Introduction to Hebrews

“Introduction to Hebrews,” New Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2016)


Why Study This Book?

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews testifies of the superiority of Jesus Christ. He is greater than the angels and has a more excellent name and a higher calling. Angels are servants of God, but Jesus Christ is His Son. This book also teaches that Jesus is greater than Moses and that His ministry brought a new covenant superior to the old covenant under the law of Moses. As the Great High Priest of the Melchizedek Priesthood, His priesthood is greater than that of the high priests under the law of Moses.

While the scriptures are filled with references to Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice, His Resurrection, and His Ascension into heaven, Hebrews emphasizes the ongoing work of the Redeemer in the lives of all who turn to Him in obedience and faith. Studying the book of Hebrews can help you better understand the doctrine of the Atonement and inspire you to live with faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Who Wrote This Book?

Most Latter-day Saints accept Paul as the author of Hebrews (see Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles”). However, there are some who question whether Paul wrote this epistle because its style and language are different from his other letters. It is generally agreed that even if the pen was not Paul’s, the ideas were his because the doctrines in Hebrews agree with those found in his other letters. The Prophet Joseph Smith attributed statements from Hebrews to the Apostle Paul (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 105). For the purposes of this manual, we accept Paul as the author.

When and Where Was It Written?

We do not know where Paul’s letter to the Hebrews was written. We also do not know exactly when it was written. However, most assume that it was written around A.D. 60–62, near the same time as Paul’s letters to the Philippians, the Colossians, the Ephesians, and Philemon (see Guide to the Scriptures, “Pauline Epistles,” scriptures.lds.org).

To Whom Was It Written and Why?

Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews to encourage Jewish members of the Church to maintain their faith in Jesus Christ and to not return to their former ways (see Hebrews 10:32–38). Under the pressure of various afflictions, many of these Jewish Christians were apparently withdrawing from the Church and returning to the relative safety of Jewish worship at the synagogue (see Hebrews 10:25, 38–39). Paul desired to show these Jewish Christians that the law of Moses itself pointed to Jesus Christ and His Atonement as the true source of salvation.

What Are Some Distinctive Features of This Book?

Rather than being strictly an epistle, Hebrews is more of an extended sermon that repeatedly refers to the Israelites’ scriptures and practices. It is the longest sermon in scripture about why and how Jesus Christ is superior to all things.

Hebrews teaches that Jesus Christ is greater than the law because He gave the law. Hebrews also teaches that the prophets received power through faith in Him, that He was the great High Priest in whom the sacrifices of Old Testament times were fulfilled, that He is greater than the angels, and that it is through His atoning sacrifice that we may receive a remission of sins.

The book of Hebrews is one of the few places in the Bible where we can read about the prophet Melchizedek (see Hebrews 7:1–4) and the priesthood named after him (see Hebrews 5:5–6, 10; 6:20; 7:11–17). Hebrews teaches that the Melchizedek Priesthood is greater than the Aaronic Priesthood, and it shows that salvation is found not in the law of Moses or in the ordinances administered by Levitical priests but in Jesus Christ and the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood (see Hebrews 7:5–28). Hebrews 11:1–12:4 provides a notable discourse on faith and teaches how individuals can trust in Jesus Christ. (See Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles.”)

Outline

Hebrews 1–6. Jesus Christ is in the express image of the Father. He is greater than the angels and all the prophets who preceded Him, including Moses. The ancient Israelites who were brought out of Egypt failed to enter the Lord’s rest because they hardened their hearts against Jesus Christ and His servant Moses. As the Great High Priest, Jesus is superior to all the Mosaic high priests. Through His suffering, Christ was perfected. We can enter the Lord’s rest and “go on unto perfection” through the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel (Hebrews 6:1).

Hebrews 7–13. The Melchizedek Priesthood administers the gospel and is greater than the Aaronic Priesthood. The tabernacle and the Mosaic ordinances foreshadowed Christ’s ministry. Jesus Christ fulfilled the law of Moses through the shedding of His blood, through which we may obtain salvation and a remission of our sins. By faith, the prophets and other men and women performed righteous works and miracles.