1902 Encyclopedia > Epistle to the Hebrews

Epistle to the Hebrews

EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. The New Testament writing usually known under this name, or less correctly as the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, bears in the oldest MSS. no other title than the words npos 'EyS/Wous, " To the Hebrews." This brief heading em-braces the whole information as to the origin of the epistle on which Christian tradition is unanimous. Everything else—the authorship, the address, the date—was unknown or disputed in the early church, and continues to form matter of dispute in the present day. But as far back as the latter part of the 2d century the destination of the epistle " to the Hebrews " was acknowledged alike in Alexandria, where it was ascribed to Paul, and in Carthage, where it passed by the name of Barnabas, and no indication exists that it ever circulated under another title. At the same time we must not suppose, as has sometimes been done, that the author prefixed these words to his original manuscript. The title says no more than that the readers addressed were Christians of Jewish extraction, and this would be no sufficient address for an epistolary writing (xiii. 22) directed to a definite circle of readers, a local church or group of churches to whose history repeated reference is made, and to which the author had personal relations (xiii. 19, 23). The original address, which according to custom must have stood on the outside of the folded letter, was probably never copied, and the early and universal prevalence of the present title, which tells no more than can be readily gathered from the epistle itself, seems to indicate that when the book first passed from local into general circulation its history had already been forgotten. With this it agrees that the early Roman Church, where the epistle was known about the end of the 1st century, and where indeed the first traces of the use of it occur (Clement, and Slieplierd of Hermas), had nothing to contribute to the question of authorship and origin except the negative opinion that the book is not by Paul. Caius and the Muratorian fragment reckon but thirteen epistles of Paul ; Hippolytus (like his master Irenseus of Lyons) knew our book and declared that it was not Pauline. These facts can hardly be explained by supposing that at Rome during the 2d century the book had dropped out of notice, and its history had been forgotten. Clement, Hermas, Hippolytus form a tolerably continuous chain, and the central Church of Rome was in constant connexion with provincial churches where, as we shall presently see, the epistle had currency and reputation. Under these circum-stances an original trustworthy tradition could hardly have been lost, and it must appear highly questionable whether the author and address of the book were known at Rome even in the time of Clement. The earliest positive tradi-tions of authorship to which we can point belong to Africa and Egypt, where, as we have already seen, divergent views were current by the end of the 2d century. The African tradition preserved by Tertullian (De Pudicitia, c. 20), but certainly not invented by him, ascribes the epistle to Barnabas. Direct apostolic authority is not therefore claimed for it ; but it has the weight due to one who " learned from and taught with the apostles," and we are told that it had more currency among the churches than "that apocryphal shepherd of the adulterers " (the Shepherd of Hermas). This tradition of the African Church holds a singularly isolated position. Later writers appear to know it only from Tertullian, and it soon became obsolete, to be revived for a moment after the Reformation by the Scottish theologian Cameron, and then again in our own century by the German critics, among whom at present it is the favourite view. Very different is the history of the Egyptian tradition, which can be traced back as far as a teacher of the Alexandrian Clement, presumably Panteenus (Euseb., Hist, Eccl.,V\. 14). This "blessed presbyter," as Clement calls him, sought to explain why Paul did not name himself as usual at the head of the epistle, and found the reason in the modesty of the author, who, in addressing the Hebrews, was going beyond his commission as apostle to the Gentiles. Clement himself takes it for granted that an epistle to the Hebrews must have been written in Hebrew, and supposes that Luke translated it for the Greeks. Thus far there is no sign that the Pauline authorship was ever questioned in Alexandria. Origen rests on the same tradition, which he refers to " the ancient men." But he knows that the tradition is not common to all churches. He feels that the language is un-Pauline, though the admirable thoughts are not second to those of the unquestioned apostolic writings. And thus he is led to the view that the ideas were orally set forth by Paul, but that the language, arrangement, and some features of the exposition are the work of a disciple. According to some this disciple was Clement of Rome; others named Luke; but the truth, says Origen, is known to God alone (Euseb., vi. 25, cf. hi. 38). It is not surpris-ing that these limitations of the tradition had less influence than the broad fact that Origen accepted the book as of Pauline authority. From the time of Origen the opinion that Paul wrote the epistle became more and more prevalent in the East. In the West this view was still far from established in the 4th century. But it gained ground steadily ; even those who, like Jerome and Augustine, knew the variations of tradition were unwilling to press an opposite view; and in the 5th century the Pauline author-ship was accepted at Bome, and practically throughout Christendom, not to be again disputed till the revival of letters and the rise of a more critical spirit.

