Faithful Men and Women (Hebrews 11-13)

Hebrews 11:6 ESV And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 12:2 ESV looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

We often learn by following someone else’s example. We need to be shown what something looks like when it is lived out. We might grasp what faith is on an intellectual level, but demonstrating it in our own life in the midst of persecution might be challenging. Especially if we are young in the faith.

Writing to a young church who is experiencing persecution, the writer of Hebrews demonstrates what faith in God looks like. He examines the lives of different individuals throughout the Old Testament. He demonstrates the core aspects of faith (believing that God exists and he rewards those who seek him – 11:6), through the lens of different Old Testament saints.

In chapter twelve we are challenged to not be lazy, but to diligently lay aside the things that would stop us from demonstrating real, biblical faith in our own life. We are reminded that we are not the first to discover faith in the midst of persecution. And we are also reminded that Jesus has blazed the trail ahead of us when it comes to trusting God the Father in the mist of suffering. Indeed He is the, “Founder and Perfecter of our faith” (12:2).

My big takeaways today were two fold. 1. In Preaching and teaching, it doesn’t hurt to use examples and “case studies” to demonstrate doctrine as applied to everyday life. Indeed this might be exactly what a less mature audience (5:12) might need. 2. Am I laying aside the things that hinder me from pursuing God in faith? What “weight” can I lay aside? For me it’s not watching a few hours of TV this week that I might normally watch, so I might have time to study the Word of God more.

Father, thank you for your word. Thank you that you demonstrate what faith looks like. Thank you for the stories we have in the scriptures of so many individual who have walked with you. Thank you that we can learn what faith looks like. Thank you that we can lay aside the things that hinder us from growing in a relationship with you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


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Consider One Another (Hebrews 9-10)

Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, (25) not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The church is the people, not the place or the programs. Sometimes the church meets in a certain place and has programs, but do not be mistaken, the church is the people. There is something special that happens when we gather together. We come in as individuals with strengths and weaknesses. We come in with different personalities, spiritual gifts and talents. Yet, as we gather together for the purpose of worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism we find fulfilment in the gospel and in one another. God has given us our brothers and sisters in Christ to aide in our spiritual development.

As a pastor I get a front row seat to see the congregation gathered together each Sunday. I see folks going through trials in life blessed by those who use their talents to sing and introduce a new song or hymn to the congregation. I see those who are discouraged become encouraged by the words of faithful friends. I see the formerly lonely now greeted with handshakes, hugs, and high-fives. I see individuals praying with one another through times of crisis and celebration. I see tears of sorrow made more bearable by those who silently come along side and offer comfort. I see a lot of things.

Sometimes we are tempted to think when we skip out on meeting together that the only things we are missing are the songs and the sermon, but what we really miss is the life of the church. We are told to consider one another. This text was originally written for a church that was suffering persecution. They weren’t able to meet in public places. Yet they are told not to forsake assembling together… because they needed each other. They needed to be there for their brothers/sisters and they needed their brothers/sisters there for them. We are foolish today if we don’t think that we need each other as well. We should strive to meet with our brothers and sisters in Christ whenever we can.

Father, thank you for your church. Thank you that you have given us brothers and sisters in Christ. Give us grace to know how to help, encourage, and strengthen our brothers and sisters in Christ when they need is. May they always be there for us in real and tangible ways. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


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Milk or Meat? (Hebrews 3-5)

Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. (12) For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, (13) for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. (14) But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

We set different levels of expectations on individuals due to their age or experience. For example we might expect a 1 year old to crawl and start taking first steps. We might expect a 15-16 year old to be interested in driving and learning to drive. We might expect a 2nd grader to tie their shoes. Each of these abilities/ milestones open them up to even more freedom and experiences down the road.

The author of Hebrews has some down the road information the he wants to share with this church, but they are too immature. They won’t be able to stomach it, because they are still dependent on others to spoon feed them the world of God. He wants to give them milk, but they are delayed in their development. They can’t take the next steps, because they haven’t taken the first steps to grow.

