Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hebrews: An Introduction

I'm reading Hebrews right now, so I thought I'd comment on some of my greater observations as I go through it. In mind are some of the more common passages. I've noticed that familiarity often breeds laziness in Bible study. This could be a personal confession, but when it comes to contemplating the meaning of certain passages, I always wonder if they mean what I've always been told they mean.

And it's not as though I'm limiting myself to just the common passages. On the contrary, many of my observations tend to be made with respect to the logical flow of thought that provides the context for any given passage itself. For this, I may mention less common passages as exemplary of the flow of thought.

In preparation for Hebrews, I've investigated the authorship. Hebrews was written without mention of the author. Paul's pattern is typically to include his name when he writes a letter. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Paul, with perhaps some input from Luke, is the writer. The Greek style is more reminiscent of Luke, but the locution is more that of Paul. It has been suggested by some that Paul wrote it in Hebrew and Luke translated it. One may note, however, that the quotes from the Old Testament are generally from the Septuagint, which is evidence that a significant portion of the intended Jewish audience were Greek readers. It's still possible that Paul wrote originally for Jews schooled primarily in Hebrew and that Luke wisely used the Septuagint for the OT references. However, it would seem that a primarily Hebrew text would have limited Paul's audience to those well schooled in Hebrew. I speculate that most Palestinian Jews were primarily speakers of Aramaic with some fluency in Greek for trade. Hebrew was learned only as a religious requirement.

The first thing I note from the text of the letter itself is that this is a general epistle and not one written to a specific church. This may also explain why Paul doesn't start with a "To - From" type clause that would indicate his authorship. In fact, his audience isn't mentioned until chapter 3: "...holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;" "Holy brethren" makes me think he's talking to fellow Christians. "Consider Jesus" makes me think he's not. If he's not talking to Christians, "holy brethren" may be a reference to his fellow Jews as he understands their place in the old covenant although they have not received Christ as the Messiah. As it is, the message being to Jews has been understood since the early church.

We know, also, that he is talking to messianic Jews because he says so a few verses later in verse 13ff: "But encourage one another day after day as long as it is still called 'Today,' so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end..." We also read in 4:3, "For we who have believed enter that rest..." and in 4:12, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food." It should be clear by this verse, that not only is Paul writing to fellow Messianic Jews, but that these followers of Christ have not stood firm in the teaching of the gospel of Christ. This letter, therefore, is a reiteration of the Messianic faith that spells out the things needed for these particular believers to grow in their faith. It is fruitful to study, because it give us today the same teachings whereby we may encourage each other in our faith.

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