Book Overview - Hebrews
by Daniel Whedon
TO WHOM WRITTEN.
THE title of the book, “to the Hebrews,” if not given by the author, must have been adopted by its copyists and readers upon its earliest circulation. It is the only title found in all the ancient manuscripts and copies in every part of the world. Its earliest receivers from the author, its earliest publishers and circulators, must, therefore, have certainly been “Hebrews.” But what is meant by “Hebrews?” Primarily, it designates persons of Hebrew descent, whether born in Palestine or elsewhere. Thus Paul, though born in Cilicia, out of Palestine, asserts himself a “Hebrew of the Hebrews.” Philippians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 11:22. At one time, in Jerusalem, (Acts 6:1, where see notes,) it is used in antithesis to Hellenists, or Jews by descent but of foreign birth. This appears to have been but temporary, for the word appears later to be used specially in application to the entire Christian Church at Jerusalem. Thus Delitzsch says, “The Church of Jerusalem actually bore the title η των ‘Εβραιων εκκλησια, (Clementis, Ep. ad Jacob., hom. 11, 35,) as consisting entirely of Hebrews.” So Eusebius, in his Church History, (iv, 5,) says that the Jerusalem Church consisted of believing Hebrews, εξ ‘Εβραιων πιστων. So, as we might expect, the very title of the book, “to the Hebrews,” not only points to Palestine, but designates the capital of Palestine, the sacred head of the Hebrew race.
This designation is confirmed by two considerations. First, the epistle, however widely it was to be afterwards circulated, was primarily addressed to a single Church; and, second, circumstances show that Church to have been Jerusalem. That it was primarily addressed to a single Church is clear from the last chapter, which is familiar in its tone, and adjusted to the peculiarities of a particular Church, especially the last three verses. The writer there informs the Church of Timothy’s liberation, of his own hope soon to visit them with Timothy, and gives them the salutations of the Italian Christians present with him. See our notes on the passage. It is certain, then, that this epistle was sent to, and received by, a single local Church.
And this Church was Jerusalem. To what single Church would an epistle intended for the Hebrew Christians in general be addressed, but to the old representative capital? To what other Church would an epistle be entitled “to the Hebrews?” Such is the fair and clear presumption. We should assume this anticipatively, and maintain it until we are met by fair counter proof. The presumption is also against any sideway city, as Caesarea or Alexandria; none of which ever made any claim in the early ages to the honour. If Caesarea was really the Church addressed, (as Stuart is inclined to think,) how happens it that Eusebius of Caesarea, the great Church historian, never heard of it? If written to Alexandria, strange that the illustrious line of Alexandrian scholars, including Origen, never dreamed of it. If to Rome, as Alford conjectures, it is unaccountable that early Rome ignores or rejects both its Paulinity and its canonicity. We are thus shut up to Jerusalem alone.
This view is confirmed by the minute knowledge of the temple ritual required by the epistle of its readers. Scholarly men might, indeed, be familiar with these details, but our author is not addressing the learned class, but the mass of the people. To the men perfectly acquainted with their minutiae the appeal is first made, namely, to the Jerusalem Christians, and then the epistle could well go the rounds of all the Palestinian, and then of the Gentile, Churches. Particularly the phrase, “without the gate,” (xiii, 12, where see our note,) presupposes that the mind of author and reader is at Jerusalem. Delitzsch acutely remarks, that in the epistle the constant antithesis is not between the synagogue and the Church, but between the temple and the επισυναγωγη —episynagogue— of the Christians. “No traces,” he remarks, “are found of any such purely Jewish Churches as this addressed Church was, in the dispersion.”
