Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XV.

THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.

SECTION I.

ITS AUTHORSHIP.

1. The most proper motto to prefix to this section would be that saying of Origen,

“If then any church professes this Epistle as being Paul's, let it have credit for the circumstance: for not in vain have the ancients handed it down as Paul's; but who wrote the Epistle, God alone

knows the truth.” 2. For these latter words represent the state of our knowledge at this day. There is a certain amount of evidence, both external, from tradition, and internal, from approximation in some points to his acknowledged Epistles, which points to St. Paul as its author. But when we come to examine the former of these, it will be seen that the tradition gives way beneath us in regard of authenticity and trustworthiness; and as we search into the latter, the points of similarity are overborne by a far greater number of indications of divergence, and of incompatibility, both in style and matter, with the hypothesis of the Pauline authorship.

3. There is one circumstance which, though this is the most notable instance of it, is not unfamiliar to the unbiassed conductor of enquiries into the difficulties of Holy Scripture; viz. that, in modern times at least, most has been taken for granted by those who knew least about the matter, and the strongest assertions always made by men who have never searched into, or have been unable to appreciate, the evidence. Genuine research has led, in almost every instance, to a modified holding, or to an entire rejection, of the Pauline hypothesis.

4. It will be my purpose, in the following paragraphs, to deal (following the steps of many who have gone before me, and more especially of Bleek) with the various hypotheses in order, as to both their external and internal evidence. It will be impossible in citing the external evidence, to keep these hypotheses entirely distinct : that which is cited as against one will frequently be for another which is not under treatment, and must be referred back to on reaching that one.

i On the sense of the word wrote, see below, par. 21 and note. Vol. II. PART II.- 135

k

5. As preliminary then to all such specific considerations, we will enquire first into the external and traditional ground, then into that which is internal, arising from the Epistle itself, of the supposition that St. Paul was the Author and Writer, or the Author without being the Writer, of the Epistle.

6. Some think that they see an allusion to our Epistle in 2 Pet. iii. 15, 16. But to this there are several objections; among which the principal is, that no passages can be pointed out in our Epistle answering to the description there given. This point has not been much pressed, even by those who have raised it; being doubtless felt to be too insecure to build any safe conclusion

upon. 7. The same may be said of the idea that our Epistle is alluded to by St. James, ch. ii. 24, 25. Hug supposes that the citation of Rahab as justified by works is directly polemical, and aimed at Heb. xi. 31. But as Bleek well remarks, even were we to concede the polemical character of the citation, why need Heb. xi. 31 be fixed on as its especial point of attack? Was it not more than probable, that the followers of St. Paul would have adduced this, among other examples, in their oral teaching ?

8. We come then to the first undoubted allusions to the Epistle ; which occur in the Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, dating before the conclusion of the first century. Clement is well acquainted with the Epistles of St. Paul: he quotes by name 1 Cor.; he closely imitates Rom. i. 29–32: he frequently alludes to other passages. But of no Epistle does he make such large and constant use, as of this to the Hebrews : and this is testified by Eusebius,—" in which (i. e. his Epistle to the Corinthians) he brings forward many thoughts out of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and even some passages out of it verbatim, thus shewing clearly that the work was no new one in his time.” The same is testified by Jerome also.

9. Now some have argued from this that, as Clement thus reproduces passages of this as well as of other Epistles confessedly canonical, he must have held this to be canonical, and if he, then the Roman church, in whose name he writes; and if canonical, then written by St. Paul. But Bleek well observes, that this whole argument is built on unhistorical assumption respecting the Canon of the New Test., which was certainly not settled in Clement's time; and that, in fact, his use of this Epistle proves no more than that it was well known and exceedingly valued by him. It is a weighty testimony for the Epistle, but says nothing as to its Author:

10. The first notices in any way touching the question of the authorship meet us after the middle of the second century. And it is remark

an

? See this, and the inference from it, treated more fully below, Sect. vi. par. 2.

able enough, that from these notices we must gather, that at that early date there were the same various views respecting it, in the main, which now prevail; the same doubt whether St. Paul was the author, or some other Teacher of the apostolic age; and if some other, then what part St. Paul had, or whether any, in influencing his argument or dictating his matter.

11. The earliest of these testimonies is that of PANTÆNUS, the chief of the catechetical school in Alexandria about the middle of the second century. There is a passage preserved to us by Eusebius from a lost work of Clement of Alexandria, in which the latter says that the blessed Presbyter said, that since our Lord was the real Apostle to the Hebrews, St. Paul, out of modesty, and as being himself sent to the Gentiles, did not attach his name to this Epistle ..

12. There can be no doubt that by the blessed Presbyter here, Clement means Pantænus. Eusebius tells us of Clement, that he in this lost work reported the sayings of his master Pantænus.

13. Nor can there be any doubt, from these words, that Pantanus believed the Epistle to be the work of St. Paul. But as Bleek observes, we have no data to enable us to range this testimony in its right place as regards the controversy. Being totally unacquainted with the context in which it occurs, we cannot say whether it represents an opinion of Pantænus's own, or a general persuasion; whether it is adduced polemically, or merely as solving the problem of the anonymousness of the Epistle for those who already believed St. Paul to be the Author. Nothing can well be more foolish, and beside the purpose, than the reason which it renders for this anonymousness: are we to reckon the assumption of the Pauline authorship in it as a subjectivity of the same mind as devised the other? For aught that this testimony itself says, it may have been so : we can only then estimate it rightly, when we regard it as one of a class, betokening something like consensus on the matter in question.

