Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul

Editor’s note: Félix H. Cortez is the author of the Adult Bible Study Guide for Q1 of 2022, which covers the book of Hebrews. Recent articles on Spectrum have addressed the common scholarly opinion that Paul likely did not write Hebrews. Here, Cortez responds about why he thinks Paul did.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11636
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there are some very interesting and important points to consider in this well-written, well-argued presentation…

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This is an excellent essay by my good friend Dr. Cortez. I know he is a serious and gifted student of hermeneutics, so I am moved to offer a brief hermeneutical perspective about authorship.

Most writings are not written by authors (!) but by the historical context or what we might call society at large. (See, The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes, in which ironically all you need to read is the title rather than the essay itself). We usually don’t care who wrote a Google map, the owner’s manual for a car, the weather report, a science textbook, or an obituary, because what informs those writings are not authorial viewpoints but facts. Now there might be a viewpoint an author brings to a poem, novel, historical account, or other similar writings, but that viewpoint might not be unique or special but generally held by many people. What about Scripture? Let’s consider the Gospel of Luke. If Luke merely collected stories about Jesus and wrote them down, then the true author is not him but the Christian community. If there is a personal viewpoint that we can discern in his Gospel that is not unique or special but generally held by many Christians of his time, then he again fails in being the true author. (I think he does offer a unique viewpoint, a Christology that is modeled in part on Hermes).

A counter-consideration we need to think about as move around the hermeneutical circle is the notion of genius. Mozart was a genius. He, not society at large, wrote his symphonies. Shakespeare, too, comes to mind. Of course, the works of Mozart and Shakespeare are historically conditioned, but that’s not our concern right now. No bona fide hermeneutist disagrees that the works of Mozart, Shakespeare, (or the biblical authors) are historically conditioned. What we are focusing on right now is authorship. The other counter-consideration, of course, is the notion of divine inspiration. Because the biblical authors were divinely inspired, and therefore head-and-shoulders above the rest of society, they rather than the historical context or the society at large are the true authors. But as we continue moving around the hermeneutical circle, we need to explore whether the true author is God, who inspired the biblical authors. That’s problematic, if not dubious, but I don’t have time or space to elaborate. And we need to entertain the possibility that the biblical authors were not any more divinely inspired than their Christian readers who were filled with the Holy Spirit.

But there is another counter-consideration unique to Scripture and that is the notion of divine authority. It is not enough for the biblical author to be either a genius or divinely inspired. The biblical author must have divine authority, which is not found in the historical context and society at large, to write what we regard as our ultimate authority.

I suggest, not having Dr. Cortez’s expertise and not having given a lot of thought to Hebrews, that the strongest evidence (at least for me) of Paul’s authorship is the Melchizedek argument. The Melchizedek argument is a triple bank shot (pool analogy) and Hail Mary (football analogy) of a theological argument that is not dispositive unless it comes from or is endorsed by Paul.

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For Hebrews… The criticism envelope is the authority. The message inside is “I don’t like some of the things it says!”

What are those things?

By the way Elder Cortez, The beginning of the lesson guide mentions that Hebrews was a sermon.
I see about 303 verses in Hebrews. Any curiosity on what % of sabbath school teachers/classes will read ALL 303 verses over the13 week period? (instead of choose a few verses once a sabbath and speculate & discuss topics)

If there is honest disagreements and speculation as to Hebrews author, after all the evidence presented. I believe it would be wiser to take less then an absolute position as in the SS Lesson? It seems to me that the decision to declare Paul the author of Hebrews is based mostly on the fact that EGW has declared it to be Paul! To do otherwise would be upsetting to members who hold her ideas to be the expression of truth. In the end, to many, EGW trumps all other evidence.

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did egw actually say that she had a vision in which an angel told her to tell the church that Paul wrote Hebrews…or is this a case where she assumed that Paul wrote Hebrews, given the title in her KJV bible, along with 99% or so of the church…

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This is such a tempest in a teapot. What’s the message of the book? That’s the main point, regardless of the author.

Frank

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And yet we like to ask questions and do research which is part of exploring life. The author didn’t think it necessary to put his name somewhere in the letter to the Hebrews, probably because he was known and his message should shine, not himself.

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  1. Did Marcion “reject” Hebrews? Perhaps, but we have no evidence that he even knew of it.

  2. Did Marcion “reject” most of the New Testament? This begs the question of whether there was a canon before he came to Rome ca 143 CE. In fact, Marcion’s canon is the first such collection of “authoritative” writings which eventually became part of the NT canon. One can assert the existence of the writings which would eventually become a part of the NT at Marcion’s time, but the evidence is scant.

