We’re about to embark upon a thoroughly exciting voyage, a term or two munching our way through the book of Hebrews. It’s a segment of Scripture that explicitly and unashamedly shouts and sings loudly and lovingly about Jesus from beginning to end and bellows on every page: “JESUS IS GREATER!”. We should get a logo or something…
Now, for this series, your Sunday preaching is your key stuff. That’s your meat and drink of the next two terms. Eat, feast, chew and gorge yourself on those Sunday sermons as God’s word is preached. Yum yum.
But to help us enjoy the greatness of Jesus as much as possible, throughout the next few months we’re gonna post some additional, extra blogs to help with some of the questions that Hebrews raises.
These are far less essential (if it ain’t your thing, that’s fine), but hopefully they’re tasty and increase and add to the enjoyment and substance of your Sunday morning main meals. These blogs are like the mango chutney to your chicken tikka, the slice of bread and butter to your fish and chips. You know you don’t need them but they might add something.
Now here’s one to get us started. One question that comes up a lot with Hebrews is…
Who wrote it?
Where as lots of New Testament letters start with “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus” or “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ…”, Hebrews has no such signature. Some people think it’s Paul, some people think it’s Barnabas, some people think it’s Apollos, most people – like literally almost every scholar and the whole Churchcentral preaching team – aren’t sure.
If you want to know who wrote it, ask Jonny Mellor (fuzzy beard, bangs on about art, that guy). He loves stuff like this and he’s got a bit of a sneaky feeling on it. But it’s not actually essential to know. The much more important question is this:
If we don’t know who wrote it, how can we trust it? Why is it in the Bible? Why does it have authority?
It’s a good question. We ignore all those crazy gospels later on, like the Da Vinci code told us about, by (or so they tell us) Judas and Mary and Thomas and your dad’s next-door neighbour’s cousin’s brother. We don’t trust them. But then why do we trust this bit of writing when we don’t even know whose it is?!
Below are some quick answers, then later in the term, actual real-life-flesh-and-bones-Bible-genius-expert-man Ed Edmondson from South Site is gonna put a bit more flesh on the bones and help us think about it more in another post. I jest, but as well as being a lovely and humble guy who will cringe in seeing this sentence, Ed is doing a Phd at The University of Birmingham in Bible-translation methods, on this stuff he’s amazingly informed. So look forward to that. But for now, for anyone still reading, the fast food version.
Why do we trust Hebrews?
1) Cos it’s early
The fact that something was written NEARER to the time of Jesus than something else isn’t a deal-clincher, but it is a big tick in the column.
Jesus dies in AD 33 ish. Some scholars think Hebrews was written as early as AD 50, most land for around AD 75 ish, but even the most sceptical scholars say it was no later than AD 90. That’s early. This puts it alongside other New Testament letters, and a good deal earlier than dates of the so-called (but weird) gospels like those of Thomas (2nd or even 3rd century), Mary (2nd century) or Judas (earliest AD 130-170, some say late 3rd century).
The fact that it was in play so early put it in a different ball park to the weirdo ones.
2) Cos it’s theologically orthodox
Hebrews puts its own spin on things, for sure. It says things in a new way, and brings clarity and colour to the gospel, but Hebrews isn’t full of new ideas. It tells the same old gospel. It is, in other words, orthodox (it’s in line with the Christianity presented in the other biblical scriptures). The great doctrines in Hebrews can be found elsewhere in the New Testament:
The deity of Jesus is all over Colossians 1 and John 1, the humanity of Jesus is everywhere in the gospels, very clearly in John 1 and 1 John 4, his superiority to the law is like the summary of Galatians, and his work as the true sacrifice for sin who brings us to God is Romans all the way down.
Hebrews, then, and its content, is orthodox.
In other words, Hebrews sounds Christian. Even though people are unsure who wrote it, Origen (dead, old guy) says in the 4th century, that even though the form and the style are different to Paul’s, “the sentiments are the apostle’s”. Whoever the author is, he’s saying the same thing.
Is that true of other texts we’ve rejected? Nope. Check out – and this is wacko – what the rightly-rejected gospel of Thomas teaches about what Jesus said to women:
“See, I am going to attract her to make her male so that she too might become a living spirit that resembles you males. For every female that makes itself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Weird. And crucially, totally opposed by Jesus’ treatment of women in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. He’s shockingly, gloriously affirming of female-ness, as are the apostles in Acts and Paul in Galatians 3. The so-named Gospel of Thomas presents a totally off-piste Jesus. I ain’t buying it. But Hebrews fits like a hand in a glove with the rest of Scripture.
3) Cos it’s been affirmed by the church
From the earliest times, the wider church – God’s sons and daughters across the world – have affirmed the authority of this letter. Jerome said Hebrews was “honoured daily by being read in the churches”, and Augustine said it was among the church’s authoritative scriptures, Calvin said “I class it without hesitation among the apostolical writings”. The church believing something doesn’t definitely mean it’s right, but if the church, Jerome, Augustine and Calvin are on board, I’m feeling distinctly less nervous to be honest.
4) Cos God is sovereign
Above all, the Bible teaches that God rules history. The Bible teaches that God wants to speak to his creation. It follows, logically and theo-logically, that God would sustain his word, clear out the chaff and keep the wheat, make sure that nonsense fades away and the gold of his Holy Word is maintained and retained and sustained for every generation.
God has drawn together the Bible with Hebrews in it from the very earliest days, and so we go with it. Or at least, we need a very, very, very, very good reason to reject it. Admittedly, that’s probs not a reason your non-Christian mate will swallow too easily, but we are God’s people and we trust him! Plus I’m guessing not many of your non-Christian mates are awake at night wondering why Hebrews is in the biblical canon anyway. If they are, give them Jonny or Ed’s phone number…
We have every reason, like every generation of the church before us, to confidently gobble up everything in the book of Hebrews, with good grounding to believe that though we don’t know the human author, we know the divine one. Hebrews is God’s authoritative word to us.