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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament


- Hebrews

by William Robertson Nicoll





HISTORY OF THE EPISTLE. The early history of this Epistle has already been so fully narrated in various accessible volumes, that a bare outline may here suffice. Its chief interest is the illustration it gives of the difficulties which an anonymous book had to overcome before it won for itself a place in the Canon. The significance of the story of its fortunes may be gathered from the statement of Eusebius: [1] “Paul’s fourteen Epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the Church of Rome on the ground that it was not written by Paul.” The Church, that is to say, looked with suspicion, or at any rate hesitation, on any candidate for canonical honours which had not the authentication of apostolic authorship. And although the Epistle to the Hebrews really won for itself a place in the Canon by its intrinsic merit, by its cardinal importance as the final adjustment of the Jewish and Christian dispensations, as well as by its marked ability and felicitous style, yet it had to steal into its place under the cloak of an apostle, and it is doubtful whether it would have won universal acceptance had it not been attached, loosely enough it is true, to the collection of Paul’s Epistles. Even though there was no certainty regarding its authorship in any part of the church, and in some parts a distinct and expressed conviction that it was not from the hand of Paul, yet obviously it was too rich a treasure to lose; and because it was not unworthy of the great apostle nor wholly alien from his way of thinking, it was allowed to attach itself to his Epistles, and so, happily, found a place in the Canon.

[1] H. E. , iii. 3.

The difficulty to which Eusebius alludes, as experienced by the Western or Latin Church, was of ancient date. For although the earliest traces of the use of the Epistle are found in Clement of Rome ( c . 96 A.D.) who betrays familiarity with it, yet no Western writer of the second century acknowledges it as canonical. It was not included in the collection of Pauline Epistles which Marcion formed in the first half of that century, and Tertullian, though objecting to his omission of the Pastoral Epistles, makes no remark upon his rejection of Hebrews. In the latter half of the century Roman opinion is represented by the Muratorian canon, which makes no mention of the Epistle at all, unless, as some have fancied, it is alluded to as that “ad Alexandrinos”. [2] The prevalent Roman opinion is represented by the presbyter Caius who did not accept the Epistle as Pauline. [3] According to Photius, Hippolytus also denied the Pauline authorship; and in the earliest Old Latin Version the Epistle was omitted.

[2] “ Fertur etiam ad Laodicenses, alia ad Alexandrinos Pauli nomine fictae ad haeresem Marcionis, et alia plura, quae in catholicam ecclesiam recipi non potest; fel enim cum melle misceri non congruit.”

[3] Euseb., H. E. , vi. 20. Jerome, De Vir. Ill. , c. 59.

In the North African branch of the Latin Church not only was the Pauline authorship denied, but the Epistle was definitely ascribed to Barnabas. Tertullian ( De Pudic. , c. 20) in citing Hebrews 6:4-58.6.8 claims for the Epistle only a subordinate authority [“idoneum confirmandi de proximo jure disciplinam magistrorum”] because it was written not by an apostle, but by a “comes apostolorum,” whom he unhesitatingly speaks of as Barnabas.

Meanwhile, however, in the Eastern Church the Pauline authorship was maintained. The Syrian Church accepted the Epistle into its earliest canon; and even if translated by a different and later hand than the other Epistles, this cannot be ascribed to any reluctance to receive it as canonical. [4] In Alexandria towards the close of the second century it is accepted as Pauline by Pantaenus and Clement. [5] But as criticism was cultivated with some diligence in this Church, it could not escape notice that both in its anonymity and in its style this Epistle differed from those of Paul. The absence of the usual Pauline address Pantaenus explained as due to the modesty of the Apostle, who would not even seem to usurp the place which belonged to the Lord Himself as Apostle of the Hebrews. [6] Clement accounted for the difference in style by the supposition that the Epistle was originally written by Paul in Hebrew and afterwards translated by Luke, while the absence of signature is referred to the natural fear lest the name of the Apostle of the Gentiles might repel Hebrew readers. The opinion in which the Church of Alexandria in general rested may be gathered from the words of Origen: [7] “If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the Apostle, but the phrasing and composition are those of some one who remembered what the teacher had said. If then any church holds this Epistle to be Paul’s, let it be commended for this. For not without reason ( εἰκῆ ) have our predecessors ( οἱ ἀρχαῖοι ἄνδρες ) handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the Epistle, in truth God knows. The account that has reached us is, that some say it was written by Clement who became bishop of the Romans, while others ascribed it to Luke, the author of the Gospel and Acts.”

[4] Dr. Bewer ( A. J. T. , April, 1900, p. 358) dates its introduction to the Syrian canon in the third century.

[5] Euseb., H. E. , vi. 14.

[6] Adopted by Jerome, Ep. ad Gal .

[7] Euseb., H. E. , vi. 25.

Unsatisfactory as such a decision was, the idea that the Epistle was Paul’s generally [8] prevailed over the whole Church, so that from the fifth century to the reformation, there were few who took the trouble to inquire. The conversion of the Latin Church to this opinion was mainly due to the influence of Augustine and Jerome. The formulæ under which the latter writer cited the Epistle reveal his personal dubiety. “The Epistle which, under the name of Paul, is written to the Hebrews.” “He who writes to the Hebrews.” “The Apostle Paul, or whoever else wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews.” “The Apostle Paul in the Epistle to Hebrews, which the Latin custom does not receive.” He mentions that the Greek writers accept it as Paul’s, although many ascribe it either to Barnabas or Clement. [9] It would apparently, have taken little to persuade Jerome that the latter opinion was well-grounded, for he had himself noticed a striking similarity between the Epistle of Clement and that to the Hebrews. [10] In short, we find that Jerome acted in regard to this Epistle on the principle he carried through his formation of the Vulgate canon, the principle that it was better to include than to exclude a good book and that prevalent opinion must be allowed a great weight.

[8] For exceptions in the Western Church, see Westcott On the Canon , p. 401.

[9] “ Licet plerique eam vel Barnabae vel Clementis arbitrentur,” Ep. ad. Dardanum .

[10] “ Clemens scripsit … utilem epistolam … quae mini videtur characteri epistolae, quae sub Pauli nomine ad Hebraeos fertur, convenire,” De Vir. Illus. , c. 15.

Instructive also is Augustine’s treatment of the Epistle. Sometimes he reckons it among Paul’s, sometimes he cites it anonymously [“epistola quae ad Hebraeos inscribitur,” or “est”]; sometimes he calls attention to the doubts entertained regarding it by others, but professes that for his part he is moved by the authority of the Eastern Churches. The facile and uncritical spirit of the time is conspicuous in the manner in which the councils of North Africa dealt with this Epistle. In the council of Hippo in 393, while Augustine was still a presbyter, and in the third council of Carthage, held in 398, the prevalent dubiety regarding the authorship of Hebrews found expression in the enumeration of the New Testament books, “of the Apostle Paul, thirteen Epistles, of the same to the Hebrews, one”. But in the fifth council of Carthage, in 419, where Augustine was also present, this feeble and meaningless distinction is abandoned and the enumeration boldly runs, “of the Epistles of Paul in number fourteen”.

