GREETINGS – BUT WHO WROTE IT?
Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation for, in fact I have written to you quite briefly. I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. Grace be with you all (Heb. 13: 22-25).
The final paragraph and greeting ties this letter to the real world. The writer began his letter by launching straight into his topic as though it were too important to bother with hellos and introductions. He assumed that they knew him as he obviously knew them. The content of the letter with its urgent request for them to reconsider indicates that these people were in a relationship with the writer which made it even more unthinkable that they should go back to Judaism.
Many theologians insist that Paul wrote the letter, but this cannot be true because our writer inadvertently dropped clues all along the way that hint at the fact that this is not typically Pauline. It is very different in style and content from the other thirteen letters where Paul identified himself as the author. Why would he choose to be anonymous in this one? The content is obviously different for a reason. The writer was dealing with a different situation from Paul’s letters. But, at the same time, the personal snippets do not point to Paul.
It’s not my purpose, in this final meditation, to set out a reasoned theory about who wrote it. I only suggest that it was not Paul because of the hints – for example, in his farewell greeting he referred to Timothy as a “brother”. To Paul, Timothy was always his son in the faith.
To Timothy, my true son in the faith (1 Tim. 1: 2).
Our writer was obviously writing from somewhere in Italy. We have no clue as to the destination of the letter. Perhaps it was a church of believers who were predominantly Jewish, or perhaps he wrote to a group of churches in which there were Jewish Christians. It was common, it seems, to write to more than one group of people and have the recipients circulate the letter. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was a circular letter to the churches in Asia Minor. Perhaps the letter was copied before it was passed on so that each church would be able to refer back to its content.
If this was a “brief” letter, one wonders what a long letter would look like! Our writer had a brilliant mind and an excellent grasp both of Judaism and its fulfilment in Christ. He must have been a Jew to have been able to present his case as thoroughly and convincingly as he did. He was more than a theologian. He was probably also a pastor because he evidenced a shepherd’s heart for the people. He knew the people to whom he wrote and he also knew those in Italy from where the letter came.
He referred to Timothy as a brother. Timothy had often visited Paul in prison and been a messenger for him from time to time. This is the first and only hint in the New Testament writings that he was also in prison. As Paul’s understudy, he must have been a prominent figure in the early church and also a marked man from the Roman government’s point of view. It was inevitable that he, too, had to put up with being harassed and incarcerated for his faith and his activities in spreading the gospel.
What can we take away from this letter? I believe that it stands side-by-side with Paul’s letter to the Romans as one of the two most important interpretations of the cross. Where Paul presented the work of Jesus as the culmination of God’s justice and righteousness – setting forth the death of Jesus as the answer to the dilemma of human sin and God’s justice, Hebrews presents the work of Jesus as the fulfilment of all the types and pictures of the Old Covenant.
These two letters are like the two sides of a coin. Each compliments the other and together they present a full-orbed picture of both the intention of the Father and its fulfilment in the Son. Both the Greek and the Jewish mind would be satisfied that Jesus is a perfect and sufficient Saviour of sinners.
Does it really matter who wrote it? The truth is in what he wrote and of that we can be assured.
And so we can leave this letter for the moment with a feeling of contentment because we know that God has taken care of every detail and wrapped up His case for both His justice and mercy by the death of His Son. Once again, just as Paul had presented his side of the story, to the Hebrew writer Jesus comes up trumps. He is the focal point of everything God promised and did through the history of His people, to bring them to this point where His Messiah stepped in to complete what He started in the Garden of Eden.
The writer urges us, then:
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12: 2b-3a).
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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