By Tyson Thorne

March 6, 2018

Hebrews 02 Large

As we mentioned yesterday, Hebrews is a mystery book in may respects. Though we can surmise it was written to a primarily Jewish audience, we have no indication as to who authored this most eloquent argument for Christianity from the Jewish tradition. Because we don't know where the audience resided, or who was communicating to them, there is great difficulty in deriving what it is the author is trying to have his audience overcome.

While it is important to point out how little information there is, it is equally important to begin with what little you know. For instance, we know from chapter six verse nine that the author believed his audience would persevere in the sanctifying Christian life and one day share in the inheritance of the Son. Further, from chapter 12.7-.11 it is known that they were undergoing a kind of discipline from God, which they were handling rather poorly. While important information, it is necessary to have a broader range of knowledge to overcome the rhetorical problem of the book. Extra-biblical sources and historical and cultural analysis are often helpful in understanding first century literature.

The sermon itself was written sometime between AD 64-69, about the time Jewish persecution of believers was at an all time high, and the Roman persecutions were beginning to mount. The Jews, knowing that Rome considered Christianity a Jewish sect and therefore protected under their pantheon of gods, wanted to prove to Roman officials that Christianity was distinct and separate and should not enjoy the same kind of protection from persecution they themselves enjoyed. This raises many complications for the readers of this sermon.

First, because the original audience was Jewish Christians, it is important to note that they were being persecuted by their own people – Jews who had not come to accept Christ as their Messiah. Being cut off like this from the whole of Jewish culture was a distressing situation for many Jewish believers. They were forced to leave everything behind to follow Jesus. The sermon itself discusses some of these dilemmas and encouragingly reminded them that Christ is greater than what they leave behind.

Being rejected meant they could no longer visit the temple, the holy, sacred place where atonement for sins had been made for centuries. It had a long history in the hearts of Jews, and now this monument of God would be closed to them. They could no longer rely on their old system of forgiveness for sins, it was Christ or sacrifice. The decision they made would seal their faith.

If this is the rhetoric problem of Hebrews, a great many anomalies can be explained. For instance, the reason the author spends so much time concerning the superiority of the Son over Moses and the prophets, the discussion of true faith in chapter 11, and the warning in chapter 12 to not refuse God by returning to their Jewish customs, all make sense and can help us narrow the date of writing a bit more.

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