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Ei Fi SCOTT, D.D. 




Edinburgh : T. & T. CLARK, 38 George Street 


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IT is only of late years that anything like an adequate 
study has been bestowed on the Epistle to the Hebrews. 
A few great passages of the Epistle have always been 
among the most familiar in scripture, but even" professed 
theologians have concerned themselves little with its 
teaching as a whole. This neglect has been partly due 
to the character of the argument, which is cast in an 
archaic mould, and often impresses a modern reader 
as barren and artificial. To a still greater extent the 
Epistle has suffered from the mistaken views that have 
prevailed as to its nature and purpose. It has been 
commonly regarded as a mere appendix to the Pauline 
writings, or as a tract that has survived from a forgotten 
controversy, or at best as the manifesto of some isolated 
sect. A work that appeared to count for so little in the 
main development of Christian thought has not un- 
naturally been pushed into the background. 

Within the last generation much has been done, and 
especially by English writers, to atone for past neglect 
of the Epistle. Not to mention a number of excellent 
commentaries, its teaching has been interpreted by such 


distinguished scholars as Dr. A. B. Bruce and Dr. Gr. 
Milligan, and more recently in a beautiful and suggestive 
book, The Epistle of Priesthood, by Dr. A. Nairne. 
Another work on the same subject may be reckoned 
superfluous, but it appears to me that the writers just 
named, while they have illuminated many dark places 
in the Epistle, have been warped in their approach to it 
by the old prepossessions, and have thereby overlooked 
some of its essential aspects. 

No excuse, however, is needed for making a new 
attempt to expound this noble New Testament writing. 
For many reasons, as I have tried to show in the con- 
cluding chapter, the Epistle to Hebrews, for all its air 
of antiquity, makes a peculiar appeal to the mind 
of our own age. It deals with questions which are 
ultimately the same as those which are now perplexing 
us, and suggests answers to them which are still valid. 
This has been felt by many, in all the Christian churches, 
who vaguely perceive the drift of the argument but 
cannot follow it in detail. I have tried in the present 
book to examine this difficult Epistle from several new 
points of view, and to throw some clearer light on its 
underlying ideas. 


June 1922. 






V. THE NEW COVENANT . . . .85 




IX. FAITH. . . . . . .169 


EPISTLE . . . . . .193 

INDEX. . . . . . .215 




THE Epistle to the Hebrews is in many respects the 
riddle of the New Testament. Nothing is known of its 
origin ; no agreement has yet been reached as to its 
literary character and theological affinities ; the more 
it is studied in detail the more it abounds in problems 
historical, doctrinal, exegetical which seem to defy 
solution. Among early Christian writings it stands 
solitary and mysterious, "without father, without 
mother, without genealogy," like that Melchizedek on 
whom its argument turns. 

Almost from the beginning the church was aware of 
something strange and perplexing about this Epistle. 
As one of the most ancient and valuable of Christian 
books it had a paramount claim to a place in the New 
Testament, but this place was not fully conceded to it 
for several centuries. The earliest critics, like their 
modern successors, were puzzled by it, and were un- 


willing to commit themselves to a judgment. It had 
come down without the credentials of Apostolic author- 
ship ; it could not be classified under any of the acknow- 
ledged types of primitive literature. At last it was 
grudgingly admitted to the Canon, but only through 
the pious fiction, never really accepted until the Middle 
Ages, that it was an anonymous Epistle of Paul. But 
the doubt which hung so long over the canonicity of 
Hebrews need cause us no misgivings. It serves to 
remind us, rather, that the Epistle won its way into the 
New Testament by its intrinsic excellence, in spite of 
all conventional scruples. Without any formal pass- 
port it had approved itself in the experience of the 
church as one of the primary Christian writings, worthy 
to rank with the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul. 

If it lacked the Epistle to the Hebrews our New 
Testament would indeed be incalculably poorer. Not- 
withstanding its many obscurities it remains one of the 
noblest examples of Christian eloquence. There are 
not a few aspects of the Christian teaching, and these 
among the most vital, which have never been set forth 
so clearly and magnificently as in this Epistle. And 
from the historical, hardly less than from the purely 
religious point of view, it is one of the most valuable 
documents we possess. The very fact that it stands 
alone, with little apparent relation to the more familiar 
types of New Testament thought, makes its significance 
all the greater. By means of it we may hope to deter- 
mine, in some measure, those hidden factors in primitive 


Christianity which, .helped to bring about the later 
development. It is not rash to prophesy that New 
Testament criticism in the course of the next generation 
will occupy itself more and more with the Epistle to 
the Hebrews. Here, if anywhere, the key must be 
sought to some of the most difficult problems of early 
Christian history. 

The present discussion will be mainly concerned with 
the teaching of the Epistle, and it is not necessary for 
our purpose to examine in detail the intricate literary 
questions which lie at the threshold. One cannot but 
feel, indeed, that students of the book have too often 
lost themselves in the mazes of its enigma, and have 
altogether neglected its essential message. The litera- 
ture of the Epistle is overloaded with disquisitions on 
its authorship, date, destination, sources ; and we are 
left with the impression that the work itself is only so 
much material for forming a judgment on those vexed 
problems. The investigation of them must certainly 
prepare the way for any intelligent study of its teaching, 
but they are at best subsidiary. It will be enough to 
indicate briefly the most probable results of the modern 
critical inquiry, before proceeding, in the light of them, 
to discuss the larger issues. 

The first thing necessary, in the study of any ancient 
document, is to fix the date of its origin ; and this can 
be done, in the case of Hebrews, within a fairly definite 
period, though not with absolute precision. It is quoted 


by Clement of Eome in the year 95 or 96, and must by 
that time have existed long enough to secure some 
weight and authority. We are safe to assume that 
it was not written much later than the year 85. On the 
other hand, we are precluded, by clear references in 
the Epistle itself, as .well as by the prevailing character 
of its thought, from assigning it to a much earlier date. 
The author classes himself with those who have received 
the gospel not from the Lord himself but from his 
Apostles declaring, in so many words, that he belongs 
to the second Christian generation. 1 He exhorts his 
readers more than once to live worthily of their past, 
and reminds them of teachers who have laboured among 
them in bygone days. 2 It has sometimes been argued 
that an Epistle so full of ritual allusions must have been 
written before the destruction of the Temple in the 
year 70 ; and a confirmation of this theory has been 
sought in the emphatic references to the " forty years " 
which God's ancient people had spent in the wilderness. 3 
Here, it is suggested, the writer is thinking of some 
primitive belief that the earthly career of the church 
was to be limited to a similar period, which was now 
on the point of expiry. This interpretation, however, is 
fanciful ; and nothing can be inferred as to the date of 
the Epistle from the ritual allusions, which are not 
concerned with the worship of the Temple, but with 
that of the ancient Tabernacle. In view of the explicit 
statements that the church can now look back on a 

1 He 2 3 . 2 5 12 6 9 10 32 13 7 . " 3 9 - n . 


past, apparently of some duration, we cannot assign 
the Epistle to the period anterior to the year 70. 
It was written, we may conclude, at some time 
between 70 and 85, and perhaps nearer to the later 

Who was its author ? This has always been one of ' 
the thorny questions of New Testament criticism, and 
almost every prominent figure of first century history 
has been put forward as a possible claimant. Paul, 
Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, Clement, Aquila and Priscilla 
these are only a few of the names that have found their 
advocates from time to time. That Paul was not the 
author may be regarded as certain. The one conceivable 
evidence in his favour is the incidental reference to 
" our brother Timothy," x and it proves nothing, since 
Timothy must have included most of the contemporary 
teachers in his circle of friends. The reference, more- 
over, belongs to a date when Timothy had undergone 
imprisonment, and of this episode in his career we have // 
no trace during Paul's lifetime. Against the one 
passage which might suggest Pauline authorship may 
be set another, which is of itself sufficient to exclude 
it the passage already mentioned in which the writer 
declares himself a Christian of the second generation, 
indebted for his knowledge of the gospel to the teaching 
of others. Such an admission would have been utterly 
impossible for Paul, who rested his whole title to Apostle- 
ship on the ground that he had received the gospel not 

1 He 13 23 . 


from men, but by direct revelation of Christ. But it 
is unnecessary to argue from particular passages. In 
its whole manner of composition polished, deliberate, 
academical the Epistle has nothing in common with 
the abrupt and intensely personal style of Paul. In 
its thought, as we shall see repeatedly, it is still more 
remote from him. His great fundamental doctrines 
are entirely absent, and even where his ideas seem to 
reappear they are invested with a wholly different 
meaning. If internal evidence means anything, the 
case against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews is 
beyond dispute. As for the other theories we can 
form no such definite judgment, since we have to deal 
for the most part with mere historical names. Luke 
may be set aside, for we know his mind sufficiently to 
be fairly certain that the theological conceptions of the 
Epistle were foreign to him. His interest in the gospel 
was not theological, but social, ethical, directly religious. 
To the ritual side of worship he was indifferent, or rather 
saw in Christianity a new type of faith in which ritual 
had ceased to have any place or value. The claim of 
Barnabas is more serious, resting as it does on a tradi- 
tion which is at least as old as Tertullian. It finds 
support, too, from superficial resemblances to Hebrews 
in the extant Epistle ascribed to Barnabas, indicating 
that a certain mode of thought had early come to be 
associated with his name. But perhaps the whole 
tradition had its origin in the known fact that he was 
a Levite, and for this reason had presumably a leaning 


towards speculations of a ritual nature. That Barnabas 
was the author of our Epistle is hardly probable, for 
in that case it would have carried an apostolic authority 
equal to that of Paul, and the long hesitation about 
accepting it would be inexplicable. Barnabas, too, 
who was a colleague of the primitive Apostles in the 
days before Paul's conversion, would not have ranked 
himself with the Christians of the second generation, 
who only knew the gospel from the reports of others. 
More can be said, at least on grounds of internal evidence, 
for the theory, popular since the days of Luther, that 
Apollos was the author of the Epistle. Apollos, as we 
know from the Book of Acts, was a man of Alexandria, 
eloquent, mighty in the scripture ; and the Epistle is 
certainly the work of an eloquent student of the Old 
Testament, steeped in Alexandrian ideas. Paul's 
allusions to the teaching of Apollos at Corinth may be 
held to bear out the view that he gave a philosophical 
turn to Christian doctrine, such as we find in Hebrews. 
But the conjecture that Apollos wrote our Epistle, 
however felicitous, remains at best a conjecture. As 
the first century wore to a close, the church drew to 
itself not a few men of the type of Apollos, men of 
literary and philosophical culture, who sought the key 
to Christian doctrine in the symbolism of the Old 
Testament. In the character of the Epistle there is 
nothing to warrant us in assigning it to one representa- 
tive of this group of teachers rather than another. It 
is not necessary to review all the other names that have 


been suggested. Against all of them it can be urged 
that they are supported by no positive evidence, or 
by evidence that is purely fanciful or accidental. All 
of them, too, may be ruled out by the general considera- 
tion that if the Epistle was the work of one of the 
prominent figures of the Apostolic Age some reminiscence 
of this would have lingered in the tradition. With 
regard to the problem before us, as to so many other 
problems of the New Testament, we are compelled to 
admit that our knowledge of the early history, and 
especially of the period which immediately succeeded 
the death of Paul, is fragmentary. The church had 
many leaders and teachers, and among them men of 
conspicuous gifts, of whom no record has come to us. 
The writer of Hebrews, it is fairly certain, was one of 
those forgotten teachers, and the search for his name 
is labour wasted. 

A peculiar difficulty arises in connection with the 
literary character of the work. It stands in our New 
Testament among the Epistles, and in the final chapter 
we have a series of requests and greetings in the regular 
epistolary form. Yet there is no opening address or 
salutation, and we should never guess, until we reach 
that concluding passage, that we have been reading a 
letter. On the other hand, we find all the marks of a 
spoken discourse. The style is balanced and rhetorical, 
with here and there a splendid outburst of eloquence. 
The theme is carefully planned out, and is developed 


with skilful pauses and transitions and variations all 
the devices of which a practised speaker avails himself 
in order to carry an audience with him through the 
windings of a complicated argument. More than once 
the author himself seems to indicate that he is in the 
act of speaking. 1 It has therefore been conjectured 
that the work is really a discourse or homily, furnished 
with a few extra sentences of a personal nature, and so 
dispatched in the form of a letter. But this theory 
will scarcely account for all the facts. Why, for example, 
were not some additions made at the beginning as well 
as at the end ? "What of the exhortations and rebukes 
which are always recurring ? They were meant, pre- 
sumably, for the audience which the speaker was ad- 
dressing, and could not have been transferred, just as 
they were, to some quite different audience. They 
might, to be sure, have been inserted when the speech 
was revised for its second errand, but they are so woven 
into the argument that they must have been integral 
to it from the first. No attempt to determine the 
character of the writing has been altogether satisfactory. 
Perhaps we might best explain it as the work of an 
eloquent teacher who was separated from his church 
and wrote a discourse for some one else to deliver in his 
name. To a vicarious address of this kind he might 
naturally append a few words of personal remembrance 
and greeting. The work would thus come to bear its 
twofold character of speech and Epistle. 

1 He 2 5 6 9 II 32 . 


\/ That the author addressed a definite group of readers 
or hearers is indubitable. Again and again he touches 
on particular circumstances which give weight to his 
admonitions, and the whole tenor of his argument, as 
we shall see, presupposes an audience of a quite peculiar 
kind. In what place are we to discover this audience ? 
Here again we are left to conjecture, and Jerusalem, 
v Eome, Alexandria, Antioch, and other less prominent 
churches have all been suggested, on more or less 
plausible grounds. The closing salutation, "they of 
Italy greet you," is ambiguous, and may possibly mean 
that the author is in Rome, and sends remembrances 
from the Roman church. But it may equally imply 
that Italian Christians at a distance wish to be remem- 
bered to their friends at Rome, and this reading of 
the words appears to be borne out by several allusions 
in the body of the Epistle. The writer addresses a 
church which has been long established and has had 
an honourable history. Eminent teachers have laboured 
in it and have shown a noble example. It has distin- 
guished itself by its liberality & virtue for which the 
Roman church was always conspicuous. It has been 
exposed, in a special degree, to persecution. Here, it 
is true, we encounter the gravest argument against the 
Roman hypothesis, for the persecutions which have 
been endured are described as comparatively light. 
" Ye have not yet resisted unto blood." " Ye suffered 
reproaches, and took cheerfully the spoiling of your 
goods." A church that had undergone the terrible 


massacre under Nero had surely displayed a constancy 
to which, language like this is quite inadequate. But 
it must be borne in mind that the Epistle is addressed 
to the existing community, which had not yet been put 
to a heroic test. Not improbably the great persecution 
is in the writer's thought when he eulogises the bygone 
teachers and bids his readers follow them, " contemplat- 
ing the issue of their life." 1 

Apart from these allusions which point to a Roman 
destination we have other evidences, tending to the 
same result. The Epistle is quoted by Clement not 
many years after it was written, and from this it may 
be inferred that the Koman church was well acquainted 
with it, before it came into general circulation. Again, 
the Epistle reflects a mode of thought which differs 
widely from that of Paul, although affected in no less 
a degree by Hellenistic influences. If we regard it as 
a product of Roman Christianity this divergence from 
Paulinism is capable of a natural explanation. The 
Roman church had grown up independently of Paul, 
and while faced with his problem of adapting the gospel 
to Gentile conditions had solved it in a fashion of its 
own. There were doubtless other Gentile churches 
which lay outside the Pauline orbit, but Rome is the 
only one that is positively known to us, and the peculiar 
theology of Hebrews may well have originated in this 
great independent church. Once more r the teaching 
of the Epistle, in not a few of its broad features, bears 

1 He 13 7 . 


the characteristic marks of Rome. Here, to a greater 
extent than in any other New Testament book, we meet 
with the principle of authority, which associated itself 
with the Roman church from the beginning. The 
writer takes his stand on the authority of Scripture, 
on the authority of the received " confession " and of 
the teachers of past days. For him the fundamental 
truths, which Paul is always striving to test and explain, 
are " the rudiments of the doctrine of Christ " the 
premises which must be taken for granted before we 
can begin the quest for higher knowledge. In some of 
its aspects the Epistle is nothing but a prolonged plea 
to live worthily of the old traditions, and to hold fast 
to them in spite of all temptations to fall away. Typi- 
cally Roman, too, is the entire absence from the Epistle 
of anything that can properly be called mysticism. 
There is no suggestion of a union with Christ or of a new 
life imparted by Him to believers. The Holy Spirit 
is regarded solely as the source of prophetic inspiration 
and of the charismatic gifts. The sacraments are barely 
alluded to, and of sacramental doctrine there is no 
trace. This absence of mysticism, which we shall have 
to consider more fully at a later stage, may be partly 
accounted for by the writer's temperament, and by his 
fidelity, in spite of Hellenistic culture, to the Hebraic 
and primitive Christian tradition. But it may also 
mark his connection with Roman Christianity, which 
in all its known phases, from the letter of Clement 
downwards, has shown itself averse to mystical specula- 


tions. A similar conclusion may be drawn from the 
striking fact that the polemical motive plays hardly 
any part in the Epistle. Its one reference to " strange 
teachings " is of an incidental nature, 1 and concerns 
some ascetic tendency which does not seem to have 
affected any cardinal Christian belief. In other New 
Testament writings of approximately the same date 
heresy is already the burning question, but the writer 
to the Hebrews is content to leave it to one side. This 
silence, however else we may explain it, points to a 
church which as yet had been little troubled by false 
teaching, and Kome answers best to this condition. 
The attempt to drag Christianity into the syncretistic 
movement began in the East, and Ignatius does not use 
the language of mere compliment when he declares the 
Eomans to be " filtered clear from every foreign stain." 
It is noticeable that the one reference to false doctrine 
in our Epistle touches on the same form of error with 
which Paul deals, in order to condone it, in the fourteenth 
chapter of his letter to the Eomans. This coincidence 
must not be pressed, for an interval of about a genera- 
tion lies between the two Epistles, not to speak of the 
cataclysm under Nero. But it is not impossible that 
the ascetic tendency of which Paul was aware had per- 
sisted in the Eoman church, and had grown to be 
something of a danger to the higher religious interests. 
' On all these grounds the Eoman destination of the 
Epistle is by far the most probable ; but even if we 

1 He 13 9 . 


accept -it a further difficulty arises. The writer has 
before his mind a homogeneous body of men who were 
exposed to the same temptations and were living under 
similar conditions. He could hardly have written in 
this manner to the whole Eoman church, which was 
already a large body, including all sorts of members, 
from ignorant slaves to philosophers and scions of the 
imperial house. If the letter was addressed to Kome 
it must have been meant for one of the communities 
which carried on their separate life within the great 
church ; and a number of indications seem to point to 
a still more definite conclusion. The group in question 
was of a peculiar kind made up of members who had 
been long converted and were now proceeding to higher 
instruction. It will be necessary later to dwell at some 
length on this conclusion, for it affords its, in some 
measure, the key to the Epistle. Much in the argument 
that would be otherwise inexplicable takes a new mean- 
ing when we think of the writer as addressing not so 
much an ordinary congregation as an inner circle of 
men who aspired to be teachers, and were aiming at 
deeper insight into their Christian faith. 

The problem-of the destination of the Epistle merges, 
however, in a much larger one. From an early time 
it has borne the title " To the Hebrews," and this con- 
jecture of some ancient scholar embodies a view which 
has been endorsed by all subsequent criticism, down 
to our own time. The Epistle is based on assiduous 


study of the Old Testament. It seeks to establish 
the worth and meaning of the new religion by con- 
trasting it, in certain respects, with Judaism. From 
all this it has been inferred that the writer addresses a 
community of Jewish Christians, with the object of 
warning them against the danger of relapsing into their 
ancient faith. This view of his purpose has usually 
been accepted as self-evident, and has formed the 
starting-point of most interpretations of the Epistle ; 
but the more it is examined the more we are compelled 
to question it. If our previous conclusions are admitted, 
it would fall to the ground almost of its own accord. 
Towards the end of the first century the cause for 
which Paul had fought had definitely triumphed, and 
Jewish Christianity had ceased to maintain itself outside 
of Palestine. In Rome especially, the division between 
the Jewish and Gentile sections of the church had been 
obliterated. Christianity had come face to face with 
its great practical task of overcoming the pagan world, 
and the old controversy about the claims of the Jewish 
ordinances could no longer be regarded as a living 
issue. It is hardly conceivable that in the cosmopolitan 
church of the capital, in the troubled interval between 
two fiery persecutions, there was still a community 
whose one concern was with the Jewish ritual, and 
which needed to be warned against its seductions by a 
long-drawn argument. But apart from-these considera- 
tions of date and origin there are convincing reasons, 
grounded in the whole character of the Epistle, against 


the traditional theory of its purpose. (1) The use of 
the Old Testament signifies nothing, for it was the 
acknowledged scripture of the church as well as of the 
synagogue. Purely Gentile writers, like the Apologists 
of the second century, employ it in just the same manner 
as our author, and no less constantly. An inquiry into 
the principles of Christianity, to whatever audience it 
might be addressed, would naturally take the form of 
an exposition of scripture, viewed in its bearing on the 
advent and work of Christ. Passages that dealt with 
the levitical ordinances were as much a part of scripture 
as any others, and as such had the right to be expounded 
for the purpose of Christian edification. (2) Not a 
word is said in the Epistle of apostasy to Judaism. The 
danger against which the readers are constantly warned 
is that of indifference, of failure to recognise the grandeur 
of Christianity and so live worthily of it. The writer is 
careful to say nothing that might disparage the claims 
of Judaism, for the old religion, though it had now been 
set aside, was the anticipation of the new. To this 
extent it possessed a divine significance, and those who 
slighted it were liable to the sternest punishment. If 
there was such value in the types, how much more in 
the realities ! If God exacted a strict obedience to Tfia 
will from those who had learned it imperfectly, what 
does He require of us, who are heirs of His new covenant ? 
There is no question of reverting from the higher religion 
to that which has now served its day. The possibility 
of such a relapse does not enter into the writer's mind. 


His sole concern is to impress on Ids readers the obliga- 
tion that rests on them as children of the last days, in 
which all God's promises have been fulfilled. (3) The 
discussion in Hebrews turns wholly on the ritual 
ordinances, as set forth in the levitical books. Judaism, 
however, as it existed in the first century, was not a 
matter of ritual but of fidelity to the Law. Paul, to 
whom the Jewish peril was a very real one, never deems 
it necessary even once to utter warnings against the 
attractions of the Temple worship. He is well aware 
that it has ceased to be a vital element in the religion, 
and reserves all his criticism for the Law, which was 
the true menace to Christian faith. If it had been the 
purpose of the writer of Hebrews to guard his readers 
from the snares of Judaism, he would inevitably have 
fixed his attention on the Law. An attack on the ritual 
would indeed have been meaningless if he wrote, as' he 
almost certainly did, after the Temple and all its 
observances had become things of the past. No one 
could now be in danger of relapsing into a type of 
Judaism which for centuries had been a mere survival, 
and had now completely vanished. (4) In any case, 
the Epistle deals throughout not with the Temple but 
with the half-mythical Tabernacle ; and this of itself 
is sufficient evidence that no polemic against Judaism 
is intended. It is conceivable that in the generation 
following the destruction of the Temple there were 
groups of Christians who shared the regrets of their 
Jewish countrymen for the imposing ritual of their 


fathers, and who contrasted it with the apparent poverty 
of Christian worship. But if the Epistle to the Hebrews 
was written for such belated votaries of the ancient 
ordinances it must sadly have missed its mark. It 
discusses them, not as they had been actually witnessed 
by men still living, but as they were pictured in old 
tradition. It takes no account whatever of the patriotic 
sentiment which might still attach itself, for Jewish 
Christians, to the historical shrine of their race. From 
the whole tenor of the argument we gather the im- 
pression that it was meant for readers to whom Jewish 
worship was a matter of remote and impersonal interest. 
Their knowledge of it had all been derived from the 
study of scripture, and on the scriptural presentation 
of it, not on the remembered facts, the discussion is 
based. (5) No reference is made in the Epistle to the 
division of Jew and Gentile. This is inexplicable if it 
is addressed to Jewish Christians, whose intense feeling 
of race and ancestral privilege would be their chief 
motive for relapsing to the earlier type of worship. 
Even if it were granted that the Epistle was written 
to some church in Palestine, for which the question of 
the admission of the Gentiles had never arisen in an 
acute form, the complete silence concerning it would be 
strange. After the time of Paul there could be no 
Jewish Christian sect, however encased in its old pre- 
judices, which could simply ignore the mighty fact 
that Christianity was now appealing to the whole world, 
and that the world was responding. A writer " to the 


Hebrews " could not have avoided at least some casual 
allusion to the great movement which was reacting 
in a hundred ways on the mission within Palestine 
itself. There can be only one explanation of the silence 
observed in our Epistle. It was written not for an 
audience that cared nothing for the larger gospel, but 
for one that recognised no other. Paul's victory was 
now complete, and in the church to which this letter 
was addressed, whether at Rome or elsewhere, the old 
barriers between Jew and Gentile had disappeared. It 
was possible to employ the language of scripture con- 
cerning Israel without any sense that it applied to a 
particular race, with a hereditary claim to be the people 
of God. A new Israel had arisen, united solely by the 
bonds of spiritual fellowship, and had entered into the 
promises which had been made to the fathers. 

That the Epistle was written by a Jew is more than 
probable, although it is composed in purer Greek and 
has closer affinities with Greek philosophical ideas 
than any other New Testament book. The funda- 
. mental strain of its thought is Hebraic. It is marked 
throughout by an intimate knowledge of Jewish custom 
and a sympathy with Jewish history and institutions 
which a Gentile could hardly have acquired from mere 
study of the Old Testament. But whatever may have 
been his nationality the author was a man of broad 
culture, who made his protest against tendencies which 
affected the church as a whole and not merely some 
reactionary sect of Jewish ritualists. This conclusion, 


which, has gained an ever wider acceptance in recent 
years, may be regarded as one of the most important 
results of modern New Testament criticism, and has 
placed us for the first time in a position to understand 
the real drift of the Epistle. By so doing it has thrown 
a new light for us on that period, perhaps the most 
decisive in Christian history, when the church of the 
Apostles was transforming itself into the later Catholic 
church. Our Epistle has come down to us out of the 
heart of that period. It has come, we have every 
reason to believe, from the Roman church, which was 
responsible, above all others, for the transformation. 
In this writing, if anywhere, we may look for an answer 
to some of the most difficult questions in the history 
of our religion. So long as the old theory was un- 
challenged, the Epistle was a document of secondary 
value. At most it could only testify to the survival 
of a remnant of Jewish Christians, who were impervious 
to the forces that were operating in the church at 
large. The ideas prevailing in an isolated community of 
this kind a community that can never have exercised 
much influence and must soon have disappeared were 
rightly felt to be of minor consequence, and the evidence 
of Hebrews was almost passed over in the attempt to 
trace the early development. But we can approach the 
study of the Epistle with a new interest when we have 
rid ourselves of misleading views as to its origin. It 
belongs not to some obscure side-current, but to the 
main stream of Christian progress. By an inquiry 


into its teaching we may hope to determine, in some 
measure, how the mind of the church was moving 
in an age that was pregnant with great issues, and 
has left its impress on the Christianity of all later 


THE Epistle to the Hebrews appears at first sight to be 
a theological treatise the earliest in Christian literature. 
On better grounds than many of the works of the Fathers 
it might have borne a definite title, such as " The Priest- 
hood of Christ," or " Concerning the true worship." 
But the author himself describes it, in the closing chapter, 
as " a word of exhortation," and there can be little 
doubt that in this phrase he has summed up his main 
purpose. Again and again he speaks the language of 
direct warning and encouragement. At each new turn 
of his exposition he pauses, in order to drive home the 
practical import of what may have seemed a purely 
abstract doctrine. As he draws towards the end the 
theological discussion is merged almost entirely in a 
passionate religious appeal. This hortatory strain 
which runs through the Epistle cannot be regarded as 
subsidiary or conventional, for it is bound up in the 
closest manner with the argument as a whole. It deals, 
moreover, with no mere pious generalities, but has a 
direct bearing on a given situation which is vividly 
present to the writer's mind. 


He contemplates a circle of readers whose faith has 
been weakened, not so much by positive doubt as by a 
failure of courage and perseverance. On the assump- 
tion that he writes for "Hebrews" it has generally 
been inferred that he fears a relapse, on the part of a 
Jewish Christian community, towards the ancestral 
mode of worship ; but there is nothing in the Epistle 
that supports such a view. The danger against which 
the readers are warned is not that of falling away to 
another religion, but that of growing slothful and in- 
different in the religion which they profess. Once or 
twice, indeed, it is suggested that they may be tempted 
to actual apostasy, but this possibility is touched upon 
only to be rejected with horror. For those who have 
been once enlightened and have yet given up their 
faith there can be no repentance, and the writer is con- 
vinced, in spite of his worst misgivings, that his readers 
are in no such deadly peril. What he fears, rather, is 
their " drifting away " their failure to remain stead- 
fast. Their religion is becoming dull and mechanical 
no longer sustaining them in the difficult present with 
a consciousness of their great calling. 

From various hints in the Epistle we can gather the 
reasons of this mood of indifference. It was partly a 
consequence of persecution all the more difficult to 
bear because it was not of the kind which evoked 
heroic effort. Under the contempt and ill-usage of their 
heathen neighbours the believers had grown weary, 
and were half -ashamed of a religion which involved 


them in social ostracism. The pressure from without 
had discouraged them the more easily because of grave 
inward weakness. There had been little endeavour to 
rise to a higher Christian life. The elementary beliefs 
and doctrines were accepted as a matter of course, and 
there seemed to be no desire for the larger knowledge 
which was the necessary condition of a more ardent 
and effectual faith. But apart from all the special 
causes which had lowered the vitality of the church, 
it was suffering from an exhaustion due to mere lapse 
of time. The Epistle is written to Christians of the 
second or third generation, for whom the new religion 
had lost its freshness and wonder. The earlier glow of 
conviction had given place to a mood of lassitude, and 
in some measure of disillusionment. There might be 
no visible departure from the gospel which had been 
proclaimed by the primitive Apostles, but unconsciously 
men had lost their hold on its essential meaning. As 
we read between the lines of the Epistle we become 
aware of 1 spiritual conditions which must have caused 
anxiety to many earnest minds in the last quarter of 
the first century. A splendid enthusiasm like that of 
the Apostolic Age was in its nature temporary, and 
had been followed by the inevitable reaction. The 
great personalities of the earlier period had now dis- 
appeared ; the spiritual gifts had ceased to manifest 
themselves, or no longer bore their mysterious character ; 
the hope of the Parousia had grown fainter, and did not 
now supply a living inspiration. The Epistle to the 


Hebrews has come to us out of that interval of transition, 
when the energies of the church were, for the time 
being, spent. In the succeeding age it had adapted 
itself to the new conditions, and an elaborate system of 
doctrine, government, sacramental piety was in course 
of formation, and partly made up for the loss of the 
early spontaneity. But our Epistle was written in the 
period of reaction. Christianity had ceased to be an 
enthusiasm, and had not yet taken shape as an ordered 
system ; and the most urgent task for its leaders was to 
revive the nagging activities of their people. For this 
purpose it was no longer enough to repeat the watch- 
words to which the earlier generation had responded, 
for these had now lost their virtue. The message had 
to be so presented as to provide new motives, instead of 
those which had quickened the zeal of the church in 
the primitive age. 

But while the Epistle is a hortatory discourse, it is 
peculiar in this that the exhortation is closely inter- 
woven with a theological argument. In order to inspire 
his readers with a new ardour for their religion, the 
author undertakes to demonstrate its surpassing value. 
It is apparently his conviction that their failure to hold 
fast is chiefly due to a lack of insight and appreciation. 
They have not realised the grandeur of Christianity. 
They have taken their obligations lightly because they 
do not feel that it is intrinsically different from all other 
religions, and the chief thing necessary is to exhibit it 
to them in its true character. So in the majestic open- 


ing sentence of the Epistle a thesis is laid down which 
is developed, on various sides, in the discussion that 
follows. To former ages God had spoken through 
earthly messengers imparting His truth in many 
broken lights, by vision and symbol and prophecy. 
Now at last He has spoken by His Son, who has not 
only given us the perfect revelation of His will, but 
has removed the barriers which kept us distant from 
Him. In other words, Christianity is the final and 
absolute religion. It has carried to fulfilment the striv- 
ings and anticipations of earlier forms of worship. It 
has lifted us out of the domain of shadows and has 
brought us face to face with divine realities. This 
conception of Christianity as the final religion determines 
the whole thought of the Epistle, and it was one which 
appealed with a peculiar force to the writer's age. The 
imperial work of Rome had now borne its fruit in the 
creation of a larger consciousness, in which the old 
distinctions of race and nationality were lost. It was 
no longer possible to think of all religions as equally 
true and valid each of them making its separate claim 
on the nation which had inherited it. Thoughtful 
men were compelled, to examine and compare the 
different religions which in the great cosmopolitan cities 
had now their temples side by side. They were con- 
fronted by the question whether, amidst the multi- 
plicity, there might not be one ultimate religion, in 
which the conflicting forms of faith should find their 
realisation. This quest for the one religion was the 


underlying aim of the syncretism which was so marked 
a feature of that first century. It may likewise be 
traced in the effort of Philo to harmonise Greek and 
perhaps Egyptian ideas with the Jewish Law, and in that 
of the Stoic thinkers to break away from all traditional 
beliefs and replace them by a cult of reason. The 
Christian missionaries could not but be influenced, more 
or less consciously, by the desire to present their gospel 
as the one all-embracing truth for which the world was 
seeking. With the Apologists of the second century 
this desire takes definite shape. They start from the 
assumption that in Christ the divine Logos, which has 
been operative in human life from the beginning, and 
has partially revealed itself in all forms of truth, has 
become fully manifest. In Christianity, therefore, 
the world is to recognise the final religion. Jews and 
Gentiles, votaries of all creeds and philosophies, will 
find their differences reconciled in this new message 
which has gathered into itself all the messages that 
have ever come to men from God. The writer to the 
Hebrews is in this respect, as in not a few others, the 
forerunner of the Apologists ; but while they work, 
almost solely, with the idea of revelation, he dwells 
upon it only in his opening sentences. The finality 
of the new religion, as he apprehends it, consists in 
this that it has established the perfect worship. 
All the spiritual endeavour of -past ages has at last 
come to fruition, since in Christ we have obtained a 
direct and perpetual access to God. 


