A Commentary in Simple English on the letter to Jewish Christians

Revised May 2005

A Commentary in Simple English on the letter to Jewish Christians

'The Epistle to the Hebrews' is full of Christian teaching of the greatest value. We do not know who wrote it. We do not know where it was sent to: almost everyone agrees that it was sent to Jewish Christians. We do not know when it was written. We do not know where it was written. Chapter 13 :23,24 give a little help to us in these matters. We can only guess. Let me tell you what I think could have happened.

The Roman Emperor Nero began the great mass killings of Christians in Rome in AD 64. He killed himself in AD 68 but by this time Nero had probably killed Peter and Paul. In AD 69 order broke down in Rome. Three emperors reigned for a few months each and there was civil war in Italy. It is likely that the sufferings of Christians came to an end for the time being. The Jewish War against Rome had begun in AD 64 in Palestine and at first the Jews had some success. By AD 69, however, the Roman armies under their leader, Vespasian, had begun to win the war and in AD 70 Jerusalem was destroyed. Vespasian became Emperor. The Jewish War had given Rome a military leader who could put the Empire in order again.

Now, we believe that Paul wrote his last letter (2 Timothy) in AD 67 or 68 from Rome. He had left Timothy in Ephesus to lead the church in that city. [0.1] Many people in Ephesus had turned against Paul (2 Tim 1:15). Paul twice asks Timothy (5:9,21) to join him in Rome as soon as he can. So I think Timothy set out on the journey from Ephesus to Rome. He left behind him a group of Jewish Christians who were tempted to turn back from Christ to their old Jewish faith. On his journey, perhaps at Corinth, or perhaps in South Italy, Timothy met another Christian and told him how worried he was about this Jewish Christian group. Timothy continued his journey. We do not know whether he reached Rome in time to see Paul again, but we gather that he was arrested and put in prison. The Spirit of God moved the Christian brother he had met to write this letter, and by the time he sent it, Timothy had been set free. This may have been after Nero's death.

So who wrote the letter? Apollos? Luke? Barnabas? Someone whose name we do not even know? Many other names have been put forward. We do not know. The temptation for the Jewish Christians to turn back from Christ would have been less strong when they knew of the changes in Rome. They heard also that Jerusalem and its Temple had been destroyed by the Roman Army. But I think the letter has come down to us because when they read it they knew that they must still follow Christ.

The writer often uses verses which he took from the Old Testament, mostly from the Psalms. The Jews he was writing to would hear a few lines from a Psalm, and would think about what came before it and after it in the Psalm. We cannot read the letter in quite the way that a Jew would. It is full of good things for us, but one way to study it is to look at the places in the Old Testament which the writer uses. We should then see much more of what they have to say about our Lord Jesus Christ.

So I think the letter was sent from Corinth to Ephesus. Most people would suggest it was sent to either Jerusalem or Rome.