The Writer of Hebrews
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12a).
Throughout most of church history, there has been some question as to the identity of the writer of Hebrews. The letter itself does not indicate who the writer was. Yet, for the most part, the church has ascribed the letter to the apostle Paul. While some have suggested Luke as the writer, others have attributed the letter to Apollos, Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Timothy, Epaphras, Silas, and Philip—just to name a few.
In the second and third centuries, Clement of Alexandria and Origen recognized the differences in style between Hebrews and the Pauline epistles, yet they preserved the established tradition of Pauline authorship. In the King James Version of 1611, the title of the letter reads, “The Epistle of Paul the apostle to the Hebrews.” And though it may seem somewhat presumptuous for the translators of the KJV to have been so bold in attributing the letter to Paul, they were not out of accord with biblical scholarship. In fact, until the sixteenth century, the church widely accepted Pauline authorship. It was at the time of the Reformation when churchmen, such as Martin Luther, began to investigate further the authorship of the letter. Luther himself believed that Paul wrote Hebrews, but also suggested that Apollos could have been the author.
Though we cannot be absolutely sure who the writer was, the letter does give a few hints that help us identify certain characteristics about him. It is likely that the writer was a well-educated Hellenistic Jew (a Greek-speaking Jew) who had become a Christian. He was probably a second-generation believer who had come to faith through the ministry of the apostles (2:3), and he was firmly grounded in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament).
Nevertheless, whether we can identify the writer or not, we can agree with Origen who wrote at the end of his investigation: “But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.” For in the letter itself, we observe particular themes about Jesus Christ found in the gospels and certain doctrinal affinities that the apostle Paul emphasized in his letters. The letter to the Hebrews is not contained within the New Testament canon by accident. No matter who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, we can rest assured of its divine authorship.
The writer of Hebrews teaches us that Jesus Christ is supreme over all things. He writes, “in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control” (2:8). The writer points to Christ as the Sustainer of all things, even the letter that he has penned. For it is Christ to whom we should look for all our answers.
Passages for Further Study
- Prov. 22:19–21
- Isa. 42:1
- Acts 3:22
- Col. 2:9
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