The Epistle thus takes the form of a demonstration 
of the absolute worth of Christianity ; but in the work- 
ing out of his argument the author never loses sight of 
his practical aim. He is not concerned with any ab- 
stract question as to the nature and value of Christian 
truth, but addresses a particular group of men who 
are in danger of falling away. How can he persuade 
them to a stronger faith and constancy ? How can 
he make them proud of their confession, and more 
keenly alive to the solemn obligations which it lays 
upon them? The doctrinal discussion, remote as it 
sometimes appears to be from any practical interest, 
has no other object than to add weight to the exhorta- 
tion. By means of it he seeks to establish the para- 
mount claim of Christianity. He impresses on his 
readers that the religion which they profess to follow is 
God's last word to men, and that they will be unfaithful 
to it at their peril. 

The Epistle turns, then, on the thesis that Christianity 
is the final religion, and the method by which this thesis 
is affirmed is a peculiar and at first sight an inadequate 
one. A contrast is drawn between the gospel as the 
" new covenant," and the " old covenant " which 
had been given in Judaism, and it is shown that at 
every point the new covenant stands on a higher plane. 
This superiority to the ancient type of worship is 
accepted as sufficient proof that in Christianity we have 
the absolute religion. In one respect, therefore, the 


writer's horizon is much narrower than that of other 
Christian thinkers with whom we naturally compare 
him. Paul takes account of a revelation which had 
been vouchsafed to the Gentiles. The Fourth Evangel- 
ist sees in Christ the true Light the incarnation of the 
Logos which has ever been the light of the world. The 
Apologists think of the gospel as the perfect expression 
of a truth which has been dimly discerned from the 
beginning, and which is reflected in Greek poetry and 
philosophy as well as in the Law and the Prophets. 
But the writer of Hebrews appears to acknowledge no 
valid religion outside of Judaism. In the very sentence 
in which he identifies Christ with the Logos he limits all 
previous revelation to that which was given "to our 
fathers by the prophets." Christianity is for him the 
final religion in so far as it has consummated the mode 
of worship which is enjoined in the Old Testament. 

Not only does he confine himself to Judaism, but he 
looks at Judaism in only one aspect, and on the face 
of it a subordinate one. The Law becomes for "him the 
ritual, as laid down in the levitical books, and his 
discussion takes the form of a contrast of this ritual 
of the Tabernacle with the higher worship in which we 
participate as Christians. We cannot suppose that 
his identification of the Law with the ritual observances 
was due to defective knowledge. That priesthood and 
sacrifice were quite secondary- elements in Judaism 
must have been apparent to all who had the least 
acquaintance with it much more to one who was 


probably himself a Jew, and who, in any case, was 
deeply versed in Jewish literature and tradition. His 
concentration on the ritual may be partly set down to 
the exigencies of his theme. Taking his departure from 
certain scriptural passages which speak of priesthood, 
he is led, in his interpretation of them, to consider the 
priestly idea to the exclusion of all others. But his 
selection of these passages is not a matter of accident. 
It has to be explained, as we shall see more fully at a 
later stage, from an attitude of mind which sees in 
worship the central fact of religion. By the Law which 
he had bestowed on His ancient people, how had God 
provided for their access to Him in worship ? This is 
the question with which our author approaches the Old 
Testament, and on the answer to it he bases his con- 
sideration of the work of Christ. 

It is now necessary, however, to examine more care- 
fully a point which has been already touched on, and 
which has an intimate bearing on the character and 
scope of the Epistle. The audience addressed is not, 
as in the case of the Pauline letters, the whole Christian 
community, but a group within the community a 
group of the more advanced and enlightened believers. 
This may be gathered from a number of allusions in 
the course of the Epistle. Its readers have passed 
beyond the mere " elements of the doctrine of 
Christ," and expect the instruction which is suitable 
for the reketot for those who are intelligent and 


mature. 1 They have been so long learning that they 
ought themselves to be qualified to act as teachers, 2 and 
their backwardness is the more culpable in view of their 
special opportunities. In the parting admonitions they 
are enjoined to " take the oversight " of their brethren, 3 
" making straight paths " 4 in which the weaker may 
follow them without danger or misgiving. The evidence 
of these explicit allusions is borne out by the fact already 
noted, that polemical motives are almost entirely absent 
from the Epistle. Not only is it written to Rome, where 
the prevailing heresies had made less headway than 
elsewhere, but it is addressed to a select circle, made 
up of Christians of assured standing, who all shared in 
the same general convictions. In such a circle there 
would be no place for those doubtful converts who formed 
a considerable part of all the larger communities, and 
who were caught most easily by the allurements of the 
false doctrines. 

Not a few of the peculiarities of the Epistle appear 
in their true light when we thus learn to regard it as 
written by a teacher for teachers. Its recondite exe- 
gesis, the abstruseness of much of its reasoning, the 
academical cast of its language, would all have been out 
of place in a work of popular edification. They are 
relieved of any suggestion of pedantry or display when 
we think of the author as speaking, as it were, in the 
classroom, to an audience that was able to meet him 
on equal terms. But the fact that he contemplates 
1 He 6 1 . 2 5 12 . 8 12 15 . 4 12 13 . 


such an audience, has implications of a far-reaching 
nature which it will be well to consider in some detail. 

From various references in the early literature we 
know that it was customary in the post-Apostolic church 
to impart a higher and a lower kind of instruction. This 
custom seems to have had its origin in quite primitive 
times, and in Mark's Gospel is attributed to Jesus 
himself. The multitude, we are told, was incapable of 
receiving more than the superficial drift of his message, 
but to the disciples it was given " to know the mystery 
of the Kingdom of God." To them he was accustomed 
to expound all things in private, revealing the deeper 
import of those truths which the others could only 
perceive externally. That this account is based on a 
misapprehension of Jesus' method there can be little 
doubt ; but the practice he was supposed to follow was 
that which was actually in vogue in the early church. 
Paul explicitly tells us that this was his own procedure. 
While in his ordinary teaching he confined himself to 
the simple verities of the Christian message, without 
any attempt at eloquence or profound thought, he yet 
possessed a " wisdom " which he disclosed " among them 
that were perfect " (sv rolg r&Xsfotg). 1 This declara- 
tion of Paul has been used by some recent scholars to 
support the theory that Christianity had assumed the 
guise of a mystery cult, with its inner circle of initiates 
to whom the deeper secrets were divulged. But there 
is no reason to force this meaning into the words. The 

!Co2 6 -'. 


to whom Paul refers were not initiates in any 
technical sense, but simply the "full-grown" the 
more mature disciples who had proceeded to a higher 
grade of Christian knowledge. In all the primitive 
churches there must have been a marked distinction 
between the recent converts, who were still uncertain 
as to the fundamental principles of the new faith and 
morality, and those who had attained to something 
like a real insight. Every teacher must have recognised 
the necessity of separating the two classes for the 
purposes of instruction. From the statement of Paul 
we can infer no more than this that in his intercourse 
with the more advanced converts his teaching took a 
wider range than in his ordinary work as a missionary. 
Instead of confining himself to the fixed beliefs which 
were essential to a saving faith, he was able to unfold 
and supplement them offering his own interpretations 
of the work of Christ. 

But though there was nothing occult, or, in most 
cases, very profound, about this higher instruction, it 
played an all-important part in the development of 
Christian thought. For one thing, it was inevitable 
that in this field a large liberty should be permitted to 
the individual thinker. While in his regular teaching 
he was bound down to the tradition, and felt himself 
responsible for transmitting faithfully the primary 
truths of the gospel, he could give scope among his more 
advanced disciples to his own reflections. His aim was 
not so'much to reiterate what they knew already as to 


provoke them to further thought, and to draw out the 
hidden consequences of the accepted beliefs. A field 
was thus opened, in connection with the higher teaching, 
for the elaboration of doctrine, in such a manner as 
eventually to change its character. Paul, for example, 
in the passage referred to, appears to describe his 
" wisdom " as concerned with the divine plan whereby 
the powers of darkness which had conspired against 
Jesus were made the instruments of their own de- 
struction. A speculative theory of this kind was in no 
wise inconsistent with the normal Christian tradition. 
Its purpose was merely to reflect on the apocalyptic 
beliefs, and so to apply them as to enhance the signifi- 
cance of the Incarnation and the Cross. But it is not 
difficult to see how such constructions might take a 
purely fantastic form, and open the door to ideas which 
were not only foreign to the Christian message, but were 
subversive of its first principles. Teachers who were 
in sympathy with pagan thought would attempt to 
blend the new doctrines with the current mythology, 
under colour of exploring their background or tracing 
out their deeper implications. Within the lifetime of 
Paul himself the church was threatened with various 
forms of error in which we can discern the familiar 
features of the later Gnosticism. 

The speculations which were thrown out from time 
to time in the course of the higher instruction were 
already known by the name of Gnosis, although no 
sinister meaning had attached itself to the term. On 


the contrary, Paul recognises in the search for " know- 
ledge " one of the legitimate and necessary activities 
of Christian piety. He takes for granted that those 
who accept the new beliefs are not to rest satisfied with 
the bare tradition. They ought to feel impelled, by 
their very faith in it, to examine and ponder it, and so 
to arrive, by the guidance of the Spirit, at a fuller 
understanding of its import. The term yvasig was 
applied to this interpretation of the tradition, and as a 
Christian word it continued to bear the shade of mean- 
ing which it had acquired in Hellenistic Greek. It 
denoted, as we gather from the religious literature of 
the time, not so much knowledge in the larger sense as 
the knowledge of secret things of the nature and 
counsels of God, the destiny of the soul, the mysteries 
of the future and of the unseen world. Since it was 
thus occupied with matters beyond the range of human 
intelligence it was supposed to be supernaturally given. 
It was a revealed knowledge, attainable not by a process 
of conscious seeking, but by direct illumination. In 
Christian usage the word retained its well-understood 
meaning, but was adapted, at the same time, to the new 
system of ideas. The church regarded itself as the 
community of the Spirit, and in all Christian activity a 
mysterious power was assumed to be operative dis- 
cernible in thoughts and impulses which might seem in 
themselves to be purely natural. For Paul there was 
no clear distinction between his own thinking and the 
knowledge which came to him from the Spirit. He 


believed that as the Apostle of Christ he was not 
dependent on " man's wisdom," but drew directly from 
a higher source of inspiration. So among Christians 
generally the idea of yvuffig was capable of a wide 
extension. Any member of the spiritual community 
who was gifted with superior powers of insight and 
reflection was free to regard himself as a vehicle of the 
Spirit. It is significant that when Paul remonstrates 
with the intellectuals at Corinth he does not question 
the higher origin of their knowledge, but only maintains 
that there are other gifts of the Spirit more to be prized 
than this one. In so far as any distinction was made 
between yvuGig and ordinary knowledge it consisted 
in this that yvStaig was primarily concerned with 
mysteries. The idea of what constituted a " mystery " 
was itself ill-defined ; but, broadly speaking, the term 
was applied to the inner purpose of a given institution 
or doctrine or belief. The first duty of the missionary 
was to impart the common tradition, which it was 
necessary that men should receive before they could 
call themselves disciples of Christ. But when the 
convert had become rzkeios, when he had attained to a 
certain maturity in his Christian life, he was expected 
to ponder the elementary truths and discover what lay 
beneath and behind them. What was the nature of the 
change that came about through Baptism ? In what 
manner had the death of Christ operated that it should 
atone for sins ? How are the dead raised, and with 
what body do they come ? As time went on, and under 


the pressure of Hellenistic influences, these and similar 
questions assumed a more and more important place, 
and after the turn of the century religion was construed, 
to a great extent, in terms of knowledge. In the 
primitive age it was recognised clearly that faith was 
the essential thing, but a value was already set on know- 
ledge, as the indispensable means towards a larger and 
surer faith. * 

This inquiry into the nature of Gnosis has been 
necessary for the purpose of understanding the true 
character of our Epistle. We approach it from a wrong 
point of view if we regard it simply as a normal example 
of Christian teaching in the latter part of the first 
century. When due weight is allowed to a number of 
indications, we have rather to consider it as a Gnosis 
communicated by a revered teacher to a select circle 
of his disciples. The author is aware that his doctrine 
is " hard to interpret," and introduces it, not without 
misgivings, after he has prepared the way by many 
preliminary hints. He is anxious to convince himself 
that his readers are indeed " full-grown," with their 
senses so exercised in judgment that the " solid food " 
which he offers will duly nourish them. It does not 
follow from the guarded manner in which his doc- 
trine is divulged that it is in any respect a secret one. 
No strange esoteric terms are employed as in later 
Gnosticism, and we know, from the references to it in 
early writings, that the Epistle was in general circula- 


tion from the first. Moreover, while its message is 
confessedly novel and unfamiliar, it is in no sense contra- 
dictory to the accepted tradition. The writer is careful 
to lead up to it by insisting on the cardinal beliefs on 
which all Christians are agreed, and makes it clear that 
his own contribution is meant to be nothing more than 
a fuller development of those beliefs. His object is 
not to change the gospel into something different, but 
to interpret it. Nevertheless, his teaching, at whatever 
point we examine it, has all the characteristics of Gnosis. 
His mind is consciously directed to things " within the 
veil." He declares, in so many words, that " the world 
to come is the subject of our discussion." x In his effort 
to penetrate the secrets of that unseen world he takes 
his departure from a cryptic passage of the Old Testa- 
ment, and seeks, with the aid of the Spirit, to expound 
the dark intimations which the Spirit has given in 
scripture. It is true that his method is one of conscious 
reflection, and that the Gnosis which he propounds has 
little to distinguish it from ordinary speculation. But 
he assumes, like Paul, that the activities of his own mind 
are subject to a higher direction. This new doctrine, 
based on an exegesis which to us may appear frigid 
and artificial, has come to him by a divine illumination 
and bears the authentic marks of Gnosis. 

We may now attempt, in the light of these con- 
clusions, to define the scope and purpose of the Epistle. 

1 He 2 B . 


An eminent teacher, believing that he has arrived at a 
truer and deeper conception of the work of Christ, 
communicates his discovery to a group of his more 
mature disciples for whom the bare elements of Christian 
instruction are no longer sufficient. He is convinced 
that the doctrine which he expounds is in full harmony 
with the accepted faith. He finds it adumbrated in 
passages of scripture which are no doubt mysterious, 
but which reveal their meaning to the mind that has 
been duly enlightened. Nevertheless it is a new doctrine, 
a Gnosis, and lie lays it before his readers with a certain 
reserve. He speaks to them not in the name of the 
official church, but as an individual thinker who has 
arrived at this interpretation along a path of his own. 
Two points have thus to be emphasised in our study 
of the Epistle. It is concerned, in the first place, with a 
particular doctrine, which is purposely kept in the fore- 
ground to the exclusion of others. The writer is indeed 
assured that this doctrine is of paramount value, but 
he does not intend that it should cover his whole under- 
standing of the Christian message. ~ Perhaps there is 
nothing that has so obscured and complicated the 
teaching of the Epistle as the common assumption that 
it contains a whole system of theology, complete in 
itself. When it is so construed it presents gaps and 
oversights which are quite inexplicable, and cannot 
be brought into intelligible relation to the known de- 
velopment of early Christian thought. We must not 
try to extract from it more than it professes to offer. 


The autlior is at pains to impress on us that he acquiesces 
in the ordinary teaching, and takes his departure at 
the point where it leaves off. It forms the necessary 
foundation for his thought and must everywhere be 
taken into account, but he does not try to deal with it 
more than incidentally. The theme which occupies 
him is his new speculation the profounder doctrine 
in which he advances on the normal beliefs. 

On the other hand, the very fact that he thus aims 
at advancing is proof that he has travelled all the way 
with the church. At first sight it might appear as if 
he were a daring innovator, who had set himself to 
express the cardinal ideas of the gospel in more adequate 
forms. His theology has often been regarded from this 
point of view, as constituting a type by itself. But as 
we examine it more closely we shall see reason to con- 
clude that it agrees in the main with the teaching which 
had become prevalent in the church towards the end 
of the first century. The one element in it which is new 
and peculiar is the doctrine of the priesthood of Christ, 
and this doctrine is not the outcome of any remoulding 
of traditional ideas. It is built upon them as on the 
acknowledged basis of all further truth, and cannot be 
understood apart from them. With all his gifts of 
eloquence and spiritual insight the writer of Hebrews 
is not a creative mind in the same sense as Paul and the 
Fourth Evangelist. He does not try to think out the 
Christian message for himself and embody it in new and 
more vital categories. He is content to take his stand 


on the Confession, as it had already shaped itself in the 
mind of the church, and to work out one particular 
doctrine to its further issues. 

When we thus read the Epistle as a Gnosis, addressed 
to a special group of the more enlightened converts, we 
can better understand its hortatory, as well as its 
theological motive. It is indeed true that most of its 
warnings against indifference and faint-heartedness 
are applicable to any community, but they acquire a 
new significance when they are connected with a more 
definite aim. They contemplate a body of readers 
on whom a responsibility was laid as the leaders and 
examples who were to " make straight paths " for their 
weaker brethren. On the part of such men there must 
be no relapsing into a lifeless, perfunctory religion. 
If the ardour of the former days was to be rekindled 
in the church at large, it must not be allowed to grow 
cold in those who aspired to be teachers. It is not a 
little remarkable that hardly anything is said in the 
Epistle of the open and flagrant sins which Christian 
missionaries had constant occasion to rebuke. The 
letters of Paul, written for communities which included 
all sorts of members, at all stages of religious discipline, 
are full of warnings against such sins, while in Hebrews 
they are barely touched on. This is intelligible on no 
other theory than that the readers were little exposed 
to the grosser vices. They formed a select circle, 
capable of a higher discipline, and had presumably 


outgrown the half-pagan morality which was still 
rife among the more recent converts. On the other 
hand, the lassitude and formalism with which they are 
upbraided were precisely the dangers to which a spiritual 
elite of this kind would be most liable. The very fact 
that they had risen above the vulgar temptations would 
encourage them in a mood of self-complacency. They 
would be prone to rest satisfied with what they had 
achieved already, and by their failure to press forward 
to new knowledge would relax their hold even of "the 
elements of the doctrine of Christ." 

If its readers were such as we have described, the 
Epistle becomes in the fullest sense a "word of ex- 
hortation." On the face of it the ardent appeal which 
breaks out at intervals is weakened by the long-drawn 
theological argument. How could men be roused to 
stronger faith and endeavour by this laboured com- 
parison of the work of Christ with that of the levitical 
high priest ? Paul, when he sought to revive his 
churches in Corinth and Galatia, pointed them away 
from difficult speculations to the simple facts of the 
gospel. Why does the writer of Hebrews employ just 
the opposite method a method which was bound, as 
all experience has taught us, to defeat its own ends ? 
But his exhortation must be considered in the light of 
its special object. He has a situation before him 
entirely different from that in Corinth, where converts 
new to Christianity were neglecting its elementary 
demands in their premature zeal for "knowledge." 


His audience consists of men who, in view of their long 
association with the church, were its natural teachers. 
They had fully mastered the elements, but had failed 
to advance in knowledge ; and this carelessness about 
the deeper meaning of their religion had made them cold 
and timid and half-hearted. It is the writer's deliberate 
purpose to quicken in them that desire for "know- 
ledge " in which they are lacking. He takes the 
" elements " for granted, and bids them try to follow 
him into, fresh regions of thought, in which they will 
meet with " things hard to understand." By this 
intellectual effort they will be shaken out of their 
lethargy. Their religion will mean more to them, and 
they will respond to its demands more ardently, when 
they have thus braced themselves to grapple with its 

The abstruseness of the argument, therefore, is 
itself a factor in its hortatory purpose. It might seem 
as if the resolve to let first principles alone and pass on 
to something higher, betrayed a false conception of the 
message of Christ. The simplest Christian truths are 
also the greatest and most vital, and we have gained 
but little when we imagine ourselves to have transcended 
them. From the days of the Gnostics until now Chris- 
tianity has only been impoverished by all the repeated 
efforts to ally it with high-sounding philosophies. But 
is it not equally true that it ceases to be a living force 
when the intellectual problems involved in it are left 
wholly to one side? In all ages of the church the 


purely religious development has gone hand in hand 
with the endeavour to press on to a higher knowledge. 
Often, as we can now perceive, this endeavour has 
taken a wrong direction, and has resulted in futile 
theories from which a later generation has had to liber- 
ate itself. But even so it has served to quicken, for the 
time being, the pulses of the religious life. Where 
the intellectual effort, however misdirected, has given 
place to mere indolent acquiescence, the church, in all 
phases of its activity, has fallen back to a lower plane. 
Emphasis has often been laid on the danger of allowing 
the speculative interest in religion to overshadow the 
practical. It is doubtless a very real danger, and in a 
time like ours, when the right of critical inquiry has 
been extended to the field of religion, it must be care- 
fully guarded against. Religion is something different 
from mere strenuous thinking on the great religious 
questions. Yet it still remains true that faith and 
knowledge are inseparable, and that both grow stronger 
as they react on one another. More often than we 
know the failure of religion, as a moral power, is due to 
no other cause than intellectual sloth. Accepting their 
beliefs as a matter of custom, men have allowed them 
to grow hollow and meaningless, and have not sought 
to deepen and renew them, and make them adequate 
to expanding needs. The desire to understand more 
fully what has been given us in the gospel is the safe- 
guard, as it is also the surest index, of a living obedience. 
This is the conviction that underlies the Epistle to the 


Hebrews, and makes it, even in its subtle argumentative 
chapters, a true " word of exhortation." It is the 
protest, offered us in the New Testament itself, against 
a piety which is afraid to link itself with an advancing 
knowledge, and which thereby loses its sympathy even 
with the first principles of the doctrine of Christ. 


THE Epistle to the Hebrews stands by itself in the New 
Testament, but its isolation is in many respects more 
apparent than real. Its author, while he imparts a 
new and peculiar doctrine, takes his stand on the 
common beliefs of the church, and never questions their 
validity, although he works them out to unexpected 
issues. Even the ideas that constitute his Gnosis are 
not altogether novel. Traces of them can be discovered 
in one and another of the New Testament books, and 
in the literature of the second century they have many 
striking parallels. It is evident that our Epistle, in 
spite of its half-esoteric character, is something more 
than the manifesto of an individual thinker. As 
much as any of the writings that are generally 
singled out as representative, it reflects the broad 
movement which was going forward within the 
church. We cannot understand its teaching or form 
a just estimate of its historical value, until we 
have related it to the various forces which were 
moulding^Christian thought in the latter part of the 

first century. 



The question which meets us at the outset in any 
attempt to trace the affinities of the Epistle is that of 
its connection with Paul. We have already seen that 
the theory of its Pauline origin is unsupported by any 
external evidence, and breaks down completely when 
its structure and language, and much more the whole 
tenor of its teaching, are critically examined. It has 
nothing to say of the characteristic Pauline doctrines 
Justification by faith, union with Christ in his death 
and resurrection, the destruction of the sinful flesh, the 
regenerating power of the Spirit. Its thought is entirely 
untouched by the Pauline mysticism. It knows nothing 
of Paul's grand contention that the Law and the gospel 
are radically opposed to one another. In the course of 
the Epistle we indeed meet continually with Pauline 
terms faith, sanctification, redemption, but they 
carry a meaning altogether different from that which 
they^bear for Paul. The use of them serves only to 
mark a profound divergence from his whole mode of 
thinking. Apart from these more general terms, we 
occasionally catch an echo of specific Pauline phrases 
or ideas. The death of Christ is described, in words 
which recall a well-known passage in Romans, as a 
redemption of sins committed under the old covenant. 1 
It is declared, in language which Paul himself might 
have used, that by his death Christ destroyed the devil, 
who had the power of death. 2 As in Paul, the simpler 
and the higher instruction are contrasted as milk for 
1 He9 15 j cf. Ro3 M . 2 2 14 . 


babes and meat for grown men. 1 The great proof-text 

of Paulinism " the just shall live by faith " is quoted, 
and Abraham is held up as the classical example of 
faith. 2 But such coincidences signify little. The 
writer, like Paul, avails himself of ideas which were 
current in the early Christian communities, and employs 
them, independently of Paul, with a context of his own. 
In so far as a real affinity can be discovered between 
Paul and the author of Hebrews, it must be sought in 
the broad assumptions on which they both rest their 
interpretation of the gospel. For both of them Christ 
has become something more than the traditional Messiah, 
his life on earth is only an episode in a larger life, which 
includes his pre-existence and his return to glory. Hia 
death is the grand consummation and the very purpose 
of his life. Emphasis is laid not so much on his teach- 
ing as on the work he accomplished, and chiefly on the 
work which he now accomplishes as the exalted Lord. 
The redemption offered by Christianity is viewed not 
merely as a future, but as an inward and present deliver- 
ance. These agreements and others like them are 
unmistakable, but they are not to be set down to any 
immediate contact. They belong, rather, to the new 
Christianity which had come into being in consequence 
of the Gentile mission, and of which Paul was only one 
of many representatives. The writer of Hebrews is a 
child of the Hellenistic culture, and employs the con- 
ceptions which were native to it in his presentation of 
1 He 5 ia ; cf. 1 Co 3 2 . 2 10 s8 II 8 . 


the gospel. Paul had employed them before him for 
the same reason, and we can discern them, under various 
disguises, in all the religious thinking of the age, pagan 
as well as Christian. 

The more closely we examine the Epistle the more 
we perceive that it is different, not only in its main 
conceptions but in the whole texture of its thought, 
from the writings of Paul. To some extent this may be 
explained by a difference in temperament between the 
two thinkers. The mind of Paul is ardent, intuitive, 
mystical, while the writer of Hebrews is grave and re- 
flective. Religion for him has its basis in " reverence 
and godly fear." His thoughts are few and weighty, 
and he unfolds them deliberately, and comes back to 
them repeatedly till he has exhausted their full import. 
For such a thinker it would have been difficult to place 
himself in complete sympathy with Paul's teaching, 
even though he had been thoroughly versed in it. But 
there is no indication that it was familiar to him. He 
makes no quotations from Paul, and does not allude, 
even indirectly, to the Epistles or their author. Again 
and again he traverses ground that had already been 
covered by Paul, but of this he betrays no conscious- 
ness. It is not the least perplexing of the riddles of 
Hebrews that a teacher who wrote within a generation 
of Paul's death, a teacher, moreover, whose reference 
to Timothy implies a certain contact with the Pauline 
circle, should apparently be quite unaffected by the 
work of the great Apostle. However the fact is to be 


explained, its significance for early Christian history 
cannot be overlooked. It is perhaps the most striking 
of a number of evidences that the influence of Paul on 
his own age was by no means so all-pervading as is 
generally supposed. In spite of his splendid boldness 
and originality, or rather for the very reason that he 
stood so high above the common level of Christian 
intelligence, he failed to direct the main course of the 
development. That the writer of Hebrews was well 
acquainted with the name of Paul and regarded him 
as a great and venerable figure, we cannot doubt. But 
it does not follow that he knew Paul's interpretation of 
the gospel, much less that he accepted it as carrying 
with it an unquestionable authority. 

Our author, however, although independent of Paul, 
belonged like him to the Hellenistic section of the 
church, and construed the gospel in terms of Hellenistic 
ideas. As they appear in Paul these ideas are saturated 
in the religious mysticism of the age. They have 
passed into Hebrews through the medium of philo- 
sophical speculation, and more particularly of that 
philosophy which had grown up at Alexandria, with 
Philo as its outstanding exponent. The Alexandrian 
influence is so apparent that many have singled it out 
as the one moulding element in the Epistle. We shall 
find reason to question this view, but the relations to 
Alexandrian thought are everywhere traceable, and 
may be briefly indicated. (1) Philo and the writer of 


Hebrews are both, biblical theologians, who advance to 
new doctrines by an elucidation of the hidden purport 
of the Old Testament. They assume that scripture is 
the immediate utterance of the Spirit,, and that its state- 
ments have therefore an absolute value. They seek 
to arrive at the ultimate solution of all problems not 
by abstract reasoning, but by investigating the data 
of scripture. (2) In this investigation they employ 
a method which to the modern mind is altogether 
arbitrary. Every utterance of scripture is supposed to 
convey a spiritual as well as a literal reference, and the 
chief aim of the expositor is to discover this underlying 
sense of the divine word. He is guided in his quest by 
no uniform principle, but trusts in each case to his gift 
of spiritual intuition. The exegesis thus resolves itself 
into a free play of fancy and conjecture around the 
suggestions thrown out by the text. (3) The theory of 
a twofold sense involved in the words of scripture is 
only an aspect of the symbolism which pervades all the 
thought of the two writers. The visible world, as they 
apprehend it, is nothing but the reflection of a higher 
world, in which it finds its true meaning and reality. 
As in their exposition of scripture they try to reach the 
spirit through the letter, so in their interpretation of all 
the work of God they accept the material forms as 
merely signs and shadows, whose value consists in some- 
thing that lies beyond them. The task of the en- 
lightened mind is to raise itself, through contemplation 
of the symbols, to knowledge of the divine realities. 


(4) They are both preoccupied with the idea of worship. 
Religion, in their view, is identical with the true worship 
of God, and they therefore transfer to the ritual all the 
significance which in ordinary Judaism was attached 
to the Law. For both of them, moreover, the idea of 
worship is closely connected with that of mediation. 
Philo works with a system of abstract conceptions, and 
the Christian writer with the gospel tradition ; but 
they are at one in the fundamental thought that man, 
under earthly conditions, is shut out from the higher 
world. He must find access to God through a power 
that reaches into his own life while participating in the 
divine nature. (5) For Philo the mediation is effected 
by the Logos, which corresponds at once with the 
creative Word of the Old Testament and the immanent 
Eeason of Stoicism ; and to this Logos he ascribes a 
certain personality as a second divine principle. In 
Hebrews the term Logos is never expressly used, but 
in the opening chapter we have unmistakable reference 
to the doctrine, which is outlined almost in the very 
language of Philo. The Christology of the Epistle, as 
we shall see later, is profoundly influenced by this 
Philonic conception. (6) The writer of Hebrews adopts 
an idea of Faith which bears a striking resemblance 
to that of Philo. Indeed it may safely be affirmed that 
on this side of his teaching he is far more closely akin 
to Philo than to his Christian predecessors. (7) A 
number of phrases and metaphors and allusions can be 
collected from the Epistle which might be urged as 


proof of a direct dependence on the works of Philo. 
But we must be careful not to attach, an undue value to 
such coincidences. In the religious literature of every 
age there are images and expressions which are common 
property, especially among writers who represent the 
same general type of thought and outlook. Verbal 
similarities must be supported by other evidences before 
they can be held to signify a conscious borrowing. 

These, then, are the main directions in which the 
writer of Hebrews betrays his affinity with Philo. 
It is clear that he has been powerfully affected 
by Alexandrian ideas; yet we mistake the whole 
character of his thinking if we construe it, without 
any reserve, as Alexandrian. When it is examined 
more closely we become aware of differences from Philo 
which are no less noteworthy than the agreements. 

