by Al Maxey
Issue #128 -------
May 30, 2004
But as to who it was that really
wrote the epistle, God only knows.
Origen (185-254 A.D.)
The Authorship of Hebrews
In-depth Investigation into Identity
Of all the inspired writings of the New Covenant canon, perhaps none is quite as perplexing to the student of
biblical backgrounds as Hebrews. We don't really know who wrote it, or exactly to whom
it was written (the title "To the Hebrews" was added years later and was not part of the original text),
or from where it was written (known as provenance), or even precisely
when it was written. It is a book largely shrouded in mystery. A good many years ago, a biblical scholar by
the name of Franz Delitzsch observed that this book was "like the great Melchizedek. Like him it marches forth
in lonely, royal, and sacerdotal dignity; and like him it is agenealogetos -- we know not
whence it cometh or whither it goeth." The Greek word employed by Delitzsch in the above comment appears
only twice in the entire NT writings, both times in the book of Hebrews and both times in connection with
Melchizedek. It means "without genealogy" ... one whose descent is nowhere recorded; no extant genealogical
records. Delitzsch's comparison is an apt one. Like Melchizedek, this epistle to the Hebrews is equally cloaked in
mystery for those who seek to trace its origins. This is especially true with respect to authorship, with countless
names being put forward over the centuries as possible authors. The two most popular theories, however,
suggest the author was either Paul or Apollos. Other suggested authors
of Hebrews include:
- Luke --- Proposed by Clement of Alexandria (died c. 215 A.D.), who felt Luke may have been working
from a rough draft left by Paul.
- Barnabas --- Suggested by Tertullian (160-220 A.D.) and Novatian (c. 250 A.D.). J.D. Davis, in his
Dictionary of the Bible, believes Barnabas the most likely choice.
- Clement of Rome --- This was the choice of Origen (185-254 A.D.).
- Silas --- The view of a scholar named C.F. Boehme.
- Peter --- The belief of A. Welch.
- Priscilla & Aquila --- Promoted by Bleek & Harnack.
- Philip the Deacon --- Suggested by Ramsay.
- Aristion (an elder known to Papias) --- Proposed by J. Chapman.
Due partly to the question of authorship, but influenced by several other factors as well, this epistle had a difficult
time being accepted into the New Testament canon. Many great scholars and early church "fathers" refused to
acknowledge this work as inspired of God. In fact, it was not until late in the fourth century that it was
finally accepted as part of the canon by the greater part of the Western Church. Some noted historical
figures in church history, however, never really accepted Hebrews. The great reformer Martin Luther
(1483-1546), for example (who believed the author to have been Apollos),
was so much against the inclusion of this book in the NT canon that, in protest, when he produced his German
translation, he moved the epistle of Hebrews from its traditional location (before James) to a new
location just before Jude. This was his way of expressing his displeasure with the presence of this
book as one of the 27 books of the NT canon (Luther also relocated James, another sign of protest,
as he didn't approve of that epistle either). I happen to have a copy of one of Luther's German Bibles in
my possession (it's hundreds of years old; handed down to me from my maternal ancestors who immigrated from
Germany), and it is fascinating to actually see his rearrangement of the order of these two NT books. It's a little
piece of biblical history which I'm privileged to own.
As previously noted, perhaps the two most popular theories as to authorship center around Paul and Apollos. The
King James Version boldly titles the work "The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews," although
this is merely an assumption on their part. Most of the modern translations have chosen not to be so
presumptuous and irresponsible! The reality is: this epistle is anonymous. Nowhere in the
text of the epistle does
the author ever identify himself ... or herself. Although it would perhaps be fascinating to some readers
to examine the evidence for each name suggested for authorship, I shall limit this present study
only to the two major theories -- the apostle Paul and the eloquent Apollos. I would also like to
inform the readers, at the very beginning of this study, that it is my personal strong conviction that Paul
could NOT have been the author of Hebrews (for reasons which will be provided), and that the
most logical choice seems to be Apollos.
