Authenticating the Authorship of Hebrews

Today you would be hard-pressed to find a scholar who believes that the Book of Hebrews was actually the work of the Apostle Paul. Instead, based on their research, many names have been accredited with the writing, ranging from Clement of Rome, Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, or some unknown Alexandrian Christian. Nevertheless, when the following evidence is taken into account, it becomes more apparent that it was indeed the Apostle Paul who actually penned this epistle.

Before exploring the direct evidence, it is worthwhile taking a moment to review two of the main objections against Paul’s authorship of this book.

1. Lack of the trademark superscription and greeting that all other epistles record.

Some who support Paul’s authorship point to the possibility that the Hebrews might have formed strong biases against the Apostle to the Gentiles, and therefore, exercising prudence, he left his name off. But how much more weight an anonymous epistle would carry with a Jewish audience is anyone’s guess, as they most probably would have disregarded it altogether. Rather, a closer look reveals a few clues of interest.

All throughout the epistle, the writer includes himself, using words like “us”, “we” and “our”, assuming the readers know who he is. In fact, in Hebrews 10:34, the author makes reference to himself, directly in line with what we know of Paul, when he states: “For ye had compassion of me in my bonds…” Toward the end of the epistle, he states: “Know ye not that our brother Timothy is set at liberty…”(Heb. 13:23). Therefore, it is the author’s very lack of elaboration on his identity that underlines the fact it was taken for granted that the Hebrews would accept its authority.

2. The style is different from all the other epistles.

There are two points to be made here. Firstly, this is the only recorded epistle that Paul may have written to a Hebrew congregation. Just as Peter acted differently in the presence of the Gentiles and Jews – and was abruptly reprimanded by Paul (Gal. 2) – it is possible that Paul, without hypocrisy, might adapt his communication to the minds of those he was addressing. With their in-depth knowledge of the Old Testament, Paul could feel more at liberty to delve into matters that may have been too advanced or unnecessary for other congregations. A different audience, a different style.

Secondly, if this letter was written to the Hebrews, it would most likely have been written in Hebrew originally, a common language between Paul and this Jewish congregation. But, the Book of Hebrews that we currently have is derived from the Greek, probably translated from Hebrew immediately or even years after its initial writing, subject to the style and fashion of the translator. Just as Jesus originally spoke Aramaic, some of the nuances, words, sentence structure and phraseology unique to that individual language would have been lost when the Gospels were translated or written in Greek, and then later into English. Skeptics point to the fact that the Greek of this book is more eloquent than that of the other epistles. Well, the fact that this may have been the only epistle translated from Hebrew to Greek, and then to English, would easily explain this, as the other epistles were originally penned in Greek.

There is still further evidence that points to Paul’s authorship:

Peter: his epistles (I & II Peter) were both addressed to a congregation of Jewish Christians. He showed that Paul also wrote them a letter: “…even as our beloved Paul…hath written unto you: as also in all his epistles…” (II Pet. 3:15). If it is clear that Peter and Paul addressed the same group through letters, what epistle could it be but the book of Hebrews that Peter made reference to?

Topics Handled: though different topics are dealt with in Hebrews, largely due to the fact that the audience was so different, there are also many common issues. ‘The divine Son’, ‘His lowering of Himself’, ‘His mediating role’, ‘His death’ as represented as a sacrifice for sin, and ‘His final exaltation’ are all favourites with Paul (compare Heb 8:6, 9:15, 12:24 with Gal. 3:19, I Tim 2:5).

Timeframe: the letter was written from Italy (Heb 13:24), most likely before the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in 70 AD, more specifically, during Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome (59-61 AD). We can assume this based on the author’s reference to the office and duty of the priesthood still being carried out undisrupted (Heb 9:1 – 10:39, compare 10:11 and 13:10). The setting and time frame both support Paul’s authorship.

External Evidence: many of the Early Church fathers regarded Paul’s authorship of Hebrews without question. Having either known the Apostle personally or been removed by only a few generations, perhaps they, like the Hebrews, simply took his authorship for granted as a known fact unworthy of debate. The Eastern Churches, with Jerusalem at its centre, received it as Paul’s writings from the earliest times! “Among the Greek fathers,” says Olshausen (Opuscula p.95), “no one in Egypt, or in Syria, Palestine, Asia or Greece opposed this [fact].”

The Alexandrian Church, founded by Mark, who happened to be with Paul during his first confinement (Col. 4:10), confirmed Pauline authorship. Likewise, Clement of Alexandria, a very early writer of the 2nd Century, asserts it to be Paul’s letter on authority of Pantanaeunus, chief of the Catechetical school in Alexandria. Even in the last three centuries, there have been several Western scholars, such as Rev. C. Forster (The Apostolic Authority of the Epistle to the Hebrews), Professor Stuart (Commentary on Hebrews), Dr. C. Wordsworth (On the Canon of Scriptures, Lect.ix) and Dr. S. Davidson (Introduction to the New Testament) that attest to Paul’s authorship.

Special thanks to Brother Terry Tombran, whose extensive research on the authorship of Hebrews has supplied us with the above mentioned facts. The complete work is available upon written request.