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Emmaus-Road-Jesus-with-Disciples-Rembrandt

One of the most reassuring passages in all of Scripture comes in Hebrews 4:14-16:

14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

High Priests were, by their nature, somewhat remote and perhaps forbidding – they went into the Holy of Holies once a year, and they were offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. But here, the author of Hebrews offers us a very different version – Jesus. Jesus knows us in our very weakness, he knows those weaknesses, and he is the propitiation for our sins – he can help us obtain mercy.

What good news this is! We do not have to offer any sacrifices, nor do we have to seek the mediation of any other party – we have our own Great High Priest, and He died and He rose for us. We do not need to hold back, or to be fearful – we can come directly to Jesus and through Him, obtain mercy.

We don’t know who wrote Hebrews, and from the earliest times its authorship has been questioned. It is there is the earliest codices, but we know that St Jerome only included it in the Vulgate because of Catholic tradition:

This must be said to our people, that the epistle which is entitled “To the Hebrews” is accepted as the apostle Paul’s not only by the churches of the east but by all church writers in the Greek language of earlier times, although many judge it to be by Barnabas or by Clement. It is of no great moment who the author is, since it is the work of a churchman and receives recognition day by day in the public reading of the churches. If the custom of the Latins does not receive it among the canonical scriptures, neither, by the same liberty, do the churches of the Greeks accept John’s Apocalypse. Yet we accept them both, not following the custom of the present time but the precedent of early writers, who generally make free use of testimonies from both works.

That is an important statement about how and why some books were accepted by everyone, even though they were not universally received in the sense of being part of the common history of every part of the Church.

As Jerome wrote, the authorship does not matter.As early as Origen in the second century, Church Fathers had spotted the differences in language between it and Paul’s letters, but since the Church accepted it, its authorship was irrelevant. There were many ‘disputed’ books in circulation, but Hebrews was never one of them; whoeever wrote, it, it was recognised as the authentic Gospel message. In a world where the vengeance of the gods was used as a means to coerce and quieten the populace, the early Church called people to it by other means.

None of that is to deny the many places where we are told of God’s anger with sin, but it is to point up how different the general message of Christianity was. I still find those verses the most comforting.

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