Series - Varner Hebrews

What is the Main Message of Hebrews? (2)

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There is a second way in which Auctor (Latin nickname for the author of Hebrews) effectively but succinctly presents his message. Beginning in Hebrews 2:9, he mentions Jesus by his personal name in the first of ten times. But the way in which he does it is obscured by most of the English translations. He piles up the titles and activities of Jesus first and then concludes by mentioning his name. This rhetorical device (climax) builds anticipation on the part of the reader until the climax arrives: JESUS!

The NASB does express the word order correctly the first time this occurs. “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus” (Heb. 2:9). This translation accurately reflects the word order of the Greek sentence. The sentence builds to a climax and then that climax is announced: Jesus. In nine of the ten occurrences he mentions Jesus by that name alone, including our two exemplar texts (Heb. 3:1, 12:2). Listen to them this way. “Fix your thoughts on the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, JESUS” (Heb. 3:1). “Fix our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith, JESUS” (12:2). The parallel structure of the two commands becomes even more evident by his delaying the name of Jesus until the end, thus building anticipation until the rhetorical climax arrives: JESUS.

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What is the Main Message of Hebrews?

I am about to work through Hebrews with my Greek Exegesis class, so I am reminded of a discovery I made in Hebrews a few years ago. I am happy to follow up my post of a couple of days ago with some fresh ideas.

Recently I have discovered two effective ways in which Auctor (Latin for author of the Letter to the Hebrews) exhorts us to recognize the main theme in his book—Jesus. First, twice he calls particular attention to the One who is the real answer to his readers’ problems—Jesus. In 3:1 he writes: “Holy brothers, partakers of a heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, JESUS.” And in 12:2 he writes, “Fixing our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith, JESUS.” These two statements, each from one of the two main sections of the book (1:1-10:18 and 10:19-13:25) are strikingly parallel in their structure.

Fix your thoughts on the Apostle and High Priest of our confession Jesus
κατανοήσατε τὸν ἀπόστολον καὶ ἀρχιερέα τῆς ὁμολογίας ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν

Fix our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith Jesus
ἀφορῶντες εἰς τὸν ἀρχηγὸν καὶ τελειωτὴν τῆς πίστεως Ἰησοῦν

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Authorship of Hebrews: Why not Paul?

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A pastor asked a good question in response to my suggestion that Jude was the author of Hebrews: “How does one go about determining authorship, when the majority of early, external material attributes authorship to Paul? Apart from the views of Origen, why is Paul not the favorable author?”

Earliest writers on the subject, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, wrote that the Greek in Hebrews was not Paul’s. They could be wrong, but they wrote and spoke the language. In response to the good questions, I wrote to the pastor the following:

The strongest internal arguments against Pauline authorship, in my opinion, are:

(1) Paul’s practice was to mention himself clearly as the author of his epistles, and write it with his own hand (2 Thess. 3:17), because there were many false “Pauline” epistles circulating. Such a practice is lacking in Hebrews.

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Did Jude Write Hebrews?

1. Jude started to write an epistle about the “salvation” he shared in common with his readers but changed to writing his shorter epistle (Jude 3). I suggest that he later completed this postponed work and it is the Epistle to the Hebrews.

2. I also suggest that the short epistle (ἐπέστειλα) Auctor (my name for the author of Hebrews) wrote in a “few words” (Heb. 13:22) is the one attributed to Jude. It is indeed a very short epistle.

3. Many see Hebrews 13:22 as referring to Hebrews, but could Auctor really describe that epistle as brief? It is the third longest epistle in the NT, after Romans and 1 Corinthians.

The suggestion that Auctor is referring to a different document than that which he is now sending them explains the mysterious καὶ at the beginning of his statement: καi γαρ δια βραχεων ἐπέστειλα υμιν (“For I also wrote to you an epistle with few words”). Translators have usually ignored this conjunction. (The NIV and NET do have: “for in fact I have written to you quite briefly,” a translation for καὶ nowhere attested in BDAG or LN). Furthermore, his use of the verb ἐπέστειλα refers to a specific letter that Auctor wrote. He did not use the word εγραψα, which was the way a letter writer in the NT normally referred to his present writing (as in Rom. 15:15; 1 Cor. 5:11, 9:15; Gal. 6:11; Philemon 9, 21; 1 Pet. 5:12; 1 John 2:14, 21, 26; 1 John 5:13; 3 John 9).

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To Hebrews

When Helen and I were in Dublin in the summer of 2008, we were waiting for our timed entrance to Dublin Castle. When we realized that we had almost an hour’s wait, I saw that the Chester Beatty Library was next door. Now for most folks that may not mean much, but I recalled that the famous Chester Beatty Papyri are housed there. These are some of the oldest copies of NT books in the world! So I dragged the wife (actually, she came willingly) and I feasted my eyes for the first time on these precious documents rescued from a trash heap in Egypt.

One of the treasures there is the oldest copy of the Letter to the Hebrews. Now most know that the author of the letter/sermon did not mention his name, so the work is officially anonymous. But there are some folks who almost base their orthodoxy on Pauline authorship of this book! Recently I engaged in a long discussion with a seminary student who attempted to defend Pauline authorship as if it was part of our doctrinal statement!

While I do have an opinion on this issue (see the next post), I am content with the fact that the Lord and the human author did not intend to make this issue a big one because the author’s name is not mentioned at the beginning or the end or anywhere else in the thirteen chapters.

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