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Reference: Hebrews, The Epistle To The


Canonicity. - Clement of Rome (1st century A.D.) refers to it oftener than any other canonical New Testament book, adopting its words as on a level with the rest of the New Testament. As the writer of this epistle claims authority Clement virtually sanctions it, and this in the apostolic age. Westcott (Canon, 22) observes, it seems transfused into Clement's mind. Justin Martyr quotes its authority for applying the titles "apostle" and "angel" to the Son of God. Clement of Alexandria refers it to Paul, on the authority of Pantaenus of Alexandria (in the middle of the second century) saying that as Jesus is called the "apostle" to the Hebrew, Paul does not in it call himself so, being apostle to the Gentiles; also that Paul prudently omitted his name at the beginning, because the Hebrew were prejudiced against him; that it was originally written in Hebrew for the Hebrew, and that Luke translated it into Greek for the Greeks, whence the style resembles that of Acts.

He however quotes the Greek epistle as Paul's, so also Origen; but in his Homilies he regards the style as more Grecian than Paul's but the thoughts as his. "The ancients who handed down the tradition of its Pauline authorship must have had good reason for doing so, though God alone knows the certainty who was the actual writer," i.e. probably the transcriber or else interpreter of Paul's thoughts. The Peshito old Syriac version has it. Tertullian in the beginning of the third century, in the African church, ascribes it to Barnabas. Irenaeus in Eusebius quotes it. About the same time Caius the presbyter of Rome mentions only 13 epistles of Paul, whereas if epistle to Hebrew were included there would be 14.

The Canon fragment of Muratori omits it, in the beginning of the third century. (See CANON.) The Latin church did not recognize it as Paul's for a long time subsequently. So Victorinus, Novatian of Rome, and Cyprian of Carthage. But in the fourth century Hilary of Poitiers (A.D. 368), Lucifer of Cagliari (A.D. 371), Ambrose of Milan (A.D. 397), and other Latins quote it as Paul's; the fifth council of Carthage (A.D. 419) formally recognizes it among his 14 epistles.

Style. - The partial resemblance of Luke's style to it is probably due to his having been companion of Paul: "each imitated his teacher; Luke imitated Paul flowing along with more than river fullness; Mark imitated Peter who studied brevity" (Chrysostom). But more familiarity with Jewish feeling, and with the peculiarities of their schools, appears in this epistle than in Luke's writings. The Alexandrian phraseology does not prove Apollos' authorship (Alford's theory). The Alexandrian church would not have so undoubtingly asserted Paul's authorship if Apollos their own countryman had really been the author. Paul, from his education in Hebrew at Jerusalem, and in Hellenistic at Tarsus, was familiar with Philo's modes of thought. At Jerusalem there was an Alexandrian synagogue (Ac 6:9).

Paul knew well how to adapt himself to his readers; to the Greek Corinthians who idolized rhetoric his style is unadorned, that their attention might be fixed on the gospel alone; to the Hebrew who were in no such danger he writes to win them (1Co 9:20) in a style attractive to those imbued with Philo's Alexandrian conceptions and accustomed to the combination of Alexandrian Greek philosophy and ornament with Judaism. All the Old Testament quotations except two (Heb 10:30; 13:5) are from the Septuagint, which was framed at Alexandria. The interweaving of the Septuagint peculiarities into the argument proves that the Greek epistle is an original, not a translation. The Hebrew Old Testament would have been quoted, had the original epistle been Hebrew

Pauline authorship. - This is further favored by internal evidence. The superiority of Christianity to Judaism in that the reality exceeds the type is a favorite topic of Paul. Compare this epistle with 2Co 3:6-18; Ga 3:23-25; 4:1-9,21-31. Herein allegorical interpretation, which the Alexandrians strained unduly, is legitimately under divine guidance employed. The divine Son is represented as the image of God; compare Heb 1:3, etc., with Paul's undoubted epistles, Php 2:6; Col 1:15-20; His lowering Himself for man's sake (Heb 2:9) with 2Co 8:9; Php 2:7-8; His final exaltation (Heb 2:8; 10:13; 12:2) with 1Co 15:25-27; His "mediator" (unique to Paul) office (Heb 8:6) with Ga 3:19-20; His sacrifice for sin prefigured by the Jewish sacrifices (Hebrews 7-10) with Ro 3:22-26; 1Co 5:7. "God of peace" is a phrase unique to Paul (Heb 13:20 with Ro 15:33; 1Th 5:23).

