Hebrews Bible Study Week 1: Overview

By | January 19, 2021
This entry is part 1 of 16 in the series Hebrews Bible Study

{Updated to add: This post and many of the following posts were part of an online Bible study over the book of Hebrews that I hosted in the past on my previous blog. I am reposting here to make the resource available to anyone interested.}

This week we will do an overview of the book. I highly recommend trying to read through the entire book in one sitting at least once. Multiple times would be even better. This past Friday, I read through the entire book in just under an hour (and this included a couple of interruptions from family and also catching my mind wandering on rabbit trails a few times). I found that doing this really helped me grasp the general idea and feel for the book as a whole—scoping out the forest before we inspect the trees. If you don’t have a whole hour, read (or listen to) as much as you can in one sitting.

As I begin my study, there are a few basic questions I ask:

  1. Who wrote the book? This one is a little tricky, because the author doesn’t announce himself. You can make your best guess based on clues, but authorship of Hebrews is really debated. This is one case in which you can check out the introduction to Hebrews in a study Bible or commentary for a little outside help.
  2. To whom was the book written? Who were these people?
  3. What kind of book of the Bible is it? Figure out the genre–Poetry, Prophecy, Law, Gospel, Epistle/Letter, etc?
  4. When was the book written? Again, you will have to check out a study Bible/commentary to answer this one.
  5. Why was the book written? Often the author will actually give a purpose statement (e.g. I am writing these things to you so that. . . ). This statement may appear anywhere in the book.
  6. What is the theme of the book? You can probably find the answer to this one in a study Bible too, but try to figure this one out yourself after you’ve read through the book a few times. You can even pick a couple themes if it’s easier. It’s ok to be unsure and make a guess. You may “change your answer” as we delve deeper into the book.

Besides answering these introductory questions, the other big thing I’m going to do this week is look for key words/phrases/ideas. A key word (or idea/phrase) is one that is repeated several times throughout the text. You may find it more frequently in one section of the book and not another, and that is fine. You may find 2; you may find 10. I like to mark mine in different colors. So, for example, if I was studying Proverbs, I would mark “wisdom” and “wise” with a yellow highlighter/colored pencil, “fool”/”foolish” with a green one, “listen”/”hear” with an orange one, etc. As you do this, it will actually help you get a better idea for what the theme of the book will be.

Please comment below to share what you’re learning or to ask questions. Again, following the blog will ensure you don’t miss out on any of the posts, because you’ll get an email every time I do. And clicking the box “Notify me of new comments by email” will ensure you get follow up comments to your own.

*1.22.20 Updated to add a pic of some rough notes that I took before I start marking my text consistently. Here you can see I’m noting key words, info about the author, purpose statement, possible theme, and questions for the future.

IMG-3684

 

**1.24.20 SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read this until you’ve done your own study! I’ve updated to add my responses to the above questions. I will also link to a pdf (updated 1.25.20 to fix typos): Hebrews Week 1 Overview with answers

Hebrews Week 1: Overview with My Answers (My own answers given first, followed by additional insight from the commentary/study Bible)

  1. Who wrote the book?

Here’s what we know: I’m guessing he was a Jew—and maybe even a Levite—because he was very knowledgeable of the Levitical priesthood, the sacrificial system, and the OT. He knew that Timothy had been released and was hoping to visit along with Timothy with the recipients. In 2:3, the author says that salvation was declared first by the Lord and then attested to us (author and co.) by those who heard (apostles). So, the author was not an apostle. The book sounds a bit like Paul but lacks the usual greeting at the beginning. So my guess (on which I’m not going to stake my life) is Barnabas.

According to the New Bible Commentary (NBC): Some of the earliest non-biblical writers state that most held that Paul had written Hebrews, although everyone was aware that it was very different than his other letters if he did. Current scholars largely hold that he did not write it, especially since the author claims that he heard Jesus’ message of salvation second-hand, and Paul makes a big deal of his apostleship and his receiving of the gospel through the revelation of Jesus Christ (cf. Gal 1:11-16; 1 Cor 15:8). In the second century, Tertullian suggested that Barnabas could be the author; he was both a Levite and had a name similar to the purpose of the book, “son of encouragement” (cf. Acts 4:36). He would have also been intimately connected with both Paul and Timothy. Martin Luther in the 1500’s first suggested that Apollos was the author. He was also a Jew, well-trained in Scripture, and eloquent. However there is no unrefuted evidence for any, so we can be content knowing that the true author is God through the Holy Spirit.

