The First Readers Of Hebrews -- By: John V. Dahms

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 20:4 (Dec 1977)
Article: The First Readers Of Hebrews
Author: John V. Dahms

The First Readers Of Hebrews

John V. Dahms*

It is the contention of this paper that the readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews, whatever their geographical location, were Jewish Christians who were in danger, not of lapsing into Judaism, nor of merely being slack in their Christian devotion, but of embracing a version of Christianity characterized by serious error.1 Because relapse into Judaism is the most common view of the danger threatening the readers of the epistle, we shall devote major attention to a refutation of that view.

The view that the epistle was written to a group in danger of falling into paganism founders on the fact that the author can assume that the OT is authoritative for his readers and, indeed, is so fully accepted as true that it can provide the basis for his argument at almost every turn. Moreover, his asseveration that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart” (4:12) gains its cogency from the fact that it accords with what the readers themselves most surely believed. The warning against “fall(ing) away from the living God” in 3:12 may sound like a warning against lapse into paganism, but it should be remembered that those holding seriously heretical views concerning Christ may be described in NT times as people who do not “have God” (2 John 7–9; cf. I John 2:22–23; 4:2–3; also note Gal 5:4, “You are severed from Christ”). It is therefore unnecessary to see a reference to lapse into paganism in Heb 3:12.

It is exceedingly improbable that the readers of the epistle were Christians, either Jew or Gentile, who were merely in danger of becoming slack in their Christan devotion or of failing to go on to Christian maturity. It is clear that they were being motivated by a desire to avoid persecution (10:32 ff.; 12:3 ff; 13:13). It is also true that they were spiritually stunted (5:11 ff.). It must be admitted, moreover, that the arguments concerning Christ’s person and work that make up a considerable portion of the epistle have a part to play in developing the kind of convictions that are fundamental to steadfastn...

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