16).
Paul appeals to disciples that after enduring the former trials to remain faithful to Yeshua (Heb 10:35-36).
Dating the letter is a challenging subject. Many commentators of the past assigned a date from 85−110, owing to the denial of authorship by Paul and the lack of any mention of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in the letter. Scholars that date the letter prior to A.D. 70 make deductions based on contemporary references in Chapter Thirteen, particularly verses 18-19 and 23-24.
13:18 "Pray for us, for we are convinced that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. 19 And I exhort you to do this abundantly, so that I may be restored to you more quickly. 23 You know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he should come more quickly, I will see you. 24 Greet all those leading you and all the holy ones. Those from Italy greet you." (BR)
Commentators agree that the request for prayer that the author may be "restored" implies being held in custody. For Paul there are three significant periods of incarceration: Caesarea under Felix and Festus (57-60), Rome under Nero (60-62), and Rome again under Nero prior to his martyrdom (67/68). Some commentators date the letter during Paul's second imprisonment in Rome (Leon Morris, Robinson, Tenney). However, this letter does not have the ring of finality of his life as he wrote in his second letter to Timothy (2Tim 4:6-7). Paul fully expects to be released.
Other commentators ignore the matter of Roman incarceration and date the letter in the mid to latter 60's when Caesar Nero began persecuting believers (Bruce, Fruchtenbaum). Accepting the matter of Roman imprisonment Gill and Henry Morris favor the period of Paul's house arrest in Rome for two years in the early 60's (Acts 28:30). Gill notes that Lightfoot dates the letter in the year 62, and in the eighth of Nero.
Although the author does not explicitly state his location, the phrase "those from Italy greet you" has generally been understood to mean that Paul was in Rome. Paul gave the same perspective when he wrote to the Corinthian congregation from Ephesus and said, "the congregations of Asia greet you" (1Cor 16:19). Indeed, Paul customarily extended greetings in his letters from those with him in the city from which he wrote (Rom 16:23; 2Cor 13:13; Php 4:21-22; Col 4:10, 12; Titus 3:15; Phm 1:23).
Paul's letters are genuine Jewish correspondence to Jewish people. As David Bivin says, "The New Testament was written by Jews for Jewish readers" (44), and Paul's letters are no exception. Hebrews is not a private letter, but more like a theological dissertation with practical application. The letter argues in a rhetorical fashion, and is overall positive in tone. The purpose of the letter seems to be to clarify his teaching that some thought difficult to understand (cf. 2Cor 11:6; Heb 5:11; 2Pet 3:16), to address the opposition of unbelieving Jews and to urge faithfulness to God in Yeshua.
The letter to the Messianic Jews illustrates the Jewish nature of apostolic writings. Interpretation of the letter in its Jewish setting, can help in understanding the huge historical mistake committed by early Christianity of cutting itself off from its own roots. Hebrews is not a Christian work representing a different faith but a Jewish text embodying an authentic Jewish interpretation of the Tanakh and God's covenant with his people Israel.
This letter is really an apologia, a well-reasoned defense that offers a Messianic theology grounded in Scripture. Paul does not employ the kind of logic argumentation (systematic theology) developed by theologians of later Christianity, but endeavors to explain the biblical evidence that Yeshua is the Son of God (1:2), the Son of Man (2:6), the Great High Priest (3:1), the Messiah of Israel (3:6), the Source of Eternal Salvation (5:9), the Perfect Sin Offering (7:27; 10:10), and the Mediator of the New Covenant (8:6; 12:24). All of these titles mattered to his audience and each had a distinctive meaning in Jewish culture.
For much of the letter Paul engages in a thoroughly rabbinic midrash. He sifts biblical evidence, asks rhetorical questions to stimulate serious reflection, offers strong refutations and declares the truth. He writes to people who know the Scriptures, and believed in the verbal inspiration of those Scriptures. Thus, his reasoning appeals to the biblical knowledge base of his audience without relying on the cleverness of Hellenistic philosophy. Paul's rhetorical literary style sometimes resorts to inference, "for if" (ei gar, 2:2; 4:8; 8:7; 9:13; 12:25), and includes kal vchomer (a fortiori) arguments, "how much more," (9:13-14; 10:29), "how much less" (12:25).
Hebrews contains thirteen chapters, 303 verses and 4,953 words, making it the third longest of Paul's letters and the ninth longest book in the Besekh. Unlike Paul's other letters Hebrews lacks the common components of letters, that of an introduction, body and conclusion. The letter begins abruptly without greetings and salutations, but the letter does conclude with greetings and personal information.
As Tenney points out the organizing principle of the letter's structure is the superiority of the Son and His ministry (360).
Part I: The Superiority of the Son (1:14:13).
● The Superiority of the Son over the Prophets (1:1-3).
● The Superiority of the Son over the Angels (1:42:18).
● The Superiority of the Son over Moses (3:14:13).
Part II: The Superiority of the Son's Ministry (4:1410:18)
● The Superiority of the Son over the Aaronic Priesthood (4:147:28).
● The Superiority of the New Covenant (8:1-13).
● The Superiority of the Son's Sanctuary and Sacrifice (9:110:18).
Part III: The Superiority of the Walk of Faithfulness (10:1913:25).
● Call to Perseverance (10:19-39).
● Heroes of Faithfulness (11:1-40).
● Call to Endurance and Acceptance of Discipline (12:1-29).
● Call to Love and Service (13:117).
● Conclusion (13:18-25)
The letter contains 126 hapax legomena, a Latin expression meaning words that occur only once in a given literary work, i.e., words not found elsewhere in the Besekh (NTHL). Many of the single-use words are found in other Jewish literature, such as the LXX, Josephus, Philo and the Apocrypha, but the vocabulary and syntax also indicates competence with contemporary Greek.
The fact that some words are found elsewhere only in classical Greek literature is not significant. Neither Paul nor Luke were students of Greek philosophers. Rather, there was a finite Greek vocabulary and if there had been a Greek dictionary at the time these words would have been found in it. The presence of the unique words is evidence of Luke's skill with the Greek language in translating Paul's Hebrew.
