Introduction to Hebrews
Hebrews is the only New Testament epistle—other than the three epistles of John—in which the author has not directly indicated his name. Consequently, the authorship of Hebrews has always been in question. It is clearly written to Hebrew Christians, being filled with references to Old Testament Scriptures (often, however, from the Septuagint version, probably because the readers were recognized as Hellenistic Jews of the dispersion) and references to the tabernacle and the sacrificial offerings. Although Paul has been viewed as the most likely author, there have been many others suggested by various authorities, including Barnabas, Luke, Apollos, Silas and others.
An obvious argument against Pauline authorship is that he definitely identified himself as the author in all his other thirteen epistles. Furthermore, he was generally recognized as the apostle to the Gentiles, and all his other epistles were, indeed, written to Gentile churches or individuals. There is also the fact that Hebrews 2:3 seems to imply that the writer was not one of those who had directly heard the Lord.
These arguments are far from compelling, however. Even though Paul primarily ministered to Gentiles, he considered himself “an Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5) and had a great burden “for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). He taught that the gospel should go “to the Jew first” (Romans 1:16), and in any new city he entered he would preach first in “a synagogue of the Jews:…as his manner was” (Acts 17:1-2). It would surely be in character for him to write a thorough exposition of the significance of the new covenant in Christ for his Jewish Christian brethren, especially when he learned many of them were becoming discouraged and considering returning to their Jewish religion.
The Apostle Peter, also writing to the Jews of the dispersion, may have referred to the book of Hebrews as written by Paul, when he mentioned that “our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (II Peter 3:15-16). Here Peter not only accepts Paul’s epistles as “scriptures,” but includes in them “the wisdom given unto him” that he had “written unto you.” Since Peter was writing unto “the strangers scattered” (or, literally, “the sojourners of the dispersion”—that is, the diaspora, the Jews scattered in lands other than Israel), these clearly were the same ones being addressed in the book of Hebrews. Then, since Paul certainly wrote no other inspired epistles to these Hebrews, it almost seems necessary to conclude that Peter was referring specifically to the book of Hebrews.
In addition, the ending of Hebrews seems compatible with a Pauline-type ending (Hebrews 13:22-25). The writer also mentions “our brother Timothy” (Hebrews 13:23), a reference best understood as Pauline, in view of the fact that Timothy was Paul’s convert, disciple and frequent co-worker.
Finally, it should be noted that most of the early Christian writers and church fathers, especially in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, acknowledged Paul as the author of Hebrews. The seeming self-exclusion in Hebrews 2:3 (“confirmed unto us by them that heard Him”) could well be merely Paul’s modest admission that he had never heard Jesus speak during his earthly ministry.
Although it cannot be proved beyond question, there thus seems a strong probability that Paul was the author of Hebrews, which would mean that the New Testament contains fourteen Pauline epistles and seven general epistles. The date of writing must have been well before A.D. 70 (this also would fit a Pauline authorship); otherwise this exposition for Hebrew Christians would surely have alluded in some way to the Roman destruction of the city that year. The comment that “they of Italy salute you” (Hebrews 13:24) might suggest that the epistle to the Hebrews of the dispersion (that is, those “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia”—I Peter 1:1) was one of the prison epistles, written while Paul was under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30).
Regardless of the uncertainty about the author or recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews, the book itself is surely a key book of the New Testament, rich in spiritual instruction and blessing, especially in its multi-dimensional exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is called “the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3), “the captain of their salvation” (Hebrews 2:10), “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession” (Hebrews 3:1), “a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle” (Hebrews 8:2), “the mediator of the new testament” (Hebrews 9:15), “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and “that great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20), among many other titles and descriptions. It brilliantly shows the incomparable superiority of the new covenant to all that had gone before to point the way.