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.


A Modern Scholar Makes Case for Paul as Author

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


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.”


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.


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.


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, 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 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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Notes on Forgery and Pseudepigraphy

This post is about forgeries and pseudepigrapha in ancient times – whether merely alleged or actually proven, and whether alleged by ancient scholars or modern ones.


What the Ancients Thought About Forgeries

This is found in Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011) by Bart D. Ehrman.

Most church leaders did not appreciate fabricated documents.  But there were plenty to go around.  (p. 18)

In short, there were long, protracted, and often heated debates in the early church over forged documents. Early Christians realized that there were numerous forgeries in circulation, and they wanted to know which books were written by their alleged authors and which were not.  (p. 22)


Where Bart Ehrman and J. I. Packer Agree

Chapter 2 of Forged (titled “Alternatives to Lies and Deception”), Bart Ehrman writes (on p. 115):

Scripture says that it is inspired or breathed out by God. God does not and cannot lie. Therefore Scripture does not and cannot contain lies. Forgery, on the other hand, involves lying. For that reason there can be no forgeries in the Bible.  This conservative evangelical view is still very much held by some scholars today, at least by conservative evangelical scholars. But I should emphasize it is a view that is built on theological premises of what has to be true , not on the grounds of what actually is true.

Ehrman marks an endnote right after “true” which reads (on p. 280):

A partial exception may be the view of evangelical scholar Donald Guthrie, who tries to argue on historical, rather than dogmatic, grounds that there can be no forgeries in the New Testament; see his “The Development of the Idea of Canonical Pseudipigrapha in New Testament Criticism,” Vox Evangelica 1 (1962): 43– 59.

Guthrie’s article can be found online here.   In the article, Guthrie quotes J. I. Packer in this section:

Among those who during the period since the rise of criticism have maintained the rejection of canonical pseudepigrapha two different approaches may be discerned, the dogmatic and the historical. The former approach is well represented by a recent writer, J. I. Packer, who makes the following assertion, “We may lay down as a general principle that, when biblical books specify their own authorship, the affirmation of their canonicity involves a denial of their pseudonymity. Pseudonymity and canonicity are mutually exclusive.” [49] He goes on to assert that since the New Testament books were received into the canon, that must ipso facto rule out the possibility of pseudonymous authorship for any New Testament writing. “As we have seen, if a New Testament book is not authentically apostolic, and if it makes false assertions (as on this hypothesis these books do), then it has not the nature of Scripture, and has no place in the New Testament canon. But the fact is that these books established their place in the canon of the early Church, and have been studied and expounded in the Church for centuries without anything unworthy of their apparent authors, or inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, either in teaching or in tone, being found in them.” [50]

The footnotes are to Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958), pages 184 and 185, respectively.  Guthrie goes on to say:

Packer argues strongly for the description of pseudonymous works as “forgeries”. He defines it as follows. “The dictionary definition of ‘forgery’ is fraudulent imitation, as such, irrespective of its aim, the point of the fraud being simply to get one’s own product accepted as somebody else’s”. [51] Moreover, in answer to those who postulate the highest motives, Packer maintains, “frauds are still fraudulent, even when perpetrated from noble motives”.[52] The difficulty which arises here is that different minds have different notions of what is meant by “forgery”.

The footnotes are, again, to Packer’s book, this time pages 183 and 184, respectively.

Parenthetically, regarding Packer’s view let me add what I myself found in his book because it defines his position in the most pithy way:

Pseudonymity and canonicity are mutually exclusive.  (p. 184)

…to deny authenticity is to deny canonicity also.  (p. 186)

 Having given Packer as his example of the “dogmatic” approach, Guthrie then goes on to give examples of the “historical” approach, which I’ll not reproduce here.  Suffice it to say that while Guthrie may respect Packer’s theological justification for rejecting pseudonymous works, he considers historical justification “more enlightened.”

The primary point for our purposes is that while Ehrman emphatically rejects Packer’s theological views, the two men are in full agreement about the definition of forgery and that any pseudonymous work deserves that label whether it is in the New Testament canon or not.  Thus Ehrman insists that the New Testament contains forgeries and Packer insists that it does not – both men fully agreeing on what constitutes a forgery.


Where Bruce Metzger Disagrees with Ehrman and Packer

Bruce Metzger wrote “Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigrapha” in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 91, No. 1 (Mar., 1972), pp. 3-24.

