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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
General Editor: J. J. S. PEROWNE, D.D.,
Bishop of Worcester.
The Epistle of Paul the Apostle
With Notes and Introduction
The Ven. F. W. FARRAR, D.D.
archdeacon of westminster.
Edited for the Syndics of the University Press.
At the University Press.
[ All Rights reserved. ]
By The General Editor
The General Editor of The Cambridge Bible for Schools thinks it right to say that he does not hold himself responsible either for the interpretation of particular passages which the Editors of the several Books have adopted, or for any opinion on points of doctrine that they may have expressed. In the New Testament more especially questions arise of the deepest theological import, on which the ablest and most conscientious interpreters have differed and always will differ. His aim has been in all such cases to leave each Contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment, only taking care that mere controversy should as far as possible be avoided. He has contented himself chiefly with a careful revision of the notes, with pointing out omissions, with suggesting occasionally a reconsideration of some question, or a fuller treatment of difficult passages, and the like.
Beyond this he has not attempted to interfere, feeling it better that each Commentary should have its own individual character, and being convinced that freshness and variety of treatment are more than a compensation for any lack of uniformity in the Series.
Chapter I . Character, Analysis, and Object of the Epistle to the Hebrews
Chapter II . Where was the Epistle written? and to whom?
Chapter III . The Date
Chapter IV . Style and Character of the Epistle
Chapter V . Theology of the Epistle
Chapter VI . The Author of the Epistle
Chapter VII . Canonicity
* * * The Text adopted in this Edition is that of Dr Scrivener’s Cambridge Paragraph Bible . A few variations from the ordinary Text, chiefly in the spelling of certain words, and in the use of italics, will be noticed. For the principles adopted by Dr Scrivener as regards the printing of the Text see his Introduction to the Paragraph Bible , published by the Cambridge University Press.
The old line,
“ Quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando? ”
Who? what? where? with what helps? why? how? when?
has sometimes been quoted as summing up the topics which are most necessary by way of “introduction” to the sacred books. The summary is not exhaustive nor exact, but we may be guided by it to some extent. We must, however, take the topics in a different order. Let us then begin with ‘ quid? ’ and ‘ cur? ’ What is the Epistle to the Hebrews? with what object was it written? for what readers was it designed? Of the ‘ ubi? ’ and ‘ quando? ’ we shall find that there is little to be said; but the answer to ‘ quomodo? ’ ‘how?’ will involve a brief notice of the style and theology of the Epistle, and we may then finally consider the question quis? who was the writer?
Character, Analysis, and Object of the Epistle to the Hebrews
It has been sometimes said that the Epistle to the Hebrews is rather a treatise than an Epistle. The author is silent as to his own name; he begins with no greeting; he sends no special messages or salutations to individuals. His aim is to furnish an elaborate argument in favour of one definite thesis; and he describes what he has written as “a word of exhortation” (13:22). Nevertheless it is clear that we must regard his work as an Epistle. It was evidently intended for a definite circle of readers to whom the author was personally known. The messages and the appeals, though not addressed to single persons, are addressed to the members of a single community, and the tone of many hortatory passages, as well as the definiteness of the remarks in the last chapter, shew that we are not dealing with a cyclical document, but with one of the missives despatched by some honoured teacher to some special Church. It is probable that many such letters have perished. It was the custom of the scattered Jewish synagogues to keep up a friendly intercourse with each other by an occasional interchange of letters sent as opportunity might serve. This custom was naturally continued among the Christian Churches, of which so many had gathered round a nucleus of Gentile proselytes or Jewish converts. If the letter was of a weighty character, it was preserved among the archives of the Church to which it had been addressed. The fact that this and the other Christian Epistles which are included in the Canon have defied the ravages of time and the accidents of change, is due to their own surpassing importance, and to the overruling Providence of God.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is one of many letters which must have been addressed to the various Christian communities in the first century. Passing over for the present the question of the particular Church to whose members it was addressed, we see at once that the superscription “to the Hebrews” whether it came from the hand of the writer or not correctly describes the class of Christians by whom the whole argument was specially needed. The word ‘Hebrews,’ like the word ‘Greeks,’ was used in different senses. In its wider sense it included all who were of the seed of Abraham (2 Corinthians 11:22 ), the whole Jewish race alike in Palestine and throughout the vast area of the Dispersion (Philippians 3:5 ). But in its narrower sense it meant those Jews only who still used the vernacular Aramaic, which went by the name of ‘Hebrew,’ though the genuine Hebrew in which the Old Testament was written had for some time been a dead language. In a still narrower sense the designation ‘Hebrews’ was confined to the inhabitants of Judæa. The letter itself sufficiently shews that the Hebrews, to whom it is addressed, were Jewish converts to Christianity. Although the writer was of the school of St Paul, and adopts some of his phrases, and accords with him in his general tone of thought, yet throughout this Epistle he ignores the very existence of the Gentiles to an extent which would have been hardly possible in any work of “the Apostle of the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6 ; Galatians 2:7 , Galatians 2:9 ; 2 Timothy 1:11 ), and least of all when he was handling one of his own great topics the contrast between Judaism and Christianity. The word Gentiles ( ἔθνη ) does not once occur nor are the Gentiles in any way alluded to. The writer constantly uses the expression “the people” (2:17; 4:9; 5:3; 7:5, 11, 27; 8:10; 9:7, 19; 10:30; 11:25; 13:12), but in every instance he means “the chosen people,” nor does he give the slightest indication that he is thinking of any nation but the Jews. We do not for a moment imagine that he doubted the call of the Gentiles. The whole tendency of his arguments, the Pauline character of many of his thoughts and expressions, even the fundamental theme of his Epistle, that Judaism as such Judaism in all its distinctive worship and legislation was abrogated, are sufficient to shew that he would have held with St Paul that ‘all are not Israel who are of Israel,’ and that ‘they who are of the faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham.’ But while he undoubtedly held these truths, for otherwise he could not have been a Christian at all, and still less a Pauline Christian, his mind is not so full of them as was the mind of St Paul. It is inconceivable that St Paul, who regarded it as his own special Gospel to proclaim to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:4-8 ), should have written a long Epistle in which the Gentiles do not once seem to cross the horizon of his thoughts; and this would least of all have been possible in a letter addressed “to the Hebrews.” The Jews regarded St Paul with a fury of hatred and suspicion which we find faintly reflected in his Epistles and in the Acts (Acts 21:21 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:15 ; 2 Corinthians 11:24 ; Philippians 3:2 ). Even the Jewish Christians looked on the most characteristic part of his teaching with a jealousy and alarm which found frequent expression both in words and deeds. It would have been something like unfaithfulness in St Paul, it would have been an unworthy suppression of his intensest convictions, to write to any exclusively ‘Hebrew’ community without so much as distantly alluding to that phase of the Gospel which it had been his special mission to set forth. The case with the writer of this Epistle is very different. He was not only a Jewish Christian, but a Jewish Christian of the Alexandrian school. We shall again and again have occasion to see that he had been deeply influenced by the thoughts of Philo. Now Philo, liberal as were his philosophical views, was a thoroughly faithful Jew. He never for a moment forgot his nationality. He was so completely entangled in Jewish particularism that he shews no capacity for understanding the universal prophecies of the Old Testament. His Logos, or Word, so far as he assumes any personal distinctness, is essentially and preeminently a Jewish deliverer. Judaism formed for Philo the nearer horizon beyond which he hardly cared to look. Similarly in this Epistle the writer is so exclusively occupied by the relations of Judaism to Christianity, that he does not even glance aside to examine any other point of difference between the New Covenant and the Old. What he sees if Christianity is simply a perfected Judaism. Mankind is to him the ideal Hebrew. Even when he speaks of the Incarnation he speaks of it as ‘a taking hold’ not ‘of humanity’ but ‘of the seed of Abraham’ (2:16).
In this Epistle then he is writing to Jewish Christians, and he deals exclusively with the topics which were most needful for the particular body of Jewish Christians which he had in view. All that we know of their circumstances is derived from the letter itself. They like the writer himself, had been converted by the preaching of Apostles, ratified ‘by signs, and portents, and various powers, and distributions of the Holy Spirit’ (2:3, 4). But some time had elapsed since their conversion (5:12). Some of their original teachers and leaders were already dead (13:7). They had meanwhile been subjected to persecutions, severe indeed (10:32 34), but not so severe as to have involved martyrdom (12:4). But the afflictions to which they had been subjected, together with the delay of the Lord’s Coming (10:36, 37), had caused a relaxation of their efforts (12:12), a sluggishness in their spiritual intelligence (6:12), a dimming of the brightness of their early faith (10:32), a tendency to listen to new doctrines (13:9, 17), a neglect of common worship (10:25), and a tone of spurious independence towards their teachers (13:7, 17, 24), which were evidently creating the peril of apostasy. Like their ancestors of old, the Hebrew Christians were beginning to find that the pure spiritual manna palled upon their taste. In their painful journey through the wilderness of life they were beginning to yearn for the pomp and boast and ease of Jewish externalism, just as their fathers had hankered after the melons and fleshpots of their Egyptian servitude. They were casting backward glances of regret towards the doomed city which they had left (13:12). That the danger was imminent is clear from the awful solemnity of the appeals which again and again the writer addresses to them (2:1 4; 3:7 19; 6:4 12; 10:26 31; 12:15 17), and which, although they are usually placed in juxtaposition to words of hope and encouragement (3:6, 14; 6:11; 10:39; 12:18 24; &c.), must yet be reckoned among the sternest passages to be found in the whole New Testament.
