Friday, September 06, 2019

Origen Did Think Paul Wrote Hebrews

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Hebrews written by Paul in GA 104
Last fall, when teaching Hebrews at the seminary, I did what one does when discussing authorship of Hebrews: I noted that tradition ascribes it to Paul, pointed out that it’s anonymous (but see here), showed why Paul isn’t the author, surveyed the alternate options, and then ended with Origen who says, “But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.” Once the standing ovation had died down, I moved on.

The problem with my presentation turns out to be the last part about Origen. The larger context of Origen’s comment is as follows:
But as for myself, if I were to state my own opinion, I should say that the thoughts are the apostle’s, but that the style and composition belong to one who called to mind the apostle’s teachings and, as it were, made short notes of what his master said. If any church, therefore, holds this epistle as Paul’s, let it be commended for this also. For not without reason have the men of old time handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows. Yet the account which has reached us [is twofold], some saying that Clement, who was bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, others, that it was Luke, he who wrote the Gospel and the Acts. (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11–14)
Today, a very good article on Origen and the authorship of Hebrews has been published in NTS by Matthew J. Thomas, arguing that I and so many others have misread this passage. Thomas instead shows that the right way to read this is not that Origen doesn’t know who authored Hebrews but that he doesn’t know who put pen to papyrus. Thus, exactly as he says, the thoughts are indeed the apostle’s but the actual composition is someone else’s. Thomas says that “while Origen suspects Hebrews’ composition to involve more than Paul alone, his surprisingly consistent testimony is that the epistle is indeed Paul’s.”

I read the article in an earlier draft and was convinced and had to revise my course notes accordingly. Next time I teach it, I will not be using Origen as evidence against Pauline authorship. (Hopefully I’ll still get the standing-o though.)

You can read the whole argument here.

9 comments

  1. Dr. Gurry, it takes alot of class and even more humility to correct oneself. You get a standing ovation from me!

    "and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" Matt.23:12

    On a side note; has anyone ever covered the possibility that the "autograph" written to the Hebrews, if indeed it were written in the hebrew tongue, may explain the non-Pauline style of greek by way of a translation from the hebrew into Greek?

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  2. David Alan Black also wrote a booklet on this some years ago in which he argued the same point.

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  3. Dr. Wallace,
    He sure did, “The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul”. This was my first thought as I read the article by Thomas. I would argue, the case for Paul has now been confirmed.

    Tim

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    1. That's a bit optimistic.

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    2. PG,
      It is, as you took it! I meant Black’s argument was confirmed! Though I do hold to Pauline authorship for a variety of reasons, many of which Black also articulated!
      Tim

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  4. It's abundantly clear from reading the rest of Origen that he thinks Hebrews was Pauline. Eusebius quoted the only modicum of doubt that survives.

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    1. SC,
      And if you accept Thomas’ article, that modicum of doubt itself does not exist.
      Tim

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    2. A modicum isn't very much to begin with. It is clear that Origen recognizes that Paul's connection to the epistle is more attenuated than the others.

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  5. Thanks for the article and the link to that by Thomas - a helpful discussion and affirmation of the need for rigor regarding context.

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