AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT by A H McNeile. Copyright A H McNeile - first published at the University Press, Oxford 1927. 2nd Edition revised by C S C Williams 1953. - This Edition prepared for Katapi in Arial Unicode MS by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Hebrews  (pages 224-239)


Purpose | Contents | Nature of the writing | Readers | Destination | Date | Author | Bibliography |


The occasion of this writing, as of i Peter, was the readers' need of encouragement in the face of trouble.
They were suffering tribulation for their faith, though it had not actually reached the point of martyrdom (. 4), and the author tries to rouse them to hold firmly to their Christian steadfastness.
Their danger, however, was not merely despondency but religious apostasy; and he therefore supports his appeal by means of a carefully composed doctrinal argument, the various stages of which lead up successively to exhortations and warnings.
In the sufferings which had come upon them, their dullness and denseness of faith and understanding were letting them drift towards the point of spiritual shipwreck, and he aimed at putting before them a presentation of Christ and Christianity such as would brace them to spiritual effort.

The doctrinal argument [See A. H. McNeile's New Testament Teaching, pp. 222-6.] is shaped under the influence of Alexandrian, and ultimately of Platonic, thought.
[The Platonic influence on Heb. is sometimes exaggerated.
As O. Cullmann has shown, our author remains true to the biblical conception of time (Christ and Time, Eng. trans., F. V. Filson, 1951, pp. 54 f.).]

There is an antithesis between that which is Real, the heavenly Idea permanent and perfect, and the earthly 'copy' (ix. 23), 'shadow' (x.1), 'copy and shadow' (viii.5), 'figure' (ix.9), 'type' (ix.24) which is imperfect, inadequate, transitory.
The latter is seen in the sacrificial religion and priesthood of the Old Testament, and in the whole economy of God's people Israel; the former in Christianity.
This does not mean, however, that the Real is merely substituted for the copy, but that the copy became obsolete when the heavenly Ideal was realized, actualized, in Christ and Christianity.
The author says, in effect, 'That which is perfect is come, and if you fall away from it you lose everything.
If it was perilous to disobey and disbelieve the divine message as imperfectly revealed in the Mosaic system, how much more perilous now that it is perfectly revealed in the ideal Christian system.
On the other hand, if you hold firmly to your confidence and faith you enjoy all that is contained in the Ideal.'


Many different analyses of the epistle have been offered by commentators, but they often fail to present it as a literary whole, and an organic unity.
Some writers speak of 'digressions' and 'parentheses' as though the main outline would have been complete without them.
This results from regarding the writing as primarily a doctrinal treatise, in the course of which the author takes the opportunity, at frequent intervals, of improving the occasion by homiletic exhortation.
But even when it is recognized that the exhortations are as essential to the plan as the doctrinal portions, and that the former are throughout the ground and purpose of the latter [This is well shown by B. Weiss, Texte u. Untersuchungen, vol. xxxv, 1910.], another feature of the epistle is seldom explained, i.e. the repetition both of doctrinal statements and of exhortations.

The best analysis known to the present writers is that of von Haering in the Zeitschriftf. d. neutest. Wissenschaft, xviii, 1918, pp. 145-63.
He refers to von Soden's fourfold division of the epistle, [In the Handkommentar mm n.T. (Freiburg, 1890).] corresponding broadly to the fourfold division of a discourse that was conventional among ancient rhetoricians:
[The rhetorical care with which it was written is evident.
Blass even prints it in
στίχοι - (stochoi) as rhythmical, a striking example of Kunstprosa.]


Προοίμιον πρὸς εὔνοιαν- prooimion pros eunoian, leading up to the πρόθεσις - (prothesis).


Διήγησις πρὸς πιθανότητα - diegesis pros pithanoteta.


ἀπόδειξις πρὸς πειθώ - apodeixis pros peitho.


ἐπίλογος  - epilogos.

And while the contents of the epistle are very different from those of a conventional discourse, he divides it as follows:


The prooimion


leads up to the main thesis



which is expressed in a simple and undeveloped form.


The diegesis 


is a preliminary treatment of the doctrinal theme, followed by a preliminary exhortation.


The apodeixis


is a fuller treatment of the doctrinal theme.


The epilogos 


is a fuller exhortation.



