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Background on the Epistle to the Hebrews

Updated on November 26, 2010

Characteristics

 

THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.—Many of the markers present in other Epistles that indicate to their authorship, time and place of writing are absent in this Epistle. Each of the thirteen preceding Epistles bears the name of Paul, but this one has neither the name nor address, nor the beginning salutation common to other Pauline Epistles.  Thus it commences in the form of an essay, though it closes in that of an epistle.

These circumstances, and the peculiarity of its style and diction and the range of topics discussed in it, have produced a divergence of opinion on the question as to its authenticity as a  Pauline Epistle, in the same sense in which St. Paul was the author of the preceding Epistles. It is included in some of the Church Cannons as such but not in all uniformly. No other writer has however been shown to be the author of this magnificent work, and until then it will doubtless continue to be ascribes to Paul by many.

Place, time and language

 

The time and place of writing of this document are also an issue of uncertainty. There is a divergence of opinion that place the date of its authorship anywhere between A.D. 60 and A.D. 100. The use of tabernacle terminology in Hebrews has been used to date the Epistle before the destruction of the Temple(A.D. 70), the idea being that had the author known about the destruction of both Jerusalem and the Temple he would have been influenced to develop his overall argument to include such evidence.

There is  similar uncertainty about the original language of the document. A traditional belief is that it was originally written in Hebrew by St. Paul and translated by St. Luke into Greek.

Regarding its audience, it is believed to have been addressed to the Jews in Jerusalem. Some writers have maintained that it was addressed directly to Jewish believers everywhere, since it dealt with issues of persecution common among Jews in Jerusalem and the Diaspora. The numerous Christian churches scattered throughout Judaea were continually exposed to persecution from the Jews; but in Jerusalem there was one additional weapon in the hands of the predominant oppressors of the Christians, exclusion of the Hebrew Christians from the magnificent national Temple and its rites.

Content

The Epistle appears to address the issue of Jewish vs. non-Jewish traditions, arising from some Jewish Christians wanting to return to the Synagogue and some non-Jewish Christians considering their need to convert to Judaism. It presented Christ in contrast to the Law, as being a better spiritual option.

 In Christ the Son of God, the author and finisher of your new faith, you have all that your forefathers sought in the law, it states. As a mediator between God and man he is closer to God than the angels, he is a greater benefactor than Moses, more sympathetic of and more persistent in praying for your needs than the High Priest; His atonement on the cross is superior to the sacrifices of the Temple; his Sabbath awaits you in Heaven; his city heavenly, not made with hands.

Having Him, believe in Him with all your heart, with a faith in the unseen future, strong as that of the saints of old, patient under present, and prepared for all coming woes, full of energy, and hope, and holiness, and love." Such was the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Hebrews Table of Contents

Contents
Chapter
Christ far above angels,
1
Obedience due to Christ,
2
Christ above Moses,
3
The Christian's rest,
4
Of Christ's priesthood,
5
The danger of apostasy,
6
Melchisedek and Christ,
7
A new covenant,
8
The sacrifices of the law,
9
Christ's perfect sacrifice,
10
The power of faith,
11
Divers exhortations,
12
Obedience to spiritual rulers,
13

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