A closer examination of the Epistle may lead us to infer that this danger of apostasy of gradually dragging their anchor and drifting away from the rock of Christ (2:1) arose from two sources; namely (1) the influence of some one prominent member of the community whose tendency to abandon the Christian covenant (3:12) was due to unbelief, and whose unbelief had led to flagrant immorality (12:15, 16); and (2) from a tendency to listen to the boastful commemoration of the glories and privileges of Judaism, and to recoil before the taunt that Christians were traitors and renegades, who without any compensatory advantage had forfeited all right to participate in the benefits of the Levitic ritual and its atoning sacrifices (13:10, &c.).
In the communities of Jewish Christians there must have been many whose faith and zeal not kindled by hope, not supported by patience, not leavened with absolute sincerity, not maintained by a progressive sanctification tended to wax dim and cold. And if such men chanced to meet some unconverted Jew, burning with all the patriotism of a zealot, and inflated with all the arrogance of a Pharisee, they would be liable to be shaken by the appeals and arguments of such a fellow-countryman. He would have asked them how they dared to emancipate themselves from a law spoken by Angels? He would have reminded them of the heroic grandeur of Moses; of the priestly dignity of Aaron; of the splendour and significance of the Temple Service; of the disgrace incurred by ceremonial pollution; of the antiquity and revealed efficacy of the Sacrifices; of the right to partake of the sacred offerings; above all, of the grandeur and solemnity of the Great Day of Atonement. He would dwell much on the glorious ritual when the High Priest passed into the immediate presence of God in the Holiest Place, or when “he put on the robe of honour and was clothed with the perfection of glory, when he went up to the holy altar, and made the garment of holiness honourable,” and “the sons of Aaron shouted, and sounded the silver trumpets, and made a great noise to be heard for a remembrance before the Most High” (Ecclus. 50:5 16). He would have asked them how they could bear to turn their backs on the splendid history and the splendid hopes of their nation. He would have taunted them with leaving the inspired wisdom of Moses and the venerable legislation of Sinai for the teaching of a poor crucified Nazarene, whom all the Priests and Rulers and Rabbis had rejected. He would have contrasted the glorious Deliverer who should break in pieces the nations like a potter’s vessel with the despised, and rejected, and accursed Sufferer for had not Moses said “Cursed of God is every one who hangeth on a tree”? whom they had been so infatuated as to accept for the Promised Messiah!
We know that St Paul was charged charged even by Christians who had been converted from Judaism with “ apostasy from Moses” (Acts 21:21 ). So deep indeed was this feeling that, according to Eusebius, the Ebionites rejected all his Epistles on the ground that he was “an apostate from the Law.” Such taunts could not move St Paul, but they would be deeply and keenly felt by wavering converts exposed to the fierce flame of Jewish hatred and persecution at an epoch when there arose among their countrymen throughout the world a recrudescence of Messianic excitement and rebellious zeal. The object of this Epistle was to shew that what the Jews called “Apostasy from Moses” was demanded by faithfulness to Christ, and that apostasy from Christ to Moses was not only an inexcusable blindness but an all-but-unpardonable crime.
If such were the dangerous influences to which the Hebrew community here addressed was exposed, it would be impossible to imagine any better method of removing their perplexities, and dissipating the mirage of false argument by which they were being deceived, than that adopted by the writer of this Epistle. It was his object to demonstrate once for all the inferiority of Judaism to Christianity; but although that theme had already been handled with consummate power by the Apostle of the Gentiles, alike the arguments and the method of this Epistle differ from those adopted in St Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans.
The arguments of the Epistle are different. In the Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans St Paul, with the sledge-hammer force of his direct and impassioned dialectics, had shattered all possibility of trusting in legal prescriptions, and demonstrated that the Law was no longer obligatory upon Gentiles. He had shewn that the distinction between clean and unclean meats was to the enlightened conscience a matter of indifference; that circumcision was now nothing better than a physical mutilation; that the Levitic system was composed of “weak and beggarly elements;” that ceremonialism was a yoke with which the free converted Gentile had nothing to do; that we are saved by faith and not by works; that the Law was a dispensation of wrath and menace, introduced “for the sake of transgressions” (Galatians 3:19 ; Romans 5:20 ); that so far from being (as all the Rabbis asserted) the one thing on account of which the Universe had been created, the Mosaic Code only possessed a transitory, subordinate, and intermediate character, coming in (as it were in a secondary way) between the Promise to Abraham and the fulfilment of that promise in the Gospel of Christ. To him therefore the whole treatment of the question was necessarily and essentially polemical, and in the course of these polemics he had again and again used expressions which, however unavoidable and salutary, could not fail to be otherwise than deeply wounding to the inflamed susceptibilities of the Jews at that epoch. There was scarcely an expression which he had applied to the observance of the Mosaic law which would not sound, to a Jewish ear, deprecatory or even contemptuous. No Jew who had rejected the Lord of Glory, and wilfully closed his reason against the force of conviction, would have been able to read those Epistles of St Paul without something like a transport of fury and indignation. They would declare that pushed to their logical consequences, such views could only lead (as in fact, when extravagantly perverted, they did lead) to Antinomian Gnosticism; and the reaction against them might tend to harden Jewish Christians in those Ebionite tendencies which found expression a century later in the Pseudo-Clementine writings. Those writings still breathe a spirit of bitter hatred against St Paul, and are “the literary memorial of a manœuvre which had for its aim the absorption of the Roman Church into Judæo-Christianity.”
Now the arguments of the Epistle to the Hebrews turn on another set of considerations. They were urged from a different point of view. They do not lead the writer, except in the most incidental and the least wounding manner, to use expressions which would have shocked the prejudices of his unconverted countrymen He does not touch on the once-burning question of Circumcision. It is only towards the close of his Epistle (13:9) that he has occasion to allude, even incidentally, to the distinction of meats. His subject does not require him to enter upon the controversy as to the degree to which Gentile proselytes were obliged to observe the Mosaic Law. He is nowhere compelled to break down the bristling hedge of Jewish exclusiveness. If he proves the boundless superiority of the New Covenant he does not do this at the expense of the majesty of the old. To him the richer privileges of Christianity are the developed germ of the Mosaic Dispensation, and he only contemplates them in their relation to the Jews. He was able to soothe the rankling pride of an offended Levitism by recognising Levitism as an essential link in an unbroken continuity. The difference between the Law and the Gospel in the controversial theology of St Paul was the difference of an absolute antithesis . In this Epistle the difference is not of kind but of degree. The difference of degree was indeed transcendent, but still it represented a progress and an evolution. His letter is therefore, as Baur says, “a thoroughly original attempt to establish the main results of St Paul’s teaching upon new presuppositions and in an entirely independent way.”
All this advantage arose from the point of view at which he was able to place himself. His Alexandrian training, his Jewish sympathies, the nature of his immediate argument, led him to see in Judaism not so much a law as a system of worship. The fact that the Jews who were trying to pervert his Christian converts had evidently contrasted the humility and the sufferings of Christ with the sacerdotal magnificence of the Jewish hierarchs, enabled him to seize on Priesthood and Sacrifice rather than on Levitic ordinances as the central point of his treatment. Hence his whole reasoning turns on a different pivot from that of St Paul. The main thing which he has to shew is that Christianity is the perfect fulfilment of a Type. It is therefore not only needless for him to disparage the Type, but he can even extol its grandeur and beauty as a type. The antitheses of St Paul’s controversy are of necessity far more sharp and hard. To him the contrast between the Law and the Gospel was a contrast between an awful menace and a free deliverance; between the threat of inevitable death and the gift of Eternal life. To St Paul the Law was an ended servitude, a superfluous discipline, a broken fetter, a torn and cancelled bond (Romans 8:2 ; Galatians 3:24 , Galatians 3:25 ; Galatians 4:9 , Galatians 4:25 ; Colossians 2:14 , &c.): to this writer the Mosaic system, of which the Law was only a part, was a needless scaffolding, a superannuated symbol. To St Paul the essence of the Old Dispensation was summed up in the words “ He that doeth them shall live by them ,” which, taken alone, involved the exceptionless and pitiless conclusion ‘since none have ever perfectly obeyed them, all shall perish by them’: to this writer the essence of Mosaism was the direction which bade Moses to “ make all things after the pattern shewed him in the Mount ” (Hebrews 8:5 ). Hence the contrast between Judaism and Christianity was not, in the view of this writer, a contrast between Sin and Mercy, between Curse and Blessing, between Slavery and Freedom, but a contrast almost exclusively (so far as the direct argument was concerned) between Type and Antitype, between outline and image, between shadow and substance, between indication and reality. Thus St Paul’s argument may be described as mainly ethical, and this writer’s as mainly metaphysical. The Alexandrian philosophy with which he was familiar had led him to hold that the reality and value of every material thing and of every outward system depended on the nearness with which it approximated to a Præ-existent ideal. The seen world, the world of phenomena, is but a faint adumbration of the unseen world, the world of Noumena , the world of Ideas and of Archetypes (see infra § v. 3).
