J. B. Gay Lectures at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (2005), by D. A. Carson
- Hard Texts: Why Does Hebrews Cite the Old Testament Like That?
Part 3 (MP3s)
Hebrews has been described by William L. Lane as "a delight for the person who enjoys puzzles." It is no surprise then, that the question of authorship was uncertain as early as the Church Father
Origen, whose opinion was recorded by
Eusebius, that "only God knows the truth" regarding who wrote Hebrews (Church History
6.25.14). Oddly enough, Origen still recommended that the church should ascribe Pauline authorship to this work (
Generally, from around AD 400 to 1600, the author was traditionally considered to be Paul. However, the epistle makes no internal claim of authorship, which is inconsistent with the rest of Paul's epistles. Also, while many of the letter's ideas
are Pauline, the writing style is substantially different than that of
Paul's epistles, nor does the epistle contain a discourse on Apostolic authority. The author of the epistle also includes himself as a second generation believer in chapter 2:3-4, this would seem to
indicate that Paul was not the author.
In addition to Paul, some have suggested Paul's companion Silas,
Clement of Rome,
Luke, or some unknown Alexandrian Christian. Some modern scholars have also proposed Priscilla as a possible author. A leading candidate is
Barnabas, first suggested around AD 300 by
Tertullian. Barnabas is considered a leading candidate because his association with Paul may explain some of the Pauline ideas contained within the epistle. He was also proposed early (AD 300) as a possible author. The second
leading candidate is
Apollos, first suggested by Martin Luther. An association with Pauline thought helps Apollos to stand out as a possible candidate for the author of the epistle.
Furthermore some of the Hellenistic "coloring" of the epistle could be accounted for since Apollos was from Alexandria.
Modern scholarship has reached no strong consensus on the authorship of the epistle.
Place of Writing
The place of writing is perhaps the most difficult question to answer as it relates to the introductory material surrounding the Epistle to the Hebrews. The reference to the Italian brothers in 13.24 has lead some to suggest that it was written from Italy,
perhaps from Rome itself. However, the evidence here is not conclusive. Others have suggested just as strongly that the reference in 13.24 does not demand that the letter be written from Italy. It could simply be referring to italian believers by descent,
though not by location.
Date of Composition
There is much debate surrounding the date of the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews. However, unless
Clement of Rome was the author it must have been written before AD 96, since Clement cites it in that year. The author also refers to temple practices as if they were still in function leading some to conclude that the
date of composition must be prior to AD 70. This does not need to be the case though because the author is speaking specifically of the
tabernacle, not the temple, and the Tabernacle had not been functioning for almost a thousand years. It must then be concluded that there is no hard and fast date for the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
It is hard to say who the original readers were with any certainty beyond the fact that they must have been familiar with the Hebrew Bible and Jewish customs of the first century. Some have suggested that the epistle was written to a community of Jews
who had fled Jerusalem (but had remained in Palestine) following the death of Stephen. Others hold to Jerusalem as the location of the original recipients. These options leave many questions however, and may not be the most likely locations. Rome and
Alexandria have also both been suggested. Both cities had Jewish populations during the first century AD, Alexandria more so than Rome. However, it is almost impossible to know for certain were the original recipients resided given available evidence.
The early church appears to have accepted the book as Canonical. Clement of Rome quoted the epistle in his letter to the Church at Corinth in AD 96. Hebrews was also included in the lists of NT books by Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, Cyril, and finally
by the Council of Laodicea.
- William L. Lane, Word Biblical Commentary, Hebrews 1-8, vol 47A
- The Anchor Bible: To the Hebrews
- IVP Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments
- New International Commentary on the New Testament
- The Writings of Tertullian, vol. 1
- Hebrews, by Ray C. Stedman (IVP New Testament Commentary Series) 1992