With this issue we begin a series of studies through the New Testament book of Hebrews. A study of Hebrews is rich and rewarding. The book is unlike other New Testament books, especially in the unique picture which is presented of Jesus.
One of the perplexing things about the book of Hebrews is that the author does not identify himself. Several have been suggested as the author such as Paul, Barnabas, Luke, Priscilla & Aquila and Apollos. Since the author does not identify himself in the book, all such conclusions are guesswork. We must conclude as Origen did, "God alone knows." It is best for us to call him "the writer of Hebrews" or "the Hebrew writer."
Even though we do not know by name the writer of Hebrews we do know a few things about him. He was well acquainted with his readers' spiritual condition (5:11-14). He was well aware of their past (6:10; 10:32-34). He was certain they could do better spiritually than they were doing (6:9). When you read the book it is clear he had a thorough understanding of the Old Testament, thus showing he had Jewish influences upon him.
Another question we need to answer about the book is, "Who were the recipients of the book?" Most of our bibles have "The Epistle to the Hebrews" at the beginning of the book. This title would indicate the book was written to Hebrews, or Jews. But this title to the book was added later. For us to learn who the book was written to we need to look inside the book itself.
Some "scholars" have put forth the idea that the book was written to Gentiles [Moffatt & Windisch]. Their position is based on Hebrews 3:12. They feel that if Jewish Christians are being addressed, their relapse into Judaism would not involve "falling away from the living God" because they would still be worshiping the God of Israel. Therefore, at least in their mind, the book had to be written to Gentiles.
There is plenty of proof from the book itself to show the book was written to Jews who had become Christians. (1) Hebrews 6:1 says, "not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works." The "dead works" would seem to refer to the Jewish rites and ceremonies that were mere works void of any spiritual cleansing for the soul (see 9:9-14). (2) The continual appeal to the Old Testament scriptures by the author shows the author was confident his readers were well acquainted with those scriptures. Jews, not Gentiles, were taught the scriptures daily. (3) The recipients seem to accept the Levitical priesthood. In 7:11 the writer says, "Now if there was perfection through the Levitical priesthood..." If it were written to Gentiles, they would naturally answer the author, "we never thought there was!" The Jews, not the Gentiles, would relate to the things said by the writer in the book about the priesthood. (4) Hebrews 10:32-34 speaks of the recipients as having been persecuted by others. When the Jews obeyed the gospel they were persecuted by unconverted Jews (Acts 8:1). Generally speaking, Gentiles who obeyed the gospel were NOT persecuted as the Jews were. Therefore, the recipients of the book would have been Jews. From these and other pieces of evidence we can conclude the book was written to Jewish Christians -- people who were born to Jewish parents and perhaps raised as Jews but who had obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ.
From where was the book written? This question seems to be answered in 13:24 when the writer says, "They of Italy salute you." The book seems to have been written from Italy. From which city in Italy is not stated but it may have been Rome, since Rome played such an important role in early church history.
What was the destination of the book? Some have suggested places such as Alexandria in Egypt, Syrian Antioch, Colossae, Ephesus, Cyprus or even Rome itself. It seems apparent to me, however, that it was sent to Jewish Christians living in the region of Palestine. If the persecutions of 10:32-34 are those referred to in Acts 8:1, which seems to be an acceptable conclusion, then it is clear the book was sent to Jewish Christians living in Palestine. We would conclude this because those living outside of Palestine suffered relatively little from the Jews for their conversion to Christ. From 8:4 it seems there were those who still offered sacrifices according to the Law. At the time the book was written this was done very little outside of Palestine. Whether or not our conclusions are correct about the books destination, always remember they were Jewish Christians.
It is clear from the book that it was written prior to 70 A.D. This is seen from the fact the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing (see 8:4; 9:8; 10:1ff). An exact date is really not important. Just remember it was BEFORE 70 A.D.
The purpose of the book is stated in 13:22 when the writer describes his work as a "word of exhortation". These Jewish Christians had been faithful and zealous at one point (10:32-34), but at the time the book was written they were immature (5:11-14), weak (12:12,13) and perhaps at the very point of falling away (2:1; 3:12). Because of the possibility of their returning back to the Jewish religion and turning their back on the Lord, the Hebrew writer sent this letter in hopes it will cause them to realize the superiority of the Law of Christ to the Law of Moses and thus be sufficiently encouraged to remain in faithful service to the Lord.
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