Monday, January 10, 2011

Review of David Allen's Lukan Authorship of Hebrews

David L. Allen. Lukan Authorship of Hebrews. NAC Studies of the Bible & Theology. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010.

I want to begin by thanking David Allen, Jim Baird, and Broadman & Holman Press for a review copy of this book.

David Allen, dean of the School of Theology, professor of Preaching, and director of the Center of Biblical Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, proposes in this monograph that Luke is the most likely author of the book of Hebrews.  Allen’s book is essentially a revision and expansion upon his 1987 dissertation completed at the University of Texas at Arlington.  Allen is by no means the first to propose Lukan authorship of Hebrews; the theory in various forms has found proponents since patristic times, but this book is perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of the theory.

In his introduction Allen sets forth the appropriate disclaimers: when reconstructing the authorship and other historical circumstances surrounding an ancient work, one is not working in the realm of certainty, but of probability.  Nevertheless, Allen moves forward in relative confidence in the viability of his thesis.  Allen proposes that Luke was the independent author of Hebrews, which he wrote from Rome around 67-69 AD after the death of Paul.  The audience consisted of former priests who were converted to Christianity prior to the martyrdom of Stephen.  When persecution broke out, these priests fled to Syrian Antioch where they became part of the larger Christian community there.  Luke was likely a member of this Antiochene church, or at the very least had contact with the church on several occasions (3-4).

Chapter 1 surveys the history of interpretation regarding the authorship of Hebrews, particularly focusing on previous theories of Lukan authorship.  While Allen does not deal with every theory in detail, he does provide a very useful chart on page 13 summarizing the various theories on the authorship of Hebrews.  Hence, this chapter is a helpful starting place for anyone wanting to get an overview of the various theories on Hebrews’ authorship.

Chapter 2 weighs the evidence for and against the other leading candidates for Hebrews’ authorship: Barnabas, Apollos, and Paul.  Allen quickly dismisses the candidacies of Barnabas and Apollos; for both individuals we do not have any of their extant writings with which to compare the book of Hebrews, and furthermore there is no Patristic testimony supporting Apollos as the author (40-45).  Of course, just because we do not have any extant writings from a candidate does not mean that person could not have written Hebrews.  It simply means that we are unable to test certain theories by means of literary comparison.

Although the majority of scholars today disregard Paul as the author, Allen believes that his candidacy should not be so easily dismissed (45).  Paul was widely, if not universally, regarded as the author among the early church fathers.  Modern proponents for Pauline authorship also adduce many literary and theological affinities between the Pauline writings and Hebrews.  Allen examines in considerable detail the arguments of Eta Linnemann, William Leonard, and David Alan Black for Pauline authorship, noting the strengths and weaknesses of the various arguments.  While the evidence amassed for Pauline authorship is impressive, Allen rightly points out that the literary style and theological emphases are still significantly dissimilar so as to make Pauline authorship highly improbable.  Other evidence that points away from Pauline authorship include divergences in argumentation and citation practice of the Old Testament, the author of Hebrews never identifies himself (as Paul does in all of his other letters), and he seems to place himself among a later generation of believers (2:3).  Nevertheless, the affinities between Hebrews and the Pauline letters does suggest that the author was an associate of Paul’s and was likely influenced by Paul’s theology.  Hence, Luke emerges as one of the leading candidates for authorship (46-77).

The heart of Allen’s argument is found in chapters 3-5.  In chapter 3 Allen lays out the linguistic evidence for Lukan authorship.  Allen begins by noting the lexical similarities between Hebrews and Luke-Acts.  Allen not only identifies 53 words (including four proper nouns) that are unique to Luke-Acts and Hebrews among the NT writings (he lays out these words nicely in a chart on pages 84-86), but Allen sets forth numerous other lexical similarities between the two sets of writings (96-109).  Allen also argues that the lexical similarities between the Pauline and Lukan writings only bolsters Lukan authorship of Hebrews since they demonstrate that Paul and Luke were acquaintances and influenced one another (90).  Next Allen proceeds to lay out the stylistic similarities between Hebrews and Luke-Acts (117-125).  Allen’s presentation of the lexical and stylistic similarities is highly detailed, but the various pieces of evidence he adduces range in persuasiveness.  Some of the similarities could be chalked up to mere coincidence, while other pieces of evidence seem so narrowly defined so as to conveniently exclude the other NT writings.  In other instances, it is hard to see how certain pieces of evidence contribute to the overall argument since the same words or constructions can be found in the other NT writings.  Nevertheless, the overall effect is cumulative and I think Allen succeeds in demonstrating that among the writings of the NT the Lukan writings evince the greatest lexical and stylistic similarity to Hebrews.

