The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: H

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Heb, authorship

"As distinctive among the writings of the NT as Hebrews is, we actually know very little about its origin, its author, and its first readers. The traditional and ancient designation of the book as 'The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews', found, for example, at the head of the book in the KJV, is not a part of the original document, but is rather an opinion of the early church that first comes to expression in the Eastern church (Alexandria) late in the second century and in the Western church two centuries after that. Moreover, this ascription appears to have been inferred from the document itself, much in the manner of modern scholarship, rather than derived from any independent tradition about its origin. The result is that we are left to draw such conclusions as we can from the actual contents of Hebrews" (NIBC).

"The epistle was used by Clement of Rome and probably also by Polycarp and Hermas. Therefore the author was an early Christian. The earliest reference to authorship is a statement of Clement of Alexandria that Paul wrote it in Hebrew and that Luke translated the work into Greek (quoted in Eusebius, Eccl Hist 6:14:2). When it was accepted as part of the NT, this was partly at least because contemporaries held Paul to be the author. This view, however, appears to rest on no reliable evidence but rather to be a deduction from the facts that Paul was a prolific writer of epistles and that Hebrews is a noble writing that must have had a distinguished author. But both the language and thought forms are unlike those of Paul. The Greek is polished; Paul's is rugged, though vigorous. This book moves in the context of Levitical symbolism, about which Paul elsewhere says nothing. The same argument also tells against Clement of Alexandria's view that Luke translated it. While there are some interesting coincidences of language between Hebrews and Luke-Acts, there are also some differences. And it is incredible that if Luke knew Hebrews, he should have made no reference whatever to its teaching either in his Gospel or in the Acts. [The mention of Timothy, in Heb 13:23, also suggests Paul's authorship.]

"None of the early writers who cites the epistle mentions its author. Nor does internal evidence help us much. The author was plainly a teacher, a second generation Christian (Heb 2:3). The style is unlike that of any other NT document; consequently, we have nothing more to go on to determine authorship than conjecture. Though many suggestions have been made, it will suffice to mention only a few of them. The allegation that Barnabas was the author is as old as Tertullian, but little can be said in its support. Barnabas was a Levite (Acts 4:36), and there is much about Levitical ritual in the epistle. Again, in Acts 4:36 Barnabas was called 'huios parakleseos' ('son of encouragement'); and in Heb 13:22 the epistle refers to itself as 'my word of exhortation' [or 'encouragement': the sw]. But it is hard to see Heb 2:3 as applying to Barnabas.

"Luther suggested that Apollos was the author. A number of modern scholars support this view. Apollos was an eloquent man (Acts 18:24), and there is indeed eloquence in this epistle. Apollos came from Alexandria, a center where allegorical interpretation, which might be said to be akin to the method used in Hebrews, flourished. Apollos had 'a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures' (Acts 18:24), a description particularly appropriate for the author, who did not simply use the 'proof-text' method but applied a thorough knowledge of Scripture in an original manner. Apollos must remain a possible author, but the evidence is far from conclusive.

"Harnack thought that Priscilla probably wrote the epistle. His strong point is that this would account for the suppression of the author's name. It was a man's world, and there would be every reason for keeping it quiet that a woman had written an epistle intended to be authoritative and to have wide circulation. Priscilla and her husband were cultured Hellenistic Jews, and the woman who could instruct Apollos in the faith (Acts 18:26) was no mean teacher. The interest in the tabernacle would be natural in a family whose living came from tentmaking (Acts 18:3), and the outlook of a pilgrim would be natural to one who did so much traveling. All this is interesting but plainly it falls far short of proof. And against it stands the masculine participle 'diegoumenon' ('to tell') used of the author in Heb 11:32.

"In the end we must agree that we have no certain evidence about the authorship of Hebrews. Who wrote it remains unknown to us. We can scarcely improve on the words of Origen's conclusion, that 'who wrote the Epistle, God only knows the truth' (Eusebius, Eccl Hist 6:25:14)" (EBC).

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