A Study in The Book of Hebrews (1)

Biblical Research Monthly, August 1942 — by Dr. David L. Cooper


      1. The Background for the Epistle
      2. Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews? To Whom was it Addressed?
      3. An Analysis of the Epistle
      4. Hebrews 1
      5. Hebrews 2:1-4
      6. Hebrews 2:5-18
      7. Hebrews 3:1-6
      8. Hebrews 3:6-11
      9. Hebrews 3:12-19
      10. Hebrews 4:1-13
      11. Hebrews 4:14-16
      12. Hebrews 5:1-10
      13. Hebrews 5:11-6:20
      14. Hebrews 7
      15. Hebrews 8:1-7
      16. Hebrews 8:8-13
      17. Hebrews 9:1-10
      18. Hebrews 9:11-22
      19. Hebrews 9:23-28
      20. Hebrews 10:1-18
      21. Hebrews 10:19-31
      22. Hebrews 11
      23. Hebrews 12
      24. Hebrews 13

The Background for the Epistle

The Book of Hebrews is one of the most profound sections of the Word of God. In it we get a glimpse of the Lord Jesus Christ as the God man more clearly than we do in any other portion of the Scriptures. Moreover, we understand by a study of this epistle that He is God's Apostle to the human family and our great High Priest. Because He is what He is and has done what He has accomplished for us, we have a covenant better than that of Israel; a sanctuary better than that of the Hebrews; a better sacrifice than the blood that flowed on Jewish altars; a better ministry than that conducted by the Aaronic priesthood; and better promises than those made to the Jews. In every way we have things better than those enjoyed by the Israelites.

The Book of Hebrews reaches to the loftiest heights and the greatest depths, and covers, possibly, more territory than any other one letter of the New Testament. No Christian can afford not to have an adequate and clear conception of this marvelous portion of the Word. In this article therefore we shall begin a study of this most precious message from God.

In order that we might appreciate it, we must first see the background lying behind it. Without a knowledge of these facts, one cannot comprehend fully the great message contained in the epistle. We must also, if possible, learn by whom the letter was written and to whom and for what purpose it was sent. The data on these things we shall glean from a study of the letter itself.

One fundamental principle which a person must grasp, if he is to understand the Hebrew epistle, is that of the solidarity of the Hebrew race. God created Isaac by a biological miracle and thus brought the Hebrew race into existence for a definite and specific purpose (Isaiah 43:1-7). Israel was forbidden to intermarry with the nations. She was to be in the world but not of it. When these foreign marriages were contracted, the leaders of Israel strenuously opposed them. This is especially seen in the Book of Ezra and Nehemiah. The prophets likewise denounced such alliances. These facts show the Almighty's intention to keep His Chosen People separate and apart from the nations. This conception has dominated Jewish thinking throughout the centuries to the present day. The people of Israel, therefore, are bound together both by racial and religious ties. The student must keep this fact in mind.

The first sermon preached after the Holy Spirit came to the apostles resulted in the organization of the church of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of our Lord (Acts 2). According to this passage, the believers continued to assemble in the Temple for fellowship and worship. Though they had accepted Christ, they still had their connection with the Temple and likewise with the synagogue.

As late as 50 A.D. we see that the Jerusalem church was still maintaining a very close connection with their unbelieving brethren. When the gospel was preached among the Gentiles, as we learn in Acts 11, there was a certain element in the Jerusalem community which insisted that the Gentile converts had to submit to the right of circumcision and accept the Law in order to be saved. In other words, these brethren insisted that the formula for salvation was the Law plus Christ. Some may have worded the thought differently, by saying, “Christ was the Law”. Nevertheless, it was insisted upon by them that the Law must be observed. These brethren from the mother church went as far as Antioch insisting that the Gentile converts must submit to the Law of Moses and thus enter into the body of Christ through the back door of Judaism, so to speak.

This situation called for the convening of the first church conference in Jerusalem about 50 A.D. In this convention the apostles and elders, guided by the Holy Spirit, ruled against such a formula for salvation. Thus Gentile liberty in Christ was preserved. At this time, we see that Hebrew believers were still maintaining their connection with the synagogue. This appears in James 2:1.

Another fact that we must remember as we approach the study of Hebrews is that the apostles always went to the Jewish synagogue when they visited any given community. Though Paul knew that the Law was terminated in Christ and that salvation is by grace through faith, yet, he, together with others, still maintained connection with the synagogue, sufficiently to warrant their preaching in those meetings.

When Paul went up to Jerusalem at the completion of his third missionary tour, there were certain brethren who had a vow upon them. He went with them to the Temple and was “at charges for them” (see Acts 21:17f). This incident showed beyond a doubt that the connection with the synagogue and Jewish worship was still maintained, at least by a portion of the church in Jerusalem.

When Paul arrived in Rome, he studied with the leaders of the Jewish community who told him that they had not received any evil report concerning him by any method of communication. They, however, stated that they had heard of the sect (of Christians) concerning whom they wished to learn more. They considered Christianity just another division or sect of the Jews. This fact shows that the breach between the church and the synagogue had not occurred at least to any marked degree.

When we reach Hebrews 13:13, we shall see that the writer urged his readers to go without the camp and worship and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. When this statement is taken in the light of all the facts of the context (both immediate and in a large connection) one concludes that still there was no breach separating the church from the synagogue.

It is true that after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the rift became more and more pronounced, but even in the second century of the Christian Era, we find echoes in the Jewish Talmud of the fact that there were believers still maintaining their connection with the synagogue; however, they were under suspicion of the Jewish leaders.

Next: Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews? To Whom was it Addressed?