Bible Book Number 58—Hebrews
Place Written: Rome
Writing Completed: c. 61 C.E.
1. In line with what commission did Paul write the letter to the Hebrews?
PAUL is best known as the apostle “to the nations.” But was his ministry confined to the non-Jews? Not at all! Just before Paul was baptized and commissioned for his work, the Lord Jesus said to Ananias: “This man [Paul] is a chosen vessel to me to bear my name to the nations as well as to kings and the sons of Israel.” (Acts 9:15; Gal. 2:8, 9) The writing of the book of Hebrews was truly in line with Paul’s commission to bear the name of Jesus to the sons of Israel.
2. How may arguments against Paul’s writership of Hebrews be refuted?
2 However, some critics doubt Paul’s writership of Hebrews. One objection is that Paul’s name does not appear in the letter. But this is really no obstacle, as many other canonical books fail to name the writer, who is often identified by internal evidence. Moreover, some feel that Paul may have deliberately omitted his name in writing to the Hebrew Christians in Judea, since his name had been made an object of hatred by the Jews there. (Acts 21:28) Neither is the change of style from his other epistles any real objection to Paul’s writership. Whether addressing pagans, Jews, or Christians, Paul always showed his ability to “become all things to people of all sorts.” Here his reasoning is presented to Jews as from a Jew, arguments that they could fully understand and appreciate.—1 Cor. 9:22.
3. What internal evidence both supports Paul’s writership of Hebrews and indicates that he wrote primarily for the Jews?
3 The internal evidence of the book is all in support of Paul’s writership. The writer was in Italy and was associated with Timothy. These facts fit Paul. (Heb. 13:23, 24) Furthermore, the doctrine is typical of Paul, though the arguments are presented from a Jewish viewpoint, designed to appeal to the strictly Hebrew congregation to which the letter was addressed. On this point Clarke’s Commentary, Volume 6, page 681, says concerning Hebrews: “That it was written to Jews, naturally such, the whole structure of the epistle proves. Had it been written to the Gentiles, not one in ten thousand of them could have comprehended the argument, because unacquainted with the Jewish system; the knowledge of which the writer of this epistle everywhere supposes.” This helps to account for the difference of style when compared with Paul’s other letters.
4. What further evidence is there as to Paul’s writership of Hebrews?
4 The discovery in about 1930 of the Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2 (P46) has provided further evidence of Paul’s writership. Commenting on this papyrus codex, which was written only about a century and a half after Paul’s death, the eminent British textual critic Sir Frederic Kenyon said: “It is noticeable that Hebrews is placed immediately after Romans (an almost unprecedented position), which shows that at the early date when this manuscript was written no doubt was felt as to its Pauline authorship.”a On this same question, McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia states pointedly: “There is no substantial evidence, external or internal, in favor of any claimant to the authorship of this epistle except Paul.”b
5. How do the contents of Hebrews prove it to be inspired?
5 Apart from the book’s acceptance by the early Christians, the contents of Hebrews prove that it is “inspired of God.” It continually points the reader toward the Hebrew Scripture prophecies, making numerous references to the early writings, and shows how these were all fulfilled in Christ Jesus. In the first chapter alone, no less than seven quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures are used as the point is developed that the Son is now superior to the angels. It constantly magnifies Jehovah’s Word and his name, pointing to Jesus as the Chief Agent of life and to God’s Kingdom by Christ as mankind’s only hope.
6. What does the evidence indicate as to place and time of writing of Hebrews?
6 As to the time of writing, it has already been shown that Paul wrote the letter while in Italy. In concluding the letter, he says: “Take note that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes quite soon, I shall see you.” (13:23) This seems to indicate that Paul was expecting an early release from prison and hoped to accompany Timothy, who had also been imprisoned but who had already been released. Thus, the final year of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome is suggested as the date of writing, namely, 61 C.E.
7. With what kind of opposition were the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem faced, and what did they need?
