Who Wrote Hebrews? (With Dr. David Alan Black)

hey everybody i'm matt this is the 10

minute bible hour and i'm joined by dr

david alan black dr black you want to

say hello hey matt

last time that you jumped on with me we

talked about

uh how the gospels might fit together in

terms of who wrote what when

and we talked about your book why four

gospels this time around

uh we want to talk about a different

question one that

people have debated and wondered about

since forever and that is

regarding the book of hebrews and

specifically who wrote it and if i

remember the quote correctly

it was the early church historian

eusebius quoting

origen as having said even in the era of

the early church

only god knows who wrote this thing so

is there any hope of us figuring it out

well let me let me uh let me ask you a


because i use this in my new testament

classes a lot i asked my students this

question who wrote romans

and of course everybody everybody goes

paul and i say no paul did not write


and then i take him to romans 16. yeah i


i i know it's silly but i take him to

romans 16 22

and which says i tertius who wrote this

epistle send you my greetings in the

lord so now i ask my students who wrote

romans and everybody goes

tertius and then i say who authored who

authored romans and everybody goes oh

that's paul

so do you see the distinction between

authorship and

penmanship and it's very interesting


you uh i don't know if you're familiar

with origen's famous statement who wrote

the epistle god only knows

um the exact same two greek words are

used in that quote

that are found in romans 16 22 the greek

is ha

grapsos the one who wrote and all that

means there is the one

who wrote it down who was the emmanuen

since the penman the stenographer

so true question trick question but it

works every time who wrote romans

everybody goes

paul you say no and then you take him to

that passage

and uh you tell mr number three wrote


the romans named their kids um after

numbers so we have primus secundus

tertius quartus quintes

and this is mr number three but the

question is who cares

who cares that mr number three wrote the

epistle the only

question is authorship and so we see

something very similar with the book of


who the penman was i'm not sure i'm not


um probably the best candidate was luke

but the author i'm convinced was

believe it or not i still hope that this

position was the apostle paul

okay we're going with that all right all

right and know this

i don't have a dog in this fight i'm

just genuinely curious to

learn how you read the things so maybe

let's work backwards

toward your rationale on this what do

you think the circumstances

of the authorship of hebrews might have

been if it was written by paul

okay that's a big question um but

in in the book okay the book um

which is called um the authorship of

hebrews the case for paul

has two parts to it one is the internal


where i compare hebrews with the

paulines and the second is the external

evidence where i look at the

testimony of the ancient virgins uh and

the ancient fathers

especially the fathers of the church

in the earliest church we had unanimity

by the fourth century that paul wrote


paul is responsible for 14 letters

by the fourth century both east and west

now prior to that the eastern church was

largely in favor of paul the western

church had some difficulties but


they also acknowledged there were 14

letters of

paul but there was a debate going on in

the early church even

concerning this issue of of authorship

and and even of penmanship

when i was in seminary i was taught like

you were probably taught

three things about the authorship of

hebrews every every new testament

introduction will say three things

number one

paul could not have been the author

let's just get that out of the way

yeah number two well then who was it and

then they they recommend they say meant

barnabas or silas or

priscilla or apollos you know what i'm

saying they give you all these

uh suggestions and then the third thing

is always this but we can't know for


uh we have this agnosticism we have this

agnostic position who can know for sure

after all

as origen said and then they quote

origin i actually they misquote origin

we can talk about that if you like

well me too origen said who wrote the


yeah god only knows and that's where the

discussion ends and so we have i did


sort of a an agnostic position that the

early church

never had and by the fourth century the

early church was absolutely convinced

that there were 14 episodes of paul by

the way

if you look at the earlier magical or

unskilled manuscripts of the new

testament four fifth sixth entries

the book of hebrews circulated as part

of the pauline corpus

it's most usual position is after second