That the received view called for revision could not indeed be questioned when men began to look at the facts of the case. The vacillation of tradition and the dissimi-larity of the epistle from the style and thoughts of Paul were brought out with great force by Erasmus in his con-cluding annotation on the book, where he ventures the conjecture based on a passage of his favourite Jerome, that Clement of Rome was the real author. Luther (who suggests Apollos) and Calvin (who thinks of Luke or Clement) followed with the decisive argument that Paul, who lays such stress on the fact that his gospel was not taught to him by man but by direct revelation (Gal. i.), could not have written Heb. ii. 3, 4, where the author classes himself among those who received the message of salvation from the personal disciples of the Lord on the evidence of the miracles with which God confirmed their word. The force of tradition seemed already broken, but the wave of reaction which so soon overwhelmed the freer tendencies of the first reformers brought back the old view. Protestant orthodoxy again accepted Paul as the author, and dissentient voices were seldom heard till the revival of free Biblical criticism in last century. As criticism strengthened its arguments, theologians began to learn "hat the denial of tradition involves no danger to faith, and at the present moment, in spite of the ingenious special pleading of Hofmann (Die Heilige Schrift N. Ts., vol. v., Nordlingen, 1873), scarcely any sound scholar will be found to accept Paul as the direct author of the epistle, though such a modified view as was suggested by Origen still claims adherents among the lovers of compromise with tradition.

The arguments against the Alexandrian tradition are in fact conclusive. It is probably unfair to hamper that tradition with Clement's notion that the book is a trans-lation from the Hebrew, a monstrous hypothesis which has received its reductio ad absurdum in the recent attempt of J. H. R. Biesenthal to reconstruct the Hebrew text (Das Trostschreiben des Apostels Paulus an die Hebräer, kritisch wiederhergestellt, &c, Leipsic, 1878). But just as little can the Greek be from Paul's pen. The un-Pauline character of the style, alike in the words used and in the structure of the sentences, strikes every scholar as it struck Origen and Erasmus. The type of thought is quite unique. The theological ideas are cast in a different mould; and the leading conception of the high priesthood of Christ, which is no mere occasional thought but a central point in the author's conception of Christianity, finds its nearest analogy not in the Pauline epistles but in John xvii. 19. The Old Testament is cited after the Alexandrian translation more exactly and exclusively than is the custom of Paul, and that even where the Hebrew original is divergent. Nor is this an accidental circumstance. There is every appearance that the author was a Hellenist whose learning did not embrace a knowledge of the Hebrew text, and who derived his metaphysic and allegorical method from the Alexandrian rather than the Palestinian schools.

The force of these arguments can be brought out only by the accumulation of a multitude of details too tedious for this place, but the evidence from the few personal indications contained in the epistle is easily grasped and not less powerful. The argument from ii. 3, 4, which appeared decisive to Luther and Calvin, has already been referred to. Again, we read in xiii. 19 that the writer is absent from the church which he addresses, but hopes to be speedily restored to them. This expression is not to be understood as im. plying that the epistle was written in prison, for xiii. 23 shows that the author is master of his own movements. The plain sense is that his home is with them, but that he is at present absent, and begs their prayers for a speedy return. But Paul, if he could say that he had a home at all, had it not in a community of Jewish Christians. The external authority of the Alexandrian tradition can have no weight against such difficulties. If that tradition was original and continuous, the long ignorance of the Roman Church and the opposite tradition of Africa are inexplicable. But no tradition was more likely to arise in circles where the epistle was valued and its origin forgotten. In spite of its divergencies from the standard of Pauline authorship, the book has manifest Pauline affinities, and can hardly have originated beyond the Pauline circle, to which it is referred, not only by the author's friendship with Timothy (xiii. 23), but by many unquestionable echoes of the Pauline theology, and even by distinct allusions to passages in Paul's epistles.

