Paul: the Author of Hebrews

I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: I like imagine that Paul is the unnamed author of Hebrews.  One of the major arguments I see rejecting this proposal is that Hebrews is so different from Paul’s other writings, both in style and content.  But then I think to myself, “so what?”  I’m not convinced that there were two or three Isaiahs or that there was a Jahwist, Elohimist, Deuteronomist, and Priestly source for the Pentateuch based on differences in style and content, so why should I be convinced that Paul couldn’t have written Hebrews.  How do we know that Hebrews isn’t what a Pauline homily addressed to Jewish Christians would look like?  Wouldn’t some differences be expected?  Also, why this idea that someone has to maintain a single or general style of writing?  I don’t know, the more I think about it the less reason I see to believe that Paul didn’t write Hebrews.  Since we don’t know for sure who the author is anyway, I say that Paul is as good a guess as anyone else (especially given that a lot of the fathers of the Church attributed the writing to him).

B”H

Related Posts:

Paul: Not the Author of Hebrews (Eric Sowell)

Is Paul the Author of Hebrews? (Brian Small)

NB that this topic was “was one of the sub-points of [Sowell's] Master’s thesis” and Small is a “Ph.D. candidate in New Testament at Baylor University [whose] dissertation is on the Book of Hebrews.”  All this means is that they’re smarter than me, but alas, they’re both wrong!

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51 thoughts on “Paul: the Author of Hebrews

  1. Its more than just style – the Greek of Hebrew is simply better writing than Paul’s.

    The Greek of Hebrew is better than Luke’s Greek who is also a better writer than Paul.

    I don’t think its likely that someone could improve so much in their command of the language in writing without seeing any of that development in his other letters. The only possibility that Paul could have done it is if he found some incredibly gifted amanuensis.

  2. Here’s the way I look at it:

    1. Seeing that 1 Clement (I agree with the concensus and place 1 Clement between 90-95 CE) makes use of the epistle (and maybe Hermas as well) and that it refers to Timothy, one would assume that it has a relatively early date. If we take the letter to be from Rome then this explains Clement’s early familiarity.

    2. Most that I’ve read seem to think that the recipients are Palestinian Jews (some argue for Qumran…but I think this simply goes back to the fascination with the Qumran community in the 50s-60s, where scholars wanted to tie anything to the community). But if the recipients are Palestinian Jews, of which we know from Acts were poor (and we could assume relatively uneducated), then why use such formal Greek and make such heavy use of the LXX? Furthermore, the author seems very familiar with the recipients, so I would assume the author at least has strong ties there.

    3. From everything we know, Paul never wrote this way or was even capable of writing with such style. Whereas he may have been dumbing down his style in everything else that we know he wrote, this argument appears to be question begging by those who want to assert Pauline authorship for other reasons (content, tradition, etc.). At the same time, the content seems very Pauline in parts. Was the author a companion of Paul, or a disciple in some sense?

    Based on these three contentions, I think it’s impossible to figure out who the author is with any amount of certainty.

    I would be very interested to hear Mike’s opinion on Lucan authorship. Whereas the style is better than his gospel, there are still structural and linguistic parallels at times. It would also resolve his Pauline echoes and familiarity with the Palestinian Jews (if they are the recipients). Thoughts?

  3. I don’t know what the structural & linguistic parallels are between Luke & Hebrew, though I’d be interested.

    I’d say Luke or Apollos are as potential authors as any…

    I really don’t think we can say who wrote it. Its a beautiful homily though.

  4. I agree with your arguments on style and content, Nick, but Hebrews 2:3 is a pretty decisive historical argument against Pauline authorship, in light of how Paul talks consistently about receiving his gospel directly from the Lord in all his letters, and how this sounds something more like Luke 1:1-4–that is, a later person who did not personally witness Jesus’ ministry or have the direct revelation Paul did, but who nonetheless has received testimony from eyewitnesses about the gospel he is proclaiming. I personally think the two most likeliest authors are Luke, or Apollos.

  5. Mike,
    I don’t have access to most of my library over here, but if I remember correctly David Allen shows some structural and linguistic similarities in his commentary on Hebrews in the New American series.