So often we look at spiritual giants and imagine that they took a leap to get there. The reality is that they just obeyed the LORD to take the next step in their growth and the next step, and the next step, through to maturity. We can look at the other end of the spectrum and see those who for whatever reason failed to take the next step towards maturity and so languish as spiritual infants. The question before us is what will we do with what we have been given? Will we grow to maturity?

Father, thank you that you give us milk and meat of your word. Thank you that you have given us teachers and pastors to lead us to maturity. We pray for grace to take the next steps to grow in faith that we might not need the milk, but can go straight to the meat. I pray that we would be those who press on and grow to maturity in Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


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He is Able to Help (Hebrews 1-2)

Hebrews 2:18 ESV ) For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Pastoring is a difficult calling. It has a tremendously high burnout rate in America. There are many who begin in ministry, but few who end there. There are so many aspects of what a pastor does that are difficult to convey to those who have never done it. It helps to speak to other men who are currently serving or who have served as a pastor before because they can help shed light on some of the challenges you face. Fellow pastors can sympathize and pray with insight because they know the difficulty of the calling.

When it comes to dealing with temptation we have the advantage of being able to talk with Jesus. It’s not as though Jesus doesn’t know the struggle of temptation. When he stepped into humanity he faced temptation, yet was able to resist (Matthew 4). He can intercede for us with insight. He knows what temptation is like. He can also give us grace to prevail as one who has succeed in overcoming temptation.

That’s the point here. Jesus isn’t just a perfect sacrifice for our sins. He also is a perfect priest who offers the sacrifice and stands between us and the Father. We can pray with confidence in Jesus’ name because he has walked in a sinful world and experienced first hand what temptation is like.

In context, the larger point here is that Jesus is better than the angels. He didn’t come as an angel to intercede for fallen angels. He doesn’t need to intercede for those who haven’t fallen. He has come for fallen humanity who trusts in him with simple faith like Abraham. Accept no substitute for the one true mediator between God and man, that is Christ Jesus. No one else has both the divine and human nature. No one else knows both temptation and the victory of a sinless life. There is no other way to God but through Jesus.

Father, thank you that Jesus is my mediator. Thank you that he knows my weakness in temptation but has also overcome temptation. There is salvation in no other name. I’m provoked to praise today when I consider that your love for us is greater than I can imagine as I see a glimpse of just how much Jesus took on that I might come to you in Faith. I rejoice to be able to pray In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


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Day 76: Hebrews 11-13 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Hebrews 11-13 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

What does saving faith look like? The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a long description of saving faith. The author goes back through a list of biblical characters and highlights what faith looked like in their generation: For Noah, it was building an ark (11:7). For Abraham it was leaving his home for a place God would show him (11:8). For Moses it was being identified with the nation of Israel rather than Egyptian royalty (11:24-25). Each one had a crisis moment where they either had to believe God in their generation of disbelieve God. They chose to believe God and act on it.

In Chapter twelve, the scene shifts to accommodate a race theme. We are reminded that many have gone on before trusting in the Lord and that we are each to run the race set before us (121:1). It can be tempting to look in someone else’s lane and think we want to run the race that is set before them, but we each have our own race to run, filled with different trials and challenges. Ultimately we rejoice to be a part of a kingdom that cannot be shaken (12:28)… great words for today!

Chapter thirteen is filled with practical and direct points of doctrinal application. The writer also pens a prayer (13:20-21) and includes a few personal and final greetings (13:22-25). The greetings help us determine the context of the letter as possibly being a Jewish house church in Rome.

FATHER, Thank you for the legacy of faith that we see in biblical characters who were human as we are with choices to make about believing you. Thank you for the gift of faith. I pray that we would seek your will, especially in the unique days ahead. Help us to run the race that is set before us. Thank you for the grace of leading your people. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

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Day 75: Hebrews 9-10 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Hebrews 9-10 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

We have a greater sacrifice. That is in essence what Hebrews chapter 9 and 10 remind us. That Jesus offered himself on our behalf, a perfect, spotless, once and for all  sacrifice.  The outward function of sacrifices, the temple, and priests all point us forward to Jesus as the coming fulfillment of the Old Testament.  How can anyone be saved if they leave the substance to embrace the shadow? Those who are in Christ have the substance of everything that was hoped for and are secure in their salvation.

