A name applied to the Israelites in Scripture only by one who is a foreigner (Genesis 39:14,17; 41:12, etc.), or by the Israelites when they speak of themselves to foreigners (40:15; Exodus 1:19), or when spoken of an contrasted with other peoples (Genesis 43:32; Exodus 1:3,7,15; Deuteronomy 15:12). In the New Testament there is the same contrast between Hebrews and foreigners (Acts 6:1; Philippians 3:5).
The name is derived, according to some, from Eber (Genesis 10:24), the ancestor of Abraham. The Hebrews are "sons of Eber" (10:21).
Others trace the name of a Hebrew root-word signifying "to pass over," and hence regard it as meaning "the man who passed over," viz., the Euphrates; or to the Hebrew word meaning "the region" or "country beyond," viz., the land of Chaldea. This latter view is preferred. It is the more probable origin of the designation given to Abraham coming among the Canaanites as a man from beyond the Euphrates (Genesis 14:13).
A third derivation of the word has been suggested, viz., that it is from the Hebrew word 'Abhar , "To pass over," whence 'Ebher , In the sense of a "sojourner" or "passer through" as distinct from a "settler" in the land, and thus applies to the condition of Abraham (Hebrews 11:13).
All the results of critical and historical research to which this epistle has been specially subjected abundantly vindicate its right to a place in the New Testament canon among the other inspired books.
A considerable variety of opinions on this subject has at different times been advanced. Some have maintained that its author was Silas, Paul's companion. Others have attributed it to Clement of Rome, or Luke, or Barnabas, or some unknown Alexandrian Christian, or Apollos; but the conclusion which we think is best supported, both from internal and external evidence, is that Paul was its author. There are, no doubt, many difficulties in the way of accepting it as Paul's; but we may at least argue with Calvin that there can be no difficulty in the way of "embracing it without controversy as one of the apostolical epistles."
Date and place of writing.
It was in all probability written at Rome, near the close of Paul's two years' imprisonment (Hebrews 13:19,24). It was certainly written before the destruction of Jerusalem (13:10).
To whom addressed.
Plainly it was intended for Jewish converts to the faith of the gospel, probably for the church at Jerusalem. The subscription of this epistle is, of course, without authority. In this case it is incorrect, for obviously Timothy could not be the bearer of it (13:23).
was to show the true end and meaning of the Mosaic system, and its symbolical and transient character. It proves that the Levitical priesthood was a "shadow" of that of Christ, and that the legal sacrifices prefigured the great and all-perfect sacrifice he offered for us. It explains that the gospel was designed, not to modify the law of Moses, but to supersede and abolish it. Its teaching was fitted, as it was designed, to check that tendency to apostatize from Christianity and to return to Judaism which now showed itself among certain Jewish Christians. The supreme authority and the transcendent glory of the gospel are clearly set forth, and in such a way as to strengthen and confirm their allegiance to Christ.
It consists of two parts:
(a) doctrinal ((1-10:18),),
(b) and practical (10:19-ch. 13).
There are found in it many references to portions of the Old Testament. It may be regarded as a treatise supplementary to the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, and as an inspired commentary on the book of Leviticus.
This word first occurs as given to Abram by the Canaanites, (Genesis 4:13) because he had crossed the Euphrates. The name is also derived from Eber, "beyond, on the other side," Abraham and his posterity being called Hebrews in order to express a distinction between the races east and west of the Euphrates. It may also be derived from
Heber, one of the ancestors of Abraham. (Genesis 10:24) The term Israelite was used by the Jews of themselves among themselves; the term Hebrew was the name by which they were known to foreigners. The latter was accepted by the Jews in their external relations; and after the general substitution of the word Jew, it still found a place in that marked and special feature of national contradistinction, the language.
--There has been a wide difference of opinion respecting the authorship of this epistle. For many years Paul was considered the author; others think it may have been Luke, Barnabas, or Apollos. Much of the theology and the language are similar to Paul’s, but the authorship of the epistle is still disputed.
2. To whom written.
--The epistle was probably addressed to the Jews in Jerusalem and Palestine. The argument of the epistle is such as could he used with most effect to a church consisting exclusively of Jews by birth, personally familiar with and attached to the temple service.
--It was evidently written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, probably about A.D. 62-64.
--It was probably written in Italy, while Paul was a prisoner at Rome.
--With respect to the scope of the epistle, it should be recollected that while the numerous Christian churches scattered throughout Judea, (Acts 9:31; Galatians 1:22) were continually exposed to persecution from the Jews, (1 Thessalonians 2:14) there was in Jerusalem one additional weapon in the hands of the predominant oppressors of the Christians. The magnificent national temple might be put against the Hebrew Christian; and even if this affliction were not often laid upon him, yet there was a secret burden which he bore within him, the knowledge that the end of all the beauty and awfulness of Zion was rapidly approaching. The writer of this epistle meets the Hebrew Christians on their own ground, showing that the new faith gave them Christ the Son of God, more prevailing than the high priest as an intercessor; that his Sabbath awaited them, his covenant, his atonement, his city heavenly not made with hands. Having him, believe in him with all your heart, with a faith in the unseen future strong as that of the saints of old, patient under present and prepared for coming woe, full of energy and hope and holiness and love. Such was the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews.