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Did Paul write the letter to the Hebrews?

I’ve never had much of an opinion on who wrote the book of Hebrews. Today, however, I was reading the letters of Peter and something stood out to me. But first, a little historical context…

It is assumed by most that Peter died around the year A.D. 64 under the persecution instigated by Nero after the burning of Rome. And that both letters, especially the second, must have been written shortly before his death (in the second letter Peter himself says that his passing is imminent). The first letter was written to the “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1:1), or in other words, Jewish believers who were leaving Judea and scattering across the empire, while the second was evidently written to the same general audience (2 Peter 3:1). 

Why were these Jewish believers fleeing Judea? Namely because of mounting tensions between the nation of Israel and Rome. The Lord Jesus had forewarned His followers in no uncertain terms that when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies it was time to get out of town (see Luke 21:20-24). Granted, Israel didn’t revolt until 66 and the Temple wasn’t destroyed until 70, but the inevitable course of things had become obvious to the discerning eye long before the time actually came. By A.D. 64 many of the saints had already packed their bags and fled.

And just where were they going? Where would these Jewish believers end up? In Gentile churches, that’s where! In churches raised up by Paul and his co-workers… churches that knew very little about Moses, circumcision, or the Law (little in comparison to their Jewish counterparts, at least).   

So there you have the context surrounding Peter’s epistles. What struck me tonight, however, is that Peter claims Paul also wrote a letter to the same group of people Peter himself was addressing (2 Peter 3:15). I’d never noticed this before. Or at least I’d never viewed it in this context and connected the dots historically. Could the letter Peter refers to here be that masterpiece of anonymity we call Hebrews? Wouldn’t you and I both love to know!

What does this mean, then? Well, nothing that I or anyone else can claim for certain. The sad fact of the matter is that no one knows for sure just who wrote the letter to the Hebrews. It could be that Peter was referencing a letter here that was never preserved, or it could just as well be that he was referring to our Hebrews. For me at least this little finding lends significant weight to the possibility of Paul’s authorship. Scholars generally maintain that the letter was written sometime during the mid to late sixties, before the armies of Rome marched on Jerusalem and laid waste to the Temple. The author chose to remain anonymous, obviously (which I could see Paul doing in a case like this, writing to Jewish believers who may have been prejudiced against him-see Acts 21:21), and any number of people have been suggested as possibilities over the years. Barnabas, Priscilla, Apollos, Timothy-your guess is as good as mine. But as for me and my house, for now at least, my vote is cast in favor of Paul.

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About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Did Paul write the letter to the Hebrews?

  1. hmmm. Interesting. possible. Not completely convinced. Peter statement is so vague- but its def. possible.

    Posted by Andrew Wehrheim | September 29, 2011, 7:44 pm
  2. Peter’s statement does appear vague in some translations more than others. But in all the literal translations I checked it seems clear Peter means that Paul wrote a letter to the same group of people Peter was writing to. How often or for what other reason would Paul write a general letter to Jewish believers scattered across the empire?

    Posted by Josh | September 30, 2011, 2:35 am

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