Why then should we worry at what the world around us does? We have atonement for our sins, peace with God. The Hebrews were suffering the plundering of their property. They were seeing their stuff taken and perhaps even members of their fellowship thrown in jail. But what they couldn’t see was the once and for all peace with God that had been established on their behalf by Jesus. Peace with God was far more costly than what they were losing to a world that persecuted them.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that God has done far more for us in Jesus than we often give him credit for. The plundering of property seems like a small things compared to eternal life in Christ Jesus.

FATHER, Thank you for the forgiveness of sins and salvation found in Jesus Christ! We rejoice to know our savior. I pray that our confidence would be in you today, no matter what goes on in our world. Give us grace to minister to one another in the midst of chaos. Thank you for the grace to lead your people. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

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“I’m Not Getting Fed”:Confronting the voice of Consumer Christianity

As an American I live in a consumer culture. Just check out the cereal isle of your local grocery store and take note of how many options there are for corn flakes and that is just corn flakes! We’ve coined phrases like, “The customer is always right,” “the customer is king,” and my favorite slogan from days gone by, “Your way, right away.” We’re used to paying for things and getting what we want. Almost every industry has someone else competing to offer a better or alternative product so we are never without a choice in the matter. You have tons of options when it comes to car insurance, cell phone coverage, or even what kind of pick-up you want to drive.

i'm not getting fed

To be fair, that’s probably healthy for our economy… but when we carry consumerism into other area’s of our life it can be deadly. We’re so used to getting upgrades, new leases, and trading in the old model when something new, better, more convenient that we have let that mindset creep into our relationships. Can you imagine cutting ties with a friend because a better friend came along? Or how about filing for divorce in order to get a newer younger model? (unfortunately those phrases have been used). Consumerism can trick us into thinking we have options in places where we should have commitments.

I see it in the church too. Folks send their children to one church for it’s children’s ministry, their students go to another church for student ministry, and the parents attend a different church’s community group and maybe they all show us on a Sunday morning where they have opinions about the musical style or the preaching. Folks talk about a pastor or church and say something like, “I wasn’t getting fed” and “My needs weren’t being met,” and “they didn’t have anything for me.” (All phrases that remind me of when my children were infants by the way) And that’s the rub, Christianity for these folks is just a product to be consumed. It’s about getting their needs wants met.

While that may work for corn flakes, it doesn’t work in real relationships like marriage. Consumers quit on marriages because they are consumed with their own needs instead of the needs of their partner. They would soon discover that there is actually real joy in focusing on meeting the needs of your partner and marriages can flourish that way, but that takes commitment. It’s the same way with raising children. As a society, we remove children from the homes of parents who can’t see past their own needs to meet the needs of their children. If you’re a parent, you know that there is a real joy that comes in meeting the needs of your child and even providing some of their wants along the way (despite everything their selfishness may put you through).

That is how church is supposed to work. We are to look out for one another (Philippians 2:4) and work together (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) and meet regularly for encouragement (Hebrews 10:25) and in doing so train our children to be those who commit in relationships, not those who consume. The church is the people, not the program, not the building… the people, and that implies a relationship one to another.

If you really want to grow, do more than just absorb the programming. Get involved, be invested, participate in the life of the church by volunteering. If you have children and you think the children’s ministry could up it’s game, don’t send your kids to another church, volunteer for the children’s ministry team! If you don’t/ can’t volunteer… provide snacks, offer to help financially if you are able, find a way to invest. Find the church the Lord leads you too and get plugged in and serve. You will find there is more joy in the commitment than in consuming because church really has more to do with relationships than it does with products and programs. Ultimately it is about a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I get how God might call you to serve another church. He does this sort of thing all the time. He certainly called my family from one church to serve another, but be sure you are following God’s call and not your own consumer impulses. And as much as possible worship together with one congregation.


