Hebrews and Brevity

Hebrews 13:22 says “I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly.” Ok, well… that’s kind of a stretch. ER Richards, in his book Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, concludes a section about the size and shape of pieces and scrolls of papyrus says that the letter of Paul to Philemon was “a fairly typical letter in length, perhaps even a trifle long.” If he’s right, then even 1 Peter 5:12 is stretching it “I have written to you briefly.”

Probably what these writers are comparing their efforts to are not letters as such, but almost as transcriptions of talks. We are pretty sure that most writing was written to be read out loud in public rather than read in silence at a desk somewhere. Hebrews takes less than an hour to read aloud, not outrageously lengthy for a lecture even by today’s standards. Commentators have pointed to words like encouragement in Peter and exhortation in Hebrews as more important in their self-evaluation than the words that mention these things as writings. It’s also frequently said that the appeal to brevity was conventional, and the writer/speaker might mean something more like “I want you to know, my subject is so vast, I could have gone on for much much longer.”

One commentator paraphrases Hebrews as saying “I’ve had a lot to say. Now I’ve said it. I hope you didn’t find it too long.” I like that.

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation