An argument is a determination of the theme and/or purpose of a book of the Bible, and a tracing through of the book to determine how each passage relates to the development of that theme or purpose. While an argument is not an exposition, it can be of great assistance in the interpretation and exposition of a book or passage.
I wrote this argument while a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. It is written from a dispensational, premillennial viewpoint.
NOTE: I will be turning the superscripts into active links in a future release. For now, it is necessary to scroll to the bottom of the page to see the footnotes.
Three themes have been suggested as applying to the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Scofield1 has suggested that the theme of Hebrews is the priesthood of Jesus Christ. This theme would accurately cover chapters 5-10, but the other passages would be forced to fit this theme. For example, Christ's superiority over the angels, discussed in 1:4-2:18, is not related to Christ's priesthood. The theme of Christ's priesthood is simply not adequate to explain every passage of the epistle.
A second suggestion as to the theme of the epistle is the superiority of Jesus Christ. Ironside seems to take this view, for he says of Hebrews:
"In a manner that grips the heart and stirs the mind to its deepest depths, this epistle points out Christ's glories as Son of God and Son of Man. It brings before us in the fullest possible way, His marvellous Person as the Apostle and High Priest of our confession."2
This view has much to commend it, since it does present itself as a subject of argument for most of the passages of the epistle. But it also, as the first view, falls somewhat short of satisfying the entire epistle. Chapter 11, for example, does not fit this theme, and there are several other passages which would not fit easily.
A third suggested theme is the supersession of Judaism by Chritianity. This theme would seem most accurate, since it is in harmony with all the passages of the epistle, and presents itself as a good conclusion to all the points of the individual passages.3
It seems apparent, in reading this epistle, that it was addressed to a specific group of Christians who were of Jewish ancestry and who had formerly embraced the Hebrew religion. In support of this, the following evidence is offered:
1. The title, though there is no reason to suppose it is original, indicates that those who placed this epistle among the apostolic Scriptures believed it to have been addressed to Hebrews.4
2. The author presupposes a good Old Testament background, with considerable familiarity with Levitical rituals.
3. His insistence on the supersession of the old covenant would be pointless were he not addressing people who were disposed to live under it.
4. His use of, and appeal to, the Old Testament Scriptures indicate confidence that his readers would recognize their authority even though they may be losing confidence in the gospel.5
Due to their profession of faith in Jesus Christ, they were undergoing a certain amount of persecution. Although they had "not yet resisted unto blood" (12:4), there can be no doubt that they had many emotional hardships. "They were deprived of the consolations of their ancestral ritual: they were excluded from the fellowship of their countrymen: the letter of Scripture had failed them: the Christ remained outwardly unvindicated from the judgment of high-priest and scribes; and a storm was gathering round the Holy City which to calm eyes boded utter desolation without any prospect of relief."6 Their break with the old religion doubtless, in some cases, meant breaking family ties and friendships. No doubt they suffered verbal abuse, and were ostracized. And as time went on, and yet their promised Christ did not appear, they began to grow impatient, and thought to return to their old religion.
The writer, therefore, wrote for the purpose of demonstrating that Christianity had superseded Judaism as God's true religion, a purpose he accomplishes by showing Christianity to be superior to Judaism in its various components. He wrote to the end that they should not return to their old religion of outward forms.
As with almost any local church, there were bound to have been some among those addressed who were curiously investigating Christianity, but who had not yet exercised a real faith in Christ. For such as these, to turn from the fuller revelation back to the old form would constitute a rejection of the gospel. It is with people such as this in mind that the writer inserts the numerous exhortations in the epistle.
We conclude, then, that the writer's purpose in this epistle was to prevent these people from turning back to Judaism by showing that Christianity is superior to Judaism, and supersedes it as the final form of true religion.
In this section, Jesus Christ is shown to be superior to various elements of Judaism. Since He is the object of the Christian faith, it was necessary to demonstrate this superiority.
In these verses, the writer points out that Christ is son, heir, creator, revealor, sustainer, savior and intercessor. Such a statement cannot be made concerning any of the prophets.