The idea of pseudepigrapha being in the New Testament does not bother Metzger as it bothers Packer.  Metzger begins his concluding paragraph with:

The recognized custom of antiquity allowed historians great freedom in representing the sentiments of those about whom they wrote by means of imaginary speeches, founded more or less on what was actually said. If, indeed, an entire book should appear to have been composed in order to present vividly the thoughts and feelings of an important person, there would not seem to be in this circumstance any reason to say that it could not be divinely inspired. Why, then, should inspiration be denied if, as in the case of 2 Peter (which most scholars believe was written about A.D. 125-140), the author appears to have drawn up the treatise in the name of Simon Peter (1:1) and with details lending a high degree of verisimilitude (e.g., the reference to having been present at the Transfiguration, 1:17-18) in order to recall second and third generation Christians back to the orthodox teaching and practice held to have been inculcated by Peter himself?

Metzger then concludes his essay with this sentence:

In short, since the use of the literary form of pseudepigraphy need not be regarded as necessarily involving fraudulent intent, it cannot be argued that the character of inspiration excludes the possibility of pseudepigraphy among the canonical writings.

While Packer would say that 2 Peter must have been written by Peter or else it wouldn’t be part of the New Testament canon, Metzger says it could still be canonical even if Peter didn’t write it, and Ehrman says that irrespective of its canonicity or lack thereof it was not written by Peter.  Thus modern scholars argue amonst themselves while ancient scholars settled the matter long ago – in favor of Peter’s authorship.


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Miscellaneous Notes on Bart Ehrman

In short, there were long, protracted, and often heated debates in the early church over forged documents. Early Christians realized that there were numerous forgeries in circulation, and they wanted to know which books were written by their alleged authors and which were not.

This is found on p. 22 of Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011) by Bart D. Ehrman.  Oddly, Ehrman does not go on to explain in this book why he thinks the ancients’ vetting process failed, nor what makes his vetting process superior to theirs.



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New Testament Use of the Old Testament

The New Testament doesn’t merely quote the Old Testament – the New Testament relies entirely on the Old Testament for its meaning.  I’ve listed below authors that will help you see this.

Closely related to this subject is seeing Christ in the Old Testament – a narrower and more specific focus on the same subject.

G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson

C. H. Dodd (1884-1973)  –  Wrote the classic According to the Scriptures: The Sub-structure of New Testament Theology (1952), and, in the same year, the pamphlet “The Old Testament in the New.”  Dodd and his book were cited as an important influence by Richard Hays in the introduction of Reading Backwards.

E. Earle Ellis (1926-2010)  –  Wrote Paul’s Use of the Old Testament (1957).  He wrote other books touching on this subject, but most were academic in nature and not easy to find.

Leonhard Goppelt (1911-1973)  –  Wrote Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New (1939).

Richard B. Hays (1948-)  –  Hays has written extensively on this subject, often using terms of literary criticism such as “intertextuality” (his B.A. was in English Literature).  Beginning with with Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (1989), he went on to write The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture (2005), and, most recently, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (2014).  In the preface of this last book, he credits as influences for his approach to this subject C. H. Dodd, Barnabas Lindars, Nils Dahl, and Donald Juel.

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Notes on Tregelles re: Authorship of the New Testament Books

These are notes on A Lecture on the Historic Evidence of the Authorship and Transmission of the Books of the New Testament by Samuel P. Tregelles (1813-1875), published by Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1852, 136 pages.  (There are some very brief notes on this book after its listing in Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon.)

This book is in the public domain and available for browsing or downloading at the Internet Archive.

Wikipedia article on Samuel Prideaux Tregelles

This book is the record of a lecture delivered before the Plymouth (England) Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) on October 14, 1851.

The Latin phrase on the title page – “Ita ut interrogati, cujus quisque liber sit, non hsesitemus, quid respondere debeamus”  –  is taken from Augustine’s Contra Faustum 33:6 and, as best I can tell, is translated “so that, when we are questioned as to the authorship of any book, we have no difficulty in answering” or “so that, when asked whose book is whose, we do not hesitate what we ought to reply.”  (I have taken these two translations from the sources cited at Augustine on Authorship.)  Tregelles himself translates this phrase as “so that, when asked, we need not hesitate what we ought to answer” on p. 6 of this book.

