An Introduction to Hebrews

Part 1 in the series Hebrews Survey
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Who wrote Hebrews?

There have been many proposals but no one knows because the letter is anonymous and there is no early evidence that someone knew for sure who wrote it. Early church fathers had several speculations. Luther offhandedly proposed Apollos. Priscilla and Jesus’ mother have also been suggested.  Let’s look at two, one traditional and one more recently proposed.

Paul

As early as the second century, the letter was associated with Paul in some, but not all circles. Today some think this was done to give the anonymous letter apostolic authority in a time when there was little agreement about which letters in circulation were conclusively authoritative. When Jerome created the Latin Bible in the 4th century his title for Hebrews ascribed it to Paul thus casting his authorship into a 2000 year tradition still held by some scholars today despite the book’s authorship having been questioned since the 2nd century.
Although Origen [185-254 A.D] acknowledged that others “with good reason” accepted Hebrews as Paul’s letter, he admits that “who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows,” but notes that some of his contemporaries believed that Clement of Rome wrote it while others thought that it was Luke (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11–14). [1]Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, eds., Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 138.
Many of Paul’s favorite phrases like “in Christ” or “it was written” are totally absent from Hebrews as are the ways in which Paul connects arguments commonly seen throughout Romans and other letters.

Luke

It is interesting to note that Origen proposed Luke as an author. Among modern authors reconsidering Origen’s suggestion, Dr. David Allen of Southwestern Baptist Seminary has a book also exploring Lukan authorship. [2]Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology) Hardcover – June 1, 2010 Besides the use of medical terminology he points out that the opening sentence of Hebrews contains five words that start with p (Greek letter π, pi) as does the opening sentences of both Luke and Acts. No other New Testament document has this characteristic. Of course the biggest criticism of Lukan authorship is that Luke was a gentile while the author of Hebrews was so familiar with Jewish ritual and theology it’s assumed the author was Jewish. But Dr. Allen asks “Who told you Luke was a Gentile?” That fact cannot be found in Scripture and there seems to be evidence to the contrary.

Bottom line on the authorship of Hebrews

We don’t know the actual person’s name, but we can glean certain facts about him from the letter.
  1. The author was a man,
  2. He was intimately familiar with the Old Testament, but primarily the Greek version since all the Old Testament quotes in Hebrews can be shown to be from the Greek version (called the Septuagint and abbreviated LXX).
  3. He was very familiar with the Mosaic system of temple rituals.
  4. His use of the Greek language and Aristotle’s methods of persuasion (called Rhetoric) show he was very educated.
  5. His style of writing reveals a very methodical and logical mind.
  6. He has a pastoral compassion to see people reach the peace of mind that faith in God brings
  7. He was most likely part of Paul’s inner circle of trained church leaders
  8. He was well known to his audience whom he assumed were very familiar with the Old Testament and its Temple rituals.

When was Hebrews penned?

Like everything else surrounding the background of this epistle, the date is also unclear. Neither the internal evidence of the text nor the external historical data provide enough information for a dogmatic commitment to any of the theories that have been propounded. [3]David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 74.
The theory of Lukan authorship combined with a Roman provenance leads to the conclusion that the date that fits most of the internal and external data is around AD 67–68. As a member of the Pauline circle, it is highly unlikely that Luke could have written as late as the last decade of the first century. If the traditions surrounding his death are accurate, then he would have died around the middle of the decade of the eighties. I accept the traditional understanding of the scriptural evidence that indicates Luke was a member of the Pauline circle and one of Paul’s traveling companions. Since Luke is mentioned in 2 Timothy near the time of Paul’s death, it is reasonable to assume that he was there when Paul died. Pauline scholarship would not date Paul’s death later than AD 67. [4]David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 78.
This places the date near the Jewish revolt that led to the horrific destruction of Jerusalem and its great Temple. So it would be a time when Jews from Jerusalem to Antioch would be suspicious of people who weren’t following their cultural customs and applying great pressure to Christian Jews to join in solidarity with their Jewish brothers and sisters against Roman domination. This would lead to exclusion and derision for Christian Jews in the area. If so, the book has much to say to any Christian facing severe social pressure and persecution, a situation the many Christians are facing today in increasing intensity.

Who was Hebrew’s first audience?

Saved People

McKnight does an excellent job of drawing together the places where the author describes his audience: he identifies with them and uses a “we” address (Heb 2:1–4; 3:14; 4:1, 11, 14–16; 6:1; 10:19–26; 12:1–3, 25–29) and so includes himself in the warnings; he calls them “brothers and sisters” (Heb 3:1 [“holy brothers who share in the heavenly calling”], Heb 3:12; 10:19; 13:22); they are saved and made holy by Christ (Heb 2:11, 12, 17); they are believers (Heb 4:3); they are sanctified (Heb 10:29); they have experienced conversion (Heb 2:3–4; 10:22); they have been enlightened (Heb 10:32); they have lived the Christian life (Heb 6:10; 10:32–34). In addition is the list in Heb 6:4–6  [5]Grant R. Osborne, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 2007, 89–90.

“From” Rome or “To” Rome?

Hebrews closes with “Those from Italy greet you” (Heb 13:24-25) which has traditionally been taken to mean the author was sending the letter from Italy, probably Rome. As modern scholars are disposed to do, they have questioned this and argued that the letter was sent to Italy from among a group of Italian expatriates. [6]“There is general agreement that the church addressed is Rome…” Grant R. Osborne, “A Classical Arminian View,” in Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert … Continue reading However we hold the more traditional view that the letter was sent from Rome.

People Very Familiar with Jewish Law and Temple Rituals.

The letter not only contains many quotations from the Septuagint [7]The Septuagint, abbreviated LXX, is a Greek translation of what the Jewish people call the Tanak and called the Old Testament by Christians. The LXX was created around the time of Christ. but builds its main arguments from them. In addition crucial arguments rely upon the readers familiarity with Jewish history, temple construction and rituals. It is clear then that the audience was Jewish. This simply means that in today’s world most readers need to take time to familiarize themselves with many aspects of the Old Testament before assuming they can understand the author’s message. But who were the actual first recipients? Again we don’t actually know for certain, but it’s interesting to note that Acts 6:7 tells us that there was a regular stream of “a great number” out of the over 18,000 Jewish priests converting to Christianity soon after Jesus was raised. They would have been thrown out of the temple and lost their livelihood. Where did they go? Dr Allen suggests:
The recipients of Hebrews were former priests who had converted to Christianity and had relocated to Syrian Antioch where they were a part of the church. Acts 6:7 informs us that “a great company of the priests became obedient to  the faith.” No more is said about them in Acts or the rest of the New Testament. Based on the audience profile of Hebrews, several reasons were given substantiating the claim that these former priests would fit the audience well. [8]David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 78–79.
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References

References
1 Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, eds., Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 138.
2 Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology) Hardcover – June 1, 2010
3 David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 74.
4 David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 78.
5 Grant R. Osborne, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 2007, 89–90.
6 “There is general agreement that the church addressed is Rome…” Grant R. Osborne, “A Classical Arminian View,” in Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2007), 88.
7 The Septuagint, abbreviated LXX, is a Greek translation of what the Jewish people call the Tanak and called the Old Testament by Christians. The LXX was created around the time of Christ.
8 David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 78–79.

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