Sigurd Grindheim, The Letter to the Hebrews (PNTC)

Grindheim, Sigurd. The Letter to the Hebrews. PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. xxvi+1140 pp. Hb; $45.00.  Link to Eerdmans

Sigurd Grindheim is a professor in the Department of Pedagogy, Religion, and Social Studies at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. His Ph.D. dissertation was published as The Crux of Election: Paul’s Critique of the Jewish Confidence in the Election of Israel (WUNT 202; Mohr Siebeck, 2005). He has published other monographs, including God’s Equal: What Can We Know About Jesus’ Self-Understanding? (LNTS 446; T&T Clark, 2011) and Christology in the Synoptic Gospels: God or God’s Servant? (T&T Clark, 2012), and Living in the Kingdom of God: A Biblical Theology for the Life of the Church (Baker Academic, 2018). This new volume of the Pillar New Testament Commentary series replaces P. T. O’Brien’s 2016 commentary after the publisher concluded allegations of plagiarism were credible.

Sigurd Grindheim, Hebrews

Grindheim begins his seventy-one-page introduction to the commentary with the observation that Hebrews is the oldest unabridged Christian sermon that has survived. It is, therefore, a window into how the Old Testament was read and interpreted in the 1st century. The book is “an artistically crafted sermon” (32). The main theme is the high priesthood of Jesus.

As most commentaries on Hebrews must, he begins with the issue of authorship. All that can be said about the author is that he was a male, second-generation Christian strongly influenced by Paul. Otherwise, his identity is unknown. “But, as far as guessing goes, Apollos best” (17). Why Apollos? Grindheim suggests the author of Hebrews uses “a text type in evidence in Alexandria” (11). He draws several parallels between the author of Hebrews and the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived in Alexandria. Although there are many points of comparison, there are no clear examples of borrowing. For example, the Christology of Hebrews compares to Philo’s Logos- Divine Wisdom which mediates divine transcendence and humanity. 13. However, these parallels show there is quite a distance between Philo’s allegorical method and the author of Hebrews.

With respect to the date of Hebrews, he observes that the latest date depends on the relationship of 1 Clement to Hebrews. Clement does not quote Hebrews, but it is clearly dependent on the letter (18). Clement is usually dated about 96 CE, but this date has been recently challenged in scholarship, so a range of dates from 70 CE to 140 CE is possible. Commentators often suggest that Hebrews must be written before the temple’s destruction in 70 CE because Hebrews assumes that the temple is still functioning. However, Grindheim points out that Hebrews does not actually mention the temple. Nor does the author argue against contemporary Judaism. Rather, the author argues for the superiority of Christ over the mosaic law (20). In fact, rather than the temple, Hebrews focuses on the Tabernacle. The mention of Timothy in 13:23 may hint at an earlier date since Timothy might possibly have lived only until the end of the first century. He also observes that the theology of Hebrews and the church structure assumed by the book is not helpful. He suggests that the audience is at a “more advanced stage of the early church history” (22).

Traditionally, Hebrews is a letter to Jews. But it is not clear that the book is even a letter. The audience seems to live in an urban setting. Grindheim suggests it may have been written to a specific congregation (25). Hebrews 13:24, “those from Italy greet you,” implies that the audience lives in Italy, most likely in Rome. This is supported by its affinities with 1 Clement (who wrote from Rome) and 1 Peter (who wrote to Rome). Although many alternative suggestions are possible, none have generated much support. He concludes that the original audience was clearly Christian and distinct from the Jewish community. For Grindheim, there is no hint of ethnicity: “We have to be content with ignorance.”

Grindheim discusses the letter’s occasion with Hebrews 10:36. The author wrote to encourage his audience to persevere in the faith. This implies they may abandon their faith. There are warnings against apostatizing throughout the book (for example, 3:12; 4:1; 4:11). The audience may face persecution manifesting itself by social marginalization, sometimes imprisonment, and confiscation of property. It is possible this refers to Claudius 49 CE or Nero 64 CE, Or even an anticipation of Domitian at the end of the 1st century. In a footnote, he declines to choose a specific context for these warnings (17, note 45).

