The Structure Of Hebrews From Three Perspectives -- By: Steve Stanley

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 45:2 (NA 1994)
Article: The Structure Of Hebrews From Three Perspectives
Author: Steve Stanley

The Structure Of Hebrews From Three Perspectives

Steve Stanley


The literary genre, rhetorical character and content of Hebrews all provide clues to the structure of the book. In the final analysis none of these should be considered in isolation, but of the three, content is of primary importance. Among the most significant structural clues in Hebrews are the use of Scripture, particularly Psalm 110, the use of the ‘word of exhortation’ form, announcement of subject, the use of various genres within the larger framework of the homily and the fluctuations of theme and content. Hebrews can be divided into three main sections: the superiority of Christ (1–7), the superiority of Christ’s ministry (8–10) and the resulting responsibilities of the people of God (11–13).

I. Introduction

‘In order to understand correctly the message which the author of Hebrews has left us it is not enough to read his sentences one after the other. One must also and above all figure out the composition of the work as a whole.’1 Although this seems self-evident, some scholars do not recognise the importance of structure for understanding the book of Hebrews.2 Those who do consider issues of structure are by

no means in agreement regarding the structure of Hebrews.3 This is due in part to the author’s ability to construct very smooth transitions, which tend to create inconspicuous section breaks, and the sheer complexity of the author’s line of argumentation and hence his structuring of the book. Whatever can be said for the structure of Hebrews, one must admit that uncovering it is a long and arduous process. David Alan Black holds a similar view:

Literary structures, to use a scientific analogy, are like those mysterious species of fish which live on the ocean floor. As soon as they are brought to the surface to be examined, the change in pressure is too great for them, and they explode, leaving their investigators in a state of frustration and bewilderment.4

After some frustration and not a few explosions, I will endeavour once again to bring this delicate creature to the surface. In this attempt, I will consider the implications of literary genre and rhetorical technique and then offer an interpretation of the messag...

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