From this different line of his argument rises the complete difference of his method. The attitude which St Paul was forced to adopt was not, and could not be conciliatory. At the beginning of the warfare between Judaism and Christianity the battle had to be internecine till the victory had declared itself on one side or the other. It was as impossible for St Paul to dwell on the grandeur and significance of the Judaic system as it would have been for Luther to write glowing descriptions of the services rendered to humanity by the Mediæval Papacy. It was not until Luther had published his De captivitate Babylonica that Protestant writers, secure in their own position, might without danger dwell on the good as well as on the evil deeds which the Popes have done. Similarly, until St Paul had written his two great controversial Epistles, a Jewish Christian could hardly speak freely of the positive value and greatness of the Levitic Law. A Jew, reading for the first time the Epistle to the Hebrews, would be favourably impressed with the evident love and sympathy which the writer displays towards the Tabernacle, its ministers, and its ritual. He would without difficulty concede the position that these were typical. He would thus be led, insensibly and without offence, into a consideration of the argument that these symbols found in Christ their predestined and final fulfilment (10:1). When he had been taught, by a method of Scriptural application with which he was familiar, that a transference of the Priesthood had always been contemplated, he would be prepared to consider the Melchisedek Priesthood of Christ. When he saw that a transference of the Priesthood involved of necessity a transference of the Law (7:11, 12), he would be less indignant when he was at last confronted with such an expression as the annulment of the Law (7:18). The expressions ultimately applied to the Law are as strongly depreciatory as any in St Paul. The writer speaks of its “weakness and unprofitableness” (7:18); describes it as consisting in “carnal ordinances”; and declares that its most solemn sacrifices were utterly and necessarily inefficacious (9:13; 10:4). But the condemnation is relative rather than absolute , and the reader is not led to this point until he has seen that the legal institutions only shrink into insignificance in comparison with the finality and transcendent supremacy of the dispensation of which they were (after all) the appointed type.
The method adopted added therefore greatly to the inherent effectiveness of the line of controversy. It involved an Irony of the most finished kind, and in the original sense of the word. There was nothing biting and malicious in the irony, but it resembled the method often adopted by Socrates. Socrates was accustomed to put forward the argument of an opponent, to treat it with the profoundest deference, to discuss it with the most respectful seriousness, and all the while to rob it step by step of all its apparent validity, until it was left to collapse under the weight of inferences which it undeniably involved. In this Epistle, though with none of the dialectical devices of the great Athenian, we are led by a somewhat similar method to a very similar result. We see all the antiquity and glory of Mosaism. The Tabernacle rises before us in its splendour and beauty. We see the Ark and the Cherubim, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the golden pot of manna, and the wreaths of fragrant incense. We see the Levites in their white ephods busy with the sacrificial victims. We watch the High Priest as he passes with the blood of bulls and goats through the sanctuary into the Holiest Place. We see him come forth in his “golden apparel” and stand before the people with the jewelled Urim on his breast. And while the whole process of the solemn and gorgeous ritual is indicated with loving sympathy, suddenly, as with one wave of the wand, the Tabernacle, its Sacrifices, its Ritual, and its Priesthood seem to have been reduced to a shadow and a nullity, and we recognise the Lord Jesus Christ far above all Mediators and all Priests, and the sole means of perfect, confident, and universal access to the Inmost Sanctuary of God’s Presence! We have, all the while, been led to recognise that, by faith in Christ, the Christian, not the Jew, stands forth as the true representative of the old traditions, the child of the glorious forefathers, the predestined heir of the Eternal Realities.
And thus the Epistle was equally effective both for Jews and Christians. The Jew, without one violent wrench of his prejudices, without one rude shock to his lifelong convictions, was drawn along gently, considerately, skilfully, as by a golden chain of fine rhetoric and irresistible reasoning, to see that the New Dispensation was but the glorious fulfilment, not the ruinous overthrow, of the Old; the Jewish Christian, so far from being robbed of a single privilege of Judaism, is taught that he may enjoy those privileges in their very richest significance. So far from being compelled to abandon the viaticum of good examples which had been the glory of his nation’s history, he may feed upon those examples with a deeper sympathy: and so far from losing his beneficial participation in Temples and Sacrifices, he is admitted by the blood of the only perfect Sacrifice into the inmost and the eternal Sanctuary of which the Temple of his nation was but a dim and perishable sign.
The Epistle falls into two divisions: I., chiefly Didactic (1 10:18); II., chiefly Hortative (10:18 13:25).
The general analysis of the Epistle is as follows:
It was the constant boast of the Jews that their Law was given by Angel-ministers, and on this ground, as well as on the historic grandeur of Moses, Aaron, and Joshua, they claimed for it a superiority over every other dispensation. The writer, therefore, after laying down his magnificent thesis that the Gospel is God’s full and final Revelation to man (1:1 4), proceeds to compare the Old and the New Covenants under the double aspect of (1) their ministering agents (1 8), and (2) their advantageous results (9 10:18).
I. Christ superior to the mediators of the Old Covenant.
α . The infinite superiority of Jesus to the Angels is first demonstrated by a method of Scriptural illustration of which the validity was fully recognised by all Jewish interpreters (1:5 14). After a word of warning exhortation (2:1 4) he shews that this superiority is not diminished but rather enhanced by the temporary humiliation which was the voluntary and predestined means whereby alone He could accomplish His redemptive work (2:5 18).
β . And since the Jews placed their confidence in the mighty names of Moses and of Joshua, he proceeds to shew that Christ is above Moses by His very nature and office (3:1 6). Then after another earnest appeal (3:7 19) he proves more incidentally that Christ was above Joshua, in that He led His people into that true, final, and Sabbatic rest of which, as he proves from Scripture, the rest of Canaan was but a poor and imperfect type (4:1 10).
γ . But since he regards the Priesthood rather than the Law as the central point of the Mosaic dispensation, he now enters on the subject which is the most prominent in his thoughts, and to which he has already twice alluded (2:17; 3:1), that Christ is our High Priest, and that His High Priesthood, as an Eternal Priesthood after the order of Melchisedek, is superior to that of the Aaronic High Priests. The development of this topic occupies nearly six chapters (5:1 10:18).
He first lays down the two qualifications for every High Priest, (1) that he must be able to sympathise with those for whom he ministers (5:1 3), and (2) that he must not be self-called, but appointed by God (5:4): both of which qualifications Christ possessed (5:5 10).
But it is a characteristic of his style, and it furthered his main purpose, to mingle solemn passages of warning, exhortation, and encouragement with his line of demonstration. Here, therefore, he pauses on the threshold of his chief argument, to complain of their spiritual dulness and backwardness (5:11 14); to urge them to more earnest endeavours after Christian progress (6:1 3); to warn them of the awful danger and hopelessness of wilful apostasy (4 8); to encourage them by an expression of hope founded on their Christian beneficence (9 10); and to stir them to increased zeal (11, 12) by the thought of the immutable certainty of God’s oathbound promises (13 18), which are still further assured to us by the Melchisedek Priesthood of Christ our Forerunner within the Veil (19, 20).
Reverting thus to the comparison of Christ’s Priesthood with the Levitic Priesthood (to which he had already alluded in 5:6, 10), he shews that the High Priesthood of Christ, being “after the order of Melchisedek,” was superior to that of Aaron,
1. Because it is eternal not transient (7:1 3).
2. Because even Abraham paid tithes to Melchisedek (4 6).
3. Because Melchisedek blessed Abraham (7).
4. Because the Levitic Priests die, while Melchisedek stands as the type of an undying Priesthood (8).
5. Because even Levi may be said to have paid tithes to Melchisedek in the person of his ancestor Abraham (9, 10).
6. Because David’s reference to Melchisedek shews the contemplated transference of the Priesthood, and therefore of the Law (11, 12). This is confirmed by the fact that Christ was of the tribe of Judah, not of Levi (13, 14). The Melchisedek Priesthood, being eternal, could not be connected with a law which, being weak and profitless, perfected nothing (15 19).
7. Because the Melchisedek Priesthood was founded by an oath (20 22).
8. Because the Levitic priests die, but Christ abideth for ever (23 25).
II. Having thus compared the two orders of Priesthood, he pauses for a moment to dwell on the eternal fitness of Christ’s Priesthood to fulfil the conditions which the needs of humanity require (26 28). Into this passage, in his usual skilful manner, he introduces the comparison of the two forms of sacerdotal ministry which he develops in the next three chapters (8:1 10:18).
α . For the Tabernacle which the Levitic Priests serve is even on their great Day of Atonement only the shadow of an eternal reality (8:1 6). The eternal reality is the new Covenant, which had been promised by Jeremiah, in which the Law should be written on men’s hearts, and in which all should know the Lord; and the very fact that a new covenant had been promised implies the annulment of the old (8:7 13).
β . The Old Tabernacle was glorious and symbolic (9:1 5), yet even the High Priest, on the greatest day of its ritual, could only enter once a year into its inmost shrine, and that only with the imperfect and symbolic offerings of a burdensome externalism (6 10). But Christ, the Eternal High Priest of the Ideal Archetype, entered into the Heavenly tabernacle (11) with His own blood, once for all; and for ever (12, 13), offered Himself as a voluntary and sinless offering, eternally efficacious to purge the conscience from dead works (14); and so by His death became the mediator of a new and transcendent covenant, and secured for us the eternal inheritance (14, 15). For a ‘Covenant’ may also be regarded as a ‘Testament,’ and that involves the fact of a Death (16, 17). So that just as the Old Covenant was inaugurated by the sprinkling of purifying blood over its Tabernacle, its ministers, its book, its people, and the furniture of its service, in order to secure the remission of transgressions (18 22), the heavenly archetype of these things, into which Christ entered, needed also to be sprinkled with the blood of that better sacrifice (23) which has provided for us, once for all, an all-sufficient expiation (24 28). Then, in one grand finale, in which he gathers the scattered elements of his demonstration into a powerful summary, he speaks of the impotence of the Levitic sacrifices to perfect those who offered them an impotence attested by their constant repetition (10:1 4) and contrasts them with that perfect obedience whereby (as illustrated in Psalms 40:6 , Psalms 40:7 ) Christ had annulled those sacrifices (5 9). Christ sanctified us for ever by His offered body (10). He did not offer incessant and invalid offerings like the Levitic Priests (11), but one perfect and perfecting sacrifice, as a preliminary to His eternal exaltation (12 14), in accordance with the prophecy of Jeremiah (31:33, 34), to which the writer had already referred (15 18).