okay okay not after philemon and so

one of the things i try to point out in

the book is that that hebrews never

circulated as part of the general or

catholic epistles that always circulated

as part of the pauline epistles in fact

in our earliest pauline writer p f

p 46 around the year 200 it actually

comes after the book of romans

which is a very interesting uh statistic

there so that's how

i think all of this began to generate in

my mind ad fontes let's go back to see

what the earliest church said

and the earliest church by the fourth

century was unanimous that paul

was the author maybe not the penman but

the author of

hebrews so when did that unanimity go


well with modern critical scholarship uh

probably and um you know 17th 18th

century scholarship

and when when the church when


began to move from external evidence to

internal evidence

we remember we talked about that on the

last program the only way you can


market priority when it comes to the

synoptic problem

is if you jettison the external evidence

because as we as we saw

the external evidence the tradition of

the church is unanimous that our


gospel was matthews

unanimous that the earliest gospel was


but if you reject or set aside the

external evidence and you're left with

the internal evidence

then you can argue practically for any

point of view you can argue for marking

priority methane priority

uh robert lindsey and israel argued for

luke and priority

and so my own personal opinion my own

personal approach to these kinds of


is to begin with the external evidence

which in my view is probative

and then move into the internal evidence

which is corroborative and so in my book

i show on the basis of the external

evidence there's a strong case that can

be made for paulie and authorship

and then i moved to the internal

evidence and i began to compare

hebrews with the 13 paulines i accept 13


and i began to see that they are

swedeners they there are so many

affinities there are so many parallels

it's actually

mind-boggling and i had never looked at

that i had never been taught that i had

never been shown that

but again the internal evidence to me

corroborates the extra 11 so i think a

fairly a fairly strong case

can be made for the paulinity of hebrews

so why did he put his name on it when he

put his name on everything else

everybody who's honest i think will

acknowledge there's a difference between

a document being anonymous and the

author being unknown

a document can be formally anonymous and


hey read hebrews chapter 13. did the

audience know who this was

you know timothy's getting out of prison

and when he's out i'm going to come and

visit you

and it's obviously the audience they

knew who it was so

the question is why why would john

not mention his name why would paul not

mention his name well you look at the

you look at the the genre of hebrews

which is called a word of exhortation a

lagos parclay sayos

a word of exhortation which was a formal

term for a sermon

and what we have i believe is a sermon

that paul would have given in in the


and of course you begin your sermon not

with who you

are you begin your sermon in fact in the

king james version the first word

in hebrews is god so

if i could be facetious if anybody asks

you who was the author of hebrews the


i think the author of hebrews paul

wanted us to say is god

it's divine the divine authorship was

essential it was primary and so the


intentionally putting himself into the

background because he wants to exalt

christ that

first john 1 that which was from the

beginning that which our eyes saw

you know and our hands touched it that's

jesus the word of life

and also in hebrews the author wants to

call attention

away from human authorship to divine

authorship which is one of the reasons

in hebrews the old testament is not


typically with just as it is written it

is quoted when you quote the old

testament in hebrews it's just as god

says just as the holy spirit says

today if you hear his voice heart and

not your heart as he did in the


god is speaking and that is that is

intentional on the author's part that's

called the samana cook in the

westminster theological journal

i wrote an article in hebrews 1 1-4 i

did a discourse analysis it's probably

the most sublime

and pristine and perfect sentence in all

of new testament greek the opening four

verses the prologue

everybody acknowledges that and i think

the author is trying intentionally to


the attention of his audience away from


and to god especially how god spoke in

the past and then house god is spoken


and finally and one whose status is son

okay so i've heard that the greek

in the book of hebrews is immaculate

this is very

high caliber first century greek i'm

