Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews
THE chief points in controversy, relative to the Epistle to the Hebrews, though discussed by many, have not in my opinion been treated so successfully by any writer as by Dr. Lardner; he has entered into the whole controversy, and brought his knowledge from far. I shall avail myself of his labors as the best on the subject, and generally use his own words.
“I shall,” says he,” inquire, 1. To whom it was written. 2. In what language. 3. By whom. 4. The time and place of writing it.
“I. In the first place, let us consider to whom this epistle was written.
“Dr. Lightfoot thought that this epistle was sent by Paul to the believing Jews of Judea; ‘a people,’ says he, ‘that had been much engaged to him, for his care of their poor, getting collections for them all along in his travels.’ He adds, ‘It is not to be doubted, indeed, that he intends the discourse and matter of this epistle to the Jews throughout their dispersion. Yet does he endorse it and send it chiefly to the Hebrews, or the Jews of Judea, the principal part of the circumcision, as the properest center to which to direct it, and from whence it might be best diffused in time to the whole circumference of the dispersion.’ Whitby, in his preface to the Epistle to the Hebrews, is of the same opinion, and argues much after the same manner as Lightfoot.
“So likewise Mill, Pearson, Lewis Capellus, and Beza, in his preface to this epistle, and Beausobre and L’Enfant, the editors of the French New Testament at Berlin, in their general preface to St. Paul’s epistles, and in their preface to this epistle in particular.
“Of this Mr. Hallet had no doubt, who in his synopsis of the epistle, says, that this epistle was particularly designed for the Hebrew Christians, who dwelt in one certain place, and was sent thither, as appears from the apostle’s saying, Hebrews 13:19, 23: ‘I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner: I will see you.’ And what particular place can this be supposed to be but Judea? There, the Christians were continually persecuted by the unbelieving Jews, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles; and as St. Paul takes notice, 1 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 10:32-36; 12:4, 5. By these persecutions the Hebrew Christians were tempted to apostatize from Christianity, and to think there was strength in the arguments used by the persecutors in favor of Judaism. The apostle, therefore, sets himself to guard against both these dangers.
“This appears to me to be the most probable opinion: for, 1. It is the opinion of the ancient Christian writers who received this epistle. It may be taken for granted, that this was the opinion of Clement of Alexandria, and Jerome, and Euthalius, who supposed this epistle to have been first written in Hebrew, and afterwards translated into Greek. It may be allowed to have been also the opinion of many others who quote this epistle, to have been written to Hebrews, when they say nothing to the contrary. Nor do I recollect any of the ancients, who say it was written to Jews living out of Judea.
“Chrysostom says that the epistle was sent to the believing Jews of Palestine, and supposes that the apostle afterwards made them a visit. Theodoret, in his preface to the epistle, allows it to have been sent to the same Jews; and Theophylact, in his argument of the epistle, expressly says, as Chrysostom, that it was sent to the Jews of Palestine. So that this was the general opinion of the ancients.
“There are in this epistle many things especially suitable to the believers in Judea; which must lead us to think it was written to them. I shall select such passages.
“1. Hebrews 1:2: ‘Has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.’
“2. Hebrews 4:2: ‘For unto us was the Gospel preached, as well as unto them.’
“3. Hebrews 2:1-4: ‘Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have Heard: How then shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost.’
“Does not this exhortation, and the reason with which it is supported, peculiarly suit the believers of Judea, where Christ himself first taught, and then his disciples after him; confirming their testimony with very numerous and conspicuous miracles?
“4. The people to whom this epistle is sent were well acquainted with our Saviour’s sufferings, as they of Judea must have been. This appears in Hebrews 1:3; 2:9, 18; 5:7, 8; 9:14, 28; 10:11; Hebrews 12:2, 3; 13:12.
“5. Hebrews 5:12: ‘For when ye ought to be teachers of others,’ and what follows, is most properly understood of Christians in Jerusalem and Judea, to whom the Gospel was first preached.
“6. What is said, Hebrews 6:4-6, and Hebrews 10:26, 29, is most probably applicable to apostates in Judea.
“7. Hebrews 10:32-34: ‘But to call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;’ to the end of Hebrews 10:34. This leads us to the Church of Jerusalem, which had suffered much, long before the writing of this epistle, even very soon after they had received the knowledge of the truth. Compare Acts 8:1; 9:1, 2; 11:19, and 1 Thessalonians 2:14. Grotius supposes as much.
“8. Those exhortations, Hebrews 13:13, 14, must have been very suitable to the case of the Jews at Jerusalem, at the supposed time of writing this epistle; a few years before the war in that country broke out.
“9. The regard shown in this epistle to the rulers of the Church or Churches to which it is sent, is very remarkable. They are mentioned twice or thrice, first in Hebrews 13:7: ‘Remember your rulers, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith imitate, considering the end of their conversation.’ These were dead, as Grotius observes. And Theodoret’s note is to this purpose. He intends the saints that were dead-Stephen the proto-martyr, James the brother of John, and James called the Just. And there were many others who were taken off by the Jewish rage. Consider these, says he, and, observing their example, imitate their faith. Then again, at Hebrews 13:17: ‘Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves. For they watch for your souls.’ And once more, Hebrews 13:24: ‘Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints.’ Upon which Theodoret says: This way of speaking intimates, that their rulers did not need such instruction; for which reason he did not write to them, but to their disciples. That is a fine observation. And Whitby upon that verse says: Hence it seems evident that this epistle was not sent to the bishops or rulers of the Church, but to the whole Church, or the laity; and it may deserve to be considered whether this repeated notice of the rulers among them does not afford ground to believe that some of the apostles were still in Judea. Whether there be sufficient reason to believe that or not, I think these notices very proper and suitable to the state of the Jewish believers in Judea; for I am persuaded, that not only James, and all the other apostles, had exactly the same doctrine with Paul, but that all the elders likewise, and all the understanding men among the Jewish believers, embraced the same doctrine. They were, as I understand, the multitude only, plhqov, plebs, or the men of lower rank among them, who were attached to the peculiarities of the Mosaic law and the customs of their ancestors. This may be argued from what James and the elders of Jerusalem say to Paul, Acts 21:20-22: ‘Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are that believe; and they are all zealous of the law. What is it, therefore? The multitude must needs come together.’ It is hence evident that the zeal for the law, which prevailed in the minds of many, was not approved by James or the elders. That being the case, these recommendations of a regard for their rulers, whether apostles or elders, were very proper in an epistle sent to the believers in Judea.
“For these reasons, I think that this epistle was sent to the Jewish believers at Jerusalem and in Judea. But there are objections which must be considered.
“Obj. 1. Hebrews 6:10: ‘God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love-in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.’ Upon which Dr. Wall remarks: Here again we are put upon thinking to what Church or what Christians this is said; for as to those of Jerusalem, we read much in Paul’s former letters of their poverty, and of their being ministered to by the Gentile Christians of Galatia, Macedonia, and Corinth; and in the Acts, by the Antiochians; but nowhere of their ministering to other saints. This objection, perhaps, might be strengthened from Hebrews 13:2: ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers.’ And from Hebrews 13:16: ‘To do good, and to communicate, forget not.’
