Early Church Fathers:
Who Did They Think Wrote Hebrews?
Clement of Rome Born no Later Than 35 B.C. Knew the Apostles Personally.
Clement, died A.D. 101, called Clement of Rome, was the bishop of Rome from c.92 to 101. According to IRENAEUS, he was the third successor of St. Peter. Little is known of his life; the main source of information is his Epistle to the Corinthians (c.96), the earliest piece of Christian literature other than New Testament writings for which the name of the author is certain. The high esteem in which Clement was held is evident from the fact that until the 4th century his letter was accepted by some as Scripture. He is one of the APOSTOLIC FATHERS of the church. The epistle was written because of internal discord and division in the Corinthian church. Clement intervened in the name of the church at Rome and appealed for restoration of peace, harmony, and order. The document, which demonstrates Clement's familiarity with Greek Stoic philosophy and mythology, gives a valuable picture of early church organization, belief, and practice. Grol.'s Encyclo.
Clement of Rome makes at least four quotations from the book of Hebrews in his letter to the Corinthians (96) which is evidence of the Epistle's authenticity and early use as scripture in the churches. He, however, as with other scriptures he quotes, does not mention the author. He does just as those who would come later; he simply quotes it as scripture and takes for granted that those who read the quotations, in his letter to the Corinthians, will recognize the words as well known in the churches and take for granted who the author is. The readers of the apostolic period, including the Clementine writing, would not need an explanation of authorship. That was taken for granted. Seventy five to one hundred years later the first discussion of authorship would be made to those who would need such an explanation. Clement of Alexandria made the first written statement about Pauline authorship. Since the epistle was sent without a signature or greeting it was necessary for future generations to learn what the fathers who received the epistle passed on about it.
Clement of Alexandria was the teacher of Origen, lived about 150 to 215
He was the leader of the catechetical school at Alexandria. Alexandria had the largest Jewish population outside of the holy land after Babylon. It is from Alexandria at the end of the second century that the Epistle to the Hebrews was first explained as having come from Paul to churches who were not automatically aware of the background of the writing. It is possible that the letter was written to the Jewish community at Alexandria. That is more likely than that it was addressed and delivered first to the Jewish community at Jerusalem who were still led by James the Lord's brother until just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Clement left a work called Hupotyposes which is quoted at length by Eusebius to whom we are indebted for the portions we can read since the original is lost. He has interesting remarks about the Epistle to the Hebrews which are from the second century not much more than 100 years after the letter was written in the mid 60's.
"[Clement] has given in the Hupotyposes abridged accounts of all canonical Scripture, not omitting the disputed books, I refer to Jude and the other Catholic epistles, and Barnabas and the so-called Apocalypse of Peter. He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. But he says that the words, Paul the Apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name. Farther on he says: "But now, as the blessed presbyter said, since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance . Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel. This is the account of Clement. Euseb Hist Book VI:XIV
Origen, c.185c.254, is generally considered the greatest theologian and biblical scholar of the early Eastern church. He was probably born in Egypt, perhaps in Alexandria, to a Christian family. His father died in the persecution of 202, and he himself narrowly escaped the same fate. At the age of 18, Origen was appointed to succeed Clement of Alexandria as head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, where he had been a student.
Between 203 and 231, Origen attracted large numbers of students through his manner of life as much as through his teaching. According to Eusebius, he took the command in Matt. 19:12 to mean that he should castrate himself. During this period Origen traveled widely and while in Palestine (c.215) was invited to preach by local bishops even though he was not ordained. Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, regarded this activity as a breach of custom and discipline and ordered him to return to Alexandria. The period following, from 218 to 230, was one of Origen's most productive as a writer. Although most of his writings have disappeared, Origen's literary productivity was enormous. The Hexapla was the first attempt to establish a critical text of the Old Testament; the commentaries on Matthew and John establish him as the first major biblical scholar of the Christian church; the De Principiis (or Peri Archon) is a dogmatic treatise on God and the world; and the Contra Celsum is a refutation of paganism. [Grol. Encyclo.]
