The Book of Hebrews
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1982
Edited and expanded by David Sielaff, September 2004
The Book of Hebrews has a relation to what I call “the fullness of the Gospel,” the disclosure of God’s final doctrinal revelation to man which Paul called “the Mystery.” This discussion may be technical, but it is important.
We need to ask some questions about the Book of Hebrews. What I say is not to be taken as dogma, but rather as something for us to study. We have to ask some important questions:
To understand all the books of the Bible, you should ask those questions about each book and try to answer if you can. Most of the information should come internally from Scripture itself.
I propose to go into what the Scripture itself says about the Book of Hebrews. If we can understand the Book of Hebrews (or any particular book of itself), we can begin to comprehend the collective teaching of Christ overall. 1 Hebrews becomes a new book to many people when they look at the questions in this fashion.
These questions concerning Hebrews are vitally important to understanding Paul’s teaching concerning the Mystery. That is my judgment. 2 We should rightly divide the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15) because not all parts of Scripture pertain to us. 3
The Book of Hebrews and the rest of the books of the New Testament give God’s divine revelation to mankind. The first four are the Gospels. Christ Jesus gave the teaching in those four Gospels (as beautiful as they may be) to unconverted people. They did not have God’s Holy Spirit as they did after Acts chapter 2. The teachings of Acts were given specifically to the Jewish nation as well. They were given before the New Covenant was even ratified by Christ Himself. So we need to view these Gospels through the magnifying glass of the later epistles of Paul when you come to the final revelation of God. This is sensible and right.
We need to know what teachings pertain to us at the present time. There were commissions given to the twelve apostles to go to Israel, to the circumcised, and there was a commission that went to Paul, Barnabas and those associated with them to go to the Gentiles. We read in the Book of Hebrews quite a bit of information that pertains only to the priesthood, the Temple, the sacrifices, the furniture in the Temple, the New Covenant, the Old Covenant, what the High Priest would do and would not do, etc. Because of that, and particularly because the title “Hebrews” is right there at the beginning of it, there is the feeling that this book is part of the ministry of the twelve apostles. Those who want to rightly divide the Word of God say it may not pertain to Paul’s ministry, which was to go to the Gentiles.
This is what I want to look at. I am not sure I have definite and complete answers to all these questions, but if we make a careful internal study of Hebrews we can come to some important truths on this matter. We will find there is good practical teaching as well. If we do not get the practical, then forget the technical. One leads into the other.
So who wrote the Book of Hebrews? I am accustomed to say that Paul wrote it, as are the majority of evangelicals. However, most critical scholars do not think that Paul wrote Hebrews. The style of Hebrews is quite different than Paul’s other letters. There are other features about the book that give the impression perhaps it is not Pauline. However, the manuscript evidence (85% of them, including some of the earliest manuscripts) places the Book of Hebrews in a different position than we have it in our King James Bible.
Manuscripts are very important because they were the official documents read in ekklesias scattered throughout the Mediterranean world. I have a great deal of esteem for the ancient manuscripts 4 where 95% of them have the order of the four Gospels and Acts that we have today. There is a fundamental difference in most manuscripts when it comes to the next 7 epistles. We call them the General Epistles (sometimes called the Catholic Epistles). Over 95% of manuscripts place these epistles before Paul’s epistles.
Next come the 14 epistles of Paul (2 x 7). 5 The Book of Hebrews is placed after Second Thessalonians and before First Timothy. Then afterward we have what are known as the Pastoral Epistles given to pastors or evangelists, all individuals: Timothy, Titus, Philemon and then last of all is the great prophetic book of Revelation.
The position of Hebrews in the vast majority of official manuscripts shows it in the midst of the epistles of Paul. This would lead you to believe that the epistle comes from the hand of the apostle Paul. Many early Christian Fathers actually mention that the Book of Hebrews belongs there. From this point of view up to now I think we would say that Hebrews comes from the apostle Paul. But let us go farther.
Look at the end of the epistle, the final salutation of it. We see an individual mentioned here who has been closely associated with the apostle Paul from the beginning of his ministry in Asia Minor. “Know you that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you” (Hebrews 13:23). The author of this work is an intimate of Timothy who was with him at this time. This gives a good deal of credence that it was the apostle Paul who wrote Hebrews.
There is another point we ought to look at and that is verse 24: “Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints.” I must comment on that word rule it actually means “lead,” those who lead you. (We need lots of leaders. I am not sure we need lots of rulers.)
“Salute all them that have the rule [lead] over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.”
The author of this passage apparently was in Italy at the time. He had a group of people around him and he says, “Those from (or of) Italy, salute you.” 6 If this would be the apostle Paul, all would make sense. There would not be any difficulty with it at all.