“Ans. But the poverty of the Jews in Judea, and the contributions of the Gentile Churches for their relief, are no reasons why such admonitions as these should not be sent to them. They are properly directed to all Christians, that they may be induced to exert themselves to the utmost. The Gentile Churches, among whom St. Paul made collections for the saints in Judea, were not rich. As he says, 1 Corinthians 1:26: ‘For ye know your calling, brethren-not many mighty, not many noble, are called.’ And of the Churches in Macedonia, he says, 2 Corinthians 8:2: ‘How that, in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy, and their deep poverty, had abounded unto the riches of their liberality.’ In like manner, there might be instances of liberality to the distressed among the believers in Judea. There is a very fine example recorded, Acts 9:36, 39; nor was there ever any city or country in the world to whom that exhortation, ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers,’ or, Be not unmindful of hospitality, thv filoceniav mh epilanqanesqe, could be more properly given, than Jerusalem and Judea. For the people there must have been much accustomed to it at their festivals, when there was a great resort thither from all countries; and the writer of an epistle to the Christian inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea would naturally think of such an admonition; being desirous that they should not fall short of others in that respect. And we may here, not unfitly, recollect the history of St. Paul’s going to Jerusalem; and how he and his fellow travelers were entertained at Caesarea, in the house of Philip the evangelist and at Jerusalem, in the house of Mnason, an old disciple, as related Acts 21:8-16.
“Obj. 2. Upon Hebrews 13:18, 19, the same Dr. Wall says: One would think that Paul should have prayed and purposed to go anywhere rather than to Jerusalem, where he had been so used, and where he fell into that five years’ imprisonment, from which he was but just now delivered.
“Ans. But there is not any improbability that Paul might now desire to see his countrymen in Judea, if he might go thither with safety, as I think he might. Almost three years had now passed since he left Judea; and his trial, or apology, had been over two years; and he was now set at liberty by the emperor himself. No man, not very presumptuous would admit a thought of disturbing him.
“Obj. 3. St. Peter’s epistles were written to the Hebrew Christians, scattered in Asia and Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Bithynia. St. Paul must have written an epistle to those Hebrew Christians to whom St. Peter writes his two epistles. For St. Peter, 2 Peter 3:15, cites to them what Paul had written unto them. No epistle of Paul was written to the Hebrews particularly but this; so that these must be the Hebrews of the above named countries. To which I answer: That St. Peter’s epistles were not sent to Jews, but to Gentiles, or to all Christians in general, in the places above mentioned, as will be clearly shown hereafter. When St. Peter says, As Paul has written unto you, he may intend Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, and some other epistles written to Gentiles. If he refers at all to this Epistle to the Hebrews, it is comprehended under that expression, 2 Peter 3:16. As also in all his epistles.
“Obj. 4. This Epistle to the Hebrews seems to have been written in Greek. But if it had been sent to the Jewish believers in Judea, it would have been written in Hebrew. To which I answer: That, allowing the epistle to have been written in Greek, it might be sent to the believers in Judea. If St. Paul wrote to the Jewish believers in Palestine he intended the epistle for general use-for all Christians, whether of Jewish or Gentile original. Many of the Jews in Judea understood Greek; few of the Jews out of Judea understood Hebrew. The Greek language was almost universal, and therefore generally used. All St Paul’s epistles are in Greek, even that to the Romans. And are not both St. Peter’s epistles in Greek. And St.
John’s, and St. Jude’s? Did not St. James likewise write in Greek, who is supposed to have resided in Jerusalem from the time of our Lord’s ascension to the time of his own death? His epistle is inscribed to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. But I presume that they of the twelve tribes who dwelt in Judea are not excluded by him, but intended. Nor could he be unwilling that this epistle should be read and understood by those who were his especial charge. The epistle written by Barnabas, a Levite, or ascribed to him, was written in Greek; not now to mention any other Jewish writers who have used the Greek language.
“II. Thus we are unawares brought to the inquiry, in what language was this epistle written? For there have been doubts about it, among both ancients and moderns. Yet many learned and judicious moderns have been of opinion that Greek, and not Hebrew, was the original language of this epistle; Beausobre, James Capellus, S. Basnage, Mill, in his Prolegomena to the New Testament, and the late Mr. Wetstein, and also Spanheim, in his Dissertation concerning the author of this epistle, which well deserves to be consulted. One argument for this, both of Spanheim and Wetstein, is taken from the Greek paronomasias in the epistle, or the frequent concurrence of Greek words of like sound; which seem to be an argument not easy to be answered.
“Some ancient Christian writers were of opinion that the Epistle to the Hebrews was written in the Hebrew language, and translated into Greek by Luke or Clement of Rome. Jerome, in particular, seems to have supposed that this epistle was written in Hebrew; and Origen is also sometimes reckoned among those who were of this opinion. But I think I have shown it to be probable that he thought it was written in Greek. It seems likewise that they must have been of the same opinion who considered the elegance of the Greek language of this epistle as an objection against its having been written by St. Paul; for if the Greek epistle had been supposed to be a translation, the superior elegance of the style of this epistle above that of the other epistles of Paul, could have afforded no objection against his being the author of it. Indeed the ancients, as Beausobre said, formerly had no other reason to believe that St. Paul wrote in Hebrew, but that he wrote to the Hebrews. So, likewise, says Capellus. The title deceived them. And because it was written to Hebrews, they concluded it was written IN Hebrew; for none of the ancients appear to have seen a copy of this epistle in that language.
“III. I now proceed to the third inquiry, Who is the writer of this epistle? And many things offer in favor of the Apostle PAUL.
“1. It is ascribed to him by many of the ancients. Here I think myself obliged briefly to recollect the testimonies of ancient authors; and I shall rank them under two heads: First, the testimonies of writers who used the Greek tongue; then the testimonies of those who lived in that part of the Roman empire where the Latin was the vulgar language.
“There are some passages in the epistles of Ignatius, about the year 107, which may be thought, by some to contain allusions to the Epistle to the Hebrews. This epistle seems to be referred to by Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, in his epistle written to the Philippians, in the year 108, and in the relation of his martyrdom, written about the middle of the second century. This epistle is often quoted as Paul’s by Clement of Alexandria, about the year 194. It is received and quoted as Paul’s by Origen, about 230. It was also received as the apostle’s by Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, in 247. It is plainly referred to by Theognostus, of Alexandria, about 282. It appears to have been received by Methodius about 292; by Pamphilius, about 294; and by Archelaus, bishop in Mesopotamia, at the beginning of the fourth century; by the Manichees in the fourth; and by the Paulicians, in the seventh century. It was received and ascribed to Paul by Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, in the year 313; and by the Arians, in the fourth century. Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, about 315, says: ‘There are fourteen epistles of Paul manifest and well known; but yet there are some who reject that to the Hebrews, alleging in behalf of their opinion, that it was not received by the Church of Rome as a writing of Paul.’ It is often quoted by Eusebius himself as Paul’s, and sacred Scripture. This epistle was received by Athanasius, without any hesitation. In his enumeration of St. Paul’s fourteen epistles, this is placed next after the two to the Thessalonians, and before the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. The same order is observed in the Synopsis of Scripture, ascribed to him. This epistle is received as Paul’s by Adamantius, author of a dialogue against the Marcionites, in 380; and by Cyril of Jerusalem, in 347; by the council of Laodicea, in 363; where St. Paul’s epistles are enumerated in the same order as in Athanasius just noticed. This epistle is also received as Paul’s by Epiphanius, about 368 by the apostolical constitutions, about the end of the fourth century; by Basil, about 370; by Gregory Nazianzen, in 370; by Amphilochius also. But he says it was not received by all as Paul’s. It was received by Gregory Nyssen, about 370; by Didymus, of Alexandria, about the same time; by Ephrem, the Syrian, in 370, and by the Churches of Syria; by Diodorus, of Tarsus, in 378; by Hierax, a learned Egyptian, about the year 302; by Serapion, bishop of Thumis, in Egypt, about 347; by Titus, bishop of Bostria, in Arabia, about 362; by Theodore, bishop of Mopsuestia, in Cilicia, about the year 394; by Chrysostom, about the year 398; by Severian, bishop of Gabala, in Syria, in 401; by Victor, of Antioch, about 401; by Palladius, author of a Life of Chrysostom, about 408; by Isidore, of Pelusium, about 412; by Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, in 412; by Theodoret, in 423; by Eutherius, bishop of Tiana, in Cappadocia, in 431; by Socrates, the ecclesiastical historian, about 440; by Euthalius, in Egypt, about 458; and probably by Dionysius, falsely called the Areopagite, by the author of the Quaestiones et Responsiones, commonly ascribed to Justin Marytr, but rather written in the fifth century. It is in the Alexandrian manuscript, about the year 500; and in the Stichometry of Nicephorus, about 806; is received as Paul’s by Cosmas, of Alexandria, about 535; by Leontius, of Constantinople, about 610; by John Damascen, in 730; by Photius, about 858; by OEcumenius, about the year 950; and by Theophylact, in 1070. I shall not go any lower.
