Who Was the Author of Hebrews?

The book of Hebrews was written anonymously. There has long been speculation as to who the original author was.   Paul is the most frequently proposed candidate, however,  his authorship is not a lock.

Here are some facts about the book, these facts also give us an idea as to who could have been the author.

  • Hebrews shows how Jesus is supreme, and how he is our much anticipated high priest.
  • It is the only letter written in the style of a sermon, and may have originally been a sermon.
  • It was likely written between AD 60 – AD 65.
  • It was addressed to Jewish believers.
  • The author has a command of Greek, and writes in a more eloquent manner than most of the other New Testament books.
  • The author frequently refers to the Old Testament
  • The author quotes from the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament).
  • The book was written in Italy (Heb 13:24)
  • The author was friends with Timothy. (Heb 13:23)

Here are some possible candidates for authorship.  They are loosely listed in the order of likelihood of authorship (in my opinion):

Paul: Paul has most frequently been considered to have been the author of Hebrews.   The early Church historian Eusebius believed Paul was the author.  The translators of the KJV attributed the book to him.  Paul was well versed in the Old Testament, as was the author of Hebrews.  Paul was closely acquainted with Timothy, and the author of Hebrews refers to Timothy as his brother.   Paul spent time in Rome, and Hebrews was written in Italy.  Peter seems to imply that Paul wrote a letter to the Hebrews (2 Pet 3:15).  The theology of Hebrews is also similar to Paul’s theology, in that it has a strong emphasis on grace.    But there are also some reasons for doubting that Paul was the author.  The author of Hebrews speaks about learning of Christ from the Apostles, and not firsthand (Hebrews 2:3).  But Paul speaks of learning from Christ firsthand.  In all other letters Paul identifies himself as the author, but not in Hebrews.  In all other letters Paul quotes or paraphrases from the Masoretic Text (the Hebrew language Old Testament), but the author of Hebrews uses the LXX.  Paul also typically (and deliberately) uses less sophisticated language when writing, so as to make his writings understandable and accessible to a large audience.   The author of Hebrews uses a very eloquent style of Greek.  One possibility is that Paul originally wrote the letter in Hebrew, and then that letter was translated into Greek by a friend such as Luke or Clement.  That would help to account for the differences in writing style between Hebrews and Paul’s other letters.

Luke: Luke wrote other New Testament books (Luke, Acts).  He had a technical writing style, as did the author of Hebrews.  Luke was a doctor, and Hebrews sometimes uses medical sounding language (Heb 4:12).  Luke was closely acquainted with Paul and Timothy, he was located with Paul in Italy, and his theology was similar to Paul’s.  However, Luke’s writings typically have a special focus on including Gentiles and women.  The author of Hebrews does not seem to share that focus.  If Luke was the author, it could be that he was transcribing something originally written or spoken by Paul.

Apollos:  Martin Luther proposed that Apollos was the author.  Apollos is mentioned twice in the New Testament (Acts 18:24-28, 1Corinthians 1:12).  Luke spoke highly of him, writing that he was an “eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well.”  Luke also noted that Apollos  “refuted the Jews with powerful arguments in public debate”.    So we know that Apollos was eloquent, educated, had good theology, and wanted to present a solid case for Christianity to the Jews.  The author of Hebrews had these same talents and goals.  Apollos was Hellenistic – he had a Greek name and Luke records that he was from Alexandria (the center of Hellenistic Judaism).  This makes it likely that he would have quoted from the LXX in his writings.  Apollos’ Hellenistic background also gives us a reason as to why he may have wanted to anonymously write a letter.  Hebraic Jews tended to look down on Hellenists, and it wouldn’t have helped Apollos’ case at all when the readers saw that he shared the same name as a Greek god.  Against the case for Apollos – there no evidence that he ever lived in Italy (Luke notes that he was from Alexandria,  lived in Ephesus, and then went to Achaea to teach).  There is also no evidence that he was close friends with Timothy, as the author of Hebrews was.

Clement of Rome: Clement lived in Italy and would have been friends with Paul, Luke and Timothy.  Paul mentions Clement in Phil 4:3.   Hebrews shares some of same writing style as the the (non-canonical) book of First Clement.  Both writings frequently quote the Old Testament to make their points, and they both quote from the LXX.  Both books also place a strong emphasis on obeying the example of church leaders (Heb 13:7, Heb 13:17).   However, Clement seems to have a different theological focus than the author of Hebrews.  Clement placed a priority on moral living (much like the book of James), and less of an emphasis on grace.  If Clement was the author, it could be that he was transcribing something originally written by Paul or Luke.

