A New Approach to the Book of Hebrews -- By: Merrill C. Tenney

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 123:491 (Jul 1966)
Article: A New Approach to the Book of Hebrews
Author: Merrill C. Tenney

A New Approach to the Book of Hebrews

Merrill C. Tenney

[Merrill C. Tenney, Dean, Graduate School, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.]

Among the many literary mysteries that lurk in the shadowy background of New Testament history, the origin of the book of Hebrews holds a prominent place. Neither its authorship nor its provenance nor its destination is openly stated by the epistle itself, nor has scholarly investigation succeeded in establishing any of these with indisputable finality. Many experts in Biblical studies have ventured learned guesses. Paul, Luke, Barnabas, Silvanus, Aquila and Priscilla, Apollos, and others have been named as potential authors. Its place of origin has been variously identified as Caesarea, Alexandria, or Ephesus, and its destination has likewise been called Jerusalem, Corinth, or Rome. These widely divergent opinions have been based chiefly on internal evidence, for external testimony is conflicting and uncertain. Most scholars who have grappled with the problem finally express agreement with Origen’s famous dictum that “who really wrote this epistle, only God knows.”

Despite these radical disagreements, there can be no doubt that Hebrews was a product of the first century and of the apostolic circle. Its allusion to Timothy can hardly refer to any other than the companion and understudy of Paul. Although the exact span of Timothy’s life is not known, it could scarcely have outlasted the century. If therefore Hebrews was written within Timothy’s lifetime, it could not be dated later than A.D. 100.

The earliest known allusion to Hebrews in Christian literature occurs in an epistle written to the church of Corinth

from the sister church of Rome. Irenaeus,1 Clement of Alexandria2 and Origen3 ascribe it to Clement of Rome, whom Origen calls “a friend of the apostles.” Eusebius states that Soter, an early leader of the Roman church (c. 170), quoted from this Clementine epistle, which must have existed prior to his own writing.4 If these statements are accurate, the First Epistle of Clement should be dated about A.D. 95, and Hebrews would consequently be even earlier.

The vocabulary and style of Hebrews indicate that its writer was a cultured Greek, who wrote with elegance and finesse. He was a student of the Old Testament Scriptures, and at the same time was well acquainted with the teaching concerning Christ that had already crystallized into a definite theology. One would think that so able an author would...

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