  3. Was Marcion’s Euangelion "an edited recension of the Gospel of Luke? Perhaps, but that is actually unknowable. Since this is the first attestation of the Gospel of Luke, we don’t know whether Marcion’s version was the original, which was later edited to become that which we know as Canonical Luke, or if his version abridged Luke. Since the genealogies and birth narratives of Canonical Luke and Matthew are completely different, and since Luke used Mark as a source, it is completely reasonable to suggest that Luke originally began at chapter 3 with the baptism just as Mark’s gospel did, with the genealogies and birth narratives appended at some time after Marcion…perhaps to counter him. If he had abridged Luke, then why did his opponents not make that accusation?

  4. Why did Marcion’s corpus of Pauline epistles only contain 10 letters? Perhaps 1 Tim, 2 Tim, and Titus had not yet been written. 1 Tim 6:4 may even be referencing Marcion’s “antitheses”.

Which is all well and good, but in this case doesn’t rise about speculative musings that make zero impact on the life and experience of believers. Whether or not Paul wrote it is of little consequence in the long run.

With that said, I enjoy such discussion. For me, the lack of self identification, which is part of Paul’s main letters, and the fact that he was apostle to the Gentiles not the Jews, and had a problematic reputation at best in Jerusalem amongst the Jesus followers there, speaks against Pauline authorship.

Frank

This is fascinating and stimulating, Phillip. I did not expect any less of a comment coming from you.

You ask a fundamental question, what do we understand an author is and does? That is a complex question in the present as you show. For example, I shared this article with several colleagues to receive their critique and advice before I publish it. I wanted to go through a kind of “peer review”. Their advice and guidance had an impact in the article. What is their relationship to the article? The issue is more complex when we talk about ancient authors, especially when we think about Paul. For example, what was the role of Sosthenes in 1 Corinthians? What is the role of “all the brothers who are with me” in Galatians? The beautiful picture “The Apostle Paul” by Rembrandt used at the beginning of this article suggest Paul as a solitary writer, but the evidence suggests that was not the case most of the time. Lot’s of things to think about.

Above everything the glorious mystery of inspiration and revelation that made possible the Scriptures. How do we understand authorship in the case of Scripture? It is a topic I have not studied. At any rate, we don’t need to solve those mysteries to enjoy and benefit from Scripture, God’s amazing gift! God may be with you.

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I think that for some fundamentalists it would make a difference if “their” Paul wasn’t the author. In the fourth century, the Pauline authorship was settled. Before that, as the article and many sources show, there were a variety of views. People sooner or later want things to be settled.

I am not sure about the authorship because there are strong arguments for the article’s option #1, #2 and #3. Frank, even your agument (Paul had a bad reputation in Jerusalem and couldn’t have been the author) could actually explain why the author doesn’t mention his name.

One more thing to consider: “I have written to you briefly.” (13:22) This is not a short letter. To what does the “briefly” refer? It could support the idea mentioned in the article of someone stenotyping a sermon, adding his own style and own examples to his audience and his closure. Maybe he listened to Paul’s sermon (or Timothy whom he mentions), but because of Paul’s bad rep, he just delivered Paul’s homily (in his own style as common back then) without mentioning him.

As I sad in another thread: It seems that the writer was a well-trained rabbi, scribe or (I add here) priest. Or a rabbi-to-be? (I even like the recent idea of Priscilla as author, but maybe that’s a too modern view.)

Thank you for the article. It is so interesting to dig deep in church history and text observations. Fantastic reasearch topic! I don’t want to belittle the topic of authorship, but do we really get what this homily wants to teach us? Do we soak in these words and let them do their exhortation even if it turns out that Paul wasn’t the author?

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May I add a little fun fact? The earliest known author of the world is a woman! Enheduanna, a High Priestess of the moon god in the city of Ur, was the daughter of Sargon, the king of the Akkad empire (24th century BC). She was the author of Sumerian texts of different genres (prayers, hymns and a myth). She recited the prayers.

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i’m surprised you don’t seem to think a knowledge of authorship, and therefore a knowledge of possible assumptions and parallels to other works by that author, is important…

Kate,

Your last paragraph is my main point.

Frank

I guess because I think the main point can be ascertained just from the letter’s context regardless of who the author was, and that parallels can then be drawn, again regardless of the same.

Frank

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To what Jewish congregation would Paul have been hoping to be restored? He was the apostle to the Gentiles. He did not found nor work among Jewish congregations, particularly in Jerusalem.

This seems to be a weak argument in support of Pauline authorship.

Frank

i think this is interesting because you usually come down on the side of academia, which, as you know, often starts with ascertaining authorship…

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Yeah, when I think contextual reading that is more evident brings a clearer understanding and application of the biblical text, I’m all for it. But, this is not a clear issue, more conjectural, and in the end, of little consequence to the actual content of the book and how it can be applied.

I feel the same about Job in different ways. Whether or not there was an historical figure (which I think there very well may have been) or whether the story was strictly literal history (which I don’t think it was due to literary evidence and style), are not the most important issues. What does the book teach? What does it say to us about God, suffering, justice, and our wisdom and vision as opposed to God’s? These are the main issues, to me.

Frank

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