Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hebrews Carnival March 2011

The month of February saw zero(!) posts on the book of Hebrews. But in the month of March activity regarding the book of Hebrews has picked up:

Daniel Fabricatore has A note on παροξυσμός in Hebrews 10:24.

Charles Savelle comments on Hebrews 12:1 and Hebrews 12:2 and Hebrews 12:3.

Michael Patton bemoans The Unfortunate Translations of Hebrews 12:17.

Iver Larsen responds with his own interpretation of Repentance in Hebrews 12:17.

Joel Watts responds to a question on Hebrews 6:5 - Of the Age to Come.

Nijay Gupta offers brief reviews of The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology and Peter O'Brien's The Letter to the Hebrews.

Tony Siew meditates on Hebrews 12:26 and other passages in light of the earthquake in Japan.

Jeremy Thompson has a brief review on Harold Attridge's collection of Essays on John and Hebrews.  He provides information on the author and contents.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ebrard's Commentary on Hebrews

Ebrard, John H. A. Biblical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, in Continuation of the Work of Olshausen. Translated by John Fulton. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1853.

Johannes Heinrich August Ebrard (1818–1888) was professor of theology at Zürich (1844) and Erlangen (1847-1861).

Ebrard’s commentary begins with a brief introduction setting Hebrews within the larger biblical story and a consideration of the occasion that gave rise to its writing.  Traditional introductory matters are relegated to an appendix in the back of the commentary.  Ebrard does not consider Hebrews to be an ordinary epistle, but more along the lines of a theological treatise.  Nevertheless, it is addressed to a specific group of readers, more likely to a circle of individuals rather than to an entire church.  The audience was comprised of Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem.  They belonged to a later generation that had not witnessed the ministry of Jesus.  Ebrard supposes that this group had been excluded from the temple and the temple worship. 

The epistle was written sometime after Paul’s arrest in 58 and before the beginning of the Jewish War in 66.  The book still speaks of the sacrificial ritual in the present tense.  The church had already experienced some hardships: certain leaders had already been martyred, they had experienced the loss of possessions, and some believers had been imprisoned (13:7; 10:34).  Ebrard narrows the writing of the epistle to either the summer of 64 with the breakout of the Neronian persecution or in 62-63 after the death of James (likely the one mentioned in 13:7).  It is likely that Timothy was imprisoned (13:23) with Paul when he visited him at Rome and this supposition also supports a date around 62-64.

The difference in style from Paul’s letters led some church fathers to conjecture that Hebrews was translated from Aramaic into Greek, but Ebrard rightly notes that the Greek style is so fine that it most likely was composed in Greek originally.  Ebrard weighs the external and internal evidence for authorship.  The eastern church generally regarded Hebrews as Pauline, while the western church did not.  The contrasting testimonies do not cancel each out, though; the testimony of the eastern church should be weighed more.  Ebrard next considers the internal evidence of doctrine, diction, and style and concludes that while the spirit and doctrine of the epistle is Pauline, the diction suggests it does not come from Paul.  After weighing various theories of authorship Ebrard concludes that “Luke worked out the epistle for Paul, and as in his name, not however in Rome, where perhaps he himself might have been involved in the procedure against Paul, but in another place in Italy, somewhere in the neighborhood of Theophilus.  When the work was finished, the news reached him that Timothy had been set free in Rome” (426).

The commentary itself is a verse-by-verse exposition.  The commentary demands considerable technical skill on the part of its readers since ancient languages are not translated.  Ebrard’s interpretation of some key passages will give us a glimpse into the kinds of exegetical decisions he makes:

In 1:3 ἀπαύγασμα denotes the light that has radiated from another light, but becomes an independent light.  In 2:5-9 Ebrard interprets Ps 8 anthropologically—all things are not yet subjected to humanity.  At 2:9 he prefers the more difficult reading of χωρὶς θεοῦ.  At 2:16 ἐπιλαμβάνεται means “to assist” and not “to assume the nature of.”  In 3:3 κατασκευάσας refers to Christ as “the founder of the household to which Moses belonged as part or member.”  At 3:5 τῶν λαληθησομένων refers to the revelations that God intended to give after the time of Moses.  In 4:10 Ebrard takes the minority view that the expression εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὴν κατάπαυσιν αὐτοῦ refers not to the believer in general, but to Jesus.  At 5:7 Ebrard construes the passage as follows: “He prayed to be preserved from the death which threatened him, and was heard and saved from the fear of death.”

