Pulpit Commentary - Hebrews

Online Resource Library

Commentary Index | Return to PrayerRequest.com | Download

Pulpit Commentary - Hebrews

(Show All Books)

Verse Commentaries:



THOUGH the Epistle to the Hebrews was not in all quarters received unreservedly into the canon from the first, and though its authorship is still uncertain, yet none can reasonably doubt its early origin in the later period of the apostolic age. The evidence is both internal and external. The frequent allusions in it to Judaism, with its ritual, as a still existing system, are such as to render highly improbable any date after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, A.D. 70. It is true that the mere use of verbs in the present with reference to the temple services would not be in itself conclusive; for this usage continued after the destruction of the temple, being found in Josephus, 'Ant.,' 3:9, 10; in Barnab., 7, etc.; in 'Epist. ad Diogn.,' 3; in the Talmud; and in the Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (see Bishop Lightfoot's note on ch. 41. of that epistle). But we observe, further, the pervading tone of warning to the readers against being drawn back into Judaism, as though they were still surrounded by their old associations, and the total absence of reference to any breaking up of the ancient polity, such as might have been certainly expected if the event had taken place. Thus we may safely take the above date, A.D. 70, as a terminus ad quem, being only two years after the martyrdom of St. Paul, and many before the death of St. John. Strong also is the external evidence of an early date. Clement of Rome, about whom there can be no reasonable doubt that he was a disciple of the apostles and that he superintended the Church of Rome not long at least after St. Peter and St. Paul had suffered, and whose first Epistle to the Corinthians is undeniably genuine, uses language in that epistle which proves his acquaintance with the Epistle to the Hebrews. Of his quotations, or references, more will be said below under the head of "Canonicity." Then the Peshito, or Syriac Version of the New Testament, which is universally assigned to the most remote Christian antiquity, includes this Epistle. Further, Clement of Alexandria (who presided over the catechetical school there at the close of the second century) not only himself mentions it, and quotes it often as St. Paul's, but speaks also of his own master and predecessor, Pantaenus, having expressed his views about it: "as the blessed presbyter used to say," etc. (Eusebius, 6:14, quoting from Clement's 'Hypotyposes'). Of the testimony of the Alexandrian Fathers more will be said under the head of "Authorship." Enough now for our present purpose to observe that the Epistle is hereby proved to have been well known and received in the Alexandrian Church in the time of Pantaenus, who takes us up very close to the apostolic age; and though the learned there, as will be seen, came afterwards to question St. Paul's direct authorship, yet its antiquity was never doubted.

While internal evidence, as above noticed, seems to preclude any date later than A.D. 70, so does it, on the other hand, any very much earlier. For the readers are addressed as members of a Church of old standing: they are reminded of "the former days," when they had been at first "illuminated," and of persecution endured in the past; sufficient time had elapsed for them to show serious signs of wavering from their early steadfastness; and their "leaders, who had spoken to them the Word of God," had already passed away, being referred to in terms that suggest the idea of martyrdom (Hebrews 13:7). If we could be sure of an allusion here, among others, to James the Just (called "Bishop of Jerusalem, " and the acknowledged leader of the Hebrew Christians), we should have a definite terminus a quo in A.D. 62, at the Passover of which year, according to Josephus and Eusebius, James was martyred. This allusion cannot, however, be more than a probability. All we can allege confidently is that the Epistle, from its contents, must have been written a considerable number of years after the community addressed had received the faith, and hence, if during St. Paul's life, not long before its close. Some time between A.D. 62 and 70 would very well suit the conditions.


Be it observed, in the first place, that the Epistle is itself anonymous. The writer never mentions his own name or intimates who he is. Hence the questions of authorship and of canonicity may, in this case, be kept distinct. This could not be in the case of any of St. Paul's undoubted Epistles, in all of which he gives his own name and designation, and often alludes in detail to his circumstances at the time of writing and his relations to the persons addressed. In such cases denial of the alleged authorship would involve denial of the writing being what it professes to be, and hence of its claim to be included in the canon as genuine and authoritative. But it is not so in the case before us. Nor does deference to the judgment or consentient traditions of the Church require us to conclude St. Paul to have been the author. The very title, "The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews," is not ancient: the earlier title was simply Προ Ì ς ̔Εβραι ì ους. So in all the most ancient manuscripts, and so referred to by Origen, quoted by Eusebius ('Hist. Eccl.,' 6:25), and, though the tradition of St. Paul's authorship was undoubtedly a very early one, yet it was not in primitive times, any mere than in our own, considered conclusive by these who were competent to judge, including Fathers of the highest repute from the second century downwards.

The earliest known allusion to the authorship of the Epistle is that of Clement of Alexandria, already referred to as having often quoted it in his extant works, spoken of it himself, and recorded something that Pantaenus before him had said of it. We are indebted to Eusebius for the preservation of this interesting reference to the 'Hypotyposes' of Clement: — "In the 'Hypotyposes,' to speak briefly, he (i.e. Clemens Alexandrinus) has given a compressed account of the whole testamentary Scripture, not omitting even the disputed books; I mean the Epistle of Jude and the rest of the catholic Epistles, and that of Barnabas, and the so-called Apocalypse of Peter. And as to the Epistle to the Hebrews, he says that it is Paul's, but that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language, and that Luke translated it carefully and published it to the Greeks; that consequently there is found the same color, with regard to style, in this Epistle and in the Acts; but that it is not prefaced by 'Paul the apostle' with good reason; 'for' (says he) 'as he was sending it to the Hebrews, who had conceived a prejudice against him and suspected him, he very wisely did not repel them at the beginning by appending his name.' Then he goes on to say, 'But,' as the blessed presbyter before now used to say, 'since the Lord was sent to the Hebrews, as being the Apostle of the Almighty, Paul, out of modesty, as having Been sent to the Gentiles, does not inscribe himself apostle of the Hebrews, both because of the honor due to the Lord, and because of its being a work of supererogation that he wrote also to the Hebrews, being herald and apostle of the Gentiles'" (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' 6:14).

