Gardiner, Frederic. “The Language of the Epistle to the Hebrews as Bearing upon Its Authorship.” Journal of the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis 7 (June 1887): 1-27.
This article investigates how word frequency might shed light upon the authorship of Hebrews. Gardiner is perfectly aware of the inadequacy of this method, but undertook the exercise so as “to leave no stone unturned” (1) on the question of Hebrews authorship. It is not my intention in this review to give all of the excruciating details of the numerous statistics given in this essay. The reader is encouraged to peruse the article for oneself if one is so inclined.
According to Gardiner, Hebrews has 147 words “peculiar” to itself in comparison to the other books of the NT (2). Among the NT writers the author of Hebrews and the Lucan corpus “excel . . . in the richness of their vocabulary” (3). Gardiner next examines words that are common only to Hebrews and Luke, and Hebrews and Paul (he does not distinguish between the authentic and disputed Paulines). He notes that 34 words are common to Luke and Hebrews only, and that 46 words are common to Paul and Hebrews alone. He says such numbers explain the intuitive sense of the early church fathers who attributed Hebrews to Paul and/or Luke in some way. After surveying some of the characteristic words held in common, Gardiner concludes that “some sort of relation” exists among the three writers.
Gardiner proceeds to examine the usage of other words, such as ερχομαι and λαμβανω with their various compounds, and the usage of particles, adverbs, and prepositions. After this tedious examination of word usage, Gardiner concludes that the style of Hebrews is unlike that of Paul, nor that of Luke (13). Gardiner then examines common words that are characteristic of “phases of thought” that reveal the habitual thoughts of a given writer. For example, αγαπαω and its cognates are used frequently by Paul and John, but hardly used by Hebrews and Luke. Gardiner enumerates a long list of words that indicates a variance of usage by Hebrews, Luke, and Paul.
Gardiner then examines words that are frequently used by both Paul and Hebrews, such as νομος and πιστις. Although these words are used quite often, their nuances are different for each writer. For example, Paul employs νομος “chiefly of a method of salvation,” while Hebrews refers to it as “a definite collection of statutes.” Similarly, there is a distinction with the word πιστις: For Paul it is “reliance upon Christ as the means of salvation in opposition to the law and the works of the law”; for Hebrews “it is only a general reliance on God’s grace and promises” (17). Finally, Gardiner enumerates words characteristic of Hebrews in distinction from other NT writers, including μαρτυς, τελειος, and ιερευς, and their related words. The last of these group of words is most striking, as Paul never uses ιερευς and its derivative words anywhere in his writings, while it is most prominent in Hebrews.
Gardiner confesses that he embarked on this project “suppos[ing] beforehand that it would result in showing Pauline thoughts and reasoning, but the phraseology of S. Luke, and thus would confirm a very ancient and still somewhat popular hypothesis, that the epistle was actually written by S. Luke to express ideas and arguments received from S. Paul,” but his analysis forced him to change his mind (19). Gardiner notes in passing other differences between Hebrews and Paul, such as the rhetorical flow of the discourse, and the manner of citation from the OT (20).
Gardiner concludes his essay with a consideration of candidates for authorship. It is clear that the author must have been a companion of Paul’s who was thus affected by Paul’s mode of expression. Apollos is a strong candidate because of his eloquence and learning in the scriptures. He was an Alexandrian which could explain the epistle’s “Alexandrian tone of thought” and its use of the LXX, which seems to reflect the Alexandrian recension (21). Nevertheless, a strong objection to Apollos’ authorship is the fact that Apollos was never considered as the author by any of the ancients, including any of the Alexandrian authors. Luke and Clement are rejected out of hand by a comparison with their acknowledged writings. The strongest candidate for authorship is Barnabas: He was a Hellenistic Jew from Cyprus (and thus may have had access to Alexandrian literature); he was an early convert and one of the prominent leaders of the church in Jerusalem, a long-time companion of Paul’s, and a Levite (and thus acquainted with the service of the temple).
Although such a statistical analysis that Gardiner engages in has its weaknesses, I think he has sufficiently shown that the author of Hebrews could not be either Paul or Luke. We must look elsewhere. I am in agreement that Apollos and Barnabas are two of the strongest candidates for authorship, although I would also add Aquila as a strong possibility.