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Who Wrote Hebrews?

and Jesus' Perfect Completion of His Mission

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Question:  Dear Dr. Luginbill, You wrote this about Ps. 95, I think: "Yet in the New Testament, Paul has no trouble attributing this Psalm to the Holy Spirit." Where does Paul say this? Are you referring to Hebrews 3:7-11? If so, I thought that no one knows who wrote Hebrews, though I believe tradition attributed it to Paul since about the 3rd or 4th century. The commentary in the back of one of my KJV bibles points this out.

Also, Hebrews 5: 9 says that Jesus was "made perfect." I remember reading in a couple commentaries that this is a Greek phrase that means "to complete, reach a goal, finish." But some people say that this is proof that Jesus wasn't "perfect." That He had to learn "perfection." I know this word is used to mean to reach a goal, in such passages as Luke 13:32, and in other places. Is this true? Also, how do you determine, other than context, which would be the best translation, "reach the goal" or "perfect" as we would use the latter, to be without flaw or fault?

Again, thank you for your help and time. God bless you.

Response:  Yes, I am absolutely convinced that Paul wrote Hebrews. This was the position of the early Church and the early Fathers. Not that I find that authoritative in and of itself, but it demonstrates that there was no bias against this point of view coming out of the first century, and that is an important point. It should also be noted that Hebrews is appended to the Pauline epistles by all the early manuscripts [hence the order in our English Bible] because of the belief from earliest times that it was Pauline. To me it is most ironic that modern scholars should have doubts about Pauline authorship almost universally on stylistic grounds, since the style is, to my view, closer to Paul's than any other Greek I have ever read. There are differences (but there are more similarities) in the pure style of the letter, but one must remember that the audience is different too. This is the only Pauline epistle to an exclusively Jewish audience, many if not most of whom were "in the faith" before he was. The format is different as well. Hebrews is a long monograph to a congregation not his own rather than an "encyclical" intended for a number of Paul's own congregations and dealing with many points of faith. And the purpose of Hebrews is also different. It is more of a detailed apologia on the issue of trusting God vs. tradition in an environment of pervasive and corrosive external influence where the believers in question were succumbing to the powerful pull to come back to traditional Judaism. Therefore it is not surprising that there are some differences in the style from the other letters - it would be surprising if there were none. But the thing that always strikes me when I read Hebrews is that the way of thinking and expression in the Greek is Paul, pure and simple. I have never heard the truth of the Word of God expressed quite like his Greek writing does it - it is very characteristic. This is the sort of thing that would take a 500+ page doctor's thesis to convince an academic audience (and still would not convince most). So rather than making a big thing about it, I merely teach and say what I am certain is true. There are good reasons why Paul would not have wanted to append his name to this letter. He was well known at the time of writing by the Jerusalem community, those in the Church and those without. On the one hand, a "letter from Paul"would have been a red flag to the former (making an issue of this famous prisoner rather than the truths to which he was trying to get his fellow countrymen to respond). And on the other hand, it would have also been a dangerous thing to possess a letter from such a notorious personage on account of this latter group (who had persecuted Paul and would have been all too happy to persecute anyone who had anything to do with him).

As to your second question about Hebrews 5:9 - the Greek word there is teleiotheis, and may be translated "having been completed/finished/made perfect", none of which get to the point being made here (i.e., it works in Greek, not in English without interpretation). The root word, telos, means "end, goal [etc. - you are right to draw the parallel from Lk.13:32]", and is the root of our borrowed "teleology". So "reached the goal" is not a bad way of translating this word; although it is passive, and my rendering is active. The problem is that English has no passive way of rendering this idea without imparting a meaning that is not here.