"The blessed presbyter" referred to may be concluded to have been Pantaenus, to whose teaching Clement acknowledged himself to have Been especially indebted: "who also in the 'Hypotyposes,' which he composed, makes mention by name of Pantaenus as his master" (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' 5:11; cf. 6:13). Also in his 'Stromates' (1. § 11) Clement, speaking of his various teachers in various places, says that he found at last in Egypt the true master for whom he had before sought in vain, meaning undoubtedly this same Pantaenus, whom Eusebius, speaking of the time of Commodus, mentions as the leading teacher at Alexandria ('Hist. Eccl.,' 5:10). Jerome also ('In Catal.,' 36) speaks of Pantaenus thus: "Pantaenus, stoicae sectae philosophus, juxta quandam veterem in Alexandria consuetudinem, ubi a Marco Evangelista semper ecclesiastici fuere doctores, tantae prudentiae et eruditionis tam in Scripturis divinis, quam in saeculari literatura, fuit, ut in Indiam quoque... mitteretur." It would appear, then, that Clement, on coming to Alexandria, found Pantaenus presiding over the famous catechetical school there, whom, according to Eusebius and others, he succeeded in his office. The period of Clement's presidency having been circ. A.D. 190-203, it thus is evident that, certainly not long after the middle of the second century, the Epistle to the Hebrews was received in the Alexandrian Church as one of St. Paul's; and of course the presumption is that it had been handed down as such from a much earlier date (cf. Origen's words, quoted below, about "the ancients" having so transmitted it). This distinct early tradition is plainly of great importance in the argument as to authorship.

It appears, further, from the above quotation that the Alexandrian scholars had observed certain peculiarities in the Epistle, distinguishing it from others by St. Paul. All that Pantaenus is said to have remarked on was its being, unlike the rest, anonymous; and this he had his own way of accounting for. After him Clement suggested a further explanation, and was also struck by the style being unlike St. Paul, and reminding him rather of St. Luke. He therefore maintained, having possibly started, the view of the Greek Epistle being a translation by that evangelist from a Hebrew original. It does not appear from the way in which Eusebius quotes him, as above, that this was more than his own opinion, or that he had anything beyond internal evidence to go upon, though Delitzsch thinks otherwise. His view, in any case, is untenable, since the Epistle has distinct internal evidence of being an original composition in Greek. And so Origen, a still abler and more distinguished man, who succeeded Clement as head of the Alexandrian school, seems to have clearly seen, Eusebius being again our authority. After an account of Origen's catalogue of the canonical books, the historian proceeds," In addition to these things, concerning the Epistle to the Hebrews, he (Origen) sets forth in his homilies upon it as follows: 'That the style ( χαρακτη Ì ρ τῆς λε ì ξεως) of the Epistle entitled to the Hebrews has not the rudeness in speech ( το Ì ἐν λο ì γῳ ἰδιωτικο ì ν) of the apostle, who acknowledged himself to be rude in speech ( ἰδιω ì την τῷ λο ì γῳ: see 2 Corinthians 11:6), that is, in his diction, but that the Epistle is more purely Greek in composition ( συνθε ì σει τῆς λε ì ξεως), every one who is competent to judge of differences of diction would acknowledge. Again, that the thoughts of the Epistle are wonderful, and not second to the acknowledged apostolic writings, this, too, every one that gives attention to the reading of the apostolic writings would agree.' Then, after other things, he adds, further,' But I, to declare my own opinion, should say that the thoughts are the apostle's, but the diction and composition that of some one who recorded from memory the apostle's teaching, and, as it were, interpreted [or 'wrote a commentary on,' σχολιογραφη ì σαντος] what had been spoken by his master. If, then, any Church receives this Epistle as Paul's, let it be well esteemed, even also on this account [i.e. let it not on this account lose the credit due to it as a witness to the truth]; for not without good reason ( οὐ γα Ì ρ εἰκῇ) have the men of old handed it down as Paul's. But as to who wrote the Epistle, the truth God knows. The account that has reached us is, on the part of some, that Clement, who became Bishop of the Romans, wrote the Epistle; on the part of others, that Luke, who wrote the Gospel and the Acts, did so'" (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' 6:25).

Now, let us here observe that Origen does not, any more than his predecessors, dispute the essentially Pauline origin of the Epistle. Of this he is satisfied, both on the ground of the ancient tradition to which he properly attaches great importance, and also on the ground of the ideas of the Epistle being so entirely worthy of the great apostle. He only feels himself convinced, in view of the Greek idiom, and the general style, that Paul could not have been the actual writer. His theory is compatible with the Epistle having been written either during the apostle's life and with his knowledge and sanction, or after his death by a disciple who had taken notes of his teaching, or at any rate retained it in his mind. Further, he evidently attaches no value to the opinions which had become current in his time as to one person rather than another having been the actual writer. He was too sound a critic to consider (as Clement seems to have done) mere coincidences of phraseology cogent evidences in favor of St. Luke. All he can be sure of is that the Epistle had not been written by St. Paul himself, though he has no doubt of its being Pauline, i.e. a true embodiment of St. Paul's teaching. Now, the opinion of Origen, thus expressed, is of peculiar value; not only on account of the early ago in which he lived, with all the facts that could be then known before him, but also because of his competence to form a sound judgment on such a subject; and the fact of his having been an original and somewhat free thinker adds to, rather than detracts from, the value of his verdict. His well-considered words express, in fact, the state of the case as it remains to the present day, subsequent inquiries having thrown little further light upon it.

After Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria, the bishops who succeeded him, and all the ecclesiastical writers of Egypt, Syria, and the East generally, cite the Epistle without hesitation as St. Paul's. Arius, too, and the early Arians so accepted it; and if some of the later Arians rejected it as such, it appears to have been only on controversial grounds. See Epiphanius, 'Heres.,' 69; and Theodoret, in the preface to his commentary on the Epistle, who says, "It is no wonder that those who are infected with the Arian malady should rage against the apostolic writings, separating the Epistle to the Hebrews from the rest, and calling it spurious." Eusebius also, expressing the unanimous judgment of the East, places it (though not without allusion to the doubts, to be noticed presently, entertained by the Church of Rome) among the indisputable Pauline writings ('Hist. Eccl.,' 3:3; 3:25). He is aware, however, of the difficulties attending the supposition that the Greek Epistle as it stands was written by St. Paul, and gives the translation theory (which, as we have seen, was held by Clement of Alexandria) as the current one in his day, or at any rate as what he had himself got hold of: "For Paul having written to the Hebrews in their native language, some say that Luke the evangelist, and others that this same Clement (i.e. of Rome), translated the writing." He adds his own opinion in favor of Clement having been the translator, on the ground of resemblance, in diction and thought, between his undoubted epistle to the Corinthians and the Epistle to the Hebrews. What he thus says is only of value as testimony to the acceptance of the Epistle throughout the East as essentially Pauline. His own notions, as to its being a translation, and Clement the translator, need carry little weight with us; those of Origen (which, though he himself records them, he does not seem to have appreciated) of course outweigh them greatly.

In the West, however, there was not for some centuries any such general acceptance of the Epistle as Pauline. Though Clement's use of it, above referred to, shows that it was certainly known at Rome at the end of the first century, yet it is plain that the later Western Fathers, till the fourth century, did not recognize it as having the authority of St. Paul. In the Muratorian Fragment, composed probably not long after A.D. 170, though we cannot conclude, the document being so defective, that the Epistle was not originally mentioned, yet it cannot have been included among St. Paul's; for in the extant passage which refers to these we read, "Cure ipse beatus apostolus Paulus, sequens prodecessoris sui Johannis ordinem nonnisi nominatim septem ecclesiis scribat ordine tall; ad Corinthios prima, ad Ephesias secunda, ad Philippenses tertia, ad Colossenses quarta, ad Galatas quinta, ad Thessalonicenses sexta, ad Romanos septima... Verum ad Philemonem unam, et ad Titum unam, et ad Timotheum duas pro affectu et dilectione .... Fertur etiam ad Laodicenses [alia], alia ad Alexandrinos, Pauli nomine finctae ad haeresim Marcionis, et alia plura quae in catholicam ecclesiam recipi non potest." Thus, if it was mentioned at all in some part of the Fragment now missing, it cannot have been ranked among the real or reputed Epistles of St. Paul. Further, Photius quotes Hippolytus as denying the Epistle to be by St. Paul; and he gives an extract from the tritheist Stephanus (surnamed ὁ Γο ì βαρος), in which the same is said of Irenaeus also. Irenaeus might be supposed likely, from his original training in Asia Minor, to have held to the Eastern tradition and opinion; but it does not follow that this would be so after his connection with the Western Church in Gaul; and it is observable that in his extant works (with the exception of "verbo virtutis suae" in his 'Haeres.,' 2:30, 9) there appears to be no obvious allusion to the Epistle, though, on the other hand, Eusebius ('Hist. Eccl.,' 5:26) says that he spoke of it. and quoted it in one of his now lost works; which still proves only that he was acquainted with it. The mere negative evidence of a work not being quoted may, however, easily be pressed too far, and might often lead, if relied on, to erroneous conclusions. Hence also the silence of Novatian in his extant writings is not in itself conclusive, though the Epistle contain passages which might have served his controversial purposes. But we have, in this case, plenty of positive evidence, besides that already adduced, of the general opinion of the Western Church. Eusebius ('Hist. Eccl.,' 6:20), speaking of a dialogue by Caius, "a very eloquent man," delivered at Rome, under Zephyrinus against Proclus (a Montanist), says of this Caius that he "mentions only thirteen Epistles of the holy apostle, not classing that to the Hebrews with the rest, as even yet some of the Romans do not allow it to be a work of the apostle." Jerome ('De Vir Illustr.,' c. 56) confirms this testimony, and gives the date of Zephyrinus, under whom Caius wrote, viz. the reign of Caracalla. To the same period belongs the testimony of Tertullian, who is singular in distinctly assigning the Epistle to another author than St. Paul, viz. Barnabas: "Extat enim et Barnabae titulus ad Hebraeos, a Deo saris auctorati viri, ut quem Paulus juxta se constituerit in abstinentiae tenore [1 Corinthians 9:6] .... Et utique receptior apud ecclesias epistola Barnabae illo apocrypho Pastore maechorum." And that he refers to our Epistle appears from his going on to quote it thus: "Monens itaque discipulos omissis omnibus initiis ad perfectionem magis tendere, Impossibile est enim, inquit, cos qui semel illuminati sunt," etc. (Tertullian, 'De Pudicit.,' c. 20.). He thus distinctly assigns it, not to Paul, but to Barnabas, and also implies that, though he himself accepted it as sufficiently authoritative, it was not so accepted by all Churches: it was only "more received" than the apocryphal 'Shepherd,' attributed also to Barnabas. Cyprian also speaks only of Epistles by St. Paul, "ad septem ecclesias;" Victorinus does the same; and, lastly, Jerome distinctly says, "Earn Latinornm consuetudo non recipit inter scripturas canonicas". Its non-acceptance as canonical, which Jerome thus alleges, and which is otherwise confirmed, was doubtless duo mainly, if not entirely, to the fact that it was not recognized as having the authority of St. Paul; it was because its authorship had been questioned, as appears from the testimonies adduced above, that it was not included in the accepted canon. But before the end of the fourth century, during the latter part of which Jerome thus wrote, the Epistle came to be accepted as Pauline in the West as well as in the East. Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, the canon of the Council of Laodicea (364), and the eighty-fifth of the Apostolic Canons, reckon fourteen Epistles of St. Paul. So also the Council of Carthage (419), of Hippo Regius (393), of Carthage (397); Innocent I. in his 'Ep. ad Exsuperium' (405), and Gelasius (494). Ambrose also, Rufinus, Gaudentius and Faustinus, refer to the Epistle as St. Paul's. Thenceforth the Epistle retained its place in the canon as one of St. Paul's without dispute, till the question was again raised in the sixteenth century. Jerome himself doubtless contributed to this result by drawing attention to the tradition and opinion of the East, and by giving expression to his own conclusions. He thus sums up the views that had been held on the subject: "Epistola autem quae fertur ad Hebraeos non ejus creditur propter styli sermonisque dissonantiam, sed vel Barnabae juxta Tertullianum, vel Lucae evangelistae juxta quosdam, vel Clementis Romanae postea ecelesiae episcopi, quem aiuut sententias Pauli proprio ordinasse et ornasso sermone. Vel certe quia Paulus scribebat ad Hebraeos et, propter invidiam sui apud cos nominis, titulum in principio salutationis amputaverit. Scripserat, ut Hebraeus Hebraice, id est suo eloquio dissertissime, ut ea quae eloquenter scripta fuerant in Hebraeo eloquentius verterentur in Graecam, et hanv causam esse quod a caeteris Pauli epistolis discrepare videatur" ('De Vir Illustr.,' c. 5). He evidently had before him in this summary what Clement of Alexandria and Origen, as well as others, had said; and it is to be observed that in the end he gives, as held by some, a view intermediate between that of Clement, who took the Greek Epistle to be a mere translation from St. Paul's Hebrew, and that of Origen, who seems to have regarded it as an original composition founded only on notes or recollections of the apostle's teaching. For the view here given is that an actual Hebrew letter by St. Paul had been, not simply translated, but rewritten in Greek in a more eloquent style; and apparently that St. Paul had written his original with an intention that this should be done by some other hand. Thus the form and style of the Epistle is reconciled more fully than it is by Origen with the tradition of the Pauline authorship. Further, Jerome thus expresses his own conclusions with regard to the Epistle's claim to acceptance in the West: "illud nostris dicendum est, hanc epistolam quae inscribitur ad Hebraeos non solum ab ecclesiis Orientis seal ab omnibus retro ecclesiasticis Graeci sermonis scriptoribus quasi Pauli Apostoli suscipi, licet plerique cam vel Barnabae vel Clementis arbitrentur, et nihil interesse cujus sit, quum ecclesiastici viri sit, et quotiaie ecclesiarum lectionum celebretur, Quod si eam Latinorum consuetudo non recipit inter scripturas canonicas. nec Graecorum quidem ecclesiae Apocalypsim Johannis eadem libertate suscipiunt, et tamen nos utrumque suscipimus, nequaquam hujus temporis consuetudinem sed veterum scriptorum auctoritatem sequentes, qui plerumque utriusque abutuntur testimoniis, non ut interdum de apocryphis facere solent (quippe quiet gentilitium literarum raro utantur exemplis), sed quasi canonicis et ecclcsiasticis". The drift of this is that, notwithstanding the Latin use, the acceptance of the Epistle by the whole East, and its being quoted as canonical by the Greek Fathers, justifies its reception into the canon, and that it ought to be so received. He adduces as a parallel case that of the Apocalypse, which had been regarded in the East as was the Epistle to the Hebrews in the West; but both had been alike quoted by ancient writers as canonical and authoritative (not merely as they occasionally refer to apocryphal or even profane writings), and therefore he holds that both should be alike received. He expresses no opinion as to the author of the Epistle, considering the question of no importance as long as it was some one whose writings might claim a place in the sacred canon. But his deciding distinctly for the Epistle's canonicity would deprive of its main interest the comparatively unimportant question of its authorship, and so it came to pass that the Eastern tradition was afterwards accepted generally.

