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History of the Church #35

The Epistles of Hebrews #1


BRIEF CHURCH HISTORY #35

30-100 AD


From "History of the Christian Church " by Philip Schaff
(1858)

THE EPISTLES OF PAUL
   


THE ESPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS


The anonymous Epistle "to the Hebrews," like the Book of Job,
belongs to the order of Melchizedek, combining priestly unction
and royal dignity, but being "without father, without mother,
without pedigree, having neither beginning of days nor end of
life" (7:1-3). Obscure in its origin, it is clear and deep in its
knowledge of Christ. Hailing from the second generation of
Christians (2:3), it is full of Pentecostal inspiration.    
Traceable to no apostle, it teaches, exhorts, and warns with
apostolic authority and power. Though not of Paul's pen, it has,
somehow, the impress of his genius and influence, and is
altogether worthy to occupy a place in the canon, after his
Epistles, or between them and the Catholic Epistles. Pauline in
spirit, it is catholic or encyclical in its aim.

CONTENTS

The Epistle to the Hebrews is not an ordinary letter. It has,
indeed, the direct personal appeals, closing messages, and
salutations of a letter; but it is more, it is a homily, or
rather a theological discourse, aiming to strengthen the readers
in their Christian faith, and to protect them against the danger
of apostasy from Christianity. It is a profound argument for the
superiority of Christ over the angels, over Moses, and over the
Levitical priesthood, and for the finality of the second
covenant. It unfolds far more fully than any other book the great
idea of the eternal priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, offered
once and forever for the redemption of the world, as distinct
from the national and transient character of the Mosaic
priesthood and the ever-repeated sacrifices of the Tabernacle and
the Temple. The author draws his arguments from the Old Testament
itself, showing that, by its whole character and express
declarations, it is a preparatory dispensation for the gospel
salvation, a significant type and prophecy of Christianity, and
hence destined to pass away like a transient shadow of the
abiding substance. He implies that the Mosaic economy was still
existing, with its priests and daily sacrifices, but in process
of decay, and looks forward to the fearful judgment which a few
years afterward destroyed the Temple forever. He interweaves
pathetic admonitions and precious consolations with doctrinal
expositions, and every exhortation leads him to a new exposition.
Paul puts the hortatory part usually at the end.

The author undoubtedly belonged to the Pauline school, which
emphasized the great distinction between the Old and the New
Covenant; while yet fully acknowledging the divine origin and
paedagogic use of the former. But he brings out the superiority
of Christ's priesthood and sacrifice to the Mosaic priesthood and
sacrifice; while Paul dwells mainly on the distinction between
the law and the gospel. He lays chief stress on faith, but he
presents it in its general aspect as trust in God, in its
prospective reference to the future and invisible, and in its
connection with hope and perseverance under suffering; while Paul
describes faith, in its specific evangelical character, as a
hearty trust in Christ and his atoning merits, and in its
justifying effect, in opposition to legalistic reliance on works.
Faith is defined, or at least described, as "assurance (Greek) of
things hoped for, a conviction (Greek) of things not seen "
(11:1). This applies to the Old Testament as well as the New,
and hence appropriately opens the catalogue of patriarchs and
prophets, who encourage Christian believers in their conflict;
but they are to look still more to Jesus as "the author and
perfecter of our faith" (12:2), who is, after all, the unchanging
object of our faith, "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for
ever" (13:8).

The Epistle is eminently Christological. It resembles in this
respect Colossians and Philippians, and forms a stepping-stone to
the Christology of John. From the sublime description of the
exaltation and majesty of Christ in all. 1:1-4 (comp. Col. 1:
15-20), there is only one step to the prologue of the fourth
Gospel. The exposition of the high priesthood of Christ reminds
one of the sacerdotal prayer (John 17).