What Was the Nature of the Persecution Mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews?

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes, “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (10:32-34).[1]  This picture of suffering painted against the obscure background surrounding the Hebrew epistle leaves many scholars baffled as to the nature of the persecutions referenced in this passage.

Persecution broke out against Christians at various times, to varying degrees across Roman Empire in the first century.  Pinning Hebrews 10:32-34 to a historically recorded outbreak of persecution, however, proves to be a difficult task due to the limited amount of data concerning the general context of the Epistle to the Hebrews.   It is the purpose of this post to examine historical and textual evidence and propose the probable scenario behind the persecution mentioned in Hebrews 10:32-34.


The general context of the Epistle of Hebrews is difficult for scholars to agree upon.  The epistle itself does not give very many clues as to who wrote it, who received it, the occasion for which the epistle was written, or even when it was written.  Donald Guthrie notes the complex nature of pinning down the context, “Many of the questions which the investigator is bound to ask cannot be satisfactorily resolved.”[2]

What can be deduced internally is that the first recipients were a specific community with a specific history. [3] Craig R. Koester summarizes the data in three points:

Firstly the readers’ community was established when the message of salvation led to conversion and was confirmed by experiencing miracles and a sense of the Spirit’s presence. Secondly, during a time of persecution conditions became more difficult but the community remained steadfast in the wake of abuse, dispossession, and imprisonment and was not pressured into relinquishing their commitments. During the third stage, conditions within the community seemed to deteriorate as ongoing friction with non-Christians and the demands of mutual support within the Christian community evidently moved some to exhibit diminished commitment to the faith and to neglect the community’s gatherings.[4]

Beyond the internal evidence about the nature of the community that received the Epistle to the Hebrews the debate about the nature of the persecution centers both on the location of the recipients and the date of the book.  Once these two criteria are estimated, one may compare the text of Hebrews 10:32-43 with known persecutions fitting the established criteria.  A conclusion to the probable nature of the persecution referenced in Hebrews 10:32-34 can then be made.

The Recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews

The title “To Hebrews” appears to be a scribal gloss added sometime around the second or third century and is unreliable in determining either the location or ethnic background of the intended recipients.[5]  However, some scholars claim that the title was added because of the apparent ethnic theme that is displayed throughout the book.[6]  One such scholar notes, “It is probable that the author also expected his readers to recognize allusions to the OT deuterocanon, though he does not quote these as scripture.  Moreover, the argument of Hebrews is marked at many places by typical if not uniquely rabbinic procedures, such as the argument from the silence of scripture, and extrascriptural traditions such as the role of angels as intermediaries in the giving of the Law.”[7]

Some New Testament Theologians have made the case that the letter to the Hebrews was written to the church in Jerusalem.[8]  However, it appears peculiar that the letter to the Hebrews would bare so much discussion of Jewish cultic practices apart from the Temple.[9]  Carson, Moo and Morris, write, “The epistle is written in polished Greek, and none of the Old Testament quotations and allusions unambiguously depends on the Hebrew or Aramaic; from this we must conclude either that the author knew no Semitic tongue or that his readers, if in Jerusalem were all expatriots, Greek speakers choosing to live in Jerusalem or the surrounding area.”[10]

One theory supposes that the recipients were formerly from Jerusalem but had since migrated to another location.  The theory suggests that a community of Hellenized Jews, perhaps associated with Stephen had a past acquaintance with the city but were now scattered out from the city due to the persecution that befell Christians after the martyrdom of Stephen.[11]  Bruce writes, “Those Hellenists scattered in many directions, carrying the gospel wherever they went; one can easily think of the readers of this epistle as one of the communities of new believers founded at that time.”[12]

Some scholars theorize that this fledgling church running from persecution in Jerusalem may have ended up as a house church in Rome.  Bruce attributes the wide spread theory of a house church in Rome to the theologian Adolf Harnack.[13]  He also credits William Mason with deriving a theory of a house church in Rome linked back to the world mission theology and subsequent martyrdom of Stephen.[14]  Mason’s work seeks to radically reinterpret Hebrews along the lines of world mission.  Mason suggests:

