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Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews:

A Social Identity Approach

By Matthew J. Marohl

Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews

Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews:

A Social Identity Approach

By Matthew J. Marohl

A new interpretation of the meaning and purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews, employing the branch of social psychology known as social identity theory.

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Available as: Paperback, PDF

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Print Paperback

ISBN: 9780227173374

Specifications: 229x153mm (9x6in), 226pp

Published: September 2010


PDF eBook

ISBN: 9780227902158

Specifications: 228pp

Published: December 2013

Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews offers fresh answers to several unresolved questions concerning the meaning and purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Who were those to whom the Epistle was addressed? With the categories of social identity theory, this study argues that the addressees arranged the world into two groups: "us" and "them". They understood their group, the "us", to be the "faithful". They understood "them" (the symbolic outgroup of all others) to be the "unfaithful".

Faithfulness, then, is the primary identity descriptor for the addressees and plays an essential role thoughout the text. How did the addressees understand the faithfulness of Jesus? The author of Hebrews describes the faithfulness of Jesus as prototypical. The faithfulness of all others is described in relation to Jesus' faith, and together they are integrated into an ongoing narrative of faithfulness.

What is the meaning of the promised "rest"? Utilizing a model of present temporal orientation, the study interprets the dynamic relationship between the "antecedent" faithfulness of many witnesses and the "forthcoming" promised rest of the addressees. The addressees of Hebrews were encouraged to "understand their futures by looking to the past".

What is the purpose of the text? Social identity theorists explain that groups with a negative social identity have two broad options: social mobility or social change. The study concludes that the author of Hebrews provides internal constraints that are meant to prevent social mobility. The author utilises social creativity (an aspect of social change) to provide a positive social identity for the addressees.


1. The Historical Critical Investigation of the Identity of the Addressees of Hebrews
2. The Historical Critical Investigation of the Purpose of Hebrews
3. Social Identity Theory and Hebrews
4. Social Identity Theory and First-Century Mediterranean Culture
5. "Us" and "Them": the "Faithful" and the "Unfaithful"
6. The Faithfulness of Jesus in Hebrews
7. Present Temporal Orientation and Faithfulness in Hebrews
8. Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews


Matthew J. Marohl is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.

Marohl's welcome study represents an accomplished application of social identity theory to the text of Hebrews. His methodological attentiveness is mature and responsible, resulting in an articulate analysis that recognises the faithfulness of Jesus to be the theological centre that informs the socio-religious program advocated by the author of Hebrews. Bruce Longenecker, University of St Andrews

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