Peter O’Brien on Hebrews

PTOB HebrewsA review of Peter O’Brien’s commentary on Hebrews

This is a reliable and weighty guide for any serious student or patient preacher of Hebrews. Fans of Peter O’Brien’s Ephesians commentary, will not be disappointed by the characteristic attention to detail and theologically sensitive scholarship on display again here.

He confesses his inability to solve the authorship question, after canvassing Paul, Barnabus, and Apollos as possible candidates (though not Luke, as some have argued for recently, or the wackier suggestions of Mary or Priscilla). I would have liked more consideration of Paul here, since all the reasons given against him are well considered in earlier tomes, such as the gigantic commentary by John Owen (lamentably un-cited throughout, as is sadly normal nowadays despite its usefulness).

Nevertheless, the more important issues of actual exegesis and interpretation are carefully and often brilliantly handled. Sometimes deeper consideration of the peculiarly Jewish background of the epistle might have been useful (e.g. on the plural “ages” in Hebrews 1:2 or the phrase “word of God” in Hebrews 4:12), though O’Brien often points out the use of rabbinic interpretative methods in Hebrews’ rhetorical approach to paraenesis and helps us grasp the significance of what Hebrews is doing.

The exploration of controversial passages such as Hebrews 6:4-8 is careful, and edifying even if one disagrees with some of the details, and he does not press things too far in e.g. Hebrews 2:9. More could be desired on passages where Protestants and Roman Catholics have clashed in the past (such as on merit in Hebrews 6:10 or marriage in Hebrews 13:4), though he is admirably clear on “we have an altar” in Hebrews 13:10.

This review first appeared in Churchman 128/2 (2014).

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