“I shall now rehearse such authors as lived in that part of the Roman empire where the Latin was the vulgar tongue.
“Here, in the first place, offers Clement, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, written about the year 96, or as some others say, about the year 70. For though he wrote in Greek, we rank him among Latin authors, because he was bishop of Rome. In his epistle are many passages, generally supposed to contain allusions or references to the Epistle to the Hebrews. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, about 178, as we are assured by Eusebius, alleged some passages out of this epistle, in a work now lost; nevertheless it does not appear that he received it as St. Paul’s. By Tertullian, presbyter of Carthage, about the year 200, this epistle is ascribed to Barnabas. Caius, about 212, supposed to have been presbyter in the Church of Rome, reckoning up the epistles of St. Paul, mentions thirteen only, omitting that to the Hebrews. Here I place Hippolytus, who flourished about 220; but it is not certainly known where he was bishop, whether of Porto, in Italy, or of some place in the east: we have seen evidences that he did not receive the Epistle to the Hebrews as St. Paul’s, and perhaps that may afford an argument that, though he wrote in Greek, he lived where the Latin tongue prevailed. This epistle is not quoted by Cyprian, bishop of Carthage about 248, and afterwards; nor does it appear to have been received by Novatus, otherwise called Novation, presbyter of Rome about 251. Nevertheless it was in after times received by his followers. It may be thought by some that this epistle is referred to by Arnobius, about 306, and by Lactantius about the same time. It is plainly quoted by another Arnobius, in the fifth century. It was received as Paul’s by Hilary, of Poictiers, about 354, and by Lucifer, bishop of Cagliari, in Sardinia, about the same time, and by his followers: it was also received as Paul’s by C. M. Victorianus. Whether it was received by Optatus, of Milevi, in Africa, about 370, is doubtful. It was received as Paul’s by Ambrose, bishop of Milan, about 374; by the Priscillianists, about 378. About the year 380 was published a Commentary upon thirteen epistles of Paul only, ascribed to Hilary, deacon of Rome. It was received as Paul’s by Philaster, bishop of Brescia, in Italy, about 380; but he takes notice that it was not then received by all. His successor, Gaudentius, about 387, quotes this epistle as Paul’s; it is also readily received as Paul’s by Jerome, about 392, and he says it was generally received by the Greeks, and the Christians in the east, but not by all the Latins. It was received as Paul’s by Rufinus, in 397; it is also in the Catalogue of the third council of Carthage, in 397. It is frequently quoted by Augustine as St. Paul’s. In one place he says: ‘It is of doubtful authority with some; but he was inclined to follow the opinion of the Churches in the east, who received it among the canonical Scriptures. It was received as Paul’s by Chromatius, bishop of Aquileia, in Italy, about 401; by Innocent, bishop of Rome, about 402; by Paulinus, bishop of Nola, in Italy, about 403. Pelagias, about 405, wrote a commentary upon thirteen epistles of Paul, omitting that to the Hebrews; nevertheless it was received by his followers. It was received by Cassian, about 424; by Prosper, of Aquitain, about 434, and by the authors of the works ascribed to him; by Eucherius, bishop of Lyons, in 434; by Sedulius, about 818; by Leo, bishop of Rome, in 440; by Salvian, presbyter of Marseilles, about 440; by Gelatius, bishop of Rome, about 496: by Facundus, an African bishop, about 540; by Junilius, an African bishop, about 556; by Cassiodorus, in 556, by the author of the imperfect work upon St. Matthew, about 560; by Gregory, bishop of Rome, about 590; by Isidore, of Seville, about 596; and by Bede, about 701, or the beginning of the eighth century.
“Concerning the Latin writers, it is obvious to remark, that this epistle is not expressly quoted as Paul’s by any of them in the three first centuries; however, it was known by Iranaeus and Tertullian as we have seen, and possibly to others also. But it is manifest that it was received as an epistle of St. Paul by many Latin writers, in the fourth, fifth, and following centuries.
“The reasons of doubting about the genuineness of this epistle probably were the want of a name at the beginning, and the difference of argument or subject matter, and of the style, from the commonly received epistles of the apostle, as is intimated by Jerome. Whether they are sufficient reasons for rejecting this epistle will be considered in the course of our argument.
“2. There is nothing in the epistle itself that renders it impossible or unlikely to be his; for the epistle appears to have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem, as was of old observed by Chrysostom and Theodoret, and has bean argued also by many moderns. That the temple was still standing, and sacrifices there offered, may be inferred from Hebrews 8:4: ‘For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer according to the law;’ and from Hebrews 13:10: ‘We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat, which serve the tabernacle.’ If the temple had been destroyed, and the worship there abolished, the writer would not have failed to take some notice of it in support of his argument, and for abating the too great attachment of many to the rites of the Mosaic institution. To this purpose speaks Spanheim. It is also probable that those words, Hebrews 3:13, ‘While it is called to-Day,’ refer to the patience which God yet continued to exercise toward the Jewish nation; he seems to have had in view the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, which would put an end to that to-day, and finish the time which God gave to the Jews, as a nation, to hear his voice.
And Lightfoot argues, from Hebrews 12:4, ‘Ye have not yet resisted unto blood,’ that the epistle was written before the war in Judea was begun.
“Indeed, those words have been the ground of an objection against this epistle having been sent to the believing Jews in Judea, because there had been already several martyrdoms in that country. That difficulty I would now remove; and I have received from a learned friend the following observation, which may be of use: ‘It seems to me,’ says he, ‘that the apostle here, as well as in the preceding context, alludes to the Grecian games or exercises; and he signifies that they to whom he writes had not been called out to the most dangerous combats, and had not run the immediate hazard of their lives; which, I suppose, might be said of them as a body or Church.’ And I shall transfer hither M. Beausobre’s note upon this place: ‘There had been martyrs in Judea, as Stephen and the two James; but, for the most part, the Jews did not put the Christians to death for want of power; they were imprisoned and scourged; see Acts 5:40, and here, Hebrews 13:3. And they endured reproaches, and the loss of their substance, Hebrews 10:32, 34. These were the sufferings which they had met with. The apostle, therefore, here indirectly reproves the Hebrews, that though God treated them with more indulgence than he had done his people in former times, and even than his own Son, they nevertheless wavered in their profession of the Gospel. See Hebrews 12:12.
