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.

24 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.”

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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)

  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.

    • 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.

  10. Jesus had made it quite clear that the disciples would have to suffer for the name of Christ. I can’t imagine being scared to put his name on this book, even if there was a revolution happening or even with his life being at risk. I have never paid attention to the book of Hebrews, or the authorship for that matter. If Hebrews was truly written after Rome, and after the Pauline Letters were written, then wouldn’t it make sense that Paul wasn’t the author of Hebrews? If we suggest that the letter was to remain anonymous intentionally, what good is it to be scared if the persecution of Rome when Jesus had already said the road after him would be a rough one. Peter had denied Jesus three times, and suffered an internal defeat. If the writer of Hebrews had done the same thing, to me this is suffering the same thing as Peter had done, not telling people you stand behind Jesus by attaching your name, which back in ancient times was a huge deal because of all the pseudonymous writers, and letting people know it was you. To me this seems like the author was truly in fear of persecution, and wanted no one to know it was indeed him.

  11. As we read through Hebrews there is a lot of debate and curiosity of who is the actual writer of Hebrews is and why is the author so unanimous. One thing that I pick up on is that at the time that this book was written the Christians were being thoroughly persecuted by the romans and being put to death by them for the beliefs that they have. Along with that the split between Christians and Jews were tense as the Jews didn’t like what the Christians believe. For these reasons it is understandable that the author would want to stay quiet and not show who he is. Because in this him showing who he is and why he is writing may bring a lot of people to his door and persecute him more for his belief. But at the same time, I also see the other side which as Christians we are to follow. This meaning we need to spread the gospel to all people and make Jesus known. If someone has a lot of knowledge on a topic then why wouldn’t they want to talk and preach more about it? Finding out the author of Hebrews is up for some curiosity but I think if we dwell on trying to find out who it is we miss out on what the book is actually about and the things that we can learn from the words and lessons in this book.

  12. Over my years in church and at Grace Christian University, I have heard many different theories on who wrote the book of Hebrews. Even just yesterday, my brother-in-law and I discussed our theories. I have heard theories like Moses wrote Hebrews, maybe Paul wrote it. Some say it must have been a woman. Others think it could be Apollos or someone around that time. Each person has reasons for their views. This blog post made me expand my thinking about the benefits of being anonymous. It might not have been intentional to be anonymous, but this is how it worked out. In this opportunity, it protected the writer and opened the door for a broader context. I think it is interesting to think about the other theories, but this does not take away from the value inside. The book of Hebrews was not about one specific place or occasion, it was made for all people who were struggling with Judaism and Christianity. So, when people ask me who wrote it, I am still not sure, but I trust that this opportunity was used for God’s work to grow throughout the nations.

  13. Why Remain Anonymous?
    It is interesting that Hebrews does not disclose who its author is especially since it is a letter to a church. As this blog suggests I could see a world in which the cover letter was lost and so the author’s name was lost with it. However, it is interesting to note that with other letters the author’s name was not lost making me question why that would happen with only one letter instead of several. With that being said I don’t think that the author’s name was simply lost with the cover letter. Another suggestion from this blog is the idea that the author wanted to remain anonymous in the face of persecution. I do not see this as a viable solution to the problem because many Christians were not afraid of persecution but considered it as a sign that they were doing the will of God.
    I think that the author of Hebrews remained anonymous because of God’s will for that book. Perhaps someday we will know who wrote the book of Hebrews and what the purpose was but for now, I think that we just have to trust God and how his hand was clearly directing the writer of Hebrews just as he was the whole Bible.

  14. As I look through the Hebrews I look at One thing I did notice was that at the time that this book was coming together was the Christians were being kept by Romans and being put to death by the people because of what they believe in which I find very crazy because God don’t Judge no one at all even if it right or wrong he always love you no matter what. With the crazy thing between Christians and the Jewish people they were budding heads because the Jewish community wasn’t really feeling and liking what the Christian was believing in. I think the author wanted to stay quiet because he didn’t show who he is because of his belief probably because they would get judge and things will Escalate to something deeper. I think him remaining unknown is somewhat smart and somewhat crazy. Because if that what he believe in he should stand up for that and be proud in what he believe in but everyone different and want to go about thing differently