The greatness of the final revelation that Christ brought, and of the salvation that He wrought, are due to His greatness as 'Apostle' and 'High Priest'.
Correspondingly great is the responsibility of despising, disbelieving, falling away from, Him and His salvation





The Son, Heir of all things, is the Bringer of the final revelation, and performs the High Priestly function of cleansing away sin



The uniqueness of His office and Person measured by comparison with the angels, the bringers of the Old Testament revelation

cf. ii.2,


and the proof from Scripture





Exhortation to take heed to this unique revelation





The temporary subordination to the angels, which seems to conflict with the superiority, was the very means of His exaltation, that by the subordination He might become the archegos of our salvation, being identified with man.


This is proved from Scripture



The reason why this was the means, befitting God



to such an endbecause to bring many sons to glory the Son must take blood and flesh to rescue them, and to have sympathy with men as a merciful and faithful High Priest
[Thus the consideration of the greatness of the Son as the Bringer of revelation leads dialectically to His worth as High Priest, and so the thesis of iv.14-16 is prepared for.]





Exhortation combining the thoughts of 'Apostle' and 'High Priest', all that has been said being completed by reference to Moses, the Old Testament Apostle and High Priest.
Like him in faithfulness Christ is superior to him as the Preparer of the house is greater than the house, and the son than the servant.


Therefore on our faithful holding to the hope depends our belonging to the house



[And so His faithfulness is the motive and force of ours.]


Exhortation which takes content and colour from the leading thought of the prooimion of the Son as Bringer of revelation.
Refuse not the word which Christianity receives from Psalm xcv.7 f.



THESIS. The heavenly High Priesthood of the Son, whose greatness does not alienate us from Him, because He was tempted as we are, and can sympathize with us, is the ground of our free, bold access to the Throne of grace to obtain help





Preliminary treatment of the thesis





Preliminary treatment of the Son's High Priesthood, to which the Old Testament pointed



His priestly function



[In section C the functions are placed second viii.1-x.18 and the qualifications first vii.
See v.1 repeated in viii.3.] His priestly qualifications, which are twofold:


Sympathy with men because He shares human nature



Distinction from men because (like Aaron) He is called by God, His call being 'according to the order of Melchisedek'

vv.4 f., 10.




Preliminary exhortation



Rebuke of the undeveloped state of the readers towards the truth of Christ's High Priesthood



Exhortation to develop



Warning that no second repentance is possible



[Parallel to x.26-31.] Ground for hope: God will consider their behaviour in the past



[Parallel to x.32-39.] The spurring thought of the certainty of God's sworn promise



[vi.20 takes up the Melchisedek priesthood again.]




Fuller treatment of the thesis, showing the meaning of Christ's High Priesthood as the mediation of the New Diatheke





His priestly qualifications



What the Melchisedek priesthood means: a priesthood for ever



It is greater than the Levitical priesthood because



Abraham gave tithes to Melchisedek,



Abraham was blessed by Melchisedek,



Levitical priests are many in number because of death



The superiority of the Melchisedek priesthood involves the changing of the old for the new, which means the change of the whole law and all that that includes

vv.11, 12.


That takes place in Jesus, for He was Judaean not Levite; and His priesthood is of a wholly different kind, due not to an external command but to internal power of life, and that a life indissoluble because the oath was 'for ever'



That means the annulling of the old, which could not accomplish what the bringing in of the better hope accomplished

vv.18, 19.


The measure of the change is the superiority of the new priesthood



in that it is



by oath








that of one who is ethically perfect




eternally permanent in its operation, not constantly repeated

vv.27, 28.




His priestly function in the heavenly sanctuary is greater than the Levitical; hence the New Diatheke mediated by it is greater than the old, as the old itself testifies



This chief thought (κεφάλαιον - kephalaion) stated summarily



The function is executed in the True Tabernacle

vv. 1-5.


The correspondingly better Diatheke foretold by Jeremiah



The same thought worked out more fully



The Old Testament type: the place



the function

vv.6, 7,


the result



The New Testament fulfilment




Summary statement




Why an offering, and that a better one?



Because every diathekeis mediated with blood

vv.16, 17;


the old one



the new one




Why is Christ's offering a better one?



