Lesson 1: Introduction to HEBREWS

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The Book of Hebrews. My name is Bernard Horsley. This is our 6th study in this series. The recommended order would be.to take the other five courses which cover all the books (a total of 18 books) in the N.T. that are placed before the book of HEBREWS, before launching upon this, the 19th book of the New Testament. It is therefore recommended that only preachers, elders and those with a substantial knowledge of the Bible might deviate from this order. If you plan to stray from this natural order or you have questions concerning the course please write to us.
This present series, consisting of 32 correspondence lessons, I have entitled: The Book of Hebrews, and this study covers only one book in the N.T. entitled in the older manuscripts TO THE HEBREWS. In recently printed Bibles which you and I commonly use, you will find several variations of this title, for example: THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS is perhaps most common. A copy of the KJV that I have in my hand and that I have used for several years (printed by the American Bible Society) has the title like this: THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS. So, you need to understand up front, that this title is NOT PART OF the inspired writing. The title has been placed there for convenience purposes only, i.e indexing (etc.), and the probability is that no title was placed on the book at the time of writing. Thus, the title is NOT part of the inspired writing and we must not infer anything from this title with respect to learning God's word.
Please use the KJV in this study. In other courses, I observed some students try to deviate from my instruction on this point. I'm not trying to be overbearing or to tell you that the KJV is the greatest translation or the only acceptable translation of the Bible. I'm aware that the KJV has it deficiencies just like every other translation. The only reason I insist on you using the KJV here is that we need to stay together. I'll read, you read, and we'll both read every verse, and not only that, we'll read these verses together, i.e. in unison. Your eyes should be following the text as I read on the tape. It's part of our study technique. You have five senses by which you comprehend anything. If you apply two or more of those senses at any one time, your comprehension level is greatly enhanced. Thus, sight and sound, jointly and mutually involved in this study will surprisingly enhance your retention as well as to insure accuracy. For example, someone thought I was saying the word "fateful" F-A-T-E-F-U-L, when I was saying "faithful" F-A-I-T-H-F-U-L. You see, if you are following the text with your eyes, then those little distortions and deviations do not creep in so easily. We need to communicate clearly without frustration, without obscurity and without distraction as we concentrate on what we are considering. So, do yourself a favor, take the time to get a copy of the KJV for this study. We're just trying to keep it simple. Feel free, of course, to use any other translation for comparative purposes on your own or for reading at any other time. As a matter of fact, I'll even throw in a few translation comparisons here and there where I think it might help. But, this material is difficult enough without having to keep switching parameters, deciphering, decoding, interpolating (etc.) right in the middle of the stream. I'm just trying to keep our communication simple and free of distractions. Then, you'll be on your own, you'll have to take it from there. The KJV is a pretty good compromise since in this format we must follow SOMEBODY'S translation unless you are a Greek scholar and you want to go back to the original, which I can't do.
O.K., now the first thing we usually try to do in a study of this kind (and I believe the logical thing to do) is to determine first, who the author was, who he wrote to, why he wrote this and when he wrote it. These factors have a bearing on analyzing almost every sentence. However, in the case of HEBREWS we cannot be absolutely sure ON ANY of these points. The writer does not give his name, he does not say in so many words exactly who he is writing to or even why he is writing. We CAN roughly, at least, determine the time frame by relating to other events; and we can possibly get a little closer to this factor than most of the other points. I have said already, the Bible I'm using, gives the title to this book as: THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO   THE HEBREWS. Thus, somebody, obviously, was convinced that the apostle Paul was the writer of this letter and their conviction was strong enough to cause them to write it down and state it in the very title they gave the book (here). However, don't be taken in by such appendages. Maybe the apostle Paul did write it, I'm inclined to think he did; but, I do not know that with absolute certainty. To my knowledge, no one in our generation has determined with absolute certainty who the writer was. There are many different views on this point. Some think it was written by Barnabas, Paul's companion on the first missionary journey and the uncle of John Mark (Col. 4:10). Others have nominated Luke, the physician, and the list of other opinions is almost endless. We do not have the time in this study to exhaust all views and we do not have the time to consider all the evidences used in reaching those various conclusions. Therefore we will quickly pass on by examining (here) only a. few of the most plausible views, i.e. in my humble opinion (for whatever that is worth). However, if you should like to pursue these things further, I would encourage that. There are several good commentaries and other books on the subject. I would recommend you start with the NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY ON HEBREWS written by Robert Milligan. The copy I have was re-published by the Gospel Advocate Company in Nashville, Tennessee (in 1962). This is an old book (actually) written in the mid-1800's, right after the Civil War. However, you'll find most other books on the subject (written since that time) will make reference to Milligan's book, even if they disagree with him. Milligan's book (the copy I have) is only about 400 pages; but, I must warn you the print is terribly small. You can obtain it by calling the Gospel Advocate Company in Nashville. The man who wrote this book, named Robert Milligan, was born in Ireland and his parents brought him to America at the tender age of 3 or 4 years old. The family settled on a farm in Ohio. His initial college work was done in Pennsylvania. However, his first employment was as a school teacher in Kentucky. He began teaching in a place called Flat Rock (1837), which is in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Yours truly also taught in Bourbon County at Bourbon County High School in Paris for a year or two back in my younger days. However, I went to Bourbon County about 124 years after Robert Milligan went there. After Milligan's stint in Bourbon County, he went on to teach in several colleges and ultimately became the first president of what we know today as the University of Kentucky. For those of you who have attended U.K. or if you have visited U.K., you might remember the monument of the man sitting in the chair located out behind the administration building ...that's a sculpture of Robert Milligan. When I went to UK in the mid-1950's, I read on that monument that this was the first president of the University; however, I had no inkling that he was a preacher of the church or that he wrote the book I'm telling you about. As a matter fact, the only thing I can recall about that monument is that the first time or two I passed that monument on my way to classes, I asked the student with me...who is that? He said, that he heard, it was some preacher and that he stands up when a virgin walked by.. .implying there were no virgins at UK, of course. Why, I told you this, I'll never know. But, the point I started to make was that Robert Milligan, in my humble opinion, has the most thorough discussion, the most scholarly work, on the facts surrounding the book of HEBREWS of any thing with which I'm familiar. That's not saying much, I realize; but, it's the place I would recommend you start. When I took a class in the book of HEBREWS at Harding University, we used a textbook in that class by F.F.Bruce, an English author.
What I'm trying to tell you is, that if you haven't studied this Bible book before, you will probably find it very difficult on your own. So, to keep things simple, I'm simply going to TELL YOU my concept of the book of HEBREWS, i.e. who wrote it, why and where it was written and to whom it was written. I believe Milligan has it right, that's the reason I recommended his book. But, the reason I keep hedging here is that I would like for you to form your own conclusions based on the internal evidences that do exist.
Now, with that much said (let me say); I would be inclined to think this book was written by the apostle Paul or by his influence, i.e. possibly with the help of Luke or another of Paul's co-workers. The writer speaks of himself in the first person several times. Take a moment to look at Heb. 11:32 as an example of this. The way Timothy is mentioned in Heb. 13:23 (we looked at this before in another course, but please re-read 13:23 right now) and the fact that the author was planning to travel WITH Timothy goes a long way with me in identifying the author. We discussed Paul and Timothy's close association before. However, if Timothy spent time in prison as this verse implies, this is news to us, i.e. something we did not learn before. And, we learn no details about it even here, possibly of short duration.
Now, IF this WAS WRITTEN by Paul, then it was most likely written during that time period between Paul's first and second Roman imprisonment. That was the same time in which the book of I-Timothy and Titus were written, you will recall. It could possibly have been written as late at the time of Paul's second Roman imprisonment (i.e. at the time II-Timothy was written), depending of course upon how long that was and how Paul's circumstances went. However, I am inclined to think it was written a little before the second Roman imprisonment. Notice also that, that verse (13:23) implies the author was planning to travel, something the apostle would not likely have been planning during his last Roman imprisonment for to Timothy, you will remember, the apostle wrote: "the time of my departure is at hand," (II-Tim. 4:6), requesting Timothy to come quickly to Rome.
