Background


The Epistle to the Hebrews


There is a branch of theology that is called apologetics. Apologetics, in theological terms, is concerned with proving that a religious belief is right or correct. Apologists defend the faith and seek to persuade and convince.

 

In the early church, there was a group of Christians of Jewish decent. They had undergone a small amount of persecution. They had withstood this persecution, though some were beginning to waver. The roots of Christianity had begun to sink into this community, but as of yet, they were only shallow roots at best. People began to ask, Why must we endure trials and persecutions? Why not return to the faith of our (Jewish) fathers?

 

It is for this sake and in this situation that the Epistle to the Hebrews was written. It is written to convince and persuade a community that they must hold fast to Christian beliefs and convictions and that those beliefs are not only valid, but they are superior.

 

Where was this community? Many have written about just this subject. The Epistle to the Hebrews does not tell us. Good arguments can be made that this community existed in Jerusalem, Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt. In fact, it's possible that this letter could have been written to any city where there was a sizable Jewish community.

 

Perhaps the most long-lasting argument has been; who wrote this letter? The letter itself does not tell us who the author may be. Though this work ends like a letter, it lacks the beginning salutations that are typical of all other New Testament letters. When the books of the New Testament were being put together, one of the main criteria for deciding what works would be included in the "canon" of Scripture was that a work should be attributed to an apostle or a writer that was directly working with an apostle. For this reason, on the basis of very scanty evidence, the early church officially recognized that the author of this letter was the apostle Paul.

 

But, there is very good reason to believe that Paul did not write this letter. First there is the internal evidence. To begin with, every letter that was written by Paul clearly begins with his salutation. Then there is a passage in Chapter 2, verse 3 that implies that the author of this letter was not among those who saw and spoke with Jesus. If that were the meaning of this passage, Paul certainly would never have made this remark. Paul placed a great deal of emphasis on his own revelation from Christ.

 

If the apostle Paul did not write this letter, then who could have written it? Several theories have been advanced. Barnabas may have written this letter. He was an associate of Paul's that had been sent out by the Jerusalem elders. Some scholars support the idea that this letter was written by Apollos, who is mentioned in both the Acts of the Apostles and in the Corinthian letters. He was from Alexandria and this idea fits neatly with the idea that this letter may have been written from the city that had the highest concentration of Jews from anywhere outside of Palestine. Other possibilities that have been advanced are: Luke, Timothy, and Priscilla and Aquila.

 

But, ultimately, the important thing about the Epistle to the Hebrews is not who wrote it or to whom it is written. The important thing about this letter is what was written. In this letter, the divinity of Christ is aggressively advanced. Jesus has brought about a new and better covenant with God. The revelation that we have is far superior to what has gone before because the one who has revealed God to us was the very Son sent from the Father. Having heard the truth of the gospel, we have a responsibility to not turn back to ignorance.

 

In Christ, all the promise and wisdom of God are given to us freely. This is the good news of the Gospel of Christ that is given to us in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

 

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