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Reviews | The Letter to the Hebrews

The Letter to the Hebrews

John Carter

Paperback or e-book (ePub)

190 pages

The Letter to the Hebrews

The Christadelphian review (from June 2013)

Hebrews

THIS commentary originated from a series of Bible Class studies that were enlarged and published serially in the Magazine from 1933 to 1935. The studies were collated to form the first edition of the book in 1939 and in a second edition, after the author’s death in 1964.

After an initial consideration of the genre of Hebrews as a treatise rather than a personal letter, the identity of the writer is considered. Having listed the possible authors proposed by commentators, Brother Carter opts for the Apostle Paul on the grounds that Peter notes that Paul had written to the Jewish Diaspora (2 Peter 3:15,16) and that this letter was already considered to be scripture. If Hebrews is not that letter, where is it?

The next question to be considered was the identity of the recipients and this is deduced from the contents to be Jewish believers who were reluctant to abandon Judaism. Brother Carter also considers that the identity of the writer is not disclosed because Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles and this may have influenced the extent to which it was accepted. However, the comments regarding the release of Timothy and the salutation from “they of Italy” (13:23,24) suggest that the writer was, in fact, well known to the recipients and this has a bearing on the structure of the letter (see below).

The timing of the letter was also significant. The Jewish dispensation was moving towards its close. A new covenant meant that, in the words of Hebrews, “he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (8:13).

The commentary is divided into five sections, following the structure of the letter, each having a more detailed analysis in the opening paragraphs of the section. Section I is confined to the first four verses of chapter 1. Section II considers the writer’s demonstration that the Lord Jesus Christ is superior to the angels. Section III deals with “Christ and the Inheritance”. Section IV considers “The Priesthood of Christ”.

Section V is entitled “Application” and deals with the section from 10:19 to the end. The conclusion, “… suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words” is considered by some non-Christadelphian commentators not to relate to the whole letter, since this is hardly “few words”, but to the exhortational section from 10:19 to the end. Brother Carter suggests that this comment is intended to mitigate whatever opposition the letter may encounter. However, as noted above, the mention of Timothy and those in Italy implies that the writer is well known to the recipients. It is possible, as others have suggested, that Hebrews is actually a treatise (chapters 1 – 10:19) to which an additional exhortational letter, “in (relatively) few words” has been appended.

Brother Carter’s volume has stood the test of time and can be highly recommended as a straightforward sequential exposition of Hebrews. Those who are beginning a study of Hebrews would be advised to work through Brother Carter’s book first.

The Testimony review (from December 1973)

The Letter to the Hebrews

THE EPISTLE to the Hebrews has always been regarded with affection by those who have loved the Scriptures, for this is the one epistle that directs us to see Jesus as the antitype of the sacrifices and ritual of the Law of Moses, an interpretation that presupposes the foreknowledge of God and the Divine inspiration of the Old Testament writings. To all who study its message it is the springboard for ever deepening thought and appreciation of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ as priest and mediator in accordance with the righteousness and holiness of God. Developing this latter theme Brother Carter writes, “Man could not find a way out. This was God’s way, and it was a method that exhibited the love and mercy and grace of God, and at the same time His righteousness and truth; this way behoved or befitted God. ‘For it became Him (God), for whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering.’ The things done are worthy of God. They are for Him – He is the originator; they are through Him – He brings them to pass. By them many sons are to share the glory which crowns the Son. But in bringing them to this salvation there was required, and God provided, a captain of their salvation who must be made perfect through sufferings. The edge is taken off the Jewish objection to Jesus in this larger view of his mission.”

When developing the parallel between the Law and Christ, Brother Carter writes, “Aaron offered for his own sins, and then for the people’s, in his annually repeated offerings. But this Jesus did once … Certainly Paul did not mean that Jesus had need to offer for personal sins. He has affirmed that he was without sin; and in the context here he speaks of him as holy and guileless. That there was a sense in which he must offer for himself would appear from the fact that Aaron had to do so before he offered for the people, and Jesus is the antitype. If it should be said that this was a necessary preparation in Aaron’s case, it might be asked, was there no necessary preparation in Christ’s case? There was; and the Scriptures give the reason. We get a clue in the words of Peter: ‘who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree’. He was there as a representative, partaking of the nature that was common to all – a nature under sentence of death because of sin. He died to declare God’s righteousness; and this could not have been done if he could not righteously have died.”

Later he brings out the implication of the word “covenant” as applied to the sacrifice of Jesus when he writes, “We believe Paul is treating of a covenant, and not a will – a Gentile idea that is out of place in a letter written to Hebrews and particularly Hebrews of Palestine. The idea of a testator bequeathing his property, to be inherited after his death, is incongruous to the Divine idea of a joint possession by God and His people of the land promised. A modification of the translation helps to bring the verses (Hebrews 9:16,17) into line with the context on both sides.” Among the alternatives given by Brother Carter is that from The Emphatic Diaglot and An Amended Translation from Henry Craik published in 1847. The former reads, “For where a covenant exists, the death of that which ratifies it is necessary to be produced; because a covenant is firm over dead victims, since it is never valid when that which ratifies it is alive.” The latter read, “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be brought in the death of the mediating sacrifice. For a covenant is valid over dead sacrifices since it is never of any force while the mediating sacrifice continues to live.”

In his introduction to chapter 11 he writes, “The familiar words of Hebrews 11:1, if carefully considered, are not free from perplexity. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, our AV tells. If faith is this, then the things hoped for, if faith is present, are already possessed. But this of course cannot be in the nature of the case. As Paul says to the Romans, ‘What a man seeth why does he yet hope for?’ Primarily faith is trust in God’s word. Abraham believed God when He made promises to him, and it was counted to him for righteousness. Trust in God’s word has the result of producing confidence concerning the future, and a conviction concerning things not seen. Dr. Thomas translates the verse: ‘Faith is a confident anticipation of things hoped for, a full persuasion of things not seen’.”

Finally he turns to the “Sundry Exhortations” with which Paul concludes the Epistle, among which is the exhortation to remember those who brought the word of life to them in the first place. Perhaps there is a lesson for us today. As one reads through the books of some of the smaller sects one is impressed by the fact that in spite of the acceptance of many Scriptural doctrines we also find doctrines which are not upheld by clear Scriptural teaching, such as universal salvation, a supernatural devil, the present possession of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or Jesus is God. It says much for the clear thinking of Dr. Thomas that he disentangled the Truth from the confusion of thought that existed in his day and still exists. We may by hindsight criticise some of his interpretations of prophecy, but still be indebted to him for his clear exposition of the Truth as a whole. Brother Carter writes, “Introducing this section Paul directs the minds of his readers back to their first teachers, ‘Remember them that had the rule over you, that spake unto you the Word of God; and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith’ (Hebrews 13:7, RV). The manner of life of those through whom the Word of God had come to them was one that was animated by faith, and it had issued in death. Here in their own experience were examples for their imitation. In connection with this, the statement, on the face of it disconnected, is made: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea and forever. It looks backward and forward. It was for Jesus Christ – the Anointed Saviour – that their teachers had died. But Jesus lived, and he was able to strengthen them in their trials; not only so, he was alive for ever, and so could give to them eternal life if they were faithful. They must faithfully hold fast the doctrine which they had been taught, for there were many speculations current.”

Here is a book that should find its place on every Christadelphian bookshelf, and as the preface to the second edition says, “Those who hold that Paul was not the author of this letter should not be deterred from reading this excellent exposition”.

H. J. SALTER

(Originally published in the December 1973 edition of The Testimony Magazine (pages 451-452), and is reproduced by kind permission.)

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