So "distributed gifts of the Holy Spirit" (Heb 2:4) with (Greek) "divisions of gifts ... the same Spirit" (1Co 12:4); "righteousness by faith" (Heb 10:38; 11:7) with the same quotation (Hab 2:4); Ro 1:17; 4:22; 5:1; Ga 3:11; Php 3:9. "The word of God ... the sword of the Spirit" (Heb 4:12) with Eph 6:17. Inexperienced Christians are "children needing milk," i.e. elementary teaching; riper Christians, as full grown men, require strong meat (Heb 5:12-13; 6:1 with 1Co 3:1-2; 14:20; Ga 4:9; Eph 4:13). Believers have "boldness of access to God by Christ" (Heb 10:19 with Ro 5:2; Eph 2:18; 3:12). Afflictions are a fight (Heb 10:32 with Php 1:30; Col 2:1).

The Christian life is a race (Heb 12:1 with 1Co 9:24; Php 3:12-14). The Jewish ritual is a service (Heb 9:1-6 with Ro 9:4); a "bondage," as not freeing us from consciousness of sin and fear of death (Heb 2:15 with Ga 5:1). Paul's characteristic "going off at a word" into a long parenthesis, playing upon like sounding words, and repeating favorite words, quotations from the Old Testament linked by "and again" (Heb 1:5; 2:12-13, with Ro 15:9-12; 2:8 with 1Co 15:27; Eph 1:22; 6:24 with Ro 12:19).

Reception in the East before the West. - No Greek father ascribes the epistle to any but Paul, for it was to the Hebrew of Alexandria and Palestine it was mainly addressed; but in the western and Latin churches of N. Africa and Rome, which it did not reach for some time, it was long doubted owing to its anonymous form, not opening as other epistles though closing like them; its Jewish argument; and its less distinctively Pauline style. Insufficient evidence for it, not positive evidence against it, led these for the first three centuries not to accept it. The fall of Jerusalem previous to the full growth of Christianity in N. Africa curtailed: contact between its churches and those Jews to whom this epistle is undressed. The epistle was, owing to distance, little known to the Latin churches. Muratori's Canon does not notice it.

When in the fourth century at last they found it was received as Pauline and canonical (the Alexandrians only doubted its authorship, not its authority) on good grounds in the Greek churches, they universally accepted it. The churches of the East and Jerusalem their center, the quarter to which the epistle was first sent, received it as Paul's, according to Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem (A.D. 349). Jerome, though bringing from Rome the Latin prejudice against this epistle, aggravated by its apparent sanction of the Novatian heresy (Heb 6:4-6), was constrained by the almost unanimous testimony of the Greek churches from the first to receive it as Paul's; after him Rome corrected its past error of rejecting it. Augustine too held its canonicity. What gives especial weight to the testimony for it of the Alexandrian church is, that church was founded by Mark, who was with Paul at Rome in his first confinement, when probably this epistle was written (Col 4:10), and possibly bore it to Jerusalem where his mother resided, visiting Colosse on the way, and from Jerusalem to Alexandria.

Peter also (2Pe 3:15-16), the apostle of the circumcision, in addressing the Hebrew Christians of the dispersion in the East, says, "as our beloved brother Paul ... hath written unto you," i.e. to the Hebrew. By adding "as also in all his epistles" he distinguishes the epistle to the Hebrew from the rest; and by classing it with the "other Scriptures" he asserts at once its Pauline authorship and divine inspiration. A generous testimony of Christian love to one who formerly rebuked him (Ga 2:7-14).

The apostle of the circumcisio

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