The introduction also includes a discussion of canonicity and reception history. Grindheim surveys early doubts about the book, as well as suspicions in the Lutheran tradition. Because of questions of the authorship of the book, sometimes the book appears in different places within Pauline letters (sometimes after Romans, sometimes after Philemon). He traces the reception history of Hebrews from 1 Clement through a range of early church writers to the Reformation and modern commentators. The book was important to Novatianism, which appealed to Hebrews to prohibit the repentance of people who had denied their faith under persecution. Unfortunately, many early church writers cited Hebrews for abrogating the old covenant. Chrysostom, for example, went beyond the book of Hebrews and used the silence of the book to hold Jews responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.

Grindheim summarizes the theology of Hebrews as “a theology of intimacy with God” (60). Jesus has brought God near, removing the barriers between God and humans and creating a community to which one belongs through faith. The bulk of this theological introduction to Hebrews concerns the Christology of the book.

The commentary is divided into several major units, further subdivided into exegetical sections. After a short introduction, the NIV English translation is provided, with footnotes giving reasons for some translation choices, syntactical lexical information, and occasionally textual notes. The commentary is phrase-by-phrase, with extremely detailed notes based on the Greek text, which always appear in transliteration and are used sparingly. This makes the text easy to read. Secondary literature is cited in footnotes, including historical commentaries and modern academic monographs. Occasionally, Grindheim will compare a series of interpretations found in the commentaries. For example, on the referent of the term “today” in 1:5, he gathers six different interpretations (with footnotes to the commentaries). He draws a conclusion based on the broader context of the whole book (110-13). In his discussion of the word prototokos in 1:6, he compares the views of Athanasius, Augustine, and Gregory of Nyssa.

Throughout the commentary, there is excellent interaction with primary sources, noting texts the author of Hebrews cites or alludes to, with a rich collection of Second Temple literature in the footnotes. Although there is no excursus or dedicated section summarizing how the author of Hebrews used Scripture, Grindheim is clear in his commentary to point out how this is how the writer used scripture where appropriate. For example, Hebrews 1:5-14 contains a string of quotations similar to a testimonia, but this list is too tailor-made to the author’s rhetorical purposes to be a pre-existing collection. The author of Hebrews assumes the divine inspiration and authority of scripture. The source of these quotations is usually quite clear, so Grindheim examines the original context of the quotation and other uses of the text in the New Testament. He then shows how the author employs the quotation “in an innovative way” in the overall context of Hebrews (109). He points out the use of Jewish exegetical practice, such as the principle of verbal analogy (gezerah shawah) in Hebrews 1:5b. This establishes the link between Psalm 2:7 and 1 Chronicles 17:13//2 Kings 7:14 (LXX). Grindheim often compares the use of Scripture with other Second Temple Literature (in this case, PsSol 17:4, 4Q174).

The commentary includes 11 excurses (conveniently indexed on page xi). For example, in an excursus titled “Heaven and the World to Come” (146-157), Grindheim traces the idea of the world to come through rabbinic sources, Second Temple Judaism, and the New Testament. He concludes that the heavenly realm in which Christ is enthroned differs from the “world to come.” The “world to come” is always the result of a future act of creation.

He includes two excurses on the most controversial passage in Hebrews, 6: 4-8, “God’s irrevocable judgment.” For many students using a commentary on Hebrews, this is the passage they turn to judge the theological approach of the author. The issue in these verses is the question, do people who have apostatized put themselves in a place where they cannot repent? Or does the text say that they cannot be restored by other believers? Or does this passage say that God will not accept their repentance? It is impossible because God does not grant repentance except through Jesus Christ. By rejecting the gift of repentance through Christ, these people have put themselves in a position where they cannot turn to him 310. All the qualifiers and descriptions of those who have apostatized are associated with initiation into the Christian faith. These people have fully experienced God’s intervention 313. They have understood salvation, and they have internalized it. Historically, this is how the Novatians understood this passage. If people have denied their faith, the Novatians refused to accept their repentance. But Grindheim suggests, “the author probably intended to make a different point” (315). This passage is a warning to people who are in danger of turning away from Christ after fully experiencing salvation. If they reject that foolishness, such a person has “put themselves outside the possibility of repentance” (315).

