Rediscovering Hebrews: Epistle’s pages show harmony of Old, New testament
There was a time when I would read Hebrews through every day, seeking to understand and eventually memorize the book. Encountering the book again after years of just reading it as part of a schedule — or reading parts for specific themes or ideas — I was reminded again how closely tied are the Old and New testaments.
I have dear friends who complain when a Bible class is studying something from the Old Testament, and they are put off when the preacher decides to preach a series on the Old Testament. Their view is that we live under the New Testament, and we should concentrate on it exclusively.
Yet as I became absorbed by Hebrews, I realized that I needed to go back to the Law in order to fully understand the teachings I was thinking about.
The most famous chapter, 11, catalogs the people of faith — Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Rahab, Barak, David and Samuel to name a few. The full account of these lives, recorded in the Old Testament, contains many lessons about faith, courage and willpower. The narratives also show much about God and his justice, power and intervention.
As Hebrews opens, the writer is reminding the Israelites that God had communicated with man through many different teachers and prophets.
“In times past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” The writer begins comparing Jesus to angels and to Moses. Because the Son has taken a lower position than angels or Moses, he has greater honor in his suffering on the cross.
Later, Jesus is presented as the great high priest. He is a priest of a different order than the Levitical priesthood. Jesus is of the tribe of Judah and not a descendant of Levi: He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, a shadowy figure in Genesis to whom Abraham paid tithes after defeating the five kings. Jesus’ superiority comes because he only once had to make a sin offering, and unlike other priests he did not need to make an offering for his sin.
The discussion continues with a reference to the tabernacle with its Holy Place and Most Holy Place. The Tabernacle becomes a symbol for the regions of spiritual worship.
Finally, the teaching turns to blood and its significance throughout the Old Testament and climaxing with the blood of Jesus. Hebrews forces us to know Genesis, the Law, history and prophets if we are to appreciate the deep, persistent work of God throughout time.
Of course, Hebrews is not the only book that is enlightened by a better knowledge of the Old Testament.
The Gospel of Matthew is laced with Old Testament allusions, references and quotations. Galatians provides another view of the relationship of the Old and New Testament. Unity and consistency are the hallmarks of our Scripture.
I certainly am not a Bible scholar, but I know the power of God’s word in transforming attitudes and actions. Recognizing that the narratives and the laws reflect God’s involvement in the affairs of mankind can help us focus and give more attention to the text.
I have found that using Hebrews as a launching point for study in specific Old Testament backgrounds can give me a way to organize learning and thought.
Because the Bible is the word of God, and because the word of God is life, I feel compelled to spend more time and thought studying the Bible. When I was younger and more driven, I had systematic plans for study. Reading three chapters each day from the Gospels, I could complete Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in a month. A year of such monthly readings would allow me to focus on the life of Jesus 12 times.
Reading the Bible regularly is a power source for your life. The more you know of the mind of God, the more you value Old and New testaments.
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FeedbackTry to imagine seeking comfort in Romans 8:28 after losing a child to death–painful in that circumstance–but then immerse yourself in Romans 8:18-27 instead, and a comforting, warming message is revealed instead.Russell G. SharpEdmond church of ChristEdmond, Oklahoma
USAAugust, 27 2012What about choosing a textual study of any Biblical book when a topical study is going on in an adjoining room? In our fast-paced world, people seem to yearn for one-liner answers to life’s problems. I cited this fact when given an opportunity to teach a class on a recent Wednesday evening, then followed by just standing there reading aloud the entire book of Philippians. I tried to get each class participant beforehand to imagine having written a heartfelt letter to dear friends or family, then finding out later they had just begun to cite short sentences from it, while not remembering my major motives or thoughts in writing! We should remember the same when it comes to Bible study!Russell G. SharpEdmond church of ChristEdmond, Oklahoma
USAAugust, 27 2012Thank you brother McBride for this helpful summation of Hebrews and the gentle reminder to read scripture. May we also cry to God day & night,Lk.18:7. Psalm 65:4a.Wayne McDanielNorthwest church of ChristPhx, AZ
USAAugust, 24 2012So how did we get the idea that the Old Testament is virtually irrelevant!? Many Christians almost seem to excise the OT from the canon of Scripture, and our ignorance of OT themes is abysmal.Jerry StarlingCentral of Altamonte SpringsApopka, FL
USAAugust, 23 2012Thank you for this article. I am currently walking our congregation through the letter to the Hebrews following a study of the Tabernacle. It has become obvious to the Tafuna church of Christ that we canot fully understand Hebrews without understanding the Old Testament.David Willis`Tafuna Church of ChristPago Pago, American Samoa
American SamoaAugust, 23 2012