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Guthrie on the Authorship of Hebrews

Guthrie on the Authorship of Hebrews

I took note of this quote from George Guthrie’s discussion of authorship:

As with other matters of background we are almost entirely dependent on evidence internal to the book. So, what does the work reveal of its maker?

George H. Guthrie, Hebrews, The NIV Application Commentary, Kindle edition

In a way, this is the key issue. If you favor internal evidence, you will doubtless favor someone other than Paul as the author. If, on the other hand, you consider the early patriotic accounts, you are much more likely to consider Paul.

This was underlined for me when David Alan Black asked me this: “So if the book of Hebrews claimed Paul as the author in the text you would accept Paul as author?”

The answer to that is yes, absolutely. The internal evidence would never lead me to Paul apart from external statements, I don’t see enough issues in the text to convince me Paul was not the author if the claim was made in the text, assuming that the claim was textually secure.

I publish Dave’s book The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul, and I credit editing that book for changing my view from “anyone but Paul” to “unknown, but Paul is an option.” One of the key values of Dave’s book is the discussion of the internal evidence.

Authorship of Hebrews Summary

Authorship of Hebrews Summary

Michael J. Kok summarizes the internal evidence on the authorship of Hebrews (HT: Dave Black Online).

As Dave Black notes, his argument is really not one of internal but of external evidence. Dr. Kok cites Dave’s book The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul, which I publish. I do note the 2017 publication date, which suggests use of the new hardcover edition, which I link below. The more usual paperback is just $5.99 while the Kindle edition is just $2.99 for those who would like to check Dave’s arguments.

My own view on this is “author unknown.” After reading Dave’s work, I no longer say “anybody but Paul,” but I still find the differences in approach and style from Paul difficult to accept, and I find the absence of Paul’s salutation at the beginning odd, at a minimum. But I put greater emphasis on internal evidence, so this may be simply a difference in approach.


Yet Again Hebrews Authorship

Yet Again Hebrews Authorship

9781938434730sIn September of 2013 I published a book titled The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul by David Alan Black. It has been interesting to read material on this topic since. I would note that while I believe Dave’s case is well presented, and was convinced by it to give more room to the idea of Pauline authorship, I have not been convinced to abandon my agnosticism on the authorship of Hebrews.

Today my attention was drawn to two more posts. The first is by Dave Black, which I copied to the Topical Line Drives site to create a permanent link (Dave’s blog doesn’t support this). It’s a short comment, but makes clear Dave’s view that Hebrews is not so anonymous as one might think.

The second post is by Kyle O’Neill (HT: Thomas Hudgins), who favors Apollos or Aquilla and Priscilla.

There is a broad consensus among scholars that Paul did not write the book of Hebrews. There is no similar consensus about who did write the book. There’s an easy explanation, however, for the difference between these positions. It’s simply the view of the authors in question of the external evidence. Is the testimony of the early church fathers reliable on matters of authorship? While there are some disagreements about precisely what each church father said (Dave Black provides his own translations of many of these references in his book), in general if one is prepared to accept the testimony of the early church fathers, one is likely to accept Paul as the author of Hebrews.

On the other hand, if one favors internal evidence over this external testimony, one likely will not favor Paul. Note that I do not mean here a simple differentiation between how one favors internal over external evidence, such as one might have in textual criticism. In this case, we’re looking at specific testimony with specific issues. How much could each witness have known? To what extent are they reporting hearsay? To what extent might they be trying to shore up the claim of Hebrews to be scripture? So one can have a general position favoring external evidence on many other topics, but nonetheless not have the same emphasis with regard to authorship.

In my view, if we did not have the testimony of the early church fathers, nobody (or almost nobody) would assign Hebrews to Paul based on the internal evidence. But I also believe that if you don’t accept the testimony of the early church fathers on this point, there is no basis to claim any particular author for the book. The problem with determining authorship based on internal evidence is that you must have a body of material with known authorship with which to compare the book. Of the proposed authors of the book of Hebrews, only three have a significant body of written material, Luke, Paul, and Clement. For others, such as Apollos or Aquilla and Priscilla, we have no written material, and precious little biographical information. It is always possible that one of these many candidates wrote the book, but the evidence just isn’t there.

That’s why, having decided that there is enough internal evidence in the book to question Paul’s authorship, I do not propose an alternative. I don’t know who wrote it. I realize there are answers to the difficulties with Pauline authorship, but in my view it seems that there’s just a bit too much to explain away. It could be Paul, but then again, not so much.

It’s interesting how strong the consensus against Pauline authorship has become. I would think that there would be a greater body of argument in favor of the testimony of the early church fathers. A very slight swing in favor of that testimony would probably shake the consensus quite substantially.