The Apostle Paul
Obviously, the apostle Paul is a popular choice. This is at least partly because the KJV specified him
as the author, and the KJV was the "version of choice" among English speaking disciples for many
generations. After a while, men just assumed that the translators' assumption was fact, and, as we all
know, long-held beliefs are rarely changed overnight. There are also some arguments in favor of his
authorship. Notice several of these:
- The book of Hebrews does indeed contain some elements of the teaching of Paul about Christ:
- Christ is the image of God -- Heb. 1:3 and 2 Cor. 4:4.
- Christ took part in the creation -- Heb. 1:2 and Col. 1:16.
- Christ was obedient to God -- Heb. 5:8 and Philp. 2:8.
- There is a similarity in the discussion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit -- Heb. 2:4 and 1 Cor. 12:4-11.
- Both Heb. 9:15 and 2 Cor. 3:6 speak of the "new covenant."
- Faith is a matter of great importance to both Paul and the author of Hebrews, with Abraham being
the chief example from the OT writings for both authors (see: Heb. 11:8-10, 12, 17-19 and Gal. 3:6-9; Rom. 4).
- Heb. 10:38 quotes Habakkuk 2:4, which is quoted in only two other places in the entire New Testament canon:
Rom. 1:17 and Gal. 3:11.
- Both Paul and the author of Hebrews use the conduct of the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings as a
warning to their readers -- compare Heb. 3:7 - 4:11 with 1 Cor. 10:1-11.
- The word "mature" seems to be used similarly -- Heb. 5:14 and Philp. 3:15.
- In the closing section of the book of Hebrews (Heb. 13:18-25) there are several items which some feel point to
- A reference to a clear conscience and the request that his readers pray for him (vs. 18).
- An allusion to God as the "God of peace" (vs. 20 and 1 Thess. 5:23; Rom. 15:33).
- A reference to "our brother Timothy" (vs. 23).
- The closing words: "Grace be with you all," which is customary with the apostle Paul.
All of the above points seem rather convincing on the surface, but they are hardly sufficient to prove Pauline
authorship of the epistle to the Hebrews. In fact, many of the above items are quite shaky and
shallow, and they fall apart under closer scrutiny (see: Dr. E.F. Harrison, Introduction to the
New Testament, p. 376). The evidence stacked against Paul as the author of this work is far
- The author's name is never given in the epistle, which is contrary to the custom of Paul in all of his
known writings (in which he opens each letter by giving his name).
- Heb. 2:3 is a very difficult passage for the advocates of Pauline authorship to explain: "How shall
we escape if we neglect so great a salvation; which was at the first spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed
unto us by them that heard Him." This seems to place the author of the epistle outside that circle of men
to whom Christ directly and personally revealed Himself. The author claims he gained his instruction from those
men to whom Christ had revealed Himself. In light of the following passages, this seems to render
absolutely impossible Pauline authorship -- Gal. 1:1, 11-12, 15-17 (and especially note vs. 12). Dr. F.S. Marsh
wrote, "It is incredible that St. Paul, who insisted so strongly that he received his gospel by direct revelation, could
have written the confession of second-hand instruction contained in Hebrews 2:3." This passage
alone, in my estimation, clinches the view that Paul was NOT the author!
- The argument of literary style. In all of Paul's letters his Greek is rough, somewhat unpolished, and
filled with Hebrew terms and phrases. The book of Hebrews, on the other hand, is written in very
polished Greek (indeed, it is almost Classical in form), and the mark of a Hebrew (Jewish) author is
completely absent. A scholar by the name of Dr. Godet observed, "It is strange indeed that Paul should have
written in polished Greek to the Hebrews, while all his life he had been writing to the
Greeks in a style abounding with rugged and barbarous Hebraisms!" It is simply too great
a stylistic change, with no apparent purpose, for Paul to have been the author.