In an uncritical age these features might easily suggest Paul as the author of a book which was read in MSS. immediately after the recognized epistles of that apostle, I and which contained nothing in its title to distinguish it from the preceding books with similar headings, " To the Romans," "To the Corinthians," and the like. A similar history, as Zahn has pointed out, attaches to the so-called second epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.

When we see that the tradition which names Paul as author does not possess an authentic historical basis, we are necessarily carried on to deny historical authority to the subsidiary conjectures or traditions which speak of Luke and Clement of Rome. The history of the Alexan-drian tradition shows that these names were brought in merely to lessen the difficulties attaching to the view that Paul wrote the book exactly as we have it. The name of Luke seems to be a conjecture of the Alexandrian Clement, for it has no place in the tradition received from his master. And Origen attaches no importance to either name. Some had mentioned one, and some the other, but God alone knows the truth. We have no reason to think more highly of these suggestions than Origen did. Indeed, no Protes-tant scholar now proposes the name of Clement, whose extant epistle to the Corinthians shows his familiarity with the epistle to the Hebrews, and at the same time excludes the idea that he composed it. The name of Luke has still partisans'—most notably Delitzsch, who has carefully collected linguistic parallels between our epistle and the Lucan writings (Commentar mm Ifebraerbrief, Leipsic, 1857 ; English translation, Edinburgh, 1868-70). The arguments of Delitzsch are generally met with the objection that our author must have been a born Jew, which from his standpoint and culture is in the highest degree probable, though not perhaps absolutely certain. In any case we cannot suppose that Luke wrote the epistle on Paul's commission, or that the work is substantially the apostle's ; for such a theory takes no account of the strongly-marked individuality of the book in thought and method as well as expression. And the theory that Luke was the independent author of the epistle (Grotius and others) has no right to appeal to antiquity, and must stand entirely on the very inadequate grounds of internal probability afforded by language and style.

If Alexandria fails us, can we suppose that Africa preserved the original tradition 1 This is a difficult question. The intrinsic objections to authorship by Barnabas are not important. The so-called Epistle to Barnabas was not written by our author, but then it is admittedly not by Barnabas. The superior elegance of the style of our epistle as compared with that of Paul is not inconsistent with Acts xiv. 12; nor is there, as we shall see presently, any real force in the once favourite objection that the ordinances of the temple are described with less accuracy than might be looked for in Barnabas, a Levite and one who had resided in Jerusalem. On the other hand it is hard to believe that the correct account of the authorship of our book was pre-served only in Africa, and in a tradition so isolated that Tertullian seems to be its only independent witness. How could Africa know this thing and Rome be ignorant 1 Zahn, who is the latest exponent of the Barnabas hypo thesis, argues that in the West, where the so-called epistle of Barnabas was long unknown, there was nothing to suggest the idea of Barnabas as an author; that the true tradition might perish the more readily in other parts of the church after the name of Barnabas had been falsely attached to another epistle dealing with the typology of the ceremonial law; and finally, that the false epistle of Barnabas, which was first so named in Alexandria, may there have carried off the true title of the epistle to the Hebrews after the latter was ascribed to Paul. That is not plausible, and it is more likely that an epistle which calls itself Aoyos 7rapaKA?jo-eu)s (Heb. xiii. 22) was ascribed to the utos irapaKA^creojs (Acts iv. 36) in the same way as Ps. cxxvii. was ascribed to Solomon, " the beloved of the Lord " (2 Sam. xii. 24, 25), from the allusion cxxvii. 2, than that this coincidence of expression affords a confirmation of the Barnabas hypothesis. In short, the whole tradition as to the epistle is too uncertain to offer much support to any theory of authorship, and if the name of Barnabas is accepted it must stand mainly on internal evidence.

