Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Author of the Epistle to Hebrews

One of the many big debates amongst theologians is the authorship of Hebrews, below is my term paper for Hebrews class last semester, please do not copy it. but read for your enjoyment, it's long but I put a lot into it. I encourage you to debate along with me here:

The book of Hebrews is grammatically different than any other epistle in the New Testament. It is not written to a specific audience like most Pauline epistles are. Hebrews begins like a sermon, proceeds like an essay and ends like a letter. There is much debate among theologians over who wrote the book. Some who come to mind are: Paul, Priscilla, Barnabas, Luke, Clement and Apollos. It is still unknown who exactly wrote it. Some use historical facts and geographical matters to prove one's authorship, but there is very little proof for it's true composition. Only God knows who wrote the book and that is all that should matter. However, the debates and dissertations are interesting as some lean strongly towards another writer.
Characteristics of the Author of Hebrews.
People can research as much as they wish, but coming to a true consensus is too difficult. There is no doubt that the author of the book was a teacher of some sort. He or she may have been a second generation Christian, claiming the gospel was “confirmed to us by those who heard Him [Jesus]” (Hebrews 2:3).1 The author of the book was a dynamic preacher or teacher, knowledgeable of the Old testament and was highly educated.2 Not only was the author well educated in the Old Testament, he or she would also have been familiar with the culture around them.
Omission of the Author's Name.
It is hard to understand why the name of the author was omitted. Critics claim that the omission is based on the argument of the epistle being written in the Hebrew or Greek language. Clement was among ones who supported the Hebrew side. Although, very interestingly he claimed that Paul wrote it in Hebrew with Luke then carefully translating it into Greek. This claim opens up a whole new debate on whether or not Paul wrote it on his own, or that he had an interpreter with him. There is also no evidence of an original copy of the book in Hebrew, which attests to the fact it was written in Greek. All older copies of Hebrews are written in Greek and if there was a Hebrew original that was destroyed or lost , the Greek would have eventually replaced it. If the letter was addressed to Jews in Palestine, it would of led the people to retain it in the Hebrew language.3 Each other epistle in the New Testament indicate the author at the introduction or at some part of the book. Hebrews, strangely does not. Some versions of the bible attribute the epistle to Paul strictly for canonical reasons. However, the 1611 King James Bible indicates that “Timothie” wrote the book. His name was found at the very end of the book: written in Italy by Timothie. There is very little doubt that this person would not be the same as one who has two books bearing his name. Timothy is not among the most popular choices by scholars and theologians, so there is a strong possibility that the name is a pseudonym. Timothy's release from prison was mentioned in Hebrews 13:23, which rules out even the most remote possibility that he wrote it. The author had to be someone that Paul and Timothy came into contact with over their respective missionary journeys.
Possibility #1: The Apostle Paul.
Hebrews was written sometime between 60 and 70 AD either before or after the destruction of the Temple. The date that the book was written depends on who the author was. Paul was considered a candidate but this letter was specifically for a Jewish audience. Paul often wrote to specific churches or geographical locations instead of a general audience. Jerome and St. Augustine of Hippo were influential in attributing the epistle to Paul. He was confirmed as author until the Reformation.
Pauline authorship was not accepted in the Western church (Rome) until late in the fourth century. Although Hebrews was attributed to Paul much earlier in the Eastern church (Alexandria), not everyone could agree. It was the great scholar, Origen who, after surveying the possible authors uttered the famous words “But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows”. The apparent eagerness of many in the church to ascribe Hebrews to Paul was motivated by the canonical status within developing the New Testament. Without going into the matter in detail, the more reasons why Pauline authorship must be mentioned.4