The assumption that this epistle was addressed to Jerusalem agrees remarkably with the relations of Paul to that Church. It was about six years before its writing that the apostle visited Jerusalem, attended by a retinue of friends, bearing donations from Greece and Asia to the “poor saints at Jerusalem.” He was, with his friends, “received gladly,” and was entertained at the house of Mnason, “an old disciple.” And this fact answers the objection, that the “saints” of Jerusalem, being “poor,” could not have exercised the hospitality ascribed to the receivers of this epistle, Hebrews 6:10. But Paul and his company had experienced these very hospitalities, and could afford to give credit for them. The plentiful hospitalities which, as “mother Church,” the Jerusalem Christians had to exercise, may have contributed to make them “poor.” The next day he was received in state by James with the elders, whom he “saluted” and favoured with a full report of his missionary success “among the Gentiles,” for which “they glorified the Lord.” (Acts 21:17-20.) It is plain that the heart of the Church, including James, was fully with Paul. So it had been at the Jerusalem Council, years before. (Acts 15:1-19.) But, as at the Jerusalem Council, so at this last visit, there was a body of Judaistic outsiders bitterly opposed to Paul. As it was the week of Pentecost, myriads of rural Judaistic Christians were in town, and it was fatally concluded that Paul should perform a ritual to conciliate them. In this performance he was assaulted by a mob of anti-Christian Jews, from them was rescued by the Romans, and sent into what proved an imprisonment finally at Rome. Peculiarly apposite is his application of the word restored (Hebrews 13:19) to his return to a Church from which he had thus been violently snatched without even permission to bid them a hasty farewell. That with this Church he should afterward retain exchanges of communication, and that to it he should address a memorable epistle, second only to his Roman, has an interesting presumption in its favour. It precisely tallies, also, with the fact, that while the closing chapter amply reveals his person to the Church he addresses, his name should be withheld from its commencement, in order that its circulation among the Judaistic Churches of Palestine might not be impeded. This is the ancient solution; and we hold it as still standing good.
It blends beautifully, too, with the testimony of the primitive Pantaenus, yet to be given, that Paul declined to style himself Apostle in writing to the Jerusalem “Hebrews,” reverently conceding that title, as the epistle truly does, to Him who was alone the divine Apostle to the chosen race. Hebrews 3:1.
AT WHAT TIME WRITTEN.
The use of the present tense in Hebrews 9:7, in describing the performance of the Jewish ritual, clearly indicates that the temple is still standing and Jerusalem undestroyed. But, as we interpret Hebrews 10:25; Hebrews 10:37, the Christians of Jerusalem were looking for the omens designated by our Lord (Matthew 25) as betokening its coming doom. But the most precise date we think is fixed by Hebrews 13:23, (where see our note,) which shows this epistle to have been written not long after Philippians, which was written about A.D. 63. To the Philippians Paul had given notice that when his judicial destiny was decided, he would send Timothy to them, and now he informs the Hebrews that Timothy is on that mission. This epistle, therefore, cannot be dated later than 64, six years before the destruction of Jerusalem. St. James had, according to Josephus, been martyred in 62, so that he may be counted among the martyrs commemorated in Hebrews 13:7. See Introduction to the Epistle to James.
AUTHORSHIP OF THE EPISTLE.
Of the three great divisions of the Church—the EASTERN, including Asia Minor and Palestine, the ALEXANDRIAN, and the WESTERN or ROMAN— the first two received the epistle as Paul’s, the last rejected it, both as canonical and Pauline. Yet those who received it as historically Paul’s, did frequently, on account of its peculiarity of style, either conjecture it to have been translated into Greek from a Hebrew original written by Paul, or that in some way Paul’s thoughts had been clothed with verbiage by another pen than his—as a guess, perhaps Luke’s or Clement’s. And here we reject the illegitimate process by which Lunemann and others bring out a very illegitimate anti-Pauline conclusion. They illogically confound a matter of historical fact, namely, the true authorship by Paul, with a matter of opinion, namely, a conjectural solution of the problem of the style. Eliminate the mere opinion from the historical fact, and we have left a very clear consensus of the Palestinian and Alexandrian Churches in the actual uncontradicted authorship by Paul. And this elimination should be made. For in a matter of style the modern critic may be as well able to judge as the ancient; but in a matter of fact the modern inquirer depends upon the ancient testimony. The one is guess, the other is history.
I. That the PALESTINIAN CHURCH, to whom the epistle was addressed, received it as Paul’s, is a very decisive fact. If the epistle were written to Jerusalem Paul was certainly its author. The closing chapter of the epistle entirely demonstrates that the true author was known to the Church addressed, and that in all probability he subsequently visited the Church in company with Timothy. Five or six years afterwards Jerusalem was swept out of existence, and was unable to make its claim to be the Church of this epistle. And yet all the East claimed it as written to the East. The title “To the Hebrews” was stamped upon it. And when the Peshito Version, which was a translation of the Greek Testament into the Palestinian vernacular, was made, Hebrews was inserted by Palestinian authority in the canon, and in immediate connexion with the Pauline epistles.
