Psalm 119:11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
Last week we started our study of Hebrews. We talked about the enigma of Hebrews. This is a unique book because we do not know the author is or why he wrote it or who the original recipients were. We don't know what their situation was. We don't know where they were located. Nevertheless, the book is included in the canon and has been recognized as such since the 4th century. It was recognized as authoritative by the end of the first century. Because it is a bit of an enigma, Hebrews was considered a doubtful book for quite a longtime. They did not know who wrote it. They didn't know if it had apostolic support.
We also looked at the form. We call it an epistle because it ends in that format. It does not begin like an epistle. There is no initial address here. In the ancient world there would be an address and then usually a short salutation. This is missing from Hebrews.
It begins with one of the most profound and pregnant sentences in all of the New Testament. I pointed out in Hebrews 13:22 that the writer himself refers to this book as a word of exhortation. That phrase "word of exhortation" is also used one other time in the Scripture in Acts. Acts indicates that this was a particular kind of message, a message of encouragement. Paul was speaking in the synagogue in Antioch and was asked to give a word of encouragement. Acts 13:15 and following seems to be a doctrinal exposition. There it is an evangelistic message. A word of exhortation is a challenge that flows from an understanding of what the text says. There is a development of doctrinal principles. Paul summarized in about 4 verses all of the Old Testament from the call of Abraham through the Davidic Covenant and jumps over the rest of the Old Testaments and lands firmly on the baptism and the ministry of John the Baptist. Then he went from there into the work of Christ on the cross and the resurrection ending with the challenge to the Jews in the synagogue that they needed to accept Jesus as Messiah. That is the thrust of a word of exhortation. It is not a brief, emotional devotional. It builds on content. That is sadly lacking today in many churches because they are afraid they are going to scare people away by getting into the Word. It is a sad thing that people think if you dumb things down, you will attract more people rather than presenting a high challenge and hopefully gaining those who are truly interested in learning. That is true in many settings including business and universities. We should hold a high standard for people and attract those who are truly interested in quality.
We want to have a church that is known for quality. We know that our focus is on the Word of God. That is the focal point of everything going on in the church. There are all kinds of secondary ministries in a church that are valid, significant, and meaningful. But a church needs to keep secondary ministries of the church secondary and the primary ministry primary. Always maintain quality control. Always shoot for the highest standard possible. This is what Paul was doing in Acts 13. This is what the writer of Hebrews does.
The author starts off in the first chapter weaving together 8 different quotes from the Old Testament. He assumes the listeners are fully versed in these passages and their context. From this, he builds certain theological conclusions. In the first chapter he establishes the superiority of Christ as the Son and His superiority over the angels. In the first four verses of chapter two he concludes and makes a practical application. In light of this doctrinal truth, this is how it should affect your decision-making and how it should affect your life. This is how he builds. In the next section he comes along and takes ideas that were introduced and begins to unpack those words and those concepts. Then, he climbs to the next level and punches with another doctrinal application and warning. It is like climbing a set of stairs until you come to the last section of the book.
There are 5 basic sections in the Book of Hebrews. He builds to the final section in chapter 11 that gives us the doctrinal principle. Then in chapters 12 and 13 there are two basic exhortations and warnings. He writes as if he expects the listeners to be fully aware of everything that he is weaving into this book. He expects them to be fully cognizant of the Old Testament context and teachings as he weaves doctrine together. No book in the New Testament quotes as much from the Old Testament as Hebrews does. He expects the audience to be fully versed in the Levitical sacrifices, the ritual of the tabernacle services, all the principles related to the priesthood and the context of the various psalms that he quotes. Sadly, that is not true of many today. Many today are impoverished in their understanding of the Old Testament and Old Testament theology. That it not to bash believers, most believers really enjoy the Old Testament. Most relate to it because they understand the people. A certain commonality is established.
Most of us know that "All scripture is God breathed profitable …" In the previous verse Paul told Timothy that it was by these Scriptures that he came to spiritual maturity. There wasn't a New Testament when he wrote that. So, while it applies to New Testament scripture and maybe 60% of the New Testament was written, the canon had not been collected. His primary point of reference from the context is the Old Testament. So we need to get into the Old Testament. The problem is that pastors don't teach it.
We looked at the issues related to the form of the letter and concluded it was a sermon. This was probably a sermon that was taught as a Bible class and then put together as a letter. This would account for the closing comments and personal greetings at the end of the book that make it look like an epistle.