I do not, however, find that these similarities are decisive evidence for positing Lukan authorship of Hebrews.  First, I remain dubious about linguistic arguments that are based solely on the NT writings.  The NT, relatively speaking, represents only a small portion of Greek literature compared to the vast body of Greek literature that survives from the ancient world.  It would be relatively easy to find distinctive literary features among two sets of works when the comparison base is so relatively small.  Second, nearly all scholars recognize that Hebrews and the Lukan corpus evince the most sophisticated Greek style among all of the writings of the NT.  The many similarities that Allen highlights between Hebrews and Luke-Acts could be attributed, not to common authorship, but to the fact that the authors of these works were more skilled in the use of the Greek language.  In order to strengthen the case for Lukan authorship of Hebrews, one would have to compare the linguistic features of Hebrews and Luke-Acts with the larger body of contemporaneous Greek literature.  At the very least, the Apostolic Fathers should be taken into consideration, but an analysis could be expanded to include the Greek Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, early Patristic writings, and near-contemporary writers such as Philo, Josephus, Plutarch, and Lucian.  This might be a good dissertation project for someone to see if Allen’s thesis could be falsified by expanding the scope of comparative literature to determine if the linguistic similarities between Hebrews and Luke-Acts are truly distinctive or not.  Third, Allen does not delve much into the lexical and stylistic differences between the two sets of writings.  Allen rightly points out that, while Hebrews evinces lexical and stylistic similarities with the Pauline literature, the differences make Pauline authorship of Hebrews highly unlikely.  Can the same be said of Hebrews with regard to the Lukan corpus?  Allen does remark that there are 337 words which appear in Hebrews, but not in Luke-Acts (87).  Is this a sufficient number to question the viability of Lukan authorship?  Later in the book, Allen admits that 1 Peter shows “remarkable similarity” to both the writings of Luke and Hebrews (272).  If a writer other than Luke could write 1 Peter that has linguistic and conceptual similarities to his writings, then couldn’t the same be said for the author of Hebrews?

Allen then considers the use of Old Testament quotation formulas in Luke-Acts, Hebrews, and Paul (127-135).  Here I believe is one of the weakest links in Allen’s argument.  Allen concludes that Hebrews shares similarities with both Paul and Luke, but that Hebrews more closely aligns with Luke.  In terms of the quotations themselves Paul uses both the MT and the LXX, Luke seldom uses the MT, and Hebrews never uses the MT (135).  Here again Hebrews is closer to Luke than to Paul.  Yet there are some significant differences.  First, as Allen acknowledges, Hebrews never uses gegraptai to introduce OT quotations; Luke, on the other hand, uses it quite often (14 times).  Second, Allen also acknowledges that Hebrews differs from both Paul in Luke in that it usually does not name the human author of Scripture quotations.  Instead, Hebrews often attributes quotations directly to God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, even when they were not the speakers in the original OT context.  Luke never does this; he sometimes identifies God as the speaker of the quotation, but usually God is the one who is speaking in the original context of the quotation, such as when God speaks to Abraham or Moses.  Thus, Hebrews’ citation practice is dramatically different from what we encounter in the Lukan corpus.  This fact seems to speak against Lukan authorship of Hebrews.

In the last section of the chapter Allen utilizes discourse analysis to examine three features of Hebrews and Luke-Acts: the prologues of each book, Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 versus the “faith chapter” of Hebrews 11, and the macrostructure and superstructures of each book.  Allen notes several similarities between the prologues of Luke, Acts, and Hebrews (138-141).  It is virtually without dispute that these prologues are, both in terms of vocabulary and style, some of the most elevated prose in the NT.  Allen sees this as evidence of common authorship.  However, Allen also notes the similarity of Luke’s prologues to Josephus’ prologues in Against Apion (141-142).  Other authors of Luke’s time were equally capable of writing such elevated prose, so it is just as plausible that another author whose literary skills were equal or even superior to Luke’s could have written the book of Hebrews.  Allen then traces numerous thematic and linguistic parallels between Acts 7 and Hebrews 11 (143-149).  Some of the linguistic parallels, noted in a chart on pages 148-149, are actually quite intriguing.  Certainly there are similarities between the two passages, as both are in a sense a recounting of Israelite history, but there are certainly differences as well; both function differently within their literary contexts.