Though no early Oriental writers are now extant to be quoted in behalf of Paul’s authorship, yet we have the most conclusive evidence of the unanimity of the East. ST. JEROME, though a Latin writer, spent a large share of his life in Bethlehem-Judah, and the real view of the East is by him repeatedly stated. Thus, in his Epistle to Evagrius he uses this expression: “The Epistle to the Hebrews, which all the Greeks receive, and some of the Latins.” In his Epistle to Dardanus he says: “This epistle, which is inscribed to the Hebrews, is received as the Apostle Paul’s, not only by the Churches of the East, but by all the past ecclesiastical writers of the Greek language, although the most [that is, of the Latins] think it the work of Barnabas or Clement: and this makes no difference, since it is the work of a man of the Church, and it is daily celebrated in the reading of the Churches. If the custom of the Romans do not receive it among the canonical Scriptures, just as the Greek Churches, with equal freedom, do not receive the Apocalypse of John, yet we receive both; not following the custom of the day, but following the authority of the ancient writers, who mostly use the testimonies of both, not as they are sometimes accustomed to do with the apocryphal writers, but as canonical.”
From this testimony we know that—1. The Churches of Palestine, and the great body of Eastern Greek writers, received the book as Paul’s; he was accepted by the Hebrews as author of their book of Hebrews: 2. In this the Latins dissented from them: 3. The book was read by the Palestinians in the public service: 4. For Jerome to accept the book as Pauline and canonical was to disregard the notion of the hour, and to rely on the “authority of the ancient authors.” Now as Jerome was master of the Christian literature of Palestine and the East, as our modern times are not; and as he knew the public services and sentiments of the Palestinian Churches, this testimony covers the ground conclusively. Jerome would, indeed, be too late to be a primitive witness to the fact of Pauline authorship; but he is a decisive witness of the testimony of all the preceding writers and of the Hebrew Churches. With full knowledge of the whole case he not only abandoned the western opinion for the eastern, but he was, with Augustine, a main mover in converting the Western Church to correct opinions.
EUSEBIUS, the father of Church history, resided in Caesarea, Palestine, and was among the first to give a complete catalogue of New Testament books, with their authors. He divides the proposed books into three classes: the undisputed, the disputed, and the spurious. He reckons fourteen epistles, thereby including Hebrews as Paul’s undisputedly, with a reserve—1. That its Pauline authorship was questioned by some of the Latins; and, 2. That its style indicated it to be a translation from Paul’s original Hebrew. His words are, (Book III, chap. iii,) “Fourteen are clearly and certainly Paul’s; although it is proper to be known that some have rejected that which is written to the Hebrews, alleging, with the Church of Rome, that it is spoken against as not belonging to Paul.” Herein we note two things: 1. Eusebius himself considers the epistle to be certainly Paul’s, and that this is the true churchly opinion; 2. That the counter view is limited to “the Church of Rome,” in deference to which a “some” dissent, not numerous enough to prevent the book’s being classed with the undisputed. Yet, in reference to these, he does, in a later passage, call it disputed. According as he recognised these dissenters or not, the epistle was disputed or undisputed. But the dissent was not native to Palestine.
In default of extant remains of ancient eastern writers we have some important indications of this unanimity. The Council of Antioch, in about A.D. 264, issued a letter in regard to the heresy of Paul of Samosata, containing passages quoted from our book of Hebrews, and one, as Stuart says, is “directly ascribed to the same apostle who wrote the Epistle to the Corinthians.”—EUSEBIUS, Eccl. Hist., 7: 30. This was of course, a testimony of a representative body of eastern bishops.
The argument is conclusive that 2 Peter 3:15-16 attributes this epistle to Paul. The words are: “Even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood.” On these words we note:
1. They speak of a particular epistle “written unto you,” in distinction from “all his epistles.” There is an antithesis between “all” and “written unto you.” One particular epistle is isolated from “all” the rest.
