Troublesome Topic: I Believe the Epistle to the Hebrews Had More than One Contributor

What Do We Know for Sure about the Writing of Hebrews?

No name is attached to it.

The book of Hebrews reflects a strong knowledge of the priesthood and its details.

This letter was well received and respected by those who received it (but its authorship was debated in the decades that followed).

One of the authors had never met Jesus nor heard directly from Jesus (Heb 2:3) in the way that Paul had. This is conclusive evidence that Paul did write this by himself.

This is the writing of an intellectual. The Greek used in Hebrews is polished, sophisticated Greek. Not even Luke could write this way. It is obviously very different from Paul’s writing style.

At least one person involved in the writing of this letter knew Timothy and was close to Timothy. Timothy had been released from prison but was not with the author at the time of writing. If Timothy joined him, they would make the trip together to Israel (Heb 13:23).

It appears to have been written from Italy (Heb 13:24).

He quoted only from the Septuagint (the LXX), (however, there is reason to believe that all the NT quotes of the Old Testament are from the LXX.)

The final compiler considered this letter to be thrown together quickly (Heb 13:22). (This statement does not deny the possibility that parts of it may have been in the works for decades. It could mean that the parts and pieces he had available to him were joined together or redacted quickly.)

A large number of the early church fathers called it the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews (see more below).

We know for sure that we don’t know who wrote this letter! In fact the list of all the things we know with certainty creates a jumbled mess, making it impossible to pick an individual that is known from the New Testament writings that meets all the criteria.

Why Did Some Early Church Fathers Say that Hebrews Was Written by Paul?

First of all, because of some connection to Paul, this book is included in our Bibles. We should be glad that some people saw a connection, regardless of what that connection looked like, otherwise we may not have access to it.

From the beginning there has been debate about its authorship, but a large number of the early church Fathers did attribute it to Paul. From AD 400 till about AD 1600, this book of the Bible was called “the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews.” However, since the reformation, there have been many, like myself, who are convinced Paul could not possibly be the author (at least not the sole author).

The earliest manuscript of the collection of all the Pauline letters, P46, dating from about 200 AD, includes Hebrews. However, Marcion and the Muratonian Canon did not include Hebrews due to ideological differences not philological ones (the study of literature).

I do believe there was probably some kind of connection to Paul, but I am convinced that Paul did not write Hebrews by himself.

An Epistle of Paul Was Similar to a Psalm of David

Allow me to go back to the term “of David” in the Psalms. I previously thought that the words “of David” at the beginning of a Psalm meant that the psalm had been written by David. However, the situation was not that simple. The Hebrew phrase basically means “belonging to David,” which in turn can mean “by David,” “about David,” “for David,” “in the style of David,” or “by a descendant of David.”

The same can be said of Paul’s connection to the writing of Hebrews. Although not included in the text itself, the future wording “Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews,” could have meant the following (with my response in parentheses):

That Paul actually wrote it (not a viable option in my opinion),

A descendant, or disciple of Paul wrote it (this is quite possible),

Someone associated with Paul wrote it (a very good option),

It was written in the style of Paul (no, the style is very different),

Paul had some involvement in it, but he was not the final or primary author (very possible).

The Most Important Consideration

I think the level of Greek is likely the biggest determining factor in who finally penned this letter. It would be easier to find someone who knew the priesthood well than to find an early believer who could write Greek on this level. A large number of Priests became followers of Jesus (Acts 6:7), but it is unlikely that any of them would be able to write with this type of Greek. It was also possible for someone to study the OT well enough to gain this perspective and choose to focus on this aspect of things. So a number of people could have provided the perspective presented in Hebrews, but it is doubtful that any of them could write in Greek in this way. This makes Apollos a stronger contender for the final version than any other person mentioned by name in the NT. He is said to have been a “learned/eloquent” man. This refers both to his education and to the manner in which he spoke and wrote, i.e. an intellectual, elevated style.

The Biggest Unanswered Question

What did Paul contribute or what is the connection to Paul?  It is not clear, but a connection must have existed.

