reasoning-from-the-scriptures

Introduction

Who is the author of the Book of Hebrews? Why does it really matter, if the book is canonical, authoritative and inspired? The book was not signed, and so there have been many suggestions over the centuries. This article will provide evidence that the author of the book of Hebrews is, in fact, the Apostle Paul. To be quite frank at the outset, there is no absolute determinative evidence for any suggested author, even Paul. However, we do not live in an absolute world. God is absolute and the Word of God in the original is absolute. It seems that most researchers that address this appear to offer just a few suggestions to live with the belief that it is best to say that we do not know. Having gotten that out of the way, I view biblical evidence like a criminal court views the level needed for a decision. Let us take a moment to consider just that.

Warrants Further Investigation

Reasonable (30%): This is a low-level burden of proof in that it is enough to accept something as fairly likely, being so unless proven otherwise by a deeper look, which may bring in more evidence.

Probable (40%): This is also a low-level burden of proof in that it is enough to accept something as likely being so unless proven otherwise by a deeper look, which may bring in more evidence.

Conviction for Claim

The Preponderance of Evidence (51%): This is a higher level burden of proof that makes something to be more likely to be true than not true.

Clear and Convincing Evidence (85%): This is an even higher level of burden of proof that something is substantially more likely than not.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt (99%): This is the highest level of burden of proof that something is true, having absolutely no doubt. It must be understood that having absolutely no doubt is not the same as 100% absolute evidence of certainty. If one has doubts that affect their belief of certainty, it is not beyond reasonable doubt. This too must be qualified, because it is reasonable to have doubts about certain aspects of the whole that does not have all the answers as of yet, but it does not affect the level of certainty as a whole.

Suggested Authors

There have been many suggested authors since the first century. James, Philip, and Jude have been offered as suggested authors of the book of Hebrews. Below is a short summary of evidence that is presented for some of the more common suggestions.

Luke as the Author: The Greek of the book of Hebrews is literary Koine Greek, like what is found in the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Luke had an extensive association with Timothy, who is mentioned twice in Hebrews. There are the similarities with the doctrines of Paul. Luke was also a traveling companion of Paul.

Barnabas as the Author: He was a traveling companion of Paul and a companion of Timothy. As was mentioned above, he was a Levite of the island of Cyprus (Ac 4:36) and was a Hellenist, he was a Greek-speaking Jew.

Silas as the Author of Hebrews: He was a traveling companion of Paul and a companion of Timothy. There are many personal characteristics that contribute to his name being offered. He was a Jew from Jerusalem, and well respected, and viewed as a prophet. (Acts 15:32) He played a major role in the circumcision issue in Antioch. (Acts 15:23)

Apollos as the Author: The literary Koine Greek fits the training that he had received, he is from Alexandria, and the birthplace of the Septuagint (280-150 B.C.E.), and the Old Testament quotes from the book of Hebrews reflects his emphasis and the Septuagint. He was an eloquent speaker, with matches the eloquence of the book of Hebrews.

Priscilla and Aquila as the Authors: This view is supported by Adolf Harnack, who suggested Priscilla, because of her close ministry and working relationship with Paul. However, it really lacks in internal and external evidence. The fact that she is a woman would be reason enough to leave the letter anonymous.

Clement of Rome as the Author: (d. about 100 C.E.) There are a few similarities between the Book of Hebrews and the apocryphal book 1 Clement. (Heb. 11:7 and 1 Clem 9; Heb. 11:31 and 1 Clem 12; Heb. 1:3-13 and 1 Clem 36) In addition, there is a similarity in the way the two books cite Scripture. (Heb. 2:6; 4:4 and 1 Clem 15; 21) Then, there are the similarities of: connecting multiple Scripture quotations together, the similarity in the flow of argument, and the movement from example to the application.

how-to-study-your-bible1Up until the 1800’s, the most recognized suggested author is the Apostle Paul. In 1930, there was a discovery of the Chester Beatty P46 (papyrus No. 46), which had been copied (150 C.E.), about 100 years after the death of the Apostle Paul. (Comfort and Barret 2001, pp. 203-06) P46 contains Hebrews among nine of Paul’s letters, coming after Romans. The early church unanimously viewed Paul as the author. Pantaenus, who ran the Catechetical School in Alexandria around 180 C.E., accepted Paul as the author. This holds true of both his successors: Clement of Alexandria (150-215 C.E.) and Origen (184-254 C.E.). It should be mentioned that the Western church doubted that Paul was the author. It was Jerome and Augustine who accepted the authorship of Paul, which contributed to the West eventually accepting it as well. Thus, Hebrews is listed among “fourteen letters of Paul the apostle” in “The Canon of Athanasius,” of the fourth-century C.E.

