This is an excerpt from Charles Baker’s “A Dispensational Synopsis of the New Testament”. I have added this to the study, because I found that he has put to print already much of what I see in the epistle to the Hebrews as to the purpose for its writing and its author.
This is somewhat of a long read, but it is sometimes important in our “instant gratification” culture to sit down and really ponder what we are thinking and discussing rather than a quick “meme” or “burn”.
Mr. Baker takes the more “academic” approach to this and lays out the facts and his support for them. The entire book in pdf format is available here:
The author and the time of writing are both important to the understanding of the dispensational application of an epistle. And both of these items are moot subjects when the Hebrew epistle is under consideration. The eastern division of the church has held almost unanimously that Paul was the author. The western division largely rejected the Pauline authorship and suggested such men as Luke, Barnabas, Clement, and Apollos as possible authors. The literary style of the epistle is different from Paul ‘s other writings, and there are a few statements in the epistle which on the surface seem to argue against the Pauline authorship. Great scholars are to be found on both sides of the authorship question. For example, Franz Delitzsch, though holding to the Lukan authorship, states in the introduction of his commentary:
The epistle has no apostolic name attached to it, while it produces throughout the impression of the presence of the original and creative force of apostolic spirit. And if written by an Apostle, who could have been its author but St. Paul? True, till towards the end it does not make the impression upon us of being of his authorship; its form is not Pauline, and the thoughts, though never un-Pauline, yet often go beyond the Pauline type of doctrine as made known to us in the other epistles, and even where this is not the case they seem to be peculiarly placed and applied; but towards the close, when the epistle takes the epistolary form, we seem to hear St. Paul himself, and no one else.
Of course, our King James Version gives this book the title, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews,” but biblical book titles are not part of the inspired text.
Those who do hold to the Pauline authorship (such as C. I. Scofield, Sir Robert Anderson, Arthur W. Pink, E. W. Bullinger) usually give as their main argument the fact that we know from 2 Peter 3:15 that Paul did write a letter to the Hebrews which Peter calls Scripture, and therefore if this Hebrew letter is not that epistle then part of the inspired Scripture has been lost and the Bible is incomplete. Other scholars, such as Adolph Saphir, state:
The opinion that the apostle Paul is the author, though not the writer and composer, seems on the whole most probable (The Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol. I, p. 16).
One of the objections to the Pauline authorship is the statements in 1:2 and 2:3: “Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son;” “which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.” How could Paul have written these words when he elsewhere declares:
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ?
Sir Robert Anderson offers what appears to be a very legitimate answer, that Paul was not only the apostle of the Gentiles, but also a special witness to Israel, and it is in this latter role he is here writing to the Hebrews.
Writing as an Israelite to Israelites, the words of Hebrews 2:2 are just what we should expect from the apostle Paul. They are the precise counterpart of his words recorded in Acts 13:26, 33. And if one passage be proof that he could not have been the author of Hebrews, the other is equal proof that he could not have been the preacher at Antioch. We thus see that what appeared to be a fatal bar to the Pauline authorship of Hebrews admits of a solution which is both simple and adequate (The Hebrews Epistle, p. 10).
Anderson also points out other facts worth noting. The fact that the church of Rome denied the Pauline authorship (and as Westcott points out, “… by consequence, as it seems, it was not held to be canonical,” The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. lxiv) can best be explained by recognizing the contradiction between the doctrinal teachings of Hebrews and the claims of the church of Rome.
On the matter of style, Anderson points out that Hebrews is actually a treatise plus a covering letter. When the apostle states in 13:22, “For I have written a letter unto you in few words,” he could not be speaking of the entire book of Hebrews but only of the last chapter, which has a strictly epistolary character. He asks:
Will any student of literature maintain that so great a master of the literary an as the apostle Paul might not, in penning a treatise such as Hebrews, display peculiarities and elegancies of style which do not appear in his epistolary writings! (ibid, p. 13).
