A Structural Synthesis of the Book of Hebrews -- By: James A. Townsend

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 009:1 (Summer 2000)
Article: A Structural Synthesis of the Book of Hebrews
Author: James A. Townsend

A Structural Synthesis of the Book of Hebrews

James A. Townsend1


A Sherlock Holmes is needed for detecting who wrote the book of Hebrews and to whom it was written. There are clues, however, embedded inside the mansion of Hebrews saying some specific things about why it was written.

To Whom Was Hebrews Written

In Hebrews 10:32–34 the original readers were traumatized by trials. They were persecutees. However, (according to Heb. 12:4) no martyrs could be numbered on their roster. The early Greek manuscripts tell us that the target audience were “Hebrews” (that is, Jews), and the extensive citations from our Old Testament in the book reinforce this conviction. Richard Longnecker counted thirty-eight citations from the Old Testament in the New Testament book of Hebrews.2

One of the principal clues for our Sherlock Holmes is like the mythical head of Janus (which faces two directions): it can be interpreted in two opposite ways. Hebrews 13:24 refers to “those from Italy” sending greetings to the book’s

readership. In Acts 18:2 it is clear that those “from Italy” are people who are from Rome but at that time were away from Rome. They are like friends “from Illinois” on vacation in Florida who are sending back a postcard to those they know in Illinois. Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that the readers of Hebrews were Jewish believers in Christ living in or near Rome who were feeling the aftershock of persecutionquakes. If this scenario is the case, then the date must be set prior to Nero’s Christian-killing pogrom by a.d. 64.

Why Was Hebrews Written?

If the portrait we have painted is correct, then these Jewish readers may have been wondering: Isn’t it “better” if we go back to just being garden-variety Jews rather than “Jews for Jesus”? Emphatically “no!” spouts the author of Hebrews. You (the readers) must “not drift away” (Heb. 2:1) or “shrink back” (10:38), for renouncing Jesus would be tantamount to turning “away from the living God” (3:12). Don’t go back; “go on to maturity” (6:1). The principal point of Hebrews is encapsulated in two book titles — ...

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