The Structure of Hebrews: A Text-Linguistic Analysis (Review)

Guthrie, George H.
The Structure of Hebrews: A Text-Linguistic Analysis
Baker Academic: 1998. Pg 161.
ISBN: 9780801021930


Chapter One: History of Investigation

Guthrie begins his study with a History of Investigation. He starts with a brief analysis on some of the earliest attempts to structure Hebrews and moves on to the medieval period and through the time of the Reformation. Next, Guthrie focus on the works of eighteenth and nineteenth century scholars, specifically the work of John Albert Bengel. Whereas previous attempts at structuring Hebrews divided Hebrews into two parts, ch. 1–10 and 11–11, Bengel’s bipartite division was more complex. Within his two-part division Bengel saw a further subdivision of the structure of Hebrews, a subdivision that highlighted certain features in Hebrews: the shift between exposition and exhortation, the use of key OT texts in the development of the Auctor’s thought, and the uses of key words in the Hebrews.

The twentieth century likewise saw a number of attempts at outlining and structuring the letter to the Hebrews. Three of the most influential studies on the structure of Hebrews were:

Leon Vaganay, “Le Plan de L’Épître aux Hébreux,” in Memorial Lagrange.
Albert Vanhoye, La structure littéraire de l’Épître aux Hébreux.
Wolfgang Nauck, “Zum Aufbau des Hebräerbriefes,” in Jedentum, Urchristentum, Kirche: Festschrift für Joachim Jeremias.

Building on the previous study of Thien (“Analyse de L’Épître aux Hébreux,” RB 11 [1902]), Leon Vaganay’s “Le Plan de L’Épître aux Hébreux” is considered the first study on the structure of Hebrews from the approach of a modern literary analysis. Vaganay’s main contribuition to the discussion of the structure of Hebrews was his focus on mot-crochets (hook words). These hook words were used by Auctor to connect one section to another, in effect causing a transition from one point to another.

Albert Vanhoye’s La structure littéraire de l’Épître aux Hébreux is perhaps the most influential work on the structure of Hebrews. Building on the work of his predecessors, Vanhoye noted “five literary devices the author [of Hebrews] used to mark the beginnings and ending of sections in the book.” These five literary devices are:

The Announcement of the Subject
Hook Words
Change in Genre
Characteristic Terms

Vanhoye’s study utilizes each of these five literary devices to trace the structure of Hebrews. He concludes that Hebrews can be structured into five sections, not counting the introduction (1.1-4) and conclusion (13.20-21).

Guthrie finishes his discussion of influential proponents with the work of Wolfgang Nauck and his work “Zum Aufbau des Hebräerbriefes.” Nauck main contribution is his tripartite structure of Hebrews: 1.1–4.13; 4.14–10.31; 10.32–13.17. Guthrie summarizes Nauck’s outline of Hebrews as “discourse with three main divisions, each marked at the beginning and end with parallel passages” (18-19).

Chapter one’s history of investigation concludes with a state of affairs on the current state of scholarship in regards to structure. Guthrie notes that while there have been a number of attempts to structure Hebrews, nevertheless we still remain without a consensus.



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