The final piece of Allen’s linguistic argument examines the macrostructures and superstructures of Luke, Acts, and Hebrews.  Allen highlights several studies that have attempted to discover the chiastic structure of Luke, Acts, and Luke-Acts as a whole (152-162).  Likewise, scholars have attempted chiastic analyses on the structure of Hebrews (162-170).  That Luke-Acts and Hebrews evince a chiastic framework suggests to Allen common authorship of these works.  Yet Allen does admit that chiastic analyses have also been posited for other NT writings.  Hence, a chiastic arrangement, if truly present, is not a unique feature to Hebrews and the Lukan writings (170-171).  Common authorship would not be needed to account for such a feature in these writings.

Here, however, I must register my own skepticism towards studies that attempt to identify chiastic arrangements to literary works.  Many of these studies strike me as artificial; often these chiastic outlines seem rather forced (as a case in point, look at Vanhoye’s outline on page 164).  Ancient writings were often intended for oral delivery.  I find it difficult to imagine an audience being able to hold the whole of an oral presentation in their minds and to be able to discern the complex chiastic structures contained therein.  Nor, do I find it entirely plausible that writers would sit down and work out complex chiastic arrangements for their works before putting their ideas down in writing.  Scholars who discern chiastic arrangements of literary works have the benefit of poring over a written text for hours in order to work out their arrangements.  It seems to me that in order for the technique of chiasm to be persuasive, it needs to be more readily apparent to an audience that only has the benefit of hearing an oral presentation once.  This is not to deny that chiasm is used by ancient authors, but for me it is more persuasive to find chiasm at the microlevel of discourse, such as in sentences and paragraphs.  Nor do I deny that parallelism and other organizational techniques are used by ancient authors to arrange their works.

In chapter 4 Allen seeks to compare the purposes of Luke-Acts and Hebrews.  Working off the insights from previous Lukan scholars (particularly W. C. van Unnik), Allen proposes that Hebrews 2:3-4 is a key passage for understanding the purpose of Luke-Acts (181-184).  The message of salvation begins with Jesus and is continued by his “witnesses” and confirmed by signs and wonders and gifts of the Holy Spirit.  This appears to be a nice way of summarizing what is going on in Luke-Acts.  Allen thus remarks that the Lukan purpose is similar to Hebrews: “to challenge believers to mature and not to waver in their faith” (182).  Turning to the purpose of Hebrews, Allen rightly notes that the purpose of Hebrews must be found in the hortatory sections of the book (184).  Allen nicely traces the theme of the “word” of God and the importance of obedience to that word throughout the prologue, hortatory sections, and conclusion of the book (185-186).  Allen then demonstrates that the “word of God” is a major emphasis in the Luke-Acts as well (186-191).  Equally, the notion of “certainty” can be found in both Luke-Acts and Hebrews as well (192-193).  Confidence in the certainty of God’s message encourages believers to move forward in maturity in the Christian faith.

Chapter 5 turns to an examination of the theology of Luke-Acts and Hebrews.  Allen divides his analysis into three sections: Christology, Eschatology, and Additional Arguments.  Under Christology he notes the following similarities: 1) Both have an exaltation Christology; 2) Both use teleioo to refer to Christ’s consecration and enthronement into the messianic office (cf. Luke 13:32); 3) Both talk about the “testing” of Jesus (cf. Luke 22:28); 4) Both see Jesus as the Davidic ruler in fulfillment of such passages as 2 Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 2:7; 5) Hebrews 5:7 seems to coincide best with Luke’s account of Gethsemane; 6) Both have an interest in the humanity of Christ and mention his inner human development (Hebrews 5:8; Luke 2:52); 7) Both use a similar word (agonia, agon) to describe Jesus’ suffering; 8) Both used archegos as a title for Jesus; 9) Both make significant use of the title Kurios as a designation for Jesus.  It is impossible to deal with each of these points in this review.  Suffice it to say, some of the evidence he adduces is more persuasive than others.  For example, both Hebrews and Luke have a strong exaltation Christology and the use of archegos as a title for Jesus is quite striking.  Other points are debatable: for example, it is not clear that teleioo is being used in the same way in both Hebrews and Luke; scholars have debated whether Hebrews 5:7 alludes to Gethsemane; and the way Jesus’ “human development” is described is different in both Luke and Hebrews.  Allen attempts to address perhaps one of the biggest objections to the Lukan authorship of Hebrews, that is, Luke does not describe Jesus as a high priest. Allen contends, however, that Luke does depict Jesus as a priest based on three points: 1) Luke mentions Jesus’ anointing (Luke 4:18; Acts 4:25-27; 10:36-42); 2) Jesus intercedes on the behalf of others (Luke 22:31-32; 23:34); 3) Jesus lifts his hands and blesses the disciples prior to his ascension; this is indicative of a priestly act.  Allen does have a very interesting interpretation of the account of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus in Luke 17:11-19.  Jesus told the lepers that they were cleansed and that they should go show themselves to the priest.  The one Samaritan, when he realized he was cleansed, returned to thank Jesus; he showed himself to Jesus who is the true high priest.  If Luke is truly depicting Jesus as a priest, it does not appear, however, that his high priestly Christology is as developed to the extent it is found in Hebrews.  Naturally, one could argue that this was not Luke’s purpose when he wrote Luke-Acts.

