Chapter1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
The Hebrews were under pressure 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).
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|
One would expect these verses to show the author's plan for the structure of the book, but the connections are not easily discerned!7:1–3
The reference to Melchizedek is puzzling because the purpose of the argument is not immediately clear and the source of the facts which the writer cites is not given. Equally puzzling is the lack of any mention of the bread and wine that Melchizedek gave to Abraham, like Holy Communion, strengthening the case for Melchizedek pre-figuring Jesus.
The Qumran Scrolls contain references to Melchizedek, adding to what we can deduce from Genesis 14:18–20 and Psalm 110:4. The point that is being made here, as a Hebrew should realise, is that Melchizedek was not a Jew, let alone a Levite, yet he was treated as a Priest by no lesser person than Abraham. The writer is showing that even Abraham (who the Hebrews look up to as their supreme ancestor) saw that there were Priests other than his family to whom he owed respect and homage.
Therefore the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are not the only ways to relate to God. It seems that the Rabbis had realised this implication, hence their interest in Melchizedek. But Christians see Melchizedek as a pointer to the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ.7:11
This verse is central to the argument of the book: the levitival priesthood was imperfect, so it has been superseded.7:25
The word translated "intercede" literally means to meet or be alongside.[9 p.13] That connects with the idea of Jesus as Immanuel, meaning God with us. And running through this chapter there is a subtle contrast between the mosaic priests, respected for what they did, and Jesus the ultimate high priest, respected for who he is.7:27
cf. Exodus 29:38, though there is no indication that the daily offering was related to sin. Perhaps the author means us to understand that the priests, being human, sinned every day.8
The author is inspired by Psalm 110.8:2
The word translated "true" is alethinos which is a Platonic term for the heavenly reality that throws the visible shadows on Earth.8:8–13
First the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31–34 and then the tearing of the temple curtain on Good Friday hinted that big changes were afoot. Then the old temple literally disappeared in 70 C.E. when the Romans demolished it. Such a thing would not have occurred without God's permission; God had finished with it.8:10 9
It is important when reading this chapter to remember that in the Greek original the same word means both "covenant" and "will".[12 p.83]9:12 9:19
Hyssop: See Appendix 2: Hyssop9:22
Blood sacrifices are a feature of the Mosaic Law and remembered in Christian worship, presumably because "the life of a creature is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11), yet it was not the blood of the sacrificed animals that took away sins; their purpose was a reminder of sins (Hebrews 10:4, cf. Romans 3:20, 5:20). We do we not sacrifice animals and circumcise men because you don't need images when you have the real things — the sacrifice of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.10:4 10:5–9
cf. Psalm 40:6–8.10:11–14
The contrast between the old and new covenants is stark: the old covenant priests serve day after day, and stand to do so, but ineffectually; Jesus suffered once, now sits at God's right hand, and said "it is finished". See Carr page 109.
|Feature||Old Covenant||Changed, see||New Covenant|
|Priests (note both are families)||Levites||Revelation 5:9–10||Us|
(God's dwelling on earth)
|Tent/Temple||1 Corinthians 6:19||Our bodies|
|Means of atoning for sin||Sacrifices||Hebrews 10:11–12||Cross|
|Message telling us about sin||Law||Hebrews 10:1, Luke 16:16||Gospel|
|Sign of belonging to God||Circumcision||Ephesians 4:30||Holy Spirit *|
|Example of faith||Abraham||Romans 4:13–16||Abraham|
|Priest of the Most High God||Melchizedek||Hebrews 7:23–25||Jesus|
© David Billin 2002–2020