Notes on the Authorship of Hebrews

This post is a compilation of various notes on the authorship of the book of Hebrews.  They are not in any particular order.

Regarding the sources cited here, in some cases more information may be found for them at Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon.

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A Modern Scholar Makes Case for Paul as Author

Black, David Alan.  The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul.  Energion Publications, 2013.

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Hebrews as a Speech of Paul’s Documented by Luke

Pitts, Andrew W. and Joshua F. Walker. “The Authorship of Hebrews: A Further Development in the Luke-Paul Relationship.” In Paul and His Social Relations. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Land. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

Pitts and Walker argue that “…Hebrews likely represents a Pauline speech, probably originally delivered in a Diaspora synagogue, which Luke documented in some way during their travels together and which Luke later published as an independent speech to be circulated among house churches in the Jewish-Christian Diaspora.”

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Bart Ehrman Thinks Hebrews Implies It Is from Paul

In Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011), Bart Ehrman declares that:

…Paul did not write Hebrews…  (p. 33)

Ehrman also makes clear that in this regard he is speaking on behalf of modern scholarship:

The anonymous book of Hebrews was assigned to Paul, even though numbers of early Christian scholars realized that Paul did not write it, as scholars today agree.  (p. 221)

Yet he suggests that the writer of Hebrews wanted readers to think that he was Paul – in other words, that ancient scholars were for this reason duped:

The book of Hebrews was particularly debated ; the book does not explicitly claim to be written by Paul, but there are hints at the end that the author wants readers to think that he’s Paul (see Hebrews 13:22– 25). For centuries its Pauline authorship was a matter of dispute. The book was finally admitted into the canon only when nearly everyone came to think Paul must have written it. (p. 22)

Also anonymous are the book of Acts and the letters known as 1, 2, and 3 John . Technically speaking, the same is true of the book of Hebrews; the author never mentions his name, even if he wants you to assume he’s Paul. 12  (p. 23)

12. This has recently been argued in Clare Rothschild, Hebrews as Pseudepigraphon: The History and Significance of the Pauline Attribution of Hebrews (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009).  (p. 268)

Scholars are highly unified in thinking that Paul did not write the book of Hebrews, even though it was included in the canon of the New Testament by church fathers who thought that it was. 9  (p. 228)

9. For an argument that the author intends to make his readers think he was Paul, see Clare Rothschild, Hebrews as Pseudepigraphon (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009).  (p. 288)

Here is Amazon’s description of the Rothschild book:

The history of scholarship on Hebrews attests a tension between the originality and Pauline character of its epistolary postscript (Hebrews 13:20-25). Generally speaking, scholars accepting the postscript’s originality reject its Pauline character, while those rejecting its originality accept its reliance on Paul’s letters. The Pauline character of the postscript is especially problematic for implying Paul’s authorship of the book – a thesis that is all but dispensed with today. Clare K. Rothschild argues that if Hebrews’ postscript is both original and imitative of Paul’s letters, and if this imitation on the part of the author of Hebrews deliberately identifies the author as Paul, the entire book of Hebrews merits consideration as a pseudepigraphon. Examining Hebrews from this perspective, Rothschild makes the case that neither the postscript nor the rest of Hebrews was composed de novo. Rather, it deliberately adopts words and phrases – including citations from the Jewish Scriptures – from a collection of Pauline materials, in order to imply Paul’s authorship of a message that stands in continuity with esteemed Pauline traditions. Furthermore, the longstanding tradition of Hebrews’ Pauline attribution suggests that it never circulated independently of other works attributed to Paul but was composed to amplify an early corpus Paulinum. This is the first ever monograph to examine the history of Hebrews’ Pauline attribution and the significance of this attribution for our understanding of the book and its author’s indebtedness to Pauline traditions.  [emphasis mine]

Thus Ehrman and Rothschild are agreeing that anyone – ancient or modern – who thinks that Paul wrote Hebrews is thinking what the writer intended its readers to think.  Ehrman is thus saying that the “anonymity” of Hebrews is a technicality (see his words from p. 23 of his book above).  That Ehrman thinks the writer was lying about this is a separate issue.  The point is that Ehrman thinks Hebrews claims to be written by Paul.

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A 19th-Century Author on Origen’s Oft-Quoted Statement

Tregelles, Samuel P. (1813-1875). A Lecture on the Historic Evidence of the Authorship and Transmission of the Books of the New Testament. Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1852.

Origen (184-254) famously wrote, “Men of old have handed it down as Paul’s, but who wrote the Epistle God only knows.”  Samuel P. Tregelles makes clear in the section of his book titled “Epistle to the Hebrews” (p. 52-54) that Origen attributed Hebrews to Paul and was only referring in his statement to the question of who used the pen.

In the early centuries it was but little known in the West, and thus, in the Canon in Muratori, it is not mentioned. In the East, however, it was well known and received, and there it was ascribed to the Apostle Paul.  (p. 52)

The difficulty connected with its authorship being directly ascribed to St. Paul, is principally found in the omission of his name at the beginning, and the difference of style throughout.  Thus, some of those who ascribed it in a general sense to St. Paul, thought that the ideas were his, but that the language was that of another; in fact, that it bore the same relation to St. Paul, as St. Luke’s Gospel does to him, and St. Mark’s to St. Peter.  Thus Origen, who quotes this Epistle as St. Paul’s, says, that of the actual writer ‘God only knoweth.”  [emphasis his]  (p. 54)

Others through the ages have made this point as well, perhaps most notably David Alan Black in The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul in which he gives many other quotes of Origen demonstrating just this point, but, alas, it’s a point that continues to be lost in all the superficial observations made about the authorship of Hebrews in our time.

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Jerome and Augustine Attributed Hebrews to Paul

Alexander, Archibald (1772-1851). The Canon of the Old and New Testaments Ascertained; or, The Bible, Complete, without the Apocrypha and Unwritten Traditions. Presbyterian Board of Education, 1851.

Jerome

Jerome, in speaking of the writings of Paul, gives the following very full and satisfactory testimony: “He wrote,” says he, “nine epistles to seven churches. To the Romans, one; to the Corinthians, two; to the Galatians, one; to the Philippians, one; to the Colossians, one; to the Thessalonians, two; to the Ephesians, one; to Timothy, two; to Titus, one; to Philemon, one. But the epistle called to the Hebrews is not thought to be his, because of the difference
of argument and style; but rather Barnabas’s, as Tertullian thought; or Luke’s, according to some others; or Clement’s, who was afterwards bishop of Rome; who being much with Paul, clothed and adorned Paul’s sense in his own language. Or if it be Paul’s, he might decline putting his name to it in the inscription, for fear of offending the Jews. Moreover, he wrote as a Hebrew to the Hebrews, it being his own language; whence it came to pass, that being translated, it has more elegance in the Greek than his other epistles. This they say is the reason of its differing from Paul’s other writings. There is also an epistle to the Laodiceans, but it is rejected by every body.” Jerome commonly quotes the epistle to the Hebrews as the apostle Paul’s; and, as we have seen before, this was his prevailing opinion, which is not contradicted in the long passage just cited.  (p. 129)

Augustine

 Augustine received fourteen epistles of Paul, the last of which, in his catalogue, is the epistle to the Hebrews; he was aware, however, that some in his time thought it of doubtful authority. “However,” says he, “I am inclined to follow the opinion of the churches of the east, who receive it among the canonical Scriptures.”  (p. 130)

Alexander discusses other ancient opinions, including that of Eusebius, in the same section of this book.

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