In the previous study, we studied Paul’s letter to Philemon. In that study, I laid certain basic facts about studying a letter or epistle; facts that are indeed relevant for studying all books of the bible. In this study, we are starting a new study of the epistle to the Hebrews and we will employ the same questions as we applied in the previous study. Who wrote Hebrews, when and where was Hebrew written, who are the recipients, why was it written and what can we learn from the book of Hebrews? We can only have a proper ground to undertake a study through the book if we have a proper understanding of all these questions posed above.
Authorship: Who wrote Hebrews
Firstly, we will examine who wrote Hebrews. There has been numerous debates in church history presenting us with various possible authorship. However, Hebrews is an anonymous epistle. The writer didn’t identify himself. Some have favoured Pauline authorship among whom is A. W. Pink who wrote in his commentary under a sub-heading “Its Writer” says
This, we are fully assured, was the apostle Paul…That this Epistle was written by Paul is clear from 2Peter 3:15. Peter was writing to saved Jews as the opening verses of his first Epistle intimates; 2Peter 3:1 informs us that this letter was addressed to the same people as his former one had been. Then, in Hebrews 10:15(sic) [2 Peter 3:15], he declares that his beloved brother Paul “also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you” If the Epistle to the Hebrews be not that writing, where is it?¹
Pink will go on further to indicate certain proofs of Pauline authorship. These proofs I personally find too novel to be admissible. Using the numbers of Pauline letters, Pink indicated that “if the Epistle to the Hebrews was not written by the apostle, then the New Testament contains only thirteen Epistles from his pen–a number which, in Scripture, is ever associated with evil”² I find this too speculative to agree with Pink.
John Calvin calls into question Pauline epistle by noting that Hebrews is not of Pauline style. He cites Hebrews 2:3 which indicate the author received his faith and revelation from others. But Galatians 1:1;11-12 questions that as Paul claims he received his revelation directly. Others have mentioned Luke or Apollos. Apollos perhaps is a suggested authorship because of a description given him as “mighty in Scripture” (Acts 18:24). Indeed, the book of Hebrews stands out as someone well versed in old Testament Scriptures.
Many more names have been postulated; Barnabas and Clement, a church Father of first century. But perhaps in all these, authorship has not been agreed and remains anonymous. Origen states that; “whoever wrote that Epistle, only God knows”. What we can be sure of, however, is the fact that Hebrews fits into the category of inspired Scripture (2Timothy 3:16; 2Peter 1:20-21).
Date And Place of Authorship
To the issue of date of authorship, 50-70AD has been suggested with place of authorship cited as probably Rome.
Who Are The Recipients?
Hebrew, by its content clearly points us to the recipients as Jewish believers scattered outside Palestine. The book itself addresses people familiar with the Old Testament as we see these consistently running through the text. In verse 1 of Hebrew, we see a phrase which clearly points us to Jewish Christians as the recipients: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” “Our Fathers” here clearly points to the old Testament Patriarchs.
Reason For Authorship
Hebrews was written to believers who were undergoing various challenges as a result of their faith and needed encouragement. They were in fact being tempted to give up and hence the book came to give them encouragement to persevere (Hebrews 10:32; 12:2-4).
Now the central motif of Hebrews is to point to the superiority of Christ over Jewish religion. He does this by juxtaposing Christ with angels, prophets, Moses, the Old Testament Priesthood and Levitical order with its rituals and sacrifices and draws a conclusion at every point with the superiority of Christ over all these. You see, the focus of Christianity is all about Christ and when we lose that focus, we lose the very essence of Christianity.
Finally, what can we learn or how can we apply the book to our live? In the next 4weeks or so, God willing, we will study the book of Hebrews to ascertain how the book of Hebrews is applicable to our lives or what it teaches us.
- Pink, Arthur W, An Exposition of Hebrews ( Floyd: Sublime Books, 2014), kindle edition
- Pink, An Exposition Of Hebrews, Kindle edition
Other resources used: Reformation Study Bible, NKJV, ESV Study Bible, John MacArthur Study Bible