The Epistle to the Hebrews

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Overview

This commentary by Gareth Lee Cockerill offers fresh insight into the Epistle to the Hebrews, a well-constructed sermon that encourages its hearers to persevere despite persecution and hardships in light of Christ's unique sufficiency as Savior. Cockerill analyzes the book's rhetorical, chiastic shape and interprets each passage in light of this overarching structure. He also offers a new analysis of the epistle's use of the Old Testament -- continuity and fulfillment rather than continuity and discontinuity -- and shows how this consistent usage is relevant for contemporary biblical interpretation. Written in a clear, engaging, and accessible style, this commentary will benefit pastors, laypeople, students, and scholars alike.
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The Epistle to the HEBREWS


By GARETH LEE COCKERILL

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2012 Gareth Lee Cockerill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-2492-9


Chapter One

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this Introduction is to facilitate a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of Hebrews and of the commentary that follows. Part I, entitled "Hebrews in Its Environment," is concerned with the origin of Hebrews and with relevant features of the cultural, linguistic, literary, and religious world in which it was written. Thus this first part begins with a section on the often-asked question concerning the author's identity, entitled "The Pastor Who Wrote Hebrews." Four sections follow: "The Pastor's Sermon," "The Pastor's Congregation," "The Pastor's Worldview," and "When Did the Pastor Write This Sermon?" Part I gives close attention to what Hebrews reveals about the skills, background, values, and goals of its author as well as the situation of its recipients and the nature of the author's concern for them.

The four sections of Part II, "The Message of Hebrews," are particularly crucial because they focus on Hebrews' use of the OT, its rhetorical shape, and its abiding message. First, the section entitled "The Sermon's Use of the Old Testament" argues that the author had a well-thought-out understanding of how Christ fulfilled the OT that continues to be relevant for modern Christians. The next section, entitled "The Sermon's Rhetorically Effective Structure," draws on the flourishing literature concerning Hebrews' structure and relation to ancient rhetoric. It presents a comprehensive analysis of the way in which the author has structured Hebrews in order to inspire his readers/hearers to persevere in faith and obedience through the provision of Christ, their "Great High Priest" (4:14). The reader will receive particular benefit from perusing this section because the following commentary uses this structural analysis to elucidate each passage. The overviews at the beginning of each major section of the commentary are also helpful. Part II concludes with sections entitled "The Sermon's Abiding Message" and "The Sermon's Outline." This final section distills the structural analysis already given into a clear outline that serves as a basis for the commentary that follows and thus as a helpful map for the reader.

Use of terms like "pastor" and "sermon" in these titles reflects a certain understanding of Hebrews' nature and purpose. This way of describing Hebrews has also been chosen with the hope that it will make this material more accessible to the modern reader. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the many great interpreters who have preceded me in this task. I have sought to listen to them with care and have been immeasurably enriched by their insights. My desire is, by God's grace, to pass on to the reader what insight has been given me.

I. HEBREWS IN ITS ENVIRONMENT

A. THE PASTOR WHO WROTE HEBREWS

Although the text of Hebrews does not disclose the name of the author, it does reveal much about his ability, his concerns, and his relationship to those he addresses. He was a master of elegant Greek who understood the principles of rhetoric and oral persuasion as taught in the ancient world. He had a thorough knowledge of the OT and a clear understanding of how it should be interpreted in light of its fulfillment in Christ. He was well acquainted with the past history of the people to whom he was writing (2:3-4; 6:10; 10:32-34; 13:22-25) and was deeply concerned lest they fail to persevere in their devotion to and public confession of Christ (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). Thus he warns them against laxity or carelessness in their adherence to the Son of God (2:1-4; 5:10-14; 6:1-3), against the attractions of the unbelieving world (12:14-17), and especially against yielding to the social pressure of the larger society that did not accept Christ (3:7–4:11; 10:32-39; 12:1-13). Continued inattention to the Son of God coupled with acquiescence before ungodly opposition might lead to apostasy (6:4-8; 10:26-31; 12:14-17). The full sufficiency of the Son of God as the effective High Priest of God's people is the author's antidote against these dangers. Through Christ's definitive removal of sin God's promise of a future eternal "City" is certain and his power for present perseverance is real (4:14-16; 10:19-25). The Son of God thus incarnate as Savior and High Priest is the final revelation of God (1:1-4), who fulfills all that the old order anticipated. The author does not claim direct apostolic authority but bases his appeal both on the Gospel as acknowledged by his hearers' own confession of faith and on the authority of the OT Scripture. His deep concern for the spiritual welfare of his hearers, his preoccupation with the OT, and the sermonic shape of his book (see pp. 11-16 below) justify our referring to him as "the pastor."

