Feast upon the Word Blog

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NT Sunday School Lesson 37 (JF): Hebrews

Posted by Jim F. on September 3, 2011

The book of Hebrews is what scholars call a “homiletic midrash” on Psalms 110, meaning that it a sermon responding to Psalm 110. It might be useful to read that psalm before reading Hebrews and to keep it in mind as you read Hebrews.

Most contemporary scholars, including some LDS scholars, do not believe that Paul wrote this book. It is last among the letters of Paul because those compiling the New Testament (in the early 3rd century AD) were not sure that Paul had written it. There are a variety of reasons for these doubts, but the most significant is that the language of Hebrews is quite different from that of the rest of Paul’s letters. (However, the content and occasion of the letter are also different, and that might account for the difference in language.) Notice also that, though the title traditionally given to this book is “Letter to the Hebrews,” it doesn’t have the form of a letter. Some who do not believe that Paul wrote Hebrews believe it may have been written by Apollos, one of Paul’s followers.

In the end, however, it doesn’t matter whether Paul, Apollos, or someone else wrote Hebrews. The message of Hebrews is Pauline, even if Paul didn’t write it. Christians have accepted this book as scripture for 2,000 years and modern-day prophets have confirmed that it is scripture.

I will refer to Paul as the writer of Hebrews because it is conventional to do so, not because I am taking a position on the question of who wrote the book.

The LDS Bible Dictionary has a good outline of Hebrews. Here is another outline. These may help you better understand what you read by giving it a context. (This outline is based on that of G. W. Buchanan in To the Hebrews.)

1. God’s contemporary revelation in Jesus Christ: the Son is in the image of the Father and having purged our sins, sits at the right hand of God (1:1-4).
2. The Son is higher than the angels, though he condescended to take human form (1:4-2:18).
3. The Son is higher than Moses, because he is a Son rather than a servant, because—unlike Moses—he will lead his people into their rest, and because he is the Great High Priest (3:1-4:16).
4. What it means to say that Jesus is the High Priest (5:1-10:39).
a. He was appointed by God and perfected in obedience (5:1-10).
b. We must teach first principles first, and we must continue to reiterate those principles (5:11-6:12).
c. God’s promises; the Abrahamic covenant (6:12-20).
d. Melchizedek was superior to Levi; the Melchizedec priesthood is superior to the Levitical (7:1-28)
e. The perfect priest, Jesus Christ (7:20-28).
f. The old and the new worship (8:1-9:28).
i. Old worship: Christ’s earthly ministry, the first covenant, and the temple (8:1-9:10).
ii. New worship: Christ’s sacrifice, the covenant of blood, the heavenly ministry (9:11-28).
g. The superiority of the new worship: the Atonement can only be effective in the second (10:1-18).
h. Since these things are true, we must be faithful (10:19-39).
i. If we are not, then the Atonement has no effect in our lives (10:26-31).
ii. We must remember what Christ has done for us (10:32-35).
iii. The time is short until the Son returns (10:36-39).
5. The faith of those who came before Christ (11:1-12:39)
a. The testimonies of the saints who came before (11:1-40).
b. These testimonies mean that we must live Christian lives (12:1-13:17).
6. Closing benediction (13:18-25).

 

My study questions will concentrate on passages from Hebrews 1-4 and 12.

Chapter 1

Verses 1-4: What does it mean to say that, prior to Christ, the Father had spoken “at sundry times and in divers manners”? Were those different than the way that he spoke through his Son?

Why is it important for us to know that the world was created through the Son?

Why is it important that we know that Christ has “the brightness of [the Father’s] glory” and that he is in “the express image of his person”?

What does it mean to say that the Son upholds all things by the word of his power? (The Greek word translated “upholding” means “carrying,” “bearing,” “bringing forth, “causing to continue.”)

Verses 4-14: Why is it important that we know that the Son is higher than the angels? In verses 7-8, what is the difference between God’s angels and ministers on the one hand and his Son on the other?

Chapter 2

Verse 1-4: What are “the things that we have heard” (verse 1)? What is Paul afraid will happen if we don’t pay heed to the things he has pointed out in chapter 1?

The word them in verse 1 is in italics because the translators inserted it in the text. There is nothing in the Greek original corresponding to that word, but they thought it was needed in order for the translation to make sense in English. Try ignoring that word. If you do, what does it mean to say “lest at any time we should let slip.” (The Greek word translated “let slip” means “glide by.”)

These verses warn against apostasy, and that warning occurs regularly in Hebrews. Are these warnings against individual apostasy or against the apostasy of the Church as a whole? What kind of apostasy does Paul have in mind? How are those warnings related to the main theme of Hebrews, namely the nature of Christ and his work?

What witnesses does Paul say the early Christians have of the Gospel (verses 3-4)? What witnesses do we have?

What is the significance of “according to his will” at the end of verse 4?