- There are also significant differences in the way our Lord is referred to. Paul, in his epistles, uses the name of
Jesus some 218 times (whether alone or in combination with the titles "Christ" or "Lord"). Of these 218 occurrences
only 14 are the name "Jesus" all by itself. Paul's usual custom was NOT to use the name "Jesus" alone, but to
combine it with other terms. In the epistle to the Hebrews, however, just the opposite is true. "Jesus" appears 13
times, but 9 of those times it appears alone. Thus, in the known writings of Paul, the name "Jesus"
appears alone only 6.5% of the time. However, in Hebrews the name "Jesus" appears alone 69% of the time. This
simply does not fit the pattern of Paul's known writings.
- It is also significant that Paul's favorite term -- "Christ Jesus" -- is completely absent in the book of Hebrews
(although the reverse form -- "Jesus Christ" -- does appear 3 times). Also, in Hebrews one
finds a series of titles for Christ which appear nowhere in any of Paul's writings: High Priest, Captain
of our salvation, Author and Perfecter of faith, Forerunner, Surety, etc.
- The major theological thrust of the book of Hebrews is the High Priesthood of the Messiah now that
He has entered Heaven. However, nowhere in Paul's writings is this aspect of the Lord's work
ever discussed. Paul's major theological thrust, with regard to the Messiah, is His death
and resurrection, which he examines numerous times. Yet, in Hebrews this aspect of our Lord's work
is mentioned only once in the entire epistle (Heb. 13:20). Again, this is totally out of character with the
teaching of the apostle Paul.
- In Paul's known writings, whenever he quotes from the Old Testament documents it is almost exclusively
from the Hebrew manuscripts that he takes his quotations. However, the author of Hebrews almost
exclusively takes quotations from the Greek Septuagint instead of the Hebrew text. Further, the author
of Hebrews seldom mentions the source of the quotations, or even introduces that source, nor does he
speak of them as having been "written" ... all of which is totally contrary to the custom of Paul in his
- In the epistle to the Hebrews there is more mention made of the earthly life of Christ Jesus than in all of Paul's
- Nowhere in Hebrews do we find that familiar personal touch, or any mention made of personal
experiences, which are so typical of Paul's writings.
All of the above facts, and more that could be cited, tend to discredit the view that the author of this epistle was
the apostle Paul. My own conviction, again, is that he did NOT write this work. Indeed, some of the
above evidence makes it impossible for me to even suggest he might have. There
is just too much evidence against his authorship of Hebrews.
The Eloquent Apollos
Well, if Paul didn't write Hebrews, then who did?! As noticed previously, many names have
been suggested, but the one that keeps rising to the top of the list of many scholars (myself included) is that of
Apollos. Notice some of the reasons he is such an attractive possibility:
- According to Acts 18:24, Apollos was "an eloquent man" and "a learned man." Thus, he would easily have been
capable of the polished, almost Classical, Greek of the letter to the Hebrews. Having personally
translated the entire New Testament documents from the Greek (as part of my undergraduate and graduate studies,
and personal study beyond those years), I can attest to the fact that the Greek of Paul's known epistles and the
Greek of Hebrews is very much different. The likelihood that Paul produced Hebrews, just based on
stylistic concerns, is slim to non-existent. It is just too different from his other works.
- Acts 18:24-25 states Apollos was "mighty in the Scriptures," and that he "had been instructed in the way of the
Lord." Thus, the Old Covenant writings were familiar territory to Apollos, and he could handle them with great
skill, which the author of Hebrews clearly was capable of doing.
- There is also a great deal of internal, as well as external, evidence that this particular epistle was written from the city
of Alexandria, Egypt (an entire study in itself; one which we don't have time or space to develop sufficiently here).
This was a location that, as far as we know, Paul never visited. However, according to Acts 18:24, it was the home
of Apollos ... "an Alexandrian by birth." Dr. Harrison writes, "The data supporting an Alexandrian origin
and therefore favorable to Apollos are fairly extensive and cannot lightly be dismissed."