Although, due to the paucity of evidence, attempts to identify the author of Hebrews with any NT person must be, at best, inconclusive, the discussion of this issue is not without significance. First, during the Patristic period the identity of the author was closely tied to the acceptance of Hebrews into the canon. A look, then, at the Patristic discussion is important in understanding Hebrews' place in the list of approved NT books. Second, the attempt to identify the author underscores the uniqueness of Hebrews among NT writings and thus reminds the modern reader of Hebrews' distinctive contribution to the church's understanding of the gospel.

1. Authorship and Canonicity

Hebrews appears between Romans and 1 Corinthians in P46, a collection of Pauline epistles dated c. A.D. 200. It already bears the title "To (the) Hebrews" in this manuscript. In Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus, the great codices from the fourth and fifth centuries, Hebrews occurs after Paul's letters to churches but before his letters to individual persons. Beginning with the sixth-century Codex Claromontanus, Hebrews assumes the place it has in contemporary English Bibles after the other letters of Paul. In the minds of most contemporary Christians it is canonical but no longer Pauline. It has thus become the first of the "General Epistles" (James; 1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John; Jude). As will become evident below, these changes in location reflect the differences between East and West concerning authorship and canonicity. They are also in accord with Hebrews' final acceptance in the list of canonical books, despite doubts about its Pauline authorship.

The earliest known use of Hebrews was in the western Roman Empire, where it was quoted by and echoed in 1 Clement, written from Rome around the end of the first century. There are echoes of Hebrews in Polycarp (c. A.D. 69-155), and it is quoted by Irenaeus (c. A.D. 180), Tertullian (c. A.D. 155-220), and Gaius of Rome (c. A.D. 200). None of these writers, however, cites Hebrews as canonical or attributes it to Paul. Nor is Hebrews included in the Muratorian Canon (c. A.D. 175?). Although Hippolytus (died c. A.D. 236) quotes Hebrews extensively in his Commentary on Daniel, he appears to deny its canonical status by excluding it from the thirteen recognized Pauline epistles. The only suggestion from these sources for the authorship of Hebrews comes from Tertullian, who attributes it to Barnabas. This silence may indicate that the West knew that Hebrews was not Pauline and thus did not consider it apostolic and canonical.

In the East, however, the situation was different. At the end of the second century Pantaenus (c. A.D. 180), the founder of the great catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt, claimed that Hebrews was both Pauline and canonical. As noted above, this affirmation is supported by the way in which P46 locates Hebrews between Romans and 1 Corinthians. Pantaenus, however, recognized the lack of a normal Pauline introduction as an impediment in need of explanation: Paul had not affixed his name because he was only the apostle to the Gentiles, while "the Lord" was the "apostle" (cf. Heb 3:1) to the Jews (Hist. eccl. 6.14.4). Pantaenus's successor, Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 200), continued to affirm the tradition of Pauline authorship and canonical status, though he expanded the explanation against possible objections (Hist. eccl. 6.14.3). He attributed the omission of Paul's name to Paul's desire not to offend the Jews to whom he had addressed this epistle. Moreover, he said that Paul wrote in Hebrew and that Luke translated Hebrews into Greek. This claim appears to acknowledge not only the absence of a Pauline introduction but the significant difference between the style of Hebrews and that of the Pauline letters.

For several reasons it is worth quoting Origen (c. A.D. 185-254), Clement's successor, as recorded by Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 6.25.11-14). First, he names two other persons whom some considered candidates for the authorship of Hebrews — Clement of Rome and Luke. Second, he expresses his own doubt concerning Pauline authorship without denying Hebrews' canonical status:

If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of someone who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote ... down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore, if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this.... But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it.