 “The community of Christians established at Rome by the world-mission was predominantly Jewish-Christian in composition and character, rather than Gentile-Christian.  Separatist tendencies within the Church inclined to the Jewish rather than the Gnostic or Hellenistic side.  The minority of the group to which Hebrews was addressed was definitely Jewish-Christian.”[15]

Other cities of interest have been put forward as possible locations.  Alexandria, Antioch, Bithynia and Pontus, Caesarea, Colossae, Corinth, Cyprus, and Samaria are some of the places that various scholars have put forward. [16] Rome, however gathers a larger amount of support.[17]

The evidence for a Roman church is largely dependent upon how one reads the closing remarks.  The author of Hebrews writes, “Those who come from Italy send you greetings” (13:24).  Guthrie comments, “The most natural way to understand this expression is of people whose home is in Italy, but who are living elsewhere and are desirous of sending greetings home.”[18] Unfortunately these vague clues alone are not enough to definitively specify an audience.

The internal evidence taken along with external evidence does provide a plausible but not definitive argument for Rome being the intended destination of the epistle.  Hagner suggests that since the first external evidence and reference to Hebrews appears in writing by Clement of Rome that the Epistle was already familiar in Rome.[19] This evidence alone, however, does not provide conclusive evidence for Rome as the destination of the Hebrew Epistle. Many New Testament scholars conclude that Rome is the most likely destination for the letter, but suggest that any variety of other locations is also possible.[20]

Dating the Epistle to the Hebrews

Pinning a date on the book of Hebrews is difficult.  F. F. Bruce notes, “In the absence of any clear evidence for the identity of the recipients or the author, the date of the epistle is also uncertain.”[21] Though nailing down a certain date is seemingly impossible, scholars are able to pin the time of the authorship to sometime within the first century.[22]

Scholars are quite certain that the book of Hebrews was written after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection and therefore the book of Hebrews was written sometime after AD 30.[23]  The author of Hebrews writes “It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard” (3:2).  This can be understood to mean that the Hebrew community was a second generation Christian community.  When they received the gospel they did so with joy, even embracing persecution (10:32). However, their zeal and commitment had begun to wane and they were in danger of drifting from what they had been taught (2:1) and the writer had expected them to grow spiritually beyond what they had, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers” (5:12).  While it is impossible to ascertain a definite time frame for these events to occur, it is sufficient to surmise that a reasonable amount of time would have passed between the resurrection, the Hebrew community receiving the gospel, persecution, and subsequent temptation to drift and lack of reasonable growth.[24]  New Testament theologian, Luke Timothy Johnson notes, “A date earlier than 45 would seem, in light of this evidence, highly unlikely.”[25]

Figuring out the latest possible date is difficult as well.  If the Timothy mentioned in Hebrews 13:23 is the companion of Paul, it seems clear that the epistle was written during his lifetime.[26]  However, given the limited information that scholars have regarding the life of Timothy this does not narrow down the time frame.

The epistle of Hebrews is first alluded to in 1 Clement which traditionally has been understood to have been written around 96 AD.[27]  The reasoning behind this early date of 1 Clement is in large part due to the interpretation of the phrase, “The successive and calamitous events”[28] as being a veiled reference to the persecution under the emperor Domitian.[29]  Some scholars, however, argue for a later date for the epistle of 1 Clement suggesting that it may have been written as late as 140 AD.[30] Thus they would view Clement of Rome’s dependence upon the book of Hebrews in writing 1 Clement as an unworthy guide to dating the epistle.[31]

Some scholars claim the date for the book of Hebrews should be set prior to A.D. 70 when the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem.[32]  This is in large part due to the present tense nature of the language referring to cultic practice.[33] Lane dismisses this idea and notes:

