The Hebrews were under pressure (see 12:4) and wanted God to send an angel or a prophet to help them. The writer is trying to show that God has gone one better! The book is dominated by discussion of Christ's priesthood, arguing that it is incomparably better than that of the Old Testament because
Hebrews 8:1 celebrates the fact that Christ is free of these defects. The writer seems keen to show that Christianity is rooted in the Old Testament but without the defects of Judaism, so he looks back to time before Moses, focussing on Abel, Melchizedek and Abraham.[1 p.62]
The word "epistle" is inappropriate because it lacks the beginning and ending of a true letter; it might have been a circular, or the "meat" to go in several mass-produced letters.
The opening chapters give the impression of a very theoretical and Jewish book, but Green found the later chapters very useful for teaching Christian living to new Christians. He taught: acceptable worship (Hebrews 12:28f, Hebrews 13:15); love for the brethren (Hebrews 13:1); love for strangers (Hebrews 13:2); love for the under-privileged (Hebrews 13:3); Christian family life (Hebrews 13:4); simple living (Hebrews 13:5, 6, 16); spiritual leadership (Hebrews 13:7, 17); sound teaching (Hebrews 13:9) and suffering (Hebrews 13:10–14).
Higgin found the book helpful in recovering from trauma, and thought the author "was addressing a traumatised congregation". She concluded that "as we encounter people and communities carrying trauma, Hebrews shows us a way. Recovery is a wandering from pain to healing. And that recovery is guided by the livng and active voice of God, if only, today, we will hear that voice."
The book has many similarities with the approach of John's Gospel; it describes Jesus as "the Word", uses Platonic imagery (as well as some nautical images), and avoids mentioning the Bread and Wine when quoting Genesis 14 concerning Melchizedek, as John avoids mentioning the institution of Holy Communion when he describes the Last Supper. The references to baptism also resemble Jewish thinking rather than Christian; the writer talks about "baptisms" (washings) rather than the one-off initiation into Christ that Paul described. So there is something peculiar about the treatment of the sacraments. Bultmann thought that the writer came from a school that was against sacraments, perhaps indicating a Gnostic background. Similarly the mentions of "spirit" (pneuma or "wind", a neuter substance) as opposed to "the Holy Spirit" (as a male person) are at odds with most of the rest of the New Testament. Either this book is heavily dominated by Jewish thought or it is so early that Christian doctrine on these issues had not yet emerged.
The use of quotations from the Septuagint is rather self conscious compared with the way Paul introduces quotations effortlessly. There are many allusions to Psalm 110. The writer seems to be aware of Paul's writings, or to have a common basis, because the word "grace" appears; but it is used to mean something quite different from what Paul thinks it means. Also there is no mysticism in Hebrews.
The book lacks the formal beginning and ending, with personal greetings, that mark Paul's epistles, so it is not likely that he wrote it. Clement, Martin Luther, and Hugh Montefiore all suggested that Apollos might be the author; others have suggested Barnabas.
|Hebrews 1:1–2:9||Jesus rescues us by becoming like us|
|Hebrews 2:10–2:18||We are adopted as brothers of Jesus|
|Hebrews 3:1–4:13||How we should live as brothers|
|Hebrews 4:14–5:10||Jesus our Great High Priest|
|Hebrews 5:11–6:12||Grown-up Christianity|
|Hebrews 6:13–8:13||Melchizedek and the new covenant|
|Hebrews 9:1–10:18||The one and sufficient sacrifice|
|Hebrews 10:19–11:40||Living by Faith|
|Hebrews 12:1–13:25||Victorious Living|