  6. I agree with you to a point Nick. There is certainly no reason to reject Pauline authorship as impossible. But I still think Apollos is a better guess than Paul.

    For the last year or so, I’ve thought that the veiw of Hebrews given by Ronald Nash in The Gospel and the Greeks to be very interesting. Nash believes that one of the primary purposes of Hebrews was to, “expose the inadequacy of the Alexandrian beliefs about mediators.” That it was a homily from a former Alexandrian Jew to another group of former Alexandrian Jews who are being pressured to return to Alexandrian Judaism.

    This certainly would square with the language the author uses in Hebrews that sounds similar to Alexandrian thought. It would also explain why the author repeatedly declares Jesus’ superiority to the likes of the angels, Moses, and the old Temple cult, all of which where Considered very important mediators between men and God to Alexandiran Jews.

    This all would square with what we know of Apollos from Acts. Being from Alexandria and a master of the Jewish scriptures.

    Again of course, this is just guessing. But like I said, I certainly don’t reject Pauline authorship of Eph, Col, or the Pastorals based on the, “It don’t sound like his other stuff argument.” So who knows, you could very well be right.

  7. Hebrews was written by someone from Oklahoma. It says so in chapter 13: “That I may be returned to you the Sooner” (KJV).

    Sorry.

  8. Sorry, I also meant to add that recently, I’ve began to question some of Nash’s conclusions based on the fact that Hebrews realm of thought doesn’t line up with Alexandrian Judaism as much as it was once thought.

    For example: when Hebrews talks of the Temple as being the “sketch” of the heavenly one in 8:5, it’s not so clear-cut that the background is Hellenistic.

    As the NET Bible says on page 2,343 in text note 16,

    “The Greek word (hupodeigma) does not mean “copy.” as it is often translated; it means “something to be copied,” a basis for imitation. BDAG 1037 s.v. 2 lists both Heb 8:5 and 9:23 under the second category of usage, “an indication of somethig that appears at a subsequent time,” empasizing the temporal progression between the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries.”

    It goes in in the study not to say that the two background options we have to understand these verses are either 1) Hellenistic, philosophical, and spatial (the earthly is a “copy” of the heavenly). Or the background is 2)Jewish, eschatological, and temporal (sees the heavenly as the fullfillment of the earthly which came before it.

    They conclude that for lexical and conextual reasons, the second is preferred. So the Alexandrian/Hellenistic connection may not be as strong as is thought sometimes.

    Maybe we’ll all get lucky someday and they’ll find a Canon list from 125 CE that says ” Hebrews, written by…..”. :)

  9. More seriously, this time:

    Years ago, David Flusser was tapped to write the Anchor Bible commentary on Hebrews. This was the plan until one day Flusser received a letter from George Wesley Buchanan begging Flusser to let him write it instead.

    With that, scholarship was deprived of what would have been an innovative and valuable perspective on Hebrews, as Flusser’s plan was to emphasize the connections with Qumran much more than the connections with hellenistic Jewish writings.

    I’m not committed to Flusser’s view, but it sure would have been nice to have had it laid out so visibly.

  10. Mike: I cannot doubt it for a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. For this reason I remain full of faith.

    Ranger: Based on the “very Pauline” part of contention #3 I’m going with Paul!

    Robert: Just add an amen to Paul as the author!

    Nick: I don’t think that Hebrews 2:3 says anything that 1Cor. 15:5-8 doesn’t. The author (i.e., Paul) is talking about confirmation, not simply reception.

    Patrick: There’s a fine line between insanity and genius, and Pauline authorship of Hebrews is genius!

    Derek: I choose to accept the “you could very well be right” part of your first comment.

    John: Good guess, but I’m sticking with Paul. T’would be nice is Flusser wrote the commentary for another series or as a stand-alone volume.

  11. Glad to see someone raising the Questions That Must Not Be Asked.

    I’m always dubious about this stuff on style. It presumes so much about the author and his methods of composition. It also silently presumes things about the circumstances of composition which we know for rather few ancient texts. Once you know that an author regularly resorted to ammanuenses, as we DO know for various NT letters, the argument must become deeply tenuous.

