by John Lee
The book in the New Testament that has caused the most debates regarding its authorship is the Epistle to the Hebrews. The reason for these debates and ambiguity is because the name of the author was not written in the original manuscript. This has resulted in many speculations. For the first three hundred years of Christian church history, the Pauline authorship of Hebrews was generally acknowledged in the Western Latin churches. Bishops of the church, such as Clement of Alexandria in the second century, pointed to Paul as the author, but there was no evidence to support this claim. Origen (185-254 A.D.) was an early church father who stated that the “thoughts” were similar to those of Paul, but he also admitted, “Who wrote the epistle, truly God alone knows.” Since the Reformation in the 16th century, most modern biblical scholars, theologians and commentators have debated the authorship of Hebrews. Martin Luther and John Calvin suspected that Paul was the author, but James Moffatt opposed them because of Hebrews “so many internal contradictory evidences” to Pauline writing. The discussion and argument about the authorship of Hebrews has continued to arise from time to time. Recently, Paul’s name was removed from the title of the book of Hebrews in most of the versions due to the uncertainty of its authorship. This action has caused many Christians to discuss who is the true author of Hebrews.
Originally, the Epistle to the Hebrews was not identified with Apostle Paul. As some scholars have stated, if it was written by Paul, his name would appear at the beginning of the book as in other Pauline Epistles. Moreover, its style and usage of words are somewhat different from other Pauline writings. This absence of Paul’s name, style, and words has caused others to consider Luke, Apollo, Clement of Rome, Barnabas or Silas as possible authors. Some have even suggested Aquila, the craftsman who worked with Paul in their tent-making ventures, as the author. So who really is the author of Hebrews? There has not been total agreement among biblical commentators, modern scholars, and theologians. This discrepancy calls for an earnest search to identify the author of the Hebrews.
Due to some recent research on the authorship of Hebrews, helpful evidence that confirms Paul as the author of Hebrews has been discovered. This discovery was the result of a combination of relentless Bible study and vigilant prayer. Christ’s Priesthood and daily intercession for us in the heavenly sanctuary has magnified the Gospel message and made these discoveries possible. The writing place, date, and author of Hebrews, as well as the Epistle’s first readers, have been traced and identified. The details of these discoveries are presented here for your consideration, beginning with three initial evidence which identify Paul as the author of Hebrews.
I. Initial Evidence for the Authorship
First, Paul wrote most of the Epistles in the New Testament. He also was the most extensive and intensive writer on the essential messages and doctrines of Christianity. Paul’s writings consistently show the divine image of Christ as the Son of God, and this characteristic appears in the prologue of Hebrews, which introduces Christ as the “Son whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Heb 1:2). This can be compared with Paul’s description of Christ in the Epistle to the Colossians: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col 1:15-17).
Second, the author of Hebrews refers to the Sonship of Christ in two places. The first reference mentions that the Son of God has fulfilled the promise of Psalms 2:7, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” (See Heb 1:5; 5:5). During the early period of his missionary journey to Antioch, Paul compared the Sonship of Christ to Psalms 2:7 (See Acts 13:33-34). The second reference in Hebrews to the Sonship of Christ describes He as the “firstborn” of God (Compare Heb 1:6 with Col 1:15). The concept of Christ as the “firstborn” and “begotten” Son of God was a very rare knowledge during the time of Paul’s era. It was probably not until 45 years later that John, the Apostle, in the latter part of his ministry, he proclaimed Jesus Christ “monogenes” (only begotten) of God for five times (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9).
Third, the author of Hebrews proclaims the Gospel truth in a way which is consistent with
Paul’s beliefs. For example, the sacrificial service in the sanctuary for atonement, teachings concerning various washing, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation (Heb 9:1-10) are discussed from a point of view which Paul expressed in his other epistles (See 2 Cor 3:11; Gal 1:11-12). Further, the author of Hebrews indicates that the sanctuary service was in vain after Christ, the Lamb of God, died on the cross. He reasons that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. . . . And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb 10:4, 11). Then the author points to Christ the better and perfect offering, saying, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14). Again, this teaching is consistent with Paul’s teachings.
The author of Hebrews also says: For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. . . . Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Heb 7: 18-19, 25).
Compare this with Paul’s writing, “For if what is passing away [earthly priesthood] was glorious, what remains [Heavenly Priesthood] is much more glorious” (2 Cor 3:11). Both of these passages, describing how Christ died to atone for our sin, contradict the whole Mosaic sacrificial ritual of circumcision and priesthood. This expressed difference requires a thorough comprehension of the priesthood ritual subject, and none other than Paul could have understood Christ’s Priesthood in heaven, for Christ revealed it to him directly (See Gal 1:11-12). Indeed, Paul was the spokesman for the revelation of Christ’s sacrifice as atonement in the apostolic era.
Not even the twelve apostles received such advanced revelation regarding Jewish traditional ritual which was replaced by Christ’s sacrificial atonement. For example, when Paul returned to Jerusalem for his last visit, about thirty years after the crucifixion of Christ, James, the church leader, was still following the Mosaic Law in circumcision and the sacrificial ritual. James did not believe that Paul had taught the Jews who lived among the Gentiles to forsake the Mosaic Law. He thought that Paul would never teach a doctrine which was contrary to the Jewish traditions because the circumcision and the sacrificial ordinances were considered to have a binding status from God’s commandment which would last “forever” (Ex 27:21). James suggested that Paul needed to bring four men who had taken a vow to the sanctuary and purify them with an offering, as commanded by Mosaic Law, in order to cleanse the misunderstanding of Paul’s anti-Jewish traditions (See Acts 21:17-22). It is therefore obvious that earlier Christians and the leaders did not understand the relationship between Christ’s crucifixion and His Priesthood in heaven which replaced the sacrificial atonement and priesthood on earth.
II. Internal Textual Evidence
Certain revelations to the better Priesthood of Christ in heaven described in Hebrews was given primarily to Paul. The stark comparison between the earthly ritual of goat and bull offerings and the Heavenly ritual of Christ, the High Priest, offering His body as a sacrifice for atonement was also known as the “Old” and the “New” sacrificial services of the Everlasting Covenant.
The biblical terms “Old Covenant” and “New Covenant” in Hebrews chapter 8 and 9 describe the earthly or heavenly sanctuary sacrificial atonement for the Everlasting Covenant. The author wrote, “Then He [Christ] said, “’Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first [old sacrificial atonement], that He may establish the second (new sacrificial atonement). By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:9-10). The following Pauline references contain parallels to Heb 10:9-10:
1. “Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2: 14). Paul indicated that Christ’s crucifixion fulfilled the lambs as the sacrificial atonement, so that the Mosaic Law concerning the priesthood, sanctuary service, and circumcision was canceled and nailed the handwriting of the ordinances to the cross.
2.“Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace” (Eph 2:15).
3. “For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away [the first] was glorious, what remains [the second] is much more glorious” (2 Cor 3:10-11). This is a comparison of the two sacrificial atonements where the first one (the antitype) has met the second one (the type) of Christ’s body as a sacrificial offering. This pattern is parallel to the text in Hebrews, “He takes away the first that He may establish the second” (Heb 10:9). Paul boldly proclaimed that Christ’s death had fulfilled and abolished the sacrificial ordinances on the cross before He ascended to heaven to serve as the High Priest, and this claim is echoed in Heb 9:15: “And for this reason, He is the Mediator of the new covenant.” This emphasis on Christ as our High Priest and Mediator (Advocate), along with the belief that His supreme sacrifice replaced the earthly sanctuary services, sounded blasphemous to the traditional Jews. No other New Testament author besides Paul made such a clear and shocking distinction in his writings except for the author of Hebrews.