By the fourth century the West began to join the East in affirming both the Pauline authorship and the canonical authority of Hebrews. Heb 1:3 and 13:8, in particular, were widely used in the Arian controversy to substantiate orthodox Christology. Thus it is no surprise that Athanasius's influential festal letter of A.D. 367 included Hebrews, locating it between 2 Thessalonians and 2 Timothy, in accord with Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (c. A.D. 315-67), helped to bring the West into line with the East by affirming both the Pauline authorship and the canonicity of Hebrews. Both Augustine (A.D. 354-430) and Jerome (A.D. 342-420) lent their support to this movement. The councils of Hippo (A.D. 393) and Carthage (A.D. 397) included Hebrews, but listed it after the thirteen Pauline epistles as "one to the Hebrews." The fifth Council of Carthage (A.D. 419) incorporated Hebrews within the canon as the fourteenth epistle of Paul without further comment. As noted above, this is the place it occupies in the sixth-century Codex Claromontanus. Hebrews was recognized as apostolic and canonical, though hesitation over its Pauline authorship continued. To the quotation from Origen above one should add the witness of Jerome:

The Epistle which is inscribed to the Hebrews is received not only by the Churches of the East, but also by all Church writers of the Greek language before our days, as of Paul the apostle, though many think that it is from Barnabas or Clement. And it makes no difference whose it is, since it is from a churchman, and is celebrated in the daily readings of the Churches. (Epist. 129)

Although Hebrews is first attested in the West (1 Clement), the West appears to have accepted it as Pauline and canonical only in the fourth century under the influence of the East. The significance of the silence of Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus concerning the authorship of Hebrews remains a mystery. They may have been ignorant of the author's identity, or they may have had a tradition that Hebrews was written by someone other than Paul. It is doubtful, however, if their failure to accept Hebrews as Pauline and canonical can be explained entirely in light of the Montanists, who used it to substantiate the impossibility of restoring those who renounced the faith under persecution. Even Tertullian (Pud. 20), who used Hebrews to oppose such restoration, claimed neither Pauline authorship nor canonical status. Thus, both the hesitancy of the West to accept Hebrews and the need felt in the East to posit an intermediate scribe or translator attest the un-Pauline character of this work. It is clear that Pauline authorship was defended in order to sustain Hebrews' canonical status. In the end, however, the greatest biblical scholars of the ancient church (Origen, Jerome) affirmed Hebrews' worth and canonical status despite doubts over Pauline authorship.

2. Candidates for Authorship — A Review

The distinct contribution of Hebrews stands out sharply when compared with the Pauline letters. In contrast to Paul, Hebrews' primary picture of the situation of its readers is as the people of God entering his presence and on pilgrimage to their eternal destiny. Furthermore, Hebrews' exposition of Christ's high priesthood finds no parallel in Paul. Hebrews differs from Paul in its stress on Christ's work as cleansing/sanctifying the people of God so that they can enter God's presence. Christ's high-priestly ministry provides the pilgrim people of God grace for endurance and assurance of final entrance. Hebrews' universal custom of introducing OT quotations with terms denoting speaking rather than writing creates a sense of the immediacy of God's word absent in Paul. While Paul and Hebrews both refer to the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:4-11; Heb 8:6-13; 10:15-18), Hebrews' comparison of the Old and New is distinct from the Pauline treatment of this subject.

These basic differences in perspective are further supported by differences in style. The pastor, for example, unlike Paul, interweaves exposition and exhortation in order to move the hearers to perseverance through appropriation of what is theirs in Christ. Whereas Paul may occasionally use the less-to-greater argument (Rom 5:12-21) since it was widespread in the contemporary world, this manner of argumentation is fundamental to the way Hebrews relates the Old and New Covenants. These major differences are supported by many differences in imagery (e.g., the ship in 2:1; the anchor in 6:19) and vocabulary (Hebrews uses 169 words that appear nowhere else in the NT). Paul had not received the gospel from any human being (Gal 1:12). Both the author and recipients of Hebrews had received the good news from "those who heard" the Lord (Heb 2:3). These many ways, therefore, in which Hebrews differs from the Pauline letters in style, vocabulary, and content all but rule out Pauline authorship.

Despite the striking differences between Paul and Hebrews, which he acknowledges, David Alan Black has contended for a modified version of Pauline authorship. He would explain these differences by arguing that Paul dictated Hebrews to Luke, who was allowed considerable latitude in recording what Paul said. He argues that the quotation from Origen above supports this theory: "But who wrote down the epistle, in truth, God knows." Thus, by "who wrote down," Origen is not referring to the author but the penman who took dictation from Paul. It is not likely, however, that Origen was referring to a penman. Origen says that some think Clement or Luke wrote Hebrews at a later time based on what they remembered of Paul's teaching. It will be argued below that the pastor has used the principles of Hellenistic rhetoric with consummate skill to produce a well-crafted homily or sermon. Content and form have been so intimately wed by one brilliant mind that they cannot be separated. Hebrews is not translation Greek. Differences in style, vocabulary, and theology render both direct and indirect Pauline authorship most unlikely.