    That said, the ancients also noted the different style of Hebrews, that it didn’t read like Paul to them; and that positive witness from antiquity impresses me more than any amount of opinion from modern writers.

  12. “Seeing that 1 Clement (I agree with the concensus and place 1 Clement between 90-95 CE) makes use of the epistle (and maybe Hermas as well) and that it refers to Timothy, one would assume that it has a relatively early date. If we take the letter to be from Rome then this explains Clement’s early familiarity.”

    This raises an interesting topic: how long would it take an epistle or gospel to circulate such that later writers would be familiar enough with it to cite it? Is the answer different for a Gospel vs an Epistle? I think the figures trotted out for legend formation have been suspiciously so I conservative so I wonder what the assumptions are for written materials. Years? Decades?. If we are using dating as part of our arguments over authorship then these questions would seem quite important.

  13. I agree with Mike’s suggestion that the author of Hebrews could well have been St Luke (or Apollos, but I favor the former over the latter). However, I still maintain that Hebrews is thoroughly “Pauline” in the same way in which St Luke’s Gospel is said to be by proponents of the Two-Gospel Hypothesis (among which I am counted).

  14. The work of St. Paul is replete with quotes of, and allusion to, the Psalms. The book of Hebrews is replete with quotes of, and allusion to, the Psalms. Therefore St. Paul wrote Hebrews. :-p

  15. Hebrews 2:3 seals the deal for me that there is no way Paul wrote Hebrews. Paul goes to great lengths to defend that he received his apostleship directly from God. He would never suggest that he was not an eyewitness, as Hebrews 2:3 says.

    Love your site. Keep up the great work.

  16. Nick:

    What would be a positive argument for seeing Paul as the author of Hebrews? When someone sits down and reads Hebrews, what would give them a reason to think Paul wrote it?

  17. Esteban: I maintain that it is thoroughly Pauline because Paul wrote it!

    Richard: Your logic is without flaw and irrefutable for sure!

    Brent: Of course you are wrong, but I allow wrong opinions in my comment threads. ;)

    Danny: For me it’s the heading in my KJV that says “The Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews.” :-P

  18. Roger: Sorry for the delay, your comment got caught in the spam filter. Amen to everything you said, with the exception of ancients thinking that Hebrews didn’t read like Paul. They were obviously heretics! ;)

    Charles: My apologies to you as well, I completely forgot to approve your comment earlier. Thanks for the link, I’ll give it a look.

    Scott: I forgot to approve your comment as well, again, I apologize. Your questions are good ones and sadly I have no answers. Hopefully someone much more learned than I will be able to offer something in response.

  19. Linguistic and stylistic issues aside for a moment, what bothers me is the lack of situational context. All of Paul’s letters – even Ephesians – have significant personal touches and a practical situational cause for existing. The letter of Hebrews just doesn’t fit into Paul’s LIFE. So as much as I like your logic, Nick, if Paul did write it you’d have to explain to me why he made such an incredibly uncharacteristic attempt to remain anonymous. And then, if he was trying to be anonymous, why would he mention Timothy and Rome?

    On the other hand, Derek’s report about Nash’s view is very intriguing indeed. Historical details are too often elusive, but context is still king.

    imho. ;)

  20. Bill: That’s because they’re all epistles; Hebrews is a homily. Paul’s preaching a sermon to Jewish Christians. And I suspect that somewhere along the line we lost the original prologue to Hebrews which named Paul as the author, in fact I’m sure of it! (well, not really, but it sounds good).

  21. Good distinction, Nick, but that’s more word-centered thinking, in my view. In practical experience, I don’t think Paul (or Jesus for that matter) ever gave a ‘homily’ in his entire life. Nothing against Hebrews in it’s own right, but Paul was far more interested in the people of God and their corporate interaction together than he was in their positional adherence to various aspects of the truth about Christ. Again, Hebrews has it’s place, but it just doesn’t smack of Paul’s heart for the church. Of course, neither do the other “Jewish” epistles. (I’m just sayin’.)

