Did Paul Write Hebrews?

KJB 1678 The epiftle of PAUL the apoftle, to the HEBREWSIf you think Paul wrote Hebrews, you’re in good company (see, e.g., here). One problem with this conclusion, however, is that what Paul says in Gal 1:11–12 seems to contradict what Paul says in Heb 2:3, presuming Paul wrote Heb 2:3. That is, in Gal 1:11–12 Paul emphatically states that he received his gospel directly from Jesus, whereas Heb 2:3 seems to imply that its author could not say the same thing. “This salvation [i.e., gospel] . . . was first announced by the Lord [and] was confirmed to us by those who heard him.”

It’s possible that the two texts are compatible, of course, since Heb 2:3 doesn’t clearly deny that its author received his gospel—“this salvation”—from Jesus himself. Perhaps it only suggests that an initial reception was later confirmed by eyewitness testimony (“those who heard [Jesus]”).

This sort of reading, however, is unlikely. The author talks about the gospel being “confirmed” in Heb 2:3 not to distinguish between its initial reception and its later apostolic confirmation. Rather, the author talks about the gospel being “confirmed” because he wants his doubting audience to know that God has really spoken a new word, a “great salvation”—a word that is even more “binding” than his previous word given through angels (Heb 2:2; i.e., the Law). After all this new word was spoken “by the Lord,” which is to say, by the one now seated at God’s right hand (see 1:5–14; see, similarly, Phil 2:9–11). Surely he is trustworthy! (Otherwise, he’d never have been given such honor.) And, moreover, the reality of this new word had been confirmed throughout the Roman empire, including among the author’s audience (“to us”), by those who’d seen and heard the now-exalted Lord. The author is certain his audience will remember all this, especially since the evangelists’ message had been accompanied—and further confirmed—by “signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Heb 2:4). Surely they’d not forgotten such a memorable event (see, similarly, Gal 3:2, 5)!

In short, Heb 2:3 talks about the author and his audience’s initial evangelization. Their community was a result of the apostolic mission. And, as such, Heb 2:3 contradicts what Paul says in Gal 1:11–12 and, thus, suggests that Paul did not write Hebrews.

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9 thoughts on “Did Paul Write Hebrews?

  1. KG says:

    This is the best very brief, yet clear and accessible defense of the non-Pauline authorship position I can recall reading.

  2. Jim Peet says:

    Used on Sharper Iron here

  3. Bill Provenzano says:

    So who do you think wrote it and what’s your rationale for it? Or is this a….”get the book” teaser? :-)

  4. Jared Compton says:

    Bill: I don’t know. And I suspect we’ll never know. The letter’s anonymity simply underscores that among the early Christians there were other brilliant theologians, besides, e.g., John and Paul. Amazing to think about.

  5. Bill Provenzano says:

    It had to be one of the apostles, right? Otherwise, it couldn’t be inspired. Isn’t that a test for canonicity? Or am I simply demonstrating my vast ignorance!?

  6. Bill Combs says:

    Bill,
    One of the principles of canonicity is apostolicity, which means that a NT book was written by an apostle or an associate of an apostle. Mark and Luke were not apostles, but were associated with apostles. So we might assume that the author of Hebrews was associated with one or mores of the apostles.

  7. Jim Giordano says:

    In Acts, Paul stays several days with the disciples at Damascus after being healed of the blindness, probably learning more of the faith and going over the OT seeing how Jesus was foreshadowed. Only after that did get all fired up and start preaching.

    So, therefore, both epistles can be his. From his direct encounter with Christ he knew that He was Lord and that He was born as a man and died and rose again. And from the disciples he learns of the teachings that Christ gave directly to the Apostles (for instance during the 40 days after the Resurrection).

  8. KG says:

    Jim,

    That is possible, but assumes much. I suppose that one would have to define what Paul meant by “gospel” in Galatians 1 and if the distinction you make is consistent with Paul’s emphasis that he did not receive his gospel from men.

    Also, many strong arguments against Pauline authorship are not based upon the observations or interpretive framework provided by Mr. Compton. The argument in the OP points out that internal explicit evidence from the epistle is consistent with non-Pauline authorship and can be understood to directly support it.

    We will likely not know for certain this side of heaven but I think the safest position is probably the one that exhibits the most consistency with the observations of the text.

  9. I have always assumed that the “confirmed to us by those who heard” pointed to one who was taught/discipled by an apostle; and, because of those and us, was part of a group that had access to the teaching and instruction of more than one apostle. Therefore, Paul would be ruled out, since he received instruction directly from the Lord, by himself.

    Also, the author’s depth of understanding of Jewish history, religion, and with Esau’s seeking repentance with tears would seem to rule out a Gentile author (Luke).

    It also seems that there is a recent surge in speculating that that Hebrews is actually a sermon. What do you think about that angle?