Category Archives: Hebrews

What is Holy Saturday?

The Passion Week provides diverse theological emotions for the people of God. Palm Sunday commences with the entrance of a divine King riding on a donkey. He comes in ancient royal transportation. The royal procession illicit shouts of benediction, but concludes only a few days later with shouts of crucifixion as the king is hung on a tree.

The Church also celebrates Maundy Thursday as our Messiah provides a new commandment to love one another just as He loved us. The newness of the commandments is not an indication that love was not revealed prior (Lev. 19), but that love is now incarnate in the person of love, Jesus Christ. We then proceed to sing of the anguish of that Good Friday as our blessed Lord is humiliated by soldiers and scolded by the offensive words of the religious leaders of the day. As he walks to the Mount, his pain testifies to Paul’s words that he suffered even to the point of death (Phil. 2)But hidden in this glaringly distasteful mixture of blood, vinegar, and bruised flesh is the calmness of the day after our Lord’s crucifixion.

After fulfilling the great Davidic promise in Psalm 22, our Lord rests from his labors in the tomb. Whatever may have happened in those days before his resurrection, we know that Christ’s work as the unblemished offering of love was finished.

The Church calls this day Blessed Sabbath or more commonly, Holy Saturday. On this day, our Lord reposed (rested) from his accomplishments. Many throughout history also believe that Holy Saturday is a fulfillment of Moses’ words:

God blessed the seventh day. This is the blessed Sabbath. This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works . . .(Gen. 2:2)

The Church links this day with the creation account. On day seven Yahweh rested and enjoyed the fruit of his creation. Jesus Christ also rested in the rest given to him by the Father and enjoyed the fruits of the New Creation he began to establish and would be brought to light on the next day.

As Alexander Schmemann observed:

Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.

Holy Saturday is a day of rest for God’s people; a foretaste of the true Rest that comes in the Risen Christ. The calmness of Holy Saturday makes room for the explosion of Easter Sunday. On this day, we remember that the darkness of the grave and the resting of the Son were only temporary for when a New Creation bursts into the scene the risen Lord of glory cannot contain his joy, and so he gives it to us.

Hebrews and Authorship

A couple of years ago I tried to offer a case for a Pauline authorship of Hebrews. I think I was somewhat successful. I will be preaching through Hebrews 1 on Christmas Day, which drew my attention once more to some research on Hebrews. In an introductory article for the Review and Expositor’s, Gerald L. Borchert offers an irenic look at the debate over authorship. He posits various theories. He speaks of the historical position of the Reformers: of Luther’s hatred of the theology of Hebrews in 6:4ff. and the idea of “the impossibility of repentance.” This, led Luther to relegate Hebrews (along with James and others) to a lesser authoritative section of the canon. Interestingly the Eastern Church “viewed the book as distinctly Pauline.” It was not only until after the Reformation that the Council of Trent “declared Paul’s authorship of Hebrews fixed.” Though I argue for Pauline authorship, Luther’s “Apollos theory” is relatively appealing since “Apollos’ reported eloquence suits the magnificent style in Hebrews.” Yet, there is little support before the Reformation for this theory. In the end, we could all take Origen’s conclusion as legitimate when he said: “Who wrote Hebrews, God knows for sure.” I’d like to think God made it clear.

Who Wrote Hebrews? A Case for Pauline Authorship, Finale

Though the internal evidence points in some cases clearly to St. Paul as the main author, there are also some who believe it most definitely points away from Paul. These objections are the following:

StPaulFirst, since Hebrews is written in elegant, sophisticated Greek and the apostle Paul confessed to being unskilled in his speech, therefore Hebrews was not written by Paul. Douglas Wilson challenges that objection in his commentary on Hebrews. He writes that it is possible that Paul wrote Hebrews in Hebrew—since he knew Hebrew well—and that his friend Luke—fellow-traveler—translated it into Greek. This makes perfect sense, since Luke was eloquent in writings. This is my own personal opinion. But though Wilson says this is likely he prefers the answer that when Paul says he was not skilled in speech, Paul was giving a “self-deprecatory description of his rhetorical abilities”[1] and that we should not understand this as Paul saying he is not able to write in an eloquent fashion. Paul is being humble about his abilities. Wilson raises an important question and that is, “is the writing of Hebrews beyond Paul’s abilities?” He writes that different letters to different peoples require different styles of writings. For instance, consider the writings of Samuel Rutherford. When he is addressing someone who just lost a loved one,[2] he is kind and caring and pastoral. But when he is writing Lex Rex, he is bold and filled with conviction about civil and ecclesiastical matters. If we place both writings side by side, we would never guess they were written by the same person, but they are.

