An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Chapter 2 - Section 12



§ 12. The Epistle to the Hebrews

[Cf. H. A. W. Meyer, vol. xiii., by B. Weiss (1897), and vol. iii. Bk. 2 of the ʽHand-Commentar,ʼ comprising Hebrews, 1. and 2. Peter, James and Jude, by H. von Soden (1899). For special commentaries, consult F. Bleek (1828, 1836 and 1840), whose 3 vol. work lays the foundation of the subject and contains a great deal of scholarly material; F. Delitzsch (1857), whose book contains much original work; pp. 1-70 of F. Overbeckʼs ʽZur Geschichte des Canonsʼ (1880), in which he traces the history of the Epistle as far as 400 a.p., and of which pp. 3-18, on the probable history of the period preceding it, are especially valuable; H. von Sodenʼs articles in the ʽJahrbuch für protestantische Theologieʼ (1884), Heft 3 and 4, in which he concludes that the readers were not Jewish Christians but the Christian communities of Italy; EH. Ménégoz, ʽLa théologie de lʼépître aux Hébreux,ʼ in which pp. 9-76 deal with questions of Introduction (the addressees Jewish Christians of a single extra-Palestinian community, date between 64 and 67), and A. Harnack, in the ʽZeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft,ʼ i. 1900 (addressees the house-community of Aquila and Prisca in Rome [see Romans xvi. 3], author either Prisca or Aquila, date between 65 and 80).]

1. The distinction with which we are familiar in Paulʼs writings between a theoretical and a practical part, cannot be said to exist in the Epistle to the Hebrews, even though a considerable division occurs at ver. x. 18, and from this point onwards the exhortative character decidedly prevails. For between the beginning and x. 18 we may find sections both large and small which do not differ in any way from the tone of the concluding part, while on the other hand certain passages1 in the latter hold the same language as the main parts of the dogmatic half—not to mention such mixed passages as vv. xii. 18-29 or vv. xiii. 13-16. It is precisely the peculiarity of this Epistle that it does not present a consistent doctrinal development of ideas, followed by a conclusion of friendly advice for the life of the community and of the individual, but that the intellectual instruction which it gives is used each time as the occasion or as the broad foundation for practical exhortation. This follows from the fact that the ultimate object which the author was pursuing was distinctly practical; his task was to rouse his readers out of a religious condition partly timorous and faint-hearted, partly dull, slothful and thoughtless, partly eager for change and almost ripe for apostasy. He must restore them to unswerving fortitude, to patience and courage, earnestness and strength, and above all to pride in their Christian faith, and, moreover, he must do this by means of a knowledge of the Scriptures well calculated to demonstrate the full majesty of that Christian faith. A characteristic feature of Hebrews is its reliance on Christian knowledge as the foundation of Christian strength, or, conversely, its conviction that indifference in moral and religious matters must necessarily imply certain defects of Christian insight or of Christian knowledge. ʽJesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for everʼ2—there lay the substance of Christianity, and therefore its supreme value would be proved if on as wide a comparison as possible of Christ with the other known claimants of divine revelation, the enormous superiority of the former—admitting neither supplement nor enrichment—were yielded as the result. The writer himself calls his Epistle ʽthe word of exhortationʼ (ὁ λόγος τῆς παρακλήσεως),3 and although he also feels himself a teacher,4 the task he sets himself is not that of revealing or of re-establishing individual truths, but of showing the necessity of truth; he wishes to impart the ʽword of righteousnessʼ:5 and that ʽperfectionʼ which was to be his own and his readersʼ goal6was solely dependent in his eyes on the highest training of the power ʽto discern good and evil.ʼ7 The writer never loses sight of this fundamental idea; all the subtleties of his Scriptural proof are only intended to help in establishing beyond question the perfection of Christ and of Christianity, and thereby in rendering inoperative all temptations to an abandonment of Christ.

The Epistle begins at once with defining the revelation of God in His Son as the ultimate and most effectual.8 Hereupon the exaltation of the Son above all the angels is demonstrated:9ʽ although he had for a short time been ʽmade lower than the angels,ʼ had ʽpartaken of flesh and blood,ʼ had been delivered up to death and exposed to temptation, this had only come to pass in order that he might carry out his work of salvation and be a true brother to mankind. In the next chapter10 the superiority of Jesus over Moses and Joshua is likewise established. Moses was only faithful as a ʽservant in the house,ʼ whereas Christ was faithful as a ʽson, over his house,ʼ and Joshua had not been able to lead his people to true rest, for the fulfilment of that promise was to be the work of Christ. The next section compares Christ, the true Melchisedek, with the spiritual head of the ancient Israelites, the High Priest Aaron11: the latter and his successors, we are told, were appointed without an oath from God, succeeded one another at short intervals, and were obliged to offer up sacrifices for their own sins as well as for those of the people; whereas the High Priest Christ received his office with an oath, would abide in it unchangeable for ever and was free from sin. But—and this was the main point— it was not his Person alone which was so highly exalted; his Work also towered infinitely high above that of the High Priests of the Old Testament,12 for he performed it in Heaven, and they but in the lowly tabernacle; his sacrifice was of his own blood, theirs but of the blood of beasts: he had redeemed our sins once and for all, while the Levitical priesthood must continually renew their imperfect offerings.

