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PFRS Home > Doctrinal Studies > Hebrew Roots & Sabbath Issues

Pauline Authorship of Hebrews

Copyright © Tim Warner

The authorship of Hebrews is important to several contemporary issues of theology, particularly regarding the "eternal security" debate, as well as the "Law/Grace" debate instigated by the modern Hebrew Roots movement. The early Church considered this Epistle to be Paul's. But, modern Evangelical scholarship often denies this, usually because of theological reservations.

Primary Arguments Against Pauline Authorship
The arguments against Pauline authorship concern two main points. First, the following verse is said to rule out Paul.

Heb 2:3
3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,

The objection to Pauline authorship is that the writer seems to speak as though his knowledge is second-hand. Paul would not have spoken in this way, since He was also sent by Jesus, when He appeared to him on the Damascus road. And Paul was given special revelation by the Spirit.

However, Paul did not sit under the teaching of Jesus Christ in person, as the other 11 Apostles had. According to Acts 15 and Gal. 2:1-9, Paul's mission was to the Gentiles, and Peter retained the title of "Apostle of the circumcision" (Jews). It was the other Apostles in Jerusalem who were seen as the spiritual authority for the Jewish believers, since they had been taught personally by Jesus. Paul carried no authority over the Jewish believers. When he went up to Jerusalem, Paul always submitted himself to the leadership of the Apostles and elders regarding the Jerusalem church (Acts 21:18-26). Even when Paul confronted the Judaizers who threatened his ministry among the Gentiles, Paul appealed to the Apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church to rein in the Messianic "Judaizers" who were creating the problem (Acts 15). Paul always respected the other Apostles, and let them handle the Jewish believers as they saw fit. He did not interfere or assert himself while on their turf. However, when Peter came to Antioch and did not act according to the truth of the Gospel, Paul confronted him publicly, because Peter was on Paul's turf (Gal. 2:11-15). It is not that difficult to see that Paul was merely acting in character here, and acknowledging the fact that the Jewish believers, to whom he was writing, owed their allegiance to the 11 Apostles. These men were the conduit for the proclamation of the Gospel to them, not Paul. When it came to the Jews hearing the Gospel, and thousands of them being saved, Paul really had no part in that aspect of the development of the early Church, nor in their being discipled in the Faith. It would simply not have been proper for Paul to include himself in those who confirmed the message of Christ to the Jewish believers. Paul wrote, "how shall we (the Jewish believers) escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him."

The second objection is based on the writing style of the book of Hebrews, which differs from Paul's other Epistles. While it is true that Paul's other Epistles display a more crude form of Greek, and Hebrews is very polished and eloquent Greek, Paul rarely wrote his own Epistles. In fact, the only one he actually wrote himself was Galatians.

Paul had an eyesight problem, which was most likely his "thorn in the flesh" that he referred to in 2 Corinthians. Paul almost always had a companion with him. Paul usually dictated his Epistles, which were transcribed by a companion. You can see this in many of the closing remarks of his Epistles. For example:

Rom 16:22
22 I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.

However, for some reason, Paul wrote the entire book of Galatians himself, perhaps so that the Galatians would understand that he was very serious, and that the Epistle was not a forgery.

Gal 6:11
11 See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!

The original manuscript of Galatians was written in very large print, because of Paul's extremely poor eyesight.

Gal 4:13-16
13 You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first.
14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
15 What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?

That different people wrote the different Epistles of Paul for him, explains the differences in writing style. Luke was Paul's companion on his journeys according to Acts. And the Greek style of Hebrews is indistinguishable from Luke's other works, his Gospel and Acts.

Internal Evidence of Pauline Authorship
Paul indicated that there were some forged epistles in circulation, which were attributed to Paul, yet were not written by him. Most likely, they were written by some of the Judaizers who were constantly at loggerheads with Paul.

II Thess 2:2
2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.

