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INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.
according to some others; or Clement's, bishop of Rome; who, as some think, being much with him, clothed and adorned Paul's sense in his own language. Moreover, he wrote as a Hebrew to the Hebrews, in pure Hebrew, it being his own language; whence it came to pass that, being translated, it has more elegance in the Greek than his other epistles.'
“ Some learned men of late times, as Grotius and Le Clerc, have thought this to be an insuperable objection. Of this opinion also was likewise Jacob Tollius; who, in his notes upon Longinus, of the sublime, has celebrated the sublimity of this epistle, and particularly the elegance of the beginning of it; which alone he thinks sufficient to show that it was not Paul's.
“It remains therefore, it seems to me, that if the epistle be Paul's, and was originally written in Greek, as we suppose, the apostle must have had some assistance in composing it; so that we are led to the judgment of Origen, which appears to be as ingenious and probable as any. “The sentiments are the apostle's, but the language and composition of some one else, who committed to writing the apostle's sense; and, as it were, rendered into commentaries the things spoken by his master. According to this account the epistle is St. Paul's, as to the thoughts and matter ; but the words are another's.
“ Jerome, as may be remembered, says: "He wrote as a Hebrew to the Hebrews, pure Hebrew; it being his own language; whence it came to pass that, being translated, it has more elegance in the Greek than his other epistles.' My conjecture, which is not very different if I may be allowed to mention it, is, that St. Paul dictated the epistle in Hebrew, and another, who was a great master of the Greek language, immediately wrote down the apostle's sentiments in his own elegant Greek. But who this assistant of the apostle was is altogether unknown.
“ The ancients, besides Paul, have mentioned Barnabas, Luke, and Clement, as writers or translators of this epistle; but I do not know that there is any remarkable agreement between the style of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the style of the epistle commonly ascribed to Barnabas. The style of Clement, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, is verbose and prolix. St. Luke may have some words which are in the Epistle to the Hebrews; but that does not make out the same style. This epistle, as Origen said, as to the texture of the style, is elegant Greek; but that kind of texture appears not in Luke, so far as I can perceive; there may be more art and labour in the writings of Luke than in those of the other evangelists, but not much more elegance that I can discern. This Epistle to the Hebrews is bright and elegant from the beginning to the end, and surpasses as much the style of St. Luke as it does the style of St. Paul in his acknowledged epistles. In short, this is an admirable epistle, but singular in sentiments and language; somewhat different in both respects from all the other writings of the New Testament ; and whose is the language seems to me altogether unknown; whether that of Zenas, or Apollos, or some other of the apostle Paul's assistants and fellow-labourers.
“There still remains one objection more against this epistle being written by St. Paul, which is, the want of his name ; for to all the thirteen epistles, received as his, he prefixes his name, and generally calls himself apostle. This objection has been obvious in all ages ; and the omission has been differently accounted for by the ancients, who received this epistle as a genuine writing of St. Paul.
“ Clement of Alexandria, in his Institutions, speaks to this purpose : “ The Epistle to the Hebrews,' he says, “is Paul's, but he did not make use of that inscription Paul the Apostle; for which he assigns this reason : writing to the Hebrews, who had conceived a prejudice against him, and were suspicious of him,
he wisely declined setting his name at the beginning lest he should offend them. He also mentions this tradition: forasmuch as the Lord was sent, as the Apostle of Almighty God, to the Hebrews, Paul, out of modesty, does not style himself the apostle to the Hebrews, both out of respect to the Lord, and that, being preacher and apostle of the Gentiles, he over and above wrote to the Hebrews.'
“ Jerome also speaks to this purpose: “That Paul might decline putting his name in the inscription on account of the Hebrews being offended with him;' so in the article of St. Paul in his book of Illustrious Men. In his Commentary in the beginning of his Epistle to the Galatians he assigns another reason : «That Paul declined to style himself apostle at the beginning of the Epistle to the Hebrews, because he should afterwards call Christ the High-priest and Apostle of our profession,' chap. iii. 1.
INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.
“ Theodoret says, that Paul was especially the apostle of the Gentiles; for which he alleges Gal. ii. 9, and Rom. xi. 13. Therefore writing to the Hebrews, who were not intrusted to his care, he barely delivered the doctrine of the gospel without assuming any character of authority, for they were the charge of the other apostles.'
" Lightfoot says, 'Paul's not affixing his name to this, as he had done to his other epistles, does no more deny it to be his than the First Epistle of John is denied to be John's on that account.'
“ Tillemont says, Possibly Paul considered it to be a book rather than a letter, since he makes an excuse for its brevity (chap. xiii. 22), for indeed it is short for a book, but long for a letter.'