Because the old could make nothing perfect



being only that of animals



while Christ's is one of obedience to God's will



and can sanctify for ever



And because the priests had to sacrifice often, and without result



while Christ, after one offering, sits throned with eternal success




Proof from Scripture that the New Diatheke will be successful in doing away with sins, and therefore need never be repeated





Fuller warning and encouragement to hold fast





Arising immediately out of the doctrinal teaching



Exhortation to hold fast to what Christ's High Priesthood has done for us



Warning that no second offering is possible for deliberate sin



Ground for hope: they can themselves consider their past behaviour





The expectant faith demanded by the doctrinal teaching



Its essence



And past heroes of faith



Motives for patient faith: The cloud of witnesses



Jesus the great Example

vv.2, 3.


Suffering is a Father's discipline



A warning from Esau



The greatness of the new Economy, the new Diatheke, Christ's saving work, and of the divine revelation, makes disobedience more terrible than disobedience to the Mosaic law



[A summing-up of the main thoughts of the epistle.]




Closing exhortation



Epistolary ending appended to the homily


nature of the writing.

The unusual fact has to be accounted for that it has an epistolary ending but not an epistolary opening.
It has been suggested that the latter has been accidentally lost; but the conjecture is without evidence and is unnecessary. James has an opening address but no epistolary ending; and the theory of accidental mutilation is no more likely in the one writing than in the other.
The problem is to determine the relation of the closing verses to the main body of the writing.
If it was originally a homily or treatise, which someone wished to transform into a (Pauline) epistle by means of an epistolary ending, he would certainly have provided it also with an opening address.
Conversely, if it was originally an epistle that was altered into a treatise for general use by the omission of the opening address, the ending also would have been omitted.

It is not easy to determine how far the 'epistolary ending' extends. G. A. Simcox [Ex. T., x. 430 ff.] thinks that the whole of ch.i consists of one, or perhaps two, commendatory letters, or parts of them, written by St. Paul or some other apostle, and attached to the writing, so that the whole acquired apostolic authority; and that 'I have written unto you briefly' (i.22) refers not to chs.i-, but to ch.i only.
Such expressions, however, were not uncommon in early Christian letter writing.
Moffatt refers to 1 Pet.v.12 δι᾽ λίγων - (di' oligon) [Goodspeed suggests that the words in 1 Pet. are based on those in Heb.i.22, διὰ βραχέων - (dia bracheon).], and Ep. Barn.i.5 ἐσπούδασα κατὰ μικρὸν μῖν πέμπειν - espoudasa kata micron hymin pempein (cf. i.8 ὑποδείξω λίγα - hupodeixo oliga), and to the writer's own words in v.11; xi.32.
To these may be added Ignat. Magn.14 συντόμως παρεκάλεσα μᾶς - syntomos parekalesa hymas,and Polyc. 7 δι᾽ λίγως μᾶς γραμμάτων παρεκάλεσα - di' oligon hymas grammaton parekalesa.
But ch.i, in fact, shows no trace of the commendation of anyone to any community.
[Zeitschr.f. d. neutest. Wiss., 1910, pp. 59 ff., 105 ff.] confines the epistolary ending to vv.22-25.
He thinks that the writing was a sermon actually preached, perhaps by a wandering prophet, to a congregation (probably) in Asia Minor, and that someone sent it in writing to Italy, probably Rome, with a brief covering letter, consisting of the last four verses.
This would account for several of the phenomena, but the simplest solution is that it was a written, not a spoken, homily, which the author sent to a community whose members, and needs, he knew well.
The advice to them becomes more personal at i.1, but homiletic again in vv.8-16, and he passes into an epistolary conclusion at v.18, reverting, however, to solemn rhetoric in the prayer, vv.20, 21. E. F. Scott [Harvard Theol. Rev. i, 1920, pp. 205-19.] suggests that the author is a Roman writing to Rome; he sends a homily, with an epistolary ending, to an inner group of advanced converts as an example of Christian gnosis for the τέλειοι - teleioi, the maturely developed, or those who ought to be τέλειοι.


