Hebrews is named appropriately based on the selected audience. The writer wanted to connect with Jews .. those who believed in Christ and those who were considering faith in Christ. If you haven’t read the Introduction to our new study in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we invite you to read that before diving into this first part.

Outlining Hebrews

I believe you will find it helpful to read through Hebrews several times before beginning a verse-by-verse study. You may also find it helpful to do some basic outlining as part of the initial study. If you use a study Bible, you’ll probably find an outline already included. You can use that as a beginning point to work on your own outline if that’s helpful.

Outlining is good to do with any book to get a sense of what the author intended in writing it. Since the Holy Spirit of God is the Author of all Scripture (John 16:12-13; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), outlining Hebrews will help you see the Spirit’s intent when He inspired the human author to write it. Knowing God’s intent is at the heart of understanding Scripture.

My choice of the series title Christ Is Greater is based on outlining Hebrews. That’s the overarching theme of Hebrews — Jesus Christ is Greater than anything and anyone.

Another word commentators use when outlining Hebrews is Superior (Superiority). That is the same idea as the word Greater. Jesus Christ is Superior to anything and anyone.

Another word you may find in outlines of Hebrews is Better. Jesus Christ is Better than anything and anyone.

You’ll find the words “greater,” “superior” and “better” in Hebrews referencing Christ (depending on Bible version), so all three are terms you can feel comfortable using. It’s best to use words the Bible writers used within the proper context for both outlining and study.

Hebrews 1:1

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets … KJV

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets … NKJV

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways … NASB

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets … ESV

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways … NIV

πολυμερως και πολυτροπως παλαι ο θεος λαλησας τοις πατρασιν εν τοις προφηταις επ εσχατων των ημερων τουτων ελαλησεν ημιν εν υιω … 1550 Stephanus New Testament

In many portions and in many ways long ago God having spoken to the fathers in the prophets … Literal

The writer of Hebrews started with God speaking to a specific group of people, the fathers. God has been speaking to humans for thousands of years. He began by speaking to the first man, Adam, then the first woman, Eve.

When God speaks, He reveals. God has revealed information about Himself, His eternal plan and will, at many times and in many ways. That’s what we find in Scripture .. a slow, methodical revelation over a period of thousands of years. God used dreams, visions, angels, audible voices, the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit, physical appearances (Theophanies), Urim and Thummim, casting lots and other ways to communicate truth to His prophets. His prophets then communicated God’s revelations with the fathers.

I’m reminded of the prophecy of Zacharias in Luke 1 —

Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began, That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us, To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.

Luke 1:68-75

Also, in Psalm 33 —

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deep in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.

Psalm 33:6-9

The words “then God said” are repeated eight times in Genesis 1. It demonstrates the pure power and purpose of God as He created the heavens and the earth “By the word of the Lord” —

  1. Then God said, ‘Let there be light; and there was light.
  2. Then God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
  3. Then God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear’; and it was so.
  4. Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth’; and it was so.
  5. Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth’; and it was so.
  6. Then God said, ‘Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.
  7. Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind’; and it was so.
  8. Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Many Portions and Ways

The Greek words polymerōs and polytropōs are important to note, as is palai. God spoke “in times past” (palai, long ago, former times) at various times and in various ways. God could have told Adam everything in the Garden, but He didn’t. God revealed His eternal plan a little at a time. God chose both the times when He would reveal information and the manner in which He would reveal information.

We can see that throughout the Bible. God revealed some things to Adam, Eve and Satan in the Garden. He later revealed more to Cain and Abel, then more to Seth, Enos and Enoch, and finally a lot more to Noah and his sons. God then revealed more to Abraham and Sarah and more to Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, and so much more to Moses and Joshua. Later, God revealed more to Samuel, David and Solomon. That’s how God works. Many portions (polymerōs – many parts revealed a little at a time, various times) and polytropōs (many ways, manners, various ways).