Go to Hebrews chapter 2 where a small difficulty appears to arise.
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord [in Palestine to the original 12 disciples], and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.”
This seems to give evidence that this could not be the apostle Paul. But why could it not be the apostle Paul? Look at it carefully it says:
“... which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.”
There are those who say this could not be Paul because the apostle saw Christ and heard Him speak on the road to Damascus. Since Paul heard Him and later received revelations from God, surely the person writing Hebrews could not have been the apostle Paul. Whoever wrote Hebrews did not see the Lord, but had to have the message confirmed unto him (“unto us”) by those that did.
At first glance this makes good sense. When I first read this argument I concluded that Hebrews was not Pauline. I started to look for someone I thought was the author. I picked Apollos, the eloquent man from Alexandria. 7 I knew he had not seen Christ at all and that Aquila and Priscilla gave him the message of Christ more perfectly (Acts 18:24–28). He seemed to fit very well. Indeed, since much of the information seemed to be Pauline, as I would consider it, and Apollos seemed to be associated with him, I picked him.
However, upon closer examination of this verse I do not think there is any difficulty at all with Paul being the author because he says, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord” (Hebrews 2:3). “At the first” means back in the Gospels. Where was Paul when the message of the Gospels was first given? He was not a Christian at all.
Later on, after Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, he did go down to Peter and Paul asked him what Christ actually said “at the first.” He went to James and was given information afterward about what the Lord first said. So I do not think this verse gives any problem so far as the apostle Paul being the author of Hebrews.
The main reason I feel Paul was the author is because of the book’s position in the manuscripts. All other reasons are subsidiary to me, although they should be considered carefully.
If the apostle Paul authored Hebrews, it had to be written at a particular time in his life because he says, “They of Italy salute you” (Hebrews 13:24). This means that the author, let us call him Paul, was in Italy at this time.
Secondly, it says that Timothy was about to be released from prison. He says, paraphrasing, “If he comes to you, I will come with him.” So the author is in Italy. He is with Timothy, and since we know that Paul was in prison in Italy at a particular occasion, perhaps Hebrews was written at that time.
To recap Paul’s chronology in Italy, in Acts chapter 21 the apostle Paul went to Jerusalem. He discussed with the apostles about events happening in the Gentile world. He went into the Temple and was about to offer a sacrifice after the conclusion of a Nazarite vow. Jewish authorities apprehended him there. They took him from Jerusalem down to the Mediterranean coast to the city of Caesarea. That was a Roman enclave and Roman governmental capital of Palestine at the time.
They put Paul in prison and he stayed there for two years. Some have said that maybe he wrote Hebrews when he was in Caesarea. However, Caesarea is not in Italy. After being there about two years he finally petitioned Caesar. Since he was a Roman citizen, the governor had no alternative but to put him on a vessel and to send him to Rome. We read in Acts chapters 26 and 27 about the journey to Rome.
In Acts chapter 28 Paul gets to Rome. When he arrives he calls the Jewish elders of the community, talks with them about the kingdom of God and the majority of them reject him and the message. He then says from now on I will go to the Gentiles. The last two verses of Acts tell us something that happened to Paul while he was in Rome, Italy. We can take these historical incidents as not important, but when it comes to understanding the overall doctrines of the Scripture, we had better take everything into account. They are given for a reason:
“And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house [in Rome], and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.”
Paul was under house arrest in Rome. He was incarcerated and he could not leave his home, although he could have anyone come to him. He got this privilege because he was a Roman citizen. If he were not a Roman citizen, conditions of his imprisonment would have been very different. He was incarcerated but he was to be tried by Caesar himself for so-called crimes against the state. He was there for two whole years. Clearly that means he was released after the two years. We know from later history, from First Timothy and Second Timothy that he had been released from incarceration at the hired house.
Scholars call this the first Roman imprisonment. The reason it is the first one is because he was later apprehended (perhaps 5 years later), and this time he was not released. He had his head chopped off, according to tradition. On the first occasion he was released, so apparently his appeal to the Roman government was successful. They let him go because there was no crime that would keep him in prison any longer.
Is it not interesting that he was able to do whatever he pleased in his own house in Rome? He was allowed to receive visitors, who could come and go, but he had to remain there at the same time. While there, though the Jews rejected him in Rome, it was a very profitable time for the apostle Paul, first for reflection, then for revelations he received, and for epistles that he produced. At that time (there can hardly be any question) he wrote near the end of the two years Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and perhaps Philemon. He may have written other epistles.