(1) The method of exegesis employed in Hebrews is 
not the allegorical method of Philo, but is more nearly 
akin to that of the Rabbinical schools. It consists not 
so much in attenuating the letter of scripture as in 
emphasising it examining it, so to speak, under the 
microscope, in order to ascertain its full implication. 
For example, the mention of a new covenant by Jeremiah 
is made to yield the meaning that already in the 
prophet's day the first covenant was growing old and 
was destined soon to disappear. The words of the 
Psalm, " to-day, if ye will hear his voice," are construed 
as defining a given period, set by God, within which an 
opportunity is offered of entering into the promised 


rest. The " rest " itself, by a subtle insistence on the 
literal context, is interpreted as a Sabbath rest in store 
for God's people. Similar illustrations might be adduced 
from almost every chapter. The exegetical method is 
no less arbitrary than that of Philo, and aims at the 
same discovery of a spiritual meaning underneath the 
literal one. But it is not, properly speaking, the method 
of allegory which was distinctive of the Alexandrian 

(2) The difference which comes to light in the exe- 
getical method may be traced in the symbolism gener- 
ally. Both writers have much to say about the events 
of Old Testament history and the institutions of Jewish 
worship ; but in Philo they are treated allegorically. 
The material facts, although a certain value is allowed 
to them, are resolved into philosophical ideas, moral 
qualities, moods and processes of the inward life. The 
intercession of the high priest becomes a sort of picture 
of the ascent to God through the agency of the Logos ; 
the New Jerusalem is figurative of the condition of the 
soul when it is at last set free from the bondage of 
ignorance and passion. 1 But in Hebrews the fact 
is not thus volatilised into some purely spiritual 
equivalent. It is regarded, on the contrary, as the 
mere shadow or copy of some fact which strictly corre- 
sponds with it and which possesses a far more real exist- 
ence. Thus the New Jerusalem is the abode of angels 
and redeemed men a city in heaven of which the 

1 De Somn. ii. 251. 


actual Jerusalem is nothing but the dim reflection. The 
official high priest, making intercession in the visible 
sanctuary, is the type of an ideal, eternal High Priest, 
who represents his people in the true dwelling-place of 
God. Everywhere in the Epistle the symbolism is of 
this character. It proceeds on the assumption that 
the higher world is the world of realities, and that things 
on earth are only the copies of heavenly patterns. This 
typology of Hebrews has indeed been strongly influenced 
by the Philonic idealism, but it must not by any means 
be confounded with it. In his conception of the two 
worlds the author does not attach himself directly to 
Alexandrian philosophy, but to the theology of Judaism. 
(3) When Philo conceives of religion as worship, his 
aim is to substitute for the old idea of outward cere- 
monial that of an inward communion of the soul with 
God. He tries to show how by spiritual discipline 
and with the aid of divine grace the soul may be freed 
from all earthly entanglements and attain to its true 
life. Worship, therefore, as he describes it, is in the 
last resort a condition of ecstasy, in which the human 
spirit becomes one with the divine. All intermediate 
beings, even the Logos itself, are only guides and sup- 
ports in the upward journey of the soul, until it arrives 
directly and by its own right at the vision of God. In 
our Epistle we find nothing of this mysticism which 
constitutes the very essence of Philo's thought. The 
idea of worship is accepted literally, and is set forth 
under the forms and imagery of the ancient ceremonial. 


It is assumed, as in the Jewish, ritual system, that the 
chief hindrance to man's approach to God is sin, and 
that means must be provided for removing it by a due 
purification. It is assumed, likewise, that the offices 
of a priest are necessary, and on this need of a Mediator 
between man and God the whole argument turns. No 
doubt the thought is always present that mere cere- 
monial religion is now a thing of the past. The true 
worship is impossible without an inward regeneration 
a " cleansing of the conscience from dead works." But 
this ultimate significance of ritual worship is never 
wholly separated from the ritual itself. Christianity 
is presented not as a communion with God made possible 
by an inward condition, but as a " perfecting " the 
completion on a higher level of the worship offered in 
the Tabernacle. 

(4) As the Epistle is untouched by the Philonic 
mysticism, so it holds aloof from the cosmical theories 
which play an essential part in Philo's thinking. A 
passing reference is made, in the introductory sentences, 
to the creative activity of the Son ; but this line of 
speculation is not pursued any further. A place has 
to be made for it, in deference to the Logos doctrine as 
generally understood, but the writer makes no attempt 
to work it into his own theology. He takes his stand 
on the simple Hebraic conception that " He who made 
all things is God," * and this truth is so self-evident to 
him that he makes the acceptance of it the elementary 

1 He 3 4 . 


test of faith. 1 He is quite untroubled by the problem 
which weighs continually on Philo of how the tran- 
scendent God can enter into relation to the material 
world. In so far as he avails himself of the Logos 
theory it is not to solve this problem but to ensure that 
Christ shall be so exalted above all created beings that 
his work will have an absolute value. From beginning 
to end his interest is solely in this work of Christ as 
our Redeemer and High Priest, and he leaves cosmical 
speculations entirely to one side. 

So far, then, from merely reproducing the thought of 
Philo, our Epistle breaks away from it at precisely the 
most vital points. The divergences are so marked that 
a question might almost arise as to whether the Hellen- 
istic strain which undoubtedly runs through the Epistle 
is derived from Alexandria at all. It has to be remem- 
bered that Philonism was only one of many attempts 
on the part of Jewish thinkers to ally their ancestral 
faith with the results of Greek philosophy, and we must 
allow for the possibility that the author of Hebrews 
was dependent on some other school of thought which 
had grown up in the Dispersion. But a hypothesis 
of this kind is not necessary, for in any case the Hellen- 
istic ideas which leaven the Epistle are vague and 
general in their nature. They do not seem to be 
taken over directly from any formal system, and in the 
search for their origin we do not need to look outside 

1 He II 3 . 


of that Alexandrian movement which was now active 
within the church. Paul himself, whom no one would 
think of claiming as a disciple of Philo, shows a 
certain acquaintance with Philonic conceptions. They 
must have found an entrance at an early date into 
Christian theology, perhaps through the agency of 
Alexandrian converts like Apollos, and would be 
accepted the more readily as they were a product of 
Hellenistic thought on its distinctively Jewish side. 
The teaching of Hebrews may therefore be described 
as Alexandrian in so far as it reaches back at least 
indirectly to Philo. It is the work, moreover, of a 
writer who was in some respects intellectually akin to 
Philo, and who was attached, like him, to the Greek 
idealism which had become a common possession of the 
age. But it cannot be made out that he was indebted 
to Alexandria for more than a few broad suggestions, 
which he borrowed at second hand and elaborated to 
new issues in the light of his own thinking. 

From the Alexandrian influence we pass to another 
of a wholly different character the influence of primi- 
tive Christianity. On the assumption that Paul was 
the one authoritative teacher of the early church, and 
that the later theology, in all its variations, must some- 
how be traced back to him, not a few of the scholars 
who most fully recognise the non-Pauline character of 
the Epistle have thought it necessary to relate it, in 
one form or another, to Paulinism. But the truth 


appears to be that instead of resting on Paul it goes 
back quite independently to that earlier Christianity 
out of which Paulinism itself had sprung. We have 
here a fact of primary importance for the understanding 
not only of the Epistle, but of the whole development 
of the Christian mission. 

In the course of the following chapters we shall have 
occasion to consider in detail the various indications of 
a primitive strain in the theology of Hebrews ; and for 
our present purpose it will be enough to mark their 
general nature. They serve to bear out the conclusion, 
which is supported by other evidences, that the earlier 
tradition was not superseded by Paulinism. In some 
respects the author of Hebrews, notwithstanding his 
later date and his philosophical sympathies, stands 
closer to the original Apostles than he does to Paul. 

(1) He adheres to the primitive conception of the 
new religion as indissolubly bound up with Judaism. 
His whole argument, as we shall see, rests on the belief 
that there has been no break in the history of God's 
people. The old covenant has found its completion 
in the new the history of Israel has been perpetuated 
and consummated in the church. Now this idea of the 
church as the true Israel which has inherited the pro- 
mises made to the fathers is, in a broad sense, common 
to all types of early Christian teaching ; but in Paul it 
is construed from a spiritual point of view. The be- 
lievers are Abraham's seed inasmuch as they participate 
in his faith, and their life in Christ is based on a principle 


and governed by a power of which the old system had 
known nothing. With all his anxiety to claim for the 
church the rights and prerogatives which had hitherto 
attached to Judaism, Paul is conscious of the profound 
originality of the new religion and never fails to throw 
this aspect of it into the forefront. But in Hebrews 
the connection between Christianity and Judaism is 
still conceived literally. The racial bond is no longer 
insisted on, but the church as a world- wide community 
is still supposed to be one with Israel. The ministry 
of Christ is contrasted with that of the high priest, 
not as something different in kind, but as the reality 
of which it was the anticipation. The faith which 
Christians are required to exercise is placed in the same 
category with that of the Bible heroes, who are held up 
as its examples and forerunners. This idea of the 
solidarity of the people of God throughout the whole 
long history that had begun with Abraham and will 
end with the ParOusia, is fundamental to the Epistle. 
It explains, and in some measure justifies, the traditional 
title " to the Hebrews." 

(2) The teaching of the Epistle is set in the framework 
of those apocalyptic beliefs which were so ardently 
cherished in the primitive community. It is regarded 
as certain that the Parousia is close at hand, that men 
are living on the confines of the new age. The thought 
of the imminence of the Judgment is put forward as 
the supreme motive to fidelity and steadfastness. The 
devil is the tyrant whose power of enslaving men has at 


last been broken. The people of God are citizens of a 
new Jerusalem, which is the home of angels and beatified 
spirits. All this belongs to the primitive tradition, 
and in Hebrews there is no attempt, as in the Fourth 
Gospel and 'to some attempt in Paul, to interpret the 
apocalyptic ideas in a purely religious sense. They are 
combined, as we shall see, with ideas of a different 
order, more congenial to the Hellenistic mind, but in 
such a nfanner that they never lose their original char- 
acter. For this thinker of the later age, as for the first 
Apostles, they remain the necessary groundwork of all 
Christian hopes and beliefs. 

(3) It has often been remarked that the earthly life 
of Jesus has a larger place in our Epistle than in any 
New Testament book outside of the Gospels. The 
writer does not, like Paul, regard the earthly life as a 
mere interlude, of no significance apart from the death 
in which it culminated, but ascribes to it a moral and 
religious value of its own. His definite references to 
the history are indeed few, but the thought of Jesus, 
who knew our human weaknesses and was tempted as 
we are, and set us the grand example of obedience and 
courage and faith, is constantly before his mind. Whence 
did he derive this interest in the actual life of Jesus, 
whicht is all the more striking as he is occupied, in the 
main, with a speculative theory ? When we consider 
how completely the historical figure was overlaid in 
the mind of that later age by theological reflection, it is 
not unreasonable to conclude that he was in touch with 


the earlier tradition which has left us the Synoptic 
Gospels. Like other thinkers of his time he feels it 
necessary to construct a doctrine of the Person and 
work of Jesus ; but he has grown up in a community 
which still cherished the remembrance of the life as 
it had been lived on earth. 

(4) A similar inference may be drawn from the 
absence of all that might be called sacramental theory. 
The Lord's Supper is. never mentioned. Baptism is 
alluded to several times, but in a quite formal and 
incidental fashion. Certainly it would be rash to 
attribute any deep intention to this reticence. That 
the writer accepted the estimate of the Sacraments 
which had now come to be universal in the church can 
hardly be doubted, and it is not difficult, as we shall 
see later, to find reasons for the subordinate place they 
occupy in the Epistle. But when all is said, his attitude 
is not a little strange. Even though he acquiesced in 
the prevailing view of the Sacraments it cannot have 
formed a primary element in his thinking, or it would 
have found at least some unconscious expression. Is 
it fanciful to conjecture that he belonged to a circle 
in which Christianity retained, in some measure, its 
primitive stamp ? The ideas which had interwoven 
themselves with the simple Christian ordinances in 
communities more pronouncedly Gentile were here held 
in check by the earlier tradition. 

(5) An evidence of a more definite kind may be 
discerned in the curious analogies between our Epistle 


and the speech attributed to Stephen in the book of 
Acts. Whatever critical difficulties may surround the 
speech in Acts, there seems no valid reason to doubt 
that it belongs to a very early stratum of Christian 
literature. The author of the book can hardly have 
invented it, for it lacks precisely those qualities of 
dramatic fitness and effect which an inventor would 
have aimed at. On purely linguistic grounds there is 
strong reason to suppose that it is a translation of an 
Aramaic document, which Luke, according to his usual 
method, has incorporated in his narrative. Between 
this speech and the Epistle to Hebrews there are re- 
semblances so numerous and striking that they can 
hardly be set down to accident. In both documents 
the history of Israel is passed under review, with par- 
ticular emphasis on certain episodes ; the typological 
method is applied to the interpretation of the Old 
Testament ; the idea of worship is made central. There 
is reference in both to the Rabbinical legends that the 
Law was given by angels and that the tabernacle was 
modelled on a heavenly pattern. Above all, the speech 
and the Epistle have the same fundamental motive, 
although they develop it in very different ways. 
Christianity is viewed in the Epistle as the perfecting 
of a revelation which had been made in many fragments 
to the fathers, and this is likewise the governing idea 
of the apparently aimless summary of Old Testament 
events which occupies the speech of Stephen. Its 
purpose is to demonstrate that in the rejection of 


Christ the Jewish people have been false to their own 
past history, of which his coming had been the goal 
and fulfilment. 

It is not too bold to conjecture that in the light of 
this parallel we can not only trace a primitive strain in 
Hebrews, but can roughly make out the channel by 
which it has been transmitted. The speech in Acts, 
although it may not have been uttered by Stephen in 
so many words, may be accepted as an outline of the 
general tenor of his teaching,] The ideas expressed in 
it were normative, we may presume, for his followers, 
who were scattered after his death and continued his 
work in centres outside of Palestine. Some of these 
earliest of Gentile-Christian communities would ere 
long be absorbed in the Pauline mission, but others, 
we can hardly doubt, would preserve an independent 
life, and develop their doctrine along the lines marked 
out for them by their founders. As time went on they 
would be affected, like other Gentile churches, by the 
prevailing currents of speculation ; but the Christianity 
for which they stood would bear a stamp of its own. 
It would maintain its hold on ideas which were un- 
coloured by Paulinism and had come, through Stephen, 
as a direct heritage from the church at Jerusalem. 
The theory here suggested is purely tentative, and has 
no other basis than the singular agreements between 
our Epistle and the speech in the book of Acts ; but 
the broad fact appears certain that the teaching of 
Hebrews is at once primitive and Hellenistic. Many 


difficulties are removed if we assume the existence of 
communities, however they may have arisen, which 
partook of this twofold character. 

The Epistle, then, if we have understood it rightly, 
is a product not of some variety of Paulinism, but of 
a separate form of Gentile Christianity more closely 
allied than Paulinism with the earlier mission. A 
question here comes up which is of peculiar interest 
in view of the modern inquiry into the origins of Chris- 
tian doctrine. Can we discover any points of contact 
between the teaching of this Epistle and the ideas which 
found their characteristic expression in the mystery 
religions ? In answering this question there is one 
fact which must be borne in mind a fact which is 
all-important, although it has been overlooked or 
wilfully obscured by many recent scholars. The more 
we examine the so-called mystery speculations the 
more certain it becomes that they were common, in 
some form, to all the Hellenistic thinking of the age. 
They sprang from the commingling of Stoic and Platonic 
conceptions with Oriental mysticism, and are bound 
up with the philosophy of Philo no less than with the 
myths and observances of the cults. In so far as it is 
affected by Hellenistic influences the Epistle may fairly 
be said to be tinged with the doctrines which pervaded 
the very atmosphere of first-century thought. But if 
by the mystery beliefs we understand something more 
specific, it must be answered that no trace of them can 


be discovered in Hebrews. Terms may occasionally 
be used which were associated in a special manner with 
the cults (e.g. (pariffffiog, (Aeffirqs), but they are brought 
into a wholly different context. The Epistle knows 
nothing of a participation in the divine nature, or 
of a union with Christ in his death and resurrection. 
It contains hardly an echo of those mystical and sacra- 
mental ideas which are usually supposed to be the 
clearest evidences of the Oriental type of religion. This 
may partly be explained by the fact that the writer is 
concerned with the discussion of one particular doctrine. 
There may well have been elements in his thought which 
had no relevance to his immediate purpose, and which 
he deliberately kept out of sight. But however it may 
be accounted for, the absence of any apparent 1V with 
mystery religion is significant, and throws not a little 
suspicion on much recent theorising. It has been 
confidently asserted that the Oriental influence was 
nothing less than the dominant one in the early com- 
munities that Christianity was essentially a mystery 
religion, in which Jesus became the divinity of the cult 
in place of Attis or Mithra or Serapis. But a view like 
this can only be maintained by ignoring the complex 
process at work in the new religion, which employed 
whatever was offered it in the spiritual life of the time 
as a help to its own development. It came into a 
world that was astir with different movements ethical, 
philosophical, mystical and with all of these it allied 
itself, while it still preserved the sense of its unique 


character and message. Hence the varieties of Christian 
teaching which are all represented within the narrow 
bounds of the New Testament. We may choose to 
limit ourselves to some one of them, and to describe 
early Christianity as an apocalyptic hope, or an ethical 
discipline, or a mystical or speculative philosophy. But 
our judgment of it is sure to be mistaken unless we 
take all these phases of its activity together, and allow 
at the same time for something beyond them for the 
life-giving principle which imparted new values to 
all that was borrowed. The existence of a writing like 
Hebrews, as genuine an expression of Christian piety 
as the Pauline Epistles or the Fourth Gospel and yet 
so entirely different, is sufficient proof of this many- 
sidedness of New Testament religion. It supplies a 
warning which must never be forgotten when we are 
tempted to define the whole life of the primitive church 
in the terms of one narrow formula. 

The problem, therefore, of determining the exact 
place of our Epistle becomes the more intricate the 
more we examine it. On the one hand, the writer seems 
to attach himself, more directly than Paul, to the 
original Christian tradition. On the other hand, he is 
manifestly influenced by those Alexandrian ideas which 
we have learned to associate with the latest develop- 
ment of New Testament theology. He is related at 
once to the community which waited at Jerusalem for 
the coming of the Lord, and to the Catholic church 


which in the century following found its spokesmen in 
the Apologists and Irenseus. Not only in its teaching 
as a whole does the Epistle present this double aspect, 
but at every point it reveals the interaction of diverse 
currents of thought. The ideas which it borrows from 
Alexandria are blended with others derived from the 
Kabbinical schools, and these again appear to have come 
down in some special tradition in which they had 
acquired a new significance. 

The Epistle, however, cannot be wholly explained 
by the most exhaustive inquiry into the influences which 
have gone to mould it, for its writer was not merely a 
man of culture, with a mind hospitable to suggestions 
from many different sides, but a thinker of highly 
individual temperament. All that he derives, from 
whatever source, he brings into the service of a new 
conception of Christianity remarkable for its boldness 
and its genuine insight. To understand this concep- 
tion we must look more closely into his own religious 
attitude as it comes out in the Epistle. In what mood 
and with what prepossessions did he approach the 
gospel ? How had it made its appeal to him as the 
final revelation in which all others had been perfected ? 
These are the questions to which we must find an 
answer before we can interpret his teaching in 


To a modern reader the argument of Hebrews is obscure 
and unconvincing. Not only does it employ a method 
of proof which appears to us artificial, but it starts 
from assumptions which are never clearly stated and 
are often hard to determine. In order to do justice to 
the writer's thought it is necessary to consider these 
presuppositions, which are given him partly by the 
general beliefs of his time, partly by the Christian 
tradition, partly by his individual outlook and cast 
of mind. Our task will be simplified if we first make a 
brief survey of the argument itself. 

It takes the form of a comparison of the old and new 
covenants, with the object of proving that the earlier 
relation of God to His people was only- the prelude 
and foreshadowing of that higher relation which has 
now been realised through Christ. Three characteris- 
tics which marked the dignity of the old covenant are 
examined one by one, and in each case it is shown 
that Christ has perfected what was at best inferior 
and preparatory. In the first place, the Law, according 
to the familiar Jewish tradition, was given through 


angels ; but Christ, as the Son of God, stood infinitely 
higher than the angels. Again, the Law had been 
inaugurated by Moses, the most faithful and venerable 
of all God's servants. But Christ, as the Son, had a 
place in God's household far above that of any servant. 
He spoke and acted with an authority to which Moses 
could lay no claim. Once more, the Law made pro- 
vision for a high priest, who held office by divine 
appointment, and ministered in a sanctuary framed on 
the pattern of the sanctuary in heaven. But Christ 
was a Priest belonging to a higher order, and the place 
of his ministry is no other than the heavenly sanctuary 
itself. It is this third point of the comparison with 
which the Epistle is mainly occupied ; indeed, the 
earlier chapters are little more than introductory to 
the central theme of the great High Priest, who is the 
mediator of a better covenant. First, it is. shown that 
Jesus, though standing in no official succession, was a 
Priest no other than the ideal Priest who was fore- 
told by scripture in the dark allusion to " a priest 
for ever, after the order of Melchizedek." The nature 
of the ministry which Christ exercises is then considered 
in detail, and is contrasted point by point with that 
of the levitical high priest. As the high priest entered 
into the holy place once a year to restore the relation 
between God and His people, so Jesus passed through 
the veil which separates the visible world from the 
invisible. As the high priest offered sacrifice to purify 
from sin the people whom he represented, so Jesus 


made his sacrifice. It consisted in nothing else than 
the offering of his own body; and this sacrifice, in- 
calculably more in value than the slaughtered beasts 
of the ancient ritual, effected a far higher kind of con- 
secration. Men were cleansed by it from no mere 
ceremonial defilement, but from the inward impurity 
which kept them distant from God. Moreover, the holy 
place that Jesus entered was the heavenly sanctuary, 
of which the earthly one was but a copy ; and he 
entered it not for a brief interval year by year, after 
sacrifices that had constantly to be renewed, but once 
for all, to abide for ever at God's right hand. By the 
priesthood of Christ, therefore, the purpose of which 
the old covenant fell short has been fully realised. 
God's people have been brought near to Him, and the 
access they have thus obtained through the great High 
Priest can never henceforth be interrupted. The 
writer now passes from the purely theological argument 
to a consideration of its practical consequences. He 
shows that the Christian life, resting as it does on the 
assurance of a new relation to God, must be one of 
faith. In all ages, faith has been the power that has 
supported God's people and led them forward. Amidst 
the difficulties of the present and the illusions of this 
passing world they have laid hold on something beyond, 
and were so enabled to bear up and conquer. And 
this faith of which they gave us. the example, has 
become ours in far higher measure, since the eternal 
world into which Christ has entered as our forerunner 


is no longer remote from us. We can feel that already 
we are numbered among its citizens. We can look to 
the unseen and heavenly things as if they were present 
realities. Hence the obligation that is laid on us to 
prove ourselves worthy of our great calling, and to 
resist all temptation to fall away. 

Such, in brief outline, is the purport of the Epistle, 
and there can be no denying the grandeur and the 
permanent value oi its main conceptions. But it is 
equally apparent that the author has arrived at them 
by methods which are foreign to our world of thought. 
He works with categories which we cannot but regard 
as unmeaning and fantastic unless we make allowance 
for the assumptions that lie behind them. 

(1) In the first place, the word of scripture is accepted 
as infallible. Several times the particular authors of 
Old Testament passages are mentioned by name, and 
inferences are drawn from the period and circumstances 
in which they wrote. But the human agents are 
viewed as the mere instruments of the Holy Spirit, 
which had declared through them the eternal counsels 
of God. The testimony of scripture is thus of absolute 
value. It can be brought forward in lieu of a reasoned 
proof ; or rather there can be no valid proof which 
does not rest on this foundation. Where a modern 
thinker would start from some axiom of science, or 
fixed philosophical principle, the writer of Hebrews 
sets out from scripture. It must be noted, however, 
that he is safeguarded, by the very faults of his 


exegetical method, from the cramping effects of this 
reliance on a written authority. Preoccupied as he is 
with the hidden intention of scripture, he tries to pierce 
through the letter. In the statements of prophets 
and psalmists he discovers ideas which are quite alien 
to them, and which have their true source in religious 
instinct or reflection. But he is himself unconscious 
of the freedom which he thus secures for his thought. 
He offers his doctrines, however bold or novel, as the 
unfolding of the mind of the Spirit, revealed in scripture, 
and asks our assent to them because of this divine 

(2) In like manner, an ultimate value is attributed 
to the ordinances of Jewish worship. These also were 
prescribed by God. He had willed that men should 
approach Him by means of a particular ritual, and it is 
not for them to inquire into the why and wherefore. 
We have here an aspect of the Epistle which has 
frequently been misunderstood. A modern theologian 
who sought to interpret the Jewish rites as typical of the 
work of Christ would feel it necessary to examine them 
in all their aspects and discover, if possible, their inward 
motive and import. We naturally assume that the 
author of Hebrews had likewise reflected on the mean- 
- ing of the ancient ordinances. For the elucidation of 
his thought innumerable essays have been written 
on the origin and purpose of sacrifice, priesthood, rites 
of sprinkling and purifying. It has been taken for 
granted that since he makes so much of these things 


his secret must needs be sought for somewhere in the 
dim recesses of primitive religion. But it may be 
confidently affirmed that for the understanding of 
Hebrews all this investigation is labour wasted. The 
author takes his stand simply on the fact that the 
ordinances in question have been laid down in scripture. 
God Himself has appointed them, for reasons that lie 
utterly beyond our knowledge, and all true worship 
must in some manner conform to the model He has 
given us. It is true that the symbolic nature of the 
rites is constantly insisted on, but this does not imply 
that behind them there is some profound religious idea 
which they exhibit in a sort of picture and apart from 
which they have no value. Nothing more is meant 
than that the rites themselves are only copies. Sacrifice 
as performed in the tabernacle was the adumbration 
of a true and final sacrifice. The levitical priesthood 
was the prelude to a priesthood of a higher order, in 
which its aim would at last be realised. But the cardinal 
fact is never questioned that priesthood and sacrifice, 
however we may conceive them to operate, are the 
necessary means of obtaining access to God. They are 
part of the divine arrangement, as we know it from the 
revelation in scripture, and have therefore to be accepted. 
They must be valid under the new covenant as under 
the old, although the type has now been exchanged for 
the reality. It cannot be denied that by this refusal to 
look beyond the scriptural enactment the writer con- 
demns his thought, on not a few sides, to a certain 


sterility. For illustration of this we have only to 
compare his doctrine of the death of Christ with that 
which is offered us by Paul. Both thinkers employ 
ancient categories which have now in large measure 
lost their meaning ; but Paul is always trying in the 
light of them to arrive at principles. He cannot satisfy 
himself until he has considered the Cross in its moral 
and spiritual significance until he has brought it into 
relation to the divine purpose and the eternal needs of 
men, and his theory, with all its shortcomings, has 
proved infinitely fruitful. But the writer of Hebrews 
does not attempt any real interpretation of the death 
of Christ. Setting out from Old Testament analogies 
he regards it as a sacrifice, of the same order as the ritual 
sacrifices but surpassing them in value, inasmuch as the 
blood of Christ was more precious than that of bulls 
and goats. He may seem for a moment to fall back on a 
prof ounder thought when he dwells on the moral efficacy 
of the death as " cleansing the conscience from dead 
works to serve the living God." But even here the 
moral value is not associated with the divine love and 
forgiveness that lay hold of us in the sovereign act of 
Christ. The thought is merely that if ordinary sacrifices 
could effect a ceremonial cleansing, the sacrifice of the 
perfect Victim must be more far-reaching in its results. 
It must somehow have brought about that real purifica- 
tion of which the levitical cleansing was only a symbol. 

(3) Once more, the institutions and doctrines of early 
Christianity are presupposed, without any endeavour 


to explain or vindicate them. " Let us pass on," the 
writer says, " to perfection not laying again the 
foundation of repentance and faith in God and the 
resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment." 1 
Such beliefs are taken for granted as the given basis of 
Christian teaching, and all that is necessary now is 
to advance to the higher truths which are consequent 
on them. Here we have one of the outstanding differ- 
ences between Paul and the writer of Hebrews. Paul, 
in his boldest speculations, is always concerned with 
the fundamental verities of the Christian faith. His 
one aim is to understand them more fully, and to connect 
them with all that is deepest and most certain in human 
experience. Our Epistle was written at a later date, 
when the church had agreed to consider the primary 
beliefs as definitely settled. It was written, too, by 
one who had little of Paul's impulse towards criticism 
and introspection, and who rested his faith on what was 
generally believed. He was anxious, indeed, to dis- 
cover new possibilities, new reaches of truth, in the 
message that had come down to him, but only on the 
condition that the message itself was to stand un- 
challenged. Again and again he speaks of it by the 
significant name of the " confession " (o^o^oy/a) 
implying that there was now a fixed body of doctrine 
and practice on which all members of the church were 
agreed. Their duty was to grow in Christian know- 
ledge ; but this very demand for progress is based on 

1 He 6 1 . 


the assumption that the great verities are now estab- 
lished, and form a starting-point for a new advance. 
It would be unjust to say that with Hebrews we have 
left the creative period of Christian thought behind us. 
The writer has an originality of Ms own, and makes a 
contribution of real and permanent worth. Yet we 
cannot but see in him the precursor of the later theology, 
which had its root not so much in the depths of a living 
experience as in the orthodox confession. He is a 
reflective thinker of the second or third generation, 
not a primary Apostle who might say with Paul, " This 
gospel I received not from men, neither was I taught it, 
but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." x 

The Epistle is founded, then, on the threefold 
assumption of the authority 1 , of scripture, the validity 
of the ritual system, the finality of the " confession " ; 
and to this extent its argument could appear con- 
vincing only to readers of a particular time, who moved 
in a given circle of traditional ideas. But we cannot 
do it justice unless we recognise that it has a further 
basis, not so much in the doctrinal position of the 
writer as in the intrinsic character of his mind. When 
all is said he is not a mere scholastic, who rears an 
imposing structure on dogmas he has never tested, but 
a religious thinker/of a peculiar type, interpreting that 
aspect of the gospel which has most appealed to him. 
It is for this reason that he is content to build on so 

1 Gal I 12 . 


many postulates which belong, as we see them now, to 
a world of the past. They are true for him not only 
because they were accepted by his age and society, but 
because they fell in with his own religious feeling. They 
afford him a means of explaining to himself what 
Christianity has been to him in his personal experience. 
Not a little that might strike us at first sight as fanciful 
or academical in his reasoning takes a different colour 
when we appreciate this deeper though unconscious 
motive at the heart of it. 

He is guided, in the first place, by his conception of 
the ultimate meaning of religion. It is true that he 
does not set out, as a modern thinker would do, with, a 
formal attempt to define religion, and so proceed to 
demonstrate the absolute religious worth of Christianity. - 
With abstract analysis of this kind ancient thought did 
not concern itself. Nevertheless there is everywhere 
present to his mind a definite idea, of what religion 
means, and by this idea his whole argument is tacitly 
determined. It is summed up in the phrase which 
meets us continually in the Epistle " to draw near to 

The conception expressed in these words may, in one 
sense, be said to pervade the whole of the New Testa- 
ment, as well as this particular writing. Jesus } in his 
Synoptic teaching, seeks to awaken in men such a 
confidence in the heavenly Father that they draw near 
to Him surrendering themselves, in joyful obedience, 
to His will. For Paul the one end of religion is fellow- 


ship with God, and in the love of Christ, from which 
nothing can separate us, he finds the assurance of this 
fellowship. A similar view is set forth in the Johannine 
writings, although the communion with God is there 
conceived in a more metaphysical fashion, as a partici- 
pation 1 in the divine nature. But in Hebrews we hear 
nothing, of fellowship with God, much less of actual 
union with Him ; for it is assumed that God must 
always remain apart j* " the Majesty in the heavens." 
Our attitude, even when we draw nearest to the throne 
of grace, cannot be other than one of " reverence and 
godly fear." The approach to God in which religion 
consists, is regarded, in this Epistle, as an act of worship, 
and is described in the language of Old Testament 
ritual. PauLcan speak of a " reasonable service " 
an inward disposition which has now taken the place 
of mere ceremonial forms. The Fourth "^Evangelist 
declares plainly that the day of visible temples is past, 
and that the Father desires to be worshipped in spirit 
and in truth. But the writer of our Epistle still clings 
to the ancient conception. He recognises the im- 
perfection of the ritual ordinances, but still thinks of 
them as prefiguring, in some real and literal sense, the 
true/mode of access to God. 

It is necessary to look more closely at this pervading 
idea of Hebrews, that religion consists above all in 
worship. As we meet it in the 'Old Testament this idea 
presents itself under two main aspects. On the one 
hand, it is taken for granted, on the analogy of earthly 


kingship, that God is the sovereign Lord, who demands 
that men should wait upon Him in the attitude of awe 
and homage. They cannot obtain His benefits unless 
His majesty is thus acknowledged by the observance of 
stated ceremonies. But this conception of homage to 
the divine Bang is combined with another. The ap- 
proach to God in a posture of adoration is at the same 
time the assertion of a privilege. Owning Him as their 
Lord the worshippers declare themselves His people, 
who stand in a special relation to Him, and have a 
right to His protection. The primitive idea of obtain- 
ing favour from God by confessing His authority thus 
merges in that higher conception of worship which 
comes to its full expression in the Psalms. In the 
period that succeeded the Exile the whole life of Israel 
had found its centre in the Temple, and all the deeper 
sentiments and beliefs which had grown out of the 
prophetic teaching were now associated with the temple 
service. Religion is denned by the Psalmists in terms 
of worship. We are made to realise that in waiting 
upon God men win for themselves the confidence that 
they are His people. They become aware that amidst 
all changes and troubles they have an ever-present help. 
They attain to a condition of soul in which there is no 
longer any thought of the benefits they may receive 
from God, since the approach to Him is itself the fulness 
of life and joy. 

