1. HISTORICAL CONSIDERATIONS:
1.1. The title “to the Hbs”or “to some Christians”
To the Hbs does not correspond to its contents. It’s a homily on the priesthood of Christ. It is also concerned to urge on the Christian community to live its faith. It gives to Christ the titles; priest and high priest. It centres on the subject of priesthood. The title ‘to the Hbs’ doesn’t give any hint of this.
Either the ‘Hb’s’ nor ‘Jew’ nor ‘Israelites’ are mentioned in the letter. There is no reference to circumcision. There is no exact designation (place of living) of the adressies. It clearly speaks to Christians the author doesn’t indicate the place where they live. The author doesn’t make use any distingtion between the Jews and pagans. The only reality that attracts him is Christians. Therefore, rather than the title ‘to the Hb’s” it would be more peruse to say “to some Christians”
1.2. letter or sermon
To the Hbs is not a letter but a sermon. A note is drawn up when the text was sent to the distant community. The note consists of the last 4 verses. This note is inserted before the solomn conclusion of the sermon. Letter to the Hbs is not simply a letter from the beginning to the end it belongs to the Genre (style) of preaching. It is the only example we have in NT of the text of a sermon. It is prescribed for it completely.
Apostle Paul is not author of Hbs. Letter to Hbs was included among Pauline letters, because the tradition of the Eastern Church attributes it to Paul.
Paul Author of Hbs
1. A vehement irregular style 1. A style well turned and serene
2. Lights strong contrasts 2. Smooth transitions
3. Often projects himself into work 3. Stays in the background
4. Paul defence his apostolic authority 4. Doesnot claim to be an apostle
5. Often says “in Christ, Christ Jesus, 5. Never uses these expressions but prefers the
Jesus Christ our Lord, etc name Jesus.
6. In siteing the OT often says “Scripture” 6. Never uses these expression but simply
or as it is written writes “says”.
7. never speaks of Priest, High priest or priesthood. 7. Speaks constantly of priest, high priest, priesthood
1.4. the author has some connection with Paul.
There is a close connection in important matters between the author of Hbs and Paul:
Strong argumentation against the law.
Gal 2: 16-21, 3:19-25. = Hbs 7: 12,16,18, 19:28
Rom 4: 18-15 , 5: 20, 8:3 = Hbs 10: 1, 8-9, 13:4-10
Insistence on the redemptive obedience of Christ.
Rom 5:19 = Hbs 5: 8-10,10:9,10
Manner of expressing the divine glory of Christ
Col 1:15-17 = Hbs 1:2,3
Phil 2:9 = Hbs 1:4
Col 2:15 = Hbs 1: 4-14
Teaching on the sacrifice of Christ.
Ep 5:2,25 = Hbs 9:14, 10:10,12,13:12
Final note in Hbs names timothy Hbs 13:23
Lastly final note in Hbs ends with typical Pauline salutation Hbs13:25
1 Thes 5:28, Col 4:18, Titus 3:15
1.5. who the possible authors of the letter are:
King James version (KJV) of the Bible speaks of the authorship “the epistle of the Paul the apostle to the Hbs” the reason; in a papyrus (p. 46)afrms 3rd century Hbs follows Romans among the letter of Paul.
Clement of Rome and Origen say the content of Hbs seem to be from Paul, the style of the letter is different from Pauline corpus. The actual writing might have done by another.
In the western church early writers don’t include Hbs among the Pauline letters. Tertullian suggested Bernabas as the author of the letter for three reasons;
1. His association with Paul
2. His name which Lk interprets as “son of encouragement” Hbs is called a word of exaltation
3. Bernabas was Levit, Hbs exhibits a detailed knowledge of the Levitical Priesthood.
Same attribute this to clement of Rome, others consider Silvanus and Syrus. Under the influence of Aufustine and Jerome the western Church accepted the Pauline authorship till the time of reformation. Martin Luther suggested Apollo as the author (because he was a Jewish Christian from Alexandria)
The safest view seems to be that of Origen, he affirmed that the author was a Jewish author of Diaspora (those Jews are scattered) who lived amidst of gentile Christians. Origens statement regarding the authorship : “the thoughts are apostles but the style and the composition are the works of someone else… but who actually wrote the letter, God knows the truth of the matter”
1.6. To whom the letter is written or addresses?
Hbs abounds in OT situations
Because of themes it was held that the readers were Jewish Christians. Most probable thesis (opinion) is that the addresses were predominantly gentile Christians or Christians who possessed full knowledge of the OT. They could have been the native of Corinth, Asia minor, Anthioch, Cypress, Rome or any place in Italy.
