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Introduction to the Epistle to the Hebrews


I. Writer


Since the name of the writer has never been mentioned in the whole book, it has become an unsolved mystery in the past two thousand years. As opinion vary among the Bible expositors, no unanimous conclusion can be drawn. Here is an attempt to sum up both the positive and negative aspects of the main arguments of each assumption, respect consult for the reader.

1.    The assumption of Paul:

a.    The positive argument:

1)    This assumption stems from the writing of the godfather Clement of Alexandria. The churches in the east always believed that this epistle was written by Paul. As for the churches in the west, they received such view until the fourth century because Jerome and Augustinus had held this view. The most famous supporters of this view in modern times include Scofield and Darby etc.

2)    There is indeed the vocabulary and tone of Paul, e.g. “the just shall live by faith” (10:38), which is the word that Paul likes to quote (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11); and the fathers, the promises, the law and the covenants etc. mentioned in this book correspond to what Paul has mentioned in the Epistle to the Romans (9:4-5). 

3)    The content of this epistle is quiet similar with that of the Epistle to the Galatians. And the teaching conforms to that in Paul’s other epistles and to Paul’ heavy burden to the Jews.

4)    “Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly”(13:23), which shows that the writer of this epistle is an intimate elder fellow worker of Timothy  (see 1Tim. 1:2; 2Tim. 1:2).

5)    The writer of this epistle asks believers to pray for him (13:18-19), and Paul is the only apostle among the all writers of the New Testament who asks believers to pray for him (Rom. 15:30-32; Eph. 6:19-20; Col. 4:3; 1Thess. 5:25; Philem. 22).

6)    The greeting and blessing at the end of this epistle(13:24-25)  are similar to the end of Paul’s other epistles (Rom. 15:33-16:24; 1Cor. 16:19-24; 2Cor. 13:13-14; Gal. 6:18; Eph. 6:23-24; Phil. 4:21-23; Col. 4:10-18; 1Thess. 5:26-28; 2Thess. 3:16-18).

7)    The expressions like “we speak” (2:5), “we are saying” (8:1) indicate that the writer represents a group of fellow workers. And such condition only appears in the epistles of Paul.

8)    The external evidence is that it is marked “the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews” by the early godfathers, and in the names of the Greek canon, the names of the Latin canon and some ancient codices and the King James Version etc. about one thousand and two hundred years (400-600 A.D.).

b.    The negative argument:

1)    The writer of this epistle has never shown or used the authority of the apostle. And the verse “…and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (2:3) shows that the writer has never personally received the revelation from the Lord. Therefore, it is not written by Paul (see Gal. 1:12).

2)    There are many scriptures quoted from the Septuagint, not the Masorah from which Paul habitually quoted.

3)    The type of literature of this book is different from the customary type of Paul’s epistles.

4)    This epistle has not mentioned the writer’s name, which is also different from the customary style of Paul’s epistles.

5)    Paul is an apostle of the Gentile apostle, who earnestly promotes the oneness of both the Gentile and Jewish believers. However, this epistle only mentions the salvation of the Jews, which seems to be not corresponding to the purpose of Paul.

2.    The assumption of Barnabas:

a.    The positive argument:

1)    This view was promoted by the earliest godfather Tertullian.

2)    As a Levite (Acts 4:36), Barnabas was bound to have clear knowledge of the system of the Levite in the Old Testament. Besides, he was also the fellow worker of Paul and was quiet familiar with the theological doctrines of Paul. Therefore, he could write this book.

3)    “And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words” (13:22) ---- it correspond to the gift of Barnabas ---- “the Son of consolation” (see Acts 4:36).

4)    The external evidence is the Epistle of Barnabas (Codex Claremontanus).

b.    The negative argument:

1)    There are some points of the external evidence the Epistle of Barnabas that do not agree with this epistle.

2)    Barnabas does not seem to be one of the fellow workers who are intimate with Timothy.

3.    The assumption of Apollos:

a.    The positive argument:

1)    The fervent supporter of this assumption is Martin Luther. And the famous supporter in modern times is Henry Alford.

