the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Gray's Concise Bible Commentary Gray's Concise Commentary
by James Martin Gray
In the case of Hebrews there is uncertainty as to the authorship. It may have been written by Paul, or Apollos, or some one else, we cannot tell absolutely. There is also uncertainty as to the church. While Jewish Christians are in mind, yet there is no positive knowledge as to where they were located, whether at Jerusalem, Alexandria, or Rome.
But while uncertainty exists as to these particulars, there can be none as to the reason for writing the epistle. No one can read it carefully without perceiving a twofold object, viz: to comfort the Christians under persecution, and to restrain them from apostasy on account of it. The persecution must have been severe, judging by the nature of the temptation to which it gave rise. For the apostasy contemplated was not like that of the Galatians, the supplementing of faith by the works of the law, but the renunciation of that faith altogether and the return to Judaism. It is the assumption that the temple was still standing with its glorious history and magnificent priesthood, and that the followers of Moses were allowed to pursue their religion in peace. All this was different from the outward meanness and poverty, and tribulation of those seeking to follow the Nazarene.
There were many lines of argument open to Paul (for convenience, we assume he is the writer), by which to counteract this tendency towards apostasy, but he chooses only one: Christianity is superior to Judaism as seen in its Founder, Christ. The tempter is represented as urging that Judaism was introduced by “the goodly fellowship of the prophets.” “Christ is superior to the prophets!” Judaism was ministered to Israel through angels. “Christ is superior to the angels!” Judaism owes its position to Moses. “But Christ is superior to Moses!” Judaism is associated with the divinely instituted priesthood of Aaron. “Christ is superior to Aaron!”
These are the main points, but the whole revolves around the single argument already indicated.
And yet the apostle does not go straight on with his argument. He makes a digression, sometimes at the close of a division of his theme, and sometimes in the middle of it, warning his hearers, comforting or exhorting them to steadfastness in the faith. This we shall see as we proceed.
The general outline of the epistle is something like this:
1. Christ is Shown to be Superior to the Prophets (Hebrews 1:1-3 ); 2. Superior to the Angels (Hebrews 1:4 ; Hebrews 2:18 ); 3. Superior to Moses (Hebrews 3:1-19 ); 4. Superior to Joshua (Hebrews 4:1-16 ); 5. superior to Aaron (Hebrews 5:1 ; Hebrews 10:18 ).
These divisions with the parenthetic warnings and exhortations make up the book.
1. What two uncertainties exist as to this epistle?
2. What was the two-fold occasion for its writing?
3. What was the nature of the temptations in this case?
4. What is the single theme of the epistle?
5. Of what does it consist beside argument?
6. Give the general outline.