The use of proof-texts from the Old Testament seems at times
contrary to the obvious historical import of the passage, but is
always ingenious, and was, no doubt, convincing to Jewish
readers. The writer does not distinguish between typical and
direct prophecies. He recognizes the typical, or rather
antitypical, character of the Tabernacle and its services, as
reflecting the archetype seen by Moses in the mount, but all the
Messianic prophecies are explained as direct (1:5-14; 2:11 13;
10:5-10). He betrays throughout a high order of Greek culture,
profound knowledge of the Greek Scriptures, and the symbolical
import of the Mosaic worship. He was also familiar with the
Alexandrian theosophy of Philo, but he never introduces foreign
ideas into the Scriptures, as Philo did by his allegorical
interpretation. His exhortations and warnings go to the quick of
the moral sensibility; and yet his tone is also cheering and
encouraging. He had the charisma of exhortation and consolation
in the highest degree. Altogether, he was a man full of faith and
the Holy Spirit, and gifted with a tongue of fire.

THE STYLE

Hebrews is written in purer Greek than any book of the New
Testament, except those portions of Luke where he is independent
of prior documents. The Epistle begins, like the third Gospel,
with a rich and elegant period of classic construction. The
description of the heroes of faith in the eleventh chapter is one
of the most eloquent and sublime in the entire history of
religious literature. He often reasons a minoriad majus (Greek).
He uses a number of rare and choice terms which occur nowhere
else in the New Testament.

As compared with the undoubted Epistles of Paul, the style of
Hebrews is less fiery and forcible, but smoother, more correct,
rhetorical, rhythmical, and free from anacolutha and solecisms.
There is not that rush and vehemence which bursts through
ordinary rules, but a calm and regular flow of speech. The
sentences are skilfully constructed and well rounded. Paul is
bent exclusively on the thought; the author of Hebrews evidently
paid great attention to the form. Though not strictly classical,
his style is as pure as the Hellenistic dialect and the close
affinity with the Septuagint permit.

All these considerations exclude the idea of a translation from a
supposed Hebrew original.

THE READERS

The Epistle is addressed to the Hebrew Christians, that is,
according to the usual distinction between Hebrews and Hellenists
(Acts 6:1; 9:27), to the converted Jews in Palestine, chiefly to
those in Jerusalem. To them it is especially adapted. They lived
in sight of the Temple, and were exposed to the persecution of
the hierarchy and the temptation of apostasy. This has been the
prevailing view from the time of Chrysostom to Bleek. The
objection that the Epistle quotes the Old Testament uniformly
after the Septuagint is not conclusive, since the Septuagint was
undoubtedly used in Palestine alongside with the Hebrew original.
Other views more or less improbable need only be mentioned: (1)
All the Christian Jews as distinct from the Gentiles; (2) the
Jews of Jerusalem alone; (3) the Jews of Alexandria; (4) the Jews
of Antioch; (5) the Jews of Rome; (6) some community of the
dispersion in the East (but not Jerusalem).

OCCASION AND AIM

The Epistle was prompted by the desire to strengthen and comfort
the readers in their trials and persecutions (10:32-39; ch.11 and
12), but especially to warn them against the danger of apostasy
to Judaism (2:2,3; 3:6,14; 4:1,14; 6:1-8; 10:23,26-31). And this
could be done best by showing the infinite superiority of
Christianity, and the awful guilt of neglecting so great a
salvation.
Strange that but thirty years after the resurrection and the
pentecostal effusion of the Spirit, there should have been such a
danger of apostasy in the very mother church of Christendom. And
yet not strange, if we realize the condition of things between 60
and 70. The Christians in Jerusalem were the most conservative of
all believers, and adhered as closely as possible to the
traditions of their fathers. They were contented with the
elementary doctrines, and needed to be pressed on "unto
perfection" (5:12; 6:1-4). The Epistle of James represents their
doctrinal stand-point. The strange advice which he gave to his
brother Paul, on his last visit, reflects their timidity and
narrowness. Although numbered by "myriads," they made no attempt
in that critical moment to rescue the great apostle from the
hands of the fanatical Jews; they were "all zealous for the law,"
and afraid of the radicalism of Paul on hearing that he was
teaching the Jews of the Dispersion "to forsake Moses, telling
them not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the
customs" (Acts 21:20,21).