2)    Luke mentions Apollos “an eloquent man, who was mighty in the scriptures (the scriptures of the Old Testament)” in the Book of Acts (Acts 18:24). Therefore, he was capable to write this epistle.

3)    There are some “philosophical thoughts of Alexandria” in this epistle. And Apollos was just a Bible Scholar born in Alexandria (Acts 18:24).

4)    In early serving time of Apollos, he had been helped and perfected by the Paul’s fellow workers Priscilla and Aquila. Later, he was recognized by Paul as his fellow worker (1Cor. 1:12; 3:4-6, 22; 16:12; Titus 3:13). Therefore, he was qualified to write this epistle whose theological thoughts are similar to that of Paul.

b.    The negative argument:

1)    In the church history, no messages of Apollos had been left to us. And it was brought forward by Martin Luther until the 16th century.

2)    It seems that Apollos and Timothy have never established the relationship of fellow workers.

4.    The assumption of Luke:

a.    The positive argument:

1)    The most famous supporter of this assumption is Calvin.

2)    The exquisite and beautiful Greek in this epistle indicates that there are many similarities of this book in grammar with The Book of Acts written by Luke.  

3)    “Was confirmed to us by those who have heard” (2:3), it shows that the writer was just one who had not directly followed the Lord as Luke and yet had learned the salvation of Christ from the apostles.

b.    The negative argument:

1)    Luke is a Gentile and is unlikely to write to the Jews particularly.

2)    Possibly, Luke is the writer when Paul dictates (e.g. Rom. 16:22 “Tertius, who have written this epistle”). But he is unlikely to become a teacher himself.

5.    The assumptions of Others:

a.    Someone maintains that Priscilla and Aquila are the writer of this epistle (see Acts 18:26).

b.    There is also someone who holds that this epistle was written Clement who was in Rome (96 A.D.).

c.    There is also someone who mentions that the writer of this epistle may be the apostle Peter, or the minister Philip, or Silvanus, or Mark or Epaphras etc.

d.    The above-mentioned three assumptions have no sufficient and powerful internal and external evidences, only for reference.


Actually, since the writer was inspired by the Spirit to conceal his own name, there must be a purpose. For as such an epistle that upholds Jesus Christ, it does not matter who is the writer. Therefore, we need not to infer the name of the writer, but center our attention on the Lord Himself. No matter who writes this epistle, it is always God that “spoke to us by His Son” (1:2).


II. The Time and Location the Epistle was Written


Concerning the time that this epistle was written, it was inferred according to the internal and external evidences that:

1.    In the first century, Clement who was in Rome had quoted from this epistle (95 A.D.). And it is mentioned in this epistle that “our brother Timothy has been set free” (13:23). Therefore, this book was bound to be not written in the second century.

2.    The ceremonies like the sacrifices in the Holy Temple had been mentioned many times, and the verbs were in present tense (5:1-3; 7:27; 8:3-5; 9:6-9; 10:1-2, 8, 11; 13:10-11), which showed that the Holy Temple remained at that time and the priests were ministering. Therefore, the book had not been written later than 70 A.D. (the year of the destruction of the Holy Temple).

3.    It is indicated in this epistle that the recipients of this epistle had believed the Lord for many years (5:12) and had ever suffered many tribulations (10:32-37; 12:4-5). Therefore, this epistle was bound to be completed not early. 

4.    It is suggested in this epistle that some of those who preached the word of God to them had been martyred for the Lord (13:7) and Timothy was set free (13:23). The two matters might quite likely be related with the persecution of the Thessalonians (64-68 A.D.). Therefore, this epistle must not be written earlier than 64 A.D.

5.    Above all, there was a strong likelihood that this epistle was written during 65 to 69 A.D.


As for the location the epistle was written, it could be inferred from the verse “they from Italy salute you” (13:24):

1.    This epistle was written in the Italian communities (e.g. Corinth, Ephesus etc.) of the Italians who did not dwelt in Italy.

2.    According to the original, “they from Italy” can also be translated as “they of Italy”. Thus, this book was written in Italy, possibly, in Rome.