That other great and influential theologian of the same age, St. Augustine, took and expressed a similar view of the Epistle, apparently not caring to question the Pauline authorship. In one passage, after laying clown a rule to guide the reader in his estimate of canonical books, to the effect that such as are received by all Catholic Churches are to be preferred to those which some do not receive, and that of the latter those which "plures gravioresque ecclesiae" receive are to be ranked above the rest, he proceeds to reckon in the canon fourteen Epistles of St. Paul ('De Doctrina Christiana,' 2:8). Elsewhere he speaks of being especially moved by the authority of the Eastern Churches ("magisque me movet auctoritas ecclesiarum Orientalium") to accept this Epistle, "quamquam nonnullis incerta sit" ('De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione,' 1:27). In his' De Civitate Dei' (16. 22) he also says of it, "qua teste usi sunt illustres catholicae regulae defensores;" and in his works he often quotes it, though generally avoiding mention of St. Paul as the writer.

The Epistle having thus come at last to be fully received into the Western canon along with the undoubted Epistles of St. Paul, it was afterwards, in the uncritical ages that followed, regarded without question as one of his. But with the revival of inquiry and independent thought at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the old doubts, as was to be expected, revived also, being suggested by study of patristic literature, as well as by observation of the style of the Epistle itself. A full account of the views expressed by the various leading theologians then and subsequently will be found in Alford's 'Prolegomena' to the Epistle. In the Roman obedience, Ludovicus Vives, a Spanish theologian, and Cardinal Cajetan, appear among the early doubters; and even after the Council of Trent had to a certain extent closed the question by requiring under anathema belief in the Pauline authorship, Bellarmine and Estius did not feel precluded from assigning the matter only, and not the language, to St. Paul. Erasmus was decided against St. Paul's authorship, and gave his reasons at length, founded both on ancient authority and on internal evidence. Like St. Jerome of old, he regarded the question as of little moment, and would not, he says, have written so much about it but for the outcry raised against every doubt of the received view, as if doubt were heresy. "If," says he, "the Church certainly defines it to be Paul's, I willingly render my intellect captive to the obedience of faith; but, as far as my own judgment is concerned, it does not seem to me to be his." The more decided Reformers, Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, the Magdeburg Centuriators, and at first Beza, were of the same opinion; Luther being memorable, not only for his decided view, but also for suggesting a new name, that of Apollos, as most likely, in his judgment, to have been the serum writer. Subsequently, among Protestants as well as Catholics, there was a growing tendency to acquiesce in the old traditional view, and even to make a point of it — notably so among our own divines, usually inclined to be conservative, and to shrink from disturbing accepted views. In comparatively recent times the question has been again opened among the German divines, the great majority of whom (Bengel, Stowe, and Hofmann being exceptions) have been, and are still, decidedly against St. Paul having been the writer. Among ourselves, however, his direct authorship has ever had, and still has, many defenders, the most recent being the commentator on the Epistle in the lately published 'Speaker's Commentary.'

