Notes On The Authorship Of Hebrews

Hebrews, Epistle to the.-I Canonical authority. Was it received and transmitted as canonical by the immediate successors of the apostles? The most important witness among these, Clement (A.D. 70 or 95), refers to this Epistle in the same way as, and more frequently than, to any other canonical book. Little stress can be laid upon the few possible allusions to it in Barnabas, Hermas, Polycarp, and Ignatius. It is received as canonical by Justin Martyr, and by the compilers of the Peshito version of the New Testament. Basilides and Marcion are recorded as distinctly rejecting the Epistle. But at the close of that period, in the North African church, where first the Gospel found utterance in the Latin tongue, orthodox Christianity first doubted the canonical authority of the Epistle to the Hebrews. To the old Latin version of the Scriptures, which was completed probably about A.D. 173, this Epistle seems to have been added as a composition of Barnabas, and as destitute of canonical authority. During the next two centuries, the extant fathers of the Roman and North African churches regard the Epistle as a book of no canonical authority; but in the fourth century its authority began to revive. At the end of the fourth century, Jerome, the most learned and critical of the Latin fathers, reviewed the conflicting opinions as to the authority of this Epistle. He considered that the prevailing, though not universal view of the Latin churches was of less weight than the view, not only of ancient writers, but also of all the Greek and all the Eastern churches, where the Epistle was received as canonical, and read daily and he pronounced a decided opinion in favor of its authority. The great contemporary light of North Africa, St. Augustine," held a similar opinion. The 3rd Council of Carthage, A.D. 397, and a Decretal of Pope Innocent, A.D. 416, gave a final confirmation to their decision. But such doubts were confined to the Latin churches from the middle of the second to the close of the fourth century. All the rest of orthodox Christendom from the beginning was agreed upon the canonical authority of this Epistle. Cardinal Cajetan, the opponent of Luther, was the first to disturb the tradition of a thousand years, and to deny its authority. Erasmus, Calvin, and Beza questioned only its Authorship. Luther, when he printed his version of the Bible, separated this book from St. Paul's Epistles, and placed it with the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude, next before the Revelation; indicating by this change of order his opinion that the four relegated books are of less importance and less authority than the rest of the New Testament.-II. Who was the author of the Epistle? - The superscription, the ordinary source of information, is wanting; but there is no reason to doubt that at first, everywhere, except in North Africa, St. Paul was regarded as the author. Clement ascribed to St. Luke the translation of the Epistle into Greek from a Hebrew original of St. Paul. Origen believed that the thoughts were St. Paul's, the language and composition of St. Lake's or Clement's of Rome. Tertullian names Barnabas as the reputed author according to the North African tradition. The view of the Alexandrian fathers, a middle point between the Eastern and Western traditions, won its way in the Church. Luther's conjecture that Apollos was the author has been widely adopted; Luke by Grotius; Silas by others. Neander attributes it to some apostolic man of the Pauline school, whose training and method of stating doctrinal truth differed from St. Paul's. The distinguished name of Ewald has been given recently to the hypothesis that it was written by some Jewish teacher residing at Jerusalem to a church in some important Italian town, which is supposed to have sent deputation to Palestine. If it be asked to what extent, and by whom, was St. Paul assisted in the composition of this Epistle, the reply must be in the words of Origen, "Who wrote [i.e. as in Rom. xvi. 22, wrote from the author's dictation] this Epistle, only God knows." The similarity in phraseology which exists between the acknowledged writings of St. Luke and this Epistle, his constant companionship with St. Paul, and his habit of listening to and recording the Apostle's arguments, form a strong presumption in his favor. III. To whom was the Epistle sent? - Some critics have maintained that this Epistle was addressed directly to Jewish believers everywhere others have restricted it to those who dwelt in Asia and Greece. This question was agitated as early as the time of Chrysostom, who replies, to the Jews in Jerusalem and Palestine. The argument of the Epistle is such as could be used with most effect to # church consisting exclusively of Jews by birth, personally familiar with and attached to the Temple-service. Ebrard limits the primary circle of readers even to a section of the church at Jerusalem.