The Epistle to the Hebrews is one that has perplexed Christians for generations.  The letter is unlike anything seen in the rest of the New Testament, and uses typology and symbolism to communicate the precious truth of Christ.  In regards to this theologian N.T. Wright states, “The letter to the Hebrews is one of the most bracing and challenging writings in the New Testament.  People often find it a bit difficult, because it uses ideas that are strange to us[1].”

One of the way in which it perplexes us is because there is not a consensus on who wrote such a beautiful piece of scripture.  If one were to get a group of Biblical Scholars to together there will be varying opinions on this issue.  Is the issue of authorship vital to prove its canonicity?  Not at all, but it could serve to give us further insight into what the author was conveying.  There have been many names presented as author such as Paul, Barnabas, Clement, Apollos, Luke, Priscilla, Jude, Apollos, Philip, and Silvanus[2].  In this paper a look at internal evidence, and testimony from the Church Fathers will show that Apollos is the most likely candidate for authorship.

 

HISTORY OF AUTHORSHIP IN THE EAST AND WEST

If one is to research who the author of the epistle is it would be wise to consider the tradition of the eastern and western churches.  This is a most interesting practice as it yields two results that could not be any more different.  Looking at the patristic evidence is important to understand why it was placed in the canon[3].

In the expanses of the west the epistle was quoted as early as the writing of 1 Clement around the end of the first century[4].  Traces of the epistle were seen in the works of Gaius, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and much more by Hippolytus in his commentary on Daniel.  However, none saw evidence of Pauline authorship, and thus it was not considered canonical because it was not apostolic in nature[5].  Eventually Pauline authorship became popular, though never fully accepted, in the west around the 4th century when Paul was attributed as being the author in editions of the Latin Vulgate.  This was also the case in early English translation such as the Douay-Rheims and King James Version[6]

            Though Pauline authorship was a matter of contention in the west this was not the case in the East.  Very early the Eastern churches show a strong tradition that displays Pauline authorship.  According to the early church historian Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria followed the view of another church father named Pantaenus[7].  Clement held a view that Paul wrote Hebrews in Hebrew for Hebrews, and that it was translated into Greek by Luke[8].

Pantaenus did recognize the difficulty in such a belief.  He argued very early on that Paul did not introduce himself in the same way as the rest of his letters.  His explanation was simple, but carried much weight.  According to Gareth Cockerill Pantaneus believed, “Paul had not affixed his name because he was only the apostle to the Gentiles[9]”.  Clement of Alexandria, Pantaenus’s successor, added further clarification of this thought.  He believed that Paul wrote the epistle anonymously so he would not offend the Jews in the audience[10].

At any rate the West began to join the east in affirming Pauline authorship in the 4th century.  The view in the west was assisted by theological heavyweights Jerome and Augustine who greatly respected the “prestigious opinion of the Eastern churches[11].”  It should be noted that Jerome did carry reservations about Pauline authorship, but did not see fit to attempt to deny it a place in the canon.  His reason was very simple, and straightforward as the letter was read daily inside the churches.

EVIDENCE FOR PAULINE AUTHORSHIP

To better understand the authorship of Hebrews a look at the first theories must be looked at.  The earliest theories, as already mentioned, were that the Apostle Paul was the most likely author.  It is wise to go through the reasons why this was the case as it will later assist in laying the foundation as to why Pauline authorship is not probate.  This process may seem antithetical, but in looking at other Pauline letters we can see some similarity, but many differences in writing style at tone.

As previously stated the earliest traditions in the East name Paul as the author.  This theory did not come just from anywhere in the East, but from the catechetical school in Alexandria[12].  The great Early Church Father John Chrysostom clearly names Paul as the author.  John writes in his first homily on the Epistle, “Why did he [Paul] not oppose “himself” to “the prophets”? Certainly, he was much greater than they, inasmuch as a greater trust was committed to him. Yet he doth not so[13].”  Origen, at a minimum, affirmed Pauline dictation but was unsure of who wrote everything down[14].  Also, as stated earlier the west was slower to affirm this theory, but at the council of Carthage the fourteen Pauline Epistles were accepted as canon in the New Testament, and this would be the prominent view, with some holdouts until the 16th century[15].

There are similarities between Hebrews and Pauline letters which helped full the case for his authorship.  This is what perhaps led the earliest codices, around 200 A.D., of Pauline books to be fourteen[16].  To illustrate this point, it is helpful to compare two passages of scripture.  The first is Hebrews 1:2 which states, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he created all ages[17].”  Compare that passage with Colossians 1:16 which states, “for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities-all things were created through him and for him[18].”  Both verses are similar in tone and emphasize the work of Christ in creation.  This could assist one in concluding that either Paul, or someone closely associated with him was the author[19].