just not nuanced enough to tell the

difference i'm

clunking along with this stuff you're

nuanced enough to tell the difference

where does hebrew rank

in terms of the quality of the greek and

is there any chance that it could be

a translation from the hebrew

okay that's definitely not translation

greek i can tell you that

um although it does contain semitisms in

my article on hebrews 1 through 4

i point out a couple of the semitisms

that we find

in this highly classical attisized type

of greek in the first four

uh verses um but on the other hand

i would say that the style the elevated


of hebrews everybody acknowledges it is

elevated prose greek prose

is not incompatible with paul i've

written an article called literary

artistry in hebrews and i compare it

with many other passages in paul like

the christ hymn in philippians 2 6-11

or the ode to love in first corinthians

13 certainly paul

himself was capable of producing a very


elevated poetic rhetorical style of


now we see this a lot more in hebrews

which which means that some scholars who

might be comfortable with pauline

authorship do not want to see pauline


and therefore they would attribute it to

luke the the penman

would be would be luke and by the way if

i could just uh

say what origin said origen argued for


pauline authorship of hebrews but he

said as to the penman

i don't know and he was aware of two


one was clement clement of rome

and the other he said was luke and it

certainly could have been luke

it certainly could have been lou because

luke was a doctor luke was a very highly


uh greek uh he's probably the only greek

or gentile of the new testament writers

and it could have been luke um and but

origen said who cares

god who wrote it down only god knows i

don't care who the pendant was

it's polls do we have record of clement

and paul

hanging out or is the assumption just

that they were not that was just a

speculation on his part but we do know

obviously we do know that paul and luke

hung out

quite a bit together yeah yeah

okay so one of the things that i've

heard though about

the way people reason through who wrote

this document or authored this document

is that they sense some kind of strong

alexandrian connection

they look at alexandria egypt they know

that apollos was well spoken

capable interacted with paul he's from

alexandria and

i think the theory goes correct me if

i'm getting it wrong that maybe

paul instilled this stuff in apollos

because the author of hebrews doesn't

claim to have had a direct encounter

with christ

he claims to have been one who was

taught and informed

why couldn't it be apollos and is this

alexandrian connection

actually there or is that exaggerated

yeah i think certainly the penman could

have been apollos but here's the deal

here's the deal

we know apollos was mighty in word we

know that he was an alexandrian who was

mighty in word but here's the deal

the first time apollos is suggested as

the possible author is the 16th century

that's a little late isn't it that's a

little bit late oh yeah

okay he's a little bit late now it

doesn't rule him out but but again

here's my point matt

when you just look at the internal

evidence you say well who was capable of

writing this kind of greek and who

who knew jewish laws and systems and

that kind of a thing when you just look

at the internal evidence then

sky's the limit barnabas you know what

i'm saying apollos

and it could be anybody but when you

look at the

external evidence which seems to point

to paul and then you look at the

internal evidence which is corroborated

by a comparison of the paulines and

hebrews and if you look at the theology

generally speaking

this book is all about the old testament

i mean who knew the old testament

may i ask better better than

a former pharisee better than someone

who got his phd in old testament under

gamilio the second in jerusalem you know

what i'm saying

this guy knew his old testament really

really well and isn't it interesting

that if it wasn't paul the early church

other than the record or other than the

suggestion that it was barnabas

other than barnabas the early church

basically sided with

paul now so the question now becomes how


weight does one put on the external


as opposed to the internal evidence and

here's where i am in the minority

because i do take

i do tend to take the external evidence

maybe a little bit more

seriously than others although i i

didn't always do that

do you think that that is just born out

of a protestant

skepticism toward the authorities

absolutely as we talked about the

synoptic problem i've often been accused

of being a catholic well i am with a

small c

but um because i study the fathers i

study patristics

um they're not inerrant they're not

