The Book of Hebrews on the Word of God
In yesterday’s sermon (“The Piercing Word of God”), we considered what we learn about the nature of God’s Word from Hebrews 4:12–13. The book of Hebrews as a whole, however, has much more to teach us about the nature of Scripture than what I had time to share from the pulpit. To have a fully developed doctrine of Scripture (particularly of the New Testament), you would certainly need to bring in passages from other places, but on its own the book of Hebrews presents a robust understanding of the Word of God. In particular, there are five principles concerning Scripture embedded throughout this New Testament letter. May these principles strengthen our understanding of and our commitment to God’s Word.
SCRIPTURE IS THE WORD OF GOD
First, we need to keep in mind when we’re talking about the word “Scripture” and the concept of Scripture within the New Testament, we’re specifically talking about what we now call the Old Testament. Some of what we now know as the New Testament had been already written when the book of Hebrews was written, but the New Testament itself was still a work in progress. The New Testament was being developed at the time these epistles (like Hebrews) and gospels (like Luke), as well as the history book (Acts) and the apocalyptic letter (like Revelation), were being penned.
To see how the church came to understand the New Testament as the Word of God, we would need to consider verses and passages from other places in the Bible (there is a short paragraph on this below). But as far as the Old Testament goes—Hebrews is clear that it is the Word of God.
The Jewish Scripture (our Old Testament) traditionally had three divisions—the law, the prophets, and the writings. The Law includes the Torah (the Pentateuch, or the five books of Moses) as well as the history books (Joshua through 2 Chronicles); the Prophets include the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) as well as “the book of the twelve” (the twelve minor prophets); and the Writings are the wisdom books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs).
What’s important for us to note is that each of those three sections are quoted in the book of Hebrews, and verses from each section are specifically introduced with a phrase like “God says.” Just to list three such places (one for each section):
- Law – Hebrews 8:5 quotes Exodus 25:40, with the note that this was instructions given by God;
- Prophets – Hebrews 12:26 quotes Haggai 2:6, with the explanation that it was God’s “voice”;
- Writings – Hebrews 1:5 quotes Psalm 2:7, with the introduction that God said these words.
The reason this matters is that the book of Hebrews doesn’t allow someone to argue that the Pentateuch is inspired by God, but not the Psalms, or that the prophets spoke the words of God, but not Moses. Each part of the Old Testament is God’s Word.
SCRIPTURE IS THE WORD OF THE TRIUNE GOD
Secondly, Hebrews shows us that the words of God are the words of the Triune God. Not only do we often read that “God says” or “God said,” followed by words quoted from an Old Testament passage, we also read specifically that “the Holy Spirit said” (Hebrews 3:7–11; 10:15–17) or that “Christ … said” (Hebrews 10:5–9; cf. 2:12–13), followed by words quoted from an Old Testament passage.
The Scriptures are the testimony of the God who is Triune, the three-in-one God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.
To keep with the divisions of the Old Testament, the Son is said to have spoken words contained in the Prophets and the Writings; the Spirit is said to have spoken words contained in the Writings and in the Law. Most importantly, the same exact Old Testament passage (Jeremiah 31:33–34) is attributed to both God the Father (Hebrews 8:8–12) and God the Spirit (Hebrews 10:15–17).
SCRIPTURE IS THE WORD OF GOD THROUGH MAN
Scripture’s consistent testimony of itself is of its dual authorship. We’ve already hinted at some of that in this brief essay, attributing the Pentateuch to Moses and the words of the Prophets to specific men like Jeremiah and Haggai, but Hebrews makes this clear as well.
Psalm 95:7–8—a psalm that is referred to in Hebrews 3:7 as the word of the Spirit and in Hebrews 4:4–5 as the word of God—is said in Hebrews 4:7 to have been spoken by God “through David.” The same thing is seen in Hebrews 9:19–20, where we read that Exodus 24:8 was the word of God “declared by Moses.”
