The Authorship of Hebrews

Drew Berding

Who wrote the book of Hebrews?
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Preface

The human authorship of the book of Hebrews has been the subject of much conjecture and debate for two millennia.

This essay attempts to examine some clues to the authorship and draw some conclusions from these clues as to who is the probable author.

The methodology will be to develop a profile of the author from internal evidence in the book of Hebrews. Then we will examine other scriptures to find a candidate who might fit that profile. Then point-by-point we will compare the profile with each candidate, eliminating those who do not fit, and hopefully ending up with one who fits all points—the probable author of Hebrews.

In developing a profile of the author, it is just as instructive to examine what is omitted as it is to examine what is included. Subjects that are included are: strong references and familiarity with Old Testament law, judgment of the believers, fear, etc….. Significant subjects that are barely mentioned in Hebrews are: love, grace, the Holy Spirit and eternal life.

Therefore it is unlikely that Paul was the human author.

After careful analysis, the most probable author is Apollos.

Hebrews and Love

In the whole book of Hebrews, the word “love” only occurs three times and in each case it is a very limited concept of human love rather than God’s love:

  • In Heb 6:101 it talks about demonstrating agape love by ministering to the needs of the saints.
  • Heb 10:242 exhorts them to stimulate one another to agape love and good deeds.
  • Heb 13:13 exhorts them to continue in phileo love towards the brethren.

Even though several translations use the English word “love” in Heb 13:54, they are talking about covetousness—the love of money.

Each of these cases relates to our love towards our brothers—not God’s love towards us or our love towards Him. It is like the author is unaware of that possibility—he is stuck in an Old Testament view of God as a God of law and judgment.

This is very significant.

Hebrews and Grace

The book of Hebrews mentions the word “grace” seven times in six verses but again it is a very limited view of the subject:

  • In Hebrews 2:95 it tells us that Jesus, by the grace of God, suffered death for everyone.
  • In Hebrews 4:166 it says we can confidently approach the throne of grace so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
  • In Hebrews 10:297 it is talking about rejecting salvation by insulting “the Spirit of grace.” The context of this verse gives us a lot of insight into the author’s frame of reference and we will come back to it later.
  • In Hebrews 12:158 it exhorts us not to come short of the grace of God and thereby become defiled.
  • In Hebrews 13:99 it states that it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods or other things that are of no benefit.
  • Finally, in Hebrews 13:2510 his parting salutation is grace be with you.

The author seems to have a limited view of grace that does not extend its freedom to us as individual believers. It is as if the New Covenant was given to God’s people by grace (as a gift) but now we are obligated to keep it in our own strength. It’s like the author is unaware of the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Let’s explore these thoughts further.

Hebrews and the Holy Spirit

Although the book of Hebrews mentions the Holy Spirit seven times, it never speaks of Him as indwelling us.

  • Hebrews 2:2-411 tells us about the gifts of the Holy Spirit that were manifested in order to establish the terrifying authority of God’s Word.
  • Hebrews 3:7-8,12 Hebrews 9:7-913 and Heb 10:15-1614 identify the Holy Spirit as the author of Scripture.
  • Hebrews 6:4-615 does talk about those who have been made “partakers of the Holy Spirit” but it does not explain what that involves. The implication (that is consistent with the context and with the whole tone of the book) is that “partakers” means they are observers of His actions and recipients of His words.
  • Hebrews 9:13-1516 says Jesus offered Himself through the Spirit.
  • Hebrews 10:2917 talks about rejecting and insulting the Spirit of grace—spurning salvation.

In the Old Testament, when God prophesied about the New Covenant, He said in Ezekiel 36:27, “And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” Similarly, in Jeremiah 31:33 He said: “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” However, when this is quoted in Hebrews 10:16, it omits the part about putting His Spirit or His law within us—perhaps because it didn’t seem relevant to the author. Interesting!

It is almost like the author of Hebrews fully understood the doctrine about Jesus being the Messiah but only partially understood the doctrine about the Holy Spirit—he only had an Old Testament view of the Holy Spirit where the Holy Spirit would rest on someone for power for special service but He did not indwell them.

Hebrews and Eternal Life

The book of Hebrews uses the adjective “eternal”18 six times as eternal salvation;19 eternal judgment;20 eternal redemption;21 eternal Spirit;22 eternal inheritance;23 and eternal covenant.24 In each case, it refers to attributes of God’s work.

The noun form of the word25 is used nine times as “forever”26 and three times as “the worlds”27 (eternity). In each case, it refers to God or God’s creation but not to man. This gives us some insight into the author’s perspective.