Anderson suggests it is possible Luke was with him and could very well have assisted him in composing the treatise, which might also account for differences in style.
It is my opinion that Paul was the inspired writer of the Hebrews epistle. Dispensationally it would appear there was a need for Paul to write such a letter in view of the fact Paul did have a special ministry toward Israel and in the light of the further fact that a change in dispensation was taking place. Believing Israelites, who at Pentecost and under the early ministry of the Twelve continued to practise the Mosaic customs in view of the millennial kingdom, needed to be shown there was a complete termination of that order if they were to go on in the truth of this dispensation.
This is not to say Hebrews in any sense of the word is a revelation of the dispensation of the Mystery. But the Mystery begins with the cessation of the Mosaic dispensation and the setting aside of the millennial kingdom program, and the Hebrew letter brings the Israelite up to this point. It is surely significant that the epistle ends, not with an exhortation to continue zealous for the Law or to be expecting the establishment of the messianic kingdom, but rather to leave Judaism behind completely:
Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach (13:13).
The epistle does not envision a restored Israel established in the kingdom as its immediate object, but rather a rejected and apostate nation with only a remnant standing with the Savior on the outside of Israel’s camp, even as is seen in Romans 11.
The epistle dispensationally goes no farther than Paul did in his synagogue ministry. We do not read anywhere in Acts that Paul went into the synagogue and preached the Mystery, but rather:
As his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that the Messiah must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is the Messiah (Acts 17:2, 3).
The Jew had to be brought to a recognition of Jesus as the Messiah who had died and risen again in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and types before there could be any presentation of the further truth of the Mystery. It is my belief this was the purpose of Paul’ s synagogue ministry as well that of the Hebrew epistle.
There are several internal evidences for the period of time in which the epistle was written. From such statements as:
Call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions (10:32).
Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty (13:23).
We can be quite sure the epistle was not written very early, at least not before Acts 16 where Timothy is first mentioned. Since there is no record in the Acts of Timothy being imprisoned, we may surmise the writing took place after Acts 28.
However, it appears from comments in 8:4; 10: 1–3; 13:10 that the temple was still standing and the Levitical ceremonies were still being carried out. This would place it before 70 A.D. Since the Jewish war began in 70 A.D. it is inconceivable, as Westcott points out (ibid. p. xlii), that such a national calamity should not be mentioned if it had already broken out or flit had been decided.
Thus it would appear the book was written between 63 and 67 A.D. This date dovetails perfectly with the dispensational facts presented earlier. Acts closes out God’s dealings with national Israel. The transition period is ended and the permanent program for this dispensation of grace comes into full force. Believing Israelites now must forsake Judaism and go forth outside the camp.
The first two Verses teach that the Bible is a progressive revelation, and this fact is itself basic to dispensational truth. Had God revealed everything at one time there would have been no place for dispensations. It is because of the sundry times and divers manners in which God spoke in times past that we see the various dispensations running their courses down through the centuries. The book as a whole, however, is a contrast of the Old Covenant dispensation with that of the New, something on the order of 2 Corinthians 3. In this contrast the Person of Jesus Christ stands out in bold relief as being better than everything that ever went before. Specifically, Christ is shown to be:
- Better than the angels (1:4 – 2:18).
- Better than Moses (3:1 – 19).
- Better than the Sabbath day (4:1 – 13).
- Better than Aaron (4:14 – 8:6).
- Better than the Old Covenant (8:7 – 10:39).
Chapter 11 reveals that in every dispensation faith was the principle which pleased God:
- Abel showed his faith by offering the sacrifice God had demanded.
- Noah manifested his faith by building the ark.
- Abraham’s faith was evidenced by leaving his own country and by offering up his son Isaac.
- By faith Moses’ parents hid him after he was born, and Moses showed his faith in various ways, such as refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, by keeping the Passover, and by passing through the Red Sea on dry land.