Since the argument rests upon a comparison between the Hebrew and Christian economies, it has often been thought that the readers were Jewish Christians, and that their danger was a relapse into Judaism, or that they were tempted to apostatize in despair because of the terrible catastrophe of the fall of Jerusalem, either recent or imminent.
But the author says nothing about Judaism; did he have Jewish Gnosticism in mind?
'It is difficult to believe that if the problem in question had been the connexion between the readers ... and ordinary Judaism, it would have been referred to as "divers and strange teachings" ' [F. D. V. Narborough, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 1930, p. 21.] (i.9); he does not refer to Jewish ordinances as a rule of life, but, dialectically, to the Levitical system in the Pentateuch.
He never mentions the Temple, either as standing or as destroyed, but uses the tabernacle as a 'shadow' of the perfected system of worship in the Christian dispensation.
All Christians read the Old Testament, and any argument based upon it was as valid for Gentiles as for Jews.
And he shows no sign of drawing the least distinction between them; St. Paul's battle was over and won.
The writing has a universal appeal, leading the readers to rejoice in their possession of the Real, which has rendered the Copy obsolete.
If something in pagan life could have been taken as the Copy the argument would have been equally sound, but the Old Testament was the only basis from which he could appeal to all his readers alike.

No weight can be attached to the title prefixed to the epistle.
In the AV this stands as 'The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews', and is unfortunately retained in the RV.
This was due to a gradual growth in some late manuscripts, and has no authority.
In the earliest authorities that we possess [א A B P46, in the subscription of C (the opening is mutilated as far as ἁγίου - hagiou in ii.4), and in the Egyptian versions, Bohairic and Sahidic.] it is simply πρὸς Ἑβραίους - pros Hebraious, 'to Hebrews'.
But this does not go back earlier than the third century, and cannot be original.
The writing was sent to a definite group of persons, who would be interested, for example, in the release of Timothy (i.23), and to whom the author hoped soon to be restored (v.19); they could not be vaguely described as 'Hebrews'.
And, as has been shown, they were probably not Jewish Christians.
The title 'was probably added to the epistle during the earlier part of the second century as a reflection of the impression made by its apparently Hebrew preoccupation upon the mind of a generation which had lost all direct knowledge of the writing's origin and standpoint' (Moffatt [Introd. Lit. N.T., p. 448.]).
If so, our only guidance is the interpretation of the epistle as a whole, which points to a community of Gentile Christians, or, if Jewish, one whose 'training must have been that of Hellenistic Judaism such as Stephen was trained underliberal, biblical, and to a certain extent syncretistic'. [Ibid., p. 449.]

Some facts about them, which we learn from the epistle, (x.32-34; .4) are important in their bearing on its destination and date.
They had undergone persecution in 'former days', when they had first become Christians ('illuminated').
This points to a definite period, after which persecution had ceased for a time and had now begun again.
At that time they had associated themselves in sympathy with others who were similarly persecuted.
These were fellow Christians in the same Church, or members of another Church or other Churches, according as the epistle was written to a single group or circle, or to a whole community.
The sufferings that they endured had not yet reached the point of martyrdom.
It is not, however, quite clear whether this was the case with the Christians, 'the prisoners', with whom they had sympathized in former days.
There is possibly a hint of the martyrdom of their Church leaders who had spoken to them the word of God in the past (i.7).
'The reference here seems to be to some scene of martyrdom in which the triumph of faith was plainly shown' (Westcott, ad loc.).
This does not necessarily contradict 4, which may refer only to the present persecution, not to the former one; or the epistle may have been written to a small circle, none of whose members had been martyred in either persecution.
It is generally supposed from ii.3 that disciples of Jesus had personally evangelized them; but possibly 'us' means more generally the Christians of that generation.


If the readers were Gentile Christians, or if they were Jewish Christians of a markedly Hellenistic type, the epistle can hardly have been written to any town in Palestine, least of all Jerusalem.
The Alexandrian colour of the argument need not point to Alexandria, since that type of thought was widely diffused.
[Heb. came to have an honoured place among letters addressed by Paul to Churches in the Alexandrian Uncials, B א  A C H I P. P46, the third-century Chester Beatty papyrus codex, giving an Alexandrian text, is unique in placing Heb. directly after Rom. rather than after a Thess. D E K. L place it at the end of the Pauline canon, after Philemon, cf. W. H. P. Hatch, H.T.R. xxix, 1936, pp. 133-51.]
And there is not a semblance of evidence for deciding on any other of the numerous localities that have been proposed in Syria, Asia Minor, or Greece.
But there are two indications in favour of Rome or some other town in Italy:

1. οἱ πὸ τῆς ταλίας - ohi apo tes Italias (i.24), according to the most natural meaning, are Italians (a small, definite group) who are in company with the writer away from their own country, and send greetings to those at home.
It can grammatically mean 'those in Italy'; but it is hardly possible that the author could have sent greetings from Italians generally.

