Young, Frances M. “Hebrews, Letter to the.” Pages 129-32 in New Testament: History of Interpretation: Excerpted from the Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation. Edited by John H. Hayes. Nashville: Abingdon, , 2004.
Frances Margaret Young (1939- ) is a Methodist minister and Emeritus Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham (1971-2005).
In this brief entry Frances Young gives an overview of the history of interpretation of Hebrews under five topic headings:
Authorship and Background: Ancient interpreters often attributed Hebrews to Paul, but others attributed it either to Luke, Barnabas, or Clement of Rome. Martin Luther was the first to surmise that Apollos wrote it. Modern scholarship has generally concluded that Paul is not the author. Many other candidates have been proposed including Pricilla, but Apollos remains the most viable suggestion. Modern scholars have questioned the traditional stance that Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians. Some scholars have tried to find connections with the Pauline corpus or with Stephen’s speech in Acts 7. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and 11QMelchizedek, in particular, has prompted scholars to look for affinities with the Qumran community. Others have tried to make connections with early Gnosticism.
Platonism and Eschatology: Origen used Hebrews for the justification of his typological exegesis. For him, Christ was the key to the OT. But Origen also believed that Christians were still living in a shadow reality that finds fulfillment in a heavenly, transcendent realm. In modern times scholars have tried to demonstrate Platonic influence on Hebrews’ eschatology, but a more ready explanation can be found in Jewish apocalypticism.
Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible: Modern scholars are embarrassed by Hebrews’ typological exegesis. The author’s interpretation are based the Greek text which has scribal errors and misinterpretations of the Hebrew text. Young apparently believes that Hebrew’s exegesis is arbitrary and quite foreign to the modern reader.
Christology: The Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries highly affected the interpretation of Hebrews. Modern scholars have noted the paradoxical character of Hebrews’ Christology: it has the highest Christology in the NT, apart from John, and yet also has the most realistic portrayal of Jesus’ human nature. The figure of personified Wisdom may underlie Hebrews 1:3. There appears to be some “Adam-typology” in the book.
Paraenesis: Modern scholars have noted the close integration of the author’s expository and hortatory sections which seem to be reflective of an early Christian sermon. It appears to be addressed to a community that is on the verge of giving up perhaps in the face of persecution. Both ancient and modern commentators have picked up on the pilgrimage them of the book.
This overview of the history of interpretation of Hebrews is much too brief to be of much use. Moreover, I found that Young chose at times to focus on idiosyncratic issues that are not reflective of the main issues being debated about the book. There are much better surveys of the history of the interpretation of Hebrews than this piece.