John Cecil McCullough, an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, was professor of New Testament at Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon and later at Union Theological College and Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland, and is (was?) editor of Irish Biblical Studies. His dissertation was on “The OT Quotations in Hebrews” and he has published several articles on Hebrews.
This survey of recent scholarship is a follow-up article that the author published in 1980. This article covers the years 1980-1993 in which, according to the author, Hebrews scholarship has proliferated. The survey proceeds in a topical fashion.
Author: Generally speaking, speculation about Pauline authorship has come to an end (although Hugedé leaves open the possibility). Some discussion has revolved around whether the author of Hebrews belonged to a Pauline school: Schröger rejected the notion; Strobel concluded that the author might have been part of the wider Pauline missionary work; Ruager said that he was a member of the Pauline circle; and Backhaus argued that he did belong to a Pauline school.
Others have attempted to identify an alternative author and numerous names have been proposed. J. M. Ford offered the novel suggestion that Mary the mother of Jesus wrote Hebrews. Jewett proposed Epaphras, while D. L. Allen (incorrectly listed as “Alan” in the article) has contended for Luke. McCullough opines that “Such efforts to pinpoint names may be judged largely to have been a failure” (68). He suggests that the two best candidates are Barnabas and Apollos, but the evidence is too scanty to prove either one. Scholars are beginning to accept that the work is anonymous (e.g. Attridge). Grässer argued that the work was anonymous because the author wanted it to be that way for theological reasons; exclusive authority belongs to Jesus alone.
Acceptance of anonymity has prompted scholars to ascertain what can be known about the author from the writing itself. 2:3 suggests that the author was not an eyewitness of Jesus and was likely two or three generations removed. 11:32 hints that the author was a male. The author evinces a strong Hellenistic education and was proficient in the Greek language, while there is no evidence that he knew any Hebrew. The author probably had training in Greek rhetoric.
The precise intellectual influence on the author of Hebrews still remains a matter of debate. Spicq’s argument for Philonic influence was thoroughly refuted by Williamson. Nevertheless, the author is thoroughly immersed in the Hellenistic thought world of which Philo was a part (Thompson; Dey; Ruager), so the question becomes “how the author uses the traditions which he has in common in Philo” (74). Other scholars want to see Gnostic influence on the thought world of Hebrews (Windisch; Käsemann; Grässer; Theissen). Others have advocated for the author’s Jewish background. Earlier scholars such as Michel, Barrett, Michel, Klappert, and Hofius have all noted the Jewish eschatological components of the book, and this has been recognized by other scholars (Thompson; Strobel).
Recipients: Scholars are divided over whether the recipients were Jewish Christians (Hagner; Kistemaker; Casey; Morris; Rissi; Bénétreau; Bruce; Ellingworth) or not (Braun; Grässer; Laub; März; Hegermann; Weiss). As for provenance, many scholars are undecided, but it is clear that Hebrews has a connection with Italy (13:24). Some scholars state that Hebrews was written in Italy or even Rome, while many others advocate for a Roman destination (Hagner; Attridge; Bruce; Wilson; Rissi; Weiss). R. Brown argues for a Roman destination in the fact that it was known to other Roman writers (Shepherd of Hermas; Clement of Rome; Hippolytus), and Rome’s reluctance to accept it as canonical because they knew it was not written by Paul.
As for the occasion of the letter, some scholars say it was generally a faith crisis (Laub) perhaps caused by the delay of the parousia (Weiss; Strobel). Others see a connection with current or impending suffering or persecution (Lane; Buchanan; Robinson; Guthrie; Schmithals) or the Fall of Jerusalem and the Temple and the recipients were in danger of lapsing in their faith (Brown; Isaacs). Manson, by contrast, states that the danger was not relapsing, but of not taking full advantage of the opportunities afforded by Christianity. Lindars contended that they were struggling with the idea of forgiveness for sins committed after becoming Christians; they were tempted to return to the old sacrificial system which provided an ease for their consciences. Hooker surmises that they were Christians who were already cut off from Judaism and the Temple.
Genre, Structure and Style: Ellingworth surmises that a descriptive first leaf that would have been attached to the beginning of the manuscript was lost early on. Grässer concludes that chapter 13 was added by a later hand since the author wanted to remain anonymous and would not have added the Pauline ending. Weiss, on the other hand, determined that the ending was added by the author since a later redactor would also have appended a letter opening.
Discussion has also revolved around the issue of whether Hebrews is a general treatise or whether it is addressing a particular situation. Some view Hebrews as a letter (e.g., Kistemaker), while many others consider it a sermon (Swetnam; Grässer; Weiss; Lane; Michel; Thyen; Schierse; Isaacs; Vanhoye), or tractate (Rissi; Windisch). Various attempts have been made to determine the rhetorical structure of the work (Spicq; Wills; Black; Übelacker), and the type of rhetoric employed, whether it be deliberative or epideictic. Numerous other studies have worked on the literary structure of Hebrews.
Date: The terminus ad quem is usually fixed at 96 AD because Hebrews is used by 1 Clement, although there has been some debate as to whether 1 Clement is actually dependent on Hebrews. Some scholars have concluded that Hebrews was written before 70 AD because it refers to the sacrificial cult in the present tense. However, it has been demonstrated that other writings post-dating the destruction of the temple continue to use the present tense to describe the sacrificial cult. So, McCullough concludes that “the destruction of the Temple cannot, therefore, be used with any certainty to date the Epistle” (119). Scholars have not come to a consensus regarding the dating of the book, with dates ranging from the 60s to the 90s.
McCullough ends part one with a considerable bibliography on commentaries and monographs on Hebrews. McCullough provides a nice overview of scholarship for the period covered. Naturally, he was limited by space considerations so other important issues such as the author’s use of scripture or his theology could not be addressed.