Bible Study Tool: Overview
When doing an overview of a book. It is always good to ask investigative questions.
Who wrote it?
Some suggestions for the authorship of Hebrews have been Paul, Apollos, and Barnabas. It was someone who was very familiar with the Jewish religious system and knew his readers (6:9; 13:18, 19, 23-24), Also, his recipients knew Timothy (13:23). Beyond this, we do not know. Paul usually identified himself in his epistles. There is no such identification in this book. Also, the basic style is not like the other Pauline epistles. I agree with the early church theologian, Origen, who said that only God knew who had written this book!
Who were the recipients?
We do not know for sure other than they were a community of Jewish believers (Hebrews) that the author intended to visit (13:19). Some commentators have speculated that it was a group of believers in the ancient Libyan city of Cyrene in North Africa because of the sizable and influential Jewish community there during the Roman period. We do know that Christianity took root there very early in the history of the church (Acts 11:20). Again, we do not know for sure.
When was it written?
The date of its writing is believed to be before A.D. 95 because Clement of Rome quoted from Hebrews. It was probably before the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70 since so much of the book involves teaching about the Jewish sacrificial system and implies that it was still in operation (8:4, 13; 9:6-9; 10:1-3).
Why was it written?
For a first-century Jew to become a believer in Jesus Christ required a great sacrifice. He was immediately branded as an apostate and a blemish to the Jewish nation. He was considered "unclean" in the strongest possible sense. Defecting Jews were immediately expelled from the synagogue, their children were denied the privilege of attending the synagogue school; they lost their jobs in geographical areas controlled by the Jews; in short, they lost everything of earthy value to them. Furthermore, the Jewish high priest had the authority in Judea, and to some extend in other provinces, to throw troublesome Jews in jail. It was circumstances such as those that apparently caused many of these Hebrew believers to wane in their commitment to Christ.
At first, these Hebrew Christians joyfully accepted persecution (10:34). But after a while, it apparently became too much for them to bear and their endurance weakened (10:35-36). The warning passages in the letter suggest that these believers were degenerating in faith. While they never considered actually renouncing Jesus Christ, they nevertheless contemplated drifting back into the outward observances of Judaism (including rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices -- see 2:1, 4:14, 7:11, 10:1, 13:9-14). They apparently reasoned that if they took part in such rites, the Jewish leaders might be satisfied and leave them alone.
The writer set out to warn them about the futility of such reasoning. If they lapsed from Christianity back into Judaism -- as they had already begun to do to some extent -- they would be identifying themselves with an obsolete system and a Christ-rejecting nation that was under judgment. The writer accordingly pointed them to a better way. His argument was revolutionary: Because of Christ, everything is new. Everything is better. The old has passed away, so hold onto your faith and commitment. Don't retrogress. Instead, patiently endure your present circumstances. Your faith will be generously rewarded. This is certain, for God's promise cannot fail.
(Hebrews: LifeChange, p. 15-16)What are the key themes?
- Superiority of Christ
- High Priest
A Handy Chart to Summarize:
1 ------Christ, the Son of God. Focus: Deity
2-3 --- Christ, the Son of Man. Focus: Humanity
4-10 ---Christ, the High Priest. Focus: Ministry
11-13--Christ, the Better Way. Focus: Example
(The Daily Walk, Dec. 2008, p. 15)
God had spoken through the prophets in the past, but that Old Testament prophetic revelation has now reached a climax in His Son! This is it! The Scarlet Thread of Redemption comes to its zenith in Jesus. WOOHOO! It was a long time getting here, but aren't you glad you came? He is heir of all things and creator of the universe (1:2). On top of all that . . .
. . . He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. . . (1:3)WOOOHOOO!
Christ is not only superior to the prophets but also superior to the angels, and the writer demonstrates this by comparing Christ's greatness to that of the angels using Old Testament Psalms:
1:5, 6 Psalm 2:7
1:7, 14 Psalm 104:4
1:8, 9 Psalm 45:6
1:10 Psalm 102:25
1:13 Psalm 110:1
In Hebrews 1:5, 6, God speaks to the new King. This affirms the Kingly Sonship of Jesus that falls in line with the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7). Paul also quotes it in Acts 13:33 in reference to the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. In quoting Psalm 2:7 and 97:7, the writer of Hebrews is exhorting all his servant angels (Hebrews 1:7, 14) to worship this newly enthroned King of all kings, superior in every way.
But of the Son He says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness above Your companions.”
(Hebrews 1:8, 9 quoting Psalm 45:6, 7)
(If you have not read through a whole three year cycle of the Bible Book Club, consider joining us for the new cycle starting in January of next year!)
As you read this book, imagine yourself in the shoes of the persecuted Jewish Christians. How would this book encourage you?
Lord, open our eyes that we may behold wondrous things from the book of Hebrews. We want to see Your face through it. Amen.