Authorship

The author of the letter to the Hebrews does not give his name, so a number of names have been offered throughout the years.

Perhaps the most common name offered as the author of this letter is the apostle Paul because of the author’s excellent use of argumentation, his knowledge of Old Testament law, the fact that he had been a prisoner (Heb 10:34), and that Timothy is mentioned as a companion (Heb 13:23).  Clement of Alexandria (approximately 200 AD) believed that Paul was the author, that he had Luke translate it into Greek,1“Since the purpose of this epistle is obvious, the opinion was voiced at an early date that it had been written in Hebrew originally and had been translated into Greek by Luke or some other inspired writer. As it happens, however, no book of the New Testament is written in such fluent Greek as this one. The periodic style, which is an outstanding characteristic of all its sections, is so entirely foreign to the Hebrew language that it could not have appeared in a translation. Furthermore, we find examples of ingenious plays on the sound of Greek words, which could not have been reproduced from the Hebrew (as in 13:14). Finally, quotations from the Old Testament are not always made from the Hebrew original but from the Septuagint version (1:7; 10:37). Consequently, we haven’t the least reason to doubt that we possess this epistle in the form in which it was originally written. As all Jews of Palestine were acquainted with the Greek world language, the epistle was quite intelligible to them in its Greek form.” Schaller, John, Loren A. Schaller, and Gary P. Baumler. The Book of Books: A Brief Introduction to the Bible. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1990. 275. and that he did not use his name because the Hebrews were suspicious of him.2Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.2-3.  Paul’s authorship was also accepted at the Councils of Carthage (397 AD) and Hippo (419 AD).  However, the author of the letter says that he has not had direct contact with Christ and that he himself learned from the apostles or other eyewitnesses (Heb 2:3), while Paul strongly stated that he learned via direct revelation from Christ (1 Corinthians 11:23; Galatians 1:1,12).  For this reason it seems unlikely that Paul is the author.

Thus, it seems that the author is a second generation Christian, that is, one who was taught by the first generation of believers, but not later than that because the author worked closely with Timothy (Heb 13:23).  And so a number of other names have often been given as possibilities, such as Silas (Acts 15:22,32,40; 16:1-17:15; 18:5; 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Peter 5:12), Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-4,18-19,26; Romans 16:3), Barnabas (Acts 4:36; 9:27; 11:22-30; 12:25-15:41), and Apollos (Acts 18:24-28; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4-6,22; 4:6).  Of these, Apollos is perhaps the most convincing because Luke described him as “a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24), which the writer to the Hebrews also shows himself to be with his frequent quotations of the Old Testament and knowledge of its sacrificial system.

Ultimately, we may never know for certain who the original author of this letter was, but its valuable content has caused itself to be recognized by Christians over the centuries as inspired from God regardless of the name of the human author.

Recipients

The letter is simply known as the letter “to the Hebrews,” which is its title in its earliest existing manuscripts (2nd century AD).  It was certainly written to a Jewish audience due its frequent use of Old Testament passages and allusions.  It also seems to have been written to a specific congregation that has already been around for some time (Heb 2:3; 5:11-12; 13:7,19).

Where was this congregation located?  Again, we do not know for certain but a number of possibilities have been offered.  Some have suggested Jerusalem because of the many references to priests, sacrifices, etc.  However, this may not fit with the fact that these Christians did not see Jesus themselves (Heb 2:3).  Others have offered that the congregation was in Alexandria in Egypt, which was the home of Apollos as well as Philo, whose allegorical approach to the Scriptures some see imitated in Hebrews.  However, there is no early testimony in favor of the congregation being located in Alexandria, and Hebrews is not allegorical.

Perhaps the most likely destination is a house church in the city of Rome (see Romans 16:5,14,15).  The letter is quoted in very early writings coming from Rome, including Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians (approximately 96 AD) and The Shepherd by Hermas (approximately 140 AD).  Both of these letters were highly regarded by the early church.  The writer to the Hebrews also includes a greeting from “those from Italy” (Heb 13:24), which could be a reference to people who left Italy and accompanied the author.

Place and Date of Writing

The location from where this letter was written is also ultimately unknown.  If Apollos is indeed the author, he could have written and sent the letter from Corinth (Acts 18:27-19:1).

The date of writing is also difficult to determine exactly, but there are a number insights that do help us narrow it down.  Since it is quoted by Clement of Rome around 96 AD it must have been written prior to that date.  There is also no mention of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which took place in 70 AD and which would have given the author yet another argument concerning the end of the Old Testament covenant (for example, Heb 9:1-15), and therefore it is highly likely the letter was written before that event.  The letter also hints at persecution being suffered by the recipients (Heb 12:1-13), and if written to a house church in Rome this could fit within the context of the persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero between 64 and 68 AD.

Purpose and Content

The writer to the Hebrews spends much of the letter showing Christ’s superiority over and above angels, the prophet Moses, the priests, and the Old Testament covenant and sacrifices.  In doing so, he provides his readers with a superb overview of how the Israelite people fit in the context of salvation history and how Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.  He supports his arguments with numerous quotations and examples from the Old Testament, and as if preaching a sermon he then applies these truths to the recipients’ current situation.  Overall the author wants to encourage these persecuted Christians so that they stand strong in their faith (Heb 11), stand up under persecution (Heb 12:1-13), and continue showing love to each other and thus to God (Heb 13).

Notable Passages

  • Hebrews 1:1-3
  • Hebrews 2:14-18
  • Hebrews 4:12-13
  • Hebrews 4:14-16
  • Hebrews 7:26-27
  • Hebrews 9:14
  • Hebrews 9:22
  • Hebrews 9:27-28
  • Hebrews 10:1,4
  • Hebrews 10:10-14
  • Hebrews 10:23-25
  • Hebrews 11:1-3
  • Hebrews 12:1-3
  • Hebrews 12:7
  • Hebrews 13:4-5
  • Hebrews 13:8
  • Hebrews 13:20-21

Outline

Christ is Superior

  1. Superior to the prophets (Heb 1:1-3)
  2. Superior to the angels (Heb 1:4-2:18)
  3. Superior to Moses (Heb 3:1-4:13)
  4. Superior to all the High Priests (Heb 4:14-7:28)
  5. Superior in covenant, sanctuary, and sacrifice (Heb 8:1-10:18)
  6. Applications to the believer’s life:
    • Draw near to God and each other (Heb 10:19-39)
    • Remember the heroes of faith (Heb 11:1-40)
    • Endure chastening as God’s children (Heb 12:1-29)
  7. Concluding exhortations (Heb 13:1-25)

References   [ + ]

1. “Since the purpose of this epistle is obvious, the opinion was voiced at an early date that it had been written in Hebrew originally and had been translated into Greek by Luke or some other inspired writer. As it happens, however, no book of the New Testament is written in such fluent Greek as this one. The periodic style, which is an outstanding characteristic of all its sections, is so entirely foreign to the Hebrew language that it could not have appeared in a translation. Furthermore, we find examples of ingenious plays on the sound of Greek words, which could not have been reproduced from the Hebrew (as in 13:14). Finally, quotations from the Old Testament are not always made from the Hebrew original but from the Septuagint version (1:7; 10:37). Consequently, we haven’t the least reason to doubt that we possess this epistle in the form in which it was originally written. As all Jews of Palestine were acquainted with the Greek world language, the epistle was quite intelligible to them in its Greek form.” Schaller, John, Loren A. Schaller, and Gary P. Baumler. The Book of Books: A Brief Introduction to the Bible. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1990. 275.
2. Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.2-3.