At one time it was considered that the Epistle to the Hebrews shared a common authorship with the epistles of St Paul. This is no longer generally considered to be a viable position. This essay will consider why and look at various possible alternatives. Introduction This document is addressed to a group of Jewish Christians who were not the leaders of their local congregation, since they are instructed to obey their leaders as in Hebrews 13 v 17, yet same time they had been Christians long enough that they themselves should have been teachers , a status they had not achieved.
(5:12). They were likely to be second-generation Christians, those who heard from those who heard directly from Christ as shown by Hebrews 2 v 3 The theme of this remarkable document is the supremacy of Christ, so in that it has something in common with Paul’s letters, but in style and approach it differs considerably from other New Testament Epistles, whether by Paul or others. J. H, Davies, in his commentary, proposes that it might originally have been a sermon .
It is a document which clearly defines Christ as the high priest of Christianity, and as superior to the Aaronic priesthood in Jerusalem, and also the Messianic fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The Vulgate version of the Bible attributed the letter to St Paul and Jerome accepted that it was by Paul, but the writer’s style is very different from that of Paul and the traditional style of Pauline greeting is absent.
It does however close with the words ‘Grace be to you all’ , a typical Pauline closure, but then again very similar to the words of Peter:- Peace to all of you that are in Christ. ’ It takes its name, like many other New Testament documents, from the recipients – the Hebrews. In this case this title has a specific meaning – Jews who have recognized and accepted Jesus as Messiah. From internal evidence its date is almost certainly before the destruction of the temple in A. D. 70.
because there is no mention of the end of the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system. There are various pointers to possible candidates for the authorship. The Document That it was a sermon or tract seems unlikely despite the lack of usual greeting at the beginning. The earliest known copy dates from 250 C. E. The original recipients would have known however, either from the person concerned or the person who delivered the letter. Hebrews could refer just to those who spoke the Hebrew language as in Acts 6v1 :-‘the native Hebrews’.
, but, as is often supposed the title is a later addition deducted from the contents, then it must in this case refer to Hebrew Christians. The writer knew his audience as he refers to their particular experiences as when he refers to their work and love for their fellow Christians (the saints) , warns them of certain dangers as in 5 v 11 when he says they are dull of hearing and in 6 v 1-8 where the warning is against apostasy. He seems to have written the whole document to speak to their particular interests. The Candidates
A number of names have been suggested as possible authors. These include Luke, Timothy, Aquilla, and Priscilla, Silas, Aristion and Philip the deacon as well as the two front runners Barnabus and Apollus, and of course Paul The author is clearly a learned person of some authority in the church. Stibbs points out that it may have been attributed to Paul in order to give it apostolic authority. He (or she) have a great knowledge of the Jewish scriptures and was very familiar with the Septuagint and the idea of redemption..
He is familiar with both Greek and Jewish traditions and was a friend of Timothy as is shown by reading Hebrews 13 v 28 Paul consistently quoted from the original Hebrew, whereas the writer of Hebrews always refers to the Septuagint, a Greek translation carried out in the third century B. C. E. Metzger and Coogan suggest two candidates who fulfill these criteria – Barnabus and Apollus, both of whom were Jews by birth who became Christians.
Barnabus, according to Acts 4 v 36 , was a member of the tribe of Levi, the tribe linked to the priesthood whom thy worked alongside in the temple, a subject the would therefore have had an interest in, which may be of relevance when one considers the theme of priesthood comes through this letter, in chapter 3 v 1 for instance :-‘Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession. ’ , and, referring to Christ, 5 v 6,’ Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
’ His name means ‘Son of Exhortation’ and the letter has in its conclusion ‘bear with my word of exhortation’ though this is perhaps a tenuous link. This emphasis on Jesus as high priest and his work on earth as a fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system has no parallel in Paul, yet Barnabus was, for a time, his close companion. Hebrews 2 v 3-4 states that the writer actually heard about Jesus’ teaching from the earliest disciples an d suggests that he may have been one of those who became a Christian in those early Jerusalem days of signs and wonders:-
It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit. According to Luke Barnabus was a Cypriot, Cyprus not being far from Alexandria and its ideas. Apollus , an Alexandrian, is described in Acts 18 v 24-28:- A Jew, Apollus, a native of Alexandria, who came to Ephesus. He was a cultured and eloquent man, well versed and mighty in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the ways of the Lord, and burning with spiritual zeal, he
spoke and taught diligently and accurately the things concerning Jesus. I t is the name of Apollus that Martin Luther suggested in two sermons , the first in 1537 and the second in 1545 according to Metzger and Coogan . At one point Luther had certain doubts about 4 of the New Testament Books, Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation, but later came to appreciate them, especially Hebrews according to A. Wikgren. A telling point against Apollus as author is that the Alexandrian church has no such association according to David Graves.
Another point against this being by St Paul is its position in the New Testament – after all the other Pauline letters, even the purely personal, pastoral ones, yet this is a general epistle, meant for everyone to read. Jeffrey Bowman quotes Donald Guthrie as being a scholar who states that:-‘Most modern writers find more difficulty in imagining how this Epistle was ever attributed to Paul than in disposing of the theory. ’ There are no personal references by the author, and nor are their references to the type of spiritual experience that Paul often dwells upon.