To sum up the several views that have been and may be held, with brief notice of the main reasons for or against each, we may state them thus —

1. That St. Paul wrote the Epistle in Greek as it stands. This view rests really on the single ground of the old tradition in the East. But what does this amount to? All we know accurately is that at Alexandria, in the second century, the Epistle, being itself anonymous, had been handed down, and was generally received, as one of St. Paul's; but that the learned there even then were not thereby convinced that he had actually written it: they were distinctly of opinion that, at any rate, the Greek was not his; and the greatest of them, Origen, did not think he had been in any sense the actual writer. Why should we set more store by the tradition than those competent persons who were in a better position for judging of its value? It may in any ease without difficulty be accounted for. Received early, itself unnamed, with others bearing the apostle's name, representing and emanating from the same school of thought and teaching — actually written, if not by St. Paul, at any rate by one of his disciples or associates — the Epistle might easily come to be generally read and accepted, in the absence of any discriminative criticism, as, like the rest, St. Paul's. The tradition, then, is not valid evidence for more than this — but for this it is valid, confirming the internal evidence, as Origen perceived — that the Epistle was in origin Pauline, though not of necessity St. Paul's.

The internal evidence of some other actual writer than St. Paul does not rest solely or principally on the number of words and expressions in the Epistle which are not found in St. Paul's acknowledged writings. Differences of this kind may be made too much of as proof of different authorship; there are a considerable number of υπαξ λεγο ì μενα in some of St. Paul's undoubted Epistles, and especially in the Pastorals, which are the latest. The same writer may greatly vary his words and phrases in different works and at different times, in accordance with his train of thought, surrounding influence and associations, books lately read, or the subjects treated. Hence the lists that have been made of words or phrases common to this Epistle and St. Luke alone, or to this Epistle and St. Paul alone, or found in this Epistle and in St. Paul's own speeches as recorded by St. Luke, are not, whatever their value, important for the main argument, the essential point of which is that the whole Greek style of the Epistle is different from that of St. Paul's acknowledged writings — more classical in its idiom, as well as more finished and rhetorical; and also that the studied arrangement of the thoughts and arguments, the systematic plan of the whole work, is unlike the way of writing so characteristic of the great apostle. It may indeed be said that, when St. Paul set himself to the careful composition of a work which, though in epistolary form, was meant as a lasting treatise on a great subject, he would be likely to depart from his usual epistolary style, and that a man of his learning and versatile powers would, even humanly speaking, be capable of adopting both the language and the arrangement suitable to his purpose. This consideration would have decided weight in the way of explanation if there were any really valid external evidence of his having been the actual writer. In the absence of such the internal evidence retains its force, to be felt by appreciative students rather than explained. If any at the present day are insensible to it, they may at any rate be reminded of the impression it has made on the great scholars and theologians of antiquity, as well as of more recent times. On the whole, the right conclusion seems to be that the view of St. Paul having written the Epistle as it stands in Greek is decidedly improbable, though still not untenable.

2. That the Greek Epistle is a translation from a Hebrew original by St. Paul.

This view, as has been already intimated, is certainly untenable. For not only are there in the Epistle essentially Greek phrases, such as could not well have been the mere equivalents of any Hebrew ones, but the whole has the unmistakable ring, convincing to scholars, of an original composition — that of one who had both thought and expressed himself in the Greek language. Further, in the quotations from the Old Testament the Septuagint is almost uniformly followed, and this in cases where it varies from the Hebrew text; and sometimes such variations are followed up in such sort that the very argument depends upon them. Such use of the Septuagint seems quite incompatible with the idea of the Epistle having been written originally in Hebrew.

3. That St. Paul supplied the ideas of the Epistle, which another person, with his knowledge and sanction, lout into their present form.

This is a fully tenable view, being virtually that expressed, as has been seen, by Jerome. It is no valid objection to it that St. Paul's undoubted Epistles are not equally colored by the modes of thought of the Alexandrian Jewish philosophy, of which Philo is the notable exponent. For they are occasionally so colored, though not to the same extent (cf. e.g. Galatians 4:22, etc.; Colossians 1:15, etc.). And, further, any stronger color of this kind that may be perceptible in the Epistle might be due in part to the writer himself carrying out in his own way the suggestions of St. Paul.

This view is consistent with the supposition that the Epistle was sent to its destination by the apostle himself, endorsed by him, and recognized from the first as having his authority; and thus the Eastern tradition would be fully accounted for and justified. If so, it is also surely possible (though the idea does not appear to have commended itself to commentators) that the concluding verses, from Hebrews 13:18 to the end, in which the first person is for the first time used, and which remind us peculiarly of St. Paul, were dictated by himself in his own name, the final "grace" being, as in other casts, his authenticating autograph. In this case the expression in ver. 22, "I have written unto you in few words," may refer only to what had thus been appended by himself.

4. That the Epistle was written, independently of St. Paul, by some associate who was familiar with his teaching, anti gave his own expression to it.

This is Origen's view, and is also tenable. It does not, however, so fully account as that last given for the tradition of the Epistle being St. Paul's. It may, if it were so, have been composed either during the apostle's life or shortly after his death; but in the latter case very shortly, if the conclusion arrived at under "Date of the Epistle" be correct.

As to who the actual writer might be, if it was not St. Paul, four have been especially suggested, viz. Luke, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, and Apollos. It does not appear that any of their names had been handed down by tradition, or were even more than conjectures on the ground of likelihood, though all, except Apollos, had, as we have seen, very early mention.

(1) LUKE. He seems to have been thought of by Clement of Alexandria and others, because of the purer Greek of the Epistle resembling his, and its containing words and phrases which are peculiar elsewhere to his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles; and also, we may suppose, because of his close association with St. Paul as his companion, and the tradition of his Gospel having been written under St. Paul's direction. These are good grounds for the conjecture, but still, as far as we know, it was conjecture only.