Excursus on Origen

Origen is the most noted early scholar of Alexandria, Egypt. In relation to the authorship of Hebrews, many commentaries quote him out of context and do not even reflect the whole of his comment if their quote was accurate. For example, Dr. George H. Guthrie in his NIV Application Commentary on Hebrews writes, “With Origen we confess our ignorance: ‘Who wrote the epistle, God only knows the truth.’” (G. H. Guthrie 1998, p. 27) Let us say for the sake of argument that Origen was referring to the author of Hebrews. What Guthrie leaves out is that just prior to that statement, Origen writes, “If then, any church considers this epistle as coming from Paul, let it be commended for this, for neither did those ancient men deliver it as such without cause.” (Cruse 1998, 6.25.13-14, p. 216) In addition, Origen quoted from the book of Hebrews over 200 times as being Paul’s epistle. It is a bit disingenuous to quote the small phrase of Origen, and not include the fact that Origen “accepted Pauline authorship,” and “consistently quoted Hebrews as Paul’s and commended those Churches that held to the Pauline authorship.” (Lea 1999, p. 496)  Worse still, Origen was quoted out of context, as the quote, “Who wrote the epistle, God only knows the truth,” was not meant for the author of Hebrews, it was an uncertainty about the scribe that took down the letter to the Hebrews as Paul spoke.

The Grouping of Certain Books

First, it must be understood that the synoptic Gospels were published orally for many years before the written text came to market. With many of the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures, you have the author himself penning the book (rough draft), making needed corrections, and then producing the ‘authorized’ text. From this authorized text, other copies were made. For those authors who dictated their writings, the scribe would take it down initially in shorthand and then create a rough draft to be corrected by the author and himself. From this, the scribe would produce the authorized text for the author to sign in his own hand. After the individual books had been in circulation for a few decades, the community of Christians throughout the Roman Empire started to form collections, such as combined books of the Gospels, and compilations of the Apostle Paul’s letters. These groupings were accomplished by 125 C.E., with the total collection of the 27 books of the Christian Greek Scriptures coming together by 325 C.E. There is no doubt that throughout this process of publishing, copying, collecting, and canonizing of the Christian Greek Scriptures, those involved recognized these writings as being authoritative, no less than the graphē [Scriptures] of the Hebrew Old Testament books. (Andrews 2012, p. 65)

In other words, toward the close of the first century, Christians were gathering certain New Testament books together, and dispensing them as a collection. The first to be collected were the four Gospels and then the Gospels and Acts. Running neck-and-neck with these collections were the letters of the Apostle Paul. These groupings were available by the early part of the second century, and we have P46, which dates to 150 C.E., and just so happens to be a collection of Paul’s letters, and included the books of Hebrews in the prominent position, right after Romans.

Doctrinal and Stylistic Similarities Between Paul and Hebrews

  1. The book of Hebrews begins with Jesus Christ’s work in creation, as does the book of Colossians. (Heb. 1:2; Col 1:16)
  2. Jesus took on the form of his brothers, to be like them in every respect, as he suffered in his ransom sacrifice. (Heb. 2:14-17; Phil 2:5-8)
  3. Christ mediates and new and better covenant. (Heb. 8:6; 2 Cor. 3:4-11)
  4. The gifts that were given by way of the Holy Spirit. (Heb. 2:4; 1 Cor. 12:11)
  5. The warning example of unbelief to the Hebrews from the Israelite history. (Heb. 3:7-11; 4:6-11; 1 Cor. 10:1-11)
  6. The similarity of a request that the readers pray for Paul and his work. (Heb. 13:18;Rom 15:30)
  7. “Now may the God of peace,” is exact. (Heb. 13:20; 1 Thess. 5:23)
  8. “Our brother Timothy” is similar to four of Paul’s other letters. (Heb. 13:23; 2 Cor. 1:1, Col 1:1, I Thess. 3:2; Phm. 1)
  9. Paul’s letters to the Philippians, the Colossians, and Philemon, were written from Rome, as Paul was imprisoned, and Timothy was at his side. This circumstance fits the circumstances of the closing of Hebrews. (Heb. 13:23-24; Php 1:1; 2:19; Col 1:1, 2; Phm 1)[1]
  10. Paul’s trademark ending “be with all of you,” is found in Hebrews and a number of Paul’s letters, whether it be ‘grace’ or ‘peace’ or ‘love’ or ‘holy Spirit,’ or ‘the Lord’ or Jesus Christ’ “be with all of you.” (Heb. 13:25; Rom. 15:33; 1 Cor. 16:24; 2 Cor. 13:14; 2 Thess. 3:16, 18; Tit 3:15)
  11. When we look at the textual evidence, the evidence points to ending in the manuscripts of the autographs were much shorter. For example, Philemon would have ended with “grace be with you,” rather than the longer ending, “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”