Being thus thrown back on what the epistle itself can tell us, we must look at the first readers, with whom, as we have already seen, the author stood in very close relations. It is generally agreed that the church addressed was com-posed of Hebrews or Christians of Jewish birth. We are not entitled to take this simply on the authority of the title, which is hardly more than a reflexion of the impression produced on an early copyist. But it is plain that the writer is at one with his readers in approaching all Christian truth through the Old Testament. He and they alike are accustomed to regard Christianity as a continuous develop-ment of Judaism, in which the benefits of Christ's death belong to the ancient people of God and supply the short-comings of. the old dispensation (iv. 9 ; ix. 15; xiii, 12). With all the weight that is laid on the superiority of Christianity, the religion of finality, over Mosaism, the dis-pensation which brought nothing to its goal, the sphere of the two dispensations is throughout treated as identical, without any allusion, such as could hardly have been avoided in addressing a Gentile church, to the way in which strangers and foreigners (Eph. ii. 19) had been incorporated with the people of God. Schiirer indeed (Stud. u. Krit., 1876, p. 776) has sought such an allusion in vi. 1, 2, where faith in God and belief in the resurrection and the judgment, points common to Judaism and Christianity, are reckoned to the elementary doctrine of Christ; and he con-cludes that the readers addressed were Gentile converts of a Judaizing type. But taken with the context these verses imply only that the Hebrews required to be warned against losing hold even of these first principles of revealed truth which lie in the Old Testament (v. 12). From all this we are not perhaps entitled to conclude that the church addressed contained no Gentile members, but it is plain that they were not sufficiently numerous and independent in their way of thought to affect the general type of Christianity in the community. To some writers the emphatic "all" in xiii. 24, the admonitions x. 25, xiii. 17, have suggested the possibility that the Hebrews addressed were but part, and a somewhat discontented part, of a larger community in which Gentile elements had a consider-able place. But this appears a strained conclusion (Phil, iv. 21 ; 1 Th. v. 26) distinctly contrary to the general tone of the epistle, which moves altogether outside of the anti-thesis between Jewish and Gentile Christianity. We must think not of a party but of a church, and such a church can be sought only in Palestine or in one of the great centres of the Jewish dispersion. That the epistle was addressed to Palestine, or more specifically to Jerusalem, has been a prevalent opinion from the time of Clement of Alexandria, mainly because it was assumed that the word Hebrews must naturally mean Jews, whose mother-tongue was Aramaic. But the term has this restricted sense only when put in contrast to Hellenists. In itself, according to ordinary usage, it simply denotes Jews by race, and in Christian writings especially Jewish Christians. And there . are several things in the epistle that seem to exclude Palestine, and above all Jerusalem. The Hellenistic culture of the writer and the language in which he writes furnish one argument. Then the most marked proof of Christian love and zeal in the church addressed was that they had ever been assiduous in ministering to the saints (vi. 10). This expression may conceivably have a general sense (1 Cor. xvi. 15?), but it is far more likely that it has the specific meaning which it generally bears in the New Testament, viz., the collection of alms for the church in Jerusalem. At any rate it was clearly understood in the first age of Christianity that the Judsean Church took alms and did not give them, receiving in temporal things an acknowledgment for the spiritual things they had imparted (Rom. xv. 27). In fact the great weight laid in the epistles of Paul on this—the only manifestation of the catholicity of the church then possible (Gal. ii. 10)—alone explains the emphasis with which our author cites this one proof of Christian feeling. Again, the expressions in ii. 3 already referred to imply that the readers did not include in their number direct disciples of Jesus, but had been brought to Christ by the words and miracles of apostolic missionaries now dead (xiii. 7). This conversion, as it appears from x. 32, was a thing of precise date immediately followed by persecution (note the aorists <f>umo-6evTes—iirepdvaTe); so that we cannot think of a second generation in the Palestinian Church, but are referred to some part of the Diaspora. Against these difficulties, which have led some of the latest defenders of the Palestinian address, as Grimm (who, in Hilgenfeld's Zeitschr. 