If the Book of Hebrews, however, is Pauline (as I firmly believe) and he was in Italy when he wrote it, and he says Timothy is about to be released, and that if released “I will come with him” (in other words I will go wherever you Hebrews are), and Paul will see them again, then the only time that would fit would be at the conclusion of the first Roman imprisonment. This would place the date about the year 61 C.E. for when the Book of Hebrews was written.
The importance of this date is that Hebrews was written at or near the same time as Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. These three books are often called the Prison Epistles of Paul, written during or at the end of the two years imprisonment in Rome. If he wrote these epistles at that time, and if he wrote Hebrews at that time, they in a sense go together.
The interesting thing is that Ephesians talks about something happening at that time, a new revelation had come, the fullness of the Gospel. In Colossians Paul talks about the filling to the top that was not known in former ages, as it is now made known by the Holy Spirit, that fullness of the Gospel of Christ, that doctrinal position that finally came by divine revelation given while Paul was in prison those two years. If that is the case then Paul wrote Hebrews knowing full well the Mystery of God by this time. That is why it is important to put all of these things together and see if Hebrews does indeed come from Paul because Paul was given the teaching of the Mystery.
I think we have arrived at some general conclusions as to who wrote it, though one cannot be dogmatic about it. At the beginning of Hebrews, the author says “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke ...” (Hebrews 1:1). The author does not identify himself as Paul. He just starts out as if is a treatise of some kind. It is not titled in any way. 8 Nevertheless I think the evidence shows the apostle Paul wrote it.
Back to the introduction, how did it get its title “Hebrews”? It starts out by saying “God, who at sundry times ...” It does not say, “I am writing to Hebrews?” Indeed since it deals with the Tabernacle, the Temple, the priesthood, tithing, the New Covenant, the Old Covenant, sacrifices, things like that, explaining them in great detail from a Christian point of view, many come to the conclusion that the only people who would be interested, to have a spiritual interpretation of those things would be Jews, would be Hebrews. So it seemed fitting to give it the name “Hebrews.” That is how the name was attached. The title was derived from its apparent contents. 9
Many say that this epistle was primarily written to Jews, and in particular Jews who lived in Palestine. However, there are some almost insurmountable difficulties if you look at the internal evidence of this epistle, if we limit it to Jews and particularly Jews of Palestine.
The apostle Paul (who, from now on, I will consider as the author) has some things to say about these people, to whom “Hebrews” was sent. They were a select group of people in a specific area, which had particular problems. They were under great persecution at the time. Paul refers to that persecution, encouraging them in it. This is what he says about these people, encouraging them to endure the persecution sent against them.
“For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds. 10 You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”
Although this is backdoor reasoning, you might say, I think it is important. If these were Palestinian Jews he is writing to, that would not make much sense, especially if they were from Jerusalem. I will tell you why. We know that a man called Stephen (who was of the ekklesia and of the Jewish community in Palestine at Jerusalem) in the 7th chapter of Acts stood outside the gates of Jerusalem, and began to preach a sermon to the people. When he got to a particular point they became enraged. They took up stones and stoned him. He was the first Christian martyr that the Scriptures record. Holding the clothes of the people who stoned him was a man called Saul, who later became the apostle Paul. The Jerusalem ekklesia had a martyr “unto blood” in Stephen.
James (not the Lord’s brother, but the other James, one of the apostles) was next. Herod Agrippa the First killed him “because it pleased the Jews” (Acts 12:2–3). How many others were killed in Palestine, we do not know, but there must have been many. 11 I can imagine that there were all types of people who were imprisoned and perhaps even gave their lives in Palestine in particular. That was the hotbed of persecution. Certainly we know that Stephen and James were killed and their blood was shed right in the area of Jerusalem itself.
If this epistle was sent to those Hebrews in Palestine, when they read this scripture, “You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4) they might have said, what about Stephen? What about James? They resisted unto blood. Many scholars have made this point to show that the Book of Hebrews probably did not go to Palestine.
If it did not go to Palestine, then maybe it went to Hebrews or Jews in some other place. If the Book of Hebrews was to go to Jews generally then we have another problem. If Paul was the author, though he did preach in Palestine to Jews, and though he did speak to the Jews first wherever he went on his journeys, notice what happened systematically wherever he went:
In each case he would first go to the synagogue where most everyone rejected him. Then Paul turned and went to the Gentiles. On his second journey when he went into Asia Minor and then into Europe,
He had nothing against the Jews. Paul loved the Jews. He talked to them. He wanted them to be converted to the truth, but they rejected him completely in Acts chapter 28. The last thing he said there was that from now on he was turning to the Gentiles.