The headings for the various sections of my notes below are taken verbatim from the book’s table of contents.

(p. ix-xxiv; i.e. 16 pages in all)

Beginning his introduction, Tregelles writes:

The object of the following lecture is to present, in an intelligible and popular form, an accurate statement of the historic evidence which enables us to speak with certainty as to the authorship of the books of the New Testament… (p. ix)

Tregelles goes on to say that he gives less evidence where there is less controversy and more evidence where there is more controversy. (p. ix)

He also says that he has amassed much more research than can be included in the lecture.  He speaks of the possibility of publishing a much fuller treatment in the future.  If he ever did publish such a volume, I’ve not been able to find it.   (p. x)

Tregelles says he seeks to answer these two questions:

  1. Why do you receive the New Testament books as genuine? and,
  2. how have these ancient writings come down to our days? (p. x)

Tregelles obviously knew the likes of Bart Ehrman in his day:

The historic evidence to the authorship of the New Testament books is a subject of common concern to all Christians. If attacks are made with a great show of learning and research, it is well for those who may meet with such popular attacks to be fore-armed. (p. x)

I certainly agree with these statements:

On ordinary subjects there are many things to which we give credit, because we rely on the accuracy of our informant..And so on most subjects: we trust the information which we receive, because we believe in the competency of our informant. (p. xi)

Pages xii and xiii are missing in the pdf of the book I am using.  However, I did check these two pages in the Internet Archive version to which I linked above, which has them.

Tregelles speaks at length against “modern liberalism.”  (p. xv)

Of his approach, Tregelles says:

I wish, if possible, to restore the historic grounds of Christian evidence to their proper place ; they are, I am persuaded, a citadel which will ever be found impregnable…  (p. xviii) [emphasis mine]

…and that its historic reality may be so known that
none may doubt, except those who are willingly ignorant. (p. xix)  [emphasis his]

I take there the simple ground, if the ordinary process of historical investigation be well founded, then it follows that the New Testament books are indeed genuine: the proof is then given, and all rests on the testimony of witnesses, and not on dogmatic assumption.  (p. xix)  [emphasis his]

Tregelles speaks against “Romanism” and “rationalism.”  (p. xxiii)

In a footnote on page xviii, Tregelles explains his emphasis on external testimony to authorship:

In this Lecture I have almost exclusively confined myself to the external parts of testimony ; the internal accordance has only been hinted at incidentally.  Many points, therefore, in which the New Testament books exhibit their wonderful unity and coherence, have of course been passed by, as well as, in general, the sort of testimony which one book bears to another.  The citation of St. Luke’s Gospel in 1 Tim. has been brought forward, because it is direct, but not the mention of St. Paul’s Epistles in 2 Pet., because it does not bear on certain specific epistles.  The evidence derived from mutual coherence and relation of Scripture has great value for those who think, while historic proof addresses itself not to these only, but also to those who, from their avocations or their mental constitution, think but little, whose attention needs to be aroused by a presentation of distinct facts, wholly irrespective of whether they think or not.  [Emphasis his]

The Importance of the Subject
(p. 1-4)

Tregelles begins his lecture with these words:

In speaking of the historic evidence of the authorship and transmission of the books of the New Testament, I propose, first, to bring before your attention those proofs which are conclusive on the subject of their having really been written by the Apostles and their companions, and then, to point out briefly the channels through which they have been transmitted to us.  (p. 1)  [Emphasis mine]

I need not dwell at length on the importance of the subject : it must be evident to all who value the revelation which God has given us in the New Testament, that it is well for our minds to be informed as to the distinct grounds of evidence on which we believe and receive these writings as authentic. We hold Christianity as a divinely-communicated system of religion, a religion which is based on facts, and which sets forth doctrines connected with those facts : the New Testament presents to us the record by which those facts have been made known to us, hence the interest of this subject to the mind of every intelligent Christian.  (p. 1-2)

Tregelles wants to make his readers able to readily answer challenges to their faith in the New Testament writings:

We ought to know what to answer, when asked why we receive as authoritative the Acts of the Apostles, and reject the Acts of Paul and Thecla ; why we own the Epistles of the New Testament, and reject the Epistles and Discourses attributed to St. Peter in the Clementine Homilies.  (p. 4)

St. Augustine’s mode of investigation

Period of inquiry
(p. 5-8)

