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Epistle to the Hebrews
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Epistle to the Hebrews

The Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the two most consciously "literary" books in the New Testament. Although the author is unknown, it is written in a similar style to the letters of Paul to the early Christian churches, and has been dated to shortly after the Pauline epistles were collected and began to circulate, ca 95 A.D.

The letter has carried this title since Tertullian described it as Barnabae titulus ad Hebraeos in De Pudicitia ch.20.

This letter consists of two parts:

  1. Doctrinal (1 - 10:18)
  2. Practical (10:19 - 13).
There are found in it many references to portions of the Old Testament, and references to all but two of the canonical letters of Paul. It has been regarded as a treatise supplementary to the Romans and Galatians, and as a kind of commentary on the book of Leviticus and Temple worship in general. Its numerous references to Temple worship in the present tense has been used to date the epistle before the destruction of the Temple (AD 70), but the evidence is not conclusive.

Table of contents
1 Authorship
2 Intent
3 External links

Authorship

A considerable variety of opinions on this subject has been advanced from the earliest times. From around AD 400 to 1600, the author was traditionally considered to be Paul. However, the epistle makes no internal claim of authorship, which is inconsistent with the rest of Paul's epistles. Also, while many of the letter's ideas are Pauline, the writing style is substantially different than that of Paul's epistles.

In addition to Paul, some have suggested Paul's companion Silas, Pope Clement I, Luke, or some unknown Alexandrian Christian. Two leading candidates are Barnabas, first suggested around AD 300; and Apollos, first suggested by Martin Luther. Modern scholarship has reached no strong consensus. The letter has, however, always been accepted as part of the New Testament canon.

Intent

The author's intent was to show the true end and meaning of the Mosaic system, and its symbolical and transient character. He explains that the Levitical priesthood was a foreshadowing of the mission of Jesus Christ, and that the legal sacrifices prefigured the Crucifixion. Therefore the gospel was designed not to modify the law of Moses, but to supersede and abolish it. This was written partly to counter the Ebionites, Jewish Christians who continued Jewish practices while accepting Christ. The emphatic text of the epistle reiterates the view of Pauline Christianity that the new covenant has superseded the old.

The title the epistle has been given reflects an ancient editorial inference from the very large part that Judaism plays in its argument. From as early as the end of the second century into the early 20th it was often supposed to be addressed to the Christian Jews themselves. Goodspeed writes, "But the writer's Judaism is not actual and objective, but literary and academic, manifestly gained from the reading of the Septuagint Greek version of the Jewish scriptures, and his polished Greek style would be a strange vehicle for a message to Aramaic-speaking Jews or Christians of Jewish blood.... The words, 'The brothers from Italy wish to be remembered to you,' 13:24, suggest that the letter was written to an Italian?that is, Roman?congregation from outside of Italy, but of course this latter is not certain."

External links

This entry incorporates text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897, with some modernization.