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INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF HEBREWS - PART 1
Allen M. Barber


As all book studies, you do not launch out into the deep without a proper introduction. Therefore, this first lesson will provide a brief insight into this fascinating book. I have chosen to use the KJV and the NKJV versions of the Bible simply because they are the best study Bibles. The NASB is also good, but I prefer the KJV and the NKJV for this study. So as not to get lost in the archaic language of the Old KJV, I will modify the text and use contemporary terminology.

 The first question that needs to be addressed is who wrote the book of Hebrews?  Most Bible scholars prefer to use an anonymous author because when the book was made part of the New Testament Canon, no author was given. There is a reason for that. When the New Testament was being written, the text was written on a scroll and the author placed his name on the outside with a wax-like stamp. Over time, the stamp either wore out or fell off the document.  I think this is what happened to the book of Hebrews.  In addition, we know some letters were lost. For example, Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans (Col. 4:16).

II Peter 3:15 and Hebrews 13:23 seem to give the book a Pauline authorship (that is my position since the Holy Spirit chose Paul to write most of the New Testament):

2 Peter 3:16 NKJV

15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation — as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

 The phrase “written to you” is a reference to Christian Jews for Peter’s letters are addressed to the Jews of the Diaspora. None of Paul’s letters is written exclusively to the Jews except Hebrews if we believe Paul wrote it.

 Hebrews 13:22-23 NKJV

 22 And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words. 23 Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.

Paul refers to Timothy as his brother in other passages:

2 Corinthians 1:1 KJV

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

Colossians 1:1 NKJV

 1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

 No other New Testament writer refers to Timothy as his brother. Therefore, it seems logical that the reference in Hebrews to Timothy gives credence that Paul wrote the book. What other New Testament writer had a better background to write to Hebrew Christians than Paul? He studied under Gamaliel, a leading Jewish scholar of Paul’s time; he was a Pharisee (Paul says he was a Pharisee of Pharisees in terms of zealousness for Judaism) and maybe a member of the Sanhedrin (some think he was too young to be a member of the Sanhedrin – the ruling body of the Jewish religion). Paul was also a Hebrew and Greek scholar and spoke many languages. He certainly was qualified to write about the Old Testament Scriptures, particularly the Law. In my opinion, the evidence is clear that Paul is the author of the book of Hebrews. Read the book of Romans with Hebrews and notice the stern language in both that Paul used against the apostate Judaizers.

Paul was plain spoken, which often got him into trouble with the Jews and the Church – kind of like today when anyone dares speak bold truth to the Church. We need more plain spoken prophets in the Church today for there are far too many “wimps” in the pulpits afraid to offend the saints or unbelievers with the truth.

The narrative of Hebrews implies that the Jewish temple was still standing in Jerusalem. Therefore, a date for the authorship is before 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed the temple.  

The theme of the book is actually two-fold: (1) To prove to Jewish Christians that Christ was superior to the Law and that Judaism had passed away and had become obsolete (Heb. 8:13). The Lord gave a glimpse of this in His discourse on the “new wine” recorded in the Gospels:

Mark 2:21-22 NKJV

21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse.  22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins."

The old wine is Judaism with its rituals and ceremonial laws while the new wine is the Holy Spirit of the New Covenant made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is something the Pharisees did not understand. It is not that they could not have understood rather they had hardened their hearts against the truth–something Paul warns about in Hebrews. Heart hardness negates the working of the Holy Spirit for imparting gospel truth to the unsaved and spiritual knowledge to the saints. There are too many opinionated and unteachable saints in the body of Christ who have no revelation and when they open their mouths, it is evident.

If the Old Covenant (Judaism) has passed away and is no longer valid, then why are so many Christians trying to placate the Jewish religion and get all worked up about the Jewish state in the Middle East as though God is about to resurrect the Old Covenant and a physical temple in Jerusalem with blood sacrifices. Nothing like that is in God’s plans. If there is a physical temple rebuilt in the land of Israel and animal sacrifices reinstituted, it will not be God’s doings, but that of the unregenerate apostate Jews.

The secular Jews in the United States have appealed to the democratically controlled Congress to ban Ann Coulter from making appearances on TV talk shows because she truthfully intimated Judaism is a relic of the past. Paul warned us in Romans 11 that the Jews are enemies of the gospel and they are. Ann Coulter has as much right to appear on TV talk shows and express her convictions and faith as any Jew does who refutes Christianity. The U.S. is on the fast track to get rid of Christianity, that is, our leaders, and they are succeeding.

(2) The warning of apostasy among Jewish Christians, that is, lapsing back into Judaism or attempting to add Judaism to Christianity.  The Galatian Christians had done the same thing and Paul racked them over the coals for trying to mix law with faith. May I just say that the Law of God has a prominent place in the Christian faith that is neglected today. The only thing that has actually passed away from the Law is the ceremonial provisions and animal sacrifices.  The statutes and commandments are still valid; otherwise, the Ten Commandments are null and void. However, we are not to seek Torah worship as something needed for our salvation. We are not saved or even kept by keeping the law. We are saved and kept saved by grace through faith and that alone (Eph. 2:8-10).

