Hebrews :: Catholic News Agency

Author: Unknown

Date Written: Before 70 AD


This letter was written by an early Christian leader to a group of Jewish Christians.  Traditionally, Paul was believed to be the author.  But since the 16th century most scholars have believed that Paul could not have written Hebrews because the author does not identify himself as Paul always does.  Also, the grammar and vocabulary are very different from Paul's and the author of Hebrews indicates that he did not directly hear the Lord speak like Paul did (2:3).  Scholars have proposed other possible authors such as Barnabas, Apollos or other Christian leaders from the apostolic era.  From the text of the letter we can be rather sure the author was in Italy and personally knew Paul's disciple Timothy (13:23-24).  The letter was probably written before the 70 AD destruction of the Temple because the author speaks of Temple worship in the present tense.


The first section of Hebrews focuses on Jesus' identity as the Son of God, whose name is greater than that of angels (1:4).  The author compares the angels' announcement of God's law to Jesus' proclamation of God's salvation.  Jesus himself took on flesh and blood that he might redeem us, who naturally possess flesh and blood, by his suffering (2:14).  Hebrews goes on to explain that Jesus is a priest, appointed by God to offer sacrifices for us.  Jesus, in fact, is greater than Moses because he is a son in God's house, not just a servant (3:5-6).  While Moses and Joshua tried to lead the people of God into the rest of the promised land, Jesus leads us to the rest of eternal life (3:16-4:13).  He is a priest worthy of our faith and merciful (3:5; Num 12:7).


The author then exhorts his readers to be mature and faithful to God (Heb 5:11-6:20).  He identifies Jesus' priesthood as "after the order of Melchizedek" (5:10).  Melchizedek was the priest of Salem, to whom Abraham offered tithes (Gen 14).  Jesus' priesthood is not based on genealogy like the priesthood of Levi and Aaron, but on the "power of an indestructible life" (7:16).  Jesus' priesthood lasts forever, as proved by a quote from Ps 110 and by the fact of his resurrection (7:17).  Jesus' priesthood is higher than that of Levi and Aaron because he performs his ministry in the sanctuary of heaven itself, whereas these other priests function in an earthly copy, the Temple (8:1-7).  Not only is Jesus able to sympathize with our weaknesses (4:15), but he is also perfect so his one sacrifice for all time removes our sins unlike the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant (9:14; 10:4).  Because he has established the New Covenant by his own blood, we are free to have confidence and draw near to God's holy places (10:19).


Hebrews then defines faith and gives many heroic examples from the Old Testament of men and women who believed in God's promises, but never saw their fulfillment (11).  Since we have witnessed the life of Jesus which fulfills all of God's promises, we ought to have an even greater faith than the Old Testament heroes and "run with endurance the race that is set before us" (12:1).


In the last section, the author calls his readers to "make straight paths" for their feet (12:13).  He encourages them to live in peace and holiness because we have not been given an unendurable commandment, but we have been invited to the joyful celebration of the heavenly Jerusalem (12:18-24).  Our sacrifices consist in praise, in sharing and in doing good, offered through our one high priest, Jesus Christ (13:15-16).


Hebrews closes with a blessing (13:20-21) and a few practical remarks and greetings (13:22-25).  The letter synthesizes the Christian understanding of the Old and New Covenants, using many quotations from the Pentateuch, Psalms and Prophets to show that Jesus fulfilled and surpassed the promises of the Old Covenant.  He offered himself as perfect priest and victim and rose from the dead so that we may be free of condemnation and share in God's rest.


By Mark Giszczak


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