A Brief Outline of the Letter to the Hebrews


I. Jesus as Son of God and Savior  (1:1-3:6)

                  Jesus - “shared flesh and blood” (2:14), “made perfect through sufferings” (2:10)

                  Like his brothers and sisters that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people (2:17)

                  Because he was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are tested

Exh I:  Don’t turn away, but exhort one another to endure the ‘testing’  (3:7-4:13)

                  We Have Become partners, if we hold our first confidence firm (3:14)

                  While the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it (4:1-3)

Proc. II. Jesus as High Priest (4:14-5:10)

                  “Since we have a great high priest, let us hold fast (4:14)

                                    He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, he is one who has been tested, yet without sin (4:15)

                  High priests are chosen from among mortals to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins (5:1) - subject to weakness and must offer sacrifice for his own sins (5:2-3)

                  Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered; having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (5:8-10)

Exh II: Christian Maturity  (5:11-6:20)

                  “Let us go on toward perfection” (6:1); become imitators of those who inherit the promises” (6:12)

                  “We have this hope: a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain where Jesus has entered, having become a high priest forever acc. to the order of Melchizedek (6:19-20)

Proc. III. Jesus as High Priest (7:1-10:18)

                  Melchizedek, king of Salem, without father, mother, genealogy, a priest forever (7:1-3) (see Gen. 14:17-20; Psalm 110:4)

                  If perfection attainable through the Levitical priesthood - what need to speak of another priest? (7:11) 

                  Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant (7:22-28)

                                    Former - many, temporary // New - permanent; holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners (7:26)

                  “He is able for all time to save those who approach God through him (7:25)

                  First Covenant - regulations for worship (9:1-10) // New Covenant - Christ came through the greater and perfect tent (9:11-10:18) . He entered the Holy Place with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption (9:12)...He entered into heaven itself (9:24)

                  He is the mediator of a new covenant (9:15): He has appeared once and for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself (9:26)

                  Having offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time to save those who are waiting for him. 

                  Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (10:13-14)

Exh. III: Let us Approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, purified (10:19-39)

                  Since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, the new and living way

Proc. IV. Faith  and the Promise  (11:1-39)

                  Faith - the assurance of things hopes for, the conviction of things not seen (11:1)

                  The faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the people at the Red Sea, etc.  (11:1-40)  Yet all these did not receive what was promised (11:39).

Exh IV: Let us run with perseverance the race set before us, looking to Jesus the Pioneer and Perfecter of Faith (12:1-13:17)

                  Endure trials, life your drooping hands, strengthen your weak knees, pursue peace, etc. Let mutual love continue (13:1)

Closing benediction and greetings  13:18-27


The Language of Covenant in the New Testament ("New Covenant")


The canonical writings of the early Christians are known as the “New Testament,” or “New Covenant.” Yet there’s a surprising infrequency of references to “covenant” (diatheke) – and even less to “new covenant” - in the New Testament writings. Of 33 occurrences of covenant, nearly half are in quotations from the Hebrew Bible or references to the covenants between God and Israel. To what extent did NT writers conceive of a decisively new covenant? 


I. Important Sources in the Hebrew Bible for Christian notions of "covenant" and "new covenant"

A. Genesis 12-17, the covenant with Abraham. Genesis 17:1-5 "When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, 'I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous." Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.'"

B. Exodus 24:3-8 The covenant at Mt. Sinai: "Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances…. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain….He sent young men who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord...Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people and said, "See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words."

C. Jeremiah 31:31-34:  “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt -- a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people."

II. Covenant or New Covenant in Selected Writings of the New Testament

A. Covenant or New Covenant in the Last Supper Accounts

The synoptic gospels and Paul represent the words of Jesus at  the Last Supper as an anticipation of his death, understood as a sacrifice. The blood of that sacrifice would bring about forgiveness of sins for the Synoptics; in Paul, the cup of the Last Supper and the death of Jesus are directly linked to the idea of   establishing a  “new covenant.” In all of these cases, the blood of this sacrifice is linked to the notion of  the covenant at Mt. Sinai.

1. Synoptic accounts: Mark 14:24, Mat 26:28, Luke 22:20

                  He took a cup and after giving thanks he gave it them and said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

2.  Paul: 1 Corinthians 11:25

In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

B. Other Important References to Covenant in the New Testament

1.  Gal 4:24   Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery…..But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother.”

2.  2 Corinthians 3:5-6  “Our confidence is from God who made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

3.  Hebrews 7:11-22  Two priesthoods, two covenants  “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood – what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron?….This one became a priest with an oath…accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.”  

Hebrews 8:6-13, quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34:  “But Jesus has not obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one. God finds fault with them when he says: 'The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah['….In speaking of a 'new covenant' he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.”