In the second excursus on these verses, he deals with the warning passages and the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. In the Calvinist tradition, Hebrews 6:4-6 does not describe the elect since the elect cannot fall away (317). For Calvin, the people described in this passage are like the seed that fell among the rocky place in the Parable of the Sower. Since they have no roots, they fail to produce fruit. The apostates were never genuine believers. Others (Tom Schreiner, for example) suggest that this warning concerns a possible future. The author does not claim that anyone has actually apostatized yet. In fact, the author is confident that they will not (Hebrews 6:9). Grindheim suggests this explanation is compatible with a careful interpretation of the text. “It is not an explanation that emerges from exegesis” (319). Specifically referring to Schreiner, he points out that these views are produced within a Calvinist framework. If you are a Calvinist, then these explanations will work. If you are not a Calvinist, they will not. “The only verdict the exegete is able to pass is this: incapable of being proven or disproven” (319). Grindheim intentionally rejects categorization as a Calvinist or Arminian interpreter. Instead, he claims that he interprets the text and allows systematic theology to interpret these controversial verses within their own systems.

Conclusion. Grindheim’s commentary on Hebrews is an excellent example of careful exegesis of the text, focusing on the goal of understanding how this carefully constructed sermon was understood in its original context. Although clearly informed by Greek exegesis, his comments are presented in a way that will be understandable for students, pastors, and teachers studying this important book.



Other volumes reviewed in this series:

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke

Colin Kruse, The Letter to the Romans

Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians

Constantine R. Campbell, The Letter to the Ephesians

Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus

Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews (No longer available from the publisher)

Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (PNTC; Second Edition)

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Paul L. Maier, The Genuine Jesus

Maier, Paul L. The Genuine Jesus: Fresh Evidence from History and Archaeology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2021. 418 pp. Hb. $33.99   Link to Kregel  

The Genuine Jesus is new edition of Paul Maier’s In the Fullness of Time (Kregel, 1971, second edition 1991). That edition combined three shorter books and added the subtitle “a historian looks at Christmas, Easter, and the early Church. This new book is a third edition, updated with a section of color photographs and a new subtitle “fresh evidence from history and archelogy.” This is not simply a reprint of the earlier books; Maier occasionally mentions Bart Ehrman or other recent developments such as the gospel of Judas. The goal of this book to introduce laypeople to some of the basic historical and geographical background for the Gospels and Acts. Occasionally Maier answers critics who dismiss the historicity of the story of Jesus as told in the four canonical Gospels. Since this book is a basic guide for laypeople, there is no extended argument or documentation.

Maier, Genuine JesusMaier is a historian and uses traditional historical tools to shed light on Jesus’s life and ministry. This includes history, archeology, literature and linguistics, geography, in a wide range of other sub disciplines. When these tools are used judiciously, history and its related fields offer a means of checking up on the Bible, to gauge its accuracy. In the introduction, Maier disagrees with the claim “nothing found by archaeologists has ever contradicted the Bible” because archaeologists find reports from Israel’s enemies who reported their campaigns much differently than the Old Testament. From these different perspectives, he believes that the biblical events come into sharper focus. Problems in the biblical texts it can often be solved by recourse to these other disciplines and gaps in the biblical records can be filled in with correlating outside evidence from antiquity.

