Saturday, March 12, 2011

Francois Vidal on the Authenticity of Hebrews

Vidal, Francois. De l’authenticité de l’épitre aux Hébreux. 1829.

In this work Vidal argues for the Pauline authorship of Hebrews.  He believes that Hebrews was addressed to Jewish Christians living in Palestine.  Hebrews was written to prevent these Christians from lapsing back into Judaism.  Vidal sees two parts in the argument of Hebrews.  The first part demonstrates the grandeur of Jesus Christ and the superiority of the new covenant over the old (1:1-10:18).  The second part exhorts the audience to persevere in the profession of the Gospel (10:19-13:25).

Vidal examines the internal characteristics of Hebrews in the first part before turning to the historical witnesses in the second part.  In the final section he examines the hypotheses which posit authors other than Paul.

In the first chapter Vidal highlights the characteristics which militate in favor of Pauline authorship:
1) In Hebrews there is a great knowledge of the religion of the Jews, which fits Paul perfectly.
2) The doctrine contained in Hebrews is the same that Paul constantly professes.  Both use typology and the same terminology.
3) Hebrews uses the same train of thought and the same mode of reasoning as Paul; one also finds figures, expressions, and words which are distinctive of Paul.  Both show similarities in argumentation and literary style.
4) The circumstances in Hebrews fit Paul perfectly.  The epistle was written from Rome (13:24), where Paul was a prisoner.  Timothy was with Paul in Rome.

In the second chapter Vidal addresses objections to Pauline authorship:
1) The omission of the name of the author.  One possible explanation is that Paul left off his name because he was writing to Jews; since Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, was despised by the Jews, Paul did not want his message rejected by the attachment of his name.  Vidal also believes that Hebrews is not a simple letter, but a dissertation or treatise, and hence it is not surprising that he left off his name.
2) Heb 2:3 does not sound like Paul who claims he received his ministry from no man, but from Jesus Christ himself.  Vidal, however, claims that Paul does not include himself among the “we” in this verse; this is a literary device.
3) The superiority of the style of Hebrews in comparison to Paul’s letters.  Vidal responds that arguments based on style alone are difficult since an author’s style is at the mercy of the subjectivity of the reader.  Nevertheless, Vidal contends that the style of Hebrews is not all that different from Paul’s.  The superiority of style can be attributed to the fact that Paul is writing a treatise and not a simple letter; Paul was more cautious in laying out his thesis.
4) In Heb 13:23 the author expresses a desire to see the Hebrews, but why would he return to Jerusalem where he was arrested and imprisoned in the first place?  Vidal believes that by this time Paul had already been acquitted and had nothing more to fear.  In addition, Paul never let the threat of persecution or death hinder him from preaching the gospel.

In part 2 he considers the external criteria for authorship:
1) Peter, in his second epistle (3:15), cites the epistle to the Hebrews.
2) The Greek fathers and the Eastern Church universally advocated for Pauline authorship.
3) The Latin fathers were not so unanimous on Pauline authorship.  But by the fourth century Pauline authorship was universally affirmed in the West as well.

In part 3 Vidal deals with the hypotheses of those who believe that the epistle was written by someone other than Paul.  The alternative theories of authorship fall under three headings: 1) Hebrews was originally written in Hebrew by Paul but translated into Greek by someone else; 2) Hebrews was written at the direction of Paul, but was edited by someone else; 3) Hebrews was written by someone other than Paul.  Vidal rejects that Hebrews was a translation from the Hebrew.  The author bases his arguments upon the Greek text of the OT.  Moreover, Greek was the dominant language at that time, even in Palestine.  If the author had written in the name of Paul, this does not destroy Vidal’s thesis.  It is known that Paul had made use of secretaries; Paul would have furnished him with the arguments and ideas but left the wording up to him.  If the author wrote in his own name, then one must suppose an individual whose circumstances were similar to Paul’s (that he was at Rome, in prison, had Timothy as a companion etc.).  Vidal rejects other conjectures for authorship.  He rejects Luke and Clement based on stylistic differences, Barnabas because his circumstances do not fit those of the epistle, and Apollos because there is no ancient witness who posited him.

Vidal concludes with an affirmation of the authenticity, inspiration, and authority of Hebrews.

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