As in other books of the apostolic writings all the quotations of Scripture in Hebrews are from the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Greek was spread throughout the world by the conquest of Alexander the Great and his successors in the 4th-3rd centuries B.C. After the Greek conquest the language was dubbed "Koine" ("common") because of being freely used and understood throughout the world. During the days of the Roman empire Latin was the official language of the Roman government, but Greek remained the language of commerce and was spoken by Jews throughout the world (cf. John 19:20; Acts 9:36; 21:37; Rev 9:11).
During the intertestamental period learned Jews translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. The Talmud records that the Sages permitted official translations of Scripture for use in the synagogue to be made in any language, but Greek was preferred (Megillah 1:10, 8b). The translation into Greek was justified on the ground that it fulfilled the prophecy of Genesis 9:27, "May God enlarge Japheth [Heb. Yepheth], and let him dwell in the tents of Shem." The people of Greece (Heb. Yavan) descended from Japheth (Gen 10:2).
According to the Letter of Aristeas (ca. 200 BC) and Philo (On the Life of Moses II, 25-44) the project was initiated by King Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 BC). The Letter of Aristeas says that the King requested the Jewish High Priest Eleazar to provide six representatives from each of the tribes. The Talmud records that 72 elders did come together during the Kings reign to translate the Torah (Megillah 9a), but Josephus says the number was 70 (Antiquities of the Jews, XII, 2:7, 11) and this became the shorthand name for the Greek version.
The Torah was completed about 283 or 282 BC and the Greek canon was finalized and in general use by the middle of the 2nd century BC at the latest. For the complete story of the LXX development and influence see Barry Setterfield, The Alexandrian Septuagint History. By the first century the Greek Bible was widely used in the synagogues of the Diaspora and was well known in Israel, since there were synagogues of Diaspora Jews in Jerusalem (Megilah 26a-b; Acts 6:9).
There was also a considerable body of Jewish literature written before and during the first century in Greek, including the Apocrypha, Apocalyptic works, Pseudepigrapha, the works of Philo and the works of Josephus. Even tefillin and mezuzahs were allowed to be written in Greek (Megillah 9a). The Talmud has a declaration that contradicts the assumption of Christian scholars that Jews in Israel spoke Aramaic, "Why use the Syrian language in the land of Israel? Either use the holy tongue [Hebrew] or Greek!" (Sotah 49b).
The syntax of the LXX is not the classical style of Athens, but an adapted Greek designed to convey the meaning of the Hebrew language within Hebraic grammatical style, i.e., Jewish Greek. It is clear that the Greek of Hebrews is the Greek of the LXX and Greek words in Hebrews mean what they mean in the LXX. Put another way, the LXX is foundational to correctly translating and interpreting the apostolic writings, including Hebrews. As David Hill of The University of Sheffield affirms, "Not only word-meanings in the New Testament, but also the structure and syntax of New Testament language bear the impress of a special Hebraic influence channeled, for the most part, through the Septuagint" (14).
There are two features of the Jewish Greek of Hebrews that should be noted: conjunctions and word order.
Joining individual words in a list within a sentence or one clause to another with the conjunction "and" is a frequent characteristic feature of the Hebrew Scriptures, whereas in Greek literature an independent clause will be subordinated to the main clause of the sentence and the use of conjunctions minimized. Hebrew adds the letter vav (ו) to words for conjunctive effect without using a separate word. In addition, most verses in Hebrews as in the Tanakh begin with a conjunction. The book of Hebrews, as the rest of the Greek New Testament, is simply littered with conjunctions, a total of 603.
The word order of the Greek text of books in the Besekh is often imitates Hebrew word order. In Greek it is not nearly so important where you put the verb or the subject or the object in a sentence. The endings of the nouns in Greek are really case endings and they tell you whether the noun is an object, a subject or in a prepositional relationship. But, as in English, Hebrew has a generally fixed word order. In narrative, Hebrew often gives the conjunction first place in the verse followed by a verb. In the Tanakh verses generally have a verb in the first or second position and Hebrews follows this grammatical structure in almost 100 verses.
Hebrews is thoroughly grounded in the Scriptures with 144 verses (out of 303) containing references to the text of the Tanakh (GNT 897-919). See a compilation here. Among the numerous references there are over thirty direct quotations from the Tanakh, second only to Romans:
● Chap. 1 1:5 (Ps 2:7); 1:6 (Deut 32:43); 1:7 (Ps 104:4); 1:8-9 (Ps 45:6-7); 1:10-12 (Ps 102:25-27); 1:13 (Ps 110:1).
● Chap. 2 2:6-8 (Ps 8:4-6); 2:12 (Ps 22:22); 2:13 (Isa 8:17-18).
● Chap. 3 3:7-11, 15 (Ps 95:7-11).
● Chap. 4 4:3, 5, 7 (Ps 95:7-11); 4:4 (Gen 2:2).
● Chap. 5 5:5 (Ps 2:7); 5:6, 10 (Ps 110:4).
● Chap. 6 6:14 (Gen 22:17).
● Chap. 7 7:17, 21 (Ps 110:4).
● Chap. 8 8:5 (Ex 25:40); 8:8-12 (Jer 31:31-34).
● Chap. 9 9:19-20 (Ex 24:8).
● Chap. 10 10:5-9 (Ps 40:6-8); 10:16-17 (Jer 31:31-34); 10:30 (Deut 32:35-36); 10:37 (Hab 2:3-4).
● Chap. 11 11:5 (Gen 5:24); 11:18 (Gen 21:12).
● Chap. 12 12:5-6 (Prov 3:11-12); 12:12 (Isa 35:3); 12:20 (Ex 19:13); 12:21 (Deut 9:19); 12:26 (Hag 2:6); 12:29 (Deut 4:24).
