Epistle of Saint Paul to the Hebrews
                     This will be considered under eight headings: (I) Argument; (II) Doctrinal
                     Contents; (III) Language and Style; (IV) Distinctive Characteristics; (V) Readers
                     to Whom it was Addressed; (VI) Author; (VII) Circumstances of the Composition;
                     (VIII) Importance.

                                             I. ARGUMENT

                     In the Oldest Greek manuscripts the Epistle to the Hebrews (pros Hebraious)
                     follows the other letters to the Churches and precedes the pastoral letters. In the
                     later Greek codices, and in the Syriac and Latin codices as well, it holds the last
                     place among the Epistles of St. Paul; this usage is also followed by the textus
                     receptus, the modern Greek and Latin editions of the text, the Douay and
                     Revised Versions, and the other modern translations.

                     Omitting the introduction with which the letters of St. Paul usually begin, the
                     Epistle opens with the solemn announcement of the superiority of the New
                     Testament Revelation by the Son over Old Testament Revelation by the prophets
                     (Heb., i, 1-4). It then proves and explains from the Scriptures the superiority of
                     this New Covenant over the Old by the comparison of the Son with the angels as
                     mediators of the Old Covenant (i, 5-ii, 18), with Moses and Josue as the founders
                     of the Old Covenant (iii, 1-iv, 16), and, finally, by opposing the high-priesthood of
                     Christ after the order of Melchisedech to the Levitical priesthood after the order of
                     Aaron (v, 1-x, 18). Even in this mainly doctrinal part the dogmatic statements are
                     repeatedly interrupted by practical exhortations. These are mostly admonitions to
                     hold fast to the Christian Faith, and warnings against relapse into the Mosaic
                     worship. In the second, chiefly hortatory, part of the Epistle, the exhortations to
                     steadfastness in the Faith (x, 19-xii, 13), and to a Christian life according to the
                     Faith (xii, 14-xiii, 17), are repeated in an elaborated form, and the Epistle closes
                     with some personal remarks and the Apostolic salutation (xiii, 18-25).

                                        II. DOCTRINAL CONTENTS

                     The central thought of the entire Epistle is the doctrine of the Person of Christ
                     and His Divine mediatorial office. In regard to the Person of the Saviour the author
                     expresses himself as clearly concerning the true Divine nature of Christ as
                     concerning Christ's human nature, and his Christology has been justly called
                     Johannine. Christ, raised above Moses, above the angels, and above all created
                     beings, is the brightness of the glory of the Father, the express image of His
                     Divine nature, the eternal and unchangeable, true Son of God, Who upholdeth all
                     things by the word of His power (i, 1-4). He desired, however, to take on a human
                     nature and to become in all things like unto us human beings, sin alone
                     excepted, in order to pay man's debt of sin by His passion and death (ii, 9-18; iv,
                     15, etc.). By suffering death He gained for Himself the eternal glory which He now
                     also enjoys in His most holy humanity on His throne at the right hand of the
                     Father (i, 3; ii, 9; viii, 1; xii, 2, etc.). There He now exercises forever His priestly
                     office of mediator as our Advocate with the Father (vii, 24 sq.).

                     This doctrine of the priestly office of Christ forms the chief subject-matter of the
                     Christological argument and the highest proof of the pre-eminence of the New
                     Covenant over the Old. The person of the High-priest after the order of
                     Melchisedech, His sacrifice, and its effects are opposed, in an exhaustive
                     comparison, to the Old Testament institutions. The Epistle lays special
                     emphasis on the spiritual power and effectiveness of Christ's sacrifice, which
                     have brought to Israel, as to all mankind, atonement and salvation that are
                     complete and sufficient for all time, and which have given to us a share in the
                     eternal inheritance of the Messianic promises (i, 3; ix, 9-15, etc.). In the
                     admonitory conclusions from these doctrines at the end we find a clear reference
                     to the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Christian altar, of which those are not permitted
                     to partake who still wish to serve the Tabernacle and to follow the Mosaic Law
                     (xiii, 9 sq.).