7 During the time of the end of the Jewish system of things, a period of crucial testing came upon the Hebrew Christians in Judea and especially on those in Jerusalem. With the growth and spread of the good news, the Jews were becoming bitter and fanatic in the extreme in their opposition to the Christians. Only a few years earlier, the mere appearance of Paul in Jerusalem had stirred up a riot, with the religious Jews screaming at the top of their voices: “Take such a man away from the earth, for he was not fit to live!” More than 40 Jews had bound themselves with a curse neither to eat nor to drink until they had done away with him, and it required a strong escort of heavily armed troops to bring him down by night to Caesarea. (Acts 22:22; 23:12-15, 23, 24) In this atmosphere of religious fanaticism and hatred of Christians, the congregation had to live, preach, and keep themselves firm in the faith. They had to have sound knowledge and understanding of how Christ fulfilled the Law that they might keep from falling back to Judaism and its observing of the Mosaic Law with the offering of animal sacrifices, all of it now nothing more than empty ritual.
8. Why was Paul admirably equipped to write this letter to the Hebrews, and what array of arguments did he present?
8 No one was better able to understand the pressure and persecution to which the Jewish Christians were exposed than the apostle Paul. No one was better equipped to supply them with powerful arguments and refutations of Jewish tradition than Paul, the former Pharisee. Drawing on his vast knowledge of the Mosaic Law, learned at the feet of Gamaliel, he presented incontestable proof that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law, its ordinances, and its sacrifices. He showed how these had now been replaced by far more glorious realities, bringing inestimably greater benefits under a new and better covenant. His keen mind lined up proof after proof in clear and convincing array. The end of the Law covenant and the coming in of the new covenant, the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Aaronic priesthood, the real value of Christ’s sacrifice compared with the offerings of bulls and goats, the entry of Christ into the very presence of Jehovah in the heavens rather than into a mere earthly tent—all these strikingly new teachings, hateful in the extreme to the unbelieving Jews, were here presented to the Hebrew Christians with such abundant evidence from the Hebrew Scriptures that no reasonable Jew could fail to be convinced.
9. What powerful weapon did the letter of Hebrews become, and how was it a demonstration of Paul’s love?
9 Armed with this letter, the Hebrew Christians had a new and powerful weapon to stop the mouths of the persecuting Jews, as well as a persuasive argument with which to convince and convert honest Jews seeking God’s truth. The letter shows Paul’s deep love for the Hebrew Christians and his burning desire to help them in a practical way in their time of great need.
CONTENTS OF HEBREWS
10. What do the opening words of Hebrews state with regard to Christ’s position?
10 The exalted position of Christ (1:1–3:6). The opening words focus attention on Christ: “God, who long ago spoke on many occasions and in many ways to our forefathers by means of the prophets, has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son.” This Son is the appointed Heir of all things and the reflection of his Father’s glory. Having made a purification for our sins, he has now “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in lofty places.” (1:1-3) Paul quotes scripture upon scripture to prove Jesus’ superiority over the angels.
11. (a) Why does Paul counsel paying more than the usual attention to the things heard? (b) Because of his experiences and his exalted position, what things is Jesus able to accomplish?
11 Paul writes that “it is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention.” Why so? Because, argues Paul, if there was severe retribution for disobeying “the word spoken through angels, . . . how shall we escape if we have neglected a salvation of such greatness in that it began to be spoken through our Lord?” God made “the son of man” a little lower than angels, but now we behold this Jesus “crowned with glory and honor for having suffered death, that he by God’s undeserved kindness might taste death for every man.” (2:1-3, 6, 9) In bringing many sons to glory, God first made this Chief Agent of their salvation “perfect through sufferings.” He it is who brings the Devil to nothing and emancipates “all those who for fear of death were subject to slavery all through their lives.” Jesus thus becomes “a merciful and faithful high priest.” And wonderfully, since he himself suffered under test, “he is able to come to the aid of those who are being put to the test.” (2:10, 15, 17, 18) Hence, Jesus is counted worthy of more glory than Moses.
