« PreviousContinue »
If our English version be examined in any of those numerous places where St. Paul has indulged in plays on words, no such will be found in the translation. And yet English is much nearer to Greek than Greek to any dialect of the Hebrew.
6,7. Other arguments, which can hardly be appreciated by the English reader, will be found in this place in my Greek Testament.
8. These considerations, coming in aid of the conviction which must be felt by every intelligent Greek scholar that he is reading an original composition and not a version, induce us to refuse the idea of a Hebrew original, and to believe the Epistle to have been first written in Greek.
9. The style of our Epistle has been already touched upon in our enquiry respecting the authorship, § i. parr. 116 ff. From the earliest times, its diversity from that of the writings of St. Paul has been matter of remark. It is a nearer approach to classical Greek. The main difference for
us, which will also set forth its characteristic peculiarity, is, that whereas St. Paul is ever as it were struggling with the scantiness of human speech to pour forth his crowding thoughts, thereby falling into rhetorical and grammatical irregularities, the style of our Epistle flows regularly on, with no such suspended constructions. Even where the subject induces long parentheses, the Writer does not break the even flow and equilibrium of his style, but returns back to the point where he left it.
10. Again, the greatest pains are bestowed on a matter which does not seem to have engaged the attention of the other sacred writers, even including St. Paul himself : viz. rhetorical rhythm, and equilibrium of words and sentences. In St. Paul's most glorious outbursts of eloquence, he is not rhetorical. In those of the Writer of our Epistle, he is elaborately and faultlessly rhetorical. The particles and participles used are all weighed with a view to this effect. The simple expressions of the other sacred writers are expanded into longer words, or into sonorous and majestic clauses.
1. This part of our introduction must obviously be treated quite irrespective of the hypothesis of the Pauline authorship of the Epistle. That being assumed, its canonicity follows. That being denied, our object must be to shew how the Epistle itself was regarded, even by those who were not persuaded of its apostolicity.
2. The earliest testimonies to it are found where we might expect them, in the Church of Rome, and in the writings of one who never cites it as apostolic. It will be important for us to see, in what estimation Clement held it. He makes, as we have already seen, the most frequent
and copious use of it, never citing it expressly, never appealing to it as Scripture, but adopting its words and expressions, just as he does those of other books of the New Testament. It is to be observed, that when in the course of thus incorporating it he refers to the Scripture, or uses the expression it is written, it is with regard to texts quoted not from it only, but also from the Old Test. By this procedure we cannot say that Clement casts any slight on this Epistle, for it is his constant practice, He frequently quotes Scripture as such, but it is always the Old Test. Two or three times he adduces the sayings of our Lord, but never even this in the form of a citation from our existing gospels, or in agreement with their exact words. All we can gather from Clement is, that, treating this as he does other Epistles', and appropriating largely as he does its words and expressions, he certainly did not rank it below those others : an inference which would lead us to believe that he recognized its canonical authority. But to found more than this on Clement's testimony, would be unwarranted by fair induction.
3. Justin Martyr, amidst a few allusions to our Epistle, makes what can hardly but be called canonical use of it in his first Apology. There, in explaining that the Word of God is also His Son, he adds, “ Moreover, He is called Angel and Apostle.” Now it appears from his own statement in another place, that the allusion in the words, “He is called an angel,” is to Gen. xviii. 2. It would seem therefore, seeing that Heb. iii. 1 is the only place where our Lord is entitled an apostle, that the clause meant to embrace under it that passage as a Scripture testimony equipollent with the other.
4. In Clement of Alexandria and Origen, the recognition of our Epistle as canonical depends on its recognition as the work of St. Paul. Where they both cite it as Scripture, it is as written by him: and where Origen mentions the doubt about its being his, he adduces other Scripture testimony, observing that it needs another kind of proof, not that the Epistle is canonical, but that it is St. Paul's.
5. And very similar was the proceeding of those parts of the church where the Pauline authorship was not held. Irenæus, as we have seen, makes no use of the Epistle. The fragment of Muratori, representing the view of the Roman church, probably does not contain it. Tertullian, who regards it as written by Barnabas, the “companion of the Apostles," cites it, not as authoritative in itself, but as recording the sentiments of such a companion of the Apostles.
6. Our Epistle is, it is true, contained in the Syriac version (Peschito) made at the end of the second century : but it is entirely uncertain, whether this insertion in the canon accompanied a recognition of the Pauline authorship, or not. This recognition, which prevailed in that
5 The only exception is in an express citation in c. 47 from 1 Corinthians, where, writing to the Corinthians, he is appealing to the authority of St. Paul.
part of the church in after times, may have at first occasioned its insertion in the canon; but we cannot say that it did.
7. But in the Alexandrine Church the case was different. There, as we have seen, the assumption of Pauline authorship appears early and soon prevails universally: and in consequence we find the canonical authority there unquestioned, and the Epistle treated as the other parts of Scripture.
8. Throughout the Eastern Churches, the canonicity and apostolicity were similarly regarded as inseparably connected. It is true that Eusebius, in numbering it among the controverted books, together with the Epistles of Barnabas and Clement and Jude, and the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach, might seem to attribute to it another authorship, were it not evident from his constant use of it and his numbering it in his principal passage on the Canon among the acknowledged books, that the doubt must be resolved into that on the Pauline authorship.