Because of Paul's infirmity, and because it was not difficult for someone to claim a forgery was genuine because he used a variety of scribes, Paul's Epistles were "password protected." Paul let it be known that in EVERY epistle that was genuinely from him, he would write in his own handwriting (using the large letters) something along these lines, "grace to you." Paul's Gospel was all about grace. And he signed each letter with a note to the readers, about the grace of God to them. In the second Epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote the last two verses in his own unique handwriting:

II Thess 3:17-18
17 The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Every Epistle of Paul's contains this closing blessing, written in his own handwriting. Here are all fourteen:

Rom 16:20
20 And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

1 Cor 16:23
23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

2 Cor 13:14
14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.

Gal 6:18
18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Eph 6:24
24 Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.

Phil 4:23
23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Col 4:18
18 The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

1 Thess 5:28
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

II Thess 3:18
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

1 Tim 6:21
21 Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.

2 Tim 4:22
22 The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit. Grace be with you. Amen.

Titus 3:15
15 All that are with me salute thee. Greet them that love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen.

Philemon 1:25
25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Heb 13:25
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.

With this well know signature of Paul's, I can assure you, no other orthodox writer in the early Church would have infringed on Paul's signature statement. If you look at the other epistles by James, Peter, John, and Jude, none of them have this statement.

During Paul's lifetime, he oversaw the care of the churches from Italy to Asia Minor. However, after Paul's death, and prior to his being imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos, John was handed over the care of the churches of Asia Minor, that were the result of Paul's missionary activity. It is no surprise then, that long after Paul's death, when John delivered the seven letters and the book of Revelation to these seven churches, that he ended with a salute to Paul.

Rev 22:20-21
20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
21 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

John really took up Paul's mission after his death in Rome, and became the "Apostle to the Gentiles."

There are other indications of Pauline authorship in Hebrews as well. The theology is most definitely "Pauline," as Hebrews is the companion book to Galatians, only written to the Messianic believers rather than to Gentiles. It is beyond the scope of this article to do an extensive comparison. However, one example regarding the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old Covenant should suffice.

Gal 4:19-5:4
19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,
20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?
22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.
23 His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
24 These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.
25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.
26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.
27 For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."
28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
29 At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.
30 But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son."
31 Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.
3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.
4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Heb 8:6-13
6 But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.
7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.
8 But God found fault with the people and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
13 By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

Many of the churches Paul started contained some Jewish believers too. Some people have the idea that Paul started exclusively Gentile churches. But, if you follow Luke's account in Acts, some of them actually had a core group of charter members who were Jews of the Diaspora. For example, the church in Ephesus was started as a split from the synagogue (Acts 18:19-21 & Acts 19:1-20). The original members of the Ephesian church were Jews and Jewish proselytes (Gentiles who had formerly converted to Judaism). Likewise, the church in Antioch was mixed also. Those mixed churches had already been followers of Paul's Gospel teaching. Hebrews was written primarily to the Jews who had lived in Judea, many of whom were on the run because of the persecution from the unbelieving Jewish leadership.

Heb 10:32-35
32 But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings:
33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated;
34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.
35 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.

This is a reference to Paul's arrest in Jerusalem, and imprisonment in Caesarea (a few miles west of Jerusalem) prior to his appealing to Caesar, and being sent to Rome (where he was when he wrote this Epistle). Paul had Messianic friends in Ceasarea, whom he visited on his way to Jerusalem.

Acts 21:8-15
8 And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.
9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. 10 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus.
11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
12 And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.
13 Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
14 And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.
15 And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.

After arriving in Jerusalem, Paul was arrested at the instigation of the unbelieving Jews, put in prison, and eventually shipped back to Caesarea to be held in prison (Acts 23:23ff). Paul spent two years in the Roman jail at Caesarea, while the Jewish believers ministered to his needs.

Acts 24:23-27
23 And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.
24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.
25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.
26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.
27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix' room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.

This is what Paul referenced when writing to the Jewish brethren in Hebrews. The unbelieving Jews in Judea were at that time persecuting the Messianic believers. Yet, they ministered to Paul from their own means, while he was in the Roman prison. Thus he writes to them, "for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven."