III. The remainder of the Epistle (10:19 13:17) is mainly hortatory.
He has made good his opening thesis that God ‘in the end of these days has spoken unto us by His Son.’ This he has done by shewing Christ’s superiority to Angels (1:5 2:16) and to Moses and Joshua (3:1 4:16); His qualifications for High Priesthood (5:1 10); the superiority of His Melchisedek Priesthood over that of Aaron (7:1 28); and the superiority of the ordinances of His New Covenant over those of the Old (8:1 10:15). He has thus set forth to the wavering Hebrew Christians, with many an interwoven appeal, incontrovertible reasons why they should not abandon the better for the worse, the complete for the imperfect, the valid for the inefficacious, the Archetype for the copy, the Eternal for the transient. It only remains for him to apply his arguments by final exhortations. This he does by one more solemn strain of warning and encouragement (10:19 39), which leads him into a magnificent historic illustration of the nature of faith as manifested by works (11). This served to shew the Jewish Christians, that, so far from being compelled to abandon the mighty memories of their past history, they were themselves the true heirs and the nearest representatives of that history, so that their unconverted brethren rather than themselves were aliens from the Commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the Covenants of promise. The Epistle closes with fervent exhortations to moral steadfastness and a holy Christian walk in spite of trial and persecution (12:1 14). This is followed by a warning founded on the great contrast which he has developed between the Old and New Covenants (15 29). He gives them special directions to be loving, hospitable, sympathetic, pure, contented, and gratefully recognizant of their departed teachers (13:1 9). Then with one more glance at the difference between the New and the Old Dispensations (10 15), he adds a few more affectionate exhortations (16 19), and ends with brief messages and blessings (23 25).
We see then that the whole Epistle forms an argument a minori ad majus . If Judaism had its own privileges, how great, a fortiori , must be the privileges of the Gospel! Hence the constant recurrence of such expressions as “a better hope” (7:19); “a better covenant” (7:22); “a more excellent ministry” (8:6); “a better and more perfect Tabernacle” (9:11), “better sacrifices” (9:23); “better promises” (8:6). It may almost be said that the words “by how much more” (9:14; τοσούτῳ κρείττων … ὅσῳ 1:4, κάθʼ ὅσον , 7:20, ὅσῳ , 8:6, πόσῳ , 10:29) are the keynote of the entire treatment. It was a style of argument of which the Jews had often studied the validity; for the first of the seven famous Middoth or ‘rules of interpretation’ elaborated by the great Rabbi Hillel was called “Light and Heavy” ( קל וחומר ) which is nothing but the deduction of the greater from the less; a mode of argument which our Lord Himself had used, on more than one occasion, in His controversies with the Pharisees (Matthew 10:29 ).
We know nothing of the effects produced by the Epistle upon the particular community of Christians to which it was addressed, but we feel that if they could retrograde into Judaism after meditating on these arguments their apostasy must indeed have been of that moral and willing character for which, humanly speaking, there was little hope.
Where Was the Epistle Written? and to whom?
I. Ubi? Where was the letter written?
The question cannot be answered. The only possible clue to any answer lies in the words “they of Italy salute you” (13:24). But this furnishes us with no real clue. “They of Italy” means simply “the Italians.” The salutation might be sent from any city in the world in which there were Jewish Christians, or even Gentile converts, whose home was or once had been in Italy. It is however a little strange that many, both in ancient and modern times, should have assumed from this passage that the letter was written in Italy. There would indeed be nothing against this in the use of the preposition ἀπὸ , but if the letter were written from Rome or Italy it would be strange to say “those of Italy salute you.” If I wrote from Paris or Vienna to an English friend in Russia or elsewhere I might naturally say “our English friends salute you,” but hardly if I wrote from London or any town in England. Nothing in the way of reasonable conjecture can be deduced from a reference so absolutely vague. Nor again can we found any conclusion on the fact that Timothy was known to these Hebrew Christians. There was a constant intercourse by letters and messengers between the small and suffering communities of early Christians, and Timothy was probably known by name to every Church in Proconsular Asia, in Palestine, in Greece, in Italy, and in the islands and along the shores of the entire Mediterranean.
2. To whom was this Epistle written?
We have seen that the writer evidently had some one community in view. This is proved by the specific character of his messages and admonitions. Even if the last four verses were a special postscript to some particular Church we should draw the same conclusion. We must therefore reject the supposition of Euthalius and others that it was addressed ‘to all the converted Hebrews of the Circumcision’ “les Judéo-chrétiens en général considérés au point de vue théorique” (Reuss). Where then did these Hebrew Christians reside? To what city was the letter originally sent? The genuine superscription gives us no help, for it is simply “To the Hebrews.”
α . The general tradition, originated by some of the Greek fathers (e.g. Chrysostom and Theodoret), assumes that the letter was addressed to the Palestinian Jews, and specially to the Church of Jerusalem. This was partly deduced from the erroneous notion that the members of the Mother Church were exclusively designated by the title of “the saints.” Ebrard supposes that it was written to encourage Christian neophytes at Jerusalem, who were rendered anxious by being excluded from the Temple worship and from participation in the sacrifices. No doubt this supposition would suit such expressions as those in 13:10, 13, and much of the Epistle would have had a deep interest for those who were daily witnesses of, and possibly even worshippers in, the services of the Temple. Yet the opinion is untenable. The Judaists of Palestine would be little likely to welcome the letter of a Hellenist, who apparently knew no Hebrew, and who only quotes the Septuagint even when it differs from the sacred text (e.g. 1:6, 10:5); nor would they feel any special interest in a half-Gentile convert like Timothy. Further, it would hardly be true of them that “they had not yet resisted unto blood” (12:4). Again, they were little likely to have forgotten their dead leaders (13:7); they had received the Gospel first-hand, not second-hand; and many of them may even have heard the Gospel from the Lord Himself (2:3). Nor were they in a position to minister to the saints (6:10), since they were themselves plunged in the deepest poverty. Least of all is it probable that an Alexandrian Hellenist, of the school of one so little acceptable to the Palestinian Judaists as that of St Paul, would have ventured not only to address them in a tone of authority, but even to reproach these Churches of the earliest Saints in words of severe rebuke for their ignorance and childishness (5:11 14).
β . The Church of Corinth is perhaps excluded by 2:3, which seems to refer to some community founded by one of the original Twelve Apostles.
γ . That the letter was addressed to the Church of Alexandria is by no means improbable. It has been supposed that there is an allusion to this Epistle in the Muratorian Canon under the name of ‘an Epistle to the Alexandrians;’ and in the Manuscript D is a reading ( ἐν τῇ πατρίδι ) in Acts 18:25 , which implies that Apollos, the probable writer of the Epistle, had been converted to Christianity in Alexandria. This opinion, with the modification that it was addressed to Jewish Christian ascetics in Alexandria (Dr Plumptre), or to a section only of the Alexandrian Church (Hilgenfeld), has been widely accepted by modern critics. There are however several objections to this view. (1) The Church of Alexandria is believed to have been founded by St Mark, and not by one of the Twelve. (2) Alexandria is a Church with which neither St Paul nor Timothy had any direct connexion. (3) The Epistle is not heard of in the Alexandrian Church till nearly a century later. (4) The authorship of the Epistle was not certainly known in the school of Alexandria, which indeed did more than any other school to originate the mistaken impression that it was written by St Paul.
δ . Some critics have supposed that it was addressed to the Jewish-Christian community at Rome. The suggestion suits the references in 2:3; 13:7, 9; 10:32. It also suits the fact that the writer seems to have been acquainted with the Epistle to the Romans (see 10:30; 13:1 6, 9 20), and that the Roman Church was from the first aware that the Epistle was not written by St Paul. But this view is excluded by the very probable conjecture that Timothy had been imprisoned at Rome during his last visit to St Paul (13:23); by the silence of St Clement as to the author; by the absence of any trace that Apollos had ever visited Rome; by the fact that the persecutions to which allusion is made had, for some time, expended their severity (10:32); as well as by the certainty that the Church of Rome, more than any other, had been deluged with the blood of martyrdom (12:4); and by the absence of all allusion to the Church of the Gentiles.
ε . Other isolated conjectures as that it was addressed to Ravenna (Ewald), or Jamnia (Willib. Grimm), or Antioch (Hofmann) may be passed over; but it may be worth considering whether it was not addressed to the Jewish Christians at Ephesus. They must have been a numerous and important body, and both Apollos and Timothy had laboured among them.
