Who wrote Hebrews – and why it matters.
I promised my September resolution would be to get back to blogging. One thing I plan to do is get round to writing those posts that, over the years, I’ve promised: the ‘7 habits’ one, the ‘Liz Murray’ one (the video no longer works on this entry - try Youtube) – maybe even the dispensationalist one (but it would be unwise to hold your breath for that!)
But first, a little piece on Hebrews. I’ve always believed that Paul wrote Hebrews, and I still do – largely because the evidence against it is so flimsy. The ‘traditional’ view is that Hebrews was written by the apostle Paul, sometime around 55-58 A.D. This view is now often regarded as outdated and you may come across statements along the line of ‘Nobody nowadays believes Paul wrote Hebrews.’ Well, I do; let me give you some reasons (and you may also like to read Fred's).
1. Why ‘Pauline’ authorship is often denied
Remarkably few reasons are actually given, but they include:
a) the Greek style is very different
b) there is no opening greeting from Paul
c) When Hebrews quotes the Old Testament, it quotes the Greek, Septuagint, version, whereas Paul does not
d) 2:3 seems to suggest that the writer had heard the gospel second-hand; Paul insists that he received the gospel personally from the Lord (see Galatians 1:11-12).
2. Why I still believe Paul wrote Hebrews
Starting with the ones above, then moving on:
a) Stylistic differences may be easily accounted for. For example, Hebrews may have been written in Aramaic for its Jewish audience, and then translated into Greek. Or it may simply reflect different times and circumstances. The Greek style of John’s gospel, 1,2 and 3 John and Revelation are said to be quite different, but they all come from John’s pen.
b) The missing greeting is interesting but not conclusive; circumstances may have required it in some way. It's a strange argument anyway: 'It doesn't say Paul wrote it, so he didn't.' Hmm. It doesn't say anybody wrote it - perhaps nobody did?
c) If Hebrews was first written in Aramaic and then translated (by Paul or someone else) it would have been natural to include Scripture quotes from the Greek Old Testament. And many writers on the Bible quote different versions at different times.
d) This is the strongest argument, but is equally easily turned in favour of Pauline authorship. Galatians tells us that Paul received the gospel directly from Jesus, but that it was confirmed by the other apostles (Galatians 2:5-9). That’s just what Hebrews 2:4 says!
e) The writer of Hebrews is very close to Paul’s ‘son’ Timothy – 13:23.
f) Ancient writers from as early as 150 AD say that Paul wrote Hebrews (Clement of Alexandria, 150-215 AD, Origen, 185-253 AD). The early church historian Eusebius also attributes it to Paul.
g) The earliest collection of Paul’s writings, known as the Chester Beatty manuscript and dated about 200 AD, includes all of Paul’s epistles except the Pastorals, but does include Hebrews (between Romans and 1 Corinthians).
h) Peter says clearly (2 Peter 3:15) that Paul had written ‘Scripture’ to Peter’s (Jewish) readers. If that’s not Hebrews, we don’t know what it is.
i) Writings were only accepted as ‘canonical’ by the early church if they had apostolic authorship or approval.
Why it matters
But does it matter? I’ve always said ‘No’, but I’ve changed my mind. Let me tell you why.
As I've said, the church decided which of the many writings available were ‘Scripture’ on the basis of apostolic authority: did an apostle write it? If not, was an apostle behind it (as seems to be the case with the gospel of Mark)? If yes, it was Scripture, God’s word. If no, then it wasn’t – full stop.
If Paul didn’t write Hebrews, then there is no evidence at all of an apostle behind it. If that’s true, it isn’t Scripture. The comments we sometimes read (‘Oh, it’s so obviously God’s word; anyone can tell that…’) are so subjective as to be worthless. And they’re effectively the ‘burning bosom’ argument that Mormons use to justify their own rubbish.
If you don’t think Paul wrote it – why is it still in your Bible?