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Lowell Brueckner

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Hebrews Introduction


 Introduction to an espository study of Hebrews 

No particular author, time, place or church

We cannot know, with any certainty, the author of this book, from where it was written, at what time it was written or to whom, precisely, it was written. The entire focus is on the essential nature of its content. It is a spiritual gold mine and our intentions will be to extract from its riches, in order to add to the wealth of our inner man.

 It is with obvious purpose that the human author is not named, therefore it is not wise to arrive at a definite conclusion. I think, that would be a mistake, because the evidence is not conclusive. However, that fact does not rule out private conjecture or even a personal opinion. I have to admit that I have come short of forming an opinion. I have never thought it necessary to do so and, in fact, I felt that the authorship was purposely withheld for a reason, which I will give a little later.  

 From the earliest times in the church, there were different points of view as to the identity of the writer, although the most popular one has always favored the apostle Paul. Credit given to the apostle was so strong, so as to gain this early title, The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews. There are some considerably strong arguments against that conclusion. First of all, it lacks the introduction that we find in all of Paul’s thirteen epistles. Then, the clause in Hebrews 2:3, “was confirmed to us by those who heard Him”, was not consistent with Paul’s claim that he had heard, seen and met the Lord firsthand: “Last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (1 Co.15:8). For these reasons and, I’m sure, many more, the epistle has been attributed also to Barnabas, Luke, Apollos and a number of others.

 In favor of Paul´s authorship is this statement made by Peter, the apostle to the Jews, in his second epistle, which, like the first, was directed to the Jewish Christian dispersion (1 P.1:1): “Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you (2 P.3:15). He meant to you Jews, by which some conclude that Peter said that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews to them. The reason given for the lack of introduction in the book of Hebrews is that Paul was particularly detestable in Jewish circles. This seems questionable to me because, hopefully, the Jewish Christian should have lost their rancor upon conversion. However, I recognize that a degree of it may have carried over into Christianity, especially by some, whose genuine conversion is doubtful.

 I have another theory, for which I think that the author, whoever he may have been, did not add his name to this epistle. I put it before you, warning that I don’t recall ever reading or hearing this at any point (although I may have forgotten), so my reasoning is totally unproven. Three times, in reference to the Old Testament, without referring to either the general section, such as The Law or The Prophets, or the particular human source, the writer of Hebrews credits the Holy Spirit as the Author to the text that he is citing. As far as my memory serves, this is unique in the New Testament. Here are the three instances: 1. “As the Holy Spirit says…” (3:7), which was actually taken from Psalm 95:7 and 8; 2. “The Holy Spirit indicating this…” (9:8), taken from Leviticus 16:2-20, 34; 3. “But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before…” (10:15), from Jeremiah 31:33-34. Could it be also that, in writing to the Hebrew Christians, he wanted to draw their attention entirely to the divine inspiration of his letter and not to the human being who penned it? 

I remember hearing Leonard Ravenhill claim to the student body of a Bible school that he could tell them with certainty that he knew, who the author of the book of Hebrews was. The students waited with bated breath to hear that a renowned speaker had finally gotten to the bottom of the mystery. Of course, Ravenhill then quipped, "The Holy Spirit!" That, my friend, is all that is really important.

 The date of the writing of Hebrews is also uncertain. However, Timothy was still alive and just released from prison (13:23). Due to the many references, in the present tense, to the sacrificial system in the Jerusalem temple, we can be certain that the letter was written before 70 A.D., when the temple was destroyed by the Romans. The best conclusion for the time of the writing is thought to be somewhere around 65-69 A.D.,

 Without a doubt, Hebrews was written to Jews, who knew the Law. Throughout the epistle he refers, without explanation, to the Old Testament practices and history. He assumed that his readers would be totally aware of the incidents, to which he referred. Mainly, he had Hebrew believers in mind. The Jewish persecution against Christians became increasingly severe and the writer was encouraging them to hold fast to the faith, by expounding on the value of Christ and His gospel. He warned Hebrew unbelievers, who had knowledge of the gospel and an intellectual acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah, against a spurious conversion. He urged others, who had knowledge of Christ, but had rejected Him, to surrender to Him, before it was too late, with some of the most severe warnings to be found in all of Scripture.

 We do not know, from what place this letter was written, nor of the particular community of Hebrews, to which it was directed. We are accustomed to the internet and sending thousands of copies to different sources at once. In the First Century, there was difficulty in delivering even one copy to its destination. So it is probable that originally, the letter was sent to one body of Jewish Christians. From there, of course, a few copies could be made and given to other believers and so the book spread little by little.

Recognizing our Judaic roots

 In his first-century writings, Clement of Rome, recognized the book of Hebrews as divinely inspired and cited liberally from it. Justin Martyr gave the book divine authority also and quoted from it in the Second Century. They, as well as the many fathers that followed in the early church, recognized with all certainty its place among the divinely-inspired, apostolic writings.

 Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, were written to seven literal churches in Asia Minor, yet has been kept through the ages for the benefit of the entire church of God. In introducing the Revelation, John gave a promise of general blessing to the reader and the hearer.  In this way also, Hebrews was written to the circumcised believer, yet certainly remains for the profit of today’s Christians, Jew and Gentile. 

 It is healthy, for today’s non-Jewish majority in the church, to remember that the gospel is given to the Jew first. Sometimes, I get the idea that modern Christians have the attitude that it originated in Europe and spread to America. There is a great need to humbly recognize the Judaic root, from which the church has sprung, and Paul writes that doctrine very clearly in Romans, chapters 9-11. All the writers of the New Testament were Jews, with the exception of Luke. Charles Spurgeon said: “I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough of it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible, it is this.” Another Bible scholar said, “To argue that God replaced Israel with the church is to depart from an enormous body of biblical evidence.”

 In spite of it all, some have concluded that the church has replaced God’s election of the Jewish nation. They have continued with that assumption, even after the return of the Jews to their land, beginning at the turn of the 20th Century, and the revival of the Hebrew state in 1948. This belief has led to a great deal of antisemitism through the ages. We need to appreciate the fact that prophecies have been fulfilled that were given to the Jews by their prophets up to 2,500 years ago. What is astounding, is that many of these same people (holding to the Replacement Theory), also adhere to the doctrines of unconditional election and the preservation of the saints. How can there be any true assurance of sovereign election and preservation for the believer today, as they assume, if God has rejected His ancient, chosen people? It is inconsistent logic.  

Shadow and substance

 All of us should read the Old Testament faithfully. The Pentateuch, in particular, will come alive as we study Hebrews. We will find significance for the ceremonial law and we will rejoice in its fulfillment. It will be a study in the shadow of the Levitical priesthood and the Law, and the body, which includes the ‘good things to come’, ‘heavenly things’, and Christ Himself (Heb.8:5; 10:1; Col.2:17). The book will show that, without Christ and the gospel, the Law has no real meaning. However, a study of the Law will add great dimension to the gospel. 

 The Holy Spirit, through the writer, seeks to help the Jew break from the ceremonial law, which many of them continued to observe. See Romans14:1-6, to see this tendency in the Roman Church. Notice also the Jewish practices which continued in Jerusalem in Acts 21:20. Then, of course, Judaizers were disturbing the church in many places and a trend towards Judaism was already being adopted, even by Gentile believers. For this reason, Paul writes an entire epistle to the Galatians. The writer of Hebrews saw that Jewish Christians were considering a return to allegiance to the Law, We have already ascertained that this was due, in part, to the persecution received by those, who were faithful to the gospel. They are encouraged to continue in the grace of God.

 I find a masterful example of interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures particularly appealing in this book. The Holy Spirit skillfully leads the writer, not into personal interpretation, but into an endeavor to bring out what He has put into it. That is the goal of biblical exposition. It is beyond any controversy, that the Messiah has come, to the fulfillment of the utterances of the prophets. The prophet Daniel, in particular, gave us the evidence that the Messiah came and died in the First Century. No one, including the Jew, who confides in his great Jewish prophet, should have any reason to doubt the fact (see Daniel 9:24-27). May I point to something of lesser concern, but something that I believe you will find enthralling, and that is the great literary value of this book. The Holy Spirit is not only the Spirit of Truth, but He is able to present that truth to the human soul with great strength through beautiful prose.

 The message of Hebrews is Christ, above all Christian counsel, although there certainly is plenty of counsel in the book. However, more convincingly than good advice, the writer will rely upon the revelation of Christ to do its work in the reader. The best counsel, the best encouragement, the best motivation, the best incentive to holiness, faith and fidelity, is Christ Himself. Hebrews, along with the letter to the Colossians, heavily manifests the divinity of Christ. These two epistles, as no other in the New Testament, bathe us in the superiority and sufficiency of Christ, and that is their supreme purpose. It extolls the excellence of His nature. Christ stands up before any challenger; He can safely be openly compared to all and continue to be adored as the incomparable Savior, Lord and God. Let us look briefly through the chapters to see His infinite superiority:  

In chapter 1: He is greater than angels. In chapter 2: He is greater than the human race. In chapter 3: He is greater than Moses. In chapter 4: He is greater than Joshua. In chapter 5: He is greater than the High Priest. In chapter 6: God gives greater affirmation to His word by giving an oath to the believer in Christ. In chapter 7: He is greater than the entire Levitical priesthood. In chapter 8: He is greater than the Old Covenant. In chapter 9: He is greater than the sanctuary. In chapter 10: He is greater than the ceremonial sacrifices. In chapter 11: We find greater promises in Him. In chapter 12: There is more perfect discipline and a greater Kingdom. In chapter 13: He have a greater altar and greater position in Jesus Christ, Who is the same yesterday, today and forever.    





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