The argument, however, is untenable. The writer of Hebrews shows not interest in the temple in any of its forms not in contemporary cultic practice. In 9:1-10, for example he concentrates his attention upon the tabernacle of the Israelites in the wilderness rather than upon the temple… That the argument in Hebrews is developed in terms of the tabernacle indicates that the present tenses in the account should be taken as “timeless,” rather than as a reflection of a continuing temple liturgy in Jerusalem.[34]

Guthrie however is not as quick to dismiss the tabernacle motif as a sure sign that the temple could have already been destroyed.  He writes:

The present tenses, used for instance in 9:6-9 would have more point the Temple ritual was still being observed.  The distinction between the tabernacle and Temple may not have been as sharp to the original readers as appears to the modern reader.  On the whole this line of evidence is more in favor of a date before rather than after AD 70, especially if weight is given to the strange omission of any mention of the catastrophe if it had already happened.  It would have been a valuable historic confirmation of the major thesis of the epistle – the passing of the old to make way for the new.[35]

Taking the arguments into account New Testament Theologian Donald Hagner places the date of Hebrews somewhere around “the early sixties.”[36]  Likewise Paul Ellingworth[37] and F. F. Bruce[38] also date the letter in the early sixties in view of the persecution that broke out in Rome around 64 AD.[39] Other New Testament scholars prefer to leave the date a bit more open.  Luke Timothy Johnson states, “Although such arguments provide nothing more than probability, the cumulative effect of the three lines of argument I have proposed lead to the likely date for Hebrews being between 45 and 70, with a date between 50 and 70 quite possible.”[40] John Paul Heil summarizes it best, “Perhaps the most that can be said with relative certainty is that Hebrews was written sometime in the latter half of the first century.”[41]

The Textual Evidence for Persecution

            Pinning the date of the persecution within the possible dates of the authorship of Hebrews is an ardent task.  If the persecution referred to is Roman in nature, then scholars have two immediately viable persecutions.  The first major persecution against Christians occurred under Nero following the burning of Rome in 64 AD.[42]  The second followed several years later under the reign of Domitian. [43]

The persecution under Nero began following the burning of Rome on 19 July 64 AD.[44]  The fire had consumed the larger portion of the city and left thousands of people homeless.  Rumors began to spread quickly that Nero had intentionally set Rome on fire.  In an attempt to direct hostilities away from himself Nero indicated the Christians were to blame and unleashed his own peculiar rage against them in a tidal wave of persecution which resulted in the death of many believers in and around Rome.[45]  Though the fury of the emperor was hottest in Rome, there is no reason to conclude that only Christians in geographical proximity to Rome were the only ones to suffer.  Harold Parker, Jr. suggests, “While the Neronian persecution had been confined to Rome, it would not be difficult indeed to project that experience to any city in the Empire, such as the riot at Ephesus suggests (Acts 19:21-41), or the turmoil in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-40).”[46]

Persecution later would break out under the reign of the Emperor Domitian.  Scholars face a great deal of difficulty in determining the reasons for persecution under Domitian.  Unlike the Neronian persecution there does not appear to be a significant catalyst for renewed zeal in the persecution of Christians.[47]  However, hostilities toward the Jews and Christians alike were on the rise in the Roman Empire over a perceived lack of patriotism toward the emperor by way of the imperial cult.[48] Harold Parker, Jr. writes, “There are several additional reasons why Domitian could have prompted the persecutions against the adherents of the new faith.  Without question was the emergence of the imperial cult, a condition arising when Domitian required that he be addressed as Lord and God.”[49]

However, in both the persecutions under Nero and Domitian it is certain that more than the seizure of property and public shame was taking place.  Christians were perceived to have been martyred for their faith.  The writer of Hebrews does not mention martyrdom in Hebrews 10:32-34, he merely speaks of public shame and dishonor.  In chapter twelve the author challenges the recipients to look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb. 12:2-4).  This statement, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood,” (12:4) if taken literally would indicate that the persecution suffered by the community was a lesser form of persecution than death.[50]

If the martyrdom had not yet occurred in the Hebrews community, then it is possible to rule out the Jerusalem church as a location as Stephen and James had most likely already been martyred there.[51]  If a community in Rome was the intended audience then the letter must have been written sometime before 65AD when persecution took shape under Nero.[52]  The conclusions drawn off of a literal reading of Hebrews 12:4 have scholars scouring the historical data for other potential persecutions.

