Q&A: The Author of Hebrews

The Author of Hebrews

What kinds of things can we learn about the author of Hebrews from the contents of his letter?

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Answer

One interpreter has said the author of Hebrews is about as elusive as Melchizedek; we don't know where he came from nor where he went to. On the other hand, there are some things that we can learn. We know that the author could write good Greek. Some have argued that the Greek of Hebrews is among the best Greek language expressions that we find in the New Testament. At the same time, it is not like Atticistic Greek, it is not an artificial Greek of the high classes. It's not really literary Greek. It is still a koine Greek, but it is a Greek that is written on a somewhat high level.

We know that the author knew the Old Testament very well, which has prompted many to argue, the majority of scholars, to therefore conclude that the author was a Jew. On the other hand, there are some passages that have prompted some scholars to say he was a Gentile Christian, because even as a Gentile Christian, maybe as a God-fearer attending the synagogues in his young days, one could know the Old Testament very well because the Old Testament had been translated into Greek, which is what we call the Septuagint. But all things being equal, the very detailed knowledge of the Old Testament seems to suggest that the author was a Jew.

The book of Hebrews is not an epistle, it's not a letter in the traditional sense. There is no letter prescript giving the name of the author and the addressees and then a greeting and maybe a list of names that are being greeted. At the end, it is a homily, it is a sermon. So, we know that the author was used to preaching. He probably loved preaching. And if Hebrews is an indication, he seemed to have loved long sermons. And he loved theology. What is unique about Hebrews is that we have a theological section, and then we have application, and then we have a theological section, and then we have application as well. And the theological section is very often interpretation of Scripture, of the Old Testament. So, the author liked to integrate theology and application.

Answer by Dr. Eckhard Schnabel

Dr. Schnabel is Professor of New Testament Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston MA