Many view the book of Hebrews as a doctrinal book and it does contain many very helpful doctrinal truths but in the mind of its author, it was a letter of exhortation to believers. In 13:22 he says, “I beseech YOU, BRETHREN, suffer THE WORD OF EXHORTATION: for I have written a letter unto YOU in few words.”
Notice that the author of Hebrews addresses his exhortation to the brethren.
He does not say exhortations (plural) but exhortation (singular). Why is this important? It is important because some who chose to hold to the theology know as “once saved always saved” (OSAS) dismiss the warnings given in Hebrews, claiming that Hebrews was written to a mixture of saved and unsaved Hebrew people.
They claim that as a fellow Hebrew, the author refers to the saved and unsaved as brethren and therefore we must determine to whom the writer is speaking in a particular verse based on its content. Therefore if it’s a warning, the conclusion is that verse pertains to unbelievers. If it is encouraging, that verse belongs to believers.
Quite honestly this is not only a strange way to interpret scripture, it is very telling of the how far those who embrace OSAS ideology will go to make the words of scripture fit into their way of believing.
First, those who take such a position make the assumption that the book of Hebrews was absolutely written by a believing Hebrew Christian such as Paul. While I personally believe that Hebrews was most likely written by Paul, and if not by Paul, certainly a believing Hebrew, there is no definitive evidence because, historically, the author is unknown.
Those who claim that the writer of Hebrews uses the term brethren as a description of his fellow Hebrews (saved and unsaved) eliminate any possibility that Hebrews could have been written by a Gentile believer. There is no hard evidence which supports this.
Secondly, the belief that the author uses the term brethren to refer to saved and unsaved Hebrews alike simply does not work with the letter itself. No good communicator would ever craft a letter wherein the recipients had to break it apart to figure out who he is talking to based on what he’s saying in a particular sentence as he goes back and forth from one group to another. The entire reasoning is flawed.
When we consider the content of Hebrews we can conclude that it was written before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., because the writer of Hebrews makes reference to the temple service, the priests, and the sacrifices in the present tense. In the present tense, he makes a comparison between the superiority of Jesus’ ministry in the heavens (in the greater and more perfect tabernacle) to that which was on earth (which only served as a shadow and an example) to point men to Christ.
Many who continued in the old Jewish system rejected the Christian faith and persecuted the Jewish Christians. We see this play out in Paul’s ministry in the book of Acts. In Hebrews 10:32-34 the writer of Hebrews addresses it as well.
32 Think back on those early days WHEN YOU FIRST LEANRED ABOUT CHRIST. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering.
33 Sometimes you were exposed to PUBLIC RIDICULE and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things.
34 You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. (TNLT)
According to the author, his audience had suffered for their faith in Christ.
In chapter 2, he tells them that they are sanctified by Jesus as BRETHREN TO CHRIST and as THE CHURCH. He goes on to say that Jesus is a faithful high priest FOR THEM: HIS BRETHREN.
In 3:1, the author of Hebrews addresses his audience as HOLY BRETHREN and PARTAKERS OF THE HEAVENLY CALLING. He tells them that Jesus is the apostle and high priest of THEIR PROFESSION OF FAITH. This would no doubt be believers and not unbelievers.
Nowhere in the entire letter is he talking to unbelievers. He calls them brethren throughout the letter (2:11, 12, 17; 3:1, 12; 7:5; 10:19; 13:22). He also includes himself by using the pronouns we (51 times) us (31 times) and our (16 times). He also refers to his audience as “beloved” in 6:9.
The author of Hebrews tells them they are partakers of Christ’s house if the hold fast to the faith (3:6,14). In chapter 5 and 6 he admonishes them to move on from the elementary stages of the Christian faith to maturity.
12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
According to the author of Hebrews his audience was still living as babes in Christ in their spiritual growth and unable to teach others because they were not yet skillful in the word of righteousness. In chapter 6, he urges them to move on to perfection (i.e., spiritual maturity).
He admonished them regarding those who turn back (6:4-5) and declares that he is persuaded differently about them:
7 For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God:
8 But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
9 But, BELOEVED, WE ARE PERSUADED better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. (Hebrews 6:7-9)
Verse 9 (above) speaks volumes of the author’s view of those to whom he is writing. Though he gives them repeated warnings concerning the danger of apostasy, he constantly affirms them as believers and admonishes them to continue going forward. Notice verses 10-12 which follows the previous verses of Hebrews 6:7-9 above:
10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:
12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Again, notice how the author of Hebrews mixes admonition with encouragement; encouragement that God has not forgotten, and admonishment not to give up but to preserver until the end.
Exhortation mixed with admonition is weaved all throughout the letter to the Hebrews as he repeatedly explains and admonishes them concerning the importance of perseverance in the faith.
Later in his letter (in chapter 11) he speaks of many of the old testament saints who persevered in faith, referring to them as “a great cloud of witnesses” as he urges his audience to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets them. He tells them run with patience the race set before them as they look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.
He admonishes them concerning the chastisement of the Lord which comes through in the stern warnings given in his letter as he reminds them to whom they belong:
18 For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
19 And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
20 (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
22 YE ARE COME UNTO MOUNT ZION, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
23 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,
24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)
He exhorts them to not refuse him who speaks from heaven but rather to have grace so that they will serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire. (12:25-29)
As he begins to close his letter (chapter 13) he tells them to do the following:
- continue in brotherly love
- entertain strangers
- remember those who are in prison
- remember those who are being mistreated
- be faithful in marriage
- do not love money
- remember God’s promise to never fail or leave them
- remember those who have taught them the word of God and follow their faith
- do not be carried away by various and strange doctrines
- establish your hearts in grace
- bear the Lord’s reproach (i.e., suffer for his name)
- offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually in the name of Jesus
- don’t neglect doing good to the needy
- submit to those who are their leaders in the Lord
- continue praying for him (the writer) and those with him.
Finally, he closes his letter with the following words:
20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
22 And I beseech you, BRETHREN, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.
23 Know ye that OUR BROTHER TIMOTHY is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.
24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. THEY OF ITALY SALUTE YOU.
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.
One reading the book of Hebrews on its own merit would never come away with the notion that Hebrews was written to a mixture of saved and unsaved Hebrews. The letter speaks for itself.
To read about the warnings in Hebrews follow the link below: