The Author of Hebrews – Why Remain Anonymous?

Of all the letters in the NT, only Hebrews and 1 John lack the typical opening expected in a Letter.  Why does the author remain anonymous?

It is possible the letter was not anonymous in the first place, but the address was lost early in the history of the letter. Perhaps the original document was intended to be delivered with a cover letter from the author which was customized for various synagogues or churches in Rome.  Since the cover letter was unique to the church, it was not copied in the same way the letter might.  But there is no evidence for this, either by manuscript or tradition. It is better to see the letter as intentionally anonymous.

It is also possible the letter was anonymous to protect the writer from any attacks from either Jews hostile to the gospel or Romans wishing to persecute the leaders of the church.  Some scholars have pointed out that the Gospel of John does not identify every disciple (there are unknown disciples throughout the book).  At least one explanation for this was to protect these still-living disciples from persecution.  But this would seem odd for the author to hide his identity given that the letter encourages the readers to face persecution with boldness!

It is more likely that the letter was likely intended to be read in a number of different contexts as a literary piece, not a letter written for a particular occasion.   Hebrews is a sermon addressed to anyone struggling with the relationship of Judaism and Christianity, although it is especially applicable in Rome in the early 60’s.  An introduction with greetings from the author may not have been appropriate, if this is the case.

10 thoughts on “The Author of Hebrews – Why Remain Anonymous?

  1. There are a host of reasons to remain anonymous when writeing a letter, especially during the time in which you would be put to death if you even sounded a little heretical. The book of Hebrews sounds so much different than the books that Paul wrote that it was maybe in the best interest of the author to not say who they were. In todays studys of the Bible we see that there is a connection and some similaritys to the Pauline littiture. It seems that the book of Hebrews is an expultion of what to do with the ideology that Paul gave in his letters. It is a book that says “this is what you do with what you now know.”

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  2. I really like the take that you have on the reason the writer is anonymous. I honestly have never really cared as much until this past semester as to who wrote certain books of the Bible. I hadn’t realized that the books of the Bible each have different ‘flavors’ with each writer’s different styles. As far as who wrote the book of Hebrews and why or why not it is revealed I do not know, and nobody will know for sure until we meet the Lord in Heaven. I know that Jobes doesn’t think that Paul wrote the book, and I find her reasons to be interesting. I also wonder… is the reason the author is not exposed for the purpose of the different people who would be reading it. I wonder if Jews or Gentiles might have had a different perception going into the book of Hebrews if they had known Paul had wrote it (just as an example since it is unclear as to who actually wrote the book). If somebody has offended you or made you super happy, you remember, and it affects your perception of them. Now, say the person then becomes your teacher. Your feelings of them before the class carry into how you perceive the instructor. That would be the same as to how the Jews and Gentiles would look at the book of Hebrews with a known author. I am more than likely wrong and I am purely spit balling, but this is an idea of why Hebrews has an unknown author.

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  3. Looking at the book of Hebrews it is interesting to think that it is written from an anonymous author. Jobes mentions that “the careful reader of the epistle will note that the book of Hebrews is in fact anonymous.” When we look at many of the books in the new testament it is obvious who the author is, either inferred by the writing or directly mentioned. For example the book of Romans in chapter 1 directly starts off with Paul’s name and his intent for the writing. Jobes also presents that internal evidence within the book indicates that the author wasn’t Paul. So back to the anonymous factor it is interesting to ask the question why the author does not mention a name. The cover letter idea poses an interesting possibility. It would make sense that if there were possibilities of persecution then anonymity would be a plus in the situation. Either way the anonymity of the author does not necessarily change the intent of the writing. As mentioned already it makes sense for it to be a literary piece addressed possibly to those in Rome as they struggled with their new found faith in Christ and what they were to do in the coming time to further the faith.