On the controversial passage of 6:4-6 Ebrard believes that the passage “declares the possibility that a regenerate person may fall away.”  In 7:26 the expression κεχωρισμένος ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν means that Christ was untouched by sin, and does not refer to his departure from the world.  In 9:14 διὰ πνεύματος αἰωνίου refers to Jesus’ own spirit, that is, his disposition of mind or heart.  At 9:16-17 διαθήκη means “covenant” and not “testament.”   At 10:20 Ebrard construes the passage to mean that the killing of Jesus’ body corresponded symbolically to the rending of the veil.  At 12:2 the expression ἀντὶ τῆς προκειμένης αὐτῷ χαρᾶς indicates the heavenly joy as the reward for enduring the cross.  At 13:10 the “altar” refers to the holy supper.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Forster on the Authorship and Apostolic Authority of Hebrews

Forster, Charles. The Apostolical Authority of the Epistle to the Hebrews: An Enquiry, in Which the Received Title of the Greek Epistle Is Vindicated, against the Cavils of Objectors, Ancient and Modern, from Origen to Sir J. D. Michaëlis, Chiefly upon Grounds of Internal Evidence Hitherto Unnoticed: Comprizing a Comparative Analysis of the Style and Structure of this Epistle, and of the Undisputed Epistles of St. Paul, Tending to Throw Light upon Their Interpretation. London: James Duncan, 1836.

This monograph is probably the most detailed defense for Pauline authorship of Hebrews in any language.  Forster hoped to resolve the question of Pauline authorship once and for all by a thorough examination of the internal evidence.  In this goal, of course, he ultimately fails since the majority of scholars today do not regard Paul as the author of Hebrews.

In section 1 Forster identifies the distinctive usage of individual words that Hebrews and Paul’s epistles hold in common, but are not found in the rest of the NT or LXX.  In section 2 Forster examines the distinctive usage of καταργεω in Paul and Hebrews.  Sections 3-5 set forth a series of tables listing, words distinctive to Hebrews and Paul among the NT writings; words that are distinctive to Hebrews and Paul, but not found in the rest of the NT or LXX; and words that occasionally occur elsewhere in the NT, but not in the same manner or frequency of occurrence.  For each word, Forster also lists other verbal agreements of words found in the same contexts.  Section 6 then proceeds to examine some of these parallel passages in greater detail.  It must be admitted that the verbal correspondences that Forster adduces are quite impressive.  He has succeeded in demonstrating the numerous affinities that Hebrews has with Paul.

With section 7 Forster begins to examine the manner of Paul’s writing and its affinity with Hebrews.  In this chapter he notes the tendency of Paul to use the same phrase over and over again.  The example used in this chapter is the metaphorical use of the word “riches,” which is also found in Hebrews.  In section 8 another stylistic similarity noted is the tendency to go off on tangents to explain the meaning of a particular word.  He adduces examples both in Paul’s letters and Hebrews.  Section 9 examines the usage of paronomasia, or play upon words, in both Paul and Hebrews.  Here, I ask, whether this feature is really something distinctive between Paul and Hebrews.  Section 10 examines the similarities in the frequency and length of OT quotations.  He notes some quotations that are common to both Paul and Hebrews.  What Forster fails to note, however, is that the manner of introducing quotations differs greatly between Paul and Hebrews.  I think this is one of the strongest indicators that Paul did not write Hebrews.  In section 11 Forster examines the similarity of the usage of key-texts in Paul and Hebrews.  He concludes this section with tables illustrating the usage of these key-texts.  Section 12 continues with additional charts showing the harmony of parallel passages between Paul and Hebrews.  The chart proceeds sequentially through Hebrews and shows the parallels in the Pauline texts in the other columns.