Verses 9-11: What is the overall point of these verses?

Christ has said “Follow me” (e.g., Matthew 16:24) and we have seen that Paul teaches that we are to imitate Christ (e.g., Romans 12:1-2). What do these verses teach us about what it means to follow or imitate Christ? For example, why did he suffer death and what does that suggest about our obligation as Christians?

Why does Paul remind us that dying made Jesus a little lower than the angels (verse 9)? Why did it?

How are his dying and his glorification connected? Does that teach us anything about our own possibility of being glorified?

What does it mean to say that Jesus is the captain (“leader”) of our salvation?

Verse 15: Of what bondage is Paul speaking? (See verse 14.) Who is he speaking of in this verse? He seems to be saying that the fear of death puts us into bondage. What does he mean?

Chapter 3

Verses 1-6: What makes us holy?

What makes us brothers and sisters to Christ (verse 1)?

What is “our profession”? Another translation is “confession.” The Greek word means “assurance,” “promise,” “admission,” and “concession.”

What makes Christ the Apostle of that profession? What makes him the High Priest of that profession?

Why does Paul compare Jesus to Moses?

Verses 7-19: In these verses Paul is speaking to the Israelites. How did ancient Israel err? Why would these verses have been important to the early Christians? Why are they important to us?

Chapter 4

Verses 1-2: Do these verses give an answer to the previous question? Explain Paul’s warning in your own words.

Why did the Israelites refuse to enter the Promised Land? (See Numbers 14:1-38.) What parallel to this is there in our own lives? Paul is using the Promised Land as a figure of God’s rest. What does “God’s rest” mean to us?

Verses 9-10: What does it mean to say that those who have entered God’s rest have ceased from their own works? How do we labor in order to enter into rest (verse 10)? Does this chapter have implications for how we understand the Sabbath?

Verses 14-16: Why do we need a Great High Priest (verse 14)? What does it mean to say that because we have that High Priest we should “hold fast our profession” (verse 14)?

Jesus taught that to look on a woman with lust in one’s heart is to sin (Matthew 5:28; 3 Nephi 12:28). That seems to mean that if we desire to do something we ought not, we sin. If that is true, how can it also be true that Jesus “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin”? What must it mean to be tempted? What must it not mean?

The Greek word translated “tempted” here is the same one used in the Greek version of the Old Testament: Genesis 22:1; and Deuteronomy 8: 2 and 20:20. Do those verses help explain what it means to be tempted?

Chapter 12

Verse 1: What witnesses was Paul referring to? Why does he refer to them as a cloud? What does that metaphor convey? What are the weights he wishes us to lay aside?

Another translation of “easily beset” is “cling.” How does sin easily beset us, cling to us?

Explain the metaphor of the race.

Verse 2: Another translation of the Greek word translated “author” is “leader.” (This is the same word translated “captain” in 2:10.) If we translate the first sentence of the verse with “leader” instead of “author,” then Paul is continuing the metaphor of the race. How is Christ the leader in the race we find ourselves in?

If, instead, we translate the word as the King James translators have done, how is Christ the author— creator—of our faith? Is Paul continuing the metaphor according to that translation?

What does it mean to say that Christ is the finisher, the one who brings the race to a successful conclusion?

3 Responses to “NT Sunday School Lesson 37 (JF): Hebrews”

  1. [...] respond to this post at Feast upon the Word. 0 people like this [...]

  2. Hebrews is written in what looks like Hebrew translated into Greek rather than directly into Greek like most of Paul’s writing. On the other hand, it is the type of midrash that one would expect of an educated scholar trained as Paul was. Had a long discussion about that this morning with a guy who worked on Bible translation teams for much of his professional life. He was with the “Paul was not the author” camp, until we got into the details.

    If Hebrews was written by Paul to a Jewish audience, to assert his legitimacy, then it bears all the markings. It is Paul writing in his native mode, doing his best to make a solid case for his authoritativeness, but carrying his message.

    Whereas his other works are Paul trying to write to Greeks, in Greek style.

    Of course those who think that Clement or someone else wrote this could be correct. But the alternative analysis offers a lot.

  3. Jim F. said

    Stephen, your explanation of Paul’s authorship is that of Clement of Alexandria (c150-c215). who supposed that Paul wrote it and Luke translated it. In contrast Tertullian (160-220), Clement’s contemporary, thought it was written by Barnabas. And Origen (184-253), Clement’s student, said: “Who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.” There has been skepticism about the authorship of the letter from very early in the history of Christianity.

    The style is different than anything else wrote, and the content is so different that I am one of those who is skeptical that it was written by Paul. As i said, however, I’m not skeptical that it is scripture. So it doesn’t really matter whether it was written by Paul or some other early disciple, just as it doesn’t matter that there are sections of the D&C written while Joseph Smith was prophet, but not written by him.

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