2. That one was “written unto YOU;” that is, to the converted “Hebrews.” For it was to such that the First Epistle to Peter was written, (1 Peter 1:1, where see note;) and “this second epistle” was written to the same, as appears by 2 Peter 3:1. The one epistle “written unto you” was written to the Hebrews, and could be no other than this epistle.
3. The topic treated by that one was the retribution of the judgment day, a topic on which Hebrews is abundantly copious, Hebrews 9:27-28; Hebrews 10:19-31; Hebrews 12:1; Hebrews 12:14-15.
4. The phrase in this passage of 2 Peter, “things hard to be understood,” (δυσνοητα τινα,) is too peculiar and too coincident with” hard to be uttered,” (Hebrews 5:11,) δυσερμηνευτος λεγειν, hard to be interpreted to speak, (see our note on the passage,) not to be a direct reference. So many coincident facts are very decisive that Paul is here declared by the author of 2 Peter to be the writer of Hebrews as a fact notorious to the Hebrew Christians.
II. Less primitive, but more learned, than the Church of Palestine, was the CHURCH OF ALEXANDRIA, founded, according to good authorities, by St. Mark. Connected by a single intermediate generation with St. Mark was the founder of the celebrated Alexandrian theological school, PANTAENUS, who was succeeded in the theological chair by Clement of Alexandria. Of Pantaenus, Clement informs us that he held the epistle to be Paul’s, which carries the testimony of Alexandria back, as we may say, through Mark, to the apostolic age. This as matter of history— the epistle was Paul’s. As matter either of history or conjectural opinion, Pantaenus held that Paul’s reason for not giving his name was, that he was not apostle of the Hebrews, as truly the Lord himself alone was, as Paul in the epistle truly states. Whether this was with Pantaenus an historically-derived fact, or a critical conjecture, it is quite probably true; and it at any rate assumes that Paul was truly the author of the epistle.
CLEMENT himself attributes the epistle to Paul. To this historic fact he adds, as a solution of the un-Pauline style, that it was first written by Paul in Hebrew, and translated by Luke, and that Paul withheld his name in order not to repel the prejudiced Jews from reading. All this may be true history; or it may be a conjectural solution in addition to the historical fact, which is plainly affirmed, that Paul was author of the book of Hebrews.
ORIGEN was the most eminent biblical scholar of his age. He taught in Alexandria., his native city, through the earlier part of his life, but later in Caesarea-Palestine. He was master of all the Alexandrian and Palestinian Christian literature. Critically, he thought the style un-Pauline, being too pure in its Greek, and free from some of Paul’s peculiarities. Historically, his judgment is as follows: “Whatever Church holds this to be an epistle of Paul’s, let it receive approval; for it is not without reason that the men of antiquity (οι αρχαιοι ανδρες ) have handed it down as Paul’s.”
This is an historical statement of what the original receivers of the epistle, so far as Origen knew, affirmed of its authorship. And it is inadmissible (with Alford) to interpolate a limitation of these “men of antiquity” to Origen’s two predecessors, Pantaenus and Clement, for no such limitation is authorized by Origen; and, in fact, the words may have been written in Palestine. Nor can there be any limitation as to time; for if there were, to his knowledge, any earlier antiquity than that of these “men,” which might have denied the epistle to Paul, he would have noted it. Historically, then, according to all known tradition, the epistle is Paul’s.
Yet Origen pays his respects to the then “modern” criticism. “Nevertheless,” says he, “who wrote the epistle God only knows; but a rumour has come to us, of some saying that Clement, Bishop of Rome, wrote it; and of others saying that it was written by Luke.” Lay the emphasis on knows, and the whole is clear and true. Decisive as the historical testimony is, the style has produced conjectural opinions, and absolute truth on the subject is known to God alone. Yet Origen uniformly quotes the epistle as Paul’s, not from a mere “habit,” or from “the current,” as Alford unjustifiably says, forgetting that such a “habit” must have had a reasonable basis, namely, the fact that although God alone absolutely knows the true author, yet there is a reliable human certainty justifying the uniform assumption of its Pauline authorship. Origen’s universal habit of quoting Hebrews as Paul’s own, shows that such was his position.