While Forster has demonstrated numerous affinities between Hebrews and Paul, he has failed to consider the numerous differences that exist.  The various similarities may be attributed to the possibility that the book was written by a close acquaintance of Paul’s who was influenced in some measure by his thoughts and manner of speaking.  Another weakness of this type of study is that the Greek of Paul and Hebrews was considered only in light of other NT writings and the LXX.  The NT is such a small body of literature compared to the vast corpus of Greek literature, that any linguistic arguments based on the NT alone can only be considered tentative and not conclusive.

Forster reexamines the external evidence in section 13.  He begins by examining the possible quotations of Hebrews in the apostolic fathers (particularly, Polycarp, Barnabas, Clement, Ignatius).  The fact that the apostolic fathers quote from or allude to Hebrews, suggests to Forster the apostolic authority of Hebrews.  The allusions that Forster adduces have varying degrees of persuasiveness; not all of the examples he adduces are clear allusions to Hebrews.  He then examines the testimonies of the early church fathers (Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen) regarding the authorship of Hebrews.  Here again, Forster fails to account for the contrary evidence, particularly of the western church fathers who did not regard Hebrews as Pauline.  In section 14 Forster argues that 2 Pet 3:15-16 alludes to Paul’s authorship of the book of Hebrews.  Forster also tries to show numerous literary parallels between Hebrews and the two Petrine epistles, thus demonstrating that Peter was aware of and influenced by the book of Hebrews.  One interpretation that I found intriguing in this chapter is that Forster interprets the expression “crowned with glory and honor” in 2:9 to describe an event prior to Jesus’ passion and death.  Most commentators take this as something that was conferred upon Jesus after his death.  Forster appeals to 2 Pet 1:17-18, which speaks of Jesus receiving “glory and honor” from God at his transfiguration.  This is an ingenious interpretation, but it is hard to see how Peter is really commenting on the book of Hebrews at this point.  The expression “glory and honor” could have been a common expression used within the early church.  The book closes with some useful appendices and indices.

Monday, March 14, 2011

August Tholuck's Commentary on Hebrews


Tholuck, A. Kommentar zum Briefe an die Hebräer. Hamburg: Friedrich Perthes, 1836. ET: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. 2 vols. Translated by James Hamilton. Edinburgh: Thomas Clark, 1842.

Friedrich August Gottreu Tholuck (1799-1877) was instructor (1821) and professor (1823) of theology at the University of Berlin and the University of Halle (1826).

In his commentary Tholuck begins with the usual introductory issues.  He first examines the external and internal evidence for Pauline authorship.  In the eastern tradition the prevailing opinion was in favor of Pauline authorship, although some doubted it.  By contrast, in the western church the prevailing opinion was against Pauline authorship.  From the fourth century on, however, both the western and eastern churches were in agreement about Pauline authorship, although some doubts still remained in the west.  Tholuck concludes that the external evidence is indecisive in determining Pauline authorship.

Tholuck next examines the internal evidence.  Individual passages (2:3; 13:23-24) are indecisive for determining Pauline authorship.  No essential difference exists between the doctrine of Hebrews and Paul.  Nevertheless, some differences exist: Hebrews never mentions the importance of the resurrection of Christ, Paul does not discuss Jesus’ high priesthood, and the idea of faith in Hebrews differs from that of Paul’s.  Once again, the evidence is not decisive since the many similarities that do exist between Hebrews and Paul may be attributed to the supposition that an acquaintance of Paul wrote Hebrews.  When examining the language and style of Hebrews, however, Tholuck concludes that they point away from Pauline authorship.  The form of the quotations from the OT (Hebrews universally cites the LXX; Paul does not) and the citation formulas used also speak against Pauline authorship.  Finally, the external arrangement of Hebrews (e.g., the fact that it has no superscription or greeting) also militates against Pauline authorship. 