1 Clement and Hebrews differ so vastly in style and content that one need give no further attention to the suggestion that Hebrews was written by Clement of Rome. A look at the way the two books use the OT and understand the Aaronic priesthood is sufficient to set them apart from one another. However, there have been contemporary advocates for both Luke, suggested by Origen, and Barnabas, suggested by Tertullian and mentioned by Jerome. There is little to commend Barnabas beyond the facts that he was associated with the Pauline circle, that his name (meaning "son of consolation") echoes the designation of Hebrews as a "word of consolation" (13:22), and that he was a Levite. There are, of course, no genuine writings of Barnabas with which one might compare Hebrews.

David Alan Black's suggestion that Luke took dictation from Paul has been discussed above. David Allen, on the other hand, has vigorously defended direct Lucan authorship. The linguistic evidence he presents, however, is less than impressive. The fact that there are forty-nine words unique to Hebrews and the Lucan writings compared with fifty-six unique to Hebrews and Paul provides no support for Lucan authorship. The linguistic sophistication of both authors adequately accounts for the appearance of 67.6 percent of Hebrews' vocabulary in Luke-Acts. While it is true, for example, that only Acts and Hebrews among NT writings call Jesus "Pioneer" (Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb 2:10; 12:2), this term occurs in the sermons that Luke has recorded and plays no further role in his presentation. Thus, none of Hebrews' theme words are prominent in Luke and Acts. The literary form of Hebrews is a decisive argument against Lucan authorship. Hebrews is a masterful sermon. As noted above, Luke records the sermons of others, yet there is nothing in Luke-Acts to indicate that Luke himself had a significant preaching ministry.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Epistle to the HEBREWS by GARETH LEE COCKERILL Copyright © 2012 by Gareth Lee Cockerill. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Editor's Preface xii

Author's Preface xiii

Abbreviations xvi

Bibliography xxiv

Introduction 1

I Hebrews in Its Environment 2

A The Pastor Who Wrote Hebrews 2

1 Authorship and Canonicity 3

2 Candidates for Authorship - A Review 6

B The Pastor's Sermon 11

C The Pastor's Congregation 16

1 What the Sermon Reveals about Its Hearers 16

2 Were These Hearers Jewish or Gentile in Background? 19

D The Pastor's Worldview 24

1 The Pastor's Dependence on the Christian Tradition 24

2 The Pastor and the Heavenly/Futuristic Eschatology of Apocalyptic Writings 25

3 The Pastor and the Influence of Neo-Platonism 28

E When Did the Pastor Write This Sermon? 34

II The Message of Hebrews 41

A The Sermon's Use of the Old Testament 41

1 Introduction 41

2 Fundamental Assumptions 43

3 The Psalms and Related Passages - "God Has Spoken" 45

4 The Pentateuch - Moses Bears "Witness to the Things That Would Be Spoken" 47

5 The Historical Books (Joshua through Nehemiah) 49

6 Hebrews 3:4-4:11; 7:1-10; and 12:18-24 51

7 Continuity and Typology 52

8 Hebrews and Contemporary Jewish Use of the Old Testament 54

9 Contemporary Relevance 57

B The Sermon's Rhetorically Effective Structure 60

1 Introduction 60

2 Hebrews 1:1-2:18 and 12:4-19: God Has Spoken from the Mountain 63

3 Hebrews 3:1-4:13 and 10:19-12:3: On Pilgrimage to the Promised Home 65

4 Hebrews 1:1-4:13 and 10:19-12:29: The Disobedient and the Faithful 67

5 Hebrews 13:1-25: The Peroration (and Letter Ending) 70

6 Hebrews 4:14-10:18: Entering the Most Holy Place 70

7 The Rhetorical Shape of Hebrews and Its Use of the Old Testament 72

8 The Rhetorical Shape of Hebrews and Ancient Rhetoric 76

C The Sermon's Abiding Message 77

D The Sermon's Outline 79

Text, Exposition, and Notes 85

I A Very Short History of the Disobedient People of God (1:1-4:13) 85

A Sinai Revisited: God Has Spoken in the Eternal, Incarnate, Now Exalted Son (1:1-2:18) 85