● Chap. 13 13:5 (Deut 31:6, 8); 13:6 (Ps 27:1; 118:6).
The letter makes many references to the history of the Hebrew people, especially important personalities, including Moses (11 times), Abraham (10 times), and Melchizedek, (8 times). Each of these famous persons has a spiritual lesson associated with his or her name. The name of Yeshua occurs 14 times.
● In 1:1 the letter begins with the mention of the Hebrew prophets.
● In 2:2 the phrase "word spoken through the angels" alludes to the belief that the angels were instrumental in giving the Torah (Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19).
● In 2:16 Paul identifies Yeshua as the "Seed of Abraham" just as he does in Galatians 3:16 and goes on to say that Yeshua had to be made like his brethren so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest and make a permanent atonement for the sins of the people.
● In 3:3 Paul compares Yeshua to Moses as faithful in their calling.
● In 3:7-11 the quotation from Psalm 95 alludes to the rebelliousness of the wilderness generation.
● In 3:16-17 Paul alludes to the exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, saying that God was angry with that generation for 40 years.
● In 3:18-19 he notes that Israel did not enter the Land because of their unbelief.
● In 4:4 Paul mentions the fact of God resting on the seventh day after creation.
● In 6:13 Abraham is mentioned in connection with God swearing to bless and multiply Abraham. As a result Abraham waited patiently and received the promise, which represents the unchangeable purpose of God to bring the high priest Messiah.
● In 7:1-10 Paul mentions the meeting of Abraham with Melchizedek who is a type of the Son of God.
● In 7:14 Paul mentions Yeshua's descent from the tribe of Judah.
● In 8:5 Paul mentions the fact that Moses was shown a pattern for constructing the tabernacle and all its furnishings.
● In 8:6 he alludes to the New Covenant by the term "better covenant" that had been promised by Jeremiah.
● In 8:7 he refers to the Old Covenant as the "First."
● In 10:32 Paul refers to the former days when disciples were persecuted, probably an allusion to the incidents recorded in Acts.
● In 11:4 Abel's actions are contrasted with Cain.
● In 11:5 Enoch's faithfulness resulted in his translation to heaven without death.
● In 11:7 Noah prepared an ark for the salvation of his household.
● In 11:8-10, 17-18 Abraham obeyed God by leaving his homeland for Canaan.
● In 11:11 Sarah received the ability to conceive.
● In 11:20 Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau.
● In 11:21 Jacob as he lay dying blessed the sons of Joseph.
● In 11:22 Joseph as he lay dying spoke of the exodus of Israel from Egypt.
● In 11:23-29 Moses was hidden by hidden by his godly mother and then when grown chose to identify with his people.
● In 11:30 the walls of Jericho fell because of the faithfulness of Joshua.
● In 11:31 Rahab was spared to join the covenant people because she hid the Israelites spies.
● In 11:32 Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David; Samuel and all the prophets are listed as examples of faithfulness in spite of hardships and persecution.
● In 12:18-21 Paul refers to the experience of fire, darkness and wind at Mount Sinai when God gave the Torah to Israel.
● In 12:26 Paul mentions God shaking the earth when He spoke from Mt. Sinai.
The subject of angels features prominently in the first two chapters. Paul introduces the subject to assert the superiority of the Son of God (1:42:18). Paul uses a distinctive term (Grk. kreittōn) to assert the greater excellence of the Son of God. Yeshua's superiority over Moses and Aaron are obvious, but Paul does not explain his rationale for discussing angels. It's very likely that his message was intended to rebut unbiblical beliefs and practices in contemporary Jewish culture.
First, the Essenes had set forth a kingdom theology with two messianic personages, the one priestly (Aaronic) who would be superior to the other royal (Davidic), but both subordinate to the archangel Michael as the supreme head (Hughes 276). The DSS War Scroll even speaks of the "kingdom of Michael" (1QM, XVII). In 11Q13 the heavenly deliverer in the last days is Melchizedek, but he is identified with the archangel Michael as the head of the sons of heaven (Vermes).
Second, many Jews worshipped angels and viewed them as mediators and intercessors as indicated by Paul's treatment of the subject in Colossians 2:18. There are references to the practice in late Talmudic and Medieval Jewish literature (Seder Tephillot, fol. 222.2; 335.1; Zohar in Gen. fol. 97.2. and in Exod. fol. 24.3). The Jewish veneration of angels also received attention from the church fathers, first Clement of Alexandria (AD 150215) in his Stromata (Book VI, Chapter 5) and then the Synod of Laodicea (343-381 A.D.) issued Canon XXXV, which condemned the invocation of angels.
A modern Israeli scholar Meir Berlin (18801949), argued at length in a private paper that there is substance to the polemical claims of early Christians that Jews in the first century did pray to angels. According to Berlin several examples of post-Talmudic prayers to angels can be found in the Jewish service even today. See his article: Prayers of Jews to Angels and Other Intermediaries During the First Centuries of the Common Era. Private Paper, Bar-Ilan University. Online.
The name of an important person from the patriarchal era appears in the Besekh only in Hebrews, a total of 8 times (5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10-11, 15, 17). Melchizedek first appears in Genesis 14:18 as the priest of the Most High God and King of Salem, the forerunner of Jerusalem. In the Tanakh story Melchizedek brings bread and wine to Abraham after his defeat of five wicked kings and Abraham then paid him a tithe of the spoils of war. Melchizedek then blessed Abraham, saying,
"Blessed be Abram by El Elyon, Creator of heaven and earth, 20 and blessed be El Elyon, Who gave over your enemies into your hand." (Gen 14:19-20 TLV).
Then in Psalm 110 is found the important divine declaration:
"1 ADONAI said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for Your feet.'"... 4 'ADONAI has sworn, and will not His mind: "You are a Kohen forever according to the order of Melchizedek.'" (TLV)
Among Jews Melchizedek was considered a type of the Messiah. In the Dead Sea Scrolls the one sitting at the right hand is Melchizedek (verse 4) whom the Qumran community regarded as an exalted divine being (11Q13, DSSE). Melchizedek is said to atone for the sins of the righteous and to execute judgment upon the wicked, actions usually associated with God Himself (TDSS 591). Paul persuasively argues that Yeshua has a priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek (5:10; 6:20), a much higher order than that of Aaron.