Tholuck continues his discussion of authorship by tracing the history of interpretation on authorship.  From the fourth century onward Pauline authorship was generally affirmed, and it was not until the Reformation that Pauline authorship was again questioned (e.g., by Erasmus, Luther, Calvin).  When considering other candidates for the authorship of Hebrews (Luke, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Silas, Apollos), Tholuck finally settles for Apollos.  The description of Apollos in Acts 18:24 fits well with what we would expect of the author of Hebrews.

The recipients of the epistle were most likely Jewish Christians living in Palestine as is evident by its attention to Jewish worship and its lack of any allusions to Gentile Christians.  Hebrews was originally written in Greek and not translated from Aramaic, as is attested by its excellent Greek style, and by the fact that the author quotes the LXX and bases his arguments on the Greek text.  Greek would have been widely known even in Palestine.  Hebrews was probably written shortly before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

The goal of the epistle is paraenetic: the recipients were wavering in their faith and in danger of lapsing back into Judaism.  Therefore, to encourage them in the faith, the author shows that the new covenant was a completion of the old covenant.  Tholuck concludes his introduction with a lengthy discussion of the canonicity and authority of Hebrews and an overview of the history of interpretation on Hebrews from the patristic era to the early nineteenth century.

The commentary itself proceeds in a verse-by-verse manner.  The commentary demands high technical skill on the part of the reader as foreign language sources (Hebrew, Greek, Latin etc.) remain untranslated.  The commentary is quite fulsome in some places but surprisingly brief in others places.  It is impossible, of course, to give a detailed account the entire commentary, so I have chosen some representative comments on key passages:

The introduction to the quotation in 1:6 refers to the exaltation of Christ.  Jesus is twice addressed as God in 1:8-9.  On 2:5-9 Tholuck interprets the psalm strictly christologically.  2:16 does not refer to Jesus’ assumption of human nature as was the traditional view from the time of the church fathers.  In 3:2 the expression τῷ ποιήσαντι αὐτὸν refers to God’s appointment of Jesus.  5:7 is an allusion to the scene in Gethsemane.  The subject of Jesus’ prayer was to be delivered from suffering; he was heard in the fact that he accepted that suffering as conqueror. 

Tholuck explains 6:4-6 as follows: He who outwardly is thoroughly instructed in Christianity, and has inwardly had all the experiences connected with a life of faith, and then, not from weakness, but willingly falls away, and that the truth which he formerly possessed he now holds for a lie, and thereby profanes the Christ without him, and blasphemes the Christ within him, for this person there is, subjectively, no renewal of a change of mind, and, objectively, no new sacrifice for sins.

In 7:26 the expression “separated from sinners” does not refer to Jesus’ sinlessness but his separation from humanity by virtue of his exaltation into heaven.  In 9:14 the expression “through eternal spirit” refers to the operations of the Holy Spirit in Jesus; it was the impulse for his self-sacrifice.  In 9:16-17 Tholuck takes διαθήκη to mean “testament” and not “covenant.” 

In 11:26 the “reproach of Christ” refers to Moses’ suffering after the example of Christ and does not imply that Moses had prophetic insight into the future suffering of Christ.  In 12:2 the expression ἀντὶ τῆς προκειμένης αὐτῷ χαρᾶ refers to the prize for which Jesus endured the shame of the cross, and not to what he gave up for the cross.  In 12:14 κύριον more likely refers to God, not Jesus.  In 12:24 the contrast is that Abel’s blood cried to God’s justice for the avenging of innocence, while Jesus’ blood to the grace of God for the guilty.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Interpretive Cruxes in Hebrews


Hebrews is a notoriously difficult book to interpret.  Difficulties abound surrounding the circumstances of the book.  The identification of the author and recipients and their situation remains a mystery.  The date and provenance of the book remain unknown.  The integrity of the book has been called into question: Is chapter 13 original to the book or was it added later?  In addition to these problems, the book is replete with exegetical difficulties.  The following is a list of interpretive cruxes in the book of Hebrews.

