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Introduction to Hebrews


Summary of the Book of Hebrews

This summary of the book of Hebrews provides information about the title, author(s), date of writing, chronology, theme, theology, outline, a brief overview, and the chapters of the Book of Hebrews.


The writer of this letter does not identify himself, but he was obviously well known to the original recipients. Though for some 1,200 years (from c. a.d. 400 to 1600) the book was commonly called "The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews," there was no agreement in the earliest centuries regarding its authorship. Since the Reformation it has been widely recognized that Paul could not have been the writer. There is no disharmony between the teaching of Hebrews and that of Paul's letters, but the specific emphases and writing styles are markedly different. Contrary to Paul's usual practice, the author of Hebrews nowhere identifies himself in the letter -- except to indicate that he was a man (see note on 11:32). Moreover, the statement "This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him" (2:3), indicates that the author had neither been with Jesus during his earthly ministry nor received special revelation directly from the risen Lord, as had Paul (Gal 1:11-12).

The earliest suggestion of authorship is found in Tertullian's De Pudicitia, 20 (c. 200), in which he quotes from "an epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas." From the letter itself it is clear that the writer must have had authority in the apostolic church and was an intellectual Hebrew Christian well versed in the OT. Barnabas meets these requirements. He was a Jew of the priestly tribe of Levi (Ac 4:36) who became a close friend of Paul after the latter's conversion. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the church at Antioch commissioned Barnabas and Paul for the work of evangelism and sent them off on the first missionary journey (Ac 13:1-4).

The other leading candidate for authorship is Apollos, whose name was first suggested by Martin Luther and who is favored by many interpreters today. Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, was also a Jewish Christian with notable intellectual and oratorical abilities. Luke tells us that "he was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures" (Ac 18:24). We also know that Apollos was associated with Paul in the early years of the church in Corinth (1Co 1:12; 3:4-6,22).

One thing is evident: The author was a master of the Greek language of his day, and he was thoroughly acquainted with the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT (the Septuagint), which he regularly quotes.


Hebrews must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in a.d. 70 because: (1) If it had been written after this date, the author surely would have mentioned the temple's destruction and the end of the Jewish sacrificial system; and (2) the author consistently uses the Greek present tense when speaking of the temple and the priestly activities connected with it (see 5:1-3; 7:23,27; 8:3-5; 9:6-9,13,25; 10:1,3-4,8,11; 13:10-11).


The letter was addressed primarily to Jewish converts who were familiar with the OT and who were being tempted to revert to Judaism or to Judaize the gospel (cf. Gal 2:14). Some have suggested that these professing Jewish Christians were thinking of merging with a Jewish sect, such as the one at Qumran near the Dead Sea. It has also been suggested that the recipients were from the "large number of priests who became obedient to the faith" (Ac 6:7).


The theme of Hebrews is the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as revealer and as mediator of God's grace. The prologue (1:1-4) presents Christ as God's full and final revelation, far surpassing the revelation given in the OT. The prophecies and promises of the OT are fulfilled in the "new covenant" (or "new testament"), of which Christ is the mediator. From the OT itself, Christ is shown to be superior to the ancient prophets, to angels, to Moses (the mediator of the former covenant) and to Aaron and the priestly succession descended from him. Hebrews could be called "the book of better things" since the two Greek words for "better" and "superior" occur 15 times in the letter. A striking feature of this presentation of the gospel is the unique manner in which the author employs expositions of eight specific passages of the OT Scriptures:

Practical applications of this theme are given throughout the book. The readers are told that there can be no turning back to or continuation in the old Jewish system, which has been superseded by the unique priesthood of Christ. God's people must now look only to him, whose atoning death, resurrection and ascension have opened the way into the true, heavenly sanctuary of God's presence. To "ignore such a great salvation" (2:3) or to give up the pursuit of holiness (12:10,14) is to face the anger of the "living God" (10:31). Five times the author weaves into his presentation of the gospel stern warnings (see note on 2:1-4) and reminds his readers of the divine judgment that came on the rebellious generation of Israelites in the desert.

