As always, we’ll take a couple of days to examine the context surrounding this book of the Bible before we study the book itself. The reason this is important is because we can take verses in the Bible out of context and misinterpret them if we don’t understand the purpose of the writing. If we understand the context, we can better understand the truth about God and how to apply these truths to our everyday lives. To study the context, we ask the questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Who wrote the book of Hebrews? The short answer to this question is that we don’t know. In fact, it’s one of the few books of the Bible of which we don’t know the author. Because the writing has many of the same points and thoughts of Paul’s writings, many scholars believe the author is a close associate of Paul’s. More important than the name of the author is his character. The author had extraordinary knowledge of the Old Testament, and he used events and passages from the Old Testament to create a sustained argument for the superiority of Jesus.
What were the circumstances surrounding the writing? The letter was written to a body of believers (a house church/churches) who had been persecuted before, but now they were facing more severe persecution. Many scholars believe Hebrews was written during Nero’s persecution of the early church between A.D. 64 and A.D. 68. Apparently the previous persecutions didn’t involve the loss of life (12:4), but now the persecution was getting severe. People were no longer meeting in public places because they were afraid of being persecuted.
Why was the book of Hebrews written? What’s its purpose? The constant call throughout the book to regularly attend public Christian worship meetings reflected the fear of persecution and the hesitancy to be associated with the church. This letter to the Hebrews was a reminder that everything in Judaism was fulfilled in Jesus. To turn from Jesus was to move away from God. The only proper response to what God did in Jesus was to go out of the place of security (the synagogue) and bear Jesus’ abuse with him (13:13). Ultimately, the book of Hebrews is about the supremacy of Christ.
Spend some time reflecting on what the context means to us, and do some research on your own to understand the context of Hebrews. In a couple of days, we’ll start studying this book verse by verse.