Epistle to the Hebrews

The Epistle to the Hebrews, or Letter to the Hebrews, or in the Greek manuscripts, simply To the Hebrews is one of the books of the New Testament.
The text does not mention the name of its author, but was traditionally attributed to Paul the Apostle. However, doubt on Pauline authorship in the Roman Church is reported by Eusebius. Modern biblical scholarship considers its authorship unknown, perhaps written in deliberate imitation of the style of Paul. Although the writer's style reflects some characteristics of Paul's writing, there are some differences.
Scholars of Greek consider its writing to be more polished and eloquent than any other book of the New Testament, and "the very carefully composed and studied Greek of Hebrews is not Paul's spontaneous, volatile contextual Greek". The book has earned the reputation of being a masterpiece. It has also been described as an intricate New Testament book. Scholars believe it was written for Jewish Christians who lived in Jerusalem. Its purpose was to exhort Christians to persevere in the face of persecution. At this time, certain believers were considering turning back to Judaism to escape being persecuted for accepting Christ as their saviour, now following this system of grace. The theme of the epistle is the doctrine of the person of Christ and his role as mediator between God and humanity.
According to traditional scholarship, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, following in the footsteps of Paul, argued that Jewish Law, the cornerstone of the beliefs and traditions of the descendants of the founding fathers, had played a legitimate role in the past but was superseded by a new covenant that applies to Gentiles. However, a growing number of scholars point that the terms Gentile, Christian and Christianity are not present in the text and posit that Hebrews was written for a Jewish audience, and is best seen as a debate between Jewish followers of Jesus and mainstream Judaism. In tone, and detail, Hebrews goes beyond Paul and attempts a more complex, nuanced, and openly adversarial definition of the relationship. The epistle opens with an exaltation of Jesus as "the radiance of God's glory, the express image of his being, and upholding all things by his powerful word". The epistle presents Jesus with the titles "pioneer" or "forerunner", "Son" and "Son of God", "priest" and "high priest". The epistle casts Jesus as both exalted Son and high priest, a unique dual Christology.


Hebrews uses Old Testament quotations interpreted in light of first century rabbinical Judaism. New Testament and Second Temple Judaism scholar Eric Mason argues that the conceptual background of the priestly Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews closely parallels presentations of the messianic priest and Melchizedek in the Qumran scrolls. In both Hebrews and Qumran a priestly figure is discussed in the context of a Davidic figure; in both cases a divine decree appoints the priests to their eschatological duty; both priestly figures offer an eschatological sacrifice of atonement. Although the author of Hebrews was not directly influenced by Qumran's "Messiah of Aaron", these and other conceptions did provide "a precedent... to conceive Jesus similarly as a priest making atonement and eternal intercession in the heavenly sanctuary".


