The Structure of Hebrews

Two approaches to the “structure” of Hebrews

When considering the structure of Hebrews, it is important to note two key works. Firstly, Guthrie analyses Hebrews from a “text-linguistic” approach, attempting to avoid imposing modern paradigms upon the text, instead seeking to be aware of Hebrews context and message.[1] As such Guthrie seeks to be aware of textual issues, and when “shifts” and changes occur within the text.[2] One of the key things Guthrie sees is the “inclusio” as a key element within the structure of the letter, and how the letter is constructed and develops.[3] Within that, Guthrie identifies 2:10 and 2:17-18 as key sections that form an inclusio, due to the high level of corresponding material within those verses.[4] These “inclusio’s” are the use of key words, phrases, or ideas that act as the bread in a sandwich, with the filling forming the key thought the author of Hebrews is trying to deliver. Both Hebrews 2:10 and 2:17-18 remind us of Jesus sacrificial death on the cross, then within Hebrews 2:11-16 we find a key discussion of Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as one of the key instances where Jesus “speaks” from the Old Testament in the letter to the Hebrews.

A second approach by Westfall offers an overview of the structure of Hebrews based on “discourse analysis”.[5] Westfall offers a different approach to the structure of Hebrews, that is critical of Guthrie’s lack of discussion regarding the “cohesion” of the book.[6] This sense of the books “cohesiveness” is central to understanding what Westfall means by “discourse analysis”.[7] This “discourse analysis” seeks to study Hebrews, or any epistle, by focussing on syntactical, linguistic and form-critical issues on a macro-level, by studying textual unity, socio-historical issues and the discourse as a whole.[8] Within that Westfall identifies Heb 2:10-13 as developing the argument set forth in 2:5-9, namely that “Jesus’ exalted position is based on his humanity.”[9] Hence, 2:10-13 seeks structurally to support that thesis by observing the connection between Jesus and humanity.[10] Therefore, Westfall argues that Hebrews cites Ps 22 and Isa 8 to illustrate the connectedness between the exalted Jesus and the earthly Hebrews community.[11] As a result, Westfall argues that Hebrews’ use of the OT in 2:10-13 matches syntactically with the overarching section of Hebrews, but also fits cohesively within the meta-structure.[12]

Whichever of these two approaches seem most right to you, the important thing to note is that the book of Hebrews works as a body of work together, rather than a series of interconnected thoughts. When studying a verse or phrase in Hebrews, an understanding of context and how that verse fits within the chapter and the overall argument within Hebrews is important. When consider Hebrews 2, for example, we find much information given to us about the ministry and life of Jesus, his death, its efficacy, and its purpose. But that is not all that Hebrews has to say on the matter. It is important to read Hebrews 1 and Hebrews 3-13 as well, to fully grasp what Hebrews is seeking to say about Jesus, and why.


[1] G. H. Guthrie, The Structure of Hebrews: A Text-Linguistic Analysis (Leiden: Brill, 1994), p. 46.

[2] Guthrie, The Structure of Hebrews, p. 59.

[3] Guthrie, The Structure of Hebrews, p. 88. Also see the section on Heb 2:12-13 on pp. 77-78.

[4] Guthrie, The Structure of Hebrews, pp. 77-78.

[5] C. L. Westfall, A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews: The Relationship between Form and Meaning (London: T&T Clark, 2005), p. xii.

[6] Westfall, A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews, p. 19.

[7] Westfall, A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews, p. 22.

[8] Westfall, A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews, pp. 22ff.

[9] Westfall, A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews, pp. 101-102. Westfall argues the same regarding Heb 10:5-7 in relation to Heb 10:1-14 in general. See: Westfall, A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews, pp. 221.

[10] Westfall, A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews, pp. 102-103.

[11] Westfall, A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews, pp. 102-103.

[12] Westfall, A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews, pp. 102-103.

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