Prophets played an extremely important part in the Old Testament, since they were the instruments through whom God often spoke. The writer's purpose in these three verses is to demonstrate that Christianity was revealed through superior means that was Judaism. The message of Christianity was entrusted, not to prophets, but to God's own Son.
Angels played a very important part in Jewish religion. According to Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19, they were involved in the giving of the law. We also see them, in the Old Testament Scriptures, protecting the people of God (Genesis 19:1-22, II Kings 6:13-18) and mediating messages to the prophets (Daniel 7:16, 8:16, 9:21). In light of their importance, the writer deemed it necessary to show that Christ is superior to them, and that for two reasons: first, because of His divine nature and, second, because of His human nature.
The writer quotes various passages from the Old Testament which attest to the divine nature of Jesus Christ. By contrast, the angels are shown to be merely "ministering spirits." While angels are important, and deserve our respect, they are not divine, as is Jesus Christ.
This is the first of several exhortations given throughout this epistle. The argument of this passage is that since Christ is superior to the angels, and since those who violated "the word spoken by angels...received a just recompense of reward," then certainly those of us who disregard the word of the Son will not escape judgment.
Moses was extremely important to Judaism. He was indeed a key figure in Israel's history, since it was he who led the children of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness. It was to him that God gave the Law. It was therefore necessary for the writer to show Christ to be superior to Moses, and that is his purpose in this passage.
Christ is first said to be worthy of more glory than Moses, since He is the builder of the house, and Moses is merely part of the house itself. He is also said to be superior in His faithfulness, since Moses was faithful as a servant, but Christ's faithfulness is that of a Son, that is, one who is the heir of the house, and whose it will be in the future.
This is the second exhortation of the epistle. In this passage, the writer argues that the entrance of Israel into the promised land under Joshua, which occured forty years after they refused to enter under Moses because of unbelief, was not the true rest of God.
The writer's purpose in this paragraph is to show that the children of Israel were not allowed to enter into the land because of their unbelief. He uses the words of Psalm 95 to exhort them not to harden their hearts to the Word, as Israel did in those days.
The writer states in this passage that there must remain a rest for the people of God, since generations after Joshua, at the time of David, they are again exhorted to enter into the rest of God. If the final rest of God were that into which Joshua led Israel, then the psalmist would not afterward have spoken of entering into the rest of God. So his purpose here is to demonstrate that the entrance of Israel into the promised land under Joshua was not the rest of God and that, therefore, a rest remains.
Since, then, a rest remains, the writer exhorts the readers to enter that rest, and not to disbelieve, as did the Israelites under Moses. The exhortation is based on the Word of God--the words that he has used to prove his previous arguments. They must enter into that rest of God, and the only way of entrance is through the mediation of our Great High Priest.
This section, therefore, from 3:7 through 4:16, was written as an exhortation to the readers. Having just shown them that Christ is superior to Moses, he now shows that Israel's unbelief kept them out of the promised rest under Moses. The inference appears to be that if unbelief kept the children out of Moses' rest, then the readers' unbelief will certainly keep them from the rest of God which is through Christ. They are therefore exhorted to enter into that rest by coming "boldly unto the throne of grace."
The last three verses of this passage (4:14-16) not only give the means through which the rest of God is entered, but the also provide an introduction to the next section, which deals in considerable detail with the subject of Jesus Christ's priesthood.
This section comprises a thorough discussion of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, a subject which has already been hinted at twice in anticipation of its greater development (2:17-3:1, 4:14-15)10. Since the priesthood was so important to Judaism, being that institution through which sacrifices were offered, it was necessary to demonstrate to the readers that Jesus Christ had a priesthood which was superior to that of the Levites.
If the proposition that Christ has a superior priesthood is to be accepted, it must first be shown that He is qualified for the priesthood. These qualifications are put forth in these ten verses.
Two qualifications of a high priest are stated here. First, he must be taken from among men and therefore capable of having compassion. Second, he must not have taken this honor upon himself, but have been appointed by God11.
These verses show that Christ fulfills these two qualifications, only in His case they are stated in reverse order. His divine appointment is evident from Psalm 110, and His life on earth caused Him to experience the infirmities of the flesh, thereby making Him compassionate.