Barnabas: The church father Tertullian (207 AD) stated that Barnabas was the author.  Like Apollos, Barnabas was was a Hellenistic Jew.  He was from Cyprus, and Greek was his first language.   Barnabas was  acquainted with Timothy, and he likely spent time in Italy.  In addition Barnabas was a Levite, and would have been thoroughly familiar with the roles of the  priesthood.   The author of Hebrews uses the imagery of the priesthood, speaking of Jesus as “the great high priest” (Heb 4:14).

Priscilla and Aquila: Priscilla and Aquila were Hellenistic Jews.  They spent time in Rome, and were friends with both Paul and Timothy.  Paul said that he was indebted to them (Romans 16:3-4). They were educated and well versed in scripture.  They were teachers and taught Apollos (Acts 18:26).  It is commonly believed that Priscilla was the most active leader of the two, since she is usually mentioned first when the two are referenced.  If the book was primarily written by Priscilla, that would also give an explanation for the anonymity  of authorship.  Being female and Hellenistic would have meant that many of her contemporaries would have discounted what she had to say.



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22 Comments

Filed under General Interest, Hebrews

22 responses to “Who Was the Author of Hebrews?

  1. I’m shootin’ for Luke or Apollos.

    My biggest argument against Paul is found in the following passage, which does not bear Paul’s mark in the letter to the Hebrews: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write” (2 Thess. 3:17 NRSV). If this is the case, then I don’t see how it’s possible for Paul to have written Hebrews — at all.

    “Peter seems to imply that Paul wrote a letter to the Hebrews (2 Pet 3:15).” I looked over the entire chapter of Peter’s: where does he imply that Paul wrote a letter to the Hebrews? I must be blind to something in that passage (seriously), though that wouldn’t surprise me, haha.

    We can’t be dogmatic when we have no reason to be so. But I do enjoy this kind of study!

    • Hey William, thanks for the comment. We haven’t had a good argument in a while, so maybe now’s our opportunity to make up for lost time. ;)

      Personally, I’m pulling for Priscilla, although realistically she’s not too high on the list. I just think it would be really cool if a female authored one of the books of the NT.

      You make an excellent point on 2 Thess 3:17. But I don’t think that rules out that Paul could have been the original inspiration for Hebrews. For example, perhaps he gave an oral sermon, and then someone else (Luke maybe) wrote it down later in a sort of paraphrase. That’s all speculation though.

      It’s also probable that a lot of Paul’s letters were transcribed by someone else, and then Paul signed them in his own handwriting at the end to prove their authenticity. That could be all that Paul is explaining in the 2 Thess 3:17 reference.

      If I was going to place odds, I’d give Paul maybe 35% chance of authorship. So although I think he’s more probable than any other individual, I still think that overall there’s a better chance that someone else authored it.

      The Peter link is a stretch, but it goes like this (assuming Peter did author 2 Peter): Peter was an apostle to the Hebrews (Galatians 2:7-9, 1 Peter 1:1), therefore 2 Peter’s intended audience is also the Hebrews. And 2 Peter 3:15 states that “our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you”. In that case, the “you” referred to that Paul wrote to would have been the Hebrews.

      Anyway, fun discussion, I’m not dogmatic on the matter either. Perhaps someone else authored the book who isn’t even listed. I didn’t even make a case for Silas. :)

  2. Really Kevin… such trivia.. Please… less time blogging, more time witnessing, out there to the lost!

  3. bethyada

    Luke. Many positives identifying him as the author and few negatives. I don’t think your argument on Gentiles and women holds much weight, especially given the topic of the letter. It was written to Jews, but was it written to specific Jews? ie the priests who became Christians (Acts 6:7).

    The theology would fit with Paul but one would imagine he would leave his mark in the letter.

    I believe the pronouns are masculine which would exclude Priscilla.

    • Good thoughts. I think Luke is a distinct possibility, but not a lock. I also think there’s a good possibility that Luke was loosely paraphrasing something originally written by Paul. That would explain why Paul’s name is not attached to the letter, and also why it isn’t inclusive of Gentiles and women.

      If Priscilla was the author, it wouldn’t be surprising if she did use a masculine pronoun “pen name” to add credibility. Otherwise her writings would have been discounted because of both her gender and background. She does fit the other categories (Hellenist, educated, lived in Rome, friend of Timothy, etc).

      • Also against Prisca is the fact that the author expects to travel and women rarely travelled in the ancient world, except in the company of male members of the their households. Presumably is was to dangerous and/or scandalous for them to travel.

