July 2008 - Vol. 21

May I Have a Word with You?
An Introduction to the Letter to Hebrews 

by Don Schwager

Scripture is like an open door you must be willing to enter in to discover its rich treasures. The Letter to the Hebrews, found in the New Testament, has some important lessons to teach us. Who wrote this letter? What is it about? And what is its significance for us today?
The Letter to the Hebrews was written for a second generation of Christians sometime between the persecution of Nero in 64 AD and the persecution of Domitian about 85 AD. It was likely written around 80 AD. There is a reference to some of the Christian leaders who had likely been martyred before that (Hebrews 13:7). The present community had not yet suffered persecution and martyrdom. The author states: “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4).  The letter points, however, to the risk of persecution about to come.

We do not know who the author is. Origen, the first great biblical scholar, who lived between 185-254 AD, remarked: “Who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews only God knows for certain.”

What Christian community does the letter address? We do not really know for sure. We do know, however, that it was written to a well-established church (Hebrews 5:12) which had suffered persecution some time in the past (Hebrews 10:32-34). It was written to a church not founded by the Apostles (Hebrews 2:3). It was possibly written to Hebrew Christians in Italy. The most direct hint is from Hebrews 13:24: “Those who come from Italy send you greetings.”  Another translation says: “Greetings to you from our Italian friends” (Revised English Version).

The Letter was likely intended for a scholarly group of Christians who were well versed in the knowledge of the Old Testament. It may have been directed to a group of Christians who were preparing to become teachers (Hebrews 5:12). The author of this letter writes as a teacher who has been separated from this group and is concerned about their drifting away from the faith.  The author calls his letter "a word of exhortation" (Hebrews 13:22).

What can we learn from this letter? “We have confidence to draw near to the throne of God.” We, too, live in age of spiritual conflict and struggle, when many Christians drift from their faith. Our faith must be strengthened in the knowledge of what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for us. The Lord Jesus has removed the barriers and opened the door to the presence of the living God. We now have access to God. This is the idea that dominates the Letter to the Hebrews. As you read this letter and meditate on its truth, allow the Holy Spirit to give you understanding and insight into the great mystery of our faith.

As the first few verses state, from age to age, the prophets, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, spoke the word of God. Now God has spoken to us through his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ alone brings to us the full revelation of God and he alone enables us to enter into the very presence of God.

> Link to full text and set of reflections on the Letter to the Hebrews

[Don Schwager is a member of The Servants of the Word and the author of the Daily Scripture Reading and Meditation website.] 

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