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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

- Hebrews

by Editor - Joseph S. Exell

The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic


I-II Timothy, Titus, Philemon

By the

Author of the Commentaries on Kings, Psalms (121–130), Lamentations, Ezekiel, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians






Author of the Commentaries on I and II Peter, I, II, and III John, Jude, and Revelation

New York




Church Seasons: Lent, Hebrews 4:15-16; Hebrews 6:12; Hebrews 12:1; Hebrews 11:29; James 1:12-15; James 4:6. Good Friday, Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 9:22; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:10. Whit Sunday, Hebrews 3:7.

Holy Communion: Hebrews 13:10; Hebrews 13:15.

Missions to Heathen: 1 Timothy 2:4-8. Bible Society, 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Hebrews 5:12.

Evangelistic Services: 1 Timothy 1:11; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 3:2-7. Hebrews 2:1-4; Hebrews 7:23-28.

Special: Ordination, 1 Timothy 1:3-4; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 1 Timothy 4:13-16; 1 Timothy 5:17-22; 2 Timothy 2:23-26; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Titus 1:5-9; Titus 2:1; Titus 3:9; Titus 3:15; Hebrews 5:1-10; Hebrews 10:24. Workers, 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; 1 Timothy 4:6-7; 2 Timothy 3:10-13; Titus 1:6; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 10:24; James 1:27; James 5:19-20. Harvest, James 5:7-11. Young, Titus 2:4-8. Parents, 1 Timothy 5:4; 1 Timothy 5:8; 1 Timothy 5:16; Hebrews 12:16. Aged, Titus 2:1-3; Philemon 1:9. Young Men. 1 Timothy 4:8-11; Hebrews 12:7. Soldiers, 2 Timothy 2:3-4; James 4:1-2. Scientific men. 1 Timothy 6:20-21; Hebrews 11:1-3; James 4:17; James 5:17-18. Purity, Titus 1:15. Worship, 1 Timothy 2:1-3; Hebrews 10:25. Death. 2 Timothy 1:8; 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 11:5-6; Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:14; James 4:14.



IT cannot be said that the dispute concerning the authorship of this epistle or treatise has been settled, but it may be said that the general result of the elaborate and long-continued discussion is confidence in its Pauline character, but not in its Pauline authorship. The inscription to the epistle in the Authorised Version carries no authority, and represents no more than private opinion. Whether it is to be regarded or not as the actual work of St. Paul cannot be decided by early Church traditions. It must depend on a critical examination of the language, style, tone, and doctrinal settings of the epistle, as these are compared with the admitted epistles of the apostle. The differences, indeed, between it and them are so evident that the cursory reader cannot fail to recognise them. And making all due allowance for the differences in the language, style, and thought of authors at different times in their lives, as well as the differences which belong to variety of subjects, and effort to adapt to varying conditions in those addressed, it must be admitted that the marks of St. Paul’s own handiwork cannot be traced in this epistle. Paul’s rhetoric is intense, the rapid utterance of strong passion; the rhetoric of this writer is formal, studied, precise. St. Paul magnified his office as the apostle to the Gentiles, and it is hardly conceivable that he could write a treatise without once mentioning them, or showing any concern for their particular interests. It was not in St. Paul’s way to prepare a sketch or outline of the thought and argument which he wished to present; this writer has evidently worked out a pre-arranged plan, and his digressions are practical applications of each part of his theme. But the point which seems to be of the greatest importance is, that while St. Paul and the writer of this epistle both deal with the inferiority of Judaism to Christianity, St. Paul sees it as a scaffolding which can be taken down when the permanent building is erected, while this writer sees it to be the germ out of which Christianity has come as an unfolding. This difference of standpoint almost assures the non-Pauline character of the work. St. Paul’s contentions with the Judaising party tended to make him intense and even bitter in his references to the older dispensation, as may be seen in the epistles to the Romans and Galatians. Boast though he does over his Jewish origin and relations, there is almost a pugnacious tone when the two systems have to be contrasted. But in the epistle to the Hebrews the tone is eminently conciliatory; there is nothing that could shock even the unconverted Jews. The writer sees in Judaism not so much a law as a system of worship; and Christianity is but the unfolding and flowering of the primary truths that were kept safe, and carried through the ages, by the Jewish types. The writer had, indeed, an idea of the Divine education of the race which it is difficult to associate with St. Paul. To these considerations it is usual to add that the two writers use the Old Testament Scriptures in different ways; and that the writer of the “Hebrews” shows, in a very marked way, the influence of the teachings of Philo, the Alexandrian Jew. If the writer came under the direct influence of St. Paul, it is certain that he also came under the influence of the Alexandrian School. The following writers tend to favour the Pauline authorship: Stuart, Davidson, Wordsworth. The following represent the Continental divines who are opposed to the Pauline authorship: Luther, Erasmus, Calvin, Melancthon, Grotius, LeClerc, Tholuck, Delitzsch. Dr. R. W. Dale seems to consider the arguments for and against as about equally good.

