The Authorship of
the Book of Hebrews

by T.L. Hubeart Jr.


Comments © 1996, 1999, 2008 by T.L. Hubeart Jr..

The following is a note supporting the view that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, as the KJV (book title) credits him with doing.

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews

The confidence of the KJV translators in this epistle's Pauline authorship, reflected in the above title, was not shared unanimously by the church through the ages; Origen's comment, "Who wrote this epistle, God only knows certainly," is well known, and the early church fathers held many opinions on who its author was, though the view that Paul wrote it is well represented, according to Scott. Tyndale wrote in the preface to Hebrews in his New Testament that "whether it were Pauls or no I saye not, but permyt it to other mennes iudgementes, nether thinke I it to be an article of anye mannes fayth, but that a man maye doute of the auctor." And Geneva entitled the book simply "The Epistle to the Ebrewes," stating in the "Argument" to the book (1560 ed.) that while it would be unprofitable to try to determine the author, though they considered the epistle's style to be unlike Paul's. (Notably, Elzevir's Textus Receptus lacks an ascription to Paul in the book's title [like many Gk. mss. here], while Stephanus' TR has it.)

And today the general consenus is that Paul did not write this epistle; the New Open Bible lists several alleged "differences" between its style and the known style of Paul, and as the text itself names no author, modern translations entitle it in a similar manner to Geneva--as "The Epistle to the Hebrews."

Against this Matthew Henry (or, more precisely, William Tong, who completed this portion of Henry's commentary after the latter's death) and C. I. Scofield come down generally in favor of Pauline authorship, and Thomas Scott and F. J. Dake support the Pauline position vigorously. According to Dake, Eusebius recorded that Paul wrote the epistle in the Hebrew tongue, but that he left it anonymous deliberately in order to allow the Jews to read and receive its message without being prejudiced against it by their hatred of him. Scott in particular distinguishes himself with able answers to the "vague and frivolous" charges that Paul had no hand in Hebrews. And regarding why Paul would write an epistle so unlike his others, he gives the following apt quote from Macknight:

"As Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles, in writing to the Hebrews, he did not assume his apostolic character; because it was little respected by the unbelieving Jews and Judaizing Christians.--It being designed, not for the believing Jews alone, but for the unbelieving part of the nation, especially the learned doctors and scribes at Jerusalem, Paul might think it prudent, not only to avoid assuming his apostolic character, but even to conceal his name . . . ."

Scott himself adds that "The apostle intended to prove the doctrines of Christianity, and the changes which it had introduced, and would introduce, to be entirely consistent with 'the oracles of God' as received by the Jews . . . . The writer's connexion with Timothy, and his residence in Italy, tend to confirm the ancient tradition [that Paul is the author] . . . ." However, he and Dake do disagree on whether or not the epistle was first written in Hebrew or Greek; Dake sees a Hebrew original as a reason for the alleged stylistic differences between it and Paul's acknowledged epistles, but Scott sees no reason to assume that Paul wrote this letter in anything other than Greek.

Whether or not the epistle was originally in Greek (and I see no reason for postulating a Hebrew original, since that seems an unnecessary complication to the picture), it is obvious that, if Paul wrote and sent Hebrews anonymously, there would inevitably be uncertainty regarding authorship later. I take it that this is exactly what has happened here. Paul seems to have set himself the task of proving that "Judaism had come to an end through the fulfillment by Christ of the whole purpose of the law" (Scofield), and to do so without making use of his apostolic revelations, but simply on the basis of what anyone could read from the Old Testament.

This is why, I contend, that we have the author of Hebrews putting himself in the same category as believers in Christ, and thus seeming to put himself at one remove from the direct revelation of the gospel that came to the apostles--cf. 2:1 , "which we have heard"--a characteristic that seems to have inhibited Tyndale from fully accepting Pauline authorship (and has influenced many later commentators, such as those writing in Nelson's King James Study Bible: "...the strongest argument against Pauline authorship is found within the epistle itself. In 2:3 the author regards himself as one whose knowledge of Christ was secondhand. By contrast, Paul vehemently declares that his apostleship and message were directly from Jesus Christ "). But Paul could not allude to his closer knowledge of the gospel without revealing his authority for saying so, and hence his identity--thus prejudicing the Jews against his epistle immediately. (Contrast this with the first chapter of 1 John, where John contrasts his direct experience with that of those in the early church who received it through himself and the other disciples; such a personal experience could not be adduced by Paul in Hebrews without revealing himself, and indeed in the wisdom of God this vantage point from the believer's side, as it were, is instructive. We who cannot appeal to personal visual and aural witness of the Lord can still rest on what "we have heard"--for "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" [John 20:29].)

What seems especially odd, in my opinion, is that, given the reasonableness of the view that Paul wrote the epistle anonymously, and its credit through the ages among worthy men such as Scott, Scofield, and others, it has not been more widely circulated in current Bibles and Bible commentaries. Instead, such presentations as are found in the New Open Bible, the Ryrie Study Bible, and many others do not cover this view at all, and simply lead the reader to believe that there is no good reason to ascribe Hebrews to any one writer over another. (The New Scofield Study Bible even goes so far as to remove Scofield's own opinions on the issue as though they are not defensible, replacing them with an introduction that begins, "The Epistle to the Hebrews is an anonymous book. . ."!) This, I feel, gives short shrift to the available evidence.


Works Cited

Finis Jennings Dake, Dake's Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Bible Sales, 1963 ("Tenth Printing" of January 1992 used).

The Geneva Bible (facsimile of 1560 ed.). Columbus, OH: Lazarus Ministry Press, 1998.

Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, originally published from 1706 to 1721. One volume unabridged edition: [Peabody, MA]: Hendrickson, 1991.

Interlinear Greek-English New Testament with a Greek-English Lexicon and New Testament Synonyms by George Ricker Berry. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1982 (reprint of 1897 ed.). [Source of citations of Stephanus and Elzevir.]

New Open Bible Study Edition: KJV. Nashville: Nelson, 1990.

Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible (KJV). Chicago: Moody Press, 1978.

C.I. Scofield, The Scofield Reference Bible ["Old Scofield"]. New York: Oxford, no date (reprint of 1917 ed.).

Thomas Scott, The Holy Bible . . . with Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations, etc., Vol. 3 (covers the NT). New York: Collins & Hannay, 1832.

William Tyndale, Tyndale's New Testament, ed. David Daniell. New Haven: Yale, 1989.

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