III. The WESTERN or ROMAN CHURCH, a Church defective in learning, on the contrary, gave this epistle a slow and cold reception, either ignoring it entirely, or ignoring its Paulinity, and even rejecting it from the New Testament Canon. CLEMENT, Bishop of Rome at the close of the first century, probably before St. John’s death, and probably the personal friend of Paul, does, indeed, quote largely from it, apparently as Scripture, yet, as was the custom, without naming the author. He possibly recognised it as both canonical and Pauline. But Clement stands nearly alone in such recognition. IRENAEUS of Lyons, Gaul, probably wholly ignores it, perhaps was ignorant of it; and his pupil, HIPPOLYTUS, Bishop of Novi Portus, near Rome, stands in the same predicament. It is uncertain whether the epistle was received into the earliest Latin Version of the New Testament— certainly not as Paul’s. The MURATORIAN CATALOGUE of New Testament books, belonging at Rome to the second half of the second century, does not clearly name it. There is, however, a remarkable passage in this catalogue, which in the Latin, as corrected by Westcott, (Canon of the New Testament, ) reads thus: “Fertur etiam ad Laodicenses, alia ad Alexandrinos, Pauli nomine finctae ad haeresim Marcionis.” The last “ad” Westcott holds to be a translation of the Greek προς, and so may be rendered in regard to. We may translate thus: “There is in circulation an epistle to the Laodiceans, another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, in regard to the heresy of Marcion.” We shall soon give reasons for supposing this epistle to the Alexandrians to be our Hebrews.
In the Latin Church of Africa, TERTULLIAN quotes the epistle in support of a position of his; but he quotes it as written by Barnabas; and he imagines that he is exalting its credit by calling attention to the fact that Barnabas was no less than an apostle’s colleague! Both the Paulinity and the canonicity of our epistle would fail if judged by early Rome alone. The reasons we take to be nearly these. The Church of Jerusalem, the mother Church of all, being demolished and dispersed, was unable to assert her claim to the honour of being its recipient, and no other Church had any claim to assert. The epistle travelled, as an orphan, slowly westward. And the farther the east from which it came (as from Jerusalem rather than Caesarea) the more satisfactory this explanation of its slow reception. It came to Rome, not like Rome’s own great epistle, as well as all the other Pauline epistles, headed with the illustrious name of Paul, but anonymous. Nor did its first chapter open like the Roman document, with an elastic Romanic majesty, (see our vol. iii, p. 289,) but with a certain Alexandrian rhythm and tune. In addition to this, it is held by such scholars as Wetstein and Hug, that such passages as Hebrews 6:4-8; Hebrews 10:26-31, were quoted by the heretical Montanists at Rome to prove their doctrine that fallen members of the Church should never be re-admitted. The Roman Church bitterly opposed this Montanist view, and so rejected this anonymous epistle from the East that seemed to sustain it. It was in A.D. 494 that a Roman council, headed by Pope Gelasius, included in their catalogue of canonical books fourteen epistles of Paul, which, of course, embraced Hebrews. The Council of Trent confirmed this decision.
RIVAL CLAIMS TO ITS AUTHORSHIP.
Against the other names proposed as authors of this epistle the arguments appear conclusive.
BARNABAS is named by Tertullian alone. None of his great African successors, as Athanasius and Augustine, accept the opinion; but ascribe the epistle to Paul. His native island of Cyprus makes no claim for Barnabas; on the contrary, Epiphanius, the learned Bishop of Salamis, in Cyprus, sustains the claim of Paul. The opinion of Tertullian has had scarce a follower in any age.
The other rivals, as Clement, Luke, and Apollos are named, not on primitive historical evidence, but as solutions of the problem of style.
CLEMENT, being Bishop of Rome, if he were the author of the epistle, would have been loudly sustained by Rome. The epistle would not have been an orphan and a fugitive, but a native and a power, in the West. Besides, his style is less like that of the epistle than Paul’s own style.