“3. There are many exhortations in this epistle much resembling some in the epistles of St. Paul. 1. Hebrews 12:3: ‘Lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.’ Galatians 6:9: ‘And let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.’ And see 2 Thessalonians 3:13, and Ephesians 3:13. 2. Hebrews 12:14: ‘Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.’ An exhortation very suitable to Paul, and to the Jewish believers in Judea; admonishing them not to impose the rituals of the law upon others, that is, the Gentile believers; and to maintain friendship with them, though they did not embrace the law. It has also a resemblance to Romans 12:18, but the words of the original are different. 3. Hebrews 13:1: ‘Let brotherly love continue,’ and what follows to the end of Hebrews 13:3. Then, in Hebrews 13:4: ‘Marriage is honorable; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.’ Here is an agreement with Ephesians 5:2, 3, 4: ‘And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us-but fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not once be named among you. For this ye know, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man-has any inheritance in the kingdom of God.’ 4. Hebrews 13:16: ‘But to do good, and to communicate, forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.’ That exhortation is very suitable to Paul’s doctrine, and has an agreement with what he says elsewhere, as Philippians 4:18: ‘An odour of a sweet smell; a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.’ Moreover, as is observed by Grotius upon this text, the word communicate or communion is found in a like sense in the Acts, and in other epistles of St. Paul. See Acts 2:42; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:13.
“4. In the next place, I observe some instances of agreement in the style or phrases, of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the acknowledged epistles of St. Paul. 1. Hebrews 2:4: ‘God also bearing them witness with signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gilts of the Holy Ghost:’-signs and wonders, together, seldom occur in other books of the New Testament; but they are found several times in the Acts, and in St. Paul’s epistles. The phrase is in Matthew 24:24, and Mark 13:22, and once likewise in St. John’s Gospel, John 4:48; but it is several times in the Acts, Acts 2:19; Acts 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 8:13; 14:3; 15:12. The most remarkable are these where there are three different words, Acts 2:22: ‘A man approved of God among you, by miracles, and wonders, and signs.’ Romans 15:19: ‘Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God.’ 2 Corinthians 12:12: ‘In signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.’ 2 Thessalonians 2:9: ‘With all power, and signs, and lying wonders.’ 2. Hebrews 2:14: ‘That, through death, he might destroy him who had the power of death.’ The word katargew or katargeomai is, I think, nowhere used in the New Testament, except in Luke 13:7, and St. Paul’s epistles, where it is several times; and is sometimes used in a sense resembling this place, particularly 2 Timothy 1:10: ‘Who has abolished death;’ katarghsantov men ton qanaton, and 1 Corinthians 15: 26. Compare Dr. Doddridge’s Family Expositor, vol. iv., upon 1 Corinthians 15:24. 3. Hebrews 3:1: ‘Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.’ Philippians 3:14: ‘The prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’ 2 Timothy 1:9: ‘Who has called us with a holy calling.’ 4. Hebrews 5:12: ‘And are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.’ 1 Corinthians 3:2: ‘I have fed you with milk, and not with meat.’ However, in the original, there is no great agreement in the words, except that in both places milk is used for the first rudiments of the Christian doctrine. 5. Hebrews 8:1: ‘Who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty on high.’ Ephesians 1:20: ‘And set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.’ 6. Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; and Hebrews 12:24, Jesus Christ is styled Mediator. So likewise in Galatians 3:19, 20; 1 Timothy 2:5; and in no other books of the New Testament. 7. Hebrews 8:5: ‘Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things; kai skia twn epouraniwn. Hebrews 10:1: ‘For the law, having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things;’ skian ecwn twn mellontwn agaqwn, ouk authn thn eikona twn pragmatwn. Colossians 2:17. ‘Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ;’ a esti skia twn mellontwn to de swma tou cristou. 8. Hebrews 10:33: ‘Whilst ye were made a gazing-stock, or spectacle, both by reproaches and afflictions;’ oneidismoiv te kai qliyesi qeatrizomenoi. 1 Corinthians 4:9: ‘For we are made a spectacle unto the world;’ oti qeatron egenhqhmen tw kosmw. 9. St. Paul, in his acknowledged epistles, often alludes to the exercises and games which were then very reputable and frequent in Greece and other parts of the Roman empire. There are many such allusions in this epistle, which have also great elegance. So Hebrews 6:18: ‘Who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us;’ or the reward of eternal life, proposed to animate and encourage us. And, Hebrews 12:1, 2, 3: ‘Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus-who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross. Lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.’ And, Hebrews 12:12: ‘Wherefore lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees.’ All these texts seem to contain allusions to the celebrated exercises and games of those times. And to these may be added, if I mistake not, the place before noticed, Hebrews 12:4: ‘Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.’ 10. Hebrews 13:9: ‘Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines;’ didacaiv poikilaiv kai cenaiv mh periferesqe. Ephesians 4:14: ‘That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine;’ kludwnizomenoi kai periferomenoi panti anemw thv didaskaliav. 11. Hebrews 13:10: ‘We have an altar whereof they have no right to eat.’ 1 Corinthians 9:13: ‘And they that wait at the altar are partakers with the altar.’ And, 1 Corinthians 10:18: ‘Are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?’ 12. Hebrews 13:20, 21: ‘Now the God of peace make you perfect;’ which is a title of the Deity nowhere found in the New Testament but in St. Paul’s epistles, and in them it is several times, and near the conclusion, as here: so Romans 15:33: ‘Now the God of peace be with you all.’ See likewise Romans 16:20; Philippians 4:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23: ‘And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly;’ and 2 Corinthians 13:11: ‘And the God of love and peace shall be with you.’
“5. The conclusion of this epistle has a remarkable agreement with the conclusions of St. Paul’s epistles in several respects. 1. He here desires the Christians to whom he is writing to pray for him, Hebrews 13:18: ‘Pray for us.’ So Romans 15:30; Ephesians 6:18, 19; Colossians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1. 2. It is added in the same Hebrews 13:18: ‘For we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly;’ which may well come from Paul, some of the Jewish believers not being well affected to him, or being even offended with him. So says Theodoret upon this place, and Chrysostom to the like purpose, very largely. To which might be added, Hebrews 13:22: ‘And I beseech you, brethren, to suffer the word of exhortation.’ It is also observable that St. Paul makes a like profession of his sincerity in pleading against the Jews before Felix, Acts 24:16. 3. Having desired the prayers of these Christians for himself, he prays for them, Hebrews 13:20, 21: ‘Now the God of peace make you perfect, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’ So Romans 15:30, 32, having asked their prayers for him, he adds, Romans 15:33: ‘Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.’ Compare Ephesians 6:19, 23, and 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:16. 4. Hebrews 13:24: ‘Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.’ The like salutations are in many of St. Paul’s epistles, Rom. 16:; 1 Corinthians 16:19-21; 2 Corinthians 13:13; Philippians 4:21, 22; not to refer to any more. 5. The valedictory benediction at the end is that which Paul had made the token of the genuineness of his epistles; 2 Thessalonians 3:18. So here, Hebrews 13:25: Grace be with you all. Amen.’ Indeed, sometimes it is ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.’ But at other times it is more contracted. So Colossians 4:18: ‘Grace be with you.’ 1 Timothy 6:21: ‘Grace be with thee.’ See likewise, Ephesians 6:24; 2 Timothy 4:22; Titus 3:15. The same observation is in Theodoret.