It is not easy to determine how much or how little we are justified in concluding from these early opinions and traditions. That the ecclesiastical voice gradually settled upon the great name of Paul, if it does not do much credit to the critical sagacity of the Early Church, at least shows that no other name was satisfactory. That Clement should have been mentioned as a possible author, naturally results from the abundant and free use he makes of the Epistle, as well as from his friendship with Paul, and his position as a writer of repute. That Paul’s still more prominent ally, Barnabas, should have been credited with the Epistle was possibly the result of its quite superficial resemblance to the well-known and widely-read but spurious Epistle of Barnabas . Evidently, however, it is the Epistle itself which must divulge the secret of its authorship if we are at all to ascertain it.

Authorship . The bare reading of the Epistle suffices to convince us that the Pauline authorship may be set aside as incredible. The style is not Paul’s, and this Apostle although using an amanuensis, undoubtedly dictated all his letters. The Epistle to the Hebrews reveals a literary felicity not found elsewhere in the New Testament. The writer is master of his words, and perfectly understands how to arrange each clause so that every word shall play its full part in conveying with precision the meaning intended. He knows how to build up his sentences into concise paragraphs, each of which carries the argument one stage nearer to its conclusion. He avoids all irrelevant digressions. His earnestness of purpose never betrays him into carelessness of language, but only serves to give edge and point to its exact use. In all this he markedly and widely differs from the tempestuousness of Paul. As Farrar says: “The writer cites differently from St. Paul; he writes differently; he argues differently; he thinks differently; he declaims differently; he constructs and connects his sentences differently; he builds up his paragraphs on a wholly different model. St. Paul is constantly mingling two constructions, leaving sentences unfinished, breaking into personal allusions, substituting the syllogism of passion for the syllogism of logic. This writer is never ungrammatical, he is never irregular, he is never personal, he never struggles for expression; he never loses himself in a parenthesis; he is never hurried into an anacoluthon. His style is the style of a man who thinks as well as writes in Greek; whereas St. Paul wrote in Greek but thought in Syriac.” The same difference was felt by those who themselves used the Greek language. Thus Origen [11] says: “That the verbal style of the Epistle entitled ‘to the Hebrews’ is not rude like the language of the Apostle who acknowledged himself ‘rude in speech,’ that is, in expression; but that its diction is purer Greek, any one who has the power to discern differences of phraseology will acknowledge.” [12]

[11] Euseb., H. E. , vi. 25.

[12] “ Diversity of style is more easily felt by the reader than expressed by the critic, without at least a tedious analysis of language; one simple and tangible test presents itself, however, in the use of connecting particles, inasmuch as these determine the structure of sentences. A minute comparison of these possesses therefore real importance in the differentiation of language. Now in the Epistles of St. Paul εἴ τις occurs fifty times, εἴτε sixty-three, ποτε (in affimative clauses) nineteen, εἶτα (in enumerations) six, εἰ δὲ καὶ , four, εἴπερ five, ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ three, εἴγε four, μήπως twelve, μηκέτι ten, μενοῦνγε three, ἐάν eighty-eight times, while none of them are found in the Epistle except ἐάν and that only once (or twice), except in quotations. On the other hand, ὅθεν which occurs six times and ἐάνπερ which occurs three times in the Epistle are never used by St. Paul.” Rendall’s Theol. of Hebrew Christianity , p. 27.

But if the style puts it beyond question that Paul cannot have been the immediate author of the Epistle is it not possible to believe with Origen that “the thoughts are those of the Apostle”? This also must be answered in the negative. There is in the Epistle nothing discordant with Pauline doctrine, but its argument moves on different lines and in a different atmosphere from those with which the Apostle to the Gentiles makes us familiar. This is most readily discerned when we consider the attitude held by the two authors respectively to the fundamental idea of Jewish religion, the Law. Paul views the Mosaic economy mainly as a law commanding and threatening. The writer to the Hebrews views it rather as a vast congeries of institutions, observances and promises. To the one writer the Law is mainly juridical; to the other it is ceremonial. To the ardent spirit of Paul athirst for righteousness, the Law with its impracticable precepts had become a nightmare, the embodiment of all that barred access to God and life. The grace of Christianity throwing open the gates of righteousness was the antithesis and abolition of the law. But to this writer, brought up in a more latitudinarian school and of a quieter temperament, the law was not this inexorable taskmaster, but rather a system of type and symbol foreshadowing the perfect fellowship with God secured by Christianity and revealed in Him. Both writers have the same question before them: What gives Christianity its power to bring men into harmony with God and thus constitutes it the universal, permanent religion? What precisely is the relation of this new form of religion to that out of which it sprang and which it supersedes? Paul boldly enounces the incompatibility of faith and works, of grace and merit, of Christianity and the Law. This writer, adopting a method and a view more likely to conciliate the Jew, aims at exhibiting the work of Christianity as that towards which the previous economy had been striving, that the two are essentially connected, and that without Christianity Judaism remains imperfect. [13]

[13] Cf. Ménégoz ( Théol. de l’ep. aux Hub. , 190) “L’un abolit la Loi, l’autre la transfigure”; and p. 197, the one was revolutionist, the other evolutionist. See also Holtzmann, N.T. Theol. , ii., p. 286 ff. Verhältniss zum Paulinismus.

So that Pfleiderer’s remark is justified, when he says, “this is a thoroughly original attempt to establish the most essential results of Paulinism upon new presuppositions and in an entirely independent way a way which proceeds upon lines of thought regarding the constitution of the universe which were widely spread amongst the educated people of that time, and which necessarily had far greater power of diffusing enlightenment than the dialectic of the old Pauline system which was so highly wrought up to an individual standpoint.” [14]

[14] Paulinism , E. Tr., ii., 53.

Here and there the ideas and expressions of Paul seem to be coloured by the Alexandrian system and manner of thought, which, as Pfleiderer says, influenced the entire educated world of the time; but in the mind of Paul there lay a deeper soil in which had been sown the governing ideas of Palestinian or Pharisaic theology. The work and person of Christ are presented under different categories by the two writers: the priestly function, which is absent or almost so from the letters of Paul, dominates the thought of the Epistle to the Hebrews. In keeping with this, the idea of sacrifice which colours the whole of the latter Epistle, only occasionally emerges in the Pauline writings. So too it is the kingly state of the risen Christ which occupies the one writer, while in the mind of the other it is a priestly exaltation that is conspicuous. And thus the δικαιοῦν of Paul becomes in Hebrews ἁγιάζειν , or καθαρίζειν or τελειοῦν ; and the leading religious terms “faith” “grace” and so forth have one meaning in Paul and another in this Epistle. Evidently the suggestion that Luke was on this occasion Paul’s interpreter is quite insufficient to satisfy the conditions. [15]

[15] The similarities to the usage of Luke in the vocabulary of the Epistle have been examined with final thoroughness by Prof. Frederic Gardiner in the Journal of Soc. of Bibl. Lit. and Exegesis for June 1887. See also Alexander’s Leading Ideas of the Gospels , 3rd ed., pp. 302 324; and W. H. Simcox in the Expositor for 1888.

