While it is strange the early church was unsure who penned this awesome treatise, it is impossible to affix certain authorship to this epistle. Several facts must be considered concerning authorship.
1. The writer and his readers have friends in Italy (13:24). Although the salutation “they of Italy salute you” indicates it was written from there, it does not pinpoint an exact origin. It is generally assumed it originated in Rome, but it is not clear it was written in Italy.
2. The writer has the respect of his readers; otherwise he could not have presented such a forceful defense of the Christian faith. Only a Jew could have addressed other Jews with such strong terminology.
3. It is probable he is a Hellenist (a Greek-speaking Jew), for he is very familiar with the Old Testament and with Jewish customs. He claims to have inherited their sacred history (1:1). He refers to aspects of Jewish religion impossible for a proselyte (one converted to Judaism) to fathom.
4. The writer is a person of culture, having a command of both Greek and Hebrew languages.
5. The author and his readers are not personal disciples of Jesus but heard the Gospel message from others (2:3). However, the writer’s knowledge of Christology was extensive. He knew of:
<> Christ’s incarnation (5:7)
<> Christ’s temptations (2:18 & 4:15)
<> Christ’s message and teaching (2:3)
<> Christ’s humiliation (2:10, 17)
<> Christ’s relationship with His apostles (2:3)
<> Christ’s empathy (4:15)
<> Christ’s compassion for sinners (5:2)
<> Christ’s opposition by prejudiced men (12:3)
<> Christ’s agony in the garden (5:7)
<> Christ’s self-sacrificial attitude (9:14-15)
<> Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (13:20)
<> Christ’s ascension (1:3)
<> Christ’s current and effectual mediatorship (2:18, 4:15 & 7:24)
Did Paul write Hebrews?
Many have imagined the author is Paul, but there is nothing decisive to prove this is the case. Because most Biblical books are signed, some have assumed Hebrews must have a signature as well. In order to justify its inclusion in the New Testament canon, Paul’s name was attached. However, Paul names himself in the opening verses of his letters and always signs them. Those who attempt to prove Paul wrote this letter must force passages in Hebrews into the mold of Pauline literature.
There are numerous reasons why the letter to the Hebrews is non-Pauline:
1. Paul was not totally free from his association with Judaism. He is proud to mention his Jewish roots (Rom.11:1 & Phil.3:5). Because his letters were written closer to the time of Christ’s ascension, Paul’s readers still have a strong affiliation with the Hebrew religion. The writer of Hebrews seems to be addressing second-generation Believers, whose loyalties are somewhat less prevalent.
2. The rhetorical skills of the writer are marked by faultless grammar. This is not true of Paul. Predominantly, the structure and composition of sentences are different than his. Most figures of speech used in Hebrews are definitively non-Pauline. Whereas Paul often expresses his thoughts suddenly, as if struggling for expression, such outbursts are absent in Hebrews.
3. Paul tends to quote the Old Testament by writing “the Scripture says”, or “it is written”. The author of Hebrews does not. Paul frequently uses terms such as “Christ Jesus” and “Our Lord Jesus Christ”. These are not found in Hebrews. The writer refers to Jesus as “the Lord” only twice, whereas this term is used nearly three hundred times in Pauline literature.
4. Nothing in the book of Hebrews can be specifically tied to events in Paul’s career. The passing reference to personal incarceration is insufficient to claim the letter is Pauline (10:34). Whereas Paul’s theology revolves around one’s personal relationship with Jesus, the writer to the Hebrews focuses on His high-priestly ministry. The theme of justification by faith, so prevalent in Paul’s letters, is conspicuously absent. While it may be argued that Hebrews could only have been written by a highly educated man, it does not follow that Paul was the only such person who lived during that era. The combination of Greek and Hebrew logic found in this epistle was not unique or uncommon in the first century. Numerous Believers in that day were capable of writing such a profound analytical treatise.
5. Paul insists he has seen the Lord (I Cor. 9:1) and received his gospel by direct revelation (Gal.1:12). He constantly affirms he has not received the Gospel from other men (Gal. 2:6). The writer of Hebrews, however, indicates he has not personally seen the Lord, but received the Gospel message from those who have seen Him (2:2-3).
6. There is no reference to circumcision, or of the misguided Jews who insisted on it as a proof of salvation. In contrast, most of Paul’s letters touch on such issues (Rom. 2-4 & Gal. 2).
