As I suggested in a previous post, one of the factors we have to consider for the authorship of Hebrews is that the author was influenced by Paul or Pauline theology. Perhaps the simplest way to account for this influence is simply that Paul is the author of the book of Hebrews. While this is not a popular view today, the earliest traditions identify Paul as the author, but this has been questioned since the Reformation and is now only rarely defended.

Why Not PaulWhy was Paul suggested as an author?  There may have been some desire to connect the letter with an apostle in order to argue in favor of including the letter in the canon.  A document that came from the apostolic circle would carry more weight than a document that did not. In addition, there are some Pauline elements to the book.

As the books of the New Testament we collected into book form (codices), Hebrews was often associated with the Pauline letters. The earliest copies from the third century place the book within the Pauline letter, right after Romans. Many early church fathers, especially the Alexandrian fathers, believed Paul wrote the book.  Clement of Alexandria (150-215) and Origin (185-253), for example, believed Paul was the author. By the end of the second century, Origen thought that the “weight of tradition” was behind Pauline authorship, but in the end said “only God knows” who wrote the book. He goes on to say “This writing is inspired even though we do not know who wrote it.” (See Eusebius, HE 6.25.11-13).

It was not until the Reformation that this teaching was doubted, first by Calvin, then by Luther.  More recently, detailed linguistic analysis has been done my Celsus Spicq, who concluded that “it is impossible from the linguistic point of view to attribute to Paul the direct paternity of Hebrews” (Cited by Ellingworth, Hebrews, 12). Since the book is anonymous and there is a mixed tradition about who the author might have been, perhaps it is better to agree with Origen as say “only God knows” who wrote the book.

David Allen Black has revived the Pauline authorship of Hebrews in a series of articles now summarized in a short book, The Authorship of Hebrews: The Cases For Paul (available for a mere$2.99 on Kindle). Black surveys the internal evidence for Pauline authorship by working through the book of Hebrews and showing potential parallels in Paul’s letters. Some of these are compelling; there are many words and phrases that appear only in Paul and Hebrews in the New Testament. But some of the parallels can be explained better as use of a common source. For example, In Hebrews 4:12-13, the Word of God is like a double-edged sword (μάχαιραν δίστομον), which Black says “seems to betray Paul (Eph 6:17). Certainly the word sword appears in both contexts, but in Paul it is the Sword of the Spirit, in Hebrews the Word of God is the sword. Paul omits the additional description of “double edged.” That word only appears in Hebrew 4:12 and three times in Revelation to describe a sword (although ῥομφαία is used, not μάχαιρα.  In the end, there are parallels, but nothing that forces the reader to assume Pauline authorship.

Another way to get the Pauline influence on the book of Hebrews is the suggestion that Luke used a synagogue sermon by Paul to write what we now know as the Book of Hebrews. This was the thesis of Andrew Pitts and Joshua Walker in an essay in Paul and His Social Relations (edited by Stanley E. Porter; Leiden: Brill, 2012). Pitts and Walker prefer to think of Luke as the editor of an oral presentation. In order to show this, they study ancient stenography and propose that it is at least possible that Paul is the source, Luke is the editor. This is an important essay since it avoids the objection that “linguistically” the book is not Pauline, while embracing the (at times) Pauline theology in the letter.

I think that both of these attempts are worthy of consideration since they take seriously the Pauline influence on the book of Hebrews. Pitts and Walker make a compelling argument for transcription of a synagogue sermon, but it is harder to support the claim that Paul was the origin of that sermon. It seems to move the authorship issue back a step to “who was the original speaker of this sermon?” Paul, Apollos and the usual suspects are all still possible.

The modern church is as bothered by an anonymous letter in the New Testament, but it may matter to some people that Paul did (or did not) write the book. What are the implications for reading the letter if Paul did (or did not) write the book?