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The author of Hebrews, being generally uncertain, sometimes goes by the moniker "Autor". But who or what lies behind the mask? What clues do we have to work with that could tip us off to their identify? If one were to draw up a list of candidates, who would be on it and why?

More importantly, does the identity of Autor being uncertain pose any significant difficulty in interpreting the text itself? Given the list above, in what way would our interpretation likely change based on each of the candidates?

Related over on Christianity.SE: Did Paul write the Epistle to the Hebrews?

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4 Answers 4

One thing to keep in mind when drawing up a list of candidates is that we don't know the names of the vast majority of 1st century Christians. There's a very good chance that the author of Hebrews is not anyone we've ever heard of otherwise. No one thinks we know the name of the author of the Didache or 1 Clement (I'm picking non-canonical examples to avoid being controversial, but many scholars would say the same of many anonymous canonical works like say Matthew).

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I'd be happy to see an entry or two on the list for people we haven't met but can sketch a profile for. If some of the evidence points to an otherwise unknown author, so be it. –  Caleb Jan 10 '13 at 8:46
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However the main gist of my question is about what implications different authors would have on interpreting the book. Would you mind if this answer got converted to a comment as it doesn't really answer the question but is valuable to keep in mind as people formulate answers? –  Caleb Jan 10 '13 at 8:47
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Ok, though I still think the only reasonable answer to "what would it mean if we knew the answer to X, where X is impossible to know" is to point out that X is impossible to know. –  Noah Jan 10 '13 at 15:43

In John Owen's introduction on his commentary on Hebrews, who argues against every known argument against Paul's authorship, concluding it was Paul, list a few of the other candidates. I very briefly summarized Owen's argument for Paul's authorship here. Why Paul probably wrote Hebrews.

These are the early candidates raised under this controversy:

Origen, in Eusebius, affirms that some supposed Luke to have been the author of this Epistle....Some have assigned the writing of this Epistle unto Barnabas....Apollos hath been thought by some to be the penman of this Epistle, and that because it answers the character given of him...Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome... ascribed this Epistle unto Clemens Romanus. (John Owen's Works, Commentary of Hebrews Volume 1, Page 69-72)

So among those who have debated the issue put forward, Luke (directly or for Paul), Barnabas, Apollos and Clement of Rome.

Although Owen is convinced Paul probably wrote Hebrews and denies the difference of styles argument, he thinks it does not matter at all who wrote it.

The concept in Owen's mind is that an Apostle or a Prophet is so because their 'word is true'. God's word carries its own authority as it is infallible and inspired and therefore obtains no more authority by identifying the penmen.

From another aspect, beyond the authority issues, it does not seem to matter as pertaining the subject or interpretation. As it is so general as to explain the Old Testament in its relation to the New Testament, is such a high elevated theology, very similar, if not identical to Paul's, the personal background of the author plays no importance to the subject which is infallibly treated in the epistle. I personally think Hebrews might be the deepest theological book in the entire Bible. It is also on the ground which I feel it is unlikely anyone wrote it except Paul, who was the deepest Apostle which Peter admits wrote things hard to understand to the Hebrews.

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Has there been any other significant research or investigation into this topic since the 17th century? –  swasheck Jan 21 '13 at 16:14
    
No, I don't think so. There has been nothing 'uncovered' just people re-hashing the same recycled arguments. Some liberal modern theologians think in that a woman wrote it, but as we enter our modern era we can only expect the more foolish conjectures. –  Mike Jan 21 '13 at 23:49
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Do you mean "Liberal Theologians" or theologians that have a more liberal bent? I'm pretty sure there are some Evangelical scholars who could argue convincingly for "a woman" as the author (even if they ultimately don't hold her as the author). –  swasheck Jan 22 '13 at 3:13
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Also, this statement doesn't really follow your logic. "It is also on the ground which I feel it is unlikely anyone wrote it except Paul, who was the deepest Apostle which Peter admits wrote things hard to understand to the Hebrews." Hebrews would be more readily understood by a Jewish audience because of its OT foundations, right? Peter was noting that Paul wrote things that were difficult for Jewish readers to understand. Also, I find Paul as the "deepest" author to be subjective. Ultimately I agree with your answer, I'm just trying to help you shore it up a bit. –  swasheck Jan 22 '13 at 4:55
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@swasheck - btw thanks for asking the tough questions. cheers. –  Mike Jan 22 '13 at 5:48