The date of writing itself is connected to understanding of who the recipients are. There are two views to who is being addressed. Almost everyone agrees that the addressees are Jewish Christians. They were under persecution for their faith. Because of the extreme adversity or suffering they are about to encounter, they are about to give up and chuck their Christian lives and go back to Judaism. They are warned against that and the dire consequences of extended carnality.
We don't know where they are located. Some people suggested a number of different locations all the way from Spain in the west to Palestine in the east. We don't know. Where you put them affects the date. If we were to assume that they were in Jerusalem, this would entail an earlier date, sometime early in the 60's because Vespasian is going to bring the Roman army into Judea about AD 66. There is no mention of that here. There is no mention of the rebellion against Rome. It seems likely that if the recipients are a community of Jewish believers in Judea then it would have to be written before 66. That presents a problem. The problem is that at the end of Hebrews there is a mention that Timothy is about to be released from prison. Paul goes into his second imprisonment somewhere around 65 to 66. Paul is martyred around late 67 or early 68. He writes II Timothy around 66-67 AD. That means that up to that point Timothy hasn't been imprisoned. So you can't get an early date for Hebrews in that context. That sees to suggest that it was written late in 67 or 68. If that is the case, it would have been written to a community in Rome. We will see the issues there. In my opinion it was in 67 or 68. We just don't know.
He is unknown. There are a lot of different suggestions. Some think it was Paul. In fact, for many years Bibles had the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews as the title. Others thought Paul taught it in Hebrew and Luke wrote it down in Greek. Others thought it was perhaps Barnabas. That has tremendous tradition.
When you get into more modern times, Luther thought it was Apollos. Apollos has many modern adherents because he was from Alexandria. The Scripture says he was a great orator and a great teacher. The phrase used to describe him is a technical phrase to indicate someone who had been well educated in rhetoric. That would fit Apollos. The Greek used in the Book of Hebrews is the finest, the highest form of Greek used in the New Testament. Its literary style is better than any other Greek in the New Testament. It indicates that the author is well trained. The way he articulates his position indicates it could possibly be Apollos.
Others say it was Clement of Rome who was a leader in the Roman church. Silas who accompanied Paul on many of his journeys has been suggested. Luke and Phillip are mentioned. Some even thought it might be Priscilla. There is a cornucopia of suggestions as to who wrote it. What we do see is that the author is well trained.
There are 4,942 words in Hebrews. The writer uses 1,038 different words (different from the other epistles). And 169 of those distinct words are found only in Hebrews. This writer has a tremendous vocabulary.
Who is this addressed to? Everyone says to the Hebrews. But that is not on the original manuscript. In fact, the title was not added to the book until 175 AD. That is roughly 110 years after it was written. The title is a tradition. The original did not have a specific title. Tertullian who was a church leader towards the end of the second century and later Clement of Alexandria who flourished about 200 spoke of this book as being written to the Hebrews. This was the tradition handed down handed down in the second century.
Some have suggested it was to Gentiles, but we know that this is probably not true for a number of reasons. First in Hebrews 6:1 the author talks about elementary doctrines. It says we need to press on beyond these elementary doctrines related to Christ. The context suggests it is Old Testament doctrines. It assumes familiarity with the Old Testament. This would not have been true of the Gentiles.
Furthermore, in chapters 8 through 10 there is an emphasis on the Old Covenant versus the New Covenant. This is one of the most interesting problems in Hebrews. Who are the recipients of the New Covenant? Are there two New Covenants? Dispensationalists have debated this in the past. Is there a New Covenant to the church? Is there a New Covenant to Israel? Or is there only one New Covenant? I believe that there is only one New Covenant. Every passage Old Testament and New Testament articulates that it is a New Covenant with the house of Judah and the house of Israel. Remember that a covenant is a contract, a legal document. If that document stipulates that God makes the contract with the house of Judah and the house of Israel, where does the church fit in? Earlier dispensationalists thought there was a separate New Covenant with the church. But, it isn't really stipulated anywhere other than one statement by the Apostle Paul that he was a minister of the New Covenant.
