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The Authorship of Hebrews: Ancient External Evidence

The Authorship of Hebrews: Ancient External Evidence

Irenaeus of Lyon and Hippolytus of Rome:

  • See D. Jeffrey Bingham’s study “Irenaeus and Hebrews” on the allusions to Hebrews in Irenaeus’s treatise On the Detection and Overthrow of Knowledge False So-Called
  • “…  and a volume containing various Dissertations, in which he [Irenaeus] mentions the Epistle to the Hebrews and the so-called Wisdom of Solomon, making quotations from them” (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.26)
  • “Hippolytus and Irenaeus claim that the Letter to the Hebrews is not by Paul, but Clement and Eusebius and a numerous company of the other fathers count this letter among the others and say that Clement named above translated it from Hebrew” (according to the 6th century Stephanus Gobarus in Photios I, the 9th century Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bibliotheca 232)
  • “Hippolytus says that in writing to seven Churches, he writes just as Paul wrote thirteen letters, but wrote them to seven Churches. That to the Hebrews he does not judge to be Paul’s, but perhaps Clement’s.” (Dionysius bar Salibi, 12th century bishop of Amid, preface to his Commentary on the Apocalypse)

Clement of Alexandria:

  • “He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. But he says that the words, Paul the Apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name… But now, as the blessed presbyter [Pantaenus] said, ‘since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance'” (from the Hypotyposes, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.2-4)

Origen of Alexandria:

  • “That the verbal style of the epistle entitled ‘To the Hebrews,’ is not rude like the language of the apostle, who acknowledged himself ‘rude in speech’ that is, in expression; but that its diction is purer Greek, any one who has the power to discern differences of phraseology will acknowledge. Moreover, that the thoughts of the epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged apostolic writings, any one who carefully examines the apostolic text will admit… If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and 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. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it. But let this suffice on these matters.” (from the Homilies on Hebrews, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.12)
  • See Benno Zuiddam’s translations of all of Origen’s relevant comments in his post “What Origen really taught about the authorship of Hebrews.”

Tertullian of Carthage:

  • “For there is extant withal an Epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas— a man sufficiently accredited by God, as being one whom Paul has stationed next to himself in the uninterrupted observance of abstinence… he says ‘For impossible it is that they who have once been illuminated, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have participated in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the word of God and found it sweet, when they shall— their age already setting— have fallen away, should be again recalled unto repentance, crucifying again for themselves the Son of God, and dishonouring Him’ [Hebrews 6:4]” (Tertullian, On Modesty 20)

Gaius of Rome:

  • “There has reached us also a dialogue of Caius, a very learned man, which was held at Rome under Zephyrinus, with Proclus, who contended for the Phrygian heresy. In this he curbs the rashness and boldness of his opponents in setting forth new Scriptures. He mentions only thirteen epistles of the holy apostle, not counting that to the Hebrews with the others. And unto our day there are some among the Romans who do not consider this a work of the apostle.” (from the Dialogue with Proclus, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.20.3)

Papyrus 46 ({\mathfrak {P}}46) is part of the Chester Beatty Papyri and included the text of Hebrews after Romans in its collection of Pauline Epistles.

The Muratorian Canon, most likely dating to Rome in the late second century, is silent on Hebrews.

Eusebius of Caesarea:

  • “Paul’s fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul. But what has been said concerning this epistle by those who lived before our time I shall quote in the proper place.” (Ecclesiastical History 3.3.5)
  • “For as Paul had written to the Hebrews in his native tongue, some say that the evangelist Luke, others that this Clement himself, translated the epistle. The latter seems more probable, because the epistle of Clement and that to the Hebrews have a similar character in regard to style, and still further because the thoughts contained in the two works are not very different.” (Ecclesiastical History 3.38.2-3) 

Augustine of Hippo:

  • “… written in the epistle which is inscribed to the Hebrews, which most say is by the Apostle Paul, though some deny this.” (City of God 16.22)

Jerome:

  • “The epistle which is called the Epistle to the Hebrews is not considered his, on account of its difference from the others in style and language, but it is reckoned, either according to Tertullian to be the work of Barnabas, or according to others, to be by Luke the Evangelist or Clement afterwards bishop of the church at Rome, who, they say, arranged and adorned the ideas of Paul in his own language, though to be sure, since Paul was writing to Hebrews and was in disrepute among them he may have omitted his name from the salutation on this account. 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.” (On Illustrious Men 5.59)

John Chrysostom:

  • “Why, then, not being a teacher of the Jews, does he [Paul] send an Epistle to them? And where were those to whom he sent it? It seems to me in Jerusalem and Palestine.” (preface of Homilies on Hebrews)
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