On the Epistle to the Hebrews

Hebrews  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 10
I have no doubt that the Epistle to the Hebrews is Paul's. The omission of his name has raised a question on it from early days. The Roman Church did not receive it for a long time, but I am satisfied it did at the first. I judge that Clement's epistle, addressed as it is, in the name of the whole Roman Church, is a plain proof of it. The desire to get rid of passages in chapters 6 and 10, which seemed to favor a peculiar rigidity of discipline, led that church to cast a doubt upon it, on account of the controversies it was engaged in on the subject; the epistle's being addressed, as it evidently is, to Jews connected with Jerusalem and Palestine, making it less known than those addressed to Gentile churches.
Its inspiration, I hesitate not to say, stands far above all question. It is different in style from the Apostle Paul's familiar epistles addressed in intimacy, if we except that to the Romans, to particular congregations he knew. In this last, also, we find a long course of elaborate argument and use of Jewish scriptures. Still it is addressed to them in a character which extended to those he had never seen. The Epistle to the Hebrews is a treatise elaborately composed as a last warning to the Jews, whose polity was just going to be put an end to, and urging them to have done with it as ready to vanish away, and to go out without the camp. The contrary conduct had been borne with hitherto. Now this was urgent. Who so fit for this as Paul? It was at the close of his career; for he refers to Timothy being set at liberty, and himself as free, and to the saints in Italy.
The neglect of his counsel produced the bastard Christianity (if Christianity it can be called) of Nazarenes and the still worse sect of Ebionites, whose hatred to Paul, consequently, was most violent. They rejected, indeed, all his writings.
The subject of the Epistle to the Hebrews is of the highest and most elevated character. It affords instruction which no other part of scripture does on the personal glory of Christ; yet it confirms, and is confirmed by all. It treats these subjects with a method and reasoning drawn from the depth of divine relationship, and yet possessing perfect clearness, a union which flows from divine inspiration alone, and characterizes it. Passages of scripture (the connection of which with the whole scope of the divine mind, as revealed in the word, is brought out when Christ is applied as a key to them) are quoted in a connection which, when the link of thought is given in Him, has a beauty and evidence which leaves no doubt of the divine hand that has been at work—a connection which shows, when given, that this alone could be their own full bearing, and yet, without this blessed key, remained locked up to the human mind; the connection thus made plain affording a complete testimony to Christ, and, at the same time, by Him, not only a proof of inspiration, but a divine fullness to the word itself, and such a combination of it as proves the unity of mind in the whole book, and that mind to be God's who alone could conceive or unfold such a plan.
Now the Hebrews furnish, in a very remarkable manner, such unlocking and connection of scripture, and with a power of reasoning and unity of scope and purpose, pursued with an energy of mind and thought, which peculiarly characterizes Paul. The blessed Apostle is specially occupied with the counsels of God, the divine plan of dispensation: as John with the manifestation and communication of divine life; Peter with the pilgrim character of it here, connected with the hope of a suffering and rejected Savior, the Son of the living God, whom he had known, and knew to be risen and gone up, and hoped for again.
With the dispensational character of Paul's writings the Epistle to the Hebrews clearly classes itself. It has a more finished style, as being an essay. It is, in its contents and reasonings, suited to Jews, because addressed to them. Perfectly satisfied that it is scripture, and a part of it whose loss would be irreparable, having the stamp of the divine gift upon it, I do not in the least doubt it is Paul's from its character and the details alluded to in it. The reader is aware that in the 2nd Epistle of Peter it is expressly stated that Paul did write to the Jews. The omission of his name is perfectly according to God. He was not apostle of the circumcision, he was a doctor for all that he could teach in the Church of God. In the form of the epistle he was in his only true divinely given place in thus writing. The effect of this is seen, and so it ought to be, in the style.
Every one admits the difference of style; it is natural that that of an elaborately drawn-up essay should be different from the style of familiar epistles within the exercise of Paul's apostolic office. The question is, what conclusion is to be drawn from it in connection with other far stronger and more important points, which affect the authorship of the Epistle. The doubt of its divine inspiration, whatever Rome may have thought for its own reasons during two centuries, would only excite pity in my mind. There are proofs of inspiration which have a character that infidelity does not touch, being connected with the development of divine counsels and wisdom in the word, of which the infidel does not possess the elements, and cannot, because he is an infidel. I admit that these are intellectual proofs to the believer; but they do astonishingly secure and confirm the faith of him who has some acquaintance with these counsels—just as in the case of a perfect tally, or a broken piece of metal, he who has only one piece has no proof as to the other. But he who has both, has not a doubt as to the connection of one with the other. And divine things are yet more certain; for man could imitate, in material things, in some cases: (though, in most, doubt would be irrational:) in divine things, he cannot. The connection is unknown till discovered.