If the Epistle cannot be ascribed to Paul, must we fall back upon Tertullian’s statement, [16] and accept Barnabas as the author? This solution cannot be said to have ever been prevalent in the early Church, notwithstanding the meagre references unearthed by Prof. Bartlet and Mr. Ayles. Over against these references may be set the significant words of Jerome, who designates this ascription of authorship as “juxta Tertullianum,” apparently implying that in all his vast store of information he had found no one else holding this opinion. Origen, too, knows nothing of such a tradition. It was, however, revived in the seventeenth century by the Scottish scholar, Cameron, and in more recent times has found supporters in Ritschl, Weiss, Renan, Salmon and Vernon Bartlet. [17] Zahn, who formerly advocated the same authorship, is now less certain. The claims of Barnabas are also urged with fulness and force by Mr. Ayles in an essay devoted to this object. [18] There can be no doubt that Barnabas answers many of the requirements which must be met by any presumed author of the Epistle. He belonged to the circle of Paul and was a man of character and of capacity; he was a Levite and as such predisposed to consider the Christ and His work in its bearing on the Old Testament ritual; [19] he was a native of Cyprus where good Greek was spoken, and at the same time was well known and influential in the Church at Jerusalem. The tradition that Mark, his nephew, introduced the Gospel into Alexandria, might be pressed to indicate some connection with that centre of thought. This, however, tells also against his authorship, for it is unaccountable that Barnabas’ name should have been lost in the Church where his nephew presided. It must also be kept in view that the association of Barnabas with the Church at Jerusalem only tells in his favour if that be considered the destination of the Epistle. It is, of course, a mere accident that his designation, υἱὸς παρακλήσεως (Acts 4:36 ) should correspond with the description of this Epistle as a λόγος παρακλήσεως (Hebrews 13:22 ).

[16] De Pudicitia , c. 20. “Extat enim et Barnabae titulus ad Hebraeos, adeo satis auctoritati viri, ut quem Paulus juxta se constituerit in abstinentiae tenore (1 Corinthians 9:6 ); et utique receptior apud ecclesias epistola Barnabae illo apocrypho Pastore moechorum.”

[17] Expositor , 1902.

[18] Destination, Date and Authorship of Ep. to Heb . (Cambridge, 1899).

[19] For supposed mistakes regarding the Temple and its service, cf. Zahn., ii., 55, 156.

Harnack, who had previously [20] considered it probable that Barnabas was the author, has recently [21] in a forcible and brilliant manner urged the claims of Prisca and Aquila. In their favour are such points as these: that the letter proceeds from a highly cultured teacher, answering to the description given in Acts 18:26 of Aquila and Prisca; that it was written by one who belonged to the Pauline circle, as there is no doubt that this couple did (Romans 16:3 συνεργοί ); that the writer was associated with Timothy, as Aquila and Prisca were for eighteen months in Corinth as well as in Ephesus ( cf. 2 Timothy 4:19 ); that he belonged to one of the house-churches in Rome (to which presumably the Epistle was addressed) and that he had taught there which corresponds with what we know of Aquila and Prisca (see Acts 18:2 , Romans 16:3 ); that behind the writer of the Epistle there is some one or more with whom he associates himself in a common “we,” for in the letter there are not merely the literary “we” and the “we” which includes writer and readers, but a third use of the pronoun embracing some unnamed person or persons as uniting with the writer in what he says. “If on the ground of these arguments it be considered probable that the Epistle to the Hebrews is to be referred to this couple, it may then be asked whether Prisca or Aquila wrote it. And if the predominant position of the woman, witnessed by both Paul and Luke, be considered, as well as the incontestable fact that she was foremost in winning Apollos, the balance must incline in favour of her authorship.” It is thus he accounts for the most paradoxical feature in the history of the Epistle, the loss of the author’s name. This disappearance is at once accounted for, if Prisca was even partly the author, for Paul’s prohibition of female teaching in the Church had taken deep root.

[20] Chronologie , p. 477 479.

[21] Preuschen’s Zeitschrift , vol. i., 16 41.

That there is in these arguments not merely ingenuity, but much that deserves consideration, will not be denied. Indeed, so careful and sound a scholar as Bleek almost convinced himself that Aquila was the author of the Epistle, and expresses surprise that his claims should not have been urged. [22] But there are grave difficulties in the double, predominantly feminine authorship advocated by Harnack. A single authorship is unquestionably demanded by certain expressions in the Epistle, as τί ἔτι λέγω , Hebrews 11:32 ; ἵνα τάχιον ἀποκατασταθῶ ὑμῖν , Hebrews 13:19 ; and the singulars in Hebrews 13:22-58.13.23 . It is not possible to construe these singulars as referring to more than one writer: but it is quite possible to construe the plurals of the Epistle as referring to the single writer or to the writer uniting himself with his readers. And that this one writer should have been Prisca is certainly improbable, both on account of Paul’s prohibition which so good a friend as Prisca would observe, and because the writer seems to have been one of the ἡγούμενοι , which Prisca could not have been. The impression made by the Epistle is that it proceeds from a masculine mind; and if the Epistle is due to either we should suppose Aquila was more likely to undertake such a task. The familiarity which existed between this couple and Apollos might be supposed to account for the Alexandrian colouring of the Epistle.

[22] Hebräer-brief, i., 421, 422. Harnack’s claim to originality [niemand an sie gedacht hat] is valid only so far as Prisca is concerned.

The name of Apollos was suggested by Luther [23] who apparently had either heard or read that this authorship had been advocated by others. It has received the suffrages of scholars so competent as Bleek, Tholuck, Hilgenfeld, Lünemann, Reuss, Pfleiderer, Alford, Farrar and Plumptre. In Acts 18:24 Apollos is described as an Alexandrian Jew, a learned man, mighty in the Scriptures, who had been instructed in the way of the Lord and who spoke and taught with accuracy the things concerning Jesus. Passing from Ephesus, where he first appears in Christian history, to Achaia “he helped them much who had believed through grace, and powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ”. Paul also testifies to his influence as a teacher and probably indicates that his special function was that of carrying to maturity those who had already received the truth. The words “Paul planted, Apollos watered” bear this interpretation, and agree with what is said in Acts of his peculiar work. Certainly all this remarkably corresponds with the characteristics of the writer to the Hebrews, who certainly was a Jew of the Alexandrian school, a man of marked ability and culture, whose special training fitted him to build up in the faith and to find in the Scriptures proof that Jesus was the Christ. This, plainly, does not prove that Apollos was the author, but it lends plausibility to the hypothesis.

[23] “ Autor Epistolae ad Hebraeos, quisquis est, sive Paulus, sive, ut ego arbitror, Apollo” ( Com. on Gen .); and in his sermon on 1 Corinthians 3:4 “the Ep. Heb. is certainly his” [Apollos’]. In another sermon he says “Some suppose the Epistle to be Luke’s, some refer it to Apollos” [“etliche meinen, sie sei S. Lucas, etliche S. Apollo”]. The most thorough presentation of the claim of Apollos is that by Plumptre in the first vol. of the Expositor .

Destination . Here, again, however, we find the authorship implicated with the destination of the Epistle. The only places with which we know Apollos to have been connected are Ephesus, Corinth and Crete. The first named city was swarming with Jews and was also impregnated with Alexandrianism. Corinth resembled it in the former and possibly also in the latter characteristic, for the preaching of Apollos had certainly found in that city a very responsive hearing; and it is the only place in which we have any positive reason to believe that he resided for any length of time. But evidently he was a man who moved about (Titus 3:13 ); and it is not improbable that he may have visited Rome. Evidently, however, if we are to come any nearer to a determination of the authorship, we must first of all try to ascertain the destination of the letter.