Unlike Paul, the author does not use the word to describe eternal life. This is another of many reasons to believe that Paul did not write this book.

Paul?

Although many people believe Paul wrote Hebrews, all the evidence points elsewhere. Paul certainly would have developed the ideas of love, grace, the Holy Spirit and eternal life but those are barely found in Hebrews. Therefore it is unlikely that Paul wrote it.

Furthermore, the numerous quotes from the Old Testament are from the Septuagint whereas Paul quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Also the style and tone of Hebrews is not consistent with Paul so we have to see who else might fit.

Apollos

The observations in the previous section about the Holy Spirit bring to mind the story about Apollos in Acts 18:24-28. He “had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John.” He knew that John’s baptism was preparing the way for the Messiah but he needed to be instructed further by Priscilla and Aquila that Jesus actually was the Messiah and the fulfillment of what Apollos had been teaching. Thereafter, he preached Jesus.

Apollos had already gone on to Corinth when Paul began teaching in Ephesus (Acts 19:1‑6) so he missed out on Paul’s instruction on the Holy Spirit (it is unfortunate that there is an artificial man-made chapter break between these two portions of the same story from Acts 18:24 through Acts 19:6). Apollos obviously knew nothing about the Holy Spirit because, although he had been teaching in Ephesus before Paul arrived, those he had taught later told Paul that they did not even know there was a Holy Spirit.28 They were baptized only into John’s baptism which is what Apollos had taught them from his limited knowledge.

Since Apollos was Jewish and was preaching repentance in preparation for the coming Kingdom of God, he would have had a limited view of grace and love and almost zero appreciation for eternal life and the Holy Spirit (see previous sections).

On the other hand, Luke does refer to Apollos as having “greatly helped those who had believed through grace.”29 Could this be after the book of Hebrews was written and before Apollos learned about the Holy Spirit and about grace?30

Conclusion

I sometimes wonder if Apollos could have been the author of Hebrews. Everything we know about him is consistent with the book of Hebrews. He was Jewish; he was learned in the Law and Scriptures; he was eloquent and he was an exhorter.31 Furthermore he did not understand the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Since some believers claimed they were of Apollos32 rather than Paul, it is reasonable to assume that they had some letter from him, which in their opinion gave him as much authority as Paul. That idea is supported by 1 Corinthians 4:6 where Paul says “…I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written…”

Therefore based on the preponderance of evidence, until someone can show me otherwise, I will conclude that Apollos was the human author of the book of Hebrews, inspired just like the Old Testament writers by a Holy Spirit who he did not yet understand.


Photo Attribution: Amit Lahav- Unsplash.com


Footnotes

  1. Heb 6:10, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.”
  2. Heb 10:24, “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”
  3. Heb 13:1, “Let love of the brethren continue.”
  4. Heb 13:5, “Let your character be free from the love of money [covetousness], being content with what you have.”
  5. Heb 2:9, “But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”
  6. Heb 4:16, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.”
  7. Heb 10:29, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
  8. Heb 12:15, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”
  9. Heb 13:9, Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefited.
  10. Heb 13:25, “Grace be with you all.”
  11. Heb 2:2-4, “How shall 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, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”
  12. Heb 3:7-8, “Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…'”
  13. Heb 9:7-9, “…but into the second only the high priest enters, once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing….”
  14. Heb 10:15-16, “And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, And upon their mind I will write them.’ “
  15. Heb 6:4-6, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance….”
  16. Heb 9:13-15, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
  17. Heb 10:29, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
  18. NT:166 aioonoin
  19. Heb 5:9, “And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation…”
  20. Heb 6:2, “…of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.”
  21. Heb 9:12, “…and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”
  22. Heb 9:14, “…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
  23. Heb 9:15, “For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
  24. Heb 13:20, “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you…”
  25. NT:165
  26. Heb 1:8; Heb 5:6; Heb 6:20; Heb 7:17; Heb 7:21; Heb 7:24; Heb 7:28; Heb 13:8; Heb 13:21
  27. Heb 6:5; Heb 9:26; Heb 11:3
  28. Acts 19:2-3 “…and he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said to him, ‘No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.'”
  29. Acts 18:27-28, “And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”
  30. Acts 18:26, “But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. “
  31. Acts 18:24, “Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.”
  32. 1 Cor 1:12, “…each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ ” See also 1 Cor 3:4, “For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men?”

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NOTE: Bible references unless otherwise stated are from the NASU (New American Standard Updated) copyright the Lockman Foundation.

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