- Apollos was a companion of the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 16:12; Titus 3:13), thus was very familiar with his teaching
and thought, which may well account for many of the elements in this epistle which sound so reminiscent of Paul's
- The fact that Apollos was a native of Alexandria is also significant in light of the fact that it was here that the
Greek Septuagint was composed, and this was the version of the OT Scriptures used predominantly
by the people of this area. The author of Hebrews, in quoting from the OT writings, uses the Septuagint
almost exclusively, rather than the Hebrew OT (which was the custom of Paul). The Septuagint
would most likely have been the version with which Apollos was most familiar.
- Philo, a great religious philosopher of the first century, who also lived in Alexandria and who wrote
extensively in that area at that time, seems to have had some significant influence upon the writer of Hebrews (as
a scholar by the name of Dr. Spicq has observed in his study of this particular aspect of the question). For example,
certain words and phrases which can be found nowhere else in the Bible, but which were
used quite frequently by Philo, also appear in Hebrews! Thus, the author of Hebrews seems to have been aware
of the thought and writings of Philo, which Apollos, a well-educated man from Alexandria, most certainly would have
- In Acts 18:25 we are told that Apollos was "speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus."
Notice that when Luke describes the topic of Apollos' teaching, it is not "Jesus Christ" or "Christ Jesus" or "Lord
Jesus," but simply "Jesus" ALONE that is mentioned .... which, as you remember from the discussion above, is
exactly how the Son of God is referred to 69% of the time in the book of Hebrews!
- In Acts 18:28 we are told that Apollos "powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures
that Jesus was the Messiah." This is exactly the purpose of the book of Hebrews. The only difference is that it is
in written, rather than verbal, form. What Apollos did in public, is exactly what Hebrews
does in writing! Thus, this may well be the message of Apollos in written form.
Dr. F.D. Marsh concluded, "Apollos, the learned Alexandrian Jew, mighty in the Scriptures, companion of St.
Paul, is the sort of man who might have written this epistle, but no shred of positive evidence exists
which would justify the assertion that he actually did write it." Thus, we are right back where we
Who wrote the epistle to the Hebrews? Although it is interesting to speculate, the reality is that this
epistle is anonymous. None of us, therefore, can say with any certainty. Perhaps the best answer of
all time was given by Origen (185-254 A.D.). Although he personally favored Clement of Rome as the author of
Hebrews, nevertheless he admitted, "But as to who it was that really wrote the epistle, God
only knows!" And there we shall have to leave it.
Reflections from Readers
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Good study of The Mark of the Beast. Some Bible students make an issue over the fact that those
owned by the beast only receive a mark, while Christians get the seal of ownership
(2 Cor. 1:22), which according to Eph. 1:13 is the Holy Spirit. I'm not sure I understand everything I know about
that! Your article brought back memories of my entry into the world of politics some years ago in Texas. After
a heated run-off election for County Judge, I defeated my opponent by 666 votes. The next day he was quoted
in the press as saying that he couldn't compete with the "Beast of Revelation." I would have been hurt by such
nasty behavior had I not been conditioned by years of dealing with a few preachers and a couple of editors of
"gospel" papers. Thanks for reminding us that God gave us a mind to think and a heart to worship.
From a Reader in California:
For years, while I was in a legalistic Church of Christ, anytime anyone tried to present a different
viewpoint than the one I had been subjected to three times a week from the pulpit, my eyes would, no doubt,
glaze over and I would quickly lose interest in whatever was being said. I know it was both ignorance on my part
and teaching from the pulpit warning us about those who would try to draw away the sheep with false teaching
that kept me from being able to intelligently discuss anything. Later, when my husband and I started, with an
open mind, to study for ourselves (the key to learning anything!), and I would try to point out to these others some
of the things we had been reading and studying, I got that same awful, glazed-over look from almost everyone I tried
to talk with. It was as if a window shade had come right down over their eyes. It keeps people ignorant, and
prevents "food" from reaching their brain which the Spirit might use to teach them.
