New Testament Lesson 37 (Hebrews)
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).
● What is a ministering spirit?
— 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 (vv. 13–14). Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit (while His body was lying in the sepulchre) 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.”2
— 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.”3
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?
— 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.”4
● 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).
— 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.”5
● 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.”6
Limits of the Aaronic Priesthood
● The Melchizedek priesthood is necessary to perform all the ordinances necessary for salvation (Hebrews 7:11–12; 10:1–9). The Aaronic priesthood cannot do this.
● The law of Moses had only the Aaronic priesthood, also called the Levitical, lesser, or preparatory priesthood (D&C 84:25–27). “Neither the law of Moses nor the priesthood of Aaron which administered it was capable of bringing God’s children unto perfection. The Aaronic priesthood is a lesser authority, and it administers the preparatory gospel only. The Melchizedek priesthood, on the other hand, is the higher priesthood, commissioned to minister the gospel ordinances in their fulness and capable of purifying our lives so that we can again enter into the presence of the Lord.”7
The Melchizedek Priesthood
● The distinction between Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood (D&C 107:1–4).
● Who Was Melchizedek?
— Melchizedek was a king and high priest of the Lord’s people in pre-Israelite Canaan (Hebrews 7:1–2; JST Genesis 14:26–29).
— Hebrew Malki-Zedek means “King of righteousness.”
— He was king of Salem (Hebrew, Shalem), which means “King of peace.”
— These are also names of Jesus Christ; Melchizedek was a symbol of Christ.
— Salem was located in Jebusite country, hence its eventual name: “Jebu-salem” which later became “Jeru-salem.”
— Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek.
— Abraham paid his tithes to Melchizedek.
— There was a temple at Salem, which sat upon the same spot as Solomon’s temple—on Mt. Moriah.
— The rock at the top of Mt. Moriah is the one upon which Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac.
— The same rock sat within the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s temple, and remains there today.
— The rock now sits inside the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
— Melchizedek turned a wicked people into a celestial people (Alma 13:14–19).
● Those who hold this priesthood were foreordained to do so (Alma 13:1–5).
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Alma taught the great truth that every person who holds the Melchizedek priesthood was foreordained to receive that high and holy order in the pre-existent councils of eternity. . . . Thus, he explains, Melchizedek priesthood holders have been “prepared from the foundation of the world” for their high callings. The Lord has prepared them “from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things.”8
● The Melchizedek priesthood is “without descent”—not conferred by reason of lineage but rather because of righteousness (Hebrews 7:3; JST Hebrews 7:3).9 Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “The right to this higher priesthood was not inherited in the same way as was the case with the Levites and sons of Aaron. Righteousness was an absolute requisite for the conferral of the higher priesthood.”10
● The Aaronic priesthood, being incapable of bringing men to perfection, was hereditary in nature, passing from father to son (Hebrews 7:19–21). Then, as now, it was received by men “without an oath.”
— Jesus received his priesthood with a solemn oath (JST v. 20).
— Christ held the same priesthood that Melchizedek did (vv. 15–17).
— Melchizedek priesthood is the power of “endless life” because (v. 16). . .
— It administers the ordinances that bring endless posterity—the promise to all who inherit God’s glory (D&C 84:19–22; 132:19–24).
● The higher law (the gospel of Christ) requires a higher priesthood (Hebrews 7:11–14; Alma 13:11–12). Neither the law of Moses nor the priesthood of Aaron which administered it was capable of bringing God’s children unto perfection. The Melchizedek priesthood, the higher priesthood, can minister to gospel ordinances in their fulness and is therefore capable of purifying our lives so that we can again enter into the presence of the Lord (3 Nephi 27:19, 20).
● The oath and covenant of the priesthood: (D&C 84:33–44).
— Things promised by the priesthood holder (vv. 40, 43–44).
— Things promised by God (vv. 33–39).
● The penalty for breaking this covenant (D&C 84:40–42; 132:4–7).
● Why does God use a covenant to make these promises?
— It gives us the assurance that we will be exalted if we do our part (D&C 82:10).
— God will keep his promises if we remain faithful to the end (Hebrews 6:10–19).