Many other examples of faith are given, but the main point to be observed is that faith has been manifested in different ways in different dispensations. Of course, faith in this dispensation is manifested by the personal acceptance of the gospel that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and arose the third day as the only requirement of God for eternal salvation. Faith brought a sacrifice in Old Testament times; today it accepts the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ as all-sufficient.
Having seen that faith was required in every dispensation but that faith did not require the same response in every dispensation, we turn now to consider the more important dispensational references in the epistle.
The Hebrews writer speaks of the great salvation which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord (2:3). There were many prophecies, types, and symbols in the Old Testament, but as far as actual salvation is concerned the Lord Jesus was the first, according to this statement, to begin to speak about this great truth. If this be true, then it must follow that the Old Testament did not preach the same message of salvation. It was never “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” in Old Testament times. While it is true Jesus lived under the dispensation of the Law (Galatians 4:4), it is also true there was a change of message with His incarnation. Before Christ’ s coming, faith in God was a requirement, but after the Son came into the world He said:
That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father (John 5:23).
Salvation for the messianic kingdom which Christ preached while on earth has much in common with our salvation today, although we must realize the basis for salvation through the death and resurrection was not preached until after the Cross.
The writer also speaks of having this message of the Lord confirmed unto him and the readers by them who had heard the Lord and that God bore them witness by signs, wonders, various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some have thought these facts would exclude Paul as the possible author, but this does not necessarily follow. Paul received the message of the Mystery by direct revelation but he must have received the knowledge of the Lord’s earthly ministry by confirmation of those who had been the earthly disciples of the Lord. Remember too, that the signs and wonders and gifts of the Holy Spirit lapped over into Paul’ s ministry to members of the Body, as indicated in 1 Corinthians 12–14. These supernatural manifestations were not a completely new set of activities designed for the Body of Christ; they were a continuation of the signs of Pentecost and what is spoken of here in Hebrews. Acts 28 dispensationalism mistakenly uses this fact as an argument that Paul did not minister the Mystery or truth concerning the Body of Christ until after Acts 28, but in so doing they must deny Paul’s plain statements to the contrary (Romans 12:5; 16:25; 1 Corinthians 12: 13, 27).
Whatever dispensational view we may hold regarding the Hebrews epistle, we must agree that the writer gave a Pauline interpretation to the death of Christ. It might be profitable at this point to go through the entire letter and trace the writer’s statements on this subject, quoting only the pertinent phrases.
- “Who… when he had himself purged our sins” (1:3).
- “That he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (2:9).
- “That through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (2:14, 15).
- “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14)?
- “Once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (9:26).
- “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10).
- “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (10:14).
There are those who feel Hebrews, by its very title, must be a book of kingdom truth which is not related to truth for the present dispensation. The book makes no mention of the Mystery or of the dispensation of the grace of God or of the church which is His Body. We may ask, however, were the original readers to whom this letter was addressed looking for the establishment of the earthly, millennial kingdom? Is the message of the epistle “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins?” Is it more in harmony with the so-called Great Commission and Pentecost or with Paul’s epistles?
In answer to these question it may be pointed out that practically all of the standard commentaries on Hebrews, regardless of who they make the author to be, agree its theology is Pauline. The verses given above on the meaning of Christ’s death bring out this point.
And what about baptism, which was a significant feature of the kingdom gospel? Baptism is mentioned only twice — once in 9:10 where a sharp contrast is made between the message of this epistle and the many baptisms of the Law, and once in 6:2 where the message is, “leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection; not laying again the foundation… of the doctrine of baptisms.” If water baptism is to again be a part of the kingdom gospel, surely the writer of this epistle was not preparing them for the kingdom.
Most students of the Word will agree that the last nine chapters of Ezekiel’s prophecy have never been fulfilled, and if they are ever to be fulfilled it must be in the future earthly kingdom. These chapters tell of a restored temple in Jerusalem with its altar, priesthood, sacrifices, Levitical service, and sanctuary. Does the book of Hebrews point forward to these things? Hebrews 7:11–12 states the Levitical priesthood has been changed and that there has been a change of law. Hebrews says the Levitical priesthood has been abrogated and that there is no more place for sacrifices.