Various suggestions of likely authors from among the Pauline disciples have been made. Barnabas, Luke, Clement, Mark, Titus, Sylvanus, and Aquila have been named, but the trend of modern opinion is decidedly in favour of the authorship of Apollos, as he appears to meet all the exigencies of the case. He belonged to Alexandria; was remarkable for eloquence; and came under the direct influence of St. Paul. Dean Plumptre, writing in the Expositor, May 1875, worked out a very interesting, but quite independent, argument for the authorship of Apollos. There is a work belonging to the same period as the epistle to the Hebrews, but it is not a Christian work. It is known as the Wisdom of Solomon, and it is anonymous. The dean very elaborately shows that certain words and phrases are characteristic of and peculiar to both this book and the epistle to the Hebrews. Both works are manifestly indebted to Philo, the leader of Jewish thought in Alexandria. The dean’s suggestion is, that Apollos wrote both the Wisdom of Solomon and the epistle to the Hebrews,—the former before knowing the truth in Christ, and when only acquainted with the baptism of John, and the Jewish reformation that was inaugurated by him; the latter after, when instructed in the way of God more perfectly. Luther started the idea that Apollos may have been the author. Dean Farrar warmly supports the suggestion, going so far as to say that either Apollos wrote the epistle or it is the work of some author who is to us entirely unknown. He bases his judgment on the following considerations: Apollos was a Jew. He was a Hellenist. He was an Alexandrian. He was famed for his eloquence, and his powerful method of applying Scripture. He was a friend of Timotheus, He had acquired considerable authority in various Churches. He had been taught by the apostle. He adopted an independent line of his own (1 Corinthians 3:6). We have no trace that he was ever at Jerusalem; and yet his style of argument was specially effective as addressed to Jewish hearers. There need be no difficulty in accepting the Divine inspiration of Apollos for the work of writing this epistle, seeing that we fully accept the inspiration of St. Peter’s disciple, Mark, and of St. Paul’s other disciple, Luke, for the writing of the gospels.

No certain knowledge can be gained concerning either the place from which the epistle was written, or the persons who were first addressed. The date even is undefined, save that its contents indicate the Temple at Jerusalem as still standing. The object of the epistle is, however, very well defined. It is designed to be corrective of the special dangers to which the Hebrew Christians were at that time exposed, especially the danger of relapsing into Rabbinical Judaism. They were liable to persecution both from the pagans and from the strict Jews. They were tempted to apostatise from their faith in Christ. They were perplexed by the difficulties of ordering opinion and conduct according to the rules of Mosaism, and also to the principles of Christianity. They were attracted to a sort of reformed Judaism, which assumed to treat Christianity as unnecessary. Dr. Moulton gives a suggestive note on the conditions which called for the epistle: “The Christians addressed were in eminent danger of apostasy. The danger was occasioned partly by seductions from without, partly by weakness within. Even when the fabric of Jewish power was falling, the influence of its past history, its glorious treasure of promise, its unique associations, retained a wonderful power. As we look back on the years preceding the fall of Jerusalem, the case of the people may seem to us hopeless; but the confidence of the nation was unbroken, and even at that period we note outbursts of national pride and enthusiastic hope. Bitter hate and contempt for Christianity on the one hand, and the attraction of their ancestral worship and ritual on the other, had apparently won a victory over the constancy of some Christians belonging to this Hebrew community. Where open opposition had not prevailed, the tone of Christian faith had been lowered. The special temptations of these Christians seem to have been towards a loss of interest in the higher Christian truths, and a union of elementary Christian teaching with that to which they had been accustomed as Jews.”
The homiletical treatment of the several paragraphs may be wisely prefaced by a general survey of the course of the writer’s argument. The leading purpose is to show the relation of Christianity to Judaism, and at the same time the essential superiority of Christianity as a spiritual over Judaism as a formal system.

