Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Hebrews differs from the other New Testament letters in that it bears no salutation. We don’t really know who wrote it, to whom it was written, or when it was written. Based on internal references, many scholars speculate that it was written for second-generation Christians living in the lull between active persecutions by Nero and Domitian. The author seems to have been very familiar with both Platonic philosophy and the Hebrew scriptures, for he references both frequently in his arguments. Various names have been proposed as its author, including Paul, Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, and Priscilla and Aquilla. I find the latter suggestion especially intriguing, as its proponents speculate that the reason the letter itself doesn’t tell us who wrote it is because it was written by a woman, which if known might have caused it to be dismissed.
The main message I get out of Hebrews is that if we want to know God, we need to look to Jesus. God has been reaching out to human beings for millennia, trying to get through to us in all kinds of ways. From the dawn of human sentience, many people have managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of a partial picture of God, or to hear a faint echo of his message of love. But until the coming of Jesus, no one person has seen or heard clearly. Want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. Want to connect with God? That happens through Jesus, too. Jesus is the lens through which we can see and know God most clearly.
Again and again, the writer of Hebrews takes events described in the Hebrew Bible, and applies them to Jesus, sometimes giving them an entirely different meaning from that of their original context. That’s a fairly common technique for the biblical writers. As history unfolds, old stories develop new layers of meaning. For example, when read in context Isaiah’s prophecy of “Behold, an almah (young woman or virgin) shall conceive and bear a son“ was clearly directed to King Ahaz, but the writer of Matthew takes this verse and applies it to Jesus. Jesus often had a tendency to put a new spin on old Scriptures by saying “you have heard it said (something) but I say (something else) Exodus 21:24 clearly prescribes an eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth payback for wrongs done, but Jesus commands his follows not to repay evil with evil, but with good. People are still doing this today, even my most literally-minded, God-said-it-I-believe-it-that-settles-it friends. Jeremiah 29:11 was clearly written as a promise to the Jewish exiles that they would one day return to their ancestral lands. Yet this version is particularly treasured as a personal promise by many, including myself, when going through difficult times.
There is nothing wrong with finding new layers of meaning in ancient texts. That’s part of what makes the Bible a living book to me. But the Bible itself is not the lens through which we should see God; Jesus is. The Bible can lead us to God, but it is not a fourth member of the Trinity. The “word of God” is not ossified words on a page, but Jesus. who is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. We cannot say “the Bible clearly says” anything without understanding it through the lens of Jesus. Jesus is the lens that can, and will, bring everything into focus.
And that’s good news to me.