If you have two parties, the party of the first part is God and Jesus Christ. The party of the second part is the house of Judah and the house of Israel. So how do we fit in as Church Age believers? We fit in because we are in Christ. We do not come in on the party of the second part side. We come in on the party of the first part side. We are in Christ. We benefit from the New Covenant as recipients of the blessing of the New Covenant in the same way that in the Old Testament God as party of the first part makes a covenant with Abraham and within that contract He says, "I will bless those who bless you" and they would be a blessing to the Gentiles. The blessing paragraph of the Abrahamic Covenant is expanded in the New Covenant. So, the New Covenant is made between God and Israel and the blessings flow out from that to the Gentiles. This is based on the pattern of Abraham and based on the pattern of the Mosaic Covenant. It preserves the distinction between Israel and the church, but it puts the priority on Israel. Starting with Genesis 12 God has determined that in human history He would work through the Jews. All the blessings in history flow from His relationship to Israel and the church benefits as blessing recipients. In chapters 8-10 the emphasis is on the Old Covenant. Gentiles were never under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was between God and the Jews and had to do with their legal structure while they were in the land as a nation.
The third reason is that in Hebrews 7:11 the writer assumes the authority of the Old Testament. That would not be presented to the Gentiles. He assumes that they accept the Old Testament as the Word of God.
This brings up something fascinating. He quotes numerous verses from the Old Testament. Whenever he goes back to the Old Testament he says, "God said." Only once in this book does the writer say, "The Scripture says". Isn't that interesting? We know that Psalm 2 was written by David. But the writer says that God wrote it. It tells us that he accepts the divine authorship of the Old Testament. He believed that God wrote through human writers. He believed that the Word was inspired and infallible. Liberals want to say that the writers describe their understanding of who God is. It is not revelation in the distinct authoritative sense that we understand it. The writer confirms our understanding of the inspiration of Scripture by the way he quotes it. It doesn't matter if it was David or Abraham or Moses or some other writer. The writer of Hebrews says that it came from God. It is an extremely high view of Scripture.
A fourth reason that we know this was not written to Gentiles is that there are numerous idioms used in the book that are based on Old Testament episodes. They would have gone right over the heads of any Gentile readers. He uses the phrase "outside the camp bearing His reproach". This is based on the ritual related to the tabernacle. They had to understand the function of the tabernacles and the priesthood or they would be lost. Furthermore there is also an emphasis on priestly ritual. There is an indication that some of the readers had been in the priesthood. They had very technical knowledge of the priesthood. Many people believe that the readers were former priests. We know from extra Biblical sources that a large number of former priests became Christians in the first century. Perhaps this is part of that contingent.
Furthermore, the readers to whom he writes seem to accept the authority of the Greek Old Testament called the Septuagint. It is tradition that 70 Jewish rabbis translated the Torah in 70 days. After the diaspora, there remained a large contingent of Jews is Alexandria in North Egypt. After a couple of generations they could no longer read or speak Hebrew. Starting about 250-200 BC there was a movement to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek so that the average Jew could read and understand it. This is known as the Septuagint. It is usually abbreviated by LXX. This is the Roman numeral for seventy. This is the Bible that these Old Testament folks come from. They do not come out of the Hebrew Masoretic text.
There are some differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text. What does that imply about inerrancy? It does not introduce bad theology. Under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit even though the reading may be varied, the Holy Spirit quoted it. That translation also became inspired. We know that once the Holy Spirit quotes it, the variation has His stamp of approval. The writer assumes the readers have an in-depth knowledge of the Old Testament and have been trained in Old Testament theology from the Septuagint.
NKJ Hebrews 2:2 For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward
This is a powerful verse. He is talking about the Mosaic Law.
If you go back to Exodus 17 you will look in vain for any mention of angels on Mt. Sinai with Moses.
NKJ Deuteronomy 33:2 And he said: "The LORD came from Sinai, And dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, And He came with ten thousands of saints; From His right hand Came a fiery law for them.
There is a mention of angels (saints). Moses reminds the Jews of what took place on Mt. Sinai. He speaks to the next generation. The Exodus generation all died under the fifth cycle of discipline except Joshua and Caleb. Deuteronomy is Moses' final sermon. Deuteronomy was given as one sermon. The name Deuteronomy means second law. It reiterates the Mosaic Law for the generation that is going into the land.
The holy ones refer to the angels that accompanied the Lord when He gave the Law. The Septuagint reads that angels were with Him at His right hand. It adds a phrase. It is not an error. By quoting it, the Holy Spirit put His stamp of approval on the addition as correct. The LXX became inspired. Saints should be translated holy ones. The Septuagint reads a little differently. It adds in the word angels. That did not introduce error. By quoting it, the Holy Spirit put His stamp of approval on it as correct even though it is not in the original text.