Literary Form

Hebrews is commonly referred to as a letter, though it does not have the typical form of a letter. It ends like a letter (13:22-25) but begins more like an essay or sermon (1:1-4). The author does not identify himself or those addressed, which letter writers normally did. And he offers no manner of greeting, such as is usually found at the beginning of ancient letters. Rather, he begins with a magnificent statement about Jesus Christ. He calls his work a "word of exhortation" (13:22), the conventional designation given a sermon in a synagogue service (see Ac 13:15, where "message of encouragement" translates the same Greek words as "word of exhortation"). Like a sermon, Hebrews is full of encouragement, exhortations and stern warnings. It is likely that the author used sermonic materials and sent them out in a modified letter form.


I.           Prologue: The Superiority of God's New Revelation (1:1-4)

  1. The Superiority of Christ to Leading Figures under the Old Covenant (1:5;7:28)
    1. Christ Is Superior to the Angels (1:5;2:18)
      1. Scriptural proof of his superiority (1:5-14)
      2. Exhortation not to ignore the revelation of God in his Son (2:1-4)
      3. Jesus was made a little lower than the angels (2:5-9)
      4. Having been made like us, Jesus was enabled to save us (2:10-18)
    2. Christ Is Superior to Moses (3:1;4:13)
      1. Demonstration of Christ's superiority (3:1-6)
      2. Exhortation to enter salvation-rest (3:7;4:13)
    3. Christ Is Superior to the Aaronic Priests (4:14;7:28)
      1. Jesus is the great high priest (4:14-16)
      2. Qualifications of a priest (5:1-10)
      3. Exhortation to press on toward maturity (5:11;6:12)
      4. The certainty of God's promise (6:13-20)
      5. Christ's superior priestly order (ch. 7)

                                   III.   The Superior Sacrificial Work of Our High Priest (8:1;10:18)

    1. A New Sanctuary and a New Covenant (ch. 8)
    2. The Old Sanctuary (9:1-10)
    3. The Better Sacrifice (9:11;10:18)

                  IV.        A Call to Follow Jesus Faithfully and with Perseverance (10:19;12:29)

    1. Having Confidence to Enter the Sanctuary (10:19-25)
    2. A Warning against Persistence in Sin (10:26-31)
    3. C. Persevering in Faith under Pressure (10:32;12:3)
      1. As in the past, so in the future (10:32-39)
      2. Faith and its many outstanding examples (ch. 11)
      3. Jesus, the supreme example (12:1-3)
    4. Encouragement to Persevere in the Face of Hardship (12:4-13)
    5. Exhortation to Holy Living (12:14-17)
    6. Crowning Motivation and Warning (12:18-29)

V.           Conclusion (ch. 13)

    1. Rules for Christian Living (13:1-17)
    2. Request for Prayer (13:18-19)
    3. Benediction (13:20-21)
    4. Personal Remarks (13:22-23)
    5. Greetings and Final Benediction (13:24-25)

──New International Version


Introduction to Hebrews

This epistle shows Christ as the end, foundation, body, and truth of the figures of the law, which of themselves were no virtue for the soul. The great truth set forth in this epistle is that Jesus of Nazareth is the true God. The unconverted Jews used many arguments to draw their converted brethren from the Christian faith. They represented the law of Moses as superior to the Christian dispensation, and spoke against every thing connected with the Saviour. The apostle, therefore, shows the superiority of Jesus of Nazareth, as the Son of God, and the benefits from his sufferings and death as the sacrifice for sin, so that the Christian religion is much more excellent and perfect than that of Moses. And the principal design seems to be, to bring the converted Hebrews forward in the knowledge of the gospel, and thus to establish them in the Christian faith, and to prevent their turning from it, against which they are earnestly warned. But while it contains many things suitable to the Hebrews of early times, it also contains many which can never cease to interest the church of God; for the knowledge of Jesus Christ is the very marrow and kernel of all the Scriptures. The ceremonial law is full of Christ, and all the gospel is full of Christ; the blessed lines of both Testaments meet in Him; and how they both agree and sweetly unite in Jesus Christ, is the chief object of the epistle to the Hebrews to discover.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Hebrews