12. What course must Christians avoid if they are to enter into God’s rest?
12 Entering into God’s rest by faith and obedience (3:7–4:13). Christians, of all people, should take warning from the Israelites’ example of unfaithfulness, for fear of developing “a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God.” (Heb. 3:12; Ps. 95:7-11) Because of disobedience and lack of faith, the Israelites who left Egypt failed to enter God’s rest, or Sabbath, during which he has desisted from creative works as respects the earth. However, Paul explains: “There remains a sabbath resting for the people of God. For the man that has entered into God’s rest has also himself rested from his own works, just as God did from his own.” The pattern of disobedience shown by Israel is to be avoided. “For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword . . . and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.”—Heb. 4:9, 10, 12.
13. (a) How did Christ become “a priest forever,” responsible for everlasting salvation? (b) Why does Paul urge the Hebrews to press on to maturity?
13 Mature view of superiority of Christ’s priesthood (4:14–7:28). Paul urges the Hebrews to hold on to confessing Jesus, the great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, that they may find mercy. The Christ did not glorify himself, but it was the Father who said: “You are a priest forever according to the manner of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 5:6; Ps. 110:4) First, Christ was made perfect for the position of high priest by learning obedience through suffering, in order to become responsible for everlasting salvation to all those obeying him. Paul has “much to say and hard to be explained,” but the Hebrews are still babes in need of milk, when, in fact, they ought to be teachers. “Solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” The apostle urges them to “press on to maturity.”—Heb. 5:11, 14; 6:1.
14. How may believers inherit the promise, and how has their hope been established?
14 It is impossible for those who have known the word of God and who have fallen away to be revived again to repentance “because they impale the Son of God afresh for themselves and expose him to public shame.” Only through faith and patience can believers inherit the promise made to Abraham—a promise made sure and firm by two unchangeable things: God’s word and his oath. Their hope, which is as “an anchor for the soul, both sure and firm,” has been established by Jesus’ entry “within the curtain” as Forerunner and High Priest according to the manner of Melchizedek.—6:6, 19.
15. What shows that Jesus’ priesthood, being according to the manner of Melchizedek, would be superior to that of Levi?
15 This Melchizedek was both “king of Salem” and “priest of the Most High God.” Even the family head Abraham paid tithes to him, and through him Levi, who was still in the loins of Abraham, did so. Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham thus extended to the unborn Levi, and this showed that the Levitical priesthood was inferior to that of Melchizedek. Further, if perfection came through the Levitical priesthood of Aaron, would there be need for another priest “according to the manner of Melchizedek”? Moreover, since there is a change of priesthood, “there comes to be of necessity a change also of the law.”—7:1, 11, 12.
16. Why is the priesthood of Jesus superior to the priesthood under the Law?
16 The Law, in fact, made nothing perfect but proved to be weak and ineffective. Because they kept dying, its priests were many, but Jesus by “continuing alive forever has his priesthood without any successors. Consequently he is able also to save completely those who are approaching God through him, because he is always alive to plead for them.” This High Priest, Jesus, is “loyal, guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners,” whereas the high priests appointed by the Law are weak, having first to offer sacrifices for their own sins before they can intercede for others. So the word of God’s sworn oath “appoints a Son, who is perfected forever.”—7:24-26, 28.
17. In what is the new covenant superior?
17 The superiority of the new covenant (8:1–10:31). Jesus is shown to be “the mediator of a correspondingly better covenant, which has been legally established upon better promises.” (8:6) Paul quotes in full Jeremiah 31:31-34, showing that those in the new covenant have God’s laws written in their minds and hearts, that all will know Jehovah, and that Jehovah will “by no means call their sins to mind anymore.” This “new covenant” has made obsolete the former one (the Law covenant), which is “near to vanishing away.”—Heb. 8:12, 13.
18. What comparison does Paul make on the matter of sacrifice in connection with the two covenants?
18 Paul describes the yearly sacrifices at the tent of the former covenant as “legal requirements . . . imposed until the appointed time to set things straight.” However, when Christ came as High Priest, it was with his own precious blood, and not that of goats and of young bulls. Moses’ sprinkling of the blood of animals had validated the former covenant and cleansed the typical tent, but better sacrifices were necessary for the heavenly realities in connection with the new covenant. “For Christ entered, not into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.” Christ does not have to make yearly sacrifices, as did Israel’s high priest, for “now he has manifested himself once for all time at the conclusion of the systems of things to put sin away through the sacrifice of himself.”—9:10, 24, 26.
