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Who wrote the epistle to the Hebrews—Paul or somebody else? It has been a centuries old debate that Joseph Smith had an answer for.
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Maurine and Scot Proctor have spent extensive time in the Holy Land, researching the life of Christ. They have taught the New Testament in the Institute program for many years and have written books and numerous articles on the life of the Savior.
Join our study group and let’s delve into the scriptures in a way that is inspiring, expanding and joyful.
Who wrote the epistle to the Hebrews—Paul or somebody else? It has been a centuries old debate that Joseph Smith had an answer for.
Hello, we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and welcome to the Come Follow Me podcast today which is on Hebrews 1-6 and is called “Jesus Christ, ‘The Author of Eternal Salvation.’ A new podcast comes out every Friday for the Come Follow Me curriculum that begins the following Monday. Please tell your friends about the podcast. Nobody will know about it if you don’t tell them. Transcripts for the podcast are at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast.
You can tell by the stores that the shopping season for Christmas is nearly upon us—and we have a suggestion that will make your life easier for neighbors, friends, the brothers and sisters you minister to, and colleagues at work Next year is the bicentennial celebration of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. In fact, this is so important that we were told during conference that even April conference will be entirely different and focused on this as part of our remembering this most significant event. To commemorate the event and have a reminder all year in our homes, Scot has created a First Vision calendar based on his stunning photography of the Sacred Grove and Smith Farm. I can’t count the tens of thousands of photos Scot has taken over the decades. This calendar has profound quotes from Joseph Smith on every page so you can see them every day. It is $15 and can be ordered at latterdaysaintmag.com/calendar.
It is a meaningful gift to give to everybody on your list this Christmas. We’ve been sending them out in tens and twelves.
So who wrote the Book of Hebrews? As you know, the epistles of Paul are arranged in descending order by length, ending with Philemon at one page. Then suddenly there is the large, doctrinally significant book of Hebrews. This placement suggests there has been question from the time the scriptures were first assembled about whether Paul was the author of Hebrews. Over the years it has been attributed to Paul, Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Luke and even Priscilla. . “Origen, the most learned of the early teachers, concluded his examination of the question with the words, ‘Who wrote the Epistle God only knows.’ ” (Dummelow, p. 1012.)
Why people have questioned the authorship is that Paul does not put his name at the beginning as he does in his other epistles, and he as an apostle to the Gentiles, not the Hebrews.
Yet, this puzzle is cleared up for us because Joseph Smith said that “this epistle was written by Paul to the Hebrew brethren” (Teachings, p. 59) Again, Joseph Smith refers to phrases in Hebrews and then attributes them to Paul as in Doctrine & Covenants 128:15 where it states, “As Paul says, concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be perfect.”
As, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “However, the principles set forth in the Epistle are more important than the personage who recorded them; an understanding of the doctrines taught is of greater worth than a knowledge of their earthly authorship. In the final analysis they are the Lord’s teachings; they were written by the power of the Holy Ghost; and they are superlative.” http://www.gospelink.com/library/document/12298?highlight=1
It is important to understand, too, that Paul is teaching a people about Jesus Christ and this gospel will upset beliefs and traditions that they have cherished for ages. The Savior said he had come to fulfill the law of Moses, but to their attentive ears, it seemed that the law of Moses was being upended. This book of Hebrews is to help them develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We begin Hebrews with a curious comment. “God, who aat sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the bfathers by the cprophets” Hebrews1:1. What does that mean?
Sundry times means at various times. As Elder McConkie said, God “is or should be known to all people in all ages through the workmanship of his hands, but the actual revelation of himself and his laws is reserved for those who live by faith and seek him with all their hearts.”
“Divers manners” answers how does God reveal Himself? “Though the ways may be infinite, the perfect and crowning way is by direct revelation, by visions and by personal intervention.”
The Hebrews whom Paul addresses are those who have been privileged to live in a time when God has spoken to them directly through His Son. Other times may have had prophets and the visitation of angels, but for them in the meridian of time, the Father sent His Son, directly, that through knowing Him, we might envision perfectly and see more clearly who and what the Father is.”