The writer of Hebrews sets out from this Old Testa- 
ment conception of religion as worship. But where 


the Old Testament simply accepts tlie fact tliat in the 
approach to God we obtain the supreme blessing, he 
connects this fact with another, which to his mind 
explains it. By drawing near to God as His people we 
draw near, at the same time, to the heavenly world. 
Our lives are no longer bound up with the visible and 
changing things, but are firmly anchored to the gternal 
realities. These two ideas of access to God^nd access 
to the higher world are everywhere united in the Epistle, 
and are both included in the conception of worship. 
To come into God's presence is to pass through the veil 
to rise out of the sphere of change and illusion and 
find our true home among the things that cannot be 
shaken. From this it follows that worship does not 
consist in certain acts of homage, performed at stated 
intervals, but in the abiding condition^ those whom 
God has accepted as His people. As Paul conceived of 
the Christian life as an fellowship *with 
God in Christ, so this writer thinks of it as a continual 
act of worship. Through our great High Priest we have 
been enabled to draw near to God, and by so doing to 
identify ourselves with the higher, world. Worship has 
its sign and outcome in that spirit of faith whereby we 
apprehend the things not seen. 

The idea of religion as worship is inseparable, there- 
fore, from another, which is likewise inherent in the 
writer's thought. He proceeds' on the assumption that 
over against this world there is an invisible world, and 
that the earthly things are only types and symbols of 


their originals in heaven. This symbolism is not worked 
out in detail except in the case of the ritual institutions, 
but there are clear evidences that it has a far wider 
implication. " This creation " 1 in its whole extent is 
opposed to a higher order of uncreated being. A day 
is anticipated when all that has been made will dis- 
appear, and the eternal things alone will remain. To 
understand the contrast which is definitely drawn be- 
tween the ritual ordinances and their antitypes, we must 
regard it as merely an aspect of this larger contrast. 
The tabernacle with its rites is symbolical, because all 
things that belong to this world have their counterparts 
in a heavenly world. 

This symbolism which underlies all the thought of 
the Epistle will concern us later in many different 
connections ; and it will be enough, at this stage, to 
form some idea of its general character. For the writer 
of Hebrews the earthly things are of the nature of 
shadows,Vbut they are notion that account worthless 
and deceptive. He thinks of them, rather, as typifying 
the heavenly things in the same manner as a sketch or 
outline represents the finished work. They serve by 
their very defects to point 'us beyond themselves to 
something in which their meaning and purpose are 
fully realised. Hence the word which is ever recurring 
in the Epistle, and which, more than any other, expresses 
its central idea, rstefuffig, "perfecting." This word, 
like so many others in the Greek of the first century, 

1 He 9 U . 


is coloured by philosophical usage, and reminds us of 
the reko? or ideal end which is implicit, according to 
Aristotle, in each individual thing. But the philo- 
sophical suggestion must not be unduly pressed. The 
word as employed in Hebrews appears to bear its ordinary 
sense of a completion; a bringing to full maturity. A 
distinction is made between a lower phase of existence 
in which all is tentative and rudimentary, and a higher 
one, in which the anticipation has grown to fulfilment.. 
Thus Christ is the " perfect-" High Priest, inasmuch as 
he finally accomplishes what the levitical priests have 
done partially. He ministers in the " perfect " taber- 
nacle, where the service offered in earthly temples is 
carried to its consummation. He has " perfected " 
God's people, by bringing them into a relation to God 
such as they could only surmise under the old covenant. 
So in the diverse applications of this word we can 
always trace the general idea of a realisation a com- 
pleting of something that has been begun. A certain 
value is conceded to the earthly things, but it consists 
not in what they are, but in what they suggest and 
promise. By their very defects they speak to us of a 
world of perfection, in which the " shadows of things 
to come " will give place to " the very image of the 
things." i 

Christianity, therefore, is set forth in Hebrews as the 
religion of attainment. It has given us access to a 
higher world, and has enabled us to apprehend the 

1 He 10 1 . 


realities which we have hitherto known in their earthly 
copies. This is the thought which pervades the Epistle 
and gives meaning to much that at first sight may 
appear arbitrary and obscure. When all allowance is 
made for the historical conditions under which the 
writer worked, and which determined the character of 
his argument, we have to recognise that the ultimate 
key to his teaching must be sought in the constitution 
of his own mind. He was one of those thinkers who 
are possessed with the sense of a world beyond a 
world of true existence of which all visible things are 
but the signs and reflections. His place, in many 
respects, is not so much with the Apostles of the faith 
as with the great idealists ; and in the light of this 
idealism which lies behind it we have to understand his 
interpretation of the Christian message. 


THE central doctrine of Hebrews is that of the priest- 
hood of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, but the 
approach to this doctrine lies through another. Chris- 
tianity, for the author of the Epistle, is the New Covenant 
whereby God has brought His people into a relation to 
Himself far closer than was possible hitherto. Christ 
is the mediator of this new covenant. As it was formerly 
the office of the high priest to enter into the holy place 
on behalf of his brethren, so the greater High Priest 
has appeared for us in the presence of God, to consecrate 
us as His people. 

The idea of the New Covenant belonged to the earliest 
stratum of Christian thought, and was derived, according 
to our records, from Jesus himself. We read in Mark's 
Gospel that at the Supper he described the cup as " my 
blood of the covenant poured out for many," and the 
narrative in 1 Corinthians refers more explicitly to " the 
new covenant in my blood." 1 Paul evidently sees in 
the words of Jesus a reminiscence of the great predic- 
tion in the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah. The prophet 

1 Mk u 24 , i Co ii 25 . 



has foretold a day when God would make a new covenant 
with His people, and Jesus, on the eve of his death, 
thought of himself as pouring out the sacrificial blood . 
in which this new covenant would be sealed. It is 
impossible here to discuss the complex and difficult 
question as to the authentic words femployed by Jesus 
in the institution of the Supper. The records which 
have come down to us all show important differences 
from each other, and in the primitive vbext of Luke there 
seems to have been no^eference to the Covenant idea. 
But we cannotXon these grounds, discard it as a later 
addition. The formula which connects the Supper 
with the Covenant, however it may have originated, 
runs back to a time when the meaning/of the ordinance 
was still self-evident, and words not literally spoken 
by Jesus may yet have been true to his intention. 
There are not a few indications in the Gospels that he 
regarded his approaching death as the meansVwhereby 
the Kingdom, whose advent he had proclaimed, would 
come into being ; and the grandest and most spiritual 
of all the Old Testament anticipations of the Kingdom 
was that of Jeremiah :<f " I will make a new covenant 
with the house of Jacob and the house of Israel : I will 
put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their 
hearts ; and will be their God, and they shall be ray 
people. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will 
remember their sin no more." * It was inevitable that 
Jesus' thought of the coming Kingdom should have been 

1 Jer 31 31 - 33 . 


influenced by this central passage of prophecy. We 
can well believe that it was present to his mind at the 
Last Supper, when he sought to impress on his disciples 
the significance of his death. 

Whatever may have been the attitude of Jesus 
himself, there can be no doubt that his followers, 
almost from the first, associated his message with the 
prophecy of the New Covenant. Assured that he 
would presently return to inaugurate the Kingdom of 
God, they thought of themselves as the elect com- 
munity which would inherit it. They grounded their 
claim on the definite promise of scripture that in the 
last days God would choose for Himself a new Israel, 
with whom He would make another and better covenant. 

Here we touch on a conception which was funda- 
mental to early Christian thought, and which needs 
to be considered more carefully. If there is one thing 
certain about the primitive church it is that it did not, 
at the outset, contemplate a breach with Judaism. It 
came forward, on the contrary, as the faithful remnant 
in which the history of Israel had found its consum- 
mation. Ever since the time of Abraham, God had 
chosen Israel as His people, and had been seeking to 
mould it into a holy community ; but the mass of the 
nation had proved intractable. It had been reserved 
for the church to represent Israel in its ideal character 
and vocation. The promises which God had made to 
the fathers were to reach fulfilment in this community, 
which had responded to the call of the Messiah, and had 


thus approved itself to be the true Israel the genuine 
core of the elect race. 

After the breachs/with Judaism this idea, while it 
was still preserved, began to throw off its merely racial 
significance. The church continued to think of itself 
as the true Israel, but understood this name in a spiritual 
sense, and emphasised the contrast between its doctrines 
and beliefs and those of the parent religion. Hitherto 
it had construed the prophecy of the New Covenant 
in its literal meaning, and sought by means of it to 
assert itself as the true representative of Judaism. Now 
it employed it in order to vindicate the break with the 
national tradition and to enforce its appeal to the 
Gentile world. Christianity was the religion of the 
New Covenant, and was therefore justified in shaking 
off the ancient fetters. It was not a mere renovated 
Judaism, but stood for a wholly new principle, which 
had been meant from the beginning to supersede the 
old. This is the view maintained by Paul, who sets 
the new and the old covenants in direct opposition. He 
compares them, in a well-known passage, to Hagar and 
Sarah the bondwoman who typifies the " Jerusalem 
that now is," and the free-woman who corresponds with 
the Jerusalem above. Elsewhere he contrasts the 
Old Covenant, as embodied in the Mosaic Law, with 
the new jninistration of the Spirit. He rejoices that 
the veil which had formerly concealed the true know- 
ledge of God has been taken away, and that he himself 
has been called to proclaim this higher dispensation. 


The promise of the New Covenant is thus dissociated 
from its historical meaning, and is brought into the 
service of the anti-Jewish movement. On the strength 
of it the believers assert their right to form a second 
community, divinely chosen like the first but altogether 
distinct from it, and endowed with far higher privileges. 

As we pass to the consideration of the idea as it 
appears in Hebrews, we are faced by a preliminary 
question, which in recent years has perhaps been sur- 
rounded with needless difficulty. What is the precise 
meaning of the word fiiuQfaii translated in our 
English version as " covenant " ? The Old Testament 
term of which it is the equivalent seems originally to 
have carried with it the suggestion of a contract or 
mutual agreement. In the earlier stages of Hebrew 
religion it seemed natural to conceive of the relation of 
God and man .as resting on a contract, similar to that 
which defines the obligations of man to man. Abraham 
and Jacob are described as entering into covenants with 
God undertaking to render Him due service on con- 
dition4hat He, on His part, would grant them His pro- 
tection. In the account of the giving of the Law it is 
assumed that Israel becamer the people of God on the 
basis of an agreement, to which both parties were 
solemnly bound. But this idea of mutual obligation 
belonged by its nature to a primitive "-mode of thinking, 
and gradually disappeared as religious sentiment was 
refined and developed. The prophets and psalmists 


know nothing of a formal contract. For them God 
does not bargain with His servants, but simply declares 
His sovereign will and commands that they should 
obey it. The traditional term " covenant " is still 
employed, but it has come to possess a new import. It 
denotes not a two-sided agreement, but a decree or 
ordinance which is laid down by God, and is accepted 
without question by His people. 

The Greek translators of the Old Testament apparently 
found a difficulty in rendering a word which had so 
changed its meaning in the later stage of its history. 
In order to mitigate the idea of contract, and at the 
same time leave room for it, they fixed on the colour- 
less word lictdyjx'/i, which implied an arrangement or 
" disposition " of any sort whatever.; But the word 
thus chosen on account of its vagueness was already 
in process of being restricted, in common usage, to 
one particular kind of arrangement, and in the current 
Greek of the first century had come to be the accepted 
term for a " will." A problem thus arises as to the 
exact significance which it bore to the New Testament 
writers. They make use of the word on which their 
Greek Bible had stamped a religious value, but the 
ideas attached to it in their ordinary language persist 
in intruding themselves. The conception of the divine 
" covenant " is blended with that of a " will." Thus 
Paul, when he discusses the covenant in Galatians, 
falls back on the analogy of a human testament, to 
which nothing can be added when its provisions have 


been once laid down. 1 The writer of our Epistle, by 
a similar association of ideas, argues that the death 
of Christ was necessary to the making of the new 
covenant, since a will does not come into operation 
until the testator has died. 2 In view of such passages 
it has been maintained by some modern scholars that 
the New Testament everywhere construes the word 
fiiudfavi in the sense of a " will." They hold, for 
example, that in the formula ascribed to him at the 
Supper Jesus offered the solemn ordinance, with all 
that it implied, as his " testament," his dying bequest 
to his followers. But this interpretation, attractive 
as it may appear at first sight, cannot be seriously 
defended. There can be little question that in the 
passages where the idea of a " will " is present we 
have to do with a conscious play on words, by which 
the main thought is modified or supplemented. The 
writers are familiar with the sense in which the Old 
Testament speaks of the covenant made with Israel, 
and do not dream of changing it, although they make 
a passing concession to the phraseology of their own 
day. It is the scriptural teaching which is always 
present to their minds when they apply the covenant 
idea to the work of Christ. 

In our Epistle, therefore, as in all the writings of 

the early church, the New Covenant is the new spiritual 

order the new declaration of the divine will. Long 

ago, at the beginning of their history, God had taken 

1 Gal 3 15 . 2 He 9 16 . 


Israel for His people, and had laid down the conditions 
on which they must maintain their relation to Him. 
This covenant had remained in force through all the 
past ages, but now it had been superseded by another. 
God had determined to raise His people to a higher 
level of privilege, and had imposed on them a new 
mode of service, corresponding to this higher status. 
The first covenant, as the prophets had themselves 
acknowledged, was only provisional. It brought Israel 
into a relation to God which was not yet the true and 
final one, and something more was needed before they 
could be in very deed His people. The writer aims 
at proving that Christianity is this new covenant, 
which has at last replaced the old. He compares it 
point by point with the religion of the Tabernacle, 
and shows that in all respects it has meant a fulfilment. 
The idea thus far is that which meets us everywhere 
in the early literature, but it is characteristic of Hebrews 
that the two covenants are related in the closest manner 
to one another. For Paul, as we have seen, they were 
simply two religions, differing in their fundamental 
principles, and this Pauline view has usually been 
accepted as valid also for our Epistle. It has been 
taken for granted that the writer's object is to contrast 
Judaism with Christianity the lower with the higher 
religion. But we obscure the whole tenor of his 
argument when we thus regard him as placing them 
in direct contrast. He assumes throughout that there 
is only one religion, divinely instituted, which has now 


attained to its consummation. The old covenant, 
depending on the Mosaic system, was the prelude "fio 
another which is far superior, but which is. yet linked 
to the first, and cannot be understood apart from it. 
As a consequence of the mistaken theory that it was 
addressed to Jewish Christians who were in danger of 
relapsing, the Epistle has commonly been read as a 
polemic, in which Paul's criticism of the Law is rein- 
forced from a different side. But it cannot be urged 
too strongly, that no such polemical purpose is con- 
templated. On the contrary, we are made to realise 
in every chapter that Christianity is bound up with 
Judaism, as its goal and completion. The " house " 
over which Moses presided as a servant- is that which 
Christ now rules as the Son. The saints of the Old 
Testament were the vanguard of the army of faith, 
and already looked to Christ as their great Captain. 
The Sabbath rest into which believers are to enter 
was promised of old to Israel, and is waiting for the 
children because the fathers had missed it. So the 
writer is never weary of insisting that there has been 
no break in the succession, no transference of God's 
favour to another community. The New Covenant 
was foreshadowed in the old, and has only perfected 
the relation which has always existed between God 
and His people. 

In one respect, however, the writer shares the out- 
look of Paul. He thinks of the covenant as established 
not merely with the Jewish nation, but with a spiritual 


Israel, in which the faithful of all races are included. 
It is not maintained in so many words that in the 
new community there is neither Jew nor Greek, bar- 
barian nor Scythian, bond nor free, but this removal 
of the former barriers is clearly implied in numerous 
passages which, belong to the very substance of the 
Epistle. Christ, we are told, " tasted death for every 
man," has brought " many sons unto glory," has become 
"the Author of salvation to all that obey him." 
" The law of a carnal commandment," which made 
physical descent the one test of religious privilege, has 
now given place to a higher law. If the distinction 
of Jew and Gentile is never once mentioned in the 
Epistle, it is not, as has sometimes been argued, because 
the writer moves wholly within the limits of Jewish 
Christianity, but because he has altogether escaped 
from them. He has accepted /in its full extent the 
position for which Paul had contended. The universal 
character of the church has become so self-evident 
to him that he deems it unnecessary to assert it in so 
many words. None the less, he still holds to the 
belief that the church, made up of converts out of all 
races and set completely free from the ancient law, 
is one with the historical Israel. At the cost of inner 
consistency the Pauline view of the church as a universal 
spiritual community is combined with the primitive 
conception of it as the faithful remnant of the Jewish 
nation. All restrictions have been done away, descent 
from Abraham has ceased to count for anything, the 



confession of Christ has taken the place of the Law. 
But it is still assumed that the continuity in the life 
of God's people has never been broken, and that the 
church inherits the promises in virtue of its relation 
to Israel. 

From this point of view, then, we have to understand 
the idea of the New Covenant as it meets us in the 
Epistle. There is no intention of disparaging the claims 
of Judaism in order to restore the fidelity of Jewish 
Christians who had not forsaken the ancient paths with- 
out misgiving. On the contrary, it is taken for granted 
that past and present are bound up together. Israel 
is the people of God's choice, and it is still to Israel 
that He offers His redemption. In old days He had 
made a covenant with it which was imperfect and pre- 
paratory, and now, in the fulness of the time, He has 
made another, whereby Israel has become in a higher 
sense His people. We have here the ultimate reason 
why the argument takes the form of a comparison of 
the Christian order with that of the Old Testament. 
Believing that the two covenants are linked together, 
as two successive phases in the working out of God's 
purpose, the author feels it necessary to examine them 
in their mutual relation. What was the meaning of 
the ancient ordinances ? In what respects had they 
fallen short of their aim ? How did they serve to 
interpret, by way of symbol and prelude, the work of 
the great High Priest ? The nature of the New Cove- 


nant is demonstrated in the light of this contrast with 
the covenant which had preceded it. 

We are not to read Hebrews, therefore, as an attempt 
to justify the breach of Christianity with Judaism. 
That the new is also the better covenant is, indeed, the 
very theme of the Epistle ; but while insisting on the 
inadequacy of the old covenant the writer is equally 
concerned to prove that it had a genuine value. It 
was only the anticipation, and has now given way to 
the fulfilment ; nevertheless it was of divine origin, 
and in its own measure achieved the divine purpose. 
It enabled men in at least an outward, ceremonial 
manner to draw near to God, and so prefigured the real 
approach to Him through Christ. By this presentation 
of the two covenants as differing from each other in 
degree rather than in kind, we are led to a conception 
of our religion which, in some respects, is nobler and 
more satisfying than that of Paul. The new revelation, 
as this writer thinks of it, was nothing but an unfolding 
and perfecting. All the faith and worship of the past 
ages have come at last to their fruition ; Jesus is the 
supreme leader, not only of those who call themselves 
by his name, but of all who have sought, under what- 
ever imperfect forms, to obtaurfthe vision of God. This 
is the thought which underlies that view of the relation 
of the two covenants which pervades the Epistle. It 
may justly be regarded as the first and in many ways the 
most splendid protest against all efforts to separate 
Christianity from the larger spiritual movement, and 


by thus insulating to narrow and impoverish it. Yet 
it is impossible to overlook the limitations which are 
the necessary consequence of this idea of Christianity 
as merely the perfecting of the old covenant. For 
one thing, there is little recognition of the message of 
Christ as a new quickening power, which has radically 
changed all human thought and action. With all his 
reverence for it, the writer seems to conceive of it as 
little more than a reformed - Judaism, depending on 
the same ritual motives as the old religion, however 
heightened and purified. We miss the magnificent 
freshness and ardour of Paul, filled as he is with the 
conviction that " old things are passed away, behold 
all things are become new." Moreover, the work of 
Christ, as set forth in the Epistle, is emptied, in great 
measure, of its real significance. It has to be equated, 
as far as possible, with the ancient ordinances. Since 
Christ took up and completed the previous covenant, 
he must be considered as a priest, and his work for 
man's redemption must all be brought under the formal 
categories of priesthood. It is indeed affirmed that he 
was the ideal High Priest, whose ministry is enacted not 
on earth, but in a heavenly sanctuary; but with all 
its impressiveness and its many profound suggestions, 
the doctrine is lacking in vitality. We cannot but 
feel that the whole idea of priesthood is part and parcel 
of a bygone phase of religion. It has no true applica- 
tion to the work of Christ, and obscures not a few aspects 
of it which'belong to its very essence. 


Christianity is represented, then, as the New Cove- 
nant, which has perfected the former one by changing 
its types and forecasts into realities. As thus stated, 
however, the writer's thought lies open to a possible 
misunderstanding. It might seem at times as if he 
simply identified the old covenant with the Mosaic 
law, and set the New Covenant over against it as the 
completion and purifying of the law. This, as is well 
known, was a conception that grew in favour towards 
the end of the first century, and exercised a powerful 
influence on the later development of the church. It was 
maintained that Christ had put an end to the Law in 
the sense that he had replaced it by another, in which 
it was carried to higher issues. The moral demands 
he had advanced, the beliefs he had originated, were 
statutory in their nature, like the Mosaic ordinances ; 
but they were held to constitute a New Law, answering 
more fully to the divine requirements. Now it may 
safely be affirmed that our Epistle shows no trace of this 
conception. It never describes the Christian teaching 
as an elaboration of that which had been given under 
the old order. It does^not concern itself at all with 
the commandments which Jesus had laid down, but 
only with the fact that he was our High Priest in things 
pertaining to God. When he is contrasted with Moses 
the whole emphasis is laid on his personal dignity, as 
a Son in that household' of God in which Moses was a 

Indeed, when we look more closely into the writer's 


thought we discover that the covenant means to him 
something altogether different from the Law. It 
consisted not in the ordinances which God had imposed 
on Israel, but in the relation to Himself of which these 
ordinances were the pledge and safeguard. From 
beginning to end of the Epistle no mention is made of 
circumcision or the keeping of the Sabbath or the 
dietary/rules, although these, as the writer well knew, 
were the main provisions of the Law. His interest is 
not in the Law itself, but in the object for which it 
existed. It was designed to secure for Israel the right 
of access to God, and all else is therefore regarded as 
subordinate to the cultus, and more particularly to 
the priesthood. " In connection with this," it is 
expressly stated, " the Law was given." 1 The whole 
legal structure had its keystone in the priesthood, and 
fell bodily to the ground when the old priesthood gave 
way to another. Not only so, but the priestly ordi- 
nances themselves were centred in the definite act of 
the entrance of the high priest into the holy of holies 
on the day of Atonement. This was the ultimate 
reason for the entire Mosaic system, for in this solemn 
act, repeated yearly by its official representative, Israel 
declared itself to be God's people. For the writer of 
Hebrews the Law as such is nothing but out-work or- 
scaffolding. He is concerned with that- relation sub- 
sisting between God and Israel which lay behind the 
Law, and for the protection of which the Law had been 

1 He 7 U . 


devised. His attention is focused on the two priestly 
acts the high priest's intercession in the holy place, 
and that of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary. By the 
comparison of these two acts he seeks to determine the 
nature of the two covenants. 

Here, then, we arrive at the cardinal theme of the 
Epistle. In a former time God had made a covenant 
with Israel, choosing this nation out of all others as His 
people ; but as yet it was only in a qualified sense that 
He bestowed this privilege. On the one hand, the 
sacrifices ordained by the ancient system had no intrinsic 
value, and at best could bring the worshippers into a 
state of mere ceremonial purity. The sins which kept 
them separate from God were not yet removed. On 
the other hand, the tabernacle in which Israel sought 
access to God was an earthly and material one a type 
and suggestion of God's true dwelling-place. The 
worship rendered in this visible sanctuary could only be 
provisional, and those who shared in it did not in 
reality stand before God. Now, however, there has 
been instituted a New Covenant, whereby the shadows 
and anticipations have passed into fulfilment. In the 
death of Christ a sacrifice has been offered which secures 
a real forgiveness of sin, and has thus broken down the 
barriers that kept men distant from God. Moreover, 
Christ who was the sacrifice was at the same time the 
High Priest, belonging to a new and higher order, who 
ministers in no earthly sanctuary, but in the eternal 
sanctuary in heaven. Through him we pass beyond 


the sphere of visible things and have access to the very 
presence of God. 

In Christianity, therefore, the writer of Hebrews finds 
the ultimate explanation of the great prophecy " they 
shall be my people, and I will be their God." It had 
been God's purpose from the beginning that Israel 
should be His people, with the right of immediate access 
to Him ; but under the first covenant this purpose had 
only been realised in part. A time was to come when 
those whom God had called would be raised to the 
height of their vocation, and would become in very 
truth God's people. By his work as our High Priest 
Jesus has obtained for us this privilege, and has so in- 
augurated the final religion. There can be no higher 
relation between God and man than that of the New 
Covenant, which ensures that all sins are forgiven, and 
that we enter, through the veil, into the divine 



THE earliest and the latest phases of New Testament 
thought are both reflected in the Epistle to the Hebrews. 
It perpetuates the tradition which had come down from 
the first Apostles, and connects it at the same time with 
speculative ideas, which had their origin in Greek 
philosophy. The difficulties of the Epistle are due, in 
great measure, to the mingling of these two entirely 
different strains, not only in its particular doctrines, but 
in its conception of Christianity as a whole. 

The teaching of Jesus, it is now generally recognised, 
attached itself to the apocalyptic beliefs which had long 
been current among the Jewish people, -and which had 
received a new impulse from the v work of John the 
Baptist. Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God, 
the new age in which God would assert His sovereignty, 
was close at hand. He declared that he would him- 
self return as Messiah to inaugurate this new age, and 
meanwhile gathered around him a body of disciples, as 
the nucleus of the elect community, which would inherit 
it. From the vague indications afforded us in the 


Gospels it would seem that he accepted his death as 
the means ordained by God for exalting him to his 
Messianic office, and preparing the way for the Kingdom. 
These apocalyptic ideas which had formed the frame- 
work of the ethical and religious teaching of Jesus 
were taken over by the primitive church, and were 
further elaborated*in their bearing on the Cross and 
Resurrection. It was .believed that Jesus had died 
for our sins, that he had risen as the Messiah, that in a 
little while he would return in glory and judge the 
world, bestowing eternal life on his people; that the 
present order would then be dissolved and would give 
place to another, a Kingdom of God, a new and better 
age, in which the will of God would absolutely prevail. 
Thus the piety of the early church was all determined by 
the hope of the great future which would commence with 
the glorious return of Jesus as the Messiah. The 
believers thought of themselves as the destined heirs of 
that coming Kingdom of God, although they were still 
involved for a brief interval in the evils of the present 

Now when we turn to our Epistle we cannot but 
recognise that its thought continues to move within 
the circle of these apocalyptic hopes. The conception 
of the two ages, on which the primitive gospel rested, 
is fundamental also to the Epistle. It is assumed that 
the world's history.falls into two great periods, of which 
the first is on the point of closing. The Christian 
message has come to men " in these last days " at the 


very end of the first period and presently God will 
shake heaven and earth, to break up the existing order 
and establish the new one in its stead. Only a little 
time remains, the interval that is still called " to-day," * 
during which an opportunity is given to hear the divine 
warning and repent. This imminence of the great 
change is insisted on, ever and again, in the hortatory 
passages of the Epistle. " The Coming One will come 
and will not tarry," 2 and Christians may well be patient, 
since their deliverance is near. In the knowledge that 
erelong they will share in the consummation, they are 
to bear up bravely against their momentary troubles. 
Although the world contemns them, they are to think 
proudly of the destiny to which they are called. They 
are also to be filled with a solemn sense of responsibility, 
knowing that they must shortly give account before 
the supreme Judge. We have already had occasion 
to note the conjecture that a definite expectation is 
in the writer's mind when he makes emphatic reference 
to the forty years which Israel had spent in the wilder- 
ness. It has been argued that Israel in the wilderness 
is typical for him of the Christian church in its pilgrim- 
age on earth, and that from this analogy he forecasts the 
period that must elapse before the final deliverance. 
If the Epistle could be dated as early as 70 or 75 A.D. 
this intention might fairly be read into his words. His 
warnings would be vastly more impressive if he could 
point to a clear indication from scripture that the 

1 He 3 13 . 2 10 37 . 


earthly sojourn of the church was now at the very point 
of completion. But the Epistle belongs, almost certainly, 
to a later date, when any anticipations that may have 
been based on the forty years had already proved 
mistaken. We must be content to regard the allusion 
as accidental, with only a general bearing on the idea of 
the approaching end. 

The Epistle, then, takes up the primitive hope, and 
looks forward to the return of Christ as the grand event 
which will mark the transition from the present to the 
coming age. As he once appeared on earth to make 
a sacrifice for sin, so he will appear a second time for 
the salvation of his people. The Parousia is conceived 
as a literal and visible coming, but the dramatic detail 
with which it is invested in the earlier teaching is notice- 
ably absent. Nothing is said of the attendant throngs 
of angels, or of the sudden revelation of the Messiah 
amidst the clouds of heaven. The Judgment is con- 
nected not with Christ, but with God Himself, and its 
nature is left indefinite. Its terrors are darkly hinted 
at as all the more dreadful because we cannot picture 
them, and can only think of " a certain fearful prospect 
of fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries." a 
Sometimes it might appear as if the conception of a 
future judgment is blended, as in the Fourth Gospel, 
with that of a Judgment always in process, through 
the operation of the word of God, which is living and 
powerful and searches the inmost purposes of the 

1 He 10 27 . 


heart. There is a similar endeavour to preserve the 
apocalyptic scheme without insisting on its details in 
the one allusion to the tyranny exercised by the devil. 
According to the primitive teaching the present age is 
ruled by the powers of darkness, confederated under 
one great leader, whose dethronement will mark the 
beginning of the reign of God. To this belief we have 
many references in the New Testament, and in the 
book of Eevelation it occupies a place of cardinal 
importance. The writer of Hebrews feels it necessary 
to take account of it, but he only does so incidentally, 
and in such a manner as to invest it with a new meaning. 
Christ by his death has destroyed " him who had the 
power of death, that is, the devil." The casting down of 
Satan from his usurped authority as prince of this world 
is taken for granted as a fixed element in the apocalyptic 
hope ; but our attention is at once turned from the 
event itself to its consequences for man's moral life. 
Satan had ruled the world because he wielded the 
power of death, and by this threat suspended over 
men he had kept them in subjection. His fall had 
secured their deliverance. They had been set free not 
so much from an outward tyrant as from the fears 
which had weighed on their minds continually, and 
made their condition one of bondage. 

In one respect, however, the apocalyptic ideas are 
accepted in their most definite and realistic form. 
Jewish speculation, in its effort to magnify the institu- 
tions of the national religion, had advanced the theory 


that they were modelled on heavenly patterns. Corre- 
sponding with the holy city on earth there was a Jeru- 
salem above. The temple had its counterpart in a 
Temple that stood for all eternity in heaven. The 
stated ritual was only the earthly copy of the service 
which was rendered by angels in the immediate presence 
of God. This theory had been taken up by the apoca- 
lyptic writers, and had been woven into their anticipa- 
tions of the last days. It was believed that when the 
reign of God had set in the copies would be merged in 
the realities either on a renovated earth or in the 
heavenly world which would henceforth be the abode 
of the redeemed community. From our Christian book 
of Kevelation we are familiar with the conceptions 
which play their part in apocalyptic literature as a 
whole. We read of the worship offered before the 
throne of God by saints and angels, of a glorious city 
into which nothing false or impure may enter. In his 
vision of the final consummation the seer beholds this 
new Jerusalem descending^from heaven and taking the 
place of the earthly city. Paul likewise contrasts the 
Jerusalem on earth, bound up with the temporary 
institutions of the Law, and the Jerusalem above, which 
is the mother of the true Israel. But the idea which 
Paul merely touches on, as an element in a conscious 
allegory, has a central significance for the writer of 
Hebrews. He thinks of the heirs of the new covenant 
as incorporated with the assembly of saints and angels 
whose names are enrolled in heaven. Belonging, as 


they do, to the heavenly city, they have their part in 
the eternal realities of which the visible things are only 
the shadows. Above all, they draw near to God through 
the ministry which is exercised by the ideal High Priest 
in the true sanctuary, and which therefore accomplishes 
in very deed all that was typified in the ancient ritual. 
This conception of the heavenly priesthood is linked, 
as we shall presently see, with ideas of a different order, 
and we search in vain, in the existing apocalyptic 
books, for any exact parallel to it. None the less it 
belongs unmistakably to the same world of thought. as 
the kindred conceptions of the heavenly temple and 
the New Jerusalem. 

The teaching of Hebrews is thus set in the frame- 
work of the apocalyptic tradition. It presupposes that 
whole body of doctrine concerning the two ages, the 
Parousia, the general resurrection, the holy community, 
the heavenly city, with which the primitive church had 
associated its gospel. In accordance with this apoca- 
lyptic outlook it repeatedly describes the Christian 
message as a hope. The salvation offered by Christ is 
so certain that we may speak of it in the language 
of possession, but it is still something that awaits 
us in the future. Our lot is cast among the visible 
things, in the world that now is, and we reach forward 
to that which is beyond. The day approaches when 
Christ will come a second time for the deliverance of 
his people. Their part is to endure patiently until 
that day, and meanwhile to anchor themselves by 


hope to that new order of things which is yet to be 

We now turn, however, to the other aspect of the 
writer's thought. Side by side with the beliefs which 
he takes over from the primitive tradition, he avails 
himself of certain speculative ideas, entirely foreign 
to it in their nature and origin. As a result, he arrives 
at a new understanding of the gospel, which has only 
a formal relation to the apocalyptic scheme. 

