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The authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews is an open question. The common scholarly opinion is that the author certainly wasn't Paul.

Most modern Bible translations make no mention of the author, but some older ones such as the King James Version do:

KJV: THE EPISTLE OF PAVL the Apostle to the Hebrewes

Personally, I find it hard to believe that Paul would have written Heb 2:3-4. In his other letters, he always highlights himself as one of the apostles; here the writer has a very humble attitude and certainly doesn't count himself an apostle.

Hebrews 2:3-4 (KJV)
 3How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
 4God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

Was Paul the author of Hebrews? What supports Pauline authorship?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

First you would have to look at the beginning and the end.

First, there is no salutation. This is unlike Paul, who has wrote all of his letters with some kind of salutation. What does this tell us? It tells us that there is a possibility of this not being a letter. Sure, it is epistle, but if it is, why is there no salutation?

However, the letter does close with the "Grace be with you all", which is normal closing for Paul. However, similar wordings to close Peter's letters in Peter One and Two.

I will list the reasons why Paul cannot be the writer of Hebrews.

  1. the writing piece is sophisticated. Paul may have been a sophisticated talker, but he was certainly not a sophisticated writer. Paul specifically states that he is not a sophisticated writer.
  2. Citings are extensively uses verses from the OT, while Paul, Pharisee as he is, would have been familiar with original Hebrew verses from the Bible. Paul uses original Hebrew text or Paraphrases it. However, Hebrew uses Greek OT, or Septuagint.
  3. Finally, Paul claims to have these revelations directly from Jesus. The author of Hebrews says that he was taught by a Apostle.

    Hebrews 2:3: 3 So surely we also will be punished if we ignore this great salvation. The Lord himself first told about this salvation, and those who heard him testified it was true.

Based on these facts, I doubt that Paul himself was either not the author at all or an indirect author. There are several author suspect:

  • Luke may have translated sermon Paul may have gave into his own words.
  • Barnabas, who was Levite and knew much about the stuff spoken on Hebrew.
  • Apollos, who had education to match the education the author has.
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interestingly, the verse you quote can also read that what is being written was directly from the Lord, and that it was also affirmed truth via the Apostles –  warren Sep 4 '12 at 13:19

John Owen in his introduction to Hebrews, in my mind the best commentary written on Hebrews ever. In it Owen maintains it was written by Paul, denies the inconsistency of styles and explains the lack of Apostolic title as a kind gesture to avoid the bias the Hebrews had against him while also moving somewhat into Peter's office. To get around this tension he also humbly implies that his own Apostolic ministry was confirmed in what the Apostles heard directly from the physical ministry of Christ by including himself with the dispersed Hebrews. Just as in Galatians 2:2 the other Apostles confirmed Paul in his Apostleship. Paul never claimed to hear the word of Christ's ministry while he was on the earth yet his calling to the Apostleship was alone directly the word of Christ that he heard.

Owen further supports the argument of Peter referring to his letter (2 Peter 3:15) to the Hebrews and denies it was just to a local group of Hebrews, but was designed for all Hebrews readers.

I personally think it was most likely written by Paul directly, its polished Greek must be from the author not a penmen, or the inspiration would become the penmen's for the Spirit chooses the words which makes it perfect. I feel after reading his other letters that I am being spoken to by the same person. Also as I find all the other arguments against his authorship unconvincing, plus ancient tradition assigns Paul as the author, their is no need for me to suppose a different author.

I think the absence of an author's title in Hebrews is not a basis to doubt it was Paul, but is a basis to argue it was Paul. The author's title in an epistle is provided where the recipients do not already obviously know who the letter is from, but have respect for the authority of the writer, by which adding the name would make the letter better received. In the case of the Hebrews, Paul would do better calling upon the authority of the Old Testament only, rather than his or anyone's Apostolic authority which they were not sure they believed in.

Of course it really does not matter in the end, more about that here. Who were the other candidates that some argue wrote Hebrews?

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Fear of outright rejection by Jewish Christians caused Paul to strike his name? –  swasheck Jan 22 '13 at 4:06
    
@swasheck - no not at all. It would be likely that Paul condescended to their weakness of their low view of him to skip the subject of his Apostleship for their sakes in love. Also as they were doubting the whole NT they might not even respect the title of Apostles, so Paul concentrates on the OT authority to establish Christ's superiority with no need to over emphasis the authority of the Apostles and add that stamp to the header of the epistle. He was being meek and concentrating on the facts. –  Mike Jan 22 '13 at 5:40

(I wrote this in an essay on Hebrews a few years back)

Origen (185-254 CE) in the East has been quoted as saying that God only knows who wrote the Epistle although he also suggested that Paul was the author (Robertson, 1932). Hippolytus (170-236 CE) from Rome denied it was written by Paul. Tertullian (160-220 CE) in North Africa spoke of an Epistle of Barnabas to the Hebrews (Vincent, 1886). At the councils of Carthage (397& 419 CE) it was accepted that Hebrews was Pauline and was affirmed in the council of Trent (1545-1563) (Vincent, 1886). During the reformation doubt was again put on the authorship as Luther (1484-1546) said it was written by Apollos (Robertson, 1932) and Calvin (1509-1564) denied it was Pauline (Vincent, 1886). Adolf von Harnac (1851-1930) suggested that Priscilla may have been the author but Robertson (1932) highlights that Hebrews 11:32 mentions a masculine participle that dismisses this theory.

The Epistle itself provides some information about the author. The author was a friend of Timothy (13:23) and was possibly writing in Italy (13:24), although this verse may mean “those who are originally from Italy”. In Hebrews 2:3 the author includes himself in receiving the message of salvation from those who first heard it, thus making it likely the author was not an Apostle but a second generation convert (Achtemeier, Green, & Thompson, 2001, p. 467). Throughout Hebrews the author attributed all of the Scriptural quotes to God. This use of Scripture suggests that the author believed the Old Testament to be the inspired word of God. The author had knowledge of the Jewish system leading many to think that the author was Jewish. All copies of the Epistle that have been found were written in polished Greek and not in Hebrew, indicating that the author was educated (Achtemeier, Green, & Thompson, 2001, p. 469). The author also used the Greek Septuagint and not a Hebrew Old Testament to quote from, probably due to the large Hellenistic influence of the time.

Also (this wasn't in my essay) in 5:11, 6:9, 11 etc the author refers to themselves as "we" suggesting that Hebrews may have been co-authored, perhaps in the same way that Philippines and Philemon is written by Paul and Timothy (Phil 1:1, Philemon 1).

Citations

Achtemeier, P. J., Green, J. B., & Thompson, M. M. (2001). Introducing the New Testament: its literature and theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Robertson, A. T. (1932). Word pictures in the New Testament. Nashville: Broadman.

Vincent, M. R. (1886). Vicent word studies in the New Testament. Hendrickson Publishers.

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Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752), a Lutheran clergyman and scholar, attributed Hebrews to Paul. He is one of few writers to do so on the basis of something other than tradition or similarity of ideas. In his Gnomon Novi Testamenti, his annotation to

2 Peter 3:15 (KJV)
And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;

says that "unto you" means the Epistle to the Hebrews. The assumption is that 2 Peter is written to the same people as 1 Peter (since 2 Peter 3:1 says "This second epistle ... I now write unto you"), and 1 Peter was written to the "exiles" in Pontus, Galatia, etc. (1 Peter 1:1). These are assumed by Bengel to mean dispersed Hebrews.

This argument is outlined and rejected by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in his A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (1988, p26), who says

Apart from the consideration, however, that those to whom the Epistle to the Hebrews was sent were apparently a compact group in a particular locality rather than a scattering of Christians over an extensive geographical area, the likelihood is that the "Dispersion" addressed by Peter was a dispersion of Christians generally, comprising Gentile as well as Jewish believers. The letter of Paul to which Peter refers could well be his Epistle to the Galatians (especially if the North Galatian theory of its destination is correct).

In general, it seems that few commentators find significant theological, as opposed to linguistic, differences between Hebrews and the Pauline epistles. A popular theory is that the letter was either dictated in outline by Paul, but with a form of words chosen by the scribe, or was originally written by him in Hebrew and then translated by somebody else into Greek. In those cases, the book could still legitimately be considered to be "by Paul".

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+1 well researched. –  Bob Black Sep 8 '11 at 2:10

Most hold that Hebrews was not authored by Paul because the style and form of the Greek is so good and fine, compared with the style of Paul's other, non-anonymous, writings. The style of Hebrews is almost as if it were a prepared sermon.

However, it would be hard to disagree that the contents (the theology and doctrine) agree perfectly with that of Paul's teachings. Hebrews sounds like something Paul would say, but the original Greek doesn't read like Paul usually wrote.

Origen, as quoted by Eusebius, had this to say...

That the character of the diction of the epistle entitled To the Hebrews has not the apostle’s rudeness in speech, who confessed himself rude in speech, that is, in style, but that the epistle is better Greek in the framing of its diction, will be admitted by everyone who is able to discern differences of style. But again, on the other hand, that the thoughts of the epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged writings of the apostle, to this also everyone will consent as true who has given attention to reading the apostle…. But as for myself, if I were to state my own opinion, I should say that the thoughts are the apostle’s, but that the style and composition belonged to one who called to mind the apostle’s teachings and, as it were, made short notes of what his master said. If any church, therefore, holds this epistle as Paul’s, let it be commended for this also. For not without reason have the men of old handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows. Yet the account which has reached us [is twofold], some saying that Clement, who was bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, others, that it was Luke, he who wrote the Gospel and the Acts

My personal feeling is, because the theology and doctrine matches Paul's other writings so perfectly, coupled with his knowledge of scripture gained by sitting at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), that Paul was the author of Hebrews. Perhaps he had someone to assist him as he dictated, or perhaps he simply spent more time grammatically fine-tuning this particular epistle. But the spirit of the letter feels Pauline.

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+1 for quoting Eusebius's explanation of the value of attributing something to a master such as Paul, and also for describing the stylistic differences. –  user116 Sep 8 '11 at 11:59

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