1870, proposes Jamnia) and Moulton (New Testament Commentary for English Readers, vol. iii., 1879), to give up Jerusalem altogether, while others, as Riehm, suppose that the Hellenists of Jerusalem (Acts vi. 1) are primarily addressed, it is commonly urged that the readers are exposed to peculiar danger from the persecutions and solicitations of unbelieving Jews, that they are in danger of relapsing into participation in the Jewish sacrifices, or even that they appear to have never ceased to follow the ceremonial observances that had their centre in the temple ritual. The capital argument for this is drawn from xiii. 13, where the exhortation to go forth to Jesus without the camp is taken as an injunction to renounce fellowship with the synagogue and with the ceremonies and ritual of Judaism. But this exegesis rests on a false view of the context, which does not include verse 9, and expresses by a figure that Christians (as the priests of the new covenant) have no temporal advantage to expect by their participation in the sacrifice of Christ, but must be content to share his reproach, renouncing this earthly country for the heavenly kingdom (cf. xi. 16, 25-27 with xiii. 14 ; Phil. iii. 20). Altogether, this view of the situation of the first readers of the epistle appears distorted or exaggerated. It is obvious that our Hebrews were familiar with the law, and had a high regard for the ordinances of temple worship. In particular it appears that they had not fully understood how the mediatorial functions of the Old Testament were superseded by the mediatorship of Christ. But their ritualism seems to have been rather theoretical than practical. Had they been actually entangled in the daily practice of superseded ordinances, the author, whose insight into the true worth of these ordinances is clear, and whose personal relations to the Pauline circle are obvious, could hardly have been so nearly one of themselves as appears in xiii. 19, and at any rate could not have failed to give an express precept on the subject. But, on the contrary, he is in thorough sympathy with the type of doctrine on which their church was formed (xiii. 7); the easy way in which he touches on the " meats and drinks and divers washings " of Judaism seeifis to show that on this head he could count on carrying his readers along with him; and xiii. 9 hardly refers to sacrifices or to Levitical laws of clean and unclean, but rather to some such form of asceticism (cf. ver. 4) as is spoken of in Rom. xiv. Nowhere does our author speak a warning against participation in sacrifices ; nowhere does he touch on the burning questions that divided the Pharisaic Christians of Jerusalem from the converts of Paul. The practical lesson which he draws from his doctrine is that his readers ought to use with diligence the specifically Christian way of access to God (x. 19 seq.) ; and the only positive fault which he mentions in this connexion is a disposition to neglect the privilege of social worship (x. 25). This again is plainly connected, not with an inclination to return to the synagogue, but with a relaxation of the zeal and patience of the first days of their Christian profession (vi. 4 seq.; x. 32 seq.; xii. 1 seq.), associated with a less firm hold than they once had of the essentials of Christian faith, a less clear vision of the heavenly hope of their calling (iii. 12; iv. 11; v. 12). The apostle fears lest they fall away not merely from the higher standpoint of Christianity into Judaizing practices, but from all faith in God and judgment and immortality (iii. 12 ; vi. 1 seq.).

