CHAPTER 1 AUTHORSHIP
THE authorship of Hebrews has been a subject of controversy during all the centuries. Was it written by the Apostle whose name it bears in our English Bibles. Or does the honour rest with Luke the Evangelist? The claims of Barnabas and Apollos, and also of Clement of Rome, are championed by writers of eminence. There is a venerable tradition that the Epistle was written in Hebrew by the Apostle, and that our Greek version is the work of the Evangelist. And our only difficulty in accepting that tradition is the absence of evidence to support it. As for the other companions of the Apostle, their claims rest on mere conjecture; there is not a scintilla of evidence to connect them with the book. And the question at issue is purely one of evidence. It must be settled on the principles which govern the decisions of our Courts of Justice. As therefore the evidence which points to Luke as the writer is unquestionably inferior to that available in support of the Pauline authorship, the controversy might be closed at once were it not for certain difficulties suggested by the language and contents of the Epistle. It has literary characteristics, we are told, different from those which mark the well-known writings of the Apostle. "The Judaism of the Epistle is that of the Hebrew prophets," and not of the Pharisees. And lastly, the writer takes his place among those who received the revelation of the Messiah immediately through "them that heard Him," whereas the Apostle Paul maintained with emphasis that he received the gospel immediately from the Lord Himself. This is held to be a "fatal" objection to the Pauline authorship. But, as every one who has had much experience in dealing with evidence is aware, a solution may often be found of difficulties and objections which at first seem "fatal"; and the sequel will show perhaps that the Hebrews controversy is a case in point.The difficulties suggested by the language of the book shall be considered later.
Even from the earliest times the Roman Church has viewed Hebrews with suspicion. And the reason for this is not doubtful. It is amply accounted for by the fact that the Epistle gives such prominence to the covenant people, and that its teaching is utterly incompatible with the proud ecclesiastical pretensions which, even from the days of the Fathers, that church has championed. The following extract from Dr. Hatch's Bampton Lectures may explain my meaning:
"In the years of transition from the ancient to the modern world, when all civilized society seemed to be disintegrated, the confederation of the Christian churches, by the very fact of its existence upon the old imperial lines, was not only the most powerful, but the only powerful organization in the civilized world. It was so vast and powerful, that it seemed to be, and there were few to question its being, the visible realization of that Kingdom of God which our Lord Himself had preached, of that 'Church' which He had purchased with His own blood…This confederation was the ‘city of God'; this and no other was the ‘Holy Catholic Church.'" The error denounced in these eloquent words betrays ignorance not only of Christian truth, but of what may be described as the ground-plan of the Biblical revelation as a whole. And yet the beliefs even of spiritual Christians are leavened by it. In laying the foundation stone of a great building it is a common practice to bury documents relating to the scheme and purpose of the edifice. And concealed in the in Hebrews foundations of the self-styled "Holy Catholic Church" (how different is the meaning given to these words by the Reformers!) is the flagrant falsehood that God has finally cast away the people of the covenant. To the history and hopes and destiny of that people it is that, on its human side, the Bible mainly and primarily relates; and yet the only notice accorded to them by the two great rival branches of the apostasy of Christendom must be sought in the records of the fiendish persecutions of which they have been the victims.
That the professing Church on earth is "the true vine"—this is the daring and impious lie of the apostasy. That it is "the olive tree" is a delusion shared by the mass of Christians in the churches of the Reformation. But the teaching of Scripture is explicit, that Christ Himself is the vine, and Israel the olive. For "God hath NOT cast away His people whom He foreknew." Most true it is that they have been temporarily set aside. Some of the natural branches of the olive tree have been broken off, and wild olive branches have been engrafted in their place. But the tree remains, and the tree is Israel.
But the very same Scripture which records this, declares explicitly that the wild branches which, "contrary to nature," partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree," are liable to be themselves "broken off," and then the natural branches will be again restored.
While, therefore, the apostate Church claims to be the realization of God's supreme purpose for earth, the intelligent student of Scripture knows that even in its pristine purity the "Gentile Church" was an abnormal, episodical,temporary provision; and that the divine purpose for this age is to gather out the true and heavenly Church, the body of Christ; and then, dismissing the earthly church to its predicted doom, to restore to their normal position of privilege and blessing that chosen people to whom belong the adoption and the glory and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh.
That these inspired words of the, apostle are no mere reference to a past economy, but a statement of abiding truth, is made definitely clear by the sequel ending with the words: "For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." And it is truth which may help not only to a right understanding of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but incidentally to the solution of the problem of its authorship.
—Types In Hebrews