2. The epistle was certainly known to Clement of Rome, who (in ch.xxxvi) closely follows the language and thought of Heb.i, but the Church in the west did not ascribe it to Paul at first; as Loisy says, 'One of the best reasons, perhaps the strongest, that one has for supposing that the Roman community was the destination of the letter, is that Rome originally knew that the document was not Paul's, and two generations were necessary for the community to forget its own tradition about the non-apostolicity of a writing which it knew, one can say, since it first saw the light'.
(Remarques sur la litterature epistolaire du Nouveau Testament, 1929, p. 104).


Clement's epistle to Corinth is usually dated c. 96. Merrill [Essays m Early Christian History (1924), ch. ix.], indeed, maintains that it was not written by Clement, Bishop of Rome, and that no such person existed; he places it c. 140, shortly before the Shepherd of Hernias.
But in either case it is the only safe terminus ad quern supplied by external evidence, since the connexions which some have found with the epistles of Ignatius and Polycarp are doubtful.
The terminus a quo is difficult to determine.
The writer seems to have known some of St. Paul's epistles, especially Romans; there is a connexion also probably with 1 Peter, [See Moffatt, Introd. Lit. N.T., p. 440.] though scholars differ on the question, which is prior, or whether both use common material.
The connexion with the Lucan writings is very doubtful [Ibid., pp. 435 f.], although Clement Alex. [Eus. H.E. vi. 14.] conjectured that the epistle was written by St. Paul in 'the Hebrew tongue', and that St. Luke 'translated it for Greeks', so that it and the Acts are coloured by the same style.
An early date for Hebrews is indicated, if Dr. T. W. Manson [Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 32, 1949, pp. 1-17.] is right in suggesting that St. Paul knew Heb.i-iv, when he penned Colossians, and that both writers had the same group of heretics in the Lycus valley in mind.
This is supported if i.23 is no mere literary touch but a reference to Timothy still being actively engaged in missionary work.
Manson argues that in any case a date before 70 is extremely probable as Heb.v-x points to the Levitical priesthood with all its ritual being superseded by Christ's Melchisedekian High-Priesthood, while the author does not argue that God has destroyed the temple, which would have been 'the clinching argument' used if he wrote after ad 70.

As regards internal evidence, there is no indication of the existence of ἰπίσκοποι - episkopoi and διάκονοι - diakonoi, only the general word ἡγούμενοι - hegoumenoi being used (i.7, 17).
But πρεσβύτεροι - presbyteroi, who existed from the first, are not mentioned either.
The writer had no occasion to speak of them.
The only indication is supplied by the references to persecution mentioned above.
If the epistle was written to Rome, it was at a date when Christianity had flourished long enough in the capital for persecution to have been suffered some time previously, in 'former days'.
This places it some years later than Nero's wild outburst against the Christians in the city (as scapegoats for the fire of which he was himself suspected of being guilty), since, according to Acts xxviii.22, the Jews at Rome, some two years before, evidently knew nothing about the Christian sect, which was impossible if it had already been persecuted there.
If the persecution in 'former days' was not Nero's, and there were no martyrdoms in it, it must have been trouble suffered at a later time from the general malice of Jews and pagans.
It is the two persecutions at a considerable interval that require a date some time after Nero, if the epistle was written to Rome.
The question remains whether the later one, from which the readers were suffering when the epistle was written, could have taken place in Rome, without martyrdoms, during the reign of Domitian (81-96).
Merrill [Op. cit., ch. vi, cf. R. L. P. Milburn, cited above (p. 222 n.).] reduces the persecution under Domitian to a minimum, arguing that the tradition of it, which grew in explicitness in the Christian writers of the succeeding centuries, had no foundation in fact.
Domitian began to take more severe official cognizance of those who refused the civic-religious duty of burning incense to the Emperor.
They were not charged with being Christians; but if any Christians were of the number, as is most probable, some of them no doubt suffered death, as seems, from the Apocalypse, to have been the case in other parts of the empire.
Merrill makes light of the burning language of the Apocalypse, but its references to martyrs, and the horror and hatred of Rome shown by the writer, cannot be summarily dismissed.
If, then, Christians, with Jews and other persons, were executed under Domitian because they refused to worship the Emperor, the author of our epistle would certainly have thought of it as martyrdom.
Therefore the epistle must be placed, if written to Rome, as long as possible after Nero, and before Christians came under Domitian's notice as guilty of treason, say c. 81-85. But there were Christians in Italy outside Rome, as at Puteoli, Acts xxviii. 13 f., and perhaps at Pompeii, if the Sator [D. Atkinson, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 22, 1938, pp. 419 ff., and Journal of Ecclesiastical History, ii, 1951, pp. I ff., cf. D. Daube, Ex. T. l, 1951, p. 3l6;cf. D.A.C. vi, cols.1482-4; cf. Dr.H.Last,.N.S., iii, 1952, pp. 92-97.] inscription there was written before ad 79.
Such Christians may not have suffered 'unto blood' under Nero.