Differences Between Paul and Hebrews

  1. The book of Hebrews is anonymous, whereas no other writing of Paul is anonymous. Sometimes we are quick to dismiss exceptions to the rule, this lack of clear proof of identity of the writer would clearly not rule out Paul. If there is a reasonable reason for the omission of the name, and other evidence supports Paul, let us leave it at that. Other New Testament books do not name the author, who is then identified by internal evidence and external support. Some have logically suggested that Paul intentionally omitted his name, as the letter was to go to the Hebrew Christians in Judea, and his name was greatly hated by the Jews there, and the Hebrew Christians were under stress from them as it was. (Acts 21:28)
  2. Hebrews 2:3: “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard.” This verse has cause most to suggest that if Paul were the author of Hebrews, it would conflict with his words at Galatians 1:1, 11-12, where he states that he received the Gospel through Jesus Christ. However, Hebrews 2:3 seems to suggest that the author is a second generation Christian, having been taught the Gospel by others who had heard it. However, the context seems to suggest otherwise. It seems that Paul is merely stating here that he did not receive the Gospel during Jesus’ three and half year ministry here on earth, like the others.
  3. It is a fact that the Greek in most of Paul’s letters is more of a conversational Koine; Hebrews is more of a literary Koine. This could be a simple case of different settings and audiences requiring different levels of writing. There is likely no scholar that would ever suggest that Paul could not write in the literary Koine. (1 Cor. 13)
  4. Jesus is the great high priest of the book of Hebrews, which is not to be found in Paul’s other writings. This logical fallacy is known as an argument from silence, an assumption drawn-out based on the lack of evidence, as opposed the presence of evidence. Again, different setting, require different subject matter.

Canonicity of the Book of Hebrews

What is the Bible canon, and how did this term come about? What are some of the aspects that are used to determine a book’s canonicity?

The English word “canon” goes back to the Greek word kanon and then to the Hebrew qaneh. Its basic meaning is “reed,” our English word “cane” being derived from it. Since a reed was sometimes used as a measuring rod, the word kanon came to mean a standard or rule. It was also used to refer to a list or index and when so applied to the Bible denotes the list of books which are received as Holy Scripture. Thus if one speaks of “canonical” writings, one is speaking of those books which are regarded as having divine authority and which comprise our Bible. (Lightfoot 1963, 1988, 2003, p. 152)

  Before reading the rest of this paragraph, ponder and consider this question: how many books of the New Testament were written by Archippus, Claudia, Damaris, Linus, Persis, Pudens, and Sopater? None right? Why? All of those mentioned were traveling companions of the Apostle Paul. However, Paul had over 100 traveling companions. These were some of the most unfamiliar, because they received little press in the New Testament, and were unknown to most of the New Testament world at that time. Using a modern day example, if I were to ask, ‘who knows Pastor Rodney Uhlig?’ While he too is a person that would have been willing and qualified to travel with someone like the Apostle Paul, you do not know him, as he is mostly known to his local community and congregation. However, what if I were to ask, ‘who is Reverend Billy Graham,’ would you know him? Most of the world would know who he is. There are a lot of aspects that signal a book of the Bible as canonical. However, we are going to focus our attention on one criterion. “Every New Testament book was written by an apostle or prophet. Thus each book has either apostolic authorship or apostolic teaching.”[2]

All of the writers of the Greek New Testament somehow or other were closely affiliated with the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1–35), which was made up of apostles personally selected by Jesus, Jesus’ half-brother and elders. Matthew, John, and Peter were of the original twelve apostles. The apostle Paul, while he was an apostle, though not of the twelve, he was specifically selected by Jesus after Jesus had ascended to heaven. James, Jude (half-brother of Jesus) and Mark were at the outpouring of Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (Acts 1:14) Peter clearly reckons the letters of Paul in with “the other Scriptures.” (2 Pet. 3:15, 16) Both Mark and Luke were friends and traveling companions of the Apostle Paul, as well as Peter. (Acts 12:25; 1 Pet. 5:13; Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11) In fact, the Gospel of Mark is recognized as being from both Peter and Mark: Peter’s account, Mark penning it. “That relationship notwithstanding, Mark had his own God-given ministry (Acts 12:25; 2 Tim. 4:11).” (Geisler and Nix 1996, p. 212-13) Each of these writers had received Holy Spirit, at either Pentecost on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:17, 18), or by the laying of hands by the apostles. (Acts 8:14-17) All of these writers were well-known in the first century Christian congregation.