4. “Shadow” (in Greek skia) is used by the author of Hebrews to describe the earthly sanctuary and its priesthood service as the copy and “shadow” of Christ as the High Priest in heaven (Heb 8:4-5). Paul used this “skia” imagery vividly when comparing the earthly sanctuary service during festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths as the “shadow” of things to come (Col 2:16-17). Paul used the term “things to come” to indicate Christ’s intercession as the High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary as a result of His sacrifice on the cross. As Stephen Haskell said, “Showing type had met the antitype; the shadow had met the substance which cast the shadow.”4 The heavenly sanctuary truth is of vital importance, particularly concerning Christ’s Priesthood and His daily intercession in heaven for us. It is because of Christ’s role in our salvation that our salvation is sure, for His grace is sufficient for all believers as well as all unbelievers in the world.
5. The writing style in Hebrews is also consistent with Paul’s writing style in his greetings or salutations. In 2 Thessalonians 3:17, Paul says, “The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write.” In Hebrews, the author says, “Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you” (Heb 13: 24). “Those from Italy” could be the Jewish believers Aquila and his wife Priscilla who worked with Paul in making tents after they arrived from Italy (Acts 18:2).
6. Paul saw “good conscience” as very important in God’s ministry. He testified before the council in Jerusalem, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). He taught and charged Timothy twice that he should have faith and a good
conscience before God (1 Tim 1:5, 19). This is in harmony with the author to request for prayer: “Pray for us, for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably” (Heb 13:18).
III. The Historical Evidence
Since the term “Hebrews” does not appear in the entire epistle, why was it originally entitled “To the Hebrews?” This question can be answered if the author and the original audience of the epistle are identified.
Before the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, Paul escaped from Berea to Athens to avoid persecution, and he asked Silas and Timothy, who still remained in Berea, to meet him in Athens “speedily” (Acts 17:13-15). At that time, Paul knew that the church in Thessalonica was under stress and facing severe tribulation. Paul feared that those people might lose their faith, so willingly waited in Athens alone and sent Timothy to Thessalonica to comfort and affirm their faith, lest they labor in vain (1 Thess 3:1-5). Berea was situated near Thessalonica, which facilitated communication to them easier.
It is very possible that just as Jason was caught by the Government Security because he received Paul to his home, perhaps Timothy was also caught and kept in the prison for a period of time, even though the Bible does not mention this (See Acts 17:5-9). Because of their delay, Paul would have waited in Athens no longer and gone to Corinth to join Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, who had recently come from Italy to make tents as their livelihood (Acts 18:1-3). Since Timothy was still in prison, Silas properly was in Berea waiting for Timothy, thus they could not join Paul in Corinth speedily. The Bible describes that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” in Corinth (Acts 18:4).
In approximately 51 A.D., Timothy was set free and met Silas in Berea, then they were coming to join Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews must have been written at that time, because Hebrews 13:23 says, “Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.” Then in Acts 18:5 mentions that “Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia” (Acts 18:5) to join Paul. After Paul heard the “good news” of the Thessalonians church, which was reported to him by Timothy, he wrote the first Epistle to Thessalonians (1 Thess 3:5-6). The only person mentioned in Hebrews who was still alive at the time of its writer was Timothy. Therefore, by following Timothy we can identify the author of the Hebrews.
Most, if not all, commentators agree that the first Thessalonians is the first epistle of Paul’s writings, written in 51 A.D. at Corinth.5 However, if we compare 1 Thessalonians with Hebrews, we can see that Hebrews was written before 1 Thessalonians. Heb 13:23 states that “he [Timothy] comes shortly,” which shows that Timothy is still on his way to him; this can be compared with 1 Thessalonians 3:6 where Paul wrote “Timothy has come to us,” which shows that Timothy has come to him already. This shows that the author of Hebrews and the author of the 1 Thessalonians are the same person who mentions the very same person at the same place that is Timothy’s return to him at Corinth. Only the time is a little different.