By the end of the first century there was no consensus on the author's identity. Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Paul the Apostle, and other names were proposed. Others later suggested Luke the Evangelist, Apollos, or his teacher Priscilla as possible authors.
In the 3rd century, Origen wrote of the letter,
In the epistle entitled To The Hebrews the diction does not exhibit the characteristic roughness of speech or phraseology admitted by the Apostle himself, the construction of the sentences is closer to the Greek usage, as anyone capable of recognising differences of style would agree. On the other hand the matter of the epistle is wonderful, and quite equal to the Apostle's acknowledged writings: the truth of this would be admitted by anyone who has read the Apostle carefully... If I were asked my personal opinion, I would say that the matter is the Apostle's but the phraseology and construction are those of someone who remembered the Apostle's teaching and wrote his own interpretation of what his master had said. So if any church regards this epistle as Paul's, it should be commended for so doing, for the primitive Church had every justification for handing it down as his. Who wrote the epistle is known to God alone: the accounts that have reached us suggest that it was either Clement, who became Bishop of Rome, or Luke, who wrote the gospel and the Acts.
Further, "Men of old have handed it down as Paul's, but who wrote the Epistle God only knows".
In the 4th century, Jerome and Augustine of Hippo supported Paul's authorship: the Church largely agreed to include Hebrews as the fourteenth letter of Paul, and affirmed this authorship until the Reformation. Scholars argued that in the 13th chapter of Hebrews, Timothy is referred to as a companion. Timothy was Paul's missionary companion in the same way Jesus sent disciples out in pairs. Also, the writer states that he wrote the letter from "Italy", which also at the time fits Paul. The difference in style is explained as simply an adjustment to a distinct audience, to the Jewish Christians who were being persecuted and pressured to go back to traditional Judaism.
Many scholars now believe that the author was one of Paul's pupils or associates, citing stylistic differences between Hebrews and the other Pauline epistles. Recent scholarship has favored the idea that the author was probably a leader of a predominantly Jewish congregation to whom he or she was writing.
Because of its anonymity, it had some trouble being accepted as part of the Christian canon, being classed with the Antilegomena. Eventually it was accepted as scripture because of its sound theology, eloquent presentation, and other intrinsic factors. In antiquity, certain circles began to ascribe it to Paul in an attempt to provide the anonymous work an explicit apostolic pedigree.
The original King James Version of the Bible titled the work "The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews". However, the KJV's attribution to Paul was only a guess, and is currently disputed by recent research. Its vastly different style, different theological focus, different spiritual experience, different Greek vocabulary – all are believed to make Paul's authorship of Hebrews increasingly indefensible. At present, neither modern scholarship nor church teaching ascribes Hebrews to Paul.
A.J. Gordon ascribes the authorship of Hebrews to Priscilla, writing that "It is evident that the Holy Spirit made this woman Priscilla a teacher of teachers". Later proposed by Adolf von Harnack in 1900, Harnack's reasoning won the support of prominent Bible scholars of the early twentieth century. Harnack believes the letter was written in Rome – not to the Church, but to the inner circle. In setting forth his evidence for Priscillan authorship, he finds it amazing that the name of the author was blotted out by the earliest tradition. Citing, he says it was written by a person of "high standing and apostolic teacher of equal rank with Timothy". If Luke, Clemens, Barnabas, or Apollos had written it, Harnack believes their names would not have been obliterated.
Donald Guthrie’s commentary The Letter to the Hebrews mentions Priscilla by name as a suggested author.
Believing the author to have been Priscilla, Ruth Hoppin posits that the name was omitted either to suppress its female authorship, or to protect the letter itself from suppression.
Also convinced that Priscilla was the author of Hebrews, Gilbert Bilezikian, professor of biblical studies at Wheaton College, remarks on "the conspiracy of anonymity in the ancient church," and reasons: "The lack of any firm data concerning the identity of the author in the extant writings of the church suggests a deliberate blackout more than a case of collective loss of memory."


The use of tabernacle terminology in Hebrews has been used to date the epistle before the destruction of the temple, the idea being that knowing about the destruction of both Jerusalem and the temple would have influenced the development of the author's overall argument. Therefore, the most probable date for its composition is the second half of the year 63 or the beginning of 64, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.
The text itself, for example, makes a contrast between the resurrected Christ "in heaven" "who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord" and the version on earth, where "there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven."
Despite this, some scholars, such as Harold Attridge and Ellen Aitken, hold to a later date of composition to the Hebrew writing, between 70-100 AD.


Scholars have suggested that Hebrews is part of an internal New Testament debate between the extreme Judaizers versus the extreme antinomians. James and Paul represent the moderates of each faction, respectively, and Peter served as moderator.
It sets before the Jew the claims of Christianity – to bring the Jew to the full realization of the relation of Judaism to Christianity, to make clear that Christ has fulfilled those temporary and provisional institutions, and has thus abolished them. This view is commonly referred to as Supersessionism.
According to the theology of supersessionism, the church replaces Israel, and thus the church takes the place of Israel as the people of God. The dominant interpretation in modern Hebrews scholarship has been that the epistle contains an implicit supersessionist claim. Per Bibliowicz, Hebrews scholars may be divided into those that those supportive-sympathetic to the epistle's theological message, those that are critical of the epistle’s supersessionary message , and those attempting a middle ground.
Due to the importance of Hebrews for the formation of future Christian attitudes toward Jews and Judaism, a distinction must be made between the author’s intent and the way in which the text was interpreted by future generations. The impact of the deployment and implementation of supersession theology is difficult to convey and grasp. The implementation of this theological claim eventually led to the negation and disenfranchisement of the Jewish followers of Jesus, and later, of all Jews.

