In the last post we explored the authorship of the book of Hebrews and delved into its overall shape/structure a bit. Hebrews is unique in the New Testament, due to its oral character, its carefully crafted design, its use of high-brow Greek, its interwoven exposition (what the Scriptures say) with exhortation ("So, then this is what we should do in light of that.") It is a beautiful sermon, written by a master preacher, with the intent that this sermon be sent as a letter to fledgling churches.
About those small congregations...who were they? Who were the intended recipients of the Hebrews sermon/letter?
Cockerill points out that it is important to draw a conclusion about whether Hebrews was written to Christ-followers with Jewish ethnicity or to Christ-followers with Gentile heritage or to a mixed group of Christian believers.
Like the authorship of the book, it is impossible to determine this conclusively, even though it began to have the "address" To the Hebrews in the latter half of the second century. The writer of Hebrews does not utilize any type of ethnic distinction to help us figure this out. He disparages neither Jews nor Gentiles. The author seems to be addressing one Church Universal - - the people of God throughout history up until and including our present day, one long, continuous, faith-based salvation. It treats Christianity as a natural manifestation/metamorphosis of Judaism.
Within that, various Bible scholars have extrapolated various theories of the intended recipients of "Hebrews". One of the more intriguing theories, according to Bruce, is that, because of the intense focus on the Levitical/Aaronic priesthood, the letter was intended for highly-educated Christians who were formerly Jewish priests and who would have a natural interest in the writer's arguments. Others have taken this even further to assert that the intended audience was a group of converted priests called "Esseno-Christians", including members formerly of the Qumran sect. (You may be familiar with the discovery in 1947 of a large number of ancient Biblical manuscripts in the caves of Qumran.) Hebrews' author pointedly corrects some doctrinal errors commonly held by the Qumran sect, which lends credence to this position. Bruce seems to lean toward this view.
Some additional conclusions can be drawn.
1. In the very first verse, the author refers to "our ancestors", which could mean genetic ancestors or spiritual ancestors, or both.
2. Many references in Hebrews presupposes the hearers' familiarity with the Aaronic/Levitical and Melchizedekian priesthoods, as well as the sacrificial system of the former (7:11-19; 10:18).
3. The group of believers addressed were well-known by the author. This group was also highly educated and well-versed in classical Greek, as this was the language of the sermon/letter.
4. Finally, this group of believers had endured some form of persecution, although not martyrdom (12:4), obviously, and had begun to waver somewhat in the face of it.
The author does warn against true believers (whether Jew or Gentile) being swayed by two groups of people - -
***those who "serve in the Tent", that is, those who refuse to abandon the Aaronic priesthood for the all-sufficient Melchizedekian priesthood of Jesus Christ. (A subset of this group is those who wanted to relegate Jesus Christ to the position of some type of "archangel", as opposed to his true status as the second person of the Trinity.)
***those non-Christians of "the world" who marginalize-persecute Christians for their faith and stance in the modern society of any era.
So, to whom was this sermon/letter written? Inconclusive.
As a final note that hearkens back to the last post, I noticed in reading Bruce's commentary a school of thought existed that Aquila and Priscilla had authored Hebrews, with Priscilla being the dominant partner. They instructed Apollos, were closely associated with Timothy, hosted a church in their home in Rome...This could explain the name of the author disappearing from church memory, given the patriarchal views of that day. I found that fascinating!
Father, while all this is interesting, it matters more to me that you intended the book of Hebrews for me and for all who love Your name. Thank you for how You guided the assimilation and accumulation of the Holy Scriptures, Your sacred Word, so that we might be instructed and shaped more and more into the image of Your blessed Son. In Jesus' name, amen.
Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1990. Kindle edition.
Cockerill, Gareth Lee. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012. Kindle edition.