Though he went to Jews earlier on, it is interesting that up to about 61 C.E. (the time of the first Roman imprisonment), he had gone to Jews, Jews, Jews. And do you know what they had done? In most cases they rejected him and his message. The reason he was in Rome at that first Roman imprisonment in jeopardy of his life was because the Jewish people in Palestine wanted to see him killed. He had to go to Rome, under Roman jurisdiction. The Roman government saved him from death.
If Hebrews was written in 61 C.E. and he talked to Jews, Jews, and Jews, continually from Jerusalem to Rome and every place in between, and most of them had rejected him, do you really think he wrote another epistle to the Jews? You might think that hard to accept on the surface. Perhaps he did! But if he did, there is a problem because in Galatians chapter 2 we find that the apostle Paul’s mission was primarily to go to the uncircumcision. That was his authority. Paul was with the Jerusalem apostles, James, Peter, John and the rest. They discussed all the doctrines that were coming up. Paul explained what he was doing in Gentile land and that the Gentiles did not have to be circumcised.
“But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision [the Jews].
The Jews really were the responsibility of James, Cephas and John and the others associated with them. Paul said so. If the apostle Paul wrote this Book of Hebrews particularly to Palestine Jews, who was in Palestine in 61 C.E.? James the apostle, the head of the ekklesia was there in Jerusalem. He was not killed until 62 C.E. (Josephus the Jewish historian mentions his death in Antiquities 20.200). As far as we know, Peter was also there. John was there, perhaps, although traditions have him in some other places.
These apostles must have been there because when you get tens of thousands of Jews that believe, do you just abandon them and go someplace else when problems arise? Of course not. There were all types of authorities speaking to those Jews in Palestine, including James, as late as 62 C.E. If Paul wrote Hebrews in 61 C.E., sent it from Rome by ship to Caesarea, and then someone took it to the Christian community where James and the rest, sitting around a table — then what? Paul is doing the instructing? Think about it, what affrontery! Is not James able to handle the situation? I guess not, if this goes to Jerusalem or Palestine.
Who was commissioned in the first place to go to the circumcised? They were. Paul says in Second Corinthians 10:14–16, I have never gone out of my limits, out of the authority God gave to me. The areas God gave me no man went to before. I preach Christ and I have not preached Him in other areas. This would have been an offense against James and the rest of them. We can be sure they were able to handle the situation in Jerusalem or Palestine. Why would Paul have to write this epistle to them?
Other problems are involved here if “Hebrews” went to Jews, even those scattered throughout Paul’s areas. Let us look at some interesting scriptures to see if this went to Jews and examine some of the problems. Go to Hebrews chapter 7. Notice how Paul refers to the patriarch Abraham there, and others in the faith chapter in Hebrews 11, but particularly notice how he refers to Abraham.
Abraham was the father of the Jews. They looked upon him with a great deal of sanctity, and rightly so. It was normal to refer to Abraham in intimate terms by Jews: “our father Abraham.” 12 Paul did it on many occasions. But when you come here to Hebrews chapter 7, it speaks here of Melchisedek, “To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all” (Hebrews 7:2). This tells us little, but go down to verse 4:
“Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.”
You may think I am being picky and trying to make a point from nothing, but I will make it anyway. The normal way you would describe Abraham to a Jewish community, by one Jew talking to another would have been to say “our father Abraham.” Here Abraham is left in the common sense, not expressed in the intimate or familiar. Notice however in Acts how commonly Jews would refer to Abraham. Not all the time, of course, but commonly this is how they would refer to Abraham. The apostle Peter is speaking:
“The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his Son Jesus.”
Notice “our fathers” there. Later, speaking to Jews again, he says:
“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew and hanged on a tree.”
Go to Acts chapter 7. This is Stephen, a Jew, speaking to Jews in Jerusalem:
“And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia ... Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance.”
Acts 7:2, 11
Note the familiarity and the intimate expressions. Although Stephen was talking to a group that later proved hostile, still at the same time there were “fathers,” “brethren” and “men,” all children of Abraham.
“But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. ... So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers.”
Acts 7:12, 15
“This is he, that was in the church [assembly] in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: To whom our fathers would not obey.”
“Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, ... Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David.”
Go to the apostle Paul in Acts chapter 13 in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia:
“The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt.”
In Acts 15 Peter is speaking at the Jerusalem Council:
“Now therefore why tempt your God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”
Do you see the intimate, familiar terms coming out when Jews are in the environment? Acts chapter 26 has Paul standing before Agrippa:
“And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers:”
Acts chapter 28 when Paul was at Rome and he called together the chief of the Jews (verse 17):
“And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, ‘Well spoke the Holy Ghost by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and not perceive: ... Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.’”