Purpose for writing

Those to whom Hebrews is written seem to have begun to doubt whether Jesus could really be the Messiah for whom they were waiting, because they believed the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures was to come as a militant king and destroy the enemies of his people. Jesus, however, came as a mere man who was arrested by the Jewish leaders and who suffered and was crucified by the Romans. And although he was seen resurrected, he still left the earth and his people, who now face persecution rather than victory. The Book of Hebrews solves this problem by arguing that the Hebrew Scriptures also foretold that the Messiah would be a priest and Jesus came to fulfill this role, as a sacrificial offering to God, to atone for sins. His role of a king is yet to come, and so those who follow him should be patient and not be surprised that they suffer for now.
Some scholars today believe the document was written to prevent apostasy. Some have interpreted apostasy to mean a number of different things, such as a group of Christians in one sect leaving for another more conservative sect, one of which the author disapproves. Some have seen apostasy as a move from the Christian assembly to pagan ritual. In light of a possibly Jewish-Christian audience, the apostasy in this sense may be in regard to Jewish-Christians leaving the Christian assembly to return to the Jewish synagogue. The author writes, "Let us hold fast to our confession". The epistle has been viewed as a long, rhetorical argument for having confidence in the new way to God revealed in Jesus Christ.
The book could be argued to affirm special creation. It affirms that God by His Son, Jesus Christ, made the worlds. "God... hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son... by whom also he made the worlds". The epistle also emphasizes the importance of faith. "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear".
believe that Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant. His famous sermon from a hill representing Mount Zion is considered by many Christian scholars to be the antitype of the proclamation of the Old Covenant by Moses from Mount Sinai.


Hebrews is a very consciously "literary" document. The purity of its Greek was noted by Clement of Alexandria, according to Eusebius, and Origen of Alexandria asserted that every competent judge must recognize a great difference between this epistle and those of Paul.
This letter consists of two strands: an expositional or doctrinal strand, and a hortatory or strongly urging strand which punctuates the exposition parenthetically at key points as warnings to the readers.
Hebrews does not fit the form of a traditional Hellenistic epistle, lacking a proper prescript. Modern scholars generally believe this book was originally a sermon or homily, although possibly modified after it was delivered to include the travel plans, greetings and closing.
Hebrews contains many references to the Old Testament – specifically to its Septuagint text.


The Epistle to the Hebrews is notable for the manner in which it expresses the divine nature of Christ. As A.C. Purdy summarized for The Interpreter's Bible :

We may sum up our author’s Christology negatively by saying that he has nothing to do with the older Hebrew messianic hopes of a coming Son of David, who would be a divinely empowered human leader to bring in the kingdom of God on earth; and that while he still employs the figure of a militant, apocalyptic king... who will come again..., this is not of the essence of his thought about Christ.
Positively, our author presents Christ as divine in nature, and solves any possible objection to a divine being who participates in human experience, especially in the experience of death, by the priestly analogy. He seems quite unconscious of the logical difficulties of his position proceeding from the assumption that Christ is both divine and human, at least human in experience although hardly in nature.

Mikeal Parsons has commented:

If the humanity of Jesus is an important theme for Hebrews, how much more is Jesus’ deity. While this theme of exaltation is asserted ‘in many and various ways’ we shall content ourselves by considering how the writer addresses this theme by asserting Jesus’ superiority to a) angels, and b) Moses. The first chapter of Hebrews stresses the superiority of the Son to the angels. The very name ‘Son’ indicates superiority. This exaltation theme, in which the Son is contrasted with the angels, is expanded in the following string of OT quotations. While some have understood the catena as referring primarily to Christ’s pre-existence, it is more likely that the verses should be understood, ‘as a Christological hymn which traces the entire Christ event, including the pre-existence, earthly life, and exaltation of Christ’. The overall structure of the catena seems to point to exaltation as the underlying motif... At least it may be concluded that the superiority of the Son is demonstrated by this comparison/contrast with angels.
Peter Rhea Jones has reminded us that ‘Moses is not merely one of the figures compared unfavourably to Jesus’; but rather, ‘Moses and Jesus are yoked throughout the entirety of the epistle’. Allowing that Moses is much more than a ‘whipping boy’ for the author, the fact remains that the figure Moses is utilized as a basis for Christology. While there are several references to Moses, only two will be needed to demonstrate Jesus’ superiority. The first passage to be considered is Hebrews 3:1-6. D’Angelo and others regard the larger context of this passage to be the superiority of Christ’s message to the Law. While the comparison between Jesus and the angels is based on a number of OT citations, the comparison of Jesus and Moses turns on a single verse, Nu. 12:7. Like the angels, Moses was a servant who witnessed, as it were, to the Son. In other words, ‘faithful Sonship is superior to faithful servantship’. The Son is once again exalted. The exaltation theme finds expression in a more opaque way at 11:26. Here in the famous chapter on faith Moses is said to count ‘abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt’. The portrait of Moses drawn here is that of a martyr, and a Christian martyr at that. In effect, Moses joins that great cloud of witnesses who looked to Jesus as pioneer and perfecter of faith. Once again, Christ’s superiority is asserted, this time over Moses and the entire Mosaic epoch.
In summary, the writer stressed the Sonship of Jesus and expressed it in a three-stage Christology of pre-existence, humanity, and exaltation.