Who wrote Hebrews

So there I was preaching on Hebrews, saying “the writer says this” and the “writer says that”, when someone asked somewhat quizzically, “so you don’t think Paul wrote it then?”

 

The author of Hebrews is not known. The text as it has been passed down is anonymous. Clement of Alexandria thought it was Paul was the author; Tertullian thought Barnabas. Eusebius reports that the original letter had a Jewish audience and was written in Hebrew, and then later translated into Greek by Luke.  Certainly the text suggests the author was an acquaintance of Timothy (Hebrews 13:23), and was located in Italy (Hebrews 13:24).

 

If Paul wrote it then the style is notably different from the rest of his epistles. For example, his letters always contain an introduction stating authorship, yet Hebrews does not.  Also, while much of its theology and teachings may be considered Pauline, it contains many other ideas which seem to have no such influence. Moreover, the writing style is substantially different from that of Paul’s authentic epistles, a characteristic first noticed by Clement (c. 210).

 

By the fourth century, however, the church largely agreed to include Hebrews as the fourteenth letter of Paul. Jerome and Augustine of Hippo were influential in affirming Paul’s authorship, and the Church affirmed this authorship until the Reformation.

 

But the evidence against Pauline authorship is considered too solid for scholarly dispute. Donald Guthrie, in his New Testament Introduction (1976), commented that “most modern writers find more difficulty in imagining how this Epistle was ever attributed to Paul than in disposing of the theory.” Harold Attridge tells us that “it is certainly not a work of the apostle”; Daniel Wallace simply states, “the arguments against Pauline authorship, however, are conclusive.” As a result, few supporters of Pauline authorship remain.

 

In response to the doubts raised about Paul’s involvement, other possible authors were suggested as early as the third century.

  • Origen of Alexandria (c. 240) suggested that either Luke or even Clement of Rome might be the author.
  • Tertullian proposed Paul’s companion Barnabas. Barnabas, to whom other noncanonical works are attributed (such as Epistle of Barnabas), was close to Paul in his ministry, and exhibited skill with Hebrew Scripture; the other works attributed to him bolster the case for his authorship of Hebrews with similar style, voice, and skill.
  • Martin Luther proposed Apollos, described as an Alexandrian and “a learned man” (Acts 18:24), popular in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12), and adept at using the scriptures and arguing for Christianity while “refuting the Jews” (Acts 18:27–28).

In more recent times, some scholars have advanced a case for the authorship of Hebrews belonging to Priscilla. Perhaps the most thoroughly presented argument that Priscilla authored Hebrews came from Adolph Von Harnack in 1900:

  1. Priscilla had an inner circle in Rome, “the church that is in their house” (Romans 16:5).
  2. She was an Apostolic teacher of high standing, and known throughout Christendom of that day (Romans 16).
  3. She was the teacher of the intelligent and highly educated Apollos (Acts 18).
  4. She and her husband Aquila laboured closely and taught together, explaining why both the pronouns “I” and “we” were used by the author.

Nevertheless, other commentators have observed that the self-reference in Hebrews 11:32 employs a masculine participle, implying that Priscilla could not have been the author; or else she was masquerading as a male in order to gain credibility.

 

As Richard Heard notes, “modern critics have confirmed that the epistle cannot be attributed to Paul and have for the most part agreed with Origen’s judgement, ‘But as to who wrote the epistle, God knows the truth.’”

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