Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


24. Hebrews

Video Introduction


This chapter offers a brief overview of the contents of Hebrews, followed by discussion of historical background and major themes.

In terms of historical background, Hebrews is viewed as an anonymous letter written by a highly educated, Hellenistic Jewish Christian to Christian believers who have what the author regards as an unhealthy interest in embracing facets of Jewish religion or faith.

Hebrews seeks to articulate the continuity between Christianity and Judaism while emphasizing the supremacy of the Christian faith as providing fulfillment of what Judaism could only promise. The book is especially noted for its Christology; it presents Jesus as totally divine and yet fully human in a manner that would become standard for orthodox Christianity. The book also draws on a distinctive image for Jesus, presenting him as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. This image is then coupled with the more traditional notion of Jesus as the sacrificial animal whose blood brings forgiveness. Hebrews draws on Platonic thought in its articulation of a heavenly sanctuary for which the earthly tabernacle (and temple) offer but shades of reality. In a pastoral vein, the book directs its readers to find God’s Sabbath rest through Christ, to consider themselves as pilgrims on a journey, and to recognize the potential value of human suffering. Otherwise, the book of Hebrews has been problematic for Christian theology in that it seems to indicate that there is no possibility of repentance or salvation for those who become apostate and then wish to return.

Study Questions

  1. Describe the intended recipients for the letter to the Hebrews. List at least six things that the letter reveals about its presumed audience.

  2. Indicate two ways in which Hebrews claims that Christianity is continuous with Judaism and two ways in which Hebrews claims that Christianity is superior to Judaism.

  3. Why is the humanity of Jesus important to the author of Hebrews? Cite three reasons given in this book for why the humanity of Christ is theologically important.

  4. Who is Melchizedek, and why is he important to the argument presented in Hebrews?

  5. Explain what is meant by the claim in Hebrews that, compared to historic Judaism, Christ is a better priest who offers a better sacrifice in a better sanctuary.

  6. What three examples should the readers of Hebrews keep in mind when troubles beset them and they are tempted to abandon their pilgrimage of faith?

  7. What does Hebrews teach concerning apostasy that has been controversial in Christianity? How have Christian theologians attempted to deal with this?

Video: Honor and Shame

Interactive: The Divine and Human Christ in Hebrews

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Click to see Christ’s divine and human attributes in Hebrews.