Sunday, January 4, 2009

Is Luke the Author of Hebrews?

The blog Bible X directed my attention to David Allen's lecture/sermon on the Lukan authorship of Hebrews. His talk was quite engaging and so he models the kind of expository preaching that I am sure he teaches his students to practice. Let me give some of my thoughts on his talk.

Allen elicited a number of new, intriguing ideas (at least to me). First, he argues that Luke was a Hellenistic Jew (not a Gentile, as is generally supposed) and that he was possibly a priest. Second, he argues that Luke was writing his two-volume work Luke-Acts to Theophilus, a former high priest (ca. 37-41) who was deposed by Herod Agrippa (hence Luke's discussion on Agrippa's death in Acts 12 would have been of great interest to his reader). Allen believes that Hebrews was similarly written (from Rome in ca. 67-69) to a group of former Jerusalem temple priests who had embraced Christianity and had migrated to Syrian Antioch.

Another intriguing idea is that Allen argues that the Greek word machaira in Hebrews 4:12, which is normally translated "sword," may be translated as "scalpel," and that this translation is more in line with the traditional belief that Luke was a physician.

Now, Allen lays out his argument for Lukan authorship in at least three articles that I know of, and a fuller discussion of his argument will be set forth in his upcoming monograph entitled The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Luke, which will be published by Broadman & Holman sometime in the Fall of this year. He probably also lays out his argument in his commentary, also by Broadman & Holman, but I have yet to see a copy of this commentary as it was not available at the SBL Conference this past November. So, I will look forward to reading his argument and the evidence he adduces, when these works become available. Allen may be right about the authorship of Hebrews, but I will suspend my judgment until I can read his works in full.

There is, however, one dimension of his argument that I take issue with, and that is his linguistic argument. Allen states that there are 53 terms which are unique to Luke-Acts and Hebrews in the NT. Moreover, there are a number of syntactical features that are unique to both of these works in the NT. The problem I have is his restricting his analysis to NT Greek. Most of the writers of the NT were not especially skilled in the Greek language. It is likely that Greek was a secondary language for many of the writers of the NT. The most skilled writers of the NT are the authors of Luke-Acts and of Hebrews. Could it be that the terminology and syntactical features that are so unique among the writings of the NT, are not so unique when compared to the writings of the larger Hellenistic world? Allen's argument would become far more convincing if he could demonstrate that these grammatical features were unique to Luke-Acts and Hebrews in light of the larger body of Hellenistic literature.

By the way, this is a problem I have with a large number of linguistic arguments that are often made by NT scholars who only restrict their analyses to the Greek of the NT (Wallace's Greek Grammar, for instance). The NT was not "holy Greek" or some specialized form of Greek that differed substantially from the rest of the Hellenistic world. The NT is a relatively small body of literature from which to base one's linguistic arguments. Scholars would do well to base their linguistic arguments on the larger database of Greek documents that are extant from that time.

The second part of Allen's talk focused on Hebrews as creative expository preaching. I essentially have no qualms with this part of his talk. I agree that Hebrews is primarily a sermon. It alternates between exposition and exhortation throughout the work and it evinces a high level of rhetorical skill employing alliteration, rhythm, paronomasia, inclusio, chiasms, and anaphora. The question I have is: how does this demonstrate Lukan authorship? After going to great lengths to demonstrate Lukan authorship in the first part of his talk, he completely ignores the issue in the second part of his talk. His talk seems to be making two completely different points unrelated to one another.

Despite these points, Dr. Allen seems like he would be a great teacher to take a class from. He is teaching a class on Preaching from Hebrews in the Spring at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It would be a class I would very much be interested in taking, but for me to drive two hours each way to Fort Worth and back is quite prohibitive for me at this time in my life. Perhaps I will invite Dr. Allen to respond to my post here.

Update: Dr. Allen did respond to my post via email and basically acknowledged that I was correct in my point that he fails to interact with literature outside the NT. He hopes to remedy this before his book on the authorship of Luke comes out, which he informs me is scheduled for the Spring of 2010.


