The Letter to the Hebrews, Out of the Shadow of Obscurity
From earlier blogs we have learned:
1. It is by a medieval mistranslation that one has rejected Hebrews as Pauline.
2. By correcting the mistranslation, there is no reason any more to reject the Pauline authorship.
3. What is told about Timothy in the Letter to the Hebrews makes clear that Paul was indeed the author of this letter.
4. Hebrews was an attachment to the Letter to the Galatians and for that reason a personal introduction of the apostle Paul at the beginning was not necessary.
5. The letters were meant to be read together for non-Jewish and Jewish Christians, and not separately.
The Content of the Two Letters?
Now, we have to look at the content of the two letters. It appears that there had grown a problem. The Galatians had begun to be attracted to the Jewish way of life they saw among the Jewish members of the church. And they began to ask themselves why they should not circumcise themselves also. It seems that the church of Galatia had fallen apart into two Christian groups: the non-Jewish Galatians and a Hebrew speaking Jewish population.
A significant agreement between the two letters—we will see—makes clear that it was the apostle Paul who wrote both letters. He gave to each group a comparable answer: a doctrine derived from a testament.
Abram’s Testament for the Galatians
To Abram was promised in Genesis 12:3 “And in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (NASB) This promise was done 430 years before the Law was given to Moses. This promise was repeated after the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22:18 “And in your seed, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because you have obeyed My voice.” In this verse is said that via Isaac the blessing to the peoples of the earth would come to the nations. The blessing of the Messiah and his Kingdom.
So what is the conclusion of Paul to the Galatians? “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29)
Shortly, Paul said to the Galatians ‘What circumcision? You are already children of Abraham.’ There was a testament of Abraham that waited to be fulfilled. Now by their belief in Jesus, the Galatians were already children of Abraham, but without circumcision.
Jesus’ Testament for the Hebrews
Paul gives also a doctrine for the Hebrews to value rightly the New Covenant of Jesus. It is stronger, he says, than the covenant of Abraham or Moses. The new covenant of Jesus was made with the blood of Jesus and not with the blood of an animal, as had happened with the other covenants. Therefore this covenant with the blood of Jesus is in fact the New Covenant with a new testament. After Jesus’ death the New Covenant, as promised by Jeremiah, was actual.
Paul suggests to the Hebrews that they are now Jews under a better covenant, of Jesus. And that they have become heirs of this newer testament. That is, his words had been written before he died and made known after his death. That is the value of the new testament of Jesus. They, the Hebrews, should already be teachers of the new covenant, according to the time they were Christians. “For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.” (Hebrews 9:16 RSV)
What about the Apostolic Decisions?
Why didn’t Paul refer to the decisions of the apostles (Acts 15:19–20) who had decided that the non-Jewish Christians did not need to be circumcised and that they could follow their own way of life apart from some exceptions. Actually, he had given these decisions earlier already (Acts 16:4). Anyway, he wanted the Galatians and Hebrews to build their motivations on the scriptures. That is true and remaining faith instead of a prescribed apostolic rule as a law. He wanted both groups to live by faith, and he showed them that they lived in a new era, under the New Covenant of the Messiah. They should live in it together with mutual recognition and joy.
The close-fitting approaches in the Letter to the Galatians and the Letter to the Hebrews to a common problem show again that there was a common author of these letters: Paul, as we know from Galatians.