A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing: A Contextual Reassessment of Salient Theological Conclusions in the Epistle of Hebrews

With its acute and controversial language, the epistle to the Hebrews can easily appear to contradict or replace Jewish teaching and law. But what if the epistle of Hebrews can be read within sectarian Judaism before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple? How then is Judaism represented in the epistle to the Hebrews? And how does this representation affect New Testament Christian theology? This purpose of this paper is to examine several salient theological conclusions of the epistle to the Hebrews within the plausible context of Palestinian Judaism. Following the steady progression of ideas and motifs found in Hebrews 10:1-18, this paper will reevaluate the major teachings of: the law (10:1), the sacrifices (10:1-11), the heavenly sanctuary (10:12-14), and the Old & New Covenant (10:15-18). First, the law of the Old Testament is wholly good and appropriate; it just needs to be divinely reallocated. Second, the sacrifices of the Aaronic Priesthood in the Temple do not contradict post-resurrection Christian faith but function uniquely on behalf of Temple worship. Third, the focus on the heavenly sanctuary in the epistle deters certain replacement theological positions and explains Jesus’ unique priesthood. Fourth, the new covenant is not fully evident yet; Jesus has given people a taste of the coming kingdom and his Spirit remains to assist those following him to persevere until his return. In short, the epistle to the Hebrews contains many false dilemmas not present in first-century Judaism and due to its misinterpretation may actually be like a sheep dressed in wolf’s clothing. Although later Christian sentiments, concerning law, sacrifices, the Temple, and the new covenant, have pulled the intentions of Hebrews away from an early Jewish Christian perspective, the contents of the epistle of Hebrews should be identified more closely within sectarian Judaism and not as a ravaging wolf that divides the flock.