Superiority of the Son
A major theme running through the letter is the superiority of the Son of God over prophets (1:1-2), angels (1:4), Moses (3:2, 5), Joshua (4:8), Aaron (5:5-6; 7:11) and Abel (12:24). Superiority of the Son is not just a matter of nature, but of what the Son accomplished. He did what the others could not do. Superiority over prophets is manifested by Yeshua's personal fulfillment of Messianic prophecy and revelation of the Father. Superiority over the angels is shown by the fact that angels were created by the Son and worship the Son.
Superiority over Moses is apparent from the fact that Moses was denied entry into the Land of Canaan for disobedience (Num 20:11-12; cf. Heb 3:7-11). Superiority over Joshua is manifested in providing a Sabbath rest that Joshua could not provide. Superiority over Aaron's descendants is manifested in Yeshua's permanent priesthood. Superiority over Abel has to do with providing a better sacrifice. The superiority of the Son has also made possible a better hope (7:19), a better covenant (7:22; 8:6), a better possession (10:24), a better country (11:16), a better resurrection (11:35), better things from God (11:40), and a better sacrifice (12:24).
The term archiereus, a chief or high priest, occurs 18 times in Hebrews, the only work outside the apostolic narratives in which it occurs. Of those references the term is used to designated Yeshua as the high priest nine times (2:17; 3:1; 4:14-15; 5:10; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1; 9:11). Paul refers to the mediatorial role of Yeshua in other letters (Gal 3:19-20; 1Tim 2:5), but only Hebrews presents a full discussion of how Yeshua serves as the believer's High Priest.
According to the Paul and the Torah there are five qualities one must have to serve as high priest: (1) he is appointed and called by God (3:4); (2) he is descended from Aaron of the tribe of Levi (5:4; 7:11); (3) he must be without physical defect (4:15; cf. Lev 21:16-21); (4) he is compassionate and considerate toward the ignorant and misguided (5:2); and (5) he is one with the people, for he represents the people before God (5:1, 7) (Kaiser 363). Yeshua exhibited all of these qualities, except for tribal heredity.
Yeshua did not descend from Levi but the tribe of Judah. So Paul has to explain how Yeshua can be high priest. Paul persuasively argues that Yeshua has a priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek (5:10; 6:20), a much higher order than that of Aaron. Paul's approach might seem to violate Torah requirements, but Scripture demonstrates that God will choose individuals to perform services that otherwise belonged to the tribe of Levi. Samuel, the last judge, belonged to the tribe of Ephraim according to descent (1Sam 1:1), but yet performed priestly services (1Sam 7:9-10, 17). Only men from the tribe of Levi could serve as judges (Deut 17:9), but Deborah judged Israel, even though she was a woman and from the tribe of Ephraim (Jdg 4:4).
Paul presents arguments to demonstrate how Yeshua is qualified to replace Aaron's descendants as the high priest.
Aaron had to offer a sin offering for himself, but Yeshua was sinless, thereby eliminating that requirement (4:15; 9:7, 28).
A change was necessitated in the Aaronic high priesthood because of the inherent weakness and uselessness of the entire system (7:11-18; 9:9). If perfection could have had been attained under the Aaronic priesthood there would have been no need for a replacement.
Yeshua's investiture as high priest guarantees the enactment of the New Covenant, a better covenant (8:6-13; 10:16-17).
The sacrifice of animals cannot cleanse the conscience or take away sins, whereas the blood of Yeshua is fully efficacious for cleansing (cf. 9:14; 10:4, 11).
An uninterrupted priesthood is far superior because it will never be upset by death, for Yeshua lives forever (5:10; 6:20; 7:17, 23-28)
Not only is Yeshua presented as the perfect high priest, but his death on the cross made him a sin offering (7:27; 10:12), a concept Paul also mentions in 1Corinthians 5:7 and 2Corinthians 5:21. Some Christians have erroneously concluded on the basis of 2Corinthians 5:21 that Yeshua became sinful on the cross. The source of this mistaken belief is the failure of standard Christian Bibles to accurately interpret the Hebrew theology of the verse in harmony with the rest of Scripture. The TLV translates the verse, "He made One who knew no sin to become a sin offering on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."
In the Tanakh the Hebrew word chattath (rendered by Grk. hamartia in the LXX) may mean either "sin" or "sin offering" (BDB 308). The Complete Jewish Bible, Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New Testament, New Living Translation, The Message and the Orthodox Jewish Bible concur with the use of "sin offering" in the TLV. Yeshua as the unblemished Lamb of God, the perfect Passover lamb, bore our sins as a sin offering. He did not become sinful (cf. John 1:29; 9:16; Rom 8:3; 1Cor 5:7; 2Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26; 9:26; 1Pet 1:19; 2:24; 1Jn 3:5; Rev 5:12).
In presenting Yeshua as a sin offering Paul contrasts Yeshua's sacrifice that occurred on Pesach (Passover) with the annual sacrifice on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). On Yom Kippur Aaron was to offer one goat to purify the holy place (Lev 16:9, 20) and a second goat was sent into the wilderness to carry the sins and iniquities of the nation committed in ignorance away from the presence of God (Lev 16:10, 16, 21-22, 30; Heb 9:7). The atonement on Yom Kippur was temporary and had to be repeated year after year. The main deficiency of the Yom Kippur sacrifice, (indeed all the prescribed sin offerings) is that it could not cleanse the human conscience nor give spiritual life to the people (Heb 9:9; 10:2-4).
Yeshua's sacrificial and substitutionary death provided seven superior benefits:
Yeshua's death atoned for all sins, including capital crimes (Heb 1:3; 2:17; cf. Acts 13:38-39).