Secondly, the most common internal objection to Pauline authorship of Hebrews comes from Hebrews 2:3 where it reads “…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…”

The argument is that this passage teaches that the writer first heard of the gospel through other men. However, Paul says in Galatians[3] that he received the gospel from no man, but from Jesus Christ himself. Therefore, the writer could not have been Paul. There are two answers to this objection. The first answer is that when Paul says “us” he is speaking of himself in “common with those to whom he was writing, few or none of whom probably had heard the gospel from the lips of the Lord himself.”[4] In other words, Paul is simply receiving confirmation from others of what he has already heard from Christ himself. Though Paul had a separate encounter with Jesus (the Damascus Road in Acts 9), Paul received most of the general information about Christ from the disciples who actually saw and walked with Christ in his earthly ministry. This argument actually proves that Paul heard the gospel not only from Christ himself, but that it was confirmed in different places he traveled by other disciples of Christ.

There are other internal evidences against Pauline authorship, but these two are the most commonly heard. Even if these evidences disproved Pauline authorship, whoever wrote Paul was either a close companion or someone who mimicked much of Paul’s writing style and theology. However, it appears safe to conclude in the words of Dr. Robert Reymond that “there is nothing in the content of the letter that Paul could not have written.”[5]

[1] Douglas Wilson, Christ Against His Rivals (Athanasius Press, Monroe:LA, 2008) 164.

[2] The Letters of Samuel Rutherford.

[3] Galatians 1:11-12.

[4] Quoted in Crampton.

[5] Robert L. Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New Testament Witness (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990), 295.

Who Wrote Hebrews? A Case for Pauline Authorship, Part III

However, when we come to the internal, Biblical evidence, we find the strongest opponents of Pauline authorship rise up. Though history has authority in some sense, councils do err and church history is full of mistakes to prove it. Thus it is important to also consider what evidence the Bible puts forth concerning the author of Hebrews. There are at least three internal evidences for Pauline authorship:

The first internal evidence for Pauline authorship is found in the last verse of Hebrews. Hebrews 13:23-25 reads:  “You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon.  Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. Grace be with all of you.”[1] Three points emerge from this passage: a) Italy is the place of origin for this letter. If the date of this letter is between 62 and 65AD, as most scholars seem to agree, then this would be during the time that Paul is imprisoned in Rome. B) We read the name Timothy. We know that Timothy was a close companion of Paul.  In fact, Paul called Timothy a son. Timothy could have written down Paul’s dictation of the letter to the Hebrews. C) Paul closes his epistle with the words: “Grace be with you all.” In the words of one scholar, this is Paul’s signature trademark. No one else ever closes their writing in this manner.

The second internal evidence is that Paul has the strongest doctrine of justification by faith in his writings. He deals 62423with this doctrine extensively in Romans and Galatians. He alludes to Old Testament stories to make his point. He talks about Abraham and Moses as a picture of true faith. In fact, Paul is the only one that ever quotes Habakkuk in the famous line: “The Just shall live by faith.” In Hebrews 10, the writer echoes the same passage in Habakkuk.  If you study Hebrews alongside Romans and Galatians you will find a host of other similar theological topics discussed, particularly the subject of faith.[2]

Finally, we have the well-known passage from II Peter 3:14-15: “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” There are three things to observe from this passage: a) Peter says that some of Paul’s writings are difficult to understand. Anyone who has studied Hebrews knows that this description fits the bill. If translating Hebrews in Greek is an excruciating experience, then understanding the theology of Hebrews seems even more complex.  In fact, in Hebrews 5:11 the author says that some things are hard to explain to the readers. The audience in Hebrews is a Jewish Christian audience who are not very mature in their faith, who run the risk of falling away; so the writer says that some things he has to say will be hard for them to understand in light of their background, but he says, they need to grow up and understand them. I believe Peter has Hebrews in mind. b) Another point is that Peter says that the ignorant twist Paul’s words to their own destruction. This also fits with Hebrews. Only in Hebrews does the author give a stern warning to those who are twisting the Word and who are tempted to abandon the faith and go back to the Old Creation of sacrifices and blood. C) Finally, here is the strongest argument in my opinion. II Peter 3:1 says that Peter is writing to the saved Jews. Then in verse 15 of the same chapter, Peter says that Paul also wrote to them according to the wisdom given. A.W. Pink concludes by saying that “if the epistle to the Hebrews is not that writing, where is it?”[3]

[1] Quotation from the English Standard Bible.