Origen's opinion, 150 years after Clement's (of Rome) death, is that Paul wrote the epistle but he could not affirm this because he was not an eye witness and could only report what had been handed down. And what was that? He says that the "ancients handed it down as Paul's." He gives support to the idea that Paul dictated the epistle and Luke wrote it putting it in his more precise, less "rude" speech. Other early writers felt that Paul wrote it in Hebrew to the Jews and it was translated in Greek by Luke. The first possibility is more likely and it is to be supposed that since Paul was older (after his first imprisonment) that he without doubt used a scribe or secretary, due to his eye problems. Using a secretary who upgraded the grammatical construction does not detract from the Pauline authorship by dictation.
Origen wrote: "That the verbal style of the epistle entitled 'To the Hebrews,' is not rude like the language of the apostle, who acknowledged himself 'rude in speech,' that is, in expression; but that its diction is purer Greek, any one who has the power to discern differences of phraseology will acknowledge. Moreover, that the thoughts of the epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged apostolic writings, any one who carefully examines the apostolic text will admit." Farther on he adds: "If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul's."
Chrysostom, about 400 A.D. Took it for granted that Paul Wrote Hebrews
St John Chrysostom was bishop of Constantinople and a prolific writer with homilies extant on almost every book of the Bible. He does not argue for Pauline authorship but explains why the "Apostle to the Gentiles " should write the Epistle to the Hebrews.
[When Paul was at Jerusalem with James] "Doubtless in this matter they think to shame him by numbers, saying, "Thou seest, brother, how many ten thousands of Jews there are which are come together." On this account they hated him and turned away from him, because "They are informed of thee, he says, that thou teachest men to forsake the law"... Why, then, not being a teacher of the Jews, does he send an Epistle to them? And where were those to whom he sent it? It seems to me in Jerusalem and Palestine. How then does he send them an Epistle? Just as he baptized, though he was not commanded to baptize. For, he says, "I was not sent to baptize": not, however, that he was forbidden, but he does it as a subordinate matter. And how could he fail to write to those, for whom he was willing even to become accursed? Accordingly he said, "Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you." [Heb. 13:23] For as yet he was not arrested. Two years then he passed bound, in Rome; then he was set free; then, having gone into Spain, he saw Jews also in like manner; and then he returned to Rome, where also he was slain by Nero. The Epistle to Timothy then was later than this Epistle. [Hebs.] For there he says, "For I am now ready to be offered," there also he says, "In my first answer no man stood with me." (emphasis mine FPM)
Chrysostom shows that Paul was not "ready to be offered" when he wrote Hebrews, so 2 Tim. has to be later than Hebrews. Heb 7:27 and 8:3-5, show that the temple was still standing and the sacrificial system was still going on when those verses were written. So Hebrews had to be written before 70 and therefore in or after the first but not the second imprisonment, therefore about 65. In Hebrews Paul affirms that the sacrificial system of Moses, still going on,
was soon to pass away. [Heb.8:13]
Commentary on Hebrews by Ewell and Spence (Early 20th century)
"After Origen, Dionesius of Alexandria (ob. A.D. 264-65), the bishops why succeeded him and all the ecclesiastical writers of Egypt, Syria, and the East generally cite the Epistle without hesitation as St. Paul's." (page v.)
It is well worth noticing that speculation on who is the author of Hebrews, only arose after the apostolic period. There is unanimous opinion on what was handed down from the apostolic period to the second generation, that is, that the apostolic fathers passed on the Epistle of the Hebrews to the next generation as one that had been written by the Apostle Paul. Since there is no other tradition than this coming from the apostolic period and doubts, about questions of style and the ambiguity due to the lack of a signature, only arose in the third century then it is more reasonable to accept what had been handed down from the eye witnesses, and those who spoke to them, than to accept the ambiguity based on doubts of those with second thoughts.
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