Hebrews - Introduction
EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS
Title. In the earliest Greek manuscripts, the title is simply "To the Hebrews."
The name of St. Paul is generally added to the title in Latin manuscripts and in Greek manuscripts of late origin. It
must be remembered, however, that the titles were not a part of the original Scriptures, but were added when the Scriptures
began to be copied for general circulation.
Canonicity. This Epistle was always accepted in the East as canonical,
that is, as Divine Scripture. It was also accepted in the West at first, for St. Clement of Rome, in his letter to the
Corinthians, which was written before the end of the first century, quotes it extensively as Scripture. Whatever may
have been the reasons, doubts did arise about the Epistle during the three following centuries. Some would attribute
the difficulty to the use made of it by heretics; others, to uncertainty regarding its Pauline authorship. The Epistle
does not appear on some private lists such as the Muratorian Fragment, and was even explicitly denied to be Scripture by private
individuals such as Gaius, a priest of Rome. In spite of the doubts raised against it, every official pronouncement
in the West was true to the early tradition. Thus the Council of Hippo (393), the two Councils of Carthage (397, 419),
and the letter of Pope Innocent I to Bishop Exuperius of Toulouse (405), list the Epistle as Scripture. After the fourth
century, it was again accepted everywhere as canonical.
Authorship. The question of the Epistle's authorship is complicated
and vexatious. In the East, St. Paul was generally considered to be the author, but authorship was viewed in the broad
sense as embracing whatever had been planned by an author even though actually put together by another. In the West,
however, from the second to the latter half of the fourth century, there was not only considerable doubt, but even actual
denial of Pauline authorship. Then for more than a thousand years, East and West agreed in ascribing the Epistle to
St. Paul. With the rise of the new learning and the advent of Protestantism, the question was again taken up by both
Protestants and Catholics.
At present non-Catholics generally deny the Pauline authorship of the Epistle, although many will admit
readily that the Epistle emanates from the Pauline circle. They ascribe the Epistle for various reasons to Barnabas,
Luke, Clement, Apollos, Priscilla, or other companions of St. Paul. Catholics, since the decree of the Biblical Commission
(June 24, 1914), maintain the Pauline authorship of the Epistle at least in the sense that it was conceived by him and written
under his direction. Its thought is thoroughly Pauline, and much of its phraseology is also distinctly Pauline.
Such ideas as are peculiar to the Epistle are in perfect harmony with the rest of Pauline thought. While St. Paul's
name and customary greetings are missing at the beginning of the Epistle, his usual salutations and good wishes are to be
found at its close. Then too there is the intimate reference to Timothy his beloved disciple. The excellent literary
style, however, is generally superior to that found in the other Epistles of St. Paul.
Time and Place of Composition.
Various dates, from 60 to 96 A.D., have been assigned to the Epistle. The several warnings against the seductiveness
of the Jewish sacrificial system indicate that the temple of Jerusalem was still standing, and consequently a date must be
sought prior to its destruction in 70. The persecution of 62, in which St. James the Less, Bishop of Jerusalem, was
slain, would explain very well the occasion of the Epistle, and would indicate a date sometime in 63. The last verses
also point in the same direction. The writer is expecting Timothy, with whom he hopes to be able to see his readers
soon. According to Phil. 2, 19-30, St. Paul had promised to send Timothy to the Philippians on a mission as
soon as the issue of his own trial was certain. It was probably Timothy's return from the Philippian mission, which
St. Paul alludes to in Heb. 13, 23. St. Paul was released in 63.
The place of composition is not mentioned, but Rome seems
to be the most probable. Codex Alexandrinus has "From Rome" as part of the inscription, and the Peshitto Syriac gives
Italy as the place of writing. The greetings of the "brethren from Italy" (13, 24) would likewise indicate
some city in Italy.
Destination. The Epistle was written apparently to encourage a community of Jewish Christians,
who were in danger of relapsing into Judaism. Although the community is not named, most of the indications point to
Jerusalem. Alexandria, Caesarea in Palestine, Ephesus, Antioch of Syria and Rome have also been suggested.
I. Superiority of the New
Dispensation Over the Old 1, 1 -- 10, 18
1. A Superior Mediator 1, 1 -- 4, 13
2. A Superior High Priest 4, 14 -- 7,
Superior Covenant 8, 1-13
4. A Superior Sacrifice 9, 1 -- 10, 18
II. Exhortations 10, 19 -- 13, 17
1. To Perseverance in Faith 10, 19 -- 11, 40
2. Other Virtues 12,
1 -- 13, 17
Conclusion 13, 18-25
EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS
Apart from some doubts expressed unofficially
in the West before the fourth century, the traditional Catholic view has always maintained the Pauline authorship of the Epistle
to the Hebrews at least in the sense that it was conceived by St. Paul and written under his direction. Its thought
is thoroughly Pauline, and much of its phraseology is also distinctly Pauline. The excellent literary style, however,
is generally superior to that found in the other Epistles of St. Paul, and ranks with the best in the New Testament.
The time, place of composition
and destination of the Epistle are not stated explicitly, and there is but little evidence elsewhere bearing upon these matters.
Opinion, based on the few vague indications available, differ widely. As plausible as any is the common view that the
Epistle was written at Rome about 63 A.D., shortly after St. Paul's release from his first Roman imprisonment, and that it
was destined for the Jewish Christians of Palestine, who under the stress of trials were in danger of relapsing into Judaism.
The Epistle describes most eloquently
the eminent superiority of the new dispensation over the old. Inaugurated by the Son of God Himself, this new dispensation
was God's final revelation to man. It completed the message of the prophets, and brought to perfection all that was
of permanent value in the Mosaic covenant. The Incarnate Son of God was its High Priest, and His glorious sacrifice
was truly efficacious before God in the forgiveness of sin. As suffering and humiliation had an important place in His
victory, His followers are exhorted to forego worldly advantage, to bear their trials patiently, and to persevere heroically
in the faith.