(1) On the one hand, the traditional conception of 
the two ages is displaced by another, which may be 
described as that of the two worlds. In the earlier 
teaching, the great consummation is always regarded 
under the category of time. Amidst the wrongs and 
imperfections of the present the believer looks forward 
to a new period about to open, when God will at last 
assert His sovereignty and all existing conditions will be 
changed. The whole emphasis is thrown on this con- 
trast of present and future so much so that we are 
left uncertain whether the new order will be realised 
on this earth or in some higher sphere. To this con- 
ception of a glorious future the writer of Hebrews out- 
wardly remains faithful. He looks for the day when 
Christ will return in power, and dwells on the hope 
which consoles and uplifts us during the interval of 
waiting. But while he thus attaches himself to the 
primitive belief, he, so to speak, transposes it out of the 
categories of time into those of place. The new age, 


as he conceives it, will be only the manifestation of 
something which already exists in heaven, and he is 
concerned not so much with the manifestation as with 
the intrinsic character of the new order. He is aware of 
a heavenly world over against the earthly, and instead 
of looking forward he looks upward to that higher realm 
of perfection. Compare, for example, his idea of the 
New Jerusalem with that which meets us in the book of 
Revelation. In the Apocalypse, as in the Epistle, the 
heavenly city is pictured as already in being the 
eternal counterpart of the city on earth. But the seer 
is occupied wholly with the coming day when it will be 
manifest, and all nations will flow into it, and sin and 
darkness will vanish in its light. The holy city becomes 
little more than a visible embodiment of that new age 
which is in store for God's people. In Hebrews, on 
the other hand, the New Jerusalem represents the 
unseen and eternal, in contrast with the things " that 
can be touched" the lower, material things. 1 Our 
minds are directed not so much to its revelation in the 
future as to its existence now, over against this changing 
world wherein we dwell. As the people of Christ we 
have part in the true worship, offered in no earthly 
tabernacle, but in the eternal sanctuary where God 
Himself is present. We can lift ourselves out of the 
sphere of types and shadows and become citizens even 
now of that " city which hath foundations." This 
substitution of the higher world for the future age is 

1 He 12 18 . 


one of the characteristic features of the Epistle, and 
modifies its whole view of Christianity. The faith of 
the earlier church was directed to the Parousia, when 
Christ would deliver his people and bring in the King- 
dom ; but in Hebrews the hope of the Parousia takes 
a quite secondary place. The one truth which is ever 
kept before us is that Christ has passed through the veil 
into the heavenly world and has thus secured for us an 
immediate access to God. It is true that the writer 
accepts the hope of the Parousia, and relies on it con- 
stantly for pressing home his exhortations. He does 
not try, like the Fourth Evangelist, to explain it in 
a purely spiritual sense, as the Lord's return to his 
disciples in the secrecy of mystical fellowship. But 
this thought of the Parousia is interwoven with another 
and more vital one, which may be said to render it 
superfluous. We are told, almost in the same breath, 
that our High Priest abides for ever in the heavenly 
sanctuary, and that he will come a second time unto 
salvation. But why should he thus come again ? 
He has already saved his people by entering the holy 
place on their behalf. He enters it never to depart, 
and it is this very fact, as we are assured in emphatic 
language, which gives his work an eternal efficacy. 
We have no choice but to acknowledge that in the 
writer's essential thought there is no room for the hope 
of the Parousia. He clings to it earnestly, for it is 
intensely real to his own mind, as well as an integral 
part of the sacred tradition. Nevertheless, he has 


unconsciously broken with it. The doctrine of the 
two ages, on which it depends, has nothing to do with 
his own conception of the earthly and heavenly worlds. 

Not only does the Parousia lose its original signifi- 
cance, but the whole emphasis is shifted from a salvation 
in the future to one that is effected here and now. It 
is true that much is made of the " better hope " given us 
in Christianity of the inheritance laid up for us 
of promises which have not yet been fulfilled and which 
we may forfeit by unbelief. The writer accepts the 
earlier beliefs without a question, and is careful to 
express himself in the apocalyptic language current 
in the church. But all the time a different conception 
of the Christian salvation is present to his mind. Ever 
since the new religion had come in contact with Gentile 
thought, the idea of a deliverance in the future had been 
felt to be inadequate, and this feeling had become more 
acute as the hoped-for Parousia was delayed. Paul, 
while he looks forward to the glory that shall be re- 
vealed, thinks also of a present redemption, consequent 
on the work of the Spirit and on the union of the believer 
with Christ. In the Fourth Gospel the eternal life 
which had formerly been anticipated as the peculiar 
blessing of the new age becomes a life into which we are 
born^gain even now in the act of faith. The writer 
of Hebrews does not fall back, like Paul and John, on 
the Hellenistic mysticism, yet he seeks, as they do, to 
transport the gift of salvation from the future into the 


present. He conceives of Christ as now ascended on 
our behalf into the heavenly world, and interceding for 
us at the right hand of God. Through him we can lay 
hold, in the midst of our earthly struggle, of the real 
and abiding things. In every time of need we can rely 
on the grace of God to help us. We have been gathered 
to the general assembly of the first-born, and are enrolled 
along with them as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. 
Thus the believer participates already in that higher 
life which was reserved, according to the apocalyptic 
view, for the coming age. Salvation is still described, 
in the terms which had become consecrated for Christian 
piety, as a future possession ; but these traditional terms 
no longer correspond with the writer's fundamental 
thought. His faith is directed not to the new age, but 
to the invisible world, in which all earthly types have 
their ideal counterparts and to which we have a present 
access through the new and living way opened up for 
us by Christ. 

There is one passage, indeed, in which the idea of a 
future salvation may appear, at first sight, to be accepted 
without reserve. 1 The passage forms a somewhat loose 
and awkward digression, and may possibly be a separate 
discourse which has been incorporated, for a hortatory 
object, with the main argument. Its purpose is to 
show that the " rest " of which the Psalmist had spoken 
was not a mere earthly repose in the land of Canaan, 
but the Sabbath rest of God. A share in this " rest " 

1 He 4 1 - 11 . 


had been promised by God to His people, and since 
ancient Israel had missed the promise through unbelief 
it still remains open. The true Israel, the community 
which God has called through Christ and has set apart 
for Himself, may look forward to the Sabbath rest. 
Here, then, the writer seems to be directly occupied 
with the idea of a great future which will set in with the 
Parousia, comparing it, as was common in the early 
teaching, with the promised land into which Israel had 
entered. But when we look more closely into the 
passage we find that here also the primitive idea, while 
formally retained, is dissolved into something different. 
The whole emphasis is thrown on the fact that the 
" rest " of God has always existed. As soon as He 
had finished His work of creation God had withdrawn 
into His eternal Sabbath, and has dwelt in it unceas- 
ingly. He desires that men should participate with Him 
in this Sabbath* which crowns all labour, and Israel 
would long ago have attained to it if they had not failed 
through disobedience. The apocalyptic idea which 
seems to dominate the passage is therefore merged* 
in another. Instead of a future blessedness to which the 
church aspires as the result of Christ's victory, the 
writer thinks of a blessednesswhich is offered now. It 
has been fully realised in that heavenly world where 
God has His dwelling-place, and the people of God 
may share in it, if they are faithful to their great calling. 
The thought of a final consummation, reserved for a 
new age, is allowed to fall out of sight. From the 


foundation of the world the rest has been waiting for 
men to enter into it, and long ago they might have 
obtained it. They may possess it to-day, if they hearken 
to God's voice. 

The apocalyptic ideas, as they meet us in Hebrews, 
have thus been modified in a manner that largely alters 
their significance. Our attention is transferred from 
the coming age to the higher world, from the future 
salvation to the access to God which is offered us in the 
present. The primitive beliefs are not, indeed, by any 
means abandoned. For the author of the Epistle they 
formed an essential element in the Christian confession, 
and he is careful to preserve them, even when he cannot 
bring them into harmony with his own characteristic 
thought. But they are blended in his mind with ideas 
of a different order, and in his presentation of them we 
continually feel the influence of these alien ideas. He 
is a disciple of Alexandria as well as of the primitive 

The Alexandrian philosophy, as we have already 
seen, rested on a dualism which ultimately goes back 
to Plato. It conceives of this visible world as the 
shadow of a higher reality, and bids us so identify 
ourselves with the divine* principle within us that we 
may rise above sensual illusion and make our home 
in the eternal world. Broadly speaking, this is the 
conception that hovers before the mind of our writer. 
He also contrasts the heavenly with the earthly, the 


changing and temporal with, the everlasting. He seeks 
to inspire us with the faith that can reach out to the 
invisible things, amidst the transient appearances of 
this world. But while he combines the Alexandrian 
strain of thought with the primitive Christian beliefs, 
we have to take account of certain marked differences 
between his doctrine of the two worlds and the idealism 
of Philo. 

(1) In the first place, he is concerned almost solely 
with the question of worship. As he examines the 
religion of the old covenant, he fixes his attention on 
the ritual ordinances whereby men had made their 
approach to God, and contrasts them with the divine 
originals of which they were an earthly copy. His 
picture of the heavenly worship must indeed be 
viewed in its larger setting. There is a higher sanctuary 
because there is a higher world, in which all visible 
things attain to their perfection. Ever and again, 
by a significant word or phrase, we are reminded of 
this wider conception in the background, and if we 
leave it out of sight the argument of the Epistle becomes 
unintelligible. But the idea of a higher world of 
existence over against the world of sense is never fully 
worked out as it is in Philo. It serves only as a starting- 
point for the specific discussion of the true worship. 

(2) The divine realities are conceived in a literal 
and concrete fashion. With Philo they resolve them- 
selves into moral and spiritual abstractions,- while in 
Hebrews they are actual things, corresponding on a 


higher plane to their earthly copies. There is a heavenly 
Jerusalem, a heavenly sanctuary. The priesthood 
which Christ exercises is the counterpart, in no merely 
figurative sense, of the levitical priesthood. In Philo 
we have an idealism of the genuine Platonic type, 
which ascribes to the intelligible] forms of things an 
existence apart, like that of the plan of a building in 
the mind of the architect. The writer of Hebrews 
adopts this metaphysical conception, but interprets 
it in the light of Jewish typology. He thinks of the 
realities laid up in the higher world as not merely 
ideal forms, but as heavenly patterns, such as were 
revealed to Moses in the Mount. 

(3) Throughout the Epistle the religious interest is 
central. It may be granted that Philo, to a greater 
extent than has commonly been recognised, is a religious 
thinker, who is mainly intent on the nature and con- 
ditions of the true spiritual worship. But his method 
is consciously philosophical. He builds up a cosmical 
theory, on the basis of which he proceeds to consider 
how man can raise himself above the things of sense 
and enter into communion with God. The writer of 
our Epistle does not concern himself with the specu- 
lative problems which are involved in the religious 
view of the world. He starts from the fact that in 
Christianity we have a new and living way into the 
presence of God, and the one aim of his thinking is to 
explain and emphasise this fact. Whatever phil- 
osophy may lie behind his argument is strictly sub- 


ordinated to the religious and practical purpose. It 
is futile, therefore, to attempt to bring all Ms teaching 
into line with Philonic speculation, for he makes no 
efforfyto be philosophically consistent. The doctrine 
of the two worlds appealed to him as throwing light 
on certain aspects of the work of Christ, and he uses 
it as the framework of his teaching. But while he 
avails himself of the general idea suggested by it, he 
gives it new applications and works it out in his own 
peculiar way. By forcing his thought at every point 
into harmony with the Alexandrian categories we are 
in danger of missing everything in it that is vital and 

In the theology of Hebrews, therefore, there are two 
different strands, corresponding to the two influences 
that have chiefly contributed to its formation. On 
the one hand it rests on assumptions which had been 
taken over by the primitive church from apocalyptic ' 
Judaism. A new age is at hand, when the promises 
of God will all come to fulfilment, and the believers 
are the destined heirs of this new age. They have 
become in very deed the people of God, confirmed in 
their right by a new covenant, and may look forward 
to the enduring "rest." As yet, however, their 
religion is a hope sure and steadfast, but still a hope, ' 
which they must maintain unimpaired during the 
interval that must elapse before its fruition. To these 
apocalyptic ideas which were given him in the primitive 


tradition our author is faithful. He does not try to 
spiritualise them, and expresses them often with a 
naive realism /that is scarcely surpassed in the book 
of Kevelation. But along with this element in the 
Epistle there is another, no less pervading. The 
doctrine of the two ages is combined with a doctrine 
of the two worlds the heavenly and unseen as opposed 
to the earthly and visible. Christianity is conceived 
as the means whereby we can identify ourselves even 
now with the higher world, and so build our lives on 
a true and lasting foundation. Thus the apocalyptic 
beliefs are interwoven with others which belong to 
an order of thought essentially different. The hope 
for good things to come merges in the faith which 
lays hold on present though invisible realities. The 
inheritance which awaits us in the great future is 
described as already ours, since we have obtained 
access to the higher world. The thought of the Lord's 
return to save his people interchanges with that of 
his perpetual ministry on their behalf in the true 
sanctuary. From the beginning to the end of the 
Epistle, we have to deal with this twofold presentation 
of Christianity. It is set forth at once under the forms 
of the apocalyptic tradition and from the point of view 
of what may be called a philosophical idealism. 

The writer of Hebrews endeavours to blend together 
these two strains of thought the hope of a glorious 
future which had grown up out of the calamitous history 
of the Jewish nation, and the doctrine of an ideal world, 


which, was the final outcome of Greek reflection. While 
holding to the belief in a new world which will come into 
being at the Parousia, he conceives of this better world 
as only the manifestation 'of that which already exists 
in heaven and which we can apprehend even now 
through Christ our forerunner. But with all his skill 
he cannot disguise the inconsistency of the two modes 
of thought, and again and again we find them in con- 
tradiction. In this respect, as in others, the Epistle 
bears the marks of its origin in a middle period of 
theological development. Christianity had sprung in 
the soil of Judaism, and its message was at first wrapt 
up in apocalyptic forms which were hardly intelligible 
to the Gentile mind. So long as it retained them it 
could make little progress towards its larger destiny; 
and its chief effort, throughout the first century, was to 
exchange them for others, to which the mind of the age 
could more freely adapt itself. This process of trans- 
formation has left its record in our New Testament, 
and in the Fourth Gospel it came to completion. 
Apocalyptic ideas are there resolved wholly into their 
purely spiritual equivalents. The Kingdom of God is 
nothing else than eternal life ; the Judgment consists 
in an inward* attraction towards the darkness or the 
light ; the Parousia is no visible, dramatic event, but 
the return of Christ as an unseen presencento abide 
with his own. When our Epistle was written the 
church was striving towards this reinterpretation r of 
the Christian message, but had not yet accomplished 


it. The apocalyptic ideas were still a living element 
in the tradition, and the new conceptions which had 
filtered in from Hellenistic thought had not growm 
strong enough to displace them. Our author is content 
to leave the two presentations side by side. He tries 
to find room for both of them in a theology which is 
at once primitive and Hellenistic, and which therefore 
suffers, in spite of its grandeur and suggestiveness, from 
a lack of inner harmony. 


THERE can be no question as to the central theme^of 
Hebrews, for the writer himself is careful to mark it 
out in explicit terms. "Now the crowning point in 
our discussion is this : We have such an high priest as 
has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in the 
heavens a minister of the holy place, and of the true 
tabernacle, which the Lord set up, and not man." 1 
The doctrine which forms the Gnosis of the Epistle, 
and on which the various lines of its argument are all 
meant to converge, is here succinctly stated. Christ 
is our High Priest, and the place of his ministry is the 
sanctuary in heaven. 

Before considering this doctrine in detail it will be 
well to remind ourselves of the larger conception on 
which it is grounded. The writer, as we have seen, 
regards Christianity as the New Covenant. The former 
covenant had been maintained by the institution of 
the high priesthood, but the access to God which had 
thus been secured was an outward and imperfect one, 
and was intended from the first as the prelude to some- 

1 He 8 1 - 2 . 



thing better. By the coming of Christ this New Covenant 
has at last been established. Under the old conditions 
the people were represented before God by an official 
priest, selected from time to time by the accident of 
birth ; but the High Priest now appointed belongs to 
a superior order, and possesses in very truth those attri- 
butes which pertained to the levitical priest by a sort 
of fiction. He has offered a sacrifice which was some- 
thing more than a formal purification for sin. His 
ministry is enacted in no earthly holy place, but in the 
true sanctuary in heaven. In him the office of priest- 
hood has attained to its ideal character, and has thereby 
ensured the closer relation between God and man. 

Throughout the Epistle, then, the work of Christ is 
interpreted in terms of priesthood. / The New Covenant, 
as the writer conceives it, is nothing but the old one 
brought to its completion,! and is subject to the same 
conditions. In seeking to determine what Christ has 
done for us he takes his guidance from the ordinances 
laid down in scripture concerning the function of the 
high priest. Though dealing with an earthly priesthood 
they were of divine origin, and were meant to illuminate 
the nature of that higher ministry whereby the true 
access to God would at last be realised. The main 
portion of the Epistle is occupied with a comparison of 
the two priesthoods, in order to prove that Christ has 
verily accomplished all that was implied and fore- 
shadowed in the levitical service. 

This method, it must be acknowledged, is a highly 


artificial one. . We cannot but feel, as the writer 
elaborates his analogy, that he is engaged in pouring 
new wine into old bottles, which are burst under the 
strain. To discover the meaning of Christianity he 
falls back on ceremonies and institutions which belonged 
wholly *to the past, and which the new spiritual religion 
had deliberately set aside. Ever and again he is com- 
pelled to leave out the characteristic facts of the gospel 
while he forces the parallel between the work of Christ 
and that of the levitical high priest. At the same 
time there is no need to make his argument more artificial 
than it really is. Not a few expositors have been 
wining to regard him as little more than a theological 
antiquarian, absorbed in the minutiae of Old Testament 
ritual, and bent on explaining everything in the light 
of them. For the elucidation of Tiis thought they have 
sifted the data of the levitical books, and have insisted 
on working .out his allusions to the worship of the 
Tabernacle to the last detail. But most of this erudite 
labour is merely thrown away. The truth is that he 
has studied his Old Testament material somewhat 
superficially,^ and does not aim at any full or exact 
comparison. In his account of the day of Atonement 
he makes no reference whatever to such cardinal observ- 
ances as the liberation of the scapegoat and the touching 
of the altar with the sacrificial blood/ These had no 
bearing on his particular thesis/ and he does not hesitate 
to leave them wholly out of sight. v Indeed the more 
we examine his argument the more it is impressed on 


us that while lie appears to reason from the old priest- 
hood to the new, he follows' the opposite course. His 
mind is filled with the conviction that in Christ we 
have obtained a perfect access to God, and he turns to 
the ancient ritual in order to discover hints'* and antici- 
pations of what has now been realised. In the levitical 
system for its own sake he has no interest. Those 
aspects of it alone have any significance for him 

which appear in some way to illustrate the Christian 
., i 


It is assumed, then, that the priestly institutions 
were ordained by God for the purpose of guarding the 
relation between Himself and His people. He required 
them .to be holy as He is holy, and the covenant He 
had made with them was always liable to interruption 
because of their sins. It could only be restored by the 
mediation *ol the high priest, who had been qualified by 
divine appointment to act as their intercessor. Year by 
year on the day of Atonement he offered sacrifice on 
their behalf ; then, with the blood that bore witness 
to this purification, he entered the sanctuary, and stood - 
for a brief interval in the presence of God. It was this 
entrance into the holy place that formed the distinctive ' 
act of the high priest, all that preceded it being only 
the means for making it possible. Apart fro'm the 
sacrifice, which cleansed their sins and restored them 
to a condition of ritual holiness, the worshippers dared 
not presume to make their approach to God. But the 
approach itself consisted in the passing of the high 


priest through the veil. It was by this act that he 
renewed the covenant, and so maintained the right of 
Israel to appear before God as His chosen people. 

In the working out of his analogy the writer lays 
stress on three features of the Old Testament ritual 
the person of the high priest, the sacrifice he offers, his 
entrance into the sanctuary. The manifold details of 
the levitical service are allowed to fall out of sight, and 
our attention is concentrated on these three outstanding 
facts. In each case, too, the comparison is made to 
hinge on one Old Testament passage the 110th Psaim, 
with its mysterious reference to a priest after the order 
of Melchizedek. 

According to the view now generally accepted this 
Psalm is of lat origin, and is written in praise of one 
of the kings of the Maccabsean^house, who united in 
his own person the dignities of king and high priest. 
In this patriot king (perhaps Simon Hyrcanus, whose 
name, in the opinion of some scholars, is woven acros- 
tically into the Psalm) the poet sees the legendary 
glories of Jerusalem revived' in his own day. Like the 
Melchizedek of primeval history, his hero is at once a 
king and a priest. Needless to say, a critical inter- 
pretation of this kind is entirely absent from the mind 
of our writer. The Psalm, as he reads it, is directly 
Messianic,* and its allusion to Melchizedek conveys a 
hidden meaning which challenges the insight of those 
who have been spiritually enlightened. The Grnosis 
of the Epistle consists in the effort to penetrate the 


secret import of this passage, and thereby to arrive 
at a new understanding of the work of Christ. 

It is more than probable that Jewish speculation had 
already concerned itself with the figure of Melchizedek, 
who came and went like an apparition in the cherished 
history of Abraham. Theological fancy may have trans- 
formed him into an angelic being, 'or into the Messiah 
himself. Of such speculations we have no definite 
traces in the surviving literature, but the writer of 
Hebrews may have attached himself to a tradition, 
more or less obscure. But a tradition of this nature, 
even if we could prove its existence, has little to do 
with his main thought. His interest is not in the actual 
Melchizedek, but in the prophetic significance of this 
dim figure, who is so described in scripture as to typify 
the Son of God. Nothing is said of his father pr mother 
or descent of his birth or death. He stands forth as a 
priest who belonged to no line of succession, but exer- 
cised his office by the inherent right of his own person- 
ality. He is declared, moreover, ' to be " a priest for 
ever," a type of the eternal priest who would arise in 
the last days, i How little Ifthe writer is occupied with 
Melchizedek himself becomes apparent in the sudden 
transition from the shadowy portrait in Genesis to Christ, 
as if he alone were in question. " He of whom these 
things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, ... for 
it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah." 1 
Melchizedek is so much an abstraction, a mere anticipa- 

i He 7 13 - 14 . 


tion of the coining Priest, that the type dissolves, even 
as we contemplate it, into the reality. 

(1) On the ground, therefore, of the prophetic Psalm 
it is first shown that Christ, in his own Person, was the 
true High Priest, of whose ministry the levitical priest- 
hood has been only the prelude and symbol. Whence 
did the writer derive this conception of Christ as exer- 
cising a priestly office ? It may be that he came to it 
by his own reflection, as an inference from the Psalm 
which had so strongly appealed to him ; but this isnot 
likely. There are various indications that the con-, 
ception was not wholly new in Christian thought. The 
suggestion of it already existed in Jewish apocalyptic 
literature, which contained at least one writing the 
Testament of Levi where the Messiah was delineated 
in the character of a priest. Several times in our New 
Testament we seem to catch echoes of a similar idea. 
Paul thinks of the exalted Christ as now making inter- 
cession^for us. The Fourth Gospel culminates in the 
great prayers which Jesus, on the eve of his death, 
offers for his people, after the manner of a priestly 
mediator. To the seer of Revelation the Lord appears 
in the double insignia of priest and king; 1 and in 
1 Peter we can discern at least the approach to a like , 
conception. 2 It may be inferred from such passages 
that the idea of priesthood was often employed by 
Christian thinkers, at least figuratively ; and in certain 
sections of the church it may have been developed more 

13 . MP2 9 . 


fully, and linked to the mysterious intimations of the 
110th Psalm. We know that this Psalm was generally 
accepted as Messianic, and that it had been so con- 
strued by Jesus himself. It would be surprising if 
the writer of Hebrews was the first Christian teacher to 
draw far-reaching conclusions from its prophecy of the 
Messianic king who was also to be a " priest for ever." 
Admitting, however, that he may have attached him- 
self to some earlier speculation, we have no reason to 
suppose that it afforded him more than a starting-point 
for the thesis which he elaborates with such skill and 
originality. He is himself aware that it will impress 
his readers as novel and not a little perplexing; and 
for its real source we have no need to grope among the 
debris of forgotten traditions. It sprang of its own 
accord out of his primary conception of religion as 
consisting, above all, in access to God. If religion is 
essentially worship, and therefore inseparable from 
priesthood, the mediator of the absolute religion must 
bear the character of the ideal Priest. 

For proof of this we are directed to the familiar 
Messianic Psalm. In the actual life of Jesus, as the 
writer himself acknowledges, there was nothing/ to 
reveal his priesthood ; for he was born outside of the 
sacred tribe of Levi, and seemed to possess not even 
the elementary credentials r of a priest. 1 But when we 
turn to the Psalm we perceive the true significance of 
this fact. Jesus wds not* priest in the levitical sense 

1 He 8 4 . 


because lie belonged to a higher order, or rather, 
constituted an order by himself.' At a time when Levi 
was still unborn there had appeared a priest of unique 
dignity, whose ministry, as described in scripture, far 
transcended-fchat of the sons of Aaron. It is this priest- 
hood of Melchizedek which is attributed in the Psalm 
to Christ. Not only did he stand apart from the tribe 
and family in which the ordinary priesthood was vested, 
but he was appointed to be " a priest for ever.' 5 The 
others come and go, exercising their office for a brief 
season, and with all the limitations which are inherent 
in its transitory nature. But Christ " holds his priest- 
hood inviolable," uninterrupted by change and death, 
and there is therefore no restriction on its saving power. 1 
In one pregnant sentence the writer sums up the char- 
acter of the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek 
which has been bestowed on Christ. It is given, he 
says, " not according to the law of a fleshly command- 
ment, but according to the power of an endless life." 2 
In other words, it was not dependent on an arbitrary 
decree, working through the accident of physical descent, 
but was inherent in the Priest himself, and continued for 
ever, since he was exempt from death. As his priest- 
hood is eternal, so it is infinite in its reach and efficacy. 
"He is able to save to the uttermost those who come 
unto God through him." 

(2) Again, being in his own Person the true High 
Priest, Christ offered the true sacrifice. Our Epistle 
1 He 7 24 - 25 . 2 7 16 . 


knows nothing of the Pauline interpretation of the 
Cross as the destruction of the sinful flesh, and the satis- 
faction rendered to the claims of the Law. In place 
of these ideas, derived from Hellenistic or Kabbinical 
speculation, it employs others, which are based on the 
analogies of ritual. . The purpose of the Old Testament 
sacrifices, and especially of the great sacrifice on the 
day of Atonement, was to provide a cleansing, a 
" sanctification," in virtue of which the worshipper 
might come without fear into the presence of God. So 
for Hebrews the death of Christ is the supreme offering, 
which effects in reality that which the old sacrifices 
could only effect partially and symbolically. By 
means of it the believers are " sanctified," and have 
thus a free access to God, for whom they are no longer 
separated by sin. The attempt to discover some 
profound spiritual meaning in this doctrine of the death 
of Christ is entirely useless. The writer simply takes 
his stand on the belief, which passed into the Mosaic 
system from primitive religion, that by sacrifice men 
were brought into the right condition for worshipping 
God. No ancient thinker felt it necessary to ask him- 
self why sacrifice should have this effect, or what was 
the precise nature of the cleansing that resulted from it. 
It was enough to know that this was the appointed 
means whereby the proper relation was established 
between God and those who sought to approach Him. 
What was assumed to hold true of all sacrifice is trans- 
ferred, in our Epistle, to the sacrifice of Christ. Far as 


it transcends the ancient offerings it is supposed, like 
them, to aim at a sanctification, on the ground of which 
the people of God obtain access to God. Such an inter- 
pretation, it must be granted, is not to be compared to 
the Pauline doctrine in religious depth and value. 
The categories which Paul employs are almost as 
remote from us as those of the Epistle, but we are 
conscious everywhere of a real endeavour to apprehend 
the death of Christ in its moral significance, and to 
connect it with the grace and love of God. In Hebrews \ 
we can discover no such effort to relate it to inward ^ 
experience. The central fact of the Christian redemption 
is allowed to rest on no firmer basis than the assumptions 
of ancient ritual, which were arbitrary from the be- 
ginning, and have now become utterly outworn. 

But while the writer interprets the death of Christ on 
the analogy of the Jewish sacrifices, he is never tired of 
insisting that it stands on a higher plane, and has now 
finally accomplished what the old rites could only 
pre-figure. Assuming though he does that they were 
of divine ordinance, he recognises their insufficiency. 
" The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins " ; 
it could only serve for the purifying of the flesh, 'for the 
imparting of some formal and external holiness. The 
rites imposed by the Law could effect even this only for 
the moment, and had to be performed anew year by 
year. Christ, on the other hand, has made an offering 
not of slaughtered beasts, but of himself, the noblest 
and most precious of all sacrifices. In virtue of that 


eternal spirit which constituted his nature, he not only 
suffered as the victim, but passed through death to 
appear as High Priest in the holy place. 1 The sacrifice 
did not need to be constantly repeated, but was offered 
once for all, since in itself it had a worth so incalculable 
that its efficacy endure4 for ever. By thus presenting 
his own body Christ brought to its fulfilment that 
divine purpose to which all rites of sacrifice had been 
directed from the first. He could say, " I come to do 
Thy will, God " ; * for sacrifice had been ordained 
for the sanctifying of God's people, and this had now 
been realised in no mere ceremonial fashion but in 
very deed. Men had undergone an inward, spiritual 
cleansing. In newness of heart, with their conscience 
purified from dead works, they could feel that they 
had attained to the true holiness which made it possible 
for them to approach the living God. Several times 
in the course of the Epistle the writer comes back to tjiis 
thought, showing that with all his presuppositions he 
has broken with ritual ideas, and has grasped the 
essential purport of Jesus' own teaching. He perceives 
that the true service is not one of outward forms, but 
of moral consecration. To possess the will which is in 
harmony with the divine will, is to draw near to God. 
But no effort is made to explain how this inward renewal, 
apart from which there can be no genuine worship, is 
related to the death of Christ. We have to rest satisfied 
with the argument that if the old sacrifices effected an 
1 He 9 14 . 2 io 9 . 


outward cleansing, then the great sacrifice must be 
infinitely deeper in its operation, and must purify the 
heart and will. 

(3) But emphasis is laid on a further point in the 
analogy between the work of Christ and that of the 
high priest on the day of Atonement. The sacrifice 
under the Mosaic ritual was only the necessary prelude 
to the crowning act. Bearing in his hands the sacrificial 
blood, which attested the due cleansing *5f the people, 
the high priest entered the inner shrine and waited 
for a brief interval in the divine presence. The wor- 
shippers whom he represented were thus brought near 
to God. They were reinstated in the privilege, bestowed 
on them by the covenant, of calling themselves God's 
people. With this aspect of the high priest's work the 
writer arrives, as he himself is careful to mark out, at 
the xetpahaiov, the climax to which the whole previous 
discussion has been leading. 1 "We have an High 
Priest, a minister of the true sanctuary, which the Lord 
pitched, and not man." Moses had framed the taber- 
nacle after the pattern of a heavenly Tabernacle, re- 
vealed to him on the Mount, and the holy place into 
which the high priest entered on the day of Atonement 
was meant to image this other sanctuary, where God 
has His eternal dwelling-place. It is in the heavenly 
sanctuary that Christ exercises his office. This is 
apparent, not only from the prophetic Psalm which 
described him as sitting at God's right hand, but from 

1 He 8 1 . 


the very fact that he was excluded from an earthly 
priesthood. For if the prerogative granted to the sons 
of Levi was withheld from this greater Priest, the reason 
could only be that he was destined to minister on a far 
grander scene. 1 He was to pass thrbugh the veil that 
separates the invisible world from the visible, and to 
appear before God in the eternal sanctuary. Not only 
so, but he was to enter that heavenly sanctuary to 
abide there for ever. The earthly high priest remained 
standing in the divine presence, as one who enjoyed 
a mere transitory privilege, but the Priest of whom the 
Psalm was written is to " sit down at God's right hand." 2 
His ministry is a perpetual one, and so long as it con- 
tinues those for whom he ministers have an access to 
God which cannot be interrupted. They have the 
assurance at all times that they are God's people, who 
may come freely to the throne of grace. Thus Christ 
has achieved in reality that which was only suggested, 
by type and symbol, in the work of the levitical high 
priest. Through him the mere shadows of good things 
to come have been replaced by the very image of the 
things. 3 He waits as our mediator in the actual presence 
of God, and has so perfected the relation between God 
and His people. 

