The Letter to the Hebrews
Copyright ©2004, Charles Hess, Ridgefield, Washington


There was an inclination for Jewish Christians to go back under the OT Law. Just as it is today, there was a danger that others would fall away into worldliness. In either case, they would be lost. They needed encouragement to remain faithful to Christ. They had been persecuted. They had been made a "spectacle" or a "gazingstock." They had suffered the spoiling of their possessions (Heb 10:33, 34).[ 1 ] Hands were hanging down; knees were feeble (Heb 12:12). They were in grave danger of drifting back into the ease of Judaism (see Heb 2:1), or perhaps, buying into the beginnings of Gnosticism.


    1. Neglect of the Scriptures (Heb 2:1-3).
    2. Unbelief (Heb 3:12).
    3. Not developing as teachers (Heb 5:12).
    4. A spiritual diet of milk (Heb 5:13, 14).
    5. Danger of falling away (Heb 6:4-6).
    6. Forsaking the assembly (Heb 10:25).
    7. Feebleness in prayer (Heb 12:12).
    8. Following strange teachings (Heb 13:9).

The book of Hebrews is an exhortation to faithfulness. The Holy Spirit inspired every kind of godly motivation to keep Christians from falling away and to bring them back to Christ Jesus. The whole letter is encouraging, optimistic and positive (see especially the final chapter).


    1. Careful, deliberate reasoning.
    2. Sacrificial and priestly terms from the OT.
    3. Objective idealism.
    4. Encouragement.



    1. Aquila and Priscilla.
    2. Apollos.
    3. Aristion.
    4. Barnabas.
    5. Clement of Rome.
    6. Luke.
    7. Mark.
    8. Paul.
    9. Philip the evangelist.
    10. Silas.
    11. Timothy (but see Heb 13:28).


Timothy had travelled with the writer of Hebrews (Heb 13:23). From Acts 16:3 onward, for the most part, he worked with Paul. Whoever wrote the epistle may have been in Italy at the time of writing (Heb 13:24). Those who think Paul wrote it cite Hebrews 1:4; 2:2; 7:18; 12:22 as examples of his typical language. The NKJV has an interesting bit of information. "For you had compassion on me in my chains" (Heb 10:34). Most modern versions omit this, but it has the support of the fourth century Sinaitic manuscript. Also cited is a multitude of references to early Christians who state that Paul was the writer.[ 2 ] However, Paul's name does not appear in Hebrews, as it does in all his other letters. This may be explainable because of strong prejudice against him in Judea. For that matter, the book written by John do not contain the name of John, except for Revelation.

The Greek in the book of Hebrews is said to be more refined and formal than Paul's style.[ 3 ] However, there are sections in his epistles where his style is superb (see notes on Ro 8:31-39; 1Co 15:50-58).

In 2 Timothy 4:13, Paul, in his last(?) letter made an earnest plea for Timothy to bring a cloak left at Troas with Carpus, plus books and "especially the parchments." Why would a man sentenced to death want books? To read of course and/or to copy or give to others to read and for safe-keeping. What about the parchments? Were they blank? Did Paul want to write another letter before he died? If so, which one? Consider that he knew from the prophecies of Christ and from direct revelation that Jerusalem was very, very soon to be destroyed. He knew and loved the many Jewish brethren who still resided in that condemned city. Could he save them from destruction? He could do so only if he could persuade them to be faithful and loyal to Christ.[ 4 ] Is it possible that, after writing 2 Timothy, he wrote the book of Hebrews for the very purpose of encouraging the weak ones to become stronger and to prevent the apostasy of other Jewish Christians? As mentioned elsewhere, his autograph may have been left off in order to avoid the prejudice among the Jews that attached to his name as the apostle to the Gentiles. What other writer would have had a motivation for omitting his name, except, perhaps a Gentile such as Luke?