  1. Brian,

    I'm delighted to hear of Allen's work. Richard Anderson and I have research for years now the proposal that Luke's Theophlius was the high priest of 37-41CE. (See expecially Richard's artice, "Theophilus: A Proposal," Evangelical Quarterly, 69:3 [1997], 195-215.)

    Allen's proposition that the linguistic and rhetorical features of Hebrews correspond with Luke's writing elsewhere finds support when comparing Hebrews to Luke-Acts. Luke-Acts contains many significant examples of chiasm, inclusio, etc. One such example involves Luke's mention of Johanna in Luke 24. (On the ossuary evidence, see D. Barag and D. Flusser, "The Ossuary of Yehohanah Granddaughter of the High Priest Theophilus," Israel Exploration Journal, 36 [1986], 39-44.) Johanna's presence as the crux in such a chiastic structure is intentional on Luke's part, and would have been highly significant for Theophilus ben Ananus, high priest of 37-41CE. There are many, many such examples in Luke-Acts which correspond nicely with the examples of chiasm in the epistle to the Hebrews.

    Lee T. Dahn

  2. Lee,

    Thanks for your comments. I will be interested in looking at your article.

    David L. Allen (not to be confused with David M. Allen, who is also writing on Hebrews) is teaching homiletics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. You could go to their website and find his page listing all of his publications. So far as I know, in addition to his dissertation, he has published three articles on the Lukan authorship of Luke, a commentary for the NAB series, and a monograph appearing sometime next year.

    I do have a question for you. Is the use of chiasm and inclusio unique only to Luke-Acts and Hebrews? My contention is that it is not. I just came across a book edited by John W. Welch entitled "Chiasmus in Antiquity" in which he tries to demonstrate chiasm in a whole host of ancient documents including several from the NT. So, if chiasm (and inclusio) were common literary techniques of the ancient world, this would indicate that their usage by Luke-Acts and Hebrews does not necessitate a common author.

  3. Brian,

    No, chiasm and inclusio is not a uniquely Lukan technique. For example, Mt6.24 reads A B B' A' (cf. also Mt7.6). But it is a trend in Luke-Acts. Some have even argued that Luke and Acts each are entire chiasms. I don't buy it.

    My arguments regarding the proposal that Luke's Theophilus is the HP of 37-41CE are not concentrated on Luke's literary structures, per se. I believe there is an enormous amount of contextual data supporting the proposal - so much so, that a concentration on literary devices becomes distracting. In my view, an author's use of certain literary devices contributes little toward the identification of his/her target audience, or social setting, or primary purpose, etc. But they can show trends, which might be important in establishing authorship of anonymously authored texts.

    I don't know how far literary devices can take us. Allen obviously believes they are significant for his case. And both Luke-Acts and Hebrews share these devices. For what it's worth...


  4. Brian Small

    A recent stylometric study indicates that Barnabas may be the author of Hebrews

    with a more likely possibility than any of the NT authors. I still think Luke is the author.

  5. I am in basic agreement with you, then, about literary devices.

    I am interested in the argument that Theophilus is the high priest of 37-41. If that proves to be so, it would seem to support an earlier date for the composition of Luke-Acts rather than later.

  6. Richard,

    thanks for the tip. I will look at it.

  7. Brian,

    On Theophilus, you should start with Richard's article cited in my first comment above. It seems as though Allen is working from a different perspective, and hasn't followed the lines of argument Richard has.

    You are right about the date of GLuke. Richard and I are of the opinion, though it wasn't always so, that Luke wrote to Theophilus in the early 40s or thereabouts, while Theophilus was still in office (thus the presence of the title "Most Excellent" in GLuke, and its absence in Acts). You can imagine the conundrum this poses for synoptic studies. I have yet to begin sorting that out.

    I don't think an early date of Acts necessarily follows, however. I believe it was probably written before 70CE, but just before, while either Matthias or Phinnaeus served as HP (the last two HPs before the fall of 70CE).


