Basic Facts from Hebrews (Part 1)

Basic Facts from Hebrews (Part 1)

The letter to the “Hebrews” is the anonymous book of the new testament – no human writer’s name is referenced anywhere in it. Many bible scholars suppose that the apostle Paul was the inspired penman because of the style of writing and the content of the letter, and this is a reasonable assumption. Others, however, have offered arguments in favor of Christians such as Apollos, Barnabas, Luke, or even James as being the inspired writers of this treatise. One fairly common view is that Paul dictated Hebrews to Luke. Regardless of who the human writer was, the letter to the Hebrews has been recognized as inspired (and therefore, authentic scripture) since the first century. Brother Burton Coffman refers to both Robert Milligan and B.F. Westcott in pointing out that entire sentences from Hebrews were quoted verbatim in the writings of Clement of Rome, about 96 A.D.

The original “target audience” for this letter was clearly Jewish Christians, because the entire letter is a contrast between Judaism and Christianity. It was written before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D., because Hebrews 9:6-8 and 10:1 indicate that the temple was still standing and in use. It was during this time that Jewish Christians were experiencing intense persecution by their fellow Jews (cf. Acts 6:9-8:4), who considered them apostates and traitors to both the Jewish religion and their nation. The focus of the letter to the Hebrews is to remind Jewish Christians that what they had received by becoming Christians was nothing less than the fulfillment of everything the Law and the Prophets had foretold (cf. Matthew 5:17-18)!

The “format” of Hebrews is unusual, because it is presented in the form of a sermon that contrasts everything the Jewish Christians had “lost” (by becoming Christians) with everything they had gained in Christ. The key concept through the book is the idea of “better” – everything they “lost” by turning away from the Jewish religion had been replaced by a “better” version of the same thing as Christians. The Holy Spirit shows here that Christ is “better” than the prophets, angels, or Moses (Hebrews 1:1-4; 3:5-6), and that Christians have a “better” hope than the Law of Moses could offer (7:19), a “better” testament/covenant that is based on “better” promises than that of Moses (7:22 & 8:6), a “better” sacrifice (Jesus) than anything offered in Judaism (9:23), and a “better” High Priest (Jesus, 2:17, 3:1, & 4:14)! The whole point of this “sermon” is to encourage these Christians to faithfully endure persecution and ostracism – even from their own families – because they had received what Judaism had pointed to all along.

There are nearly one hundred old testament references in the book of Hebrews, and many of them are comparisons from the book of Leviticus, the “handbook” for Levitical priests. It is interesting to note that quotations of old testament passages are from the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the old testament, rather than from the original Hebrew.

 

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