By Blake E. Jones
The Epistle to the Hebrews, as a part of the inspired and inerrant Word, was conceived in the heart of God, birthed through a human author and transmitted to us as a full, eloquent and impassioned classic. To read it is to be intrigued; to study it is to find a fire kindled within one's bosom; and further searching will bring the soul to full blaze.
The opening verses set the tone, foundation and cornerstone for this book in the person of Jesus Christ. He who is the transcendent Prophet and Priest is worthy of man's highest loyalty and devotion, and holds unparalleled credentials to be man's glorious Saviour and Sanctifier. In brief, Hebrews is an unfolding documentary on who Christ is, what He has accomplished and what He thus offers to humanity.
Hebrews 7:25, stands out as the logician's answer and triumphal pronouncement. Here the key verse declares, "Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them". The one word "able" wraps up all that Christ can provide through the deity of His person, the merits of His passion and the power of His perpetual intercession. In this unquestionable ability of Jesus, there is salvation from the worst of sins and from the deepest stains of sin's depravity. It is a cure and remedy for the farthest extent of the malady of sin. This is the throbbing pulse of Hebrews.
G. D. Watson feels that the book of Hebrews "stands out pre-eminently above all the other epistles in one particular feature, and that is, it is crowded with arguments and illustrations from the Old Testament to prove Christian perfection".1 It is noted by Orten Wiley that "the symbolism used in this Epistle is not concerned primarily with what we call conversion, for it is not addressed to men in their sins, urging them to accept pardon through faith in Christ, but to those who are already Christians. It is concerned with the second stage of crisis in the work of salvation, the entrance of the sons of God into the fullness of the new covenant."2
The letter is directed to a people who seem to be drawn back to the law and Moses; back to an inferior system; back to the shadows and silhouettes of an old covenant. They had endured a "great fight of affliction" (10:32) after their inception into the faith of Jesus Christ. However, they lack the grounding of soul rest as believers. Somewhere in their being is an unsettled, uneasy nature that would cloud the verities of Christ and His claims. Dear Hebrews, don't give up all you have gained in the Son of God. Don't go back to an old and unprofitable system. Go forward in Christ. He is your life! He is able to care for that unsettled spirit that drags its feet against spiritual progress and is bent on wandering when backward glances are taken.
Who are these dear people to whom this "word of exhortation" (13:22) is written? It seems very evident that they are converts out of Judaism and thus Hebrews as the title expresses. They are not being taught Old Testament doctrine but rather taught "from" Old Testament dogma. They are presumed acquainted with Mosaic rituals and systems; especially that of the priesthood. To them the worthies of faith are not unknown and unfamiliar, but rather, the writer lists them as if they were "old acquaintances". These are surely Hebrews who have embraced the Christ of the New Covenant.
The harder question to answer is, "Where are these believers?" Scholars are not all in agreement as to their geographic location when this letter is directed to them. The second last sentence is a salutation from the people of Italy. Is the writer in Italy and sending greetings from the Christians who surround him? Or is the writer in some other place and now, writing back, he mentions a displaced group of Italian believers who had been former residents of Italy? Some feel that Hebrew Christians in Judea were being addressed by this letter, and others that it was sent to Hebrew Christians in or near Rome.
The perennial question and quandary of the Book of Hebrews, however, is related to its authorship. Who wrote this great epistle? Let us first note some facts that seem to be evident from the writer's correspondence. Without question, this person is profoundly convinced of the authority and pre-eminence of Christ. He has a yearning heart for Hebrew people and may possibly feel a kindred spirit in his own claim to Hebrew lineage. This writer possesses a unique and clear understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, as if he had been steeped in them for a lifetime. This author is familiar with "Brother Timothy" as are the recipients of this letter. Finally, it is noted that the writer is schooled and graced with a "high Greek" style that sets him apart in his literary manner.
For many people, though the Scripture does not ascribe the authorship to any name, Paul is the indisputable writer. The Authorized Version ascribes the epistle to him in its title caption. Some have worked at great length to compare word phrases in Hebrews to statements made in other epistles that Paul wrote. On the other hand, the manner and formation of argument is claimed by many to carry no Pauline flavour. His style of Greek, in the epistles confirmed to be his own, is different from the style of the book of Hebrews. To me that seems rather conclusive though certainly not final. It has been conjectured that perhaps someone else wrote for Paul and used their own Greek style, but again, that is only a guess.
Barnabas is another name offered for study in this regard. He was a Levite and thus fills the quest for Old Testament proficiency. His home was Cyprus where this "high Greek" was their mark and name. Further, Mr. Barcley notes that "Barnabas is called a son of consolation; the Greek word is paraklesis; and the Letter to the Hebrews calls itself a word of paraklesis (13:22), a word of exhortation or consolatio."3 Could this colaborer of Paul's have written this profound epistle?
Martin Luther, in a passing remark while preaching from Corinthians, attributed the book of Hebrews to Apollos. Apollos was a Jew who came to Ephesus during Aquilla and Priscilla's stay in that city. He was an "eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures" (Acts 18:24). He taught with fervency but knew only the baptism of John. This precious lay couple, Mr. and Mrs. Aquilla, took him to themselves (probably to their home) and "expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly" (Acts 18:28). His Alexandrian background would explain his proficient manner and style of Greek writing.
However, since the Scripture is silent here, as intrigued as we may be by these possibilities, we must say with Origen, "Who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews, only God knows for certain".4
To our glad hearts we clasp this inspired book. It is none other than God speaking to us through a prepared human instrument. Its words are to be heeded and its doctrine of heart cleansing to be experienced in this life.
1. G. D. Watson, Pure Gold, (Shoals, Indiana: Old Paths Tract Society, 1987) p. 11.
2. H. Orten Wiley, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1959) p. 13.
3. William Barcley, The Letter to the Hebrews, (Philadephia: The Westminster Press, 1957) p. xxii.
4. Barcley, p. xxi.