The mystery of the author of Hebrews. Could it be the Epistle of Priscilla?
I love a good mystery, and Hebrews offers a who done it that engages me and frustrates me as we can't solve this mystery this side of heaven. So let's look at the possibilities!
I've often thought the author was a woman, Priscilla, because it has no known author, and that made sense to me. But friends, as I did some digging into this mystery, I learned so much!
There are many theories: Paul, Barnabas, Apollo, Luke, Clement, and my choice, Priscilla.
For years, it was understood that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews. However, that theory became less impressive in the third century for various reasons. While it's obvious that the author comes from someone in Paul's inner circle, the theology is clearly his, a couple of clues steer us away from him.
First, Paul always offered personal greetings, and there were none in Hebrews. Second, the style is quite different, much more eloquent than Paul's typical writing. Finally, the author often quotes from the Greek Old Testament, Septuagint, while Paul always quoted from the Hebrew.
As in all great who-done-its, there are clues within Hebrews 13 that will reveal a logical answer.
As in all great who-done-its, there are clues within Hebrews 13 that will reveal a logical answer. So let's check it out!
The author is closely associated with Timothy (Hebrews 13:23)
Both the author and Timothy are away from home (Hebrews 13:22-24)
Timothy has been limited in travel either in custody or prison (Hebrews 13:2)
The letter recipients have others leading them besides Timothy and the author. (Hebrews 13:17)
The recipients were probably Roman. (Hebrews 13:24)
The first four clues don't rule out Barnabas, Apollo, or Luke. The fifth clue leads us to believe that the book was written for the Jewish church of Rome, quite possibly the church started by Priscilla and Aquila in their home. (Romans 16:5)
The clues that convinced me, though, are all in the Hall of Faith, chapter 11. I find a feminine, motherly voice there that leaves me confident Priscilla wrote The Epistle to the Hebrews.
In verse 11, we see Sarah mentioned after Abraham. Would a man have mentioned her? Maybe, so let's look at some other verses.
Verses 23 and 24 tell us about Moses and his beauty, which could be from a woman's voice, and the author says that Moses refused to be called the "son of Pharoah's daughter." What an odd way to verbalize Moses' upbringing, unless, of course, a woman wrote it.
The author also mentions Rahab, rather than Joshua, in verses 29-31, even though the focus is on the events in Joshua chapter 1, the person mentioned is Rahab.
Finally, let's look at verses 32-38. Ruth Hoppin, the author of Priscilla's Letter, lays out a fascinating narrative by giving her thoughts on some of the unnamed faith heroes in these verses.
Verse 35 mentioned women received their dead, raised to life again. Hoppin suggests that the author is talking about two specific yet unnamed women in the Old Testament, the widow of Zarephath whose son was restored to life by Elijah (1 Kings 17:8-24) and the Shunammite woman whose son was resurrected by Elisha. (2 Kings 4:18-37)
Hoppin explains verse 34 as a reference to the book of Judith. Friends, I didn't even know this book existed until I read Hoppin's book. So I had to look it up, and sure enough, that book is in The Jerusalem Bible. Hoppins says Judith is the person who "won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war and put foreign armies to flight." The book of Judith, similar to Esther, tells the story of Judith, a devout woman who prayed, "give to me, a widow, strong hands to do what I plan" (Judith 9:9) and "give me strength for today, O Lord God, of Israel". Her plan succeeded when she killed General Holofernes with her sword.
Although I've given you a lot of information, there is much more. But here's the thing, if you don't believe that Priscilla wrote Hebrews, I'm really ok with it. My journey to learn more about Hebrews and Priscilla gave me so much joy, and I learned new things about the culture and even archeology that I would never know otherwise. Another bonus is the further questions I have that have nothing to do with Hebrews or Priscilla, so yay!
We will never solve this mystery on this side of heaven. And that's ok! I encourage you to ask a question and see where the research takes you. Or, if you want to do your own research on the author of Hebrews, here are some resources:
Harnack, Adolf (Translated by Luther D. Lazarus). “The Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Lutheran Church Review 19 (1900): 448-471
Hoppin, Ruth. Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Fort Bragg, CA: Lost Coast Press), 1997