Jesus Christ, therefore, meets these two requirements, qualifying Him for the priesthood.
Verse 10 closes this passage with the important point that Christ's priesthood was after the order of Melchizedek. This explains why the Levitical requirement has not been mentioned, but this subject is taken up later in Chapter 7, after the following parenthetical passage.
Having mentioned Melchizedek in the previous passage, the writer seems suddenly to have realized the difficulty of his exposition, and therefore digresses in this passage to rebuke them and to warn them of the necessity to follow those who inherit the promises.
The writer realizes that the subject of the Melchizedekian priesthood is a hard one for his immature readers. It has been so long since they first heard the gospel that by now they should be teaching others, and not needing to be taught the elementary principles themselves.
The writer states here his intention, God permitting, to leave the elementary principles behind and to get into some of the deeper things of God. This he desires to do because those who have heard these principles, and have turned away despite their enlightenment, cannot be brought again to the point of repentence. It would therefore be a waste of time. The writer goes on to explain, though, that he does not believe the readers to have turned away, and that he wants them to diligently follow those who "through faith and patience inherit the promises."
The thought of promises reminds the writer of Abraham, and his experience of God's immutable word as a guarantee of great security12. There are two immutable things--God's promise and the oath by which that promise was confirmed--which demonstrate God's faithfulness. It is with this faithfulness in mind that the readers are to "show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end."
This parenthetic exhortation, then, consists of a rebuke for their spiritual immaturity, and encouragement to move forward in the faith. This is in keeping with the author's purpose of warning his readers against turning back to Judaism.
In this passage the writer picks up the argument started in 5:1-10 by explaining what he meant when he said that Christ was a high priest after Melchizedek's order. He shows, first, that Melchizedek was a type of Christ, and second, that Melchizedek was a superior priest to those of the Levitical order.
The writer first reminds his readers of who Melchizedek was. Then he shows how he typified Christ, first in his titles (King of Righteousness and King of Pease), and second, in his descent and longevity (intended to be understood not in actuality, but from the standpoint of the narrative).
The readers are reminded that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and was blessed by him, which indicates that Melchizedek is the better over Abraham. Abraham's tithe was going to a high priest of whom, as opposed to Levitical priests, "it is witnessed that he liveth." Furthermore, the writer proposes that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek when he was in the loins of Abraham. Melchizedek is therefore shown to be superior to the Levitical priests.
We have therefore seen in these first ten verses of Chapter 7 that the Melchizedekian order, of which Christ is a member, is superior to the Levitical order. It is necessary to demonstrate this as part of the argument for the superiority of Christ's priesthood.
The writer argues here that if the Levitical priesthood brought perfection (that is, complete communion with God13), there would have been no need to replace it. But it obviously was replaced, since our Lord Jesus Christ came not from the tribe of Levi, but from the tribe of Judah. And as further evidence that the Levitical priesthood was to be replaced, our author again refers to the words of the Psalmist, and in so doing also points out that the "power of an endless life" adds to the superiority of our Lord. The author concludes, then, that Christ's priesthood supersedes that of the Levites, bringing in "a better hope, by which we draw near unto God." This supersession of the Levitical priesthood is further evidence of the superiority of Christ's priesthood.
The writer argues, on the basis of the 110th Psalm, that Christ was made High Priest by an oath from God, which distinguishes Him from other priests and shows His superiority.
The Levitical system required a continual replacement of priests, since their deaths terminated their ministries. It is not so with Christ, Who lives forever. Furthermore, His offering of Himself was adequate forever, whereas the Levitical priests had to offer daily, first for themselves (that they may be consecrated), and then for the people. Christ's consecration is forever, and His one sacrifice was good for all time. The fact that Christ lives forever is yet more evidence of the superiority of His priesthood.
It is said here that Christ ministers in the true tabernacle, of which the earthly one was a shadow. Here is more evidence of the superiority of Christ's priesthood; the Levitical priests "serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things," while Christ serves the realities.
The writer quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 as proof that a second covenant has been instituted due to the faultiness of the first. It is this second and better covenant which Jesus Christ mediates. As the mediator of a superior covenant, Christ would be considered a superior priest.