We may put aside the idea that it was not addressed to any particular Church but was a homily written for all whom it might concern. This idea has been plausibly stated by Reuss. “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” he says, “is not a letter properly so called written in view of a local necessity; and the few personal and circumstantial details added on the last page were certainly not the reasons which prompted the author to write. This book may have been already penned and actually concluded when occasion offered to make it useful to a particular circle of Christians and in reference to whom he may have added the 13th chapter. The ‘Hebrews’ whose name is inserted by the care of a later reader (also truly inspired) are not, as has been imagined, the members of some isolated community, as e.g. , the Church at Jerusalem; they are Jewish Christians in general, considered from a theoretical point of view.” This view has been adopted by Lipsius and others, and at the first blush it may seem to have something to say for itself, for letters do not usually begin without giving the name of the writer and of his correspondents. But the idea that the entire document is a treatise written in the study without definite reference to any particular group of Christians, is contradicted not merely by the personal references of the 13th chapter, but by the occurrence throughout the Epistle of expressions which have no meaning if not so addressed. Indeed, no Epistle more exclusively concentrates itself upon a definite and actual condition, nor more definitely recognises that its readers have passed through and are passing through well-marked experiences. The writer’s references in Hebrews 5:12 ; Hebrews 6:9 ; Hebrews 10:32 ; Hebrews 12:4 ; could only have been made to a definite group of Christians. [24]

[24] See Burggaller’s criticism of Wrede’s “Das literarische Rätsel des Hebräerbriefes” in Preuschen’s Zeitschrift for 1908.

This consideration is sufficient to prove that the title πρὸς Ἑβραίους without further designation is too indefinite to have been affixed to his letter by the author himself. Weizsäcker, indeed, is extravagant when he brands the inscription as “the unhappy conjecture of a later time,” but we may unhesitatingly adopt Robertson Smith’s language, and say that it is “hardly more than a reflection of the impression produced on an early copyist”. The suggestion of Prof. Nestle [25] that it may indicate that the Epistle was addressed to the συναγωγὴ f1Αἰβρέων or Ἐβρέων in Rome is interesting, but obviously if the writer of the Epistle had himself addressed it to a synagogue of Jewish Christians in Rome, he could not have written merely “to Hebrews,” but must have more definitely identified them by some further designation. In short, we cannot from this address derive any assistance in determining the Church to which the Epistle was addressed.

[25] Expository Times for June, 1899.

But that the inscription is right in so far as it declares that the letter was destined for Hebrew Christians has generally, though not universally, been acknowledged. The scope of the Epistle presupposes a profound attachment to the Mosaic dispensation. Not only is the Old Testament the common ground from which material can be drawn and on which the discussion can proceed, but the argument is one which can scarcely be conceived as addressed to Gentiles. It may almost be said with Dr. Bruce: “If the readers were indeed Gentiles, they were Gentiles so completely disguised in Jewish ideas and wearing a mask with so pronounced Jewish features that the true nationality has been successfully hidden for nineteen centuries”. Or more summarily we may say with Reuss: “For this writer there are no Gentiles”. To Gentile ears some of the expressions used in the Epistle would be unintelligible, others would be offensive. To the former class belong such exhortations as, “Let us go forth unto Him without the camp”; to the latter, “Not of angels doth He take hold, but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold”.

In spite of this, however, many eminent critics in recent times have reached the persuasion that the letter was addressed not to Hebrew, but to Gentile Christians. Schürer, Weizsäcker, von Soden, Jülicher, McGiffert are of this opinion. They are chiefly influenced by the consideration that the list of rudimentary doctrines given in chap. 6 are such as would rather be taught to Gentile catechumens than to Jewish converts. No doubt the doctrines there mentioned would be taught to Gentiles, but surely the contrast between faith in God and faith in dead works is peculiarly appropriate to Jews; and it was also the Jew rather than the Gentile who required explanation regarding the relation of Christian baptism to other lustrations. Besides, it must not be overlooked that the doctrines here enumerated are the “rudiments of Christ,” and therefore nothing specifically Jewish could be mentioned. They are that common ground or “foundation” which underlay the specially Christian teaching.

Difficulty has also been found in the phrase ἀποστῆναι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ζῶντος (Hebrews 3:12 ). This expression, it is felt, is more appropriate to a relapse to idolatry than to Judaism. But the very point of the whole Epistle is that an abandonment of Christianity is an abandonment of God; that in it God has finally spoken and that to neglect this revelation is to neglect God. In using this particular phrase the writer has not in view the end to which unbelief may lead them, but the fact that unbelief is apostasy from the living God, whether the unbeliever be Jew or Gentile.

These difficulties then are not insuperable, although they are possibly too cavalierly treated by Westcott, who pronounces that “the argument of von Soden, who endeavours to show that the Epistle was written to Gentiles, cannot be regarded as more than an ingenious paradox by any one who regards the general teaching of the Epistle in connection with the forms of thought in the Apostolic age”.

Where, then, were these Jewish Christians resident? The places most generally approved are Jerusalem, Antioch, Cæsarea, Rome. In favour of the Jewish metropolis there is not much to be urged. To no Church on earth would it be so inappropriate to say that they had received the Gospel at second-hand (Hebrews 2:3 ). Many of its members must have been in direct communication with the Lord. Neither could it with any truth be said of the Church of Jerusalem that she had not been instrumental in teaching others (Hebrews 5:12 ). This Church was also a poor community which itself required rather than afforded aid: whereas the society addressed in the Epistle had been conspicuous for charity (Hebrews 6:10 ; Hebrews 10:34 ). It also seems most unlikely that if the Church at Jerusalem was addressed, no allusion should be made to the Temple. Neither is it probable that any one, himself a member of the Church at Jerusalem, should prefer Greek to Aramaic as his medium of communication.

As Antioch was the scene of a considerable part of the labours of Barnabas it naturally suggests itself as the destination in connection with his supposed authorship of the Epistle. The Hebrew Christians in that city must have been very much in his care, and certainly they required some such exposition as is given in the Epistle, of the relation of Judaism to Christianity. And some critics, even while dismissing the claims of Barnabas, are inclined to find in Antioch the group of Jewish Christians to which the Epistle was addressed. Thus Mr Rendall [26] sums up his inquiry in the following terms: “To one of these great Syrian cities, perhaps to Antioch itself, I conceive the Epistle to have been addressed; for there alone existed flourishing Christian Churches, founded by the earliest missionaries of the Gospel, animated with Jewish sympathies, full of interest in the Mosaic worship, and glorying in the name of Hebrews; who nevertheless spoke the Greek language, used the Greek version of the Scriptures and numbered amongst their members converts who had, like the author, combined the highest advantages of Greek culture with careful study of the Old Testament and especially of the sacrificial Law.” But could a Church which had actually started the great mission of Paul and Barnabas and in which other teachers abounded be open to the rebuke of chap. Hebrews 5:11 ff.?

