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The Popular Scholarly Thoughts On Authorship Of Hebrews

The epistle of Hebrews is credited to Paul according to bible sources but emerging thoughts have argued against this assertion. In this discourse the writer is going to explore the popular scholarly thoughts on authorship which includes absence of name in introduction, the elaborate use of Greek language and adoption of a different theme from genuine Pauline letters. The writer is also going to explore the purpose of writing the epistle dwelling much on exhortation to either the Jews or the Gentiles.

 
 The Popular Scholarly Thoughts On Authorship
According to Guthrie (1988:19-20), Paul in all his epistles accredited to his name, he clearly claimed authority in the introduction. In Hebrews he does not introduce himself but all what we see is a superscription that Paul is the author. Origen cites the style of language as not Paul’s because of its lack of rudeness and it is more idiomatically Greek in expression lacking the problem of syntax which Paul had. Paul does not normally maintain continuity in his writing as does this author and he has a tendency sometimes to go off tangent. However the thoughts in the letter appear to be Paul’s. Hebrews 2:3 does not clearly reveal the direct revelation that Paul received from God on the road to Damascus because its portrayal that he heard the Gospel from others.

Bruce (1990:14) postulates that according to the Alexandrian belief Paul was the author and this influenced the judgement of the Eastern Christianity and from the middle of the 4th century the Western Christianity as well. Leaders of the catechetical school in Alexandria argue that Paul’s authorship could not be claimed with ease like in Galatians and Romans.

According to Brown (2004:693-695) in the 4th and early 5th centuries canonical lists, Hebrews was counted as a Pauline epistle included in the fourteen credited to Paul. The factors that contributed to the attribution of Hebrews were firstly the appearance of the name Timothy in Hebrew 13:23 which also appear in other Pauline letters like 1st Thessalonians and 2nd Corinthians. Secondly the benediction and greetings in Hebrews 13:20-24 resemble a Pauline letter ending. On the contrary Hebrews 2:3-4 and 10:37-38 talks of justification by works which is unlike of Paul in Galatians 3:11 and Romans 1:17 where he talks of faith which he is known for. The phraseology and theology in Hebrews also fits that of Paul. There is also evidence against Paul’s authorship especially the elaborate use of Greek as quoted by Origen and Clement. Paul’s theology dwells much on resurrection but Hebrews major theme is of Christ as High priest which does not appear in Paul’s other letters. It would appear that the writer was a Jewish Christian with good Hellenistic education and some knowledge of categories of Greek philosophy and his hermeneutical style equals that of Philo which is unlike of Paul.

Carson, Moo & Morris (1992:396-397) made suggestions that Barnabas a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36) is the author. He is known to have been a strong collaborator of Paul for some time (Acts 9:27). The fact that he was a Hellenistic Jew makes him potentially qualified to have been the writer. Luther suggested Appolos and this has gathered support because of his eloquence, thorough knowledge of the scripture (Acts 18:24), Alexandrian nativity and his connection with the Pauline mission. Others argue that this was mere speculation. Priscilla with his husband playing a minor has been another suggestion. The absence of a name might suggest the appealing to antifeminist tendencies in the church. The use of “I” and “We” in the book may account for that as well. The two must have known Timothy since he worked with Paul in Corinth. The use of masculine tendencies in Hebrews 11:32 level to rule this theory out. Clement of Alexandria (AD150-215) and Origen (185-263) argue that it is Paul who wrote Hebrews even though they accept that there are problems to justify the theory. Clement suggest that Paul wrote Hebrews to the Hebrews using Hebrews who had formed a strong bias against him and he had deliberately left out his name. The Greek of Hebrews and that of Luke-Acts are quite similar and therefore Luke could have translated the book from Hebrews to Greek for Paul. Origen suggests that Paul’s disciples could have taken notes from the apostle and written the book for him. This could have also been Luke but Origen refuses to speculate and says, “But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows”.

According to Guthrie (1988:23) the writer’s purpose of writing Hebrews is contained in 13:22 which says “bear with my word of exhortation”. The meaning of the “exhortation” has derived various opinions over what the author was warning his audience to refrain from and the various suggestions may be classified in accordance with the destination of whether Jewish or Gentile.