Some scholars conclude that Hebrews 10:32-34 references a local outburst of rather than a systemic tide of persecution and the action may have been mob oriented rather than governmentally sanctioned.[53] Craig Koester writes, “Since confiscation was normally done alongside other punishments, and Hebrews implies that property was lost even by those who were not imprisoned, it seems likely that the seizures were not fully legal, but that they might have been tolerated by the authorities.”[54] Koester goes on to note that the text is not clear on whether the persecution was instigated by Jews or Gentiles.[55] Though at various times Jews were ousted from their synagogue for their Christian practices and beliefs, it appears that more is at stake in Hebrews 10:32-34 as some even suffer imprisonment.[56]  Thus the government is involved at least mildly in past persecution.

DeSilva hypothesizes what is at stake in the Hebrews 10:32-34 passage is honor and shame.  He writes:

“While the believers were once content to lose  their place in society (with the confiscation of their property, their subjection to trial and disgrace, 10:32-34), with the passing of time these longings resurface and pressure some of the believers at least to withdraw from the associations that marginal low-status group, which would undermine their own status in society.  This accounts for the withdrawal of some from the gathered worshiping community (10:25) as well as the perceived need on the part of the author to reinforce the importance of showing solidarity with the imprisoned and tortured (10:34; 13:3).[57]

The question remains, do scholars have a historical account of a local outburst against Christianity that would have resulted in the seizure of property and possible jail time?  Some scholars think they have found the answer.  However, the account is not crystal clear and leaves room for a more open interpretation.

The Roman Emperor Claudius expelled several Jews from Rome in the year 49 AD and Christians were known to be among them.[58]  Indeed, this expulsion from Rome is what took Aquila and Pricilla to Rome where they would later meet the Apostle Paul.[59] Manson notes, “Though the confiscation of property and imprisonments occurred in the pogrom at that time, there had been no loss of Christian lives.”[60]

The minor persecution under Claudius also appears to have a small, but significant link to the Christian message.  The Roman writer Suetonius wrote that the expulsion was due to disturbances caused by “Chrestus.”[61] Davidson writes:

The “Chrestus” he mentions may have been a Jewish troublemaker of whom we otherwise know nothing.  Alternatively, Suetonius may have misunderstood the spelling of “Christus” (possibly because the word could be pronounced “Chrestus”), and he may be saying that the riots occurred at Rome when the message of Christ was spread among the city’s Jews.  Either way, it looks as if there was no singling out of Christians for particularly hostile treatment, even if it was the name of their Savior that provoked the disputes.  Jesus’ followers were removed from the capital as part of a wider constituency of Jews whom the authorities regarded as undesirables. [62]


Textual and historical evidence simply interpreted are inconclusive concerning the nature of the suffering referenced in Hebrews 10:32-34.  Circumstantial evidence does support the viable possibility that the suffering referenced in Hebrews 10:32-34 took place in Rome under the Emperor Claudius.  However, this position is built on a framework of suppositions that are tenable, but unable to be completely grounded by historical data.  While the scenario fits, it is not conclusive.

For the persecution to have taken place under the Emperor Claudius, the audience of the Epistle to the Hebrews would have had to have been a church in Rome during the year 49 AD.  This assumes that the location of the church was Rome.  While this claim is viable it is not definitively provable beyond any kind of reasonable doubt.  Indeed across the spectrum of scholarship there are many hypothesis on where the original audience of the epistle of Hebrews might have been located.

The above scenario also assumes the persecution that took place was one available in the historical records.  While it is true to assume that a stay in jail would have involved the government, there is enough historical precedent across the Roman empire to logically conclude that persecution may have been a localized dispute similar in nature to the many that surrounded Apostle Paul on his journey, most notably Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41).  A localized persecution of a similar and perhaps smaller nature is just as viable as a Roman persecution in the absence of information regarding the original recipients of the letter.