- Your personal testimony brings to mind Paul's great concern for those in similar spiritual straits in Corinth. He
wrote, "Their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not
been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their
hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the
Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor. 3:14-17). There are many precious souls who are in
bondage to ignorance of God's marvelous grace. Our mission, which I pray these Reflections will
assist in accomplishing, is to remove the veil so that they may perceive the joys of freedom in
Christ. --- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alabama:
Isn't it interesting that there is seemingly never an end to the legalistic mentality and methodology? And didn't
our God know that as He abolished that system for one of faith and
grace? God knew that we could never reach that degree of perfection that
comes through law. He didn't want that system for His people then, and He doesn't want it
From a Minister in Missouri:
Thanks for your work on Reflections. I've been on your mailing list a few months now and I always
receive both instruction and encouragement from your articles. For 33 years I've served as pulpit preacher for a
number of congregations in the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.
My family and I are currently enjoying and benefiting from our activity at a loving and active a cappella
church here in Missouri. I grew up on Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett and their writings, and am privileged to
have known them personally, though not intimately. I really enjoyed Leroy's autobiography. May
God bless you in your continued quest for both "truth and grace," and the unity that can result from that divine
From a Minister in Tennessee:
If the NT writers had felt about mechanical instruments of music as "we" do today, would they not have
been just as outspoken on the subject as their modern counterparts? Yet, they offered no such
explanation or argumentation. It simply was not an issue! That being the case, where does that
leave us for making this into an issue of fellowship rather than merely a personal preference?
Would this not mean that we have spoken where God has not (Revelation 22:18-19)? Would this
not make us guilty of preaching another gospel (Galatians 1:6-9)? Would this not put us in the position of
dividing the body of Christ over a man-made tradition (Matthew 15:9)?
From a Reader in Nevada:
I just read your article on The Mark of the Beast and enjoyed it very much. I believe you are "right on"
in the entire article. I studied both Matthew 24 and Revelation several years ago and found a book on them
written by Kik (I believe this name is correct). His book was about the same as your thoughts. I have since
loaned the book to someone and can't find another copy anywhere. Anyway, I really enjoyed your article and
look forward to more. Thank you. Peace and happiness to you, brother.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Ok, Al ... after teasing us with this tiny bit of REVELATION revelation (Reflections #127), the
question that has to be asked is --- How soon can we expect your new book, "Al Maxey's The
Apocalypse For Dummies"? We need a good source of thought and direction on the issues of
the end times, and you are the man to do it! Just tell me where to send the check. I really do hope
you'll someday see fit to publish a book, or at least an extended study, on Revelation.
From a Doctor in Kentucky:
Al, We have been out of town and then working a lot lately, but I still enjoy your Reflections articles.
I thought your Another Hermeneutic article was excellent. It could not have been said better. I think
the "Minister from Mississippi" (in the Readers' section) did miss the thrust of your article. I think
you are very correct in that there are MAJOR differences between CENI and your suggested hermeneutic. It is
certainly NOT a restatement of CENI with the addition of a degree of humility. Having spent a decade in churches
that upheld the CENI approach, I think I can testify to this fact. Frankly, I personally have never seen disciples
who followed CENI ever admit to their own shortcomings, nor have I found them to be very
tolerant of others who had not yet "arrived." In short, CENI breeds patternism and legalism, which breeds pride
and arrogance. Some may take this as an overstatement, but I have never seen CENI displayed
with humility and tolerance, have you? I suppose what I have seen is not PROOF that CENI
can't be practiced with tolerance and humility, but I am just not convinced it
can be. Perhaps this is because along with binding inferences, there is a lot of taking
things out of context that seems to go along with this approach, especially concerning "Who is my brother?"
I thank you, brother, for the time you spend on these articles, and for really examining what are some of the
major differences in hermeneutical approaches to various issues. Really, Jesus is the
hermeneutic, and I appreciate you for always bringing this out as the main point!
