B&H Publishing recently released the New American Commentary on Hebrews by David Allen, dean of the School of Theology. The following is an edited interview with Allen about the book. To watch video of additional answers from Allen, go to www.swbts.edu/InTheirOwnWords.
Q: How long has this commentary been in the works?
A: In one sense, this commentary has been in the works since 1976, which is when I was a sophomore in college. During a creative writing course, I wrote on the subject of the authorship of Hebrews. There was about a 12-page paper that resulted from that, and that actually got me interested in studying the book of Hebrews. But, formally, it really began when I was asked by Broadman and Holman if I would consider writing the commentary in the NAC series on Hebrews, and that was about 10 years ago. So, the actual research and writing process for this book has been about 10 years.
Q: What is unique about this commentary on Hebrews?
A: First of all, this is the only commentary that I know of in recent days that actually argues for a particular theory of authorship, the Lukan authorship of Hebrews. Most commentaries in their introductory material will discuss all the various theories and views, but it is fairly unusual to have a commentary argue in favor of a particular view. It’s not unheard of, but it is somewhat atypical. … Secondly, I have attempted to address discourse issues as we have worked through the book of Hebrews—some linguistic aspects of the book that are not normally brought out in more traditional commentaries and have tried to bring to bear on the text of Hebrews an approach of discourse analysis, whereby we’re getting at what’s the actual underlying meaning the author is conveying, and how does that hang together, and how is that woven through the theology of the book, the rhetoric that one finds there, and so forth, and what impact does that have on interpretation. … Thirdly, this commentary has a significant discussion on Hebrews 6:1-6, which is one of the knottiest problems of New Testament studies—the concept in the case of “those who have been once enlightened and partakers of the heavenly gift and then have fallen away, it’s impossible to renew them to repentance.” What on earth does that mean? Of course, there are four or five major views throughout church history on that subject, and this commentary engages those significantly. In fact, of the 671 pages of the commentary, about 50 or 60 pages is given to a discussion of just those verses in Hebrews 6. … Lastly, I would say, I have tried to write this commentary for pastors and show them how one can preach through the paragraph units of Hebrews and how the paragraph units are connected by the author and the conjunctions that he uses to connect the passages and then how that affects our preaching of Hebrews. I do think that Hebrews is a written sermon. I think it’s placed in writing. It may have been preached orally first, but I do think that’s significant in the impact on pastors.
Q: What is the central message of Hebrews?
A: Many people mistakenly argue that some of the key theological themes are actually the center of the book, and I think that’s a mistake. Clearly the book argues for the high priesthood of Jesus and the sonship of Christ, and those are very important themes. … but in reality the book is a pastoral document. It is actually about encouraging the church during a time of pressure and persecution and tribulation, and encouraging people who are undergoing such to stay true to Christ and not to fade away and not to fall back and not to lag behind, but rather to press on to spiritual maturity.
Q: How does Hebrews use the OT? What does it teach us about our use of the OT in preaching and theology?
A: Hebrews makes significant use of the Old Testament. There are several interesting things about how the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament. For example, he always quotes from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament—that’s the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. He never quotes from the Masoretic text, never from the Hebrew text. Another interesting factor is that the author is introducing those quotations usually with some form of the verb “to speak” or “to say,” and then those quotation formulae are usually in the present tense—at least many of them are—emphasizing the fact that the word of God that was written then, the Old Testament, is now applicable to the people of God in the writer’s day but also in our day. That is a key theme that is developed as we learn how he actually quotes the Old Testament. But, then what the author is doing in terms of the use of the Old Testament is that he is reading it through Christological glasses. He is seeing Christ in the Old Testament. He is not imposing Christ there. He is showing how that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the fact that Jesus Christ is there already and just being brought out in terms of New Testament revelation. So the author is showing how the Old Testament scriptures speak of Christ, move toward Christ and have their fulfillment in Christ.