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Holman Bible Dictionary


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(hee' brewss) Nineteenth book of the New Testament, calling for faithfulness to Jesus, the perfect fulfillment of Old Testament institutions and hope.

Authorship Although Paul has traditionally been seen as the author of Hebrews, this is not a view commonly held by modern scholars. The style, vocabulary, form, content, and theology are unlike anything found in the letters of Paul. Besides this, the author describes himself as belonging to the second generation of Christians who were dependent on the eyewitnesses of the apostles (Hebrews 2:3 ). Paul, who considered himself an eyewitness of the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:8-11 ), would not describe himself in this way. Paul felt his experience with the risen Lord put him on a par with the other apostles.

Since the author is not named in the book itself, many have speculated as to who the author was. Luke, Clement of Rome, Priscilla, Barnabas, Apollos, or a Hellenist like Stephen have all been suggested. The early Church Father, Origen, was probably more correct when he said that only God knew who wrote Hebrews. Hebrews was not accepted as part of the New Testament canon in the Western church until after A.D. 367 when the Western church finally accepted the Eastern church's theory of Pauline authorship.

The Form of Hebrews Hebrews does not have the normal opening that the letters of Paul have. (Compare, for example, Romans 1:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; 2 Corinthians 1:1-2 .) It does conclude like a normal letter (Hebrews 13:20-25; see Letters in the Bible). Many have speculated that Hebrews was originally a sermon preached to a church in Rome (notice the reference to “hearing” and “teaching” in Hebrews 5:11 ) and later sent to a church outside of Rome (Hebrews 13:24 ), perhaps experiencing similar circumstances. In this case, Hebrews 1-12 would represent the original sermon, and Hebrews 13:1 would represent the brief note ( Hebrews 13:22 ) attached for the second congregation.

Date Many have pointed to the description of the Jewish sacrificial system in Hebrews 8-10 as evidence that Hebrews was written before the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. In actuality, the description of the sacrificial system describes the tabernacle—not the Temple—and comes from the pages of the Old Testament—not through observance of the Temple service.

Other evidence, however, does point to a time of writing before the destruction of the Temple. Hebrews 10:32-34 describes a time of persecution endured by the original recipients. The persecution seems to have only included the loss of property. These circumstances would fit the edict of Claudius in A.D. 49 banning Christians from the city of Rome. Many believers lost their property as a result. The author then warned of greater tests ahead, probably referring to the persecutions underway during the reign of Nero in A.D. 64. If this is true, the writing of Hebrews would be sometime during or just after A.D. 64.

Others see Hebrews 10:32-34 as a reference to the persecution of Nero and place the writing during a persecution assumed to have taken place during the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96). This seems less likely, as the severity of Nero's persecutions does not seem to be reflected in Hebrews. Hebrews 12:4 says that the readers had not experienced bloodshed. This confirms the experience of a milder form of persecution in the past (such as the one of Claudius in 49) but suggests the intensity of the persecution to come (such as the one of Nero in 64).

The Historical Situation Early Christians were often the objects of persecution. In the beginning Christians were persecuted by Jews as can be seen in Acts (for example, Acts 4:17-18; Acts 5:27-42; Acts 7:54-8:1 ). Herod Agrippa I executed James and had Peter imprisoned about A.D. 44 (Acts 12:1-5 ). Such persecution often resulted in the spread of the gospel (Acts 8:4-25; Acts 11:19-26 ).

Revelation, 1Peter, and possibly the Gospel of Mark were written in times of such persecution. See Persecution.

The recipients of Hebrews faced the possibility of persecution when the book was written. As was often true when Christians faced persecution, the temptation was to deny being Christians so as to avoid persecution. Some biblical scholars think the recipients of Hebrews had been converted to Christianity from Judaism and were tempted to return to their Jewish faith and the relative safety from persecution that being Jewish brought. Thus, the writer of Hebrews went to great length to demonstrate to the recipients that Jesus and the Christian faith were superior to the Jewish faith. Exactly what form of Judaism is in view in Hebrews is unsure. It included a reverence for angels, Moses, and the Levitical sacrificial system. Some feel that a form of Judaism similar to that found among the Essenes at Qumran is the most likely.