  15. Hebrews was written in a “letter” form; however, it was lacking the typical letter opening statement. There are many possibilities of why this letter is anonymous to this day. One possibility is that the letter might not have always been anonymous. The address could have gotten lost in the early times of history when the letter was first written. Unfortunately, there is no clear evidence of this possibility, so it is better to see the letter as just being intentionally anonymous.
    A possibility that this letter was intentionally left anonymous could have been to protect the writer. Some reasons why the writer might have needed protection would have been from attacks from Jews who were hostile to the message in the letter, the Gospel, or from Romans who were seeking to persecute leaders of the church. However, this theory seems strange because this letter is calling people to be unashamed and bold in sharing the Gospel in the face of their persecutors.
    This letter, that is written in the form of a sermon, is written to be taken, read, and interpreted in a number of different contexts. The early 60’s in Rome is the first context it can be taken in, and it continues to be used an interpreted today for struggling Christians.

  16. Like others have mentioned in their comments, up until now I never put much consideration into the authorship of the books in the Bible. To be honest, reading the Bible in a literary context was never on my radar…until I began taking your courses! As someone who has spent many years working in the world of books this may seem strange. But there always seemed to be a distinct difference between what I consider “literature” (novels, classic works, etc.) and the Bible. However, looking at the Bible as not only the inspired word of God, but also a piece of literature that has withstood time, does bring a new light to details such as authorship and literary style. Your position on the anonymous nature of Hebrews because of its literary nature, really does make sense. If someone wanted their work to be read throughout the years, by many people in many different contexts, could claiming authorship possibly limit it’s reach? For instance, if I read a book by Hemingway that I did not like, there is a high likelihood I am always going to bypass anything else written by him. However an anonymous authorship prevents me from immediately discriminating against a book I might truly enjoy and learn from. To me, this shows the insight the author of Hebrews already had. He may not have imagined the absolute reach his writing would have throughout the ages, but he knew his message was one that could bring encouragement to a wide variety of readers. It could also be that he was simply a humble man who did not need the accolades! All that to say, I loved the quote by Origen, found in Jobes, emphasizing that God is the only one who knows the truth. Really, that should be a good enough answer, regardless of our human desire to know who this mysterious person was!
    Jobes, K.H. (2011). Letters to the Church. Zondervan.

  17. As we read the letter, the author of the Hebrews is unknown. As far as we know, the ancient manuscripts do not attribute it to anyone, either in the text of the epistle itself or in the context of any other epistles. In addition to Paul, candidates for author included Luke. The letter closes with the words “Grace be with you all” (Hebrews 13:25), which is the same closing found in each of Paul’s known letters. However, it should be noted that the author of Hebrews was Paul.

    I like and agree that you said about the possibility of the author. “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. And 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.” These are the possibilities that the reasons of the author protect himself from under the persecution from the Jewish or Romans.

    As we read Pual epistles, there are severals similar of the book of Hebrews. It quotes several passages from the Old Testament. Paul, as a Pharisee, would have been familiar with the Scripture in its original Hebrew language. However, all of the quotes in this epistle are taken out of the Septuagint. The writer or Hebrews specifically says that he was taught by an apostle (Hebrews 2:3). If Paul didn’t write the letter, who did? I personally think that the letters fill both outlines our faith and defines faith itself in the same way that Romans defines the tenets of Christian living. There is still much evidence that Paul wrote the letter. However, there is no strong evidence for this. Because there is no personal salutation and greeting like he wrote in other epistles. God only know the author.

    There is no other book like Hebrews so defines Christ as high priest of Christianity, superior to the Aaronic priesthood, and the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. I think the reason why remain author was unknown because the Holy Spirit was the divine author of Hebrews, and of all Scripture, even though we don’t know who put the human pen to the paper and traced the words. This book belongs in the Bible. Therefore, its human author its unimportant. What is important is to treat the book as inspired Scripture.

  18. It is strange that there is no author named in the beginning of Hebrews. I have tossed around two ideas in my mind for this. Although Jobs makes the point that there was persecution of the Jewish population between 37-41 AD when this book was likely written, I believe it would be a bit hypocritical to write an entire book about facing persecution and the consequences of not facing it, and then intentionally leaving your name out for fear of persecution. (p.30, Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles. 2010). I believe it is more likely that the cover has been lost or destroyed than intentionally leaving it out. It may have been lost or destroyed because these documents often traveled a long distance before they were read for their intended audience. Also Jobes states several times that Hebrews was likely a sermon. In which case it may not have been important to name the author. It was meant for everyone to hear and draw information from. So if I had to choose between the possibility of the author intentionally leaving the name out because of fear, or the possibility that it was lost or unimportant to the original message, I would choose the latter.
    Jobes, Karen H. Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010.