Guthrie (1988:21-34) postulates that the traditional view is that the readers were Jewish converts and passages to support that view of warnings are chapters 6 and 10 and the whole epistle is interpreted in light of these. According to verses 6:6 and 10:29 falling into apostasy was bringing Christ into disgrace by crucifying him all over again and insulting the spirit of grace respectively. Hebrews 2:3 highlights that there is a danger of failing to escape retribution for neglecting such great salvation. Hebrews 15:13 gives us further insight that these people were converted Jews who feared being prevented by the Judaizers worshiping Christ without converting to Judaism.

All Jews used the temple as the center of worship but Christians met at homes without a central meeting place and had no priest, no altar and no sacrifices. It is not understandable that at that time one could be in both camps of Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian because of the strict laws like dietary that existed then. Non Jewish Christians were more inclined to go into apostasy or falling into Judaism because of the persecution they faced from Jews (Heb10:32).

 This argument entails that the writer wanted to show that the loss of virtual glory was adequately compensated by the superiority of Christianity which had a better sanctuary, a better covenant, a better priesthood and a better sacrifice. The writer also maintains that Christ was a priest of a different kind from the Aaronic line, typified in Melchizedek and deliberately transgressing against this will attract serious consequences. The writter mentions nothing on apostasy from Judaism but away from Christ only.

Guthrie (1988:34) brings another dimensions that the letter could have been addressed to Jews namely former members of the Qumran sect. The Qumran covenants were keen students of the Old Testament and their interest in exegesis was to preserve the old covenant in terms of their own community by contextualizing the Old Testament with little regard to context. The author had already taken cognoscente of the historical text. This dispels the theory that the letter could have been written to Jews.

Guthrie (1988:36-37) postulates that the letter could have been written to Gentiles because of Hellenistic thought forms which form the major background to the letter with the intention of contributing Gnostic influences. The writer’s appeal to Old Testament is to make it clear that Christianity is a superior not only to Judaism but to all religions. The author’s interest with cultic centers again makes it a problem with Gentiles who had no such knowledge. The readers could then have been Hellenistic’s Jews. Yet another view is that the readers could have been Jewish Gnostics who were corrupting pure Christians’s faith by the infiltration of Gnostic ideas.

 Some of the ideas were the emphasis on angles which was detracting from the uniqueness of the mediatorial work of Christ, the idea of salvation through selected food (Heb 13:9). Although some of these parallels may be valid but the author dwells much on Jewish culture if his target was Gnosticism. The quest for rest is the main aim of salvation. The view of Jesus as high priest is said to have been influenced by the Gnostic redeemer myth in which the redeemer must himself be redeemed before he acts as redeemer and in the same vain the priest must be perfect (chapters 3-4).

Hewitt (1960:39-45) argues that when the old covenant of Judaism is compared to the new covenant Christianity the letter is more superior because of the agent through which the revelation came. Christ was more eminent in his priestly character than the Levite priests who cannot draw people closer to God. Levites fail because of their imperfection in that they have to do a sin offering of their own sins before doing that of people (Heb 5:3) and the sacrifice of the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin (Heb10:4). 

The new covenant provides Christians with a law of inward spiritual power which enables them to keep the covenant (8:10). People have free and permanent access to God (10:19-22). The most important blessing is the forgiveness of sins (8:12). All this is based on the sacrifice of his body, the superiority of his priesthood, the authority behind his resurrection and his ascension to the throne of God.

The absence of a name in the introduction of Hebrews unlike other Pauline letters raises a lot of questions of whether Paul was really the author and if so why he did not introduce himself. The argument that he was addressing Jews to whom he wanted to remain anonymous should be dismissed because a name is what gives a letter authority.

The letter strongly appears to have been addressed to the Gentile Christians and to a laser extend the Jewish Christians exhorting them on the dangers of falling into apostasy. Christ is revealed as the universal righteous high priest better than the Aaronic prone to sin. Backsliding was tantamount to crucifying Christ again.



References

Brown, R.E 2004. An Introduction to the New Testament. Bangalore: Theological Publication in India.

Bruce F.F 1990. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Revised. Grand Rapids: Wn. B. Eerdmans Publishing House.

Carson, D.A, Moo, D.J & Morris. 1992. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Guthrie, D. 1988. The letter to the Hebrews. An Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Intervarsity Press.

Hewitt. T. 1960. Hebrews. An introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Intervarsity Press.


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