They hoped against hope for the conversion of their people. When
that hope vanished more and more, when some of their teachers had
suffered martyrdom (13:7), when James, their revered leader, was
stoned by the Jews (62), and when the patriotic movement for the
deliverance of Palestine from the hated yoke of the heathen
Romans rose higher and higher, till it burst out at last in open
rebellion (66), it was very natural that those timid Christians
should feel strongly tempted to apostatize from the poor,
persecuted sect to the national religion, which they at heart
still believed to be the best part of Christianity. The solemn
services of the Temple, the ritual pomp and splendor of the
Aaronic priesthood, the daily sacrifices, and all the sacred
associations of the past had still a great charm for them, and
allured them to their embrace. The danger was very strong, and
the warning of the Epistle fearfully solemn.

Similar dangers have occurred again and again in critical periods
of history.

TIME AND PLACE OF COMPOSITION

The Epistle hails and sends greetings from some place is Italy,
at a time when Timothy, Paul's disciple, was set at liberty, and
the writer was on the point of paying, with Timothy, a visit to
his readers (13:23,24). The passage, "Remember them that are in
bonds, as bound with them" (13:3), does not necessarily imply
that he himself was in prison, indeed verse 23 seems to imply his
freedom. These notices naturally suggest the close of Paul's
first Roman imprisonment, in the spring of the year 63, or soon
after; for Timothy and Luke were with him there, and the writer
himself evidently belonged to the circle of his friends and
fellow-workers.
There is further internal evidence that the letter was written
before the destruction of Jerusalem (70), before the outbreak of
the Jewish war (66), before the Neronian persecution (in July,
64), and before Paul's martyrdom. None of these important events
are even alluded to;  on the contrary, as already remarked, the
Temple was still standing, with its daily sacrifices regularly
going on, and the doom of the theocracy was still in the future,
though "nigh unto a curse," "becoming old and ready to vanish
away;" it was "shaken" and about to be removed; the day of the
fearful judgment was drawing nigh.

The place of composition was either Rome or some place in
Southern Italy, if we assume that the writer had already started
on his journey to the East. Others assign it to Alexandria, or
Antioch, or Ephesus.

AUTHORSHIP


This is still a matter of dispute, and will probably never be
decided with absolute certainty. The obscurity of its origin is
the reason why the Epistle to the Hebrews was ranked among the
seven Antilegomena of the ante-Nicene church. The controversy
ceased after the adoption of the traditional canon in 397, but
revived again at the time of the Reformation. 

(The Canon of New Testament Scripture had nothing to do with the
Catholic church of the Protestant reformation. The Canon of the
NT was decided by the apostles of the first century A.D. See the
study on this website on the "Canon of the New Testament"- Keith
Hunt)

The different theories may be arranged under three heads: (1)
sole authorship of Paul; (2) sole authorship of one of his
pupils; (3) joint authorship of Paul and one of his pupils. Among
the pupils again the views are subdivided between Luke, Barnabas,
Clement of Rome, Silvanus, and Apollos.

1. The PAULINE AUTHORSHIP was the prevailing opinion of the
church from the fourth century to the eighteenth, with the
exception of the Reformers, and was once almost an article of
faith, but has now very few defenders among scholars. It rests on
the following arguments:

(a) The unanimous tradition of the Eastern church, to which the
letter was in all probability directed; yet with the important
qualification which weakens the force of this testimony, that
there was a widely prevailing perception of a difference of
style, and consequent supposition of a Hebrew original, of which
there is no historic basis whatever. Clement of Alexandria
ascribed the Greek composition to Luke. Origen observes the
greater purity of the Greek style, and mentions Luke and
Clernent, besides Paul, as possible authors, but confesses his
own ignorance.

