December 10, 2013

Who wrote Hebrews? God did

by Josiah Grauman

With several new books out on the subject of the authorship of Hebrews, we thought it would be helpful to blog on the topic. Today, Josiah will argue that the authorship of Hebrews is unknown, and that Christians err when they ascribe it to others (like Paul or Luke). Tomorrow, Jesse will argue that Paul wrote Hebrews, and we should give credit where credit is due. Please note that no counter-arguments are given since the articles were written independently of each other.

There are four reasons why I think Hebrews should be left in anonymity:

  1. No one signed it.

Paul begins all thirteen of his letters with the same word — “Paul.” Every time. Without exception.

Hebrews is the exception you say? This is possible, but I find it even more noteworthy that Paul explicitly states that he wrote all of his letters in the same way, so as to weed out any impostors (2 Thes. 3:17). If Paul wrote Hebrews, it seems likely that the evidence from the early church would be as overwhelming as it is for his other letters, but alas, it is not. In fact, some argue that Pauline authorship was only ascribed to Hebrews to make sure it was included in the canon of Scripture (It was not included in the Muratorion canon, 170 A.D.).

hebrews 2 2.  Hebrews 2:3-4 is inconsistent with Paul’s apostolic argumentation.

The author of Hebrews places himself apart from those who received the gospel directly from Jesus and does not include himself in the group of men that God authenticated through miracles. This is certainly a bizarre statement if it comes from Paul. Paul states that his apostolic credentials included a) receiving his gospel from Christ himself, not from any man (Gal. 1:12) and b) performing signs, wonders and miracles (2 Cor. 12:12).

Now some argue: Paul did get his Gospel confirmed by the apostles and did experience their miracles, so this is consistent with his experience. While that is true, my point is that it is not consistent with Paul’s argumentation. As an example, why would an apostle, say, John, speak of the fact that the gospel was confirmed to him by Peter, who did miracles? While this is true, it would be illogical to argue along those lines since it would diminish John’s own apostolic authority concerning the things that he himself saw and touched (1 Jn. 1:1).

  3. The grammar of Hebrews is unlike Paul’s other writings.

This is impossible to prove in English, and if you don’t read Greek I’m afraid you’re just going to have to learn [insert smiley face here]. The good news is that it will typically only take you two semesters of Greek before you are able to see that Hebrews is very different than Paul’s other letters. Though after one year of Greek you’ll most likely be able to open up any of Paul’s letters and begin reading (with vocabulary helps), the bad news is that when you open up Hebrews you’ll be hopelessly lost, because the Greek of Hebrews is, well, quite a bit more complicated than Paul’s letters. The Greek in Hebrews is closer to a clasical Greek, like Luke, and less like the Greek of Jewish writers in the NT. Also, as a side note, Hebrews typically quotes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament whereas Paul typically translates straight from Hebrew.

(Paul Ellingworth has more information in his introduction to Hebrews in the NIGTC if you want actual lists of different terms and grammar differences.)

4. The theology is consistent, yet carries it’s own emphasis.

Let me be clear: every book of the Bible has God as its author and is consistent with external reality and internal unity. However, the divine nature of Scripture does not eradicate its human element. The human authors wrote with their own vocabulary and emphasis.

For example, in Paul’s writings, he often speaks of salvation as a past event: He saved us (Tit. 3:5). However, the author of Hebrews usually speaks of salvation as a future event, as in: we will be saved if we persevere to the end (cf. Heb 1:14; 9:28; and 2:3-5 where the author equates the world to come with salvation). Now, of course, both authors understood both realities, and both authors urge us to have assurance of a past salvation and to persevere to the end, but the authors emphasize them differently.

In fact,I believe it is easy to misinterpret the book of Hebrews when one expects it to be Pauline. For example, what if we thought that Paul had written James? James 2:24 would be quite confusing, because Paul pretty consistently uses the word “justify” to mean “to declare righteous” (Rom. 3:28). The key to understanding James 2:24 is understanding that Jesus (Luk. 7:35) and His half-brother James use the word “justify” more like the english word “to vindicate”. Thus, James 2:23 states that Abraham was counted righteous in Genesis 15:6 when he believed, but it wasn’t until 7 chapters later that he was vindicated as a believer, when he sacrificed his son Isaac on the altar.