“6. The circumstances of this epistle lead us to the Apostle Paul. 1. Hebrews 13:24: ‘They of Italy salute you.’ The writer, therefore, was then in Italy, whither we know Paul was sent a prisoner, and where he resided two years, Acts 28:; where also he wrote several epistles still remaining. 2. Hebrews 13:19: He desires them the rather to pray for him, that he might be restored to them the sooner. Paul had been brought from Judea to Rome. And he was willing to go thither again, where he had been several times. And though the original words are not the name, there is an agreement between this and Philemon 22: I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.’ This particular is one of the arguments of Euthalius, that this epistle is Paul’s, and written to the Jews of Palestine. 3. Hebrews 13:23: ‘Know ye, that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.’ Timothy was with Paul during his imprisonment at Rome, as is allowed by all: for he is expressly mentioned at the beginning of the Epistles to the Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, written when he was in bonds. He is mentioned again, Philippians 2:19. When the apostle writes to Timothy, he calls him his son, or dearly beloved son, 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2. But when he mentions him to others, he calls him brother; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:2. In like manner Titus. Compare Titus 1:4 and 2 Corinthians 2:13.
This mention of Timothy has, led many, not only moderns, but ancients likewise, to think of Paul as writer of the epistle, particularly Euthalius; and, undoubtedly, many others have been confirmed in that supposition by this circumstance.
“The original word apolelumenon is ambiguous, being capable of two senses: one of which is, that of our translation, set at liberty, that is, from imprisonment; the other is dismissed, sent abroad on an errand. In this last sense it was understood by Euthalius, who, in the place just cited, says: ‘That scarcely any one can be thought of, besides Paul, who would send Timothy abroad upon any service of the Gospel.’ And indeed this passage does put us in mind of what Paul says to the Philippians, Philippians 2:19: ‘But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. Him, therefore, I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me; but I trust in the Lord, that I also myself shall come shortly,’ Philippians 2:23, 24, which induced Beausobre to say in the preface to this epistle: ‘The sacred author concludes with asking the prayers of the Hebrews, Hebrews 13:19, that he may be restored to them. These words intimate that he was still prisoner, but that he hoped to be set at liberty: therefore, he adds, in Hebrews 13:23, that he intended to come and see them, with Timothy, as soon as he should be returned. If this explication be right, this epistle was written at Rome, some time after the Epistle to the Philippians, and since the departure of Timothy for Macedonia.’
“All these considerations just mentioned, added to the testimony of many ancient writers, make out an argument of great weight, (though not decisive and demonstrative,) that the Apostle Paul is the writer of this epistle. An objection against this epistle being St. Paul’s is, that it is supposed to have in it an elegance superior to that of his other writings. This has been judged, by Grotius and Leviticus Clerc, sufficient to show that this was not written by Paul.
“The opinion of Origen, in his homilies upon this epistle, as cited by Eusebius, and by us from him, is, ‘that the style of the Epistle to the Hebrews has not the apostle’s rudeness of speech, but, as to the texture of it, is elegant Greek, as every one will allow who is able to judge of the differences of style.’ Again, he says: ‘The sentiments of the epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged writings of the apostle. This will be assented to by every one who reads the writings of the apostle with attention.’ Afterwards he adds: ‘If I were to speak my opinion, I should say, that the sentiments are the apostle’s, but the language and composition another’s, who committed to writing the apostle’s sense, and, as it were, reduced into commentaries the things spoken by his master,’ etc.
“Eusebius himself, speaking of Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians, says: ‘Paul having written to the Hebrews in their own language, some think that the Evangelist Luke, others, that this very Clement himself, translated it into Greek: which last is most likely, there being a great resemblance between the style of the epistle of Clement and the Epistle to the Hebrews: nor are the sentiments of those two writings very different. This passage has been already twice quoted by us; once in the chapter of Clement, bishop of Rome, and again in that of Eusebius.’
“Philaster, bishop of Brescia, about 380, says: ‘There are some who do not allow the Epistle to the Hebrews to be Paul’s, but say it is either an epistle of the Apostle Barnabas, or of Clement, bishop of Rome; but some say it is an epistle of Luke the evangelist: moreover, some reject it, as more eloquent than the apostle’s other writings.
“Jerome, about 392, in his article of St. Paul, in the book of Illustrious Men, says: ‘The Epistle called to the Hebrews is not thought to be his, because of the difference of the argument and style; but either Barnabas’s, as Tertullian thought; or the Evangelist Luke’s, according to some others; or Clement’s, bishop of Rome; who, as some think, being much with him, clothed and adorned Paul’s sense in his own language. Moreover, he wrote as a Hebrew to the Hebrews, in pure Hebrew, it being his own language; whence it came to pass that, being translated, it has more elegance in the Greek than his other epistles.’
“Some learned men of late times, as Grotius and Leviticus Clerc, have thought this to be an insuperable objection. Of this opinion also was Jacob Tollius; who, in his notes upon Longinus, of the sublime, has celebrated the sublimity of this epistle, and particularly the elegance of the beginning of it; which alone he thinks sufficient to show that it was not Paul’s.
“It remains, therefore, it seems to me, that if the epistle be Paul’s, and was originally written in Greek, as we suppose, the apostle must have had some assistance in composing it; so that we are led to the judgment of Origen, which appears to be as ingenious and probable as any. ‘The sentiments are the apostle’s, but the language and composition of some one else, who committed to writing the apostle’s sense; and, as it were, rendered into commentaries the things spoken by his master.’ According to this account the epistle is St. Paul’s, as to the thoughts and matter; but the words are another’s.
“Jerome, as may be remembered, says: ‘He wrote as a Hebrew to the Hebrews, pure Hebrew; it being his own language; whence it came to pass that, being translated, it has more elegance in the Greek than his other epistles.’ My conjecture, which is not very different, if I may be allowed to mention it, is, that St. Paul dictated the epistle in Hebrew, and another, who was a great master of the Greek language, immediately wrote down the apostle’s sentiments in his own elegant Greek. But who this assistant of the apostle was is altogether unknown.
“The ancients, besides Paul, have mentioned Barnabas, Luke, and Clement, as writers or translators of this epistle; but I do not know that there is any remarkable agreement between the style of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the style of the epistle commonly ascribed to Barnabas. The style of Clement, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, is verbose and prolix. St. Luke may have some words which are in the Epistle to the Hebrews; but that does not make out the same style. This epistle, as Origen said, as to the texture of the style, is elegant Greek; but that kind of texture appears not in Luke, so far as I can perceive; there may be more art and labor in the writings of Luke than in those of the other evangelists, but not much more elegance that I can discern. This Epistle to the Hebrews is bright and elegant from the beginning to the end, and surpasses as much the style of St. Luke as it does the style of St. Paul in his acknowledged epistles. In short, this is an admirable epistle, but singular in sentiments and language; somewhat different in both respects from all the other writings of the New Testament; and whose is the language seems to me altogether unknown; whether that of Zenas, or Apollos, or some other of the Apostle Paul’s assistants and fellow laborers.