Those who think that Hebrews is an encouragement to Jewish Christians, in view of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, place it shortly before that event, at dates varying from 58 to 70.
But it is recognized by most modern writers on the epistle that the references in the present tense to Old Testament worship (e.g. λαμβάνουσιν - lambanousin vii.8, καθίσταται, ὄντων, λατρεύουσιν  - kathistatai, onton, latreuousin viii.3-5, εἰσίασιν, προσφέρει, προσφέρονται, ἁγιάζει - eisiasin, prospheroi, prospherontai, hagiazei ix.6 f., 9, 13, ἔχουσιν - echousin i.10) afford no evidence that the Temple was still standing.
See John v.2: 'There is in Jerusalem at the sheepgate a pool.' Clem. ad Cor. 41: 'Not in every place, brethren, are the continual sacrifices offered ... but in Jerusalem alone.'
Ep. Diogn.
'The Jews, considering that they are presenting them [animal sacrifices] to God, as if He were in need of them, ought in all reason to count it folly. ...
Those who think to perform sacrifices to Him with blood and fat and whole burnt-offerings ... seem to me in no way different from those who show the same respect towards deaf images.'
It was a common literary method employed by writers long after the fall of Jerusalem, and affords no indication of date.
Dr. Manson's arguments (above) for a date before 70 remain, independent of the references to the present tense.


The title that stands in the A.V and R.V, as has been said, is entirely without authority or value.
The mind of St. Paul worked on a plane very different from that of the author of this epistle.
They are at one in their exalted conception of the eternal existence and the Divinity of Christ.
There are some parallelisms of language, which naturally occur in the work of one who knew some of the Pauline epistles.
But on the score of language alone it would be equally possible to suppose St. Peter to have been the author.
Origen (ap. Eus. H.E. vi.25) suggested that while the thoughts were those of St. Paul, the style and composition were 'more Greek' than his, so that it might have been written by someone who preserved reminiscences of what the apostle said, and wrote them up at leisure.
Clement Alex. (ibid. 14) even thought, as said above, that it was written by St. Paul 'in the Hebrew tongue' (i.e. Aramaic), and that St. Luke translated and edited it for Greeks, whence the similarity of 'colour' between it and the Acts.
And he refers to 'the blessed presbyter' [Westcott (Hebrews, p. Ixvii) suggests Pantaenus.] as having previously (ἤδη - ede) held St. Paul to have been the author, but to have suppressed his name through modesty, both for the sake of the honour of the Lord, 'who being the Apostle of the Almighty was sent to Hebrews', 'and because it was a work of supererogation for him to write to Hebrews, since he was herald and apostle of Gentiles'.
But the similarity, such as it is, is accounted for by the fact that both writers lived in much the same religious atmosphere, wrote at about the same time, and were in command of somewhat more literary Greek than other New Testament writers, and both were influenced by the LXX. Eusebius (iii.37) accepted the tradition that it was written in 'Hebrew', but thought it more likely that Clement of Rome translated it, because of its similarity in style and thoughts to Clement's epistle.
Tertullian {De Pudic.
20), who may be taken as representing the opinion both of Africa and Rome at his time, attributed it to Barnabas.
This has had several modern supporters.
As a Levite, and therefore officially connected with Jewish worship, and one able to give exhortation (υἱὸς παρακλήσεως - huios parakleseos Acts iv.36), he might have written this 'word of exhortation' (Heb.i.22).
The 'Epistle of Barnabas' attributed to him is similarly based throughout on Old Testament material, and is deeply influenced by Alexandrian thought, though no one who reads the two epistles side by side could entertain for a moment the idea of a common authorship.
It is less impossible to suppose him to have written Hebrews than the epistle that bears his name.
But these facts are enough to account for the tradition.
Barnabas, however, was one of the earliest 'apostles', and could hardly have written ii.3: 'so great a salvation, which, having its beginning in being spoken through the Lord was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him.'
The supposed Pauline authorship of Hebrews was probably the chief reason for its reception as canonical, whereas, though Barnabas was an apostle, the Epistle of Barnabas was rejected.
And if Barnabas was really the author of Hebrews, it is difficult to see how the Pauline tradition arose.