    1. Roman church (after fourth century) held Paul as
    the writer.
    2. Except for Luke, some think no one else could have produced it.
    3. Oldest Eastern traditions attribute it to him.
    4. The thoughts are Pauline.
    5. Thoughts in chapter 13 universally hailed as Paul's, except for omitted signature (see Heb 13:23).
    6. For you had compassion on me in my chains
    (Heb 10:34 NKJV; in Sinaitic manuscript).
    (Coffman 6, 7)


Since Hebrews is written against a backdrop of OT practices,[ 5 ] it is generally thought that it was written to Jewish Christians.[ 6 ] The title, "To the Hebrews"[ 7 ] is not thought to have been assigned by the original, inspired writer. It was apparently added soon after it was penned. "Many myriads" of Jews believed and were zealous for the Law (Ac 21:20).[ 8 ] With no certain knowledge of the original destination of the letter, Jerusalem has been nominated as probable.[ 9 ] That city is suggested by the statement "outside the gate" (Heb 13:12). Italy is mentioned. Rome is thought by some to have been the destination or, more probably, the location of the writer (Heb 13:24). Some have suggested the recipients were in Alexandria, Egypt or some other large city where there were many Jewish converts. Recent studies suggest the recipients of the letter may have been thoroughly Hellenized.[ 10 ]


Hebrews was written after Timothy was released (Heb 13:23; I realize there is some manuscript variance here). Since the book does not mention the destruction of Jerusalem, some infer it was written prior to AD 70.[ 11 ] Clement of Rome (AD 95) knew of the epistle. Sufficient time had elapsed that they "ought to be teachers" (Heb 5:12). They were told to recall the "former days" when they suffered a great trial of affliction (Heb 10:32-34). Since Paul probably died in late AD 66 or early 67 (see chart HISTORICAL AMBIENCE), those who think he wrote the book usually assign a date of about AD 65. After his arrest at Jerusalem (Ac 21:33), he was sent as a prisoner to Caesarea where he had sufficient time to write a letter (Ac 23:33-35; 27:1, but consider the mention of Italy, Heb 13:24).


    1. Nero was Emperor of Rome (AD 54-68).
    2. The great Roman fire July 18, AD 64.
    3. Paul martyred in AD 65.
    4. Nero gave a great concert tour of Greece. a. As actor, athlete, singer, artist and charioteer.
    b. Won 1808 prizes exhibited in Rome in AD 67.
    5. Judea revolted, Jewish war began, Jerusalem destroyed AD 70.
    (Coffman 11, 12; dates his)


Early writers, especially Clement of Rome regarded the book of Hebrews as Scripture. In AD 96 his letter to the church at Corinth quoted many passages and paraphrased others from the book of Hebrews. Milligan[ 12 ] cites eleven instances. There is no doubt that the churches at Rome and Corinth accepted Hebrews as part of the NT. Hermas of Rome, perhaps with Hebrews 3:12 in mind, warned against "apostasy from the living God."[ 13 ]


Judaizing teachers went about disturbing the churches of Christ soon after they were established. These false teachers attempted to bind some or all of the OT Law upon Christians. In the book of Hebrews, the old Law is shown to be inferior to the new. A key word is "better" (see chart BETTER THINGS at Heb 1:4). The Hebrew letter clearly shows that Christ is better than the angels, better than Moses and that the law of Christ is superior to that of the OT Some key verses are Hebrews 1:3; 4:14-18; 12:1, 2. Phrases of significance are "sat down" (Heb 1:3; 10:12; 12:2) and "Let us" (see charts LET US A and B).


    1. Origen (AD 220).
    2. Eusebius (AD 315).
    3. Athanasius (AD 326).
    4. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem (AD 348).
    5. Council of Laodicea (AD 363).
    (Milligan 24)

    LET US (A)

    1. Fear (Heb 4:1).
    2. Be diligent (Heb 4:11).
    3. Draw near to the throne of grace (Heb 4:16).
    4. Press on (Heb 6:1).
    5. Draw near (Heb 10:22).
    6. Hold fast (Heb 10:23).