“There still remains one objection more against this epistle being written by St. Paul, which is, the want of his name; for to all the thirteen epistles, received as his, he prefixes his name, and generally calls himself apostle. This objection has been obvious in all ages; and the omission has been differently accounted for by the ancients who received this epistle as a genuine writing of St. Paul.
“Clement of Alexandria, in his Institutions, speaks to this purpose: ‘The Epistle to the Hebrews,’ he says, ‘is Paul’s, but he did not make use of that inscription Paul the Apostle; for which he assigns this reason: writing to the Hebrews, who had conceived a prejudice against him, and were suspicious of him, he wisely declined setting his name at the beginning lest he should offend them. He also mentions this tradition: ‘forasmuch as the Lord was sent, as the apostle of almighty God, to the Hebrews, Paul, out of modesty, does not style himself the apostle to the Hebrews, both out of respect to the Lord, and that, being preacher and apostle of the Gentiles, he over and above wrote to the Hebrews.’
“Jerome also speaks to this purpose: ‘That Paul might decline putting his name in the inscription on account of the Hebrews being offended with him;’ so in the article of St. Paul, in his book of Illustrious Men. In his Commentary in the beginning of his Epistle to the Galatians, he assigns another reason: ‘That Paul declined to style himself apostle at the beginning of the Epistle to the Hebrews, because he should afterwards call Christ the High Priest and Apostle of our profession,’ Hebrews 3:1.
“Theodoret says, that Paul was especially the apostle of the Gentiles; for which he alleges Galatians 2:9, and Romans 11:13. ‘Therefore writing to the Hebrews, who were not intrusted to his care, he barely delivered the doctrine of the Gospel without assuming any character of authority, for they were the charge of the other apostles.’
“Lightfoot says, ‘Paul’s not affixing his name to this, as he had done to his other epistles, does no more deny it to be his than the First Epistle of John is denied to be John’s on that account.’
“Tillemont says, ‘Possibly Paul considered it to be a book rather than a letter, since he makes an excuse for its brevity, (Hebrews 13:22,) for indeed it is short for a book, but long for a letter.’
“It is, I think, observable, that there is not at the beginning of this epistle any salutation. As there is no name of the writer, so neither is there any description of the people to whom it is sent. It appears, from the conclusion, that it was sent to some people at a certain place; and undoubtedly they to whom it was sent, and by whom it was received, knew very well from whom it came, nevertheless there might be reasons for omitting an inscription and a salutation at the beginning. This might arise from the circumstances of things; there might be danger of offense at sending at that time a long letter to Jews in Judea; and this omission might be in part owing to a regard for the bearer, who too is not named. The only person named throughout the epistle is Timothy; nor was he then present with the writer. Indeed I imagine that the two great objections against this being an epistle of St. Paul-the elegance of the style, and the want of a name and inscription, are both owing to some particular circumstance of the writer, and the people to whom it was sent. The people to whom it was sent are plainly Jews in Judea; and the writer very probably is St. Paul, whose circumstances at the breaking up of his confinement at Rome, and his setting out upon a new journey, might be attended with some peculiar embarrassments, which obliged him to act differently from his usual method,
“IV. Thus we are brought to the fourth and last part of our inquiry concerning this epistle-the time and place of writing it. Mill was of opinion that this epistle was written by Paul, in the year 63, in some part of Italy, soon after he had been released from his imprisonment at Rome. Mr. Wetstein appears to have been of the same opinion. Tillemont likewise places this epistle in 63, immediately after the apostle’s being set at liberty, who, as he says, was still at Rome, or at least in Italy. Basnage speaks of this epistle at the year 61, and supposes it to be written during the apostle’s imprisonment, for he afterward speaks of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and says it was the last letter the apostle wrote during the time of his bonds. L’Enfant and Beausobre, in their general preface to St. Paul’s epistles, observe, ‘That in the subscription at the end of the epistle it is said to have been written from Italy; the only ground of which, as they add, is what is said Hebrews 13:24: They of Italy salute you. This has made some think that the apostle wrote to the Hebrews after he had been set at liberty, and when he had got into that part of Italy which borders upon Sicily, and in ancient times was called Italy. Nevertheless there is reason to doubt this. When he requests the prayers of the Hebrews, that he might be restored to them the sooner, he intimates that he was not yet set at liberty.’ Accordingly they place this epistle in the year 62.
“There is not any great difference in any of these opinions concerning the time or place of this epistle, all supposing that it was written by the apostle either at Rome or Italy, near the end of his imprisonment at Rome, or soon after it was over, before he removed to any other country.
“I cannot perceive why it may not be allowed to have been written at Rome. St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians was written at Ephesus; nevertheless he says, 1 Corinthians 16:19: ‘The Churches of Asia salute you.’ So now he might send salutations from the Christians of Italy, not excluding, but including, those at Rome, together with the rest throughout that country. The argument of L’Enfant and Beausobre, that Paul was not yet set at liberty, because he requested the prayers of the Hebrews that he might be restored to them the sooner, appears to me not of any weight. Though Paul was no longer a prisoner, he might request the prayers of those to whom he was writing, that he might have a prosperous journey to them whom he was desirous to visit, and that all impediments of his intended journey might be removed; and many such there might be, though he was no longer under confinement. Paul was not a prisoner when he wrote his Epistle to the Romans; yet he was very fervent in his prayers to God, that he might have a prosperous journey, and come to them, Romans 1:10.
“For determining the time of this epistle, it may be observed that, when the apostle wrote the Epistle to the Philippians, the Colossians, and Philemon, he had hopes of deliverance. At the writing of all these epistles Timothy was present with him; but now he was absent, as plainly appears from Hebrews 13:23. This leads us to think that this epistle was written after them. And it is not unlikely that the apostle had now obtained that liberty which he expected when they were written.
“Moreover, in the Epistle to the Philippians, he speaks of sending Timothy to them, Philippians 2:19-23: ‘But I trust in the Lord Jesus, to send Timothy shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.’ Timothy, therefore, if sent, was to come back to the apostle. ‘Him, therefore, I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me.’
“It is probable that Timothy did go to the Philippians, soon after writing the above mentioned epistles, the apostle having gained good assurance of being quite released from his confinement. And this Epistle to the Hebrews was written during the time of that absence; for it is said, Hebrews 13:23: ‘Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty, or has been sent abroad.’ The word is capable of that meaning, and it is a better and more likely meaning, because it suits the coherence. And I suppose that Timothy did soon come to the apostle, and that they both sailed to Judea, and after that went to Ephesus, where Timothy was left to reside with his peculiar charge.
“Thus this epistle was written at Rome, or in Italy, soon after that Paul had been released from his confinement at Rome, in the beginning of the year 63. And I suppose it to be the last written of all St. Paul’s epistles which have come down to us, or of which we have any knowledge.” — Dr. Lardner’s WORKS, vol. vi., p. 381.
