John Hosier on Hebrews

A few months ago, John Hosier gave a series of four lectures on Hebrews at Gateway Church, Poole. I was unfortunately unable to attend due to them being shortly after the birth of our fifth child. But I was pleased to notice recently that they are available for download. Unfortunately the final recording is incomplete, and the accompanying notes are not available, but it is still well worth hearing. I always find John Hosier to be an excellent communicator, with a real gift for clarifying some of the more perplexing parts of Scripture (he is also an expert in Revelation).

The second talks is of particular interest since it covers both the warning passages, and the meaning of “rest”. I found the discussion of rest to be helpful, because despite having read three commentaries on Hebrews (France, Wright, and Brown), I have never felt I’ve really grasped what it is about. I recently bought Peter O’Brien’s new commentary on Hebrews from the Pillar series, but have only read the introduction so far.

As for the warning passages, half a talk isn’t enough to do it justice or fully nail down your position, but I found his material helpful, and there seems to be some agreement with my own position on perseverance which I have blogged about and given a talk on before (although I felt he left open the loss of reward interpretation as an option, which I am not persuaded by).

John Hosier’s talks are available here:

Part 1

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Part 2

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Part 3

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Part 4 (incomplete)

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Book Review – Hebrews For Everyone (Tom Wright)

Series Overview

The “For Everyone” series is Tom Wright’s project to write an accessible commentary / devotional on the entire New Testament. He brings his massive scholarly learning to the table, but these volumes are anything but dry academic tomes.

The unique features of the series include the author’s own translation, which is a fairly loose paraphrase in many places. There is no book “introduction”, so if authorship and dating are covered, it is only in passing as he goes through. And he always starts each section with a brief anecdote, from his seemingly endless supply of illustrations, almost all of which prove helpful in illuminating the text although there are rare occasions where one suspects he was a little short of ideas.

His quirky approach to capitalisation from his more academic tomes also shows up in these books (e.g. “holy spirit”), although “God” does get capitalised throughout. Finally, there is a glossary at the back in which he defines several key terms which are highlighted in bold throughout the book.

Hebrews Commentary

Hebrews rests heavily on Old Testament quotations and allusions, and Tom Wright does a good job of explaining first the sense of the OT passage before showing how it functions in the author of Hebrews’ argument.

A strong theme comes out of Jesus as the climax of biblical history. Wright explains that the law is a good thing, but a temporary, preparatory thing, and so why go back to it, now the real thing has arrived. Moses matters – but Jesus matters even more.

Much of his familiar work on our future hope can be detected in this commentary, as he reminds us that we are not expecting to go from a material present to a spiritual (i.e. non-material) future, but rather we look to a world in which evil has at last no place. He does see a reference to the second coming in Heb 9:28, although is somewhat equivocal about Heb 10:37 which he starts off calling a reference to the second coming, but ends up linking it to the temple destruction in AD70.

Whilst he does not engage in the “once-saved always saved” debate in the way that other evangelicals might, he does tip his hand towards a perseverance of the saints position, saying that Rom 5-8 shows you can’t become a Christian and lose it all. Along with most interpreters he sees a major purpose of the author to encourage his readers to keep persevering in the face of persecution.

Verdict

Tom Wright has the knack for bringing a fresh perspective to just about every topic he approaches and this is no exception. Preachers will find this especially useful as a source for illustrations and fresh ways of saying things. It shouldn’t be the only thing you read on Hebrews, but it nevertheless is well worth getting hold of, especially if, like me, you sometimes find Hebrews a bit heavy-going.

Book Review – REBC Hebrews (R T France)

The first volume in the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary series was recently published, containing commenataries on Hebrews (R T France), James (George Guthrie), 1,2 Peter & Jude (Daryl Charles), 1,2,3 John (Tom Thatcher), and Revelation (Alan Johnson). This is just a review of the Hebrews commentary. The book itself has been well put together, with a very easy to follow layout. It includes the full text of the NIV, although France seems to wish that he was commenting on the TNIV, and regularly prefers the TNIV wording. He is non-commital on authorship – but he does say that it was someone like Apollos, writing a word of exhortation as a pastor, with a probable pre-AD 70 date. He is writing to Jewish Christians tempted to question whether they have made the right decision in converting to Christianity, and his main structure is based around the idea of supercession – how much better the Christian gospel is than the temporary provisions of the Old Covenant.

