Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The majestic Christ of Hebrews

I've been boning up on the New Testament book of Hebrews in preparation for teaching through it in our adult Sunday school class. Hebrews presents some problems, among them that we don't know for certain a) who wrote it b) to whom specifically it was written c) precisely when it was written. For several centuries Hebrews inclusion in the canon was touch and go. It wasn't until the fourth century that its place in the New Testament was secure. Augustine was a great champion of the epistle. Interestingly enough, authorship of Hebrews was a minor sticking point during the Reformation, with Luther and Calvin disputing the church's insistence on Pauline authorship. That Paul was the author was reaffirmed by Rome at the Council of Trent.

More recent scholarship has mostly sided with those who don't think Paul wrote the letter. There are just too many differences with everything else we know Paul wrote. My favorite contender as the author of Hebrews is Apollos -- described in Acts 18 as "an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures." Certainly, the author of Hebrews had an unusually good grasp of the Old Testament. As interesting as it can be to debate these points, the bottom line is that this letter was inspired by God and he intended it to be part of the Bible. I can't imagine it not being a part of the New Testament.

One reason we can be confident in the Holy Spirit-inspiration of Hebrews is that the person and work of Jesus Christ shines forth in glorious splendor from its pages. The author foregrounds Christological themes that are in the background, or missing entirely, from the other epistles. I'm going to urge the class to read and study it with two questions in mind: "What has God said to us?" and "What has Christ done for us?" These questions are addressed in spectacular fashion in the prologue.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

According to commentator Raymond Brown (Christ Above All: The Message of Hebrews) there are at least eight things to be learned about Jesus from those four verses. I'll let you try to extract them. Here's a brief quote from Brown's expository-centric commentary that I really like.

The letter to the Hebrews begins by asserting the greatest single fact of the Christian revelation: God has spoken to man through his word in the Bible and through his Son, Jesus. In Christ God has closed the greatest communication gap of all time, that which exists between a holy God and sinful mankind. (p. 27)

I'll probably be posting more thoughts on Hebrews as we go along in the study. Grab a Bible and commentary and dig in. I guarantee your view of Jesus will be bigger after reading Hebrews.

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