In his next step to show that Christianity is superior to Judaism, the author alludes to the superior sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He notes its superior accomplishments, its dedication of the superior sanctuary, and its finality, since it needed to be offered only once. The offer of a superior sacrifice indicates that Christ is a superior priest.
In this passage, after being given a brief description of the earthly tabernacle and its furniture, the readers are reminded that the high priest entered into the holiest of all only once each year. And the conscience of those who did the service was not cleansed. But Christ's one-time entrance into the holy place accomplished three things for the believer. First, it obtained eternal redemption for us (v.12). Second, it purges the believer's conscience so that he may serve God (v.14). And third, by means of His death we receive the promise of eternal inheritance (v.15).
The writer explains that Christ's death was necessary to initiate the new covenant, just as it was necessary for Moses to dedicate the first with blood. This animal blood Moses sprinkled on the tabernacle and all the vessels, which were "the patterns of things in the heavens." But it was necessary that "the heavenly things themselves [be purified] with better sacrifices than these." The sacrifice of Jesus Christ must, therefore, be superior to those sacrifices under the old economy, since it was able to purify the heavenly things themselves, and not just the patterns.
This passage argues for the superiority of Christ's sacrifice in that it was final. It needed to be offered only once. The sacrifices under the law, unable to bring perfection to those who offered them, had to be offered every year (the apparent refernce is to the yearly day of atonement). These sacrifices could not cleanse their consciences, since they did not take away sin. Then the writer quotes Psalm 40:6-8 to show that God has taken away the first covenant in order to establish the second. And the fact that Christ's sin offering was made once for all time, and perfects forever all those who are sanctified by it, shows the finality of His sacrifice.
In light of what he has just set forth concerning the superiority of the priesthood of Christ, the writer now encourages his reader to draw near to God. This exhortation, as others, includes a warning against apostasy, and is in keeping with the author's purpose of discouraging his readers from turning back to Judaism.
Bearing in mind that Christianity has such a superior High Priest, the readers are exhorted to draw near in full assurance of faith. They are to hold fast their profession, and be steadfast in fellowship.
The sacrifice of Christ is the final sacrifice--there is no other. If it is refused, the refuser will be looking forward to nothing but judgment. He argues that if those who despised Moses' law, which was inferior, died without mercy, then certainly those who despise the blood of Christ will be dealt with severely.
The readers are told to remember what they were like earlier--how they endured suffering and the spoiling of their goods with the realization that better things awaited them in heaven. They are encouraged to have patience and not to turn back to the inferior form of religion which they had followed before being enlightened.
At this point, a summary of 5:1 through 10:39 is in order. This passage has dealt with the superiority of Christ's priesthood. We have seen that He is superior to the Levitical priests (1) because He is of the Melchizedekian order, which is superior to the Levitical order; (2) because the priesthood of Christ supersedes that of the Levitical priesthood, providing the perfection which it could not; (3) because He was made High Priest by and oath from God; (4) because He lives forever; (5) because He ministers in a superior sanctuary; (6) because He mediates a superior covenant; and (7) because He offered a superior sacrifice.
In showing Christ's priesthood to be superior to that of the Levites, the writer hopes to have dealt a major blow to those who thought to turn back to the Levitical system. Having a superior High Priest would show Christianity to be the superior religion.
In this section of the epistle, the writer shows that faith is superior to works.
This passage shows the accomplishments and works done by various Old Testament saints through their faith. It is of extreme importance that the readers understand the accomplishments of faith, because it is through the agency of faith that they must be saved. They were accustomed to a religion of works, and had apparently questioned whether God would save them simply because they believed. The author therefore points out that the great deeds of the fathers of their old religion were accomplished through faith.
Having established the necessity and feasibility of faith, the writer exhorts his readers to put it into practice. This exhortation, like the others, is in keeping with the author's purpose of discouraging his readers from going back to the works-oriented system of Judaism.
Christ is set forth as the supreme example of faith, Who endured the cross, suffering far more than the readers had suffered.