Regarding eschatology, Allen makes the following observations: 1) Both Luke and Hebrews have a reduced emphasis on the parousia; 2) Both have a prophecy-fulfillment schema; 3) Both depict Jesus as the eschatological prophet in the likeness of Moses; 4) Both have journey motifs as a description of the experience of the people of God.  Under Additional Arguments, Allen amasses the following evidence: 1) Both appear to have a polemic against Qumranic ideas (ritual baths, angels as saviors, two messiahs, the superiority of the Aaronic line; 2) Both have an interest in angelic activity; 3) The Lukan temptation narrative hints at Israel’s failure during their wilderness wanderings; Hebrews describes Jesus’ faithfulness immediately prior to a discussion of Israel’s failure during the wilderness wanderings; 4) Paul preaches a “word of exhortation” in Acts 13—a designation that the author of Hebrews uses for his work.  Other thematic elements in the speech are correlated with Hebrews; 5) The “elementary teachings” of Hebrews 6:1-2 correlates well with the activity of the early church described in Acts; 6) Both use “house” as a theological description of the people of God; 7) Both attach theological significance to “today”; 8) Both have an emphasis on apostasy and perseverance; 9) Both have a concept of the “way” 10) Luke has a theology of the cross, which is consistent with Hebrews’ discussion of the significance of Jesus’ death; 11) Both give significant attention to the motif of “salvation” 12) Both use priestly terminology; 13) Both discuss Jesus’ intercessory ministry; 14) Both have similar attitudes towards money and possessions; 15) Thematic elements in the sermons in Acts correlate to the theology of Hebrews; 16) The figure of Melchizedek in Hebrews correlates to Luke’s depiction of Jesus as an exalted human being; 17) Both make reference to the “new covenant.”  Again, the evidence presented here has varying degrees of persuasiveness, and in a couple of places, I felt like he needed to flesh out the points he was making (for example, his comments about Melchizedek), but the effect is cumulative.  Allen has succeeded in demonstrating that Luke-Acts has significant theological affinities with Hebrews. 

Allen does not really discuss any theological differences between the two sets of works.  Are there any differences that might detract from the argument for Lukan authorship of Hebrews?  Let me suggest a few as a starting point: 1) Luke demonstrates great interest in the earthly life of Jesus, particularly in his gospel; Hebrews gives scant attention to the earthly life of Jesus and any references to his earthly life are quite vague; 2) Luke makes frequent references to Jesus’ resurrection.  Luke uses various words to describe the resurrection (αναστασεως, ανιστημι, εγειρω); Hebrews only makes one explicit reference to Jesus’ resurrection (13:20) and he uses an expression not found in Luke-Acts (αναγαγων εκ νεκρων); 3) Luke makes several references to the Temple, but only once to the tabernacle (Act 7:44); Hebrews never mentions the Temple and only focuses on the tabernacle; 4) The Holy Spirit plays a prominent role in the Lukan writings; in Hebrews the role of the Holy Spirit is much less prominent; 5) While Luke may depict Jesus as a high priest and make mention of the New Covenant, these concepts are much more fully developed in Hebrews.  One may, of course, attribute these differences to different genres and themes, but I find the differences significant, nevertheless.