14. And such a consensus we certainly seem to be able to trace in the writers of the Alexandrian school. CLEMENT himself, both in his works which have come down to us, and in the fragments of his lost works preserved by Eusebius, frequently and expressly cites the Epistle as the work of St. Paul. Nay, his testimony goes further than this. well-known passage of Eusebius, he cites from the same lost work of Clement as follows:

“ He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is Paul's, and was written to Hebrews in the Hebrew tongue, and that Luke diligently translated it and published it for the Greeks. From which circumstance it is, that its style has a similarity to that of the Acts. But that Paul very naturally did not prefix Paul the Apostle' to it, as

3 See below, par. 71, a very similar sentiment from Jerome. 137

k 2

In a

the Hebrews suspected and disliked him, and so he would not

alienate them in the very beginning of his work." 15. Valuable as the above passage is, it fails to point out to us definitively the ground and the extent of the opinion which it expresses. The citations from the Epistle throughout Clement's writings shew us, that his persuasion respecting its having been put into Greek by St. Luke, did not prevent him from every where citing the Greek as the words of St. Paul ; either expressly naming him, or indicating him under the words “the [divine] Apostle.” But whether the opinion was derived from tradition, or from his own critical research, there is nothing here to inform us. The reference to the similarity of diction to that in the Acts seems rather to point to the latter source. Nor again can we say whether he is representing (1) a general opinion, prevalent as transmitted in the Alexandrian church, or (2) one confined to himself, or (3) one which had spread through the teaching of Pantænus his master. This last is hardly probable, seeing that he gives for the anonymousness of the Epistle a far more sensible reason than that which he immediately after quotes from Pantænus. We can derive from the passage nothing but a surmise respecting the view prevalent in Alexandria at the time. And that surmise would lead us to believe that St. Paul was not there held to have been the writer of the Epistle in its present Greek form, however faithfully that present form may represent his original meaning.

16. We now come to the testimony of ORIGEN ; from which, without being able to solve the above historical question, we gain considerably more light on the subject of the tradition respecting the Epistle.

17. In his own ordinary practice in his writings, Origen cites the Epistle as the work of St. Paul, using much the same terms as Clement in so doing: viz. eitherPaulor the Apostle.In the Homilies on Joshua, he distinctly ascribes fourteen Epistles to St. Paul. But in what sense he makes these citations, we must ascertain by his own more accurately expressed opinion on the matter; from which it will appear, how unfairly Origen has been claimed by superficial arguers for the Pauline authorship, as on their side.

18. Before however coming to this, it may be well to adduce two or three passages in which he indicates the diversity of opinion which prevailed. In his Commentary on Matt. xxiii. 27, speaking of the slaying of the prophets, he cites, as from St. Paul, 1 Thess. i. 14, 15, and Heb. xi. 37, 38; and then adds, “ But suppose any one repudiates the Epistle to the Hebrews as not being Paul's.And then after a caution against apocryphal works foisted in by the Jews (among which he clearly does not mean to include our Epistle), he adds, “ Still, if any one receives that to the Hebrews as an Epistle of Paul,&c. Again, in his Epistle to Africanus, in the course of removing the

doubt of his friend as to the authenticity of the history of Susanna, he mentions the traditional death of Isaiah, which he says “is testified to by the Epistle to the Hebrews, but is not written in any of the canonical books (meaning, not that the Epistle was not one of these books, but that the account of Isaiah's martyrdom is not in any canonical book of the Old Test.). Then he adds, “But possibly some who are pressed by this argument may take refuge in the view of those who set aside the Epistle as not written by Paul: and to them we should have to use another argument to shew that the Epistle is Paul's."

It would have been of some interest to know who these some were, and whether their setting aside of the Epistle arose from the absence of ancient tradition as to the Pauline authorship, or from critical conclusions of their own, arrived at from study of the Epistle itself. But of this Origen says nothing.

19. The principal testimony of his own is contained in two fragments of his lost Homilies on this Epistle, preserved by Eusebius: “In these he observes, that the style of the Epistle is not that characteristic of the Apostle, who declared himself unskilful in style; but is more Greek in its form of diction, as every one who knows how to discriminate styles must confess. On the other hand, any one who reads attentively the Apostolic writings must also confess, that the thoughts are marvellous, and no way inferior to the acknowledged writings of the Apostles. After this, he says that the thoughts appear to him to be those of the Apostle, but the diction and style those of some reporter or paraphraser of the things said by his master."

Then follows the sentence cited by us in par. 1. And afterwards he adds, “ The account which has come down to us is divided, some reporting that Clement, who became Bishop of Rome, wrote the Epistle, others that it was Luke, who wrote the Gospel and the Acts."

We learn from these remarkable fragments several interesting particulars: among which may be mentioned ;

First, Origen's own opinion as to the Epistle, deduced from grounds which he regards as being clear to all who are on the one hand accustomed to judge of style, and, on the other, versed in the apostolio writings; viz. that its Author in its present form is not St. Paul, but some one who has embodied in his own style and form the thoughts of that Apostle. One thing however he leaves in uncertainty; whether we are to regard such disciple of St. Paul, or the Apostle himself, as speaking in the first person throughout the Epistle.

20. Secondly, the fact that some churches, or church, regarded the Epistle as the work of St. Paul. But here again the expression is somewhat vague. The words,“ if any church,” may be an uncertain indication of several churches, or it may be a pointed allusion to one. If the latter, which from what follows, is the more probable, the church

« PreviousContinue »