The date of the letter can’t be done with precision or certainty. The primary eternal evidence is the letter of clement of Rome to the church in Corinth. Clement wrote this letter between 95-96CE (common era) so Hbs must be dated earlier. Therefore we consider the year between 60-95CE for Hbs.
2. THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES
The Paul apostle speaks of Christ’s resurrection, but Hbs of his “Exaltation”. Christ is sitting at the right hand of the majesty on high. Christ is seated at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in heaven,1:3, 8:1 . Hbs calls Jesus as the “Perfecter”. God made the pioneer of mans salvation perfect through suffering forever. Jesus is the Son through whom God brought to its fullness of revelation. As a Son Jesus is the reflection of Father’s glory 1:1,3. He learned obedience through his suffering 5:8, He became the source of eternal life to all who believe in him.
Hbs predicates of Christ is; priest, High priest, a merciful and faithful high priests. high priest of our concession, a great high priest , a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, a high priest holy and blameless and the high priest over the house of God.
The relation between the 2 economies of salvation is described by means of 4 words:-
1. The Mossaic dispensation was “a copy” of the heavenly sanctuary 8:5.
2. A shadow of the good things to come 10:1
3. An antitype of the true sanctuary 9:24
4. A parable of the NT economy of salvation 9:9
Christ inaugurated the new covenant the author quotes Jer 31:31-34 in Hb 8:8-12. The old code is called:
1. The law of carnal precepts 7:16
2. Weak and useless
3. It made nothing perfect 7:19
4. It becomes absoult and becomes old 8:13
5. Its impossible the blood of bulls and goats take away the sins 10:4
Hbs sites the OT in its own way
1. Someone testified somewhere 2: 6
2. As the Holy Spirit says 3:7
3. While it is said 3:15
4. It is witnessed 7:17
The method of interpreting the OT is allegorical exegesis:-
1. melchizedek (king of justice) pre-figures Christ
2. The OT tabernacle foreshadows the heavenly sanctuary
3. The Law is the shadow of the good things to come
4. The earthly reality is contrasted with heavenly reality
5. The transient with the permanent.
Hbs consider the Church as the pilgrim people of God
1. There is a Sabbath rest for the people of God
2. There is a promise of entering the Sabbath rest
3. Unbelief hinders people from reaching the goal
4. Therefore let us strive to enter that rest what is demanded is faith. Faith is defined as assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen 11:1 some of the models of faith are: Abel, Noah, Abraham etc…
God is a subject of the opening sentence, closing benediction and the narrative of redemption. The entire redemptive work of Jesus from incarnation to exaltation was according to God’s will. It is God who offered the promise of rest. He continues to hold out the promise today God enters into covenant with those who trust. God is presented as the one who speaks, God spoke through the prophets, speaks through the Son, speaks through OT, and God speaks through the Holy Spirit.
2. Jesus Christ
The author presents a more human Jesus than any other NT writers. He prefers the title ‘Jesus’. Author presents Jesus as one of us, tempted as we are, he submitted to God in tearful and prayer full obedience. He was subject to death. As a priest Jesus had to be chosen from among people. He sympathizes with people’s weakness. To deal gently with the ignorant and the warred Jesus was qualified to be a merciful priest. He is the pioneer and the perfecter of the faith pilgrimage. He shows his followers how to bear suffering, endure hostility and disregard shame.
Believers are expected to walk in his steps. For little while Jesus was lower than angels, incarnate to make purification for sins. The author presents Jesus as a mediator of a new and better covenant. Jesus divinity is anchored in his pre- existence as God’s Son.