In the doctrine of the heavenly priesthood, therefore, 
the thought which determines the whole argument of 
the Epistle receives its highest application. Chris- 
a He8 4 . MO"- 12 . 3 10 a . 


tianity is the ultimate religion because it transforms 
the ancient symbols into their realities. The worship 
of the tabernacle had been ordained by God, and 
the idea expressed in it was eternally true and valid ; 
but it could only adumbrate that idea within the 
sphere of earthly things. Its high priest was a man 
burdened with human weakness ; its sacrifices were of 
slight ephemeral value ; its holy place was at the best a 
copy, made with hands. All that it could offer was a 
reflection, which served to point men to the true worship, 
but which could not of itself bring them near to God. 
But now the reflection has given place to the substance. 
Jesus in his own Person was the ideal High Priest, 
who made the sacrifice that purified once for all, and 
ministers for us in the true sanctuary. All that was 
typified in the old religion has thus been realised, and 
we have obtained a complete and enduring access to 
God. The fundamental idea in this whole argument 
is the same in essence as that which must underlie 
every attempt to afiirm the absolute claim of Chris- 
tianity. If our religion is indeed the final and all- 
sufficing one we must have some guarantee that it 
lifts us out of the domain of half-truths into that of 
reality. Symbols, however apt and beautiful, are at 
last outworn, and men are compelled to part with them, 
in the unceasing effort to lay hold of the " very image of 
the things." It is one of our writer's chief services to 
religious thought that he has so clearly drawn the dis- 
tinction between type and reality a distinction which 


must be recognised before any spiritual form of worship 
is possible. But the weakness of his argument consists 
in this that while he shows the inadequacy of the old 
ritual conceptions, he never definitely escapes from them. / 
He cannot rid himself of the belief that the substance ^" 
must in some manner be of the same nature as the type. 4 
The true worship must conform to that of the tabernacle, 
with the difference that it is offered in heaven instead 
of on earth, and has therefore a higher validity. 

This limitation of the writer's thought needs to be 
frankly recognised. He has failed to understand, as 
Paul did, the essential newness of Christianity, and 
assimilates it to Judaism, even while he aims at proving 
its superiority. Those " old things which have passed 
away " priesthood, sacrifice, ceremonial are still 
regarded by him as permanent elements in religion, 
and he takes for granted that in the work of Christ 
they have only been " perfected." They have been 
lifted out of a lower to a higher plane, on which the 
type becomes one with the thing typified. There can 
be no question that he thinks of the heavenly ministry 
in a literal and concrete fashion, as the counterpart 
of the ministry prescribed by the levitical ordinances. 
Christ, in no merely figurative sense, is a High Priest, 
who offered a sacrifice corresponding to the ancient 
sacrifices, though of greater worth, and then passed 
into a sanctuary which has a local existence in the 
heavenly world. The whole argument hinges on the 
theory that the old institutions, appointed as they 


had been by God, are copies in earthly material of 
divine originals. Nevertheless, it is a superficial 
reading of the Epistle which finds in it nothing but 
the Christian application of a fantastic doctrine which 
had grown up out of Jewish ritual. The writer, indeed, 
accepts the doctrine, but seeks by means of it to convey 
certain convictions of his own as to the nature of 

It must always be remembered, on the one hand, 
that he is an Alexandrian as well as a Jewish thinker. 
While he accepts the theory that the heavenly things 
are the counterparts of the sacred possessions of Juda- 
ism, it connects itself, in his mind,, with the Platonic 
conception of a higher order of being, which gives 
meaning and purpose to the visible order. On earth 
we have only the dim reflections of the ideal forms, 
and the end of all our striving is to apprehend the 
perfect through the imperfect, the truth through the 
shadow. On the face of it, the Epistle is concerned 
wholly with the ordinances of Jewish worship, and 
their fulfilment in Christianity, but the further idea 
is always present that through this New Covenant 
we have been brought into vital relation with the 
eternal world. We grasp in their reality those things 
which we have hitherto known in their mere earthly 
suggestions. To understand the full scope of the 
doctrine of the heavenly priesthood of Christ, we must 
take account of this speculative theory in the back- 
ground. Christ is the great High Priest, inasmuch 


as he has entered on our behalf into the world of 
true existence. He enables us, amidst the change 
and illusion of this life, to lay hold of the invisible 
certainties. This conception is not worked out 
deliberately, as it has been by later thinkers who 
have sought to combine the Christian teaching with 
some form of idealism. None the less, the writer of 
Hebrews is the pioneer of that philosophical Christi- 
anity which in all times has attracted to its service 
many of the noblest minds of the church. He tries 
to associate our religion with the belief in an intelligible 
world. In Christ' he sees the Mediator through whom 
that world becomes real to us the High Priest who 
maintains our access to it, in spite of the obscuring 

But along with this speculative idea we can discern 
a purely religious one, which in one aspect or another 
must ever belong to the very substance of Christianity. 
When all is said, the doctrine of the Epistle, fanciful 
as it now appears to us, has grown out of a genuine 
Christian experience. The writer is conscious, like 
Paul and the early Apostles, that through Christ we 
have been brought near to God. Men have learned 
through him that they are GojJ's people, that their 
sins have been forgiven, that they can now come 
boldly before the throne of grace. It is from this 
fact of a new relation to God which has been made 
possible by Christ that our author sets out, and he 
falls back on the ancient ritual in order to explain it 


to himself more fully. His explanation is that Christ 
was a Priest, in another and higher sense than the 
priest of the Old Covenant. He was in very deed 
that which they typified, and by a sacrifice of absolute 
worth has won for us the right of access to God's 
presence. Now it may be granted that the concep- 
tion of priesthood which is thus applied to the work 
of Christ is a wholly inadequate one, and was bound 
up with ideas and superstitions which belonged to the 
past. But, whatever may have been its origin and 
history, it carried a profound meaning at the heart 
of it, and we owe it to the writer of Hebrews that this 
has been rescued, and has been given its due place 
in our Christian thought. In the priestly ritual men 
confessed their need of a Mediator/ Conscious that 
they could not of themselves obtain that access to God 
which was necessary to their true life, they sought to 
approach Him through a consecrated agent/ who was 
supposed to stand nearer to His presence. In our 
Epistle this idea of priesthood, which had grown up 
in ancient times out of a deep-seated instinct, is divested- 
of its grosser elements. It is shown that while the 
ritual observances, which " stood on meats and drinks 
and divers washings," have now been done away, all 
that they ultimately meant has survived in a purer 
form. We can obtain through a Mediator what we 
could never win for ourselves. Conscious as we are 
of alienation^' we have our Priest and our availing 
sacrifice, and can draw near with boldness to the throne 


of grace. It is not a little significant that this Epistle, 
more perhaps than any other New Testament writing, 
has moulded the language of our prayers and hymns. 
In their actual approach to God, men have been con- 
strained to fall back on its conception of the High 
Priest who offered up himself and makes intercession 
for them in the heavenly temple. It is not difficult to 
point out the inconsistencies of this conception, and 
to show that it has its roots in the crude surmises of 
primitive religion./ But the fact remains that the 
spirit of Christian devotion in all ages has found a 
truth in it to which it has responded. Against the 
criticisms which may be justly urged from the side of 
theology we must set this vindication which it has 
secured in the living worship of the church. 

The author himself seems to be aware that his inter- 
pretation is not wholly adequate, and seeks repeatedly 
to bring it to a deeper issue. j^He thinks of the true 
purification as consisting not^n a ceremonial holiness, 
but in a cleansing of the conscience from dead works. 
He dwells on the idea of the higher sanctuaryvin order 
to make vivid to our minds the worth of that eternal 
Priesthood through which we have immediate access 
to God. Thus while he moves within the limits pre- 
scribed for him by ancient ritual beliefs, he draws his 
inspiration from the teaching of the gospel. For the 
mode of thinking which would identify worship with 
stated observances he is seeking, unawares to himself, 
to substitute another, which conceives of it as nothing 


else than the knowledge and the service of the living 
God. Again and again, as he describes the new religion 
in the traditional terms of sanctuary and sacrifice, he 
falls little short of anticipating the great declaration 
of the Fourth Gospel " God is a Spirit, and those 
who worship the Father must worship Him in spirit 
and in truth ; for the Father seeketh such to worship 


PERHAPS the most difficult problems of tlie Epistle to 
the Hebrews are those which concern its Christological 
doctrine. From beginning to end a supreme significance 
is attributed to Jesus, our Mediator and High Priest ; 
but as soon as we inquire why his work should have 
this surpassing value, we encounter questions which are 
apparently left unanswered. We seem to be thrown 
back sometimes on the ideas of the Synoptic Gospels, 
sometimes on those of Jewish Messianic theory ; while 
in not a few passages we feel ourselves transported into 
the world of sjjeond-century speculation and of the 
later creeds. Almost all the conceptions that have 
emerged from time to time in the history of Christo- 
logical controversy find their place in Hebrews, along 
with others that are peculiar ip the Epistle itself. More- 
over, they are not blended in any consistent picture. 
The whole argument rests on the assertion of the absolute 
worth of Christ, but no effort is made to vindicate this 
assertion by a reasoned doctrine of his Person. 
We must be careful, however, not to judge the writer's 

Christology from a point of view which was entirely 



foreign to him. From the Council of Nicaea onwards 
the question of the Person of Christ has been regarded 
as paramount, and the different churches have all 
maintained that faith is impossible until it has been 
correctly answered. It has bulked so largely in our 
religious thinking that we cannot approach the New 
Testament without certain prepossessions. We assume 
that for those early teachers, as for their successors, a 
doctrine of Christ's Person must have formed the starting- 
point, and in this belief we read a far-reaching signi- 
ficance into every stray hint and conjecture. But it 
is forgotten that for the New Testament writers the 
problems which forced themselves on the 'theology of 
a later age had not yet emerged. The early church 
was filled with the consciousness of what Christ had 
done of the salvation he had brought and the fellow- 
ship with God which men had obtained through him. 
It thought of this work of Christ, attested as it was 
by the living experience of believers, as the essential 
fact of Christianity, and troubled itself little about the 
abstract considerations that were bound up with it. 
As the giver of a new life and a new revelation, Jesus 
must have stood in some unique relation to God ; this 
was fully recognised by the primitive teachers. But 
they did not conceive it necessary to define this relation 
in metaphysical terms. They were satisfied with 
categories, vague at the best and borrowed from a 
variety of sources, which enabled them to attribute a 
supreme dignity to Jesus. They employed those cate- 


gories loosely, and passed over from one of them to 
another, without observing or caring whether they were 
mutually consistent. So long as Christ was accepted, 
with a vital faith, as Lord and Saviour, it seemed to 
matter little how the mystery of his Person should be 
explained, and men were left free to speculate on it as 
they pleased. The questions that arose in later con- 
troversy were indeed implicit from the first, and were 
bound, in course of time, to press forward for a solu- 
tion. But at the outset the enthusiastic faith in Jesus 
was its own evidence. It was not till the following age, 
when the initial ardour had partly spent itself, that 
it was felt necessary to justify this faith by theological 

The Epistle to the Hebrews has come to us from that 
first period, when the mind of the church was still 
preoccupied with the redeeming work of Christ. Ac- 
cording as one aspect or another of his work was 
emphasised, his Person was viewed under different 
categories, but it was not yet the subject of separate 
investigation. Conceptions that varied widely from 
each other were allowed to stand side by side, and were 
all accepted as equally valid, since they all contributed 
something to the understanding of his work. The 
confusion of doctrine became still greater as the church 
entered on the period of transition, when Jewish forms 
of thought were gradually displaced by others, derived 
from Gentile speculation. Hitherto it had been enough 
to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, and the Messianic 



conception was so loose and elastic that many diverse 
doctrines could Hud shelter under it, while still pre- 
serving the .jemblance of unity. But as the Gentile 
mission proceeded it became necessary to define the 
Messianic belief in terms of Hellenistic thought, with 
the result that the latent inconsistencies sprang to 
light. Jesus was at once the Deliverer foretold in Old 
Testament prophecy, and the heavenly being of the 
Apocalypses. He was also the enlightener, the re- 
deemer from sin and death, the self-manifestation of 
God and His agent in the government of the world. 
We cannot be surprised that the author of Hebrews, 
writing in a time when the transition was still in process, 
is unable to offer any uniform doctrine. His thought, 
like that of the other New Testament writers, moves 
on several different planes, and in his case the resulting 
diversity is all the more marked as he brings the two 
extremes of early Christianity so abruptly together. 
In his account .of the Person of Christ, as in his theology 
generally, he links himself on the one hand with the 
primitive apocalyptic hopes, and on the other with 
Alexandrian speculation. 

The Epistle is dominated, as we have seen, by the 
conception of the priesthood of Christ ; and from this 
point of view its doctrine of his Person must be con- 
sidered. It is assumed, on the ground of the Mosaic 
ordinances, that priesthood attaches to certain men by 
virtue of their birth and origin, and that the claim of 


the great High. Priest must run back to a similar quali- 
fication. Like the sons of Aaron, but in a far higher 
degree, he must exercise his office as a matter of birth- 
right. He cannot have entered on it by mere choice 
or merit of his own, but must have been destined to 
it by some prerogative that belonged to his very 
nature. 1 In so far, then, as the writer considers the 
Person of Christ, his object is to prove that Jesus, who 
was sprung from no hereditary line of priests, was 
yet a priest by divine right. The nature of his Person 
is discussed not so much for its own sake as in its 
bearing on his office. 

Two. qualifications are singled out as requisite for a 
genuine high priest. He must be fully identified with 
those whom he represents in sympathy with their 
desires and needs because he himself has felt them 
and at the same time he must stand in a special relation 
to God, so as to come confidently into His presence. 2 
The high priest under the old covenant was duly pos- 
sessed of this twofold qualification. He could act on 
behalf of his brethren since he was himself a man, 
sharing in all human wants and infirmities. He had 
also the right of approach to God, for he owed his office 
to no presumption of his own, but to the divine appoint- 
ment which had fallen upon him as the successor by 
lineal descent of Aaron. How was it, in those two 
respects, with the High Priest of the new covenant? 
The writer aims at showing and from this point of 

J He5 14 . 251.2. 



view we must understand his whole Christology that 
if the levitical high priest had both the necessary titles 
to his office, the high priest under the new covenant 
possessed them in far greater measure. They were 
united in him in such a manner that he gave an absolute 
fulfilment to the idea of priesthood. 

(1) On the one hand, if Christ is our High Priest he 
must be so identified with men that he can truly repre- 
sent them before God. He exercises his ministry not 
on behalf of angelic beings, but on behalf of men, and 
it cannot avail for us unless he has made our cause his 
own by living our life and sharing in our weaknesses 
and temptations. " He that sanctifieth and they who 
are sanctified are all of one " members together of 
the same family of mankind. 1 One of the most striking 
features of the Epistle is the prominence which is every- 
where assigned to the human character of Jesus. Though 
insisting no less than Paul on the glory of the exalted 
Lord, the writer is so far from " refusing to know Christ 
after the flesh " that he puts the earthly life into the 
foreground. He consistently uses the personal name 
" Jesus." He thinks of the sojourn on earth as not 
merely a temporary eclipse and humiliation, but as the 
indispensable prelude to the heavenly life. In virtue 
of his human struggle, Jesus became the Son of God 
in a fuller and richer sense than before, and thus attained 
to a more excellent glory. For the most part the earthly 
life is described in large outlines which mark out its 

1 He 2". 


pervading character rather than its definite events. 
We are reminded of the trials and opposition which 
Jesus encountered, of his faith and courage and obedi- 
ence, of the mercy and helpfulness which he manifested 
while he dwelt with men. No words of his teaching are 
quoted, although there is a passing reference to the 
gospel as proclaimed by him and transmitted to his 
Apostles. 1 In the few instances where particular facts 
of the history are mentioned they are connected wholly 
with the closing episodes of his earthly career. He is 
set before us as praying to God on the eve of his death 
with strong crying and tears 2 as suffering patiently 
the contradiction of sinners 3 as dying on the Cross, 
outside of the city gates. 4 But this neglect of the rich 
detail of the Gospel history is not due to ignorance or 
unconcern, but to deliberate purpose. While we realise 
the humanity of Jesus we are not to forget that he 
who became one with us was nevertheless the Son of 
God. This is the side of his nature on which, our minds 
are to be chiefly concentrated, and care is taken that it 
should not be overshadowed by recollections of the 
earthly Teacher. A time was to come when Jesus as 
he lived was invested with the divine attributes, and 
could be presented, in the Fourth Gospel, as at once 
a man and a heavenly being. But the writer of Hebrews 
is still too closely in contact with the remembered facts. 
He cannot but feel, like Paul, that the knowledge of 
Jesus after the flesh interposes a barrier against the 
1 He 2 s . 2 57. 3 J23. 4 1312 


truer knowledge of Tn'm in his exalted life. He there- 
fore contemplates the history from a certain distance, 
recalling to us by a few significant, touches the one 
fact which matters that Jesus, our High Priest, was 
in all points like unto his brethren. 

It has been contended by some modern critics that 

this emphasis on the human character of Jesus has a 

purely theological motive. They argue that the writer 

is concerned with the Gospel history only in so far as it 

supports his thesis that Jesus was a High Priest, a true 

mediator between God and man. The historical facts, 

according to this view, are completely subordinated 

to the doctrine. But we may well ask how a writer 

who has nothing but a theological interest in the life of 

Jesus has yet seized, with an unfailing instinct, on just 

those elements in it which have most appealed to the 

hearts of men. Not only so, but his allusions, however 

indefinite, are conveyed in words of exquisite feeling, 

which have embalmed themselves in the language of 

Christian devotion to this day. Whatever may have 

been his doctrinal motive, it is abundantly clear that he 

is moved by the story of Jesus. for its own sake, and 

would have us respond to it as he has himself done. 

Again and again he breaks away from his immediate 

argument, and bids us turn our eyes to the great example. 

" Let us run the race that is set before us, looking unto 

Jesus." "Let us go out to him outside the gate, 

bearing his reproach." " He was tempted at all points 

like as we are." The reference to Gethsemane occurs, 


it is true, in a theological context, as a proof that Jesus, 
who shrank from his sacrifice, had his office of High 
Priest imposed on him, and did not merely arrogate it 
to himself ; but this somewhat frigid reflection at once 
merges in another, that through his agony he attained 
to a perfect submission to the will of God. "Though 
he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things 
that he suffered." 1 To explain the writer's interest 
in the earthly life as a mere afterthought, consequent 
on his theory of priesthood, is to shroud the whole 
message of his Epistle in a mist of theological pedantry. 
It would be nearer the mark to regard his theory as the 
outcome, in no small measure, of his contemplation of 
the life. He had discerned the profound import of that 
actual history which other thinkers had neglected, and 
sought for some interpretation that would do justice 
to the work of Christ in both its aspects. This inter- 
pretation he found in his doctrine of priesthood. By 
making himself one with us, and sharing our trials and 
infirmities, Jesus perfected himself for his destined 
office of our merciful and faithful High Priest. 

Avoiding, as it does, all problems of a metaphysical 
nature, the Epistle does not concern itself with the mode 
and conditions of the Incarnation. It assumes that 
Jesus was born, apparently in the ordinary course of 
generation, from the tribe of Judah, 2 and that he was 
man in a full and real sense, though without sin. But 
1 He 5 8 . 2 -711 


his earthly life is described, at tlie same time, as nothing 
but an interlude in a larger, heavenly life. No attempt 
is made to reconcile these two conceptions, apart from 
the suggestion which is thrown out in the perplexing 
words " through an eternal Spirit." * They would seem 
to imply that in Jesus, man though he was on the 
physical side of his nature, there yet dwelt a Spirit 
which was exempt from the normal limitations of 
mortality. It had constituted his being before his 
entrance into this world, and was not affected by his 
death ; and in virtue of it he passed from the Cross to 
the sanctuary in heaven, acting in his own person the 
double part of Victim and Priest. The same idea seems 
to underlie another difficult phrase which speaks of 
Jesus as appointed to his office " according to the power 
of an indissoluble life." 2 Here again the thought 
appears to be that he was " a priest for ever " because 
his earthly career was only an episode in a higher 
existence, which had suffered no real interruption. He 
became man in order to fulfil the purpose he had 
declared in heaven, " Behold I come to do Thy will, O 
God " ; and the life on earth was thus continuous with 
the pre-existent life, and brought it to a fuller realisa- 
tion. 3 On the other hand, it was bound up with the 
exalted life which followed it. The death in which it 
culminated was the sacrifice offered by the High Priest 
to secure His entrance into the holy place, and was not 
so much a break between two states of being as the link 
1 He 9 14 . 2 7 16 . 3 lO 5 ' 9 . 


that united them with one another. This idea of an 
" indissoluble life," inwardly the same through all 
changes, is expressed, with a somewhat different em- 
phasis, in the passage, " we see Jesus, because of the 
suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, 
that he, by the grace of God, might taste death for 
every man." * The verse is a well-known crux in 
New Testament exegesis, and its difficulty consists 
precisely in its effort to assert, in the strongest possible 
manner, the inseparable connection of the earthly life 
with the subsequent elevation. Jesus was crowned 
because he suffered, and his suffering avails for all 
men and expresses a divine purpose, because he has 
thus been crowned. The humiliation to which he 
submitted " for a little time " was only a stage in his 
ascent to sovereign honour, and his death cannot be 
viewed apart from the glory that followed it. From 
first to last he was fulfilling the great redemptive work . 
which God had planned. 

It is here, most probably, that we must seek the 
true explanation of one of the strangest omissions in~ 
the Epistle. For Paul, as for the primitive Apostles, 
the very corner-stone of all Christian teaching was the 
message of the Resurrection. " If Christ be not risen, 
your faith is vain ; ye are yet in your sins." 2 Amidst 
all the new developments of later Christian thought 
the Resurrection still holds its place as central, and the 
writer of Hebrews himself, when he falls back, :in his 
1 He 2 s . 2 1 Co 15". 


closing benediction, on the most cherished elements of 
the common faith, commends his readers to " Him who 
brought from the dead that great Shepherd of the 
sheep." 1 But it is here alone that he makes even a 
passing allusion to this primary Christian belief. How 
are we to account for his silence ? It cannot be due, 
we may be sure, to any questioning of the belief, or to 
any disposition to construe it in a purely spiritual 
sense. We may conclude, rather, that he kept it in the 
background because it would have broken the impression 
which he seeks everywhere to convey of the continuity 
of the earthly with the heavenly life of Jesus. For the 
church at large the Resurrection signified that Jesus, 
by a miraculous act of God, had been raised to a second 
life, different in all its conditions from the first. There 
had been a mysterious interval which had divided the 
sojourn on earth from the state of glory, and the Chris- 
tian imagination had begun already to busy itself with 
this dark space in the career of Jesus, when he had died 
but .had not yet ascended to his Father. But for our 
writer, whatever may have been his theory of the Re- 
surrection, there was no such interval. He seems to 
conceive of Jesus as passing immediately from his 
earthly to his heavenly ministry. Just as the high 
priest made his offering at the altar, and then carried 
the sacrificial blood through the veil into the holy place, 
so Jesus gave himself on the Cross, and straightway 
ascended through the heavens into the presence of God. 

1 He 13 20 . 


In order that we may better apprehend his priestly 
work in its unity, the Resurrection, as a separate 
episode, is left in the shadow. Nothing is allowed to 
disturb our certainty that through all the changing 
phases of his experience, Jesus remained the same, and 
accomplished his ministry, alike on earth and in heaven, 
" according to the power of an indissoluble life." 

It was necessary that our High Priest, if he was 
indeed to act as our representative, should become one 
with his brethren. But this participation in the common 
lot of humanity was only one aspect of the priestly 
character. Before one man could appear before God 
in the name of the people he had to be invested with a 
special privilege with a right of access which was 
denied to the others. As a mediator he required in 
some sense to stand midway between God and man. 
In the levitical system this relation to God was ensured 
by a divine ordinance whereby a descendant of Aaron 
was singled out from the mass of the people and conse- 
crated. How was it secured in the case of Jesus, who 
did not possess the official claim ? The answer is 
and here we arrive at the main Christological problem 
that Jesus was a priest in virtue of his own nature. He 
was able to draw near to God on our behalf because 
he was himself related to God as His Son. 

In working out this conception of the Sonship of Christ 
the writer takes his departure from the primitive 
doctrine of the Messiah. Again and again in the course 


of the Epistle the language of Messianic prophecy is 
applied to Jesus. He came as it was written of him 
" in the volume of the book," 1 and will return for the 
deliverance of his people as the glorified Messiah. 2 In 
the passage which explains the death of Jesus as a 
destruction of the power of the devil, the writer associates 
himself quite definitely with the Messianic beliefs of the 
primitive church. 3 Occasionally, as where he describes 
Jesus as a greater Joshua, he appears to fall back on the 
Old Testament conception of a national Messiah ; 4 
but in such passages we have little difficulty in perceiving 
the larger spiritual idea beneath the traditional one. 
In our Epistle, as in the writings of Paul, the apocalyptic 
hope of the Messiah has wholly displaced that of the 
prophets. " The Coming One " is no longer the Son of 
David, but a pre-existent being the heavenly man who, 
according to the mystical interpretation of the 8th 
Psalm, will finally put all things under his feet. 5 

Adhering as he does to the accepted Messianic doctrine, 
the writer is careful to maintain the full distinction 
between Jesus and God. The Messiah of the Apocalypses 
is never more than an angelic being, dependent for his 
exalted status and dignity on God's good pleasure. 
Even in a work like the Similitudes of Enoch, where 
Messianic theory is carried to its furthest limit, there is 
no hint of any community of nature between the tran- 
scendent God and the Son of man who is the agent 
of His will. So the writer of Hebrews, conceiving of 

1 He 10 7 . 2 9 28 . 3 2 14 . 4 4 s . 5 2 8 - 9 . 


Jesus as the Messiah, endeavours to keep within the 
bounds of Messianic speculation. His argument re- 
quires him to assign to Jesus an inherent right to draw 
near to God ; yet he never ventures to affirm, in so 
many words, that Jesus was himself of divine nature. 
To' be sure, the Son is exalted far above all angels. 
He sits down at God's right hand, as next in majesty 
to God. But in the very passages where this sovereign 
rank of the Son is most plainly asserted, it is implied 
that while raised above the angels he was in some sense 
one of them. On a day in eternity God had chosen him 
out from among his fellows, and had commanded them 
to worship him. 1 All the power with which he is 
clothed has been given him by God's appointment 
and decree. 2 The name of Son has been conferred on 
him, and betokens not so much an actual relationship 
as a signal honour and privilege. 3 This glory which he 
had obtained before his coming to earth has been en- 
hanced yet more by his great sacrifice, so that he now 
dwells for ever in God's immediate presence. 

But although he sets out from the Messianic idea, 
with its necessary limitations, the writer seeks to pass 
beyond it, or at least to make it capable of a larger 
content. His ultimate conception has little more than 
a formal identity with that of the apocalyptic Messiah, 
and in this advance on the primitive view we can trace 
the operation of two main motives. (1 ) In the first place, 
he clearly perceives that his whole argument falls to 
1 He I 6 . 2 1 4 . 3 1 5 . 


the ground unless there is some inward and essential 
relation between Christ and God. If Christ is the 
perfect High Priest it is not enough that he should be 
an angelic being, however exalted for in this case he 
would still be a created Spirit, no less separate from 
the unapproachable God than the earthly priest who 
ministered in the tabernacle. In order that his inter- 
cession may be real and effectual he must in some way 
participate in the divine nature. On this condition 
alone can we have the full assurance that through him 
we draw near to God. The Messianic conception, as 
understood by apocalyptic Judaism, is therefore merged 
in another, which is never explicitly defined. Christ 
was the Son, not merely in the sense that he was a 
heavenly being who had been raised to peculiar honour, 
but in the more intimate meaning of Sonship. He has 
sat down at God's right hand in virtue of some real 
affinity of his own nature with that of God. 

(2) But this heightening of the old Messianic con- 
ception, demanded though it was by the logic of the 
priestly doctrine, would not have been possible apart 
from some existing sanction in Christian thought. For 
more than a generation the conviction had been grow- 
ing stronger, in all sections of the church, that the 
Messianic idea was not fully adequate to the new faith. 
Not only was it wrapt up with Jewish hopes and imagina- 
tions with which the Gentile mind could have little 
sympathy, but in itself it failed -to satisfy the deeper 
instincts of believers. This is clearly apparent in the 


religion of aul, who is conscious of a new life, a larger 
freedom, a revelation of the grace and love of God, that 
have been imparted to him in Christ. In the effort 
to explain to himself this divine significance of the 
gospel he is constantly breaking through the restrictions 
of Messianic theory. The writer of Hebrews has like- 
wise attained to a wider conception of the Christian 
message, and finds the traditional forms incapable of 
expressing it. Jesus is the same yesterday and for ever. 
He is the Leader and Perfecter of faith. He has 
cleansed our conscience from dead works and brought 
us to the living God. In view of all that he has proved 
himself to be, in Christian experience, the Messianic 
theqry, inherited from the dreams and surmises of the 
past, has become insufficient, if not meaningless. It 
must be exchanged for some deeper and more com- 
prehensive theory if we are rightly to interpret the work 
of Christ. The Epistle does not succeed in its endeavour 
to arrive at this new conception. Its doctrine of Christ 
is at the best vague and tentative-^-a mosaic of various 
speculations which fall asunder when we try to think 
them together. Here, as in other respects, we have to 
recognise in Hebrews the product of a transition age, 
which was breaking away at every point from the earlier 
teaching while still acknowledging its authority. 

The higher value which is attached to the Messianic 
character of Jesus finds expression in the name " the 
Son of God," or more briefly " the Son." This name 
appears to have been current in the church from an 


early time, and did not of itself involve any speculative 
theory of the relation of Christ to God. For Hebraic 
thought the category of Sonship had a wide and in- 
determinate meaning. As applied to the Messiah in 
apocalyptic literature it signified no more than that 
he was a heavenly being, who occupied a unique place 
in the counsels of God. But when, the name had once 
been endorsed by the church as an alternative to the 
name " Messiah," it lent itself to those Hellenistic ideas 
which were constantly gaining ground, and covered 
them with its sanction. When Paul speaks of "the 
Son of God " he is still far from the doctrine of the later 
creeds, but he certainly has much more in his mind 
than the original Messianic conception. As the Son 
of God, Christ is in some sense divine reflecting in 
his face the light of the knowledge of God. He is the 
Lord, who died and rose again, that through union with 
him we might attain to the divine life. In the Fourth 
Gospel the name is detached altogether from the 
Messianic tradition. It becomes the symbol of a new 
doctrine that Jesus, even while he lived on earth, was 
the manifestation of God the eternal Son, through 
whom we know the Father. The writer of Hebrews 
has not yet risen to this conception of the divine Son- 
ship. His thought is rooted in the Old Testament, and 
even when he addresses to Christ the adoring words of 
the Psalmist, " Thy throne, God, is for ever and 
ever," he remains fully conscious of the qualified sense 
in which they must be understood. None the less, he 


employs the name of " Son " with a peculiar emphasis. 
It connotes for him not merely the Messianic dignity of 
Jesus, but the inward relation that subsists between 
him and God. He was fitted to be our High Priest 
and Mediator because he was of divine origin and shared 
in the divine nature, although he became in all points 
like unto his brethren. 