There is no lack of practical applications in each of these main divisions of the first part,13 and next the authorʼs exposition of the work of the eternal High Priest and of the foundation of the new covenant leads him to utter an earnest warning to his readers14 to hold fast this splendid heritage of hope and to see that their actions matched it, since the most terrible punishment was in store for him who sinned consciously and, as it were, trod Christ under foot after having known the truth.15 They who formerly, in times of grievous suffering, had proved themselves so gloriously by their cheerful self-sacrifice and patience, must not now, when the day of recompense drew near, cast away their endurance, resignation and joy.16 Belief without trust in what they believed was nothing, since faith consisted precisely in reliance on good things hoped for but invisible. This it was that was so vividly attested by the long succession of the heroes of faith from Abel down to their own day.17 Therefore they too must show some of the patience of Him who was crucified, especially since the wholesome chastening which they endured was sent from God18; they must follow after peace and holiness before it was too late,19 for was not the punishment of him who spurned the revelation of God in Christ so much the more terrible than that which was threatened in the Old Testament, as the perfect appearance of God in the heavenly Jerusalem, the new heaven and the new earth, was more imposing than his former manifestation to Moses in fire and smoke and rushing wind?20 Then follow a few special exhortations,21 but also in the course of them22 a warning against ʽstrange teachings,ʼ which, perhaps in the interests of a hair-splitting spirit in the choice of meats, imperilled the fundamental notion of ʽJesus alone,ʼ and diverted attention from the true, spiritual sacrifices. The end is formed by vv. 18-25, which consist of personal requests, benedictions, charges and greetings.

2. We have now to establish—for here we must proceed with the greatest care from firm to doubtful ground—the theory that Hebrews represents an actual letter of the same sort as the Pauline Epistles, and not merely a theological treatise or a sermon in epistolary form, like the Catholic Epistles. It is true that it lacks the superscription, that the introduction savours very little of the epistolary style and that for whole paragraphs at a time the author gives forth his reflections without reference to any definite readers; while the words ʽbrethren,ʼ23 ʽbelovedʼ24 or ʽholy brethren, partakers of _ a heavenly callingʼ25 do not mean any more than the ʽweʼ that occurs repeatedly from i. 1 onwards; for the author undoubtedly assumed that he was speaking to Christians like himself. We will also leave vv. xiii. 22-25—a passage which bears a very close resemblance to the Pauline endings —out of account for the present in the conduct of our argument, since many critics consider them to be a later addition appended to the Epistle in the interests of its Pauline authorship, and perhaps analogous to chap. xxi. of the Fourth Gospel. The changes from ʽyeʼ to ʽwe,ʼ again, or vice versa,26 seem to indicate that the whole of Christendom was implied in both, and, above all, phrases like ʽAnd what shall I say more? for the time will fail me if I tell, etc.,ʼ27 and several others,28 sound little adapted to the style of a letter. But in such phrases itis merely the oratorical training of the author which is brought to light, while as to the ʽweʼ we must make a sharp distinction between the cases in which it represents a self-including extension of the warnings addressed to the ʽyeʼ29 and those in which the author distinguishes himself from his readers in the ʽpluralis auctoris.ʼ30

