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Reviews | Hebrews: A Thematic Study

Hebrews: A Thematic Study

W. F. Barling

Paperback or e-book (ePub)

168 pages

Hebrews: A Thematic Study

The Christadelphian review (from June 2013)


As with Brother Carter’s book, this one also started life as a series of Bible Class studies given at the London Bible Class in 1954. Instead of the approach to be found in conventional commentary formats, which consider the letter chapter by chapter, this book, as the subtitle indicates, is based on ten major themes of Hebrews. In this way, the underlying themes are explored in a refreshing way and provide insights that are less easily acquired from more conventional treatments. However, in order fully to appreciate these, the reader needs to be fairly familiar with the letter’s contents and the development of the writer’s arguments and expositions. Those familiar with Brother Carter’s book will find Brother Barling’s approach quite stimulating.

The first chapter, “Let us hold fast” considers the needs and circumstances of the recipients and provides an overview of the whole letter. The next chapter, “Things … hard to be uttered”, considers the writer’s technique in persuading his readers to change their outlook, “correcting false notions as much by exploiting what was true and useful in them, as by exposing their essential fallacy” (page 26). Chapter 3, “He shall be to me a son” emphasises the finality of the revelation in Christ that we find in the very opening verses of the letter. The status now of Christ in relation to that of the angels is also a key factor. “Them who draw back unto perdition” is the title of Chapter 4, a phrase which is taken verbatim from 10:39 (AV) but for those like your reviewer, who are sensitive to English style, “Those who … ” would have been preferable. This in no way detracts from the masterly way in which this chapter demonstrates how the writer stresses the serious consequences of rejecting the Gospel using the lessons from the wilderness journey.

Chapter 5, “For the suffering of death”, deals with a topic that was a constant problem, both in preaching to Jews and to Gentiles: a suffering Messiah. To the former it was a stumbling-block, to the latter simply foolishness. This chapter provides help with the otherwise enigmatic citations in Hebrews 2, showing that the writer was stressing Christ’s solidarity with humanity (page 79).

Chapters 6 and 7 deal with the priesthood of Christ (“Crowned with glory and honour”) and his securing an all-sufficient salvation (“One sacrifice for sins for ever”).

Jews naturally would be concerned at the status of the law on which their whole culture was based. The theme, “He taketh away the first” (Chapter 8) deals with the prophetic intimation of Jeremiah of a new covenant which would supersede the old covenant. Not only was this “new” but, in the recurring phrase of Hebrews, a “better” covenant. This leads, of course, to the subject of Chapter 9: “God having provided some better thing”.

The final chapter is exhortational: “Let us go forth therefore unto him” and this means “without the camp”. Brother Barling concludes this excellent volume by considering the relevance of Hebrews for our age, noting that human nature is the same today as it was when this letter was penned.

Brother Barling approaches Hebrews in a novel and quite stimulating way, tracing the key themes as they run through the whole letter. Those who are beginning a study of Hebrews would be advised to work through Brother Carter’s book first. Those who are familiar with this volume will gain deeper insights by reading Brother Barling’s refreshing approach.

John M. Hellawell

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