We may not be able to explain in what sense sacrifices will be offered by Levitical priests in the millennial kingdom, but surely the book of Hebrews cannot be appealed to for this aspect of kingdom teaching. In fact, there is no reference in the epistle to any kind of ceremonialism or liturgy enjoined upon the readers, but instead the worship is purely spiritual. They are called upon to offer the sacrifices of praise and of sharing, even as Paul enjoins in his epistles to the churches (Hebrews 13:15, 16; compare Philippians 4:18; Romans 12:1). Some might contend that Hebrews 10:22 has reference to ceremonial cleansing:
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
But the impossibility of this has already been stated in 9:10–4 and 10:4. The Jordan was a favorite place for baptizing, but we may well ask, did its water meet the test of purity demanded by this verse?
We have already made allusion to chapter 13:13 where the readers are enjoined to forsake the camp of Israel and go forth unto Christ outside the camp, bearing His reproach. This passage surely indicates the fall of Israel, even as Paul teaches in Romans 11. And while no statement about the Gentiles is made here, we know from Paul that the fall of Israel resulted in the sending of reconciliation to the Gentiles, which is another way of saying the dispensation of the grace of God was inaugurated.
It is true the word “kingdom” is used twice in Hebrews, but this does not necessarily mean it is a kingdom epistle in the sense of being addressed to citizens of the millennial kingdom; for Paul in writing to the Body of Christ identifies the Body with the kingdom of God on fourteen different occasions. Hebrews 1:8 states:
But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
Here it would seem improper to limit “kingdom” to only the earthly phase of God’s kingdom. The other reference is:
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (12:28).
Here it is a kingdom which has already been received, so it could hardly refer to the future millennial kingdom.
In introducing Christ as “a priest after the order of Melchisedec,” reference is made to Melchisedec as meaning by interpretation, king of righteousness, and after that also king of Salem, which is king of peace (7:2), but here again no more of a dispensational emphasis can be placed on this use of king than on Paul’s reference to Christ as king in 1 Timothy 1:17 and 6:15.
It is to be expected that a letter addressed to Hebrews would be based largely upon the Old Testament Scriptures. When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, which apparently had a number of Jewish members, he made considerable reference to the Old Testament. He there refers to Christ our Passover being sacrificed for us, to keeping the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, to what is written in the Law of Moses, to the crossing of the Red Sea, to the Rock in the wilderness, in fact, to all of the things that happened to Israel (1 Corinthians 10:11). When Paul went into the synagogues he confined himself entirely to the Old Testament and to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of its types and shadows (Acts 17:2, 3). Because Paul made reference to these things during the Acts period, our Acts 28 brethren argue that he could not have been preaching the Mystery. This is a mistake.
There is surely no difference between the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24) and the gospel of 1 Corinthians 15:1–4, which was according to the Scriptures, and it was surely this same gospel that Paul was preaching in his post-Acts ministry (compare Colossians 1:23). It is very important to see distinctions, but it is just as important to see connections. The Mystery is not an isolated truth hanging in mid-air. It is a part of the eternal purpose of God and is therefore definitely related to the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ when He died as a sacrifice for sin in fulfillment of the Old Testament types as revealed in the book of Hebrews.
A definite allusion is made in 3:7–4:11 to Kadesh-barnea, where the people of Israel refused to enter into the promised land through unbelief and were turned back to wander for forty years in the wilderness. After the death and resurrection of Christ, Israel came to a greater Kadesh-barnea when the long-promised messianic kingdom was offered to them (Acts 3:19-21), and again they turned back in unbelief. No doubt the writer still had this in mind when he wrote the first part of chapter 6. After Israel turned back in Moses’ day, in spite of the report of the two faithful spies and their seeing and tasting of the wonderful fruits of the land, God told that generation they would die in the wilderness. They seemingly repented and said, “We will go up and fight,” but God said, “Go not up neither fight; for I am not among you.” They presumed to go up, again in rebellion against Jehovah, and were smitten by the Amorites (Deuteronomy 1:32-44). After they had made their decision in unbelief it was impossible to renew them again unto repentance.