In this section titled “Process of Proof” (p. 5-8), Tregelles asks:

How, then, can we know satisfactorily to whom we ought to ascribe the authorship of ancient works?  How can we prove that any book was really written by the person whose name it bears?  (p. 4-5)

He then goes on to outline the process he will follow to answer the question as the process laid down in about the year 400 AD by Augustine in Contra Faustum.  That is, by the same way we discern the true works of “Hippocrates,” “Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro, and other similar writers,” (quoting Augustine in all five of these specific cases), we can know the true authors of the New Testament books.  For more from Augustine than what Tregelles quotes, see Augustine on Authorship (Contra Faustum 33:6).  That said, what Tregelles quotes is sufficient, especially in the context of the Tregelles explanation.  Rather than reproduce parts of this section (“Process of Proof” p. 5-8), it is short enough, and worthy enough, to read it in his text.

Parenthetically, while Tregelles was making this point in England, Archibald Alexander was making it in America.  See Notes on Archibald Alexander re: Authorship of the New Testament Books.

In concluding this section, Tregelles makes clear that he takes as his burden both the New Testament as a whole and its individual books:

The New Testament, we must remember, consists of a collection of books ; the statement of evidence must, therefore, relate in part to the collection as such, and in part to the several portions of which it is composed.  (p. 7)

Tregelles then briefly specifies the period of the book’s inquiry:

The period of inquiry as to any work is of course limited to the ages immediately following that in which the authors are said to have lived : we need not go below the fourth century as to the New Testament, for from that time our twenty-seven books have been all commonly received. (p. 7-8)

(p. 8-21)

(p. 21-35)

We receive Cicero’s letters as genuine, and yet no one supposes that we could find each one severally mentioned by an ancient writer; the quotations from some are considered as evidence to the collection as such. Here how much stronger is the case!  (p. 35)

(p. 35-51)

(p. 52-52)

(p. 52-54)

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)

(p. 54-55)

(p. 55-56)

(p. 56-57)

(p. 58-60)

(p. 60-61)

(p. 61-61)

(p. 61-63)

(p. 64-70)

I have now discussed all the books of the New Testament, and to this I may add, that if we were to investigate other remains of antiquity, we could rarely find one-tenth part of the evidence for works undoubtedly genuine; and even this evidence is often only found after intervals much greater than that from the Apostolic age to the end of the second century.  (p. 64)

Has not, then, the requirement of the rule of evidence laid down by St. Augustine been fully met?  We can show that a successional series of writers, from the age immediately subsequent to that of the Apostles, have mentioned or used (and in general extensively) the books of the New Testament. And if, with regard to some, such as the Epistle of James and the second Epistle of Peter, the indications are less frequent, we have only to inquire whether they are not sufficient. As to the books in general, the evidence is so cumulative that nothing more attested is presented to our notice.  (p. 65-66)

Here, then, we have plain historic reasons for accepting the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, as the genuine works of eight persons, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude.  (p. 66)

Surmises and hinted doubts are all that can be brought to meet
the united testimony of the early Christian Church, scattered in many regions, yet testifying to the transmission of the same books.  (p. 68)

We do not prove the genuineness of the New Testament books
on any grounds of mere opinion, so that what seems established today may be overturned tomorrow, but we demonstrate it by evidence, which loses no part of its value by lapse of time, any more than time can weaken the force of a mathematical demonstration.  (p. 70)

(p. 70-74)

If we wish to find the records of a corporate body, we should seek for them in the custody of that corporation itself : if found there, the records may speak for themselves as to the authority which may attach to them. And thus it is with regard to the Scriptures : the Old Testament was given to the Jews, and they have transmitted it to us ; the New Testament was given to the Christian community, and they have delivered it on even to our days ; and the early writers of the Church have given us sufficient attestation that the books which we have are the same which they had from the beginning. Thus do we receive the Scriptures from what might formally be considered the proper custody, even if the early specific evidence had been less strong. (p. 70)

There is not such a mass of transmissional evidence in favour of any classical work.  (p. 74)

Thus every country, into the language of which the New Testament books were translated in early times, is a witness to us of their transmission.  (p. 74)

(p. 74-77)

(p. 77-83)

(p. 83-89)

(p. 89-91)

(p. 92-96)

(p. 97-108)

(p. 108-120)


For other posts on this subject, see Posts on the Means of Determining Authorship of Ancient Texts.