Acts 28:25–26, 28
Paul uses the phrase “all our fathers” to Gentiles in 1 Corinthians 10:1, so maybe it is weakened somewhat. But go to Hebrews where Paul discusses these people quite commonly and not in the intimate sense whatsoever. Go back to Hebrews chapter 7 (I covered verse 4 above):
“For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.”
Note that the reference to Moses is in the common and not the familiar sense. “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive ...” (Hebrews 11:8). Again, he does not say “our father Abraham” in the familiar sense.
In fact, none of the men and women in Hebrews chapter 11 are ever referred to in the familiar sense. There is no feeling of collective intimacy. I know this for certain: if they had been exclusively Jews, the terms would have been differently expressed. I see no reason to suppose that these people were even Jews, especially if it was written by the apostle Paul. 13
However, if the apostle Paul wrote it, and if he was writing to a particular people (which he certainly is, he mentions the particular afflictions they were suffering), then it begins to make some sense. Maybe we can even arrive at the area to which he was writing.
First of all I would like to show you the state of affairs of these “Hebrews” that prompted the apostle Paul to write in the first place. There were two main reasons he had to write, maybe three. One was to clear up the matter of Temple services, sacrifices and all of that. The second reason was because of angel worship and the idea of angels as intermediaries between man and God that developed since Paul saw them last. He did not want them to get into that error. Third, they were under a great persecution. You find this discussed from the beginning in Hebrews chapter 2 after the general introduction, there is scripture after scripture where Paul is encouraging these people who are in great affliction. 14
I want to mention that these people had been Christians for a long time because Paul says in Hebrews chapter 5 as he begins to introduce the subject of Melchizedek:
“Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing you are dull of hearing. For when for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and [you] are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Obviously these people had long ago known of Christ. If they are people that the apostle Paul wrote to or knew, they would have had to come into contact with him in a very early time of his ministry. That is very important. Chapter 6:
“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.”
He then goes on to give very mature teaching to these “Hebrews,” not the first principles. He says they “ought to be teachers,” so they had been a long time in Christianity, relatively speaking. But they were in great persecution and from the context of Hebrews many of them, collectively, were getting close to giving up on their faith because of that great persecution.
Let us get into the context, Hebrews chapter 2. After the general introduction in chapter 1, notice he goes into encouragement. He wants to give them faith and strength to stay close to the truth and not give up.
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation.”
I have previously read the rest of the verse [see above]. It seems like that they were in the process of neglecting a great salvation, very near to letting it slip. Look at Hebrews 3:6 where he encourages them to, “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” This theme is developed throughout the entire epistle. He is telling them to hold on, to not fall away.
You do not talk like that when people are strong. You talk like that when people are beginning to weaken. These long-time Christians were beginning to slip.
He does not stop with chapter 4, he continues:
They slipped back doctrinally as well. (See chapter 6 verse 3 above.)
These people are just about to lose something if they do not watch it.
Then in chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10 is the long doctrinal section with very mature teaching concerning Melchizedek, the New Covenant, the priesthood, the Tabernacle, the Temple, everything in it, and giving the spiritual significance of it all. We do not find him saying anywhere in these four chapters anything about them slipping. But in chapter 10, he begins again talking about their personal affairs:
They were departing from each other. They were in danger of slipping.
“But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after you were illuminated [with the Gospel], you endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, while you were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, while you became companions of them that were so used. For you had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that you have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.”
He is telling them to remember those former days and to stand fast.
That is the last verse of chapter 10. We are all familiar with chapter 11. Why is this long chapter on faith included? Most of the faith expressed in this long chapter is faith of the patriarchs of old, the prophets, etc., who under great affliction and trial stayed steadfast to the truth. The reason for this whole teaching is to give them faith to trust in God in their time of great affliction. After the faith chapter we come to chapter 12:
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”
He pleads for patience. That is why he says faith is essential. Faith is not something you see by sight. Faith is something that you see through the spiritual eye. You do not see the possessions of it immediately.
“For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds. You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. ... whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.”
It is for chastening that you endure and he recommends that they do so endure.
“Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous ... Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.”
Strengthen them up. They were just about to lose these things that they gained from Christianity a long time ago. They were going backwards doctrinally, going backwards as to faith, going backwards in almost every way. Paul is here encouraging them and giving them strong spiritual meat in the central chapters telling them the truth of God regarding these things.
“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, ...”
The rest of chapter 12 is commentary on that theme. But from chapter 2 all through to chapter 12 Paul is telling them to hang on, because they were just about to give up, doctrinally and in other ways.