LUKE was a native, or at least a resident, of Antioch; and Antioch was amply able to give notoriety to his claim; but Antioch speaks for Paul alone. And of Luke, too, we affirm that his style is far more unlike the style of Hebrews than is Paul’s own style. The resemblance to Luke’s style are in minutiae and turns of expression; which he may easily be supposed to have acquired from intimacy with Paul. What has Luke written that indicates that he could have written that grandiloquent first chapter of Hebrews? Where in Luke’s style is the first tinge of Alexandrianism? What authority had Luke entitling him to write the magisterial rebuke of Hebrews 5:12-14? What probability that a modest Gentile like Luke should assume to read so imperatorial a lecture on apostasy to the mother Church of Christianity?
APOLLOS is the last, but not the poorest, guess, having been first suggested by Luther fourteen centuries after date. So far as style of language is concerned, we might say that Luke’s description of him, in Acts 18:24, renders him a fair candidate; but not as to style of mind. He appears as a rich, popular orator, easy to follow, mighty in Scripture. But there are traits in Hebrews of difficult transition, broken connexions of thought, and suspensions of the subject in order to digression, which are by no means easy for the mind to follow, and which are inconsistent with the Apolline theory, and call for Paul alone.
IT BEARS THE SURE TOKEN OF A PAULINE EPISTLE.
Paul, however, never specified his name at the head to be the sure token of an epistle from him, but the benediction at the end. This token he gave in one of his earliest epistles (2 Thessalonians 3:17-18) as the sure test, in these words: “The salutation of [me] Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” This benedictory salutation is given in all his thirteen epistles; and this token it is very significant, and, we think, very conclusive, to note, is carefully and explicitly given at the end of Hebrews. It is authenticated as Paul’s by Paul’s own appointed token. Thus, while the display of his name was not allowed to impede the general circulation of the epistle, the assurance of his authorship was carefully given to his friends at Jerusalem. Finally, if Delitzsch’s suggestion, given in our note on Hebrews 1:1, is valid, then Paul’s name, twice written, does stand occultly at the head of the epistle; a secret guarantee, perhaps, to his friends, but invisible to the eyes of his opponents; and so leaving its diffusion impeded throughout the Hebrew Christian world.
THE TWO SOLUTIONS OF THE PROBLEM OF STYLE.
The maintainers of Paul’s authorship have suggested two conjectural solutions of the question of the supposed un-Pauline style of the epistle. The first is the hypothesis that Paul, by converse or by notes, gave the thoughts, and Luke, Clement, or Apollos wrote them out in his own style. The second is the assumption of an original Hebrew, of which the present epistle is a Greek translation by one of the above writers.
Of these two solutions the preferable would be the hypothesis of a Hebrew original, with a translation under Paul’s supervision. Of that translation, as it stands, we can conceive no one capable but Apollos. He may have furnished the Alexandrian surface varnish; have yet preserved the Pauline peculiarities of connexion and transition underlying; have secured, in Alexandrian fashion, the uniform reference to the Septuagint; and, with Paul’s association, have hit off the Greek word-plays, and even the verbal arguments upon the covenant-testament. There is some appearance in the words of Clement that there was historical authority for this hypothesis, but the fatal defect is, that there is no known trace of the existence of any such Hebrew original. The objection might be plausibly, but not satisfactorily, obviated, by supposing it lost in the destruction of Jerusalem and dispersion of the Church.
SUGGESTION OF A THIRD SOLUTION.
As this is a field still open, we venture a solution of our own. There were, to the later Jewish Church, to the New Testament, and to St. Paul, both a rabbinical and an Alexandrian side. Rabbinism, with its Targum and its talmudical traditions, belonged to Babylon and the East; Alexandrianism, with its Septuagint and its Philonean philosophies, belonged to the West; and both blended their influences upon Palestine and Jerusalem. Delitzsch, who has profoundly studied this subject, very strongly maintains that Alexandrianism performed a very important and divinely-appointed part in bridging over the public thought from the old covenant to the new. Philonism was a brilliant effort to bring the narrower, yet most divine Old Testament thought, into unison with the new expansive age. This it could not by any speculation successfully do; for it required Christ with his divine history to unite the new to the old. Thence it became important to take the right elements that both Rabbinism and Philonism furnished, and reconstruct them into Christian verity. Paul did this largely in regard to Rabbinism in Romans, Colossians, and Galatians. John did this in regard to the Logos, or Word; and in John a shade of the Alexandrian style is distinctly visible, even in the New Testament. In St. Paul such a reconstruction is somewhat performed in Galatians 4:21-31, where see our notes. The same Alexandrianism appears in the speech of Stephen. But its greatest work, after John, is in this Epistle to the Hebrews, and we venture to believe that the work was performed solely by Paul himself.