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Notes on Augustine re: Authorship of the New Testament Books (Contra Faustum 33:6)

Augustine says that authorship of the New Testament books is determined in just the same way as authorship is determined for secular books of antiquity.  Here is what he wrote on the subject from Contra Faustum (33:6).

You are so hardened in your errors against the testimonies of Scripture, that nothing can be made of you; for whenever anything is quoted against you, you have the boldness to say that it is written not by the apostle, but by some pretender under his name. The doctrine of demons which you preach is so opposed to Christian doctrine, that you could not continue, as professing Christians, to maintain it, unless you denied the truth of the apostolic writings. How can you thus do injury to your own souls? Where will you find any authority, if not in the Gospel and apostolic writings? How can we be sure of the authorship of any book, if we doubt the apostolic origin of those books which are attributed to the apostles by the Church which the apostles themselves founded, and which occupies so conspicuous a place in all lands, and if at the same time we acknowledge as the undoubted production of the apostles what is brought forward by heretics in opposition to the Church, whose authors, from whom they derive their name, lived long after the apostles? And do we not see in profane literature that there are well-known authors under whose names many things have been published after their time which have been rejected, either from inconsistency with their ascertained writings, or from their not having been known in the lifetime of the authors, so as to be banded down with the confirmatory statement of the authors themselves, or of their friends? To give a single example, were not some books published lately under the name of the distinguished physician Hippocrates, which were not received as authoritative by physicians? And this decision remained unaltered in spite of some similarity in style and matter: for, when compared to the genuine writings of Hippocrates, these books were found to be inferior; besides that they were not recognized as his at the time when his authorship of his genuine productions was ascertained. Those books, again, from a comparison with which the productions of questionable origin were rejected, are with certainty attributed to Hippocrates; and any one who denies their authorship is answered only by ridicule, simply because there is a succession of testimonies to the books from the time of Hippocrates to the present day, which makes it unreasonable either now or hereafter to have any doubt on the subject. How do we know the authorship of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro, and other similar writers, but by the unbroken chain of evidence? So also with the numerous commentaries on the ecclesiastical books, which have no canonical authority, and yet show a desire of usefulness and a spirit of inquiry. How is the authorship ascertained in each case, except by the author’s having brought his work into public notice as much as possible in his own lifetime, and, by the transmission of the information from one to another in continuous order, the belief becoming more certain as it becomes more general, up to our own day; so that, when we are questioned as to the authorship of any book, we have no difficulty in answering? But why speak of old books? Take the books now before us: should anyone, after some years, deny that this book was written by me, or that Faustus’ was written by him, where is evidence for the fact to be found but in the information possessed by some at the present time, and transmitted by them through successive generations even to distant times? From all this it follows, that no one who has not yielded to the malicious and deceitful suggestions of lying devils, can be so blinded by passion as to deny the ability of the Church of the apostles— a community of brethren as numerous as they were faithful— to transmit their writings unaltered to posterity, as the original seats of the apostles have been occupied by a continuous succession of bishops to the present day, especially when we are accustomed to see this happen in the case of ordinary writings both in the Church and out of it.

Source: (Contains the full text of Contra Faustum 33.)

Here is another translation of a portion of the passage, quoted by Bart Ehrman in Forgery and Counterforgery.  Ehrman begins at the point where Augustine gives the example of Hippocrates.

Were not certain books that were produced under the name Hippocrates, the highly renowned physician, rejected as authoritative by physicians? Nor did a certain similarity of topics and language offer them any help. For, compared to the books that it was clear were really Hippocrates‘ books, they were judged inferior, and they were not known at the same time at which the rest of his writings were recognized as truly his. But how is it proven that these books are really his when, compared to them, the books brought forth out of the blue are rejected? How is it proven so that, if anyone rejects this, he is not even refuted but laughed at, except because a series of physicians, from the time of Hippocrates down to the present time and thereafter, has commended them so that to have any doubt about them is the mark of a madman?

How do people know that the books of Plato, Aristotle, Varro, Cicero, and other such authors are their works except by the same unbroken testimony of the ages following one upon another?

Many authors have written extensively on the Church’s writings, not, of course, with canonical authority but with some desire to be helpful or to learn. How is it determined who wrote what except by the fact that, in the times in which each author wrote them, he made them known and published them for those for whom he could, and from them they were passed on to future generations, one after another, with unbroken knowledge that was quite widely accepted, down to our times, so that, when asked whose book is whose, we do not hesitate what we ought to reply?