Jesus "finished His course" in a perfect way. He was born perfect and lived perfectly, the most important part of which is not so much His refraining from sin (although He did refrain from sin, and that is extremely important), but rather His perfect accomplishment of the mission of the Father on which He had been sent, that is, to show and teach us the way, then offer Himself up for our sins so that we might have God's righteousness on the basis of His sacrifice. The word our Lord uses from the cross to express this successful "running of the course", or "victory on the battlefield of the devil's world" is tetelestai, "it is finished/completed" (Lk.18:31; Jn.19:30), a verb from the same root (though slightly different from the verb used in Hebrews 5:9).

What many people don't understand about our Lord's earthly ministry is that it involved living the most difficult life ever lived. Jesus was born perfect and without sin, as Paul points out in Hebrews 4:15 (compare Hebrews 2:17-18), but that doesn't mean that He didn't have a terribly difficult course to run. In the same passage, Paul makes a point of reminding us that Christ can "sympathize/empathize" with us because of the earthly suffering He has known. He had to grow up and subordinate Himself to imperfect authority although He was perfect, and had to respond to it perfectly (cf. Lk.2:52). He had to learn all that the Father would have Him learn - more than anyone else has ever learned about the truth of the Word of God (cf. Lk.2:40) - while earning a living and behaving perfectly, while meeting all of His responsibilities perfectly. Though He was the Son of God and the very Instrument of the Father in creating the universe, He had to live in complete obscurity until the time was ripe for Him, then He had to continually endure "such opposition by sinners against Himself" (Hebrews 12:3).  And although He was in fact the Messiah, He had to put up with near constant skepticism, rejection, ridicule and attack. He had to carry the burden of all who responded to Him, live with their lukewarmness, tell them the truth even when it meant they would turn on Him (cf. Jn. 6:60-71), administer the miracles of God and the greatest ministry of the Word of God yet maintain complete humility and selflessness. So true it is that He made Himself poor that we might become rich (2Cor.8:9) – and none of this even addresses the fact of the most intense satanic opposition anyone has ever known (cf. Matt.4), or the sacrifice involved in God voluntarily accepting human limitations (Phil.2:5-11).

No, He did not have it easy, growing up and learning all the wisdom of God painstakingly with perfect self-discipline and intense, unfaltering devotion "like a shoot out of dry ground" (Is.53:2a), never appreciated for who He was (Is.53:2b), not appreciated for what He did while He was here.  Indeed, He was falsely accused, imprisoned, tortured, condemned to death, betrayed and abandoned by His followers, rejected by those He came to save, hung upon a cross - the death of the accursed (Deut.21:23; Gal.3:13)!  And while He hung there, dying for our sins, they mocked Him, daring Him to come down from the cross (Matt.27:41-44). But though He could very well have done so, just as He could have abandoned His course at any previous time when it had gotten tougher than any human being has ever experienced, He chose not to come down from the cross, but to die for the very people who were heaping their scorn upon Him. I have not, I can not do this justice, not in a thousand pages, but the above is offered to give just a hint of what it means in Hebrews 5:9 when it says that Jesus "accomplished His mission", and that is why in the following phrase (in Greek) it also says "[thus/then/as a result] He became the source of salvation for all who obey Him [i.e., have faith in Him and faithfully follow Him]" - that is, Jesus is the source and the only way of salvation because He "was made perfect = perfectly completed the mission assigned to Him", living for us and dying for us. This as you suggest in your e-mail is the point also of Luke 13:32 (same verb as Heb.5:9, same essential interpretation). So, yes, "without fault or flaw" is correct as a translation, but it is important to note that this refers not just to what our Lord refrained from thinking/saying/doing that would have been sinful, but even more importantly to what He perfectly and consistently did in running the course God set for Him in every area of His life, and most particularly in the perfect fulfillment of the mission on which He had been sent.

Hope this helps.  Please see also the following links:

The Canonicity of the book of Hebrews.

Does Hebrews 10:26 teach loss of salvation?

In Him who is the Way and who has shown us the way, and in the hope of fulfilling the mission our Lord Jesus Christ has given to each and every one of us in emulation of Himself.

Bob L.

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