Quando? The date at which the Epistle was written cannot be fixed with precision. All that we can say is that it was certainly written before the Fall of Jerusalem, a.d. 70. This conclusion is not mainly founded on the use of the present tense in speaking of the Temple services (9:6, 7; 10:1, &c.), because this might conceivably be due to the same figure of speech which accounts for the use of the present tense in speaking of the Jewish ministrations in Josephus, Clemens Romanus, Justin Martyr, and even in the Talmud. It is founded on the whole scope of the argument. No one who was capable of writing the Epistle to the Hebrews at all (there being no question of pseudonymity in this instance) could possibly have foregone all mention of the tremendous corroboration nay, the absolutely demonstrative force which had been added to his arguments by the work of God in History. The destruction of Jerusalem came as a divine comment on all the truths which are here set forth. While it in no way derogates from the permanent value of the Epistle as a possession for all time, it would have rendered superfluous its immediate aim and object. The seductions of Judaism, the temptation to apostatise to the Mosaic system, were done away with by that awful Advent which for ever closed the era of the Old Dispensation. We therefore infer that the Epistle was written when Timothy was (apparently) liberated from prison, soon after the martyrdom of St Paul, about the close of a.d. 67 or the beginning of a.d. 68.
Style and Character of the Epistle
1. The notion that the Epistle was a translation from the Hebrew is found in St Clement of Alexandria, and is repeated by Eusebius, Jerome, Theodoret, and by many others down to recent times. It seems to have originated in the attempt to account for the marked differences of style which separate it from the writings of St Paul. But this conjecture is wholly devoid of probability. St Clement couples it with the suggestion that it was translated by St Luke, because the style has some points of resemblance to that of the Acts of the Apostles. But St Luke (as we shall see) cannot have been the author, and the notion that it was written in Aramaic is now generally abandoned. No writing of antiquity shews fewer traces of being a translation. The Greek is eminently original and eminently polished. It abounds in paronomasiæ (plays on words, 1:1; 2:8; 5:14; 7:3, 19, 22, 23, 24; 8:7, 8; 9:28; 10:29, 34 38, 39; 11:27; 13:14, &c.). It is full of phrases, and turns of idiom, which could scarcely be rendered in Hebrew at all, or only by the help of cumbrous periphrases. The numerous quotations which it contains are taken not from the Hebrew but from the LXX., and the argument is sometimes built on expressions in which the LXX. differs from the original (1:6, 7; 2:7; 10:5). It touches in one passage (9:15) on the Greek meaning of the word διαθήκη , ‘a testament,’ which has no equivalent in the Hebrew Berith , ‘a covenant 1 1 Heb. 9:16. Calvin says with his usual strong sense, “Διαθήκη ambiguam apud Graecos significationem habet; berith autem Hebraeis non nisi foedus significat; haec una ratio sano judicii hominibus sufficiet ad probandum quod dixi, Graeco sermone scriptam fuisse epistolam.” .’ The hypothesis that the Epistle was not originally written in Greek violates every canon of literary probability.
2. The style of the Epistle attracted notice even in the earliest times. It is as different as possible from the style of St Paul. “ Omnibus notis dissidet ” said the great scholar Erasmus. More than a thousand years ago Origen remarked that it is written in better and more periodic Greek. In its rhythm and balance it has been described as “elaborately and faultlessly rhetorical.” The style of St Paul, whenever his emotions are deeply stirred, is indeed eloquent, but with a fervid, spontaneous, impassioned eloquence, which never pauses to round a period or to select a sonorous expression. He constantly mingles two constructions; breaks off into personal allusions; does not hesitate to use the roughest terms; goes off at a word; and leaves sentences unfinished. He writes like a man who thought in Aramaic while he expressed himself in Greek. The style of this writer bears the stamp of a wholly different individuality. He writes like a man of genius who is thinking in Greek as well as writing in it. He builds up his paragraphs on a wholly different model. He delights in the most majestic amplifications, in the most effective collocation of words, in the musical euphony of compound terms (see in the original 1:3; 8:1; 12:2, &c.). He is never ungrammatical, never irregular, never personal; he never struggles for expression; he never loses himself in a parenthesis; he is never hurried into an unfinished clause. He has less of burning passion, and more of conscious literary self-control. As I have said elsewhere, the movement of this writer resembles that of an Oriental Sheykh with his robes of honour wrapped around him; the movement of St Paul is that of an athlete girded for the race. The eloquence of this writer, even when it is at its most majestic volume, resembles the flow of a river; the rhetoric of St Paul is like the rush of a mountain-torrent amid opposing rocks.
3. The writer quotes differently from St Paul. St Paul often reverts to the original Hebrew, and when he uses the LXX. his quotations agree, for the most part, with the Vatican Manuscript. This writer (as I have already observed) follows the LXX. even when it differs from the Hebrew, and his citations usually agree with the Alexandrian Manuscript. St Paul introduces his references to the Old Testament by some such formula as “as it is written,” or “the Scripture saith” (Romans 9:17 ; Romans 1:17 ), whereas this writer adopts the Rabbinic and Alexandrian expressions, “He saith” (1:5, 6; 5:6; 7:13), “He hath said” (4:3); “Some one somewhere testifieth” (2:6); “as the Holy Spirit saith,” or “He testifieth” (2:6; 3:7; 10:15; 7:17) forms which are not used by St Paul.
4. Again, he constructs his sentences differently, and combines them by different connecting particles (see in the original 2:16 to 3:16, &c.); and has at least six special peculiarities of style not found, or found but rarely, in St Paul such as the constant use of “all;” the verb “to sit” used intransitively (1:3; 8:1); the phrase “even though” ( ἐάνπερ ); “whence” ( ὅθεν ), used in the sense of “wherefore;” “to perpetuity” instead of “always;” and his mode of heightening the comparative by a following preposition.
5. Once more, St Paul usually speaks of the Saviour as “our Lord Jesus Christ,” or “Christ Jesus our Lord” forms which occur sixty-eight times in his Epistles; this writer, on the other hand, usually refers to Him as “Jesus,” or “the Lord,” or “Christ,” or “our Lord” (7:14), or “the Lord” (2:3), or, once only, as “our Lord Jesus” (13:20), whereas the distinctive Pauline combination, “Christ Jesus,” does not occur once (see note on 3:1). The explanation of this fact is that, as time went on, the title “Christ” became more and more a personal name, and the name “Jesus” (most frequently used in this Epistle, 2:9; 3:1; 6:20; 7:22; 10:19; 12:2, 24; 13:12) became more and more connotative of such supreme reverence and exaltation as to need no further addition or description.
Theology of the Epistle
The author of this Epistle, though he is writing exclusively to Jewish Christians, and though he shews himself eminently Judaic in his sympathies, is yet distinctly of the same school as the Apostle of the Gentiles.
Of the four great topics which occupy so large a place in St Paul’s Epistles the relation of Judaism to Christianity, the redemptive work of Christ, justification by faith, and the call of the Gentiles the first forms the main topic of this Epistle; the second occupies one large section of it (5:1 10:18); and the third is involved in one entire chapter (11). The fourth is indeed conspicuously absent, but its absence is primarily due to the concentration of the Epistle upon the needs of those readers to whom it was addressed. He says expressly that Christ died on behalf of every man (2:9), and no one has ever doubted respecting his full belief in the Universality of the Gospel. As the circumstances which occasioned the composition of the Epistle furnished no opportunity to dwell upon the subject, he leaves it on one side. It is probable that even in the most bigoted of the Jewish Christian communities the rights of the Gentiles to equal participation in the privileges of the Gospel without any obligation to obey the Levitic law had been fully established, partly by the decree of the Synod of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29 ), and partly by the unanswerable demonstrations of St Paul.
It need hardly be said that the writer of this Epistle is at one with St Paul upon all great fundamental doctrines. Both of the sacred writers speak of the heavenly exaltation of Christ (Ephesians 4:10 ; Hebrews 9:24 ); of His prevailing intercession (Romans 8:34 ; Hebrews 7:25 ); of the elementary character of the ceremonial Law (Galatians 4:3 ; Hebrews 7:19 ); of Christ as “the end of the Law” (Romans 10:4 ; Hebrews 10:4-7 ); and of a multitude of other deep religious truths which were the common heritage of all Christians.
But while he deals with the same great topics as the Apostle of the Gentiles, he handles them in a very distinct manner, and with considerable variation of theological terminology.
α . In his mode of dealing with the Old and New Covenants we have already seen that he starts from a different point of view. He does not mention the subject of circumcision, so prominent throughout the Epistle to the Galatians; and while his proof that Christ is superior to Moses only occupies a few verses (3:1 6), he devotes a large and most important part of his letter to the proof that Christ’s Priesthood is superior to that of Aaron, and that it is a Priesthood after the order of Melchisedek whom St Paul does not so much as name. Indeed, while in this Epistle the titles Priest and High Priest occur no less than 32 times, in accordance with their extreme prominence in the theological conceptions of the writer, it is remarkable that neither word occurs so much as once in all the 13 Epistles of St Paul.
β . In speaking of the Redemptive work of Christ he is evidently at one with St Paul (9:15, 22), but does not enter so fully upon the mysterious aspect of Christ’s death as an expiatory sacrifice. As though he could assume all which St Paul had written on that subject, he leaves (as it were) “a gap between the means and the end,” asserting only again and again, but without explanation and comment, the simple fact that Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice, and that man was thereby sanctified and purified (2:11; 9:13, 14; 10:2, 10, 14, 22). In his favourite conception of ‘perfectionment’ ( teleiōsis ) he seems to include justification, sanctification, and glorification. His conception of Christ is less that of a Crucified and Risen Redeemer, than that of a sympathising and glorified High Priest. And the result of His work is described not as leading to a mystic oneness with Him, but as securing us a free access to Him, and through Him into the Inmost Sanctuary of God.