III. The Recipients


1.    The recipients of this epistle were the sons of Abraham (7:4), and the word “fathers” (1:1) showed that they were Jewish believers, who were familiar with not only the fathers of the faith of the Israel in the Old Testament (11:24-34) but also the laws and ceremonies of the Old Testament (7:4-10:8).

2.    These Jewish believers knew the writer of this epistle as well as Timothy (13:23). They had not heard the teachings of the Lord Jesus personally, but were taught by others (2:3). They had believed the Lord for a long period, but had not grown up in true faith (5:11-12). However, they did not forsake the true faith (6:6-10). They had endured much conflict of sufferings for the Lord and desired to walk in the way of the Lord (10:32, 36). Besides, they wrestled against sin and had not yet resisted unto blood (12:4).

3.    It is marked in some Codex that the recipients of this epistle were “Hebrews”, which mean “those who have passed over the river”. Abraham was the first one who had passed over the river. He moved to the land of the Palestinian (see Acts 7:2-4), passing from Mesopotamia to the river Euphrates. Therefore, he was the first Hebrew (Gen. 14:13). The Jews were called the Hebrews since ancient times (Gen. 39:14; Ex. 2:6), and they liked to call them Hebrews (Gen. 40:15; Phil. 3:5).

4.    We Christians are spiritual Hebrews, so we shall apply the teachings of this epistle on us.


IV. The Motivation for Writing this Epistle


1.    At that time, the Hebrew believers were faced with two great crises concerning faith: externally, the Roman power persecuted them to give up the faith of Christ; internally, the Judaizers persuaded them to return back to the law of the Old Testament.

2.    And the spiritual condition of these Hebrew believers was indeed deeply influenced by the external evil environment. They did not cherish the word they had heard (2:1), and were not bold enough to stand fast for the faith (3:6) and began to be shaken in faith (3:14) and failed to have full confidence in God’s promise (4:1, 11). Some of them seemed to become weary and discouraged (12:3, 12) and even forsook the assembling (10:25) and ignored the example of faith of those who ruled over them (13:7), facing the danger of being enticed by the heretical teachings (13:9).

3.    The primary purpose of this epistle was exhortation to the Hebrew believers (13:22) and establishment of their faith without being moved easily. This book exhorts from the following angles:

a.    Exhort them to have eight and thorough knowledge about the object of the faith ---- Christ; who surpasses all things and men of the Judaism, including the angels, Moses, Aaron, the law, the ceremonies, the priests and the offerings etc..

b.    Exhort them to have new recognition of the content of the faith ---- the New Testament, which is a incomparably better covenant than the old covenant.

c.    Exhort them to think and imitate the elders of the faith ---- the witnesses of the faith, who have obtained good testimony in faith, surrounding us as a cloud.

d.    Exhort them to desire the end of the faith ---- hope ---- and warn them on the basis of the hope. If we desire to have the better country in the heaven, we shall despise the worldly enticement and bitterness.


V. The Importance of this Book


There are abundant quotations of the scriptures and things and teachings of the Old Testament in this epistle, which can be called “a commentary of the main theme of the Old Testament”. If we want to understand the truth of the Old Testament, we are suggested to enter from this book and dig up the treasure that is profitable to our spiritual life according to the principle of the biblical exegesis.

The truth expounded in this epistle just meets for the deed of the church at present. Just as the Hebrew believers at that time, the church now is also faced with the two great spiritual crises: the external persecutions of Satan by men’s hands, and the internal enticement of heresies ---- both make many believers become indifferent or discouraged or weak or stumbled and even turn to follow many heresies. We really need to be encouraged from this book and run with endurance the race that lies before us.


VI. Main Structure and General Description


    The theme of the whole book is the Son of God Jesus Christ, who “surpasses” the angels and all the giants in the Old Covenant. The New Covenant that He has fulfilled is “better” that the Old Covenant. We believers who are in the New Covenant have access to the “better” Holy Temple to God through the “better” sacrifice in Christ Jesus. Therefore, we shall hold fast in faith, hole and love, and go forth to Him “without the camp” and bear his reproach in such a difficult generation. In a due time, we shall have part in the “better” country.