After this able and most circumstantial investigation I think it would be a mere actum agere to enter farther into this discussion; all that the ancients, both Grecian and Roman, and all that the most intelligent of the moderns, have produced, both for and against the argument stated above, has been both judiciously and candidly stated by Dr. Lardner; and it is not going too far to say that few readers will be found who will draw conclusions different from those of Dr. Lardner, from the same premises.
As all the epistles of St. Paul have an evident object and occasion, it is natural to look for these in the Epistle to the Hebrews as well as in those to other Churches. We have already seen that it was most probably written to the converted Jews in Judea, who were then in a state of poverty, affliction, and persecution; and who, it appears, had been assailed by the strongest arguments to apostatize from the faith, and turn back to the poor elementary teaching furnished by Mosaic rites and ceremonies. That in such circumstances they might begin to halt and waver, will not appear strange to any considerate person; and that the apostle should write to guard them against apostasy, by showing them that the religious system which they had embraced was the completion and perfection of all those which had preceded it, and particularly of the Mosaic, is what might be naturally expected. This he has done in the most effectual and masterly manner, and has furnished them with arguments against their opponents which must have given them a complete triumph.
His arguments against backsliding or apostasy are the most awful and powerful that can well be conceived, and are as applicable now to guard Christian believers against falling from grace as they were in the apostolic times, and, from the general laxity in which most professors of religion indulge themselves, not less necessary.
A late sensible writer, Mr. Thomas Olivers, in a discourse on Hebrews 2:3 of this epistle has considered this subject at large, and treated it with great cogency of reasoning. I shall borrow his Analysis of the different chapters, and a few of his concluding remarks, a perusal of the whole work will amply repay the serious reader. After one hundred and thirty-two pages of previous discussion he goes on thus:—
“I shall,” says he, “sum up all that has been said upon this head by giving a brief account of the OCCASION and DESIGN of this epistle, and of the apostle’s manner of reasoning therein.
“The Christian religion being so contrary to the corrupt principles and practices of the world, those who embraced and propagated it were, on those accounts, rendered very odious wherever they came. The consequence of this was, that heavy persecutions were raised against them in most places. The converted Hebrews, because they had turned their backs on the law of Moses, and embraced the religion of Jesus whom their rulers had crucified, were exceedingly persecuted by their countrymen. Sometimes the unconverted Hebrews persecuted their converted brethren themselves; at other times they stirred up the heathen who were round about to do it. By these means the believing Hebrews had a great fight of afflictions, Hebrews 10:32; and were made gazing-stocks, both by reproaches and afflictions, Hebrews 10:33; and experienced the spoiling of their goods, which for a while they took joyfully, Hebrews 10:34. But this was not all; for, as the Christian religion was then a new thing in the world, it is natural to suppose that the new converts had a great many scruples and reasonings in themselves concerning the lawfulness of what they had done in embracing it: and what added to these scruples was, the constant endeavor of the Judaizing teachers to lay stumbling blocks in the way of these Hebrews, which they too often effected by means of their divers and strange doctrines, mentioned Hebrews 13:9. The consequence of this opposition, both from within and without, was, that great numbers of the Hebrews apostatized from Christ and his Gospel, and went back to the law of Moses; while the fluctuating state of the rest gave the apostles too much reason to fear a general, if not universal apostasy. Now this apparent danger was the OCCASION of this epistle, and the DESIGN of it was to prevent the threatened evil if possible.
“That this account is true will fully appear from a more particular survey of the contents of the whole epistle.
“Chap. 1. The apostle shows that all former dispensations were delivered to the world by men and angels, who were only servants in what they did; but that the Gospel salvation was delivered by Christ, who is the Son of God, and the Heir of all things. How naturally does he then infer the superiority of the Gospel over the law; and, of consequence, the great absurdity of leaving the former for the sake of the latter!
“Chap. 2. He obviates an objection which might be made to the superior excellency of Christ on account of his humiliation. To this end he shows that this humiliation was voluntary; that it was intended for many important purposes, viz. that we might be sanctified, Hebrews 2:11; that through his death we might be delivered from death, Hebrews 2:14, 15; and that Christ, by experiencing our infirmities in his own person, might become a faithful and merciful High Priest, Hebrews 2:17, 18. The inference then is, that his taking our nature upon him, and dying therein, is no argument of his inferiority either to the prophets or to the angels; and therefore it is no excuse for those who apostatize from the Gospel for the sake of the law.
“Chap. 3. Here Christ is particularly compared with Moses, and shown to be superior to him in many respects. As,
“Chap. 5. Christ is compared to Aaron, and preferred to him on several accounts. As, 1. Aaron offered for his own, as well as for the sins of the people; but Christ offered only for the sins of others, having none of his own to offer for, Hebrews 5:3. 2. Christ was not a priest after the order of Aaron, but after the order of Melchisedec, which was a superior order, Hebrews 5:10. Concerning Melchisedec and Christ, the apostle observed that, through the dulness of the Hebrews, there were some things which they could not easily understand, Hebrews 5:11-14.
“He therefore calls on them, chap. 6:, to labor for a more perfect acquaintance therewith; withal promising them his farther assistance, Hebrews 6:1-3. The necessity of their doing this, of their thus going on unto perfection, he enforced by the following consideration, that, if they did not go forward, they would be in danger of apostatizing in such manner as would be irrecoverable, Hebrews 6:7, 8. From thence to the end of the chapter he encourages them to patience and perseverance, by the consideration of the love, oath, and faithfulness of GOD; and also by the example of their father Abraham.
“Chap. 7. The apostle resumes the parallel between Melchisedec and Christ, and shows that they agree in title and descent, Hebrews 7:1-3; and then, from instances wherein the priesthood of Melchisedec was preferable to the priesthood of Aaron, he infers the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over that of Aaron, Hebrews 7:4-17. From thence to the end of the chapter, he shows that the priesthood of Aaron was only subservient to the priesthood of Christ, in which it was consummated and abolished; and of consequence, that all those legal obligations were thereby abolished. How naturally then did the apostle infer the absurdity of apostatizing from the Gospel to the law, seeing they who did this, not only left the greater for the lesser, but also left that which remained in full force, for the sake of that which was disannulled.
“Chap. 8. is employed partly in recapitulating what had been demonstrated before concerning the superior dignity of our great High Priest, Hebrews 8:1-5; and partly in showing the Superior excellency of the new covenant, as established in Christ, and as containing better promises; Hebrews 8:6 to the end of the chapter. From this last consideration, the impropriety of going from the new covenant to the old is as naturally inferred as from any other of the afore-mentioned considerations.
“With the same view the apostle, chap. 9:, compares Christ and his priesthood to the tabernacle of old, and to what the high priest did therein on the great day of atonement, in all things giving Christ the preference; from Hebrews 9:1 to the end.
“Chap. 10. The apostle sets down the difference between the legal sacrifices and the sacrifice of Christ: the legal sacrifices were weak, and could not put away sin, Hebrews 10:1-4; but the sacrifice of Christ was powerful, doing that which the other could not do, Hebrews 10:5-10.
“The next point of difference was between the legal priests who offered these sacrifices, and the High Priest of our profession. And first, the legal priests were many; ours is one. Secondly, they stood when they presented their offerings to God; CHRIST sits at the right hand of his Father. Thirdly, they offered often; but CHRIST, once for all. Fourthly, they, with all their offerings, could not put away the smallest sin; but Christ, by his one offering, put away all sin, Hebrews 10:11-18. Now, from all these considerations, the apostle infers the great superiority of the Gospel over the law; and, consequently, the impropriety of leaving the former for the latter.
