University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Going Against Tradition
One of the most referenced texts in the Bible’s New Testament is the Epistle to the Hebrews—also known as the Letter to the Hebrews—which is primarily written anonymously and without a foreword that credits its actual author. For this, much speculation has turned out regarding the text’s source; while most scholars defer to the apostle Paul from whom the text originated.
The Epistle has taken its journey through generations without any specific author, yet traditional titling accords the work to Paul; however, there have been several inquiries with regard to other personalities. There has been a query as to the possibility of Barnabas being the author of the Hebrews text, specifically attributed by Tertullian, a Christian author of the antiquity period.
But for the most part, there were several points that served as immediate criteria for the validation of the real source: that the person wrote the text with Italy as his base; that he knew or had significant knowledge of the person of Timothy; and that this person was of the male gender. Apart from these, considerations regarding style and voice also formed part of the ultimate test. For these reasons, the original acknowledgment of Paul writing the Epistle to the Hebrews was placed in discussion.
Therefore the point this study attempts to make is to delve deep into this particular controversy—the brazen suggestion of non-authenticity in reference to an iconic and revered personality in Christian history—and to assess whether this clear deviation from and questioning of tradition can result in a sound conclusion, with the ultimate goal to uncover, through available texts, the more justified alternative to the Pauline ideal.
II. Negotiating Authorship Anonymity
Apart from the Romans, the Epistle to the Hebrews is hailed as one of the most significant books in the Bible. Much of the text deals with the virtue and essence of the sacrifice made by Christ and the legacy that continues to influence religious thinking as well as philosophical beliefs to this day. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls allowed scholars to make new interpretations different from the original assumption that the Epistle was solely within the context of Hellenistic Judaism, or the diaspora of Jews to Greece. Much of the text’s ideology and purpose came from the operative framework of Palestinian Judaism, which then expanded the purpose and audience of the writing to cover Jews of non-Hellenistic beliefs.
Drawing from direct references from the Old Testament and paving the way for the New Testament-heralded coming of Christ, the Hebrews bridges the gap between tradition and anticipation. However, the most apparent message carried by the text is the celebration of Christ’s encompassing supremacy over all events and personalities that had appeared before his human time, e.g., Moses and Joshua, the Old Covenant, the angels, the Aaronic priesthood, and all other forms of revelation. Compared to the widely-interpreted and translated birth of Christ as narrated and explained in several books in the New Testament, the Epistle to the Hebrews centers on the philosophical purpose of Christ in the context of humanity—that of being a leader, a priest, a prophet. The core of the faith and the importance of the collective lessons from the Bible found in both Old and New Testaments are the primary message of Hebrews.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is credited with the foremost objective of uniting the Christian sect through providing text that would keep those within the fold from exploring other beliefs such as Judaism or even paganism. This kind of apostasy is negated by reaffirming the miracle of creation—which may transcend the Genesis version of the literal experience involving man and woman—by calling on to the origins of the human soul.
The operative framework in this book is exclusively within the Word of God and the power of its teachings, which are positioned here as the be-all and end-all of everything; specifically, how “things which are seen [are] not made of things which do appear. At the forefront of all philosophy and direction of the text is Jesus Christ, upon whose presence the New Covenant is dependent, evidenced by the iconic sermon from the hill. More than anything, the Epistle to the Hebrews negates the earlier accordance to other Biblical figures such as Moses and Joshua of the Old Covenant, as well as the priesthood Legacy of Aaron.
The text in question is strategically divided into six segments, which are particularized as an ascending enumeration of Jesus Christ’s priesthood and teaching. Originally written in Greek, the book of Hebrews is considered to be primarily literary in style and voice; however, some personalities such as Eusebius believe that the original text was in Hebrew and intended for a particular audience. For these reasons, some scholars—despite the popular acknowledgment of most—chose to analyze the stylistic differences between Paul’s epistle and this specific text. Also, the exclusion of a prescript that qualifies the source of the writing further throws doubt to the traditional assumptions made.
III. The Investigation of Paul as Source
The essence of the Epistle to the Hebrews matches the already standard teachings of the apostle Paul, as seen in his existing books. But the point of contention is mostly based on two main issues: that there is no introduction that explicitly states the source of the text, and that the style of writing seems to vary from Paul’s. It is clear, however, that there are valid qualifications that rightly assume Paul’s authorship, including the three considerations mentioned previously.
