Jesus Is Greater Than… (Hebrews)
It is anathema to compare two cultures and declare one to be superior. Cultural relativists will accuse you of ethnocentrism before you can finish your sentence.
The author of Hebrews, himself a Jew, unashamedly argues that Jesus is greater than every prophet, priest, and king who came before him. He points to the supremacy of Christ over everyone and everything belonging to the old covenant.
1. Jesus > Prophets
2. Jesus > Angels
3. Jesus > Moses
4. Jesus > Priests and the sacrificial system
In other words, Christ supersedes and concludes the old covenant (Heb 12:18-24). He ushers his people into a superior covenant, a better hope. The author of Hebrews shows how the old covenant served as a shadow of the things that have now found fulfillment in Christ.
This was precisely what the recipients needed to understand as they struggled to adapt to a hostile culture. They needed to heed the warnings about returning to the expired practices of the old covenant. Although they had received the gospel decades ago, they were like infant believers, still in need of milk (Heb 5:12).
Hebrews addresses Christians who are tempted to accommodate their faith in order to relieve cultural pressure.
Every believer needs to know that Jesus is greater than every alternative.
Read Heb 1:1-4. One sentence in the Greek.
An Inspired Author
We know the author is male because he uses a masculine participle in Heb 11:32.
• 2C: Clement of Alexandria attributed differences in style to Greek translation from original Hebrew by Luke.
• 3C: Origen offered that Paul’s student wrote the teaching from memory. However, Hebrews contains no characteristics of a translated document.
• 4C: Greeks settled on Paul with the exception of Irenaeus, Gaius, and Hippolytus. But, Latin fathers were less confident until Jerome and Augustine affirmed Pauline authority. Desired to solidify canon. Most early church fathers accepted their position.
• 13C: Aquinas accepts tradition of Pauline authorship. 18C Scottish minister, John Brown, argues that we should favor tradition without strong internal evidence to the contrary. I agree. The strong internal evidence is why I don’t think Paul wrote it.
• 16C: Reformers not unanimous. While Zwingli accepted Pauline authorship, Martin Luther and John Calvin were confident the author was not Paul (following Cardinal Cajetan and Erasmus).
• Why suddenly anonymous? If safety, why throw Timothy under the bus (Heb 13:23)?
• Lacks Paul’s style, imagery, and argumentation.
Barnabas – Tertullian (2C) presented as the accepted author. The “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36) makes him a good candidate for writing “a word of encouragement” (Heb. 13:22). Paul’s early missionary partner would have own style, with similar theology. As a Levite, he would have had extensive knowledge of the OT sacrificial system.
Apollos – Luther proposed because he was a highly educated Alexandrian Jew known for his eloquent speech (Acts 18:24). In Paul’s missionary sphere. Garnered considerable support from reformers.
Luke, Clement of Rome – Calvin and many Pauline doubters land here.
Peter, Jude, Stephen, Philip, Aristion (associated with the longer ending of Mark), Priscilla (and Aquila), Mary, and Epaphras – Honestly, at this point, just pick any name mentioned in the New Testament, and there is a strong possibility that someone has a theory about their authorship of Hebrews.
Origen ultimately concluded, “Who wrote it, God only knows certainly.”
While any of these authors would be permissible, none of them have any impact on the authority. Edward Dering is right,
“And for my part, who wrote this epistle, I cannot tell, nor I see no cause why I should seek it. For if the Spirit of God had left it out, can I think it better, if I should add it?”
Written As a Sermon/Letter
No salutation like 1 John. “A word of encouragement” (Heb 13:22) referring to a sermon (Acts 13:15). Quite similar for most original audience (Acts 15:31). Sermon preached to Diaspora synagogue, then later sent with appended conclusion.
The author does not follow a strict pattern, but there are many similarities. Rhetorical analysis reveals many patterns adopted from formal Greco-Roman training (e.g., Cicero & Quintilian). Similarities are found in the recorded sermons in Acts. This makes sense—for the disciples were preaching to people familiar with classic standards.
Yet, it cannot precisely fit into any conventional form of classical speech. This likely indicates that the author was very familiar and comfortable with the forms—to the degree that he felt confident departing from the prescription whenever he wanted. It is similar to a pastor learning to preach with his own voice.
Hebrews preaches the OT. It reads like a series of expository sermons on key OT passages. The message is skillfully structured including “hook words” that tie together two blocks of material and “characteristic words” that repeat the key themes. His use of the OT is not so much an exegetical commentary of the passage, but a trained synagogue preacher with an explicit christological interpretation.
Hearing the Word of God Preached
While we cannot be certain of the author’s identity, he assumes his audience knows and trusts him. But, there is something even more fundamental to consider when sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. As Heinrich Bullinger, successor to Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, notes in the Second Helvetic Confession:
Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.
Similarly, The Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 155 states:
The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.
God is always at work in the hearts of his people through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Hear Him as He speaks to you through His Word. Pray that God would open up your heart to be transformed by the opening up of His Word—at the moment of its preaching! Is there any good reason to neglect this means of grace?
May this sermon series be the Spirit’s means of “driving [you] out of [yourself], and drawing [you] unto Christ!”