This whole story is analogous to what happened at Pentecost and afterward. Israel had been enlightened, had tasted of the heavenly gift, and had been made partakers of the Holy Ghost in the early chapters of Acts, but turned back in unbelief, and the apostle says it is impossible to renew such unto repentance. We believe this is the true import of these words which have been misused by certain men to teach the possibility of losing personal salvation. One thing is certain, if they do teach this they also teach the impossibility of ever being saved again. But is it not significant that in this very chapter is found one of the strongest arguments for eternal security, based upon two immutable things in the which it was impossible for God to lie (6:17–20)?
It appears evident then, from the impossibility stated in chapter 6:4, that this epistle could not have been written with a view toward urging the Hebrews to accept the offer of the kingdom. The kingdom had been rejected and Israel as a nation had been set aside to wander throughout the nations during this whole dispensation. These Hebrew believers therefore had no prospects for entering the messianic kingdom in their generation.
The question naturally arises, will all of those addressed in the epistle arise from the dead to inherit the millennial kingdom, or did these believers become members of the Body of Christ? One thing is sure — the author of the epistle identifies himself with these believers. If we contend for the Pauline authorship, in order to be consistent, we would have to believe these Hebrew saints did become members of the Body since Paul was a member. The Body of Christ is not mentioned by name in Hebrews (we are not talking about the human body, but the church which is His Body), but neither is it mentioned by name in 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon; so the non-mention of the term is not a positive argument that some of these Hebrews could not have been members of the Body.
The word “church” does occur twice in Hebrews (2:12 and 12:23). The first is a quotation from Psalm 22:22:
In the midst of the church [congregation] will I sing praise unto thee.
The Hebrew word, kahal, usually translated “congregation,” is many times translated ekklesia (church) in the Greek Septuagint. Therefore Psalm 22, being prophetic, speaks of Israel in the future as being a church. This prophetic church is not the same company of redeemed as the Mystery church, although Christ will be in the midst of both.
The other passage says these Hebrew believers had not now come to Mt. Sinai, but:
… unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant ….
Commentaries are in considerable disagreement on the translation and meaning of the part of this passage which has to do with the church. Some take “the general assembly” and “church of the firstborn” to refer only to angels. Others take “the general assembly” to refer to angels and the “church” to redeemed men. Still others identify “the general assembly” with the “church.” There is no other occurrence of the expression “the church of the firstborn” in Scripture; hence, it is not possible to learn its exact meaning by comparison.
The firstborn is, of course, a very familiar Old Testament expression occuring over one hundred times. In Paul’ s epistles the word always refers to Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18). As used in connection with Christ, “firstborn” does not have a relationship to an order in time but to an order in position. He is “the firstborn of all creation,” that is, he has a position of headship over creation, such as a firstborn son had over his father’s inheritance. It must be in this sense, as given a position in Christ, that these redeemed ones are called the church of the firstborn. It is almost equivalent to saying, the church of Jesus Christ.
This passage is admittedly on contested dispensational ground, but in conclusion there is one observation we would like to make. Most of us agree the expression “kingdom of God” is usually used as a general, covering term which includes all of God’s domain in all dispensations and that there are distinct groupings within that kingdom, so any of its parts may also be the kingdom of God. Also, the “gospel of God” is a general term for God’s good news in any dispensation, so the gospel which Paul preached may be called the gospel of God. Since both Israel and the Body are called by the name church, may it not be possible that we find in some passages, such as here, a general covering term for all of the redeemed of all dispensations constituting the church of Christ, within which there are distinctive churches?
Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.