(b) The mention of Timothy and the reference to a release from
captivity (13:23) point to Paul. Not necessarily, but only to the
circle of Paul. The alleged reference to Paul's own captivity in
10:34 rests on a false reading (Greek  E.V., "in may bonds,"
instead of the one now generally adopted, (Greek "those that were
in bonds"). Nor does the request, ch.13:18,19, imply that the
writer was a prisoner at the time of composition; for v.23 rather
points to his freedom, as he expected shortly to see his readers
in company with Timothy.

(c) The agreement of the Epistle with Paul's system of doctrine,
the tone of apostolic authority, and the depth and unction which
raises the Epistle to a par with his genuine writings. But all
that can be said in praise of this wonderful Epistle at best
proves only its inspiration and canonicity, which must be
extended beyond the circle of the apostles so as to embrace the
writings of Luke, Mark, James, and Jude.


2. The NON-PAULINE AUTHORSHIP is supported by the following
arguments:

(a) The Western tradition, both Roman and North African, down to
the time of Augustin, is decidedly against the Pauline
authorship. This has all the more weight from the fact that the
earliest traces of the Epistle to the Hebrews are found in the
Roman church, where it was known before the close of the first
century. Clement of Rome makes very extensive use of it, but
nowhere under the name of Paul. The Muratorian Canon enumerates
only thirteen Epistles of Paul and omits Hebrews. So does Gains,
a Roman presbyter, at the beginning of the third century.   
Tertullian ascribed the Epistle to Barnabas. According to the
testimony of Eusebius, the Roman church did not regard the
Epistle as Pauline at his day (he died 340). Philastrius of
Brescia (d. about 387) mentions that some denied the Pauline
authorship, because the passage 6:4-6 favored the heresy and
excessive disciplinary rigor of the Novatians, but he himself
believed it to be Paul's, and so did Ambrose of Milan. Jerome (d.
about 419) can be quoted on both sides. He wavered in his own
view, but expressly says: "The Latin custom (Latina consuetudo)
does not receive it among the canonical Scriptures;" and in
another place: "All the Greeks receive the Epistle to the
Hebrews, and some Latins (et nonnulli Latinorum)." Augustin, a
profound divine, but neither linguist nor critic, likewise
wavered, but leaned strongly toward the Pauline origin. The
prevailing opinion in the West ascribed only thirteen Epistles to
Paul. The Synod of Hippo (393) and the third Synod of Carthage
(397), under the commanding influence of Augustin, marked a
transition of opinion in favor of fourteen. This opinion
prevailed until Erasmus and the Reformers revived the doubts of
the early Fathers. The council of Trent sanctioned it.

(14 is the number of salvation in the Bible. It is more than just
chance that Paul would write [being preserved for us, as he did
write more than 14 letters] 14 epsitles to equal the totality of
salvation - Keith Hunt) 

(b) The absence of the customary name and salutation. This has
been explained from modesty, as Paul was sent to the Gentiles
rather than the Jews (Pantaenus), or from prudence and the desire
to secure a better hearing from Jews who were strongly prejudiced
against Paul (Clement of Alexandria). Very unsatisfactory and set
aside by the authoritative tone of the Epistle.

(c) In ch.2:3 the writer expressly distinguishes himself from the
apostles, and reckons himself with the second generation of
Christians, to whom the word of the Lord was "confirmed by them
that heard" it at the first from the Lord. Paul, on the contrary,
puts himself on a par with the other apostles, and derives his
doctrine directly from Christ, without any human intervention
(Gal.1:1,12,15,16). This passage alone is conclusive, and decided
Luther, Calvin, and Beza against the Pauline authorship.


(Ah but Paul also said once he was the least of the apostles, and
born out of season. So in one breath put himself down, and then
again in another breath said he was equal to any apostle and knew
he was directly taught by Christ. So in various situation Paul
put himself up or down. Hence the above argument hold no water -
Keith Hunt)

(d) The difference, not in the substance, but in the form and
method of teaching and arguing.

(Again circumstances and inspiration of the Holy Spirit answer
this argument - Keith Hunt)

(e) The difference of style (which has already been discussed).
This argument does not rest on the number of peculiar words, for
such are found in every book of the New Testament, but in the
superior purity, correctness, and rhetorical finish of style.