In working this problem it must not be forgotten that Paul had a variety of surface styles, with a wonderful identity of underlying mental style. Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Timothy are remarkably different in surface colorings; yet we feel the one underlying mind of Paul dealing with us in all. There is a great difference in surface, and even in spirit, between the first chapter of Romans and the eighth chapter. The style of that eighth chapter approaches that of Hebrews more than it does that of the first chapter. Specially does Romans 8:18-23 exhibit the same mystical blend of grandeur and slow moving pathos with Hebrews. Who can doubt that 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 and Hebrews 2:7-18 came from the same pen?
Now at Jerusalem there was one or more Alexandrian synagogues, and the speech of St. Stephen shows that an Alexandrian spirit pervaded the air. Among the Alexandrian liberalists of Jerusalem, rather than among the rabbinical bigots, Christianity was likely to prevail. The rabbinical side emphasized the human Messiah, and tended to reject his divinity, and so ran into Ebionism. The Alexandrian preferred the ideal, almost impersonal, Logos-Messiah, and were stumbled at our Lord’s humiliation, weakness, suffering, and death. Philo had taught them this transcendentalism, attenuating the Messiah of prophecy almost into an idealism. It was, then, to save this Alexandrine class of Christians that Paul wrote this epistle. His whole epistle is one great effort to reconstruct Philonean Messianism into Christian Messianism. He begins by affirming all the transcendental grandeur of the Messiah’s origin in the highest style of Philonism; he shows how thereby the very humiliations are as sublime as they are tender. How glorious is his picture of the divine Apostle Messiah; how touching, melting, winning his portraiture of the suffering, dying, priest-victim Messiah! And then all the ritual of Mosaicism is wrought into a vivid symbolism of that divine Sufferer’s expiation. Thereupon with what tearful pathos, yet awful menace, does he warn his Hebrews from apostatizing from this living-dying Christ!
Now let us suppose that having learned the danger of Hebrew apostasy, and, probably, having learned that a large section of the Jerusalem Church had in fact already so apostatized, (note on Hebrews 6:4,) our apostle, after his release, stopping at Rome—or, as Mr. Lewin suggests, at Puteoli or at Ephesus, (where John’s style shows that Alexandrinism was no stranger,)—had spent some weeks in an intense reading over of the works of Philo and his school, with purpose of this reconstruction. He is about to address a class of thinkers to whom that style is very attractive. Just as he once talked Hebrew to win the Hebrew Jerusalemites, (Acts 22:2,) he can now talk Philo to win these Alexandrian Jerusalemites. His own mind has a side of sympathy for this style, as well as for the measures of the Greek poets, or the wisdom of the rabbies. Partly unconsciously and partly consciously and willingly, he would, at least in parts of his essay—for this style reigns only in parts— adopt the style with which he was then imbued. He will give to his Alexandrians at Jerusalem a better Philo than Philo. And then we shall understand those strange words of the Muratorian fragment, quoted on a previous page, about the “epistle to the Alexandrians, forged in the name of Paul, in regard to the heresy of Marcion.” The epistle was truly Paul’s; it was truly addressed to the “Alexandrians,” but to the Alexandrians at Jerusalem; it was, not intentionally but really, a powerful refutation of the “heresy of Marcion;” for Marcion rejected the God of the Old Testament, whereas the very first chapter of Hebrews sublimely identifies the Son with the Father, the Jehovah of the old covenant.
PHILO JUDAEUS, born in Egypt a few years before the birth of our Saviour, was a resident of Alexandria, and of priestly rank. He was once ambassador from the Jews to the Roman Emperor Claudius, and was by marriage allied to the royal house of Judea. In religious philosophy he endeavoured to find all true philosophy, which in his view was mainly identical with Platonism, in the Old Testament. His works, in four volumes, translated by Yonge, form a part of Bohn’s Ecclesiastical Library.
