Who Wrote Hebrews? A Case for Pauline Authorship, Pat II

What is the external evidence for Pauline authorship of Hebrews?

The great Puritan John Owen, the author of seven volumes on the book of Hebrews[1]– the first two volumes alone are only an introduction to the book– says the following:

The evidence both external and internal is so satisfactory, than an impression is left on the mind, that Paul was the author of this epistle, nearly equal to what his very name prefixed to it would have produced.”[2]

Owens’s works on Hebrews are the most detailed ever done in the history of the Church and he concludes that Paul was its author.

The external evidence overwhelmingly points to Pauline authorship. It is undeniable that the Eastern Church held to Pauline authorship from its earliest days.”[3] In Eusebius’ writings we know that Clement of Alexandria believed that Paul wrote Hebrews in Hebrew and that Luke translated it into Greek. But not only did the Eastern Church hold to Pauline authorship, the Western Church also followed the East’s example. Tertullian in early second century believed that Hebrews was derived specifically from Paul.[4] Eusebius himself, said that Paul wrote fourteen epistles. He is referring to the main thirteen epistles commonly attributed to Paul and the book of Hebrews. Both Jerome in Jerusalem and Augustine in North Africa also believed this. We see here that this belief is widespread in the early part of the church.

One other very important detail is that when the book of Hebrews was added into the canon of Scriptures,[5] the early church accepted it because they believed it was written by Paul. In other words, if Paul wrote Hebrews, the early church believed that it would be free of gnosticism or other heresies in it. Therefore, it must be inspired, they thought. And this is only the beginning of a broader list of names of early church fathers that held to Pauline authorship.[6]

But what about the important documents of church history? What do they say? The Council of Trent affirms that Paul wrote fourteen epistles. Within the Reformed tradition, the Belgic Confession and the Second Helvetic Confession—both documents are accepted within the CREC—attest to the Pauline authorship of Hebrews. If you grew up in the Baptist tradition as I did, using the King James Bible, you will notice that it reads: “The Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews.” The translators of the King James believed Paul wrote Hebrews.[7]

In the last three hundred years to this day, the list of Pauline advocates is also enormous. We began with John Owen who wrote the largest commentary on Hebrews ever written, but the list of Puritan writers also include commentator Matthew Henry who writes that the style and scope of Hebrews “very well agrees with Paul’s spirit, who was a person of a clear head and a warm heart, whose main end and endeavor it was to exalt Christ.”[8] Reformed Baptists John Gill and A.W. Pink were fully assured that Paul wrote Hebrews. In our own day, we can point to Pastor Douglas Wilson, Pastor R.C. Sproul Sr., and a host of other names you would probably recognize who affirm the proposition that the Apostle Paul wrote Hebrews. Before we end this section, I would like to take you back to the first quote I gave by Origen. His statement that “only God knows who wrote Hebrews” is very well-known and very often quoted by every Hebrews scholar. But what most people do not know is the context of that statement. Here is what Origen wrote:

But as for myself, if I were to state my own opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle [Paul], but that the diction and phraseology are those of someone who wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore, if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows.[9]

It appears reasonable to conclude that though there are those throughout church history that disagrees that Paul wrote Hebrews, the overwhelming majority believed in Pauline authorship. We can say that belief in Pauline authorship is one of a few issues debated in the church that has proponents on all sides of the theological spectrum.

[1] I am aware of only one person who has ever read the whole thing, and that was Professor Richard Pratt.

[2] Quoted in Who Wrote Hebrews? By Dr. W. Gary Crampton.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Here we must note that the Bible did not depend on human affirmation to make it inspired, but the Spirit’s work makes it inspired.

[6] W. H. Goold listed a number of other scholars of antiquity that held to Pauline authorship: Hilary, Ambrose, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Justin Martyr, and Athanasius. Then too, Pauline authorship was the adopted view of the synod of Antioch (A.D. 264), the council of Nicea (A.D. 315), the council of Laodicea (A.D. 360), the council of Hippo (A.D. 393), the third council of Carthage (A.D. 397), and the sixth council of Carthage (A.D. 419). Found in Owen’s writings. Thanks to Crampton for the source.

[7] Even earlier Greek manuscripts include Paul’s name in reference to Hebrews.

[8] W. Gary Crampton.

[9] Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Hebrews. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Who Wrote Hebrews? A Case for Pauline Authorship, Pat II

  1. Jamin Hubner says:

    “One other very important detail is that when the book of Hebrews was added into the canon of Scriptures,[5] the early church accepted it because they believed it was written by Paul.”

    I’m not sure this is the case. As Grudem points out in the first section of his systematic theology, Hebrews was included because of its intrinsic value and undeniable inspired nature, not because Paul wrote it.

  2. Uri Brito says:

    It seems that the early church believed it had intrinsic value precisely because Paul wrote it. I will look into my sources. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: Hebrews and Authorship | Resurrectio et Vita

  4. Beth says:

    It’s also believed that Diana as well as Lydia,Victoria also wrote some of the Hebrews. These women were considered secretaries of the Gospels. But in any rate male or female God used them accordingly for His good service.

  5. Pingback: Authorship Thoughts | Resurrectio et Vita

  6. Dominic Pedulla says:

    Jamin is most likely right.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s