perfect they can be self-contradictory

but when it comes to the gospels there's

unanimity that matthew's our earliest

gospel and when you come to the fourth


both in the east and the west you have

unanimity that paul's responsible for

for uh 14 epistles including the one

that's unnamed at the beginning although

you read chapter 13 it's pretty clear

uh who he was talking about let's go

back to origin for one second if i could


all right then i've got a follow-up

question for you on internal stuff right


so here's here's origin he's quoted as

saying who wrote the epistle god only


and from that we draw this conclusion we

can't know

who the author was origen didn't know

how can we know

and so the position today is what we


what i would call a christian

agnosticism we're

we're humble we can't know origin and no

so it doesn't matter so we don't refer

we we refer to the author of hebrews the


viewers we will never ever refer to paul

just as paul wrote in hebrews 13 7 no no


no one would ever ever possibly do that

today now here's the deal

because origen's quote is found in every

new testament introduction

at the end the conclusion is we can't

know just as origin said who wrote the

epistle god only knows i

i had the audacity naivete or stupidity

actually to go to our library and

actually read origin

on hebrews i looked up every time that

he quotes hebrews and incidentally it


it was easy because there were things

called indexes i didn't have to read

everything i could just turn

to those paths do you know how origin

and i have this as an appendix in the

book origin on the authorship of hebrews

do you know how origen quotes hebrews

here's what he does

just as paul says quote just as the

great apostle paul

wrote quote justice paul says quote

in other words throughout his writings

he espouses

the pauline authorship but not

necessarily the pauline penmanship

yeah i did not know that and so it's

kind of um

an awkward realization to come to figure

out that the

the very source that we are using and

that i have oft repeated for skepticism

as to pauline authorship

is actually in favor of pauline

authorship here's the deal man

just as we have in my opinion just as we

have to exegete the new testament

in greek we have to exegg the church


in the original language we can't just

take what they say kicking screaming and

bleeding out of their contacts that's

bumper sticker wall model kind of

exegesis that we often do in the new

testament we can't do that with the

fathers either we have to look at what

they say in context

and in the larger context of origins

writings he

consistently quotes hebrews

as polls having at the same time said

who wrote it down

i don't really know i don't really care

the penmen is irrelevant

the author is paul why is paul

so keen to point out in all of his

letters it seems like we're almost all

that you know he he recounts the story


his connection with jesus the damascus

road i mean how many times does he tell

that story in

acts i mean it just feels like he really

feels the pressure to lead with this

to demonstrate his authority and

credibility as an apostle

and then it seems like that's enormously

diminished in what

chapter four it's somewhere in the early

going of hebrews

when he doesn't speak as though he had

this encounter with christ he speaks as

though somebody taught him stuff

yeah i think maybe you're referring to

hebrews two three and four

which people say paul could never have

written that he couldn't refer himself

to himself as a non-eye witness as a as

a second generation christian actually

paul was a nine eyewitness paul paul did

not know the earthly christ

now on the one hand galatians asserts

very clearly that paul received

his gospel from direct reliable

revelation from jesus christ but that

doesn't mean

that he was ignorant of what the other

apostles were saying

and that does not mean that he did not

receive some of his gospel through

tradition classic example first


15 says what i'm passing on to you what

i also what

receive that's called parodisis that's a

tradition that paul had received what

was that what was that that i passed on

to you

the gospel as well how christ died for

our sins according to the scripture how

he was buried how he was raised on the

third day according to the scriptures

how he was seen by cephas and the others

that paul is assigning

to tradition i received it and i'm

passing on to you i don't think the two

are incompatible

paul never knew the earthly christ and

so for some of that information paul was

in fact dependent

upon if you will the apostles that came

before him the original 12

apostles so i don't see a contradiction

there in fact i would say this to all my

friends who

they keep harping on hebrews chapter 2 3

and 4.

