Who wrote the book of Hebrews?
by Matt Slick
We do not know who wrote the book of Hebrews. The book presents Christ as the final High Priest and eloquently explains the Old Testament sacrificial system in light of the atonement of Christ. The letter itself does not state it is to the Hebrews, but it obviously is--given its content. Nevertheless, various theories have been proposed for its authorship.
- Apollos: "Among the Reformers, Luther ascribed authorship to Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew familiar with Philo’s allegorization".1
- Barnabas: "Early Christian tradition suggests that Barnabas may have written Hebrews. According to Tertullian (d. 220), many early authorities believed that Barnabas was responsible for the letter. Acts 4:36 speaks of him as a “son of exhortation” (cf. Heb 13:22). Furthermore, as a Levite, Barnabas would have been familiar with the Jewish sacrificial ritual so prominent in the letter."2
- Luke or Clement of Rome: Calvin surmised that either Luke or Clement of Rome was responsible for the letter."3
- Paul: "Clement of Alexandria (d. 220) theorized that Paul wrote the letter in Hebrew for Jews and that Luke translated it into Greek."4
- Paul, Barnabas: Tertullian (De Pudicitia 20) attributed it to Barnabas, while Origen reports that many ancients held it to be by Paul, a view shared by Clement of Alexandria. 5
- Paul: "Origen, who viewed the teachings as basically Pauline and attributed the work to a disciple of the apostle, nevertheless held reservations."6
- Silas: "Others theorize that Hebrews may have been written by Silas, a Jewish Christian from Jerusalem who would have been thoroughly familiar with the Levitical ritual. Silas is described as one of “the church leaders” (Acts 15:22). He was a coworker with Paul in the gentile mission, and apparently was known in Rome as well as in Jerusalem (1 Pt 5:12–13).7
Proposals to Pauline authorship seem to be most common, and there is internal evidence that suggests Hebrews was written by him. There is the closing salutation "Grace be with you all" (Heb. 13:25) which seems to be a common theme with Paul in his epistles (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:2, etc.). The final verses of Hebrews say, "But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I shall see you. 24 Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. 25 Grace be with you all." (Heb. 13:22-25). In this we see Timothy, who was a companion of Paul the apostle (1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Cor. 1:1,19). Also, there is mention of imprisonment (Heb. 10:34; 13:19) and being in Italy (Heb. 13:24)--both of which imply it is Paul. But if that is the case, then why didn't he sign the letter as he usually does? It could be that his anonymity is due to the desire not to offend the Hebrews due to his conversion from Judaism to Christianity.
Whoever it was, the author was well known to the Hebrews (Heb. 13:19). He knew Timothy (Heb. 13:23), and he was extremely knowledgeable in the Old Testament. Hebrews demonstrates the end of the Mosaic legal system as the means by which righteousness before God is obtained and maintained. It focuses heavily in the priesthood of Christ and warns its readers, presumably the Hebrews, to not fall back into the old Mosaic system of sacrificial atonement (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26) but to instead rely upon the work of Christ on the cross (Heb. 12:2).
Even though we do not know exactly who wrote the book of Hebrews, we know it belongs in the canon of Scripture because it was thoroughly examined and debated by early Christians until it was finally accepted. It was probably written in Rome before A.D. 70 since there is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
- 1. Myers, Allen C. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987. p. 475
- 2. Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988., p. 942
- 3. Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988., p. 942
- 4. Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988., p. 942
- 5. Wood, D. R. W., and I. Howard Marshall. New Bible Dictionary. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996. p. 459
- 6. Myers, Allen C. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987. p. 475
- 7. Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988., p. 942
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