Authorship of Hebrews

Expansion of Pauline Authorship

The only overt clue as to the authorship is the reference to Timothy in Hebrews 13:23. This, in addition to the Eastern/Alexandrian tradition of Pauline authorship, led many to believe that Paul was the author. This is supported by significant uncial evidence that places Hebrews with other Pauline works (Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies For Jewish Christians (), 18). However, it's been noted that the style varies widely from the writings normally ascribed to Paul. However, the Eastern scholars Origen and Clement of Alexandria posited that it would have been more likely for one of Paul's associates to have written it since the ideas are Pauline, but the language is not (Ibid., Peter T. O'Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews (), 24).

deSilva also notes that the Greek used in Hebrews is "superior" to anything else that he had written. He believes that an abrupt shift in style is nothing more than an attempt to hold onto Pauline authorship (deSilva, 24). It is worth noting that the amount of time that Paul spent in Tarsus in his formative years would have lent itself to the capabilities to write in such "superior" Greek. It's not that Paul couldn't write in such a style, it's that he didn't.

The Western tradition does not hold Paul as the author. In fact, I Clement (end of first century) is the earliest quoted use of Hebrews, though some find echoes of Hebrews in Polycarp (Gareth Lee Cockrell, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (), 4), though Paul is not noted as the author. It was not until the fourth century that the West's attribution of Paul as the author surfaced (Ibid, 4).

David Allen Black attempts to harmonize the tension felt by Origen and Clement by suggesting that Paul could have dictated the writing to Luke (David Allen Black, Who Wrote Hebrews? (), 20). Since dictation standards in the Ancient Near East were not what we would hold as standard (the amanuensis was given latitude, especially if it was someone as respected and close to Paul as Luke), this mediating position may be preferable to others.

Apollos

Apollos has also been suggested as a potential author as he fits many of the criteria of one who could write such a work. However, this suggestion is damaged by the lack of any attribution of authorship to him at all (Ibid, 9).

Priscilla

In the comments to an extant answer, someone mentioned that "liberal theologians" have suggested that "a woman" wrote it. This was, in fact, Adolf von Harnack way back in 1900 who suggested that Hebrews could have been penned by Priscilla. I'll have to find more evidence for Priscilla, but from what I recall it has to do with her prominence in Paul's ministry and that she was a fairly notable name in the church. Also I recall this perspective being supported by saying that she kept it anonymous so that it would be accepted by Roman Jewish Christians on merit and not rejected because it was written by a woman. This makes sense but is an argument from silence and so any actual evidence would necessarily hold more weight.

Additionally, I have found at least one justification for Priscilla as author to be rooted deeply in a sexist perspective ("what man would apologize for issuing commands? The author must've been a woman.") which is also somewhat flawed logic.

Significance

So, what does it matter?

Theologically it doesn't really matter who the author was, unless you want to argue that Paul somehow went supercessional somewhere in the middle of his ministry. Even if one accepts Pauline authorship, these references can be explained in context, setting, and provenance. I would argue that authorship would not influence the theological foundation or canonicity of the work of Hebrews.

Having said that, determining the author would provide interesting insight into genre, literary, and rhetorical studies. If the author was Paul, then the definition of what constitutes an "epistle" may need to be expanded (or restricted). It would also expand Pauline studies and, perhaps, provide insight into the textual backing for Paul's attributed assertions. Additionally, the New Perspective would also be significantly bolstered if Paul could be conclusively established as the author.

If Luke was the author/amanuensis of Hebrews, then the literary implications are also significant. What influence does it have on Luke-Acts? Are there echoes of Hebrews in Luke-Acts or vice versa?

The significance of authorship does not weigh heavily on the overall theology, but rather on the implications for biblical studies. These implications are the sorts of things that help us color our theology and vivify our engagement with the texts in question, but should not affect doctrine.

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As an aside, please feel free to edit my answer if you'd like to have the publisher/publication city in the citation. I have blanke parentheses just for that purpose. –  swasheck Jan 22 '13 at 4:12
    
+1 excellent all round, I particularly found the last paragraph a useful conclusion! –  Jack Douglas Jan 22 '13 at 11:25
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+1 for an excellent summary. Could you expand a little on what the implications are for the New Perspective if Hebrews was written by Paul? –  Bruce Alderman Jan 22 '13 at 18:11
    
For a summary of Harnack's case for Priscilla as the author, see this question from Christianity.SE. Most of Harnack's arguments actually point to Priscilla and Aquila as joint authors. –  Bruce Alderman Jan 22 '13 at 18:12

Sorry to just reproduce a source here, but it does a great job answering part of this question. See the image below from page 13 in The Lukan Authorship of Hebrews by David L. Allen & E. Ray Clendenen (2010).

Potential authors of Hebrews

Concerning how our interpretation of the text might change if the author was determined, I can only speculate, but I don't believe it would make much of a difference. The theology is outstanding and well-substantiated throughout Church history.

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