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  4. I find it very interesting that the author of Hebrews is anonymous. It most certainly makes me wonder why. I especially wonder why the author chose to remain completely anonymous instead of just using a pseudonym. Perhaps the author was originally known. If so, when did we this documentation disappear, and why? The anonymity of the author poses many questions. Perhaps there is a simple answer to all these questions. It may be that we are simply not meant to know who the author is. Maybe God never intended for us to know. Maybe He wanted us to simply focus on the content of the chapter without worrying so much about who wrote it. Jobes quotes Origen saying, “but who wrote the epistle, in truth only God knows”. I tend to agree with Origen. There are many things in this world that only God knows. We are not meant to know everything. It is interesting to wonder at who the author might have been, but in the end, I believe that it is the content of Hebrew, not the author, that we should pay attention to.

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  5. In all honesty, I do not think I have ever really taken a care to who wrote what book of the Bible. I wasn’t even sure of how people really knew most of the time until I discovered that for many books the author was mentioned somewhere in the first couple of verses. So I guess it is easy for me to tell you that the first reading we needed to do were rather boring because I had a lack of care. But at the same time I have to agree with Sari that this authorless book makes me curious as to who the author really is. In one of P.Long’s posts he mentions that fact that Hebrews was written right after Romans which apparently is the time of Pauline Letters. This is a great argument for supporting Paul as the author of Hebrews. I am not sure of whether I really believe one way or the other with who I think wrote the book of Hebrews, whether it was Paul, a close worker with Paul, or someone else. But I do feel that it is a strong possibility that only God knows and He may be the only one who will know. I understand that each author wrote according to a different time with different events, but every word (all scripture) is God breathed. So every author was inspired by one God.

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  6. I never really new or even paid attention to which the letter was written by. Since Hebrews and 1 John’s authors are anonymous, it would make sense that they did not put their names down to protect their nation. There is so much history that I never even thought of or even would take into consideration about why the author chose not to sign their name. But, in saying that, whoever wrote Hebrews, wrote in a way that mimicked Paul’s style of teaching. In Jobes this is called soteriology and she gives a great example, “For instance, the statement in Hebrews 10:14 that those who have been “made perfect” are in the process of being “made holy” sounds very much like Paul’s teaching on justification (e.g., Rom. 3:21-5:9) and sanctification (e.g., Rom. 8:1-17)” (39). Then Jobes goes on to say that Paul and the anonymous writer, were trying to describe something in the same way. So, even though history has lost the name of the writers of Hebrews and 1 John, there are many key ideas to which we can unlock and see if our theories are right.

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  7. It is interesting to consider different reasons as to why the author of Hebrews chooses to remain anonymous. One reason may be because of Christian persecution. Like you said, it may have been dangerous for the author of Hebrews to proclaim authorship; whether it was hostile Jews or Roman persecution. I have not heard of the “cover letter” theory before this class. To suggest the letter was not anonymous in the first place is appealing to some extent but without any evidence it loses its sustainability to me. So I agree that it is “better to see the letter as intentionally anonymous”. Although it will remain a mystery until we get to Heaven, we can still learn from Hebrews. For me, its anonymity does not subtract from its purpose or substantive value.

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  8. I think it was a smart idea the writer remained anonymous. When you lived in a time that by saying one wrong thing you could be executed. If I was living in that time period and wrote something I would not my name on it knowing I could be killed if someone finds in offensive. I know that there is a point where you just want your voice to be heard but at the expense of being executed I would not sign my name. Its not just about protecting yourself its also about protecting other people like yourself. “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty,But who can find a trustworthy man?” (Proverbs 20:6)

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  9. Good book of Hebrews have been written between 66 and 69 AD by Paul from Rome?
    Perhaps Paul got word through inside sources (church members from among Caesars household–Phillip. 4:22) that Titus was being sent by Vaspacian to destroy Jerusalem. This would also result in the destruction of the Temple. The book of Hebrews seems to be preparing the church for the loss of the Temple. Perhaps he wrote the book anonymously so as not to endanger his sources.

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    • The problem there is that Paul dies during the reign of Nero, well before the revolt even started…Vespasian was still only a general at the time and had no hope of being emperor.

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