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  • Natalie

The Epistles: Day 3

This past week I created a small genre guide for younger students. In my research, I was reminded that genre is one of the first steps in the exegetical process. There are four main genres in the New Testament: Gospels, Epistles (Letters), Acts, and Revelation.

Hebrews is one of the texts I'm focusing on this year, and I'm using Gordon Fee's book, "New Testament Exegesis" to guide me along the way. So far, I've read through Hebrews a few times in one sitting and already have a running list of questions.

It's basic, but Fee states it's important to first ask the question, "What kind of literature are you exegeting?"(28). Beginning with this question will guide the reader in determining their path of interpretation, and here's why; we don't read poetry the same way we read historical fiction, and we don't read a newspaper the same way we read a short story. If we approached all literature the same, we wouldn't know if we should laugh, cry, know if something is real, or not real. The same is when we approach the books and letters of the Bible.

The more formal title for Hebrews is, "The Epistles to the Hebrews." Clearly, from the title it is easy to determine that Hebrews is a letter/epistle. In case you're wondering, there are 21 epistles in the New Testament, and probably six different authors (Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude, and Anonymous).

The literary structure of a typical Greco-Roman letter has three common inclusions: introductory greeting, thanksgiving and a farewell. With the exception of the farewell, I don't see an introductory greeting or a thanksgiving in the letter to the Hebrews. I may be missing something, I haven't yet referenced any commentaries, but it seems quite obvious that this letter is not a typical Greco-Roman letter.

What seems to be common among the epistles is their flow of thought. The situation they are addressing either corporately or individually, and the argument they communicate has a logical flow that must be traced when exegeting an epistle.

My questions at this point are: Why does the writer of Hebrews omit an introductory greeting? Was it cropped out along the way? Do some scholars think it was deleted for a reason? Why does the writer choose or omit a thanksgiving? Is there a genre within epistles that follows the introductory structure similar to Hebrews? If so, what other Greco-Roman letters follow a similar structure?

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