Who wrote ‘Hebrews?’

This is one of those posts where I would love to get input from the collective knowledge of the Mormon blog world.  What is the latest scholarly opinion on who wrote “Hebrews?”

It is worth noting that the LDS Bible Dictionary says Paul was the author, although the controversy of authorship is mentioned.

Epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jewish members of the Church to persuade them that significant aspects of the law of Moses, as a forerunner, had been fulfilled in Christ, and that the higher gospel law of Christ had replaced it. When Paul returned to Jerusalem at the end of his third mission (about A.D. 60), he found that many thousands of Jewish members of the Church were still “zealous of the law” of Moses (Acts 21:20). This was at least ten years after the conference at Jerusalem had determined that certain ordinances of the law of Moses were not necessary for the salvation of gentile Christians, but had not settled the matter for Jewish Christians. It appears that soon thereafter, Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews to show them by their own scripture and by sound reason why they should no longer practice the law of Moses. The epistle is built on a carefully worked-out plan. Some have felt that the literary style is different from that of Paul’s other letters. However, the ideas are certainly Paul’s.

 

I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of New Testament scholars do not agree with the analysis that we know that Paul wrote “Hebrews,” however.  

This article describes the situation pretty well.    To summarize, the article comes to the conclusion that nobody really knows who wrote “Hebrews,” which has been the scholarly consensus since Origen in the 3rd century AD.

Numerous theories regarding the authorship have been advanced: the apostle Paul; Silas, the companion of Paul (Acts 15:40); Aquila and Priscilla, fellow tent makers with Paul and his trusted friends (Acts 18:2); Luke, the faithful friend and traveling companion of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11); Barnabas, Paul’s friend and fellow minister (Acts 13:2); Apollos, a gifted teacher and friend of Paul (Acts 18:23-28); etc. Of the non-Pauline suggestions, Barnabas and Apollos are the most frequently proposed.

Personally, I find the style of “Hebrews” to be completely different than the rest of Paul’s epistles.  It is unusually organized and to the point.  The language seems clearer than the rest of Paul’s epistles, but of course I am not reading in the original Greek so the differences could be because of the translation (although I will note I have read several translations of Hebrews, and they all seem more organized and to the point).

Is it possible that “Hebrews” was a group production of early Christians in which Paul’s ideas played a role?   This could explain the lack of a clear author, as well as the widespread acceptance of the letter as part of the Biblical canon.

Anyway, I would love to hear peoples’ ideas on this.

This entry was posted in General by Geoff B.. Bookmark the permalink.

About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

14 thoughts on “Who wrote ‘Hebrews?’

  1. I just taught the lesson on Hebrews in GD last Sunday. I addressed this question along the lines of my discussion in my introduction to Hebrews here:

    http://feastupontheword.org/Site:NTFootnotes

    I explained that I personally don’t think Paul wrote Hebrews, but the main point is that it is an open question and people are welcome to come to their own conclusions.

    I tend to think the author may have been Apollos, although there is no way to know for sure.

  2. Kevin,

    Why Apollos? (Just curious what limited evidence there is for that.)

    Incidently, I’ve always seem some parallel here with the lectures on faith, which are supposed to have been written by Joseph Smith but that we basically know he didn’t write them.

    However, I’m not sure that makes the thoughts “not Joseph Smith’s” since he agreed to have them published as part of the Doctrine and Covenants.

  3. I don’t know whether Paul wrote Hebrews, but if he did he used an unusually different style of language and argument than he uses in his other epistles. I always thought that was due to the audience rather than the writer.

    I also imagine that Hebrews was originally written in Hebrew, rather than Greek, although I am not sure about that. And if it wasn’t written in Hebrew, it was certainly written in Hebrew style, as compared to the rationalist-philosophical style that characterizes much of Paul’s other epistles, a style rather in accordance with the Greek approach to such questions.

    Either way, as scripture, I tend to like the Hebrew style better, and the Epistle to the Hebrews is perhaps my favorite. A literary and scriptural masterpiece, and one of the best explanations of the Atonement anywhere.

  4. I agree with the FeastUpontheWord assessment. We simply don’t know who the author is and shouldn’t feel bound to see Paul as the author.

    Whoever the author was, he/she was in touch with a variety of Jewish traditions regarding Melchizedek; the author has some views on this figure that seem to be quite unique, but have many common points with Josephus, Philo, and the authors of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

  5. My only reason for suspecting Apollos is that he was an educated Jew who came from Alexandria. The quality of the Greek, the relative erudition of the argumentation and the semi-allegorical manner of presentation would fit well with an author who had that profile.

    Sperry argued for a translation from a Hebrew original, but I don’t see it. Hebrews doesn’t read like translation literature to me.

  6. I tend to agree with Kevin. It is not very likely that Paul wrote Hebrews for a few reasons. Style of writing is one of them. Also, Paul was not the person to be writing to the Jewish members regarding the Melchizedek Priesthood, etc. Paul angered many of the early Jewish-Christians with his first helping to imprison/slay them, and then in taking the gospel to the Gentiles and insisting they did not need to follow the Law of Moses.