      • Hi Richard, Since Priscilla was married, she would have traveled with her husband and with other leaders in the church. For example, Acts 18:18 notes that they traveled from Corinth to Syria with Paul. We know that they also traveled to Rome at some point (Romans 16:3-4).

      • If she was expecting to travel with her husband, would we not expect her to use the first person plural? Also, we have no evidence that Prisca and Aquila ever travelled on church business. They moved to Corinth because of persecution, and I believe that they moved to Ephesus for the same reason. They finally returned to Rome when they were permitted to do so following the death of Claudius.

      • Hi Richard,

        Hebrews frequently uses the first person plural.

        Acts 18:18 gives evidence that P&A did travel to do mission work with Paul. Other times Paul calls them his co-workers, and notes that they risked their lives for him, so they don’t appear to have been afraid to live out their Christianity.

        And I agree that it’s likely P&A traveled at least in part due to persecution. That was typical of the early church, and aided in the spread of the gospel.

  4. bethyada

    Kevin, if we assume your comments in your second paragraph, what do you think that says to the doctrine of inerrancy, the doctrine of the canon, or the the nature of God?

    • Bethyada, Sure- let’s assume for a moment that Hebrews was written by Priscilla. Presumably the original recipients would have known this. She would have initially been recognized as the author. She wouldn’t have been trying to “fool” anyone. She would have been minimizing her self importance, so as not to be a distraction.

      She would have been assisted by Aquila, so that would rule out anything nefarious in using a singular masculine self reference. And from what I’ve read, there is only one reference of that type anyway (in 11:32). Usually the self references in Hebrews are plural – which lends itself to the idea that Hebrews was a joint effort. It’s also viable to translate the 11:32 passage as neuter: “time would fail anyone [neuter] in telling.” or “time would fail me [male] in telling”.

      Bottom line…there’s nothing underhanded going on if Priscilla wrote the book. The possibility of her authorship doesn’t take away from it’s inspiration, it’s importance to the canon, or from God’s nature.

  5. bethyada

    There is a lot to commend Luke. I believe the quality of Greek in Hebrews is excellent thus would match Luke and Acts. There appears to be some common themes. It seems that Hebrews was not just written to Jews, but perhaps to Levites, or even priests as I mentioned. Acts talks about priests coming to the faith so could this be a letter to those priests.

    A speculative thought. Luke sends his letters to Theophilus, most excellent is a title implying some standing. The only Theophilus of some standing that we know of was the highpriest, son of Annas c. 37. If he subsequently became a Christian then the Luke Acts would describe the history and Hebrews would explain how Christ fulfills the Law. Then again Theophilus may have been a judge in Rome and Luke Acts would be a defense of Paul (This explains Acts but not Luke).

    Lastly, the comment about Italy is not definitive. It could be to Italy or from Italy. If he was writing to Italy then those from Italy (ie. Italians) would know the Italians back home. Would you say “the Germans send their greetings” if you were sending a letter from Germany (to the US, say), or “the Germans (holidaying in the US) send their greetings” sending a letter to their friends and yours back in Germany?

    That said, if Hebrews was written to the priests then Antioch would seem more likely and thus the letter would be from Italy.

  6. bethyada

    Okay Kevin, not completely convinced, but if the recipients knew it was Priscilla I can buy your argument that it lacks deceit. But this contradicts your earlier comment that she used the masculine “pen name” to add credibility. Otherwise her writings would have been discounted because of both her gender and background.

    Basically if they knew she was the author then there is no need to use a masculine “pen name”, and if the didn’t know then my questions still stand.

    • Bethyada, In my view it’s a non issue either way. Pricscilla writing the way she did (in our example) wouldn’t take away from the inspiration of the book. It would be comparable to Esther not disclosing her ethnicity, or to Jude borrowing from 2 Peter (or the other way around). Not a big deal.

  7. Pingback: Kevin Jackson: Who Was the Author of Hebrews? | The Authorship of Hebrews

  8. Late to the show, but I like Apollos.

  9. I’ll go for a consubstantive view:

    Paul was talking to Apollos about the themes, then ended up giving a sermon on them at Clement’s place, where he and Barnabas helped refine the ideas with questions afterwards. Luke transcribed the sermon, correcting it where necessary and adding the elucidations from the questions, then sent it on to Priscilla and Aquila for final proof-reading.

    However, like most attempts to combine all arguments into one union view (throughout Protestant history), this one is also doomed to only create more divisions!

  10. Interesting discussion. IN the end, however, it doesn’t really matter who was the “perpetrator.” The early Church regarded it as inspired and included it in the canon, and I would agree with that assessment.

    The Massoretic Text vs LXX is not a valid argument as the Massoretic text was not finalized for another 900 years or so.

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