-IV. Where and when was written -Eastern traditions of the fourth century, in connection with the opinion that St. Paul is the writer, name Italy and Rome, or Athens, as the place from whence the Epistle was written. Either place would agree with, perhaps was suggested by, the mention of Timothy in the last chapter. The Epistle was evidently written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The whole argument, and specially the passages viii. 4 and sq., ix. 6 and sq., and xiii. 10 and sq., imply that the Temple was standing, and that its usual course of Divine service was carried on without interruption. The date which best agrees with the traditionary account of the authorship and destination of the Epistle is A.D. 63, about the end of St. Paul's imprisonment at Rome, or year after Albinus succeeded Festus as Procurator. - V. In what language was it written? Like St. Matthew's Gospel, the Epistle to the Hebrews has afforded ground for much unimportant controversy respecting the language in which it was originally written. The earliest statement is that of Clement of Alexandria, to the effect that it was written by St. Paul in Hebrew, and translated by St. Luke into Greek. But nothing is said to lead us to regard it as a tradition, rather than a conjecture suggested by the style of the Epistle. Bleek argues, in support of a Greek original, on the grounds of (1.) the purity and casy flow of the Greek; (2.) the use of Greek words which could not be adequately expressed in Hebrew without long peraphrase ; (3.) the use of paronomasia; and (4.) the use of the Septuagint in quotations and references. - VI. Condition of the Hebrews, and scope of the Epistle. --The numerous Christian churches scattered throughout Judea (Acts ix. 31; Gal. i. 22) were continually exposed to persecution from the Jews (1 Thess. ii. 14); but in Jerusalem there was one additional weapon in the hands of the predominant oppressors of the Christians. The magnificent national Temple might be shut against the Hebrew Christian; and even if this affliction were not often laid upon him, yet there was a secret burden which he bore within him, the knowledge that the end of all the beauty and awfulness of Zion was rapidly approaching. What could take the place of the Temple, and that which was behind the veil, and the Levitical sacrifices, and the Holy City, when they should cease to exist? What compensation could Christianity offer him for the loss which was pressing the Hebrew Christian more and more? The writer of this Epistle meets the Hebrew Christians on their own ground. His answer is-"Your new faith gives you Christ, and, in Christ, all you seek, all your fathers sought. In Christ, the Son of God, you have an all-sufficient Mediator, nearer than angels to the Father, eminent above Moses as a benefactor, more sympathizing and more prevailing than the high-priest as an intercessor: His sabbath awaits you in heaven; to His covenant the old was intended to be subservient; His atonement is the eternal reality of which sacrifices are but the passing shadow; His city heavenly, not made with hands. Having Him, believe in Him with all your heart, with a faith in the unseen future, strong as that of the saints of old, patient under present, and prepared for coming woe, full of energy, and hope, and holiness, and love." Such was the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

William Smith, A Dictionary Of the Bible Comprising Its Antiquities, Biography, Geography, and Natural History, p. 317-318

Comments

Anonymous said…
You really need to break that up into paragraphs - they are even headings embedded in that wall of text.

Hebrews is interesting as it is one of the few bits of the NT that represents the Jewish Christians, rather than the gentile Christians (sure, Paul was Jewish, but he developed his own beliefs).

There is a theory that the letter was written by Priscilla, which your article does not mention. The theory claims her name was omitted or removed because she was a woman. No way to tell for sure, but it seems likely to me.

Pix

I am amazed you know that theory about Priscilla because I thought it was obscure. I used to know those arguments and I used to defend it. I still think it has merit.
Anonymous said…
Joe: I am amazed you know that theory about Priscilla because I thought it was obscure. I used to know those arguments and I used to defend it. I still think it has merit.

The late Arnold Murray of the Shepherd's Chapel also used to say that Priscilla authored Hebrews.

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