What is the letter to the Hebrews?
This is a letter contained in the New Testament in which the author attempts to persuade Jewish-Christians to remain true to Christ and not to return to the Jewish religion.
Who is the author of this letter?
This is a matter of conjecture since the author nowhere makes himself known.
It seems that most people throughout history have attributed the letter to Paul.
Ebrard writes: “On directing our view first of all to the external testimonies respecting the Epistle to the Hebrews, we encounter the striking phenomenon that the entire Eastern Church decidedly, and from the very first, holds the epistle to be Pauline, while the Western either makes no use of it until the time of the Arian controversy; or if it uses it, does not reckon it among the Pauline epistles; or finally, declares it to be decidedly unPauline.
Schaff: “The Pauline authorship was the prevailing opinion of the church from the fourth century to the eighteenth with the exception of the Reformers and was once almost an article of faith but now has very few defenders among scholars.”
Farrar: “But we may here most briefly summarize it by saying that in spite of the antiquity and authority of the Epistle no writer of the Western Church in the first, second, or third century, quotes it as St. Paul’s; that the first Latin writer who attributes it to St. Paul is Hilary, late in the fourth century; and that in the fifth century both St. Jerome and St. Augustine, though loosely quoting it as St. Paul’s, had serious misgivings about its direct genuineness. In the Eastern Church, Pantænus and Clement of Alexandria seem to have set the fashion of accepting the Pauline authorship;2 but on this subject even Origen felt grave doubts. Eusebius wavered about it, and admitted that the Epistle was accounted spurious by many, but thought that it might perhaps be a translation from an Aramaic original. Even in the Eastern Church it did not meet with unhesitating acceptance as a work of St. Paul.”
Why did many of the earlier scholars think of Paul as the author?
This too is not clear. Perhaps the very fact of its being in the canon led people to believe that it must have been written by an apostle.
Why do most scholars deny Pauline authorship?
There are a variety of reasons. The most critical is the author’s statement in chapter 2 that he was in the second generation of those who had learned about the gospel of Jesus. “…how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard.” (Hebrews 2:3) The “those who heard” in this verse would have been the apostles who had contact with Christ Himself. The author of Hebrews places himself in those who had received the truth about Jesus from these apostles.
Why could Paul not have written this?
Because Paul always insisted that he learned the gospel directly from Jesus Himself, this being Paul’s argument in Galatians 1 and 2. Furthermore, Paul argues at length in the first seven chapters of second Corinthians that he is himself an apostle. Calvin writes on this verse:
Moreover, this passage indicates that this epistle was not written by Paul; for he did not usually speak so humbly of himself, as to confess that he was one of the Apostles’ disciples, nor did he thus speak from ambition, but because wicked men under a pretense of this kind attempted to detract from the authority of his doctrine. It then appears evident that it was not Paul who wrote that he had the Gospel by hearing and not by revelation.
In the first place, that this Epistle [to the Hebrews] is not St. Paul’s, nor any other apostle’s is proved by the fact that it says, in Hebrews 2:3, that this doctrine has come to us and remains among us through those who themselves heard it from the Lord. Thus it is clear that he speaks of the apostles as a disciple to whom this doctrine has come from the apostles, perhaps long after them. For St. Paul, in Galatians 1:1, testifies mightily that he has his Gospel from no man, neither through men, but from God Himself.
What do we know about this book that can help us answer this question?
Literary scholars tell us that the language and style used in this book is that of an educated person, a “practiced scholar” as Westcott observes. Stuart, in arguing that the letter was written in Greek and not translated from Hebrew, writes: I would add merely that the vivid coloring and animation of the whole epistle the impassioned and energetic expression of it and its native unconstrained appearance all contribute to prove that it was originally written in the same language in which it now appears.