Hebrews makes much use of Old Tesament quotations, and France gives some space to discussing the sometimes unconventional hermeneutics of the author. Basically, in the Old Testament what is true of the Father is assumed to be true of the Son. In fact, in many instances, the author’s exegetical methods are remarkably similar to our own.

For Calvinists, the warning passages in Hebrews present a possible contradiction to other text emphasising the security of the believer. France does discuss this issue, but doesn’t attempt to provide a resolution other than noting the differing pastoral intentions that are present in Hebrews (Paul wants to give assurance to doubters, Hebrews wants to give warning to the complacent). Moreover, France believes that the author of Hebrews really does indicate that ‘real’ Christians can deliberately abandon the faith. The use of “we” in 10:26 indicates to him that again “real Christians” are in view. While not interacting directly with a Calvinist approach to 3:14, he sees this as a verse stating that our “sharing remains conditional” – the race is not run until it has been finished. France sees apostacy also in the mention of Esau in 12:16.

There are helpful explanations of what Christian maturity is about, and how Jesus became perfect through suffering (5:8,9). While he does not wade right in to controversial debates on the atonement, he does emphasise understanding the cross in terms of the Old Testament sacrificial system. Commenting on 10:14 he says that it is pastorally essential to recognise the believer’s ongoing battle with sin. His introductory material to chapter 11 is helpful in explaining the nature of faith, and how the author sees faith in some Old Testament stories that do no explicitly mention it. France sees chapter 13 as naturally concluding the letter and so doesn’t see the need to consider it a later addition.

Overall, I found this commentary very helpful in following the argument through the book, and explaining some of the more difficult parts. It is not a long-winded commentary, which may mean that in places you would like a more detailed explanation. Although he touches on some theological debates and practical applications, on the whole he is happy to do the exegesis, and leave the systematic theology and contemporary application to the reader, which is probably about right for a commentary series aimed at preachers. The volume as a whole represents good value for money compared to most other commentary series available, providing commetaries on nine books for the price of one hardback book.

Book Review – The Message of Hebrews (Raymond Brown)


This is one of the first volumes in the Bible Speaks Today series, and was in fact originally published separately under the title “Christ Above All”. The introduction sets out Brown’s working theory that Hebrews was written to believers who were tempted to give up or compromise to avoid the persecution they were facing. The letter is an appeal to endurance, and specifically warns against the folly of giving up Christianity to return to Judaism. Brown briefly discusses authorship but proposes no favourite candidate.

Hebrews draws heavily on the Old Testament, and the author is keen to stress the understanding of the Old Testament from a Christian, and especially Christ-centered viewpoint. The background information he provides concerning the relevant OT passages will prove helpful to those who do not immediately recognise some of the connections and significance of the various allusions.

On quite a few occasions, Brown goes on the offensive against a liberal watered down christology, as well as critiquing liberation theology, Catholic teachings and various secular writings. He quotes books such as “Honest to God” or “The Myth of God Incarnate” as illustrative of contemporary challenges to biblical Christianity. He occasionally interacts other commentators, mainly Bruce and Hughes.

Hebrews contains a number of important passages which relate to the controversial “once saved always saved?” debate. Brown carefully manages a blatantly partisan approach, but his general interpretation of Heb 6 is Calvinist friendly. He also endeavours to provide a more pastoral perspective, considering the situation where friends who had an apparent genuine faith fall away.

As usual with the Bible Speaks Today series, the emphasis is on contemporary relevance rather than technical linguistic or theological arguments, and this will benefit those who find Hebrews a difficult book and want some devotional help. Immensely practical subjects such as facing death without fear, and understanding God’s discipline are explored helpfully.

The size of the book makes it slightly too long to be read alongside a chapter a day of Hebrews, but it is well suited to those who want to take a bit longer to study the book, or who want to use it as an aid in preparing sermons or studies for others.