Other similarities between Hebrews and the Pauline epistles is the place of the New Covenant described in Hebrews 8:6 and 2 Corinthians 3:4-11.  The bad example of Israel during the wondering in the wilderness in Hebrews 3:7-11, 4:6-11, and 1 Corinthians 10:1-11.  The work of the Holy Spirit and the distribution of gifts in the church in Hebrews 2:4 and 1 Corinthians 12:11. Another similarity is that of the Christs incarnation and death as mentioned in Hebrews 2:14-17 and Philippians 2:5-8[20].

EVIDENCE AGAINST PAULINE AUTHORSHIP

Early church tradition and a look at Biblical evidence present a reasonable case for Pauline authorship.  However, these are surface level factors as evidence can be derived from the text to show that Paul did not write the letter.  Though the debate over authorship rages on the evidence that will be provided will show that the author must have been someone other than Paul, but may have been an associate or knew him well.

The first piece of evidence to look at is the salutation in Hebrews.  The letters that were written by Paul all had a salutation, but Hebrews does not.  The author starts by writing, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets[21].  From the onset of the letter there is an aura of anonymity.  In describing this theologian Paul Enns writes, “The author nowhere identifies himself in the book, yet it seems he knows the readers[22].”  One theory to get around this issue is that the name was omitted because it was in the form of a sermon.  Though plausible, it is unlikely that Paul would not use his authority as an Apostle to steer his readers away from apostasy.  Paul does exactly this in his letter to the Galatians.

The appeal to authority in Hebrews 2:3 is problematic as it is not one normally given by an apostle.  For clarification, the verse states, “It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him[23].”  This passage shows that the writer was not a follower of Christ during his earthly ministry, and indicated that the message received was one delivered by the Apostles.  Paul most likely would have referred to apostolic traditions which points to the writer knowing about Christ because of the ministry of the Apostles[24].

Another point of contention is the style used in Hebrews.  Paul used a more relaxed style of Greek in his letters, and Hebrews has a more classical style.  Bible scholar Robert Utley states, “The Style is so different from Paul’s other writings, the vocabulary is different, and there are subtle differences is word and phrase usage and emphasis[25].”  This is not to say that Paul it not capable of an elevated use of Greek.  Many parts of his letters, such as 1 Corinthians 13, display that.  It is unlikely that Paul would write thirteen letters is a very simple Greek dialect and use a higher literary style in the letter to the Hebrews.

The Epistle to the Hebrews puts a great emphasis on Jesus as High priest.  This particular language is absent from the rest of his writings[26].  The author also uses the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, but with a key difference.  The author of Hebrews quotes it differently than Paul did, and Paul did not always quote from the Septuagint[27].

 

FURTHER POTENTIAL AUTHORS

A great deal of time has been spent discussing the case for and against Pauline authorship.  Though Paul would be a good candidate the evidence points towards someone associated with him, but there were other figures in history who were seen as probable authors.

Luke and Clement of Rome were two men who accompanied Paul in his journeys.  Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts while Clement is mentioned in Philippians 4:2 as a fellow worker.  The thought that one of them authored it is ancient in its origins[28].  Though it is ancient there are a couple problems with this theory.  When compared with other writings of Luke there is very little in common with the content of Hebrews.  Clement of Rome must also be removed as a viable candidate because of evidence found in his letter to the Corinthians.  In that letter, he quotes Hebrews several times.  There is a possibility that he is quoting his own writing, but he is quoting it in such a way to negate part of what is said.  He speaks of the ministry of the Church in such a way that parts are opposite of what is said in Hebrews[29].  These two historic figures have early writing that we can compare to Hebrews to see if it was a possible match.  Another possible author, Barnabas, does not since the epistle attributed to him is also anonymous.  Another possible author is Priscilla, but that only came about in the 19th century by Adolph Harnack.  There is little to no evidence to support this theory and she is ruled out because of the author referring to himself with a masculine pronoun in Hebrews 11:32[30].  There are many more names that were put forward, but one name stands out among those.  That name in Apollos, and there is evidence to support that he is the author.

 

APOLLOS AS AUTHOR

A stated previously the author was most likely a companion, or associated with Paul in some way.  He is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:5, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task[31]”.  We further read in Acts 18:24 about Apollos, “Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures[32].”

The two scriptures provided provide many key points about authorship.  The author of Hebrews had a very strong Hellenistic background with training in rhetoric.  These two distinctions are important and have led many since the time of Martin Luther to conclude that the author is Apollos[33].  In Acts 18:24 Luke says that Apollos is a native of Alexandria which was traditionally the Greek center for rhetorical training[34].  It was also the location of the famed catechetical school in the early church.  Though the school may not have been around at the time that does not mean that a strong scriptural catechesis could not have been present.