This new conception of the Messianic Sonship is 
made possible by the Logos doctrine, which had been 
the most notable contribution of Alexandria to the 
theology of Judaism. It is true that nowhere in the 
Epistle is Christ expressly identified with the Logos ; 
indeed, we cannot but feel that this term is studiously 
avoided. Perhaps it had nolL.yet .acclimatised itself in 
Christian thought ; perhaps the Messianic tradition, 
to which it was entirely alien, exerted a restraining 
influence on the writer's mind. Nevertheless, he opens 
the Epistle with a clear reference to the Alexandrian 
doctrine, availing himself of terms and figures whichi; 
may have been borrowed directly from Philo. The 
Son in whom God has spoken to us is " the effulgence 
of his glory," and " the express image of his nature " 
a being who is related to God as the radiance to the 
central light, or the impression to the seal. The 
functions ascribed to him are likewise those which in 
Philo pertain to the Logos. He is the agent of revela- 
tion, so that God Himself is fully manifested to us 
now that the Son has appeared. He is the agent of 
creation, through whom the transcendent God, remote 



from all contact with material things, has made the 
worlds. It is noteworthy, however, that these ideas 
are confined to the opening chapter, and are intro- 
duced for the one purpose of enhancing the superiority 
of the Son to the angels. In the body of the Epistle 
the conception of Christ as the self-revelation of God 
is left entirely to one side. His activity in creation 
is recalled for one moment when it is" argued that he 
is greater than Moses, "inasmuch as he who hath 
builded the house hath more honour than the house." 
But this passing allusion to his cosmical significance 
is at once guarded by the addition, " He that built 
all things is God." * 

It is only in the introductory verses, therefore, that 
the Logos conception is definitely traceable, and the 
inference has sometimes been drawn that it has no 
integral place in the writer's thought. But he cannot 
have set it in the very forefront of the Epistle without 
a purpose. We are justified in presuming, as in the 
similar case of the Fourth Gospel, that the prologue 
is meant to illuminate all the chapters that follow. 
In the conviction that Christ was one with the eternal 
Logos, we are to examine the nature of his redeem- 
ing work, so as to obtain a deeper insight into its 
worth and efficacy. The prologue, in the view of some 
scholars, must be taken as the key of the Epistle in a 
more definite sense. They maintain that the central 
doctrine of the High-Priesthood of Christ is to be 

1 He 3 s - 4 . 


construed in strict accordance with, the Logos theory ; 
and the evidence for this opinion is at first sight im- 
pressive. Philo, in the same manner as our writer, 
discovers a profound import in the Old Testament 
ritual, and dwells, like him, with a special predilection 
on the ministry of the high priest. Again and again 
he compares this ministry with that of the Logos in 
language that seems to anticipate the language of 
Hebrews. " And the Father who created the universe 
has given to his archangelic and most ancient Logos 
a pre-eminent gift to stand on the confines of both, 
separating that which has been created from the 
Creator. And this same Logos is continually a sup- 
pliant to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal 
race, which is exposed to affliction and misery. And 
the Logos rejoices in the gift, saying, * And I stand in 
the midst, between the Lord and you,' neither being 
self-existent like God, nor yet created as you, but 
being in the midst, a hostage, as it were, to both." 1 
" For we say that the High Priest is not a man, but the 
Logos of God, who has not only no participation in 
intentional errors, but none even in those which are 
involuntary." 2 " But examine the great .High Priest, 
that is, the Logos." 3 " You see that even the high 
priest, that is to say, the Logos, who might at all times 
remain and reside in the holy dwelling of God, has not 
free permission to approach Him at all times, but only 
once a year; for whatever is associated with reason 

\ ; Quis heres. 42. 2 De Fuga. 20. 3 De Migr. 18. 


by utterance is not firm, because it is of a twofold 
nature. But the safest course is to contemplate the 
living God by the soul alone, without utterance of any 
voice, for He exists in the indivisible One." * In view\ 
of these and a number of similar passages it might 
appear as if the thesis of the Epistle to the Hebrews . 
were rooted in Alexandrian doctrine. The Christian 
writer has taken over the Philonic conception of the 
Logos as " the great high priest," and has applied it, 
with a few necessary modifications, to the work of 
Christ. But this conclusion ceases to be tenable when 
we have regard not merely to coincidences of language 
and metaphor, but to underlying ideas. The thought 
which Philo expresses, in his allegorical fashion, by 
comparing the Logos to the high priest, is a purely 
abstract and philosophical one. He conceives of 
Reason as the mediating principle between God and 
His creation. The world as a whole is brought into 
relation with God, in so far as it is pervaded by an 
immanent reason which is allied with the divine nature. 
Man, as a rational creature, participates in the universal 
reason, and under its guidance can enter into com- 
munion with God. It may be that Philo endows the 
Logos with a certain personality, and has something 
more in his mind than an expressive metaphor when 
he speaks of its priestly activity. But in any case he . 
thinks of the approach to God in a purely intellectual 
manner. The Logos, in the last resort, is nothing else 

1 De Gigant. 12. 


than the divine reason, which by its operation in the 
human soul acts as intermediary between v God and 
man. Inasmuch as we share in this higher principle 
we are able to transcend the bounds of our earthly 
nature and to participate in the life of God. The itu.j 
fundamental differences between the teaching of our ^ 
Epistle and this metaphysical doctrine hardly need to ^WA.. 
be insisted on. For the writer of Hebrews Christ is ^ - f ' : 
not an abstract essence, but a living Person, and his "'Ik, 
priesthood is inseparable from his personal attributes ; , ,* 
and experiences. He exercises his ministry in no in-i 
merely figurative sense, but is an actual high priest, *v..i 
who comes before God with a literal sacrifice. His -? 
work of mediation consists not in communicating to 
us the divine nature as it exists in Reason, but in 
cleansing us from the sin which has kept us distant 
from God. It is evident that the writer of Hebrews 
is moving in a world of thought that is altogether 
agarA from that of Philo. When we try to correlate 
his doctrine of the high-priesthood of Christ with the 
speculative idea of the reconciling Logos, we involve 
the whole teaching of the Epistle in a hopeless confusion. 
In one sense, however, the Logos theory has a real 
bearing on the conception of the work of Christ which 
is set before us in Hebrews. In order that Christ should 
act as our High Priest it is necessary that his relation 
to God should be grounded in his very nature ; for 
otherwise he would himself rank among created beings, 
and could afford us no true access to the divine presence. 


By investing him with the attributes not only of the 
Messiah but of the Philonic Logos, the writer ensures 
for him this inward relation to God. The Logos 
doctrine, therefore, although it seems to disappear after 
the opening chapter, is implicit in the argument through- 
out. It does not displace the Messianic idea, as in the 
Fourth Gospel, but is blended with it, in such a manner 
as to enhance its scope and significance. Jesus is the 
Messiah, who was exalted by God above all angels, 
but he is also Son of God, in the sense that he is in- 
herently of divine nature. He brings us near to God 
because he is himself united with God as His Son. 

The Epistle, then, is concerned with the nature of 
Christ only in so far as it throws light on the work he 
has accomplished. This work is summed up under the 
category of priesthood, and in order to clothe him with 
all the attributes of the ideal High Priest the writer 
avails himself of different conceptions which had arisen 
in the church weaving them together without much 
regard to their mutual consistency. Jesus is a heavenly 
being, whom God had chosen out for sovereign honour. 
He is the Messiah, who had existed before the foundation 
of the world, and who had yet become man and had 
lived a true human life. He is one with the Logos, who 
is in inward fellowship with God, and through whom he 
effects His work of creation and revelation. Out of 
these diverse elements the writer constructs his picture 
of the great High Priest. Jesus can minister on our 


behalf in the heavenly sanctuary because he was himself 
a man and knew our needs and infirmities because he 
was the Messiah, exalted to a place above all angels 
because as the Logos he shares in the nature of God, 
and abides with Him for ever. The manifold aspects 
under which his personality is regarded are brought 
into apparent unity in the name of Son, which is pur- 
posely chosen because of its vagueness. It suggests 
an intimate dependence of Christ on God, while affirm- 
ing nothing definite as to its character. It binds 
together superficially a number of speculations which 
could not have been harmonised in a reasoned theological 
doctrine. The writer does not occupy himself with the 
problem of the Person of Christ for its own sake. His 
interest is centred in the eternal High Priest, and he 
presses into his service everything that may give fulness 
and meaning to this one conception. 

The doctrine of Christ which comes before us in 
Hebrews cannot be reduced to theological consistency, 
but for religion it has a permanent value. No Christian 
faith is possible which does not discern, however it may 
express it, a twofold significance in the Person of Christ. 
He was our brother man, who inspires our love and 
confidence because he made himself one with us in our 
common lot. He also stood apart from men, and 
had power to impart a new life and bring us nearer to 
God because he was thus " separated from sinners and 
made higher than the heavens." The Epistle to the 


Hebrews, more than any other New Testament writing, 
has done justice to these two different .elements in our 
faith. They are not strictly defined, and no attempt 
is made to reconcile them, but for this very reason men 
have been able to respond to the conception of Christ 
which is set forth in the Epistle. If the writer had 
sought to elaborate some formal doctrine of the Two 
Natures he would only have added another to the 
speculative Christologies which from time to time have 
chilled and perplexed the devotion of the church. As 
it was, he was content to dwell on the fact, without 
trying to explain it, that Jesus was at once our brother 
and our Lord. And if theology can make little of his 
doctrine, it has impressed its meaning clearly on the 
hearts and imaginations of Christian men. They have 
cherished the Epistle because it presents to them, as in 
a living picture, the Christ in whom they have trusted 
the Man who was tempted as we are, and who is yet our 
Intercessor at the right hand of God. 


IN the theological discussion with which he has been 
mainly occupied the writer of Hebrews has never lost 
sight of his practical purpose. He has sought to con- 
vince his readers of the surpassing worth of Christianity 
in order that they may realise more fully the obligations 
that are laid on them, and so hold fast without wavering. 
The great chapter in praise of faith grows naturally, 
therefore, out of the previous argument. At first sight 
it may seem to be nothing more than a splendid rhetorical 
outburst, with no definite relation to the body of the 
Epistle ; and from this point of view it is usually read 
and explained. But we miss half its significance unless 
we consider it not only as integral to the whole discus- 
sion, but as, in some sense, its outcome and culmination. 
The writer himself supplies a definition of what he 
understands by faith. It is " the confidence of things 
hoped for, the proof of things not seen " in other words, 
it. affords us the certainty of what is still in the region 
of hope, and makes invisible things as real to us as if 
they were seen and demonstrated. The account which 

follows is entirely in keeping with this definition. Faith 



is described as that attitude of soul to which, future 
and unseen things are so sure that they become actual 
more truly so than if they were apprehended by the 
senses. Examples are multiplied from Old Testament 
history which illustrate and bring home to us this 
meaning of faith. It is shown that the ancient saints 
and heroes had endured as seeing the invisiblg, and 
had triumphed over change and death because they 
worked in the power of a far distant future. From the 
beginning the people of God had rooted their lives in 
faith, and had found in it their strength and inspiration. 
The conception of faith which is here set before us 
is different from any other that we encounter in the 
New Testament. For Paul, faith is the response of 
man to the gracious will of God revealed in Christ 
the act of trust and self-surrender apart from which we 
cannot receive the offered gift. It is directed in the 
last resprt to God, but its immediate object is Christ, 
and more definitely the Cross of Christ, which is the 
supreme revelation of the divine love. The Christian 
message, as understood by Paul, has no other purpose 
than to awaken in us this faith, whereby we accept, 
without reserve or misgiving, the free gift of God. In 
the Fourth Gospel, as in .the writings of Paul, faith is 
the indispensable condition on which the gift is im- 
parted, but in itself it marks only an initial stage. It 
consists not so much in a disposition of the will as in 
an act of belief, and needs to be supplemented by 
knowledge, obedience, inward fellowship with Christ, 

FAITH 171 

before it reaches its issue in eternal life. But the 
Pauline and Johannine conceptions are alike grounded 
in one which can be traced back to the earliest days of 
the church. The followers of Jesus were from the 
outset " the believers " (01 viffrevovres) marked off 
.from the body of their countrymen by their acceptance 
of Jesus as the Messiah. By so accepting him they 
constituted themselves his people, to whom he would 
grant salvation when he returned to bring in his 
kingdom. The later theories of faith are developed 
by a natural process from this primitive idea. With 
the deepening of the Christian consciousness the act of 
belief in Jesus, in virtue of which the convert was 
baptised into the new community, was fraught with an 
ever richer meaning. It involved not merely an assent 
to the claims of Jesus, but submission to his rule of life 
and personal trust in him as the revelation of the 
divine love and grace. 

Now in Hebrews we are still reminded of the primitive 
conception of faith. The writer describes himself and 
his readers by the usual term ot vriffreuovres, and in 
several passages employs the word iriffng in its ordinary 
sense of belief in a message. 1 More generally, however, 
when he thinks of the act o assent by which a man 
becomes incorporated in the church he speaks of the 
<Y*oXoy/a, the " confession," and in this he includes not 
only the recognition of Jesus as Lord, but the whole 
group of beliefs which make up the Christian doctrine. 

- 1 Cf . He 4 2 13 7 . 


We have here one of the clearest indications that the 
mood of the Apostolic Age is in process of transition to 
that of the later Catholic church. Faith in Christ, as 
it had formerly been understood, has almost come to 
be identified with the acquiescence in a given creed. 
Indeed it would hardly be too much to say that while 
Christ is still the one centre of Christianity, as in the 
earlier teaching, he is no longer the object of faith, as 
he had been to Paul. He is " the Apostle and High 
Priest of our confession," the "mediator of the new 
covenant," but it is taken for granted that faith must 
be " faith towards God," 1 and must begin with the 
conviction " that He is, and is the rewarder of them who 
seek Him." 2 The office of Christ is that ; of an inter- 
mediary, through whom we have access to the God in 
whom we believe. And just as under the old covenant 
the condition of approach to God was not some personal 
relation to the high priest, but incorporation with the 
people for whom he ministered, so in Christianity. The 
work of Christ is primarily effected for the holy com- 
munity, with which we become identified by sharing 
in the " confession." From the logical consequences 
of this mode of thought, as they shaped themselves in 
the ecclesiastical system of the following age, the writer 
is saved by his instinct for spiritual realities. It is 
self-evident to him that the faith which saves must be 
a living activity in the soul, and not a mere formal 
assent to the beliefs which the Church imposes on its 
1 He 6 1 . * II 6 . 

FAITH 173 

members. But to secure this vital character to faith 
he is compelled to invest it with an entirely new meaning. 
A change of this kind is the necessary consequence 
of the view of Christianity as the new covenant, which 
is continuous with the old, although it has perfected 
and transcended it. For Paul the gospel marks a fresh 
departure in God's dealings with men, inasmuch as it 
makes its appeal to faith, and to faith alone. Formerly 
God had revealed His will by the Law, and what He 
demanded was a righteousness consisting wholly in 
obedience to the Law. This old dispensation has now 
been swept away, and has given place to another, in 
which the grace of God is all in all. Faith is the new 
principle of the religious life, corresponding to this new 
revelation. But the writer of Hebrews is committed, 
by his fundamental position, to a different view. He 
believes that all through the history of the past the 
purpose of God has been moving towards its fulfilment, 
and that Christianity is the new covenant in the- sense 
that it has perfected the covenant already made with 
Israel. The faith which it requires must therefore have 
had its counterpart in the past. This, indeed, must be 
the chief significance of faith that it has always been 
the inspiring motive of God's people, and unites them 
together as one company. For his examples of faith 
the writer goes back to Old Testament history, not 
because these ancient names are most familiar to his 
readers or because they have acquired a peculiar sacred- 
ness, but for the very reason that they belong to the Old 


Testament. These were the heroes of the former 
covenant, the vanguard of the army in which we also 
are enrolled and which will presently achieve its victory. 
In the knowledge of their warfare we learn the conditions 
of our own. It was faith that upheld and directed them, 
and by faith we shall attain the goal towards which 
they struggled. 

This conception, then, involves a radical change from 
that which had hitherto prevailed in the Christian 
teaching. The saints of the past, however worthy of 
our admiration, had known nothing of the faith which 
accepts Jesus as Lord and responds to the grace of God 
as manifested in his Cross. If faith is to stand as the 
watchword, not only of the new " confession " but of 
the religion which had gone before, its meaning must 
be construed differently. How does the writer arrive 
at that conception of faith which he defines at the 
beginning of the eleventh chapter ? It appears nowhere 
else in the New Testament, and for the nearest parallel 
we must turn to Alexandrian Judaism. 

In a number of passages, scattered throughout his 
writings, Philo makes reference to faith, to which he 
assigns an all-important place in his theory of know- 
ledge. Starting from the simple Hebraic conception of 
faith as the belief in God and His promises, he proceeds 
to show that this belief, which might appear a very easy 
thing, is in reality difficult. Only the loftiest natures, 
after long discipline and preparation, can attain to 

FAITH 175 

" that most perfect of the virtues, faith." 1 Subject 
as we are to the material conditions of this world we 
naturally put our trust in the things we see wealth, 
pleasure, friendships, earthly grandeur and might. 
With our understanding we must needs acknowledge 
the fact of God, but we fail to apprehend it with any 
real strength and conviction in the presence of those 
other forces which impose themselves so immediately 
on our senses. A genuine faith, as evinced, for example, 
in the life of Abraham, implies a turning away from the 
world of sense to the invisible God. " To disbelieve in 
creation, which in itself is untrustworthy, and to believe 
in the only true and faithful God, is the work of a great 
and heavenly mind, which is no longer allured or in- 
fluenced by any of the circumstances usually affecting 
human life." 2 On its negative side, therefore, faith is 
the denial of all appearances the conviction that the 
visible things around us have no true and ultimate 
existence. On the positive side it is the assurance that 
the one reality behind all things is -God. " To believe 
in God is to know that everything changes, and that 
He alone is unchangeable." 3 

This idea, however, which is grounded in the religion 
of Philo, is expanded in characteristic fashion in accord- 
ance with his philosophy. Over against the created 
world, as perceived by the senses, he places the ideal, 
intelligible world which has its existence in the mind 
of God. In order to attain to the higher life we must 

1 Qnis heres. 18. 2 Ibid. 3 Leg. Alley, ii. 22. 


rise to the contemplation of those eternal ^forms which 
are dimly reflected in the visible material things and 
constitute their essence. Of ourselves we are incapable 
of this true knowledge, but " God has implanted in the 
mind a power of comprehending that world which is 
appreciable only to the intellect apart from sense " 1 
and this power is faith. By means of it we are brought 
into contact with those realities the very existence of 
which would otherwise be veiled from us, and it must 
therefore be regarded as " the queen of all virtues," 2 
since on it depends the very possibility of all higher 

Properly speaking, then, faith is the starting-point, 
the necessary condition of spiritual progress. It is an 
intuitive conviction of a world of truth which lies 
beyond the senses, and from this conviction we can 
advance, by way of a given discipline, to an ever-growing 
knowledge. But in Philo's mind faith assumes a yet 
higher significance as not only the beginning, but the 
end of all our endeavour. Knowledge itself becomes 
nothing more than a means to faith, since it is by faith 
that we apprehend God, who is above all knowledge. 
" He who has in all sincerity believed God has by so 
doing received a disbelief in all things which are created 
and perishable, beginning with all things in himself 
which exalt themselves very highly, such as reason and 
outward sense. For reason, thinking that to it pertains 
the decision on things intelligible and unchanging, is 

1 Quis rerum. 22. 2 De Abrah. 46. 

FAITH 177 

frequently in error. But the man to whom it has been 
granted to lean and found himself on God alone, with 
unalterable and sure confidence, is truly happy and 
blessed." * The same thought is elsewhere expressed 
even more plainly. " Therefore the only real and true 
and lasting good is faith in God the comfort of life, 
the fulfilment of all good hopes, the absence of all evils, 
who is able to do all things, but who wills to do only 
what is best. For as men who are going along a slippery 
road stumble and fall, but they who proceed by a plain 
path journey without stumbling, so they who hasten 
towards God are guiding their souls in a safe and un- 
troubled path. So that we may say with absolute 
truth that the man who trusts in the good things of the 
body disbelieves in God, and that he who distrusts them 
believes in Him." 2 To believe in God is the same as 
to cleave to God, and by so doing to possess the holiest 
and most blessed life. Philo 3 sometimes appears to 
speak as if faith, in its highest form, is only attainable 
in a condition of ecstasy ; but he also recognises a faith 
which is a constant disposition of the soul. 4 He thinks 
of chosen natures as at last escaping altogether from 
the bondage of the senses, and finding their true home 
in the eternal world even while they sojourn on earth. 

The affinity between the Philonic conception and 
that which meets us in the Epistle is unmistakable. 
For both thinkers the belief in God carries with it the 

1 Deprcem. et posn. 5. 2 De Abrah. 46. 

8 Qms rerum. 22. 4 De confus. Kngu. 9. 



certainty that He is the ground of all existence. For 
both, it is|therefore associated with the belief in higher 
realities, out of which the visible things have proceeded. 
To reach beyond the changing appearances and lay 
hold of the divine realities is faith. Alike in the 
writings of Philo and in our Epistle faith is the one 
principle of the true life. It enables us to rise superior 
to all earthly powers, which are at best illusory, and to 
find our home in the eternal world. 

It is not necessary to conclude that the writer of 
Hebrews was directly acquainted with the teaching 
of Philo. His apparent dependence on it is sufficiently 
explained from a general sympathy with the Alexandrian 
mode of thought, which had made its influence felt on 
all educated Jews of the Dispersion. The belief that 
all things visible were the shadows of divine originals, 
existing in the mind of the great Architect, allied itself 
naturally with that faith in God which had ever been 
the central motive in Hebrew religion. That the doc- 
trine of our Epistle, while akin to that of Philo, is not 
merely borrowed from him., becomes evident when we 
turn from the broad resemblances to several significant 

(1) In the first place, the idea of faith as it appears 
in Philo is closely connected with a theory of knowledge. 
It is assumed that the objects of sense are indicative of 
something beyond them of the essential forms which 
only the pure intelligence can discern. The function 
of faith is to make this true knowledge possible by 

FAITH 179 

vouching for the existence of that ideal world towards 
which the mind must direct itself. This philosophical 
interest has no place in Hebrews, or at any rate is 
altogether secondary. The writer does not conceive 
of faith as an instrument of knowledge, but as a moral 
energy, which has its outcome in action and endurance. 
By means of it the men of old subdued kingdoms and 
wrought righteousness, and it still gives strength to 
bear up and conquer. The existence of the higher 
world is to our writer certain, and he does not trouble 
to inquire how this certainty has come to him. His 
one interest is in the inward power which it conv 

(2) Again, the idea of futurity, of which we have little 
trace in Philo, is strongly emphasised in the Epistle. 
Faith is " the substance of things hoped for " as well 
as " the evidence of things not seen." The examples 
recounted in the eleventh chapter are chiefly concerned 
with this aspect of faith as a confident hope, overcoming 
all discouragement and apparent defeat. By it the 
heroes of old pressed forward to a goal that lay far 
beyond the horizon of their own lifetime. They accepted 
God's promise and rested on it, just as securely as if it 
were already fulfilled. They never doubted in the face 
of death itself that the cause for which they had laboured 
would survive them, and was even now advancing to 
victory. Sometimes, indeed, as it is described in the 
chapter, faith would seem to be nothing but another 
name for the hope that grasps the future amidst the 


darkness of the present ; but this idea of hope is com- 
bined throughout with that of the conviction which 
justifies the hope. For the man of faith the unseen 
things are the only certainties. He knows that his 
work will triumph because it is wrought in the power 
of those certainties, and since it is bound up with them 
will outlast the opposition of the world. 

(3) Once more, the Philonic conception is blended 
in Hebrews with eschatological ideas. Faith in God 
involves a trust in His promises, and these are all 
summed up in the promise of a new age, which will set 
in with the glorious coming of the Messiah. It is shown 
that in all ages faith has been directed towards this 
consummation. The saints of the old covenant had 
foreseen the great future when God's people would enter 
into their inheritance, and the thought of it had sus- 
tained them in their seemingly aimless struggle. Our 
Christian faith still reaches towards that fulfilment, 
which, however, is no longer distant, but has come 
almost within our grasp. It cannot be said that the 
conception of faith is vitally modified by the eschato- 
logical colouring which is thus imparted to it. The 
fundamental idea, for our author as for Philo, is that 
of a firm belief in unseen realities, and the Christian hope 
for the "Kingdom of God is so interpreted as to fall into 
harmony with this belief. Nevertheless, in the effort 
to adapt the Alexandrian doctrine to the expectation 
of early Christianity, the writer is obliged to place it in 
a new context. The invisible things to which faith 

FAITH 181 


is turried are no longer viewed in the abstract. They 
are brought into relation to those definite hopes which 
can be traced, from age to age, in the history of God's 

In these respects, then, the idea of faith in Hebrews 
is different from that of Philo. We have to do with 
a conception which has its roots in the Alexandrian 
teaching, but has been transplanted into Christian soil, 
and in the process has undergone a change. At the 
same time the writer is not wholly successful in his 
endeavour to connect faith, as he understands it, with 
the message of Christianity. Instead of making it 
the distinctive principle of Christian action, he regards 
it as the link of continuity between the old covenant 
and the new. Christians are exhorted to live by faith, 
not only because they look to Jesus as their Captain, 
but because they stand in the glorious succession 
which has come down through Abraham, Moses, and 
the prophets. The question thus arises as to whether 
the author recognises in Christian faith anything that 
is new and distinctive. He appears to take the very 
watchword of the gospel and explain it in terms of 
the Old Testament, with the result that Jesus himself 
becomes only the last and greatest in the long roll of 
saints and heroes. It must be admitted that we have 
here a difficulty which gravely perplexes us when 
we pass from the earlier writings to this Epistle. We 
cannot but ask ourselves whether Christianity has any 


new motive to offer, if the faith, to which it calls us ia 
no other than that which has inspired all true servants 
of God from the beginning. 

The writer is not unaware of this difficulty, and 
endeavours to meet it along different lines. On the 
one hand, he insists on the higher degree of certainty 
which accompanies Christian faith. The fathers could 
only salute the promises afar off, and comfort them- 
selves with the thought of a fulfilment in which they 
would not themselves share. For us this distant hope 
has become an absolute assurance, now that Christ 
has appeared as the High Priest of good things to 
come. The exhortation of the Epistle is based in large 
measure on this certainty that has now been added 
to faith. Ever and again it is impressed on the readers 
that they must display a more steadfast courage, and 
a deeper sense of their responsibilities than the men 
of the old covenant, who had nothing to support them 
but the bare promise of what would be. Their suc- 
cessors in " these last days " are in clear sight of the 
goal. They have only to endure for a little time 
longer, and they will attain. 

But another and more vital distinction is drawn 
between Christian faith and that which was possible 
under the old covenant. In former times, according 
to the argument of the Epistle, all worship was frag- 
mentary and symbolical ; and this, we are given to 
understand, was true also of faith. It was still un- 
conscious of the larger issues that were bound up 

FAITH 183 

with it. The objects on which it was set were great 
and noble, but they were concerned with earthly things 
the possession of the promised land, victory in some 
conflict of the hour, fulfilment of a task which to all 
but a few seemed visionary. In spite of these limita- 
tions, it was faith in the unseen realities. Those ancient 
servants of God, as they directed their gaze beyond 
the immediate horizon, had an aim before them which 
was far grander than they knew. They were seeking 
for a city which hath foundations ; they were working 
towards an end which would always be withheld from 
them on earth, and to which they could only attain 
in the Sabbath rest of God. And faith, as we know 
it now, has become aware of its ultimate goal. As 
Christians we have been brought face to face with 
those realities which our fathers dimly surmised 
the heavenly world, the final deliverance, the con- 
summation of all things in God's Kingdom. The faith 
to which Christ summons us is a faith that knows 
what it seeks for, and will not be satisfied until it has 
grasped " the very image of the things." 

In Hebrews, therefore, Christ has still a supreme 
significance for faith, although he has ceased to be its 
object, as in the religion of Paul. (1) He is set before 
us, first, as the Great Pattern, who sums up in him- 
self the whole meaning of that life of faith which is 
exemplified in the history of God's people. By faith 
he overcame every weakness, and endured to the end, 
in the face of all difficulty and opposition. He foresaw 


the heavenly glory prepared for him, and did not 
hesitate to accept the Cross, by which alone he could 
attain to it. 1 Looking to him we share in the faith 
that sustained him, and are able to fight our battle 
with the same assurance of triumph. (2) Again, he 
is not only the grand example, but the " Leader," 
without whom we could never enter on the life of faith. 
It is suggested that the faithful of past times, as well 
as those who have actually heard his message, were 
in some sense under his banner. They were striving 
unawares towards the fulfilment which could only be 
achieved through his coming, and are united by a 
living bond with the company of his redeemed people. 
Faith has, therefore, no meaning unless we relate it 
to Christ. (3) But he is more than the Example and 
the Leader ; he is the " perfecter of faith " ; 2 and in. 
the light of what has been said already this phrase 
appears to bear an emphatic meaning. From the 
beginning, faith has implied an effort to lay hold of 
the invisible things, but hitherto it has fallen short 
of its true aim. Men were unable to discern that 
higher goal which at heart they were seeking, and set 
their desire on one end and another in which it was 

1 He 12 2 : dvrl TTJS irpoKe<.fi.tvt]s xapas. The parallel with Ph 2 s 
suggests the possible translation, "instead of the joy in his 
possession"; i.e. instead of clinging to his privilege as Son of 
God he became man, and embraced a life of suffering. But this 
idea is irrelevant to the passage as a whole. The verse, too, has 
its obvious counterpart in II 26 "for. he had respect unto the 
recompense of the reward." 

2 He 12 2 . 

FAITH 185 

faintly suggested. Jesus has perfected faith by direct- 
ing it once for all to its final object. He endured the 
Cross with a clear vision of " the joy that was set 
before him," and the faith which inspires his people 
is conscious, like his own, of that which it seeks after. 
In its inner nature faith has always been the same, 
but now it has grown to its full strength, and has been 
freed from all that limited and obscured it. Between 
our faith and that of the fathers there is all the differ- 
ence between a clear apprehension and a groping 
forward through the dark. 

Christian faith is thus regarded at once as continuous 
with the faith of the past and as bringing it at last to its 
full issue. This twofold idea, which runs all through 
the chapter, finds striking expression in the words 
which close it : " They without us could not be made 
perfect." The writer appears to think, on the one 
hand, of the fruition which has at last crowned the un- 
rewarded efforts of past days. We, in the appointed 
time, have entered into the inheritance, but it belongs 
no less to those who believed in it and worked for it 
while it was still distant. They were sustained by the 
thought of our day, as we are by their example. They 
rejoiced to know that in our possession of " some better 
thing " their faith would be vindicated and their labour 
brought to its completion. But this wider truth which 
is undoubtedly present to the writer's mind is coloured 
by the realistic ideas which prevailed in the early church. 


He thinks of the faithful of past times as sharing in 
some actual sense in the blessings which have been 
reserved for the last favoured generation. The re- 
union of all God's people in the heavenly Jerusalem is 
described in glowing rhetorical language, which ought 
not, perhaps, to be pressed too literally ; but the main 
idea is in keeping with the apocalyptic outlook which 
the writer is careful to preserve amidst all his specula- 
tion. He anticipates a day when the heroes of the past 
will obtain the promises which in their lifetime they 
could only salute afar off. Their spirits have been 
waiting for the fulfilment which could not be until we 
had received the message of Christ, and through us 
they are " made perfect." Along with us, to whom 
the faith they lived by has become certainty, they are 
admitted to their citizenship in heaven. 

The doctrine of faith has therefore an integral place 
in the Epistle, and gathers to a head several of its most 
characteristic lines of thought. (1) It gives clear and 
vivid expression to the idea that the new covenant is 
inseparable from the old. This is now demonstrated 
by no mere abstract arguments, but by a survey of the 
actual history. We are made to realise that in our 
Christian calling we are united with the great company 
of God's people, who in all ages have lived and died 
by faith. (2) While the continuity is thus emphasised, 
the newness of the covenant is thrown into stronger 
relief. It is shown that our Christian faith, while it 

FAITH 187 

binda us to the past, is the pledge and evidence of a 
closer relation to God. The promises in which the 
fathers trusted have come to fulfilment. Faith, as we 
know it now, has been perfected, and can reach out 
directly to the goal which it has hitherto been seeking 
unawares. (3) The conception of a heavenly world, 
to which there is constant reference in the earlier part 
of the Epistle, is invested with a new significance. It 
was in the light of this conception that the writer inter- 
preted the worth and meaning of the ministry of Christ 
showing that it has fully accomplished, in the heavenly 
sphere, all that was typified and foreshadowed by the 
old worship. But this thought of a higher world which 
is reflected in the visible things is now set forth in its 
larger bearings. It is impressed on us that faith, by its 
very nature, is directed towards an unseen world, in 
which the shadows give place to the realities. Through 
Christ we have access to that unseen world, and the long 
quest of faith has thereby achieved its purpose. 

Here, however, we perceive the vital connection of the 
llth chapter not merely with particular aspects of the 
writer's thought, but with the grand thesis of his Epistle. 
He aims at proving that Christianity is the absolute 
religion, and his method has thus far been to contrast 
it point by point with the old covenant and assert its 
superiority. But he is not entirely satisfied with this 
mode of proof. It would be too much to say that he 
feels the inadequacy of a mere argument from Scripture, 
for he never doubts that the scriptural ordinances were 


directly given by God, and that it is possible, by insight 
into their deeper issues, to discern the nature of the 
ultimate worship. None the less he is conscious that 
the discussion, as it stands, has taken too narrow a 
ground. If Christianity is the absolute religion there 
must be evidence of this in the very constitution of 
man's nature. Such witness he discovers in the faith 
which has been the guiding motive in the whole history 
of God's people. In all times they have possessed the 
sense of a higher, invisible world, and have striven, 
however darkly and uncertainly, to attain to it. "Re- 
ligion, in whatever form we find it, runs back to the 
conviction that beyond the transient and material 
things there is a world of higher reality ; it springs, in 
other words, out of an impulse of faith. And the object 
of the great discussion in the closing part of Hebrews 
is to maintain that in Christianity faith has at last been 
satisfied. There can be no further stage in religion, 
for through Christ the aspiration which lies at the 
heart of all religion has reached its goal. The finality 
of the new covenant is attested, not only by the word of 
scripture and the institutions of the ancient worship, 
but by the perfect response which has now been offered 
to faith. 

By his doctrine of faith, then, the writer completes 
and broadens his theological argument ; but at the 
same time he links it more closely with the practical 
exhortation which is his chief purpose throughout. In 

FAITH 189 

order to urge his readers to fidelity, endurance, courage 
in the face of difficulties, he has sought to bring home to 
them the supreme excellence of their religion. Through 
the great High Priest they have drawn nearer to God 
and the unseen world. They have become " the people 
of faith " 1 in a far higher sense than the saints of the 
old covenant, and their constant attitude will hence- 
forth be one of faith. Looking always to the eternal 
things, which have now become so real to them, they 
will be patient and steadfast, and overcome the allure- 
ments of the passing world. 