(2) CLEMENT OF ROME. He, as we have seen, was thought of in early days, being named by Origen as being, as well as St. Luke, one of the then reputed writers. If there was at that time good reason to believe that the Epistle had been sent from Rome, the name of Clement might naturally suggest itself as of one who had been associated with the apostle during his last residence there, and who was ruler of the Roman Church immediately or soon after his martyrdom. Still more if he were the same Clement as is mentioned by St. Paul (Philippians 4:3). Further, the occurrence in Clement's undoubted Epistle to the Corinthians of both ideas and language taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews, appears to have confirmed the supposition. This last circumstance led Eusebius (a Hebrew original being [supposed) to think him more likely than St. Luke to have been the translator. "Some say that Luke the evangelist, and others that this same Clement, translated the writing; which may be rather true, from the epistle of Clement and that to the Hebrews preserving the same style of diction, and from the thoughts in the two compositions not being far apart" ('Hist. Eccl.,' 3:36). So also Euthelius, purporting to give the favourite view: "For (the Epistle) having been written to the Hebrews in their own language is said to have been afterwards translated, according to some by Luke, but according to the majority by Clement; for it preserves his style" (Hebrews 2.). But the theory of the Greek Epistle being a mere translation being abandoned, the style of Clement certainly does not really suggest him as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. All that appears is that he was acquainted with it, and cited it, and introduced some of its thoughts and language; but his own writing exhibits nothing of that powerful grasp, close reasoning, systematic arrangement, and eloquence of expression, which mark the Epistle. Further, if he had been the writer, some tradition to that effect might have been expected to linger in the Roman Church. But that Church seems hardly to have known anything about the Epistle in the age after him, and, as we have seen, long hesitated about even receiving it at all.

(3) BARNABAS. As a Levite, and hence likely to be well versed in Jewish ritual; as St. Paul's original associate, and with him from the first opposed to the exclusive Judaists; as "a good man, full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith," and with an effectual power of exhortation (Acts 6:23, 24); — he may, for aught we know, have been a fit and capable person to be inspired for the writing of such an Epistle as this is. Igor does the breach at one time between him and St. Paul (Acts 15.), or his temporary vacillation at Antioch (Galatians 2:13), preclude his having become again the associate of the great apostle and the exponent of his teaching. We have, however, no knowledge of this, or of St. Barnabas's style and natural powers as a writer, none of his genuine utterances, written or spoken, being on record. Thus the only real ground for the supposition of Barnabas is the assertion of Tertullian, which is certainly remarkable as being made positively and not as a conjecture only. It would carry more weight than it does, did we know that he had any real ground for it except his own opinion or that of others in his day, or if writers after him had seemed to attach importance to it.

(4) APOLLOS: first suggested by Luther, and since taken up with considerable confidence by many. This is certainly a very tempting hypothesis; the main, and this very serious, objection to it being that none of the ancients seem to have thought of him at all. Apollos is described (Acts 18:24) as "a Jew, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man [ λο ì γιος, which may mean either 'eloquent' or 'learned' — either meaning suits the writer of the Epistle], and mighty in the Scriptures," and one who "mightily convinced the Jews... showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ." Every word here is applicable to such a man as the writer seems to have been. Further, the relation of Apollos and his teaching to St. Paul and his teaching, as alluded to by St. Paul himself, corresponds to the relation of this Epistle to St. Paul's undoubted ones. It appears, from the first three chapters of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, that the party at Corinth which called itself that of Apollos depreciated St. Paul's preaching in comparison with his, as being too simple and rude, and deficient in "the wisdom of this world;" and yet it is evident from what St. Paul says that the teaching of Apollos, though different in form, was essentially the same as his: "I planted; Apollos watered." What is thus said of the preaching of Apollos in relation to the preaching of St. Paul is just what might be said of the Epistle to the Hebrews in relation to the Epistles which we know to have been written by St. Paul. Such are the very plausible reasons for assigning the Epistle to Apollos. But, on the other hand, the fact that none of the ancients, who may be supposed to have known more of the probabilities than we do, seem even to have named him, remains a serious objection to the supposition.


Its claim to be included in the canon as inspired and authoritative is, as has been already observed, independent of its authorship. It is enough that it should have been written by one of the gifted ones, during the period of the special activity of the inspiring Spirit; else were the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke to be accounted uncanonical, none of these claiming apostolic authorship. Now, that its date was in the apostolic age, when the inspiring Spirit was in full activity, has been shown above. We therefore require only to be further satisfied of its early acceptance as canonical, and of its having in itself no internal evidence of being otherwise. As to early acceptance, there is, as has been seen, no doubt of it as far as the whole of the East was concerned: the slowness of the West to receive it without reserve has alone to be accounted for. On this point we observe —

1. That the earliest Roman Father, St. Clement, was certainly acquainted with it, and quoted it in the same way as he did other books included in the canon. It is true, his quotations or references are anonymous; but so are they also in other cases; and so are those of the apostolic Fathers generally. It was not their way to quote explicitly and exactly, but rather to interweave language that had become current in the Church as authoritative into the texture of their own writings. And so Clement uses the language of this Epistle in the same way as he does that of undoubted Epistles of St. Paul and of other New Testament Scripture. It does not hence follow that the canon of the New Testament had at that time become definitely fixed; but it does follow that many at least of the documents now included in the canon were already well known and regarded as authoritative, and that the Epistle to the Hebrews was among them.

To this testimony of Clement may be added that of Justin Martyr in the middle of the second century, who, though a native of Palestine, went to reside in Rome, probably wrote there, and certainly suffered there. In his 'Apology' he four times calls Christ "the Son and Apostle of God" (ch. 14; 82; and 83). Now, the title Apostle being found applied to Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews only (Hebrews 3:1), while that of Son pervades it, it seems likely that he is quoting from it: and, identifying Christ with the Angel who spoke to Moses, he speaks of the two titles, Angel and Apostle, as though equally sanctioned by Divine authority. "And the Word of God is his Son, as we have before said. He is also called the Angel and the Apostle (who is sent)." Again, "Now these words have been spoken to show that the Son of God and Apostle is Jesus Christ, who before was the Word, and appeared sometimes in the form of fire," etc. Again, "The Jews, therefore, who always thought that it was the Father of all things that spoke to Moses, whereas he who spoke to him was the Son of God, who is also called the Angel and the Apostle, are justly upbraided," etc. Such language affords at any rate a presumption that Justin Martyr regarded the Epistle to the Hebrews as on a par in authority with the Old Testament Scriptures. Other apparent references to the Epistle by Justin Martyr are found in 'Dial. ad Tryph.,' ch. 13 (cf. Hebrews 4:13, etc.), and ch. 34 (cf. Hebrews 8., etc.).