(Once more inspiration of the Spirit and the knowledge of a great
Pharisee as Paul once was, answers this argument - Keith Hunt)

(f) The difference in the quotations from the Old Testament. The
author of Hebrews follows uniformly the Septuagint, even with its
departures from the Hebrew; while Paul is more independent, and
often corrects the Septuagint from the Hebrew. Bleek has also
discovered the important fact that the former used the text of
Codex Alexandrinus, the latter the text of Codes Vaticanus. It is
incredible that Paul, writing to the church of Jerusalem, should
not have made use of his Hebrew and rabbinical learning in
quoting the Scriptures.

(Oh this is also out of line with the variety of the personality
and different writing styles Paul used in his epistles, plus the
reader needs to study the study on this website called "How Paul
used the Old Testament" which will shock and surprise many -
Keith Hunt)

CONJECTURES concerning the probable author

Four Pauline disciples and co-workers have been proposed, either
as sole or as joint authors with Paul, three with some support in
tradition - Barnabas, Luke, and Clement - one without any
Apollos. Silvanus also has a few advocates.

(a) Barnabas. He has in his favor the tradition of the African
church (at least Tertullian). His Levitical training, his
intimacy with Paul, his close relation to the church in
Jerusalem, and his almost apostolic authority. As the viol (Greek
(Acts 4:36), he may have written the (Greek)  (Heb.13:22).But in
this case he cannot be the author of the Epistle which goes by
his name, and which, although belonging to the Pauline and
strongly anti-Judaizing tendency, is yet far inferior to Hebrews
in spirit and wisdom. Moreover, Barnabas was a primitive
disciple, and cannot be included in the second generation (2:3).

(Paul certainly could be clasified as one of the second genertion
apostles, the first generation being the 12 apostles - Keith
Hunt)

(b) Luke. He answers the description of 2:3, writes pure
Greek, and has many affinities in style. But against him is
the fact that the author of Hebrews was, no doubt, a native Jew,
while Luke was a Gentile (Col.4:11,14). This objection, however,
ceases in a measure if Luke wrote in the name and under the
instruction of Paul.

(c) Clemens Romanus. He makes thorough use of Hebrews and
interweaves passages from the Epistle with his own ideas, but
evidently as an imitator, far inferior in originality and force.

(d) Apollos. A happy guess of the genius of Luther, suggested by
the description given of Apollos in the Acts (18:24 28), and by
Paul (1 Cor.1:12; 3:4-6,22; 4:6; 16:12; Tit.3:13). Appolos
fervent in spirit, eloquent in speech, powerfully confuting the
Jews, a friend of Paul, and independently working with him in the
same cause at Ephesus, Corinth, Crete. So far everything seems to
fit. But this hypothesis has not a shadow of support in
tradition, which could hardly have omitted Apollos in silence
among the three or four probable authors. Clement names him once,
but not as the author of the Epistle which he so freely uses. Nor
is there any trace of his ever having been in Rome, and having
stood in so close a relationship to the Hebrew Christians in
Palestine.

The learned discussion of modern divines has led to no certain
and unanimous conclusion, but is, nevertheless, very valuable,
and sheds light in different directions. The following points may
be regarded as made certain, or at least in the highest degree
probable: the author of Hebrews was a Jew by birth; a Hellenist,
not a Palestinian; thoroughly at home in the Greek Scriptures
(less so, if at all, in the Hebrew original); familiar with the
Alexandrian Jewish theology (less so, if at all, with the
rabbinical learning of Palestine); a pupil of the apostles (not
himself an apostle); an independent disciple and coworker of
Paul; a friend of Timothy; in close relation with the Hebrew
Christians of Palestine, and, when he wrote, on the point of
visiting them; an inspired man of apostolic insight, power, and
authority, and hence worthy of a position in the canon as "the
great unknown."