Interpretive Cruxes in Hebrews

Hebrews is a notoriously difficult book to interpret.  Difficulties abound surrounding the circumstances of the book.  The identification of the author and recipients and their situation remains a mystery.  The date and provenance of the book remain unknown.  The integrity of the book has been called into question: Is chapter 13 original to the book or was it added later?  In addition to these problems, the book is replete with exegetical difficulties.  The following is a list of interpretive cruxes in the book of Hebrews.

1)  1:3 – Should ἀπαύγασμα be taken in the active or passive sense?

2)  1:4 – What is the greater “name” Jesus inherits?

3)  1:5 – What does σήμερον refer to?

4)  1:6 – What is the meaning of: ὅταν δὲ πάλιν εἰσαγάγῃ τὸν πρωτότοκον εἰς τὴν οἰκουμένην?

5)  1:8-9 – Is θεός to be taken as a vocative or nominative?

6)  1:9 – What does the “anointing” refer to?  Who are the μετόχους?

7)  2:5-9 – Is Psalm 8 to be taken christologically or anthropologically?

8)  2:9 – Should the reading be χάριτι θεοῦ or χωρὶς θεοῦ /?

9)  2:11 – What does ἐξ ἑνὸς refer to?

10)  2:16 – What is the meaning of ἐπιλαμβάνεται? What is the subject of the verb?

11)  2:17 – Does ἱλάσκεσθαι mean “propitiate” or “expiate”?

12)  3:2 – What is the meaning of τῷ ποιήσαντι αὐτὸν?

13)  3:3 – Who is κατασκευάσας?

14)  3:5 – What does εἰς μαρτύριον τῶν λαληθησομένων refer to?

15)  3:14 – What is the meaning of μέτοχοι τοῦ Χριστοῦ /?

16)  4:10 – Who is εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὴν κατάπαυσιν αὐτοῦ /?

17)  4:15 – What is the meaning of: πεπειρασμένον δὲ κατὰ πάντα καθὁμοιότητα χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας a`marti,aj?

18)  5:7 – What did Jesus pray for?  How was his prayer heard?  What does εἰσακουσθεὶς ἀπὸ τῆς εὐλαβείας mean?

19)  6:1 – What does τὸν τῆς ἀρχῆς τοῦ Χριστοῦ λόγον refer to?

20)  6:4-6 – Does this passage indicate that one can lose one’s salvation?

21)  6:19 – What does the anchor refer to?

22)  7:3 – Does the author think that Melchizedek is some kind of angelic/suprahuman being?

23)  7:26 – What is the meaning of κεχωρισμένος ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν?  Does it go with what precedes or what follows?

24)  8:1 – What does κεφάλαιον mean?

25)  8:2 – Does “sanctuary” and “tent” refer to the same thing, or two different things?

26)  9:4 – Does the author misplace the location of the altar of incense?

27)  9:11 – Should the reading be τῶν γενομένων ἀγαθῶν or τῶν μελλόντων ἀγαθῶν?

28)  9:11 – What is the “tent” through which Jesus enters?

29)  9:14 – What is the meaning of: διὰ πνεύματος αἰωνίου?

30)  9:15-17 – Does διαθήκης mean “covenant,” “testament,” or both?

31)  9:23 – Do the heavenly things need cleansing?

32)  10:20 – What is the meaning of: διὰ τοῦ καταπετάσματος, τοῦτἔστιν τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ /?

33)  11:26 – What does τὸν ὀνειδισμὸν τοῦ Χριστοῦ refer to?

34)  12:2 – What does ἀντὶ τῆς προκειμένης αὐτῷ χαρᾶς refer to?

35)  12:14 – Does κύριον refer to God or Jesus?

36)  12:17 – What did Esau seek: the blessing or repentance?

