Lesson 3 of5
In Progress

Background of Hebrews

Hebrews was written for a Christian community that had gone through several phases of development. First, the community had been established through the proclamation of the gospel by some Christian evangelists. Their message had been confirmed by miracles and a vivid sense of God’s Spirit working (2:3-4). Second, the community had experienced conflict with others, who verbally abused them, took property, and placed some Christians in prison. Despite the challenges, the members of the community supported each other well (10:32-34). Third, time passed and members of the community seemed dispirited. The intensity of persecution and resistance gave way to a sense of dullness and malaise, and some were drifting away from the community (2:1; 5:11; 6:12; 10:25).

The traditional assumption is that Hebrews was addressed to Jewish Christians who were leaving the church and returning to the synagogue. Many, however, have observed that the book could just as easily address Christians of any background. The author never says that the readers were specifically Jewish. Hebrews often refers to the Old Testament, but the Old Testament was widely used by all Christians, both Jewish and Gentile. The readers were drifting away from the Christian community, but the author never refers to problems with local synagogues. What is clear is that the readers were discouraged and in need of encouragement to remain faithful.

In the early church, Hebrews was identified as a letter written by the Apostle Paul. Currently, however, most agree that Paul did not write it. Paul’s name is never mentioned and the style is different from Paul’s letters. Moreover, many now consider Hebrews to be a sermon rather than a letter. The book lacks the kind of opening salutation that appears in all of Paul’s letters (compare Hebrews 1:1-4 and 1 Corinthians 1:1-3). The book calls itself “a word of exhortation,” and this was a common way to refer to sermons (Hebrews 13:22; Acts 13:15). Since the author includes greetings from Italians, who are apparently away from home, it seems likely that the book was sent to Christians in Italy and perhaps specifically to Rome.