The Literary Structure of the Book of Hebrews -- By: David J. MacLeod

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 146:582 (Apr 1989)
Article: The Literary Structure of the Book of Hebrews
Author: David J. MacLeod

The Literary Structure of the Book of Hebrews

David J. MacLeod

Dean of the Graduate Program
Emmaus Bible College, Dubuque, Iowa

The past 30 years have witnessed considerable discussion over various aspects of the Epistle to the Hebrews.1 This article and one to be published in the following issue focus on two areas of the discussion, namely, the literary structure of the epistle and the doctrinal center of the epistle. The first of these topics, the epistle’s literary structure, is of importance in that it affects one’s understanding of how the book is to be divided and of the author’s development of his argument.2 This article summarizes the traditional approach to the epistle’s structure and then examines contemporary contributions to the discussion.

Conceptual Analysis

Traditionally most presentations3 of the argument of Hebrews have divided the epistle in Pauline fashion into a section that is mainly doctrinal (1:1–10:18) and one that is mainly paraenetic (10:19–13:25).4 In some of the traditional presentations the doctrinal section is subdivided into two or more parts. Also the proponents of this traditional structure hold that there are paraenetic passages within the doctrinal section5 and doctrinal contributions within the paraenetic section.

The traditional presentations of the argument divide the epistle “into sections and subsections so as to reveal the development of the argument.”6 They attempt to map out the conceptual structure of the epistle, highlighting the author’s themes such as the sonship of Christ, the deity and humanity of Christ, the “rest” of God, the high priesthood of Christ, the New Covenant, the sacrifice of Christ, and the need for faithfulness and perseverance in the Christian life. While most commentators have noted these basic themes, they have failed to agree on all the details “for the simple reason that the author [of Hebrews] composes like a musician intertwining one theme with another.”7

Literary Patterns in the Book

Announcements of Subject

Dissatisfied with the ways most previous scholars have analyzed the epistle, Albert Vanhoye, a French Jesuit, has argued that

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