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The Authorship of Hebrews: Internal Evidence

The Internal Evidence within Hebrews

  • There is no opening salutation and the author remains formally anonymous.
  • Hebrews 11:32 uses the accusative, masculine, singular participle (διηγούμενον) to modify the accusative singular pronoun.
  • The author is united with the recipients in having received the message of salvation secondhand from those who first heard the Lord and had it confirmed by the evidence of signs and wonders (2:3).
  • The author was most likely a Greek-speaking Jew who was highly educated in literacy and rhetoric, worked exclusively with the Septuagint, employed Jewish methods of biblical interpretation, and was conversant with Middle Platonic thought.
  • The postscript in Hebrews 13:20-25 seems to reflect Paul’s epistles and the author seems to have been acquainted with Paul’s (former?) assistant Timothy who was recently released from imprisonment.
  • The author passes along the greetings from those “from Italy” (13:24).

Potential Candidates

The Apostle Paul: this option corresponds with early church tradition, was familiar with members of Paul’s circle (13:23-24), and arguably develops certain language and themes from Paul’s epistles in drastically different ways (e.g. Wisdom Christology, “new covenant” terminology, the importance of pistis or faith[fullness]). However, the anonymity contrasts with Paul’s usual practice and the author does not emphasize his own apostolic calling, the Greek style is more advanced, and the thematic differences are significant (e.g. Jesus’s high priestly ministry).

  • David Alan Black, The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul (Energion Publications, 2017)

A Pseudonymous Author: this option explains the parallels adduced above as the author’s attempt to pass off the epistle as one of Paul’s prison epistles or a later scribe’s attempt to include the epistle in a catholic collection of Paul’s epistles. The major obstacle to this thesis is that the author never explicitly identifies himself as “Paul” in the letter.

  • Rothschild, Clare K. Hebrews as Pseudepigraphon. WUNT 2.235; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.
  • Eisenbaum, Pamela M. “Locating Hebrews within the Literary Landscape of Christian Origins.” Pages 213–37 in Hebrews: Contemporary Methods – New Insights. Edited by Gabriella Gelardini. Biblical Interpretation Series 75. Leiden: Brill, 2005.

Luke: Paul describes Luke as a beloved physician and non-Jewish co-worker (Philemon 1:24; Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11) and church tradition identifies him as the author of the third canonical Gospel and book of Acts based on the use of the first-person plural in the latter book (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.14.1). There are some early church traditions in support of this position. This option could explain the Pauline features and the stylistic and thematic parallels between Hebrews and Luke-Acts, but it may overlook the major differences between these writings as well as the uncertainty of whether church tradition correctly inferred the authorship of “Luke-Acts” and it also posits a non-Jewish author (a former God-fearer?) for Hebrews.

  • Allen, David L. Lukan Authorship of Hebrews. NACSBT 8; Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.

Joseph “Barnabas”: a Levite from Cyprus who had the nickname “son of consolation” (Acts 4:36; cf. Hebrews 13:22) and was active on Paul’s missionary travels. He also seems to have taken a more conservative line in the dispute over mixed table fellowship, perhaps part of the underlying split between Paul and Barnabas/John Mark as well, but they may have subsequently reconciled (Acts 4:36-37; 9:27; 11:22, 25-26, 29-30; 12:25-13:5, 43, 46, 50-51; 14:12-20; 15:2, 12, 22-26, 35-39; 1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:1-14; Colossians 4:10-11). There are some early church traditions in support of this position. This might explain the Pauline features and the focus on the temple cult, but the text is anonymous and we do not have any other writings from Barnabas with which to compare.

  • De Boer, E. A. “Tertullian on ‘Barnabas’ Letter to the Hebrews’ in De pudicitia 20.1-5.” Vigiliae Christianae 68.3 (2014): 243-63.

Apollos: Apollos was a Jewish intellectual from Alexandria who was described as eloquent of speech and who ministered in Ephesus and Corinth; Paul addressed the disunity that formed among the Corinthian congregations after one of the factions claimed to be loyal to Apollos (Acts 18:24-19:1; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4-6, 21-22; 4:6; 16:12). This suggestion about the authorship of Hebrews goes back to the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, but there are no early church traditions to support it. It could explain the Pauline features, the letter’s facility in Greek and rhetoric, the use of the Septuagint, and the parallels with other Alexandrian thinkers (e.g. Philo of Alexandria). However, the text is anonymous and we do not have any other writings from Apollos with which to compare.

Priscilla: Priscilla and Aquila were among the Jewish Christ-followers who were expelled by the emperor Claudius from Rome in 49 CE (cf. Seutonius, Claudius 25) and bonded with Paul since they worked in the same trade and were fellow missionary teachers; the order of the names of the couple may suggest that Priscilla was the more prominent individual (Acts 18:1-2, 18, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19). This suggestion for the authorship of Hebrews goes back to one of the pre-eminent late 19th and early 20th century German historian and theologian Adolf von Harnack and could explain the possible scribal omission of the author’s name, the switch between the first person singular and plural in the letter, the author’s educated status and Roman acquaintances, and the Pauline features. However, there are no early church traditions to support it, it is difficult to reconcile this option with Hebrews 11:32, and we do not have Priscilla’s other writings with which to compare.

  • Harnack, Adolf (Translated by Luther D. Lazarus). “The Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Lutheran Church Review 19 (1900): 448-471.
  • Hoppin, Ruth. Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Fort Bragg, CA: Lost Coast Press), 1997.

Silas/Silvanus: Silas is most frequently mentioned as a missionary companion of Paul, though he was chosen to deliver an apostolic letter after the Jerusalem Council and was associated with Peter in the epistle bearing Peter’s name (Acts 15:22, 27, 32; 15:40; 16:19-40; 17:4, 10, 14-15; 18:5; 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Peter 5:12). This option could explain the Pauline features and the stylistic and theological parallels between Hebrews and 1 Peter (other possibilities include similar traditions or a shared milieu in Rome), but 1 Peter 5:12 suggests that Silvanus was the letter carrier rather than the scribal hand that composed 1 Peter and there is no other strong internal or external evidence to identify Silas as the author of Hebrews.

Clement of Rome: Clement is listed as second or third bishop of Rome in the episcopal succession inaugurated by the Apostle Peter. There is some support for this in early Christian traditions and there is the early attestation of Hebrews in 1 Clement (see the post on the date of Hebrews), though 1 Clement lacks explicit citation formula to preface these allusions and uses the material in Hebrews towards different ends. This option might also explain the elite status of the author, the Roman connections, and the Pauline influences that are also evident in 1 Clement, but it is difficult to reconcile with the anonymity of the letter.

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