VII. Special Points


1.    There are many quotations of the Old Testament in this epistle ---- about thirty-nine times of the direct quotations distributed in each chapter and two hundred and nineteen times of indirect quotations. Therefore, this epistle is a book of sermons collections on the basis of the Old Testament. Anyone who is not familiar with the scriptures of the Old Testament will feel it obscure and difficult to understand.

2.    The literary genre of this epistle is rather peculiar ---- it is like prose in the beginning, and is like a sermon of the body and like an epistle at the end. The literary style of the Greek of this epistle is precise and polished, and the arguments are wide and pithy. It is a real masterpiece in literature.

3.    There are at least five paragraphs of exhortation inserted among the arguments of this epistle for the purpose of a combination of knowing and doing. Once we have understood the truth, we shall put it into practice. Otherwise, we should be dealt with by God more severely. 

4.    This epistle is an epistle with many severe warnings, including:

a.    We must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away (2:1-4).

b.    If anyone has the evil heart of unbelief, he will become hardened as in the rebellion (3:7-19).

c.    If anyone falls according to the same example of disobedience, he will not enter that rest (4:1-13).

d.    If anyone is not diligent to seek to increase, he will not be grown up (5:11-6:3).

e.    If they fall away, they will not be renewed again to repentance (6:4-8).

f.     If anyone sins willfully, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins (10:26-31).

g.    If anyone draws back, God’s soul has no pleasure in him (10:32-39).

h.    If anyone refuses Him who speaks from heaven, he is unable to escape, for God is a consuming fire (12:14-29).

5.    This book is an epistle of “God’s enormous revelation” or “God’s better revelation”. The great revelation of God is Jesus Christ Himself, who excels in not only all those who are in this age but also the angels and all the spiritual giants and ceremonies and customs in the Scriptures. All the things and men that we regard best can be smashed only by appreciating and upholding Him. 

6.    This book is also an epistle of “the high priest Jesus Christ” or “the ministry of Christ who lives in the heaven”. He has passed through the heavens and is able to sympathize with our weakness and always lives to make intercession for us. Therefore, let us come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

7.    This book is an epistle of “God’s Hall of Fame”, in which many giants of faith are listed (11:1-40).

8.    This book is full of comparisons, e.g.:

a.    The prophets and the Son of God (1:1-2);

b.    In time past and in these last days (1:1-2);

c.    The Son of God and the angels (1:4-14);

d.    That the heavens and the earth shall change and that He never changes (1:12);

e.    Moses and Christ (3:1-6);

f.     “Shall not enter …” and “be diligent to enter …” (3:7-4:11);

g.    The high priest Aaron and Christ who is the high priest (5:1-10);

h.    “Daily sacrifices” and “offer once”(7:27);

i.      The external law and the internal law; and the Old Testament and the New Testament (8:10-11);

j.      The blood of goats and calves and His own blood (9:11-28);

k.    The shadow of the good things and the very image of the things (10:1-14);

l.      The offering of Abel and the offering of Cain (11:4);

m.   The things that the blood of Jesus speaks and that the blood of Abel speaks (12:24);

n.    Be shaken and be not shaken (12:27-28);

o.    Enter the veil and outside the camp (10:19-20; 13:10-13);



VIII. Its Relations with the Book of Corinthians and the Book of Galatians


1.    This epistle is full of the backgrounds of the Old Testament, ---- e.g. the religion, the ceremonies, the theology, and the wording ---- which is very close to the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament. The message of this book correlates with the Pentateuch of Moses, especially the Book of Leviticus in the Pentateuch. The Book of Leviticus touches upon the type of the salvation. And this epistle talks about the reality of the salvation. As the very image is better and more perfect than the shadow, this epistle also surpasses the Book of Leviticus. Therefore, this epistle is also called the Book of Leviticus in the New Testament by the Bible exegetes.

2.    Someone calls the Book of Hebrews “the fifth book of the gospel”. The previous four books of the gospel describe the works of Christ on earth. And the Book of Hebrews mentions the works of Christ in the heaven ---- Christ has passed through the heavens to be the high priest of believers in “the holy Temple in the heaven” now and make intercessions for believers everyday (7:25; Rom. 8:34).

