The author of Hebrews is never explicitly mentioned throughout the whole of Hebrews. Church history has been far from unanimous on the authorship of Hebrews. The early church proposed a variety of different authors. The early church father Tertullian argued that Barnabas, sometime companion of Paul, authored this book. Irenaeus and Hippolytus likewise defended a view of non-Pauline authorship. Following Jerome and Augustine, Pauline authorship was assumed by most biblical scholars. The Council of Nicea recognized the canonical status of Hebrews partly based on accrediting its authorship to Paul. The medieval church, following Nicea, largely approved of Paul’s authorship, and Thomas Aquinas defended Pauline authorship. In the time of the Reformation, the view that Paul was not the author resurfaced through the influential works of Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin—Calvin preferring either Luke or Clement of Rome as the author. On the other hand, the Belgic Confession of Faith (AD 1561) endorses Pauline authorship, and the Puritan John Owen argued extensively for Pauline authorship.
By and large, modern scholarship has dismissed Pauline authorship for stylistic reasons and matters of theological emphasis. Various candidates for authorship have been proposed, including Apollos, Priscilla, and Luke. None of these proposals are without problems. In favor of Pauline authorship is the fact that when God revealed to Paul his mission, it included, besides “Gentiles, and kings,” also “the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15), and the audience of this letter to the Hebrews would fit this well. In conjunction with this, Peter wrote to those of the dispersion (likely Jews; see 1 Peter 1:1) that “Paul . . . hath written unto you” (2 Peter 3:15). This does not fit any other book as well as the epistle to the Hebrews. Nevertheless, unlike the vast majority of other epistles of the New Testament, God has not seen fit to specify the author of this epistle. Not knowing the human authorship of this epistle with certainty should not hinder us from embracing the truths set forth in this great epistle as indispensable for faith
Date and Destination:
There are a couple of considerations that point to a date prior to AD 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman armies. The author of Hebrews, when referring to the temple service, uses the Greek present tense. While this is not a definitive argument because the Greek present tense does not necessarily mean an action occurring in the present time, it is notable that the author assumes the temple sacrifices are still being offered (Heb. 10:2). A second point that directs us to a date prior to AD 70 is that the author of Hebrews is silent concerning the destruction of the temple. While some argue that the atrocity of the temple’s destruction may have already settled in the minds of readers, this is not convincing because of the emphasis the author places on the temple and sacrifices.
Another clue given in the book of Hebrews is the author’s mention of the suffering and persecution that his readers have and are experiencing (10:32-34). Scholars have not come to consistent agreement on when this suffering occurred. Some note it may be the expulsion of Jews from Rome in AD 49 (Acts 18:2). Others attribute this suffering to the persecution under Nero in AD 64. The author of Hebrews does note that his readers have not resisted sin to the point of bloodshed, which may mean they have not endured the persecution of Nero (Heb. 12:4). However, the author’s references to a previous persecution may look back to the events of AD 49 (Heb. 11:26; 13:13), thus placing this work in the AD 60s. It is difficult to be definitive regarding the date as this largely depends on the provenance and destination.
The title of the book “to the Hebrews” points in the direction of a Jewish audience. Some believe these Jews dwelt within Palestine, though the evidence points to Jews living outside of Palestine. In addition, the author makes great use of the Old Testament Scriptures, institutions, and ceremonies. This would easily imply that the readers were familiar with the Old Testament religion, though perhaps more familiar with the Greek rather than the Hebrew language. Finally, there is a brief note in Hebrews 13:24 (“They of Italy salute you”), though it is debated whether these people “of Italy” were traveling outside of Italy and wishing to greet those in Italy or whether they were in Italy and wishing to greet those outside of Italy.
The supremacy of Christ over all things and the fullness of God’s redemption in Him.
To exhort his readers not to draw back, but to stand firm in the faith in the midst of the trials they are enduring.
The Contribution of Hebrews to Redemptive Revelation
Hebrews is written to exalt the person and work (especially the priestly work) of Jesus Christ over the types and shadows administered under the Mosaic covenant (Heb. 5:11-14). In this way the author is making a grand exhortation (Heb. 13:22; see also Heb. 2:1-4; 3:12; 5:11-14; 12:12-17) that because Christians have a High Priest who is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Heb. 1:1-4; 8:1) and who has made full atonement for sin (Heb. 1:3; 9:28), they cannot go back to the external forms of Judaism and its worship (Heb. 3:1-6; 6:1-3; 12:25-29) without apostatizing from the faith.
Hebrews begins by exalting Christ as the full and final revelation from God to His people (Heb. 1:1-4) and as the Mediator of the new covenant (Heb. 8:6)—the culmination of God’s saving work in history (Heb. 1:1). Because the Hebrews were being tempted by a form of Judaism, which was presumably beckoning the people to revert to the Mosaic ceremonies, the author presents a skillful argument against external religion, and constantly invokes the content and imagery of the Old Testament.
The author calls forth testimony of important Old Testament characters: Moses (Heb. 3:1-6), Joshua (Heb. 4:8 [see study note]), Melchisedec (Heb. 7:1-10), Aaron (Heb. 5:1), and the Levites (Heb. 7:11; 9:25); and events: creation (Heb. 2:5-8), the exodus (Heb. 3:7-11), and God’s appearance at Mt. Sinai (Heb. 12:18-25). Each time, the author underscores the superiority of Christ over all previous administrations (Heb. 7:7; 10:19-22). In this way the essence and character of faith plays a significant role throughout Hebrews as the author draws the eyes of his readers away from Mosaic ceremonies and points them forward to Christ’s person and work (Heb. 11:1-2; 12:1-3). Simultaneously, the people of God are seen, in their suffering (Heb. 10:34), to be a wandering and exiled people (Heb. 4:9) in pursuit of the great and glorious heavenly city (Heb. 11:10). The trajectory of the author’s argument is that his congregation would see Christ in glory as he lays out the theological and practical steps that the people of God must endure in order to share in His perfect glory (Heb. 13:13).
Rather than repeating the list of kings presented earlier in this Introduction, the following outline will be briefer and more thematic.
- The Superiority of Christ (Heb. 1:1-4:16)
- Prologue (Heb. 1:1-3)
- Christ Superior to Angels Yet Made Like His Brethren (Heb. 1:4-2:18)
- Christ Ushers In a Greater Rest (Heb. 3:1-4:16)
- The Priesthood of Christ (Heb. 5:1-10:18)
- Christ Our High Priest Is the Object of Our Confession (Heb. 5:1-6:20)
- Christ Is a Priest According to Melchisedec (Heb. 7:1-7:28)
- Christ Mediates a Better Covenant (Heb. 8:1-10:18)
- The Application of Christ (Heb. 10:19-13:25)
- A Call to True Christian Experience (Heb. 10:19-39)
- Encouragements to True Faith (Heb. 11:1-12:17)
- A View of the Unshakable Kingdom (Heb. 12:18-29)
- Final Directives for Godly Living (Heb. 13:1-25)
Extracted from: Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible Notes(Beeke, Joel R. 2015. Reformation Heritage Books).