It is clear he writes to Jews, not Gentiles. Where were they? Were they in Jerusalem? We do not know the exact location. The two most common views are that they were former Jewish priests in Judea or in Rome.
Why Judea? Five basic reasons are given. First, there is an absence of a Jew-Gentile conflict in this epistle. We run into that in other epistles. That this is not found here indicates a fairly homogenous group that was all Jewish. Secondly, Clement of Rome who wrote a little later referred to the church in Jerusalem as the Church of the Hebrews.
Third, there is an indication in the book that some judgment is impending. There is some imminent attack or high level suffering expected. This intensified level of suffering that they are about to encounter may be the occasion of the book. They were ready to bail out. We have all been there. Sometime it has been us. When we are about to go through suffering, we also wonder why we are going through this. We think that if we give up and become a secret-service believers we can avoid this suffering. But then God starts working on us and that is even worse. Fourth, Vespasion is getting ready to invade Judea or already has by the time of the writing of this epistle. It appears the prophecies of Matthew 24 are about to take place. There is an indication that these are former priests. They really know and understand Old Testament ritual. Where would you find them a large number of them other than Judea? Fifth, their familiarity with the Old Testament was so great that it suggests Judea.
But there are problems with this view. Hebrews 2:3-4 indicates that they did not hear the gospel from Jesus, but that they heard this indirectly through secondary sources. It was only 30 years after the crucifixion. If anyone was over 40 and lived in Judea, it would seem that some would have been direct witnesses of the ministry of Jesus Christ during the First Advent. Secondly, their knowledge of sacrifices seems to be based on Old Testament passages and tabernacle passages not temple practices. There is no mention of the temple in all of Hebrews. Only the tabernacle is mentioned. That indicates that it was an audience of people who had not been to the temple in Jerusalem. Furthermore in Hebrews 6:10-11 indicates that they were wealthy enough to give financial aid to other congregations that were in trouble. But we know that the Jerusalem church during the last part of the first century suffered famine and testing. Paul collected money for the church in Jerusalem throughout his second and third missionary journeys. So it does not seem to fit. They don't seem to be on the receiving end of aid. Furthermore, the temple is not mentioned at all.
Rome is the other place that is suggested. It was the first place that the book is known historically. By 95, Clement of Rome quotes it extensively with in-depth familiarity with the Book of Hebrews. Secondly, there was a significant persecution under Claudius directed against the Jews in Rome. He expelled the Jews in 49 AD. This may fit the mention in Hebrews of a former persecution that they had gone through in Italy. Third, Hebrews 10:32 mentions Melchizedek. It actually runs through several chapters. Historically, the only early church that made mention of him in their early writings and liturgy is the church at Rome. So there is that connection. Fourth, in Hebrews 13:24 there is a reading that "those from Italy greet you." The Greek preposition apo is used to indicate that they had previously lived in Rome. The phrase is used one other time in Acts 18:2 to describe Aquila and Priscilla. They were no longer in Rome. So the writer says that there are those here from Italy who send you greetings. That is the thrust of the phrase. So it indicates perhaps an Italian home for this group. The last piece of evidence comes from Hebrews 13:17,24. He calls the leaders hegoumenoi. The Greek verb hegeomai means to think or reason or consider. The primary meaning of the word is the thinkers. But, it came to be a word used for those in leadership. Principle: A leader is a thinker. It is someone who knows how to analyze situations and problem solve and work through situations. The only church in the ancient world that called their leaders by this word is the church at Rome. It is an interesting connection from key words. We know that in the early days there was a strong contingent of Jewish believers in Rome.
So, we don't know who wrote it. We know the recipients were Jewish and had a tremendous understanding of Old Testament ritual and the Levitical priesthood.
The writer takes all this Old Testament doctrine and weaves it together theologically and presents a case for why we as believers need to stick with the Christian life. If we get into extended carnality there are tremendous consequences. They are negative and horrible consequences to the believer who fails to persevere to the end. Not that he is in danger of losing his salvation. Some people read these warning passages and think that it is a warning of losing salvation. It is not a warning about losing your salvation. It is a warning that if you give up, you will lose privileges and rewards of the millennial kingdom. You may not grasp fully what you will get and the significance of these rewards, but you jeopardize your future if you bail of the Christian life in time. The challenge is to stick with it because you will lose rewards and position and privilege in the eternal kingdom. Your privilege is part of your incentive for hanging in there when things get tough or when you feel like the cosmic system is about to run over you and you can't understand why all of this is happening.