"It is, I think, observable, that there is not at the beginning of this epistle any salutation. As there is no name of the writer, so neither is there any description of the people to whom it is sent. It appears, from the conclusion, that it was sent to some people at a certain place; and undoubtedly they to whom it was sent, and by whom it was received, knew very well from whom it came ; nevertheless there might be reasons for omitting an inscription and a salutation at the beginning. This might arise from the circumstances of things; there might be danger of offence at sending at that time a long letter to Jews in Judea; and this omission might be in part owing to a regard for the bearer, who too is not named. The only person named throughout the epistle is Timothy; nor was he then present with the writer. Îndeed I imagine that the two great objections against this being an epistle of St. Paul -- the elegance of the style, and the want of a name and inscription, are both owing to some particular circumstance of the writer, and the people to whom it was sent. The people to whom it was sent are plainly Jews in Judea; and the writer very probably is St. Paul, whose circumstances at the breaking up of his confinement at Rome, and his setting out upon a new journey, might be attended with some peculiar embarrassments, which obliged him to act differently from his usual method.
"IV. Thus we are brought to the fourth and last part of our inquiry concerning this epistle—the time and place of writing it. Mill was of opinion that this epistle was written by Paul, in the year 63, in some part of Italy, soon after he had been released from his imprisonment at Rome. Mr. Wetstein appears to have been of the same opinion. Tillemont likewise places this epistle in 63, immediately after the apostle's being set at liberty, who as he says was still at Rome, or at least in Italy. Basnage speaks of this epistle at the year 61, and supposes it to be written during the apostle's imprisonment, for he afterwards speaks of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and says it was the last letter the apostle wrote during the time of his bonds. L'Enfant and Beausobre, in their general preface to St. Paul's epistles, observe, " That in the subscription at the end of the epistle it is said to have been written from Italy; the only ground of which, as they add, is what is said chap. xiii. 24: They of Italy
This has made some think that the apostle wrote to the Hebrews after he had been set at liberty, and when he had got into that part of Italy which borders upon Sicily, and in ancient times was called Italy. Nevertheless there is reason to doubt this. When he requests the prayers of the Hebrews, that he might be restored to them the sooner, he intimates that he was not yet set at liberty. Accordingly they place this epistle in the
“There is not any great difference in any of these opinions concerning the time or place of this epistle, all supposing that it was written by the apostle either at Rome or Italy, near the end of his imprisonment at Rome, or soon after it was over, before he removed to any
“I cannot perceive why it may not be allowed to have been written at Rome. St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians was written at Ephesus; nevertheless he says, chap. xvi. 19:
The churches of Asia salute you. So now he might send salutations from the Christians of Italy, not excluding, but including, those at Rome, together with the rest throughout that country. The argument of L'Enfant and Beausobre that Paul was not yet set at liberty, because he requested the prayers of the Hebrews that he might be restored to them the sooner, appears to me not of any weight. Though Paul was no longer a prisoner, he might request the prayers of those to whom he was writing, that he might have a prosperous journey to them whom he was desirous to visit, and that all impediments of his intended journey might
INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.
be removed ; and many such there might be, though he was no longer under confinement. Paul was not a prisoner when he wrote his Epistle to the Romans; yet he was very fervent in his prayers to God, that he might have a prosperous journey, and come to them, Rom. i. 10.
“For determining the time of this epistle, it may be observed that, when the apostle wrote the Epistle to the Philippians, the Colossians, and Philemon, he had hopes of deliverance. At the writing of all these epistles Timothy was present with him; but now he was absent, as plainly appears from chap. xiii. 23. This leads us to think that this epistle was written after them. And it is not unlikely that the apostle had now obtained that liberty which he expected when they were written.
“ Moreover, in the Epistle to the Philippians, he speaks of sending Timothy to them, chap. ii. 19–23: “But I trust in the Lord Jesus, to send Timothy shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.' Timothy therefore, if sent, was to come back to the apostle. 'Him, therefore, I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me.'
“ It is probable that Timothy did go to the Philippians, soon after writing the above-mentioned epistles, the apostle having gained good assurance of being quite released from his confinement. And this Epistle to the Hebrews was written during the time of that absence; for it is said, chap. xiii. 23: «Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty, or has been sent abroad.' The word is capable of that meaning, and it is a better and more likely meaning, because it suits the coherence. And I suppose that Timothy did soon come to the apostle, and that they both sailed to Judea, and after that went to Ephesus, where Timothy was left to reside with his peculiar charge.
“ Thus this epistle was written at Rome, or in Italy, soon after that Paul had been released from his confinement at Rome, in the beginning of the year 63. And I suppose it to be the last written of all St. Paul's epistles which have come down to us, or of which we have any knowledge."