The debate regarding Paul’s authorship was participated in by quite a number of scholars and experts, all presenting both actual evidence and their points of view on the topic. Most of the arguments that side with Paul cite the logic and thought presented in the Epistle as identical to Paul’s known writing. These were mainly gleaned from the Churches of the East, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and others. Specifically, the basis of the belief is the apparent content of the text—in its doctrinal nature—as espousing Pauline concepts. The grammatical form, however, showed certain irregularities when compared to Paul’s style; but this was often used as yet another area of argument by scholars who would rather analyze the ideology and context than the technicalities of the material.
Because the goal of the investigation is to inquire into the validity of tradition, referring to Paul, the imbalance between the pro and con evidences is apparent. To disprove the accepted authorship, scholars have formed more than enough assumptions and other credible statements that may eventually reveal the truth. Firstly, the author hints at the idea that he had not been present at any point in Jesus Christ’s life, much less an apostle as Paul was. More than actual experience, the author does not differentiate himself from the rest of the crowd—including the text’s readers—and merely places himself as one of those who relied on eyewitnesses’ accounts.
Of course, the already mentioned inconsistencies regarding grammar and style are part of the context; to be more explicit, the presented evidences also include vocabulary, which remains to be one of the most contested and believable. While this trait appears to resonate similarly between Paul’s writing and the Hebrews, the meanings appear to be different in each. Paul’s frequent reference to ‘Christ Jesus’ is something that is absent in the Hebrews text, where only ‘Jesus’ is appropriated; the same thing was observed regarding the dissimilar use of ‘God’ versus ‘father’. Many other words were evaluated in the same pattern, thereby providing some basis for the debate.
Theologically, Paul’s texts and the Epistle to the Hebrews share the same reference to Christ as the mediator of the New Covenant and the source of creation, and that His death and resurrection is the catalyst for all other events. But the similarities in thinking end there, and the differences regarding application are more pronounced; while in the Hebrews, the idea of priesthood was explored significantly as well the concept of perfection in the light of Jesus and His followers, yet were never appropriated in the same way in Paul’s writing.
Some of the more obvious manifestations of anti-Pauline evidence ran along basic parameters of actual language used. Scholars were quick to claim the Greek nature of the text as considerably outside of the known Pauline style, but others who knew of the translation from Hebrew by Luke used this as defense. Apart from this, the diction used by the actual Hebrews author also did not comply with the known awkwardness of Paul. Notwithstanding the evidences discussed, the Church in the fourth century eventually listed the Epistle to Paul as his fourteenth letter, a standing that remained until the Reformation.
IV. Possible Authors
Much of the contention regarding Paul as the author lay in the negation of the Hebrews’ writer as an apostle. Therefore the pushing forward of the investigation had to include the naming of other possible authors who would meet the observed qualities.
Perhaps due to his acknowledged translation of the original text from Hebrew to Greek, Luke was considered by Origen of Alexandria to be the source. Barnabas, closely associated with Paul and the author of his own Epistle, was also linked to the authorship with his style and voice as bases. Apollos’ skill in citing scripture and scholarly argument for Christianity were recognized by Martin Luther, including his reputation as a man of high academic qualification.
One of the more popular candidates for the Hebrews’ authorship is Priscilla, cited by Adolph Von Harnack as the single closest personality that met the established criteria . Four reasons were given, specifically: that Priscilla was renowned scholar and teacher of her day, and recognized in the Christian context; that she was the influential mentor of the famed Apollos; that the frequent use of collective pronouns in the text referred to Priscilla’s collaborations with her husband Aquila; and that she was closely identified in Rome, particularly in the academic community. But one of the original considerations of the author being male went against this quite logical argument, though some believed that Priscilla merely decided to write with a male voice in order to gain a higher level of credibility.
Aside from those mentioned, many other names surfaced as possible authors of the text, including Jude, Silas, Philip the Evangelist, and even Mary mother of Christ. However, none of them achieved the same amount of response or reaction from religious scholars; the common belief, though, was still rooted in the idea that the author must have been one of the apostles of closely associated with one.