— Those who break their covenants will be damned (Hebrews 10:26–31).
What Is Faith?
● By faith we receive “a good report,” which means “a testimony” (Hebrews 11:2).
● Faith is the power by which the worlds were created (Hebrews 11:3).
— They were not created by chance out of nothingness (“things which do not appear”).
● “Things which are seen were not made of things which do not appear” (Hebrews 11:3), which means they were not created by chance out of nothingness.
Faith in Whom?
● Faith in Christ (Hebrews 11:6). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Faith unto life and salvation centers in Christ. The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It matters not who has faith or what age of the earth’s history is involved; faith has been, is now, and everlastingly shall be in the Son of God.”11
● Paul cites multiple examples of faith from the Old Testament: (Hebrews 11:4–40).
— Abel, Enoch, and Noah.
— Joseph and Moses.
— Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac.
● A list of things endured and accomplished in the past through faith (Hebrews 11:32–38). For example, a “better resurrection” is achieved by the faithful (v. 35).
● 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).
How Christ Became Perfect
● How did Christ become perfect (exalted)? (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).”12
● “Though He were a Son” applies both to Christ and to Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:7–8).
● Christ is our example of faith and endurance (Hebrews 12:1–3).
The Need for Endurance
● God tries our patience and endurance to test our faith (Hebrews 12:5–11).
— Those who cannot endure chastening will lose their inheritance (D&C 136:31). The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried [even] as . . . Abraham and other men of God . . . God will feel after you, and He will take hold of . . . and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial kingdom of God.”13
● We will be tried “even as Abraham” in order to be sanctified (D&C 101:4–5). The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner, offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him.”14
Sanctification Through Christ
● What does it mean to be sanctified?
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “To be sanctified is to become clean, pure, and spotless; to be free from the blood and sins of the world; to become a new creature of the Holy Ghost, one whose body has been renewed by the rebirth of the Spirit. Sanctification is a state of saintliness, a state attained only by conformity to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. . . . Those who attain this state of cleanliness and perfection are able, as occasion may require, to see God and view the things of his kingdom. (D&C 84:23; 88:68; Ether 4:7).15
● The dead cannot be made perfect without us (Hebrews 11:40).
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead. The Apostle says, ‘They without us cannot be made perfect’; (Hebrews 11:40) for it is necessary that the sealing power should be in our hands to seal our children and our dead for the fulness of the dispensation of times-a dispensation to meet the promises made by Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world for the salvation of man.”16
— No one will ever approach perfection without suffering (JST v. 40).
The Promised Reward
● We will dwell with God and Christ in the celestial kingdom (Hebrews 12:22–29).
— Paul says an “enumerable company” will be exalted (v. 22). How many? Millions and millions, according to Daniel 7:10 and Revelation 5:11.
● What does it mean that “God is a consuming fire?”
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “God Almighty Himself dwells in eternal fire (Hebrews 12:29).”17
— The “fire” of the Second Coming is the actual presence of the Savior, a celestial glory comparable to the glory of the sun (D&C 76:70) or a “consuming fire” (Malachi 3:2; 4:1).
— “So great shall be the glory of his presence that the sun shall hide his face in shame.” (D&C 133:49).
— “The presence of the Lord shall be as the melting fire that burneth, and as the fire which causeth the waters to boil” (D&C 133:41; Isaiah 64:2; JS-History 1:37).
— “Element shall melt with fervent heat” (D&C 101:25) and “the mountains flow down at thy presence.” (D&C 133:44).
● Maintain hope and faith, and help others to do so also (Hebrews 12:12–15).
● If we have patience and faith, we will inherit eternal life (Hebrews 10:35–39).
1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 59.
2. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 191.
3. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 168.
4. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 3:143.
5. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 58.
6. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 308.
7. The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles [CES manual, 1979], 385–386.
8. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 290.
9. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 323.
10. Mormon Doctrine, 478.11. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:211.
12. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:158.
13. As quoted by President John Taylor in Journal of Discourses, 24:197.
14. Lectures on Faith, Lecture Sixth, 58.
15. Mormon Doctrine, 675–676.
16. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 356.
17. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 367.