The Recipients of the Book of Hebrews

Identifying the recipients of the Book of Hebrews is the first step in interpreting the book.

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Identifying the recipients of the Book of Hebrews is the first step in interpreting the book. The recipients could consist of one of three groups of people: 1) Jewish Christians; 2) Gentile Christians; 3) A mixed congregation of Jew and Gentile Christians.

Four arguments support the first option that the recipients were Jewish Christians. First, the title given to the book (“Hebrews”) specifically refers to a Jewish audience. The title “to the Hebrews” was first suggested in the second century.

Secondly, the author of the book of Hebrews sets his message against the backdrop of the entire Old Testament and the rituals of the Levite priests. When reading the book, one is struck by the many quotations of and references to the Old Testament Scriptures, including the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the Prophets.

The third argument in favor of Jewish Christians is that the warning passages are addressing believers who are tempted to turn to Judaism because of persecution. Many of the warning passages warn against “going back” or “returning” to some previous state. The author compares Jesus Christ to Jewish practices, like the priesthood, the sacrificial system, and the covenants.

The final argument is that the lengthy discussion about the covenants could only pertain to Jews and not to Gentiles. In Chapters 8 and 10, the author discusses, at length, the covenant made with Israel, and the new covenant that the Lord will make with Israel. Though arguments in contrary exist to each of these points, the recipients are best understood as Jewish Christians.

1 thought on “The Recipients of the Book of Hebrews”

  1. I was thinking the other day that another argument in favor of Jewish Christians, specifically those in and around Jerusalem, is the call to come/go outside the gates. Of course this is bathed in imagery so that its application need not be limited to a Jerusalemite audience by any logical necessity. It’s merely highly suggestive.

    The nearby statement, “We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat” suggests to me that the division between Christian and Jew had become so deep and clear by the time of the writing of the letter, that no Jewish Christian was allowed to serve in the temple precinct at that time. This condition would, presumably, not have been the case early on–just post-Pentecost–as believers regularly continued to attend temple ceremony. Even Paul did so in c. 60-61. Again, it is only a suggestion on my part, but the letter seems to be doing double duty. Not only is it a warning to believers to cut away cleanly from ceremonial Judaism; it seems reasonable to consider it, additionally, a warning to the Jewish priestly establishment that its days are numbered.

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