Post Author: Bill Pratt
To be honest, we just don’t know. Let’s take a brief look at the evidence we have.
First, we will summarize the evidence external to the actual words of Hebrews. According to D. Edmond Hiebert, there were three early church traditions about authorship.
The tradition from Alexandria, Egypt held that the apostle Paul was either directly or indirectly involved with the writing of the epistle. Both Clement of Alexandria and Origen associated Paul with Hebrews, although they both allowed that someone else (possibly Luke) may have written the epistle or translated the epistle for Paul. Even though Paul was involved, he may not have directly written the book himself.
The tradition in North Africa, as evidenced by Tertullian, was that Barnabas was the author. But this tradition gave way to the Alexandrian tradition of Pauline authorship during the fourth century.
In Italy and Western Europe, the Pauline tradition was rejected early on. In fact, western church fathers did not know who wrote Hebrews, but they did not believe Paul wrote it. This view of anonymous authorship survived until the fourth century when Jerome and Augustine adopted the Pauline tradition from Alexandria.
Once the western church accepted Pauline authorship in the fourth century, the issue was closed until the sixteenth century, when scholars again began to question the source of Hebrews, largely based on the language and style of the Greek used in the epistle.
Advocates of Pauline authorship point to close affinities in thought within Hebrews to other Pauline writings. Opponents point to differences in theology between the writer of Hebrews and Paul. For example, Hebrews dwells on Christ’s high priestly function, whereas Paul tends to dwell on Jesus’ death, resurrection, and living presence in the church.
Opponents also argue that all the Old Testament quotations in Hebrews are from the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), whereas Paul quotes from both the Septuagint and the Hebrew Scriptures in his other letters. More telling, opponents claim that the Greek language style used in Hebrews is dramatically different from Paul’s other writings, thus making it highly unlikely that he could be the author.
Hiebert’s conclusion, in An Introduction to the New Testament, is that The Book of Hebrews was not written by Paul, but by someone within his circle of influence. Who that person is, we may never know. Roman Catholics officially hold to Pauline authorship, as do some Protestants. But many Protestants do not, because of the internal evidence mentioned above.
Does this mean we should question the value of Hebrews if it did not come from the hand of Paul? No, the church accepted the spiritual power and authority of this epistle long ago, even while debates swirled around authorship. God was clearly involved in the production of this literary masterpiece, regardless of who wrote it.