3. Holy Spirit
Hbs does not contain any Trinitarian formule. God is the primary characters in the narrative personal work of Jesus occupy the central place in the sermon. The Holy Spirit is a revealer Spirit also is the interpreter of the scriptures it was through the Holy Spirit Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice without blemish. In Hbs Holy Spirit provides continuity in Revelation and in redemptive activity between Israel and the Church. In relation to the Church Holy Spirit comes as the gifts to the members.
Word church or ecclesia occurs only twice 2:12,12:23. Author addresses a congregation; they are identified by a confession of faith.
1. They assemble regularly to offer sacrifice of praise to God.
2. To provoke one another to love and good deeds.
3. To identify with the imprisoned and tortured through compassion and sharing
They are obliged to love strangers show hospitality and make every effort to be at peace with everyone.
3.1. Hbs 1: 1-4:-
Vv.1-4 is divided into two parts; Vv.1, 2 God is the actor, Vv. 3, 4 the Son is the actor. Hbs affirms that God speaks.
God spoke -> has spoken
In the past -> in these last days
To our ancestors-> to us
By the prophets -> By a Son
The writer describes Gods past revelation in 3 ways:
1. it was in episode not continuous
2. God speaking took many forms: voice, events, visions, dreams, theophanies etc…
3. Revelation came through the prophets
God’s speaking is presented with 2 qualifying phrases;
1. God speaks ‘in these last days’ its eschatological not chronological.
2. God has spoken “by a Son” it’s through the person of a Son and through the relations of that Son to God.
The writer is convinced that God spoke the final word through a Son.
There are two assertions in verse 2
1. The title Son, the heir of all things
The author introduces early text and themes. He uses the metaphor of inheriting. “The heir of all things” describes Sons pre existent life with God.
2. The Son was God’s agent of creation
3.2. Hbs 3: 1-6 (Jesus mercy and faithfulness)
In v.1 Christian are called “holy brethren” (why?) ‘Holy’ because they are consecrated by Jesus. ‘Brethren’ it is their common relationship to Jesus. They are call to follow Him into heavenly sanctuary; heavenly sanctuary is where Jesus functions Now as high priest. “Apostle and high priest”: this is only place in NT Jesus is called Apostle. Apostle: because he is the one sent by God, he is God’s final word. Another title is high priest both these “Apostle” and “High Priest” unit. Apostle is the revealer (the word)“high Priest” is a expiation (work/act). High priest is of “our confession” 3:1, 4:14, 10:23. It is the 1st mention of ‘confession’ out of three references. Confession is made by the audience (homologia). Confession is reference to a baptismal acknowlgment of Jesus as the son of God. The author is not concerned the content of confession, he is concerned with its power to give his audiences strength and support in trials.
V.2 There is a comparison is made between Jesus and Moses. Jesus is a mediator of New covenant. Moses is the mediator of Old covenant. Moses mediatorship was connected with priesthood and sacrifice. The designation priest is not given to Moses. Author deals Jesus priesthood but OT antitypes Aaronic priest in his function on the Day of Atonement ‘yom kippur’. Moses is faithful over God’s household; Moses was a faithful servant over Israel.
V.3 Jesus superiority over Moses is indicated. Moses is God’s faithful servant in God’s house (v.5) Jesus is faithful Son over the house (v.6) Moses as servant in the house of Israel was part of the house. Jesus as Son together with God is its builder.
3.3. Hbs 5:1-10
Author gives a definition of “every high priest” (vv. 1-4) and applies it Jesus (vv. 5-10).
The 1st qualification of high priest serves in two ways:
1. To offer gifts and sacrifice for sins
2. To deal gently.
The expression gifts and sacrifice refers to the whole priestly activity of high priest. The author has in mind the blood sacrifices on the Day of Atonement.
3.4. Hbs 7: 1-28
Vv. 1-3:- consist of paraphrases of Gen 14:18-20. There is a record of the victory of Abraham over 5 kings. Abraham met the king of Sodom on his return from war, during their meeting Melchizedek appears offering bread and wine. Melchizedek was a priest of God the Most High. Etymologically Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”. Geographically he is king of ‘Selam’ means king of peace. The primary importance here in Gen 14:18-20 is to his (Melchizedek) priesthood and his blessing to Abraham and the tithe he received from Abraham.
