New Testament Lesson 43 (Hebrews 1–6)
THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS
Where and When Was Hebrews Written?
● The place from which the book of Hebrews was written is unknown, though a partial clue is furnished by the phrase, “They of Italy salute you” (13:24). This could mean that the author was in Italy and sending greetings from his Italian acquaintances, or it could mean that he was in some other part of the empire sending greetings to Italy from Italian acquaintances. Since it was written to the “Hebrews,” I prefer the theory that it was written from Rome to Jerusalem.
● We also do not know the exact date of the epistle. It seems, from the frequent allusions to Mosaic ritual, that the temple in Jerusalem was still standing, and if so the letter’s date was before AD 70. Judging from its themes, it appears to have been written after the epistles written during Paul’s first imprisonment (AD 61–62), but before his second imprisonment and death (AD 68). A date of about AD 65 would seem to fit the known facts.
Who Wrote Hebrews?
● Scholars also debate the authorship of the epistle to the Hebrews. Some do not accept Paul as its author, though Clement, the bishop of Rome, accepted Paul as its author in AD 95, only 30 years after it was written. In our dispensation, its authorship was affirmed by the Prophet Joseph Smith, who said, “this Epistle was written ‘by Paul . . . to the Hebrew brethren.’”1
Why Was Hebrews Written?
● The Jews reverenced the Old Testament and the Law. But after Christ, what value did these have? Hebrews was written to answer this question. Jewish Christians’ upbringing included a reverent study of the Old Testament and law of Moses. In the book of Hebrews, Paul uses the symbolism of the law of Moses and its rituals to show their fulfillment in Christ.
What Are its Most Significant Contributions?
● Hebrews is one of the finest scriptural commentaries on the Old Testament. It is an epistle of doctrine, knowledge, and enlightenment to the faithful. It ties the law of Moses to the doctrines of Christianity. It also seeks to convince the Hebrews that Jesus is the Messiah for whom they have waited. It gives evidence that Christ was Jehovah, Lord of the Old Testament and of the earth. It explains how Christ’s atoning sacrifice was signified by Old Testament events and practices.
THE ROLE OF CHRIST
Christ Is a God
● Paul lists the things that show that Christ is a God: (Hebrews 1:1–15)
— He created the world (vv. 2, 10).
— He is in the image of God the Father (v. 3).
— He atoned for our sins (v. 3).
— He is the Firstborn Son of God the Father (vv. 5–6).
— His glory and power are eternal and unchanging (vv. 8, 12).
Christ Was Also a Mortal
● Christ was “made so much better than the angels” (Hebrews 1:4).
● He has also been “made a little lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:6–9).
● How can he be both “better” and “lower” than the angels? (See Doctrinal Insights below.)
● The “captain of our salvation “ was made “perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:9–10).
— He suffered for everyone’s sins—more than any other being.
— He took upon Himself mortality, becoming just like us (Hebrews 2:16–18).
— He was tempted in every way that we are (Hebrews 4:15–16).
— He came to earth as a mortal and was subject to pain and death (Mosiah 13:34–35).
Christ and the Law of Moses
● The righteous enter into the “rest” of the Lord (Hebrews 3:11).
— The scriptures define the “rest” of the Lord as “the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84:24).
— When we leave this life, if we enter into paradise, we go to “a state of rest, a state of peace, where [we] shall rest from all [our] troubles, and from all care, and sorrow” (Alma 40:12). (see more under Doctrinal Insights below.)
● Paul explains why Jesus did not give the ancient Israelites “rest” (Hebrews 4:8).
— Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yeshua and is transferred into the English as Joshua. Paul has reference here to the man Joshua of the Old Testament rather than to Jesus Christ.
— His point is that the Israelites did not find their “rest” under Moses nor Joshua, under whose direction they found and entered the promised land, or under David, their greatest king.
How Priesthood Is Conferred
● Jesus Christ holds the Melchizedek priesthood (Hebrews 5:5–6; 6:20).
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “If a man gets a fulness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.”2
● Joseph Smith changed this to read “not leaving” (Hebrews 6:1–3). Paul was urging us to continue to obey the first principles but also to “go on unto perfection”.
● Perfection is “meat” compared to the “milk” of the first principles (Hebrews 5:11–14).
— “Oracles” are the scriptures (v. 12).
● “Though He were a Son” applies both to Christ and to Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:7–8).
● How Christ became perfect (exalted) (Hebrews 5:8–9).
● How Christ Is “Better Than the Angels” (Hebrews 1:4) and also “A Little Lower Than the Angels” (Hebrews 2:6–9). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “The marginal reading of this quotation from Psalm 8:4–6 recites that man is made, not a little lower than the angels, but a little lower than Elohim, which means that all God’s offspring, Jesus included, as children in his family, are created subject to him, with the power to advance until all things are ‘in subjection’ to them. Of those who gain eternal life, it is written: ‘Then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them’ (D&C 132:20). The only sense in which either men or Jesus are lower than the angels is in that mortal restrictions limit them for the moment; and for that matter, angels themselves become mortals and then in the resurrection attain again their angelic status.”3
● What is a ministering spirit? (Hebrews 1:13–14)
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “The difference between an angel and a ministering spirit [is that] the one [is] a resurrected or translated body, with its spirit ministering to embodied spirits—the other a disembodied spirit, visiting and ministering to disembodied spirits (Hebrews 1:13–14). Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while His body was lying in the sepulcher) to the spirits in prison, to fulfill an important part of His mission, without which He could not have perfected His work, or entered into His rest. After His resurrection He appeared as an angel to His disciples.”4
— The Prophet Joseph Smith also said: “These angels are under the direction of Michael or Adam, who acts under the direction of the Lord. From [Hebrews 1:4] we learn that Paul perfectly understood the purposes of God in relation to His connection with man, and that glorious and perfect order which He established in Himself, whereby he sent forth power, revelations, and glory.”5
● Entering Into the Rest of the Lord (Hebrews 3:11). President Joseph F. Smith said: “The ancient prophets speak of ‘entering into God’s rest’; what does it mean? To my mind, it means entering into the knowledge and love of God, having faith in his purpose and in his plan. . . . The man who has reached that degree of faith in God that all doubt and fear have been cast from him, he has entered into ‘God’s rest.’ . . . rest from doubt, from fear, from apprehension of danger, rest from the religious turmoil of the world.”6
● How Jesus Christ Became Perfect (Hebrews 5:8–9) Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Christ always was perfect in that he obeyed the whole law of the Father at all times and was everlastingly the Sinless One. (Heb. 4:14–16; 5:1–3). But on the other hand he was made perfect, through the sufferings and experiences of mortality, in the sense that he thereby died and was resurrected in glorious immortality. In that perfected state, possessing at long last a body of flesh and bones, he then had the same eternal perfection possessed by his Father. Hence his pronouncement, after the resurrection, that all power was given him in heaven and in earth. (Matt 28:18).”7
1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 59.
2. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 308.
3. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 3:143.
4. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 191.
5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 168.
6. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 58.
7. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:158.