  19. I think that the most interesting idea from this article is the idea that Hebrews may have had authorship to begin with that was then lost. Imagine being the guy to lose that. Jobes states that the author of Hebrews had to have knowledge and believed in the divine inspiration of the Old Testament. This makes more sense when faced with the idea that the author may have remained anonymous to protect themselves from an attack. If the author needed to protect themselves from the persecution that was beginning to crop up in this era then what was the point of them telling the Christians to remain strong in their sufferings when the author could not even name themselves. Jobes and the article point to intentional anonymity in the book of Hebrews, which makes sense when thinking about the persecution of Christians. If Christians were being persecuted and the author was about to put out a book encouraging Christians to stay strong in the faith even with the persecution around them. This book was an encouragement to them even though they were being told to be quiet and were being punished for being Christians. I also thought a discussion about the contexts of this book was interesting, in our class we discussed how it may have been a sermon rather than a letter that was passed around to be read aloud by the leader of a particular church. This was a very good addition to the discussion in class this morning.

  20. It is very interesting and odd how the letter of Hebrews remains anonymous. There are various assumptions that it could have been Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, or Timothy. But they are only assumptions and ultimately God is the only one that knows. The book of Hebrews is very different than the rest of the books. Jobes states, “The vocabulary is sophisticated, and it includes 150 words that are not found elsewhere in the New Testament… (Jobes, 2011).” Interesting point “it is also possible the letter was written to protect the writer from attacks…(P.Long) ”. Jobes states “Since the original readers had experienced, scholars have looked to date the book during a time of persecution in one of the likely destinations (Jobes, 2011).” So, we can’t completely disregard the idea that the author might have been hiding from persecution since it was something they were facing. In Hebrews 11:35-38, the author recounts the life of a Christian martyr. That include suffering, ridicule, imprisonment, and torture which are factors of persecutions. Yet, like you stated (P.Long), Hebrews 10:35-36 contradicts this. The author is stating that we will face trials and persecution, but we must persevere in faith. Therefore, we are unsure why the book of Hebrews was left anonymous.

  21. It is interesting to think about the reasoning behind why Hebrews does not have “a typical opening” that might have been expected had the writer been writing to a specific church or group. The author, whoever they may be, begins Hebrews with a running start. From the first few words Hebrews is trying to get the reader on track to understand something important about the contrast between the old and the new covenant by explaining the way God spoke back then, and the way God speaks now. The anonymous nature of the author is even more intriguing when considering how important the book of Hebrews is for its role in explaining Jesus as the Great High Priest from the order of Melchizedek, and the “full and final way in which God has spoken to humankind” (Jobes, 2011). It is ironic that Hebrews, a book that brings so much clarity about the key aspects of a Christ followers foundation of faith though considering the plan set in place from creation for restoration from Jesus’ ultimate fulfilling sacrifice, has an author that is a mystery. Perhaps that author did not want his message to be read or rejected based on his status. It is likely that new believers may not have wanted to hear from someone who heard about Jesus’ teaching second-handedly in a time where there was so much division over what was acceptable for Christians or not (Hebrews 2:3), and perhaps the author was trying to reach as many people as possible with this inspired word proclaiming a beautiful aspect of God’s intricate plan.

  22. What is the purpose of Hebrews? The answer to that very question I humbly believe remains a great mystery. Some likely candidates at first glance appear to be someone like Paul, but between contradictories in writing styles and different interpretations of scripture and different kinds of emphasis on teaching, we are left still searching for just who this author was. One of the most interesting aspects of this discussion we’ve had in class so far had to do with the fact that the author of Hebrews could have been a woman! This is an intriguing aspect that I have never considered. And this conjecture really sounds plausible once you take time to really think about it. The fact that the authorship of Hebrews remains anonymous could be due to the fact that a woman wrote it, and during Bible times this would have not been accepted, if the author was in fact a woman, she would surely face intense persecution, and perhaps could have even died. That must be why, if this is true, why the author remained anonymous. All in all, perhaps God intended this mystery to remain a mystery because He wanted to focus more on the scriptural truth contained in Hebrews, and perhaps we are better off not knowing who wrote the book.

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