Volume 12, Issue 2: Exegetica
In Few Words - Hebrews 13:18-25
"Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably. But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner" (Heb. 13:18-19). Here, at the close of his epistle to the Hebrews, the author speaks about himself personally for only the second time, the first being Heb. 10:34, where he commends his readers for having compassion on him in his chains. At that time, and indeed throughout my exegesis of this letter, I refrained from dealing with the issue of its authorship. Since He who inspired the letter did not reveal the author's name to us, I have thought it best not to conjecture, but to simply let the message stand apart from the messenger. But now that we are at the close of the letter, let us indulge our curiosity and ask the question.
Who wrote the book of Hebrews? Throughout history the four main contenders for this honor have been Paul, Apollos, Luke, and Barnabas. The early church gave no definitive answer on this question. Indeed, concerning the authorship of Hebrews, Origen stated, "What is the very truth in this matter God only knows."1
Looking at the letter itself, we can gain some insights into the author's identity. We see that he was in chains for the gospel (Heb. 10:34), probably in Rome ("Those from Italy greet you"-Heb. 13:24). He was clearly a Jewish Christian himself, conversant in the scriptures and the Levitical system of worship, though fervent in his desire to demonstrate the superiority of the new covenant and its mediator, Jesus Christ. He is powerful in word, as his stirring benediction shows: "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Heb. 13:20-21, cf. 1 Thess. 5:23). Finally, he was a companion of Timothy, whom he expected to see soon and accompany when released from prison in answer to the prayer requested above: "Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly" (Heb. 13:23).
Considering these facts and others, I believe we can safely discount Luke and Barnabas: Luke, because he was a Gentile, and would probably not have written of the fulfillment of Judaism to the Jerusalem church; Barnabas, since there is no record of him in Rome, nor of being a companion of Timothy. Much more could be said both for and against these two men, but in the final analysis the main arguments for them amount to conjecture following the silence of the text.
There is initially much to commend Apollos as the author of this letter. He was a Jew, "born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the scriptures," who "vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the scriptures that Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 18:24,28). He is listed as a pillar in the churches alongside the apostles Paul and Peter (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22). He and Timothy were apparently known to one another (1 Cor. 16:10-12). In addition, "as an Alexandrian he would have been familiar with the ways of thought of his fellow Alexandrian, Philo, which are supposed to be reflected in the epistle."2 In short, almost everything we know about Apollos fits what we know about the author of our epistle. With these arguments in mind, Luther guessed Hebrews to be from the pen of Apollos, and many scholars have since agreed.
However, John Owen tells us that "this conjecture hath no countenance from antiquity, no mention being made of any epistle written by Apollos, or of anything else. . . . Nor is he reported, by Clement, Origen, or Eusebius, to have been by any esteemed the author of this epistle."3 If nobody, not even the Alexandrian church, considered Apollos as the author of Hebrews for over a millenium and a half, such a conjecture is on shaky ground at best.
The apostle Paul has the weightiest historical support. From relatively early on, the majority of the church assumed a Pauline authorship of Hebrews, with few notable exceptions. Though the style of the letter may appear to differ from Paul's recognized epistles, much of this could be explained by the difference in audience, from Gentile to Jewish. The author of Hebrews argues not from his apostleship, but from the testimony of the Old Testament scriptures. Paul may have argued in this manner, not affixing his name to the letter, because of the possible prejudice against him in the Jerusalem church. We should also note that, with careful comparison, a number of characteristically Pauline words and thoughts do appear throughout this epistle.4
But perhaps the strongest argument in Paul's favor is the fact that Peter refers to a letter written by Paul to the same Hebrew audience as himself (2 Pet. 3:15-16; compare 2 Pet. 3:1 with 1 Pet. 1:1), exhorting them to be patient until the Lord's judgment falls. This is either a lost letter of Paul's, or it is the letter we have to the Hebrews. This evidence is even more striking considering Peter's possible allusion to Hebrews 5:11 when he writes that Paul's letters contain "some things hard to understand."
Considering the scriptural evidence, I believe we can safely, along with the majority of the historic church, recognize the apostle Paul as the author of Hebrews, and declare along with him, "Grace be with you all. Amen."
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