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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Clement of Rome --- This was the choice of Origen (185-254 A.D.).
  4. Silas --- The view of a scholar named C.F. Boehme.
  5. Peter --- The belief of A. Welch.
  6. Priscilla & Aquila --- Promoted by Bleek & Harnack.
  7. Philip the Deacon --- Suggested by Ramsay.
  8. 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:

  1. The book of Hebrews does indeed contain some elements of the teaching of Paul about Christ:

  2. There is a similarity in the discussion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit -- Heb. 2:4 and 1 Cor. 12:4-11.

  3. Both Heb. 9:15 and 2 Cor. 3:6 speak of the "new covenant."

  4. 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).

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. The word "mature" seems to be used similarly -- Heb. 5:14 and Philp. 3:15.

  8. In the closing section of the book of Hebrews (Heb. 13:18-25) there are several items which some feel point to Pauline authorship:

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 more compelling:

  1. 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).

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 known writings.

  8. In the epistle to the Hebrews there is more mention made of the earthly life of Christ Jesus than in all of Paul's writings combined.

  9. 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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."

  4. 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 teaching.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 been!

  7. 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!

  8. 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 started!

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.

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 now.

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 balance.

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!

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.

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