What were some of the doctrines they were having difficulty with? Again, I want to point out, they were teachings that most Jews did not have trouble with, but Gentiles did. Paul introduces the subject.
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers [not our fathers] by the prophets, Has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds [Greek: ages].”
Paul will exalt one person and one person only — that is the Son. Throughout all of the mature doctrinal section of Hebrews, it shows the exaltation of the Son above all priesthoods, above all sacrifices, above all Temples, above all principalities and powers. But he introduces the Book of Hebrews with a subject that was giving them doctrinal trouble and was causing them to slip from the central truths of Christianity that Paul taught them earlier. One of their main problems was that the “Hebrews” were beginning to forget that the Son had to be exalted, nobody else. Then suddenly Paul begins to say something in verse 4 about angels:
“Being made so much better than the angels, as he [Jesus] has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”
The subject here is going to be angels for the rest of chapter 1 and into chapter 2. They were having great difficulty understanding the role of angels and they were slipping back doctrinally in regard to this. The apostle Paul from the very beginning of the epistle hits out that there is only one person that you look at, that is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. But these people were beginning to take up doctrines of angels and making angels to be intermediaries between them and God. This is why Paul in verse 4 says that there is someone better than angels.
“For unto which of the angels said he at any time, ‘You are my Son, this day have I begotten you? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?’”
“Which of the angels?” Not one. Only to Jesus Christ.
“And again, when he brings in the firstbegotten into the world, he says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship him.’”
Angels? Is that what you want to go after, Paul is saying? Here is a man that the angels must worship.
“And of the angels he says, ‘Who makes his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.’ But unto the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever [for the ages of the ages].’”
Angels are ministering spirits, but they are far, far lower and are not even part of the Godhead. These “Hebrews” were taking up with doctrinal error concerning angels. Look at verse 13: “But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool?” He never said that to any angel, but He certainly said it to Jesus Christ. Going on to verse 14:
“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? ... For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation.”
Hebrews 1:14, 2:2–3
The word from the Son overrules the word by angels. Angels are mentioned again in Hebrews 2:6–8, and verse 16. The first two chapters show the apostle Paul entering abruptly by telling them to worship the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (as the angels do), and not to have angels stand in the way doctrinally.
Why is this important? Most Jews at this time had very little difficulty with angels. 15 Gentiles on the other hand (or Jews who went over to Gentile ways later on, as we know from history), believed in a Godhead with a pyramidical structure with God in top. Underneath were other beings and then other beings, and others. We fit on the bottom of the pyramid. To get to God you had to go through various angelic groupings of beings. This view is contradicted by what Paul said.
“For there is one God, and one mediator [and one only!] between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
1 Timothy 2:5
It is well known in history that in the 1st century and certainly in the 2nd century a great erroneous doctrine arose known as Gnosticism. I will just mention it here. 16 It involved the worship of angels, and it was primarily Gentiles who took it up. In Colossians chapter 2, written at the same time as Hebrews, we also see this problem of angel worship addressed. Here is what Paul said Christ did as far as the legislation of angels is concerned:
“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers [angelic hosts], he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head [the Son].”
This word “worshipping” could mean the worship by angels, that is quite true, but people were actually using angels as intermediaries between man and God. Recall what Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Angels do not fit in. They are just ministering spirits; they have nothing to do with the salvation process. Jesus Christ is the one.
What does this all have to do with Hebrews? This was particularly a Gentile problem. Gentiles, not Jews, were involved in these doctrinal errors. The same errors Paul addressed in Colossians, and Ephesians, Paul discusses in “Hebrews.” If you remove that title “Hebrews,” and while the content may appear to be mainly Jewish, I think there were lots of Gentiles who were very concerned about what was going on in Palestine, in the Temple, in the sacrifices and related matters.
The area to which the apostle Paul wrote was not a prime or central area, I am convinced. Go to Hebrews chapter 13 is a conclusion to the book, after he tells them to hang on with the truth, to have faith, and to get back to the ways of old, because they have long been Christians. Paul knew these people well and I am convinced he had been their minister. He says:
“Remember them which have the rule over you.”
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy.”
“Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.”
Three times in the conclusion Paul asks these people to pay attention to those leading them in the path to salvation. This may be false reasoning, but I do not think it to be so. If this were a major area to James and the rest of them, epistles would be written to the ministers of the ekklesia. They would get up and read to the people. Timothy was an evangelist and Paul wrote two direct letters to him and one to Philemon. The Catholic Epistles were written to ekklesias in general. But the person who would read aloud was someone in authority.
