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by Paul E. Kretzmann
The Epistle to the Hebrews
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews does not mention his name, nor does the letter itself furnish any definite clue as to his person. There is only one direct reference to the author's person, Hebrews 10:34: "For ye had compassion of me in my bonds," but this will hardly serve for more than a general conjecture. Among the men that have been named as the probable writers of this letter is the Apostle Paul, this view being held by a great many commentators, both ancient and modern, chiefly on account of the close of the epistle, which seems to agree with other writings of Paul, Hebrews 13:18-Lamentations :, as well as on account of the style and language; then also Apollos, Barnabas, Luke, Silvanus, Timothy, and others. From the choice of language and from the form of presentation it seems evident that the author was a pupil and close companion of St. Paul, who had learned to express the doctrine which he taught in such excellent Greek, in the style of the great apostle himself, probably at the suggestion and under the direction of Paul. The contents of the letter, at any rate, are strongly Pauline in character, and the doctrine of justification through the merits of Jesus Christ alone is emphasized throughout.
The letter was addressed to the Hebrews, to the Christians of Jewish extraction, many of whom may have been converted to the true Messiah as adults, and were therefore still thoroughly familiar with the Jewish form of worship. Undoubtedly, the letter was originally intended for the Jewish Christians of Palestine, specifically of Jerusalem, because the Temple service is described as going on before the eyes of the readers. "Moreover, it was in Palestine that the temptations to relapse into Judaism, against which the writer is so anxious to guard his readers, were most formidable. The sacerdotal splendor of the ancient sanctuary threw into the shade the simple forms of Christian worship; and the flames of patriotic zeal burned more fiercely in the Holy Land than among the Jews of the Dispersion."
"The purpose of the writer of the epistle is apparently to encourage and admonish the Jewish Christians to persevere in the profession of their faith. They were in great danger of falling away from Christianity and relapsing into Judaism, Hebrews 6:4-Joshua :. One of the sources of danger was the splendor of the ancient Jewish worship. Another peril lurked in this, that they were being persecuted by their countrymen and had suffered the spoiling of their goods on account of their belief in Christ. Perhaps some had already gone back to Judaism, while others were ready to return, Hebrews 10:25. To prevent further apostasy this letter was written. Its one idea is to restrain Hebrew Christians from abandoning their new faith. To accomplish this purpose, it is pointed out that Christianity is in every way superior to Judaism with all its pomp and ceremony."
The letter was certainly written before the year 70 A. D. , since there is no reference to the destruction of the Temple nor even of a danger threatening Jerusalem, although such a fact would have fitted in eminently well with the argument of the author as to the temporary character of the Jewish worship. On the contrary, the writer repeatedly refers to the Temple as still being in existence and the Temple worship as going on without the slightest hindrance. It seems safest to assume that the letter was written sometime in the middle sixties of the first century, either from Rome or from Alexandria.
The object of the writer being to make an exposition of the superiority of the Christian religion over the Jewish worship, he divides his letter into two parts, the first of which pictures Christ as the Mediator of revelation, the second as the Mediator of the redemption, always by comparison with the Old Testament type. Without any specific introduction the author offers his proof for the fact that the revelation by the Son came in the fullness of time, after the Old Testament prophecy had ceased. The divine majesty of the Son of God, which far exceeds that of all created beings, even that of the angels, obliges every believer to be obedient to His Word. The facts of Christ's humiliation, even His death on the cross, in no way rob Him of the glory due Him; for all this was done for the fulfillment of the work of salvation. Incidentally, Christ is exalted far above Moses; for the latter was merely a servant in the house of God, but Christ is the Master of the Christian Church, and, as the true Joshua, will lead His people to the promised rest of God. Christ is also more and better than the high priests of the Old Testament, for He had no sin of His own to atone for, becoming a high priest after the order of Melchizedek through the sacrifice of a perfect obedience. After an earnest admonition to accept this teaching and to guard against apostasy, Christ's office of high priest is described at length. He is the perfect High Priest, in whom all the priestly types of the Old Testament have found their fulfillment. He is the Mediator of a better covenant than that of the Jews, who was not obliged to sacrifice the blood of animals, but by the offering of His own blood earned a perfect redemption for all. Upon the basis of this doctrinal exposition the author rests his admonition that his readers should be faithful to their High Priest Jesus, not permitting themselves to backslide from the accepted truth, a fact which would call forth the angry judgment and condemnation of God. As a great aid to steadfastness in faith the example of the Old Testament heroes might serve, but above all the remembrance of Christ, who was exalted to the throne of God by way of bitter suffering and death, and of God, in whose hand every form of suffering is but a profitable chastisement. These considerations should inspire new courage in the readers, cause them to put away all that is impure, and prove themselves the true people of the covenant of God. In conclusion, there are individual admonitions to grow in the various Christian virtues, reports on personal matters, greetings, and the apostolic benediction.
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24