In V. 3 we have the most important assertion of the passage he interprets the silences of the text. According to Gen 14 Melchizedek appears suddenly performs a priestly function and disappears. So the text is silent about from where he comes and where he goes, (no genealogy, no father, no mother, no beginning, no end etc…) since it does not speak of Melchizedek birth nor death. It doesn’t set him with the limits of space and time lack of priestly genealogy and perpetual priesthood are the two trades which defines the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek.
The writer is not arguing but gives the impressive way of reading the text since it supports Ps. 110:4. If Christ’s priesthood is forever like that of Melchizedek then Melchizedek had to be forever. The ‘forever’ is derived from the silence of his going and coming. From nowhere to nowhere is translated from eternity to eternity. While the argument seems to be from Melchizedek to Son of God but it’s in fact from Son of God to Melchizedek.
Hbs argues from Abraham’s tithes to Melchizedek let the priesthood of Christ si greater than the priesthood of Aaron, because Aaron paid tithes to Melchizedek through his ancestor Abraham the tithes is paid by the lesser to the greater.
Levitical priest also received tithes;
1. He received the 10th of the spoils of booty of war. Melchizedek received a tithe of the very best.
2. He collected a tithe from Abraham. The greatness of Abraham argues for an even greater Melchizedek. Abraham is the patriarch he is the pro-genitor of Israel, he is the one who received promises from God. The promises confirmed by an oath. The law states that the Levitical priests are to receive from all non Priestly Israelits a tithe but Melchizedek received a tithe from the one with the promises.
3. Melchizedek blessed Abraham one who blesses is always greater than the one who is blessed.
4. Melchizedek received a tithe as one who was totally apart from a genealogical record because he was a priest in perpetuate.
5. Finally Levi himself payed tithes to Melchizedek because still he was in the loins of Abraham. Unborn Levi could be understood as being represented in his ancestor Abraham.
7: 11-19 New Priesthood
Vv.11-12 This unit opens up with a rhetorical question and it speaks of another priesthood. If the Levitical priesthood have been fully effective the Psalmist would not have spoken the word. In ineffectiveness of Levitical Priesthood lay in its inability to ‘perfect’ the people.
The Son is perfected through suffering the believers have to grow into perfection. The perfection of the people takes place through priestly activity. The perfection of people through priestly activity refers to complete relation to God affected through the priestly sacrifice of Christ.
The author of the Hbs has the opinion that for a true priestly consecration must transform profoundly the one who receives it. That nothing in him can now displease God. Priestly consecration must confer perfection. The inability to perfect the people is the defect of the entire system.
Vv. 13-14 The author now addresses the objections on Christ as a priest. He was not of the tribe of Levi but of the tribe of Judah. This objection is turned into an affirmation.
Vv.15-16 Christ being a Melchizedek priest is not a matter of lineage or succession but of ‘likeness’ (eternity) to Melchizedek . Simlarity lies in the power of an indestructible life. The writer has in mind the resurrection of Jesus the authority of Jesus work comes from his eternal nature and exalted life he has at God’s right hand. This eternity has been attributed to Melchizedek. In this respect Christ is a priest after the greatness of Melchizedek.
In V. 17 Ps 110:4 is quoted. Ps 110:4 appears 10 times in NT, 7 times in this passage. It is said the is introduces with the phrase ‘witnessed’ “it is witnessed”
The witness is that His priesthood is forever. Unlike the Leviitcal priesthood Christ life was indestructible. The exaltation or the resurrection is in the mind of the author.
Vv. 18-19 this verse announces an annulment of law. The replacement of a transient priesthood based on genealogy annuls a law with an unending one based on a life without genealogy. The law and priesthood are inseparably joined. The replacement of the one means the replacement of the author. The law is annulled or canceled because it was weak in effect or useless.