Also, note that Paul mentioned his companion, Timothy.

Heb 13:23-25
23 Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.
24 Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.

Paul was writing from "Italy" (Paul was in prison in Rome for 2 years at this time, having been sent there from Caesarea because of his appealing to Caesar {Acts 28}).

External Evidence of Pauline Authorship
Church tradition, from the earliest days, has classified Hebrews as Paul's. In fact, in the first few centuries, manuscripts of New Testament books were not bound all together. Often, each book was a separate scroll. But, sometimes they were bound together in sections. This was the case with the four Gospels and Acts, being bound together. And it was also the case with Paul's fourteen Epistles including Hebrews. Also some of the Early Church Fathers made reference to Paul's fourteen epistles.

Here is an example, written in the second century by Clement of Alexandria, commenting on the "style" of writing. Luke was Paul's companion on his missionary journeys. Clement argues that Luke's style of Greek writing (from Acts) is evident in Hebrews, which he attributes to Paul.

"As Luke also may be recognized by the style, both to have composed the Acts of the Apostles, and to have translated Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews." [Clement, Fragments from the Latin of Cassiodorus, I]

Eusebius, the fourth century Christian historian, had quite a bit to say about the authorship of Hebrews which he gleaned from earlier writers.

"But it is highly probable that the works of the ancients, which he says they had, were the Gospels and the writings of the apostles, and probably some expositions of the ancient prophets, such as are contained in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and in many others of Paul’s Epistles."{Eusebius, Book II, ch. XVII].

"Paul’s fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul. But what has been said concerning this epistle by those who lived before our time I shall quote in the proper place." [Eusebius, Book III, ch. III]

Referring to Clement of Rome, Paul's acquaintance (Phil. 4:3) who wrote one of his own epistles (I Clement), Eusebius wrote the following: "In this epistle he gives many thoughts drawn from the Epistle to the Hebrews, and also quotes verbally some of its expressions, thus showing most plainly that it is not a recent production. Wherefore it has seemed reasonable to reckon it with the other writings of the apostle. For as Paul had written to the Hebrews in his native tongue, some say that the evangelist Luke, others that this Clement himself, translated the epistle." [Eusebius, Book III, ch. XXXVIII]

Clement was in Rome at the time of Paul's imprisonment. He also wrote his Epistle to the Corinthains (I Clement) after Paul's death, and quoted from Hebrews. Eusebius' conclusion is that Hebrews was known to Clement in the mid-first century, so it can be traced back to Rome about Paul's time. He concludes that it is not a more recent epistle, as the detractors claimed.

Speaking of Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius wrote; "He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. But he says that the words, Paul the Apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name. Farther on he says: “But now, as the blessed presbyter said, since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance.”" [Eusebius, book VI, ch. XIV]

"In addition he makes the following statements in regard to the Epistle to the Hebrews in his Homilies upon it: “That the verbal style of the epistle entitled ‘To the Hebrews,’ is not rude like the language of the apostle, who acknowledged himself ‘rude in speech,’ that is, in expression; but that its diction is purer Greek, any one who has the power to discern differences of phraseology will acknowledge. Moreover, that the thoughts of the epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged apostolic writings, any one who carefully examines the apostolic text will admit.” Farther on he adds: “If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it.” But let this suffice on these matters." [Eusebius, Book VI, ch. XXVI]

In summary, it is clear that the orthodox Christians of the early Church recognized the Epistle to the Hebrews as Paul's genuine work. The most common tradition was that Luke, Paul's companion, transcribed the book for Him into Greek. Some thought Clement of Rome did the transcription. Some claimed that Paul wrote the original in the Hebrew tongue, and that Luke translated it into Greek. As Eusebius says, only God knows who the scribe was. Regardless, the consensus of the earliest testimonies is definitely that the Epistle is genuinely Paul's.

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