37)  12:23 – To whom does ἐκκλησίᾳ πρωτοτόκων ἀπογεγραμμένων ἐν οὐρανοῖς refer?

38)  12:24 – What is the meaning of: αἵματι ῥαντισμοῦ κρεῖττον λαλοῦντι παρὰ τὸν Ἅβελ?

39)  12:25 – Who is the one who warns on earth, and warns from heaven?

40)  13:9 – What does the “foods” refer to?

41)  13:10 – What does the “altar” refer to?  Who are those who officiate in the tent?

42)  13:21 – Does the doxology refer back to Jesus or to God or to both?

43)  13:24 – Is the author writing to or from Rome (or Italy)?

44)  When does Christ become high priest?  When does he become Heir of all things?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Psalm 102 as an Address to the Son


Gurney, Joseph John. “On the Testimony of the Apostle Paul, That the Psalmist Addresses the Son of God, as the Creator of the Universe.” Pages 169-182 in Biblical Notes and Dissertations, Chiefly Intended to Confirm and Illustrate the Doctrine of the Deity of Christ; with Some Remarks on the Practical Importance of That Doctrine. London: Rivington, 1833.

In this chapter Gurney argues that the words of Psalm 102 were addressed to the Son of God (1:10-12) and therefore prove that he was the creator of the heavens and the earth.  His argument is twofold:

1) The construction of verses 1:7-12 demonstrates that the Son is contrasted with the angels.  This is demonstrated by the μεν . . . δε construction.  The copula και links the two quotations from Ps 45 and Ps 102 as referring to the Son.  Therefore, the quotation of Ps 102 does not refer to the angels as some commentators are wont to do (Peirce; Michaelis).  It is clear that the quotation of Ps 102 is addressed to the Son as verse 1:8 indicates: προς δε τον υιον.  The preposition προς does not mean “concerning.”

2) The tenor of the argument also supports the contention that the psalm is addressed to the Son.  The whole book of Hebrews argues for the superiority of the Christian religion to that of Jewish law.  The audience was tempted to return to their Jewish faith and the observance of the law.  One of the things that may have contributed to this is the belief that the law was mediated by angels.  Here the author demonstrates the superiority of the gospel to the law by showing how Jesus is superior to the angels.  The whole of chapter 1 argues for the superiority of the Son to the angels: he receives a superior name to the angels.  The name encompasses both the offices and attributes of Christ.  His office is superior: the angels are ministers; he is the royal Son of God.  His attributes are superior: he receives worship from the angels.  He is also the one who created the heavens and the earth.

God Made the Worlds by His Son


Gurney, Joseph John. “God Made the Worlds by His Son.” Pages 163-68 in Biblical Notes and Dissertations, Chiefly Intended to Confirm and Illustrate the Doctrine of the Deity of Christ; with Some Remarks on the Practical Importance of That Doctrine. London: Rivington, 1833.

In this brief chapter Gurney deals with the relative clause in Hebrews 1:2: δι ου και τους αιωνας εποιησεν.  He objects to one translation: “for whom also he constituted the ages.”  He makes two points:

1) δια with the genitive case never refers to the final cause.  This would require the accusative case.  Instead, here it indicates agency: “by” or “through.”

2) αιωνας can be rendered as “ages” but it may also refer to the world or universe as it does in other Pauline passages (1 Tim 1:17; 1 Cor 2:7).  Elsewhere in Hebrews (11:3) αιωνας clearly signifies the world or universe, and so it is likely that is the same meaning in 1:2.  The Greek αιωνας corresponds to the Hebrew עלמ.

Gurney on the Canonical Authority of Hebrews


Gurney, Joseph John. “On the Canonical Authority of the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Pages 1-39 in Biblical Notes and Dissertations, Chiefly Intended to Confirm and Illustrate the Doctrine of the Deity of Christ; with Some Remarks on the Practical Importance of That Doctrine. London: Rivington, 1833.