The writer says that we must consider what Christ did on the cross and what He is doing now in the present session. This is the thrust of this book. In almost every chapter there is a mention of the ascension and session of Christ. This book unlike any other New Testament epistle unpacks for us the significance of Christ's present session. Paul does not do this. He never deals with the high priestly role of Christ. That is unique to the writer of Hebrews. He tells us that if you have problems and you think that putting doctrine first is just someone's opinion that you should not succumb to this terrible lie. That is a terrible lie. We need to understand what He did on the cross and what He is doing right now in the present session.
He unpacks this whole book from and understanding of two verses in the Old Testament. They are Psalm 2:7 which identifies Him as the Son and Psalm 110 which tells Him to sit down at His right hand. It is those two verses that are brought together in the mind of the writer. This is important. It is not just abstract doctrine or abstract theology. Once you grasp what He is doing right now in the heavenlies at the right hand of God, it should change your thinking about everything in your life. It moves you pass immaturity into a personal sense of your eternal destiny. This book develops His incarnation, His humanity and deity, the blood of Christ, His royal high priesthood, and His substitutionary atonement. He does this in order to encourage believers in intensified suffering to press on to spiritual maturity. This is an incredible doctrinal exposition in the New Testament.
Canonicity is the study of how certain books written by Christian leaders came to be included with in a standardized collection of books that became the absolute authority for the Christian life. The word canon comes from a word meaning a rule or standard. Canonicity is very important today because it has to do with how we know the truth. It is a crucial battleground today. This is where we are being attacked.
We note that when the author quotes the Old Testament, he always quotes from the Septuagint in Hebrews. There are a few differences. For example in Psalm 8:5 we read of the heavenly beings.
NKJ Psalm 8:5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
That is the word elohim in the Masoretic Text.
NKJ Hebrews 2:7 You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And set him over the works of Your hands.
The translators used the Greek word angellos. So the writer of Hebrews uses the Septuagint and applies that to Jesus. Does that mean that the Masoretic Text is wrong? No. By using the LXX, the writer takes this to build another doctrine - that is that Jesus was made a little lower than the angels in His incarnation. This helps us understand some things about the Old Testament. Neither the Masoretic Text nor the LXX are wrong.
God has used the King James Version to bring millions of people to salvation and millions of believers to maturity. So you can learn a tremendous amount of doctrine from reading. There are some things that you will not understand, but you can understand the basics of the spiritual life and go to spiritual maturity through the King James Version. That is all many pastors had to lead their flocks to spiritual maturity.
There are 35 direct quotations from the Old Testament usually introduced by the formula "God said" or "He said". On top of that there are 53 other allusions to the Old Testament statements. So there are at least 88 references to the Old Testament. Every chapter of Hebrews has multiple references to the Old Testament. In fact chapter one is almost completely quotations from the Old Testament.
Hebrews is one of the most disputed books because the early church looked to apostolic writers. They used certain criteria. They didn't know who wrote it. They didn't know who the recipients were. Before the close of the canon it was recognized as authoritative. If you read I Clement, he wrote a letter to the Corinthians that strings together a series of quotations from Hebrews 1. He viewed it as an authoritative work for the Christian life.
Justin Martyr who lived in the first half of the second century and Irenaeus and Hippoletus who ministered from 190 to 236 all recognized the inherent authority of Hebrews in their writings. None of them held to Pauline authorship. In the Eastern Church, Pantanus who lived about 180 and Clement of Alexander and Origen who taught between 200 and 254 all viewed it as authoritative and thought Paul wrote it.
Furthermore Hebrews was included among the Pauline epistles in a papyrus dated in the early 200's. So it is clear that the early church accepted Hebrews as authoritative but they weren't as sure about it as they were other books. It was a few years before it was accepted as authoritative.
Why was it accepted? It was accepted because it passed the performance test. It was accepted based on its content. It was clearly accepted as authoritative and was finally recognized. Most people think that the canon were accepted because a group of men got together and said some were accepted and some were not. Just the opposite happened. They simply validated what was happening in reality. It was more of a recognition of authority than a declaration of authority.
This is a tremendous work to build a case for the deity and humanity of Christ and what is happening in the session and what it means to us in our everyday Christian lives.