In Hbs the ineffectiveness of the law lay in its inability to make perfect. The writer looks to Christ to fulfill this expectation of being in God’s presence. This access to God is present through our prayer and Christ intercession. It’s this hope encourages the believing community to approach God. Approaching God as a cultic meaning. But in the broader sense it means worshipers coming into the presence of God.
Vv.20-25: ‘Confirmed by God’s Oath’
These verses fall in to two sub units: Vv.20-22and Vv. 23-25
Vv. 20-22 the first argument is that the priesthood is confirmed by an oath (Christ’s). It is superior to priesthood without an oath. Christ’s priesthood is unending because of its indestructible life. Here it is established by God’s oath. In v.22 features of this covenant;
(a) “A better covenant” – it’s an extension of earlier reference to ‘a better hope’ (7:19)
(b) “Jesus is a guarantee or surety of this better covenant” one who is a surety guarantees the work or commitment of another even at the risk of life itself.
This surety can be interpreted in two ways;
1. Christ offers his life as our surety toward God
2. The God who promises and makes oaths also guarantees
The covenant with Christ’s priestly offering of himself for us.
In Vv. 20-22 the priesthood of Christ guaranteed by God’s oath (in the Ps) is undeniably superior to that of Jewish priest. In other words Jesus priesthood is an unending priesthood.
Vv. 23-25 The second argument is the transient permanent contrast. Here the difference between the Levitical priesthood and that of Christ is refrained in terms of “many” and “one”. The Levits are many (generation after generation) because they are subjected to death. Christ is one because he continues forever. He has no successor but remains forever. Therefore Christ is able to save for all time. The beneficiaries of this salvation are those who approach God through Christ the high priest. The metaphor of “drawing near” to God means that the author is mindful of its cultic base. This ‘drawing near’ refers the Christian community’s relation to God.
“For all time”- quality of the salvation rests on two affirmations about Christ:
He continues alive forever and therefore his priestly endowers for his followers will never cease
Priestly ministry involves making intercession
To make intercession means perfecting or pleading on behalf of another. The author of Hbs presents the image of Christ alive in God’s presence and minister on behalf of believers.
Vv. 26-28 –“Christ our Eternal High Priest”
This is the final subunit of this chapter it function as the summary of Vv. 1-25. There is a movement of argument from Melchizedek to Christ as high priest. Christ as high priest is presented in terms of character, achievement and status. 5 characteristics are listed: holy, blameless, undefiled, and separated from sinners, exalted above the heaven.
In V. 26 the writer says the character and self giving of Christ are; πρεπω (fitting) three adjectives characterize our high priest:
1. The word ‘οσιος’ (hosios) means ‘holy’ is not frequently used. This word occurs in reference to God to Christ and to believers.
2. ακακος (akakos) means blameless is found in NT at Rom 16:18
3. αμιαντος (undefiled ) most cultic of the 3 characteristics. It appears in Jar 1:27,1pet 1:4, hbs 13:4. These 3 words together echo 4:15. The two phrases “having been separated from sinners” and “exalted above the heavens” refer to the elevation of Christ to the presence of God. In this sense he is apart from sinners. The one who passed through the heavens 4:14 is now “above the heavens”.
V.27 Our high priest is unlike other high priest who offers sacrifices repeatedly and first for their own sins in contrast to other high priest Jesus made one sacrifice once and for all. He had no need to offer sacrifice for himself. In speaking of “daily” sacrifices by high priest the entire sacrificial system is collapsed.(daily sacrifice by priest, annual sacrifice by high priest)
‘Daily or day after day’ sharpen the contrast between the repetition of the Levitical system and once for all sacrifice of Christ. Jesus the high priest ‘offers himself’ as a sacrifice for sin the movement takes form intercession to sacrifice.
V.28 the chapter close with a summary framed as contrast between the Levitical high priests and Christ. Again Christ is referred of as some. In one case the appointment of high priest is by law in the other by an oath.(you are a priest forever). The high priest appointed by law subjected to weakness (death). The one appointed by an oath is eternal. The oath came latter than the law. The oath replaces the weak commandment. The law made nothing perfect. The Son has been made perfect forever. Perfection carries finality. It indicates the exaltation of the Son in to the right hand of God.