Joseph John Gurney (1788-1847) was a banker in Norwich, England and an evangelical minister of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

Many believe that the canonical authority of Hebrews rests on the question of whether Paul was the author of this epistle.  Gurney thus proceeds to argue for Pauline authorship of Hebrews. 

1) He states that 2 Peter 3:14-16 alludes to Paul’s letter to the Hebrews.  First Peter was written to the diaspora Jews (1:1), as was 2 Peter (3:1).  Gurney reasons that the epistle that Peter referred to was also written to Hebrews.  He claims that the whole argument of Hebrews corresponds to what Peter is writing in 2 Peter 3.  The “things hard to understand” (3:16) correlate to what Hebrews says in 5:11.

2) In the ecclesiastical tradition the Greek and eastern fathers are unanimous in affirming Pauline authorship.  Beginning from the Alexandrian fathers (Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen) Gurney lists numerous eastern fathers who affirmed Pauline authorship.  Some of the Latin fathers (Caius, Tertullian, Irenaeus), however, did not affirm Pauline authorship.  However, from the fourth century on, the western fathers (e.g., Jerome, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine) appear to be unanimous on Pauline authorship.

3) Gurney next considers the internal evidence: a) the few personal circumstances mentioned in Hebrews corresponds well with the history of Paul: the author displays intimate knowledge of the OT; he appears to be writing from Rome to Christians in Judaea (13:24); the mention of Timothy, who was a close associate of Paul’s (13:23); b) the author of Hebrews displays a similar disposition to that of Paul; c) the arrangement of the epistle into doctrinal and practical sections is similar to Paul’s writings [It should be noted that scholars today do not adhere to this simplistic structure of Hebrews anymore]; d) much of the theological language in Hebrews finds correlations with the Pauline writings.

Gurney next addresses the objection that Hebrews evinces a superior Greek style to that of Paul’s letters.  Some early fathers tried to account for the differences: Hebrews was translated from Hebrew into Greek by Luke or Clement, or that someone else recorded the sentiments of Paul in his own language.  Gurney rejects both of these explanations.  Hebrews is not a translation: a) there is no ancient evidence of any Hebrew original; b) the author makes frequent use of paronomasia, or play on words; c) the author quotes and bases his arguments on the Greek translation of the OT; d) the writing evinces a fluid Greek style.

Nevertheless, Gurney argues that Hebrews stylistically shows similarities to Paul’s writings: a) the use of Hebraisms and Jewish idioms; b) the frequent separation of premises from conclusions with parenthetic discourse; c) similarities in certain peculiarities of grammatical construction; d) modes of expression peculiar to Paul are also found in Hebrews; e) the use of words which are common to Paul and Hebrews but found nowhere else in the NT.  He argues that Paul was much more careful in the construction of this letter than in his other letters.  He concludes that if Paul was the author then one cannot hesitate to ascribe the character of divine inspiration and canonical authority to the work.

Gurney argues, however, that independent of the question of authorship, Hebrews can be considered inspired and canonical.  First, it was written during the apostolic age.  Evidence for this includes: a) Clement of Rome appears to have made use of Hebrews; b) The early date can also be ascribed to the fact that the author appears to say that the sacrificial cult was still functioning at the time of the writing of Hebrews [this argument can no longer be sustained as scholars have found instances in which writers referred to sacrificial cultus in the present tense even after the destruction of the Temple]; c) The mention of Timothy; d) Its appearance in the earliest existing versions of the NT; e) the audience received their instructions from the immediate followers of Christ (2:3).

Second, the epistle was addressed to the Christian church in Palestine: a) The title “To the Hebrews” is found in all ancient versions, manuscripts, and editions.  This is confirmed by the testimony of the early church fathers; b) The whole tenor and argument of the work evinces intimate knowledge of the Jewish law.  The Jerusalem church was held in particular respect and authority by the rest of the Christian world, so it could only take a person endowed with divine inspiration to address such a church with such a doctrinal treatise.

