Who wrote Hebrews? (Hebrews 2)

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Illustration: In the King James Bible from 1678 Paul is grated the authorship of the book of Hebrews

Almost since its origin, the authorship of the epistle to the Hebrews has been a matter of speculation. The earliest complete copy of Hebrews (in the Chester Beatty papyrus) is situated squarely within the Pauline corpus, immediately after Romans. Although Pauline authorship did for some time become a traditional view, there are serious and ancient reasons for resisting this conclusion:

  • The book of Hebrews is anonymous, whereas the other 13 Pauline texts each begins explicitly with the name of Paul.
  • It is also unlikely that Paul, who unambiguously considered himself an apostle and “eyewitness” of the resurrected Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:8-9, Galatians 1:11-2) would have referred to himself as a second generation believer (Hebrews 2:3).
  • The theological perspective of Hebrews (an emphasis on Jesus Christ as high priest and the use of sacrificial categories to explain the significance of his death) are uncharacteristic of Paul’s other known writings.
  • There are striking stylistic differences between Hebrews and the letters of Paul. The language of Hebrews is breathtaking in its eloquence and structural vision. The author employed a studied, elevated prose, together with rich rhetorical embellishment. In contrast, Paul explicitly stated that he lacked this quality in his writing and speech (1 Corinthians 1:17, 2:1, 2 Corinthians 11:6).

Interpreters throughout Christian history have wrestled with the issue of the authorship of Hebrews, and many have tried to account for these discrepancies between Hebrews and the “other” Pauline writings in various ways:

  • Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 150-215) theorized that Paul wrote in Hebrew to the Hebrews, and that Luke later translated the text into an elevated Greek (cf. Romans 16:22, 1 Peter 5:12).
  • Origen (A.D. 185-253) struggled with whether Hebrews could have come from Paul but confessed uncertainty regarding theb identity of the writer, merely reporting that some suggest Luke or Clement of Rome.
  • Tertullian (ca. A.D. 155-220) first suggested Barnabas as an alternative author, since his Levitical background (Acts 4:36) would explain points of emphasis in Hebrews, as well as the facts that his name (meaning “son of encouragement”) corresponds well to the Greek expression behind Hebrews 13:22.
  • Martin Luther (A.D. 1483-1546) proposed Apollos as the writer – a “learned man” from Alexandria who had a “thorough knowledge of the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24).
  • Modern scholars have expanded the list of candidates to include Priscilla, Silas, Epaphras and several others.

While the named identity of the author of Hebrews remains uncertain, a number of affirmations can be made on the basis of the existing list:

  • The author of Hebrews was almost certainly a second-generation Christian (Hebrews 2:3).
  • He was a profound thinker who wrote with an impressive style, vocabulary and cogency and who knew the Greek language well (there are some 151 Greek words unique to Hebrews within the New Testament).
  • He was intimately acquainted with the Septuagint in its Alexandrian form, as well as with Jewish customs and modes of Scriptural interpretation.
  • Above all, he wrote with a studied conviction that God had climatically made Himself known to humanity in His Son Jesus (1:1-2).

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