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Hebrews Epistle to the
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
In the received text this composition appears as part of the Canonical Scriptures of the New Testament, and also as the production of the apostle Paul. But on no subject, perhaps, in the department of the higher criticism of the New Testament, have opinions been more divided and more keenly discussed, than on this. Of those who have rejected the claims of the apostle Paul to the authorship of this epistle, some have advocated those of Barnabas, others those of Luke, others those of Clement of Rome, others those of Silas, others those of Apollos, others those of some unknown Christian of Alexandria, and others those of some apostolic man,' whose name is no less unknown. Of these hypotheses some are so purely conjectural and destitute of any basis either historical or internal, that the bare mention of them as the vagaries of learned men is almost all the notice they deserve. Our limited space will not permit us to enter upon an examination of these theories: we must therefore content ourselves with presenting a condensed outline of the evidence that the epistle was written by the Apostle Paul; and we shall commence with the internal evidence.
1. A person familiar with the doctrines of which Paul is fond of insisting in his acknowledged epistles, will readily perceive that there is such a correspondence in this respect between these and the Epistle to the Hebrews, as supplies good ground for presuming that the latter proceeded also from his pen. That Christianity as a system is superior to Judaism in respect of clearness, simplicity, and moral efficiency; that the former is the substance and reality of what the latter had presented only the typical adumbration; and that the latter was to be abolished to make way for the former, are points which if more fully handled in the Epistle to the Hebrews, are familiar to all readers of the Epistles of Paul (comp.;;;; , etc.). The same view is given in this epistle as in those of Paul, of the divine glory of the Mediator, as the 'image of God,' the reflection or manifestation of Deity to man (comp.;;; etc.); His condescension is described as having consisted in an impoverishing, and lessening, and lowering of Himself for man's behalf (;; ); and His exaltation is set forth as a condition of royal dignity, which shall be consummated by all His enemies being put under His footstool (;;; ). He is represented as discharging the office of a mediator, a word which is never used except by Paul and the writer of this epistle (; ); His death is represented as a sacrifice for the sins of man; and the peculiar idea is announced in connection with this, that He was prefigured by the sacrifices of the Mosaic dispensation (;;;; ). Peculiar to Paul and the author of this epistle is the phrase 'the God of peace' (, etc.; ). It is worthy of remark also that the momentous question of a man's personal acceptance with God is answered in this epistle in the same peculiar way as in the acknowledged Epistles of Paul. All is made to depend upon the individual's exercising what both Paul and the author of this epistle call 'faith,' and which they both represent as a realizing apprehension of the facts, and truths, and promises of revelation. By both also the power of this 'faith' is frequently referred to and illustrated by the example of those who had distinguished themselves in the annals of the Jewish race (comp.;;;;; ). On all these points the sentiments of this epistle are so obviously Pauline, that even the most decided opponents of its Pauline authorship in recent times have laid it down as undeniable that it must have been written by some companion and disciple of Paul.
2. Some of the figures and allusions employed in this epistle are strictly Pauline. Thus the word of God is compared to a sword (; ); inexperienced Christians are children who need milk, and must be instructed in the elements, while those of maturer attainments are full-grown men who require strong meat (;;;;; ); redemption through Christ is an introduction and an entrance with confidence unto God (;;; ); afflictions are a contest or strife (;; ); the Christian life is a race (;; ); a person under the constraint of some unworthy feeling or principle is 'a subject of bondage' (; ), etc. The fact that these and other such like figurative phrases occur only in this epistle and in the acknowledged Epistles of Paul, affords strong evidence that the former is his production, for in nothing does a writer more readily betray himself than by the use of peculiar and favorite figures.
3. Certain marked characteristics of Paul's style are found in this epistle. Paley, in enumerating these (Horæ Paulinæ), has laid stress chiefly on the following: A disposition to the frequent use of a word, which cleaves as it were to the memory of the writer, so as to become a sort of cant word in his writings; a propensity 'to go off at a word,' and enter upon a parenthetic series of remarks suggested by that word; and a fondness for the paronomasia, or play upon words. In the Epistle to the Hebrews these peculiarities of Paul's style are richly exemplified.
4. There is a striking analogy between Paul's use of the Old Testament and that made by the writer of this epistle. Both make frequent appeals to the Old Testament; both are in the habit of accumulating passages from different parts of the Old Testament, and making them bear on the point under discussion (comp.; , etc.;; Hebrews 3; ); both are fond of linking quotations together by means of the expression 'and again' (comp.;;;;; ); both make use of the same passages, and that occasionally in a sense not naturally suggested by the context whence they are quoted (;;;;; ); and both, in one instance, quote the same passage in the same way, but in a form in which it does not agree with the Sept., and with an addition of the words 'saith the Lord,' not found in the Hebrew; thereby indicating that the passage is given in both instances as it was present to the memory of one and the same writer (comp.; ).