Timothy was called by Paul during Paul’s second mission journey. Their relationship was very close and they were always together. Paul addressed Timothy as his “true son in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2). Their names frequently appear together in the Epistles (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians). Paul wrote two letters to Timothy, asking him to bring Mark, his cloak, and his books and parchments to Rome before his death (2 Tim 4:9-13). From their relationship, we can assume that after Timothy’s release from prison, he returned to see none other than Paul that they might work and endure sufferings and tribulations together for the sake of the gospel.
IV. The Original Audiences
The author says, “With whom I shall see you if he comes shortly” (Heb 13:23). The term “you” are the original audiences who were to be seen by Paul and Timothy shortly. According to the Book of Acts, Paul brought Silas and Timothy through Cenchrea and Ephesus before returning to Jerusalem (Acts 18:18-22). From this, we deduce that the Epistle to the Hebrews was from Paul to the Hebrew-speaking believers in Jerusalem. Therefore, according to the destination, this Pauline epistle may be also called “The Epistle to Jerusalem.”
Paul described himself as “the Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil 3:5), and he spoke Hebrew language to his own Hebrew people at his last return to his hometown Jerusalem; his testimony was recorded and translated by Luke into Greek in Acts 22:1-21. He testified and always brought relief to Jerusalem which was the headquarters of the churches (Acts 9:26-29; 11:29; 15:2; 24:17; Rom 15:25-27). Therefore, it is highly probable that this epistle was written in the Hebrew language and was translated to Greek by Luke, who was fluent with both the Greek and Hebrew language.6 The original epistle was sent to the Hebrews who were in Jerusalem, while its Greek translation was sent to other churches.
During church history, the Epistle to the Hebrews was rejected from the canon by churches for more than three hundred years because of its contradictions to Mosaic Law in the sacrificial atonement. It was not until the fourth century, in 367 A.D., that Hebrews became the last Book accepted as canonical in the New Testament. Unfortunately, it is highly possible that the original manuscript in the Hebrew language, written by Paul, was burnt during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Since all that would have remained after the original Hebrews was destroyed would be the Greek translation, this would explain why the style and word usage in the epistle to the Hebrews is different from Paul’s other writings.
In Paul’s era, Jerusalem was the center of the Hebrew religious activities. The priests performed sacrificial rituals for atonement in the sanctuary every day, every Sabbath, and every New Moon and Festival. During the three great annual Festivals, all the Jews would return to Jerusalem for the celebrations, according to God’s command, for that had been their culture and custom for more than fifteen hundred years. The Christian believers who were in Jerusalem were under persecution and endured intense struggles and sufferings. The author described that they “joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] goods, knowing that [they had] a better and an enduring possession for [themselves] in heaven” (Heb 10:34). He said that they ought to be “teachers,” but they did not understand that Jesus Christ had ascended to heaven as the High Priest to replace the earthly priesthood and the sacrificial atonement. They were required to lean on the first principle of the oracles of God, and they were like babies who could only drink milk (See Heb 5: 12-13).
V. The Reasons for Anonymity
Why did Paul leave his name out of the Epistle to Hebrews? Paul possibly wrote the epistle during a persecution period when he was escaping from Thessalonica to Corinth (Acts 17:4-15, 18:1-7). Therefore, it was probably not safe for him to identify himself with the epistle, in order to preserve the manuscript and the messages proclaimed in it. Moreover, the doctrine of the heavenly sanctuary contradicted completely to the teaching of the scribes, Pharisees and the
priests in Jerusalem. These leaders strongly affirmed that the Mosaic Law was God’s commandment through Moses, given to the Israelites and to be kept strictly from generation to generation until “forever.” This tradition was directly opposed to Paul’s teaching, so Paul may have left his name out in order to avoid the prejudice and contradiction which were hindering the preaching of the Gospel. Later, he described the sacrificial ordinances as the“handwriting”7 that was against and contrary to him and his fellow workers (Col 2:14). Finally, Paul might have been protecting the carrier of the manuscript and his target readers who would receive the message by omitting his name. The author of Hebrews was familiar enough with the readers to make personal requests for prayer; he says, “Pray for us . . . I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner” (Heb 13:18-19).
