The book of Hebrews is part of the sacred, canonical Scriptures. Although there were some, both in the Eastern and Western ancient church, who entertained doubts as to its having a proper place in the Canon, it was nevertheless gradually acknowledged as belonging with the authentic books of the Bible. In the third Century, Origen wrote concerning the book of Hebrews, “God alone knows who wrote it”. He accepted it as Scripture. It was at the Counsel of Carthage in 397 A.D. that the N.T. Canon was definitely established. The decree of this Council was “that aside from the canonical Scriptures nothing is to be read in the church under the Name of divine Scriptures”. Among the Scriptures mentioned the book of Hebrews also finds a place. The emperor Constantine assigned to Eusebius the task of publishing “fifty copies of the divine Scriptures”. This established the standard and precedent which gave recognition to all doubtful books, including Hebrews. The publication of the Vulgate virtually determined the matter.
It has been the testimony of the church universal that the book of Hebrews too belongs to the sacred Scriptures, which are God-inspired, and therefore are profitable for instruction, reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, in order that the man of God be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. (I Tim. 2:16-17) It is in the conviction that Hebrews is the Word of God, written by a holy man, moved by the Spirit, and that it is not of private interpretation, that we set ourselves to the task of writing somewhat at length on this epistle. May it please our covenant God that we may finish writing on this book in its entirety.
I have no vain pretentions of adding a new chapter to what able scholars, ancient or modern, have written on this subject. We will benefit from their labors, whether we agree or disagree with them. Those readers who would further pursue the study of the book of Hebrews beyond the scope of what we offer here in these essays we refer to such works as the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, pages 1355-1362;New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia, Vol. V, pages 192. For a rather complete survey of the writers on Hebrews we refer to the Commentary of Franz Delitzsch, pages 22-35, where the author gives a list of both ancient and modern writers, no less than 70 in number. The book of Hebrews has ever been a source of inspiration for the church, and in every generation there have been those who taught the people and gave them to drink from its rock-bottom truths concerning Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament shadows and types!
The letter to the Hebrews is designated by the writer himself to be a “word of exhortation”. (Heb. 13:22) Writes he: “And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.” Many are these exhortations in this letter. Each exhortation is based upon the solid basis of some aspect of the work of God in Christ, the great High-Priest. The central exhortation which constitutes the key-note exhortation we find in Hebrews 2:1-4. If this exhortation is not heeded, then there is no heeding of any of the warnings, threatenings and admonitions of the writer. For a catalogue of such exhortations we refer the reader to Hebrews 3:1: “Let us consider the apostle and highpriest of our confession”; Hebrews 3:12, “Take heed, brethren, lest haply there be in anyone of you an evil heart of unbelief”; Hebrews 4:1, “Wherefore let us fear lest we do not enter into the rest”; Hebrews 4:14-16, “Let us draw near to the throne of grace in full assurance”; Hebrews 6:1, “Let us press on to perfection”; Hebrews 10:22-24, “Let us draw nigh. . . .Let us hold fast. . .Let us consider one another unto good works”; Hebrews 12:2, “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us”; Hebrews 12:25, “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh”; Hebrews 13:1, “Let the love of the brethren continue”, etc. Surely it is a word of exhortation. And when we read that it is a “word of exhortation,” this is very evident from the entire epistle.
However, we have more than mere exhortation in this letter, treatise or sermon, or whatever it be called. We have here solid instruction from the Old Testament Scriptures concerning the meaning and intent of all the prophecies and shadows as they have their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The writer is a man who thoroughly understands the Scriptures; one who is mighty in the Scriptures. He understands and hears what God spoke of old time through the prophets to the fathers, and what God hath spoken in these last times through a Son. (Heb. 1:1-2) And that which God hath spoken of “old time” and what He “spake in these last times” the writer will unfold together with the exhortation to stand in the fulfillment of the promises by faith.
The book of Hebrews takes in the entire field of the Old Testament Scriptures: Moses, the Psalms, and all the prophets. This does not mean that Hebrews quotes from every “book” of the Old Testament Canon. Of the 39 books of the Old Testament Hebrews quotes from 13 books, either directly, key sections, or makes merely allusions to certain passages. All told, there are some 52 quotations from the Old Testament in Hebrews. These quotations are from the 5 books of the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) from II Samuel, I Chronicles, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Haggai and Zechariah. This means that there are 26 books which are not mentioned. Nonetheless, the chain of argument from the books quoted is such that all the teaching of the remaining books is included.
