Hebrews: keep calm & carry on (1)


Keep-Calm-Carry-OnThe winter Bible class quarter where I minister will run on Sunday mornings from Dec. 1 thru Feb. 23 (thirteen weeks). Some of our adult classes will focus on a study of the book of Hebrews during a portion, or all, of that time. The title for our study is Hebrews: Keep Calm & Carry On.

In the interest of aiding advance preparation on the part of both teachers and students, starting today I’ll post twenty exercises/questions to research and consider from each major section of Hebrews.

For the sake of these notes (not the class outline/schedule) I’ll follow David A. DeSilva’s outline in his fine commentary entitled Perseverance in Gratitude. DeSilva discerns ten divisions of thought in Hebrews and so, the postings here will appear as follows:

  • 1.1-2.18 (Oct. 18)  –  Responding to God’s Word & Work in the Son
  • 3.1-4.13 (Oct. 25)  –  The Inexpediency of Distrust
  • 4.14-5.10 (Nov. 1)  –  Jesus, Our Guarantor of God’s Favor
  • 5.11-6.20 (Nov. 8)  –  Honoring God Necessitates Perseverance
  • 7.1-8.13 (Nov. 15)  –  Jesus, the Better Qualified Mediator of God’s Favor
  • 9.1-10.18 (Nov. 22)  –  The Decisive Removal of Sin’s Defilement
  • 10.19-39 (Nov. 29)  –  Draw Near to God and to Each Other
  • 11.1-12.3 (Dec. 6)  –  Faith’s Orientation in the World
  • 12.4-29 (Dec. 13)  –  In Training for the Kingdom
  • 13.1-25 (Dec. 20)  –  Living in Gratitude to God

Here’s a link to Hebrews 1.1-2.18 as rendered by the Common English Bible. When you’ve read the Scriptures there, come back here and use the following exercises and questions as tools to help you mine out the meaning of the text.

1. Hebrews is anonymous; there is no indication in it as to who wrote it. The wording of 2.3 tells us the author was not a direct witness of Christ, but likely had some connection with the ministry of Paul (due to the mention of Timothy in 13.23). With the aid of a study Bible, quality commentary, or reference work, read up on who scholars consider as possible authors.

2. We don’t know exactly to whom Hebrews was written. Perhaps they lived in Italy (cf. 13.24b). The title (“To the Hebrews”) was added long after it was penned. Again, with the aid of a solid reference work, read a bit as to who scholars think could have first received this letter.

3. As you read through Hebrews, make a list of passages that reveal some of what the original audience of Hebrews had gone through in time past as well as what they were currently experiencing. To get you started, consider 2.1; 5.11-6.12; 10.25-39; and 12.12.

4. Strictly speaking, Hebrews is not a “letter,” but a “message of encouragement” or “sermon” (13.22) written in an elegant Greek style. It’s main thrust seems to be to answer the question “Is it worth it to be a Christian?” As you read Hebrews, listen to this sermon with a steady ear for how the author addresses that concern.

5. Using the CEB, note the subtitles marking off the five thought divisions within 1.1-2.18 (1.1-4; 1.5-14; 2.1-4; 2.5-9; 2.10-18). The third section (2.1-4) is the writer’s central point of application; the other four sections either leading up to, or flowing out from, this one. What do the first and last thought divisions have in common (1.1-4 & 2.10-18)? How do the second and fourth (1.5-14 & 2.5-9) complement each other?

6. What does it mean to truly listen to God’s Son, God’s message (1.1-4)? What sort of things make it easy for us not to truly hear him?

7. What does it mean for God to have a “Son?” (1.2a)

8. Compare the wording of 1.3 regarding Jesus with the wording of a contemporary Jewish apocryphal book known as the Wisdom of Solomon 7.26.

9. Make a list of all the specific matters listed in 1.2-4 that are attributed to the Son.

10. Twice in chapter one (1.2,10), emphasis is placed on Christ being greater than all of creation, a creation that will one day be shaken (1.11-12; 12.25-29). What does this say about the nature of Jesus?

11. Why might the author deem it essential to stress Jesus’ superiority to the angels in 1.3-14? What might make this a matter of special importance to the original readers? Make sure 2.2-3 helps inform your answer. How is this superiority of Christ over angels helpful for us to know today?

12. Between 1.5-2.13, at least a dozen passages are quoted from the OT. By means of cross-references, locate each of these OT texts and read the immediate context of each. Also, from what OT book are most of the references taken?

13. With 1.5 in view, when specifically would you say the proclamation of Jesus as God’s Son occurred? Why?

14. The “sermon” we know as “Hebrews” is frequently punctuated with words of warning for Christians not to drift off from, or grow distant to, faith in Christ. The words of 2.1-3a are the first of these warning passages. With 2.1-3a, start a list that you’ll add to as you read through Hebrews, noting each occurrence of a clear, emphatic statement of warning.

15. Consider the implications of the warning statements (like the one in 2.1-3a) and what they have to say about the assurance and certainty of our salvation? Is true that once a person is saved by Christ that it is impossible for them to become lost? Elaborate.

16. What role were miracles, signs, and gifts of the Holy Spirit intended to play (2.3-4)?

17. Read 2.5-9 closely. Was humanity intended to rule over creation? If so, what kept humanity from having complete control? What is God’s solution to the control problem?

18. Did Jesus experience injustice and suffering because creation is totally “out of control” (2.10)? Does the experience of injustice or suffering on the part of Christians act as evidence that their faith and hope in God is in vain? Explain.

19. What does it mean that God “made perfect the pioneer of salvation” (Jesus) through the “experiences of suffering” (2.10)? Was Jesus not “perfect” before those experiences, does the word “perfect” have a different meaning than we normally associate with the word today, or what? What is Jesus “made perfect” for?

20. Answering with the immediate context in view (2.10-18), why is it exactly that Jesus “had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way” (2.17a)?