Third, Hebrews’ inspiration and authority is grounded upon “its own internal excellence and scriptural weight” (36).  Hebrews reveals truths not found in any other NT writing.

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.

Henry Louis Laharpe on the Authenticity of Hebrews

Laharpe, Henry Louis. Essai critique sur l’authenticité de l’épitre aux Hébreux. 1832.

Laharpe sets out to demonstrate the authenticity of the epistle to the Hebrews by arguing for the probability of Pauline authorship.  Part 1 examines the internal evidence. 

First, he examines the doctrine which Hebrews and Paul contain: 1) Christianity possesses a superiority over Judaism: a) The Gospel gives to humanity more light and religious knowledge than the Law; b) The Gospel is superior to the Law in that it offers more powerful motives and greater encouragement for the practice of piety and virtue; c) The Gospel has a superior efficacy to advance and assure the real and constant happiness of the human race; d) The Jewish dispensation is only a type or shadow of the Christian dispensation; e) The Mosaic dispensation is abolished because of its imperfection, but the Christian dispensation exists perpetually.  2) The doctrine of the person and expiatory mediation of Jesus: a) The doctrine of the mediator is presented in the same manner by Paul and Hebrews; b) the death of Christ is an expiatory sacrifice for sins by which sinners are reconciled to God.

Second, he argues that the didactic and hortatory method Hebrews uses is analogous to that of Paul’s: 1) The general disposition of Hebrews is similar to that ordinarily employed by Paul; 2) There is a similarity in the citation and application of the OT; 3) There is an analogy between Hebrews and Paul with respect to the manner in which certain reasons are in turn suspended and reprised.

Third, he compares the style and diction of Hebrews and Paul under the following headings: 1) Concordance of style and ideas: a) Concordance of ideas presented in the same manner, although with a slightly different style; b) Concordance of ideas with a more striking relation in diction; c) Concordance of passages in which there is only a slight difference in expression; d) Concordance of passages which present the same expressions; 2) Words which are found only in Paul and Hebrews, or which are employed by other authors of the NT in an entirely different sense; 3) Remarkable particularities in grammatical construction.

Fourth, he examines several statements in Hebrews which seems to throw proper light on the question of authorship: 1) The particular way Timothy is mentioned in 13:23; 2) The author was a prisoner for a short time (13:18-19); 3) The statement regarding bonds in 10:34 is naturally applied to Paul; 4) The salutation in 13:24 forms another probability in favor of Pauline authorship; 5) There is no reason to doubt that Paul could have written the statements in 2:3.

In part 2 Laharpe examines the external evidence on the question of authorship.  In section 1 he examines the Alexandrian evidence of Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others.  Section two examines the witnesses of the Eastern Church, such as Justin Martyr, Eusebius of Caesarea, and others.  Section three looks at witnesses of the Western Church: Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Caius, Tertullian, Cyprian, Novatian, Lactantius, Jerome, Augustine, and the Council of Carthage.  Pauline authorship found opposition only in the Western Church, but eventually the tide of opinion turned in favor of Pauline authorship.

In part 3 Laharpe examines two particular questions regarding Hebrews: 1) What was the original language of the epistle?  2) Who were the addressees?  He concludes that Hebrews was originally written in Greek (not Hebrew).  It is likely that Paul would have used Greek even when writing to Hebrew Christians in Palestine, the OT quotations appear to have been drawn primarily from the LXX, and the Greek style all point to this conclusion.  Laharpe then argues that Hebrews was written to the Church in Caesarea.

In part 4 the author draws together his conclusions.  Hebrews’ doctrine is apostolic and shows remarkable similarities to the writings of Paul.  The internal and external evidence points favorably towards Pauline authorship. The authenticity of Hebrews leads to the conclusion that this epistle possesses a full and complete canonical authority and that it is decisive in all matters that it treats: the divinity of Christ, the superiority of Christianity over Judaism, the necessity of expiation for sins by the blood of Christ, and the necessity of a more perfect sacrifice than that offered in the Law.