[2] Consider Hebrews 11, as an example.

[3] A.W.Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, 18. Also, Dr. Robert Reymond says that the internal evidence also supports the legitimacy of holding that Paul could have been the author.

Who Wrote Hebrews? A Case for Pauline Authorship, Pat II

What is the external evidence for Pauline authorship of Hebrews?

The great Puritan John Owen, the author of seven volumes on the book of Hebrews[1]– the first two volumes alone are only an introduction to the book– says the following:

The evidence both external and internal is so satisfactory, than an impression is left on the mind, that Paul was the author of this epistle, nearly equal to what his very name prefixed to it would have produced.”[2]

Owens’s works on Hebrews are the most detailed ever done in the history of the Church and he concludes that Paul was its author.

The external evidence overwhelmingly points to Pauline authorship. It is undeniable that the Eastern Church held to Pauline authorship from its earliest days.”[3] In Eusebius’ writings we know that Clement of Alexandria believed that Paul wrote Hebrews in Hebrew and that Luke translated it into Greek. But not only did the Eastern Church hold to Pauline authorship, the Western Church also followed the East’s example. Tertullian in early second century believed that Hebrews was derived specifically from Paul.[4] Eusebius himself, said that Paul wrote fourteen epistles. He is referring to the main thirteen epistles commonly attributed to Paul and the book of Hebrews. Both Jerome in Jerusalem and Augustine in North Africa also believed this. We see here that this belief is widespread in the early part of the church.

One other very important detail is that when the book of Hebrews was added into the canon of Scriptures,[5] the early church accepted it because they believed it was written by Paul. In other words, if Paul wrote Hebrews, the early church believed that it would be free of gnosticism or other heresies in it. Therefore, it must be inspired, they thought. And this is only the beginning of a broader list of names of early church fathers that held to Pauline authorship.[6]

But what about the important documents of church history? What do they say? The Council of Trent affirms that Paul wrote fourteen epistles. Within the Reformed tradition, the Belgic Confession and the Second Helvetic Confession—both documents are accepted within the CREC—attest to the Pauline authorship of Hebrews. If you grew up in the Baptist tradition as I did, using the King James Bible, you will notice that it reads: “The Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews.” The translators of the King James believed Paul wrote Hebrews.[7]

In the last three hundred years to this day, the list of Pauline advocates is also enormous. We began with John Owen who wrote the largest commentary on Hebrews ever written, but the list of Puritan writers also include commentator Matthew Henry who writes that the style and scope of Hebrews “very well agrees with Paul’s spirit, who was a person of a clear head and a warm heart, whose main end and endeavor it was to exalt Christ.”[8] Reformed Baptists John Gill and A.W. Pink were fully assured that Paul wrote Hebrews. In our own day, we can point to Pastor Douglas Wilson, Pastor R.C. Sproul Sr., and a host of other names you would probably recognize who affirm the proposition that the Apostle Paul wrote Hebrews. Before we end this section, I would like to take you back to the first quote I gave by Origen. His statement that “only God knows who wrote Hebrews” is very well-known and very often quoted by every Hebrews scholar. But what most people do not know is the context of that statement. Here is what Origen wrote:

But as for myself, if I were to state my own opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle [Paul], but that the diction and phraseology are those of someone who wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore, if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows.[9]

It appears reasonable to conclude that though there are those throughout church history that disagrees that Paul wrote Hebrews, the overwhelming majority believed in Pauline authorship. We can say that belief in Pauline authorship is one of a few issues debated in the church that has proponents on all sides of the theological spectrum.

[1] I am aware of only one person who has ever read the whole thing, and that was Professor Richard Pratt.

[2] Quoted in Who Wrote Hebrews? By Dr. W. Gary Crampton.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Here we must note that the Bible did not depend on human affirmation to make it inspired, but the Spirit’s work makes it inspired.