1 God Has Spoken through His Son (1:1-4) 86

2 The Incomparable Majesty of the Eternal, Exalted Son (1:5-14) 100

3 The Urgency of Attending to God's Son-Mediated Revelation (2:1-4) 116

4 The Crucial Importance of the Incarnate, Suffering Son (2:5-18) 123

B Tested at Kadesh-Barnea: Avoid the Congregation of the Disobedient (3:1-4:13) 153

1 Consider Jesus, A Son over the House of God (3:1-6) 157

2 Avoid the Company of the Faithless Generation (3:7-19) 173

3 Pursue the Blessing Lost by the Faithless Generation (4:1-11) 195

4 You Are Accountable before the Word of God (4:12-13) 214

II The Son's High Priesthood - Resource and Urgency for Perseverance (4:14-10:18) 218

A The Life of Faith and the High Priesthood of the Son (4:14-5:10) 221

1 Embrace This Great High Priest (4:14-16) 221

2 The New High Priest and the Old (5:1-10) 229

B Don't Be Unresponsive but Grasp What Christ Has Provided (5:11-6:20) 251

1 Reverse Your Unnatural Regression (5:11-6:3) 254

2 Avoid the Danger of Apostasy (6:4-8) 267

3 Shun Apostasy and Embrace the Community of the Faithful (6:9-12) 279

4 Trust God's Promise Verified by God's Oath (6:13-20) 284

C Our High Priest's Legitimacy and Eternity (7:1-28) 293

1 Melchizedek Is Greater than Levi (7:1-10) 295

2 The Priest in "the Likeness of Melchizedek" Displaces Aaron (7:11-25) 313

3 This Priest Is Exactly the Kind of Priest We Need (7:26-28) 337

D Our High Priest's All-Sufficient Sacrifice: A Symphony in Three Movements (8:1-10:18) 345

1 First Movement: The New Promised (8:1-13) 349

a A Minister of the Sanctuary and True Tent (8:1-2) 349

b A Different Sacrifice (8:3-6) 357

c A Better Covenant (8:7-13) 363

2 Second Movement: The Old Antiquated; the New Foreshadowed (9:1-22) 370

a Limitations of the Earthly Sanctuary (9:1-10) 371

b The All-Sufficiency of Christ's Sacrifice (9:11-15) 386

c Freed from the Condemnation of a Broken Covenant (9:16-22) 403

3 Third Movement: The New Explained (9:23-10:18) 411

a Sanctuary: "In the Presence of God for Us" (9:23-24) 414

b Sacrifice - "Once for All" (9:25-10:4) 419

c Sacrifice - "To Do Your Will, O God" (10:5-10) 433

d Sacrifice - "He Sat Down Forever" (10:11-14) 446

e Covenant - "Where There Is Release" (10:15-18) 453

III A History of the Faithful People of God From Creation to Consummation (10:19-12:29) 460

A The Life of Persevering Faith and the High Priesthood of the Son (10:19-39) 460

1 Avail Yourselves of This Great Priest (10:19-25) 464

2 You Are More Accountable Because of This High Priest (10:26-31) 481

3 Pursue the Blessing Promised the Faithful (10:32-39) 495

B The Past History of the People of God until the Coming of Jesus (11:1-12:3) 514

1 Join the Company of the Faithful of Old (11:1-40) 516

a From Creation to Noah: The Foundations of Faith (11:1-7) 519

b Abraham, Faith at Its Best: Perseverance in an Men World (11:8-22) 535

c Moses, Faith under Stress: A Story of Resistance and Triumph (11:23-31) 564

d The Rest of the Story - A "Better Resurrection" (11:32-38) 585

e "They without Us …" (11:39-40) 596

2 Keep Your Eyes on Jesus, Seated at God's Right Hand (12:1-3) 600

C The Present History of the People of God until the Consummation (12:4-29) 613

1 God's True Sons and Daughters Endure the Discipline of Suffering (12:4-13) 614

2 Don't Sell Your Birthright, as Esau Did (12:14-17) 631

3 God's Firstborn Enter His Presence through the Exalted Jesus (12:18-24) 642

4 God Will Speak "Once More" at the Final Judgment (12:25-29) 660

IV Instructions for the Life of Gratitude and Godly Fear (13:1-25) 673

A The Community of the Faithful and the Life of Gratitude and Godly Fear (13:1-6) 677

B The Unbelieving World and the Life of Gratitude and Godly Fear (13:7-17) 688

C A Sermon Sent as a Letter (13:18-25) 710

Indexes

Subjects 723

Names 730

Scripture and Other Ancient Texts 735

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