For the solution of the problem of the epistle it is of the highest importance to form an exacter conception of the causes and nature of this unhealthy condition of the church. Their first conversion had been followed by direct persecution, which their faith had triumphantly overcome. But these days were long gone by (x. 32). It does not appear that a like severity of trial had again fallen upon them. But there were persecutions at least in other parts of the church (xiii. 3, 23). The times were troubled, and from day to day there were many trials and many reproaches to sustain. The dull and long-continued strain of conflict with surrounding wickedness was harder to bear than a sharp onslaught of the enemy (ch. xii.). They were weary of enduring, weary of hope deferred, and so the bonds of their Christian unity were loosened, their brotherly love weakened (xiii. 1 seq.), and they began to doubt the verity of those heavenly good things which their first faith had so vividly realized. In such circumstances it was natural that the writer should lay stress on the contrast between the eternal and the transitory, the things of faith and the things of sight, the heavenly Zion and the earthly pilgrimage. But the remarkable feature of the epistle is that this contrast is drawn out in the form of a threefold argument to show the superiority of Christianity over the old dispensation, inasmuch as Christ is superior (1) to the angels, (2) to Moses, (3) and chiefly to the Levitical priest-hood and its mediatorship. In each of these relations, it is argued, the old covenant, which is earthly, temporal, and without finality, contains within itself the evidence of its own imperfection, and points to the time when it shall be superseded by a new covenant in which every reality and every hope is heavenly, eternal, or, as we should say, ideal. It is the form of this argument which mainly gives force to the common impression that the Hebrews addressed were in danger of seeking access to God by the superseded methods of the old dispensation'—in short, that the epistle is a warning against an Ebionite tendency to Christian Pharisaism. But to such a tendency, as we have seen, the practical admonitions of the epistle by no means point. To some scholars accordingly, and particularly to Reuss (Histoire de la Théologie Chrétienne, liv. vi. chap. 1 ; Les Ëpîtres Catholiques, Paris, 1878), the theoretical part of the book has seemed disproportionate to the practical and personal conclusion, and it has been proposed to regard the whole as a theological system with an epistolary appendix. Doubtless this view contains an element of truth. In a far higher measure than the Pauline epistles, and in a sense which thoroughly well agrees with the position of the author as no apostle hut an apostolic convert, the book presents the marks of theological reflexion on the established data of the faith. Yet it is impossible to ignore the fact that a special and practical motive runs through the whole book. The author never loses sight of a definite circle of readers, and the vast scope of his argument, which is at once felt in the dignity of the opening verses, so unlike the commencement of an ordinary letter, appears to be directly suggested by some historical circumstance affecting his readers and himself, but nowhere explicitly set forth in the epistle, which brought the trial of their faith into close connexion with the question of the permanence of the temple and its ritual. Now we have seen reason to believe that these Jewish Christians were not Palestinians of an Ebionite type but men of the Hellenistic dispersion, with a possible tendency to ascetic mysticism, and almost certainly of such a habit of thought as enabled them readily to sympathize with the typological method of our author. Among men of this type there was no great danger of a relapse into practical ceremonialism. They would rather be akin to the school of Judaism characterized by Philo (DeMigr, Abr., c. xvi.; ed. Mangey, i. 450), who neglected the observance of the ceremonial laws because they took them as symbols of ideal things. Occupying this position before their conversion, their adoption of the Christian faith would not have forced upon them any close examina-tion of the relation of the new dispensation to the old law. But it appears from Philo that the men who spiritualized away the Sabbath, the great fexsts, even circumcision itself, were not prepared to think lightly of the sacred ritual of the temple. The holy hill of God, the meeting-place of heaven and earth, with its stately service and its ancient memories, had too central a place in the religion of the old covenant to seem indifferent to the freest thinker. And so our Hebrews, whose acceptance of Christ had not shaken their sense of the continuity of the people of God and their Old Testament privileges, might readily retain the feeling that the ritual of the temple was still what it was of old— -a visible and necessary pledge of God's approach to His people and His acceptance of their worship. So long as things ran their old course such a feeling would hardly affect the even tenor of their Christian life. But when the death struggle of Judea against Borne drew the sympathy of every Hebrew heart, when the abomination of desolation stood in the holy place, when the holy and beautiful house was burned up with fire, and when, with all this, terror and distress filled the whole Boman empire and still the Lord delayed His coming, it was not strange that something like despair of God's help should assail our Hebrews, and that all the hopes of the people of God should seem threatened in the overthrow of the ancient pledge of Jehovah's near-ness to Israel.

