In September of 2012 we began a detour from our chronological journey through the letters of the New Testament, taking time out to explore the nature of God as he revealed himself through the writings of the Tanakh (The Old Testament). Believe it or not, much of that nearly two year "detour" was intended to prepare us for the next New Testament book we're going to look at, entitled "Hebrews".
I have to confess that I'm bothered a little by the book of Hebrews. Specifically by the puzzle over who wrote it. We don't know with certainty who it was specifically written to, and even more troubling we don't really know who wrote it. So the obvious question is, why should we give weight to this book? How can we know it was authored by God if we can't verify the human author through whom it was written?
We do have some valuable data worth considering:
1. The book of Hebrews was being preserved, quoted as scripture and circulated by the early church by 80-140 A.D.
2. Internal evidence also places the writing of the book before 70 A.D. (It refers to the Temple as though it was still standing, which was no longer the case after the Romans destroyed it in 70 A.D.)
3. It is completely consistent with all other New Testament writings (and sensibly makes application from Old Testament writings).
4. It is logically sound, incredibly insightful and has the subjective yet noteworthy "ring of truth" to it.
For these reasons combined I believe that the author of the book of Hebrews was someone who either undoubtedly spoke with the authoritative words of God, or whose words in this book were affirmed by an undeniable spiritual authority, such as an apostle. (It otherwise seems ridiculous that the early Christians would so passionately preserve this book with the kind of care and methodology reserved for scripture.)
In one sense I'm bothered that I don't know exactly who the author is, apart from some educated speculative options that scholars still defend. But on the other hand it doesn't matter to me, as the idea that this book may be just the words of a well-meaning, non-authoritative writer is inconsistent with the historical evidence. Are these the words of Paul, or Barnabas, or Apollos, or Priscilla? I don't know. Are these the words of God? Yes. No alternative makes better sense of the data.
We don't know exactly who the book was written for, although it seems likely that the audience was primarily Jewish, given the repeated references to Old Testament writings. That's not to say that non-Jews had nothing to gain from reading it. But the more a person understands the teaching and culture of the Old Testament era, the more they will benefit from exploring the book of Hebrews. (Which is why we took the little detour we did.)
The author of Hebrews, through sound reasoning and use of the Old Testament, teaches about the nature of who Jesus is and the "rest" he makes possible for us, both now and forever. He explains Jesus' connection to the old sacrificial system and how he has made it obsolete, making us truly free. At the same time, the author teaches us that we should pursue a growing life of faith in Yahweh and seek to increase our trust in him. He explains how Jesus acts as the ultimate mediator between us and God and emphasizes the role of faith as we pursue living for Yahweh.
For those who knew only the heavy weight of the Old Testament Law, this teaching would have been challenging, maybe confusing, but also a refreshing breeze of relief, freedom and encouragement.
One quality that many of us geeks share is insecurity. We know what it's like to feel misunderstood or judged. These feelings can stay with us for years and taint our view of reality. Speaking for myself, I have fallen into the problem of being way too preoccupied with what people may or may not be thinking about me. My sense of self-worth becomes quickly attached to the opinions of others or to my own achievements.
A similar mentality had become common among Jews at the time Hebrews was written. How they stacked up in society was measured by what they did or what people thought of them. The book of Hebrews stands in defiance of this broken view of reality, telling readers that our efforts are not able to add to our worth or improve our status. Our status comes from placing our faith in the amazing free gift of God's forgiveness, bought for us through the suffering and death of Jesus.
I just wanted to provide a little introduction to Hebrews this week, but I'd encourage you to start reading ahead. This book is an great reminder that Jesus is the ultimate hero and his rescue plan can never be thwarted. It was orchestrated from the very beginning, is continuing now without missing a beat, and will bring about a future beyond imagining.