Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mystery Solved: The Author of the Book of Hebrews Revealed

[revised 10/21/07, 9:36 AM with additional commentary]


Ever wonder who wrote Hebrews? Was it Barnabas? Apollos? Priscilla? ...or Paul?

Tertullian (c.200) says it was Barnabas. He is cited as the earliest Western witness to the author of Hebrews. Well, it really doesn't matter what Tertullian said way back when. The Roman Catholic Church has repeatedly declared it to be Paul, so it infallibly must be Paul:

Synod of Laodicea. a.d. 343–381. Canon LX:
"Fourteen Epistles of Paul, one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Hebrews, two to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon."


The Canons of the CCXVII Blessed Fathers who assembled at Carthage. Commonly Called The Code of Canons of the African Church. a.d. 419. Canon XXIV: "The New Testament....The Epistles of Paul, xiv."

The Canons of the Holy and Altogether August Apostles (Appendix containing Canons and Rulings not having Conciliar Origin but Approved by Name in Canon II. of the Synod in Trullo.) Canon LXXXV: "...those of the New Testament, are.... fourteen Epistles of Paul"

Council of Trent: "Of the New Testament: fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews"


Eric Svendsen points out,

"Until the latter half of the fourth century the Western church almost unanimously resisted ascribing Pauline authorship to Hebrews [Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and the Muratorian Fragment all insist that Paul is not the author]. However, both Jerome and Augustine appealed to the Eastern Church's view that Paul wrote the epistle, and their view was eventually adopted at the Sixth Synod of Carthage in 419 A.D., and then reaffirmed at the Council of Trent. Yet, the number of New Testament scholars that would defend Pauline authorship today is practically nil. [Source: Eric Svendsen, Evangelical Answers: A Critique of Current Roman Catholic Apologists (New York: Reformation Press, 1999), p.11].


The Catholic Encyclopedia points out:

"While the Council of Carthage of the year 397, in the wording of its decree, still made a distinction between Pauli Apostoli epistoloe tredecim (thirteen epistles of Paul the Apostle) and eiusdem ad Hebroeos una (one of his to the Hebrews) (H. Denzinger, "Enchiridion", 10th ed., Freiburg, 1908, n. 92, old n. 49), the Roman Synod of 382 under Pope Damasus enumerates without distinction epistoloe Pauli numero quatuordecim (epistles of Paul fourteen in number), including in this number the Epistle to the Hebrews (Denzinger, 10th ed., n. 84). In this form also the conviction of the Church later found permanent expression. Cardinal Cajetan (1529) and Erasmus were the first to revive the old doubts, while at the same time Luther and the other Reformers denied the Pauline origin of the letter."

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Addendum: A few comments and responses from the comment section:

Turretinfan stated:

"Your faithful readers will note "Theodoret of Cyrrhus" among the early (beginning of the 5th century) advocates of Pauline authorship, from your immediately preceding post."

Theodoret's comment was what actually got me thinking about this. Ultimately, it really doesn't matter who wrote Hebrews, since the author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, I think it's interesting what happens when a group declares itself "infallible." Svendsen points out that in DA Carson's introduction to the book of Hebrews, the last major defense of Pauline authorship was written in 1939.

My New Catholic Answer Bible doesn't make any statement one way or the other, and this on a book whose authorship was confirmed at Trent! This was not the case for an earlier generation of Catholic apologists. Note this statement from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

"From what has been said it follows that the most probable solution of the question as to the author is that up to the present time the opinion of Origen has not been superseded by a better one. It is, consequently, necessary to accept that in the Epistle to the Hebrews the actual author is to be distinguished from the writer. No valid reason has been produced against Paul as the originator of the ideas and the entire contents of the letter; the belief of the early Church held throughout with entire correctness to this Apostolic origin of the Epistle."

My questions to the mass of Roman Catholics that have over-run the comments section of this blog is this: Since Trent is infallible, can we safely assume Paul wrote Hebrews?

That granted, If I start searching through recent Roman Catholic commentaries on Hebrews, and find your writers not simply following an infallible pronouncement on this Pauline authorship, can we conclude that the misuse of a sufficient source does not negate the clarity of that sufficient source?