Date and Authorship Notes

Date and Authorship Notes

Two weeks ago I participated in a conversation with Elgin Hushbeck, Jr. regarding how scholars determine date and authorship. Readers who consult more than one Bible Handbook, Bible Dictionary, or introductory material from more than one study Bible will find that there can be considerable variation in the information regarding a particular book. Elgin and I only touched on a few of the key issues.

Here’s the YouTube:

I know many of you will not want to watch an hour long discussion. I want to write a few notes here. I’ll provide a link to this post to Elgin, and if he wants to respond on his blog, I’ll provide a link to it here. I don’t actually intend to argue with any of his views in these notes.

Let’s consider a hypothetical case from modern life, the college term paper. Here we have strong external evidence that the material was written by the student, as that student turns it in, perhaps even saying, “Here’s my paper!” There’s a title page with the student’s name. Depending on how one applies the analogy, one might consider the title page internal or external evidence. (Some authors are named internally in New Testament documents, while some are named in titles added later.)

A responsible and reasonably intelligent professor, however, will have to consider the possibility that the student has plagiarized the paper. How might this be done?

Bypassing modern methods of checking the internet, the professor might consider the student’s style as demonstrated in other assignments, as well as the student’s level of learning. A poor student who suddenly turns in a top notch paper might be suspect. References to things the student is unlikely to know, or to experiences the student is unlikely to have had might also trigger interest.

Before there were easily available internet searches, a professor would be limited to using his or her memory and library resources. Now a good deal of potential material can be checked quickly and automatically.

This would be internal evidence, looking at the nature of the document. The synoptic problem in the gospels starts with the fact that there are close parallels between the first three gospels, closer parallels than most believe can be explained by common oral sources, so students of the gospels look for a pattern of copying between these three. Who was first? Explaining common text between Matthew and Luke, text that does not occur in Mark, on the assumption that Mark was written first, results in the idea of Q, a hypothetical written source.

But the analogy also provides us a reason why scholars tend to examine the internal evidence closely, even though there may be quite strong external evidence in favor of a particular author. They see potential motivation for an author to have attributed a letter to a more famous person, thus giving it greater authority. On the other hand, the motivation might be to honor the person named.

In the video I refer to the example of Colossians. What’s interesting in that case is that the main arguments against Pauline authorship result from the theological positions taken and some of the vocabulary used. Standing against this is the fact that the author named in the book is Paul (but see above regarding reasons to question this). If one tries to date the book much later, then it is likely there would be no church in Colossae, as it was largely destroyed by an earthquake in the early 60s CE. Thus both the author’s name and the destination of the letter would be a literary device.

Thus your answer to the question of authorship is going to come down to whether you evaluate the internal evidence (style, vocabulary, theology) as sufficiently strong to overcome both the book’s own attribution and early church testimony, or perhaps that internal evidence as sufficiently weak.

My personal view is that  it is very probable that Paul is the author of Colossians, and that the difference in theme results from a difference in the issues to which he was responding, and in turn the differences in style and vocabulary are due to the differences in theme. I think it also unlikely that a letter to a church in a city recently devastated by an earthquake will not mention [ed 022815] such an experience, and this suggests to me a date earlier than Paul’s death. It is also less likely that a letter will be written in Paul’s name while Paul is still alive to repudiate it.

But notice that I state this as a probability. Historians don’t generally dealing in proving this or that in an absolute sense. They look at probabilities. I think it is most likely, but not absolutely certain, that Paul is the author.

Off to the Printer – The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul

Off to the Printer – The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul

Just sent another book to the printer, in this case The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul by David Alan Black. I’ve heard some comments about my motivations for publishing this little book (just 42 pages). Money was mentioned, along with a burning desire to uphold traditional views. Those who know me will probably realize that my attitude is more “traditional views beware”!

Considering we’ll be retailing the book for $4.99, and the ebook for just $0.99, I don’t think money is the strongest motivator, and it happens I’m not convinced of Dave’s thesis, even though I think he’s written about as convincing a case as could be written and has poked some serious holes in the scholarly consensus.

What I think he does accomplish is to demonstrate how one challenges a scholarly consensus. First, one has to pay one’s academic dues. Then one has to thoroughly examine the data. Dave includes some of his own translations of patristic material, for example, and does some very significant work on vocabulary, style, and theology.

One big question that remains–and a critical question it is!–and that’s just how much weight one puts on the patristic evidence. There are, of course, details in weighing particular sources, but there is also the more general question of how likely one believes it is that early Christian authors actually knew the answer to the question.

I think Dave does an exemplary job of laying out his case and deserves to have it challenged and discussed on technical grounds. I’m also creating a blog/book site to support this, even though it’s a small book. I wanted a place to keep Dave’s comments on authorship and to stimulate discussion of the topic. Don’t expect too much on that new site until some time tomorrow.