[26] Epistle to Hebrews , p. 69.

Recently critical opinion has decidedly veered towards Rome as the only possible destination. First suggested by Wetstein it is now advocated by Alford, Holtzmann, Zahn and many others. The clause in the Epistle which inevitably suggests this destination is the greeting in Hebrews 13:24 , ἀσπάζονται ὑμᾶς οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰταλίας “they of Italy (the Italians) salute you”. This clause shows that the Epistle was either written from or to Italy. But it is difficult to believe that the words were intended to convey a greeting from Italians in their own country to the writer’s correspondents. For if the writer was in Italy, he was in some particular locality, and this place he would more naturally have named instead of using the general term “Italy”. Certainly the more natural and satisfactory interpretation of the words is that which supposes that the writer who himself is a member of the Church he addresses is surrounded by those who also recognise Italy as their home and who seek to send greetings to their friends in Rome.

Nor does anything in the Epistle contradict this idea. That there was a large Jewish element in the Roman Church appears both from Acts and Romans, and is not denied. It has sometimes been thought that Jewish Christians in Rome could not be expected to take so much interest in the Temple-worship or be so concerned about its observance as this Epistle requires; but, as Principal Fair-bairn long ago pointed out, colonists idealise the institutions of their mother-country more than its resident population, and it is an idealised, not an actual worship that is here described. It is also to be considered that it was in Rome both in the time of Paul and in the second century that in many subtle ways Judaism sought to assert itself and to absorb or expunge Christianity. The fact too that it is in Rome we find the first traces of the use of the Epistle (by Clement) has some weight.

Zahn still further narrows the destination and identifies the recipients of the letter as a small circle of Christians in a large city, a house-church alongside of which there was another or several other such churches in the same city. They have an assembly of their own (Hebrews 10:25 ), perhaps also rulers of their own (Hebrews 13:17 ), although the rulers of the whole Church of the city are also their rulers, and therefore greetings are sent to all the rulers and to all the Saints (Hebrews 13:24 ). He is not aware of any place which so well answers to these requirements as one of the house-churches in Rome mentioned in the Epistle of Paul to that Church (chap. 16). To one of these, possibly to that mentioned in Romans 16:14 , this Epistle was probably addressed.

The Roman destination may seem to carry with it the authorship of Aquila, for this Jew who was himself so well instructed that he was able to instruct Apollos was intimately associated with Rome and with one of the house-churches there (Romans 16:3-45.16.5 ). And indeed all that we know of Aquila seems to fit the conditions as well as any other name that has been suggested.

It is impossible then to dogmatise regarding the authorship of this Epistle, and at present it is best frankly to confess our ignorance. But we may adopt the language of Prof. Rhys Roberts in dealing with the similar case of Longinus on the Sublime and say that “while it is good science to refuse to hazard any conjecture which our information does not warrant, it is good science also to decline to follow some critics in abandoning all hope of ever seeing a solution of this knotty problem. Let us rather recognise that we are confronted with one of those stimulating and fruitful uncertainties which classical research so often presents to its votaries uncertainties which are stimulating because there is some possibility of removing them, and fruitful because in any case they lead to the more thorough investigation of the obscurer bye-ways of history and literature.” Or we may adopt the words of Dr. Davidson in dealing with the similar problem of the authorship of the Book of Job: “There are some minds that cannot put up with uncertainty, and are under the necessity of deluding themselves into quietude by fixing on some known name. There are others to whom it is a comfort to think that in this omniscient age a few things still remain mysterious. Uncertainty is to them more suggestive than exact knowledge. No literature has so many great anonymous works as that of Israel. The religious life of this people was at certain periods very intense, and at these periods the spiritual energy of the nation expressed itself almost impersonally, through men who forgot themselves and were speedily forgotten in name by others.” And if we cannot name, we can at least partially describe the author. For his letter reveals a man who was not an Apostle but a scholar of the Apostles; a man of the second Christian generation (genealogisch nicht chronologisch, as Harnack says); a Hellenist yet a member and teacher of a Jewish Christian church; a Paulinist with some tincture of Alexandrian culture, though his treatment of Scripture differs toto coelo from Philo’s; a friend of Timothy and at the time of writing in the company of Italian Christians.

Aim . But it is not the locality so much as the condition of the readers that chiefly concerns us. And as we read the Epistle it becomes apparent that the danger which roused the writer to interpose was not such definite and grave heresy as evoked the Epistle to the Galatians or that to the Colossians, nor such entangling heathen vices and difficult questions of casuistry as imperilled the Corinthian Church, but rather a gradual, almost unconscious admission of doubt which dulled hope and slackened energy. They had professed Christianity for some time (Hebrews 5:12 ); and the sincerity of their profession had been proved by the manner in which they had borne severe persecution (Hebrews 10:33-58.10.34 ). They had taken joyfully the spoiling of their possessions; they had endured a great conflict of sufferings. But they found the long-sustained conflict with sin (Hebrews 12:4 ) and the day-by-day contempt and derision they experienced as Christians (Hebrews 13:13 ), more wearing to the spirit than sharper persecution. Consequently their knees had become feeble to pursue the path of righteous endurance and activity, their hands hung limply by their side as if they were defeated men (Hebrews 12:12 ). They had ceased to make progress and were in danger of falling away (Hebrews 6:1-58.6.4 , Hebrews 3:12 ) and were allowing an evil heart of unbelief to grow in them. No doubt this listless, semi-believing condition laid them open to the incursion of “divers and strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:9 ) and in itself was full of peril.

To restore in them the freshness of faith the writer at every part of the Epistle exhorts them to steadfastness and perseverance. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering” (Hebrews 11:23 ). “Cast not away your confidence” (Hebrews 10:35 ). “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38 ). Or, what may be taken as the hortatory motto of the Epistle, “We are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3:14 ). That they may have encouragement to do so, he shows them at large the good ground they have for confidence. The fruits of faith in their fathers are recapitulated in the eloquent eleventh chapter. But especially is Jesus exhibited as the great leader in faith. “Consider Him lest ye be weary and faint in your souls” (Hebrews 12:3 ). His supremacy and trustworthiness are expounded in detail, and especially the eternal sufficiency of His sacrifice and intercession is dwelt upon.

Evidently, then, the persons addressed were in the mental and spiritual condition common in every age of the Christian Church, a condition of languor and weariness, of disappointed expectations, deferred hopes, conscious failure and practical unbelief. They were Christians but had slender appreciation of the glory of their calling, misconstrued their experience, and had allowed themselves to drift away from boldness of hope and intensity of faith. Dr. Bruce describes them as persons who never had “insight into the essential nature and distinctive features of the Christian religion”; and if by “insight” he means such perception of the greatness of Christ as causes men to rejoice in serving and suffering for Him, his description is correct. But he seems less exact when he goes on to say “No greater mistake, I believe, can be committed (though it is a common fault of commentators) than to assume that the first readers were in the main in sympathy with the doctrinal views of the writer”. Some points, no doubt, which the writer adduces were new to the readers. The manner in which the paragraph regarding Melchisedec is introduced proves this. But we cannot therefore conclude that the whole conception of Christ as Priest was new to them; nor can we suppose that they had never thought of Christ as the Son through whom the final revelation was made and the eternal covenant mediated. Rather they had failed to consider what these great truths involved . Hence the writer bids them give “the more earnest heed to the things they have heard” (Hebrews 2:1 ), and throughout the Epistle he returns to his favourite admonition “Consider Him,” let your minds penetrate more deeply into His significance. They had ceased to have that keen interest in truth which prompts contemplation and inquiry, and they now held what they had been taught so externally that they were in danger of wholly losing their faith and becoming practical apostates. They had fallen under the power of the present and visible, and were giving to appearance and shadow the value that belonged only to the eternal reality.