[6] W. H. Goold listed a number of other scholars of antiquity that held to Pauline authorship: Hilary, Ambrose, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Justin Martyr, and Athanasius. Then too, Pauline authorship was the adopted view of the synod of Antioch (A.D. 264), the council of Nicea (A.D. 315), the council of Laodicea (A.D. 360), the council of Hippo (A.D. 393), the third council of Carthage (A.D. 397), and the sixth council of Carthage (A.D. 419). Found in Owen’s writings. Thanks to Crampton for the source.

[7] Even earlier Greek manuscripts include Paul’s name in reference to Hebrews.

[8] W. Gary Crampton.

[9] Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.

Hebrews and Warnings

In preaching through Hebrews I am constantly confronted (Chapters 2,3,6 & 10) with the idea that these Jewish believers are actually true “brethren” and not just some folks pretending to be Christians. These are actual members of the household. Thus, this makes Hebrews’ warning much more severe and real. The warnings are not merely empty threats.

Who Wrote Hebrews? A Case for Pauline Authorship, Part I

Note: A Case for Pauline Authorship was presented at Providence Church (CREC) during the Sunday School hour.

The authorship of Hebrews is a controversial question in our day. In light of my three part series on Hebrews, I would like to answer that question by presenting a case for Pauline authorship.

The book of Hebrews is one of the most difficult New Testament books to interpret. Many of the passages assume a vast knowledge of Old Covenant language. The epistle is also filled with external questions. Modern scholars have debated not only the authorship of Hebrews, but they have also debated to whom Hebrews was addressed and when it was written.

If you consider the history of debate on the question of Hebrews’ authorship, you will realize that this question was given some thought all the way back to the second century to the writings of Origen. When someone asked Origen the question of who wrote Hebrews, he answered in what has become the most famous quote in all of history on this matter “…in truth only God knows.” [1]

But why is there so much interest in this question? After all, we do not know who wrote I and II Chronicles[2] and some of the Psalms are anonymous. It seems that the interest in Hebrews’ authorship comes from the following reasons:

a)      Hebrews is the only book that seems to tie the Old and New Testaments in regards to redemptive history.[3] Hebrews ties the Bible together with Christ as its center.

b)      The fact that the early church was asking this question means that we should as well.

c)      Another interest in the authorship of Hebrews is due to the large and wide options available. Whereas other anonymous books of the Bible may have two or three options, Hebrews is filled with various opinions. Was it Silas? Aquila, Priscilla, trusted friends, Luke, Barnabas, or Apollos? Only to name a few.

Though all these options appear plausible, it seems that there is an overwhelming case that the book of Hebrews was actually written by St. Paul. This is not the most popular opinion these days, but it is one that seems to have the most evidence, both external and internal.

There is one fact that cannot be denied when studying this question and that is, whoever the writer is, if not Paul, he is deeply immersed into Paul. Moses Stuart puts it best:

…there is a peculiarity of representation so distinctly marked here, so exclusively Pauline in manner, that if Paul himself did not write the epistle to the Hebrews, it must have been someone, who had drunk in so deeply of his instructions, as to become the very image of the fountain whence he drew.[4

I would like to go a step further and state that it is reasonable to assume that St. Paul is the writer of this letter.  Let me offer external reasons for Pauline authorship, internal reasons, and then conclude this discussion by answering some objections.

Why is it important to hold to Pauline authorship? We know it’s not an issue of orthodoxy, so why all the fuss? Before we deal with the evidence, here are three reasons why I think it is important to accept Pauline authorship of Hebrews:

Paul_de_tarse_rembrandta)      It brings greater coherence to Paul’s writings. In other words, if Paul wrote Hebrews we begin to see how much more Paul’s life and context shaped the New Testament writings.

b)      Secondly, we will honor the majority of Church scholarship who overwhelmingly believe Paul wrote Hebrews.

c)      Finally, reading Hebrews as Paul’s letter affirms the extent of Paul’s understanding of the ancient world in his other 13 writings. Hebrews is not beyond the intellectual capacity of Paul.

In tomorrow’s post, I will discuss the external evidence for Pauline authorship.

[1] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.

[2] Of course, in all these cases there is plenty of solid informed speculation.

[3] W. Gary Crampton, Hebrews: Who is the author? I owe much of this study to Crampton’s excellent article. The article can be found at this link:

[4] Moses Stuart, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: William Tegg  and Company, 1850) 128.