γ . Again, there is a difference between the writer and St Paul in their use of the terms Justification and Faith. In St Paul the term ‘Justification by Faith’ succinctly describes the method by which the righteousness of God can become the justification of man the word for ‘righteousness’ and ‘justification’ being the same ( dikaiosunē ). But in this Epistle the word ‘righteousness’ is used in its simple and original sense of moral rectitude. The result of Christ’s redemptive work, which St Paul describes by his use of dikaiosunē in the sense of ‘justification,’ this writer indicates by other words, such as ‘sanctification,’ ‘purification,’ and ‘bringing to perfection.’ He does not allude to the notion of “ imputed ” righteousness as a condition freely bestowed by God upon man, but describes ‘righteousness’ as faith manifested by obedience and so earning the testimony of God (11:4, 5). It is regarded not as the Divine gift which man receives, but as the human condition which faith produces. The phrase “to justify,” which occurs 28 times in St Paul, is not once found in this Epistle. The writer, like St Paul, quotes the famous verse of Habakkuk, “The just shall live by faith” (perhaps in the slightly different form, “My just man shall live by faith 1 1 The “my” is found in the LXX. sometimes after “just,” sometimes after “faith;” and is read after “just” in א , A, N, and after “faith” in D. See note on Heb. 10:38. ”) but the sense in which he quotes it is not the distinctive sense which it bears in St Paul where it implies that ‘the man who has been justified by that trust in Christ which ends in perfect union with Him shall enjoy eternal life,’ but rather in its simpler and more original sense that ‘the upright man shall be saved by his faithfulness.’ For ‘faith’ when used by St Paul in the sense peculiar to his writings, means the life in Christ, the absolute personal communion with His death and resurrection. But the central conception, “in Christ” Christ not only for me but in me is scarcely alluded to by the author of this Epistle. He uses the word ‘faith’ in its more common sense of ‘trust in the Unseen.’ He regards it less as the instrument of justification than as the condition of access (3:14; 4:2, 16; 6:1; 7:25; 10:1, 22; 11:1, 6).
δ . Again, one of the characteristics of this Epistle is the recurrence of passages which breathe a spirit peculiarly severe (2:1 3; 4:1; 6:4 8; 10:26 31; 12:15 17), such as does indeed resemble a few passages of Philo, but finds no exact parallel even in the sternest passages of St Paul. Luther speaks of one of these passages as “a hard knot which seems in its obvious import to run counter to all the Gospels and the Epistles of St Paul” Both Tertullian and Luther missed the real significance of these passages, but the very interpretation which made the Epistle dear to the Montanistic hardness of Tertullian made it displeasing to the larger heart of the great Reformer.
ε . But the most marked feature of the Epistle to the Hebrews is its Alexandrian character, and the resemblances which it contains to the writings of Philo, the chief Jewish philosopher of the Alexandrian school of thought:
1. Thus, it is Alexandrian in its quotations, which are (1) from the Septuagint version, and (2) agree mainly with the Alexandrian manuscript of that version, and (3) are introduced by formulæ prevalent in the Alexandrian school (see supra iv. § 3).
2. It is Alexandrian in its unusual expressions. Many of these (e.g. ‘in many parts’ 1:1, ‘effluence’ 1:2, ‘hypostasis’ 1:3, ‘servant’ ( therapon ) 3:5; ‘place of repentance’ 12:17; ‘confirmation’ 6:16; ‘issue’ ( ekbasis ) 13:7, &c.), are common to this Epistle with the Alexandrian Book of Wisdom. So great indeed is the affinity between these books in their sonorous style, their use of compound terms, their rare phrases, and their accumulation of epithets that they are mentioned in juxtaposition by Irenæus (Euseb. H. E. v. 26), and nearly so in the Muratorian Canon. The writers of both had evidently studied Philo, and it has even been supposed by some that Philo, and by others that the writer of this Epistle, also wrote the Book of Wisdom.
3. It is Alexandrian in its method of dealing with Scripture. In the important section about Melchisedek the whole structure of the argument is built on two passing and isolated allusions to Melchisedek, of which the second was written nine hundred years after the death of the Priest-king. They are the only allusions to him in the Jewish literature of more than 1500 years. Yet upon these two brief allusions partly by the method of allegory, partly by the method of bringing different passages together (3:11; 4:8, 9), partly by the significance attached to names, (7:2), partly by the extreme emphasis attributed to single words (8:13), partly by pressing the silence of Scripture as though it were pregnant with latent meanings (1:5; 2:16; 7:3) the writer builds up a theological system of unequalled grandeur. But this whole method of treatment is essentially Rabbinic and Alexandrian. That it was, however, derived by the writer from his training in the methods of Alexandrian and not of Rabbinic exegesis arises from the fact that he is ignorant of Hebrew, and that the typical resemblance of Melchisedek to the Logos or Word of God had already excited the attention of Philo, who speaks of the Logos as “shadowed forth by Melchisedek” and as “the great High Priest.” ( Leg. Alleg. iii. 25, 26; De Somn. i. 38.)
4. It is Alexandrian in its fundamental conception of the antithesis between the world of fleeting phenomena and the world of Eternal Realities, between the copies and the Ideas, between the shadows and the substance, between the visible material world and the world of divine Præ-existent Archetypes. The school of Philo had learnt from the school of Plato that “earth
Is but the shadow of heaven, and things therein
Each to the other like more than on earth is thought.”
Hence (as I have said) the writer seizes on the passage “See that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed thee in the Mount” (8:5; 9:23). To him the contrast between the Old and New Covenants turns on the fundamental antithesis between the Shadow and the Reality. Levitism was the shadow, Christianity is not a shadow but a substantial image; the absolute reality to which Christianity is so much nearer an approximation, of which Christianity is so much closer a copy is in the world to come. The Mosaic system, as concentrated in its Tabernacle, Priesthood, and Sacrifices is only “a copy” (8:5); “a shadow” (10:1), “a parable” (9:9); ‘a præfiguration’ (9:24); whereas Christianity is by comparison, and by virtue of its closer participation in the Idea, ‘the type,’ ‘the perfect,’ ‘the genuine’ (8:2) ‘the very image’ (10:1). The visible world (11:3) is “this creation” (9:11); it is “made with hands” (9:11); it is capable of being touched and grasped (12:18); it is but a quivering, unstable, transient semblance (12:27): but the invisible world is supersensuous, immaterial, immovable, eternal. It is the world of “Heavenly things” (9:23), the archetypal world, the true “House of God” (10:21), “the genuine Tabernacle” (8:2), “the City which hath the foundations” (11:10), the true “fatherland” (11:14), “the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22), “the kingdom unshaken” and that “cannot be shaken” (12:27, 28). And this invisible world is the world of the heirs of the Gospel. It is so now, and it will be so yet more fully. In the True Temple of Christianity the Visible and the Invisible melt into each other. The salvation is now subjectively enjoyed, it will hereafter be objectively realised (6:4, 5; 12:28).
5. But the Alexandrianism of the Epistle appears most clearly in the constant parallels which it furnishes to the writings of Philo. We have already called attention to some of these, and they will be frequently referred to in the notes. Even in the general structure and style of the Epistle there are not only a multitude of phrases and expressions which are common to the writer with Philo, but we notice in both the same perpetual interweaving of argument with exhortation; the same methods of referring to and dealing with the Old Testament; the same exclusive prominence of the Hebrew people; the same sternness of tone in isolated passages; and the same general turns of phraseology (see Bleek’s notes on 1:6; 2:2; 5:11; 6:1, &c.). If we find in Hebrews 2:6 , “someone somewhere testified” and in 4:4, “He hath spoken somewhere thus,” we find the very same phrases in Philo ( De Plant. § 21; De Ebriet. 14, &c.). If we find in Hebrews 7:8 , “being testified of that he liveth,” we find also in Philo, “Moses being testified of that he was faithful in all his house” (comp. Hebrews 3:2 ). If in Hebrews 13:5 we have the modified quotation, “I will never leave thee, nor will I ever in any wise forsake thee,” we find it in the very same form in Philo ( De Confus. Lingu. § 33).
We may here collect a few passages of marked resemblance.
i. Heb. 1:3, “who being the effluence of His glory …”
Philo De Opif. Mundi § 51. “Every man … having become an impression or fragment or effluence of the blessed nature.”
ii. Heb. 1:3, ‘the stamp of His substance.’
Philo ( Quod det. pot § 23) speaks of the spirit of man as “a type and stamp of the divine power,” and ( De Plant. § 5) of the soul, as “impressed by the seal of God of which the stamp is the everlasting Word.”
iii. Heb. 1:6, “the First-begotten.”
Philo ( De Agricult . § 12) speaks of the Word as “the firstborn Son,” and ( De Confus, Lingu. § 14) as ‘an eldest Son.’
iv. Hebrews 1:2 . “By whom also He made the worlds” ( aionas ).
Philo De Migr. Abraham . § 1, “You will find the Word of God the instrument by which the world ( kosmos ) was prepared.”
v. Hebrews 11:3 , “that the worlds ( aionas ) were made by the utterance of God.”
Philo ( De Sacrif. Abel , § 18), “God in saying was at the same time creating.”
vi. Hebrews 1:3 , “And bearing all things by the utterance of His power.”
Philo ( Quis Rer. Div. Haer. § 7), “He that beareth the things that are.”
vii. Hebrews 3:3 , “in proportion as he that buildeth the house hath more honour than the house.”
Philo ( De Plant. § 16), “Being so much better as the possessor is better than the thing possessed, and that which made than the thing which is made.”
viii. Hebrews 4:12 , Hebrews 4:13 , “For living is the Word of God and efficient and more cutting than any two-edged sword, and piercing to the division both of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrow.”
