Who Wrote the Book of Hebrews?

12 Aug

WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF HEBREWS?

The author of the book is never mentioned in the book, so there have been many theories through the years about who wrote Hebrews.

PAUL

The evidence in favor of Paul is two-fold. Clement of Rome pointed to Paul as the author of Hebrews toward the close of the first century.  Hebrews 13:16-25 sounds like the close of some of his letters. Also, there are some similar themes to Paul’s other letters; Christ as creator (Heb. 1:1-4; 1 Co. 8:6; 2 Co. 4:4), Christ as Suffering Savior and Exalted Lord (Heb. 2:9; Ro. 8:3, 34; Php. 2:5-11), Christ as intercessor (Heb. 7:25; Rom. 8:34). Timothy is mentioned (13:23) and he was a close associate of Paul.

On the other hand, Paul identifies himself by name in all his other letters. Paul often recounted his own experiences in his letters but there is none of this in Hebrews. Paul would not have said what is said in Hebrews 2:3, 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, This is a strong contrast with Galatians 1:11-12, 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. In addition, the Greek vocabulary and grammar of Hebrews is quite different from Paul’s other letters. Paul normally lays out doctrinal truth and then applies it (e.g., Ephesians) but the book of Hebrews weaves the two together. Significantly, several of Paul’s most common themes (justification, union with Christ, flesh and Spirit) are missing from Hebrews.

Overall, I think the evidence points away from Paul as the author of Hebrews.

BARNABUS

Tertullian the early church father said Barnabus was the author but he didn’t give any evidence for this assertion. Barnabus was a Levite from Cyprus. So he was a Jew with a Greek background. That fits the book of Hebrews very well. As a Levite, the priestly family of the Jews, he would have been well-aware of the priesthood, a significant aspect of Hebrews. He was a close associate of Paul so connections with Paul’s themes may come through that relationship. Interestingly, Hebrews 13:22, as we have said before, tells us the author has written in the book of Hebrews a word of exhortation. The word exhortation is paraklesos in Greek and can be translated “exhortation” or “encouragement.” And you may remember that Barnabus was called the son of encouragement. So Barnabus fits the profile but the evidence is thin.

APOLLOS

It seems that this proposal was first made by Martin Luther in the 1500’s. We don’t know much about Apollos but what we do know would fit the author of Hebrews. He was Jewish, he was well-educated, he knew the Scriptures. Unlike Paul, Apollos did learn the Christian message from others (2:9). The reference to “those from Italy” in 13:24 may refer to Priscilla and Aquila, who helped Apollos in the beginning of his Christian life.

PRISCILLA

Priscilla has been suggested by some as the author of Hebrews. She, along with her husband Aquila, was a close associate of Paul and she had been involved with instructing Apollos in the early days of his ministry. Some believe she is the author because the author is not mentioned by name, a practice which would have made sense in the culture of the day because she was a woman. The problem with this assumption is that ancient writings often didn’t name the author, so a lack of a named author does not necessarily mean there was a larger purpose behind having no named author.

The Truth: We Don’t Know Who Wrote Hebrews

Does it really matter that there is no conclusive evidence which reveals the author of Hebrews? On one level, no, it doesn’t matter that we don’t know. But I think it is significant for one reason: it shows us that the power is found in the inspiration of the Word rather than its human author. We have benefitted for 2000 years from the book of Hebrews without even knowing who wrote the book.  The fact that we don’t know the author and it almost certainly was not Paul is important for another reason: it puts the lie to the skeptics charge that the kind of thinking that says Paul was the brains of the early Christian movement and if not for Paul it all would have fallen apart. This is certainly not something Christians believe but it is an idea some people believe.

The truth is, on one level, we know who wrote Hebrews . . .

“All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)

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