  8. Ok. I will say that Marc (the John who was called Marc by the Apostoles) (with Luke as editor) is the Author of Hebrews because he is the ones that closes ALL the gaps.
    Tertullian who was the first and very near to the time of the letter said that the Author MUST be Barnabas because it is a letter of Paraklesis (Greek word for consultation) and since Barnabas is the Son of Paraklesis so it must be Barnabas. Also he said without giving any why he is saying that the Luke was the editor of the letter. If we accept that Marc is the writer and Luke is the editor we are not far from what Tertulian propose because Marc was the favorite nephew of Barnabas and they had similar character (Mark was sentimental character as Barnabas was).
    We have to keep in mind that Marc, Luke and Timothy are the 3 that are left after Paul death. And it fits very well what it is written about Timothy in the end of the Letter. For me who is a native Greek speaker the language of the phrase very clearly says that the writer is somebody in a equal rank as Timothy because Timothy will come with him if Timothy wants to. In the English translations it is might lost but it is clear for a native Greek speaker. Also the person must be very close friend of Timothy... and we know from the 2nd Timothy that a very close friend of Timothy is Marc.
    So why not LUKE is not the ONLY writer? The Luke language is not the same as the letter of Hebrews. THOUGH the SYNTAX patterns are VERY VERY close. For critical passages the use of "eteros" and "allos" is very distinct. "eteros" is the other person in the same group and "allos" is the other person is a different group. The Luke and the letter of Hebrews use it in the same way.
    Also Marc (which is a Roman name of the God Mars!) has a Jewish name (John) but is called Marc by the disciples!? , so this means that Luke wrote that telling that the person who now the ones in Rome know as Marc since he choosed a roman name or he was a roman citizen already and he used that name in Rome. We also know that the writer of the letter of Hebrews was known to Roman christians and based on Rome. Marc Gospel is the only one that says that the father of Rufos and Alexander was the one that carried the cross of Christ and from letter of Romans of Paul we know that Rufos and his mother was very important for the Roman gathering of Christians.
    Mark is a writer that definitely wants to hide his identity because he knows that because of his fall initially when he started to work on the field failed, people might not read his letter. He wants his arguments speak for themselves if the letter is inspired by the Holy Spirit and not because of who he WAS. Please have in mind that Marc is now considered one of the best partners of Paul even though Paul was so AGAINST HIM in the beginning. So this proves two things. 1st That Marc changed so radically that he because one of the most important people for Paul (and Paul was a high qualified person) and 2nd that Marc was exposed a lot to Paul theology.
    3rd Gap. Marc was 100% Jew and 100% Roman in a sense. That is why he knows everything about the sacrifices and also is so well accustomed with the idea of Arch-priest also in Roman religion. In Roman Religion Archpriest is a God himself in order to bridge the two worlds. In Jew tradition is not the case. That is why Son of God is the perfect candidate for it and that is why Marc explains it because he is very well accustomed with this term.

  9. 4 Gap. He is a second generation Christian while Paul is not. Paul have seen Christ (heard him too) in his way to Damascus. So this explains well why the writers says that the message was verified to us by witnesses.
    5, Gap. We think that Marc and Luke care if we find out who is the writer :) Of course not. Both of them enjoyed writing this masterpiece and Luke all the time we might think that we was a sidekick. Luke knew very well that if you are a sidekick then definitely you are equal important to the purpose and that is why he helped as much as he could his close friend Marc.
    6. Believe it or not, Marc (John/Ioannis in Greek story) story and Luke is a parallel life as my life so if I was Marc I would do exactly the same, I would not write my name (because I do not want people to not read something because of my previous failures) and I would ask from a very close friend who is very good in the command of the English language to help me write it. (Please remember that the common Greek was the equivalent of English today)

  10. By the way the word polymeros and polytropos means : using many parts and in many ways... :) Since it is not all Greek to me :)

  11. Hi Ioannis, thanks for your comments.

    Yes, I know what πολυμερως και πολυτροπως means. The translation I provide in the sidebar is from the NRSV which quite frankly I don't find to be the best rendering of the Greek.

