Dr. Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute, quipped that the Book of Hebrews was written by a Hebrew to other Hebrews telling the Hebrews to stop acting like Hebrews. Let’s take a closer look.
The book of Hebrews is considered to be a masterpiece, but it also raises a lot of questions: Who wrote it? When was it written? To whom was it written? Why is it important? The last question is actually easier to answer than the first three, as you will see, hopefully, if you continue to read.
Who wrote the book? The original King James version of the Bible titled the work, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews,” but that title was only a guess. Through the centuries, scholars have proposed multiple theories about the book’s authorship: the writer could have been Luke. Or Barnabas. Or Silas or Clement of Rome or Apollos or Priscilla or Aquila or Philip or even Jesus’ mother Mary. The one thing that most of them agree upon now is that Paul was not the author.
Why is the author probably not Paul? According Dennis C. Duling, author of The New Testament : History, Literature, and Social Context (2003), “the very carefully composed and studied Greek of [the book of] Hebrews is not Paul’s spontaneous, volatile contextual Greek.” In other words, the writing in Hebrews is more polished and eloquent than most of Paul’s writing.
Additionally, Paul began his other letters with a salutation to his readers, a salutation which is missing in Hebrews. And although we may not know the name of the author, recent scholars favor the idea that the author was probably a leader of a predominantly Jewish Christian congregation.
When was the book of Hebrews written? That’s a little easier to narrow down. The latest that it could have been written was toward the end of the first century–the early church father Clement quoted from the Book of Hebrews in AD 95.
Let’s move backwards through time: because the author wrote as if the sacrificial system were still in place, it is likely that the book of Hebrews was written before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. The author makes no mention of the destruction, and “such mention would have been a slam dunk for his argument.” (Michael H. Burer) The general consensus? Hebrews was likely penned around AD 64-69.
To whom was the letter of Hebrews written? Although the book does not state anything directly about the recipients, scholars argue that it was most likely written to a Jewish Christian audience, based on the fact that the overarching theme of Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus over the central tenets of Judaism.
Supporting this argument is the fact that Jewish Christians in Rome were being persecuted under Nero in the late 60’s. As a result, they were being tempted to turn away from Christianity and back toward Mosaic law. This new Christianity was just too difficult and dangerous.
Pastor Chuck Swindoll supports this supposition, adding, “with its myriad references to Hebrew customs and the Old Testament, the book was likely sent to a Jewish Christian community, possibly in Rome.”
Why is the book of Hebrews so important? Entire books have been written on the subject, but here’s the very simplified summary: Jesus is superior to anything or anyone else to whom people offer allegiance.
To make my point, and since I couldn’t have said it better myself, I’m shamelessly going to directly quote from several sources:
“The writer of Hebrews continually mentions the superiority of Christ in both His personage and in His ministering work. In the writings of the Old Testament, we understand [that] the rituals and ceremonies of Judaism symbolically pointed to the coming of Messiah. In other words, the rites of Judaism were but shadows of things to come. Hebrews tells us that Christ Jesus is better than anything mere religion has to offer. All the pomp and circumstance of religion pales in comparison to the person, work, and ministry of Christ Jesus. It is the superiority of our Lord Jesus, then, that remains the theme of this eloquently written letter.” (Got Questions Ministries)
“The book of Hebrews clearly lays out the priestly ministry of Christ in the life of the believer. In His priestly role, He clears the way for human beings to approach God through prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16). Jesus’ priesthood is superior to the Old Testament priesthood, because only through Him do we receive eternal salvation (5:1-9). Jesus became the permanent and perfect high priest when He offered Himself as a sinless sacrifice on behalf of the sins of us all (7:24-26, 9:28).” (Insight for Living Ministries)
“Words like better, more, great, and greater appear about forty-five times in this book, making Hebrews a book of superlatives about Jesus, who is superior to all the angels, prophets, writers, systems and sacrifices of Old Testament days…. And so we find in this crowning masterpiece a great wealth of doctrine, a refreshing spring of encouragement, and a source of sound, practical warnings against slothfulness in our Christian walk. But there is still more, for in Hebrews we find a magnificently rendered portrait of our Lord Jesus Christ—the Author and Finisher of our great salvation (Hebrews 12:2).” (Dr. David Jeremiah blog)
The book of Hebrews “is in many ways an enigma, but it is also in many ways the clearest teaching in the whole New Testament about the value of Christ and his ministry on our behalf before God.” (Michael H. Burer, Bible.org)
Let’s summarize what we’ve learned:
Who wrote the book of Hebrews? Not Paul
When was it written? Most likely between 65-69 AD
To whom was it written? An audience of Jewish Christians who were considering returning to Mosaic laws and abandoning Christianity
Why is Hebrews important? It lays out the foundations of Christianity, explaining why Jesus is superior to Mosaic Law.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
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