Difficulties, we have seen, have arisen as to the Epistle to the Hebrews, from Paul's not naming himself as an apostle. Besides what I have said as to his not being apostle of the circumcision, there is another point I would notice here. It connects itself with another objection to his being the author; his saying that it was “confirmed unto us by those who heard him.”
Now, if we examine the manner of presenting things in this epistle; if Paul be the author, he could not have introduced himself as an apostle, writing to them as such.
He is addressing the Hebrews, who had already faith in the scriptures, and basing all his argument on them in unfolding the person and offices of the Lord Jesus Himself. It was not apostolic announcement of doctrine in the way of revelation with authority, but application of admitted scriptures to Christ, to show that He ought to be such, and be on high, according to them; and to show the necessary coming in of the new covenant. Old Testament scriptures were necessarily his authority here; the whole matter he had in hand, to which his apostolic authority added nothing. Nay, their authority was what he had to insist on -using the word of wisdom in applying them.
Now this he does in a manner which entirely shuts out all possibility of introducing his own apostolic authority. He brings in God speaking Himself in the Old Testament—an acknowledged truth with the Jews. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath, in these last days, spoken to us in [the] Son; or, more nearly, as Son—that is, in the person of the Son. Now this took a ground which left no room for beginning: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ. God Himself, who had spoken of old by the prophets, had now spoken in the Son Himself. Hence we have that which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, that is, it was the great Prophet Himself, nay, the Lord Himself, who had spoken to the Jews. And hence, as referring to what He had said when on the earth, the personal address of Jesus, he speaks of those who had heard Him; God bearing them witness by signs, &c. Now that was exactly the way in which God had dealt with the Jews: and the Christian testimony itself had been appropriately and peculiarly brought before them; and by which the nation had been made responsible, and not by Paul's teaching. But it was in writing to them just his place to refer to it; and peculiarly his to unfold the whole glorious position of Christ as mounted on high, (as indeed it was given to him only to declare,) and his, to put Jews in immediate connection with heaven, paving the way for the passing away of all connected with the old covenant, and exhorting them to go outside the camp, as being no longer of God. The great sacrifice of atonement was offered, the high priest was gone within with the blood, the body was burnt without; the middle holy place of Judaism, suited to its day, was naught. In spirit we were within, in suffering in the flesh without, bearing the blessed victim's reproach.
Now the unfolding of this was just Paul's place, not Peter's. Yet it was just his place too to refer to that very testimony which made the Jews responsible, which was not his, but which he derives down from God speaking by the prophets, and then as in the person of the Son (ἐν υἱῶ); thus making it God's direct testimony to them—i.e., the Jews, with whom he joins himself as a Jew, in the most beautiful and gracious way (as he had said “the fathers,” not your fathers, and only bringing in even apostles themselves as confirming it). He does not associate them with God's testimony, or with the Lord's; only they come in to assure it to others, and even then he brings in God bearing them witness, and then proceeds to exalt and glorify Christ's person. In a word, he addresses himself perfectly to Jews as such, yet to bring them out of their Judaism. Had he not been thus above it, he could not have given it the place he does in the character of the testimony given to it. It was taking them high enough up to the source of the testimony, to lift them above the system formed beside it. Indeed, prophecy was the link of God with Israel, when, in the way of righteousness under ordinances, He could have nothing to say to them. He interfered by a prophet to bring them out or back. “By a prophet he brought them out of Egypt; by a prophet were they saved.” It was God's sovereign way when there was no other. God's great prophet had now appeared to lead them out for a better salvation; He was the apostle of their profession. Peter could not lead them out of a Jewish position: he had ministered to them still in and under it. Paul's ministry as an apostle was directed elsewhere. He graciously makes Christ their Apostle, while owning in its place that of all the apostles among them, yet as hearers of the Lord.