Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews
The author of Hebrews, that is, of the Epistle to the Hebrews, is unknown. Although perhaps the most common theory through the ages has been that Paul the Apostle is the author, most modern scholars generally agree that it was not written by him. Since the third century A.D. doubts have been raised about the identity of the true author. It is one of the Antilegomena—New Testament books whose canonicity was initially somewhat disputed.
Some scholars now believe that the author was one of Paul's pupils or associates, citing stylistic differences between Hebrews and the other Pauline epistles.
Though the writing style varies from Paul in a number of ways, no author is internally named in the letter, and the authorship has been debated since the earliest days of the Church, there still are some who regard the apostle Paul as the writer of Hebrews due to some similarities noted in phrasings, and the similar focus on Christ's superior plan of salvation. Editions of the King James Version of the Bible usually place a heading over Hebrews with the words, "The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews." However, that attribution was not part of the original document of Hebrews, but was added several hundred years later by scribes copying the book who believed Paul to be the author.
Hebrews was attached to the Pauline corpus from a very early date, as evidenced by the earliest manuscript evidence; for example, the second-century codex 46, a volume of Paul's general epistles, includes Hebrews immediately after Romans.
1 Clement (written c. 95), quotes from Hebrews repeatedly but does not identify the author.
On the views of Clement of Alexandria, who seems to be dependent on Pantaenus (died c. 190), Eusebius records: "As for the Epistle to the Hebrews, he [Clement] says that indeed it is Paul's, but that it was written for Hebrews in the Hebrew tongue, and that Luke, having carefully translated it, published it for the Greeks; hence, as a result of this translation, the same complexion of style is found in this Epistle and in the Acts: but that the [words] 'Paul an apostle' were naturally not prefixed. For, he says, 'in writing to Hebrews who had conceived a prejudice against him and were suspicious of him, he very wisely did not repel them at the beginning by putting his name'" Clement quotes from the Letter to the Hebrews in his own writings, sometimes attributing the text to Paul.
Origen likewise believed that Hebrews was authored by Paul but set into Greek by another, but he notes that others have claimed Clement of Rome or Luke as the author. Tertullian, on the other hand, quotes from Hebrews and attributes the epistle to Barnabas.
Eusebius did not list the Epistle to the Hebrews among the antilegomena or disputed books (though he did list the unrelated Gospel of the Hebrews). Yet elsewhere he states: "Paul's fourteen epistles [i.e., including Hebrews] are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul."
Jerome, aware of such lingering doubts, included the epistle in his Vulgate but moved it to the end of Paul's writings. Meanwhile, Augustine affirmed Paul's authorship and vigorously defended the epistle. By then its acceptance in the New Testament canon was well settled.
In general, the evidence against Pauline authorship is considered too solid for scholarly dispute. Donald Guthrie, in his New Testament Introduction (1976), commented that "most modern writers find more difficulty in imagining how this Epistle was ever attributed to Paul [instead of] disposing of the theory." Harold Attridge tells us that "it is certainly not a work of the apostle"; Daniel Wallace simply states, "the arguments against Pauline authorship, however, are conclusive." As a result, though a few theologians, such as R.C. Sproul, today believe Paul wrote Hebrews, contemporary scholars generally reject Pauline authorship.
As Richard Heard notes, in his Introduction to the New Testament, "modern critics have confirmed that the epistle cannot be attributed to Paul and have for the most part agreed with Origen's judgement, 'But as to who wrote the epistle, only God knows the truth.'"
The text as it has been passed down to the present time is internally anonymous, though some ancient title headings attribute it to the Apostle Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews was thought by some in antiquity such as Clement of Alexandria (Fragments from Eusebius Ecclesiastical History Book VI) to be by Paul, though it does not identify itself as such.
Stylistic differences from Paul
The style is notably different from the rest of Paul's epistles. Eusebius wrote that the original letter had a Jewish audience and was written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek. He reported that "some say [by] the evangelist Luke, others... [by] Clement [of Rome]... The second suggestion is more convincing, in view of the similarity of phraseology shown throughout by the Epistle of Clement and the Epistle to the Hebrews, and in absence of any great difference between the two works in the underlying thought."
Moreover, the writing style is substantially different from that of Paul's authentic epistles, a characteristic first noticed by Clement of Alexandria (c. 210). In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he forcefully defends his claim that he received his gospel directly from the resurrected Jesus himself.
In the 13th Chapter of Hebrews, Timothy is referred to as a companion. Timothy was Paul's missionary companion in the same way Jesus sent disciples out in pairs. Also, the writer states that he wrote the letter from "Italy", which also at the time fits Paul. The difference in style is explained as simply an adjustment to a more unique audience, to the Jewish Christians who were being persecuted and pressured to go back to old Judaism.
Stylistic similarities to Paul
Among those still maintaining Pauline authorship are those that surmise that Paul omitted his name because he, the apostle to the Gentiles, was writing to the Jews. They conjecture that Jews would have likely dismissed the letter if they had known Paul to be the source. They theorize that the stylistic differences from Paul’s other letters are attributed to his writing in Hebrew to the Hebrews, and that the letter was translated into Greek by Luke. The epistle does, however, contain Paul's classic closing greeting, "Grace...be with you..." as he stated explicitly in 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18 and as implied in 1 Corinthians 16:21-24 and Colossians 4:18. This closing greeting is included at the end of each of Paul's letters.
Though the writing style varies from Paul in a number of ways, some similarities in wordings to some of the Pauline Epistles have been noted and inferred. In antiquity, some began to ascribe it to Paul in an attempt to provide the anonymous work an explicit apostolic pedigree. And though no author is internally or explicitly named in the letter to the Hebrews, since the earliest days of the Church the authorship has been debated.
In more recent times, some scholars have advanced a case for the authorship of Hebrews belonging to Priscilla. Dr. A.J. Gordon wrote "It is evident that the Holy Spirit made this woman Priscilla a teacher of teachers".
A.C. Headlam, in the "Dictionary of the Bible", Vol. IV, p. 102, wrote:
An interesting suggestion...has been made by Professor Harnack, that in Priscilla and Aquila we have the authors of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Prisca and Aquila were, we know, teachers of prominence who had turned Apollos to Christianity; they belonged to the intimate circle of Paul's friends.... They had for some time been connected with a small Christian community in Rome, and the Epistle to the Hebrews was clearly, he argues, written to Rome.... They were with Italian connection, but living outside of Italy. In the Epistle there is a curious interchange of 'We' and 'I'. Lastly, the authorship of Priscilla will explain why the writing is now anonymous. The church of the Second Century objected very strongly to the prominent position of women in the Apostolic Age. This had caused the gradual modification of various passages in the Acts and the desire to separate this work from the name of Priscilla.:pp.188–189
Perhaps the most thoroughly presented argument that Priscilla authored Hebrews came from Berlin Prof. Adolph Von Harnack in 1900. Starr's book:p.189 contains Harnack's own summary of his research:
- We can undoubtedly be assured that the Letter to the Hebrews was written to Rome—not to the church, but to the inner circle.[Romans 16:5]
- It is an amazing fact that the name of the author is lost. All names mentioned as possible authors do not explain why the earliest tradition blotted it out.
- The problem is this: Since the letter (according to the closing verses of Chapter 13) was written by a person of high standing and an apostolic teacher of equal rank with Timothy. And if Luke, or Clement, or Barnabas, or Apollos had written it, we do not understand why their names or signatures should have been obliterated, hence we must look for a person who was intimately associated with Paul and Timothy, as the author, that we may understand why the name is not given. This can only be Priscilla.
- a. She had a so-called inner circle in Rome—"The church that is in their house". [Romans 16:5]
- b. She was an Apostolic teacher of high standing, and known throughout Christendom of that day. [Romans 16]
- c. She was the teacher of the intelligent and highly educated Apollos. [Acts 18]
- d. She and Aquila labored and taught together, and thus we see "I", and then again "we" used.
— Prof. O. V. Harnack
Starr finds 13 attributes of the author that are internal to the "Epistle to the Hebrews" itself. She addresses 8 them directly and in detail, showing how Priscilla meets all 8 descriptions:
- Its writer was undoubtedly a Jew. Priscilla was a Jew. [Acts 8:2]
- The writer was a Hellenist. Priscilla was a Hellenist. [Acts 8:2]
- Its author was a nonresident of Palestine. We find her in Rome, [Acts 8:2] Corinth, [Acts 8:2] Ephesus, [Acts 18:18,19,24-26] and she was known to "all the churches of the Gentiles", but nowhere in Scripture or ecclesiastical literature that she ever visited Palestine.
- Its writer was evidently unacquainted with the details of the Temple ritual. If she had never visited Palestine, she would have no personal knowledge ot the minutia of the Temple worship at the dawn of the Christian era.
- The contents of the Epistle to the Hebrews show that it was written after the release of Timothy[Heb. 13:23] and before the destruction of Jerusalem and the finality of the Temple worship. [Heb. 8:4-5]
- The writer was a disciple of the "great Apostle to the Gentiles" (Paul). Priscilla clearly meets that criterion.
- Its author was a friend of Timothy. When Paul came to Corinth, he lived with Priscilla and Aquila. [Acts 18:3] While still there he was joined by Silas and Timothy. [18:5]
- The author of the "Epistle to the Hebrews" was personally acquainted with the parties addressed therein. In is what Starr calls a "significant expression" which reads: "...that I may be restored to you the sooner". She says that could only mean that the author was a fellow-townsman, absent for a season, and contemplating a return. She thinks that while the letter was written in Rome (rather than to Rome as Prof. Harnack had written). Her belief is that it was addressed to a group of believers residing in one of the provinces—probably the church at Ephesus. Four pages in her book contain detailed justification for this conclusion.