7. There is no internal evidence to suggest the writer of Hebrews knew Paul or that he was familiar with his letters.
8. Whereas Paul usually mentions a number of co-workers, few are referenced in Hebrews. The fact Timothy is mentioned proves nothing. Because his name is a common one, it cannot be proven this is the same Timothy that Paul knew.
9. Although Hebrews has a universal application, there is no mention of Gentile Believers. Unlike Paul, the book of Hebrews does not address the gap between Jew and Gentile Christians. In contrast, Pauline literature is based on a definitive evangelical worldview.
10. A comparative overview of New Testament literature reveals the unique style and structure of Hebrews is simply not Pauline.
Some have imagined the author was Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Apollos, Aquilla, Peter, or Clement of Rome. Others suggest the letter was penned by an unknown female, such as Pricilla. Due to the harsh gender bias during this era, no woman could have assumed such authority in the early church (Heb. 13:17 & I Cor. 14:34). It is interesting that the epistle originally became part of the New Testament canon on the basis of Paul’s assumed authorship. For centuries, no name except his was attached to this letter. However, it is generally accepted today that Paul did not write it.
In the final analysis, no one knows who the author was, where he came from, or what happened to him. Nothing in church history or tradition either affirms or denies any particular author. The book was accepted as Scripture by those who recognized truth on the basis of their association with the teachings of Jesus. The letter to the Hebrews found a place in the canon because it agreed with the truth Believers already possessed. While the strong literary appeal of the book of Hebrews contributed to its acceptance, its place in the canon is based solely on content.
It is logical to assume the development of doctrines needed time to become integrated into the early church. The epistle was probably sent after Paul’s writing period ended around 60 A.D. This era was prior to the severe persecutions of Nero, for the readers have not yet been threatened with martyrdom (12:4). Apparently the temple is still standing when the letter is written. The natural way in which the writer refers to Judaic rituals affirms this to be true. The book therefore must be dated several years before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Had the city already been demolished, the author would have referred to this fact. The decimation of the temple would have clinched his argument for the transitory nature of ritual sacrifices. However, nothing in Hebrews suggests the temple ceremonies have ceased. The writer refers to these rituals as “ready to vanish away” (8:13), but affirms the priests are offering sacrifices at the present time (9:6). Although the focus is on the tabernacle, the fundamental principles of sacrifice are the same as those of the temple. When all these factors are considered, it appears the letter was penned between 60-70 A.D.
The timing for the writing of this epistle was ideal. Judaism will soon be shattered when the temple is ransacked. Christ must be clearly portrayed as our Great High Priest; the fulfillment of what the temple and its rituals only typify. The book of Hebrews met the need for Jewish Believers to understand how Christianity is related to Judaism. In a larger sense, it shows how one’s personal relationship to Jesus must be uncluttered by religious tradition.
Within a few generations in any culture, oral truth is corrupted or lost completely. The canon of Scripture is God’s plan for accurate preservation of spiritual truth. The best position concerning authorship is the one taken by Origen, a church father of the third century. He concludes “only God knows” who wrote the book. The true authorship of Hebrews is revealed in the first word of the epistle: God. We have the book today, not because of its authorship, but because the Holy Spirit has assured its preservation. It exists because in it the early church found the Word of God.
The danger the writer faces is a grave one. If Christianity becomes a Jewish sect, the destruction of the temple would have meant the destruction of Christianity. Jesus taught the Samaritan woman that a centralized place of worship is unimportant (Jn. 4:21). The writer’s aim is to renew God’s purpose behind the sacrifices, preparing the way for the sacrifice of His Son. Hebrews is not a mystery in the New Testament: it solves the mystery of the Old Testament.
QUESTIONS: THE WRITER
1. According to II Peter 1:21, who motivated the Bible writers?
2. The writer sends greetings from people of what nationality?
3. The writer was probably a Greek-speaking Jew. True or False?
4. The writer witnessed Jesus healing many people. True or False?
5. The author of the book of Hebrews is:
6. The book is probably written between:
A. A.D. 30-40
B. A.D. 40-50
C. A.D. 60-70
D. A.D. 70-80
E. A.D. 80-90
7. The fall of Jerusalem took place in:
A. A.D. 70
B. A.D. 110
C. A.D. 168
D. A.D. 207
E. A.D. 1,223
8. Jesus taught the woman of Samaria that where a person worships is of paramount importance.
True or False?
9. Discuss with your spouse the importance of worshiping Christ together.