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: http://www.fpcr.org/blue_banner_articles/Who-Wrote-Hebrews.htm

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

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