The writer apparently had reason to think that at least part of their suffering was the result of God's chastening. He explains to them that God chastens in love, and it is for their own good.
The readers are told to be wary of any among them who would take worldly pleasure over spiritual promises, as Esau did. For when Esau did seek the blessing, it was too late. There was no way for him to get it back. The readers were to take heed, lest they reject Christ now for earthly benefit (such as the avoidance of persecution), only to regret it later.
This passage is another assertion that faith, signified by Mt. Zion, is superior to the works of the Law, signified by Mt. Sinai. He reminds his readers that Mt. Sinai could not be touched. It burned with fire and darkness surrounded it. Those who heard the words spoken there begged to hear them no more. Mt. Sinai was so frightening that even Moses trembled at the sight and sound of it. But Mt. Zion is not at all like that. Those who come to Mt. Zion, that is, those who would approach God through faith in Christ, come to the city of God, where Christ is with all His saints. This is certainly a much more hospitable place than is Mt. Sinai!
Having shown the way of faith to be the superior way, and the God-ordained method of approaching Him, the writer now warns that since those who refused "him that spoke on earth" (i.e., Moses, who mediated the Law) did not escape judgment, then certainly those who refuse "him that speaketh from heaven" (i.e, God, Who speaks from heaven concerning the gospel of grace through faith in Jesus Christ) will not escape judgment.
In light of the supersession of Judaism by Christianity, which has been established through the first twelve chapters of the epistle, the readers are now encouraged to demonstrate a superior walk. They are to show love (vv.1-3), reserve sex for its proper context (v.4), and be content with what material possessions they have (vv.5-6). They are to follow the example of their leaders (vv.7-9), and to separate themselves from the world (vv.10-14). They are to offer praises to God and gifts to those in need (vv.15-16). They are also to be obedient to their spiritual leaders (v.17), and pray (vv.18-19).
Verses 20-25 comprise a benediction and greetings. It should be noted that a parting exhortation is given in verse 22; "And I beseech you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation; for I have written a letter unto you in few words." The fact that such an exhortation is given in the middle of the benediction is another indication that we are correct in assuming that the author's purpose is to discourage his readers from reverting back to Judaism by demonstrating that Christianity is superior to it, and has superseded it.
The Epistle to the Hebrews shows Christianity to have superseded Judaism as God's true religion by demonstrating its superiority to it, This is shown by demonstrating, first of all, the superiority of the Person of Christ in Chapters 1-4. His is shown to be superior to the prophets, the angels, and Moses, all three of which are very important elements in Judaism. Next, the author shows the superiority of the priesthood of Christ in Chapters 5-10. He is shown in these chapters to be superior to the Levitical priests. In Chapters 11 and 12, the author demonstrates the superiority of faith, which is the agency through which one enters Christianity. And finally, in Chapter 13, the readers are encouraged to demonstrate a superior walk on the basis of the facts demonstrated in the foregoing chapters.
The six exhortations spaced throughout the epistle are designed to fulfill the author's purpose of discouraging the readers from leaving Christianity and turning back to Judaism.
2H.A. Ironside, Studies in the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle to Titus (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1932), p. 15.
3A.W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954), p. 13.
4B.F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p. xxxv.
5Reasons 2, 3, and 4 are from F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), pp. xxv-xxvii.
6B.F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. v.
7Charles C. Ryrie, ed., The Ryrie Study Bible: New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), p. 397.
8Major points I and II were taken from The Ryrie Study Bible, p. 398.
9B.F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. xlix.
10Henry Alford, Alford's Greek Testament (Grand Rapids: Guardian Press, 1976), Vol. IV, p. 90.
11Ibid., pp. 90-91.
12Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970), p. 730.
13Charles C. Ryrie, ed., The Ryrie Study Bible, p. 407.
Alford, Henry. Alford's Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Guardian Press, 1976.
Bruce, F.F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964.
Gray, James M. Christian Workers' Commentary. Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1915.
Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970.
Harrison, Everett F. and Pfeiffer, Charles F., Ed. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1962.
Ryrie, Charles C., Ed. The Ryrie Study Bible: New Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1976.
Westcott, B.F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.