Within the Old Testament, we see that the books were written by persons that were known to all of Israel: such as Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra and Nehemiah.  “In the New Testament as well as the Old, the determining factor in whether a book was canonical was its propheticity.” (Geisler and Nix 1996, p. 212) If we read Deuteronomy 13:1-8, where Moses sets out the criteria of a prophet, we see that, he was a man of signs and wonders, as well as a proclaimer of God’s Word. Whether the people of God were the Israelites or the first century Christian congregation, they accepted the proclamations from men who possessed supernatural gifts as the inspired Word of God

More so, in the New Testament era, the apostle filled the office of prophet (a proclaimer of the gospel) as well. At Acts 1:21-22, Peter informs us as to the qualifications to be an apostle, it must be “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us, one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” Of course, this criterion was to fill the position of one of the twelve apostles. The Apostle Paul was not one of the twelve, but he was handpicked specifically by Jesus himself. This apostle has penned 13 books, half of the New Testament books. If you accept that he penned Hebrews, as this writer does, then he has penned over half. At 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us that “the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” If a person was not appointed, had not seen Christ, or had not evidenced his office with signs or miracles, his claims would have been unacceptable. “Every New Testament book was written by an apostle or prophet.” (Geisler and Nix 1996, p. 212)

In Conclusion

Is there absolute certainty that the Apostle Paul wrote the book of Hebrews? No. We cannot place absolute certainty on it, and it is unfair to take this one book and suggest that this is the criterion that we need. Based on the evidence above, is it fairly likely that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews? Yes, so we can say that it is reasonably so. Can we say that it is fairly likely that Luke, Clement of Rome, Apollos, or another wrote the book of Hebrews? Yes, it is reasonable. What about the level of being probable, is it likely for either Paul or any of the other recommendations? Yes, it is probable. Can we say that it is more likely to be true than not true that Paul or any of the other recommendations wrote the book of Hebrews? Yes for Paul, but a few of the other recommended writers would fall off at this point, such as Clement of Rome, Luke, Silas and Priscilla and Aquila.

Is the evidence clear and convincing that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews, being substantially more likely than not? Yes. What about the others who are still in the running at this level of certainty? There are those that would argue that Barnabas and Apollos are serious candidates, and would be retained at this level of certainty. I would not. I personally believe that when weighed, the evidence points to the Apostle Paul as being beyond reasonable doubt. Is it absolute evidence of certainty? No. However, some issues that can be raised are not really issues at all, when they are looked at more deeply. Regardless, it is acceptable to have concerns about certain aspects of the whole, yet this does not affect the certainty of the whole. Therefore, for this writer, it is beyond reasonable doubt that the Apostle Paul did pen the book of Hebrews. Am I at odds with most of the scholarship today? Yes. However, the majority of anything is not right merely because they are the majority.

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Bibliography for This Chapter

Barclay, William. The Letter to the Hebrews (New Daily Study Bible). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Bercot, David W. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998.

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990.

Carson, D. A, and Douglas J Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Comfort, Philip, and David Barret. The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

Cruse, C. F. Eusebius’ Eccliatical History. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998.

Ellingworth, Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1993.

Geisler, Norman L, and William E Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996.

Guthrie, Donald. Introduction to the New Testament (Revised and Expanded). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990.

Guthrie, George H. The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

Kistemaker, Simon J, and William Hendriksen. New Testament Commentary: vol. 15, Exposition of Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001.

Lea, Thomas D. Holman New Testament Commentary: Hebrews, James. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.

Lightfoot, Neil R. How We Got the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1963, 1988, 2003.

Outlaw, W. Stanley. The Book of Hebrews . Nashville, TN: Randall House, 2005.

Pink, Arthur Walkington. An Exposition of Hebrews. Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot, 1954.

Wright, N. T. Hebrews for Everyone. London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

[1] It should be noted that this is Paul’s first imprisonment (59 to 61 C.E.), and Timothy, a very close traveling companion of Paul for some 15 years is mentioned twice. Timothy could have served as served as Paul’s amanuensis, the person to write from Paul’s dictation of what would become the book of Hebrews.

[2] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 212.

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