From the evidence above, it is possible to deduce that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews in 51 A.D. at Corinth to the Hebrew believers who were in Jerusalem. Though the original manuscript was not found, it most probably was burnt during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., its Greek translation by Luke was discovered. Paul was most qualified to be the author of Hebrews because he was the grandson of a Pharisee and was a Pharisee himself, trained under the strict tutelage of Gamaliel. Paul was born in Tarsus, but brought up in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel. He claimed that he was the Hebrew of Hebrews, he spoke Hebrew language to his own people in Jerusalem. He had a thorough understanding of the Jewish history and Mosaic Law in ordinances of the sanctuary sacrificial ritual. Paul was converted by Christ, who appeared to him on the way to Damascus and later revealed the doctrine of sanctuary to him.
Paul makes a comparison with the two systems of sacrifice: If the blood of the lambs and oxen can sanctify to the purifying of the flesh, then how much more powerful is the blood of Christ, which can purify the conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb 9: 13-14)? The earthly old ritual has ceased, however, Christ serves as the High Priest and Mediator in the heavenly sanctuary before God continuously; He makes daily intercession for us, which is infinitely better than the earthly old ritual. Therefore, let us come boldly to the throne of God, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help us in time of need (Heb 4:14-16).
To accept Paul as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is very important because it strengthens our faith in the forgiveness and grace of God, which is our greatest “help in time of need.” “Therefore do not cast away your confidence,” Paul says, “which has great reward. For you have needed of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry” (Heb 10: 35-37). The certainty that Paul is the author of the Hebrews provides a firm foundation for our faith in Christ, the High Priest, who makes intercession before God for us every day and whose grace is sufficient for us and the whole world as well.
This research has inspired us because it points us to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. We hope that these discoveries increase your faith too. Moreover, this affirms the validity of the Seventh-day Adventist preachers in presenting the heavenly sanctuary truth as the everlasting Gospel in the three angels’ messages of hope and salvation to all nations, people and generations around the world until Christ’s second return. Amen. (The end)
Note: Translated by Dr. C. K. Sim
All quotations of Scriptures in this paper are from the New King James Version. Italics with bold are supplied for emphasis.
The Everlasting Covenant began with Adam in the Garden of Eden before the Fall (Gen 2:15-17; cf Hos 6:7). Later, God renewed the Everlasting Covenant with patriarchs, prophets, kings and the Israelites throughout the generations of the Old Testament era until Christ came. He renewed the same Covenant with the Apostles and the believers until today. The Everlasting Covenant never changed; what did change was the sacrificial ritual, from Old to New: from earthly sanctuary to heavenly sanctuary, from sacrificial lamb to Christ’s body; from Levites as high priests to Christ as the High Priest.
Paul’s original meanings for the terms “Old Covenant” and “New Covenant” as used in his writings were much different from their modern meanings. In Paul’s writings, the “First” or “Old” Covenant (Testament) meant the old sacrificial atonement of the Everlasting Covenant which resulted from the Fall of Adam; the “Second,” or “Better,” or “New” Covenant (Testament) described the new Priesthood of Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary in order to bring believers back to the promise of the Everlasting Covenant.
4Stephen N. Haskell, The Cross and its Shadow (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1970), 98.
5”1 Thessalonians,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, ed. F. D. Nichol (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1957, 1980), 7:103.
6Clement of Alexandria in second century addressed Paul who wrote it in the Hebrew language, and Luke carefully translated it into Greek. See Seven-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol. VII., p. 388.
7Paul applied the term “handwriting” in his writings to Mosaic Law concerning the sanctuary ritual and circumcision which was “the offense of the cross” (Gal 5:11). The scribes, Pharisees, priests and leaders of the council used the “handwriting” of the Mosaic Law to create ordinances to use against Paul and his fellow workers. These people were very opposed to Paul’s preaching of the Gospel.