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OF THE TIME WHEN, AND LANGUAGE IN WHICH, THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS WAS WRITTEN.
$1. Of the time when the epistle was written. It was after Paul's release out of prison; before the death of James; before the second of Peter. §2. The time of Paul's being sent to Rome. §3. The affairs of the Jews at that time; and the martyrdom of James. §4. The state of the Hebrew churches; which were zealously addicted to Mosaical institutions. §5. The troubles of the Jews; and the Christians warned to leave Jerusalem. §6. Causes of their unwillingness to leave it. §7. The occasion and success of the epistle. §8. (II.) Of the language wherein it was written. Not written in Hebrew. §9. Not translated by Clemens. §10. But has strong marks of a Greek original.
$1. (I.) THE time when the epistles were written, often threw considerable light on many passages; for instance, we learn, that the shipwreck at Mileta, Acts xxvii, is not what St. Paul refers to, 2 Cor. xi, when he says he was a "night and a day in the deep;" because that epistle was written some years before his sailing towards Rome. The time of Paul's imprisonment at Rome was expired before the writing of this epistle; for he was not only absent from Rome, in some other part of Italy, when he wrote it, chap. xiii, 24, but also so far at liberty, as to entertain a resolution of going into the East, when Timothy should come to him, chap. xiii, 23. The date of it must be also prior to the martyrdom of James at Jerusalem; since he affirms, that the Hebrew church had not yet resisted unto blood, chap. xii, 4. It is also certain, that it was not only written, but well known to the believing Jews, before the writing of the second epistle of Peter, which
was not long before the apostle's death, which happened, as is generally agreed, in the thirteenth year of Nero.
§2. From these observations it appears, that our best guide is Paul's being sent prisoner to Rome; which was in the first year of Festus, after he had been detained two years in prison, at Cæsarea, by Felix, Acts xxiv, 27; xxv, 26, 27; and this most probably corresponds with the fourth or fifth year of Nero, which was the fifty-ninth year from the nativity. Two years after, the seventh of Nero, and sixty-first of our Lord, he obtained his liberty, which was about thirteen years after the determination of the controversy about Mosaical institutions, Acts xv. Now, presently after his liberty, whilst he abode in some part of Italy, expecting the coming of Timothy, before he had entered upon the journey he had promised to the Philippians, chap. ii, 24, he wrote this epistle: The time being thus fixed, may be proper to consider,
§3. What was the general state and condition of the Hebrews in those days? That the church had a great share of suffering, in the outrage and misery of those days, about the death of Festus, who died in the province, and the beginning of the government of Albinus, who succeeded him, none can question; vid. Joseph. Wars of the Jews, B. ii. This is what the apostle mentions, chap. x, 31-34, "Ye endured, &c." And this was the lot of all honest and sober-minded men in those days, it being not a special persecution, but a general calamity that the apostle speaks of. For a direct attack upon the church was first made by Ananus, who was a rash young fellow, by sect a Saducee, and yet advanced to the priesthood. During the interval between the death of Festus, and the settling of Albinus, this cruel Saducee, placed in power by Agrippa,
summons James before himself and his associates, where he is condemned, and immediately stoned.
§4. The churches at this time in Jerusalem and Judea were very numerous. The oppressors, robbers, and seditious of all sorts, being wholly intent upon the pursuit of their own ends, filling the nation with tumults and disorders, the disciples of Christ, who knew that the time of their preaching the gospel to their countrymen was but short, and even now expiring, followed their work with diligence and success, being not greatly regarded in the dust of that confusion which was raised by the nation, while rushing into its fatal ruin.
All these churches were, together with the profession of the gospel, zealously addicted to the observance of the law of Moses. The synod indeed at Jerusalem had determined, that the yoke of the law should not be put on the necks of the Gentile converts, Acts xv; but eight or nine years after that, when Paul came up to Jerusalem again, chap. xxi, 20-22, James informs him, that the many thousands of the Jews who believed, did all zealously observe the law of Moses; and, moreover, judged that all those who were Jews by birth, ought to do so also; and on that account were like enough to assemble in a disorderly multitude, to inquire into the practice of Paul himself, who had been ill-reported of amongst them. On this account they kept their assemblies distinct from those of the Gentiles, all over the world.* All those Hebrews, then, to whom Paul wrote this epistle, continued in the use and practice of Mosaical worship, as celebrated in the temple, and in their synagogues, with all other legal institutions whatever. Whether they did this out of an unacquainted
*Hieron. in Gal. i.
ness with their liberty in Christ, or out of a pertinacious adherence to their own prejudicate opinions, I shall not determine.
$5. From this time forward, the body of the Jewish people saw not a day of peace and quietness; tumults, seditions, outrages, robberies, murders, increased all over the nation. And these things, by various degrees, made way for that fatal war; which, beginning about six or seven years after the death of James, ended in the utter desolation of the people, city, temple, and worship, foretold so long before by Daniel the prophet. This was that day of the Lord, the sudden approach of which the apostle declares to them, Heb. x, 36, 37, 'For ye have need of patience; that 'after ye have done the will of God, ye may receive 'the promise; for yet a little while, and he that shall 'come will come, and will not tarry;' (pov oσoV OFOV) very little while,' less than you think of. The manner of it he declares, Heb. xii, 26, 28. And by this means, he effectually diverted them from a pertinacious adherence to those things, whose dissolution, from God himself, was so nigh at hand; which argument was also afterwards pressed by Peter, 2 Pet. iii.
Our blessed Savior had long before warned his disciples of all these things; particularly of the desolation that was to come upon the Jews, with the tumults, distresses, persecutions, and wars, which should precede it; directing them to the exercise of patience in discharging their duty, until the approach of the final calamity; and of which he advised them to free themselves by flight, or a timely departure out of Jerusalem and Judea, Matt. xxiv, 15-21. This, and no other, was the oracle mentioned by Eusebius, whereby the Christians were warned to depart out of Jerusalem. It was given, as he says, (Tois donipois) to approved
men amongst them. For, although the prophecy itself was written by the evangelists, yet the special meaning of it was not known and divulged amongst all. The leaders of them kept it secret for a season, lest an exasperation of the people being occasioned thereby, they should have been obstructed in the work which they had to do before its accomplishment; and this was the case relative to other things, 2 Thes. ii, 5, 6. But now, when the present work of the church among the Jews was to come to its close, the elect being gathered out of them, and the final desolation of the city and people appearing to be at hand, by a concurrence of all the signs foretold by our Savior, those entrusted with the sense of that oracle, warned their brethren to provide for that flight, whereto they were directed. That this flight and departure probably with the loss of all their possessions, was grievous to them, may be easily conceived.
§6. But what seems most especially to have perplexed them, was their relinquishment of that worship of God, whereto they had been so zealously addicted. That this would prove grievous to them, our Savior had before intimated, Matt. xxiv, 20. Hence were they so slow in their obedience to that heavenly oracle, although excited with the remembrance of what befell Lot's wife in the like tergiversation. Nay, as it is likely, from this epistle, many of them, who had made profession of the gospel, rather than they would now utterly forego their old worship, deserted the faith, and, cleaving to their unbelieving countrymen, perished in their apostasy; whom our apostle, in a special manner, forewarns of their inevitable and sore destruction, by that fire of God's indignation which was shortly to devour the adversaries, to whom they associated themselves, Heb. x, 25-31.