Now it has generally been argued that the epistle to the Hebrews, which describes the temple services in the present tense, must necessarily have been written before they ceased to be performed. But it has been shown in the most conclusive manner, from the use of similar presents in Rabbinical writers as well as in Josephus and elsewhere, that this argument goes for nothing; and the most recent writers, since Holtzmann's discussion of the subject in Schenkel's Bibel-Lexikon, ii. 623 seq., generally admit that the epistle may have been written after the fall of the temple. And if this be so it can hardly be questioned that the most natural view of the apostle's argument, as it comes to a point in such passages as viii. 13, ix. 9, is that the disap-pearance of the obsolete ritual of the old covenant is no blow to Christian faith, because in Christ ascended into glory the church possesses in heavenly verity all that the old ritual presented in mere earthly symbol. It was the ruin of the Jewish state and worship which compelled Christianity to find what is offered in our epistle—a theory of the disappearance of the old dispensation in the new.
Many attempts have been made to determine which of the centres of the Diaspora was the seat of our Hebrews. Hofmann suggests Antioch ; Ewald, Ravenna ; but Rome and Alexandria are the places for and against which most has been said. One argument for Alexandria on which great stress has been laid must certainly be dismissed. Wieseler (Untersuchung über den Hebraerbrief, iite Halite, Kiel, 1861), combining the arguments against a Palestinian address with the impression, which we have seen to be without sufficient foundation, that the readers lived in the neighbourhood of a Jewish temple, seeks them among the Egyptian Jews who frequented the schismatical temple of Leontopolis (Tel-el-Yahúdía) in the upper Delta. And he tries to show that in his description of the temple and the functions of the high priests our author diverges from the Judsean pattern and follows peculiarities of the Egyptian temple. But this argument rests on a series of improbable assumptions. The supposed peculiarities of Onias's temple are proved by arbitrary exegesis from passages of Philo, who apparently never thought of that temple at all. Nor can it be shown that it had ever such a reputation as to play the part which Wieseler assigns to it. And our author's supposed ignorance of the Jerusalem ritual is not made out. In the true text of x. 11 the high priest is not mentioned, and in vii. 27 what is asserted of the high priest is, not that he offered daily sacrifice, but that he was in daily need of atonement. It is more difficult to under-stand why in ix. 4 the golden Ov/xiaTr/pLov, that is, the censer or incense-altar,—for the usage of the word does not determine which is meant,—is assigned to the Holy of Holies. But a passage from the almost contemporary Apocalypse of Baruch, to which Harnack has directed atten-tion (Stud. u. Krit., 1876, p. 572 seq.), similarly connects the censer with the Holy of Holies, and seems to show that our author here proceeds on a current opinion and has not simply made a slip. Apart from Wieseler's arguments, there is still something to be said for Alexandria. The use in ch. xi. of 2 Maccabees, an Egyptian Apocryphon, the general sympathy of the argument with Alexandrian thought, the apparent analogy between our Hebrews and the free-thinking Jews of whom Philo speaks, are all in favour of this address, though we do not know enough about the early history of the Egyptian Church to speak with positiveness either for or against this view of the epistle. Among Continental scholars the disposition at present is to favour the Roman address ; upon which view, since that church was a mixed one, we must suppose that the letter was originally directed to a Jewish section of the Roman Christians, This is not quite plausible, especially since we find in the epistle no trace of the division of parties alluded to by Paul in his epistle from Rome to the Philippians. It is argued, however, that there is an analogy between the way of thinking of our Hebrews and the disposition of the majority of the Roman Church as it appears in Rom. ix. seq. The persecution x. 32 is supposed to be that of Nero, in which case 6eaTpit,6ptvoi may literally mean " exposed as a public spectacle "; and xiii. 7 is taken as an allusion to the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. In working out this view there is great divergence of opinion; thus Renan will have it that the epistle was written from Ephesus in the year 65, while Harnack (Pair. Ap., I. p. lxxxii.) thinks he finds traces of two distinct persecutions IV), and dates the book from the time of Domitian. The early currency of the epistle at Rome is urged in favour of the Roman address, but the ignorance of the Roman Church as to the author's name seems to go rather in the opposite direction. Ch. xiii. 24 gives us no help, for they of Italy (ot <x7ro TTJS 'iT-aA/as) may in the epistolary style be Italians either at home or abroad. It is most natural to infer from x. 32 seq., compared with xii. 4, that the church spoken of had not yet produced martyrs, but had suffered only by bonds and the loss of goods. This would exclude Rome, but perhaps the inference is not quite stringent.