                     In the Christological expositions of the letter other doctrines are treated more or
                     less fully. Special emphasis is laid on the setting aside of the Old Covenant, its
                     incompleteness and weakness, its typical and preparatory relation to the time of
                     the Messianic salvation that is realized in the New Covenant (vii, 18 sq.; viii, 15;
                     x, 1, etc.). In the same manner the letter refers at times to the four last things,
                     the resurrection, the judgment, eternal punishment, and heavenly bliss (vi, 2, 7
                     sq.; ix, 27, etc.). If we compare the doctrinal content of this letter with that of the
                     other epistles of St. Paul, a difference in the manner of treatment, it is true, is
                     noticeable in some respects. At the same time, there appears a marked
                     agreement in the views, even in regard to characteristic points of Pauline doctrine
                     (cf. J. Belser, "Einleitung" 2nd ed., 571-73). The explanation of the differences
                     lies in the special character of the letter and in the circumstances of its

                                        III. LANGUAGE AND STYLE

                     Even in the first centuries commentators noticed the striking purity of language
                     and elegance of Greek style that characterized the Epistle to the Hebrews
                     (Clement of Alexandria in Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", VI, xiv, n.2-4; Origen, ibid., VI,
                     xxv, n. 11-14). This observation is confirmed by later authorities. In fact the
                     author of the Epistle shows great familiarity with the rules of the Greek literary
                     language of his age. Of all the New Testament authors he has the best style. His
                     writing may even be included among those examples of artistic Greek prose
                     whose rhythm recalls the parallelism of Hebrew poetry (cf. Fr. Blass, "[Barnabas]
                     Brief an die Hebraer". Text with indications of the rhythm, Halle, 1903). As
                     regards language, the letter is a treasure-house of expressions characteristic of
                     the individuality of the writer. As many as 168 terms have been counted which
                     appear in no other part of the New Testament, among them ten words found
                     neither in Biblical or classical Greek, and forty words also which are not found in
                     the Septuagint. One noticeable peculiarity is the preference of the author for
                     compound words (cf. E. Jacquier, "Histoire des livres du N.T.", I, Paris, 1903,
                     457-71; Idem in Vig., "Dict. de la Bible". III, 530-38). A comparison of the letter
                     as regards language and style with the other writings of St. Paul confirms in
                     general the opinion of Origen that every competent judge must recognize a great
                     difference between them (in Eusebius,"Hist. Eccl.", VI, xxv, n. 11).

                                    IV. DISTINCTIVE CHARACTERISTICS

                     Among other peculiarities we should mention:

                          The absence of the customary form of the Pauline letters. The usual
                          opening with the Apostolic greeting and blessing is entirely lacking; nor is
                          there any clear evidence of the epistolary character of the writing until the
                          brief conclusion is reached (xiii, 18-25). On this account some have
                          preferred to regard the letter rather as a homily, but this is plainly
                          incorrect. According to the statement of the author it is an admonition and
                          exhortation (logos tes karakleseos, xiii, 22), which, above all,
                          presupposes a well-defined situation of an actually existing individual
                          The method of citing from the Old Testament. The author in his
                          instruction, demonstration, and exhortation draws largely from the copious
                          treasures of the Old Testament. All the citations follow the text of the
                          Septuagint even where this varies from the Masoretic text, unless the
                          citation is freely rendered according to the sense and without verbal
                          exactness (examples, i, 6; xii, 20; xiii, 5). In the other Pauline letters, it is
                          true, quotations from the Old Testament generally follow the Greek
                          translation even when the text varies, but the Apostle at times corrects
                          the Septuagint by the Hebrew, and at other times, when the two do not
                          agree, keeps closer to the Hebrew.

                     In regard to the formula with which the citations are introduced, it is worthy of
                     note that the expression "It is written", so commonly used in the New
                     Testament, occurs only once in the Epistle to the Hebrews (x, 7). In this Epistle
                     the words of Scripture are generally given as the utterance of God, at times also
                     of Christ or the Holy Spirit.

                                 V. READERS TO WHOM IT WAS ADDRESSED

                     According to the superscription, the letter is addressed to "Hebrews". The
                     contents of the letter define more exactly this general designation. Not all
                     Israelites are meant, but only those who have accepted the faith in Christ.

                     Furthermore, the letter could hardly have been addressed to all Jewish Christians
                     in general. It presupposes a particular community, with which both the writer of
                     the letter and his companion Timothy have had close relations (xiii, 18-24), which
                     has preserved its faith in severe persecutions, and has distinguished itself by
                     works of charity (x, 32-35), which is situated in a definite locality, whither the
                     author hopes soon to come (xiii, 19, 23).