In fine: The Epistle to the Hebrews contains some personal allusions on the part of the writer which strongly favor the supposition that he was Paul. These are the mention of his intention to pay those to whom he was writing a visit speedily, in company with Timothy, whom he affectionately styles 'our brother,' and whom he describes as having been set at liberty, and expected soon to join the writer (); the allusion to his being in a state of imprisonment at the time of writing, as well as of his having partaken of their sympathy while formerly in a state of bondage among them (; ); and the transmission to them of a salutation from the believers in Italy (); all of which agree well with the supposition that Paul wrote this epistle while a prisoner at Rome.
It now remains that we should look at the external evidence bearing on this question. Here we shall find the same conclusion still more decisively supported.
Passing by, as somewhat uncertain, the alleged testimony of Peter, who is supposed () to refer to the Epistle to the Hebrews as the composition of Paul, and passing by, also, the testimonies of the apostolic fathers, which, though very decisive as to the antiquity and canonical authority of this epistle, yet say nothing to guide us to the author, we come to the testimony of the Eastern church upon this subject. Here we meet the important fact, that of the Greek fathers not one ascribes this epistle to any but Paul. Nor does it appear that in any part of the Eastern Church the Pauline origin of this epistle was ever doubted or suspected.
In the Western church this epistle did not meet with the same early and universal reception. Notwithstanding the regard shown for it by Clement, the church at Rome seems to have placed it under a ban; and hence Tertullian ascribed it to Barnabas, and others to Luke and Clement, while no Latin writer is found during the first three centuries who ascribed it to Paul. In the middle of the fourth century, Hilary of Poictiers quotes it as Paul's; and from that time the opinion seems to have gained ground till the commencement of the fifth century, when it speedily became as general in the Western as it had been in the Eastern churches.
The result of the previous inquiry may be thus stated. 1. There is no substantial evidence external or internal in favor of any claimant to the authorship of this epistle except Paul. 2. There is nothing incompatible with the supposition that Paul was the author of it. 3. The preponderance of the internal, and all the direct, external, evidence, go to show that it was written by Paul.
Assuming the Pauline authorship of the epistle, it is not difficult to determine when and where it was written. The allusions in; , point to the closing period of the apostle's two years' imprisonment at Rome as the season during 'the serene hours' of which, as Hug describes them, he composed this noblest production of his pen. In this opinion almost all who receive the epistle as Paul's concur; and even by those who do not so receive it, nearly the same time is fixed upon, in consequence of the evidence furnished by the epistle itself of its having been written a good while after those to whom it is addressed had become Christians, but yet before the destruction of the Temple.
That the parties to whom this epistle was addressed were converted Jews, the epistle itself plainly shows. Ancient tradition points out the church at Jerusalem, or the Christians in Palestine generally, as the recipients. Stuart contends for the church at Caesarea, not without some show of reason.
Some have doubted whether this composition be justly termed an epistle, and have proposed to regard it rather as a treatise. The salutations, however, at the close, seem rather to favor the common opinion; though it is of little moment which view we espouse.
The design of this epistle is to dissuade those to whom it is written from relapsing into Judaism, and to exhort them to hold fast the truths of Christianity which they had received. For this purpose the apostle shows the superiority of the latter over the former, in that it was introduced by one far greater than angels, or than Moses, from whom the Jews received their economy (Hebrews 1-3), and in that it affords a more secure and complete salvation to the sinner than the former (Hebrews 4-10). In demonstrating the latter position the apostle shows that in point of dignity, perpetuity, sufficiency, and suitableness, the Jewish priesthood and sacrifices were far inferior to those of Christ, who was the substance and reality, while these were but the type and shadow. He shows, also, that by the appearance of the anti-type the type is necessarily abolished; and adduces the important truth, that now, through Christ, the privilege of personal access to God is free to all. On all this he founds an exhortation to a life of faith and obedience, and shows that it has ever been only by a spiritual recognition and worship of God that good men have participated in His favor (Hebrews 11). The epistle concludes, as is usual with Paul, with a series of practical exhortations and pious wishes (Hebrews 12-13).
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Hebrews Epistle to the'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​h/hebrews-epistle-to-the.html.