In Acts 18 we see Apollos describes as someone who is steeped in the word and a great expositor.  The author of Hebrews does much of the same.  The writer draws on great details from the Old Testament to share with his readers.  In regards to this Gareth Cockerill writes, “Apollo’s skill in demonstrating Christ’s messiahship from the Old Testament is in accord with the pastor’s Christological exposition[35].”  Another element to consider is the ability that Apollos has to confound the Jews who did not acknowledge Christ.  This ability fits well with the background of the recipients of the letter[36].

CONCLUSION

The mystery of who wrote Hebrews is one that may never be solved.  Many important named in Church History have been proposed as the author.  A look at the evidence for and against Pauline authorship was looked at, and from that a deduction can be made that Paul was not the author.  The author was most likely associated with Paul in some way.  Thus, a look at the possibility of Luke and Clement as writers was briefly discussed.  In both cases their literary styles do not match that of the writer of Hebrews.  Apollos was also associated with Paul at the church in Corinth.  He was trained in rhetoric, and was a great expositor of the scriptures.  His style of writing is more classical in style and matches that of the author of Hebrews.  It is because of these reasons that Apollos is the most probable author of Hebrews.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Berry, J.D., ed. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015.

Brown, Raymond E, Joseph A Fitzmeyer, and Roland E Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Brown, Raymond E. Introduction to the New Testament. New Haven, CT: Doubleday, 1997.

Carson, D.A., and Douglas J Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Cockerill, Gareth L. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2012.

Ellingworth, Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews:  A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1993.

Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014.

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

Herron, Thomas J. Clement and the Early Church of Rome: Edited by Scott Hahn. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road, 2008.

Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament:  Its Background and Message. Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2003.

———.. Holman New Testament Commentary:  Hebrews, James. Nashville, TN: B&h Publishers, 1999.

Schaff, Philip, ed. Saint John Chrysostom:  Homilies on the Gospel of John and Epistle to the Hebrews. Vol 14th ed. New York, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1899.

Utley, Robert J. The Superiority of the New Covenant:  Hebrews. Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 1999.

Wright, N.T. Hebrews For Everyone. Louisville, KY: WJK Press, 2004.

 

[1] N.t. Wright, Hebrews For Everyone (Louisville, KY: WJK Press, 2004), x.

[2] George H. Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary:  Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 23.

[3] Gareth L Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2012), 3.

[4] Ibid, 3.

[5] Ibid, 3.

[6] Raymond E. Brown, Introduction to the New Testament (New Haven, CT: Doubleday, 1997), 697.

[7] Raymond E Brown, Joseph A Fitzmeyer, and Roland E Murphy, eds., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 920.

[8] Ibid, 920.

[9] Gareth L Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2012), 4.

[10] Ibid, 5.

[11] D.A. Carson and Douglas J Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 601.

[12] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament:  Its Background and Message (Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2003), 496.

[13] Philip Schaff, ed., Saint John Chrysostom:  Homilies on the Gospel of John and Epistle to the Hebrews, vol 14th ed (New York, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1899), 366.

[14] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament:  Its Background and Message (Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2003), 496.

[15] Ibid, 496.

[16] Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews:  A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1993), 6.

[17] Hebrews 1:2 (Revised Standard Version).

[18] Colossians 1:16 (Revised Standard Version).

[19] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament:  Its Background and Message (Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2003), 496.

[20] Ibid, 496.

[21] Hebrews 1:1 (Revised Standard Version).

[22] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 121.

[23] Hebrews 2:3b (Revised Standard Version).

[24] J.D. Berry, ed., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 492.

[25] Robert J Utley, The Superiority of the New Covenant:  Hebrews (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 1999), 2.

[26] D.A. Carson and Douglas J Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 602.

[27] Thomas D. Lea, Holman New Testament Commentary:  Hebrews, James (Nashville, TN: B&h Publishers, 1999), 1.

[28] Raymond E. Brown, Introduction to the New Testament (New Haven, CT: Doubleday, 1997), 695.

[29] Thomas J. Herron, Clement and the Early Church of Rome, ed. Scott Hahn (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road, 2008), 81.

[30] D.A. Carson and Douglas J Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 604.

[31] 1 Corinthians 3:5 (New International Version).

[32] Acts 18:24 (English Standard Version).

[33] Raymond E Brown, Joseph A Fitzmeyer, and Roland E Murphy, eds., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 921.

[34] George H. Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary:  Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 26.

[35] Gareth L Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2012), 9.

[36] Ibid, 9.

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3 thoughts on “Authorship of Hebrews

  1. Very interesting, thank you. I had leaned towards the Pauline view but I always had one hold-up: the fact that, as you pointed out, Hebrews is anonymous. But Paul says in 2 Thess. 3:17 that he signs all of his letters. There may be valid explanations for why he would not have signed Hebrews (you mention a few in the article), but then what does that say to the infallibility of Scripture?

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