There are two chapters cover introductory questions. First, in “Christ or Caricature?” he deals with several potential theories explaining who Jesus was, such as Morton Smith’s Jesus the Magician, John Allegro’s Mushroom Myth, and Joseph Atwell’s 2005 Caesar’s Messiah (which he describes as “one of the most absurd books on Jesus ever written”). Since Atwell argues Jesus was an invention of the Roman Empire to counterbalance the militaristic Jewish zealots defeated in AD 70, Maier may have a point. Except for the Jesus Seminar, these choices seem like dated strawmen to me. The second chapter deals with sources for the life of Jesus and early Christianity.

The first four sections of the book deal with the life of Jesus. As expected from the origins of this book, eleven chapters are devoted to the infancy and youth of Jesus, in another ten chapters to the passion week including the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. This means there are only two chapters devoted to the ministry of Jesus (one a general overview and a second on Galilean ministry up to the confession of Peter). These chapters deal with various historical and geographical and historical issues (Caesar’s census (Luke 2:1), the star of Bethlehem, or key people like King Herod and Pontius Pilate.

The fifth section treats early Christianity from the Great Commission to Roman Christianity under Nero. Nine of these eleven chapters tell the story of the Book of Acts with special attention to key people and places. Each chapter has a few endnotes, often with references to ancient sources. The final chapter goes beyond the book of Acts to deal with traditions about the deaths of Paul, Peter, and the other apostles.

The book is illustrated with over 100 black and white photographs and other illustrations. For example, on pages 105 is line-art illustration of three coins from King Herod Some of these are older, such as the southeastern corner of the Temple platform on page 177 or Capernaum before the church was built over Peter’s house in 1990 (p. 153). Some of the color photographs are old as well. For example, much work has been done at the theater at Ephesus since the included photograph was taken. A few photographs are from Todd Bolen’s collection.

Conclusion. Like the previous versions of this book, the third edition of The Genuine Jesus is written for the layperson interested in historical and geographical backgrounds for the Gospels and Acts. Aside from limit space for the ministry of Jesus, this book achieves those goals.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts

Herbert Bateman and Steven Smith, Hebrews (Kerux)

Bateman, IV Herbert W. and Steven W. Smith. Hebrews: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching . Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2021. 389 pp. Hb. $36.99   Link to Kregel Ministry  

This Hebrews commentary is part of Kregel’s new Kerux commentary series. Projected to be a 46-volume series, seven are available at this time. In the preface to the series, Herb Bateman explains the Kerux commentary series attempts to join experts in biblical exegesis with experienced communicators. The commentary intends to provide solid exegesis, the theological focus and preaching strategies (“big idea,” contemporary connections, and success suggestions for creative presentations). Although the commentary is intended to help a busy pastor, the pastor in mind has a knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek and spends a significant amount of time preparing to preach and teach the word of God. Each volume in this new series will have two authors and exegete and a preacher. In this Hebrews commentary, Herb Bateman IV writes the exegetical portion and Steven W. Smith writes the preaching portions.

Hebrews (Kerux)The commentary begins with fifteen pages summarizing the twenty preaching passages (units, pericopes) for the book of Hebrews. Each unit begins with an exegetical idea, theological focus, and preaching ideas and preaching pointers. These units are as few as four verses (Heb 1:1-4) but sometimes as long as an entire chapter (Heb 11:1-40). Although this is not explicit in the commentary, this section is basically a pastor’s preaching outline for a long series in the book of Hebrews.

In the twenty-eight-page introduction to Hebrews, Herb Bateman begins with his view of the authorship of the book. As is well-known, Hebrews is anonymous and there are a bewildering number of suggestions for who the author might be. Bateman argues passionately for Barnabas as the author of Hebrews. He provides several pieces of evidence and provides a two-page chart listing other advocates for Barnabas as the author of the book (from Tertullian in the third century to Albert Vanhoye in 2015). Throughout the introduction, he refers to Barnabas as the author.

The book of Hebrews is a “sermonic-midrash-like letter” written to Jewish followers of Jesus who lived in Rome either just before Nero’s persecutions in A. D. 64 or just before the Jewish war with Rome began in A.D. 66. Given his view on the date for the book of Hebrews, Bateman provides a brief sketch of the history of Jews in Rome.