In other words, believing Paul wrote Hebrews can often lead to a comparative study with other Pauline phrases that I find can easily misconstrue the thrust and the severity of Hebrews’ exhortations.

In closing, I’d like to respond to a few common arguments for Pauline authorship:

1a. Some argue that the language of Hebrews is different than Paul because Paul usually wrote to Greeks and this time he was writing to Hebrews. This certainly could explain why the Septuagint is used. Yet, how incredibly bizarre would it be for Paul to normally write to Gentiles with a very Jewish-style Greek, but then in his epistle to the Hebrews where he is talking to Jews about Jewish things, he chooses to write in more classical Greek!

2a. Some argue that Hebrews is different because Paul used a secretary, or translator, like Luke, who influenced the grammar considerably. This was the view of Clement of Alexandria (See Chapter 1 of “Lukan Authorship of Hebrews”, David Allen, for a detailed chart of what each church father said concerning the authorship of Hebrews). While this does not explain why Paul did not include his name in the letter, nor how he could ‘say’ Hebrews 2:3-4 to Luke, a parallel can be found in 1 and 2 Peter, where Silas certainly played a part in refining the Greek of 1 Peter (1 Pet. 5:12).

3a. Some argue that Hebrews was a sermon that Paul spoke, and then a small exhortation was written at the end (cf. Heb 13:22). This is possible, and would explain the many Pauline connections throughout the book (Heb. 13:23, 25), along with the style variations in the writing, but this seems impossible to prove. Some also mention Peter’s reference to a Pauline letter written to his audience (2 Pet. 3:15), but again, it would be impossible to know for sure that Hebrews is the letter in question.

So who wrote the book of Hebrews?

God did. In fact, I believe the author of Hebrews deliberately did not sign his name in order to drive that point home. I love that even within the book of Hebrews the author often intentionally eliminates references to other human authors. He quotes the OT with phrases such as: “It has been testified somewhere” (2:6) or “As He has said” (4:3) or “The Holy Spirit says” (3:7).

This is purposeful. He didn’t want his readers to view a passage as Davidic, but as Divine. It is not just something that a frail human wrote years ago; it is something that Almighty God is saying right now. And if the author of Hebrews wanted his readers to take the Psalms in this way, as God speaking, is it unreasonable for us to assume that he wants us to listen to Him in the book of Hebrews in the same way?

See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking… Heb. 12:25.

Josiah Grauman

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Josiah is the director of the 'Instituto de Expositores', a Spanish language training institute at Grace Community Church, where he and his wife serve as missionaries.
  • Upwithmarriage

    Great argument. I’m looking forward to hearing the opposition!
    Robyn @ Upwithmarriage.com
    (for some reason I couldn’t sign into the disqus or twitter through your site this morning)

    • http://www.elidex.org/ Josiah Grauman

      Me too! I love and respect Jesse as a friend and a scholar,
      so I’m hoping I don’t have to repent in dust and ashes after tomorrow’s post :)

  • Scott C

    Great points! I wonder if the author was a former priest or a Jewish rabbi respected among the readers. The purpose of the letter seems to address Hebrew Christians who were suffering persecution for their new-found faith in Christ and were tempted to go back to their former Judaism. The author argues for the superiority of Christ and the New Covenant and therefore it would be ludicrous to go back to their old ways.

  • Tom Chantry

    All this, and…the complete absence of “in Christ” ~ the often-missed central element of Pauline theology.

    • http://www.elidex.org/ Josiah Grauman

      Excellent observation. That would have been a great illustration for my point #3!. Rough count of the dative “in Christ” in Paul’s letters = 101x. Rough count of the dative “in Christ” in Hebrews = 0x.

      Though this is a strong argument to me, in a short blog, unfortunately it didn’t make the cut :(. Also, it can be argued that since Paul never uses “in Christ” in the book of Titus, the same could be true of Hebrews…

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