Dr. Kathy Stewart. Hebrews: It’s Not How You Start—It’s How You Finish: A Study Guide to the Most Encouraging Book in the New Testament. Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2013. See here to buy the book.
As the title indicates, this book is a study guide to the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews.
The book encourages active learning. Readers are to look up Scriptures, identify things in them, and write things down. In going through this book, one can go deeply into the Bible, savoring not only the Epistle to the Hebrews, but also the Old Testament passages to which Hebrews refers.
Kathy Stewart’s discussions were pretty good, in areas. Her discussion of the different views about the authorship of Hebrews, and the reasons for those views, was especially judicious. Stewart also argued that Melchizedek in the Epistle to the Hebrews was not Jesus Christ but foreshadowed Jesus Christ, as a type, and that would explain Hebrews 7:3’s point that Melchizedek lacks a father or mother, beginning of days and end of life. For Stewart, the historical Melchizedek had those things, but they were not mentioned in Genesis because Melchizedek was to be a type of Christ, who actually was eternal. Stewart’s discussion of how David may have seen Psalm 110, which transcended the Israelite religious institutions of his time, was also effective.
One of Stewart’s arguments was intriguing, but it does not quite work. Stewart argues that Hebrews 6:1-2 is encouraging the Jewish Christians to move past Jewish doctrines, not rudimentary Christian doctrines. These doctrines include repentance from dead works (which Stewart interprets as animal sacrifices, probably the hypocritical, insincere sacrificing of animals that the Old Testament condemns), faith in God, baptisms, the laying on of hands, and teaching about the last judgment and the resurrection from the dead. According to Stewart, the baptisms in Hebrews 6:2 refer not to Christian baptism but rather to the ritual washings in the Torah, and the laying on of hands is likewise a practice in the Torah. For Stewart, the author of Hebrews wants Jewish Christians not to revert back to Judaism but to build on their Jewish foundation by believing in Jesus. The problem with Stewart’s interpretation of Hebrews 6:1-2 is that Hebrews 6:1 refers to “leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ” and going on “unto perfection” (KJV). That seems to indicate that Hebrews 6:1-2 concerns moving on from basic Christian doctrine.
Stewart then goes on to explain the troubling passage of Hebrews 6:4-5, which talks about how it is impossible to renew to repentance those who fall away, after they have been enlightened, have tasted of the heavenly gift, were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the word of God and the powers of the world to come. At first, Stewart argues that this is about the Jewish people, not Christians who leave the faith. But then she argues that it is about Christians who leave the faith. Her discussion started out intriguing, as she tried to build on her point about Hebrews 6:1-2 being about Jewish doctrines, but then it became contradictory.
Stewart’s discussion on Hebrews 9:4-5 made an astute and intriguing observation but failed to follow through. Stewart notes that the passage mentions the golden parts of the Tabernacle, which were in the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, but not the bronze parts that were outside of the Tabernacle. Her point may have been that Jesus replaced the bronze parts, which related to atonement, by being the atonement himself. But then she seemed to be arguing that Jesus replaced golden parts of the Tabernacle, too, making me wonder why exactly Hebrews 9:4-5 mentions the golden parts, but not the bronze parts.
Stewart’s discussion of the rest in Hebrews 4 was rather unclear. She says that God has rested from the works of creation and salvation since the time of Adam and Eve, and that is God’s rest. Yet, she says that believers enter into God’s rest, which is eternal blessedness. What does eternal blessedness have to do with God resting from the works of creation and salvation?
At times, Stewart would ask the reader questions, when she would have done well to have explained her point. Her discussion of the covenant with Abraham and the Mosaic covenant was especially confusing. She said that the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 was unconditional while the Sinaitic one was conditional. Then, she seemed to distinguish a promise from a covenant, as if a covenant was conditional. But she had already called the unconditional covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 a covenant!
Stewart speculates that the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews were Ebionites, who were Jewish Christians. Stewart could have explained this a little better, perhaps making clearer that she thinks that the Epistle is refuting certain Ebionite beliefs. Many Ebionites, for instance, believed that Jesus was a man and not God, whereas the Epistle to the Hebrews presents Jesus as a pre-existent being who assisted God in the work of creation.
Stewart’s book lifts up Christ, which does provide practical edification. At the same time, it could have included more points about practical application.
Overall, this book has positives and negatives. Readers may be edified by this book, but it is scattered and confusing, in areas. The book is upbeat in places, which shows Stewart’s enthusiasm as a teacher; yet, that upbeat tone sometimes degenerated into silliness.
I received a complimentary copy of this book through BookLook Bloggers. My review is honest.