A common view on the occasion for the writing of Hebrews is the danger of Jewish Christians returning to Judaism to avoid this occasion. For Bateman, the political instability in the Roman Empire and Judea may have caused some Jewish Christians to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. The book therefore argues Jesus is, in fact, the divine son of God, who has an eternal priesthood and who inaugurated God’s new covenant.

Each unit in the commentary’s body begins with a one-page summary of this section. This begins with a single brief sentence summarizing the exegetical idea, the theological focus, and the preaching idea for the unit. Following these brief notes are two paragraphs of suggestions for taking the exegesis and making it “work” in contemporary preaching. Exposition is verse by verse, often phrase by phrase. Bateman bases his exegesis on the Greek text. Given the constraints of the format of the commentary, Bateman’s exegesis is excellent (as expected from his Epistles of John and Jude commentaries).

Following the exegesis is a brief section entitled preaching ideas. This begins with a brief exegetical and theological synthesis and a repetition of the preaching idea. The next section is “contemporary connections” and asks questions like, “What does it mean?” “Is it true?” “Now what?” Finally, there is a section entitled creativity in presentation. Here, Smith suggests connections to popular cultural artifacts such as films, TV, or contemporary news stories. Following the preaching ideas are a few discussion questions and occasionally a further reading section offering bibliography for the unit. It is unclear why this further reading section does not appear in every section. Given the goals stated for the commentary, it is surprising that the preaching section is so brief. One might have expected a balance between exegesis and homiletics, but that is not the case.

Bateman supplements the commentary with a series of extremely helpful sidebars which deal with issues of historical background or exegetical detail. For example, there are sidebars on the Jewish theology of rest, the theology of Jewish tithes, and the Qumran document Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q400-407). There is a long excursus of Psalms 2 in the context of Hebrews 1. There are several sidebars defining terms or key people, such as “Who was Philo?” “Who was Ben Sira?” Sidebars include detailed word studies of key Greek terms, and occasionally comments on the syntactical structure of Greek verses. In addition to sidebars, there are a handful of notes entitled “translation analysis,” “textual analysis” and “lexical analysis” scattered throughout the book. These are printed slightly differently than the regular sidebars, although it is difficult to see any difference in the content. I noticed that the number of sidebars diminishes later in the commentary. There are only seven sidebars for Hebrews 10-13, although early in the commentary there seven in the first chapter which on;y covers four verses (Heb 1:1-4)

The commentary includes many charts scattered throughout the volume, offering a convenient summary of key ideas. Bateman loves charts! (See my review of Charts on the Book of Hebrews, Kregel Academic, 2012). On at least one occasion, he cites his earlier book and the charts for Hebrews 11 are also similar to the Chartbook. This is not a problem, of course. Looking back at that book, I notice Bateman collects evidence for several of the potential candidates for the authorship of Hebrews but in the brief introduction to this commentary; he can only advocate for his preference (Barnabas).

Conclusion. When I first saw volumes of this commentary series, I was reminded of the venerable Pulpit Commentary. The goals are similar: to provide solid exegesis from leading scholars and teaching ideas for pastors. This volume of the Kerux series achieves the goal of solid exposition of the text and it does offer help for busy pastors preparing to teach Hebrews from the pulpit, Sunday School classes or small group setting.


NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Other volumes reviewed in this series:



Logos Free Book – John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord

Once again the good folk at Logos are offering an excellent Free Book of the Month. This month Logos partners with P&R Publishing to offer John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (P&R, 2006) as a free addition to your Logos Library until the end of June. Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic TheologyThe book is a substantial 382 pages based on Frame’s lectures for the Institute of Theological Studies. William Edgar said this book “is at once vigorously orthodox and sweetly pastoral. We can be grateful for such a powerful and clear exposition of the whole range of theology.”