1. There is a comparison of the manner in which the revelation is given in the two dispensations. The law, by the disposition of angels, who are only servants; the gospel, by the manifestation of the Son, who is a direct source of authority. Upon this argument an exhortation is based. Apostasy was terribly punished under the old and formal dispensation. How much more must it be terribly punished under the higher and spiritual dispensation!
2. Then comes a comparison of the mediators of the two dispensations. In respect of faithfulness both Moses and Christ win Divine approval; but Moses only takes a place as part of the furniture of the old dispensation—Christ takes place with God as the Founder and Builder of the new. Moses was a servant in the house; Christ is the Son over the house. An exhortation follows, based on the historical fact that many of the Israelites failed, by reason of unbelief, to gain the promised rest of Canaan. Soul-rest in Christ is equally imperilled by unbelief.
3. Then comes a comparison of the high priests of the two dispensations. A common relation to the people through a human experience. Likeness in being both appointed by God to office. Difference in the types—Old Testament after type of Levi; New Testament after type of Melchizedek. The course of the comparison is arrested in order to insert an exhortation and reproach. Imperfections of Christians make the deep things of God difficult of apprehension. Continuance of imperfections put in grave peril of apostasy. There is encouragement for all, who would be steadfast, in the promises of God, confirmed by His oath. Then the writer reverts to his comparison of the priestly orders. Melchizedek was priest before Levi, and even received the homage of Levi. The Levitical order was subject to death and change. The order of Melchizedek, being spiritual, is permanent. Christ belongs to the Melchizedek order; for He sprang from the tribe of Judah, not of Levi. A priest was promised after the order of Melchizedek. That promise is not fulfilled unless it is fulfilled in Christ. Resuming the comparison, the writer shows that in Judaism the appointment was made without an oath, in Christianity with an oath. Moreover, the Jewish priests were many; the spiritual Priest is one. Levitical priests had their sphere in earthly and ceremonial affairs, Christ in heavenly and spiritual affairs. The first covenant was in every way imperfect and educational, the second was in every way superior.
4. Then follows a comparison of the services of the two priesthoods. The following points are presented:

(1) The ceremonial indicated that the way into the holiest was not made plain. That way is made plain by Christ.
(2) The old service was entirely outward, formal, ceremonial. There might be spiritual life in it, but there need not be to constitute effective service. The service of Christ is altogether spiritual.
(3) The old sacrifices were of unwilling beasts; the sacrifice of Christ was that of His own will, His own consenting personality.
(4) Salvation and pardon were associated with blood and death. So they are in Christ in a spiritual manner.
(5) The old sacrifices were numerous; the one sacrifice of Christ is offered once for all.
(6) The old sacrifices had their spiritual virtue only so far as they were typical of Christ’s sacrifice.
(7) The cleansings effected by the old ritual concerned only ceremonial relations, and were only temporary. Christ’s cleansing is perfect because it is the renewal of the will.
(8) The old priests were ever coming to the altar; Christ, having offered His sacrifice once, is seated on His throne. The remainder of the epistle is hortatory. These being our privileges, let us take good heed that we do not fall short of them, by reason of any unfaithfulness or apostasy, and let us inspire our souls to noble things by keeping ever before us the thought of those heroic souls who won the victory of constancy and faith. Throughout the epistle there is nothing to cause offence to any sensitive Jew. The one thing the writer is anxious to show is, that a Jew comes up into Christianity much as a Jew boy comes up out of the limited sphere of thought and interest of his boyhood into the larger, wider sphere of his manhood. But he should not want to go back into his boyhood stage again.

These preliminary explanations will put the reader en rapport with the epistle. We deal with it entirely as furnishing suggestions for homiletic treatment; the exegetical and expository elements are introduced in this commentary only so far as they may be necessary in order to sustain the homiletic hints. Succinctness and suggestiveness are constantly kept in view, as the work proposes to be thoughts for thinkers.


The Rev. W. M. Lewis, in the Thinker (September 1893), admitting that the Pauline authorship cannot be maintained by the arguments hitherto adduced by its advocates, the place, time, and circumstances given, during the life of Paul, to its production leaving its difficulties unexplained, thinks the proposition can be maintained that “it was the joint production of St. Paul and St. Luke during the imprisonment of the former at Cæsarea, A.D. 58–60.”

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