This book was written from Italy, probably Rome, this IS SAID in the text, next to the last verse in the book. So, the next question is: who were the Hebrews? In other words, who was it written to? Well, the first thing you must remember is that "Hebrews" were always Jews, or Israelites, i.e. descendents of Abraham. However, the word as used in N.T. times was used to designate that group of Jews who spoke the native Hebrew language, i.e. the ancient Jewish tongue in which the O.T. was written in contrast to those of that race who had left the homeland and in most cases spoke the languages where they lived. Thus, some were Hebrew Jews and some were Grecian Jews. Go back to Acts 6:1, notice how the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem were differentiated on this basis. The Greek speaking Jews were sometimes called Hellenist Jews, although this word does not occur in the KJV to my knowledge. Thus, when the word Hebrew is used it implies not only a descendant of Abraham; but, also there is an association in this term with their language. Therefore, if the book was written to the Hebrews, it was written to a specific class of Jews. At the time of Jesus and the generation following that (the time frame we're talking about), Hebrew was sort of the Jewish official language spoken by those Jews in the homeland, (i.e. Palestine, which included Judea, parts of Galilee and especially Jerusalem which was looked upon as the Jewish capital city). Jews speaking other languages were scattered all over the Roman empire and some of them had filtered back into the so-called homeland. Thus, if this letter was written to the Hebrews (in which I believe it was), then; it was most likely directed to the native Jewish stock, let us say, i.e. the homeland and especially Jerusalem, the primary city where the temple was located. However, after the time of Jesus, even these people, we have called the native stock, became more and more bi-lingual, speaking both Greek and Hebrew. We'll get back to this point.
Next, it is consistently obvious from the internal evidences that this letter was written to Christians, i.e. Christian Jews who spoke the Hebrew language or at least had the Hebrew capability. Thus, the Christians addressed in this letter (it is clear from the text) were (#1) well learned and very knowledgeable in the O.T. and were proud of this heritage, (#2) these Christians were in dire danger of falling away from the faith and (#3) as we have said, Christians who spoke the Hebrew tongue. Putting this all together, almost no place in the Roman empire would qualify as would Jerusalem and the churches in Judea. Thus, I am inclined to think the apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church at Jerusalem and any other churches in the area which might have been included in that help delivered (called a "bounty" II-Cor. 9:5 and referred to as a "certain contribution, for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem," mentioned in Rom. 15:26). It was at the time of this delivery (you will recall in the last half of Acts ch. 21), that a threat was made on Paul's life and he was taken into protective custody by the Romans, shipped off to Caesarea where he spent two years in prison before appealing to the emperor for justice, and was then sent on to Rome by King Fetus, where Paul spent two more years in the imperial prison before ultimately being released FROM what we have referred to in this series as Paul's first Roman imprisonment. James and those other elders of the Jerusalem congregation (Acts 21:18) in which Paul and his company undoubtedly delivered that bounty MUST HAVE communicated with Paul. Surely, they communicated when the apostle was at Caesarea, and I am inclined to think surely at Rome, also. They, as elders, must have been devastated that Paul was arrested at the very time he was delivering goods and money for their very welfare and the welfare of the congregation in which they were serving as elders. Timothy was with Paul on that occasion (according to Acts 20:4). Thus, the comment about Timothy here in Heb. 13:23, would be a very natural comment for Paul to make in writing to the Jerusalem church. That bounty must have been delivered to Jerusalem in about AD 58 (or AD 59), creating the earliest likely date for this letter. However, Paul speaks of coming to see them again (here in Heb. 13:23) which if you consider Paul's time in prison pushes the earliest date for this letter up to at least AD 63. IT IS TRUE, I think, some of Paul's most prejudiced enemies were Jews and especially around Jerusalem; however, this did not include the Jerusalem elders and, I'm sure, there were many, many other Christians Jews in and around Jerusalem that did not fit into the category of Paul's enemies. This is my concept of the background of the HEBREWS letter. We'll continue this in our next lesson. Until then, have a good day.

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