19. (a) What has the Law been unable to do, and why? (b) What is God’s will in connection with sanctification?
19 In summary, Paul says that “since the Law has a shadow of the good things to come,” its repetitious sacrifices have not been able to remove the “consciousness of sins.” However, Jesus came into the world to do God’s will. “By the said ‘will,’” says Paul, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.” Therefore, let the Hebrews hold fast the public declaration of their faith without wavering and “consider one another to incite to love and fine works,” not forsaking the gathering of themselves together. If they continue to sin willfully after receiving the accurate knowledge of the truth, “there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left.”—10:1, 2, 10, 24, 26.
20. (a) What is faith? (b) What glowing word pictures of faith does Paul paint?
20 Faith explained and illustrated (10:32–12:3). Paul now tells the Hebrews: “Keep on remembering the former days in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great contest under sufferings.” Let them not throw away their freeness of speech, which has a great reward, but let them endure in order to receive the fulfillment of the promise and “have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.” Faith! Yes, that is what is needed. First, Paul defines it: “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” Then, in one inspiring chapter, he paints in quick succession brief word pictures of men of old who lived, worked, fought, endured, and became heirs of righteousness through faith. “By faith” Abraham, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, awaited “the city having real foundations,” the Builder of which is God. “By faith” Moses continued steadfast, “as seeing the One who is invisible.” “What more shall I say?” asks Paul. “For the time will fail me if I go on to relate about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David as well as Samuel and the other prophets, who through faith defeated kingdoms in conflict, effected righteousness, obtained promises.” Others too were tried through mockings, scourgings, bonds, and tortures but refused release “in order that they might attain a better resurrection.” Truly, “the world was not worthy of them.” All of these had witness borne to them through their faith, but they have yet to receive the fulfillment of the promise. “So, then,” continues Paul, “because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.”—10:32, 39; 11:1, 8, 10, 27, 32, 33, 35, 38; 12:1, 2.
21. (a) How may Christians endure in the contest of faith? (b) What stronger reason for listening to divine warning does Paul give?
21 Endurance in the contest of faith (12:4-29). Paul exhorts the Hebrew Christians to endure in the contest of faith, for Jehovah is disciplining them as sons. Now is the time to strengthen enfeebled hands and knees and to keep making straight paths for their feet. They must strictly guard against the entry of any poisonous root or defilement that could cause their rejection, as in the case of Esau, who did not appreciate sacred things. At the literal mountain, Moses said: “I am fearful and trembling” because of the fearsome display of flaming fire, the cloud, and the voice. But they have approached something far more awe-inspiring—Mount Zion and a heavenly Jerusalem, myriads of angels, the congregation of the Firstborn, God the Judge of all, and Jesus the Mediator of a new and better covenant. Now there is all the more reason to listen to divine warning! In Moses’ time God’s voice shook the earth, but now He has promised to set both heaven and earth in commotion. Paul drives home the point: “Wherefore, seeing that we are to receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us . . . acceptably render God sacred service with godly fear and awe. For our God is also a consuming fire.”—12:21, 28, 29.
22. With what upbuilding counsel does Paul conclude his letter to the Hebrews?
22 Various exhortations on matters of worship (13:1-25). Paul concludes on a note of upbuilding counsel: Let brotherly love continue, do not forget hospitality, let marriage be honorable among all, keep free from the love of money, be obedient to those taking the lead among you, and do not be carried away by strange teachings. Finally, “through him [Jesus] let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.”—13:15.
23. What does Paul argue as to the Law, and how does he support his argument?
23 As a legal argument in support of Christ, the letter to the Hebrews is an unchallengeable masterpiece, perfectly constructed and freely documented with proof from the Hebrew Scriptures. It takes the various features of the Mosaic Law—the covenant, the blood, the mediator, the tent of worship, the priesthood, the offerings—and shows them to have been nothing more than a pattern made by God pointing forward to far greater things to come, all culminating in Christ Jesus and his sacrifice, the fulfillment of the Law. The Law “which is made obsolete and growing old is near to vanishing away,” said Paul. But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.” (8:13; 13:8; 10:1) How joyful those Hebrews must have felt on reading their letter!