When we come to the Book of Hebrews it seems as if he starts out speaking to a group of people that had others over them, leading them. You might take it that he was saying to let the ministers in the area lead. 17 And, at some time in the past the apostle Paul was their direct teacher and they knew and received information from him. From these factors I feel that it was not a powerful area of authority at all, but it was some lesser area.
Paul knew them and had been in their midst before, as Paul says in Hebrews 13:23: “Know you that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.” Timothy had been in their midst and was their brother. If he comes I will come with him to see you. Where was Timothy from, from what area? We find the answer in Acts chapter 16. Paul was in Antioch of Pisidia. Then he went to cities adjacent to Antioch 18:
“Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus [Timothy], the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him.”
I do not think any of these areas of Ephesus, Philippi or Colossae qualify because at the same time he was penning Hebrews, he wrote letters to those ekklesias there. In what area of Paul’s administration would people have been:
(1) converted very early (been long-time Christians),
(2) taught by Paul,
(3) at the same time very concerned about Jewish matters, and
(4) associated with Timothy as well?
The only area that comes to my mind (and I am guessing on this) is the area of Galatia. All factors fit very well indeed. This is about the time period that Professor Ramsey (around the turn of the century) said that persecutions were beginning — not everywhere, but quite a number in various areas around the region from Roman authorities and others. This would have been a Gentile area (with Jews around certainly), but they would have been concerned about such things as angel worship.
Paul said he never went out of his limits and in his preaching to Galatia was one of the first areas in his first missionary journey. Paul was commissioned to go to the Gentiles and these Galatians could very well have been Gentiles. In Hebrews he never says “our fathers” in the intimate familiar way, which could also include them as being Gentiles. The earliest area that Paul preached, a subsidiary area, fits Galatia best. Paul said he would be restored to them. Maybe he went on back.
Paul wrote his last epistle, the Book of Second Timothy, during his second Roman imprisonment. Timothy was in Asia Minor and Paul knew he was about to be killed. The apostle Paul recalled some events that took place after his first release from Roman imprisonment, when he said he would come visit them with Timothy. Paul was apprehended again, and then he came back for the second Roman imprisonment when he was killed. In the meantime he discusses with Timothy some of the things that happened to him.
“Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
2 Timothy 3:11–12
It seems to say, if you put it all together, that after his first Roman imprisonment, Paul says he will return with Timothy (Hebrews 13:23). If that area was Galatia, he says in 2 Timothy 3:11–12 that he did in fact return to Galatia and he met many persecutions there. It is possible that he endured the persecutions suffered by the receivers of the Book of Hebrews. However, I will not be dogmatic about it at all.
What about this matter insofar as it deals with the Mystery? What does this all mean? It has to do with Paul’s commission to Gentiles. I know that what I have presented here cannot be dogmatically stated, but many things seem to show “Hebrews” went to an area that the apostle Paul had responsibility for. Since Hebrews in the original manuscripts appears in Paul’s letters right after the Prison Epistles, if it was Paul who wrote it, if it was not going to Jews in Palestine, or even Jews anywhere, it may form a part of the message of the Mystery of God. It may form a part of this message recently revealed to man by Paul and others. Though it seems to have Jewish overtones to it, in my judgment it contains very mature teaching to help us understand the overall plan of God in its fullness.
I hope I have given something to make you think, because the Bible is here to let us know what the fullness of the Gospel of Christ is. “Hebrews” is an important book. It is from Paul and I think it will help us to understand more of God’s total message if we put it to work.