                     The place itself may also be inferred from the content with sufficient probability.
                     For although many modern commentators incline either to Italy (on account of
                     xiii, 24), or to Alexandria (on account of the reference to a letter of Paul to the
                     Alexandrians in the Muratorian Canon and for other reasons), or leave the
                     question undecided, yet the entire letter is best suited to the members of the
                     Jewish Christian Church of Jerusalem. What is decisive above all for this
                     question is the fact that the author presupposes in the readers not only an exact
                     knowledge of the Levitical worship and all its peculiar customs, but, furthermore,
                     regards the present observance of this worship as the special danger to the
                     Christian faith of those addressed. His words (cf. particularly x, 1 sq.) may, if
                     necessary, perhaps permit of another interpretation, but they indicate Jerusalem
                     with the highest probability as the Church for which the letter is intended. There
                     alone the Levitical worship was known to all by the daily offering of sacrifices and
                     the great celebrations of the Day of Atonement and of other feast-days. There
                     alone this worship was continuously maintained according to the ordinances of
                     the Law until the destruction of the city in the year 70.

                                              VI. AUTHOR

                     Even in the earliest centuries the question as to the author of the Epistle to the
                     Hebrews was much discussed and was variously answered. The most important
                     points to be considered in answering the inquiry are the following:

                     (1) External Evidence

                     (a) In the East the writing was unanimously regarded as a letter of St. Paul.
                     Eusebius gives the earliest testimonies of the Church of Alexandria in reporting
                     the words of a "blessed presbyter" (Pantaenus?), as well as those of Clement
                     and Origen (Hist. Eccl., VI, xiv, n. 2-4; xxv, n. 11-14). Clement explains the
                     contrast in language and style by saying that the Epistle was written originally in
                     Hebrew and was then translated by Luke into Greek. Origen, on the other hand,
                     distinguishes between the thoughts of the letter and the grammatical form; the
                     former, according to the testimony of "the ancients" (oi archaioi andres), is from
                     St. Paul; the latter is the work of an unknown writer, Clement of Rome according
                     to some, Luke, or another pupil of the Apostle, according to others. In like
                     manner the letter was regarded as Pauline by the various Churches of the East:
                     Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Cappadocia, Mesopotamia, etc. (cf. the different
                     testimonies in B. F. Westcott, "The Epistle to the Hebrews", London, 1906, pp.
                     lxii-lxxii). It was not until after the appearance of Arius that the Pauline origin of
                     the Epistle to the Hebrews was disputed by some Orientals and Greeks.

                     (b) In Western Europe the First Epistle of St. Clement to the Corinthians shows
                     acquaintance with the text of the writing (chs. ix, xii, xvii, xxxvi, xlv), apparently
                     also the "Pastor" of Hermas (Vis. II, iii, n.2; Sim. I, i sq.). Hippolytus and
                     Irenaeus also knew the letter but they do not seem to have regarded it as a work
                     of the Apostle (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", xxvi; Photius, Cod. 121, 232; St. Jerome,
                     "De viris ill.", lix). Eusebius also mentions the Roman presbyter Caius as an
                     advocate of the opinion that the Epistle to the Hebrews was not the writing of the
                     Apostle, and he adds that some other Romans, up to his own day, were also of
                     the same opinion (Hist. Eccl., VI, xx, n.3). In fact the letter is not found in the
                     Muratorian Canon; St. Cyprian also mentions only seven letters of St. Paul to the
                     Churches (De exhort. mart., xi), and Tertullian calls Barnabas the author (De
                     pudic., xx). Up to the fourth century the Pauline origin of the letter was regarded
                     as doubtful by other Churches of Western Europe. As the reason for this
                     Philastrius gives the misuse made of the letter by the Novatians (Haer., 89), and
                     the doubts of the presbyter Caius seem likewise to have arisen from the attitude
                     assumed towards the letter by the Montanists (Photius, Cod. 48; F. Kaulen,
                     "Einleitung in die Hl. Schrift Alten und Neuen Testaments", 5th ed., Freiburg,
                     1905, III, 211).