    LET US (B)

    1. Stimulate one another (Heb 10:24).
    2. Lay aside every encumbrance . . . run with endurance (Heb 12:1).
    3. Show gratitude (Heb 12:28).
    4. Go out (Heb 13:13).
    5. Offer up a sacrifice of praise (Heb 13:15).



    1. Encouragement (Heb 13:22; see chart LET US).
    2. Five warnings (see chart WARNINGS).
    3. Confidence and assurance (see chart CONSIDER).


    1. Introduction. God speaks through Christ
    (Heb 1:1-3).
    2. Greatness of Christ (Heb 1:4-4:13).
    3. Priesthood of Christ (Heb 4:14-10:18).
    4. Encouragement to faithfulness
    (Heb 10:19-12:29).
    5. Exhortations, personal salutations
    (Heb 13:1-25).

Just what is the book of Hebrews about? About one-fifteenth is about Melchezedek and how he foreshadowed Christ. It is about faith, a pure conscience and eternal salvation. It deals with angels, Moses, Joshua and others, but Jesus Christ, as our high priest and Savior, is presented as superior to them all. The book points out that the Israelites were not allowed to enter Canaan because of unbelief. It deals with the blood of bulls and goats but, unlike them, the sacrifice of Christ once for all forever takes away sins. It deals with obedience and worship, not obedience to nor worship according to the OT law, but in the spirit and form of the new. The book is a letter of hope, reassurance and encouragement. It looks at the old in order to point to the new. It looks to the shadows in order to point to the reality. In short, it looks to Jesus "the author and perfecter of our faith." There is no reason in the world to follow any other religious system. Jesus is "the way, the truth and the life." Let us maintain our faith in Him and in all things our obedience to Him.


[ 1 ]The basic text is the NKJV. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Alternate phrases in brackets are from ASV, ESB, KJV and RSV and occasionally another version. Greek transliteration generally follows the BibleSoft method.
[ 2 ]Clement of Alexandria, for example, said Hebrews was written by Paul for Hebrews in the Hebrew language, but that Luke translated it and published it for the Greeks (quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.14.2, cited by Bruce xxxvi).
[ 3 ]Tertullian, who was born in AD 160 at Carthage, in writing about Hebrews, mentioned the eminence of its author Barnabas (Bruce xxxvii).
[ 4 ]So far as can be determined at this writing, all the faithful Christians escaped the terrible destruction of Jerusalem by fleeing (see Mt 24:16).
[ 5 ]It is interesting that circumcision is not an issue in Hebrews like it is in Galatians, a book that was primarily addressed to Gentile Christians who were bothered by Judaizing teachers.
[ 6 ]Some modern commentaries have suggested the book was written to Gentile Christians who were in danger of falling away (Moffatt, Windisch, McGiffert, Scott, Kasemann, Vos and others).
[ 7 ]Some say the name Hebrews is used in the sense of "wanderers." In that sense, Gentile Christians are also strangers and pilgrims on earth as they look for a more abiding city.
[ 8 ]In the epistle there are numerous appeals to the authority of the OT Scriptures. It seems to me that Jewish Christians would tend to be more impressed by this than Gentiles.
[ 9 ]Is it possible that certain noble Jews, for example the obedient priests (Ac 6:7), were among those that "ought to be teachers" (see Heb 5:12)?
[ 10 ]Harrison 896, 898.
[ 11 ]Josephus (Wars 6.94) says the daily sacrifice ceased in Jerusalem on August 5, AD 70 (see Da 9:27).
[ 12 ]Milligan 19-22
[ 13 ]Shepherd, Vision 2.3.2; 3.7.2; Bruce xxiii.

Copyright ©2004, Charles Hess, Ridgefield, Washington, U.S.A.
This material may be copied for personal study only.
It may not be distributed or published in any form whatever
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The basic text, and all quotations not designated otherwise, are from the New King James Version, copyrighted ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Bracketed alternatives are drawn from various sources such as the ASV, Darby, KJV and RSV. Greek transliteration follows the BibleSoft method.

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