Yeshua's atonement provides deliverance from the power of death (Heb 2:9-15).
Yeshua's death accomplished a sufficient atonement that does not need to be repeated (Heb 7:27; 9:28).
Yeshua's atonement is for all people in the world, Jews and Gentiles (Heb 7:27; 8:28; cf. Rom 6:10; 2Cor 5:14-15; 1Tim 2:6).
Yeshua's atonement provides eternal redemption (Heb 9:12).
Yeshua's complete and successful atonement provides assurance of Yeshua fulfilling his promise to return and bring final salvation to the earth (Heb 9:28).
Yeshua's atonement provides spiritual power to sanctify the believer and fulfill the promise of the New Covenant to write God's laws on the hearts of people (Heb 10:10, 14-16).
The good news is that Yeshua accomplished on Passover what could not be accomplished on Yom Kippur.
"For here we do not have an abiding city, but we are seeking the one coming." (Heb 13:14 BR)
The city of Jerusalem in Paul's day is not mentioned at all in Hebrews. Of course, outside the apostolic narratives, Jerusalem is not mentioned in most of the epistles. Some scholars have conjectured that the statement in 13:14 would preclude the presence of the city, and Hebrews must have been written toward the end of the first century. Regarding the city, Yeshua certainly prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44; 21:20; John 4:21). But, while the city of Jerusalem is not mentioned by name, neither is its destruction in A.D. 70 mentioned as a past fact.
The silence regarding the Roman conquest, after talking so much about the sacerdotal system, is deafening. The statement of Hebrews 13:14 might simply assert that the current city of Jerusalem would not last indefinitely, but it's more likely a personal lament. The word "abiding" (Grk. menō) means to abide, dwell, remain, sojourn or stay. In other words, Jerusalem was no longer a city in which Paul could stay. He could never return to Jerusalem because the rulers there wanted to kill him.
More important than the contemporary city is the city whose builder and architect is God (11:16), the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22), which is an eternal inheritance (9:15).
Hebrews also does not mention the Jerusalem Temple, even though there are a considerable number of references to the Aaronic priesthood (7:5, 11, 14, 23; 8:4; 9:6) and the sacrificial system (5:1, 3; 7:27; 8:3-4; 9:6-7, 9, 18-21, 25; 10:1, 3, 5-6, 11; 13:11). The Temple, built at the direction of King Herod the Great (Josephus, Ant. XV, 11:1), was one of the architectural wonders of the time and never ceased to impress visitors (cf. Mark 13:1). See an illustration here.
The Talmud expresses Jewish pride in the temple with these words, "He who has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor, has never seen a desirable city in his life. He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life" (Sukkah. 51b; Baba Bathra 4a). Tacitus, the Roman historian, described the building as a "temple of immense wealth" (History, V, 8).
Hebrews instead focuses on the Tabernacle in the wilderness (8:2, 5; 9:2-3, 6, 8, 11, 21; 13:10). Josephus, who completed Antiquities of the Jews in A.D. 93, regarded the tabernacle as a temple (Grk. naos, Ant. III, 6:1, 4). After all, the words for temple (Grk. naos, sanctuary; and hieron, a sacred place) do not necessarily mean a marble structure. A temple is a place where a deity is worshipped. The term hieron does not appear in the Greek Tanakh at all, but naos is used to translate Heb. hekal (SH-1964), first in 1Samuel 1:9 in which the term refers to the tabernacle at Shiloh.
Even though there is no mention of the Temple, the sacerdotal activity of the Jewish priests, especially the high priest, is referenced in Hebrews as a current activity (5:1-4; 7:5; 8:3-5; 9:6-7; 10:1-3, 11; 13:11). The real focus of the author is not on the structural complex with its various courts and apartments, but on the Holy Place where sacrifices occurred and on the efficacy of those sacrifices. The continual offering of ineffectual blood sacrifices is contrasted with the perfect atoning sacrifice of the great High Priest, Yeshua. The specific avoidance of mentioning the Temple could be personal. Paul had no fondness for the chief priests since they falsely accused him of desecrating the temple (Acts 21:28; 24:6) and collaborated in a plot to assassinate him (cf. Acts 22:1, 22; 23:12-15, 30; 25:2-3).
Moreover, avoidance of mentioning the Temple would appeal to many Jews outside of Judea who regarded the Temple institution under control of the Sadducees as corrupt (which it was). Under Roman rule the office of high priest was no longer strictly hereditary. The office was manipulated by the Romans for political purposes and high priests were approved and deposed by the Roman governor. Josephus said that Herod, king of Chalcis and younger brother of King Herod Agrippa I, removed Joseph Caiaphas from the high priesthood, and made Ananias, the son of Nebedζus, his successor in the year 47 (Ant. XX, 5:2). Josephus called Ananias a "great hoarder of money" (Ant. XX, 9:2) and was conspicuous for his cruelty and injustice.
Being a member of the temple ruling council before his life-changing encounter with Yeshua (Acts 26:10) Paul was well aware of the corruption of the ruling elite. Yeshua had rebuked the chief priests for turning the temple into a den robbers and a house of merchandise (Matt 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:47; John 2:16). Yeshua's indictment no doubt alludes to the exorbitant profits the chief priests gained from collecting the annual half-shekel temple tax, changing currency, and selling merchandise and sacrificial animals. The temple tax was still being collected at the time of the writing of Hebrews.
It's important to evaluate the temple commerce against a background where a working man's wage was a denarius per day (Matt 20:9-10). The half-shekel was equivalent to two denarii (Matt 17:24). The requirement for the temple tribute actually violated the Torah. According to the instructions at Mt. Sinai the half-shekel was only collected when there was a census, and only three are mentioned in the Tanakh (Ex 30:13-16; Num 1:1; 2Sam 24:1). The annual tax during the first century far exceeded the Torah rule. Given Jewish population estimates for the first century there were likely well over 1 million Jewish males who owed the tax.