Romans begins ‘Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ’; 1st Corinthians 1v 1 ‘Paul, called by the will of God’; Galatians,1 v 1, ‘Paul an apostle’ ; Ephesians, ‘Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus and so on through them all. According to David Peterson in his ‘Hebrews, Introduction’ both Clement and Origen from the second century, claim that the letter was generally ascribed to Paul in the eastern area of the Roman Empire. There is also the reference in 2nd Peter 3 v 15 which clearly states that Paul wrote a letter to Jewish Christians.
However Peterson points out that both Clement and Origen noted differences in style and in content from the apostle’s other writings, both points which were made by medieval commentators as described by Kenneth Hagan. Peterson goes on to state that Pauline authorship was generally accepted in the west by the 5th century, but by the 16th , with the rise of the Reformation, the question was up in the air once more. Clement, as pointed out by A. M. Stibbs in the introduction to his commentary suggested that it was written by Paul in Hebrew and that Luke then translated the document into Greek.
The theology is consistent with Paul’s teaching if one looks at his belief that salvation comes by faith alone as in Ephesians 2 v 8 :- ‘For by grace are you saved by faith’. In Hebrews there is a repetition of this belief, especially, but not only in Hebrews 11 v 1-40. He was also the only New Testament writer ( apart from Luke in Acts) who mentions Timothy. Silas, also known as Silvanus, is mentioned by Robert Graves. In Acts 16:37 we are told that Silas was a Roman Citizen. It seems that Silas had a hand in writing first Peter perhaps acting as a secretary as describe in 1 Peter 5:12.
Hebrews and 1 Peter are quite close in both their style and content. Silas was a close associate of Timothy as was Paul as can be read in 1 Thessalonians 1:1. Silas being a Jew would be familiar with Jewish tradition. Timothy is the attribution given in the King James’ Bible, but this then makes a nonsense of the concluding passage of the book where the author states that he, if possible, will see them with him. Another possible attribution is that of Peter as put forward by Jeffrey Bowman .
The styles of the two are similar and both are speaking to communities of Christians under pressure to give up their faith and who are in danger of doing so. Hebrews points out to its readers the sufferings they had gone through at the time of their of conversion and urges them to now stand firm. . Peter tells them in his opening paragraph to stand firm despite trials. In Galatians 2 Paul quite clearly sets himself as the apostle to the uncircumcised and Peter as the apostle to the Jews. Paul has a global view of Christianity.
Jeffrey Bowman points out that he uses the word Cosmos 40 times, whereas the Hebrews author only uses it 5 times, but in a narrower sense. Paul is concerned with Christ’s sacrifice for the whole world as in 1 Timothy 3 v 16:- ‘Preached among the nations, believed on in the whole world ’ but Hebrews stresses the Israel are the people of God as in 7 v 5 where, talking of the brethren he says ‘these are descended from Abraham’. Bowman points out a number of passages in both Hebrews and Peter which are more of less parallel.
1 Peter 1 v 2 refers to the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ and so does Hebrews 12 v 24. Both refer to Christ as shepherd; 1 Peter 2 v 25 and Hebrews 13 v 20. Both refer to Christians as strangers and pilgrims in the world as in 1 Peter 2 v 11 and Hebrews 11 v 13. Also both refer to Noah to illustrate their points, 1 Peter 3 v 20 and Hebrews 11 v 7. One possible argument against Petrine authorship is Peter’s background as a relatively uneducated fisherman. Yet this is the same Peter, touched by the Holy Spirit, who spoke so powerfully and eloquently to the Jerusalem crowd.
Another possible anti-Peter argument could be based upon Hebrews 2 v 3 where the author seems to align himself with second generation Christians:- It was declared at first by the Lord (Himself) and it was confirmed to us and proved to be real and genuine by those who personally heard ( Him speak). There are differences of theology between Hebrews and Paul. In Romans 8 v 35 Paul asks :- Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword?
As it is written ‘For thy sake we are being killed all day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. ’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. The Hebrew author on the other hand does seem to recognize falling away as a possibility as in Hebrews 10 v 38 :- The just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. George Milligan is quoted by Jeffrey Bowman as saying:- Not only can Paul not be the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but it is
extremely unlikely that the writer is to be sought in the immediate circle of his followers or friends: otherwise he would have reproduced more closely his master’s teaching. Adolf Harnack, writing early in the 20th century, was of the opinion that the group addressed had already gone through the period of the Neronic persecution, which would seem to ensure that this document is post both Peter and Paul. A one person authorship seems obvious from the grammar used – the first person singular as in Hebrews 11 v 32: ’What more shall I say?
’ , but at times slips into plural mode as in 13 v 18 ‘Pray for us. ’ The writer of ‘Polumeros kai Polutrupos’ tells how Adolf Karnack , writing in 1900, argued that such plurality pointed to a partnership and so put Priscilla and Aquilla forward for the role, pointing out their position of authority in the church as well as their ability to teach as recorded by Luke in Acts 18. They were among Paul’s circle and so would have been associated with Timothy who is mentioned in Hebrews 13 v 23.
If the document is meant for Rome the author seems to have been a respected leader among Roman Christians and hoped to be able to return to them at some point as he states in Hebrews13:19. Acts 18:1 states that both Priscilla and Aquilla were forced out of Rome because of the Edict of the emperor Claudius in 49 C. E. One argument put forward by Harnack is the list of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. He feels it very unlikely that a man would have included Rahab, yet it could be argued that Luke’s gospel was written by a woman as it portrays women sympathetically, so, by itself, this is not a particularly strong argument.
Courtney from Study Moose
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