Others feel the recipients were Gentile Christians who were also tempted to deny their Christian faith to avoid persecution. The interest in the Old Testament cult is explained by the fact that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) was the Bible of the early Gentile church. The writer, in this case, was explaining the meaning of the sacrificial elements in the Old Testament for the new people of God. This same interest in the Old Testament elements of worship was strong in the second century Church Fathers, who were also Gentiles.

The Writer's Response Whether the recipients were Jewish or Gentile Christians, the writer saw a clear and present danger. The writer's response was to point to the superiority of Jesus.

Jesus is God's superior revelation (Hebrews 1:1-4 ); He is superior to the angels (Hebrews 1:5-2:18 ) and to Moses (Hebrews 3:1-4:13 ). Jesus is superior to the earthly high priest. He has a superior ministry that establishes a superior covenant that is able to bring to maturity those who have faith (Hebrews 4:14-10:31 ). As the author and finisher of the faith, Jesus is the superior model of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2 ).

Because of the superiority of Jesus, the writer exhorted the readers not to neglect such a great salvation (Hebrews 2:3 ). The readers should enter God's rest while it is still available (Hebrews 4:1-13 ); they should go on to maturity (Hebrews 6:1-8 ). Because Jesus' high priesthood is superior and because He has a superior ministry that establishes a superior covenant, the readers should draw near God's throne in confidence (Hebrews 10:19-25 ).

The writer of Hebrews also confronted directly the recipients' fear of suffering. He thought that God's children suffer because they are His children (Hebrews 12:7-8 ). Suffering functions as a discipline that leads God's children to maturity or perfection. Jesus was perfected in this way (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:8 ) and was qualified to stand in God's presence in the heavenly sanctuary as High Priest (Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 5:9-10 ).

The readers could also be qualified to stand in God's presence by means of the discipline of suffering. God disciplines His children for their good, that they might share his holiness (Hebrews 12:10 ). Without holiness no one will see God—that is, stand in His presence (Hebrews 12:14 ). Suffering may seem harsh at the time, but “later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” to those who have been trained by suffering (Hebrews 12:11 NRSV). The “peaceful fruit of righteousness” is the peace that comes from having acquired the right and privilege to stand before God in confidence (see Hebrews 10:19-25 ). Therefore, the writer exhorted the recipients to go to Jesus “outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Hebrews 13:13 NIV).

The recipients were not alone in their suffering, however. Because Jesus has suffered as they were about to suffer and was tempted as they were being tempted, Jesus was able to help them (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15 ). Jesus could “sympathize” with the weakness that the recipients experienced when facing the prospects of suffering (Hebrews 4:15 NAS).

Thus, just as Jesus learned what it meant to be obedient to God through suffering (Hebrews 5:8 ), the readers were exhorted to exhibit the same kind of obedience in their suffering (Hebrews 10:36-39 ). “Shrinking back” from God in the face of suffering is a sin that God detests (Hebrews 3:12-19; Hebrews 10:26-31 ). Jesus was tempted (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 5:7 ) but did not sin (Hebrews 4:15 ). Because Jesus remained faithful and did not sin during the hour of His suffering, He became the “source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9 REB).

The writer also encouraged the recipients to remain faithful in the midst of suffering by giving them examples of others who were able to remain faithful (Hebrews 11:1-39 ). The writer reminded them of their own past faithfulness in suffering (Hebrews 10:32-39 ) and of the example of their former leaders (Hebrews 13:7 ). Those who remain obedient to God in the midst of suffering are able to do so by means of their faith, because “to have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 TEV).

This is not to say, however, that the writer of Hebrews, felt that persons could, on the basis of their own obedience, qualify themselves to stand before God. Entrance before the throne of grace is permitted on the basis of the obedience and offering of Christ. Jesus is the one who sanctifies those who follow Him (Hebrews 2:11; Hebrews 10:19-20; Hebrews 13:12 ). To gain personal access to the throne of grace a person must obey (Hebrews 5:9 ). Just as Jesus learned what it meant to be obedient in suffering and was thereby brought to maturity, so, too, His brothers and sisters must be willing to demonstrate the same obedience.


I. Jesus Is God's Ultimate Revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2:4 ).

A. Jesus, God in person, fulfills and surpasses the prophetic word (Hebrews 1:1-3 ).

B. Jesus is superior to angels (Hebrews 1:4-14 ).

C. Jesus provides salvation which we dare not ignore (Hebrews 2:1-4 ).

II. Jesus Is God's Son and Our Brother (Hebrews 2:5-18 ).

A. The world is subjected to Jesus, the crucified Lord, who dies for us (Hebrews 2:5-9 ).

B. Jesus is our brother and the Author of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10-13 ).

C. Jesus died to conquer Satan and free us from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15 ).

D. Jesus, our High Priest, atoned for our sins and helps us overcome temptation (Hebrews 2:16-18 ).

III. Jesus Provides a Way of Faith that Assures and Perseveres (Hebrews 3:1-4:13 ).

A. Believers must focus on Jesus, the High Priest, who is more faithful than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6 ).

B. Believers must be aware of the danger of disbelief (Hebrews 3:7-19 ).

C. Believers must claim God's promised rest in faith (Hebrews 4:1-11 ).

D. God, through His Word, is the only Judge (Hebrews 4:12-13 ).

IV. Jesus, the Sinless High Priest, Is the Only Source of Salvation (Hebrews 4:14-5:10 ).

A. Through the sinless High Priest we can approach God in confidence (Hebrews 4:14-16 ).

B. The obedient High Priest met all the qualifications and became the Source of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:1-10 ).

V. Jesus, the Eternal High Priest, Calls His Followers to Christian Maturity (Hebrews 5:11-6:20 ).

A. Believers need to mature in Christ (Hebrews 5:11-6:3 ).

B. Believers must show their faith is genuine and persevere in Christ (Hebrews 6:4-12 ).

C. God's faithful promises provide secure hope (Hebrews 6:13-20 ).

VI. Jesus, the Perfect Sacrifice, Is the Only Priest Believers Need (Hebrews 7:1-10:39 ).

A. Jesus is the promised, permanent Priest who offers a better covenant and complete salvation (Hebrews 7:1-25 ).

B. Jesus is the perfect Priest who meets our need (Hebrews 7:26-28 ).

C. Jesus' ministry in the heavenly worship place is superior to all other priests (Hebrews 8:1-13 ).

D. Jesus' sacrifice of His own blood provides eternal redemption from sin in a new covenant (Hebrews 9:1-22 ).

E. Jesus' sacrifice was once for all and pointed to His return to bring eternal salvation (Hebrews 9:23-28 ).

F. Jesus' sacrifice provided perfect forgiveness and made all other sacrifices unnecessary (Hebrews 10:1-18 ).

G. Jesus' sacrifice calls for His followers to live faithfully, even under persecution (Hebrews 10:19-39 ).

VII. Jesus Inspires Us to a Life of Faith (Hebrews 11:1-40 ).

A. Faith lays claim to the unseen realities of God and His purpose (Hebrews 11:1-7 ).

B. Faith presses on even when some of God's promises remain unfulfilled (Hebrews 11:8-22 ).

C. Faith risks everything for God and His purpose (Hebrews 11:23-31 ).

D. Faith endures even when earthly deliverance does not come (Hebrews 11:32-40 ).

VIII. Jesus, the Perfect Example of Faith, Inspires Believers to Persevere (Hebrews 12:1-29 ).

A. Jesus' example of suffering encourages perseverance in the face of difficulties (Hebrews 12:1-6 ).

B. Suffering should be seen as the Father's discipline (Hebrews 12:7-13 ).

C. To see Jesus, believers must live holy lives (Hebrews 12:14-17 ).

D. Believers listen to God's warnings and worship in gratitude before the divine Judge (Hebrews 12:18-29 ).

IX. Jesus, the Unchanging Savior, Expects His Followers to Live a Life of Love (Hebrews 13:1-25 ).

A. Christian love includes all people (Hebrews 13:1-3 ).

B. Christian love leads to pure marriage (Hebrews 13:4 ).

C. Christian love does not love money (Hebrews 13:5-6 ).

D. Christian love imitates worthy leaders (Hebrews 13:7 ).

E. Christian love centers on the unchanging Christ (Hebrews 13:8 ).

F. Christian love does not follow strange teachings (Hebrews 13:9-10 ).

G. Christian love endures isolation and persecution (Hebrews 13:11-14 ).

H. Christian love praises God and shares with others (Hebrews 13:15-16 ).

I. Christian love obeys and prays for Christian leaders (Hebrews 13:17-19 ).

J. Christian love does God's will (Hebrews 13:20-21 ).

X. Conclusion (Hebrews 13:22-25 )

Phil Logan

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Hebrews'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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