3.    The message of this epistle shares the same important principle with the two epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, for the three books touch upon the salvation of the Lord on the basis that “the just shall live by faith” (Hag. 2:4). However, the emphasis of the three epistles is different: the Epistle to the Romans puts emphasis on the word “the just”, showing that how to be justified before God. The Epistle to the Galatians focuses on the word “live”, explaining that one is not saved or perfected by works, but by the receiving of the life of the Son of God. And this epistle pays attention to the word “by faith”, which enumerates the giants of faith in the Old Testament and proving that faith is the “testimony” that God pleases (Heb. 11:5, 6). The Epistle to the Romans reveals the “necessity” of faith, and the Epistle to the Galatians indicates the “importance” of Christians’ faith, and the Epistle to the Hebrews shows the “transcendence” of Christians’ faith.


IX. Key Verses


“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (4:14).

“Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25).

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God… let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” (10:19-22).

“Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” (13:13).


X. Key Words


“More excellent”,  “better”  (1:4; 6:9; 7:7, 19, 22; 8:6, 6; 9:23; 10:34; 11:16, 35, 40; 12:24);

“Faith” (4:2; 6:1, 12; 10:22, 38, 39; 11:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 39; 12:2; 13:7);

“The high priest” (2:17; 3:1; 4:14, 15; 5:1, 5, 10; 6:20; 7:26, 27, 28; 8:1, 3; 9:7, 11, 25; 10:12; 13:11);

“For ever”, “for ever and ever” (1:2, 8, 8; 5:6, 9; 6:2, 5, 20; 7:17, 21, 24, 28; 9:12, 14, 15, 26; 11:3; 13:8, 21, 21);

“Perfect”, (2:10; 5:9; 7:19, 28 ; 9:9; 10:1, 14; 11:40; 12:23);

“Once” (7:27; 9:7, 12, 26, 28; 10:10, 12, 14; 12:26, 27);


XI. Outlines of the Book


The Theme: Christ transcends all, so we shall go with Him and hold fast the faith and hope and love by Him.

A.   Christ transcends all (1:1-10:39):

1.    His works transcend all (1:1-3);

2.    He transcends the angels (1:4-2:18):

a. He is the Son of God, and his name and person transcend the angels (1:4-18).

The First Inserted Exhortation: give heed more abundantly to the things heard (2:1-4);

b. He is the Son of Man, and what he has fulfilled surpass the angels (2:5-18).

3.    He is over the house of God, exceeding Moses (3:1-6);

The Second Inserted Exhortation: let us use diligence to enter into that rest (3:7-4:13);

4.    He is the high priest, who exceeds Aaron (4:14-7:28);

a. It is the God who has raised Him from the dead to ascend into the heaven that makes Him the high priest (4:14-5:10);

The Third Inserted Exhortation: let us go on to full growth (5:11-6:20);

b. He is a priest for ever according to the order and similitude of Melchisedec (7:1-28);

5.    He (8:1-10:18);

a. Since the New Testament is made by the better promise and he is the mediator, it is the better covenant (8:1-13);

b. Since the better sacrifice and blood are offered in the New Testament, the effect of the taking away of sins exists for ever (9:1-10:18);

The Fourth Inserted Exhortation: let us hold fast in faith and hope and love and not sin willfully (10:19-39);

B.   The example, warning and exhortation of faith, hope and love (11:1-13:6):

1.    The definition and example of faith (11:1);

a. The definition of faith (11:1);

b. The witnesses of faith (11:2-40)

2.    The exhortation and warning of hope (12:1-17);

a. Let us run with patience the race that lies before us (12:1-4).

b. Let us bear the chastisement of God the Father and thus yield peaceful fruit (12:5-13).

c.  Let us watch to avoid the faults of Esau (12:14-17).

The Fifth Inserted Exhortation: let us serve God with reverence and fear for the sake of the kingdom that cannot be shaken (12:18-29).

3.    The exhortation of love (13:1-17);

C.   The words at the end (13:18-25):

1.    Ask for prayer (13:18-19);

2.    Blessing (13:20-21);

3.    Announcement (13:22-23);

4.    Greeting and blessing (13:24-25);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Mary Zhou