The letter to the Hebrews - Introduction
This book of the New Testament can seem somewhat intimidating to study and understand. The author speaks at length about such subjects as the tabernacle, the Day of Atonement, the high priesthood, and someone named Melchizedek. But it has become one of my favorite books and God has used it in many good ways in my life. I hope that this study will deepen your understanding of and trust in Jesus, our wonderful high priest.
Hebrews is an epistle, or letter. It does not start with greetings, as the other epistles in the New Testament do. But it is clear that it was written to a specific group of believers that the author knew and had a relationship with. This is especially seen in the warm greetings with which the letter ends.
The authorship of this letter has always been debated. In the early church it was considered by most scholars to be authored by Paul, but there were those who had their doubts. Today it is not considered tenable to hold Paul as the author, but it seems likely that the author was a part of the Pauline circle, because of similar themes and the mention of Timothy towards the end of the letter.
The date of the letter is also somewhat difficult to determine. The various theories put the time between AD 68 to the early 80s. The main issue for many scholars is whether the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing, or if it had been destroyed by the time the letter is written (the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70). If the Temple was still standing, then the sacrificial system was still in place. However, it is not necessary to solve this issue in order to understand and benefit from the message of the author.
With the number of references to the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, and the Jewish traditions, it is most likely that the letter was written to Jewish Christians. The author is writing to people who came to faith in Jesus and even stood firm through persecution, but are now, for various reasons drifting away from the living God. Somehow, over the years, their view of Christ had not grown and neither had their dependence on Him alone. They were attempting to add other things to their faith in Christ and the author is concerned that they are in danger of making Christ secondary to their faith or in turning from Christ altogether.
The author's response to this situation is to point them back to Jesus, to help to see more clearly the greatness of His person and work, and so to feed their faith in Him. The letter’s wonderful description of Christ has led scholars to sometimes call it the fifth gospel.
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