Money-changers facilitated the payment of the annual tax, which was applied to the upkeep of the priestly service in Jerusalem and various temple projects. This tax was so important that an entire Mishnah tractate is devoted to it (Shekalim). All Jews and proselytes, 20 years of age and older (except priests, women, and slaves), had to pay the tax. Typical of banking services a fee was charged for the service, but the moneychangers charged two separate fees, one for the half-shekel tribute and one for the change.
In addition, sacrificial animals could only be purchased with Hebrew currency (the shekel), since the Roman coins bore pagan symbols. Yet, money-changing fees were only the beginning of the legalized extortion. Animals could be purchased outside the temple; but any animal offered in sacrifice must be without blemish. The Sadducean inspectors could easily find reasons to reject these animals and then would direct the worshipper to the temple stalls and booths. No great harm would have been done if the prices had been the same inside and outside the temple, but a pair of doves could cost as much as 18 times more inside the temple than outside the temple (Barclay 2:245).
Perhaps the most significant reason for omitting mention of the temple is that the Sh'khinah glory of God had departed the Holy of Holies, signaled by the tearing of the Temple veil at the death of Yeshua (Matt 27:51). God no longer abode in the Temple as He had for centuries in the tabernacle. According to the Talmud the glory of God left the Temple forty years prior to its destruction. Four signs occurred to show evidence of this: (1) the lot for selecting priests did not come up in the right hand; (2) the westernmost light of the menorah refused to burn continually; (3) the doors of the Temple would open of themselves; and (4) the red wool no longer turned white supernaturally (Yoma 39b).
Paul mentions the sacred tent (Grk. skēnē) ten times in order to provide historical context to his contrast of the heavenly model (8:2; 9:11) and the tabernacle the Israelites constructed according to God's instructions (8:5; 9:2-3, 6, 8, 21; 13:10). Paul then employs typology to interpret the significance of the historic tabernacle as a spiritual lesson, just as he treats the historical figures of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4:24-26. The tabernacle with its sacrificial ceremonies served as a portent of the better sacrifice to come (9:23).
In practical terms the tabernacle was a place for the community to gather and celebrate the blessings of God. The tabernacle was of simple design and constructed of materials contributed by the people. Herod's Temple was an extravagant tourist attraction designed to give legitimacy to an unlawful king and managed by a priestly crime family known for corruption.
Saints of the Tanakh
Hebrews is unique in its listing in Chapter 11 of great Bible heroes who lived as examples of trusting-faithfulness to God. Paul names 16 individuals who manifested this godly characteristic: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel. He also alludes to the notable prophets of Israel, both prophets who delivered anointed messages to kings (e.g., Nathan, Gad, Elijah and Elisha) and the literary prophets who produced the written Tanakh.
Some of the individuals in this list of names have endured criticism if not scorn from Christian commentators for various faults and wrongdoing. Abraham took a concubine wife. Jacob supposedly stole his brother's birthright. Rahab was a supposed prostitute. Samson loved ungodly women. Jephthah supposedly killed his daughter. David was a polygamist who committed adultery. Yet, Paul recognized in all these personalities true devotion to the God of Israel and a life of faithfulness. See my character studies for some of these names: The Story of Abraham; Our Father Jacob; Joseph: Savior in Egypt; Moses and Yeshua; Jephthah: Faithful Hero.
Warnings and Challenge
Paul was very concerned about the spiritual jeopardy of some of his readers. He knew that the devotion and faithfulness had been eroded in some quarters. He issued these warnings prevent his readers from suffering the judgment of God.
Warning against drifting away through neglect, 2:1-4. The solution is to give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard.
Warning against departing after becoming hardened through sin's deceitfulness, 3:12-15. The solution is to exhort one another daily and remain steadfast.
Warning against disobedience like Israel in the wilderness, 4:11-13. The solution is diligence and heeding the word of God.
Warning against dullness of hearing, 5:11−6:6. The solution is pressing on to spiritual maturity.
Warning against despising God's grace, 10:26-39. The solution is to hold on to our confidence in Messiah and continue to trust with endurance.
Warning against defying by refusing to listen to the one who speaks from heaven, 12:25-29. The solution is to serve God in holy fear.
Parallel with the warnings Paul exhorts his readers 14 times to spiritual action by the use of first person plural subjunctive verbs. In Greek grammar the subjunctive mood is the mood of mild contingency or probability; it looks toward what is conceivable or potential. The subjunctive mood is used to exhort disciples in what they "should do." The intent of this softened approach is to appeal to their spiritually enlightened reason rather than insist on submission to his apostolic authority.
In these exhortations the verbs are typically translated with "let us:" 4:1, "fear;" 4:11, "be diligent;" 4:14, "hold firmly," 4:16, "draw near;" 6:1, "press on;" 10:22, "draw near;" 10:23, "hold fast," 10:24, "consider;" 10:35, "not throw away;" 12:1, "lay aside;" 12:1, "run;" 12:28, "show gratitude;" 13:13, "go forth;" 13:15, "offer." By this approach Paul does not exempt himself from the instruction.
An important issue in the letter is the provisions of the First Covenant (8:7; 9:1, 18) and the New Covenant (7:22; 8:6, 8, 10, 13; 9:15; 10:16, 29; 12:24). The Greek word used for "covenant" is diathēkē, a set-agreement having complete terms determined by the initiating party, which also are fully affirmed by the one entering the agreement (HELPS). Thayer explains that the term is used to mean (1) the last disposal which one makes of earthly possessions after death, as in "last will and testament" (e.g., Gal 3:15; Heb 9:16-17); or (2) a compact initiated by God with ones He chose for a close relationship and which makes certain absolute promises to the human parties (Eph 2:12; Heb 7:22 and often). Both of these meanings apply to the New Covenant.
