Monday, September 03, 2007

Support For Pauline Authorship Of Hebrews

In the Greek East the near unanimous consensus concerning the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews was that it was written by St. Paul. It is significant to note also that Clement of Alexandria not only held Pauline authorship, but even stated that the stylistic differences between this epistle and Paul’s others was due to Luke translating the letter from the original Hebrew to Greek. In Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History we have this account:

“The Epistle to the Hebrews he (Clement) attributes to Paul, but says that it was written for Hebrews in their own language, and then accurately translated by Luke and published for Greek readers. Hence, in the Greek version of this epistle we find the same stylistic color as in the Acts. The usual opening---‘Paul, an apostle’--- was omitted, with good reason. As Clement says:

‘In writing to Hebrews already prejudiced against him and suspicious of him, he was far too sensible to put them off at the start by naming himself….Now, as the blessed presbyter used to say, the Lord, the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews; so through modesty Paul, knowing that he had been sent to the Gentiles, does not describe himself as an apostle of the Hebrews, first because he so reverenced the Lord, and secondly because he was going outside his province in writing to the Hebrews too, when he was an ambassador and apostle of the Gentiles.’”

The opinion that St. Paul wrote his epistle in Hebrew and it was later translated into Greek by Luke became the traditional opinion of the medieval Western Church, as apparent by St. Thomas’ commentary on the epistle.

The defense of Pauline authorship came to the West with both St. Jerome and St. Augustine. In 397 at the Council of Carthage, the Epistle to the Hebrews was canonically recognized as one of Paul’s letters.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, in the Fragments on the Epistle to the Hebrews, offers his commentary on why Paul left his name of the letter:

“Paul did not write as to unbelievers who had acquired an implacable hatred against him but to believers who have shared all things that it is necessary to share. He writes not to those who are simple in their faith but to those who are demonstrating in their works the solidity of their faith and the keenness of their virtue, as the contents of the epistle show. Consequently, the epistle must have been delivered to them as one of Paul’s epistles, for if this were not the case the things written would not benefit them. Again, in addition to these consideration the things written at the end of the epistle prove what I am stating: ‘I appeal to you, brethren’ he says, ‘bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.’ But to whom did he write, ‘I appeal to you’ if those things were not the reason the letter was sent to them? Then he adds, ‘You should understand that our brother Timothy has been released with whom I shall see you if he comes soon.’ Clearly you see that Timothy was the one who has delivered the epistle Paul wrote, with whom Paul clearly promises also to see them, if Timothy returns. What then is the reason for Paul not appending his name? It is evident and very clear. Both Barnabas and Paul divided the preaching task with the disciples of the blessed Peter. [This was] not so that the former could teach some doctrines and the latter others---for there is one goal---but so that Paul and Barnabas might lead to faith some from the Gentiles while Peter and his disciples would lead some from the Jews to faith, deeming this division more expedient because at that time there was still a powerful rivalry due to the custom of the Jews (based on their law) who did not permit themselves to consort with Gentiles. Then some of the apostles had dealings with the Gentiles, while others with the circumcised. But those who had come to faith in all probability deemed the teachers and apostles to be shared by both communities. Thus, when Paul wrote to the Gentiles, he in all likelihood commands them as their apostle, but when he writes to the Hebrews, he does not.”

Also, in the prologue of the Fragments on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Severian of Gabala not only explains why Paul left off his name, but matter of factly states that it was originally written in Hebrew:

“The heretics say that this epistle is not Paul’s, and they offer as their first proof of this that his name is not superscribed as in the other epistles. Second, his vocabulary is different, that is, it is foreign to Paul’s customary word choice and usage. One must know, however, that Paul was hated by the Jews on the grounds that he was teaching apostasy from the law, and having been endangered for this reason in Jerusalem and having scarcely escaped, he was sent to Rome. Therefore, writing something useful to the Hebrews, he does not append his name, so that they might not lose any advantage they could have derived from the letter because of their hatred against him. And he writes to them in the tongue of the Hebrews, which was also translated by one of his disciples---by Luke or more likely by Clement who is mentioned. For this reason the vocabulary is different. And this has been investigated by previous generations, and Eusebius of Pamphilus, a historian of those things in preceding and contemporary generations, made mention of the investigation, and it still seemed to our fathers, the predecessors of the bishops, that the epistle was Paul’s.”

Another big clue to Pauline authorship is that St. Paul ends the epistle to the Hebrews with a form of “Grace be with you”, just as he does in all of his other letters! Theodoret of Cyr confirms:

“He appended the usual conclusion, invoking on them a share in grace. As for us, let us sing the praises of the giver of old laws and new. And let us pray to receive grace from him so that by observing the divine laws we may attain the promised goods, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom with the Father and the all-holy Spirit be glory, now and forever, for ages of ages. Amen.”

Thus, following the received Tradition I hold that St. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews in Hebrew and it was later translated by St. Luke into Greek and the reason St. Paul left his name off was due to jurisdictional purposes and because the Jews were out to kill Paul and would not have read anything with his name attached. Yet, I do recognize the difficulty with the tradition that the epistle was originally written in Hebrew as mentioned by Taylor Marshall:

“…it is highly unlikely that it was originally written in Hebrew because the OT quotations in Hebrews are from the Septuagint and must be so since the argument in the first few chapters depends on the Septuagintal reading of a certain Psalm..”

I am hesitant to take an approach of a hermeneutics of suspicion concerning the tradition on this matter. I feel that the support among the Fathers is wide enough and they were closer to the time of the epistle’s original writing. Also, the support of Eastern Greek authors for the Hebrew as the original language seems to be significant. Hence there must be a way, in light of the tradition, to reconcile this difficulty. That will have to be the fruit or further research.

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