Introducing Hebrews

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Information about Introducing Hebrews

Published on March 15, 2014

Author: cgarland


Introducing Hebrews: Introducing Hebrews Background, Literary Forms, and Central Theme Introducing Hebrews: Background There is much we do not know of the author, recipients, and destination of the book called “To the Hebrews.” In fact, scholars and Church authorities have debated the background issues surrounding this book for centuries. Suggestions of origin include such diverse places as Alexandria and Caesarea; its destination as diverse as Jerusalem or Rome. Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: Possibilities for authorship include Paul, Barnabas, Luke, Apollos , Aquila and Priscilla, and so on. At the end of the day we may simply throw up our hands and join Origen, a frustrated Early Church father to declare, “who really wrote this epistle, only God knows!” (Eusebius quoted Origen in Hist Eccl. 6.25.11-14.) Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: But from its internal evidence, we know the following: The reference to Timothy (He. 13:22), and the fact that the author frequently refers to the earthly tabernacle but makes no reference to the destruction of the temple in AD 70 (cf. He. 8:5, 9:1ff), suggests an early date for the epistle, perhaps between AD 60-70. The recipients of the letter were Christians. They had professed Christ (He. 4:14), were called “holy brethren, who share in the heavenly calling,” and were reminded to “fix [their] thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (He. 3:1). Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: Since the author makes extensive use of the Old Testament, but does so by quoting from the Septuagint (a popular translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek), we may assume that the recipients were Hellenists . Since the author, 1) addressed recipients who were well versed in the Levitical priesthood, Hebrew ceremony, and temple worship, 2) argued along lines that would be far more familiar to Jewish than to Gentile Christians, and 3) directed warnings to Christians who were tempted to fall back into Hebrew ritual and customs (a warning that would be almost incomprehensible to Gentile Christians), then we may conclude that the recipients were formally Jews . Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: In sum, the recipients of this book were Hellenistic Jews who had come to Christ during the first decades of the Church, but had halted their spiritual growth and were considering a retreat to the safety of Judaism. To arrest their backsliding, the author of Hebrews confronts his reader’s double-mindedness and carefully shows them that nothing and no one but Christ—who is greater than all else—can bring us to perfection. Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: Like a preacher admonishing his listeners, our author constructs his arguments around three “if” statements: He. 7:11 – “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood…why was there still need for another priest to come…?” He. 8:7 – “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another…” He. 10:1-2 – “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?” Each of these “if” statements point out the flaws of going back to the former path. The readers had clearly lost their way! And nothing less than their perfection was at stake. Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: Drawn by the temptation of physical relief, they were in danger of losing their spiritual rewards. Our author cautions them that the old ways were vanishing like a shadow—imperfect and incomplete. And the new ways, though marked by difficulty and trial, offered the clear path of life—full and mature in Christ. But only a full commitment to follow Christ will do! He is the only answer, and we must not look back or be distracted from the prize. Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: The trail has been blazed before us by countless pioneers (He. 11) and the author adds his voice among so many to point the way: Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. —Hebrews 12:1-3 Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: Literary Form Hebrews bears some similarities with an epistle. The book contains a greeting at the end, a few personal notes, and is sent to a particular group. However, it does not contain the usual introduction “listing the names of the sender and recipients followed by a formal greeting inquiring about the recipient’s health and a thanksgiving formula” which are characteristic of an epistle. Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: The author of Hebrews calls his letter “a word of exhortation” (He. 13:22). A similar phrase is used in Acts 13:15, where Paul is invited to speak “a message of encouragement” to Jews in a synagogue. Most likely, therefore, Hebrews is a sermon (or homily) sent as a letter. Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: The author alternates between exposition and exhortation throughout his work. He usually follows a simple process in which he establishes a truth (often based on an Old Testament psalm or pericope), builds to a crescendo of supporting points, and unleashes an exhortation in which he warns or urges his readers to mature or persevere in the Christian faith. Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: For our purposes, we will use the following outline: Introducing Hebrews PowerPoint Presentation:  Exhortation Passage Major Argument(s) Exhortation(s) ch . 1‑2 Christ Is to Prophets (Superior Revelation of Christ); Christ Is to Angels ch. 2:1‑4 ch. 3‑4:13 Christ Is to Moses; Joshua, and Their Followers ch. 3:1, 6‑13; 4:1, 11‑12 ch. 4:14‑7:28 Christ Is to Aaron; Christ Has a Priesthood ch. 4:14, 16; 6:1‑12 ch. 8‑10 Christ Received a Covenant; Christ Offered a Greater Sacrifice; Christ Entered a Greater Tabernacle in Heaven ch . 10:19‑39 ch. 11‑12:13 Christ is the Author and Finisher of Faith ch . 12:1‑29 [ The author also includes sundry exhortations for godly living in chapter 13. Introducing Hebrews: Each of these exhortations underscores the importance that the author places on the direction of the believer’s pilgrimage. This book is a message to action: of not standing still or falling back, but of establishing the foundation and going on to perfection. Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: We must keep our eyes on Jesus, follow Him, and never look back: Hebrews 6:1 – Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity… Hebrews 12:1 – Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:2 – Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: Another important literary device used by the author of Hebrews is comparison/contrast. This device is largely used throughout the exposition sections of Hebrews. Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: These comparison/contrasts center primarily on the supremacy of Christ, whether in His Nature and work ( ch . 1‑4:13), in His greater priesthood ( ch . 4:14‑7:28), or in His greater sacrifice ( ch . 8‑10). This is truly a book showing the greater things of Christ. (The Greek words for “better” and “superior” occur fifteen times in the book.) Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: These comparison/contrasts lead to the author’s exhortations. Since Christ is supreme, we cannot ignore Him and “drift away” (He. 2:1‑4). Since Christ has a better priesthood, we must follow Christ who has gone before us into the heavenly sanctuary (He. 6:20). Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: Since He offered a greater sacrifice, we must not “shrink back” (He. 10:39) from His promises. The greater sacrifice also demands a greater punishment to those who reject it (He. 10:29). Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: The author adds the phrase “once for all” (9:12, 26; 10:2, 10) to emphasize the complete finality of Christ’s atonement as compared to the Levitical sacrifices. He also uses the phrase “how much more” (vs. 9:14; 10:29) to show the greater rewards and punishments of the New Covenant. Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: There are three primary contrasts around which the author builds his arguments, of which the author expands the third the greatest: Introducing Hebrews PowerPoint Presentation: Hebrews Christ Compared With 1:5-2:18 God forever; everything placed under Him; High Priest Angels – ministering spirits who worship Christ 3:1-4:13 The Son who is the Head over God’s house and the mediator of the New Covenant Moses – who dwells in God’s house and was the mediator of the Old Covenant High Priest in the order of Melchizedek Aaron – high priest of the Old Covenant The author elaborates on the last contrast the most. Introducing Hebrews: Central Theme All the exhortations, arguments, and themes work together for the author’s purpose. He shows the supremacy of Christ, our High Priest, and the superiority of the ministry He has inaugurated: Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: “The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.”—Hebrews 8:1-2 Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: Through faith and perseverance, Christ has brought us “better things” for now and He promises us the future completion of all things (as well as the subjugation of His enemies). Christ’s work is eternal and final. On the devotional level, the author of Hebrews exhorts the readers to follow Christ, our Forerunner, into the heavenlies “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (He. 4:16). Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: On a practical lever, the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (He. 12:1) by the Pioneer of our faith. Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: The Hebrew Christians were in danger of forgetting these truths and returning to the temporary and insufficient Mosaic ceremonies. (The natural tendency is always to return to what is easier and familiar.) Introducing Hebrews Introducing Hebrews: The author demonstrates that this is tantamount to denying the supremacy of Christ and the permanent efficacy of His sacrifice. Such a falling back would be unimaginable when we consider the greatness of Christ and what He has done. Introducing Hebrews

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