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."
*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."
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.