We take serious issue with those who hold that the writer to the Hebrews has a “working concept” which is the “Logos-doctrine of Philo,” which he relates to the “religious history of Israel, as it culminates in Christianity.” We freely concede that the history of Israel as culminating in Christianity” is the warp-and- warp-and- woof of the Hebrew argument. However, we reject the “working concept” which is purported to be Philo’s Logos-doctrine. So little does the writer to the Hebrews in any way even suggest or allude to the “Loges- doctrine of Philo” that one is amazed that it is asserted. The writer begins with God speaking of old time through the prophets (in prophets) to the fathers and now speaking in these last times through His Son. This is a far cry from the attempt of the learned, yet ignorant Philo, who lived about the time of Christ. He was born about 20 years before Christ at Alexandria. He was a thoroughly Hellenistic Jew, who had sat at the feet of learning of the Greek poets and philosophers, such as Homer, Hesiod, Pinder, Plato and others. His was the attempt to weave into one pattern Plato and the teaching of Moses and all the prophets. His was the teaching not of the living God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and the creature which was made very good, but rather the Persian dualism of spirit and matter, the former being good and the latter evil. And to bring this good All-Spirit with the evil material world, he needed theso-called intermediate being called the Logos. “The Logos of Philo is shadowy, unreal, not a Person; there is no need of atonement; the High-priest intercedes, but has no sacrifice to offer as the basis of his intercession, least of all that of Himself; the Old Testament types are only typical ideas, not typical facts; they point to the Prototypal Idea in the eternal past, not to the antitypal Person and Fact of History; there is no cleansing of the soul by blood, no sprinkling of the Mercy-Seat, no access for all through the rent veil into the immediate Presence of God; nor yet a quickening of the soul from dead works to serve the living God.” Thus Edersheim writes in his “The Life and Times of Jesus,” Vol. I, page 49, 50. And Prof. Edersheim continues, “If the argumentation of the Epistle to the Hebrews is Alexandrian, it is an Alexandrianism which is overcome and past, which only furnishes the form, not the substance; the vessel, not its contents.”
If the latter were true, then we would needs have to assume that elements of divine revelation were borrowed from the philosophers by the Holy Spirit to interpret the Old Testament Scriptures. However, the life-and-world view here given was taught in the Old Testament Scriptures, was spoken clearly in “these last days” by God in the Son, who spoke of the reconstitution of all things through the coming of John, the Forerunner. (Matt. 17:11; Mk. 9:12) Thus the Holy Spirit spoke of John by the mouth of the prophet Malachi, 4:5-6: “. . .before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” The entire reasoning of the writer to the Hebrews is not from a formal Logos doctrine, but it is arrived at by the sound exegesis which the Holy Spirit gives concerning the teaching and implications of the entire Old Testament Scriptures! Did not Abraham already see the heavenly country? And David in the Spirit prophesies of what “the LORD said to my Lord.” (Psalm 110:1) We have spoken above, in passing, of the sound exegesis of the Holy Spirit here in the writer to the Hebrews. A rather careful study of the book of Hebrews will indicate that the Key-passages for the proper interpretations of the Old Testament is found in the Psalms. The meaning of the Psalms, the Christ in His exaltation through suffering, is placed strikingly on the foreground. The constant reference to Psalm 110:1 and 4 shows that this is the pivotal truth which explains all of the types and shadows as to their glorious fulfillment. Here we may learn an infallible hermeneutical principle, that the Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Scripture, as well as the axiom that the less clear must be interpreted in the light of what is more clearly expressed. Such a touchstone we have here in the case of the Psalms quoted in Hebrews.
Psalms indeed are poetry. True poetry interprets life and reality and history. And the poetry of the Spirit in the mouth of David, who is a prophet (Acts 2:30), is the Holy Spirit’s interpretation of the meaning of Israel’s history and existence “till the Seed should come.” (Gal. 3:19-22) Nowhere is that meaning of the throne of David set forth more clearly than in Psalm 110:1. So clearly is this stated that Christ Himself used it to shut the mouth of the Jews, so that they durst ask Him no more questions. (Matt. 22:41-46) The Spirit by whom David prophesied testified here in the hearts of these Pharisees. The same Spirit infallibly interprets this same Psalm in Hebrews, showing the bearing that this has when the Priestly reality of the temple is connected with the throne of David. It is the teaching of the King-Priest after the Order of Melchisedek.
May we search the Scriptures and be led by the Spirit along sound exegetical paths, applying the correct rules of Biblical Hermeneutics! It is with this resolution that we will begin our study of the epistle to the Hebrews!