Returning from this survey we bring little with us that can throw light on the authorship of the epistle. We can only say that the writer was a man of the first intellectual mark and of Alexandrian culture, whose home and work lay mainly among Jewish Christians, but who was at the same time associated with the Pauline circle. Of the names offered to us in other New Testament writings, Barnabas and Apollos seem the most likely, and Barnabas will claim the preference if we are entitled to give any weight to tradition. Either name would go well with the Alexan-drian address. Apollos was an Alexandrian Jew. Barna-bas was of Cyprus, always closely connected with Egypt; and the tradition which connects his relative and associate Mark with the Church of Alexandria is as old as the 2d century.

Literature. —A full account of the older literature will be found in Delitzseh's Commentary; and in the great work of Bleek (Der Brief an die Hebräer erläutert durch Einleitung, Uebersetzung, und fortlauf-enden Commenlar: Abth. I., Versuch einer vollständigen Einleitung, Berlin, 1828; Abth. IL, Uebersetzung und Commentar, 1836, 1840), which has formed the basis for all subsequent work on the epistle, and is an indispensable storehouse of material for the student. Bleek's ultimate views on the exposition of the book may be gathered from the briefer posthumous work edited by Windrath (Elberfeld, 1868). To the recent commentaries cited in the course of the article may be added those of Ebrard (1850; Eng. Trans., Edinburgh, 1853), Tholuck, (3d ed. 1850 ; Eng. Trans., Edinburgh, 1842), Lünemann (3d ed., Göttingen, 1867). For the doctrine of the epistle the most elaborate work is Kiehm's very useful Lehrbegriff des Hebräerbriefs, Ludwigsburg, 1858-59; with which, in addition to the general works on New Testament theology by Weiss, Reuss, and others, the reader may compare Ritschl's Entstehung der Altkatholischen Kirche, 2d ed., p. 159 seq. (Bonn, 1857), and Pfloiderer's Paulinismus, chap. ix. (Leipsic, 1873). An excellent summary of the present state of the critical questions bearing on the epistle is given by Zahn in the article "Hebräerbrief" in the new edition of Herzog's Encyklopädie. (W. R. S.)


See the full refutation of supposed exceptions to the uniformity of this tradition in Zahn's article " Hebräerbrief" (Herzog-Plitt, E.B., vol. v. p. 657).

For the Alexandrian elements in the epistle consult the list of passages in Hilgenfeld's Einleitung (Leipsic, 1875), p. 384, note. Alarge mass of valuable material is collected in J. B. Carpzov's Sacrce Exer-citationes in Ep. ad Heb. ex Philone Alexandrine (Helmstadt, 1750).
In x. 34 the true reading is not " of me in my bonds," but " on them that were in bonds," TO?S Sar/xiois o-vyeiraB'fio-are. The false reading, which was that of Clement of Alexandria, is probably con-nected with the tradition that Paul is author.
An unambiguous proof that our author had read the epistle to the Romans seems to lie in x. 30. This is the one Old Testament citation of the epistle which does not follow the Septuagint (Deut. xxxii. 35); but it is word for word from Rom. xii. 19. Further signs of depend-ence on Romans and Corinthians (which require sifting) have been collected by Holtzmann in Schenkel's Bibel-Lexikon, ii. 620, and Hil-genfeld's ZeiUchrift, ix. 4 seq.

The place of the epistle in MSS. varies. The order of our Bible is that of the Latin Church, the oldest Greek codices placing it before the pastoral epistles. But the Latin order, which expresses the original uncertainty of the Pauline tradition, was formerly current even in the East.

The statement of Renan, L'Antéchrist, pp. xiv., 215, 219, that some had already fallen away and that the question of their readmis-sion was being agitated, seems to be part of the ingenious historical romance in which he has enveloped the whole origin of the epistle.

Das Sendschreiben an die Hebräer und Jakobos' Rundschreiben, übersetzt und erklärt rem. H. Ewald, Gott., 1870.

The Syriac word in Baruch is Pirmä. To the passages cited by Harnack to establish for this word the sense of censer, not incense altar, may be added Bar Ali ed. Hoffmann, No. 2578; Barhebr., Chron. Eecl., p. 507; Ezek. viii. 11 (Pesh. and Syr. Hex.).
Professor Plumptre, in the Expositor, vol. i., has also traced analogies with the book of Wisdom.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries