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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Genre and Structure.

1.

The end of ch. 13 ( 13:18–25 ) reads much like a letter and has close parallels with Pauline epistles. The rest of the text differs markedly from the other letters of the New Testament. The conclusion, therefore, was probably designed to transmit the work to a distant audience.

2.

As a whole Hebrews is a striking example of rhetoric serving scriptural exegesis. In making God's word effective ( 1:1–4; 4:12–13 ) the text revels in human words. It abounds in ornamental devices, including alliteration, anaphora, assonance, chiasm, litotes, paronomasia, and other figures of speech. Hebrews deploys a rich vocabulary, using illustrations and metaphors from various spheres: agriculture ( 6:7–8 ), athletics ( 5:14; 12:1–3 ), education ( 5:12–14 ), law ( 9:16–17 ), and seafaring ( 6:19 ).

3.

Defined as ‘word of exhortation’ ( 13:22 ), Hebrews clearly adapts the homiletic forms of Hellenistic Judaism. The text grounds its exhortations not in general appeals to logic or emotion, but in exposition of an authoritative text. Some sections, e.g. chs. 3 and 4 , illustrate formal homiletic patterns built around exposition of a cited text. At the centre of Hebrews a lengthy exposition of the significance of the Day of Atonement reveals a similar structure. A preface summarizes and introduces certain themes ( 8:1–5 ). A citation from Jer 31:31–4 follows. The homilist then explores the text in balanced units playing upon several antitheses ( 9:1–10:10 ). A summary repeats elements of the scriptural text ( 10:11–18 ); a hortatory application follows ( 10:19–39 ).

4.

Homiletic devices appear in other portions of the work. Stern warnings against the dangers of apostasy punctuate the text ( 2:1–4; 6:1–20; 10:26–31; 12:14–17; 12:25–9 ). The catalogue of exemplars of faith in ch. 11 resembles appeals to examples of virtue in Hellenistic moral discourse. Exegetical strategies also vary, from the concatenation of scriptural citations in ch. 1 through the playful reflection on Melchizedek in ch. 7 .

5.

The interplay of exegesis and exhortation in carefully balanced segments leads to a climactically ordered composition that builds an appeal for renewed faith. That structure may be outlined as follows:

  • Exordium: The Definitive Word ( 1:1–4 )

  • Christ Exalted and Humiliated, a Suitable High Priest ( 1:5–2:18 )

    • A Catena of Scriptural Citations ( 1:5–14 )
    • Transitional Admonition: To Attend Carefully ( 2:1–4 )
    • The Subjection and Glorification of the Son ( 2:5–9 )
    • Christ and his Family ( 2:10–18 )
  • Christ Faithful and Merciful ( 3:1–5:10 )

    • A Homily on Faith ( 3:1–4:11 )
    • Transitional Exhortation: Approach the Merciful High Priest ( 4:14–16 )
    • The Merciful Christ and the High Priests ( 5:1–10 )
  • The Priestly Work of Christ ( 5:11–10:18 )

    • Transitional Admonition ( 5:11–6:20 )
    • Scriptural Reflection: Christ and Melchizedek ( 7:1–28 )
    • Scriptural Reflection: Christ's Sacrifice and the New Covenant ( 8:1–10:18 )
  • Exhortation to Faithful Endurance ( 10:19–12:13 )

    • Transitional Admonition: Hold Fast to the Faith; Warning and Encouragement ( 10:19–39 )
    • A Celebration of the Faithful ( 11:1–12:3 )
    • A Homily on Endurance ( 12:4–13 )
  • Final Advice about Life in the New Covenant ( 12:14–13:17 )

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