As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Of the many magnificent purposes served in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, one great aspect of that mission often goes uncelebrated. His followers did not understand it fully at the time, and many in modern Christianity do not grasp it now, but the Savior Himself spoke of it repeatedly and emphatically. It is the grand truth that in all that Jesus came to say and do, including and especially in His atoning suffering and sacrifice, He was showing us who and what God our Eternal Father is like, how completely devoted He is to His children in every age and nation. In word and in deed Jesus was trying to reveal and make personal to us the true nature of His Father, our Father in Heaven.
Elder Holland continues, “He did this at least in part because then and now all of us need to know God more fully in order to love Him more deeply and obey Him more completely. As both Old and New Testaments declare, “The first of all the commandments is … thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first [and great] commandment.”1
“Little wonder then that the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God.” “I want you all to know Him,” he said, “and to be familiar with Him.”2 We must have “a correct idea of his … perfections, and attributes,” an admiration for “the excellency of [His] character.”3 Thus the first phrase we utter in the declaration of our faith is, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father.”4 So, emphatically, did Jesus. Even as He acknowledged His own singular role in the divine plan, the Savior nevertheless insisted on this prayerful preamble: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God.”( Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Grandeur of God”) https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2003/10/the-grandeur-of-god?lang=eng
We learn in Lectures on Faith that “three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes, and third, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will.
We’ll talk about the third thing another time, but let’s zero in on one and two. First you have to know that God exists, but knowing that alone is not sufficient to exercise faith. You must also have a correct idea of His attributes. If we do not know His attributes, we do not know Him. In fact, many people create something out of their imagination and call that God.
God is not just a wisp or a good feeling or only a spirit that is in everything. Paul tells us, “The Son is in the “brightness of [the Father’s] glory, and the express image of his person” (Hebrews 1:3). That is critical information for us.
We learn in Doctrine and Covenants 130.
1 When the Savior shall aappear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a bman like ourselves.
22 The aFather has a bbody of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of cSpirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not ddwell in us (Doctrine and Covenants 130: 1,22).
“The brightness of His glory” according to Elder McConkie means that
In pre-existence Christ was “like unto God” (Abra. 3:24), thus possessing the power and glory of the Father. While yet dwelling in his pre-mortal sphere, He was “the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity.” (Mosiah 3:5.)…He was able to affirm anew, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.”
That Christ is in the express image of His Father takes us to the First Vision where Joseph understood clearly that God the Eternal Father is a Father and the Son of God is truly a son. Again Elder McConkie, “The substance composing the body of one is identical in appearance to that composing the body of the other. What could be plainer?”
This is how Joseph Smith described seeing the Father and the Son in one of his accounts of the First Vision. “While fervently engaged in supplication, my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded by a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon day.” (History of the Church 4:535–536.)
This is a complete match to what Paul tells us. What we see portrayed here is a Father and Son that feel personal to us. I had a friend, a Catholic theologian, who was very taken with the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ. He said to me, “You can’t know how important it is in seeking to understand God that you know that He has a body. There is something hollow and lacking if you don’t know that. We know from the scriptures that Christ was resurrected. I ask my friends, ‘If Christ doesn’t have a body today, what happened to his body?”
Joseph Smith said, “It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character [the personality, the attributes] of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another.” Speaking of this comment, Truman Madsen said, “That is the testimony of Joseph Smith from beginning to end. He is talking about all of us, now. A man, a woman-it is the first principle for any of us. That is where we begin.
“And lest we should say, as occasionally we do, ‘But his remarkable life and experience is utterly beyond my own,’ we should note that Joseph said in 1839: ‘God hath not revealed anything to Joseph [calling himself by name], but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them.’ Even the least Saint, I repeat. The Prophet continued: ‘For the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him (who remain) from the least to the greatest.’ Note that “all shall know him” is different from knowing about him.
Truman Madsen continues, “That same year Joseph delivered a marvelous discourse in which he expounded on the fourteenth chapter of John, that masterful sermon of the Savior’s in which he said that he and the Father would ‘make their abode” with faithful Saints. In this address the Prophet in effect readdresses that sermon to us. It is as if he said, ‘It is not enough for you to say, “Ah, Brother Joseph is in charge, and he knows.” You must know.’ He says it in ten different ways. Then in the final part he says, ‘Come to God.’ These blessings are intended for his Saints, so ask him.”
