Monthly Archives: September 2013

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.


Filed under General Interest, Hebrews

I Wish More Arminians Were Like Calvinists, by Jerry Walls

[Jerry Walls just posted this on facebook, and I thought it was worth sharing]

I have been thinking the past few days about a Facebook post by Bill Barnwell entitled “Why Do Wesleyan-Arminians Allow Themselves to be Bullied by Calvinists?” Barnwell’s post was inspired by a blog article by Roger Olson in which Olson made some timely comments on Calvinists who infiltrate Arminian denominations, often with little resistance.

Barnwell made several observations on why Calvinists are better at getting their message across: “Calvinism by its nature is triumphalistic; Calvinists are very, very confident; Calvinists pretty much own academia; Calvinists do a better job infiltrating popular culture; Wesleyans are more tolerant than Calvinists; and Wesleyans don’t make as big a deal with their Wesleyanism as Calvinists do their Calvinism.”

I generally agree with all these observations except one, namely, that Calvinists pretty much own the academy. Indeed, Calvinists are a tiny minority in the Church at large, and they hardly own the academy. Among serious scholars, Calvinists are a minority. But they are nevertheless good at conveying the impression that they are the serious scholars, and that they own the academy. This impression is more due to another factor Barnwell notes, that they have been far more successful in infiltrating popular culture. Certainly Calvinists have a lot of popular authors that are widely influential in evangelicalism, but that is hardly the same as owning the academy. In my own field, philosophy, Calvinists are a distinct minority, and indeed it is worth noting that the greatest mind produced by contemporary Calvinism, namely, Alvin Plantinga, is an Arminian.

But back to where Barnwell is right. Calvinists are indeed far more confident, and less tolerant, and make a bigger deal of their theology than Wesleyans do. And I believe these factors are very closely related. Calvinists are intolerant because they are confident that their theology is true, that it is nothing more or less than the gospel, and they are passionate about preaching it and contending for it.

In your average United Methodist Church, by contrast, pastors and leaders take painstaking care not even to use traditional pronouns and language for God, for fear of offending someone, or not being “inclusive” enough. Whereas Calvinists do not shy away from affirming what they take Scripture to teach, even if it offends contemporary sensibilities, Wesleyans walk on eggshells, fearful of offense. To make matters worse, in my experience, there is a tendency in many Wesleyan circles to equate spirituality with milquetoast, passive aggressive personalities.

So here is what I wish were the case. I wish more Arminians were confident, not in themselves, but in the truth of their theology, and had the courage and conviction to teach and preach it more passionately, even aggressively, in the best sense of that word. (I have had more than one Calvinist tell me that I am the first Arminian they had ever met who acted like he really thought his theology was true). I wish Wesleyans were better at distinguishing spirituality and character from personality. I wish more Arminians had a clear grasp of where Calvinism is confused and why it continues to thrive on misleading rhetoric. I wish more Arminian biblical scholars saw what is at stake in the larger culture and church, and would take Calvinism on in a direct, forthright manner
I am not suggesting that Arminians should be arrogant, rude, or narrowly exclusive. We should warmly embrace all who believe orthodox Christian faith and cooperate where we can on mutual concerns. But this does not mean Arminians should passively hand over their churches to Calvinists or give Calvinists free rein to promote Calvinism.

In short, we need more Arminians with an edge. These are Arminians who understand that the claims of Calvinism and Arminianism are mutually exclusive, and they cannot both be right. They understand that there are important issues at stake and that there are large practical implications. Not the least of these is the very character and love of God. Does God truly love all persons, and do we have a gospel of good news for all persons?

We need more, indeed lots more, Wesleyans and Arminians who have thought these issues through carefully enough to understand what is at stake and are prepared to expose Reformed rhetoric for what it is. We need more Arminians who preach about God’s sovereignty, predestination and election, rather than ignoring those doctrines, thereby giving the impression that those are “Calvinist issues.”

I love the recent version of the movie “True Grit.” I love the fact that hearty, hardy Protestant Christianity runs through the film, the sort of Christianity that was vibrant when America was most vitally Christian. One of the killers, as I recall, had a brother who was a Methodist circuit rider. Circuit riders had an edge. They loved God, they loved men, they were gracious. But they had an edge.

I wish more Arminians had True Grit.


Filed under Arminianism, Jerry Walls