This train of thought is complicated by the double 
connection of the writer's idea of faith with the apoca- 
lyptic hope and with Alexandrian theory. In loyalty 
to the accepted teaching of the church he anticipates 
a new order which will set in with the return of Christ ; 
and faith, from this point of view, is little more than 
a vivid foresense of the better future, supporting us 
amidst present evils. But in the light of Alexandrian 
doctrine the primitive conception of a new age now 
about to dawn is blended with another. The world 
of visible things is contrasted with one which is far 
more real, although it is hidden from the outward senses, 
and faith is the power by which we apprehend this 
heavenly world. It is not only a hope that lifts us 
into the future, but is the assurance of present though 
invisible realities. These two ideas are partly recon- 
ciled by the assumption that the new order which will 

1 He 10 39 . 


be manifested at tlie Parousia is no other than that 
which exists already in the higher sphere. A day is 
at hand when God will shake heaven and earth, over- 
throwing all that is perishable, so that the eternal world, 
which has ever been the true one, may be revealed. 1 
But it has to be recognised that the two conceptions 
cannot so easily be brought into harmony. The apoca- 
lyptic hope has nothing in common with the philosophical 
doctrine, and while preserving it, in deference to the 
tradition, the writer has broken away from it. Faith, 
as he conceives it, has essentially the same meaning as 
it had to Philo. It consists in that higher faculty of 
vision whereby we escape from the illusions of sense, 
and identify ourselves with the world of true existence. 
The whole emphasis is laid, however, on the religious 
and practical side of this conception. With Philo faith 
is the principle of true knowledge ; with the Christian 
teacher it is an active power, which enables us to live 
victoriously in the strength of the unseen. 

In our Epistle, therefore, the idea of faith is trans- 
ferred from the realm of philosophy to that of religion ; 
but it still preserves the marks of its origin. Although 
the llth chapter of Hebrews is undoubtedly one of the 
grandest and most moving passages in all Christian litera- 
ture, its fundamental thought is alien to Christianity, 
or at any rate has become part of it only by a process of 
grafting. Faith, as we know it from the teaching of 
Jesus, is an absolute confidence in the justice and mercy 

1 He 12 26 - 2a . 

FAITH 191 

and redeeming will of God. Believing in Him as our 
Father we are prepared to serve Him gladly and to 
surrender our lives, without reserve or misgiving, to 
His direction. But for the writer of Hebrews, faith is 
not so much a moral as an intellectual assurance. It 
consists in the clear inward vision of a world of perfec- 
tion on which we may set all aims and desires, and which 
causes all visible things to appear transient and unreal. 
This faith has indeed its issue in the life that bears 
patiently and grows strong out of weakness and van- 
quishes fear and temptation and the edge of the sword. 
Yet in its essence it is not so much Christian faith as 
a lofty idealism, and can find its inspiration, as the great 
chapter everywhere reminds us, in lives that were un- 
touched by the definite Christian influences. That 
something is lacking in such a doctrine may be frankly 
recognised ; but it must also be accounted as one of 
the writer's chief services to our religion that he has 
secured a place within Christianity for a conception 
so elevating, though originally foreign to it. The belief 
in a higher world in which earthly shadows and surmises 
give place to their fulfilment may not be the faith by 
which Jesus composed himself to sleep during the 
storm by which he endured the contradiction of 
sinners and looked forward beyond the Cross to his 
victory ; but it has its springs in the deep instincts of 
our nature. It has found utterance in all great art 
and poetry, and has reflected itself, under countless 
forms, in the higher speculations of every age. -We 


owe it to the writer of Hebrews that this belief, which 
has so profoundly influenced the intellectual life of 
humanity, has also become an element in our religion. 
It cannot be transformed into a living power unless 
behind it there is that simple trust in the heavenly 
Father which Jesus has awakened in us by his teaching, 
and by his life and death. But the message of Jesus 
himself has a new and larger meaning when we read it 
in the light of the immortal chapter which tells of faith 
as " the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of 
things not seen." 




AN attempt has been made in the preceding chapters 
to review and interpret the theological ideas of the 
Epistle. It now remains to consider its historical 
value, and its permanent contribution to Christian 

Criticism has treated it, for the most part, as an 
historical document of secondary rank. It stands so 
much by itself in the New Testament that it seems to be 
a mere appendix to the central writings the work of an 
erratic thinker who can at most have represented an 
obscure school. In some degree this judgment is well 
founded. The Epistle is an isolated product, occupied 
with a " gnosis," an esoteric interpretation which the 
author himself admits to be strange and novel. He is 
the teacher not so much of the whole church as of a 
select circle, to which he imparts his higher speculations 
on the common faith. There is no evidence that his 
peculiar view of the work of Christ was ever widely 
accepted. It was too individual, too much the out- 
come of reflection, to make its way into the popular 


belief. But the very fact that the Epistle thus stands 
apart rather enhances than diminishes its value for 
Christian history. We have here a writing, confessedly 
of early date, which cannot be related to any other 
New Testament book. From this it can be inferred 
that there were more factors at work in the life of the 
early church than we commonly take into account. 
Besides Paul and John and the teachers whom we 
know, there were others, whose doctrines have now 
been lost, but who all contributed to the shaping of the 
general movement. The Epistle to the Hebrews serves 
to remind us of those unconsidered elements in first- 
century Christianity. By a fortunate accident it has 
been preserved to us, but it was only one of many 
presentations of the gospel which were put forward by 
early teachers, and left their mark on the later theology. 
The Epistle, if we have rightly estimated its character, 
helps us to understand at least one of the main causes 
of this variety in primitive doctrine. Addressed as it is 
to a group of advanced converts, it is a typical example 
of the Gnosis which had an acknowledged place in the 
life of the church. The Christian revelation was 
supposed to contain a mystery, a deeper secret which 
needed to be explored ; and a field was thus thrown 
open to what we should now call free speculation. 
Teachers who were endowed with special gifts of insight 
were at liberty to frame new doctrines on the basis of 
the common confession, and these doctrines, imparted 
in the first instance to chosen circles of disciples, came 


in course of time to affect the beliefs of the church at 
large. This exercise of Gnosis, as the following genera- 
tion was to discover, was fraught with serious danger, 
but undoubtedly it brought a wealth of new ideas and 
principles into Christian theology. The tradition which 
might have become prematurely fixed was broadened 
and quickened, and gathered into itself all that was 
most fruitful in the larger intellectual culture of the 
time. In the Epistle of Hebrews we have an authentic 
example of Gnosis, as it was practised at many centres 
during the later years of the first century. It enables 
us, in some measure, to determine the nature of this 
influence, and to understand the part which it played . 
in the development of Christian thought. 

But the view that Hebrews is a writing by itself that 
it belongs to the side-currents and not to the central 
movement is only half justified. In some respects it 
is one of the most representative of New Testament 
books. This is true, as we shall presently see, of its 
theological teaching ; but it may be well to consider 
it first as a mere historical document, illustrative of 
the conditions which were everywhere moulding the 
character of the church. 

Its value for this purpose cannot be questioned when 
we remember that it is the chief original work that has 
come down to us from the half-century between Paul 
and the Fourth Evangelist. This is the darkest period 
in all Christian history, illuminated by no great name, 


and by scarcely any recorded incident. Yet in many 
ways it was the most critical of all periods. In that 
latter part of the first century the scattered communities 
were beginning to draw together into a world-wide 
organisation. The new religion became conscious of 
its future, and of the nature of the task imposed on it. 
Its connection with Judaism was finally broken, and it 
allied itself definitely with the wider interests of the 
Koman world. Of this decisive period, in which the 
transition was made from the earlier to the later type 
of Christianity, the Epistle to the Hebrews is the out- 
standing monument. What can we learn from it as to 
the influences that were gradually effecting the great 
change ? 

In the first place, we have a number of highly signifi- 
cant references to persecution. It is evident that 
although they enjoyed comparative peace between the 
reigns of Nero and Domitian, the Christians were all 
the time exposed to peril. If they were not called on to 
" resist unto blood " they had continually to face unjust 
accusations, losses and robberies, outbreaks of popular 
hostility. 1 These sufferings, as the writer acknow- 
edges, were a source of strength to the church in so 
far as they elicited a sense of brotherhood and a readi- 
ness for mutual help and sympathy. But their main 
effect, as he makes abundantly clear, was one of dis- 
couragement. All the more as they did not involve 
hardship on a heroic scale they tended to weaken and 

1 He 10 32 - 34 . 


depress the struggling cirarch. Its members could 
not but feel that they were enlisted in a losing cause, 
and became half-ashamed of a religion that brought 
on them the aversion and contempt of their neighbours. 
Rightly to understand the Epistle, with its emphasis 
on the splendour of the New Covenant and its call to 
Christians to glory in their high vocation, we have to 
bear in mind this " reproach of Christ." 

Even more significant are the allusions to a waning 
of enthusiasm. The church was now in its second or 
third generation, and the wave of exultant faith on 
which the work of the Apostles had been borne forward 
had at last spent itself. It was inevitable that the first 
great period should be followed by an interval of lassi- 
tude, and this mood was no doubt aggravated by the 
apparent failure of the primitive hopes. Year after 
year had passed without any sign of the longed-for 
Parousia, and it was growing ever more certain that the 
Kingdom of God, in the form which early faith had 
anticipated, would not come. The Epistle to Hebrews 
is our chief witness to the feeling of spiritual exhaustion 
which overtook the church as the century drew towards 
its close. There may not have been actual apostasy on 
any considerable scale, but Christian piety had lost its 
glow, and was becoming arid and mechanical. Much 
in the later development begins to explain itself when 
we realise that between the Apostolic Age and the second 
century there lay this difficult period. We can under- 
stand how religious ideas were impoverished, how re- 


flection took the place of the free impulse of the Spirit, 
how an increasing value was attached to forms and 
institutions. A time was to come when the Church 
was again inspired with energy for its great task, but 
its later character had been shaped, in large measure, 
during that interval of reaction. 

Another important fact is vividly brought before us 
in the Epistle. Christianity had now a past on which 
it could look back proudly. It had heroes and martyrs 
of its own, who could be ranked beside those of the old 
covenant. It cherished the memory of revered teachers, 
whose doctrines were already invested with a halo of 
authority. We are no longer in the first age, when the 
church had its face turned wholly to the future, and was 
striking out new paths, unhindered by custom s and 
tradition. Anything that was novel had now to be 
reconciled with that which had been handed down. We 
can gather from Hebrews that this consciousness of the 
past has supplied an additional motive to faith and 
endeavour. Christians have an obligation laid on them 
to maintain their heritage unimpaired and to prove 
themselves worthy of it. They can hold fast their 
confession, knowing that behind it there is the witness 
of two generations of believers, in whose lives it has 
been tested. Jesus Christ is the same to-day as he was 
yesterday. Nevertheless, the freedom of Christian 
thought has already begun to be hampered by the past. 
The living beliefs of an earlier age are hardening into a 
creed, which the church accepts for no other reason 


than that it has been inherited. With those "first 
principles of the doctrine of Christ" the writer does 
not concern himself. They have to be taken for granted, 
without further question, as the settled foundation for 
some higher kind of knowledge. 

Once more, the Epistle is itself a striking evidence of 
a new element which had now entered the life of the 
church, and which was destined to make its influence ' 
felt, ever more powerfully. Paul had admitted, in the 
generation before, that " not many wise are called." 
His converts, while including not a few men and women 
of exceptional gifts, were mostly gathered from classes 
which had little share in the higher culture of the age. 
We cannot tell who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, 
but in any case he was a man of philosophical training, 
the master of a noble rhetoric, an adept in the methods 
of the schools. He takes for granted that the audience 
he addresses will be able to appreciate his mode of 
reasoning, and will recognise the background of his 
thought. From all this it is clear that the church 
had begun to attract a new type of converts men of 
education, who were seeking in Christianity an answer 
to their intellectual doubts and problems ; and such 
men were henceforth to take the leading part in the 
making of theology. The intuition and religious feeling 
of the earlier period were replaced more and more by 
careful investigation. A conscious attempt was made 
not only to unfold the Christian ideas to their logical 
issues, but to combine them with the results of philo- 


sophical thinking. This new era in the development 
of our religion begins with the Epistle to the Hebrews. 
Its author may be regarded, in some respects, as the 
first of the theological doctors, the precursor of Justin 
and Irenseus and the great Alexandrians. 

In all these aspects the Epistle illustrates for us the 
historical conditions of that obscure but momentous 
period out of which it comes. And with all its eccen- 
tricity of doctrine, it enables us, better perhaps than 
any other writing, to discern the forces at work in the 
purely theological movement. The author is not an 
individual thinker in the sense that he breaks away 
from the ideas of his age and tries to restate the Christian 
message in entirely new terms. On the contrary, he 
takes his stand firmly on the " confession " as it was 
held by the church at large, and presupposes it in all 
his thinking. His Gnosis, original as it is, attaches 
itself to the current theology and grows out of it. 

This is apparent when we note the many points of 
analogy between the teaching of Hebrews and that of 
the Apologists in the century following. In both cases 
we have the same defensive attitude, the same philoso- 
phical assumptions, the same allegorical use of Scripture. 
Not a few ideas which may almost be regarded as the 
signature of later ecclesiastical doctrine are already 
anticipated in Hebrews. It assumes, for instance, 
that there are two grades of Christians the ordinary 


believers and those who proceed to higher " knowledge." 


It opens the controversy as to whether repentance is 
possible in the case of grave sins committed after 
baptism. 1 Such affinities with second-century thought 
can only be explained on the one hypothesis, that the 
writer is in full accord with the tendencies which were 
coming to be dominant in the church. He foreshadows 
within the New Testament itself the later Catholic 
Christianity. For this reason we are probably to 
regard him as nearer than Paul to the main path of the 
Christian movement. We are accustomed to think of 
Paul as the one commanding Apostle, to whose standards 
the whole church gradually conformed ; but it may 
fairly be doubted whether his gospel was ever, in any 
real sense, representative. It was the outcome of a 
unique mind and a unique experience. It maintained 
itself with difficulty even in Paul's lifetime and in the 
churches which he himself had founded, while the 
theology of the succeeding age moved steadily away 
from it. Our knowledge of the primitive conditions 
is fragmentary at the best ; but if we knew more we 
should perhaps discover that the author of Hebrews 
was a more typical figure than Paul. So far from 
reflecting an erratic phase of doctrine he stood for 
the normal Christianity, with which Paul had been 

In one respect, however, this view is subject to modi- 
fication. The writer of Hebrews shows hardly a trace 

1 He 6 4 - 6 . 


of the mystical and sacramental ideas which are char- 
acteristic of the later piety. It is true that in several 
places he alludes to Baptism, describing it by the 
technical term " enlightenment " (p^r/o^os), which 
had been taken over from pagan religion. But it 
nowhere appears that the sacraments have any vital 
import for him ; indeed the ordinance of the Lord's 
Supper is never even mentioned. We have here one 
of the problems of the Epistle, though it admits of 
several possible solutions. In the first place, the writer 
is sensible that his readers are lapsing into a mechanical 
religion, and may purposely have kept silence on those 
observances which tended to supplant a living faith. 
The Fourth Evangelist, with all his insistence on the 
mystical worth of the sacraments, is aware of this 
danger, and is careful to distinguish between the spiritual 
content and the mere outward rite. The author of 
Hebrews may be silently protesting, in like manner, 
against the growing sacramentalism of his time. Again, 
whatever may have been his attitude to the sacraments, 
he could not but feel that any stress upon them would 
have conflicted with his main argument. He is con- 
trasting the old covenant with the new as the religion 
of symbols which had now been superseded by that of 
realities. The force of the contrast would certainly 
have been weakened if he had made much of the sym- 
bolical ordinances which still found their place in 
Christianity. Once more, and here perhaps we have 
the true answer to the riddle his mind was naturally 


averse to mysticism. He conceives of God in the 
Hebraic manner as the transcendent One, the Majesty 
in the heavens, who cannot be approached without awe 
and dread. It is this sense of the separateness of God 
which gives meaning to his doctrine of the great High 
Priest through whose mediation alone we can draw 
near. A mind of this type was out of sympathy with 
that longing to abide in God and partake of His nature 
which was characteristic of the time and found expression 
in its sacramental piety. The true mood of religion, as 
our writer knows it, is one not of mystical communion, 
but of reverence and godly fear. 

Enough has been said to indicate the historical im- 
portance of the Epistle. It throws light on the circum- 
stances of the church in a critical period, which would 
otherwise be almost completely dark. To a still greater 
extent it illustrates the movement of Christian thought, 
and helps us to understand how the later Catholic 
theology was evolved from the primitive teaching. 
But the value of the Epistle is not merely historical. 
It won its way into the New Testament by its sheer 
intrinsic worth, and has continued ever since to appeal 
to the permanent instincts of Christian devotion. To 
our own age, more perhaps than to any before, it 
conveys a direct message. Indeed it is one of the 
strangest facts about this strange Epistle that although 
outwardly the most archaic, it is in many ways the 
most modern of New Testament books. Under forms 


now obsolete it embodies ideas and aspirations widen 
we are wont to regard as peculiarly characteristic of our 
own time. 

This may be partly accounted for by the circum- 
stances of its origin. It was written to Christians of 
the second generation, born in the faith, and content 
to adhere to it as a matter of custom. The author 
was a man of culture and reflection, addressing him- 
self to educated men. In the case of other New Testa- 
ment books we are transported into a world that is 
foreign to us and is apt to appear unreal a world of 
burning enthusiasms and mysterious hopes, of questions 
that could only present themselves when the gospel 
had broken in as a new revelation. But in this Epistle 
we can feel ourselves at home. We are in much the 
same position as its first readers Christians of a later 
age, disillusioned by increase of knowledge, convention- 
ally faithful to a religion whose inner meaning is too 
often hidden from us. 

The Epistle commends itself to us the more readily 
because the mystical element is so entirely absent from 
it. Our age, it must be confessed, has little sympathy 
with the mystical side of religious feeling. Pauline 
and Johannine ideas have entered deeply into our 
traditional beliefs, and have moulded the language of 
devotion, but it may be doubted whether our response 
to them is wholly genuine. Not a few earnest men are 
alienated from Christianity because it is so intimately 
bound up with emotions which to their minds appear 


forced and unmeaning. Now it would be foolish to think 
of mysticism as a passing phase of religion which we 
have outgrown. In one sense it is the typical and funda- 
mental mood of religion, and signs are not wanting that 
the next age may witness its revival. But the present 
impatience with mysticism does not necessarily mean 
that we are growing less Christian. Our century has 
brought its own revelation of the wonders and possi- 
bilities of the world we live in, of the tasks that lie 
before us as members of the human brotherhood. It 
is in the light of this revelation, and not of the mystical 
vision, that we seek to interpret the Christian message. 
And in the Epistle to the Hebrews this effort of our 
time has been, in a manner, anticipated. The gospel 
is here presented to us as a call not so much to inner 
communion with God as to a fuller realisation of His 
being and power. "We are made to feel that this faith 
in God is the one secret of patience, endurance, valour, 
direction of the life that now is to higher issues. In 
this message of Hebrews there is indeed an element 
lacking, and we are not taken back to the ultimate 
springs of religion, as in the deeper utterances of Paul 
and John. But it is a noble and inspiring message, 
which, in these modern days of uncertainty, we can 
understand and believe. 

For his lack of the subtler mystical feeling the writer 
of Hebrews makes up by his splendid idealism. He 
is assured, with his whole heart, that the spiritual 
realities are the ground of all else, that the things which 


are seen were made out of things invisible. 1 Our task, 
therefore, in this world of change, is to reach beyond 
the types and shadows to that which is everlasting. 
By faith we attain to the true life. Is it not this same 
truth which has taken possession, in many different 
ways, of the mind of our own time ? Moralists are 
never tired of complaining of the materialism of the 
age, but it may fairly be asserted that no age in history 
has less deserved the reproach. There has indeed been 
a wonderful material progress, but for this very reason 
men have been compelled to think more seriously about 
the goal. They are learning to realise, in a manner 
never possible before, that wealth and physical well- 
being and control of the natural forces cannot be ends 
in themselves, but have value only as they minister 
to those higher issues in which our true life consists. 
The generation that has fought the great war for the 
one purpose of saving its spiritual heritage cannot be 
accused of a blind materialism. For the sake of im- 
palpable things justice and freedom and humanity 
it has spent all its gains, and has never wavered in 
the conviction that the end was worth the sacrifice. 
Doubtless there has been a decay of faith in the ecclesi- 
astical sense, as the acceptance of given dogmas and 
traditions. But the faith that discerns a moral order 
in the world, and believes in things hoped for and un- 
seen, is alive as it never was ; and the religion of the 
future will be that which can embody and direct it. 

1 He II 3 . 


It is this conception of faith which pervades the Bpifitle 
to the Hebrews and governs its whole interpretation 
of the gospel. Jesus appears in this Epistle as himself 
the supreme hero of faith, who for the joy that was set 
before him enchired the Cross. There are thousands 
to whom mystical and doctrinal religion means little, 
and who are yet thrilled by the appeal of the llth 
chapter of Hebrews. They would gladly enrol them- 
selves in that army of faith which has waged the never- 
ending battle for the coming of God's Kingdom, and 
which looks to Christ as its great Captain. 

But apart from its larger thesis the Epistle fore- 
shadows the thought of our own time, in some of its 
most characteristic aspects. This might be shown in 
detail by reference to many particular passages, but it 
will be enough to indicate several of the more striking 

We may note, first, the protest of the Epistle against 
mere outward and official authority. On the surface, 
the argument that turns on the priesthood of Melchizedek 
is a typical example. of the fantastic meanings 7 which 
may be read into scripture by arbitrary exegesis. 
Nothing in the New Testament seems to be more remote 
from any living interest than those middle chapters of 
Hebrews. Yet it would not be too much to say that the 
idea which the writer is there trying to express is that 
which underlies all our modern thought social and 
political as well as religious. He insists that there can 


be no true authority which rests on a carnal command- 
ment, on a law of hereditary succession or prescriptive 
right. Authority must reside in the man who wields it ; 
the priesthood which can bring us nearer to God must 
be one of inherent character and personality. This is 
the principle that is struggling to come to its own in 
our democracies. It is asserting itself also in our 
churches, and gradually overthrowing the time-honoured 
theories of apostolic succession and the infallibility of 
popes and councils. We demand of the church that it 
should stand for a higher spiritual life ; otherwise it 
has no right to our obedience. We bow to the authority 
of scripture only as it proves its inspiration by its 
intrinsic divine power. And in the Epistle itself we 
have a clear suggestion of a yet loftier application of the 
principle. The priesthood of Christ, we are ever and 
again reminded, is inseparable from what he was in his 
own Person. His claim upon us, the only claim that 
we can truly recognise, does not depend on any tradi- 
tional creed, but on the impression he makes on us, as 
reflecting in his own life the character and will of God. 

Again, the Epistle anticipates our own time in its 
attitude to the earlier stage of revelation. It was 
formerly assumed without question that since Chris- 
tianity is the true religion all others must necessarily 
be false ; and this view seemed to find support in the 
New Testament. Paul, for example, can account for 
the Law only on the hypothesis that God desired to 
increase sin in order that grace might much more abound. 


But the writer of Hebrews, although he holds Chris- 
tianity to be the true and final revelation, does not 
adopt this attitude. He believes that the gospel now 
proclaimed in all its fulness is only the " perfecting " 
of a divine message which has been coming to men from 
the beginning. Judaism, the highest of previous re- 
ligions, was defective at every point, but it contained 
the promise and suggestion of something beyond itself. 
By type and allegory God had been leading men onward 
to a higher knowledge. He had revealed Himself to the 
fathers in many fragments before He spoke to us, in 
these last days, by His Son. Thus in the Epistle we 
find an anticipation of our modern effort to do justice 
to alien forms of faith. The writer knows nothing of 
the doctrine of development, which has offered us the 
solution of so many problems, but he has attained to 
something of the same result by his theory of symbolism. 
He is able to vindicate the surpassing worth of Chris- 
tianity while acknowledging that elsewhere, in all 
earnest seeking after God, we can discover at least a 
reflection of the truth. 

We pass, then, to another and more vital analogy. 
The question which the Epistle sets itself to answer 
is that which all thoughtful men are asking, in their 
different ways, to-day. How can we feel assured that 
Christianity is not merely one religion out of many, but 
the absolute religion ? It is clear that without such an 
assurance we cannot hold fast our confession. Our 
will to believe will always be paralysed by the fear that 
14 , 


this revelation, like those before it, may be only for a 
time, and the truth may already have passed out of it. 
In not a little of our present-day thinking it is tacitly 
assumed that Christianity is nothing but a stage in the 
eternal quest for God a stage which we are now pre- 
paring to leave behind us. Now the writer to the 
Hebrews is seeking to overcome an indifference which 
was due, in the last resort, to a similar frame of mind. 
He undertakes to prove that while other religions offered 
symbols of the truth, shadows of good things to come, it 
is now possible to grasp the realities. His proof is 
entangled, for it could not be otherwise, with modes of 
argument which have now grown obscure and uncon- 
vincing, but the underlying principles are sufficiently 
clear. They are still the principles that must guide 
us in every attempt to maintain the absolute worth of 
our religion. 

For one thing, he insists on the significance of the 
historical Person of Christ. We have access to God 
through the great High Priest who was one with his 
brethren and who yet manifested in himself the divine 
nature. It does not much matter under what particular 
categories he thought of Christ, or whether we can now 
adjust our belief to those antique conceptions of the 
Messiah, the Logos, the Son. At the heart of the 
Christology of Hebrews lie the two great convictions 
that Christ was a man, who knew our human experi- 
ences and was tempted as we are, and that God came 
near to us through him. Such an High Priest became 


us one who shared in the life of men and could yet 

bring them into the presence of God. The endeavour 
has often been made, and in our day it has taken many 
directions, to ensure an absolute value to Christianity 
by lifting it out of history and resolving it into a colour- 
less system of idealism or ethics ; but when this is done 
it is emptied of precisely those elements which are the 
secret of its enduring power. Abstract systems are 
impotent at the best, and are soon outworn. The 
Christian message is inexhaustible because it is one 
with an actual Personality the same yesterday and 
to-day and for ever. 

Further, the Epistle asserts the absolute worth of the 
new revelation because of its inwardness, its identifica- 
tion of the true service of God with a condition of will 
and heart. The old covenant had no power to impart 
anything but a ceremonial purity. The new covenant 
seeks to purify the conscience from dead works; and 
it is by this renewal of the life, in its whole spirit and 
motive, that we draw near to the living God. Those 
doubts of the permanence of Christianity which arise 
from time to time are almost all based on a false con- 
ception of it as a system of ordinances and doctrines, 
not essentially different from earlier modes of worship 
"which stood only in meats and drinks and divers 
washings." 1 We rightly feel that such things are 
formal and accessory, and that a religion bound to them 
can have no lasting validity. But Christianity, as we 

1 He 9 10 . 


know it from our Epistle, and from the teaching of 
Jesus himself, consists in an inward consecration, a 
submission of our will to the divine will. It is impossible 
that this conception of worship should ever be tran- 
scended. Religious progress in the future can only take 
the form of a growing realisation of the truth imparted 
to us, once for all, in the gospel. 

Once more, the writer to the Hebrews thinks of 
Christianity as containing in itself the impulse to this 
progress. It seeks by its very nature to grasp the 
realities which lie beyond all symbolic forms. Christ 
is the " perfecter of faith," who inspires in his people 
a desire that cannot be satisfied till it has attained to 
the very image of the things. A conception like this, 
when we understand it in terms of modern thought, 
involves the demand for a growing apprehension of 
what is central and permanent in the gospel. Too often 
in the past the church has insisted on the fixity of its 
dogmas and institutions. It has assumed that the 
revelation entrusted to it could have no claim to finality 
if any door were left open to the idea of change and 
progress. But we are beginning now to realise that 
just the opposite is true. Christianity, as our Epistle 
would teach us, is rooted in the desire to draw near to 
God ; and the advance towards an ever clearer and more 
certain vision is inseparable from its very essence. 

The Epistle to the Hebrews stands by itself in the 
New Testament, and in many respects must always 


remain a riddle. Even in its own day it was a difficult 
book. The author addressed himself not to the church 
at large, but to a limited circle of disciples, and was 
well aware that he had much to say to them that they 
would find hard to understand. For us the difficulties 
have increased a hundredfold. Ever and again- we 
come on some great utterance which can never lose its 
freshness, but the argument as a whole appears to move 
in a strange and distant world of thought. We study 
it with a mere historical interest, as illustrating a phase 
of Christian reflection which we have outgrown. As an 
historical document the Epistle is indeed of priceless 
value. Without it we should be unable to bridge the 
momentous interval that stretches between the primi- 
tive age and the emergence of the church as a world- 
wide power. But it is also one of the classic books of 
our religion. The more we penetrate its meaning, the 
more we discover that this unknown writer is dealing 
with the vital issues of the Christian message. Under 
the forms and the language of a bygone age he is facing 
the same problems that perplex us to-day. And in our 
struggle with those problems, some of which may seem 
to spring directly out of the changed conditions of our 
modern world, we can still go back to that teacher of the 
early church, and find guidance and strength. 


AABON, 130, 147. 

Absolute religion, 26, 28, 101, 

136, 187, 210. 
Access to God, 130, 147. 
Alexandria, 7, 50 ff., 115, 138. 
Allegory, 54. 
Angels, 69. 

Apocalyptic, 34, 60, 103, 180. 
Apollos, 7, 58. 
Apologists, 16, 27, 29, 200. 
Apostasy, 16, 23. 
Aquila and Priscilla, 5. 
Asceticism, 13. 
Atonement, day of, 25, 134. 
Authority, 77. 
Authorship, 5. 

Baptism, 36, 62, 202. 
Barnabas, 6. 
Believers, 171. 

Canonicity, 2, 194. 
Catholic church, 20, 172. 
Christology, 62, 142 S. 
Clement, 4, 5, 11. 
Confession, 41, 76, 171. 
Cosmical theory, 66. 
Covenant, 86 f. 

Date of Hebrews, 3. 
Death of Christ, 47, 75, 132, 184. 
Destination of Hebrews, 14 f. 
Development, doctrine of, 209. 

Earthly life of Christ, 61, 148 f. 
Ecstasy, 55, 177. 
Eternal Spirit, 152. 
Exhortation, word of, 22, 42. 

Faith, 52, 71, 169 ff. 
Fellowship with God, 81. 
Forty years, 104. 
Fourth Gospel, 105, 111, 120, 

142, 149, 162, 170, 202. 
Futurity, 179. 

Gentile Christianity, 65. 
Gentile controversy, 15, 18. 
Gethsemane, 149 f. 
Gnosis, 35 f., 46, 195. 
Gnosticism, 34. 

Heavenly and earthly, 115. 
Hellenistic influences, 36, 65, 

120, 146. 
Heresy, 31. 

Higher instruction, 14, 30, 33. 
HighPriest, 97 f .,108, 111, 147,164. 
High Priesthood of Christ, 122 ff., 


Hope, 108. 
Hortatory aim of Hebrews, 22, 

25, 104, 188. 

Idealism, 58, 84, 205. 
Ignatius, 13. 
Incarnation, 151. 
Indifference, 23. 
Intercession, 113. 
Invisible world, 81, 115, 178. 
Irenseus, 200. 

Jeremiah, 53, 85. 
Jewish polemic, 15. 
Judaism, 15, 28, 29, 59, 93. 
Judgment, 60, 105. 
Justin, 200. 




Knowledge, 42 f., 176. 

Law, 29, 69, 99. 
Levitical books, 124. 
Literary character, 8 f . 
Logos, 27, 29, 52, 161 f. 
Lord's Supper, 62, 85. 
Luther, 7. 

Mediator, 56, 139. 
Melchizedek, 126 ff. 
Messianic doctrine, 48, 102, 156. 
Moses, 70, 162. 
Mystery, 32, 35. 
Mystery cults, 32, 66. 
Mysticism, 12, 47, 203, 215. 
Mythology, 34. 

Nero's persecution, 11, 13. 
New covenant, 28, 84 ff. 
New Israel, 59, 94. 
New Jerusalem, 54, 61, 107, 186. 
Nicsea, 144. 

Old covenant, 28, 69. 
Oriental mysticism, 65. 

Parousia, 24, 60, 105, 108, 180. 

Paul, passim. 

Paulinism in Hebrews, 48 f. 

Perfecting, 56, 82, 184, 209. 

Persecution, 196. 

Philo, 27, 50 ff., 116, 161, 163, 


Platonism, 65, 115. 
Polemical motives, 31. 
Priesthood, 29, 40, 74. 
Primitive Christianity, 58 ff. 
Purpose of Hebrews, 38 ff. 

Rabbinical exegesis, 53. 
Reason, divine, 164. 

Redemption, 48. 
Resurrection of Christ, 153. 
Revelation, book of, 106, 110, 

119, 128. 

Ritual, 13, 55, 116. 
Roman origin of Hebrews, 10 f. 

Sabbath rest, 54, 113 f., 183. 
Sacraments, 62. 
Sacrifice, 29, 74, 125, 131. 
Salvation, present and future, 


Sanctification, 131, 148. 
Satan, 106. 
Scripture, 51, 72. 
Septuagint, 90. 
Similitudes of Enoch, 156. 
Simon Hyrcanus, 126. 
Shi after baptism, 20. 
Sonship, 1581, 167. 
Speculation, 194. 
Spirit, 35, 38, 51, 112. 
Stephen, speech of, 63 f. 
Stoicism, 27, 52. 
Symbolism, 7, 51, 54, 82, 209. 
Synoptic Gospels, 154. 

Tabernacle, 17, 100. 
Teachers, 31. 
Temple, 4, 17, 107. 
Tertullian, 6. 
Testament, 91. 
Testament of Levi, 128. 
Timothy, 5, 49. 
Title of Hebrews, 14. 
Two Ages, 102 ff. 
Typology, 55. 

Union with Christ, 112. 

Wisdom, 34. 

Worship, 52, 79 ff., 116. 



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