Hebrews

The Letter to the Hebrews is an argument that seeks to convince Jewish Christians not to give up on their Christian faith. The author asserts that Jesus Christ is superior to the prophets, to the angels, and to Moses himself. The author also argues that Christ has replaced the Levites as high priest and that his sacrifice is more efficacious than any of the animal sacrifices offered by the Levites under the law of Moses. Christ is the mediator of a new covenant promising eternal life to those with faith.

The letter verifies that Jewish Christians were torn between remaining loyal to their Jewish heritage and their experience and understanding of Jesus Christ. Chapter 11 presents an effusive affirmation of faith, which supports the message of Paul and argues with references to Jewish scriptures that faith rather than law is saving. We need to be reminded that the "faith" to which the author refers is expressed in the New Testament with a Greek word, as this letter was written in Greek in the life of the early church. The letter was written for Greek-speaking Jewish Christians who were caught in the struggle between those who emphasized faith over the law and those who asserted that the commandments of the law of Moses could not be set aside.

Hebrews goes beyond Paul in reading "faith" back into the scriptures. Paul interpreted Abraham's obedience to God as "faith," but the author of Hebrews extends this attribution to the entire saving history of Israel. "It was for their faith that the people of old won God's approval," we read. "By faith" the universe was formed, "by faith" Abel's sacrifice was accepted, "by faith" Enoch was taken up into heaven, "by faith" Noah was warned and saved from the flood, "by faith" Abraham obeyed God's call to leave his home and settle in an alien land, "by faith" Abraham offered up Isaac in response to God's test, "by faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau and Jacob blessed Joseph's sons, "by faith" Joseph spoke of the departure of Israel from Egypt, "by faith" Moses was saved, sided with his people, left Egypt, celebrated the Passover, and led the people through the Red Sea, and "by faith" the walls of Jericho were made to fall, and "through faith" Samuel, the prophets and David "saw God's promises fulfilled."

The author of Hebrews compares the "blazing fire of Sinai" with "its darkness, gloom, and whirlwind," which appalled Moses and filled him with fear, to "Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" where "myriads of angels" and the "assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" will gather with God "the judge of all" and with Jesus "the mediator of a new covenant." Chapter 13 of the letter affirms: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. So do not be swept off your course by all sorts of outlandish teaching; it is good that we should gain inner strength from the grace of God, and not from rules about food, which have never benefited those who observed them."

We cannot be sure that the author of Hebrews knew the letters of Paul, but certainly he takes the side of Paul in the early Christian communities against those who resisted Paul's gospel of faith by asserting that the commandments of the law of Moses could not be set aside. The reference to Timothy at the end of the letter suggests that the author is an ally of Paul, as do his closing words: "God's grace be with you all!" Hebrews affirms, like Paul, that the promise of "the God of peace" to the people of Israel has been fulfilled through the grace of God, in Jesus Christ, and that by faith this peace is now offered to all people.

 Bob@rtraer.com © Robert Traer 2016