“The next thing that the apostle does is to improve his doctrine; this he does by showing that, for the reasons above given, the Hebrews ought to cleave to Christ, to hold fast their profession, and not to forsake the assembling themselves together, Hebrews 10:19-25. And, as a farther inducement to cleave to Christ, and to persevere unto the end, he urges the consideration of the difficulties which they had already overcome, and also of the love which they had formerly shown towards Christ and his Gospel, Hebrews 10:32-34. He also encouraged them not to cast away their confidence, seeing it had a great recompense of reward, which they should enjoy if they persevered unto the end, Hebrews 10:35-37. Another consideration which he urged was, that they ought not to depart from faith to the works of the law, because it is by faith that a just man liveth, and not by the works of the law; because God has no pleasure in those who draw back from faith in him; and because every one who does this exposes himself to eternal perdition, Hebrews 10:36-39.
“Another inducement which he laid before them, to continue to expect salvation by faith and patience, was the consideration of the powerful effects of these graces as exemplified in the patriarchs of old, and the rest of the ancient worthies; chap. 11: throughout. ‘This chapter,’ according to Mr. Perkins, ‘depends on the former; thus we may read in the former chapter that many Jews, having received the faith and given their names to Christ, did afterwards fall away; therefore, towards the end of the chapter, there is a notable exhortation, tending to persuade the Hebrews to persevere in faith unto the end. Now in this chapter he continues the same exhortation; and the whole chapter (as I take it) is nothing else, in substance, but one reason to urge the former exhortation to perseverance in faith, and the reason is drawn from the excellency of it; for this chapter, in divers ways, sets down what an excellent gift of GOD faith is; his whole scope, therefore, is manifest to be nothing else but to urge them to persevere and continue in that faith, proved at large to be so excellent a thing.’
“As a farther encouragement to patience and perseverance he adds the example of Christ, Hebrews 12:1-3: and as to the afflictions they met with on the Gospel’s account, he tells them they ought not to be discouraged and driven away from Christ on their account, seeing they were signs of the Divine favor, and permitted to come upon them merely for their good, Hebrews 12:4-11. He then exhorts them to encourage one another to persevere in well doing, Hebrews 12:12-14. To watch over one another lest any of them fall from the grace of God, Hebrews 12:15-18. And, seeing they were then in possession of privileges, Gospel privileges, such as the law of Moses could not give, he exhorts them to hold fast the grace they had, that thereby they might serve God in such a manner as the great obligation they were under required, which alone would be acceptable to him; and this they ought to do, the rather because, if they did not, they would find God to be as much more severe to them as his Gospel is superior to the law; Hebrews 12:19 to the end of the chapter.
Chap. 13. He exhorts them, instead of apostatizing, to continue their brotherly affection one for another, Hebrews 13:1-3. To continue their purity of behavior, their dependence on God, and their regard for their teachers, Hebrews 13:4-8. He exhorts them not to suffer themselves to be carried about (from Christ and his Gospel) by diver’s and strange doctrines, but rather to strive to be established in grace, which they would find to be of more service to them than running about after Jewish ceremonies, Hebrews 13:9. Again he exhorts them to cleave to and to follow JESUS without the camp, and continually to give praise to God through him, Hebrews 13:9-16. And instead of turning away after seducers, that they might avoid persecution and the scandal of the cross, he exhorts them to submit to and obey their own Christian teachers, and to pray for their success and welfare, Hebrews 13:17-19, concluding the whole with some salutations and a solemn benediction from Hebrews 13:20 to the end.
“Now, if we closely attend to these general contents of the epistle, we shall find that every argument and mode of reasoning, which would be proper in a treatise written professedly on the sin and danger of apostasy, is made use of in this epistle.
For, 1. As great temptations to prefer the law of Moses to the Gospel of Christ was one circumstance which exposed them to the danger of apostasy, nothing could be more to the purpose than to show them that the Gospel is superior to the law. Now we have seen how largely this argument is prosecuted in chap. 1:, 2:, 3:, 5:, 7:, 8:, 9:, 10:. If we reduce it to form, it runs as follows: No one ought to prefer that which is less excellent to that which is more so: but the law is less excellent than the Gospel; therefore none ought to prefer the law to the Gospel, by apostatizing from the latter to the former.
“2. Another argument, equally proper on such an occasion, is that taken from the consideration of the punishment which all apostates are exposed to. This argument is urged Hebrews 2:2, 3; Hebrews 3:7-19; 4:1-14; 6:4, 8; 10:26-31; 12:25, 28, 29. In most of these places the apostle compares the punishment which will be inflicted on apostates from Christ and his Gospel to that which was inflicted on the apostate Israelites of old, and he frequently shows that the former will be far greater than the latter. This argument is as follows: You ought not to do that which will expose you to as great and greater punishment than that which God inflicted on the rebellious Israelites of old: but total and final apostasy from Christ will expose you to this; therefore you ought not to apostatize from Christ.
“3. Another argument proper on such an occasion is that taken from the consideration of the great reward which God has promised to perseverance. This the apostle urges, Hebrews 3:6-14; 4:1-9; Hebrews 5:9; 6:9, 11; 9:28; 10:35-39. This argument runs thus: You ought to be careful to do that which God has promised greatly to reward: but he has promised you this on condition of your perseverance in the Gospel of his Son; therefore you ought to be careful to persevere therein.
“4. A fourth argument, which must operate powerfully on such an occasion, is taken from the consideration of losing their present privileges by apostatizing. This argument is insisted on, Hebrews 2:11-18; 3:1; 4:3-16; 6:18-20; 7:19; 8:10, 12; 9:14, 15; Hebrews 10:14, 22; 12:22, 24, 28; 13:10, 14. This argument runs thus: You ought not to do that for which you will lose the Gospel privileges you now enjoy: but if you apostatize from Christ and his Gospel you will lose them; therefore you ought not to apostatize from Christ and his Gospel.
“5. A fifth argument, very proper in such a work, is taken from the consideration of their former zeal and diligence in cleaving to Christ, and in professing his religion. This argument is handled Hebrews 6:10; 10:32-34. The argument here is: Those who have formerly been zealous in well-doing ought not to grow weary, but rather to be steadfast therein unto the end; but you have formerly been zealous in your adherence to Christ, and in professing his religion; therefore you ought not to grow weary of adhering to Christ, or of professing his religion.
“6. Another argument, proper on such an occasion, is taken from the example of such persons as are held in very high esteem. Now this argument is urged, Hebrews 6:12-15; 9: throughout; Hebrews 12:1-3. Here the argument is: Whatever you esteem as an excellency in the example of holy men of old you ought to imitate: but you esteem it as an excellency in their example that they were steadfast, and did not apostatize from God and his ways; therefore you ought to imitate their example in being steadfast, and in not apostatizing from Christ and his Gospel.
“From all that has been said in these several surveys of this epistle, it undeniably appears, 1. That the apostle apprehended these Hebrews to be in danger of total and final apostasy; 2. That he wrote this epistle to them on purpose to prevent it if possible; and 3. That it was total and final apostasy from Christ and his Gospel, of which the believing Hebrews were in danger, and which the apostle endeavors to prevent.”
For other matters relative to this subject see the preface, and the notes on all the passages referred to.