The aim of the writer then was to open up the true significance of Christ and His work, and thus to remove the scruples, hesitations and suspicions which haunted the mind of the Jewish Christian embarrassing his faith, lessening his enjoyment, and lowering his vitality. The Jew who accepted Jesus as the Christ had problems to solve and difficulties to overcome of which the Gentile knew nothing. A transition of equal moment and encompassed by so much obscurity men have rarely, if ever, been summoned to make. It is easy for those who look back upon it as an accomplished fact to see that there was no real breach of continuity between the old religion and the new; but that was not readily perceived by those whose whole life and experience were marked by the turmoil and instability which accompanied the abandonment of old forms, the acceptance of new ideas, the building on other foundations. Brought up in a religion which he was persuaded was of Divine authority the Jew was now required to consider a large part of his belief and worship as antiquated. Accustomed to pride himself on a history marked at various stages by angelic visits, Divine voices, and miraculous interventions, he is now invited to shift his faith from institutions and venerable customs to a Person, and this a Person in whom earthly glory is suggested only by its absence and in whom those apparently most qualified to judge could discover nothing but imposture which merited a malefactor’s death. Cherishing with extraordinary enthusiasm, as his exclusive heritage, the Temple with all its hallowed associations, its indwelling God, its altar, its august priesthood, its complete array of ordinances, he is yet haunted by the Christian new-born instinct that there is an essential lacking in all these arrangements and that for him they are irrelevant and obsolete. A blight has suddenly fallen on what was brightest in his religion, a blight he can neither dissipate nor perfectly justify.

For the Jewish Christian must have found it quite beyond his power to understand the relation of the old to the new. Already indeed it had become apparent that in Jesus prophecy had been fulfilled. He had been accepted as the predicted Messiah partly because it was beyond dispute that in Him a correspondence was found to the figure more or less clearly defined in the Old Testament. This no doubt hinted that there was some strong and vital connection between the two faiths. But what relation did this Messiah hold to the Mosaic institutions? That was a more difficult problem. The difficulty of it is appreciated when we consider that a large section of the Christian Church judged the old to be irreconcilable with the new, and went so far as to maintain that the God of the Old Testament was antagonistic to the God who revealed Himself in Christ. And even the more moderate section of the Church found difficulty in answering the questions: What was to be thought of the Jewish ordinances and of the Jewish Scriptures which enjoined them? If the ordinances were set aside, could the Scriptures which contained them be retained? In what sense had Christ fulfilled the law, the ceremonial? He had not been a Priest. He had not assumed the Priest’s function, but the Rabbi’s. He had not been born in a priestly family. A sacrifice, perhaps, in some sense, He had been.

To the Jew, in short, Christ must have created as many problems as He solved. The unquestioning faith that is guided by healthy instincts and can relegate to the future all intellectual explanations and reconcilements is not given to every one; and many a Jewish Christian must have passed those first days in painful unrest, drawn to trust Jesus by all that He knew of His holiness and truth and yet sorely perplexed and hindered from perfect trust by the unexpected spirituality of the new religion, by the contempt of his old co-religionists, by the enforced relinquishment of all outward garnishing and glory, and by the apparent impossibility of fitting the gorgeousness of the old and the bareness of the new into one consistent whole. To this miserable and weakening condition of spirit the writer appeals and aims at removing it by giving them a fuller insight into the relation of Christianity to Mosaism, and especially by illustrating the unique supremacy of Christ and the finality of His work. He makes it his aim to show that every name, every institution, every privilege, which had existed under the old economy survived in the new, but invested with a higher meaning and a truer glory a meaning and a glory, new indeed in themselves, but yet for the first time fulfilling the great purpose of God which from the first had been dimly shadowed forth. “The first was taken away only in order that the second might be introduced.” [27]

[27] “ Das Christenthum bringt nichts, was nicht schon im A. T. angelegt, verheissen und vorgebildet gewesen wäre” (Holtzmann, N.T. Theol. , ii., 287).

To this task he necessarily brought his own philosophical presuppositions. Trained in Alexandrian thought he cherished the Platonic [28] conception of the relation of the seen to the unseen. It was his inalienable conviction that the visible world is merely phenomenal, the temporary form or manifestation of the invisible, archetypal world which alone is real and eternal. In the Epistle these two worlds are continually related by contrast. The unseen world [ πράγματα οὐ βλεπόμενα Hebrews 11:1 ] is the eternal counterpart of this present order of things [ αὕτηκτίσις Hebrews 9:11 ]; the reality, of which earthly things are but the shadow [ σκία Hebrews 8:5 ]. The visible heaven and earth are one day to pass away, “as things that have been made” [ ὡς πεποιημένων Hebrews 12:27 ], but this only in order that the eternal things which cannot be removed may remain alone existent.

[28] Timaeus , 28 C.; Rep . 597; Philo, Mundi Op. , 4; De Vita Mosis , p. 146.

On this broad philosophical basis, itself unshakable as the eternal things, the writer builds his argument. Here he finds the key to the essential distinction between Mosaism and Christianity, as well as the proof of the superiority and finality of the latter. The Mosaic dispensation belongs to the seen and temporal, the Christian to the unseen and eternal. In the one there is a tabernacle “made with hands”; a sanctuary of this world , equipped and furnished with material objects; the sacrifices are of bulls and goats; the rest appointed cannot be eternal, because it is in a visible earthly land; their holy city is one which can be profaned by Roman armies; above all, their priesthood is dependent on the flesh. How manifest that all these things belong to the earthly temporal order. The whole dispensation is involved with things visible, tangible, material, evanescent.

But Mosaism was not wholly useless. It was a shadow of the good things to come: and to these real, eternal things Christ introduces men. Christ Himself, being Son of God, belongs to the eternal order. In Him we have throughout to do not with external ceremonies and temporal arrangements, but with what is spiritual; in Him we come into touch not with imperfect revelations of God made through symbol and human medium, but with the very image of God. He mediates between God and man in virtue of His connection with both. He leads men into the true relation to God by Himself perfectly fulfilling the human life of obedience to God’s will. His priesthood or power to carry His human brethren with Him into the heavenly life, springs out of His personal worth wrought by discipline to a perfected condition. He is priest in virtue not of what is of the flesh, not by inherited office, but by virtue of His sympathy with men and His personal stainlessness. He enters the presence of God not in an earthly tabernacle nor with the blood of bulls and goats but with His own blood, bringing men and God together by the pure and perfect surrender of Himself to God. This sacrifice though made on earth was yet made in the eternal order, because made in spirit, in a spirit which necessarily belongs not to this visible and transitory order of things but to the eternal and real, or as the writer says, “through eternal spirit”.