Dr. Lardner's Works, Vol. VI., p. 381. After this able and most circumstantial investigation I think it would be a mere actum agere to enter farther into this discussion ; all that the ancients, both Grecian and Roman, and all that the most intelligent of the moderns, have produced, both for and against the argument stated above, has been both judiciously and candidly stated by Dr. Lardner; and it is not going too far to say that few readers will be found who will draw conclusions different from those of Dr. Lardner, from the same premises.
As all the epistles of St. Paul have an evident object and occasion, it is natural to look for these in the Epistle to the Hebrews as well as in those to other churches. We have already seen that it was most probably written to the converted Jews in Judea, who were then in a state of poverty, affliction, and persecution ; and who, it appears, had been assailed by the strongest arguments to apostatize from the faith, and turn back to the poor elementary teaching furnished by Mosaic rites and ceremonies. That in such circumstances they might begin to halt and waver, will not appear strange to any considerate person ; and that the apostle should write to guard them against apostasy, by showing them that the religious system which they had embraced was the completion and perfection of all those which had preceded it, and particularly of the Mosaic, is what might be naturally expected. This he has done in the most effectual and masterly manner, and has furnished them with arguments against their opponents which must have given them a complete triumph.
His arguments against backsliding or apostasy are the most awful and powerful that can well be conceived, and are as applicable now to guard Christian believers against falling from grace as they were in the apostolic times; and, from the general laxity in which most professors of religion indulge themselves, not less necessary. A late sensible writer, Mr. Thomas Olivers, in a Discourse on chap. ii. 3 of this epistle
, has considered this subject at large, and treated it with great cogency of reasoning. I shall borrow his Analysis of the different chapters, and a few of his concluding remarks; a perusal of the whole work will amply repay the serious reader. After one hundred and thirty-two pages of previous discussion he goes on thus :
INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.
"I shall," says he, "sum up all that has been said upon this head by giving a brief account of the occasion and DESIGN of this epistle, and of the apostle's manner of reasoning therein.
“The Christian religion being so contrary to the corrupt principles and practices of the world, those who embraced and propagated it were, on those accounts, rendered very
odious wherever they came. The consequence of this was, that heavy persecutions were raised against them in most places. The converted Hebrews, because they had turned their backs on the law of Moses, and embraced the religion of Jesus whom their rulers had crucified, were exceedingly persecuted by their countrymen. Sometimes the unconverted Hebrews persecuted their converted brethren themselves ; at other times they stirred up the heathen who were round about to do it. By these means the believing Hebrews had a great fight of afflictions, chap. x. 32; and were made gazing-stocks, both by reproaches and afflictions, ver. 33 ; and experienced the spoiling of their goods, which for a while they took joyfully, ver. 34. But this was not all; for, as the Christian religion was then a new thing in the world, it is natural to suppose that the new converts had a great many scruples and reasonings in themselves concerning the lawfulness of what they had done in embracing it: and what added to these scruples was, the constant endeavour of the Judaizing teachers to lay stumbling-blocks in the way of these Hebrews, which they too often effected by means of their divers and strange doctrines mentioned chap. xiii. 9. The consequence of this opposition, both from within and without, was, that great numbers of the Hebrews apostatized from Christ and his gospel, and went back to the law of Moses; while the fluctuating state of the rest gave the apostles too much reason to fear a general, if not universal, apostasy. Now this apparent danger was the occasion of this epistle, and the DESIGN of it was to prevent the threatened evil if possible.
"That this account is true will fully appear from a more particular survey of the contents of the whole epistle.
"Chap. i. The apostle shows that all former dispensations were delivered to the world by men and angels, who were only servants in what they did ; but that the gospel salvation was delivered by Christ, who is the Son of God, and the Heir of all things. How naturally does he then infer the superiority of the gospel over the law; and, of consequence, the great absurdity of leaving the former for the sake of the latter!
Chap. ii. He obviates an objection which might be made to the superior excellency of Christ on account of his humiliation. To this end he shows that this humiliation was voluntary; that it was intended for many important purposes, viz. that we might be sanctified, ver. 11; that through his death we might be delivered from death, ver. 14, 15; and that Christ, by experiencing our infirmities in his own person, might become a faithful and merciful High-priest, ver. 17, 18. The inference then is, that his taking our nature upon him, and dying therein, is no argument of his inferiority either to the prophets or to the angels; and therefore it is no excuse for those who apostatize from the gospel for the sake of the law.
Chap. iii. Here Christ is particularly compared with Moses, and shown to be superior to him in many respects. As, i. Christ is shown to be the Great Builder of that house of which Moses is only a small part, ver. 3, 4. 2. Christ is as a son in his own house ; but Moses was only as a servant in his master's house, ver. 5. Therefore Christ and his salvation are superior to Moses and his law, and ought not to be neglected on account of any thing inferior. From ver. 7 of this chapter to ver. 14 of chap. iv., the apostle shows the great danger of apostatizing from Christ, by the severe sentence which was passed on those who rebelled against Moses and apostatized from his law.
