Who Wrote Hebrews?

Reconciling current research with the statements of Ellen White

Felix A. Lorenz, Department of Religion, Columbia Union College

 

 

 

 

Who Wrote Hebrews?

FELIX A. LORENZ

Department of Religion, Columbia Union College

 

As THE clergy of the church becomes more liberally educated, there is a growing tendency to raise a sophisticated eyebrow when mention is made of what Paul said in the book of He­brews. This attitude may seem quite harmless un­til it places the certain findings of historical re­search in juxtaposition with the plain statements of Ellen G. White and postu­lates that we must reject the one or the other.

In an effort to obviate the dilemma some have suggested that Ellen G. White, while considering Paul as the author, never ac­tually says that he wrote the book. How­ever, in at least one publication she said, "The apostle Paul writes," and then quoted a passage from Hebrews.

In all candor it must be admitted that the minister is faced with a problem, and he should hold an intelligent and tenable position on the subject.

Very early in the history of the church it was conceded that the authorship of He­brews was uncertain, which was doubtless one cause of the persistent reluctance to admit the Epistle into the canon. How­ever, it does have a prominent place in the attention of the early churchmen.

Before the end of the second century, Irenaeus, first witness of a grouping of thirteen Pauline Epistles, had doubts about Hebrews, whereas his contemporary, Tertullian, ascribes it to Barnabas. Also contemporary, Clement of Alexandria ac­cords it a place among the fourteen Paul­ine Epistles,' and he was hesitantly sup­ported in this opinion a century later by Eusebius, and another century later by Athanasius, and finally by the Council of Laodicea in A.D. 363.3 One might risk the generalization that the Eastern Church generally considered Paul its author, though not necessarily its writer, while the Western Church did not connect Paul with the book until the fourth century.'

The matter lay at rest for a thousand years, during which Paul was generally ac­cepted as the author; then, in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, renewed study, both within and outside of the Cath­olic Church, brought it back into the arena of controversy. Today critical schol­arship, though by no means unanimously, holds that Paul could not have written the book of Hebrews.

Frederic W. Farrar ascribes it to Apol­los." R. C. H. Lenski is very explicit: "Paul did not write Hebrews,' thus following Martin Luther, founder of his church, who also believed Apollos was the author.' Conybeare and Howson admit their un­certainty but seem to lean toward Barna­has.' Albert Barnes seems certain that He­brews was written by Paul,' and Adam Clarke, Nathaniel Lardner, Bishop Light­foot, and many others listed by both Clarke and Lardner agree." Plumer says, "The evidence of the Pauline origin is very strong.'

It is not the purpose of this writing to list or discuss the arguments for or against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews. But the writer cannot resist the impulse to in­troduce two thoughts. If the radical differ­ence in the Greek style between Hebrews and the Epistles of Paul is conclusive testi­mony against Paul's authorship, then it would seem that the many witnesses in his favor, men to whom the Greek language was a living language, in many cases their mother tongue, would have been con­vinced that the style in Hebrews must bar Paul as its author.

There are early witnesses to the theory that Paul wrote Hebrews originally in the Hebrew language. The two strongest ar­guments against this seem to be that all the Old Testament quotations in the Epis­tle are taken from the Septuagint and not from the Hebrew, and that alliteration in the Greek forbids the theory that it is a translation. But it seems quite natural that the translator, when he came to Bible quotations, would copy the Greek from the Septuagint rather than to make a translation of his own. As to alliteration —will the objectors, following this logic, also conclude that alliteration in Romans 12:2, be not conformed but be trans­formed, proves that Paul wrote the book of Romans in English? Eusebius, about three hundreds years after Christ, says, "Paul having written to the Hebrews in their own language? and then suggests that Luke or Clement of Rome may have trans­lated it into Greek; and nearly a century later Jerome, who like Eusebius was not always certain about the matter, concludes, 'He wrote as a Hebrew to the Hebrews, pure Hebrew, it being his own lan­guage.'' "

The current position of the Roman Catholic Church is that Hebrews is "a let­ter addressed by St. Paul to Christian Jews," and adds that "the Pontifical Bibli­cal Commission allows the opinion that, though the matter is due to St. Paul, it has been cast into its present form by an­other." "

In conclusion, it is admitted that no new discovery of facts has been presented. Rather, the purpose of this writing has been to rescue those who quote Paul as author of the book of Hebrews from the opprobrium of error or of ignorance; and perhaps also to remind us of the need and nobility of tolerance toward those who may not agree with us.

The summation of Conybeare and How­son is succinct and convincing and should make us charitable toward those who quote Hebrews as the words of Paul:

Finally, we may observe that, notwithstanding the doubts which we have recorded, we need not scruple to speak of this portion of Scripture by its canonical designation, as "the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews." We have seen that Jerome expresses the greatest doubts* concerning its authorship; and that Origen says, "the writer is known to God alone:" the same doubts are ex­pressed by Eusebius and by Augustine; yet all these great writers refer to the words of the Epis­tle as the words of Paul."


Note:

*A careful reading of Jerome's complete statement as recorded in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2, p. 363, Schaff and Wace ed., 1892, indicates that Conybeare and Howson mis­construe Jerome when they allege that he "ex­presses the greatest doubts" concerning Paul's au­thorship of Hebrews. The statement concludes: "He being a Hebrew wrote Hebrew, that is his own tongue and most fluently while the things which were eloquently written in Hebrew were more eloquently turned into Greek and this is the rea­son why it seems to differ from other epistles of Paul."

REFERENCES

1 Ellen G. White, in The Youth's Instructor, June 30. 1892, P. 208.

2 Feine, Behrn and Kiimmel, Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 344, 345.

3 William S. Plumer, Commentary on Hebrews, p. 11.

4 Feine, Behm and Kiimmel, op, cit., p. 275.

5 F. W. Farrar, Life and Work of St. Paul, p. 6.

6 R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of Hebrews and James, P. 8.

7 Plumer, op. cit., p. 10.

8 Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of the Apostle Paul, pp. 718, 719.

9 Albert Barnes, Barnes on the New Testament, Hebrew's, pp. 7-12.

10 Clarke's Commentary, New Testament, vol. 2, pp. 669- 671.

11 Plumer, op. cit., p. 11.

12 Clarke's Commentary, New Testament, vol. 2, p. 675.

13 Donald Attwater, ed., A Catholic Dictionary, p. 225.

14 Conybeare and Howson, op. cit., p. 719.

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Felix A. Lorenz, Department of Religion, Columbia Union College

 

April 1967

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