There is very little doubt that Paul at least had a minor role in the writing or distribution of the epistle. Almost ever candidate for authorship at one time crossed paths with Paul in his missionary journeys. According to Albert Barnes, Clement of Alexandria claimed that Paul wrote Hebrews based on the opinion of Pantaneus who was the head of the celebrated Christian school there established in 180 AD.5
Origen of Alexandria also ascribes Hebrews to Paul by claiming that the sentiments are Paul's but the words and phrases belong to a writer, as if they were commenting while Paul was telling him or her what to write. Barnes continues his strong case for Paul by stating the mention of Timothy in Hebrews 13:23 by promising a visit in the near future. There are several differences based on the date of writing alone, some believe it was before or after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Barnes continues his opinion by stating that 6
Possibility #2: Luke.
Among the more popular candidates is Luke. According to Wilson's New Century Commentary, the possibility of Paul writing the book was ruled out.7 Luke is considered the most likely author because he was not influenced by Alexandrian thoughts. Luke was interested in solid facts rather than cultural surroundings. Luke was heavily influenced by Greek culture which is especially evident in the gospel that bears his name; where headdresses his letter to most excellent Theolophilis. Luke was believed to be a Gentile writing to a Jewish audience and that he wrote under the tutelage of Paul. However, the grammatical dynamic between the two are too different. The belief is that the words and thoughts of the text are Paul's but the language was Luke's. St. Clement is convinced that Luke may also be the author based on the purity of the Greek in the original letter. There are several references and phrases that are also found in Acts, which Luke wrote. Although there are decent grounds for this argument, they are simply speculations based on minor research.
Possibility #3: Apollos.
Many modern scholars have suggested that Apollos is indeed the author of Hebrews. This was first suggested by Martin Luther during the Reformation. He refuted any evidence that Paul wrote the book based on historical evidence. According to Acts 18:24, Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria and was an eloquent man. He was well versed in Scriptures and contradicted Jews in public. Once again, Paul is mentioned to having his hand in to having his hand in this passage because of the fact he interacted with Apollos in Ephesus and Corinth. If Apollos had been the author of Hebrews, it is difficult to think that the Alexandrian Church would not have preserved some knowledge of that fact or that Clement of Rome would not of mentioned him in writing to the Corinthians. There is also little known of a connection between Apollos and Rome.8 Despite such arguments, Apollos is actually considered the very top candidate for authorship of Hebrews, even for people who disagree with Martin Luther. The evidence is both hard and easy to refute.
Possibility #4: Barnabas.
There is little evidence supporting Barnabas but he also seems like a very likely candidate. Barnabas was a Levite, which can elude to the fact the author was well versed in Jewish culture. He was an associate of the apostle Paul, as they met in the latter half of Acts during one of Paul's missionary journey.
Barnabas might of been a decent nominee to be inspired to write the epistle. It does not breach at one time between him and Paul (Acts 25.), or his temporary vacillation at Antioch (Gal.2:13), preclude his having become again the associate of the great apostle and the exponent of his teaching. We have, however, no knowledge of this, or of Barnabas' style and natural powers as a writer, with none of his written or verbal utterances. Thus the only real ground for the supposition of Barnabas is the assertion of Tertullian, which is certainly remarkable as being made positively and not as a conjecture only.9