These are the main themes of the book and interwoven into those themes are many sub-themes and topics.

Concerning temple worship, it is clear from reading the book of Acts that the early Christians in Jerusalem tried to continue worshipping at the temple including the observance of feast days. Even Paul continued to make the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost:

1 Corinthians 16:8-9 NKJV

8 But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost . 9 For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

One reason God destroyed the temple in Jerusalem was to wean the Church away from worshipping a physical temple. The temple of God is a spiritual temple and every member of the body of Christ is a brick in that temple. Up until the temple was destroyed, the Jews were still offering blood sacrifices.  In fact, they offered animal sacrifices on the very day our Lord was crucified as the true Lamb of God. However, the Lord blotted out the sun for three hours to prevent the physical Passover lamb from being offered until Jesus was crucified. The Rabbi’s had changed the time of day when the Passover lamb could be slain, that is, they allowed the sacrifice to begin at noon instead of at twilight as the Law dictated. No Passover lamb could be slain after dark or during the dark hours. Therefore, God blotted out the sun for three hours while Jesus hung on the cross to prove He was the true Lamb of God.  Once the physical temple was destroyed, the Church was free of Judaism. Sadly, many evangelical Christians are attempted to return to a Judiastic form of Christianity and the New Covenant recognizes no such religion.

The Purpose of the book is touched on in the theme; to instruct Jewish believers that Christianity had superseded Judaism. In all of Paul’s Epistles, at least most of them, he strives to wean Jewish converts to Christ away from Judaism, but in the book of Hebrews, he deals more fully and systematically with the subject.

The Divisions of the book fall into two categories – the Doctrinal and the Practical. The Doctrinal encompasses the larger division – from Chapter 1 to Chapter 10 Verse 18 while the Practical division begins at 10:19 and goes to the end of the book. Keeping these two divisions in mind as we study the book will greatly aid our understanding. This is a major flaw of many who read the Bible, not recognizing the doctrinal passages from the practical. Some see only practical application in the Scriptures and in doing so corrupt the meaning.  In the Pauline Epistles, the doctrinal aspect is always presented first, and then the practical – Romans is an example. The doctrinal is presented in Romans Chapters 1-11 while the practical begins with Chapter 12. One of the primary reasons there are so many immature Christians in the body of Christ is they have no appetite for doctrinal teaching, but only want the practical and the application. In addition, pastors do not teach doctrine for that might bore the saints. By not teaching doctrine, the pastors are remiss in their duties as a teacher of the Word of God and Christians are made Christianettes. Paul rebukes Christianettes in this book as “milk toast” Christians (Heb. 5:11-14).

The unique Characteristics of the book are as follows:  The name of the author is omitted, which we touched on; there is no opening salutation as in Paul’s other writings; the recipients are not directly addressed; the doctrines of the New Covenant are expounded in Hebrews in greater length than elsewhere; the Priesthood of Christ is fully explained; the warnings against apostasy are more frequent and solemn than any other New Testament book; the call to steadfastness and perseverance is more emphatic and numerous than any other New Testament book; the obvious contrast of the fleshy with the spiritual is evident in the narrative; the language and types of the Old Covenant, which Judaism is based, are held against the light of the better and greater New Covenant; there is no mistaking of the superiority of Jesus Christ over the Jewish religion; in the book we are introduced to the New Jerusalem as superior over the old Jerusalem (something Christian Zionists ignore); Christians are also admonished to look for the heavenly city rather than to be tied to a natural country or state. While we are blessed to live in the United States, it is not our real home. Our real residence is in the New Jerusalem, which is now in heaven, but will one day descend upon the new earth.

What is the Value of the book? The book of Hebrews proves the inspiration of the Scriptures and the progressive nature of revelation. This is especially seen in how it compares Old Testament types with New Testament substance. It also has great evangelical value in witnessing to the Jews if one knows how to use it with the Old Testament doctrine. By comparing the Old Testament types which Christ and the Church fulfill, the Holy Spirit will bear truthful witness to lost Jews who need Christ as much as Gentiles.

There are many others things we could say in the introduction, but this will suffice for our beginning study of this marvelous book. In the outline I gave you above, notice the subtopics we will cover. Most Christians know little about these subjects, but they are true and need to be understood. Actually, the book of Hebrews cast great light upon the book of Revelation and proves why the Church will go through the tribulation. There is a reason the book of Revelation is the last book of the New Testament and the last book in the Canon of Scripture. The Holy Spirit wanted the saints to have a good doctrinal background in the Bible as a whole before delving into the complexities of the book of Revelation, especially in relation to Israel and the Church. No study of the contrast between the Church and Israel is complete without the book of Hebrews. It is a necessary study in understanding prophecy.