Ernest L Martin, 1982
Edited by David Sielaff, September 2004
1 These questions about who wrote Hebrews, to whom it was written, and when, are questions for lectures, academic material. However, in this day and age we need to know what God has to say from His word in a technical sense. We have to know the legal basis of our doctrines. Once we get our basis straight, then we can understand the spiritual side much better. I am interested not in technicalities of the Scripture as much as I am concepts that God is trying give to us, concepts of living in this life, where we are going, and what to be preaching and teaching to the people. This is what we need to know. ELM
2 The most complete explanation of the Mystery can be found in Dr. Martin’s book The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine (Portland, OR: ASK, 2001, 2004) at http://www.askelm.com/books/book007.htm. DWS
3 I have gone over this time and time again, and we are all aware of it. Certain sections of the Old Testament regarding the priesthood and how the Holy of Holies was to be entered only on the Day of Atonement by the High Priest has nothing to do with you, regarding your actions. It does have to do with you in type, that is in the sense of the overall plan of God, but those scriptures do not pertain to the priesthood, but to a particular priest called the High Priest, and then only on one day of the year. Also in the New Testament, not a week before Christ was crucified He said concerning the Scribes and the Pharisees, though he gave some very strong strictures against them, He said that they sit in Moses’ seat, therefore “whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do” (Matthew 23:2). However, a few days later after His crucifixion and resurrection, especially after the dispensing of God’s Holy Spirit to man, Peter stood up and said when those very scribes and Pharisees commanded him not to speak in the name of the Lord Jesus, he said “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). So even what Christ said back in the Gospels, in some cases, does not pertain to us today. This is why we should rightly divide the Word of God. ELM
4 A detailed discussion of the correct manuscript order of the New Testament books is the subject of Dr. Martin’s book Restoring the Original Bible (Portland, OR: ASK, 1994). Read the book online at: http://www.askelm.com/restoring/index.asp. DWS
5 There are 7 church epistles of Paul. The 7 churches are: the epistle to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and two to Thessalonica (the 7th church). Hebrews comes after the epistles to the 7th ekklesia. DWS
6 I realize there is controversy on this among some critical scholars. They will say that this epistle may have been written in another area than Italy and that some people from Italy were there in that area with the author and it means, “Those of Italy also salute you.” In actual fact I think that is hyper-criticism to be quite honest about it. The epistle was undoubtedly written from Italy. The man who wrote it said, “those of Italy are saying to you, hello.” And remember, Timothy was there. ELM
7 See mentions of Apollos in Acts 18:24, 19:1; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4ff, 22, 4:6; 16:12; and Titus. 3:13. DWS
8 The King James Version gives a title, “The Epistle of Paul, the Apostle to the Hebrews,” but this was put in much later and is not part of any early manuscripts before the end of the 2nd century C.E. It began to be used around the 3rd century C.E. and by the 4th century, about the time of the Council of Nicea, there was still doubt whether Hebrews was Pauline. ELM
9 If a person wants to do so, call it “Hebrews.” But I put quote marks around it, the name is not part of the divine text. ELM
10 Later I will show that these people here were just on the verge of giving up their Christianity, not because of doctrine necessarily, but because of persecution. ELM
11 Things changed over time. By Acts chapter 21 it says in the original Greek that there were tens of thousands of people who believed by that time. Believers were beginning to be more of a power at that time. At the beginning, though, they were not looked on with a great deal of esteem. ELM
12 Regarding the high esteem Abraham was held as father of the Jews, see Joshua 24:2; Isaiah 51:2, 63:16; Matthew 3:9; Luke 1:55, 73, 3:8, 16:24, 30; John 8:39, 53, 56; Acts 3:13, 25; 7:2, 32; Romans 4:1, 12, 16; James 2:21. DWS
13 As I said before, if this were sent to Palestine, James and the rest of them were there. Could they not have handled the situation without someone writing a letter all the way from Rome to remind them of the first principles of the Gospel of Christ? ELM
14 Again, in Palestine in 61 C.E. when there were tens of thousands of Jews around who believed, the persecution had subsided tremendously up until 66 C.E. when the Jewish-Roman war broke out. Most of the Christians were against that war, and there may have been persecution there. But these people of the Book of Hebrews were under great persecution. ELM
15 The Jews had many angels that they recognized, many more than we find mentioned in the Bible. But there was one thing about orthodox Jews, they believed there was one God and one God only. No angel would take the place of God for an orthodox Jew. Not really. Though it was realized that angels had a hand in making the Law of Moses, that was all they did, they had a hand in it. Stephen mentioned this, as did Paul in Galatians and here in Hebrews. Even Josephus the Jewish historian said that angels had a hand in making Moses’ Law. It was God who dispensed it. There was only one God. That was the God in heaven. This is why many Jews stumble over Jesus Christ and Him being God. They could not conceive of there being two “Gods.”
16 See Dr. Martin’s book, The People That History Forgot (Portland: ASK, 1993), at http://www.askelm.com/people/index.asp that discusses the development of Gnosticism, its relationship to true Christianity and its ultimate impact on world history. DWS
17 But if it were taken the other way, I do not think this could be Palestine at all. I seriously doubt that it could be Antioch of Syria (where Paul began all his journeys). It was a place that was not a top area, an area in which others were leading them. ELM
18 Timothy was from the area of Galatia. Paul says he was “our brother Timothy” to these people. Therefore they must have known him. Paul will come to them soon with Timothy. When the apostle Paul wrote Hebrews, although Timothy was also associated with Ephesus, I do not believe this epistle went to Ephesus. Paul said in his last journey amongst the Ephesians, that they would not see him any more. If Paul were going to send Timothy to this place here, I would say Hebrews was not designed to go to Ephesus. ELM
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