The paragraph begins with two unusual and rhetorically balanced adverbs: polumerōs, “at many times,” and polutropōs, “in various ways.” The main issue to be resolved here is if they convey essentially the same semantic idea or if they are distinctive in meaning. From the perspective of lexical semantics, either view is viable. Polumerōs can denote something that occurs in many parts and can be translated “in many portions” as in the NASB. Or it can have a temporal sense, denoting a number of related points of time, and can be translated “at many times” as in the NIV. Third, it can be construed as indicating a number of different ways something may be done. Polutropōs denotes something that occurs in many kinds of ways and can be translated “in various ways” (NIV) or “in many ways” (NASB).

David Allen (2012). New American Commentary Vol 35: Hebrews. B&H Publishing Group.

As we look at the timing given us in the Old Testament, we see that God spoke to humans over a period of thousands of years in many different ways.

How God Communicates

God is the Source of all knowledge. The fathers were the recipients of that knowledge. The prophets were the human agents God used to reveal His knowledge to the fathers.

God (Source) —–> Prophets (Agents) —–> Fathers (Recipients)

This a simple way of diagraming the communication channel in the Old Testament. God spoke truth to His prophets who then spoke that truth to the fathers. That’s how God works.

Surely the Lord God does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.

Amos 3:7

God has many secrets. He chose to reveal some of them to His servants the prophets who then revealed them to the fathers.

Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets.

2 Kings 17:13

Who Are The Fathers?

The Jewish readers of Hebrews would have understood the word fathers (patrasin) to mean their ancestors, the Hebrew elders. They would have thought of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David and others. Hebrews 11 has a longer list of the fathers (elders).

Who Are The Prophets?

The Jewish readers of Hebrews would have understood the word prophets (prophētais) to mean the Hebrew prophets written about in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). They would have thought of Moses, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Micah, Zechariah and others.

History of Fathers and Prophets

It may be helpful to remember the history the fathers and the prophets had with each other. Though the true prophets of God were agents of God’s communication with the fathers, that doesn’t mean all of the fathers responded positively to the voice of the prophets.

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying, ‘The Lord has been very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.’ ’ But they did not hear nor heed Me,’ says the Lord. ‘Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? Yet surely My words and My statutes, Which I commanded My servants the prophets, Did they not overtake your fathers? ‘So they returned and said: ‘Just as the Lord of hosts determined to do to us, According to our ways and according to our deeds, So He has dealt with us.’

Zechariah 1:1-6

And, in case we think this was just a problem with how the fathers responded to the prophets, Jeremiah reminds us that most Jews had been disobedient.

Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them. Yet they did not obey Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.

Jeremiah 7:24-26

How God Spoke

God primarily spoke orally to the prophets. Prophets ‘heard’ His voice. There were some exceptions: God wrote the Commandments on tablets of stone with His own finger (e.g. Exodus 31:18) and often spoke to the prophets and kings through the Urim and Thummim (e.g. Ezra 2:63). God also spoke to the prophets through visions and dreams (Daniel 7:1) and sent angels to interpret those visions and dreams for the prophets (e.g. Daniel 8:15-17).

The prophets wrote what they heard from God so that what the fathers of Israel had was a compilation of written documentation of the Words of the Lord. The prophets often spoke directly to the fathers, but the prophetic writings became a record of what the prophets said God said. We also have that record today in our Bibles — the Old Testament. Those who read the epistle to the Hebrews also had the prophetic record, the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Importance of God’s Voice

The importance of God’s Voice, His speech, is the focus of Hebrews. That is clear from the first sentence in the epistle and it continues throughout the letter. Some of the words we will emphasize during our study are:

  • speak
  • spoke
  • voice
  • hear
  • heard
  • word
  • write
  • written

Other important words we will notice in our study of Hebrews are:

  • covenant
  • better
  • greater
  • blood
  • eternal
  • everlasting
  • salvation
  • faith
  • believe
  • one
  • once
  • no more
  • ordinances
  • sanctuary
  • tabernacle
  • priest
  • sin
  • sacrifice
  • rest
  • enter
  • angel(s)

And, of course:

  • God
  • Father
  • Jesus
  • Christ
  • Son
  • Holy Spirit

Next Time

We will look at Hebrews 1:2 in the next part of our new series, Hebrews: Christ Is Greater.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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