In the LXX diathēkē translates Heb. b'rit (SH-1285), pact, compact, or covenant (first in Gen 6:18) (DNTT 1:365). God made a covenant with several different men: Adam (Hos 6:7), Noah (Gen 6:18; 9:1-17; Jer 33:25), Abraham (Gen 17:2), Isaac (Gen 26:24), Jacob (Gen 27:27-29), Aaron (Num 19:19-20), and David (2Sam 7:11-15; Jer 33:20-22), and with the nation of Israel (Ex 19:5). Each of these covenants set forth specific expectations, promises, duration and a sign or perpetual reminder of the covenant. For a detailed discussion of all these covenants see my web article The Everlasting Covenants. See also my notes on Romans 9:4.
Paul speaks of the covenant God made with Israel as the "First" (Grk. prōtos, SG-4413, first, foremost), and is the same as the original covenant called "old" (Grk. palaios, SG-3820, old or ancient; 2Cor 3:15). Paul's focus on the first covenant is its prescribed system of religion. As Stern points out,
"What is actually on the verge of vanishing is the old priesthood, not the old covenant or, perhaps we may say, not Gods unchangeable nature which stands behind the old covenant. The priesthood is the subject of the whole section (indeed, the sacrificial system is the subject of the whole letter), and it is this which is about to disappear or, at the very least, take on a very much transformed role." (691)
The exact title "New Covenant" occurs three times in Hebrews (8:8; 9:15; 12:24) and shortened to the "New" one time (8:13). Paul uses two different adjectives: kainos (8:8; 9:15) and neos (13:24). The difference between kainos and neos is one of nuance, the former meaning "of recent origin" and the latter meaning "in existence for a relatively short time" (Danker). Kainos also has the meaning of something not previously present (BAG). The words kainē diathēkē appears in the LXX of Jeremiah 31:31 to translate the Heb. B'rit Chadashah. The use of the two adjectives perhaps intends two levels of meaning. The promise of the New Covenant was originally given to Jeremiah:
"Behold, days are coming" it is a declaration of ADONAI "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah32 not like the covenant I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them. it is a declaration of ADONAI. 33 But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days it is a declaration of ADONAI I will put My Torah within them. Yes, I will write it on their heart. I will be their God and they will be My people." (Jer 31:31-33 TLV)
Paul repeats the prophetic promise in 10:16. For Jeremiah the New Covenant was not "new" because it canceled the obligation to obey Torah commandments, but because it promised the power to keep those commandments (Jer 31:33; 32:40; Ezek 11:19-20; 36:26-27). For the apostles the New Covenant was "new" because while prophesied by Jeremiah it was not enacted until Yeshua's atoning sacrifice (Luke 22:20) and empowered by the Holy Spirit on Shavuot (Pentecost) (Acts 1:8; 15:9; 2Cor 3:6). The New Covenant is a better covenant (7:22; 8:6). The Greek adjective kreittōn means having a degree of advantage, used by Paul to denote status or rank; better, superior, more excellent. Lastly, Paul refers to the B'rit Chadashah as the "eternal covenant" (13:20).
Christianity has historically believed the New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant (BAG 395), relying on bad exegesis of Hebrews 8:13. In that verse Paul contrasts "new" with "old," not "new" with "obsolete" as translated by many versions (e.g., AMP, CEB, CSB, ESV, NABRE, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV). Other versions correctly present the contrast of "new" and "old" (ASV, CJB, DRA, GNB, HCSB, HNV, KJV, MSG, MW, NCV, NEB, NJB, OJB, TLV). Paul also uses present tense verbs ("growing old" and "aging") to describe the First Covenant as still in existence, but its disappearance is "near" (Grk. engus). This special term is used of the nearness of the Second Coming (Matt 24:33; Mark 13:29; Luke 21:31; Rom 13:11; Php 4:5; Rev 1:3; 22:5). In reality, the First Covenant cannot totally disappear until after the Messiah returns and fulfills all the promises made to Israel.
Christian interpreters generally overlook two important facts. First, all of the covenants mentioned in the Tanakh were given by God and contain irrevocable promises (Rom 11:29). Indeed God frequently refers to His covenants as "everlasting" (Heb. olam, Gen 9:16; 17:7, 13, 19; Lev 24:8; Num 18:19; 2Sam 23:5; Ps 105:10). The Hebrew word olam (SH-5769) can mean of long duration or indefinite futurity. Second, the New Covenant was made with Judah and Israel. No Gentiles and certainly no Christian Church are mentioned in the promise of the New Covenant. For Jeremiah the New Covenant was "new," not because it canceled the obligation to obey Torah commandments, but because it promised the power to keep those commandments (cf. Jer 31:33; 32:40; Ezek 11:19-20; 36:26-27).
As an observant Jew Paul would have been shocked that the church fathers would later reject the very foundation of their faith. The covenants represent God's continual faithfulness to His chosen people (Rom 9:4). Yeshua did not abrogate the promises made to the patriarchs and to Israel since he did not come to abolish the Torah (Matt 5:17). The New Covenant with all its promises was enacted by Yeshua's atoning sacrifice (Luke 22:20). Thus, all the promises God made to Israel are "YES" in Yeshua (2Cor 1:20). What is obsolete, as Paul makes clear in Chapters 9 and 10, is that the ground of atonement has changed. No longer do animal sacrifices provide atonement. Instead the burden of sin was laid on Yeshua, the perfect atoning sacrifice.
Paul makes many references to aspects of contemporary Jewish culture and religion.
In 3:6 Paul makes reference to "Christ" (Grk. Christos), which is a Jewish title for the Messiah (Heb. Mashiach). Christos has no religious meaning in Greek culture. The title occurs 12 times in this letter (also 3:14; 5:5; 6:1; 9:11, 14, 24, 28; 10:10; 11:26; 13:8, 21).
In 5:1 Paul mentions the selection criteria for the Jewish high priest and his principal duty.
In 7:8 he mentions the practice of tithing.
In 7:14 he notes that Yeshua descended from the tribe of Judah, whereas Torah specified that priests must come from the tribe of Levi.
In 7:27 he points out that the chief priests offer up sacrifices for their own sins before making a sin offering for the people.
