The Epistle to the Hebrews

By F.F. Bruce
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1990). xxii + 426 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Irv Busenitz
3.1 (Spring 1992) : 98-99

Prior to his death, F. F. Bruce revised his 1964 commentary on Hebrews, replacing the American Standard Version (1901) text with his own ad hoc translation and incorporating 25 years of additional relevant research. He summarizes the essence of the epistle this way: Hebrews "has this to say: that true religion or the worship of God is not tied to externalities of any kind" (p. xi). Later he adds: "This is the book which establishes the finality of the gospel by asserting the supremacy of Christ -his supremacy as God's perfect word to man and man's perfect representative with God. More than any other New Testament book it deals with the ministry which our Lord is accomplishing on his people's behalf now" (p. xii). With broad strokes Bruce then traces the theme of the book, giving the reader a clear picture of the whole before commencing with a detailed commentary of its individual parts.

The author devotes close attention to the identity of the addressees (pp. 3-9), including a well-documented discussion of the various views. He concludes that they appear "to have been a group of Jewish Christians who had never seen or heard Jesus in person, but learned of him from some who had themselves listened to him. . . . Yet their Christian development had been arrested; instead of pressing ahead they were inclined to come to a full stop in their spiritual progress, if not to slip back to a stage which they had left. . . . He encourages them with the assurance that they have everything to lose if they fall back, but everything to gain if they press on" (p. 9).

He gives equal attention to the book's destination, authorship, and date. He cautiously suggests Rome as the destination (p. 14). He vigorously disputes the notion that Paul authored the book and demonstrates the unlikelihood that Aquila and Priscilla penned it. He is willing only to venture a broadly worded conclusion that "the author was a second-generation Christian" (p. 20). His discussion of the date is just as ambiguous, but he sees use of the epistle by Clement of Rome (c. A.D. 96) as proving a first-century date, the period immediately preceding A.D. 70 being a possibility (pp. 20-22). He concludes his introductory chapter with an excellent survey of the epistle's use of the OT Scripture (pp. 25-29) and a recognition of its magnificent harmony with the accounts of Jesus' life and ministry as portrayed in the gospels (pp. 29-34).

The introductory section alone is worth the price of the volume, but its explicit and thorough exegetical commentary on the text elevates its value even more. It investigates difficult passages with depth and precision. Discussions of Hebrews 6 and 10, for example, are lucid and non-evasive. He concludes that the "author emphasizes that continuance is the test of reality. . . . He is insisting that those who persevere are the true saints" (p. 144). Commenting specifically on Hebrews 6:4, Bruce suggests that "enlightened" be understood in the sense of baptism and that "tasted the heavenly gift" connotes the Eucharist (pp. 145-46). The phrase "partakers of the Holy Spirit," he contends, is to be compared to the situation of Simon Magus in Acts 8:9 ff. (pp. 146 ff.; 260 ff.). "Whether it is possible for one who has been in any real sense a partaker of the Holy Spirit to commit apostasy has been questioned, but our author has no doubt that it is possible in this way to `outrage the Spirit of grace' (10:29)" (p. 146). He provides excellent thoughts on the great faith chapter -Hebrews 11- especially those about the faith of Abraham.

The commentary represents the quality of work commonly associated with F. F. Bruce. Shortcomings are hard to find. Though revised, it still bears the marks of the 1964 commentary, however, with many references to works dated prior to 1960. Basically it is the same commentary, with updated footnotes. The bibliography (pp. 34-43) has been updated from the earlier edition as well. Footnotes located at the bottom of the page, with actual Greek terms and phrases included, are very helpful to the serious student. Yet the lay person will not be disappointed. This volume is an excellent blending of a technical with a practical, and sometimes hortatory, exposition of the text. It should become part of the library of pastors, students, and laymen.