The final two chapters are not crucial to Allen’s main thesis about the Lukan authorship of Hebrews, but they are related to the issue of authorship and so round off his discussion nicely.  Chapter 6 deals with the identity of Luke.  Allen believes that one of the major obstacles to the acceptance of the Lukan authorship of Hebrews is the supposition that Luke was a Gentile, while the author of Hebrews was Jewish (261).  Allen contends that “Luke was a Hellenistic Jew with cosmopolitan training and interests” (266).  Allen states that early Patristic writers never identify Luke as a Gentile.  While this is certainly an argument from silence, I believe Allen’s point is that if Luke was a Gentile, this would have been mentioned by ancient writers.  Allen surmises that Luke can be identified with the Lucius of Romans 16:21, who is referred to as Paul’s “kinsman,” that is, a fellow Jew.  Allen amasses a great deal of evidence to support his claim that Luke was Jewish.  Luke evinces great knowledge and interest in Jewish customs, religious practices, including interest in priestly matters and in Jerusalem and the Temple.  Luke is also heavily interested in the relationship of Judaism to the Church.  Allen claims that Luke depicts “the Jewish Christian church [as] part of the reconstituted people of God” (293).  While Luke demonstrates a great interest in the Gentiles’ acceptance of the gospel, it is Israel’s initial acceptance of the gospel that opens the way for the Gentiles (296).  Luke’s profound understanding of the OT has deeply influenced the shaping of his narrative.  Allen claims that Luke’s use of Scripture resembles most closely the book of Hebrews’ usage of the OT (309).  Space prohibits me from outlining Allen’s other linguistic and conceptual evidence that betrays a Jewish author (310-319).  I think Allen makes a strong case for Luke’s Jewishness in this chapter.

In the seventh and finally chapter, Allen admits that he is skating on “thinner ice” when it comes to his reconstruction of the background, provenance, and recipients of Luke-Acts and Hebrews (323).  Allen proposes that Luke-Acts was written around 61-63 AD to Theophilus, a former Sadducee who served as high priest in 37-41 AD, but was deposed because of his favorability towards the new Christian sect (324-341).  Hebrews was written by Luke from Rome after the death of Paul and before the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD).  During Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome (ca. 66-67 AD), Timothy went to see him and was probably imprisoned and only later released after Paul’s death (Hebrews 13:23).  Luke was in Rome during Paul’s imprisonment (2 Timothy 4:11) and was likely Paul’s amanuensis for the Pastoral Epistles.  Hebrews was written to a group of former priests who had embraced the Christian faith and fled Jerusalem when persecution broke out after Stephen’s martyrdom and they settled in Antioch where they became part of the larger Christian community there (341-375).  Allen has made a plausible reconstruction of the circumstances surrounding the writings of Luke-Acts and Hebrews.  Naturally, as with many historical reconstructions, Allen has had to resort to conjectures to fill in the gaps in the textual evidence.  Of course, one of the biggest objections to the early dating of Luke-Acts is that Luke uses Mark which is often dated to around 68-73 AD.  If so, Luke’s gospel would have to be later.  Those who reject the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles may also not find his reconstruction convincing.

The book includes a selected bibliography.  Anyone wanting to track down the vast secondary sources that Allen uses will have to hunt through the footnotes.  The volume concludes with name, subject, and scripture indexes.  The book is well made; after working through the entire book, I have found the binding and stitching are still well intact.

In conclusion, Allen has made a strong case for the Lukan authorship of Hebrews.  If we had to restrict ourselves to the writers of the NT, then Luke is certainly the best candidate.  Of course it is entirely possible that someone else, who was equally adept at the Greek language, could have written Hebrews, even if we have no means of making a linguistic comparison.  If the case for Lukan authorship is to be sustained, I suggest that further examination of the linguistic evidence is in order.  Comparisons should be made with other near-contemporary Greek literature to determine if Hebrews and Luke-Acts truly share a distinctive style.  Explanations for the conceptual differences that I have noted between Hebrews and Luke-Act are also in order.


  1. An excellent review. Thank you for posting this!

  2. Brian,

    What do you think of the arguments that Apollos was the author of Hebrews?

  3. I think there is a good argument for Apollos as the author. Many scholars take this view. The description of Apollos in Acts 18:24-25 certainly fits what we would expect the author of Hebrews to be like. The problem with the theory is that no one posited the theory in the early church. The first one to propose the theory was Martin Luther in the 16th century. If Apollos was the author, you would think at least some of the Alexandrian Christians would have claimed him as the author, but there is no evidence that they did.

  4. Thank you for this review.

    There is a typo in the fourth paragraph from the end: "The final two chapters are not crucial to Allen’s main thesis about the Lukan authorship of Jesus,..." Surely you meant to put "Hebrews" instead of "Jesus" here.

    Thanks again.