When scholars set about to draw conclusions based on a particular text, context plays a key part.   Like putting a puzzle together the pieces already assembled give shape to the missing piece and provide evidence for the shape of the missing piece.  By studying the pieces that surround a missing piece of evidence scholars are able to provide tenable theories as to the shape and size of a missing piece.

However when one comes to the book of Hebrews it quickly becomes apparent that scholars are not dealing with just one missing piece of evidence, they are dealing with several.  Little is truly verifiable concerning the context of the Epistle to the Hebrews. For scholars to conclude a location, more evidence is needed.  For Scholars to conclude the nature of the audience, more evidence is needed.  For scholars to conclude the authorship of the book of Hebrews, more evidence is needed.  When working from the inside out, any puzzle piece in solidarity looks like the right piece and any proposition is valid until it comes in sharp contrast with verifiable data.

What scholars do know is that the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews did suffer a mild form of persecution that resulted in the loss of property and the imprisonment of a few of their members.  It is likely that this persecution was never severe enough for a member of the community to be martyred.  The community had since drifted and some in the community were in danger of abandoning the community and perhaps even their faith.  This may have been due to a sense of shame associated with the former loss of status and possessions.  Fortunately the broader theological argument throughout the Epistle to the Hebrews is not tied to the nature of the persecution mentioned in Hebrews 10:32-34.



[1] All Scripture quotations in this paper, unless noted otherwise are from the The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2006).

[2] Donald Guthrie, The Letter to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 15.

[3] Donald A. Hagner, Hebrews. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1990), 4.

[4] Craig R. Koester, “Conversion, persecution, and Malaise: Life in the Community for which Hebrews was Written,” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 61, No. 1&2 (2005), 231.

[5] John Paul Heil, Hebrews (Washington, D. C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 2010), 20.

[6] Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 33-34.

[7] Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1993), 23.

[8] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An introduction to the New Testament, 400-401.

[9] Fredrick F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 10.

[10] Carson, Moo and Morris, An introduction to the New Testament, 400-401.

[11] Bruce, 10.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 13-14.

[14] Ibid.

[15] William Manson. The Epistle to the Hebrews. (London: Hodder and Stoughton LTD., 1949), 24.

[16] Carson, Moo and Morris, 400-401. and Guthrie, 27.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Guthrie, 27.

[19] Hagner, 5.

[20] Guthrie, 27. Hagner, 6-7.

[21] Bruce, 20-21.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Johnson, 38.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Bruce, 21.

[27] N. Clayton Croy, Endurance in suffering (Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 1998), 5.

[28] 1 Clement 1

[29] Ellingworth, 29-30.

[30] William L. Lane. Hebrews. (Dallas: Word Books, 1991), lxii-lxiii.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Bruce, 21.

[33] Ibid., 21-22.

[34] Lane, lxiii.

[35] Guthrie, 28.

[36] Hagner, 8.

[37] Ellingworth, 33.

[38] Bruce, 21.

[39] Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, (Peabody: Prince Press, 1999), 33-36.

[40] Johnson, 40.

[41] Heil, 20.

[42] Gonzalez, 33-36.

[43] Ivor J. Davidson. The birth of the church. (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2004), 195.

[44] Ibid.,191.

[45] Davidson, 191-193.

[46] Harold M. Parker, Jr. “Domitian and the epistle to the Hebrews.”  Iliff Review 36, No. 2 (Spring 1979), 34.

[47] Gonzalez, 36.

[48] Davidson, 194-195.

[49] Parker 34-35.

[50] Bruce, 21.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Koester, 240.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., 241.

[56] Ibid.

[57] David Arthur DeSilva. “Despising Shame: A Cultural-Anthropological Investigation of the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Journal of Biblical Literature 113, No. 3 (Fall 1994), 440.

[58] Davidson, 190.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Manson, 163.

[61] Davidson, 191.

[62] Ibid.