PLAN OF THE EPISTLE.
THE APOSTLE’S ARGUMENT.
I. TRANSCENDENT DIGNITY OF THE SON AS APOSTLE AND HIGH PRIEST INTRODUCTORILY PRESENTED Hebrews 1:1 to Hebrews 2:18
1. Transcendent dignity of the Son as divine Apostle of our age Hebrews 1:1-4
2. That transcendence proved by Old Testament texts Hebrews 1:5-14
3. Guilt of disregarding his word proportioned to the dignity of his nature Hebrews 2:1-4
4. Nor are angels lord over this dispensation, but JESUS Hebrews 2:5-8
5. That Lordship assumed that he might be able to suffer for and with our humanity Hebrews 2:9-18
II. THE SON AS OUR DIVINE APOSTLE FULLY CONTEMPLATED Hebrews 3:1 to Hebrews 4:13
1. Superior as Son to Moses, who was only servant Hebrews 3:1-6
2. Hence, dread warnings against disobedience to the Son, like the Jews’ disobedience to Moses Hebrews 3:7 - Hebrews 4:13
a. Israel’s failure of the divine Rest as warning Hebrews 3:7-11
b. Application of the warning to you Hebrews 3:12-15
c. For was it not the unbeliever that failed of the Rest? Hebrews 3:16 to Hebrews 4:2
d. For us, too, remains a rest, a danger, and an adjudging WORD Hebrews 4:3-13
III. THE SON AS OUR DIVINE HIGH PRIEST FULLY CONTEMPLATED Hebrews 4:14 to Hebrews 10:18
1. Recurrence to former view of our High Priest Hebrews 4:14-16
2. Real qualities of High Priest, exhibited in Christ Hebrews 5:1-10
3. (Parenthetic rebuke for unteachableness and liability to apostasy, encouragement) Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:20
B. FULL UNFOLDING OF THE HIGH PRIESTHOOD:—
1. It is not local and transient, like the Aaronic, but universal and perpetual, like the Melchizedekian Hebrews 7:1-28
2. It is the NEW-DISPENSATIONAL, ANTITYPICAL, TESTAMENTARY, ALL-SUFFICIENT, real High Priesthood and sacrifice of which the whole old-dispensational Priesthood and Ritual were shadows Hebrews 8:1 to Hebrews 10:18
1. IT IS NEW-DISPENSATIONAL.—Being the substance of the old shadows, it introduces a new covenant and age Hebrews 8:1-13
2. IT IS ANTITYPICAL Hebrews 9:1-28
a. The (two-fold ) tabernacle, with its furniture and priestly service is without worth but as a type Hebrews 9:1-10
b. Of which the heavenly tabernacle, with Christ offering himself, is the antitype Hebrews 9:11-14
c. Testamentary. — (By the death and ascension of our High Priest the new covenant is truly a last will and testament ) Hebrews 9:15-18
d. As by a profuse typical bloodshed the earthly ritual things are purified, so with a better sacrifice are the heavenly things consecrated Hebrews 9:19-28
3. IT IS ALL-SUFFICIENT.—Animal blood, being intrinsically worthless for pardon of sin, is antitypically replaced by the all-sufficient self-offered blood Hebrews 10:1-18
a. Animal blood intrinsically worthless for our justification Hebrews 10:1-4
b. The atonement made by Christ’s submission to the demand for it is ALL-SUFFICIENT Hebrews 10:5-18
ADMONITORY, INSPIRATIONAL, AND PERSONAL CONCLUSIONS.
1. ADMONITORY.—Having such a High Priest beware of unbelief tending to apostasy and death Hebrews 10:19-39
2. INSPIRATIONAL.—The glories of Faith in its illustrious examples of old Hebrews 11:1 to Hebrews 12:2
3. ADMONITORY.—Review your past history as a lesson of cheerful and hopeful, yet fearful, endurance Hebrews 12:3-17
4. INSPIRATIONAL.—In view of our Mount Zion, so superior to Sinai, let us have grace and confidence Hebrews 12:18-29
5. PERSONAL.—Admonitions and salutations to the Jerusalem Church Hebrews 13:1-21
6. POSTSCRIPT Hebrews 13:22-25
the Third Week after Epiphany