The Lord invites us to know Him, and, to make that invitation clear, He descended below all things to know us. I can hardly comprehend that He is so interested in me, but I know it is true. He connects with me. He comprehends me and if I will not resist Him, I can feel that knowledge and love surround me. Paul says in Hebrews 2:
16 For verily he took not on him the nature of aangels; but he took on him the bseed of Abraham.
17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make areconciliation for the sins of the people.
18 For in that he himself hath suffered being atempted, he is able to bsuccour them that are tempted.
When we kneel at the very limits of our endurance, he has been there before us. We cannot teach Him anything about homelessness, he who said that “foxes have their holes and the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.” We cannot teach Him anything about loneliness, who watched his dearest friend deny he knew him. We cannot teach Him about betrayal or wounding or temptation. He knows. He really knows, and therefore we have a friend to hold on to in every situation.
You might say, yes, but he didn’t experience the burden of sin. Of course, He did. Not His sin, but all of ours. He knows how much sin and weakness hurt us.
15 For we have not an high priest awhich cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points btempted like as we are, yet without csin.
16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of agrace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
“Grace to help in time of need” means, according to the Bible Dictionary, “is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ… Divine grace is needed by every soul in consequence of the Fall of Adam and also because of man’s weaknesses and shortcomings.”
We wrote a story once about a man who needed grace—that divine help in time of need.
Sometimes life is just too much. It isn’t just that one thing is difficult; it is that the pile of adversity is so heavy you can hardly think how to go on. Your back is bowed and your vision dimmed.
It was that kind of time for Dan McMillan. His wife’s lifelong struggle with a serious illness was at a crisis. Doctors weren’t helping or couldn’t help. His son and daughter were also seriously sick. Major health problems seemed unsolvable by every kind of medical effort. Not long before he had lost his job of 28 years because of his own serious illness. Though he had a good job now, working as a plumber at the headquarters of the LDS church, he was weary beyond expression of the daily pounding with no relief in sight.
Not long before, too, he had come to the end of his six-year service as a bishop and he felt the loss of that mantle which had been so important to him. Honestly, he felt a little lost in general. Sometimes in life’s pounding, we can all get that place.
“I was extremely done,” said Dan. “I didn’t know what to do anymore. I didn’t want to go to work.”
He had stayed up all night with his son, and then found himself on Trax riding to work. He began a silent prayer, but didn’t know what to ask for. He felt needy on every front and sick at heart at the health of his loved ones. It was as if he was all prayed out. So, he made his prayer very simple. “I just pleaded with Heavenly Father, ‘I need to have a better day.’ That was it”.
He had no idea what was coming.
That morning he was working on a drinking fountain in the church administration building where the First Presidency and apostles have their offices. Though he and his fellow plumbers often saw the Brethren, they tried not to interrupt them.
This day was different. As Dan worked on the fountain in an underground hallway, he saw a security guy who said, “Here they come,” and he looked up to see President Monson’s daughter come around the corner, followed shortly by President Monson.
“President Monson took two steps passed me,” said Dan, “then stopped and turned around and came back. I was with other plumbers working on the fountain, but President Monson, picked me out, pointed at me and said, ‘I hope you have a better day.”
“We finished the drinking fountain, and then went into the parking lot to work on a large water line. We were standing there and I was not paying attention,” he said, when Elder Oaks came through the tunnel from State Street.
“He walks fast. He is always going somewhere and doing something. We all stopped talking to look at him. Then Elder Oaks stopped and turned around and pointed at me and said, ‘You have a better day.”
His friends said to Dan, “What’s going on with you?” He just shook his head in amazement. Then a few minutes later Elder Robert D. Hales came by in his car. “I saw his arm go over and gesture toward the security guy to slow down. He looks at me for a second, pointed his finger, and then they drove on.”
Dan said, “I’m nobody. I’m just a plumber. For the Brethren to feel the Spirit so keenly and know just what to say helped my spirit so greatly,” Dan McMillan said.
To pick up the very words he had pled for about having a better day made him feel so known, and if known that well, then loved by the God who is over all things. He who knows us so perfectly knows also how to perfectly help us.
