Hebrews’ Authorship (1): Could Paul Have Written Hebrews?

John Calvin was quite correct in writing about the epistle to the Hebrews that “there is … no book in the Holy Scriptures which speaks so clearly of the priesthood of Christ; so highly exalts the virtue and dignity of that only true sacrifice which He offered by His death; so abundantly treats of the use of ceremonies as well as of their abrogation, and, in a word, so fully explains that Christ is the end of the law.” It is for this reason that so many are interested to know who wrote this anonymous epistle, which has no specified recipients. Of course, we must keep such interest in perspective, for as J. N. Darby (1800 – 1882) says in his Synopsis, “this is of little importance.”

The early Christian Bible scholar, Origen of Alexandria (ca. 182 – ca. 251) cited passages from the epistle to the Hebrews quite a number of times in his own writings saying it was Paul’s epistle, but he had to concede that, as quoted later by Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339), “Who it was that really wrote the epistle, to be sure, only God knows.” As early as the second century, some manuscripts of this epistle bore the title “To the Hebrews” and were attached to the collection of epistles by Paul. No other tradition has come down from early Christian writers to doubt Paul’s authorship. Misgivings only arose from about the third century onwards and are prevalent today among some so-called Bible scholars.

One of the reasons why some people think that Paul did not write Hebrews is the linguistic style employed. To address this subject properly one would need a thorough grounding in New Testament Greek. However, even the average Bible reader with no profound knowledge of the original language can profitably ask the question, “Could the apostle Paul have written the epistle?” rather than “Did he?” In attempting to do this, serious consideration needs to be given to Peter’s statement about a well-known epistle of Paul’s, written to some Jewish believers.

A general consideration of the evidence in Peter’s second epistle

To whom did Peter address his remarks in his second epistle? William Kelly wrote “Peter in his second epistle, addressed … the elect Jews of the dispersion” (cf. 1Peter1:1-2 and 2Peter 3:1).They lived throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Roman provinces in Asia Minor, which is more or less coincident with modern day Turkey.

What exactly did he say that is of interest to us? Peter told his readers that they should “account [i.e., reckon] that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2Peter 3:15). That is to say, the reason that the events of prophecy had not yet happened was because, as he had written in his first epistle, “the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah” (1Peter 3:20), and, as he had just written, God was “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2Peter 3:9). He then corroborated this assertion, that longsuffering is salvation, by saying that Paul had already written something quite similar to them, as well as to others, in his other epistles. Evidently by this time, Paul’s epistles were already well known, so that Peter could comment on their contents as authoritative. If there had been any prejudice about Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, writing to them, then Peter dispels it in talking about him as “our beloved brother.”

Detailed study of 2 Peter 3:15-17

Bearing in mind that his readers were looking for the future new heaven and earth, Peter urges them to reflect this in their present attitude and behavior. Particularly that “ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (v14), but at the same time to understand that the Lord’s longsuffering is with a view to salvation. This, says Peter, is just as “our beloved brother Paul, also according to the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you” (v15). Of course, Paul had clearly expressed this sentiment when he wrote that “the riches of His … longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Rom 2:4). But it would not have been this particular reference that Peter was thinking of initially, for he said, “hath written unto you [Jews],” but he then said that Paul had done so in all his epistles, which would, of course, include Romans. Immediately a question comes to mind: “Where in his writing to the Hebrews did he say that the Lord’s longsuffering leads to salvation?”

Six times in Hebrews we read about salvation, and those particular mentions that are pertinent to our question are: 2:3; 5:9 and 9:28. In the first reference the Lord Jesus was the One Who first began to speak about “so great salvation.” It was this longsuffering Lord Who was still waiting for the “neglecters,” who, after so long a time, had not yet been saved, and for whom there was no other means of escape. In the second reference, it is not “so great salvation” but “eternal salvation.” Through His death on the cross “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.” Third, those who obey Him are those who “look for Him,” and for them He shall appear “the second time without sin unto salvation,” so that they will then experience the full blessing of salvation.

– To be continued