Three Challenges Unique to Hebrews

Reading the book of Hebrews in the most profitable way possible can be challenging. There are several reasons for this.

First, the book’s original readers had an intimate acquaintance with the Jewish temple and a useful understanding of the book of Leviticus. Most of them probably had gone to the temple and seen the priests engaged in carrying out the duties prescribed for them in Leviticus. Many were familiar with the pomp and circumstances which attended the high priest, the day of Atonement, and their annual feasts.

Without this background knowledge, a 21st century reader is at a distinct disadvantage. Therefore, if you have never read through the third book of the Bible and developed a good working knowledge of its content, the book of Hebrews is a very good reason why you should.

Second, the book’s self-described literary genre is unique. According to its human penman, Hebrews is a “word of exhortation…written…in few words” (Hebrews 13:22). When Paul and Barnabas arrived at the synagogue in Antioch of Pisdia on their first evangelistic journey, they were told, “If you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on” (Acts 13:14-15).

It appears from this information that this form of address was probably common among the Jews in the first century. The book of Hebrews begins as a sermon and concludes as an epistle. No other book in the New Testament library has this exact format.

A third challenge is how and where the penman places his exhortations. Several of Paul’s epistles, for example, have the distinct features of beginning with a doctrinal treatise (see Romans 1-11 and Ephesians 1:1-4:16) and then concluding with exhortations (see Romans 12-16 and Ephesians 4:17-6:24).

The book of Hebrews has not been formatted in this way. Instead, the penman will make a point and then immediately will follow it with an exhortation. This pattern is repeated throughout the book. Because of this arrangement, it can be challenging to follow the doctrinal argument which arrives at its powerful conclusion/climactic exhortation in 12:25-29. To help you identify the exhortative sections, remember they will have either a warning (“beware” or “lest”, see 2:1), an encouragement (“let us”, see 4:14), or both (see 4:11).

God intends for all of His word to be read profitably. Being forewarned and prepared for these unique challenges found in Hebrews will help to increase your understanding of it when you read.

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Author: jchowning

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