Philo ( Quis Rer. Div. Haer , § 28), commenting on Abraham’s “dividing the sacrifices in the midst,” says that “God did thus with His Word, which is the cutter of all things, which, whetted to its keenest edge, never ceases to divide all perceptible things, but when it pierces through to the atomistic and so-called indivisible things, again this cutter begins to divide from these the things that can be contemplated in speech into unspeakable and incomprehensible portions;” and farther on he adds, that the soul is “threefold,” and that “each of the parts is cut asunder,” and that the Word divides “the reasonable and the unreasonable.” Elsewhere ( De Cherub. § 9) he compares the Word to the fiery sword. Philo is applying the metaphors philosophically, not religiously, but it is impossible to suppose that the resemblance between the passages is merely accidental.
ix. Hebrews 4:12 , “and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Philo ( De Leg. Alleg. iii. 59), “And the Divine Word is most keen-sighted, so as to be capable of inspecting all things.”
x. Hebrews 6:5 , “tasting that the utterance of God is excellent.”
Philo ( De Profug. § 25), “The souls, tasting (the utterance of God) as a divine word ( logos ) a heavenly nurture.” (Comp. De Leg. Alleg. iii. 60.)
xi. Hebrews 3:6 , “whose house are we.”
Philo ( De Somn. i. 23), “Strive, oh soul, to become a house of God.”
xii. Hebrews 6:13 , “since He could not swear by any greater He sware by Himself.”
Philo ( De Leg. Alleg. iii. 72). “Thou seest that God sweareth not by another, for nothing is better than Him, but by Himself who is best of all.”
xiii. Hebrews 7:27 , “who hath not need, daily , like those High Priests …”
Philo ( De Spec. Legg. §. 23), “The High Priest … offering prayers and sacrifices day by day.”
xiv. Hebrews 9:7 , “once in the year only the High Priest enters.”
Philo ( Leg. ad Caj. § 39), “into which once in the year the great Priest enters.”
xv. We might add many similar references; e.g. to Abel’s blood (12:24); Noah’s righteousness (11:7); Abraham’s obedience, in going he knew not whither (11:8); the faithfulness of Moses (3:2, 5); milk and solid food (5:12 14); the fact that sacrifices are meant to call sin to remembrance (10:3); the stress laid on the word “To-day” (3:7 15). But it will be sufficient to add a few passages in which Philo speaks of the Logos as High Priest.
xvi. Hebrews 4:14 , “Having then a great High Priest …”
Philo ( De Somn. i. 38), “The great High Priest then,” &c.
xvii. Hebrews 4:15 , “without sin,” 7:26, “Holy, harmless, undefiled.”
Philo ( De Profug. § 20), “For we say that the High Priest is not a man but the Divine Word, with no participation in any sin whether voluntary or involuntary.” Id. § 21, “It is his nature to be wholly unconnected with all sin.”
xviii. Hebrews 4:15 , “able to be touched with a feeling of our infirmities.”
Philo ( De Profug. § 18), “not inexorable is the Divine, but gentle through the mildness of its nature.”
xix. Hebrews 7:25 , “living to make intercession for them.”
Philo ( De Migr. Abraham , § 21), “But these things He is accustomed to grant, not turning away from His suppliant Word.”
xx. Hebrews 5:10 , “After the order of Melchisedek.”
Philo ( De Leg. Alleg. 3:26), “For the Logos is a Priest,” &c. who, as he proceeds to say, brings righteousness and peace to the soul, and has his type in Melchisedek “the Righteous King” and the King of Salem, i.e. of Peace. See also De congr. quaerend. erudit. grat . § 18.
xxi. Hebrews 7:3 , “without father, without mother.”
Philo ( De Profug. § 20), “For we say that the High Priest is not a man but the Divine word … wherefore I think that He is sprung from incorruptible parents … from God as His Father, and from Wisdom as His mother.”
For these and other passages see Siegfried Philo von Alexandria 321 330 and Gfrörer’s Philo und die Alex. Theosophie i. 163 248.
The Author of the Epistle
We now come to the question Quis? who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews?
In our Authorised Version and even in the Revised Version which does not however profess to have reconsidered the superscriptions of the Epistles we find the heading “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews.” Now the writer was undoubtedly a Paulinist, i.e. he belongs to the same school of thought as St Paul. Besides the common phrases which form part of the current coin of Christian theology he uses some which are distinctively Pauline. He had been deeply influenced by the companionship of the Apostle and had adopted much of his distinctive teaching. This is universally admitted. The student who will compare 2:10, 6:10, 10:30, 12:14, 13:1 6, 18, 20 with Romans 11:36 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ; Romans 12:19 , Romans 12:18 , Romans 12:1-21 ; 2 Corinthians 4:2 ; Romans 15:33 respectively, and who will observe the numerous other resemblances to which attention is called in the following notes, will have sufficient proof of this. The writer uses about fifty words which in the N. T. only occur in the Epistles of St Paul or in his speeches as recorded by St Luke, and in the last chapter the resemblances to St Paul are specially numerous. On the other hand, after what we have already seen of the differences of style, of method, of culture, of individuality, of theological standpoint, and of specific terminology between the writer of this Epistle and St Paul, we shall be compelled to admit not only that St Paul could not possibly have been the actual writer of the Epistle a fact which was patent so far back as the days of Origen but that it could not even indirectly have been due to his authorship. The more we study the similarities between this and the Pauline Epistles and the more strongly we become convinced that the writers were connected in faith and feeling the more absolutely incompatible (as Dean Alford has observed) does the notion of their personal identity become. And this is exactly the conclusion to which we are led by a review of the ancient evidence upon the subject. The Early Western Church seems to have known that St Paul did not write the Epistle. In the Eastern Church the obvious and superficial points of resemblance gave currency to the common belief in the Pauline authorship, but the deeper-lying differences were sufficient to convince the greatest scholars that (at the best) this could only be admitted in a modified sense.
The Epistle was known at a very early period and is very largely used and imitated by St Clement of Rome, in his letter to the Corinthians ( circ. a.d. 96), and yet he nowhere mentions the name of the author. He would hardly have used it so extensively without claiming for his quotations the authority of St Paul if he had not been aware that it was not the work of the great Apostle.
In the Western Church no single writer of the first, second, or even third century attributed it to St Paul. St Hippolytus († a.d. 235?) and St Irenaeus († a.d. 202) are said to have denied the Pauline authorship 1 1 Stephen Gobar ap. Phot. Bibl. Cod. 232. , though Eusebius tells us that Irenaeus (in a work which he had not seen, and which is not extant) quoted from it and from the Wisdom of Solomon. The Presbyter Gaius did not number it among St Paul’s Epistles. The Canon of Muratori ( circ. a.d. 170) either does not notice it, or only with a very damaging allusion under the name of an ‘Epistle to the Alexandrians forged in the name of Paul with reference to the heresy of Marcion.’ Yet Marcion himself rejected it, and Novatian never refers to it, frequently as he quotes Scripture and useful as it would have been to him. Tertullian († a.d. 240) representing perhaps the tradition of the Church of North Africa, ascribes it to Barnabas. This testimony to the non-Pauline authorship is all the weightier because Tertullian would have been only too eager to quote the authority of St Paul in favour of his Montanism had he been able to do so. St Cyprian († a.d. 258) never alludes to it. Victorinus of Pettau († 303) ignores it. The first writer of the Western Church who attributes it to St Paul (and probably for no other reason than that he found it so ascribed in Greek writers) is Hilary of Poictiers, who died late in the fourth century († a.d. 368). St Ambrose indeed († 397) and Philastrius ( circ. a.d. 387) follow the Greeks in ascribing it to St Paul, though the latter evidently felt some hesitation about it. But it is certain that for nearly four centuries the Western Church refused in general to recognise the Pauline authorship, and this was probably due to some tradition on the subject which had come down to them from St Clement of Rome. If it had been written by the Apostle of the Gentiles, St Clement of Rome, who was probably a friend and contemporary of St Paul, would have certainly mentioned so precious a truth at least orally to the Church of which he was a Bishop. If he said any thing at all upon the subject it can only have been that whoever was the author St Paul was not .
Accordingly, even down to the seventh century we find traces of hesitation as to the Pauline authorship in the Western Church, though by that time a loose habit had sprung up of quoting it as ‘the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews.’ This was due to the example of St Jerome († 420) and St Augustine († 430). These great men so far yielded to the stream of irresponsible opinion which by their time had begun to set in from the East that they ventured popularly to quote it as St Paul’s, although when they touch seriously upon the question of the authorship they fully admit or imply the uncertainty respecting it. Their hesitation as to the Pauline authorship is incidentally shewn by the frequency with which they quote it either without any name, or with the addition of some cautionary phrase. That the Epistle is attributed to St Paul by later authors and Councils is a circumstance entirely devoid of any critical importance.
