You will find an outline and introduction to Hebrews, here.
Hebrews is a theologically dense letter, not unlike Romans in that regard. And so the decision must be made whether to write a lot or a little. It is difficult to find middle ground. My decision is to write less rather than more in hope that we will not become lost in the tangle of theological trees and miss the big picture of the forest.
From the Orthodox church, a prayer before you read.
Shine within my heart, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of my mind that I may understand Your teachings. Instill in me also reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires I may pursue a spiritual way of life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ my God, are my light, and to You I give glory together with Your Father and Your Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
I. Exordium: 1:1-4 These four verses are one long, complex sentence in Greek. Here the author sets out the major themes. Notice the contrasts set out in verses 1 and 2. (continuity and discontinuity) Some scholars think verse 3 is a fragment from an early hymn.
II. Christ Exalted and Humiliated 1:5-2:18 This first section restates traditional beliefs about Christ. There are two parts to this – A and C- separated by a brief exhortation.
A. 1:5-14 A Scriptural Catena A catena (chain) is a collection of scriptural texts about a particular belief. Verses 5-13 contain 7 quotations from the Old Testament. What is the author telling us about Jesus?
B. 2:1-4 A Parenetic Interlude: Notice the argument from lesser to greater- angels to the Son.
C. 2:5-18 Humiliation before Exaltation: The reality of the Incarnation
1. 2:5-9 Exposition of Psalm 8:4-6: The author takes “human beings/ man” and “son of man”/mortals” to mean Jesus not humanity in general.
2. 2:10-18 Reflection on the Incarnation. The reality of Jesus’ humanity and his saving actions. Perfection means to make complete or to bring to maturity. Verse 12 see Psalm 22:22. Verse 13 Isaiah 8:17-18. Verse 17 is the first time in Hebrews the title “high priest” is used to describe Christ. The title “high priest” is only used in Hebrews in the New Testament. But its use here probably reflects the tradition of the community Hebrews is written to, rather than being a unique idea of the author.
What does this section (1:5-2:1) tell us about Christ?
III. Faith and the Merciful High Priest 3:1-5:10 The next section falls into two sections (A and B in the outline) which build on 2:17
A. Homily warning against faithlessness 3:1-4:13 This is a self contained homily warning against faithlessness
1. 3:1-11 Introduction and Scriptural Citation: Notice the comparison between Moses and Jesus, comparing lesser to greater. Verses 7-11 follow the Septuagint version of Psalm 95:7-11. verse 8 “rebellion” and “testing” are translations of the Hebrew names “Meribah” and “Massah” (see Ex 17:1-7 and Num 20:1-13 and Deut 33:8)
2. 3:12-4:11 Exposition of Psalm 95 The author uses other Biblical texts to help interpret Psalm 95.
a. 3:12-19 A warning example: Using the Israelites who wondered in the desert as an example was common in Jewish homiletics.
b. 4:1-5 The Nature of rest: What is rest? How does the author link creation, the exodus via the concept of rest?
c. 4:6-11 The Contemporary Call: rest is not a past event or place, it awaits for the readers of Hebrews as well.
3. 4:12-13 A Rhapsody on God’s Word:
B. Christological exposition 4:14-5:10 Jesus as high priest building on Hebrews 2:17 and Psalm 110:4.
1. 4:14-16 Transitional Parenesis: These verses draw on what the author has already declared about Jesus and looks ahead to the next section.
2. 5:1-10 The Sympathetic High Priest: Again the author compares lesser to greater, human high priests with Jesus. What is similar and dissimilar? Where is there continuity and discontinuity?
a. 5:1-4 High Priestly Qualification: Human high priests. Note in verse 2-In the Old Testament there are atoning sacrifices for “unwitting” offences (Lev 4) by the “ignorant and wayward”. But there is no provision for atoning sacrifice for deliberate and defiant sins (Num 15:30, Deut 17:12).
b. 5:5-10 Christ as High Priest: See Psalm 2:7, Luke 3:22, Psalm 110:4) Again notice the progression from lesser ( in verses 1-4) to greater (verses 5-10) and similarity and dissimilarity. Verse 4 human high priests are called by God as is Christ (verse 5). This use of Psalm 110:4 is found only in Hebrews. Verse 8 Greek tradition help that one learned through suffering. “What Christ learns is obedience, not because he was disobedient, but because learning had a saving function” (Attridge, 1153).
IV. Preliminary Exhortation 5:11-6:20 Now the author shifts from developing his Christological insights to an exhortation.
A. A Challenge to the Addressees 5:11-6:3: The reader is warned that what follows will not be easy for us to understand. Verses 12-14 use common Greek images. 6:1-3 Nevertheless we are moving forward toward maturity (perfection).
Read More About It
Attridge, Harold W. “Hebrews” in in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 20 “The Letter to the Hebrews”
Metzger, Bruce and Pheme Perkins in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.