24. What arrangement is explained in Hebrews that is of immeasurable benefit to us today?
24 But of what value is this to us today, in our different circumstances? Since we are not under the Law, can we find anything beneficial in Paul’s argument? Most certainly, yes. Here is outlined for us the great new covenant arrangement based on the promise to Abraham that through his Seed all families of the earth would bless themselves. This is our hope for life, our only hope, the fulfillment of Jehovah’s ancient promise of blessing through Abraham’s Seed, Jesus Christ. Although not under the Law, we are born in sin as Adam’s offspring, and we need a merciful high priest, one with a valid sin offering, one who can enter right into Jehovah’s presence in heaven and there intercede for us. Here we find him, the High Priest who can lead us to life in Jehovah’s new world, who can sympathize with our weaknesses, having “been tested in all respects like ourselves,” and who invites us to “approach with freeness of speech to the throne of undeserved kindness, that we may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.”—4:15, 16.
25. What enlightening applications does Paul make of the Hebrew Scriptures?
25 Furthermore, in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, we find heart-stirring evidence that prophecies recorded long ago in the Hebrew Scriptures were later fulfilled in a marvelous way. All of this is for our instruction and comfort today. For example, in Hebrews, Paul five times applies the words of the Kingdom prophecy at Psalm 110:1 to Jesus Christ as the Kingdom Seed, who “has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” to wait “until his enemies should be placed as a stool for his feet.” (Heb. 12:2; 10:12, 13; 1:3, 13; 8:1) Further, Paul quotes Psalm 110:4 in explaining the important office filled by the Son of God as “a priest forever according to the manner of Melchizedek.” Like Melchizedek of old, who in the Bible record is “fatherless, motherless, without genealogy, having neither a beginning of days nor an end of life,” Jesus is both King and “a priest perpetually” to administer the everlasting benefits of his ransom sacrifice to all who obediently place themselves under his rule. (Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1-21) It is to this same King-Priest that Paul refers in quoting Psalm 45:6, 7: “God is your throne forever and ever, and the scepter of your kingdom is the scepter of uprightness. You loved righteousness, and you hated lawlessness. That is why God, your God, anointed you with the oil of exultation more than your partners.” (Heb. 1:8, 9) As Paul quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures and shows their fulfillment in Christ Jesus, we see the pieces of the divine pattern falling into place for our enlightenment.
26. What encouragement does Hebrews give to run the race in faith and with endurance?
26 As the letter to the Hebrews clearly shows, Abraham looked forward to the Kingdom, “the city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which city is God”—the city “belonging to heaven.” “By faith” he reached out for the Kingdom, and he made great sacrifices that he might attain its blessings by “a better resurrection.” What a striking example we find in Abraham and in all those other men and women of faith—the “so great a cloud of witnesses” that Paul portrays in chapter 11 of Hebrews! As we read this record, our hearts exult and leap for joy, in appreciation of the privilege and hope we have along with such faithful integrity keepers. Thus we are encouraged to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.”—11:8, 10, 16, 35; 12:1.
27. What glorious Kingdom prospects are highlighted in Hebrews?
27 Quoting from Haggai’s prophecy, Paul calls attention to God’s promise: “Yet once more I will set in commotion not only the earth but also the heaven.” (Heb. 12:26; Hag. 2:6) However, God’s Kingdom by Christ Jesus, the Seed, will remain forever. “Wherefore, seeing that we are to receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us continue to have undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably render God sacred service with godly fear and awe.” This stirring record assures us that Christ appears a second time “apart from sin and to those earnestly looking for him for their salvation.” Through him, then, “let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.” May the great name of Jehovah God be forever sanctified through his King-Priest, Jesus Christ!—Heb. 12:28; 9:28; 13:15.
a The Story of the Bible, 1964, page 91.
b 1981 reprint, Vol. IV, page 147.