If you grant this, I will further argue it is simply ridiculous for Roman Catholics to hold Protestants to a standard they themselves can’t live up to. That some people misinterpret or twist the Bible is not the fault of the Bible, hence not a proof against sola scriptura. In the same way, that I may possibly configure my computer incorrectly is not the fault of the owner’s manual that comes with it. The misuse of a sufficient source does not negate the clarity of that sufficient source, and Trent's statement on the Pauline authorship of Hebrews proves it.

Lucian stated:

"This comment is not meant to be a mean, ill-intended, poisonous arrow aimed at good Protestants (like my oher ones), ... but You have to understand here something (technical in nature) : There are five books *traditionally* ascribed to Solomon; and the fifth is *likewise traditionally* ascribed to Jesus, son of Sirach. There's more to ascribing a book to someone, other than just mere writing or authorship. *Also traditionally*, the entire Psalter is ascribed to the hand of the Holy Prophet and King David, but even Scripture itself makes it pretty clear that many of its Psalms were fathered from completely different persons other than the King himself. Hope this helps."

Clever, but no, it does not. Note the comment above from the Catholic Encyclopedia. Paul, not some vague notion of ascribing "Paul" as the author, was the intent of an earlier generation of Catholics. Is this the defense now, that Trent and earlier councils simply meant to ascribe Pauline authorship similar to David's authorship of the entirety of the Psalms? If that is so, I find the Catholic Encyclopedia's argument...odd.

But even worse, if your argument is the standard current Roman Catholic argument, it shows that infallible documents (like Trent) are open to private interpretation. In other words, what a typical Catholic claims provides certainty, is open to private judgment. I can either believe you, or the Catholic Encyclopedia. How do I choose which opinion is correct?

Note I have used two typical Roman Catholic arguments: the need for an infallible authority for certainty, and the blueprint for anarchy argument. If both arguments can be used against the Romanist position, it should make one stop and consider what it means for the Romanist position. I think it should be obvious: The Roman Catholic paradigm does not properly interpret the facts of reality. If they use arguments that can be applied to their own position, it shows their arguments are not valid arguments.
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A recent comment (10/22/07):

Kepha stated:

"I thought Ecumenical Councils, like the Pope, were only infallible in the area of Faith and Morals. If this is correct, then a conciliar attribution of Pauline authorship is not infallible."

I'm going on the information commonly put out by Catholic apologists. For instance, if I recall, Scott Hahn argues that only the RCC can provide the information as to historical authorship of the New Testament books. For instance, how does the Protestant know, Matthew wrote Matthew? Catholic apologists argue they know because Rome has told them. If indeed Trent is only infallible in the area of area of faith and morals, I would be interested in reading any information as to, who determines which is is which and which is not, as applied to Trent.

and just one last point: I would argue, that if Catholic apologists use the "Who wrote Matthew?" argument to prove the necessity of the RCC in establishing certainty, then any information as to "who wrote which book" contained in Trent, or any other offical infallible RCC document is indeed crucial to faith and morals. How could it not be, if the argument being put fort as to New Testament authorship is meant to convince a Protestant of the authority of the Roman Catholic Church?

15 comments:

Lucian said...

This comment is not meant to be a mean, ill-intended, poisonous arrow aimed at good Protestants (like my oher ones), ... but You have to understand here something (technical in nature) : There are five books *traditionally* ascribed to Solomon; and the fifth is *likewise traditionally* ascribed to Jesus, son of Sirach. There's more to ascribing a book to someone, other than just mere writing or authorship. *Also traditionally*, the entire Psalter is ascribed to the hand of the Holy Prophet and King David, but even Scripture itself makes it pretty clear that many of its Psalms were fathered from completely different persons other than the King himself.

Hope this helps.

Turretinfan said...

Your faithful readers will note "Theodoret of Cyrrhus" among the early (beginning of the 5th century) advocates of Pauline authorship, from your immediately preceding post.

Which obviously, just bolsters the argument you made about no very early witnesses to Pauline authorship.

-Turretinfan

James Swan said...

lucian said: ...Hope this helps.