Paul reminded the Hebrews of the story they knew best. He said in Hebrews 3:
5 And Moses verily was faithful in all his house,
and the people were told:
7bTo day if ye will hear his voice,
8 aHarden not your hearts, as in the bprovocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
9 When your fathers tempted me, aproved me, and saw my works forty years.
10 Wherefore I was grieved with that ageneration, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
11 So I sware in my wrath, They shall not aenter into my brest.)
Elder McConkie reminds us: “God gave the fulness of the gospel to Israel, but they rejected this perfect law of liberty and progression and were left with the preparatory gospel only. Moses in righteous anger at the false worship of Israel broke the first “tables of testimony” which were “written with the finger of God.” (Ex. 31:18; 32:19.) Thereafter, “the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two other tablets of stone, like unto the first, and I will write upon them also, the words of the law, according as they were written at the first on the tables which thou brakest; but it shall not be according to the first, for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them; for my presence shall not go up in their midst, lest I destroy them. But I will give unto them the law as at the first, but it shall be after the law of a carnal commandment; for I have sworn in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my presence, into my rest, in the days of their pilgrimage.” (Inspired Version, Ex. 34:1-2.)
Elder McConkie continues:
“From latter-day revelation we learn that Moses taught Israel ‘plainly’ the things they must do to sanctify themselves, to gain the full blessings of the gospel, and to see the face of God. ‘But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. Therefore, he took Moses out their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also; And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; Which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John.” (D. & C. 84:24-27.)
It is clear that in order to receive God’s blessings, I must not harden my heart, but does that mean?
So often it is a question of the battle between my will and thy will. We think we know better or we want what we want and right now, and if the Lord doesn’t supply our needs on our time frame, we get angry or at least very hurt. It as if we say, “Why should I do all these things to please thee, when thou doesn’t care at all about pleasing me” In this way, we become blinded, hopeless and even resistant.
We misperceive who the Lord is and act like He is a genie in a bottle, and prayer life is about rubbing that bottle and having our wishes granted. Here are a few of our misconceptions. Let’s talk about the genie in the bottle:”
A genie I a bottle would be something like this:
“ Convenient, Congenial. Need a parking place, date, field goal made or missed? All you do is rub the bottle and poof—it’s yours. And what’s even better, this god goes back into the bottle when he’s done.” Harry Emerson Fosdick added this, “God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button to get things done.” He is not Santa who just gives us what we want. Hand him the list and it will be delivered. No need for cookies and milk.
How grateful and glad we can be that God is not any of the above. If He were, that would mean we were in control—rubbing the bottle for the genie or ringing the bell for the bellhop. We would fashion our lives and our eternity based on small ideas—because “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). We can’t imagine what the Lord has for us nor the road to get there.
It is also wrong to conceptualize him as you would a busy dad.
“A Busy Dad. Leaves on Mondays, returns on Saturdays. Lots of road trips and business meetings. He’ll show up on Sunday, however, so clean up and look spiritual. On Monday, be yourself again. He’ll never know.”
This false conception of God suggests that, after all, since He has billions of children, and no time for you, it would be difficult if not impossible for you to get his attention. Preoccupied with running the universe, like any consumed executive, he is too busy and uninterested to answer your prayers. He is far away in some other corner of existence and your mumbled prayers aren’t heard anyway.
Though we can’t comprehend how this can be, God is intimate with each of us. “Thou hast searched me, and known me,” the Psalmist said. “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thoughts afar off…and are acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139: 1-30.] This is not a casual distant Father who is unsure of your name. The silent chambers of your soul have been radiated by His light.
Some of us conceptualize God as a policeman.
The Policeman. Out to catch you making a mistake. Judging your every move to slap a fine on you. Someone who likes to catch you in trouble.
No wonder people would run from a god they conceptualized like that. Instead of seeing God as a person who loves you with a love that is far beyond your imaginings, you imagine this lesser deity who wants to catch you, trap you, hound you.
This would be a God hard to pray to, for your words would never be enough, and what’s worse, you would never be enough. It may be that some others are good enough to talk to Him, but you might have the sneaking suspicion that you are always and forever unworthy before Him.
