Do Not Refuse Him Who Speaks

Hebrews 12:25-29:

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

This passage struck me simply because you hardly ever hear evangelicals (including me) talk like this. When’s the last time you heard a sermon warning you not to refuse to listen to God’s Word, because if the punishment was bad under the Old Covenant it will be worse under the New? When’s the last time you thought about how scary God is, and therefore worshiped him “with reverence and awe”?

God forgive us for making you and your Son seem trivial and cute.

Thought on the Anonymity of Hebrews

Could Hebrews be anonymous because it would have been dangerous for the author to use his name?

Suffering for the Gospel comes up several times throughout the book, and imprisonment is specifically mentioned in 10:34 and 13:3. In 13:23 the author announces that Timothy has been “released,” presumably from prison. And he exhorts the readers to pray that he (the author) may be restored to them quickly (13:19).

Perhaps, given the danger of imprisonment or other persecution (which may have been one reason the readers were tempted to revert to Judaism), and the author’s hope of visiting the readers soon, it was better not to name himself in the epistle. That way, if the letter were intercepted, he could avoid tipping off those hostile to the Gospel about his hope to return.

Good News for Me

I’m on a new schedule where I get up stupidly early to run, then come in reasonably early to work and spend some time in the Word before everything comes to life. This morning I had a really good run (approaching 3 miles, if you’re interested), but that meant that by the time I hit the Bible I was in that euphoric-but-very-tired place that comes about an hour later. Due to my probably-sinful dependance on coffee in the mornings, my brain also wasn’t quite working yet. All that resulted in a shiftless, half-asleep, mind-wandering time of attempted Bible reading and prayer.

Imagine my delight, then, to read the following:

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,  waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:12-14)

Thank God my standing with him depends on the finished work of Jesus. If it depended on mine I’d be in a bad way.

What is Hebrews About?

I love the introduction to Hebrews. The author skips the pleasantries and jumps right into his subject: the supremacy of Christ.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Heb 1:1-4)

Hebrews will take this idea, the supremacy of Christ, and turn it over like a diamond, looking at it from several different angles (seminary friends will please forgive the plagiarism). Even in this brief introduction, the author tells us several things about Christ that demonstrate his supremacy over all things.

  • He is the culmination of God’s revelation to man– the final, most clear way God speaks to us about himself.
  • He is the “heir of all things,” the one to whom God has given authority and power over the entire creation.
  • He is the agency through which God created the world, so that he “inherits” what he himself has already created.
  • He is the shining forth of God’s majesty; he displays exactly who God is and what he is like.
  • He continually sustains the entire creation by his very word.
  • His redemptive work now complete, he sits at the right hand of God the Father.
  • He is superior to every created being, including supernatural ones like angels.

Who wrote Hebrews?

The beginning of what might become a long series of posts on the book of Hebrews.

The book of Hebrews is formally anonymous– that is, the text of the letter doesn’t identify an author. Because of that, there’s been a lot of debate throughout church history about who could have written it. In fact, there was debate in some circles on its even being inspired, largely because of its anonymity.

Possibly because of this, a couple of early Fathers credited the epistle to Paul, although they recognized that the Greek was different from Paul’s. Other Fathers disagreed, but eventually Jerome and Augustine attributed the book to Paul, and that became, more or less, the majority view until the Reformation. (Sometimes you’ll see Bibles that call it The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews).

But now, the idea that Paul wrote Hebrews is almost universally rejected by critical and conservative scholars alike. There are several strong arguments against Paul’s being the author.

  • The lack of self-identification. If Paul wrote Hebrews, it’s the only extant letter of his without his name as the first word in the text.
  • Significant differences in the style of the Greek. (This isn’t always a dealbreaker, but in a case where authorship is unclear it can be helpful.)
  • The central doctrine of the book of Hebrews is the high priesthood of Christ, a doctrine Paul doesn’t mention in the 13 letters that bear his name. It would be strange for Paul to write an entire book on this idea, yet never bring it up elsewhere.

But the strongest indication by far that we’re not dealing with a Pauline letter comes in Heb 2:3-4.

[H]ow shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (emphasis added).

The reason this is a big deal is that the author is setting himself apart from the apostlic circle (“those who heard [Jesus]”) and placing himself in the second generation of believers, who heard the gospel from the apostles and not the Lord himself. Paul, on the other hand, is always careful to identify himself as an apostle (see the first sentence of any of his letters), and assert that he learned the gospel from the risen Christ himself. In other words, he would go in the category of “those who heard,” the first group to proclaim the gospel they learned from Christ.

So if not Paul, who? There have been lots of suggestions, including Apollos (who was “eloquent and accomplished in the Scriptures,” Acts 18:24), Barnabas, Priscilla and Aquila, and the church father Clement (whose letter quotes extensively from Hebrews). But these are really just guesses; there’s really no hard evidence to back any of them up. At the end of the day, the best answer we can give to the question “Who wrote Hebrews?” is “We don’t know. But probably not Paul.”