There being such evidence (notably and positively that of Clement) of a recognition of the Epistle at Rome in the second century, the doubt about it which prevailed afterwards is remarkable, and calls for explanation. It may have been that, though Clement was familiar with it (having, perhaps, been privy to its original composition), no copy of it had been preserved in the Roman Church, nor any distinct tradition about it, possibly because, being addressed to Hebrews (presumably in the East), it was not felt to concern the Roman Christians. Consequently, when it afterwards reached Rome from the East as one of St. Paul's its anonymousness and its unlikeness to the apostle's known writings might naturally induce suspicion that it was not what it was said to be; and such suspicion would be confirmed when it came to be known that even in the East its authorship was questioned. The Westerns, not having, as the Easterns had, any tradition of their own in its favor, might not unreasonably hesitate on such grounds about receiving it at all into their canon. For be it observed — and this is an important consideration — that —

2. It was apparently only because its authorship was questioned that its claim to canonicity was in the first instance questioned too. And then, as time went on, the reluctance thus arising seems to have been strengthened by heretical misinterpretations of some passages contained in it. The phrase, τῷ ποιη ì σαντι αὐτο Ì ν, in Hebrews 3:2 had been taken in a sense favourable to Arianism; and Hebrews 6:4, etc., had been used in support of Novatianism. "Et in ea quia rhetorice scripsit, sermone plausibili inde non putant esse ejusdem apostoli; et quia et factum Christum dicit in ea (Hebrews 3:2) inde non legitur; de paenitentia autem propter Novatianos aeque" (Philastrius, 'De Haeres.,' 89). Ambrose also, in his 'De Paenitentia,' defends Hebrews 6:4, etc., from the Novatian misapplication of it.

The long hesitation of the Western Church being thus accounted for, the Epistle's claim to full canonicity is not really affected by it; especially as this claim came at length to be fully recognized in the West as well as in the East in spite of former prejudices.

As to the internal evidence of the Epistle itself, it is not only not against, but strongly in favor of, its claim to canonicity. The marked distinction between the writings of the New Testament and the few that have come down to us from the sub-apostolic age has often been observed and commented on. The difference consists, not only in the tone of authority that pervades the former, but also in their entire complexion as compositions of a higher order. We feel ourselves, as we read them, as if walking in a purer and more heavenly atmosphere, peculiar to the apostolic age. Without attempting to define this difference further, which none can fail to recognize, we may say, without hesitation, that the Epistle to the Hebrews takes rank in this regard with the other writings of the New Testament canon. This Origen felt when he spoke of the thoughts of the Epistle being "wonderful, and not second to the acknowledged apostolic writings." Its peculiar inspiration is further the more apparent from there being other writings of somewhat similar character, not far distant from it in point of time, with which we may compare it. For it is, among the Epistles, peculiarly tinged with the mode of thought of the religious philosophy of the Alexandrian school, and may therefore be put in contrast with other writings, whether Jewish or Christian, belonging to that school. With them purporting to discover in the records and ritual of the Old Testament a meaning beyond the letter, and to find in Judaism the germ and prophecy of a religion for all humanity, it avoids all far-fetched and fanciful interpretations such as are found elsewhere, and, while adopting many of the ideas of the Alexandrine theosophy, makes them subservient only to the elucidation of the same essential gospel as is preached, though in various forms of expression, throughout the New Testament canon. How easily that theosophy, when taken up by Christians, might lead to perversions of the gospel is apparent from the Gnostic heresies that so soon arose out of it. But not a shadow of a tendency to such perversion is found in this Epistle. We have, too, in the so called Epistle of Barnabas — a document of very early date, though of unknown authorship — a specimen of the treatment of Old Testament symbolism even by an orthodox writer without the guidance of inspiration in the next succeeding age. In it, too, the ancient history and ritual are mystically interpreted after the manner of the Alexandrine school; but, whereas in the canonical Epistle the Old Testament is treated in a broad and intelligent spirit, and with regard to its essential drift and purport, in the other particular passages are arbitrarily taken, and often fanciful meanings drawn out of them which they will not legitimately bear.


All we can be sure of is that it was originally sent to Christians of Jewish race, residing in some definite locality. This last conclusion follows flora the reference to the past experience of the persons addressed (Hebrews 6:10, etc.; 10:32), and to their departed leaders (Hebrews 13:7), and from the writer's expressed intention to visit them (Hebrews 13:19, 23). It was, therefore, not an encyclical Epistle to all Hebrew Churches, though it may have been intended to be generally circulated, so as to be of use to all. But what Church or group of Churches it was first meant for can only be surmised. The designation Hebrews ( ̔Åâñáé͂ïé ) is used in the New Testament to denote those who adhered to the Hebrew language in public worship and to the national Hebrew customs and traditions, in opposition to the Hellenizing Jews, called ̔Åëëçíéóôáé́ (Acts 6:1; cf. 9:29; 11:20); but also, in its more general and proper sense, to denote all of Hebrew race (2 Corinthians 11:22; Philippians 3:5). Hence it cannot be concluded from the title, Προ Ì ς ̔Εβραι ì ους, that the Jewish converts in Palestine rather than elsewhere were addressed. Nor, on the other hand, is the fact of the Epistle having been written in Greek, and of the LXX. being always quoted, an argument against this supposition. For Greek as well as Aramaic was at that time spoken in Palestine, and was the language of Christian literature from the first. It is remarkable in this connection that Justin Martyr, though born at Flavia Neapolis (the ancient Sicliem) in Palestine, probably at the close of the first century, shows no signs of being acquainted with the vernacular language of his country, and even in arguing with the Jew Trypho refers only to the LXX. Chrysostom, and the Greek Fathers generally suppose the Churches of Palestine to be addressed, and this appears still to be the prevailing view, being that which most naturally suggests itself, and at least as probable as any other. Alford, indeed, argues at considerable length against it, and in favor of the Epistle having been addressed to Rome; but his reasoning is by no means convincing.

