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.

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