An Introduction to Hebrews

Part 1 in the series Hebrews Survey
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The author’s purpose for writing Hebrews

What do these verses suggest to you about the author’s concern for his audience?
  1. For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1, NASB95)
  2. how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard,” (Hebrews 2:3, NASB95)
  3. but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope…” (Hebrews 3:6, NASB95)
  4. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11, NASB95)
  5. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” (Hebrews 4:14, NASB95)
  6. and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” (Hebrews 6:6, NASB95)
  7. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;” (Hebrews 10:23, NASB95)
  8. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” (Hebrews 10:35, NASB95)
  9. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” (Hebrews 10:36, NASB95)
  10. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” (Hebrews 10:39, NASB95)
  11. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1, NASB95)
  12. See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.” (Hebrews 12:25, NASB95)
  13. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.” (Hebrews 13:9, NASB95)

The author was addressing several problems:

  1. Dullness of studying and learning from Scripture (Heb 5:11-12)
  2. Lack of full assurance before God (Heb 4:16, 6:11, 10:22 )
  3. Sluggishness:– not diligent in patiently and faithfully trusting in God’s future fulfillment of His promises in Christ ( Heb 6:12; 10:36)
  4. Unwillingness to bear reproach from outside (Heb 13:13)
  5. Failing to seeing difficult circumstances as being sent by God to train them to live in confident faith (Heb 12:7,11)
  6. Disintegration within their congregation (Heb 10:24-25):

They lacked commitment to one another (Heb 10:25)

They lost a previous commitment to support those in jail and whose goods were confiscated for becoming Christians (Heb 10:32-34)

 Hebrews 6:1 and 6:11-12 Capture The Author’s Purpose

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1, NASB95) “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Hebrews 6:11–12, NASB95)
Historically, the most common purpose advocated suggests the author is attempting to dissuade his Jewish Christian readers from a relapse into Judaism brought on by increasing persecution and a desire for the stability of the old faith. This basic view, with various modifications, was argued by Spicq, F. F. Bruce, Ellingworth, Dunnill, Lehne, and many others.  [1]David L. Allen, Hebrews, 79.
Thus, the necessity of pressing on to maturity in the midst of difficulty (Heb 6:1–3) by means of drawing near, holding fast, and stirring one another up to love and good works (Heb 10:19–25) would appear to serve as a viable statement of purpose.

How is Hebrews organized?

Three divisions followed by a short personal greeting

  • Hebrews 1:1 – 4:13 Foundations
  • Hebrews 4:14 – 10:18 The Last Priest and The Last Sacrifice
  • Hebrews 10:19 – 13:22 Faith, Hope, Love
  • Hebrews 10:23-15  Greeting
Hebrews 1:1-2 declares that God has spoken to us through His Son. Then in Heb 4:12 we are told that the Word is alive and after descriptions of its effectiveness, Heb 4:13 twice refers to the Word as a person, in fact the person “with whom we have to do,” referring to the one we are told to consider carefully in Heb 3:1, that is, Jesus. These two references to Jesus as God’s word form a set of “bookends” (the theological word is inclusio) which mark the start and finish of the letter’s first section. Heb 4:14 says “Let us hold fast our Confession” followed in Heb 4:15 with “let us draw near with confidence“. Now notice Heb 10:22-24: “let us draw near … with full assurance of faith“, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope and “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love …” In looking at the flow of the author’s presentation and noticing that these phrases only occur in these places in this exact way in the book, we conclude they mark the beginning of the second and third sections of the book. Furthermore we’ll find that the use of “faith”, “hope” and “love” in Heb 10:22-24 become the topics of the last section; chapter 11 is about faith, chapter 12 is about hope and chapter 13 is about love. As we work through Hebrews we will explore other forms of arrangement commonly found in Semitic literature that work within the larger structures to make the message memorable.

The author had a distictive style

It is now generally recognized that Hebrews is a written sermon. [2]David L. Allen, Hebrews, 25. so as we study it, we should keep in mind that though it seems lengthy it was meant to be heard. Hebrews is not a theological treatise primarily to be mined for its facts. The author didn’t mean for it to simply extol the superiority of Christ and/or His New Covenant though he certainly did that. At its core, it is a sermon written to persuade Christians to live their lives a certain way because of certain facts about Jesus. To do so without wavering is to be mature. He is so black and white at points that we could say he wants to jar Christian people out of complacency and a common tendency to rely upon familiar ritual and the strong pull of society’s acceptance. They must do this because even more difficult circumstances are coming (Heb 12:4) and he doesn’t want them loosing absolute inner rest in God’s grace for even a moment. Within the divisions mentioned under Structure the author uses Aristotle’s principles of rhetoric. Perhaps like me you the term rhetoric conjures up images of nice-sounding but empty political speeches. But rhetoric is and ancient art and science of persuasion first described in writing by Aristotle as far as we know. It is not so much an invention as a observation of how human beings think and react and therefore a technique that is appropriate to the way God created us. Aristotle taught that effective persuasion depends on three basic components: (1) trust in or credibility of the character of the speaker; (2) the emotional connection the speaker makes with the hearer; and (c) the presentation and logical connection of facts (the argument itself). [3]These are also called ethos, pathos and logos respectively The author of Hebrews skillfully uses all three to great effect. He is known and respected by his audience, he uses iron-clad logical proofs effectively and the warning passages not only provide a pause from his logical argument but more importantly, strong emotional appeal. The author was also adept at the Rabbinic style of Scriptural exposition called Midrash. He built his arguments and appeals by quoting Scripture, explaining both its plain and deeper meaning and then tying Scripture together logically.

Summary

So using a number of effective pastoral strategies, he balanced instruction, exhortation, reminder, encouragement, and warning—alternating confrontation with affirmation—to stabilize the community and to move them beyond a lack of nerve to a fresh commitment to Christ and the gospel. [4]David L. Allen, Hebrews, 82.

Take the time to help others who will be studying Hebrews by leaving your insights, questions and comments below.

References

References
1 David L. Allen, Hebrews, 79.
2 David L. Allen, Hebrews, 25.
3 These are also called ethos, pathos and logos respectively
4 David L. Allen, Hebrews, 82.

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