                     After the fourth century these doubts as to the Apostolic origin of the Epistle to
                     the Hebrews gradually became less marked in Western Europe. While the
                     Council of Carthage of the year 397, in the wording of its decree, still made a
                     distinction between Pauli Apostoli epistoloe tredecim (thirteen epistles of Paul
                     the Apostle) and eiusdem ad Hebroeos una (one of his to the Hebrews) (H.
                     Denzinger, "Enchiridion", 10th ed., Freiburg, 1908, n. 92, old n. 49), the Roman
                     Synod of 382 under Pope Damasus enumerates without distinction epistoloe
                     Pauli numero quatuordecim (epistles of Paul fourteen in number), including in this
                     number the Epistle to the Hebrews (Denzinger, 10th ed., n. 84). In this form also
                     the conviction of the Church later found permanent expression. Cardinal Cajetan
                     (1529) and Erasmus were the first to revive the old doubts, while at the same
                     time Luther and the other Reformers denied the Pauline origin of the letter.

                     (2) Internal Evidences

                     (a) The content of the letter bears plainly the stamp of genuine Pauline ideas. In
                     this regard it suffices to refer to the statements above concerning the doctrinal
                     contents of the Epistle (see II).

                     (b) The language and style vary in many particulars from the grammatical form of
                     the other letters of Paul, as in sufficiently shown above (see III).

                     (c) the distinctive characteristics of the Epistle (IV) favour more the opinion that
                     the form in which it is cast is not the work of the author of the other Apostolic

                     (3) Most Probable Solution

                     From what has been said it follows that the most probable solution of the
                     question as to the author is that up to the present time the opinion of Origen has
                     not been superseded by a better one. It is, consequently, necessary to accept
                     that in the Epistle to the Hebrews the actual author is to be distinguished from
                     the writer. No valid reason has been produced against Paul as the originator of
                     the ideas and the entire contents of the letter; the belief of the early Church held
                     throughout with entire correctness to this Apostolic origin of the Epistle.

                     The writer, the one to whom the letter owes its form, had apparently been a pupil
                     of the Apostle. It is not possible now, however, to settle his personality on
                     account of the lack of any definite tradition and of any decisive proof in the letter
                     itself. Ancient and modern writers mention various pupils of the Apostle,
                     especially Luke, Clement of Rome, Apollo, lately also Priscilla and Aquila.

                                 VII. CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE COMPOSITION

                     An examination both of the letter itself and of the earliest testimonies of tradition,
                     in reference to the circumstances of its composition, leads to the following

                     (1) The place of composition was Italy (xiii, 24), and more precisely Rome
                     (inscription at end of the Codex Alexandrinus), where Paul was during his first
                     imprisonment (61-63).

                     (2) The date of its production should certainly be placed before the destruction of
                     Jerusalem (70), and previous to the outbreak of the Jewish War (67), but after the
                     death of James, Bishop of Jerusalem (62). According to ch. xiii, 19, 23, the
                     Apostle was no longer a prisoner. The most probable date for its composition is,
                     therefore, the second half of the year 63 or the beginning of 64, as Paul after his
                     release from imprisonment probably soon undertook the missionary journey "as
                     far as the boundaries of Western Europe" (St. Clement of Rome, "I Epistle to the
                     Corinthians", v, n. 7), that is to Spain.

                     (3) The reason for its composition is probably to be found in the conditions
                     existing in the Jewish Christian Church at Jerusalem. The faith of the Church
                     might fall into great danger through continued persecution by the Jews, who had
                     put James, the head of the community to a violent death. Precisely at this period
                     the services in the temple were celebrated with great pomp, as under Albinus
                     (62-64) the magnificent building was completed, while the Christian community
                     had to struggle with extreme poverty. The national movement which began
                     shortly before the outbreak of the last Jewish war would increase the danger.
                     These circumstances might lead the Apostle to write the letter.

                     (4) The Apostle himself declares the aim of his writing to be the consolation and
                     encouragement of the faithful (xiii, 22). The argument and context of the letter
                     show that Paul wished especially to exhort to steadfastness in the Christian
                     Faith and to warn against the danger of apostasy to the Mosaic worship.

                                           VIII. IMPORTANCE

                     The chief importance of the Epistle is in its content of theological teaching. It is,
                     in complete agreement with the other letters of St. Paul, a glorious testimony to
                     the faith of the Apostolic time; above all it testifies to the true Divinity of Jesus
                     Christ, to His heavenly priesthood, and the atoning power of His death.

                     LEOPOLD FONCK
                     Transcribed by Judy Levandoski
                     Dedicated to Br. Terance Thielen, T.O.R.

                                       The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII
                                    Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company
                                    Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
                                  Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
                                 Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

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