Book Reviews -- By: Mark R. Stevenson
EMJ 18:2 (Winter 2009) p. 225
The Letter to the Hebrews, Pillar New Testament Commentary
By Peter T. O’Brien, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 596 pages, hardcover, $50.00.
Peter T. O’Brien, senior research fellow in New Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, has greatly enriched Hebrews studies with the latest volume in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series. O’Brien studied under F. F. Bruce at the University of Manchester, and he brings to his task the same kind of exegetical skill and reverence for the Scriptures that characterized the work of his mentor. One recent reviewer has suggested that O’Brien’s commentary may very well replace Bruce’s commentary as the favorite of many college professors and pastors. Time will tell, but I had a similar impression as I began to review this fine work.
The introduction is just long enough to give a very adequate summary of the main issues to seminary and Bible college students, teaching elders, pastors, and other serious students of the Word. The many affinities between Paul’s letters and Hebrews indicate that the author was a companion of the great apostle. The readers were mostly Jewish Christians probably living in Rome. They were in danger of abandoning the Christian community and returning to Judaism. The epistle was written between AD 50 and AD 90, but the evidence for a pre-70 date is strong. As for the literary genre, Hebrews may be considered as a sermon (“word of exhortation”) that was delivered and read as a letter. O’Brien reviews and helpfully explains the various suggestions concerning the structure of Hebrews (conceptual analysis, rhetorical analysis, literary analysis, and discourse analysis) and indicates that he follows the discourse analysis of George H. Guthrie in his own approach. One advantage of this approach is that it highlights the complex interplay between exposition and exhortation in the epistle. As to the first-century world in which Hebrews was written, O’Brien
EMJ 18:2 (Winter 2009) p. 226
has definite views on the source of the ideas and themes within the epistle. He acknowledges that Graeco-Roman culture influenced “the elegant language and elevated rhetoric” of the author. He rejects the thesis that the author is indebted to Philo or Platonism for his ideas and themes. Nor does he trace any influence to Gnosticism or the Dead Sea Scrolls. Any similarities to Qumran and Philo are due to a common background—“traditional exegesis of the OT.” As for the rest of the New Testament, Hebrews has affinities with a number of early Christian writings including Paul’s letters, Stephen’s speech in Acts, and 1 Peter.
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