That which this writer finds common to the new and the old forms of religion is the purpose of God to bring men into fellowship with Himself, or, in other words, the covenant idea. With this writer religion is the harmony of God and man. He thinks of God, not like Paul, as a Judge before whose bar man must somehow be cleared of guilt, but as entering into covenant with man and providing for the maintenance of this covenant by sacrifice. In history he sees two great epochs in the promotion of this fellowship distinguished by the efficacy with which it is effected. For the covenant being between the holy, heavenly God and His unholy creature, it will not be quite easy to form or to maintain. It involves at any rate two things, that the will of God in the matter be made known, and that man be separated from his sin. It involves, that is to say, that the covenant be effectively mediated and especially in this respect that it be secured that man shall be cleansed from his sin and fitted for true and lasting fellowship with God. So essential is this, that each form of the covenant may be judged by the efficiency with which it accomplishes this. If the arrangements for bringing man into real and abiding union with God are imperfect, then this colours with imperfection the covenant to which these arrangements belong; if, on the other hand, such arrangements are made as actually cleanse the conscience and renew the character then this determines the perfectness of the covenant in which these arrangements are comprised.

Hence the importance which this writer attaches to priesthood and sacrifice. It is by these the nature and efficacy of every covenant between God and man must be determined. If one covenant only provides for a ceremonial purification and a symbolic introduction to God, this of itself stamps that covenant as inferior to one which provides for a spiritual cleansing and a real union If with one of the covenants there is identified a priesthood which is merely hereditary and therefore fleshly and professional, while the other rests on a natural and spiritual priesthood that offers a real spiritual sacrifice, the sacrifice of self, in contrast with the sacrifice of bulls and goats, there can be little hesitation in determining whether of these two is the eternal covenant. It is the writer’s aim to exhibit this distinction. He knows that if only his readers can once see the real glory of Christ and His religion all their doubts will vanish, and accordingly he proceeds to send them such an exposition of that glory as is in point of fact a magnificent apologetic for Christianity from the Jewish point of view.

The relation thus established between the former and the latter dispensation may tend to an undervaluing of the old, and lead to the idea that “the Jew was simply the keeper of a casket which he could not unlock, an actor in a symbolical representation which to him conveyed little or no meaning”. It must be borne in mind, therefore, that the arrangements of the Old Testament were primarily for the religious use of the Jews themselves. Their religion was not devised for the intellectual employment or diversion of persons who can now look back upon it, nor altogether for the religious edification of such persons, but primarily for the religious edification of the Jews themselves. They needed a religion as much as we do. They needed assurance of God and His favour, and some means of access to Him and this they found in their religion of type and symbol. To them as to us a gospel was preached (Hebrews 4:2 ). Through the symbolic arrangements of their earthly tabernacle they learned real truth and were brought into fellowship with the eternal. Not that they understood what the physical arrangements of their religion typified , but that they did understand what they symbolised . The Old Testament ritual was instructive not in so far as it was typical, but in so far as it was symbolical. A symbol is an embodied idea, or what we nowadays call an “object lesson”; an idea rendered visible in a material sign or in an external action. A type not only expresses an idea, but looks forward to a time when this idea shall receive its perfect expression. As Mr. Litton [29] defines it “a type is a prophetic symbol”. “Every true type is necessarily a symbol, that is, it embodies and represents the ideas which find their fulfilment in the antitype; but every symbol is not necessarily a type; a symbol may terminate in itself, and point to nothing future; it may even refer to something past.” Now it cannot be supposed that the contemporaries of Moses or Moses himself understood what was prefigured by their ritual. But if they did not understand their ritual as a collection of types, they certainly did understand it as a system of symbols. The tabernacle itself was both a symbol and a type. It was a symbol that God dwelt with men, ever in their midst, sharing their fortunes, forgiving their sin, and bestowing blessing. This symbol every child could read. But it was also a type, a symbol with a prophecy wrapped up in it, a symbol giving promise that the truth taught in it would one day find its perfect, eternal manifestation. This could at the best be but imperfectly understood.

[29] Bampton Lectures, p. 82.

But the writer to the Hebrews looking back upon the preparation for Christ can see how this and that prefigured Him who was to come. Every Old Testament institution, ceremony, person or thing in which a principle or idea was embodied which was afterwards embodied in Christ and His Kingdom may legitimately be called “typical”. To the Jews themselves these types were helpful not because they threw light upon the person and work of Christ, but because they then and there communicated those very ideas which were subsequently expressed in their reality in Jesus. The institution of sacrifice, e.g. , was useful to them not because it taught them to look for a Messiah who should die for their sins for it had no such effect but because it then and there communicated the very ideas and the very hopes which the death of Christ expressed in a dim and unsatisfactory way no doubt, as this writer is careful to show, but still adequately as a first lesson in the holiness and forgiveness of God.

Keeping in view the aim of the writer to convince his readers that the new Christian order of things is an advance on the old Mosaic order, and is indeed the final and universal form of religion, the course of thought is easily followed. The Mediator of the new covenant is first of all compared with the Mediators of the old, with prophets, angels, Moses, Joshua, Aaron, and this comparison occupies the first seven chapters. The writer then proceeds to exhibit the evanescence of the old covenant and the superiority of the new (Hebrews 8:6-58.8.13 ), and of the true God-pitched tabernacle and its sacrifice to the first man-made tabernacle with its arrangements and offerings (Hebrews 9:1 to Hebrews 10:18 ). On this demonstrated superiority and finality of the covenant which Christ has mediated the writer founds a forcible appeal and exhorts his readers to hold fast their profession and to use the access to God provided for them (Hebrews 10:19-58.10.25 ). This exhortation he enforces by warnings (Hebrews 10:26-58.10.31 ), by awakening remembrances of better times (vv. 32 39), by the rapid, sugggestive and eloquent presentation of their predecessors in faith (vv. 11), and especially of Him whose example in faith and endurance is perfect (Hebrews 12:1-58.12.4 ), and by illustrating the reasonableness of hopefully submitting to present trouble as discipline sent by the heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:5-58.12.13 ). They are further urged to diligence in sanctification by the consideration that awful as were the sanctions of the old law, those of the new covenant are immensely more awful, that indeed our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:14-58.12.29 ). The closing chapter contains miscellaneous but relevant admonitions.

Date . The chief index to the date of the Epistle is its relation to the destruction of the Temple. The impression one receives from its perusal is that the sacrifices and other services of the Temple were still being performed. If particular passages are examined, this impression is deepened. It is quite true that the use of the present tense (as in Hebrews 9:6 ; Hebrews 8:4 , etc.) does not always imply an actual present. The use of this tense by Clement ( Ep . c. 41) in describing ordinances which in his day were certainly obsolete puts this beyond question. But of course the use of the present generally implies the existence of the object spoken of at the time of the speaker; and it is not easy to suppose that if the Temple and its worship had already been abolished, this writer could use such language as we find in c. Hebrews 10:1-58.10.2 ; “they can never with the same sacrifices year by year which they offer continually make perfect them that draw nigh. Else would they not have ceased to be offered? ” And as Ménégoz [30] says: “C’est précisément l’existence du culte levitique qui offrait des dangers pour la fidelité des chretiens. Après la destruction du Temple ce danger avait disparu, du moins en majeure partie.” Besides, it is impossible to suppose that a writer wishing to demonstrate the evanescent nature of the Levitical dispensation, and writing after the Temple services had been discontinued, should not have pointed to that event as strengthening his argument. It would appear, then, that the Epistle must have been written while the Temple was yet standing, that is, prior to the year A.D. 70.

[30] La Theol. de l’ep . etc., p. 40.

Accordingly Salmon dates the Epistle in 63; Ménégoz places it in 64 67. The year 66 or thereabouts is adopted by Riehm, Lünemann, Hilgenfeld, Weiss, Beyschlag, Schürer, Godet, Westcott. Bleek prefers the year 68 or 69. Harnack, Pfleiderer, von Soden, Holtzmann and McGiffert bring it down to some date between A.D. 81 and 96.

Commentaries . Full lists of commentaries on the Epistle are easily accessible in Bible Dictionaries or in Delitzsch’s Commentary. A selection is given by von Soden in the Hand-commentar . Here it must suffice to name the most outstanding. Among the patristic commentators Chrysostom is unquestionably the most valuable, always sensible and well expressed. Of mediæval writers Primasius, Atto Vercellensis and Herveius may be consulted with advantage. [31] Calvin, Erasmus, Beza, Grotius, Bengel will inevitably be used in the study of this Epistle, as of any part of the New Testament. At the foundation of all more recent elucidation of the Epistle lies Bleek’s great work, Der Brief an die Hebräer erläutert (1828 1840), the most comprehensive and scholarly, and in all respects one of the best commentaries on any book of the New Testament. Of almost equal value is Weiss’ contribution to the revised Meyer. Delitzsch though not so exact is generally suggestive and always rich in material, while his knowledge of the Old Testament enables him to enter into the author’s point of view. Westcott, largely indebted to Bleek, is, as always, full and accurate. Vaughan is of great use for ascertaining the precise meaning and biblical usage of words. Davidson (Clark’s Bible-class Hand-books) penetrates to the meaning of the writer better than any other commentator. Peake (Jack’s Century Bible ) rivals him in this and has a rare gift of compact lucidity. No better book could be conceived or is needed for English readers. Nothing better has been written on the Epistle than his chapter on its teaching.

[31] On these and others see Riggenbach’s Die ältesten lateinischen Komm: Zum Hebräerbrief in Zahn’s Forschungen .

Other works such as those by Owen, Peirce, Moses Stuart, Tholuck, Hofmann, McCaul, Lowrie and von Soden will be found helpful, and each has a merit of its own. And naturally the great collectors of illustrative material, Wetstein and Schoettgen, Kypke, Eisner and Raphel will be used. The parallels from Philo have been carefully collected by Carpzov. Where Anz is named, the reference is to his Subsidia ad cognoscendum Graecorum sermonem vulgarem e Pentateuchi versione Alexandrina repetita in the Dissertationes Philologicae Halenses, vol. xii., part ii. (1884).

Riehm’s Lehrbegriff des Hebräerbriefes is a classic, a monument of German industry and comprehensiveness, full of detail but never wearisome, always lighting up old meanings with fresh flashes of insight. Bruce’s presentation of the substance of the Epistle ( The Ep. to the Hebrews , Clark) is characteristically vigorous and full of elevated thought and enriching ideas. An excellent book on The Theology of the Epistle has also been issued by Dr. George Milligan. And quite indispensable to the student is La Theologie de l’Epitre aux Hebreux , by Eugène Ménégoz.



א Sinaiticus Petropolitanus, Saec. iv. Complete.

A Alexandrinus Londinensis, Saec. v. Complete.

B Vaticanus Romanus, Saec. iv. Defective from Hebrews 9:14 end. [“Manus multo recentior supplevit, Hebrews 9:14 to Hebrews 13:25 , quae Mico Italus ipsius codicis conlator Bentleio jubente contulit et Tischendorfius aliquoties notavit siglo b.” Gregory’s Prolegomena , p. 418.]

C Ephraemi Parisiensis, Saec. v. Wants Hebrews 1:1 πολυμερως πνευματος αγιου Hebrews 2:4 .Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 7:26 αμιαντος μεσιτης Hebrews 9:15 .Hebrews 10:24; Hebrews 10:24 πης και καλων μιανθωσιν πολλοι Hebrews 12:15 .

D Claromontanus Parisiensis Nationalis 107, Graeco-Latinus. [“Latina inprimis in epistula ad Hebraeos errores multos praebent” Gregory.] Saec. vi. Hebrews 13:21-58.13.23 is lost. Beza, to whom we owe the earliest notice of this Codex describes it as of equal antiquity with his copy (D) of the Gospels, and tells us it was found at Clermont, near Beauvais. Many hands have revised it.

E Petropolitanus, Graeco-Latinus, Saec. ix. Wants Hebrews 12:8 παντες υμων , Hebrews 13:25 . A faulty copy of D after it had been more than once corrected.

Fa Coislinianus Parisiensis, Saec. vii. Contains Hebrews 10:26 .

H Coislinianus Parisiensis nationalis 202, Saec. vi. The leaves of this MS. are still scattered, some at Paris, some at Moscow, some at St. Petersburg, some at Mt. Athos, others elsewhere. It contains of Hebrews, chapters 2, 3, 4, 10.

K Moscuensis, Saec. ix. Complete.

L Angelicus Romanus, Saec. ix. Complete to Hebrews 13:10 εξουσιαν .

M Londin, Hamburg (Scrivener’s Codex Ruber , so called from beautifully bright red colour of the ink), Saec. ix. Contains Hebrews 1:1 to Hebrews 4:3 , and Hebrews 12:20 to Hebrews 13:25 . “Textu ad optimos testes hic codex accedit.” Gregory, cf. Scrivener, p. 184 85.

N Petropolitanus, Saec. ix. Contains Hebrews 5:8 to Hebrews 6:10 .

O Fragmenta Mosquensia, Saec vi. (?) Contains Hebrews 10:1-58.10.3 ; Hebrews 10:3-58.10.7 ; Hebrews 10:32-58.10.38 . Scrivener.

P Porfirianus Chiovensis, Saec. ix. Complete. Hebrews 12:9-58.12.10 illegible.

The first verse of the Epistle has been edited by Messrs. Grenfell & Hunt from a fragment in Lord Amherst’s collection of papyri. It is in a small uncial hand of the early fourth century. It reads ἡμῶν after πατράσιν .


Of the large number of cursives cited by Tischendorf, it may suffice to mention the Codex Colbertinus of the Imperial Library of Paris, collated by Tregelles, and cited as 17 [33 of the Gospels]. It belongs to the eleventh century, and is of great value. Another MS. which was collated by Tregelles and highly valued by him is the Codex Leicestrensis of the fourteenth century, and cited under the sign 37. Gregory also marks 47, Oxon. Bodl. Roe, as “bonae notae”. It also was collated by Tregelles.


The Old Latin and the Vulgate, the Peshitto and Harklean Syriac, the Coptic and fragments of the Sahidic and Bashmuric versions, together with the Armenian and Æthiopic are available for the ascertainment of the text of the Epistle. [For remarks on these versions, see Westcott’s Com. , Introduction.]