(The great unknown is really so not unknown. See the next study
on Hebrews by Albert Barnes - Keith Hunt)

Beyond these marks we cannot go with safety. The writer purposely
withholds his name. The arguments for Barnabas, Luke, and
Apollos, as well as the objections against them, are equally
strong, and we have no data to decide between them, not to
mention other less known workers of the apostolic age. We must
still confess with Origen that God only knows the author of the
Epistle to the Hebrews.

(Wellllll.....not so fast Schaff, see what Albert Barnes has to
say on the matter - Keith Hunt)

NOTES

I. The Position of Hebrews in the New Testament. In the old Greek
MSS. the Epistle to the Hebrews stands before the Pastoral
Epistles, as being an acknowledged letter of Paul. This order
has, perhaps, a chronological value, and is followed in the
critical editions (Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and
Hort), although Westcott and Hort regard the Pastoral Epistles as
Pauline, and tile Ep. to the Hebrews as un-Pauline. See their Gr.
Test., vol. Il., 321.
But in the Latin and English Bibles, Hebrews stands more
appropriately at the close of the Pauline Epistles, and
immediately precedes the Catholic Epistles.

Luther, who had some doctrinal objections to Hebrews and James,
took the liberty of putting them after the Epistles of Peter and
John, and making them the last Epistles except Jude. He
misunderstood Heb.6:4-6; 10:26,27; 12:17, as excluding the
possibility of a second repentance and pardon after baptism, and
called these passages "bard knots" that run counter to all the
Gospels and Epistles of Paul; but, apart from this, he declared
Hebrews to be "an Epistle of exquisite beauty, discussing from
Scripture, with masterly skill and thoroughness, the priesthood
of Christ, and interpreting on this point the Old Testament with
great richness and acuteness."

(Ya well Luther called the letter of James "an epistle of straw"
- so much for Luther, who was not used by the Lord as one of His
true servants - Keith Hunt)

The English Revisers retained, without any documentary evidence,
the traditional title, "The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the
Hebrews." This gives sanction to a particular theory, and is
properly objected to by the American Revisers. The Pauline
authorship is, to say the least, an open question, and should
have been left open by the Revisers. The ancient authorities
entitle the letter simply, (Greek) and even this was probably
added by the hand of an early transcriber. Still less is the
subscription "Written to the Hebrews from Italy by Timothy" to be
relied on as original, and was probably a mere inference from the
contents (13:23,24).

(The English revisers were not so wrong as Schaff and others
would like you to believe - see the next study by Albert Barnes -
Keith Hunt)


On the other hand, the Ep. to the Hebrews has a number of rare
words in common with Paul which are not elsewhere found in the
New Testament or the Septuagint, as (12:13; 1 Tim.2:9), (13:7;
Acts 17:23), (2:8; 1 Tim.1:9; Tit.1:6,10), (4:6,11; Rom.11:30,32;
Eph.2:2; Col.3: 5), (11:25; 1 Tim.6:17),(13:5; 1 Tim.3:3), (2:1;
Rom.3:8), (4:12; 1 Cor.16:9; Philem. 6), (7:27; 10:10; Rom.6:10;
1 Cor.15:6), (9:11; Tit.2:12), (6:12; 1 Cor.4:16, etc.), (11:12;
Rom.4:19; Col.3:5), (11:16; 1 Tim.3:1; 6:10), (12:2; Rom.5:10; 2
Cor.10:6),(6:11; 10:22; Col.2:2; 1 Thess.1: 5), 13:2; Rom. 12:13)

On the linguistic peculiarities of Hebrews, see Bleek, I.
315-338; Ldnemann, Com., pp.12 and 24 sqq. (4th ed., 1878);
Davidson, Introd., I. 209 sqq. (revised ed., 1882); and the
Speaker's Com. N. T., IV. 7-16.
..........

To be continued

Note:

The epistle of Hebrews is expounded for you in "The New Testament Bible Story" 
on this website, and will be (when done) on my youtube - 1horsesrcool
Keith Hunt 
 

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