Friday, January 30, 2009

Milligan on the Recipients of Hebrews

Milligan, G. "The Roman Destination of the Epistle to the Hebrews." The Expositor. Sixth Series, 4 (1901): 437-48.

George Milligan (1860-1934) was Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow 1910-1932. He is the author of The Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews (1899).

George Milligan is responding to earlier essays by Theodor Zahn and Adolf Harnack but does not differ from them significantly. In this essay Milligan deals with the identity of the recipients of Hebrews:

1) It is a small body of believers. There is no evidence of any differing opinions among the recipients in the book of Hebrews. It would also explain the lack of an introduction, since we would expect an introduction if addressed to a larger body of believers.

2) This small group is probably not part of a larger church, since the relation to the larger body of believers would have been indicated in the text. Therefore, the recipients are a small independent community or congregation.

3) The audience is of Jewish descent. The recipients are treated as direct descendants from the people of the Old Covenant. Moreover, his argument is largely based on the comparison between the Old Covenant and the New which would have more forcefulness with a Jewish audience. There is no absolute proof that the audience consisted of Gentiles.

4) 2:3 suggests that the recipients were converted by the those who had heard the apostles. There conversion was whole-hearted as is evidenced by the fact that they have suffered for their faith and have been despoiled of their property.

5) The phrase "latter days" suggests that some time has elapsed since their conversion. They have begun to slacken in their zeal. But there is no trace of a lapse back into Judaism. The warning are of a more general kind.

6) Rome is the most likely destination for Hebrews. There was a strong Jewish element in the church at Rome. 2:3 seems to accord well with what one would expect of the believers in Rome. Some particulars that suggest a Roman audience are: a) the epistle was well-known in Rome before the end of the first century as is indicated by its usage in 1 Clement; b) the liberality of the church (6:10) and the exhortations to continue (13:1, 2, 5) is applicable to inhabitants of a wealthy city like Rome; c) their sufferings accord well with the persecution of Christians in Rome under Claudius or Nero; d) the personal allusions and greetings support a Roman destination: (1) the use of οι ηγουμενοι for the leaders of the church finds parallel usage in 1 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas; (2) the mention of Timothy in 13:23 is explicable, as he was known by the Roman Christians; (3) The greeting from "those from Italy" is most naturally explained by positing a Roman audience.

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