Chap. v. Christ is compared to Aaron, and preferred to him on several accounts. As, 1. Aaron offered for his own, as well as for the sins of the people; but Christ offered only for the sins of others, having none of his own to offer for, ver. 3. 2. Christ was not a priest after the order of Aaron, but after the order of Melchisedec, which was a superior order, ver. 10. Concerning Melchisedec and Christ, the apostle observed that, through the dulness of the Hebrews, there were some things which they could not easily understand, ver. 11–14.
" He therefore calls on them, chap. vi., to labour for a more perfect acquaintance
INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.
therewith ; withal promising them his farther assistance, ver. 1-3. The necessity of their doing this, of their thus going on unto perfection, he enforced by the following consideration, that, if they did not go forward, they would be in danger of apostatizing in such manner as would be irrecoverable, ver. 7, 8. From thence to the end of the chapter he encourages them to patience and perseverance, by the consideration of the love, oată, and faithfulness of God; and also by the example of their father Abraham.
Chap. vii. The apostle resumes the parallel between Melchisedec and Christ, and shows that they agree in title and descent, ver. 14-3; and then, from instances wherein the priesthood of Melchisedec was preferable to the priesthood of Aaron, he infers the superiority of Christ's priesthood over that of Aaron, ver. 4–17. From thence to the end of the chapter
, he shows that the priesthood of Aaron was only subservient to the priesthood of Christ, in which it was consummated and abolished; and of consequence, that all those legal obligations were thereby abolished. How naturally then did the apostle infer the absurdity of apostatizing from the gospel to the law, seeing they who did this, not only left the greater for the lesser, but also left that which remained in full force, for the sake of that which was disannulled. so
Chap. viii. is employed partly in recapitulating what had been demonstrated before concerning the superior dignity of our great High-priest, ver. 1–5; and partly in showing the superior excellency of the new covenant, as established in Christ, and as containing better promises; ver. 6 to the end of the chapter. From this last consideration, the impropriety of going from the new covenant to the old is as naturally inferred as from any other of the afore-mentioned considerations.
“With the same view the apostle, chap. ix., compares Christ and his priesthood to the tabernacle of old, and to what the high-priest did therein on the great day of atonement, in all things giving Christ the preference; from ver. 1 to the end.
“Chap. x. The apostle sets down the difference between the legal sacrifices and the sacrifice of Christ : the legal sacrifices were weak, and could not put away sin, ver. 1-4; but the sacrifice of Christ was powerful, doing that which the other could not do, ver. 5—10.
“ The next point of difference was between the legal priests who offered these sacrifices, and the High-priest of our profession. And first, the legal priests were many; ours is one. Secondly, they stood when they presented their offerings to God; Christ sits at the right hand of his Father. Thirdly, they offered often ; but Christ, once for all. Fourthly, they, with all their offerings, could not put away the smallest sin; but Christ, by his one offering, put away all sin, ver. 11—18. Now, from all these considerations, the apostle infers the great superiority of the gospel over the law; and, consequently, the impropriety of leaving the former for the latter.
“The next thing that the apostle does is to improve his doctrine; this he does by showing that, for the reasons above given, the Hebrews ought to cleave to Christ, to hold fast their profession, and not to forsake the assembling themselves together, ver. 19–25. And, as a farther inducement to cleave to Christ and to persevere unto the end, he the consideration of the difficulties which they had already overcome, and also of the love which they had formerly shown towards Christ and his gospel, ver. 32–34. He also encouraged them not to cast away their confidence, seeing it had a great recompence of reward, which they should enjoy if they persevered unto the end, ver. 35-37. Another consideration which he urged was, that they ought not to depart from faith to the works of the law, because it is by faith that a just man liveth, and not by the works of the law; because God has no pleasure in those who draw back from faith in him; and because every one who does this exposes himself to eternal perdition, ver. 36–39.
“Another inducement which he laid before them, to continue to expect salvation by faith and patience, was the consideration of the powerful effects of these graces as exemplified in the patriarchs of old, and the rest of the ancient worthies; chap. xi. throughout. This chapter, according to Mr. Perkins, depends on the former ; thus we may read in the former chapter that many Jews, having received the faith and given their names to Christ, did afterwards fall away; therefore, towards the end of the chapter, there is a notable exhortation, tending to persuade the Hebrews to persevere in faith unto the end. Now in this chapter he continues the same exhortation; and the whole chapter (as I take it) is nothing else, in