Hebrews Bible study
The Letter to the Hebrews certainly presents the reader with challenges. It requires a familiarity with the Old Testament. The style of Greek is very complicated - it is widely recognized as the best Greek in the New Testament.
So why Hebrews is beloved by so many?
...Is it the magnificent chapter on faith (Heb. 11)?
...Is it the light shed on the Old Testament?
...Is it what it tells us about Christ?
This page gives you a fascinating critical introduction to this Letter, which will enhance any Hebrews Bible study, personal or group. In addition two ready-to-use" Bible study outlines may be downloaded.
Who was the author?
The author of the Book of Hebrews is unkown!
Martin Luther suggested that Apollos was the author. This is based on Acts 18:24–28, where Apollos is referred to as a well-read, Hellenistic Jew from Alexandria in Egypt. I find some merit in this suggestion, beacuse the emphasis on allegorical and typological interpretation the became a hallmark of the theology of the school of Alexandria in the 2nd century CE is clearly relceted in Hebrews.
Tertullian (writing in 150–230 BCE) said that Hebrews was a letter of Barnabas. More recently biblical scholars Adolf von Harnack and J. Rendel Harris speculated that it was written by Priscilla. William Ramsey suggested that it was written by Philip.
The traditional position is that the Apostle Paul wrote Hebrews. From the very beginning, the Eastern Church attributed the letter to him, but the Western Church did not accept this until the 4th century.
In Hebrews Bible study it should be remembered that the recipients of the letter knew who the author was and recognized his or her credibility in writing the letter.
To whom was this letter sent?
Hebrews Bible study must begin by asking to whom was this letter written? Once the "whom" has been determined, the "why" can be deduced.
The only address on it is “to Hebrews", which is hardly specific!
Some scholars suggest it was sent to Alexandria, others propose Antioch or Jerusalem or Ephesus. We cannot be certain, but there is one big clue right at the end of the Letter. The writer says that “everyone from Italy sends greetings.” This use of the preposition "from" indicates that the letter was sent to Italy, which suggests that it was meant for the church in Rome.
When was the letter written?
Clearly, the first leaders of church in Rome have died, because near the end of the letter the writer says, “remember your leaders.”
The Letter to the Hebrews was written later than Paul’s letter to the Romans, because Hebrews refers to certain things that had not yet happened when Paul wrote Romans:
...The Temple and its sacrifices were still in operation, because the writer talks about them in the present tense.
...The letter must have been written before 70 CE, when the temple was destroyed and the sacrifices ceased.
...Therefore, Hebrews was written after Paul wrote to the Romans in 55 CE and before 70 CE.
Ultimately an introductory Hebrews Bible study must determine the reason for the writing of the letter. This becomes clear when we consider what happened during this period.
What is the historical context for Hebrews Bible study?
The Sitz-im-Leben (seat-in-life) for Hebrews Bible study is the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (54-68 CE). This was a time of great suffering for the church in Rome.
Nero did many positive things in the early years of his reign. However, there came a point when he stopped listening to wise counsel and became a dictator. He wanted to rebuild Rome. He had big ideas of pulling everything down and building the grandest buildings that had ever been built. Nero He became a megalomaniac, and the people who suffered more than anybody else were Christians, and many were killed.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans there is no trace of persecution. The church has to fight immorality in Rome, but there isn’t yet any direct persecution. In Hebrews there is one section that tells us the kind of persecution the believers were now suffering:
None of them had yet been martyred, which means we are in the middle of Nero’s reign.
Their homes were being vandalized.
Their possessions were being confiscated.
Some of them had been in prison—hence the admonition towards the end of the letter to visiting “those who are in prison.”
Timothy is mentioned as one of those who had been imprisoned and released.
Conclusion: it was getting pretty tough to be a Christian.
The answer is very simple and explains the whole letter.
The Jews had a way of escape from suffering that was not open to the Gentile believers. They could get out of trouble by going back to the synagogue.
At that time Christianity was illegal, but Judaism was still legal, with synagogues officially “registered.” The church, on the other hand, was an underground church. The Jewish believers could return to the synagogue and so take their families out of persecution. They could even claim to be going back to the same God. But the cost of doing it—the only way to get back into the Jewish synagogue—was to publicly deny their faith in Jesus. Hence the well known warning is Hebrews 6:4-6.
All Hebrews Bible study must be guided by the idea that the letter was written primarily to Jewish believers against the background of persecution.
The writer uses sailing metaphors to urge them to stand firm—“don’t pull up your anchors, don’t drift away, don’t lower your sails.”
Ready to use Hebrews Bible study lessons Simply download and print!
Hebrews Bible Study 1: Hebrew Chapter One
Hebrews Bible Study 2: A Life in the Power of the Great Salvation.
Why was Hebrews written?
Hebrews was written:
(1) To reassure Jewish believers that their faith in Jesus as the Messiah was secure and legitimate.
(2) To prepare them for the impending disaster of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. The temple, with its system of animal sacrifices, and the office of the priest, would soon be done away with, just as Jesus had predicted.
(3) Hebrews Bible study explains that there was no more need for a priest to intercede before God on an individual’s behalf since Christ’s death provided believers with direct access to God’s throne (Heb. 4:14–16; 10:19–22).
(4) To remind them that the blood of Christ now continually takes away sins (Heb. 9:18–26).
Hebrews Bible study is made easy by the simple structure of the letter, which comprises two divisions and five warnings.
The Two divisions:
Doctrinal issues (Heb. 1:1—10:18): Don’t go back to the past.
Practical living (Heb. 10:19—13:25): Do go on to the future.
Five solemn warnings are to Jewish Christians not to revert back to Judaism and its system of worship (Heb. 10:39). These beievers were weak in their faith; when they should have been teaching others, they themselves still required teaching. The writer urges them (and us) to grow and not remain as “babes” in Christ (Heb. 5:12–14).
The reason for the writing of the letter and the rationale for Hebrews Bible study is well summed up by the South African pastor and Bible teacher, Andrew Murray (1828-1917), from his commentary on Hebrews, The Holiest of All:
“Those who, through sloth, remain babes in Christ, and do not press on to maturity, are ever in danger of hardening their heart, of coming short and falling away. Only those who hold fast the beginning firm to the end, who give diligence to enter the rest, who press on unto perfection, do in very deed inherit and enjoy the wonderful new covenant blessings secured to us in Christ.”
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Would you like to host a Hebrews seminar at your church, Bible school, or Bible study group?
For more than two decades I have had the privilege of teaching The Letter to the Hebrews in Bible colleges and churches throughout the United States and also in the United Kingdom.
The class requires 10 hours of class time. This is ideal for a weekend seminar.
I am able to conduct a Letter to the Hebrews seminar at your church, school, or study group throughout the United States and Canada. I am also available to facilitate seminars in other countries on a more limited basis.
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