Hebrews General Review
1. The Epistle to the Hebrews is a unique book in the New Testament...
   a. It begins as an "essay" - He 1:1-2
   b. It progresses as a "sermon" - He 2:1-4
   c. It ends as a "letter" - He 13:23-25
2. Its contents are deep and challenging...
   a. Many Christians find it difficult
   b. Some equate its difficulty with the book of Revelation
3. But for Christians who are willing to take the time to read and 
   reflect upon it...
   a. They are REMINDED of how blessed they are to have trusted in 
   b. They are IMPRESSED with the superiority of Christ and His New 
      Covenant over Moses and the Old Covenant
   c. They are WARNED of the danger of apostasy and the need for 
      steadfastness in their faith
4. With this lesson, I wish to begin a series of expository sermons 
   based upon this epistle...
   a. Yet just as one should not begin a journey without some idea of
      where they are going
   b. So it is beneficial to begin with a preview of this epistle, that
      we might have an idea...
      1) Of where we are headed
      2) And what we can expect to find
[Such a "preview" or introduction would naturally include some 
information on...]
      1. The author does not identify himself
      2. Many believe it to be the apostle Paul (e.g., Clement of
         a. This seems unlikely in view of the author's statement:  
            "...was confirmed to us by those who heard Him," - He 2:3
         b. For Paul declared that he had not received the gospel from
            or through men - Ga 1:11-12
         c. Yet there are many arguments which favor Paul as the author
            (cf. New Testament Commentary on Hebrews, Robert Milligan,
            pp. 5-19)
      3. Other names have been proposed over the years:
         a. Barnabas (suggested by Tertullian)
         b. Apollos (suggested by Luther)
         c. Priscilla (suggested by Harnack)
      -- In the end, we can only say with Origen, "But who wrote the 
         epistle, to be sure, only God knows."
      1. The general consensus is that this letter was written to 
         Jewish Christians
      2. But there is uncertainty as to where they and the author were
         at the time of composition
         a. Most believe the recipients were in Palestine, and the 
            author in Rome
         b. Others suggest the readers were in Rome and the author 
            elsewhere, based upon a possible implication in He 13:24
      -- In any case, they were Jewish Christians whom the author knew
         personally - cf. He 10:34; 13:19
      1. We know it was prior to 96 A.D., for Clement of Rome quotes 
         from Hebrews in his letter written at that time
      2. There are certainly strong implications that it was written 
         prior to 70 A.D.
         a. There is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem and the
         b. The author writes as though priests were still offering 
            sacrifices - He 8:4; 10:11
      3. If the Jewish Christians were in Palestine, it was likely 
         before or at the beginning of the Jewish Wars (ca.66-70 A.D.),
         in light of He 12:4
      -- The time frame of 63-65 A.D. is often suggested
      1. To prevent his readers from abandoning their faith in Christ 
         - cf. He 2:1-4
      2. To encourage his Jewish brethren not to go back to the Old Law
         a. By showing the superiority of Christ and His Covenant
            - cf. He 8:1-2,6
         b. A key word found throughout the epistle is "better"
            1) Christ is "better than the angels" - He 1:4
            2) We enjoy "the bringing in of a better hope" - He 7:19
            3) Jesus has become "the surety of a better covenant"
               - He 7:22
            4) He is also "the Mediator of a better covenant, which was
               established on better promises" - He 8:6
            5) The heavenly things benefit from "better sacrifices"
               - He 9:23
      -- Indeed, the purpose of this epistle was to exhort his readers
         - He 13:22
[With this background to the epistle, let's continue our brief survey
of the book by noticing...]
      1. Better than the prophets, as a much better Spokesman - He 1:
      2. Better than the angels, by virtue of His Deity and humanity 
         - He 1:4-2:18
      3. Better than Moses, for He is the Son who provides a heavenly
         rest - He 3:1-4:13
      4. Better than Aaron, as His priesthood is a superior one - He
      1. For it is based upon better promises - He 8:7-13
      2. For it is based upon a better sanctuary - He 9:1-28
      3. For it is based upon a better sacrifice - He 10:1-18
      1. To draw near to God and hold fast - He 10:19-39
      2. To run the race of faith with endurance - He 11:1-12:29
      3. Miscellaneous exhortations - He 13:1-25
[A unique feature of "The Epistle To The Hebrews" are the warnings
throughout the book.  As we conclude this introduction, perhaps it may
be profitable to summarize...]
      1. Through neglect we can easily drift away
      2. The solution is to give the more earnest heed to the things we
         have heard
      1. Through sin's deceitfulness we can become hardened and develop
         a lack of faith by which we can depart from the living God
      2. The solution is exhort one another daily and remain steadfast
      1. Like Israel in the wilderness, we can fail to enter our rest
         through disobedience
      2. The solution is diligence and heeding the Word of God
      1. Dullness of hearing can make it difficult for us to appreciate
         the extent of our blessings in Christ, and even falling away 
         to the point of crucifying the Son of God afresh!
      2. The solution is grasping the first principles of the oracles 
         of God, and then pressing on to spiritual maturity and 
      1. It is possible to so despise God's grace as to no longer have
         a sacrifice for sins, but only a certain fearful expectation
         of judgment
      2. The solution is to hold unto our confidence in Christ, and 
         believe with endurance
      1. It is possible to refuse to listen to the One who now speaks
         from heaven!
      2. The solution is to look diligently to the grace of God, 
         receiving it in such a way so we may serve Him acceptably with
         reverence and godly fear
1. With such warnings, this book is indeed a "word of exhortation"! 
   - He 13:22
2. As we proceed through the book in the coming lessons, it will be my
   a. To REMIND you of how blessed we are to have trusted in Christ
   b. To IMPRESS you with the superiority of Christ and His New 
      Covenant over Moses and the Old Covenant
   c. To WARN you of the real danger of apostasy and the need for 
      steadfastness in our faith
My task will be easy if I am faithful in letting the book speak for 
itself.  That is my hope and prayer...