Starr lists the other five criteria of the Epistle's author without specific comment:
- 9. Well versed in Old Testament Scripture
- 10. Had access to Alexandrian Jewish literature, and knowledge of the teachings of Philo
- 11. Within the Pauline circle, and attached to Pauline theology
- 12. A scholar of marked ability and attainment
- 13. An individual of prominence and of authority in the primitive (first century) Church
Other commentators have disagreed with the Priscillan authorship on the basis that the self-reference in Hebrews 11:32 employs the masculine participle διηγούμενον ("describing in full"), implying that Priscilla could not have been the author; or else she was masquerading as a male in order to gain credibility. On the other hand, Ruth Hoppin has suggested that the participle in question is either masculine or neuter, and that the use of a neuter participle in this context would be appropriate regardless of the gender of the author.
Tertullian (On Modesty 20) indicates that Barnabas is the author of the epistle to the Hebrews—"For there is extant withal an Epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas—a man sufficiently accredited by God, as being one whom Paul has stationed next to himself…". Internal considerations suggest the author was male, [Hebrews 11:32] he was an acquaintance of Timothy, [13:23] and was located in Italy. [13:24]
Barnabas, to whom other noncanonical works are attributed (such as Epistle of Barnabas), was close to Paul in his ministry, and exhibited skill with the Midrash; the other works attributed to him bolster the case for his authorship of Hebrews with similar style, voice, and skill.
Luke or Clement
In response to the doubts raised about Paul's involvement, other possible authors were suggested as early as the third century CE. Origen of Alexandria (c. 240) suggested that either Luke the Evangelist or Clement of Rome might be the author.
An early statement on the authorship of Hebrews comes from Clement of Alexandria, who said that Paul wrote it in Hebrew and Luke translated into Greek (Eusebius, History 6.14.2).
Martin Luther proposed Apollos, described as an Alexandrian and "a learned man" (Acts 18:24), popular in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12), and adept at using the scriptures and arguing for Christianity while "refuting the Jews".[Acts 18:27–28]
- Keathley, Hampton IV. "The Argument of Hebrews"
- Lane, William L. Hebrews 1-8. Dallas: Word, 1991. p. xlix.
- Eusebius' Church History 3.3.5: "It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed [ἀντιλέγεσθαι] by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul."
- Fonck, Leopold. "Epistle to the Hebrews." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. Web: 30 Dec. 2009.
- McCormick, John W. "Notes on Hebrews". 1970. Accessed 17 Mar 2013
- Hahn, Roger. "The Book of Hebrews". Christian Resource Institute. Accessed 17 Mar 2013
- Comfort, Philip W. (2005). Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism. pp. 36–38. ISBN 0805431454.
- Eusebius, Hist. Eccl.' 6.14.2–3 (text), citing Clement's Hypotyposes.
- Strom. 5.10.62, 6.8.62.
- Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11–14 (text).
- De Pudic. 20 (text).
- Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.25.5 (text).
- Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.3.5 (text).
- Jerome, Ad Dardanum 129.3.
- "The Authorship of the Book of Hebrews", Jeffrey S. Bowman.
- Peter Kirby, EarlyChristianWritings.com
- "Hebrews: Introduction, Argument and Outline", Daniel Wallace
- Who Wrote Hebrews? A Case for Pauline Authorship, Pat II - apologus wordpress - October 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
- The Writer of Hebrews - Ligonier Ministries. 2012.
- Ehrman 2004:411
- Religion-online.org, Richard Heard, Introduction To The New Testament
- Clontz, T.E. and J., "The Comprehensive New Testament with complete textual variant mapping and references for the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, Nag Hammadi Library, Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Plato, Egyptian Book of the Dead, Talmud, Old Testament, Patristic Writings, Dhammapada, Tacitus, Epic of Gilgamesh", Cornerstone Publications, 2008, p. 685, ISBN 978-0-9778737-1-5
- Eusebius (c. 311 / 1965). The History of the Church. London: Penguin. pp. #37, p.101.
- "Introduction to the Letter to the Hebrews".  Accessed 17 Mar 2013
- Dr. John W. McCormick - Notes on Hebrews www.fbinstitute.com. 1970. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
- Attridge, Harold W.: Hebrews. Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989, pp. 1-6.
- Lee Anna Starr, The Bible Status of Woman. Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1955):p.188
- von Harnack, Adolph, "Probabilia uber die Addresse und den Verfasser des Habraerbriefes, " Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der aelteren Kirche (E. Preuschen, Berlin: Forschungen und Fortschritte, 1900), 1:16–41. English translation available in Lee Anna Starr, The Bible Status of Woman. Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1955), 392–415
- Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos, Apollos, 2006, p. 411
- Ruth Hoppin, 2011, "Priscilla and Plausibility: Responding to Questions about Priscilla as Author of Hebrews," Priscilla Papers, 25(2), http://www.wherethespiritleads.org/articles/PP%20Spring%2011%20Hoppin%20final.pdf
- Eusebius, Church History 6.25.11-14
- See David Guzik Commentary on Hebrews 1 at http://enduringword.com/commentaries/5801.htm [retrieved 2011.11.08]. Content of this history can be found at: Church History by Eusebius (263-339 AD), Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.