From a Reader in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:
Dear Brother Al, I have a question regarding CENI and would like your view on it. Jesus commanded
that we wash one another's feet. Jesus also provided an example by washing His disciples' feet.
So, why don't CENI folks obey this simple command and example? "Culture," they claim.
And I agree 100% with them. But, can we necessarily infer by reading the Bible alone that
washing feet (or the "holy kiss," etc.) is a command and example that applies then, but does
not apply to us today? My assessment is that there is nothing within CENI to offer
these CENI folks the "culture" defense. Is my assessment sound? God bless you richly!
- You have indeed, brother, hit upon a key aspect of this, and many other, methods of
interpretation -- personal judgments regarding the scope and significance of various commands and
examples within the biblical text. As I noted in my article, there is an element of the subjective in all
methodologies. This is why it is so arrogant for any person or group to assume infallibility with regard to their own
perceptions and assessments. One man's innovation is another man's expedient. Neither
must seek to bind their conviction upon the other; both must learn to lovingly accept each other, differing perceptions
and all. The major fault, in my opinion, with respect to CENI, and especially with its adherents, is the notion that
"authority" is to be established by commands, examples and inferences. These proponents of this human theory
then immediately begin making exceptions. These commands apply, but these do not. These examples
are binding on all men, but these are not. Our inferences and deductions are "authoritative" for all men,
but yours are not. Why? "Because we say so!" You are right, brother ... there is nothing
within CENI itself that would suggest one example is binding and another is not (same with commands and
inferences). It boils down to human judgments ... and it is the epitome of arrogance for any person or group to
assume their judgments are forever normative for all of mankind, and that the judgments of others are
godless deceptions. CENI, quite frankly, does not lend itself readily to GRACE; it does lend
itself quite readily to self-made LAW. Any interpretive theory that has fostered the type of factionalism
that CENI has should be immediately regarded as suspect. I believe the hermeneutic I proposed, though still
subjective in some respects (as all are), nevertheless has the advantage of promoting greater grace
and acceptance among disciples. To answer your question --- Yes, I believe your assessment is
sound. --- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, Your thoughtful explanation of things in the Scriptures continues to be a source of encouragement and
enlightenment to me. I pray God's blessings on you as you minister Truth from His Word. Would you please
give me your understanding of how to deal with someone who wants to be able to pray aloud in tongues in a
church service? I would so much appreciate your insight on this.
- My initial response might be to try and set up a study with such a person on the nature
and purpose of "tongues" as perceived in the NT writings. It sounds to me as if this person may well need to be
taken aside and shown "the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26), as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos.
However, to answer your question more directly, I suppose I would simply ask this person WHY they
felt it to be important to "pray aloud in tongues in a church service." In other words, have them explain to you
specifically what they hope to accomplish by such a public demonstration. Their answer will prove most insightful
as to personal motivation. I would then direct their attention to the guiding principles given by Paul in 1 Cor. 14.
He makes it clear that tongues served a purpose, but it was generally not best served within a public setting
unless one was present who could interpret. Paul says our assemblies are for the purpose of edification
(building up of the body), and that "all things" are to "be done for edification" (vs. 26). "One who speaks
in a tongue edifies himself" (vs. 4); the church is not edified unless the "tongue" is interpreted for them
(vs. 5). Paul states it would not be profitable to the Corinthians for him to speak to them in "tongues" unless "I
speak to you by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching" (vs. 6). "Unless you utter by the
tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken?" (vs. 9). To those who desire spiritual gifts, Paul
gives this advice: "Since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church" (vs.
12). If people in the church are not edified by one's public "tongue speaking," then the endeavor serves no purpose
in the public assembly. "In the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct
others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue" (vs. 19). Again, I think the person in question needs to
be asked very bluntly what specific purpose they seek to achieve by "praying aloud in tongues in a church
service," and then they need to be asked if that purpose is consistent with the guiding principles related
by Paul in 1 Cor. 14, especially with respect to the spiritual edification and education of all those assembled.
--- Al Maxey
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