Of course, our resistance may not just be about the false ideas we have about God, but it may be in our own hearts. The resistance begins inside of us with pride: “Nobody is going to tell me what to do.” It may be lodged in disbelief: We may be grounded so much in this material world that we cannot believe in things we do not see.
It may be that we are lazy, and coming close to God requires real commitment and a belief that our seeking will be rewarded. That sounds like work—and it is. It is sacrifice that brings forth the blessings of heaven.
That resistance may come because we have had a negative experience in relationships, including with our parents, and we assume that the Lord is like them. We have not been taught to have relationships other than those where there is tyranny, or betrayal, or pain, which seem so often to be part of the mortal experience.
That’s right, Maurine. We might automatically react against a relationship with God because our other relationships have been difficult and we might assign that same idea to becoming close to God.
It is clear that there are many ways for you to harden your heart, and what Paul invites us to do is “harden not” your heart. We have to ask the question: Is my heart hard in any place? Am I resisting God, who desires so much for us to come to Him. He is not the One who ever moves. We do.
He would ask us, using our name, “Scot, why do you resist me? Or Maurine, why do you resist me?”
Paul tells us that because the Children of Israel hardened their hearts, they were not able to enter into the Lord’s rest. That concept of entering into rest intrigues me, because our lives are anything but restful. We are caught in a whirlwind of things to do, things that we thought were stable that turn into disaster, chaos lapping at the edges of our consciousness. There is always a serpent in Eden even when we think we have entered a time of order and peace. Our hearts are achurn, turmoiled, even at war with ourselves. Our minds keep secrets, hide resentments, hang on to wrongs. We hardly know ourselves for all the things and emotions that constantly arise to the surface. We worry about what will come. We stress about our own mortality.
So the idea of rest sounds like the end of anxious striving. What does the Lord’s rest mean? The rest of the Lord is the only source of true rest that can and is offered to us. No other source in all the universe can give us true rest. Not watching a movie. Not going out to dinner. Not hiking in the mountains. Not a great vacation. Momentary relaxation is always just that, momentary, and true rest is something more powerful than any kind of relaxation.
Elder McConkie again said, “True saints enter into the rest of the Lord while in this life, and by abiding in the truth, they continue in that blessed state until they rest with the Lord in heaven. (Moro. 7:3; D. & C. 84:17-25; Matt. 11:28-30; Heb. 3:7-19; 4:1-11.) The rest of the Lord, where mortals are concerned, is to gain a perfect knowledge of the divinity of the great latter-day work. ‘It means entering into the knowledge and love of God, having faith in his purpose and in his plan, to such an extent that we know we are right, and that we are not hunting for something else; we are not disturbed by every wind of doctrine, or by the cunning and craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive.’ It is ‘rest from the religious turmoil of the world; from the cry that is going forth, here and there—lo, here is Christ; lo, there is Christ.’ (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., pp. 58, 125-126.) The rest of the Lord, in eternity, is to inherit eternal life, to gain the fulness of the Lord’s glory. (D. & C. 84:24.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 633.)
Note that though we enter permanently into the Lord’s rest at a future day of our life, we can have rest here as well. We are not constantly disturbed. We can sleep when the wind blows. We have a sense that God is over us and we understand who we are and why we are here.
That rest that we get glimpses of here and that grounds us here becomes our state of being when we are finally with the Lord.
We, of course, have not begun to plumb all the riches in these chapters, but we hope you will continue diving deep in the scriptures so that the word lives in you. That is our desire too.
We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and remember the transcripts for these broadcasts can be found at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast. That’s latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast. Thanks so much for joining us today and please share the podcast with your friends. Especially remember sharing with those people you know who live alone and need a study group!
Next week the study is Hebrews 7-13, “A High Priest of Good Things to Come” Thanks for being with us and don’t forget to read Meridian Magazine. It is updated daily with gifted writers talking about the things you care about.
See you later.
Lora TalbotNovember 6, 2019
I loved this podcast! I will listen to it again. I plan to send it out to my kids. Thank you so much for your effort.
Janet OlsenNovember 3, 2019
"There is always a serpent in Eden" stood out to me. There is always opposition. The presence of evil makes the good stronger. I also appreciated that you pointed out that God is not a genie, busy father, policeman etc. I am thankful for that!