This, of course, is right in line with the opening words of the whole book: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). God spoke … by the prophets. God spoke through man. There is a dual authorship of Scripture: God is the primary author, and certain men were the secondary authors, the instruments through whom God delivered his word.
SCRIPTURE IS THE WORD OF GOD CENTERED ON THE MESSAGE OF CHRIST
I love this fourth point. Outside of the book of Revelation, the book of Hebrews contains the most allusions and direct quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament, and, at the same time, the book of Hebrews is laser-focused on the cross of Christ. It both extensively quotes the Old Testament, and centrally emphasizes the death of Jesus Christ for our sins.
This means that the Old Testament, according to Hebrews, is about the death of Jesus the Messiah. It’s pointing forward to the Christ. Not only with the explicitly messianic promises of the Old Testament (see Hebrews 1), but also its histories (see Hebrews 3 and 11), its instructions for temple worship (see Hebrews 9), its promises (see Hebrews 8 and 10), and its wisdom (see Hebrews 12:5–6), are all meant to be read in light of Jesus Christ. They were all designed to point us to Jesus Christ. They were all fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament—not only according to Luke 24:27 and Luke 24:44 and John 5:39, but also according to the book of Hebrews—is God’s Word about Jesus.
SCRIPTURE IS THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD
Fifth, and finally, the Old Testament is the word of God that can be (and should be) taken on the lips of the people of God. I get this from Hebrews 13:6. In Hebrews 13:5, we’re instructed to “be content with what you have,” and the reason given is God’s promise from Joshua 1:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And then, in Hebrews 13:6, in response to that, the author writes, “So we can confidently say,” and now he’s quoting Psalm 118:6: “‘the Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
Because of God’s promise to us (note that he is saying Joshua 1:5 is for us, not just for Joshua!), our response should be to take God’s Word on our lips as our own words: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
The Word of God is meant to be used by the people of God. It’s meant to be taken on the lips of the people of God, appropriated by faith, used in life, and spoken with confidence in the God who first gave us his Word.
WHAT ABOUT THE NEW TESTAMENT?
All of this has focused on the Old Testament, but what about the New Testament?
There are many, many good reasons why we believe the 27 books that we know as the New Testament (and only those 27 books) make up the New Testament, and there are many, many good reasons why we believe that those books are also counted as Scripture. That’s a different blogpost for a different day, but briefly I would encourage you to note the way that the apostle Peter equates Paul’s writings with “Scripture” in 2 Peter 3:16, and the way that Paul quotes Luke 10:7 and calls it “Scripture” in 1 Timothy 5:18. Finally, remember Jesus’s promise to his disciples that the Spirit would “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” in John 14:26, an important verse in our understanding of the authorship and authority of the New Testament.
The principle that we need to see for now, though, is that what the book of Hebrews speaks about Old Testament Scripture is true also for all of Scripture. These principles are not only for the Old Testament, they’re also for the New Testament. The New Testament also is the Word of God; the New Testament is the Word of the Triune God; the New Testament is the Word of God through man; the New Testament is the Word of God centered on the message of Christ; and the New Testament is the Word of God meant for the people of God to take on their own lips.
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THIS WORD
So what do we do with all of this? For application, I would simply point us back to Hebrews 2:1:
Could you be described as someone who is paying close attention (or “much closer attention”) to the Word of God? What would need to change in your life in order for that to be true of you?
Perhaps you need to commit to a new reading plan covering all or portions of the New Testament, or the Psalms and Proverbs, or the entire Bible. Maybe you need to consider how you hear God’s Word preached and what you do in response each Sunday. Or you could place a priority on Scripture memorization. Starting out with one verse or short passage per week to memorize and meditate on throughout the week is an easy, attainable goal for nearly all of us. This post was about knowledge, but the goal is never knowledge for knowledge’s sake; the goal is always knowledge for the sake of life change.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.