In 7:28 he notes that the Torah appoints [present tense] priests who are weak.
In 8:3 he mentions that the high priest is appointed [present tense] to offer both gifts and sacrifices.
In 8:4-5 he says that the priests who offer gifts and sacrifices serve as a copy and shadow of heavenly things.
In 9:7 and 9:25 he mentions Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, during which the high priest enters the Holy of Holies only after presenting a sin offering for himself and a sin offering for the people for unintentional sins.
In 10:11 he notes that every priest [in Jerusalem] stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
In 12:22 he mentions Mt. Zion, the location of the Temple in Jerusalem.
In 13:2 he exhorts his readers not to neglect hospitality, an important virtue in Jewish culture.
In 13:4 he reminds his readers of the Torah standard of fidelity in marriage and avoiding sexual sins that God will judge.
In 13:11 he mentions that the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp.
Four times (3:1, 12; 10:19; 13:22) Paul uses the direct address of "brothers" to indicate both his ethnic bond and close relationship with his readers.
In 12:9 Paul alludes to the fact that like other Jewish boys he was disciplined by his father.
In 13:22 Paul uses humor to say that he had written a brief exhortation.
In 13:23 Timothy had been imprisoned, but had been released. Paul expects to accompany Timothy when he comes.
In 13:24 Paul shares greetings of those from Italy.
Canonicity and authorship are distinct principles, but in the patristic era canonicity and apostolic authorship were viewed as interdependent. Augustine and Jerome followed Alexandrian precedent in recognizing Hebrews as one of Paul's epistles, but mainly because assigning apostolic authorship safeguarded its canonical status (Bruce xlv). Origen did not doubt its canonical merit, although he had reservations about its authorship. Eusebius of Caesarea includes Hebrews among the acknowledged books, although he knows of the doubts about it in the west. The Peshitta New Testament included it from the first.
Hebrews does not appear in the list of New Testament writings compiled and acknowledged by Marcion (c. 85160 AD), nor in that of the Muratorian Canon (c. AD 190), which contains a list of most of the New Testament writings. The latter definitely assigns letters by Paul to only seven churches, and so inferentially excludes Hebrews. The Latin Church did not recognize the letter as Paul's until a considerable time after the beginning of the third century. Thus, also, Novatian of Rome, Cyprian of Carthage, and Victorinus, also of the Latin Church. Ultimately the Alexandrian position on canonicity and authorship alike triumphed in the west.
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 the letter as Paul's. The letter was included in the Canon by the Synod of Hippo (393) and by the Third Synod of Carthage (397). The fifth Synod of Carthage (A.D. 419) formally reckoned Hebrews among Paul's fourteen Epistles. When the subject of the canon was reopened during the Reformation, uncertainty and disagreement over authorship did not affect its canonical recognition.
Ant.: Flavius Josephus (c. 37100 A.D.), Antiquities of the Jews (Latin Antiquitates Judaicae). completed in A.D. 93; trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Barclay: William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series. Revised Ed., 16 Vols. The Westminster Press, 1975-76.
Barnes: Albert Barnes (1798-1870), Notes on the Whole Bible (1834). Baker Book House, 1949. Online.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.
Benson: Joseph Benson (1748-1821), Commentary of the Old and New Testaments. T. Carlton & J. Porter, 1857. Online.
Bivin: David Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus. En-Gedi Resource Center, 2007.
Clarke: Adam Clarke (17621832), Commentary on the Holy Bible. 6 vols. Online.
Coke: Thomas Coke (1747-1814), Commentary on the Holy Bible. 6 vols. Online.
Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DSB: The Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing Co., 1995. [KJV with annotations by Dr. Henry M. Morris.]
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Eisenbaum: Pamela Eisenbaum, Annotations on "The Letter to the Hebrews," Jewish Annotated New Testament, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Faussett: A.R. Faussett, Hebrews. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, 1871) Online.
Fruchtenbaum: Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, "Hebrews," Ariel's Bible Commentary: The Messianic Jewish Epistles. Ariel Ministries, 2005.
Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.
GNT: The Greek New Testament, eds. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger, & Allen Wiegren. American Bible Society, 1966. [NA25]
Gruber: Daniel Gruber, ed. The Messianic Writings. Elijah Publishing, 2011. [Greek New Testament translated and annotated by Daniel Gruber.]
Guthrie: Donald Guthrie, Hebrews. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1983. [Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 15].
HELPS: The Discovery Bible New Testament: HELPS Word Studies. eds. Gleason L. Archer and Gary Hill. Moody Press, 1987. (Online at BibleHub.com)
Hill: David Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soteriological Terms. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000.
Hughes: Philip E. Hughes, "Hebrews, The Letter to the," The Oxford Companion to the Bible. ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. Oxford University Press, 1993.
Kaiser: Walter C. Kaiser, The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Zondervan 1978, 2008.
Lindsey: Robert L. Lindsey, Jesus Rabbi & Lord: The Hebrew Story of Jesus Behind Our Gospels. Cornerstone Publishing, 1990.
Morris: Leon Morris, Hebrews. Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12. Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp., 1989-1999.
Mounce: William D. Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. 2011. Online.
NIBD: Nelson's Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Herbert Lockyer, ed. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
NTHL: Mark Barnes, List of New Testament Hapax Legomena. Logos Bible Software Forum, 2013.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 Vol. Zondervan Pub. House, 1980.
Robinson: John A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament. SCM Press, 1976. Online.
Sacks: Stuart Sacks, Hebrews Through a Hebrew's Eyes. Lederer Books, 1995.
Setterfield: Barry Setterfield, Alexandrian Septuagint History, 2010.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Tarn & Griffith: Sir William Tarn & G.T. Griffith, Hellenistic Civilization. 3rd Edition. Edward Arnold Publishers, Ltd., 1952.
Tenney: Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey. Rev. ed. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1985.
Vermes: Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. 7th ed. Penguin Books, 2012. Online.
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