Monday, June 7, 2010

NT Pod 37: What is the purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews?

NT Pod 37 asks "What is the purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews?" It is just over 13 minutes long. Feel free to leave your comments below or on the new NT Pod Facebook page.

NT Pod 37: What is the purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews? (mp3)
NT Pod 37: What is the purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews? (mp3) (Alternative location)

Key texts: Hebrews 6.1-4, Hebrews 12.1-3, Hebrews 13.22

Thanks to Ram2000, Me and You, for the opening theme, released under a Creative Commons agreement.


  1. You say that you believe Hebrews to be a kind of circular letter. Does not passages like 5:11-12 and 10:32-34 suggest that the author is hinting at the situation of a specific congregation? Also he expresses a desire to be restored to them in 13:19 and they have a common acquaintance with Timothy (13:23) and he sends greetings from those from Italy (13:24) which suggests to me a more specific audience.

  2. Thanks for listening, Brian, and also for mentioning on your blog. My suggested reconstruction is a sermon originally preached (a "word of exhortation", 13.22), no doubt repeated, and subsequently applied generally in circular letter format. That format allows the specific version of the letter with the specific notes that you find in 13, just as those writing their Christmas letters throw in some personal greetings at the end to the specific recipient. The audience constructed in 5.11-12 and 10.32-34 are, you rightly point out, a little more specific, and this may relate to the originating sermon, or it may be that the writer thinks that these kinds of experiences are broad enough and regularly repeated enough to be able to assume that others in the broad audience will be able to apply the message too.

  3. I struggle with your assertion that the author was not familiar with 1st century Judaism; it seems quite the contrary. Do you have any more sources that I could read on this topic? Just because he tends to favor the more biblical wording does not conclude that his familiarity with 1st Judaism was in anyway lacking. For example, in Heb 9:4 the author lists the golden alter of incense as being located within the holy of holies. Now, this is a strange statement becasue most sources, including the Bible, would state that this is simply inaccurate. However, after some research I discovered that the golden alter of incense is located within the Holy of Holies, but only on the day of atonement. Thus, the picture given in Chapter 9 seems to be a snapshot from within the Temple on the day of Atonement. I hope I am not rambling, but I thought that this example is weighty,if true, because, this would mean that the author was not only familiar with some of the details which took place in the temple on that specific day, but that he also (for some reason) chose to describe the inside of the temple during the day of atonement in chapter 9 of Heb. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoy your pod cast and thank you!!

  4. Good point, David. What I meant was that the real locus of the tabernacle, in the author's mind, was in a kind of Biblical world.

  5. hi I really enjoy your blog, thanks for sharing some of your insights and wisdom! my question is in regards to the main point being 'do not sin'...

    In chapter 8 the author lets us know his 'main point'. His main point is Jesus is the High Priest forever after the order..., but in this chapter it seems he clarifies that this High Priestly Position of Jesus was that he would usher in the new covenant of Jeremiah envisioned in the OT.

    A massive quotation follows. Probably the longest OT quote in the NT. Thus it seems his charge to 'do not sin' is clarified by the incredible prophetic vision of the new covenant, of a whole community of folks who are mature because the word has been written on their hearts.

    It seems his main point is to move his hearers beyond the basics (ch5) and to a maturity that can be displayed in us as people who are responsive and sacrificial towards real needs in the world. 10:34. So do not sin is a start, but 'perfection' / maturation / wholeness seems to be the main point.

    What is your take on that massive quotation of Jeremiah and its significance to the argument of Hebrews and Jesus as the High Priest forever after the order... :-)

    thanks again!!!

  6. Thanks, Paul. All good points! Sorry I don't have the time for a lengthier answer, and thanks for listening.