Best Options for a Joint Effort

Option #1. Paul was trained as a Pharisee so his tendency would be to focus on religious practice; Barnabas was a Levite, so he thought and taught from the perspective of a priest. Even though Paul knew the Torah very well, Barnabas influenced Paul’s thinking and made it more balanced.

Paul wanted to write a letter to the Hebrew people to show them that Jesus had replaced the temple sacrifices, but that did not happen before Paul and Barnabas split up and went separate ways. Paul never started writing the letter, he only expressed the desire to do so.

The vision to write such a letter was passed on to someone else who actually did do what Paul had wanted to do.

This option includes Barnabas, Paul (with desire, but no written content), and the final writer.

Option #2. Barnabas influenced Paul who wanted to write a letter to the Hebrew people.

Later, possibly late in his life, Paul started writing such a letter but never finished it. Timothy was given the unfinished letter and later gave it to the person who was the final author.

So this option includes Barnabas, Paul (with some written content), Timothy, and the final author.

Option #3. Barnabas influenced Paul, who late in life started to write a letter to the Hebrew people. He never finished it.

The partially written letter was given to Timothy.

Timothy gave the document to Aquilla & Priscilla.

A & P gave the unfinished letter to Apollos and he rewrote the letter in his own writing style, with his own thinking process, and his own interpretation of what Jesus said in Matthew 24 about the destruction of the temple, which differed from Paul’s interpretation.

So this option includes Barnabas, Paul (with some written content), Timothy, Aquilla and Priscilla, and Apollos.

Option #4 Paul and Apollos talked about this personally. In I Cor. 16:12 we read that Paul urged Apollos to go to Corinth even though Paul could not go himself at that time. However, Apollos also felt it was not the right time for him to go. Some scholars think that the Corinthians had requested that Apollos be sent to them. It is commonly thought that both Paul and Apollos knew of the dissention that had developed in Corinth built around the fact that some people followed Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, and some said they only followed Christ. Paul was willing to trust Apollos to go there and help in any way possible. But Apollos seems to have thought that his presence would only exacerbate the situation. Apollos was indeed able to go there later, after they received Paul’s letter (which we call I Corinthians) which contained strong words which seem to have put them back on the right path.

This implies that Paul and Apollos were in Ephesus at the same time, although we do not know how long this overlapping time lasted. However, by the time Paul penned his response to the correspondence by those in Corinth, it appears that Apollos was no longer with Paul in Ephesus, for Paul did not mention Apollos in either the greeting or the salutation of the letter.

The point here is that Paul and Apollos had personal contact. I think Paul shared his dream of writing a letter to the Hebrew people and Apollos caught that dream.

The remaining mystery continues to be, what part did Paul play in this matter? We will never know for sure. It could have been that he started a letter, or that he simply shared the dream of writing such a letter. The fact that the early church fathers attached Paul’s name to it indicates that he had some involvement in it, or that one of his disciples wrote it. It is possible to call Apollos a second-generation disciple of Paul through the efforts of Aquila and Priscilla, but I favor the idea that this letter was Paul’s idea and Apollos brought that dream to fruition.

This option would not require involvement by Timothy or Aquila and Priscilla, for the only ones that needed to be involved were Paul and Apollos.

My Choice for the Best Option

I think the option that is the most likely to be right using people who were mentioned in the New Testament by name is either option #3 or Option #4. I’m sure you have already noticed that all of my options which name a final writer end with Apollos as that writer. It is possible that the final author was someone we have never heard of and that was why the connection to Paul was important. However, the letter seems to have been well received by those in Israel and seems to have come from someone they respected, which makes it more likely that we would have heard that person’s name.

My Final Conclusion

My conclusion is that more than one person had involvement in the writing of this letter and Paul was one of those people. The final writer was likely someone mentioned by name in the New Testament, and we can say with confidence that the only person fitting that description who we know could write that style of Greek would have been Apollos.

The next lesson is Reasons I Am Convinced Paul Was Not the Sole Author of Hebrews