Paul, the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews
There is no name of the sender at the beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews. How do we know it was Paul?
State of Affairs
This is rather strange as Paul had the custom to explicitly state about his apostleship at the beginning of each letter he wrote to a community of Christians. In the former blog article, we saw that the apostle Paul is not seen as the original author of the Letter to the Hebrews in Protestantism. And also we saw that the reformers Luther and Calvin based their opinion on a mistranslation of Hebrews 2:3-4. If we restore the outdated medieval mistranslation there is no reason to deny Paul’s authorship, as we have seen earlier.
Then the question is, are there significant details that maybe point to Paul as the author? And the answer is: Yes, there are. But before we look at the first indication in the letter itself, it is important to speak about the motive to search for a possible Pauline authorship.
Speaking for myself, I have never doubted that Paul is the author of Hebrews because Athanasios, the church father who was the first to define the canon of 27 NT books, lists this letter among the fourteen letters of Paul (AD 376). And his decision was followed later by pope Damasus, church scholar Jerome, and church father Augustine. It is crystal clear that in the old church the Letter to the Hebrews was reckoned among the Pauline epistles, and no theologian today denies that. So it is really necessary to ask whether there are inside features in the letter that point unmistakably to Paul?
The First Sign
“You should understand that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon.” Hebrews 13:23
Reading this verse towards the end of the Letter to the Hebrews, we understand that the addressees of this letter unmistakably knew who the author was. Maybe the messenger(s) who had brought the letter had informed the people about that (we will speak about this option or others in a later blog article more to the point). But let’s concentrate on the verse above.
In this sentence, the author reveals himself as the apostle Paul. Why? The addressees probably were acquainted with Timothy. At least they knew who he was: the spiritual child and co-worker of Paul, who in turn was his spiritual guide for years. In all his letters where Paul introduced himself and Timothy as the senders, at first, Paul spoke about himself and then about Timothy. That is exactly what happened here. And by that Paul expressed that he was the first responsible for the content of the letter. Again, the spiritual guide of Timothy is speaking here.
Only One Option
If we know this, the question is: Is it possible that Timothy has taken a different spiritual guide as long as Paul lived or thereafter? That can fairly be excluded. In the end, Timothy had become himself a spiritual guide, a church overseer. Paul said to him (2 Timothy 2:2): “What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” So yes, the only reasonable option is that Paul is speaking in Hebrews as the author of the letter.
If the author would be Apollos, which was Luther’s choice for the author, he would have written: we will see you (we will visit you). Apollos could never present himself as the spiritual guide of Timothy. Nobody could, only Paul.
This is the first clear sign that necessarily speaks in favor of Paul’s authorship of the Letter to the Hebrews. And there is so much more … as we will see.