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INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF HEBREWS That this epistle was written very early appears from hence, that it was imitated by Clement of Rome, in his epistle to the Corinthians, who took whole sentences out of it; and therefore it could not be a new work, as Eusebius observes: it has been denied to be authentic by some heretics, as the Marcionites and Arians, but has been generally received as such by the orthodox: some indeed doubted of it, because it was not received by the Roman church, as an epistle of the Apostle Paul f2 ; though others, who have thought it was not his, as Origen, yet looked upon it as genuine f3 . It has been ascribed to different persons, as to Barnabas, to Apollos, to Luke the Evangelist, and to Clement of Rome, but without any just reason.
Clement of Alexandria, a very ancient writer, asserts it to be the Apostle Paul's f4 ; and his name stands in the title of it, in all R. Stephens's exemplars, and in all Beza's copies, excepting one, and so it does in the Vulgate Latin and Arabic versions; and that it is his, is highly probable from the agreement there is between this, and other epistles of his; compare ( Hebrews 1:2,3) with ( Colossians 1:15,16) and ( Hebrews 5:12-14) with ( 1 Corinthians 3:1,2) and ( Hebrews 12:1) with ( 1 Corinthians 9:24) and ( Hebrews 13:7,17) with ( Thessalonians 5:11,12), and ( Hebrews 13:9) with ( Ephesians 4:14) and ( Hebrews 13:18) with ( 2 Corinthians 1:12) and ( Hebrews 13:20) with ( Romans 15:13 16:20 1 Thessalonians 5:23) and many other places; and also from the order and method of it, first treating of doctrines, and then proceeding to practical exhortations, which is the common form of Paul's epistles: to which may be added various circumstances; as that it was written from Italy, where Paul was a prisoner; and the mention the author of it makes of his bonds, and of Timothy, as well known unto him, who was Paul's companion; besides, the token of his epistles appears in this, namely, his usual salutation to the churches; (see Hebrews 13:23-25). But above all, the testimony of the Apostle Peter is greatly in favour of its being his, ( 2 Peter 3:15,16) from whence it clearly appears, that the Apostle Paul did write an epistle to the Hebrews; for to them Peter wrote; (see 1 Peter 1:1 2 Peter 3:1) and what epistle could it be but this? and what Peter refers to is to be found in it; (see Hebrews 10:25,36,37) and which is written with great wisdom; in none of Paul's epistles is there a greater discovery of his knowledge of divine mysteries than in this; and in it also are things hard to be understood, ( Hebrews 5:11). The common objections to its being his are, its not bearing his name, the diversity of its style, and the author of it seeming to be not an apostle, but a disciple of the apostle's: as to his not setting his name to it, the reasons might be, because he was the apostle of the Gentiles, and not so much of the Jews; and because of the prejudice of the Jews against him, both believers, and unbelievers; wherefore had his name been to it, it might have prevented the usefulness of it to the one, and have stirred up the rage of the other: as to the difference of style, different subjects require a different style; and yet in many things there is a likeness, as before observed: and as to the author's not being an apostle, which is concluded from ( Hebrews 2:3) the word “us” there is to be understood of the believing Hebrews, the disciples of the apostle, and not inclusive of the author, by a figurative way of speaking often used by Paul; and besides, the apostle received a confirmation of the Gospel from Ananias, who might have been an hearer of Christ, though he was at first taught it by Christ himself; add to this, that whoever was the writer of it, it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and when several of the apostles were living, and therefore he could never design by those words to put himself in a succeeding generation. The persons to whom this epistle was written were Hebrews, or Jews; so called, as some think, from the name of Abraham, the father of them; or, as others, from his passing over the river Euphrates, when he came out of Chaldea into Palestine. So Abram the Hebrew, in ( Genesis 14:13) is by the Septuagint rendered, perathv , “one that passes over”, taking it to come from the word rb[ , which signifies to “pass over”; with this compare ( Joshua 24:3) and this is the opinion of some of the Jewish Rabbins f5 ; though it seems rather that they were called so from Heber, who lived at the time of the confusion of languages; (see Genesis 10:21 Numbers 24:24). And this is the sense of many Jewish writers, ancient and modern, of Josephus f6 , of Jonathan ben Uzziel f7 , of R. Nehemiah f8 , of Aben Ezra f9 , and Kimchi f10 , and others; (see Gill on “ 2 Corinthians 11:22”). And these were the Hebrews that dwelt in the land of Judea, and particularly at Jerusalem; nor were they the unbelieving inhabitants of those parts, but believers in Christ, who were embodied in a Gospel church state, It was a tradition of the ancients f11 , that this epistle was written originally in Hebrew, and was translated into Greek, either by Luke the Evangelist, or by Clement of Rome. But for this there is no foundation; no Hebrew copy can be produced; Munster's edition of it in Hebrew is a translation from the Greek, in which it was, no doubt, originally written, that being the common language, and well known to the Jews; and which appears from the citations in it out of the Old Testament, which are made, not from the Hebrew text, but from the Greek version; and besides, had it been written in Hebrew, the writer would not have interpreted the Hebrew words, Melchizedek and Salem, as he does, in ( Hebrews 7:1,2). The time of its writing was before the destruction of Jerusalem, which in this book is signified by the coming of the Lord, and the day approaching; and after Timothy was released from prison, and some time within the two years of his own imprisonment at Rome; when he hoped for a release, as his epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon show.
Dr. Lightfoot places it in the year 62, and in the eighth of Nero. And the occasion and design of it is, to set forth the superior excellency of Christ to angels and men, to Moses, to Joshua, to Aaron, and his sons, and the preferableness of his priesthood and sacrifice to the Levitical priesthood and its sacrifices; to teach the Hebrews the true knowledge of the mysteries of their law; to point out to them the design, use, and abrogation of its ceremonies; and to prepare them for what afflictions and persecutions they would be called to endure for Christ; and to exhort them to perseverance, and to strengthen them against apostasy, as well as to instruct them in the various duties of religion.