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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Book of Hebrews: Background

The key to understanding any portion of Scripture is context, context, context. Whether it is context within a verse, context of verses close by, context of a chapter, a book, or sometimes of the Scripture at large, the only way we can understand a passage of Scripture is to understand where it fits in the grand scheme. Thus, before we start our study of Hebrews, it's important to figure out what the book is for and what it's trying to say. There are difficult parts of Hebrews that won't make sense (or that will lead us to unscriptural conclusions) unless we keep these things in mind.

It is always useful to recall that Christianity did not originate "in a vacuum", so to speak. The gospel was first preached in Jerusalem, to a culture with a deeply entrenched religion and deep-seated beliefs. The religion and the culture were inextricably linked; it is not for nothing that the word "Jew" can equally describe a person's ethnicity or a person's religious affiliation. The two were practically synonymous in N.T. times.

Thus Jews in the first century had a very difficult decision to make when presented with the gospel. There are those who tried to bring Judaistic ways into the church; these attempts were addressed at Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts 15. (It is a sad footnote of history that the legalizers eventually got their way, and many churches today essentially practise old-time Judaism with a Christian veneer.) But many others were faced with an either/or choice; reject the gospel and maintain your old ways as a Jew, or take the step of faith and accepting Christ, regardless of the consequences to your previous cultural standing. Let it not be said that this was a casual choice for anyone.

The writer of Hebrews understood this. It not would do for him to present the gospel merely as an alternative to Judaism; he had to clearly demonstrate the superiority of Christ. And that is the key. Hebrews is a book of comparisons, but it is not Judaism compared to Christianity, but Judaism compared to Christ. He is the difference. He is greater than angels, He is the priest after the order of Melchizedek, He is the perfect sacrifice, and so on.

The key phrase to me in the book of Hebrews is "a new and living way" (Heb. 10:20). That is what the gospel is. The O.T. rituals and observances were useful as patterns and shadows of things to come, but they could never meet the real needs of the Jewish people, or indeed of anyone. There is real life, eternal life, in the gospel.

1 Comments:

Blogger Rochelle said...

"It not would do for him to present the gospel merely as an alternative to Judaism; he had to clearly demonstrate the superiority of Christ. And that is the key. Hebrews is a book of comparisons, but it is not Judaism compared to Christianity, but Judaism compared to Christ. He is the difference. He is greater than angels, He is the priest after the order of Melchizedek, He is the perfect sacrifice, and so on."

Praise the Lord! That is awesome. That sheds a whole new light on the book. With that main focus in mind, everything comes together with more clarity of purpose. I'm excited to dig deeper.

10:34 PM  

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