Notes on Hebrews
In any studies of the Epistle to the Hebrews it is imperative that we first look at the background of the Epistle and attempt to determine various facts concerning it. This becomes very difficult for the author is more concerned about the content of his message than he is about subservient details, such as his own name or the name of the church to which he was writing. We shall deal briefly with the following questions: When was it written? To whom was it written? From where was it written? By whom was it written? Why was it written?
If these questions are satisfactorily dealt with we will then be in a better position to dig for the gold in this mine of divine truth.
When Was it Written
There are numerous references to Judaism with its still-existing ritual which make it improbable that it was written after A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus. The writer reminds his readers of great persecution endured in the past (10:32). Some commentators feel that this is perhaps a reference to the martyrdom of James the Just in A.D. 62.
We also know that Timothy had just been set at liberty (13:23), which probably took place just after the martyrdom of Paul in A.D. 67 or 68. Summing up, it would appear that the Epistle was written between the years of A.D. 62 and 70 and more specifically toward the latter part of A.D. 68.
To Whom Was It Written
There are several clues as to the recipients of the letter. We know they were Jews for the writer speaks as if the heathen world was nonexistent. He writes as if the readers were living in the very shadow of the temple service. They were a long-established church (5:12), and had suffered persecution in the past. It would seem that the church most likely to receive such a letter would be the church at Jerusalem.
From Where Was it Written
There is really only one clue as to the location of the writer at the time of writing the Epistle. We read, “They of Italy salute you” (13:24). From this we may gather that the writer was in Italy, probably Rome, at the time.
By Whom Was it Written
This question has been asked by every generation since the Epistle was written. What do we know about him?
1. He was a Jew; he was well acquainted with Jewish life and thought.
2. He was a friend of Timothy (13:23).
3. He was not an apostle, at least not one of the twelve, but classifies himself as one who was taught by the apostles (2:3).
4. The Greek, we are told, is very rhetorical and polished. This would indicate that the writer was eloquent and well educated.
5. He was known to his readers and speaks with authority.
Paul seems to be excluded by (c) and (d) above. Scholars in the Greek language seem to agree that the greek in Hebrews is more polished than that of any of Paul’s writings.
Luke is excluded, for in all probability he was a Gentile doctor.
If we were asked to make a choice we would lean very strongly to Apollos. His qualifications are outlined in Acts 18:24. He was an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures. We learn in verse 28 that he mightily convinced the Jews. Paul admits in 1 Corinthians 3 that the teachings of Apollos were linked to his own, “I planted, Apollos watered.” This appears to be just the relationship that exists between Paul’s writings and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Dean Farrar states that the Epistle was written either by Apollos or by someone who is to us entirely unknown. It must be noted, however, that the writer in this treatise is extolling the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, for compared to all in Heaven (the angels) or in earth (the prophets) His is “the more excellent Name” (1:4). In the light of this all earthly names fade into nothing in the beauty of that Name which is above every name.
Why Was It Written
There are many reasons why the writer felt it necessary to write this letter. We shall name just a few: (a) Some time had elapsed since their conversion (5:12). (b) Some of their teachers and leaders had died (13:7). (c) They had been subjected to fierce persecution (10:31-34). (d) They were concerned about the delay in the Lord’s coming (10:36-37). (e) They were sluggish in spiritual intelligence and service (5:12, 6:12, 12:12). (f) There had been a dimming of the brightness of their early faith (10:32). (g) There was a tendency to listen to new doctrine (13:9, 17). (h) There was a neglect of collective worship and a tone of spurious independence against their leaders (10:25, 13:7, 17, 24).
Would it not seem that these dangers which confronted the early Christians are inherent in the Church today? The writer prescribes the antidote in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In reading through the Epistle one feels like the three disciples who ascended the holy mount, when we reach the summit in chapter 13 we see “no man save Jesus only.” Our separation is unto Him in all the glories of Godhood and humanity (13:13). The Epistle, then, begins with the Church admiring the glories of the Son of God and ends with that same Church, outside the camp, pledging allegiance to the same Saviour and offering the sacrifice of praise to God continually.
“What think ye of Christ is the test to try both your state and your scheme.
You cannot be right in the rest unless you think rightly of Him.”