Based on the lack of evidence on Barnabas, it is safe to assume that he likely did not write Hebrews despite differing opinions by various commentators.
Possibility #5: Priscilla.
Although historical, biblical contexts and culture would not allow it, Priscilla is also very likely to have written Hebrews. She is first mentioned as the wife of Aquila in Acts 18:2, but in verses 18 and 26, her name is mentioned first. Whether this is a grammatical error or intentional based on a status she may of had remains a mystery. The reference led some to believe that she was the dominant partner. It is also suggested that There is no account of Priscilla's verbal or written words, which can certify, to some, that she did not write the book. The same can be said of any possible writers. Interestingly, during this time women in Monasticism were seen as mediators and Gnostic circles provoked suspicions of women in responsibility.10 The main dispute of a woman author is the use of the Greek male pronoun in Hebrews 11:32. Perhaps this was disputed because in early church it was considered shameful for a woman to speak up in church, they were to remain silent. Early believers could possibly of added the male pronoun in order to cover up for Priscilla and possibly save her life. Having a woman write a piece of Scripture that would eventually be canonized could of been considered heresy. This would not be an issue for many today as several women are involved in various ministries within the church and also have equal rights with men. Several scholars and pastors today believe that Priscilla did in fact write Hebrews and used the male pronoun to remain anonymous.
In 1900, Adolph Harnack presented an argument determining that Priscilla indeed wrote the book of Hebrews. This was translated from German into English in 1955 by Emma Runge Peter.11 Her book indicates a summary of Harnack's research. He states that the epistle was written to Rome, not the church but to a smaller group of older Christians because the author tells them to obey their leaders (13:17). Harnack's case for Priscilla is incredible:
The author was highly educated and seems to have held a prominent teaching position. In Acts 18 Priscilla along with Aquila were able to instruct Apollos who was himself an eloquent and learned man (Acts 18:24-26). 2) Both Priscilla and Aquila were among the Pauline circle of friends and were associates with Timothy (13:23).3) Assuming the Roman audience, the author would then have been a part of the Roman church and been familiar with the circumstances of the Christians in Rome. Moreover the author seems to have been a respected leader among the Roman Christians and hoped to be restored to them someday (13:19). We know from Acts 18:1 that Priscilla and Aquila were expelled from Rome due to the Edict of Claudius in 49 A.D.12
Harnack gives a very strong dissertation based on Priscilla's authorship and can potentially lead many to come to the conclusion that she indeed wrote it. He makes int apparent that one person wrote Hebrews based on the first person language used (11:32; 13:19, 22). However, there were some instances where the author was speaking for more than himself or herself. It should be noted that Priscilla and her husband Aquila were mentioned six times in the New Testament (Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19). Aquila is mentioned first two times and Priscilla four times. It is unknown whether Priscilla being mentioned first was accidental or not but perhaps her name sounded more pleasing to the Greek ear before Aquila's. Further speculation indicates that Priscilla was a Roman woman from a prominent and noble family, and her husband was once a slave. This indicates the rarity of a woman's status being higher during the early church. The use of the male pronoun indicates that she is either not the author or used it to gain credibility.
Possibility # 6: St. Clement.
The earliest know allusion to the authorship of the epistle is that of St. Clement of Alexandria, as he quoted much of Hebrews in his writings. His letter 1 Clement also has similar grammatical elements to those found in Hebrews. Hebrews 11:7: By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. 1 Clement 9: Noah, being found faithful, by his ministration preached regeneration unto the world, and through him the Master saved the living creatures that entered into the ark in concord.13 The comparison is hard to ignore because it is so similar. Both books respectively have a similar way of citing Scripture. His letter is among the earliest non-Canonical Christian letters and was addressed to believers in Corinth. The book was never meant to be canonized in the New Testament, but his prominence allowed to become a part of the Apostolic Fathers. Among these early Christians were Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. All of whom were linked to Jesus Christ by personal contact with the Twelve Apostles. Although it seems apparent that he might of wrote it, the possibility looks very bleak. Clement allowed Scripture to influence everything wrote but his influence among Corinth only went so far.
Other Possibilities.
There are various other possible authors, but little is known about them. Silas is among them, according to Acts 16:37, he was a Roman Citizen. Some believe that he even helped write 1 Peter because they are similar in both style and content. Silas was a companion of Timothy as was Paul. Since Silas was a Jew, he could have a decent understanding of Jewish culture. Phillip is also a candidate but very little is known about him.
It is too difficult to come to a solid consensus on the true authorship of Hebrews. Although evidence supports all of the discussed authors, the evidence is too broad. The least likely author is Paul because he was either imprisoned or dead when the epistle was written. If it had been written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, it would not be feasible. Paul was beheaded in 67 AD, and according to Adolph Harnack's strong evidence supporting Priscilla, Hebrews was written in 70 AD, three years after Paul's death. Most of the potential writers have similar characteristics that Hebrews presents; that the author was a dynamic teacher and highly educated in the Old Testament. The only exception to that would be Paul, despite the fact he was a Pharisee. His familiarity with the Old Testament would not be as strong as the author of Hebrews. Despite evidence supporting over seven different authors, the best possible answer is to think that only God knows. Even though it remains a mystery, those who call Jesus their Lord and Saviour will find out in heaven.

1Evans Jr. , Luke. The Communicators Commentary on Hebrews. Waco,TX. Word Books Publishing. 1985
2Guthrie, George. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998
4Hagner, Donald. Encountering the Book of Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002, pg.21
5Barnes, Albert. Barnes Notes: Hebrews to Jude. London: Blackie & Son Publishing. 1885
7Wilson, R. McL. New Century Commentary on Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing. 1987. pg.7
9Gloag, P.J. The Pulpit Commentary Volume XXI. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. Year unknown
10Wilson, R. McL. New Century Commentary on Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing. 1987
11Peter, Emma Runge. The Bible Status of Woman. Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1955, 392–415
12Is Priscilla the Author of Hebrews? http://polumeros.blogspot.com/2009/01/is-priscilla-author-of-hebrews.html. Accessed 12/06/2010.
13Clement, Of Alexandria, and G.W. Butterworth. Clement of Alexandria, translated by G.W. Butterworth. 1919. Reprint, S.I. Heinemann, 1982.


  1. Hello Fretz,
    I am always pleased to come across someone who agrees that Priscilla wrote Hebrews. I have written many articles and a book on this topic, "Priscilla's Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews." Why don't you go to Wiley Clarkson's website for a link to several of my articles about Priscilla.
    Ruth Hoppin

  2. Impressive writing, Fretz! I was wondering about this though:

    "The only exception to that would be Paul, despite the fact he was a Pharisee. His familiarity with the Old Testament would not be as strong as the author of Hebrews."

    Wouldn't Paul have been one of the strongest in the knowledge of the OT exactly because he was a Pharisee? These guys knew their scripture and the only scripture around was the OT.

  3. Well done dude. I second mjg's question, but other than that a very good paper.