Clever, but no, it does not. I added a comment from the Catholic Encyclopedia. Paul, not some vague notion of ascribing "Paul" as the author, was the intent of an earlier generation of Catholics.

Is this the defense now, that Trent and earlier councils simply meant to ascribe Pauline authorship similar to David's authorship of the entirety of the Psalms? If that is so, I find the Catholic Encyclopedia's argument...odd.

But even worse, if your argument is the standard RC argument, it shows that RC infallible documents are open to private interpretation. In other words, what a typical RC claims provides certainty, is open to private judgment. I can either believe you, or the Catholic Encyclopedia. How do I choose which opinion is correct?

Lucian, "the Insider" said...

James,

on the authorship of Hebrews the Fathers speculated ceaselessly. [Same thing with other New Covenant writings also]. Its authorship was attributed to at least a few (Paul, or one of his two most trusted companions: Luke or Barnabas). There's no consensus about it, and we don't see this as a binding dogmatic statement either. It's attributed to Paul in the way I desscribed above. If You chose to disbelieve my simple words, that's fine; but it's also beyond me why You should do that in the first place ... are You a member of a historical Church, by any chance?

Anonymous said...

If its already infallibly declared that Paul is the author, then there should be no more debate. No more place for private interpretation, opinion, variation, or any shades of meaning.

We can all go home and relax guys (including the scholars)... its that simple. Please tell me it is so.

Jerry

Lucian said...

Paul, not some vague notion of ascribing "Paul" as the author, was the intent of an earlier generation of Catholics.

Vague or unvague, I personally see no difference between the expressions: "the five books of Solomon", "of Solomon: five books" ... and "14 epistles of Paul", "of Paul: 14 epistles", etc. If You chose to see differences where there're none, then so be it. And I'm not a Catholic -- sorry for the mislead.

Carrie said...

EXCELLENT points, James.

Somehow I think it fall on deaf ears, though.

Kepha said...

I thought Ecumenical Councils, like the Pope, were only infallible in the area of Faith and Morals. If this is correct, then a conciliar attribution of Pauline authorship is not infallible.

Albert said...

"I thought Ecumenical Councils, like the Pope, were only infallible in the area of Faith and Morals. If this is correct, then a conciliar attribution of Pauline authorship is not infallible."

Are you saying that the canon is OUTSIDE the area of Faith? Who decides? Whose interpretation is that? How can you ascribe infallibility then to Ecumenical Councils if you're not even sure which of its pronouncements are infallible and which are not?

Rhology said...

1) This argument from Kepha would negate the oft-used RC and EO argument against Sola Scrip that the Canon did not fall leather-bound out of heaven, since RC Council(s) would not be able to contribute anythg infallible on the question either.

2) Lucian is Romanian Orthodox, not RC, just FYI.

James Swan said...

I thought Ecumenical Councils, like the Pope, were only infallible in the area of Faith and Morals. If this is correct, then a conciliar attribution of Pauline authorship is not infallible.

I'm going on the information commonly put out by Catholic apologists. For instance, if I recall, Scott Hahn argues that only the RCC can provide the information as to historical authorship of the New Testament books. For instance, how does the Protestant know, Matthew wrote Matthew? Catholic apologists argue they know because Rome has told them.

If indeed Trent is only infallible in the area of area of faith and morals, I would be interested in reading any information as to, who determines which is is which and which is not, as applied to Trent.

James Swan said...

and just one last point I meant to include previously, I would argue, that if Catholic apologists use the "Who wrote Matthew?" argument to prove the necessity of the RCC in establishing certainty, then any information as to "who wrote which book" contained in Trent, or any other offical infallible RCC document in indeed crucial to faith and morals. How could it not be, if the argument being put fort as to New Testament authorship is meant to convince a Protestant of the authority of the Roman Catholic Church?

Carrie said...

This argument from Kepha would negate the oft-used RC and EO argument against Sola Scrip that the Canon did not fall leather-bound out of heaven, since RC Council(s) would not be able to contribute anythg infallible on the question either.

Bingo!

EgoMakarios said...

Which of Tertullian's works is this in?

EgoMakarios said...

Nevermind, I found it. Its in De pudicitia or On Modesty, Chapter 20.