In addition to the Free Book of the Month, Logos is offering Brian Vickers, Justification by Grace through Faith: Finding Freedom from Legalism, Lawlessness, Pride, and Despair (P&R, 2013) for only $1.99. This book is part of the Explorations in Biblical Theology series (ed. by Robert Peterson). Tom Schreiner comments in his forward to the book, “sets justification in the context of the story line of the Bible. He doesn’t just give us an abstract and sterile explanation of the doctrine. We learn how justification fits with the biblical story and how it fits with our story.” Both of these books are great additions for people interested in the Reformed side of Christian theology.

As always, you can enter to win the rest of the Explorations in Biblical Theology series (11 vols., a 139.95 value) in the Logos library. Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.

Verbum is offering the first two volumes of The Writings of Irenæus (including his most famous work, Against Heresies) for free Irenæus’s The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching for 99 cents. Verbum is part of the Faithlife family of companies, focusing on Catholic resources.  Verbum use your same Faithlife account, so these books are available to anyone with a Faithlife / Logos username and password.


Logos Free Book – Wolfgang Vondey, Pentecostalism: A Guide for the Perplexed

Pentacostalism-a-guide-for-the-perlexedOnce again Faithlife is offering a Free “Book of the Month” for your Logos library. For the month of July you can download a copy of Pentecostalism: A Guide for the Perplexed (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), by Wolfgang Vondey from T&T Clark. If you are not aware of the Guide for the Perplexed series, you should be. These are handy little volumes which cover the essential issues of an issue, along the lines of the Oxford “Very Short Introduction” series. This is not a “for dummies” series: the volumes I have used are serious introductions to cmplex topics. Vondey is a “German-born Pentecostal theologian who currently serves as Reader in Contemporary Christianity and Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, where he also directs the Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies” (at least according to Wikipedia, he is.)

For a $1.99 more, you can supersize this free book and download a copy of T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology by David M. Whitford. Whitford is professor in the Religion department at Baylor University and contributed the A Guide for the Perplexed on Luther for T&T Clark. He contributes the first chapter in the volume, “Studying and Writing about the Reformation.” The rest of the chapters cover the following topics:

  • Chapter 2: Human Nature, the Fall, and the Will – Robert Kolb
  • Chapter 3: Revelation and Scripture – Ward Holder
  • Chapter 4: Justification – Carl Trueman
  • Chapter 5: Law and Gospel – Lubomir Batka & Anna Johnson
  • Chapter 6: Election – Chad Can Dixhoorn
  • Chapter 7: Sanctification, Works, and Social Justice – Carter Lindberg
  • Chapter 8: The Sacraments – Bryan Spinks
  • Chapter 9: The Church – Paul Avis
  • Chapter 10: Preaching and Worship – Anne Thayer
  • Chapter 11: Women, Marriage & Family – Karen Spierling
  • Chapter 12: Catechisms & Confessions of Faith – Karin Maag
  • Chapter 13: Church Discipline, Abuse, Corruption – Raymond Mentzer
  • Chapter 14: Eschatology, Antichrist, and Apocalypticism – Robin Bruce Barnes
  • Chapter 15: Political Theology – Volker Leppin
  • Chapter 16: Superstition, Magic & Witchcraft – Peter Maxwell-Stuart
  • Chapter 17: Radical Theology – Geoffrey Dipple
  • Chapter 18: Images and Iconography – Randall Zachman
  • Chapter 19: Martyrdom and Religious Violence – Haruko Ward

Part two of the book is entitled, “A Reformation ABC,” a mini-dictionary of important events and people for Reformation studies. I noticed the T&T Clark website has Whitford’s chapter as part one, the chapters as part 2 and the ABS as part three, Logos has only two parts (essays and ABCs). The content appears to be the same. At 471 pages, this is a great deal for $2.

As always, you can enter to win the three other volumes in addition to the free/almost free books in Logos’s T&T Clark Studies in Theological Systems (5 vols., $99 value). Enter early and often. Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.