Wolters, reviewing the discussion within textual criticism, divides the discussion into two realms: 1) the history of the transmission of the text, and 2) recovering an authoritative starting point for the translation and interpretation of the Old Testament. In the area of the transmission of the text, he explains the importance of the discoveries at Qumran and the significance the Dead Sea Scrolls have on the discipline of textual criticism. As scholars have studies these manuscripts, some have changed their views of the Masoretic Text, LXX, and the tradition of other text families.
The debate that surrounds the question of authority has changed little, however. The question is still, “what should be considered authoritative?” The various views across the spectrum include only the original text, the canonical or received text, canonical texts (plural), or all of the texts (representing all of the various textual and theological traditions). Wolters observes, at the same time, that more people are holding a stronger view of the MT and proto-MT text tradition on account of the multiplicity of texts. On the other hand, some are still willing to accept more than one version of a text as canonical or authoritative. Overall, Wolters’ coverage of the field of Old Testament textual criticism is balanced as he touches on the primary issues.
The author of the Book of Hebrews frequently invokes metaphors, figures of speech, and quotations from the Psalms and Prophets in order to describe the person of Jesus Christ. One of the metaphors is the Greek word from which the English word character finds its root.
The author of the Book of Hebrews frequently invokes metaphors, figures of speech, and quotations from the Psalms and Prophets in order to describe the person of Jesus Christ. One of the metaphors is the Greek word from which the English word character finds its root. In Hebrews 1:3, some translators translate the Greek term as “the express image” (KJV), “exact representation” (NIV), or “exact imprint” (ESV).
The literal sense of character was used when one spoke of minting coins, sealing wax, and writing letters of the alphabet. When a seal was placed on melted wax, the image on the seal was molded into the wax. In Greek literature, one would write something like “the seal and the character of the seal.” It is from this literal usage that the English translators derive the translation “exact imprint,” for the character of the seal is the imprint of the seal.
Figuratively, the word character refers to persons. In common English, one might say, “He could be my twin!” In Greek that would be, “He is my character.” This concept is applied to theatre as well. One who plays a character is pretending to be someone else. This discussion of usage raises the question, “which sense is the author of Hebrews using”?
Since the author is speaking of persons, then one might conclude that the Son and Father are somehow like twins. Jesus responded to Philip: “He who has seen me, has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). In Hebrews, however, the word substance poses a problem to this idea. The author is not discussing two persons who look alike; he is discussing two persons who are of the same nature. It is like an author writing, “the seal of gold and the character of the gold of the seal.” So in Hebrews, we have the substance of deity and the character of the substance of deity. The Son does not merely reflect the image of the Father—the Son is of the same substance as the father. As the Nicene Creed proclaims of Jesus, “very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”
One of the most difficult tasks in studying the Epistle to the Hebrews is to outline it. A few stated reasons explain such a difficulty.
One of the most difficult tasks in studying the Epistle to the Hebrews is to outline it. A few stated reasons explain such a difficulty. 1) The author mentions an idea in one place and returns to it many verses later. 2) The warnings often appear out of place. 3) Choosing one theme around which to structure the outline is complicated. I propose the following, brief outline as one possibility.
I. The believer’s High Priest is superior to any other kind of mediator because he is God. (1:1-2:4)
II. The believer’s High Priest is superior to any other high priest because he, though tempted, is sinless. (2:5-3:19)
III. The believer’s High Priestly ministry is superior because one may go to him prior to sinning. (4:1-16)
IV. The believer’s High Priest’s order is superior because it is the order of Melchizedek. (5:1-10, 7:1-28)
V. The believer’s High Priest’s sacrifice is superior because it atones for all sins. (8:1-10:25)
VI. The believer’s life of faith is like those who have come before. (10:26-11:39)
VII. The believer’s struggle against sin has great consequences. (12:1-29)
VIII. The believer’s faith is demonstrable. (13:1-19)
IX. Summation & closing of the letter. (13:20-25)
Chapter 4:14-16 summarizes the book: Therefore, since we have a great high priest … Jesus the Son of God…. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
A rewarding but difficult task is to seek for a unifying theme to the book of Hebrews. One may ask the reason for seeking only one theme.
A rewarding but difficult task is to seek for a unifying theme to the book of Hebrews. One may ask the reason for seeking only one theme. Could not the author have woven more than one theme together? Certainly. The advantage of seeking one theme is that it assists in the interpretation of difficult passages and in bringing the book together as a whole. Thus, the task is well worth the effort.
One might expect a theme like “Jesus Christ the High Priest” or “the believer and the life of faith.” Those certainly have merit. The phrase “high priest” refers to Jesus Christ 13 times, besides the discussion of Melchizedek which spans chapters five through seven. And who could ignore chapter eleven and the fact the word “faith” is used 33 times throughout the book? Yet, these two still fall a little short.
The theme of the believer and temptation has a few advantages over the others. It brings together the high priestly ministry of Jesus Christ, the warning passages, and the theme of living by faith. Hebrews 4:14-16, is the key which unlocks this mystery. Believers have a great high priest who was tempted, but who never sinned. On this account, believers, can go to him by faith, and thereby escape temptation. That is a positive encouragement. The warning passages supply the negative discouragement.
In order to live the life of faith, the believer must have a clear picture of his High Priest, whom he can approach before sinning. This “pre-sin-approach” is possible because Jesus Christ already offered the sacrifice for sins, and because he was tempted but sinless. Understanding human nature, the author also adds the warnings giving the believer two means to evading temptation.
Identifying the recipients of the Book of Hebrews is the first step in interpreting the book.
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.