The Epistle To The Hebrews

By Paul Ellingworth
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1993). xcviii + 764 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Irv Busenitz
5.1 (Spring 1994) : 103-104

Paul Ellingworth, translation consultant for the United Bible Societies in the United Kingdom and honorary lecturer in NT at the University of Aberdeen, commences with an exhaustive (seventy-five page) listing of commentaries, reference works, and related articles on Hebrews. From there he proceeds with an excellent treatment of the book's authorship, date, setting, literary structure and genre, and theology (3-80). He notes thirteen individuals to whom the authorship has been attributed and provides a thorough review of each possibility, concluding that internal evidence is largely lacking and external evidence is unreliable and divided (3). For numerous reasons he doubts it was Paul. He suggests the book was written to "a predominantly, but not exclusively Jewish-Christian group" (27) who were probably living in Rome (29), not long before the fall of Jerusalem (33). He argues that "it is extremely likely that gnostic currents of thought were circulating, perhaps in oral form, during the NT period and even earlier" (42-43), but firmly maintains that there are striking "differences between the teaching of Hebrews and gnosticism as we know it from a later period" (44).

The writer attacks the difficult passages with technical depth and precision, but frequently fails to tie the research together into a conclusion. Though a vast amount of research is evident, he does not always effectively blend the individual parts into the whole. In Hebrews 6:4, he suggests that "enlightened" connotes instruction, not baptism. Nor does "tasted the heavenly gift" depict the eucharist. In both cases, he maintains, the language is figurative (320). Regarding 6:6 he concludes that "once the grace of God in Christ has been received, continued sin is a fatal reversal of faith which puts a person on the side of those responsible for Christ's humiliation and death" (322).

Ellingworth treats the identity of Melchizedek (type of Christ or christophany) only briefly. He concludes that the relationship cannot be typological, since both Christ and Melchizedek are priests forever. Rather, he likes the idea that Melchizedek was a christophany, but finds it unprovable. Ultimately he concludes that the author of Hebrews chooses not to elaborate on the thought of "made like the Son of God" (7:3) "because Christ, not Melchizedek, is his main interest" (351). He provides excellent thoughts on the great faith chapter -Hebrews 11- especially those about the faith of Abraham.

The commentary contributes to an understanding of the epistle, especially from the technical side. The stated purpose of the series is to provide "something less technical than a full-scale critical commentary" (vii), but the author excludes few critical or technical matters. He directs considerable attention to the matters of textual variants, manuscript evidence, and extra-biblical documents, with a resultant interruption of the flow of both text and context. The work's contribution can be significant, but probably only to more serious students.