It was from the Eastern Church that the tendency to accept the Epistle as St Paul’s derived its chief strength. The Alexandrian School naturally valued an Epistle which expressed their own views, and was founded upon premisses with which they were specially familiar. Apart from close criticism they would be naturally led by phenomena which lay on the surface to conjecture that it might be by St Paul; and (as has frequently happened) the hesitations of theological scholarship were swept away by the strong current of popular tradition. But this tradition cannot be traced farther back than an unsupported guess of the Presbyter Pantaenus about the middle of the Second Century. St Clemens of Alexandria (in a lost work, quoted by Eusebius) says that the “blessed Presbyter” had endeavoured to account for the absence of St Paul’s name (which is found in every one of his genuine Epistles) by two reasons. St Paul, he said, had suppressed it “out of modesty,” both because the Lord was the true Apostle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 3:1 ), and because he was writing to the Hebrews “out of superabundance” being himself the Apostle of the Gentiles. Neither reason will stand a moment’s consideration: they are desperate expedients to explain away an insuperable difficulty. For if St Paul had written “to the Hebrews” at all, there is no single writer who would have been less likely to write anonymously. Calvin rightly says “Ego ut Paulum agnoscam auctorem adduci nequeo. Nam qui dicunt nomen fuisse de industria suppressum quod odiosum esset Judaeis nihil afferunt. Cur enim mentionem fecisset Timothei? &c.” It never occurred to any Apostle to consider that his title was an arrogant one, and the so-called “Apostolic Compact” no more prevented St Paul from addressing Jews than it prevented St Peter from addressing Gentiles. The fact that Eusebius quotes this allusion to Pantaenus as the earliest reference to the subject which he could find, shews that in spite of the obvious inference from 10:34 (and especially from the wrong reading “my bonds”) there was no tradition of importance on the subject even in the Eastern Church during the first two centuries. St Clemens of Alexandria is himself († a.d. 220) equally unsuccessful in his attempts to maintain even a modified view of the Pauline authorship. He conjectures that the Epistle was written in Hebrew, and had been translated by St Luke; and he tries to account for its anonymity by a most uncritical and untenable surmise. St Paul he says did not wish to divert the attention of the Jews from his arguments, since he knew that they regarded him with prejudice and suspicion. This singular notion that St Paul wished to entrap the attention of his readers unawares before revealing his identity has been repeated by writer after writer down to the present day. But no one can read the Epistle with care without seeing that the writer was obviously known to his readers, and intended himself to be known by them. No Apostolic Church would have paid any attention to an anonymous and unauthenticated letter. The letters were necessarily brought to them by accredited messengers; and if this letter had been written by St Paul to any Hebrew Community the fact would have been known to them in the first halfhour after the messenger’s arrival.
Origen again in a popular way constantly quotes the Epistle as St Paul’s; but when he seriously entered on the question of the authorship, in a passage quoted by Eusebius from the beginning of his lost Homilies on the Epistle, he admits that the style is much more polished than that of St Paul, and while he says that the Pauline character of the thoughts furnishes some ground for the tradition that St Paul wrote it, he adds that the “history” which had come down about it was that it was “written” by Clement of Rome, or by Luke; but, he says, “who actually wrote the Epistle God only knows.” Origen’s authority has repeatedly been quoted as though it were decisively given in favour of the Pauline authorship of the Epistle. But if any one will examine the passage above referred to he will see that it represents a conflict between historical testimony and scholarlike criticism on one side, and loose local tradition on the other. Origen was glad to regard the Epistle as being in some sense St Paul’s, and did not like to differ decidedly from Pantaenus, Clemens, and the general popular view prevalent in his own Church; but he decidedly intimates that in its present form St Paul did not write the Epistle, and that it can only be regarded as belonging to “the School of Paul.”
Lastly, Eusebius of Caesarea shews the same wavering hesitation. He so far defers to indolent and biassed custom as constantly to quote the Epistle as St Paul’s, but in one passage he seems to approve of the opinion that it had been translated from Hebrew, and in another he says that it would not be just to ignore that “some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is opposed by the Church of Rome as not being by St Paul”
It is hardly worth while to follow the stream of testimony into ages in which independent criticism was dead; but in the sixteenth century with the revival of scholarship the popular tradition once more began to be set aside. Cardinal Cajetan, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, and even Estius were all more or less unfavourable to the direct Pauline authorship. In modern times, in spite of the intensely conservative character of Anglican theology, there are very few critics of any name even in the English Church, and still fewer among German theologians, who any longer maintain, even in a modified sense, that it was written by St Paul.
Who then was the writer?
From the Epistle itself we can gather with a probability which falls but little short of certainty the following facts (some of which it will be observed tell directly against the identity of the writer with St Paul).
1. The writer was a Jew, for he writes solely as a Jew, and as though the Heathen world were non-existent.
2. He was a Hellenist for he quotes from the LXX. without any reference to the original Hebrew, and even when it differs from the Hebrew (1:6, 10:5).
3. He was familiar with the writings of Philo, and has been deeply influenced by Alexandrian thought.
4. He was ‘an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures.’
5. He was a friend of Timotheus.
6. He was known to his readers, and addresses them in a tone of authority.
7. He was not an Apostle, but classes himself with those who had been taught by the Apostles (2:3).
8. He was acquainted with the thoughts of St Paul, and had read the Epistle to the Romans.
9. Yet his tone while harmonious with that of St Paul is entirely independent of it
10. He wrote before the destruction of Jerusalem.
11. His references to the Tabernacle rather than to the Temple seem to make it improbable that he had ever been at Jerusalem.
Further than this it is at least a fair assumption that any friend and scholar of St Paul who was a man of sufficient learning and originality to have written such an Epistle as this, would be somewhere alluded to in that large section of the New Testament which is occupied by the writings and the biography of St Paul.
Accordingly there is scarcely one of the companions of St Paul who has not been suggested by some critic as a possible or probable author of this Epistle. Yet of these all but one are directly excluded by one or more of the above indications. Aquila could not have written it, for he seems to have been of less prominence even than his wife Priscilla (Acts 18:18 ; 2 Timothy 4:19 ). Titus was a Gentile. Silas was a Hebraist of Jerusalem. Barnabas was a Levite, and the other Epistle attributed to him (though spurious) is incomparably inferior to the Epistle to the Hebrews. The genuine Epistle of St Clement of Rome shews that he could not have written the Epistle to the Hebrews, which indeed he largely quotes on a level with Scripture. The Gospel of St Mark is wholly unlike this Epistle in style. The style of St Luke does indeed resemble in many expressions the style of this writer; but the Epistle contains passages (such as 6:4 8, 10:26 29, &c.) which do not seem to resemble his tender and conciliatory tone of mind, and apart from this St Luke seems to have been a Gentile Christian (Colossians 4:10-14 ), and not improbably a Proselyte of Antioch. The resemblances between the two writers consist only in verbal and idiomatic expressions, and are amply accounted for by their probable familiarity with each other and with St Paul. But the idiosyncrasy is different, and St Luke has nothing of the stately balance or rhetorical amplitude of this Epistle. Timothy is excluded by 13:23 No one else is left but that friend and convert to whom by a flash of most happy insight Luther attributed the authorship of the Epistle Apollos.
Apollos meets every one of the necessary requirements. (1 He was a Jew. (2) He was a Hellenist. (3) He was an Alexandrian. (4) He was famed for his eloquence and his powerful method of applying Scripture. (5) He was a friend of Timotheus. (6) He had acquired considerable authority in various Churches. (7) He had been taught by an Apostle. (8) He was of the School of St Paul; yet (9) he adopted an independent line of his own (1 Corinthians 3:6 ). (10) We have no trace that he was ever at Jerusalem; and yet, we may add to the above considerations, that his style of argument like that of the writer of this Epistle was specially effective as addressed to Jewish hearers. The writer’s boldness of tone (Acts 18:26 ) and his modest self-suppression (1 Corinthians 16:12 ) also point to Apollos. The various allusions to Apollos are found in Acts 18:24-28 ; 1 Corinthians 3:4-6 , 1 Corinthians 3:16 :12; Titus 3:13 ; and in every single particular they agree with such remarkable cogency in indicating to us a Christian whose powers, whose training, whose character, and whose entire circumstances would have marked him out as a man likely to have written such a treatise as the one before us, that we may safely arrive at the conclusion either that Apollos wrote the Epistle or that it is the work of some author who is to us entirely unknown.
The Canonicity of the Epistle that is its right to be placed in the Canon of Holy Scripture rests on the fact that it has been accepted both by the Eastern and Western Churches. It was known from the earliest ages; was probably alluded to by Justin Martyr; was largely used by St Clement of Rome; is quoted on the same footing as the rest of Scripture by many of the Fathers; and both in the earlier Centuries and at the Reformation has been accepted as authoritative and inspired even by those who had been led to the conclusion that the current opinion of the Church after the third century had erred in assigning it to the authorship of St Paul. Its right to be accepted as part of the Canon, and not merely to possess the deutero-Canonical and inferior authority which Luther assigned to it, is all the more clearly established because it triumphed over the objections which some felt towards it. Those objections arose partly from the sterner passages (especially 6:4 6), which were misinterpreted as favouring the merciless refusal of the Novatians to readmit the lapsed into Church privileges; and partly from inability to understand the phrase “to Him that made Him” in 3:2. But in spite of these needless difficulties which are mentioned by Philastrius late in the fourth century, the Epistle has been justly recognised as a part of sacred Scripture “marching forth,” as Delitzsch says, “in lonely royal and sacred dignity, like the great Melchisedek, and like him without lineage ἀγενεαλόγητος .” Even those who like Erasmus and Calvin were unable to admit its Pauline authorship, were still agreed in “embracing it, without controversy, among the Apostolical Epistles.” They said with St Jerome, “ Nihil interesse cujus sit, dum ecclesiastici viri sit, et quotidie ecclesiarum lectione celebretur .” It is no small blessing to the Church that in this Epistle we have preserved to us the thoughts of a deep thinker who while he belonged to the School of St Paul expresses the views of that School with an independent force, eloquence, and insight far surpassing that of every Christian treatise which is not included in the Sacred Canon.
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17