--《Executable Outlines



   I. The culminating revelation of God chs. 1—2

         A. The agent of God's final revelation 1~4

         B. The superiority of the Son 5~14

         C. The danger of negligence (the first warning) 1~4

         D. The humiliation and glory of God's Son 5~9

         E. The Son's solidarity with humanity 10~18

   II. The high priestly character of the Son 1—10

         A. The faithfulness of the Son 1~6

         B. The danger of disbelief (the second warning) 7~19

         C. The possibility of rest for God's people 1~14

         D. The compassion of the Son 15—10

   III. The high priestly office of the Son 11—39

         A. The danger of immaturity (the third warning) 11—12

               1. The readers' condition 11~14

               2. The needed remedy 1~3

               3. The dreadful alternative 4~8

               4. The encouraging prospect 9~12

         B. The basis for confidence and steadfastness 13~20

         C. The Son's high priestly ministry 1—18

               1. The person of our high priest ch. 7

               2. The work of our high priest chs. 8—9

               3. The accomplishment of our high priest 1~18

         D. The danger of willful sinning (the fourth warning) 19~39

               1. The threefold admonition 19~25

               2. The warning of judgment 26~31

               3. The encouragement to persevere 32~39

   IV. The proper response 11—113

         A. Perseverance in faith ch. 11

               1. Faith in the antediluvian era 11~7

               2. Faith in the patriarchal era 18~22

               3. Faith in the Mosaic era 123~31

               4. Faith in subsequent eras 132~40

         B. Demonstrating necessary endurance 11~13

               1. The example of Jesus 11~3

               2. The proper view of trials 14~11

               3. The need for greater strength 112~13

   V. Life in a hostile world 114—125

         A. The danger of unresponsiveness (the fifth warning) 114~29

               1. The goal of peace 114~17

               2. The superiority of the New Covenant 118~24

               3. The consequences of apostasy 125~29

         B. Life within the church ch. 13

               1. Pastoral reminders 11~21

               2. Personal explanations 122~25

── Dr. Thomas L. ConstableNotes on Hebrews