if the letter had opened paul an apostle

of jesus christ to the hebrews

then everybody would have come up with a

solution to hebrews 2 3 and 4

congruent with pauline authorship yeah

you're right let me give you an example


the pastoral epistles a lot of my

liberal friends

reject the pauline authorship of first

timothy ii timothy and titus you know


not because they don't claim to be but

they all claim to be by paul right

paul an apostle paul paul paul they

rejected on the internal evidence they

say well

he talks about the the church in ways

that paul never talked about the church

you know what i'm saying he talks about

this eschatological thing

and and it's incompatible with paul now


if hebrews had opened paul an apostle

that i think we would easily feel

comfortable in explaining hebrews 2 3

4 just the way that i just did but

that's just my my personal opinion

all right so okay you've created this

hypothetical introduction you know paul

writing to the hebrews when we're

talking about the hebrews

do you believe this was written to the

jerusalem church or a more

general epistle to jewish believers

yeah now placing the book of hebrews

historically is very very difficult but

i do believe

my personal opinion on this is paul's

already been released from his first

roman imprisonment

okay um you know axe is silent acts 28

leaves paul in a rented room in rome but

tradition is not silent

because eusebius clearly says that paul

was tried before the mouth of nero and

he was acquitted

and that's what of course when paul left

uh left titus and creed and he left

timothy at ephesus

this is on his fourth missionary journey

then he's rearrested in troas

so during this period of time i think

he's writing back to that to the jewish

to the jewish believers in rome

and i think when he says those those

from italy greet you i think he's

talking about those from outside of


are greeting you and so that's where i

would place it i would place it

almost at the end of paul's ministry

and again i would assert that basically

it doesn't read

it doesn't open like a letter because

this is probably a very close transcript

of what paul would preach in your

synagogue in a typical synagogue message

to jewish

to jewish people and to show the

superiority of

christ to the angels to the prophets

to aaron to levi to the whole levitical


how he's a not just a high priest but

he's i i call him the greatest catholic

priest who ever lived he's like

he's like the real deal and why would

why then would you want to go back to


because to go back to judaism is to go

back to the shadow when we have the


in christ and he takes 13 long chapters

to try to prove that point of course at

the end he says bear with my little

my little espissal but it's actually 13


he spends a lot of time trying to

convince his audience at that point

okay last question for you and then i'm

gonna let you off the hook here

why does any of this matter at all

okay let's go back to the synoptic

problem you say why does it matter

that matthew is responsible for the

first gospel why would matthew have

written a gospel in the first place

then why would luke have written a

gospel if we had a matthew then why

would mark have written the gospel if we

had a look at the math you see what i'm


yeah and as we said back then this is

just my opinion but when i teach new


especially the epistles let's say


when i'm teaching philippians we don't

just start in one one we look at the

authorship the date the purpose the

provenance the background the historical

situation that led to the writing of the

letter you know what i'm saying

because we believe that the epistles are

what we call

occasional documents they all had

historical background

occasions that led to paul picking up

the pen or or speaking to his emanuensis

the book of philippians

i'm of the opinion that all of the new

all 27 new testament books are

occasional documents

and that therefore to to try to

understand them the best we can

we need to deal with authorship date

purpose providence these kinds of

background issues i don't think are


though ultimately i agree with whoever

wrote hebrews

that divine authorship is everything and

human authorship

ultimately will recede into the

background because ultimately this is

god's word

and not paul's word to us today

are there any examples that stand out to

you in hebrews where

if we read that with the assumption that

apollos or clement or

priscilla wrote this that it reads a

little bit differently than if we read

it with the assumption that paul wrote


i do i do think so and i'll just here's

the thought that comes to my mind

leaders how about church leadership

okay i'm sure a lot of your viewers are

pastors so when we when we want to talk

about pastoral leadership where do we

normally go first timothy 3

titus chapter 1. first thessalonians 5

12 and 13 where paul talks about leaders

how about this

does does paul talk about well whoever

authored hebrews talks about leaders

twice hebrews 13

7 and hebrews 13 17.

is this the same writer is this is this

teaching compatible with paul's and i

think it certainly is

so if i'm doing a theology if you will

of church leadership according to paul

that i

personally would include what paul says


you know remember those who spoke to you

the word of god right

and carefully observe the outcome of

their life and imitate their faith

or how about this defer allow yourselves

to be persuaded by your leaders and

defer to them

that's hebrews 13 17 now your bible says

you know obey those who have the rule

over you but the greek is a little bit

different there

i think all of this is compatible with

quality theology i think that paul is


speaking of one mind when it comes to

church leadership

so here's what i'm taking away from our

conversation it would seem that

there was some kind of drift that

occurred i'm not sure that i'm prepared

to say i'm clear on what the motives for

that drift was in terms of the

tradition regarding the authorship of

the the letter the book of hebrews

rather and

it looks as though a whole lot of people

yours truly included

have cited one out of context quote that

we've heard an awful lot for dismissing

the pauline authorship and

i've even been a little bit maybe snooty

at times because i got told this with

such authority by people whose names you


who are very very talented and i know

you respect them but i mean

it wasn't just some guy in an alley who

came up to me with a coat and was like

hey you want to know who didn't write

hebrews like

it was really talented people who walked

me through this stuff

and so i guess i've kind of grafted on

to that i've locked into place on that

and you've dismantled a lot of those

assumptions i probably still have more

questions that i want to hit you up with

sometime down the road

um but i particularly appreciate your

take on

on why it matters and i think you make a

great case that

the more we know about what's going on

behind the document

the more we can bounce around

between the whole of the new testament

and the more we can anticipate what the

audience would have been looking for

what the occasion might have been i i

think you make a great case there

and i will give my dad

a high five on your behalf because he

has argued for the pauline authorship of

hebrews forever

oh there's two of us around and around

about it and so uh yeah you just made

yourself a new friend and you don't even

know it yet

awesome hey thank you for hanging out

tell me again what the what's the

book that you wrote that people can go

and check out about this is called the

authorship of hebrews

the case for paul all right excellent dr

black i really appreciate it let's do it

again soon thank you

all right matt bye for now