  22. Bill.

    Aquinas explains Pauline authorship in his commentary on Hebrews. I’m surprised to see that no one has mentioned it. Your question about context is a keen insight, IMHO>

  23. Ambrose (337-397), very influential church figure from the 4th century, stated in “On the Mysteries” paragraph 45 “…Paul says to the Hebrews: ‘that He remains a priest for ever,'”

    According to tradition, Ambrose descended from a family that had embraced Christianity from an early period.

    In light of this and other evidence, I lean toward Pauline authorship.

  24. I think the argument from style and vocabulary is pretty weak, at least when I apply the same argumentation to works in English. I would shudder to share my own written works from high school, college, or more recently; add in the differences in tone and sophistication when I am writing in a combox, a letter to my parents, a letter to a girlfriend (in the past) or to my wife (today), to a finely crafted presentation or paper for publication. Style is malleable, we write to an audience. Paul was also writing over the course of a lifetime to varied audiences. We also don’t know a lot about the circumstances at which he wrote, and we don’t know about his own health, which could have dramatically effected his prose – especially if a secretary was helping to fill in the blanks for him (I write all sorts of things for my boss, but he edits it and approves it all before it goes out under his own name, for instance, and would therefore exhibit influences of ‘another’).

    This isn’t to say that Paul wrote Hebrews, just to point out the oh so obvious weakness in the argument. But, heck, we all have to write a thesis on something.

  25. After reading 1 Clement, I think there’s a possibility that Clement of Rome was the author of Hebrews. They are stylistically very similar, He was a disciple of Paul and therefore probably knew Timothy as well. Haven’t seen to much in favor of Clementine authorship though.

  26. In all his epistles, Paul signifies his authorship, notably with his ‘token’ written with his very own hand, which is told us thrice in 1 Corinthians 16:21, Colossians 4:18, and 2 Thessalonian 3:17.

    Thus I contend that Hebrews is thereby Pauline signed: “Grace with you all. Amen.” (the token of Paul), and notably with Paul’s own hand.

    Interestingly, has been signed with this selfsame Pauline token….Hmmm

  27. “The Revelation of St. John”*
    is also signified as such, that is, in response to my last comment’s ellipsis.

  28. Here is the whole quote by Origen (that is never mentioned”:
    “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”
    For me this settles it. It is Pauline, even if his was not the hand in the stylus

  29. what about the whole “paul wrote it in hebrew, and luke translated into greek” concept? Sounds like the bomb to me. P46 Pauline canon?

  30. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215, quoted by Eusebius) says that Paul wrote it in Hebrew
    and Luke translated it into Greek.

    “Papyrus 46 (also referred to as simply 46) is one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts known to exist, with its ‘most probable [creation] date’ between 175-225.[1] ”
    “P46 is the second New Testament manuscript in the Chester Beatty collection (P. II), and was a codex that contained the Pauline Epistles dating c. 200. What remains today of the manuscript is roughly 85 out of 104 leaves consisting of Romans chapters 5-6, 8-15, all of Hebrews, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, virtually all of 1–2 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians 1-2, 5.” –
    Wikipedia

    It’s interesting that this collection of new testament writings is one of the oldest found, it is a collection of Paul’s letters, and it contains hebrews. That’s pretty good stuff when stacked beside the “Paul wrote, luke translated” witness of Clement, which was found to be noteworthy by Eusebius.

  31. B&H is releasing a book in June by David Allen, “The Lukan Authorship of Hebrews”, which presents a thorough analysis of the writing style similarities between Hebrews, Luke, and Acts

  32. Ryan: Sounds good to me; thanks for the info!

    Diglot: I’m familiar with the book but I probably won’t be checking it out. It’s not a subject I care that much about.

  33. How does anyone know how good a writer Timothy was, since Paul wrote the letters to Timothy?

    And who of you is qualified to say Paul is not “capable” of writing as well as the letter to the Hebrews?

    Come on, guys.

  34. I believe to be too clever is to be blind. Has anybody asked why there is reference to Timothy in verse 13 of Hebrews? Could this have been a much later inclusion by an author other than the true author of Hebrews? It would seem to me to be a blatant and deliberate inclusion to course reader to believe that Paul was indeed author of Hebrews. The inclusion or reference to Timothy does seem unecessary.

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