9. In the Western Church, where this was not recognized, neither do we find, even down to the middle of the fourth century, any use made of the Epistle as canonical. Even Novatian and Cyprian, who might well have thus used it, have not done so: nor in the controversies on the reception of the lapsed, and on the repetition of heretical baptism, do we ever find it adduced on either side, apposite as some passages are to the subjects in dispute. Only with the assumption, gradually imported from the East, of a Pauline origin, do we find here and there a Western writer citing it as of canonical authority. 10. It is in Jerome first that we find
any indication of a doubt whether canonicity and Pauline authorship are necessarily to stand and fall together. The same is found' now and then in the writings of Augustine. But soon after this time the general prevalence, and ultimately authoritative sanction, of the view of the Pauline authorship, closed up any chance of the canonicity of the Epistle being held on independent grounds: and it was not till the times of the Reformation, that the matter began to be again enquired into on its own merits.
11. The canonicity was doubted by Cardinal Cajetan, but upheld by Erasmus, in these remarkable words : “Nay, I cannot think that our faith is in peril, if the whole Church is at fault in the title of this Epistle, if only it be acknowledged that the Holy Spirit was the primary Author, which is commonly held by all.” In the Roman Catholic Church, however, the authoritative sanction given by the Council of Trent to the belief of the Pauline origin effectually stopped all intelligent enquiry
12. Among reformed theologians, the canonicity of our Epistle was
6 See above, $ i. parr. 68–80: esp. par. 74 ff.
strongly upheld, even when the Pauline authorship was not recognized. Calvin says, in his prologue to the Epistle,—" I embrace it without controversy as among the apostolical writings, and doubt not that it arose in former days from the artifice of Satan that some detracted from its authority. For there is none of the sacred books that treats so clearly of Christ's priesthood, so gloriously extols the force and dignity of the one sacrifice which He offered by His Death, treats so copiously of the use and abrogation of ceremonies, and in a word more fully explains Christ as the end of the law. Wherefore let us not suffer the Church of God and ourselves to be spoiled of such a treasure, but constantly claim its possession. Who composed it, is not much worth caring about."
13. Beza speaks in the same strain : “What is the use of contending about the author's name, which he himself wished to conceal ? Let it suffice to know this, that it was truly dictated by the Holy Spirit, &c.”
14. Similarly also the Gallican Confession, which, though it divides it off from the Pauline writings, yet includes it without remark among the canonical books. So also the Arminians, e.g. Limborch, who, believing it to have been written by one of the companions of Paul, with Paul's knowledge, acknowledges its divine authority, and even prefers it to many of the Apostle's own writings.
15. Among the early Lutheran divines there were some differences of opinion respecting the place to be assigned to the Epistle; the general view being, that it was to be read, as Jerome first wrote of the Apocryphal Old Test. books, for the edification of the people, but not for the confirmation of ecclesiastical doctrines. In other words, it was set apart, —and in this relegation six other books shared, 2 Pet., 2 and 3 John, James, Jude, and the Apocalypse,--among the Apocryphal writings appended to the New Test. And this order was usually followed in the German Bibles.
16. Soon however after the beginning of the 17th century, this distinction began to be obliterated, and the practice to be introduced of calling these books deutero-canonical, i.e. canonical in the second rank, and, although thus called, of citing them as of equal authority, and equally inspired, with the other books. Since that time, the controversies respecting the books of Scripture have taken a wider range, and it has not been so much respecting canonicity, as respecting origin, character, and doctrine, that the disputes of divines have been waged.
17. In our own country, at the time of the Reformation, while the question of authorship was left open, the canonical authority of the Epistle was never doubted. To establish this, it may be enough to cite some testimonies.
In Tyndale's prologue to the Epistle, he says, having mentioned the objection to the Pauline authorship from ch. ii. 3,
“Now whether it were Paul's or no, I say not, but permit it to other men's judgments: neither think I it to be an article of any man's faith, but that a man may doubt of the author.” Then, having met several objections against its canonicity urged from certain texts in it, as ch. vi. 4 ff., ch. x. 26 ff., ch. xii. 17, he concludes, “Of this ye see that this Epistle ought no more to be refused for a holy, godly, and catholic, than the other authentic Scriptures." And, speaking of the Writer, he says, “It is easy to see that he was a faithful servant of Christ, and of the same doctrine that Timothy was of, yea
and Paul himself was of, and that he was an Apostle, or in the Apostles' time, or near thereunto. And seeing the Epistle agreeth to all the rest of the Scripture, if it be indifferently looked on, why should it not be authority, and taken for holy Scripture * ?”
18. Fulke, in his defence of Translations of the Bible", while defending the omission of the name of St. Paul in the title of the Epistle in the Geneva Bible of 1560, says, “ Which of us, I pray you, that thinketh that this Epistle was not written by St. Paul, once doubteth whether it be not of apostolical spirit and authority? Which is manifest by this, that both in preaching and writing we cite it thus, the Apostle to the Hebrews.”
19. Bp. Jewel again, in bis Defence of the Apology, p. 186, where he is speaking of the charge of anonymousness brought against it, says, “ The Epistle unto the Hebrews, some say, was written by St. Paul, some by Clemens, some by Barnabas, some by some other : and so are we uncertain of the author's name."
20. Whittaker says, “ Thus, then, we doubt not of the authority of any
book of the New Testament, nor indeed of the author of any, save only the Epistle to the Hebrews. That this Epistle is canonical, all concede in the fullest sense: but it is not equally clear that it was written by the Apostle Paul. ... We need not be very earnest in this debate; it is not a matter of necessity, and the question may very well be left in doubt, provided that, in the mean while, the authority of the Epistle be allowed to remain clear and uncontested 10.”
21. With regard to the question itself, in what light we are to look on our Epistle with respect to canonicity, it is one which it will be well to treat here on general grounds, as it will come before us again more than once, in writing of the remaining books of the New Test.
22. We might put this matter on the ground which Jerome takes in his Epistle to Dardanus, “It makes no matter whose it is, for it is plainly the work of a catholic (ecclesiastical) author:” or on that
* Tyndale's Doctrinal Treatises, &c. Parker Society's edn., pp. 521, 522.