…Since that is the case, who, then, is blinded by such great madness—unless he has been corrupted by agreeing with the wickedness and fallacies of lying demons—as to say that the Church of the apostles, so faithful and so numerous a harmony of brothers, could not have merited faithfully to transmit their writings to future generations, though the sees of the apostles have been preserved down to the present bishops in an utterly certain line of succession, especially since this is so much the case with any people’s writings, whether outside the Church or even in the Church?

Source:  Ehrman, Bart D.  Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics.  Oxford University Press, 2012, page 144 in the Kindle edition.

This passage from Augustine is also referenced by Samuel P. Tregelles in A Lecture on the Historic Evidence of the Authorship and Transmission of the Books of the New Testament.  Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1852, pages 5-8 and re-capped in pages 65-66.


For other posts on this subject, see Posts on the Means of Determining Authorship of Ancient Texts.

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The Canon of Trent

The Council of Trent – an official gathering of Roman Catholic Church leaders – was held from 1545 to 1563.  In its fourth session (April 4th,  1546), it affirmed the New Testament canon that had already been in place and uncontroversial since ancient times.

Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle [ 1, 2, 3 ], one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the apostle.

This is the first, and only, ecumenical church council convened for the purpose, even in part, of resolving disagreements about the biblical canon..and even it, because it was Roman Catholic, did not involve Protestant or Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  While there is a dispute among these three main branches of Christianity about whether the Apocrypha should be included with the Old Testament, there is no such dispute about the contents New Testament.

Source:  Wikipedia article on Canon of Trent

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The Muratorian Fragment Claims Apostolic Authorship of the New Testament’s Contents

In speaking of a book which was deemed to have value but not to qualify for the New Testament, the Muratorian Canon reads:

And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the Prophets, whose number is complete, or among the Apostles, for it is after [their] time.

Full text of the Muratorian Fragment

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Athanasius Claims Apostolic Authorship of the New Testament’s Contents

From the 39th Festal Letter* of Athanasius, 20th bishop of Alexandria, published in 367 emphasis added]:

Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.

*There are 43 such letters of Athanasius extant, numbered 1-64 (i.e., 21 of them are missing).

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The New Testament Itself Implicitly Claims Apostolic Authorship of Its Contents

The New Testament ascribes authorship of its 27 books to 8 men, each of whom is revealed in its pages to be either an apostle or working under the direct supervision of an apostle.  Thus James and Jude – the brothers of the Lord – take their place among the apostles after the resurrection (e.g. Acts 1:14 and 1 Corinthians 9:5.), while Mark and Luke – by virtue of their status as co-workers – are deemed “apostolic men.”

Here then are the eight apostolic authors named in the New Testament in the order of the appearance of the first (or only) book ascribed to each.  I have put all books ascribed to each author in parentheses after his name.

Matthew (Matthew)  –  There is only one Matthew mentioned in the New Testament (Matt 9:9; 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13), and he is one of the original twelve apostles.

Mark (Mark) –  There is only one “Mark” mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37, 39; Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phile 1:24; 1 Pet 5:13), and he is the one also called John who was a co-worker of Barnabas (as well as his cousin), Paul, and Peter.

Luke (Luke, Acts)  –  There is only one “Luke” mentioned in the New Testament (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Phile 1:24), and he is the one who was a co-worker of Paul’s.

John (John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Revelation)  –  Although there are several persons in the New Testament named “John,” this is John the son of Zebedee who was one of the original twelve apostles.

Paul (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews) –  There is only one person named “Paul” in the New Testament, and he is the apostle who had originally been known as Saul of Tarsus.

James (James)  –  Although there are several persons named “James” in the New Testament, this is the brother of Jesus (i.e. another son of Mary)

Peter (1 Peter, 2 Peter)  –  There is only one person in the New Testament named “Peter,” and he is the one who was among the original twelve apostles.

Jude (Jude)  –  There is only one person named “Jude” in the New Testament, and he is the brother of Jesus and James (i.e. also a son of Mary).

Related post: The New Testament Is Itself an Implicit Claim That Its Contents Are Apostolic

Related post on a different blog (Bible Study Notes for the Kingdom of God):  Individual Writing Apostles

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