New Book: Hebrews

by Chris Rousell

If Bob Marley only shot the Sheriff, then who shot the deputy? Was Jar Jar Binks secretly a Sith Lord? Who actually wrote the book of Hebrews? The answer to all of these questions is: we’re not entirely sure.

The author of the book of Hebrews has prompted speculation throughout church history but a definitive answer has never been given. Though occasionally attributed to the apostle Paul, its location in the New Testament canon (the letters of Paul are arranged from longest to shortest and Hebrews comes at the end of the Pauline works) suggests that even the early church doubted he was the author. Despite the mystery of the author, Hebrews is one of the books of the NT that best fleshes out how Jesus in the new covenant supersedes that of the old.

This idea of the new surpassing the old is woven throughout the letter and is seen from the get go in chapters 1, 2, and 3 where Christ is seen as superior to the angels and Moses as a son is superior to a servant.

‘For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honour than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.’ (3:3-5a)

Indeed, the message portrayed is that the mediator of the new covenant is Christ, and as a son, is therefore above the mediators of the old covenant who were mere servants.

The middle chapters of Hebrews focus on Christ being the Great High Priest ‘after the order’ of Melchizedek (5:1-10; 6:13-7:28). As they emphasise how Jesus made the perfect sacrificial offering, the writer of Hebrews is steeped in Old Testament theology. If Christ has made a sacrificial offering but is not a Levite, how can he have made a perfect sacrifice? The writer links Jesus to the high priest Melchizedek (incidentally, whose name means ‘king of righteousness/peace), who was also a King and, superior to Abraham.

As the writer puts it:

‘For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.’ (7:14-16)

Continuing the theme of the new being better than the old, Hebrews goes on to talk about the sacrifice of Christ being better than that of the earthly sacrifices of the old covenant (chapter 10) before exhorting the recipients to continue in the faith, as the inheritors of the baton passed down by the heroes of faith.

Hebrews ends with the anticipation that there is a kingdom to come which ‘cannot be shaken’ (12:28) and in light of this, we should model Christ’s endurance and live out his teaching as a sacrifice to the living God. (13:12-16)