October 28, 2007
I love the book of Hebrews. It’s so poetic, so compassionate.
BACKGROUND: The authorship of Hebrews has always been questionable. Since the author didn’t identify themself at the beginning of the book, authorship is not easily discernable, nor is the audience to whom Hebrews is directed. The superscriptions, which seems to identify what kind of book this is, who wrote it, and to whom it was written, is not original to the earliest manuscripts. It is assumed by many that Paul wrote Hebrews to a Jewish audience, but this is still debated. It is my personal opinion, based on my study of the book and books ABOUT the book of Hebrews, that Paul originated the ideas in Hebrews and then delegated the Greek writing of Hebrews to another, possibly Luke. With the concept of authorship being different in Paul’s day than it is in ours, I consider significant scribal contribution to have been made to Hebrews in the sense that it has a different flavor than Paul’s other writings. My opinion is largely based on Joseph Smith’s comments about the book, specifically from the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (59,99,158-59,168,170) where he referred to Paul as the presumed author in relation to verses from Hebrews 4:2; 6:2; 11:4-7, 10; and 12:22-24. However, quoting from Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament, “Joseph Smith did not adjust the title of Hebrews in his New Translation, the 1828 editon of the Phinney KJV used by the Prophet bore the superscription ‘The Epistle to the Hebrews’ and not ‘The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews’ as in the current Cambridge and LDS editions.” O.k., enough said on this “insoluble concundrum.”
Likewise, the date of Hebrews is unsure. If written by Paul, it was written before his execution sometime bewteen A.D. 63 and 68.
People think Hebrews was written for a Jewish audience because so much of it is targeted at proving Jesus superior to Moses and the Mosaic Law, a stumbling block for many Jews. However, these message was just as relevant for God-fearers, Gentiles who were attracted to or influenced by Jewish practices including the Law of Moses. The message is similarly relevant to all peoples today so I don’t think Hebrews should be relegated as a book only for Jews or for people persisting in old traditions.
The uncertainty surrounding the book of Hebrews is why it is placed where it is in our Bible. It’s at the end of the epistles because it’s not quite an epistle and no one is exactly sure who wrote it or to whom. But, nonetheless, it is a profound book certainly entitled to be included in our cannon.
The major theme in Hebrews is the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
As you read Hebrews, continue to make special note of the JST changes you’ll find in the footnotes and appendix.
Hebrews Chapter 1:
v. 1-3: As an exercise, I invite you to select two contrasting colors of scripture marking pencils and as you read verses 1-3, carefully color the pronouns and subjects referring to God the Father and God the Son different colors. As you do so, you’ll see the relationship between the father and son illustrated. Be very careful, prayerful and selective so that you don’t make a “coloring error” that you’ll regret. Paul made this relationship clear at the beginning of Hebrews, to my delight. You may want a third pencil to color the word “our” since this would illuminate and highlight the beautiful gift God gave of his Son to us.
v. 10: What do the eloquent words, “captain of their salvation” mean? What picture is created in your mind’s eye through this word choice? Why do you think Paul chose these words?
As you read the following chapter(s), consider the image and symbolism of the High Priest. Of course Hebrews is speaking about Jesus as the High Priest. However, you can extrapolate this image and information to those who stand as a type of the Savior, specifically, modern-day High Priests. With this thought, perhaps you’ll gain greater understanding of the role of High Priests within the church and within a family.
I point you also to the symbolic clothing of the High Priest. Look in Exodus 28. Hoszapfel, Huntsman & Wayment do a great job of summarizing this clothing in their book I’ve referenced above, pg. 263. Specifically, I’d like you to consider the trim on the “robe of the ephod,” a dark blue, seamless robe with holes in it for only the head and arms.” In Exodus 28:33 God specifies that “upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about: A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a promegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about.”
Because I love pomegranates, have 9 pomegranate trees and it’s their season right now, I choose to draw your attention to this otherwise-passed-over symbol of God’s love and the covenant he makes with us, as represented by High Priests both ancient and modern.
You must ask yourself, “Why Pomegranates?” when considering the High Priest’s ritual clothing. Now ask yourself the question I ask whenever I’m reading strange things in the scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, “How does this testify of Jesus Christ?” Here is some food 🙂 for thought:
*Pomegranates have a LOT of seeds! Open one & try counting the seeds.
*The juice of the fruit is extremely red and potent. It stains your hands and anything else it gets onto. In fact, if you get the juice on your skin, wash with clean water, NO soap, since soap will actually make the stain turn a yellow color & stick.
*Pomegranates are ripe when most other fruit bearing trees have gone dormant and their fruit is gone.
*Pomegranates are reknown for their healing properties, even said to stave off cancer.
*The juice of the pomegranates is extremely hard to obtain, it takes a lot of effort to get.
*The tree grows in the desert, is very hardy and disease and pest resistant.
*Eating the pomegranates takes effort. It’s not like an apple you can simply bite into or a grape you can pluck off the vine and eat.
*The juice of the pomegranate is quite tart, if not bitter. It is, however, especially sweet when ripe from a good fruit.
Try to picture this High Priest wearing the pomegranates at the edge of his garment. What would happen as he took a step? Remember, there are bells between each fruit. So, the bells sound and what happens with the pomegranates? Well, they’re embroidered, we assume, but if they were real what would happen to them? I will tell you…they would crack open and with each step bright red juice would sprinkle out and about, on the floor and on the High Priest’s clothing. Visualize this. What do you learn?
Knowing all these things about pomegranates, can you draw some parallels between it and Jesus and His Atonement, High Priests, the Abrahamic Covenant? How does this apply to you?
v. 1: To whom is this letter addressed? What does the word “profession” mean here? How does this apply to us?
v. 2-6: Why does Paul use this “house metaphore?” Who is the house (see v. 6) specifically written of here? In what way are we, today, an house? What other houses are spoken of in the scriptures? Why might this particular audience resonate with the metaphore? Verses 7-11 are a quote from Ps 95:7-11.
v. 11: How do the ideas of “house” and “rest” go together? What is God’s rest? See D&C 84:20-25.
v. 8: “Jesus” should be changed to “Joshua” here. Why, (besides that this is the Greek)?
v. 12: Why does Paul use the sword image here instead of something peaceful. Why is this such a stark contrast to “rest?” Does this have to do with God’s works, as referenced in v. 9? The Greek for “quick” is actually “living.” How does using this word impact your understanding? Why would Paul choose an instrument of death (sword) for something that is “living?” Why would God want to divide the body and spirit?
v. 15: Note the double negative, making it a positive statement. Perhaps better read, ” For we have an high priest which can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities….”
v. 16: Why would the knowledge outlined in the previous verses cause us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace?”
From Jim F.’s notes: “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?”
This whole chapter teaches me about the type of men who are ordained to the office of a High Priest. Not that they ARE like this, but that they should be working toward this. Basically, they stand as a type of Christ. It is this Christ-like character they are to exemplify…as we must all do likewise.
v. 1 & 4: How is a man made a High Priest?
v. 2: Note that “the Way” is the same “Way” referred to previously in the NT, meaning the Gospel or Christian church.
v. 6: What does “forever” mean? What duties will transcend this life? Does this message conflict with Chapter 4:10?
v. 7-8: This refers to Jesus and Melchizedek. The footnote has a “typo” saying it does not refer to Christ (7a).