    As Kevin noted, Apollos was an educated Jewish convert. Of course, another Jewish convert may equally have been the author.

    I write more on it on my New Testament blogging here:
    Epistle to the Hebrews

    Still, whomever the author of Hebrews is, he definitely was inspired to write what he did. His work of comparing the two priesthoods and how Christ fits into it all is truly is a masterpiece.

  7. I personally don’t find Harnack’s arguments compelling at all. Lacking an understanding of the lay ministry as the basis of Church leadership and teaching, he puts too much emphasis on the importance of Priscilla and Aquila “instruct[ing] Apollo” — the verse in question merely points out that Aquila & Priscilla (husband & wife) corrected Apollo who, at that point, was not even a baptized member of the church, “knowing only the baptism of John.” (Acts 18:25) Any good member of the Church, knowledgeable in the gospel, would have taken the initiative to provide private correction to incorrect doctrinal teaching.

    Likewise, an epistle written by a woman would not have been taken as authoritative by the Church, especially in a culture that didn’t allow them to teach or lead (and as specifically enjoined by Paul, probably to make sure the Church did not adopt the practice of the heretical Gnostic sects of the time where women were allowed to take prominent roles in the Church).

    The author of the polumeros blog piece also seems unaware of the husband-wife relationship of Aquila and Priscilla as noted above (Acts 18:1-2).

    Finally, Heb. 11:32 “employs a masculine participle modifying the ‘I’ that refers to the author [of Hebrews],” as pointed out by others (http://tinyurl.com/3qk9pp3).

  8. John M, your description here shows that Paul could not have written Hebrews, as the Gnostic churches that had women preaching primarily began in the late 1st century/early 2nd century. Paul died ca 64AD, long before the Gnostic religions made such a huge impression on the Christian Church. During Paul’s time, his struggle was primarily with Jewish-Christians trying to Judaize the Gentile portion of the Church.

    Paul does note that there is neither male nor female in Christ, supporting the idea of equality among men and women. Whereas the teachings regarding women being silent in Church are considered non-Pauline. In truth, probably only half of Paul’s epistles are actually written by Paul.

  9. To John M

    Apollos stayed in Ephesus as the house guest of Priscilla and Aquila for
    an extended period of instruction – long enough for his decision to leave
    for Corinth to be noted by Luke. In particular, he needed instruction in
    baptisms, as he knew only the baptism of John. See Heb. 6:1,2 for a reference
    to same topic. As for the participle in Heb. 11:32 please type “Priscilla
    and Plausibility” from Google for my article on this topic recently published
    in a journal. The following is my summary of the case for Priscilla which I
    hope you will find thought-provoking. Look for the 2009 edition of my book
    on Priscilla’s authorship of Hebrews. You may find it convincing – at least
    that is my goal.

    Ruth

    TEN-POINT SUMMARY OF THE CASE FOR PRISCILLA’S
    AUTHORSHIP OF THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS*

    1. Priscilla, as a colleague of Paul, was a colleague of Timothy, with whom the author coordinates travel plans (Heb. 13:23).

    2. She was a well-educated Roman aristocrat whose knowledge of literature, philosophy, and rhetoric qualified her for authorship. Her pre-eminence in the church and higher social standing are denoted by the appearance of her name first, four of the six times Priscilla and Aquila are named in the New Testament. Chrysostom (fourth-century Bishop of Constantinople) named her the sole tutor of Apollos.

    3. a) Apollos, knowing only the baptism of John (Acts 18:25,26), needed instruction on baptisms- a topic covered by the teacher/catechist author of Hebrews (Heb. 6:1,2).

    b) After receiving instruction from Priscilla, Apollos preached on the theme that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in Old Testament scripture- a main theme of Hebrews.

    4. The conversion story in Heb. 2:1-3 checks out for Priscilla, but not for Barnabas, Apollos, or Paul.

    5. Philo’s influence in Hebrews has been noted; Priscilla knew Philo in Rome and had access to his writings in Roman libraries.

    6. The letter was written to Hebrew Christians in Ephesus, the locale of Priscilla’s ministry.

    7. Priscilla had strong family and church connections at Rome, the city of origin.

    8. The naming of two women as role models of faith in the eleventh chapter- with direct and indirect allusions to many others- was a break with precedent.

    9. The early, inexplicable loss of the author’s name, with no consistent pseudonym being provided, is explained if a woman wrote the epistle.

    10. No other candidate matches the profile of the author, as outlined above.

    *Ruth Hoppin, Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Fort Bragg, CA: Lost Coast Press), 2000, 2009; La Carta de Priscila: Encontrando el Autor de la Epístola a los Hebreos (Tr., Rev. P. Benjamin Alfaro)

Comments are closed.