The Epistle To The Hebrews -- By: J. H. Webster

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 085:339 (Jul 1928)
Article: The Epistle To The Hebrews
Author: J. H. Webster

The Epistle To The Hebrews

J. H. Webster

THE study of the history of the Epistle to the Hebrews has always exercised a fascination over New Testament students, and has given rise to a vast amount of literature on the subject. Indeed, had an equal amount of effort been expended on exhibiting its teachings, the church would have been poorer in speculation, but richer in spirituality.

There are three notable lines of tradition regarding it. (1) The Alexandrian, shared by the Eastern Church, that Paul wrote it. (2) The Roman, or Western, that Paul did not write it; and (3) The North African, based on the unequivocal and unbiased testimony of Tertullian, that Barnabas wrote it. Time will permit only a glance at the comparative value of these traditions. The Alexandrian tradition rests on the three great Alexandrian fathers, Pantaenus, Clement and Origen. The value of their testimony is limited, however, by their evident conviction that there were striking differences, especially a difference in style, between the Hebrews and the acknowledged epistles of Paul. Origen’s mature judgment expressed about nine years before his death, was that none but God knew certainly who wrote the letter.

The Roman tradition goes back to Clement of Rome. (95 A. D.) In his first letter to the Corinthians, he quotes or alludes to it about twenty-five times, but does not name the author. Marcion omits the Hebrews from his list of New Testament writings. So does the Muratorian Canon, stating that Paul wrote to seven churches only and naming them, thus excluding the Hebrews. Caius, the Roman presbyter (180–225) ascribes only thirteen epistles to Paul, not reckoning the Hebrews. Photius, the historian, 800 A. D. quotes a sixth century writing as stating that

Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews is not his, and that Hippolytus (200 A. D.), the pupil of Irenaeus, also denied the Pauline authorship.

The opposition of the Roman Church was finally overcome by the influence of Jerome and Augustine. Those scholars yielded to the influence of Alexandria, and, while popularly allowing that the letter might be Paul’s, expressed their personal doubts on the matter quite plainly. The long opposition of the Western Church was probably due to the fact that it laid special stress on actual apostolic authorship as a test of admission to the canon, while the Eastern Church was satisfied to admit a book if it came from the apostolic circle and agreed with the apostolic teaching.

The North African tradition rests on the testimony of Tertullian, in native ability, one of the greatest of the Church fathers. In his essay on Modesty, he distinctly ascribes the Hebrews to Barnabas, and after q...

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