The Letter to the Hebrews: Introduction

So here we are at the Letter to the Hebrews!

Eleven years ago, I attended a Living Theology Today course run by the Diocese of Durham. The course included attendance at Wednesday evening lectures, a study weekend away and two assignments. One assignment was a Learning Journal, an overview of all that I had learnt throughout the year. The other was a more regular essay, chosen from a list of topics. One of the topics was a study of a book of the Bible. I was drawn to the Book of Hebrews.

I remember clearly how the course tutor Jim Francis tried to put me off. Why pick one of the hardest books of the Bible to write about, he wondered. I wonder that too, looking back. One quote I use in the essay sums up the struggles around the Book of Hebrews –

The letter to the Hebrews is one of the most bracing and challenging writings in the New Testament. Bishop Tom Wright

And yet I was not to be put off. When I set my mind to something, there’s no stopping me. I spent hours absorbed in this letter, studying other writing about the letter and creating a structure to my findings. I wrote three times as much as I needed, much of which ended up in detailed appendices.

And so this month, I thought I would present my essay to you in daily bitesize chunks and then we’ll see where that takes us, if that’s OK with you!

So firstly, why was I drawn to the Letter to the Hebrews?

“The Epistle to the Hebrews is in many respects the riddle of the New Testament” according to EF Scott. Its place in Scripture has always been disputed; it is not included in the Muratorian Canon of AD70, the earliest known list of New Testament books. It was not fully accepted until the 4th century and it is clear that Martin Luther continued to have doubts about its place in the Bible.

So why choose to study this particular book of the Bible? There is a modern hymn entitled “Jesus is King” by Wendy Churchill which has always been a great source of encouragement and inspiration to me. My husband and I affirmed our faith by singing together these words on our wedding day. My family and I gained strength from the same words at my mother’s funeral. I wanted to put the words of the hymn into a literary, historical and spiritual context and this led me to the Letter to the Hebrews. from ‘The Letter to the Hebrews: an evaluative outline of the key themes and theological insights’ by Helen Redfern

I guess the hymn I refer to – ‘Jesus is King’ – is no longer considered to be modern and yet it still has a special place in my heart. The words still speak truth to me. We had this hymn at my father’s funeral three years ago and we will have it at mine!

Jesus is King and I will extol Him,
Give Him the glory and honour His name.
He reigns on high, enthroned in the heavens,
Word of the Father, exalted for us.

We have a hope that is steadfast and certain,
Gone through the curtain and touching the throne.
We have a priest who is there interceding,
Pouring His grace on our lives day by day.

We come to Him, our Priest and Apostle,
Clothed in His glory and bearing His name.
Laying our lives with gladness before Him,
Filled with His Spirit we worship the King.

O Holy One, our hearts do adore You;
Thrilled with Your goodness we give you our praise.
Angels in light with worship surround Him,
Jesus, our Saviour, forever the same.

Wendy Churchill
1981 Springtide/Word Music (UK)

Have a listen: maybe it will speak to you as it speaks to me. It sets us up well for a further study of the Letter to the Hebrews this month.

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