Author and Date: Since about A.D. 400 the book of Hebrews has traditionally been ascribed to Paul. There are, however, some who question Paul’s authorship of this Epistle because its style and language are so different from Paul’s other letters. It is generally agreed that even if the pen was not Paul’s, the ideas were, because the doctrines in Hebrews agree with those found in Paul’s other letters.
When the Prophet Joseph Smith made inspired revisions of the Bible he did not question Paul’s authorship (see Bible Dictionary, (“Joseph Smith Translation,” p. 717). For instance the Prophet taught:
”It is said by Paul in his letter to the Hebrew brethren, that Abel obtained witness that he was righteous” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 59).
The dating of this Epistle is also uncertain. But since Hebrews makes no mention of the destruction of the temple, which occurred in A.D. 70, and always refers to the temple in the present tense, it is assumed this letter was written before that time. Also, if Paul was the author, it must have been written before his death in about A.D. 65.
Audience: This Epistle draws heavily on Old Testament themes and practices. Therefore it is likely that the intended audience was Jewish (Hebrew) Christians.
Historical Background: As we have seen in Acts and in the Epistles we have already studied, there was often sharp disagreement between gentile and Jewish Christians over whether or not Saints were subject to the law of Moses (see Acts 15). One reason the book of Hebrews was written was to encourage Jewish converts to remain faithful to the gospel and not revert to their Old Testament way of life.
As it became clear that Mosaic rituals were done away in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, an interesting pair of questions arose: If we accept the truth that the law of Moses is no longer binding on Christians, what is the true value of the Old Testament? and how should it be interpreted? With a few possible exceptions, the only scriptures available to the Christians at this early date were what we now call the Old Testament. The New Testament was in the process of preparation, and nearly three centuries passed before it was accepted as a standard. Hebrews appears to have been written, at least in part, to answer the question of how Christians were to view the Old Testament and the law of Moses. Christ and His gospel were to have precedence over the old law.
Theme:Paul taught the Colossian Saints that they should give “thanks unto the Father” who sent His Firstborn Son “that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:12–18). The book of Hebrews adds to this theme the fact that Jesus Christ, under the Father, is superior to all things. He is therefore authorized to fulfill the old covenant of the law and administer the new covenant of the gospel. As one Latter-day Saint educator wrote:
“Hebrews … is to the New Testament what Leviticus is to the Old: Leviticus announces the Mosaic system, while Hebrews explains it. In it, Paul shows how the gospel grew out of the soil of the Levitical order. By the light of the gospel restored in his day, he shows how the Levitical system was intended as a bridge by which those in the wilderness of carnality could cross over to the rest of the Lord.
“None of the books in the New Testament, the Gospels included, are more Christ centered than Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews. In it, Paul seeks to show Christ as the fulfillment of the Mosaic system. The imagery of the Mosaic system finds its reality in Jesus of Nazareth and his atoning sacrifice” (Joseph Fielding McConkie, “Jesus Christ, Symbolism, and Salvation,” in Robert L. Millet, Studies in Scripture: Volume 6, Acts to Revelation , 192).