Nor can we determine with any certainty the locality from which the Epistle was sent. The expression," They of Italy ( οἱ ἀπο Ì τῆς Ιταλι ì ας) salute you" (Hebrews 13:24), does not settle the question whether the writer was or was not in Italy when he wrote. It may mean either persons who had come from Italy or simply Italians. In favor of the latter meaning, cf. Acts 10:23, τῶν ἀπο Ì Ιο ì ππης: 12:1 τῶν ἀπο Ì τῆς ἐκκλησι ì ας: 17:13, οἱ ἀπο Ì τῆς Θεσσαλονι ì κης: 21:27, οἱ ἀπο Ì τῆς Ασι ì ας Ιουδαῖοι. With these instances before us (all being from St. Luke, whose language that of the Epistle so constantly resembles), we may most naturally take the phrase to mean the Hebrews, or the Christians generally, who were of Italy; and if so, to suppose the writer to have been himself in Italy, possibly in Rome, when he thus sent salutations from them. lie could not, in fact, have used a more appropriate expression, if this were the ease. This expression, then, seems to afford a probability, though not a certainty, that it was so. The familiarity of the Roman Clement with the Epistle, though no copy of it seems to have been preserved in the Roman Church, may further be thus accounted for.

V. THE PURPOSE AND SUBJECT OF THE EPISTLE. It is not, in original intention, an expository treatise so much as a hortatory letter, though so large a part of it is devoted to exposition. It does indeed supply, for us and for all ages, an invaluable treatise on the Law in relation to Christ; but its main purpose was originally hortatory, the expositions throughout leading up to the hortations, which come in, as the Epistle goes on, with increasing force.

We may better understand this its immediate purpose, if we call to mind the original relation of the Church to Judaism and the changes in that relation which had by degrees ensued.

The first Christians at Jerusalem regarded themselves as still belonging to the religious commonwealth of Israel, and, with the apostles, attended the temple daily (Acts 2:46). They were slow also to rise above the idea of the gospel being intended for the house of Israel only: "They which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen" for the most part "preached the Word to none but unto the Jews only" (Acts 11:19). The Samaritans had indeed been preached to (Acts 8.), but the speaking to Greeks at Antioch by "some who were men of Cyprus and Cyrene" (Acts 11:20) is mentioned as something new and unusual; even Peter would have hesitated to receive Cornelius into the Church without the special enlightenment of that memorable vision (Acts 10.). His reception, sanctioned by signs from above, and approved at length by "those of the circumcision" at Jerusalem (Acts 11:18), was an important event; thenceforth the principle was established that Gentiles were admissible equally with Jews to the privileges of the new covenant; and so no offence was taken at Jerusalem when, especially through the preaching of Paul and Barnabas, large numbers came straight from heathenism into the Church. But still a question remained as to the terms of admission. The strict Hebrew party at Jerusalem insisted on their being circumcised, and keeping the Law of Moses; they would have them members of the Jewish as well as of the Christian Church, after the manner of proselytes of the gate. The Council held at Jerusalem under the presidency of St. James, attended by Paul and Barnabas as advocates of freedom, and addressed in the same sense by St. Peter, decided that no such burden ought to be laid on the Gentile converts; only a few legal restrictions being for the time enjoined, apparently for the avoidance of offence. This was a second important step in advance. But it did not close the controversy. The party of Judaists, pleading, it would seem, however unjustifiably, the support of St. James (see Galatians 2:12), still maintained their position, and endeavored everywhere to thwart and depreciate St. Paul. So great was their influence, and so strong the feeling in Jewish circles against associating with uncircumcised converts, that even Peter and Barnabas were at one time induced to temporize (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul, however, stood firm in asserting and acting on the principle that Christianity had become independent of Judaism, that justification was through faith in Christ and not through the works of the Law, and that to admit of any compromise would be to preach another gospel. It was through him, humanly speaking, that the true conception of what the gospel meant eventually triumphed, and that the Church emerged from those once bitter contests, not a sect of Judaism, but catholic for all mankind. Still, even St. Paul was very tender towards conscientious Jewish prejudices; whatever he could do to conciliate without the sacrifice of principle he did: unto the Jews he became as a Jew, that he might gain the Jews (1 Corinthians 9:20); he "took and circumcised" Timothy (which he could do without inconsistency in the case of one whose mother was a Jewess) "because of the Jews which were in those quarters" (Acts 16:3); he himself went through a ceremonial observance at Jerusalem in deference to the many believers there who were zealous for the Law (Acts 21:20-27); he was willing that Jewish Christians should act up to their own convictions as long as they would leave others free; and towards those who did so, though regarding them as weak brethren, he earnestly enjoined tolerance and tenderness (Romans 14.; 1 Corinthians 10:23, etc.). And in thus acting he was wise as well as charitable. For we can well understand how hard it would be for the Jews to give up their deeply seated hereditary prejudices, and how it would not have Been desirable to subject them to so great a shock as would have been caused by requiring them all at once to do so.

But when the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, the time had come for a complete and final severance from the ancient order. For now the predicted judgment was impending on Jerusalem, the temple was about to be destroyed forever, the whole sacrificial system connected therewith to cease, and the nation to be scattered through the world without a home in Palestine. Fall time was it now for Christ's followers fully to perceive that from the old dispensation, never more than provisional, the glory was passed away; to come entirely out of the once holy but now doomed city; to lean no longer on the tottering fabric of the temple, lest their very faith should be shattered in its downfall. And there seems to have been at that time a peculiar need for the note of warning to be loud and rousing. For it appears from passages in the Epistle that some, at least, of the Hebrew Christians had shown signs of retrogression rather than of advance; they had not only failed to make the progress they should have done in appreciation of the true meaning of the gospel, — they were even in danger of falling back from it to their old position. It is not difficult to understand how this might be. As the principles of which St. Paul had been the great advocate more and more prevailed, and as the Church seemed to be drifting more and more away from Israelite nationality, those who still cling fondly to old associations might easily become alarmed lest the stream should be carrying them they knew not whither. Hence a reaction in some quarters would be likely to set in, not without risk, such as is hinted at as possible, of entire relapse from Christianity. Then in such as were thus wavering the continued persecutions to which Christians were subjected, and the increasing obloquy in which they were held by their fellow-countrymen, and the seemingly long delay of Christ's coming which they had once believed to be close at hand, would increase doubt and faintness of heart, and cause the very faith in Christ of some to fail. It does not appear from the Epistle that this state of feeling was general among the Hebrew Christians — being only hinted at delicately from time to time, and then at once hopefully repudiated — but it evidently did