Who Were the Hebrews?
Abraham was the first person referred to as a Hebrew in the scriptures (see Genesis 14:13). His descendants—especially the Jewish people who stayed together as a group the longest—were called Hebrews and spoke a language known as Hebrew. Jesus Christ, His original Twelve Apostles, and the first converts to His Church were all Hebrews.
This Hebrew background explains why some Jewish converts to Christianity had such a difficult time giving up their rituals and traditions that were based on the law of Moses. They did not fully understand that Jesus Christ had come to fulfill that law and that He required them to live according to a higher law. As a former Pharisee, Paul understood the challenges they faced as they tried to live according to the “new covenant,” or fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He encouraged them to exercise their faith in Jesus Christ and not in Hebrew or Judaic traditions or practices that had been discontinued or no longer had any meaning.
In this epistle, Paul shared with the Hebrews his great understanding of the Old Testament and the law of Moses, as well as his special witness as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. He taught them that the Old Testament did not oppose Christ, but actually testified of Him and His gospel.
Getting Ready to Study Hebrews
Following are some important ideas to look for in the book of Hebrews:
The teachings and practices of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the life and mission of Jesus Christ. Hebrews is one of the greatest commentaries we have on the Old Testament. As you carefully read and try to understand Hebrews, the Old Testament will make more sense to you.
Jesus Christ and His gospel are greater than all the elements of the religion the Jews practiced under the law of Moses. Although the Jewish religion under the law of Moses was the true religion at one time, Jesus fulfilled the law and gave a higher, celestial law. The law of Moses could not have brought salvation to the people, but Jesus Christ could and did. Paul used Old Testament scriptures to show that Christ is greater than the angels, the prophets, and the priests. He also showed that the priesthood of Christ—the Melchizedek Priesthood—is greater than the Aaronic Priesthood exercised under the law of Moses.
The Old Testament people we admire accomplished great things because of their faith in Christ. Paul wrote about many Old Testament heroes who centered their lives in Jesus Christ (Jehovah; see Hebrews 11), and he encouraged the Saints to look to them as examples.