Without any early tradition modern guesses have been made, perhaps the most plausible of which, made by Luther, is Apollos, learned in the Old Testament, a thinker of an Alexandrian type, and connected with St. Paul and his friends.
But if the epistle was written to Rome, the probability of his authorship is small in the absence of all evidence that he was in a position to write such an exhortation to the Christians at the capital.
Dr. T. W. Manson (op. cit.) suggests that Apollos wrote it, sending it not to Rome but to the churches of the Lycus valley including Colossae.
He takes Heb.i-x as a complete refutation of the Colossian heresy.
On the other hand the work was known very early at Rome, and known not to be by Paul.
If sent to the Lycus valley by Apollos, how did a copy reach Rome so that Hebrews was taken by Clement Rom. to be authoritative (but not Pauline) twenty or thirty years later?
St. Peter has been suggested, on account of the similarities of language to be found in 1 Peter.
But that the same mind could have produced the two epistles is practically impossible.
The same must be said with regard to Silvanus (Silas), who may be supposed to have taken part in the composition of i Peter, and was connected with St. Paul and Timothy.
Philip the Deacon, who no doubt conversed with St. Paul at Caesarea, is conjectured to have written the epistle to commend Paulinism to Jewish Christians at Jerusalem.
Finally, Harnack proposes the name of Prisca (Priscilla); she collaborated with her husband Aquila, but wrote the epistle herself; hence the loss of the personal address at the opening of the epistle and the use of the masculine participle διηγούμενον - diegoumenon in xi.32, since no writing by a woman would have been admitted into the Canon.
Alford and others had already suggested Aquila, and there is nothing in the epistle to suggest either the hand of a woman or the hands of two persons.

None of these guesses has the least intrinsic merit, and we must be content, as Origen was, though loosely he called it Pauline, to leave the writing anonymous as we find it.
If the epistle was written to Italy, the author was probably some Italian presbyter, highly esteemed in his own Church, who wrote it while he was away from home, perhaps in Asia, for it was in or for churches in Asia that all early Christian writings dealing with priesthood were composed.
[C. Spicq, 'Aux sources de la tradition chretienne' (Goguel-Festschrift, 1950, pp. 265 f.).]


A. B. Bruce,

The Epistle to the Hebrews, 1908,

W. P. Du Bose,

High Priesthood and Sacrifice, 1908.

W. Manson,

The Epistle to the Hebrews, 1950.      

G. Milligan,

Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 1899.    

 J. A. Nairne,

The Epistle of Priesthood, and ed., 1915.      

E. F. Scott,

The Epistle to the Hebrews, 1923.     

C. Spicq,

'Le Philonisme de 1'Epitre aux Hebreux', Revue Biblique, lvi, 1949, pp. 542 ff. and  lvii, 1950, pp. 212 ff.


J. Chaine (1927), O. Michel (1949), J. A. Nairne (1921), F. D. V. Narborough (1930), T. H. Robinson (1933), B. F. Westcott (2nd ed., 1892), E. C. Wickham (2nd ed., 1922), H. Windisch (1931), J. Moffatt (1924).