Hebrews, letter to the

Hebrews, letter to the
About 200 CE Clement of Alexandria referred to this letter as written by Paul, but there is nothing in the text about its author. There are in fact good reasons for rejecting Pauline authorship; the Greek is too good to be Paul's; favourite theological ideas of Paul (‘in Christ’, the Holy Spirit, Justification [[➝ justification]], ‘the Body of Christ’) are all missing; there is more emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. It is wise to regard Clement's attribution as no more than a guess, and fair to speculate on other candidates for authorship of the anonymous epistle. Martin Luther thought it was by Apollos, and his suggestion has won the support of some modern scholarship: Apollos was from Alexandria (Acts 18:24), where the Jewish philosopher Philo (d. 50 CE) had worked, and there are resemblances between his thought and that of this epistle; Apollos was also active in apologetics to the Jews by quoting the OT (Acts 18:28) which corresponds to the method of the epistle. A further attractive, but not widely accepted, hypothesis is that Apollos wrote the epistle from Ephesus to the Church in Corinth, especially its Jewish Christian members, between 52 and 54 CE. He had visited Corinth (Acts 19:1) and had made a considerable impression (1 Cor. 3:6–9). The epistle, in the form more of a homily, was written, it is argued, to demonstrate the supremacy and uniqueness of Christ and the superiority of the Christian faith over the Mosaic Judaism into which some of the recipients were in danger of returning. Apollos had consolidated his reputation at Corinth by this powerful appeal, and Paul was obliged to defend his own standing at Corinth (1 Cor. 1–4) and in his (first) letter Paul deals with some of the points raised in the letter to the Hebrews, as when he seems to defend his lack of eloquence (1 Cor. 2:1), which compared unfavourably with the skill of Apollos in speech and writing. As confirmation of this Corinthian destination of the epistle to the Hebrews there are thirteen references to it in the first epistle to the Corinthians written by Clement of Rome in c.96 CE. At any rate, whatever the merits of this theory about authorship, the recipients were surely former Jews, perhaps from the Essene [[➝ Essenes]] group, who were inclined to honour Jesus as more than human but less than divine. They compromised by regarding him as an angel. (Philo wrote of the Logos as an angel.) Hence veneration of angels is particularly denounced in Heb. 1:4–2:18.
The structure of the epistle is that each statement of doctrine is followed by practical exhortation. The author urges the readers to ‘hold fast’ (Heb. 3:6); it is by faith they must live and die (10:32–9), but he is worried whether they will in fact endure to the end (Heb. 12:12), especially as some of them have ceased to attend the assemblies (Heb. 10:25). They are reminded that Christ is God's final revelation. The old sacrificial system of the Day of Atonement [[➝ Atonement, Day of, atonement]] failed to achieve the redemption it foreshadowed (10:1–4). Everything Jesus did and the hope he inspires (Heb. 10:19–25) are proof of the greater ‘salvation’ (Heb. 2:3) he offers by his sacrifice which never needs to be repeated.
The letter's rhetorical exegesis of OT sacrifices, together with its insistence on the human experience of Jesus, has furnished a biblical foundation for a Christian doctrine of atonement untainted by a notion of penal substitution. For it is not that God's anger is appeased by Jesus' vicarious punishment, but sin, like a corrosive stain, is expiated.

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