Hebrews is rarely preached. It is considered impractical due to its heavy use of the OT, frequent quotations, and first-century argumentation and subject matter. I, however, believe it is perhaps the most practical book in the NT, since it addresses the dire situation of imminent apostasy, which is a perpetual concern for the church. More preaching of Hebrews would facilitate greater stability and perseverance in the faith. That is why I am providing here a syllabus for preparing to preach or teach Hebrews.
Before diving into secondary material, read Hebrews in English several times. Outline it yourself, meditate on it, pray over it. Consider the problem addressed in the letter and how that relates to your congregation or group.
Next, dive into some secondary material to build on your foundation. I’ll provide works in the order I would suggest reading them.
- Trotter, Andrew H. Interpreting the Epistle to the Hebrews. Guides to New Testament Exegesis. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1997. This series is designed for introducing students and pastors to the various issues in studying a book or corpus. Trotter does a solid job guiding the student through the introductory issues in Hebrews and setting you on the right path.
- Vos, Geerhardus, ed. The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1956. Vos’s volume is classic. His section on diatheke is a little dull, but the rest is gold. He deals especially well with typology in Hebrews and the nature of Christ’s high priesthood.
- Lindars, Barnabas. The Theology of the Letter to the Hebrews. New Testament Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. This covers the theology of the letter by topic. Lindars’s position on the historical occasion for the letter is the most persuasive that I have read. Most of the book builds off this hypothesis, but is still valuable even if he is wrong.
- Lincoln, Andrew T. Hebrews: A Guide. New York: T & T Clark, 2006. This should be read in tandem with Lindars’ book. Lincoln deals well with three factors leading toward apostasy, while most try to minimize the problem to just one.
- Bateman, Herbert W. IV ed. Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 2007. There are five passages in Hebrews known as the “warning passages.” In order to deal with these adequately in preaching, read this book thoroughly to see four of the different views. I think Fanning’s systematic conclusions are solid, but also that the wilderness generation stands as the typological background to all the warning passages, something argued well for 6:4-8 by Gleason (although I disagree with his position).
Commentaries and Exegetical Helps
First, if you know Greek and will be translating the book yourself as you go, you should be aware of the following works.
- Greenlee, J. Harold. An Exegetical Summary of Hebrews. 2nd ed. Dallas, Tex.: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 2008. This work compiles the various exegetical decisions to be made on each verse and tells you the decision made by dozens of commentators and a dozen English translations. Greenlee does not give his own opinions, nor does he provide arguments. He only provides possibilities and positions taken. Use this work to help you know what exegetical issues you need to address.
- Miller, Neva F. The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Analytical and Exegetical Handbook. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1988. Miller provides linguistic and structural analysis with argumentation and conclusions. This work is basically a commentary on the language and structure of Hebrews.
Second, the following are the best commentaries to consult when teaching or preaching Hebrews. I’m listing them in descending order of preference for preaching, not for academic study.
- O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010. O’Brien summarizes scholarship well and provides solid theological argumentation and conclusions. This is perhaps the best commentary currently available for preaching and teaching consultation. The Pillar series deals with Greek in the footnotes, so you will also want to use…
- Ellingworth, Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993. This is known as a standard on Hebrews. He deals extensively with Greek grammar, syntax, and semantics, while also handling the theology of the letter. Ellingworth complements the more theologically oriented commentary by O’Brien.
- Lane, William L. Hebrews 1-8. Vol. 47A. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1991; idem. Hebrews 9-13. Vol. 47B. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1991. This two volume set is another academic standard that rivals Ellingworth’s commentary in exegetical and theological analysis.
- Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Rev. ed. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990. Bruce always strikes a solid balance between historical/exegetical and theological analysis, and he is generally concise. His commentary would be a solid fourth work to consult.
Preach and Teach!
The books recommended above constitute about 1,100 pages, so you will need to do advanced preparation. But once you have studied Hebrews on your own, and then read through some of the books, you should feel more competent in Hebrews on its own terms and you should see the great relevance for today’s Church. The exegetical helps and commentaries would just be consulted each week as you work through Hebrews.
God has a powerful message in the book of Hebrews; it’s sharp as a two-edged sword and can pierce the hearts of men (Heb 4:12). Don’t let it gather dust on the shelf; teach it to your people, and let God move powerfully in their hearts as he strengthens their faith and uses his word to help them persevere in the faith.