Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Hebrews: Authorship and context

Hebrews was probably written by Apollos or someone like him.  Was probably written to the church at Rome.  In the midst of a crisis situation where people are tempted by and questioning the reality of apostasy.

Very unlikely that it was Paul: There are 169 words in Hebrews that occur nowhere else in the NT.  The way The Author introduces OT quotes ("God says", which is the way often done in synagogue sermons) is different from how Paul does ("it is written").  And The Author self-identifies himself as being a part of the "second generation" (i.e. receiving the gospel from the first generation of apostles).  But Paul repeatedly (Galatians 1-2, 1 Cor. 15, Acts 8-9, etc.) says he received his gospel from Jesus himself.  Also, the theological motifs of Hebrews are so drastically new.  Paul (nor anyone else in the NT) even refers to Jesus as the high priest, which is one of The Author's main themes.  Origen and Clement of Alexandria both thought it was Paul.  Though Origen is also quoted as saying "only God knows who the author of Hebrews was".

Unlikely that it was Luke or Barnabas.  Though you can show a lot of parallels between the texts, you can show a lot of parallels between almost any text.  There are more parallels connecting Luke's writings with 1 or 2 Peter than there are with Hebrews!  Because they share the same culture, same rhetorical traditions, and even some of the same religious circles, it makes sense that some of the verbiage is shared among almost all the NT writers.

But the reason it's unlikely to be Luke (as defended by David Allen) or Barnabas (as Tertullian thought) is that both are depicted in Acts as taking a back seat to Paul.  Barnabas kind of gets out of Paul's way when Paul starts to address a new town.  And Luke is never pictured as addressing anyone.  Whereas The Author is very eloquent, highly educated in rhetorical training, and a very powerful preacher.  (See my notes on genre, below).

In Acts 18-19, Apollos is described as being from Alexandria (by the way, The Author seems to use some of Philo's work in his writing.  Apollos is said to have been extremely familiar with the OT, which, of course, The Author obviously does.  Apollos was a very fluent orator.  Who had a great deal of concern for the church.

The Author seems to be especially concerned with people who are abandoning (the real) Judaism for an out-dated version of it.  He has real pastoral concerns.

Even if it wasn't Apollos, it is encouraging to realize that God had raised up another mind, besides Luke or Paul or John or Peter in the NT with an extremely developed theology and exegesis.  Isn't that cool?

That brings us to genre.  This was most likely not composed as an epistle.  Analysis of the text has led the majority of interpreters to conclude that it was originally composed as a sermon.  Then later the epistelary ending was added just for its distribution.

Destination: Rome
Also, it's probably written to a church at Rome, since in the end it say "those from Italy send their greetings".  The church in Rome was probably originally planted by the Jews from Rome attending Pentecost who went back to start the church there.  (There were something like 40-50 thousand Jews living in Rome, a city of only 1 million at the time.)  Also, Clement of Rome was the first to quote from Hebrews (some time in the first century).  Which also corroborates this theory.  Not to mention, he names elders as "leaders" (not elders/pastors as elsewhere in the NT), which is the way Clement 1 and Shepherd of Hermas name them, which were written to Rome as well.

This was likely written in the 60s.  No reference to the destruction of the temple.  Also, it appears their persecution hadn't yet reached the point of martyrdom (which was prevalent in Rome during Nero in the 70s).  But there had already been a number of persecution events (people being jailed and losing their property because of their faith.)  Not to mention, the author (and recipients) seem to be second-generation Christians.  So some time has passed...  Also, it was a while before distinctly Christian persecution would have even developed.  So this was likely not in the 40s, or even the 50s.

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