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leader was well fitted to be the writer of a "" word of exhortation" (xiii. 22)—in the Greek language and after the Alexandrian mode of thought-to the wavering and distracted Hebrews (Acts iv. 36, 37; ix. 26, 27; xi. 1930; xiii. 1; xv. 39). Here again, however, it is difficult to account for the disappearance of the name.
2. The Readers.-"To the Hebrews." We have no reason to doubt, that these words probably formed the whole of the original title, and give a correct indication of the readers for whom the epistle was intended. The whole tenor of the epistle implies that it was written for Jewish Christians. But various allusions show that it was not intended merely.for Hebrew Christians in general, but for some definite community (v. 11, 12; vi. 9, 10; x. 32-34; xiii. 1, 7, 19, 23). Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, Rome, Jerusalem, Cæsarea, have all been suggested. Something may be said for each of these; but from the way in which the Gentiles are entirely ignored in the epistle the word "people," which frequently occurs, being always used to designate the Jews-many critics have inferred that the letter was intended for Christians in Jerusalem or in some other part of Palestine. It was only in Palestine that Churches were to be found entirely composed of Jewish Christians; and the troubles that overtook these congregations soon afterwards in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem would go far to account for the ignorance and uncertainty of the early Church as to the authorship and the original destination of this epistle. Moreover, it was in Palestine that the temptations to relapse into Judaism, against which the writer is so anxious to guard his readers, were most formidable. The sacerdotal splendour of the ancient sanctuary threw into the shade the simple forms of Christian worship; and the flames of patriotic zeal burned more fiercely in the Holy Land than among the Jews of
the Dispersion. The Hebrew Christians residing there must have felt themselves more and more under the necessity of choosing between their country and their faith, between a revolt against the Romans and a patient waiting for the coming of the Saviour. Exposed to persecution and excommunication at the hands of their fanatical and exasperated countrymen, deeply attached to the religion of their fathers and with a strong love of outward ceremonial, disappointed by the delay of the Second Coming and by the rejection of the Gospel on the part of so many of their kindred, they stood in urgent need of the consolations and the warnings which are addressed to them in this epistle.
3. Date and Place of Composition.-The only clue to guide us as to the place of writing is to be found in the message at the close of the epistle: "They of Italy salute you." This may either mean that the writer was sending greetings from the Church in Italy, or from Italian Christians resident in some foreign city from which he wrote.1
With regard to the date of the epistle we cannot safely draw any inference from xii. 4, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood," as it is the spiritual conflict of the individual
1 The latter seems to many to be the more natural interpretation, and the trend of recent criticism has been favourable to the view that Rome was the place to which the epistle was addressed. This would give the most natural interpretation to the greeting in xiii. 24, "They of Italy salute you," as if the message came from Italian exiles to their fellow-Christians in Rome. It would also explain Clement of Rome's acquaintance with the epistle, and the implied interest of the readers in "our brother, Timothy (xiii. 23, cf. 2 Tim. iv. 9-21). On this supposition the danger to which the readers were exposed may have been that of falling into unbelief and idolatry, which is the view taken by some recent writers (cf. vi. 4-6, x. 28 f).
According to Sir W. M. Ramsay the communication was sent to the Judaizing section of the Church in Jerusalem by Philip the Evangelist as the result of discussions with Paul during his imprisonment at Cæsarea, the concluding passage only being from the apostle's own pen.
readers that is referred to, not the past experience of their Church. From x. 32-34 it would appear that the latter had already come through persecution—which befell Jewish Christians at an early period, both in Palestine and also in Rome under Claudius. That the epistle was written before the Fall of Jerusalem seems evident not only from the allusions to the sacrificial system as still going on (x. 2, 3, etc.) and to the old covenant as "becoming old" and "nigh unto vanishing away" (viii. 13), but still more perhaps from the absence of any allusion to the destruction of the Temple. That event, if it had already occurred, would have rendered superfluous any other proof of the transitory and imperfect nature of the Old Testament dispensation. A recent writer adopts 62 A.D. as the most probable date, but 66-68 is more generally accepted. Those who see an allusion in x. 32-34 to the persecution under Domitian place the epistle between 81 and 96 a.d.
4. Character and Contents.-In many respects this book has more of the character of a treatise than of a letter. Its great theme is the superiority of Christianity to Judaism. This superiority it proves not so much by minimising the old covenant-which Paul had been obliged to do in vindicating the freedom of his Gentile converts- -as by magnifying the new in the sense of its being a fulfilment of the old.
The epistle may be divided into two parts, the first mainly of an argumentative or expository character (i.-x. 18), the second chiefly hortatory and practical (x. 19-xiii.).
(1) In the former the writer seeks to establish the supremacy of Christ and of the Christian Dispensation. After the opening statement (i. 1-3) as to the divine revelation being completed and concentrated in the "Son," he proceeds to show His superiority to the
angels, through whom the Law was believed to have been given (i.-ii.), to Moses (iii.), and to Joshua (iv.). But his main efforts are directed to proving Christ's superiority and that of His religion to the sacerdotal system of the Jews. In v.-vii. he shows that Christ, while possessing in common with Aaron all the qualifications of a true priest, belongs to a higher order of priesthood, represented not by Aaron but by Melchizedek. In the story of the meeting of Melchizedek with Abraham (Gen. xiv. 18-20) and in the Psalmist's prophetic allusion to the former (Ps. cx. 4) he finds many reasons of an allegorical nature to justify this view. He represents the Head of the Christian Church as the possessor of an unchangeable priesthood, secured by the divine oathnot transitory, but permanent-exercised not on earth but in heaven-constituted "not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life." In viii.-x. 18, a similar superiority is proved to belong to the Christian Dispensation, with its law written on the heart, and its sacrifice offered "once for all" in a "tabernacle not made with hands," whereby Christ hath "through his own blood" "obtained eternal redemption."
(2) In the course of the argument occasional exhortations and warnings are introduced (ii. 1-4; iii. 7-13; iv. 11-16; v. 12-vi. 20). But the practical application is mainly reserved for the concluding chapters, x. 19–xiii. After exhorting his readers to avail themselves of the new and living way" which has been thus consecrated for them into "the holy place," and warning them against the terrible consequences of apostasy, he comforts their hearts with the assurance that though they may be disowned by the sacerdotal leaders at Jerusalem, they are in the true line of fellowship with the saints and holy men of old, whose devotion had been shown, not by the observance of an outward ceremonial, but by faith
in the unseen (xi.). In the next chapter, after exhorting them to patience under their trials through the sustaining power of God's fatherly love, he introduces a striking contrast between the terrors of Sinai and the attractive glories of Mount Zion. In the last chapter (xiii.) he gives a number of salutary counsels and admonitions, in the course of which he calls upon his readers to go forth unto Jesus "without the camp, bearing his reproach," as Jesus Himself "suffered without the gate." He exhorts them to offer the sacrifices of praise and well-doing which are required of the Christian, and bids them render obedience to their ecclesiastical superiors. The epistle concludes with a request for their prayers on behalf of the writer, that he "may be restored to (them) the sooner," followed by a beautiful benediction, and a few last words of personal explanation and greeting.