Who Were the Original Recipients of the Book of Hebrews?

13 Aug

We know for sure that Hebrews was written for Christians because the readers are urged several times to hold onto their faith (3:6, 14; 4:14; 10:23). As to the ethnic background of the original readers, we don’t know for sure but the large number of references to the Old Testament leads me to think that the original recipients were Jewish Christians. They seem to be a group under persecution who were feeling the temptation to give up the fight of faith. There don’t seem to be the dangers of false teaching Paul warned about it seems to be more an issue of taking the heat of persecution.

In studying the background of the book, it is possible that this letter was sent to the church in Rome. The first mention of the book is from Rome, in the book of 1 Clement which was written in Rome at the end of the first century. The historical setting also fits Rome very nicely. The Emperor Claudius kicked out the Jews from Rome in AD 49 because of a dispute over Chrestus. This probably refers to a dispute over Christ, meaning that among those who were kicked out were Jewish Christians. This would make sense of some of the words in Hebrews about them accepting the plundering of their property. When these Jewish Christians returned to Rome, they joined with Gentile believers in the church at Rome. Thus Rome was a church with a Jewish background, making the message of Hebrews one which would make sense to them, with all its references to the Old Testament. But in the mid-60’s AD, a new threat arose, Nero. The persecution of Christians in Rome became a significant threat and the church was not handling it as well as they handled the earlier persecution. So Hebrews is written to encourage them to stand firm in the face of persecution.

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