2. To whom was the book written?

The title of the book clearly states the letter to the Hebrews. Although I believe Hebrew could refer to any foreign individual in a country, I think in Scripture it usually means the Jews/nation of Israel. All of the author’s references to sacrifices, the Levitical priesthood, and ritual cleansings would assume a Jewish audience as well. In 3:1 the author refers to them as “holy brothers,” implying that they were believers as well.

According to NBC: Although the title, “The Letter to the Hebrews” is not part of the original text, this title is likely accurate. The recipients were Jewish Christians who had been faithful in the midst of persecution in the past (10:32-34). Claudius, emperor of Rome had persecuted believers and expelled many Jews in A.D. 49. They were likely in Rome, as those from Rome currently with the author sent their greetings (cf. 13:24). Some, however, were wavering in their faith being tempted to give up, thus the frequent warnings. Perhaps some were also tempted to return to Judaism, with all the frequent mention of the old covenant passing away, and the new covenant being better.

  1. What kind of book of the Bible is it?

It seems like a letter/epistle—especially with the personal notes at the end of the book. It does seem unusual, though, that there is no greeting or introduction. The author just starts right in on his “word of exhortation” (13:22), a passionate appeal to people he loves to endure in their own faith because Jesus was faithful.

According to NBC: Although Hebrews ends much like a letter/epistle, it does not start out like one. It is more like a written sermon. In fact, the author calls it a “word of exhortation” (13:22), the same kind of phrase used in Acts 13:15 to describe a sermon given after the reading of the Scriptures. “Hebrews was written by a preacher with great pastoral sensitivity, desiring to apply his scriptural insights to the needs of a particular group of Christians for whom he was concerned.[1]

  1. When was the book written?

I don’t know without reading my commentary. 😉 Maybe shortly after Christ’s ascension??

According to NBC: “When Hebrews was written, the readers had been Christians for some time (5:12) and had experienced a notable period of persecution (10:32–34). Some of their original leaders appear to have passed away (13:7) but Timothy was still alive (13:23). Perhaps several decades had elapsed since the beginning of the Christian movement.”[2] There is no mention of the destruction of the temple and end of the formal sacrificial system in A.D. 70; with all the references to sacrifices and the better new covenant in comparison to the old in the book, this surely would have been advantageous to mention. So, the book was likely written between A.D. 60-70.

  1. Why was the book written?

In 13:22 he asks his brothers to bear with his brief “word of exhortation.” His purpose was to exhort the Jewish believers. {According to Merriam-Webster dictionary exhort = “to incite by argument or advice urge strongly; to give warnings or advice make urgent appeals.”}

According to NBC: See above to whom and what type of book.

  1. What is the theme of the book?

I tried to combine as many key words as I could (see below) to form this statement: Because Jesus is a better priest of a better covenant, believers should endure by faith, so they can draw near to God.

I wasn’t able to find one single theme mentioned in NBC as of yet (they mention the themes of the different sections). The introduction to my ESV text says, “The letter to the Hebrews was written to encourage Christians in a time of trial. It does so by focusing on the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ.” [3]

  1. Key words/phrases/ideas (I will list in a roughly more frequent to less frequent order. I boxed each key word/idea in a different color in my text. If a word was related but not exactly the same [e.g. blood was a key word, but I thought sacrifice was related] I would underline that related word in the same color. )
    • (High) priest(s)
    • Blood (sacrifice[s/ing])
    • Faith (faithful)
    • Much superior/more excellent/better/much more/more/etc.
    • Covenant
    • Let us. . . /consider(ed)
    • Hope/confidence/assurance
    • Suffer (death)
    • Draw near
    • Endure
    • Exhort/exhortation
    • Sat/sitting on the right hand of the throne of God

[1] Peterson, D. G. (1994). Hebrews. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1321). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[2] Ibid., 1322.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21, ESV).

Series NavigationHebrews Bible Study Week 2: Chapter 1 >>

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