Saturday, May 08, 2010

The authorship of Hebrews

Hebrews is formally anonymous. Over the centuries, that has fueled a lot of guesswork regarding the identity of the author. There is, of course, nothing wrong with anonymity. And any ascription of authorship is bound to be conjectural to some degree. But with that in mind, this may be the most interesting suggestion I’ve run across:

“Many biblical figures are named in Hebrews (see chapter 11), but aside from Jesus, the only New Testament person named anywhere in the text is Paul’s associate, Timothy (see 13:23). This seems to eliminate Timothy from consideration as the author, for he would hardly have referred to himself by name. But does it? Some have suggested that 13:22-25 is a kind of brief appendix or postscript to the letter proper, which ends with the long benediction invoking ‘the God of peace–who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep’ (13:20). In that case, the ‘voice’ speaking those last four verses may not be that of the author but of someone else forwarding a colleague’s sermon on to its intended audience–or even a different audience, for which it was not at first intended. Possibly the reason this second voice at the end of the letter sounds like Paul (see above) is that it was Paul (so Trobisch 1993:320-323, though without hazarding a guess as to the identity of Paul’s’ colleague). Whoever it was, he mentioned that ‘our brother Timothy has been released from jail’ (13:23). Why is Timothy mentioned? The author of the letter had just asked for prayer ‘that I will be able to come back to you soon’ (13:19), suggesting that he was hindered in some way from coming. The author of the last four verses, by contrast, was not hindered. He was apparently free to come at any time, offering the good news that because Timothy was now free, he and Timothy would come just as soon as Timothy joined him. One possible explanation is that Timothy was the author of the sermon now being sent as a letter ‘to the Hebrews’ (so Legg 1968: 220-23). Timothy, more than anyone else, is named as coauthor (or at least co-sender) of several of Paul’s’ letters (see 2 Cor 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Thes 1:1-2; 2 Thes 1:1; Phlm 1:1), and it is conceivable that here, too, we may have a kind of joint effort. Timothy in prison would have had ample time to compose a long sermon for a specific congregation. This is consistent with the author’s notable interest in ‘those who were thrown into jail’ (10:34), or ‘chained in prisons’ (11:36), or ‘in prison’ (13:3). If this were the case, Paul might then have had the responsibility to see to it that Timothy’s ‘word of exhortation’ reached either its intended audience or perhaps a wider audience than first intended. As he prepared to send it along with his brief cover letter, Paul learned that Timothy had been released and joined with Timothy in his promise to come ‘soon’ in person (13:19,23). Then Paul sent final greetings (13:24) and added to Timothy’s long benediction (13:21-21) a short (and very characteristic) benediction of his own: ‘May God’s grace be with you all’ (13:25). (For further discussion on this see, commentary on 13:22-5).”

“All this is somewhat speculative, yet it offers perhaps the best option for those who feel they must attach a specific name to this memorable ‘Deutero-Pauline’ letter. It was Timothy, after all, whom Paul commanded to ‘focus on reading the Scriptures to the church encouraging the believers, and teaching them’ (1 Tim 4:13). In the book of Hebrews, someone, possibly Timothy, was doing exactly that.” J. R. Michaels, Hebrews (Tyndale 2009), 310-11.


  1. In John's gospel, John (the beloved disciple) is referred to in third person. If that does not eliminate John from consideration as being the author, why would the reference to Timothy in 13:23 "eliminate Timothy from consideration as the author"?

  2. Despite his Scripturalism, W. Gary Crampton makes an interesting case for why Paul most likely did write the book of Hebrews. If any of you reads his article, tell me what you think.

  3. For what it's worth, John Robbins thought that 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18("This greeting is in my own hand, Paul's. This is the sign in every letter; this is how I write.")ruled out Pauline authorship.

    -Steve Jackson

  4. FWIW2, the Catholic Bishops don't think Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians.

    -Steve Jackson

  5. In the early days of the Ministry I am a part of, back in the 70's and into the 80's we wrote letters of communications, articles and books to our people worldwide. I assisted in that process. Some of the books were collaborations of three and sometimes four authors who were addressing a particular issue or matter that needed to be addressed both generally or specifically.

    When we read these words:

    Rom 16:22 I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.

    ...we see Tertius wrote the letter on behalf of Paul and those "brethren" with him.

    When we read the following, in my view, it is indeed Paul writing this last "physical" word addition to a body of work he developed but did not physically write. It may be it was written with the hand of another writer; yet the ending is Paul adding his personal note and "signature" to the letter? It would look something like this at the end of a formal letter these days composed by one person though "typed" by another: both the author's "signature" and then this: "MJ/pt", telling us the letter was "MJ's typed by pt".

    1Co 16:21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.

    Eph 6:21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything.
    Eph 6:22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

    Col 4:18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

    In the following verse we read this emphasis: "we" say in "this" letter:::>

    2Th 3:14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.

    This seems to establish the collaboration of more than one contributor to the body of the letter.

    Again, here, following, we see a similar salutation by Paul as cited above. This, in my view, does not establish Paul as the "physical writer" of the body of the letter, just the end signatory with his personal salutation and "signature" as indicated above:

    2Th 3:17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.

    Now, we also see Peter use the same method of communicating by letter using someone else to do the writing for him:

    1Pe 5:12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.

    Here, in the following, after establishing above what I have, at least with regards to Tychicus, Peter acknowledges Paul's "letters" so, from Peter's point of view, though one wrote the letter, Paul is attributed with the authority from God for the message being conveyed by it:

    2Pe 3:15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,
    2Pe 3:16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

    Now, having brought that out above, I am of the opinion, with the caveat stated already, "....Hebrews is formally anonymous....", Hebrews is a collaboration of several of the Brethren and their mindsets put together to convey the missive of Hebrews to the Elect Saints; Paul, Peter, possibly Jude and as has been establish here, Timothy, were all contributors to it. Who actually used their own hand, whether left handed or right, is anyone's guess. This thread does bring out a sound reasoning for the "authorship of Hebrews" nonetheless that seems most pausible, being Timothy.

  6. Steve (not the Triablogger), why exactly did John Robbins think that verse ruled out Pauline authorship?

  7. I didn't think Timothy was considered an Apostle proper per se to be considered for canonical authorship. Am I wrong?

  8. Jim,

    They didn't have to be an apostle themselves (e.g., Luke) to be canonical. But both Luke and Timothy were with Paul, who was an apostle. So that wouldn't rule out canonicity even if Timothy wrote it.

  9. *Smacks hand on forehead*

    Right you are - I forgot about Luke.

  10. Jim

    Don't forget Mark or Jude either...