    My initial responses to your argument about John Mark as the author: First, why posit John Mark when Barnabas is just as likely and there is at least some ancient evidence (Tertullian) for Barnabas' authorship? Second, the Greek of Hebrews is far superior to that of Mark's. The Gospel of Mark appears to me to be written by someone whose primary language was not Greek. Hebrews by contrast evinces someone highly skilled in the language. Saying that it was edited by Luke of course is speculation. Do you find evidence in the book itself that suggests that it was edited? Third, it seems to me that the theological ideas are quite different between Mark and Hebrews. It is hard to imagine these two books coming from the same author.

  12. Barnabas can not be because it is not in the same level as Timothy and it must be too old when Timothy is in jail. Tertilliuan is basing his argument because it is a letter of consultation and because Barnabas is the Son of consultation. But if Luke is the thinker (prophet) and Matthew the doer , Mark is the feeler in the Gospels. (Please see in details what John the Baptist says for Christ. In Matthew John the Baptist does not have the strength to hold the sandals of Christ, in Luke he does not have the intellectual ability to untie them, and in Marc the humbleness to bow in front of him). The Theological ideas of Mark was taken from the years of working with Paul, Luke, Timothy , Barnabas and Peter. Marc was in the center of all the best Apostles! Peter exalts him as his child. Barnabas "bets" his will with Paul for him, Paul later exalts Marc with the best words, 2nd Timothy Marc is needed as Luke and Timothy. Forget to think that the 15 year old Marc of the incident in Cyprus remained the same after 25 years with the best saints that have walked in the surface of the earth after Christ. Are you the same person as you were when you were 15?

  13. The syntax of Hebrews and Luke is very close. That is the reason why Luke is the final editor of the letter of Hebrews.

  14. I can give you theology papers of last century that say that Gospel of Marc and Letter of Hebrews have the same motive/pattern. Gospel of Marc is a Gospel that Christ is a Martyr. The Letter of Hebrews the motif of Martyrs repeats. The writer of that paper thinks it is because probably it is written in Rome and for him is also an open question. For me it is just another explanation.

  15. Hi Ioannis,
    Thanks for your comments. So, when do you think Hebrews was written? How do you know Barnabas was too old to write Hebrews? If Barnabas was a contemporary of Paul and Hebrews was written shortly after his death (for sake of argument), then why couldn't Barnabas write it? How do you know Mark was 15 when he first traveled with Paul and Barnabas? Where do you get your information from? When was the Gospel of Mark written, and how many years after that do you think Hebrews was written?

    I am aware that the syntax of Hebrews and the Lucan writings are similar. David Allen has written a full-length monograph laying out all the evidence for this. So, why not just say that Luke is the author? Why posit the theory that Luke edited it, when there is no evidence that I can tell that the letter was edited? The letter is written in fluid Greek style. Where is the evidence that it was edited? Where is the evidence that the letter was a collaboration of two people?

    You say Mark wanted to hide his identity, but it is clear at the end of the letter (13:19) that the author is known to his audience and wants to be restored to them.

    I have come across only one article that relates Mark to Hebrews, but as I recall that article did not argue for common authorship. Certainly, I would be interested in knowing about these theology papers you speak of.

    For now all I can say is that your reconstruction is interesting but highly speculative. Personally, I don't think we have enough evidence to determine anybody as the author of Hebrews.

  16. The age of 15 is mentioned because being 15 years old is a young adult in that times. It is equivalent even of 30 of our times. It is a probable age but of course not a correct one. Mark is the Nephew of Barnabas so Mark is one generation younger than Barnabas at least.
    It is obvious that the language of Hebrews and Gospel of Luke is different. That is why I propose the Marc-Luke authorship. With Marc as main author and Luke as the editor. Tertullian is sure about the fact that Luke is the editor of the Hebrews but about the author he says that he base it is Barnabas because it is a letter of consultation. Luke is a greek from the nations, it is not the right author to explain why the Levite rituals and sacrifices are incomplete comparing with the Son of God. (Remember that the Gospel of Marc is the Gospel of Son of God) Also Marc raised in Jerusalem, while Luke raised in Asia Minor...