This last-named passage (xiii. 18), however, obliges us to assume that his circle of readers was definitely circumscribed, for at that date an author would scarce have claimed the prayers of the whole of Christendom, least of all on the ground of verse 19, ʽthat I may be restored to you the sooner.ʼ And, above all, the praise bestowed on his readers for the power of self-sacrifice which they had manifested in the past,31 and for the services of love which they rendered even now to their fellow-believers, could not have applied to the whole of Christendom; while the complaints about the dulness of hearing that had come upon them and their lack of progress32 are of course only applicable on the assumption that the author was addressing a circle of readers whose moral and religious development he had sympathetically watched for years, and to whom he was attached by ties of old personal relations. This becomes still clearer when we read the words of vi. 9-12 between the lines: ʽBut, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speakʼ etc. He was now grievously troubled about them, and accordingly wrote them a long epistle, beseeching them earnestly to suffer themselves to be warned in time. Such an epistle lacking an address seems, it is true, a monstrosity, but no trace has survived of any address, and all the hypotheses by which scholars have sought to explain its absence—some contending that it was a matter of chance, and others that it was intentional, meant to conceal the identity of the real author—have something unsatisfactory about them. No reader feels the want of anything before verse 1, and vv. 1-3 form the most excellent introduction to a λόγος παρακλήσεως; it would thus seem as though the superscription with the address never constituted an integral part of. the Epistle at all and had therefore not been handed down by the tradition. With all reserve, then, I would venture to put forward the suggestion that—supposing, indeed, no separate form of address was used—the superscription was omitted as a precautionary measure, perhaps because the sender was obliged to entrust the transmission of his manuscript to Gentiles whom he did not wish to inform of the nature of the ʽdiscourseʼ that they were forwarding, or perhaps because all intercourse between writer and recipients was prohibited, and the former did not therefore wish to excite remark by making the statements at the head of his epistle too distinct. If this is not the right solution, we must assume that two lines or more have disappeared, consisting in an introduction in which the writer explained to his readers what he intended to set before them and by what right he addressed them: informing them, in fact, that he enclosed for their perusal an address of exhortation. This last, then, we should possess intact (i. 1—xiii. 21), while of the framework but the last and smaller portion (vv. xiii. 22-25) would have been preserved.

3. For about 1500 years the tradition of the Church has almost unanimously held that Paul was the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The history of the Canon shows us that the Eastern, especially the Alexandrian, Church received Hebrews early into its corpus Paulinarum, and—with many learned hypotheses, indeed, as to the draughtsman of the text—retained it there unanimously; that in the West, on the other hand, it was known even earlier, but not as a Pauline Epistle, and that it was only after the middle of the fourth century, under the pressure of Eastern tradition, that it gradually received recognition as a Pauline Epistle and at the same time found its way into the New Testament. This suspicious attitude of the Latins, who certainly could not have taken exception to the contents of the Epistle, at any rate during the decisive period—later they might have been dissatisfiedʼ with vv. vi. 4-8—is alone sufficient to raise a certain doubt as to the trustworthiness of the Pauline hypothesis; our next endeavour would be to explain their suspicions as arising from a variant tradition as to the author. And here we find in effect that Tertullian33 and Novatian34 speak of Barnabas as such, apparently unaware of any doubt as to his authorship. Then, again, it is very easy to see how in seeking for an author for the Epistle—now nameless, and full as it was of the deepest wisdom—Paulʼs name was thought of, for not only was Paul the Epistle-writer κατ̓ ἐξοχήν, but the antinomian tendency of Hebrews, and the systematic setting of the new revelation and the new covenant before the old, seemed entirely Pauline; isolated sentences and words35 not less so. Who but Paul could have written Heb. vii. 18, the assertion about the annulling of the commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness: ʽFor the law made nothing perfectʼ? Verse xiii. 9 surely suggested Paulʼs imprisonment, and perhaps also xiii. 8, but the mention above all of ʽour brother Timothyʼ36 seemed to force the assumption that the same man was responsible for this epistle as he from whom 1. Thessalonians,37 Philemon and 2. Corinthians had proceeded. It is true that we have here treated vv. xiii. 22-25 as genuine; but since 23 fits in so well with 19, and 22a is equally appropriate after the many words of blame that had gone before, while 22b—the smooth excuse of the practised orator—falls in so well with the character of the whole Epistle, the passage seems to me after all to be more comprehensible as the chief cause of the attribution to Paul of the Epistle, than as its subsequently invented justification. For in the latter case the inventor must have exercised a marvellous self-restraint, and his good fortune in that none of the friends of the Barnabas-hypothesis found out his stratagem, must have been even more marvellous. Nevertheless, the Pauline hypothesis must be absolutely given up. Even its first enthusiastic supporters, the Alexandrian masters Clement and Origen (about and after 200 4.p.), became convinced of the suspicious fact that the style of Hebrews was utterly different from that of Paul. And indeed the difference in vocabulary is already striking enough: for instance, the Pauline Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς is altogether absent, while even Ἰησοῦς Χριστός is only to be found in three places38; a favourite conjunction with Hebrews is ὅθεν, which Paul never uses, and Hebrews employs the word ἀνακαινίζειν39 where Paul writes ἀνακαινοῦν (ἀνακαίνωσις).40 But, above all, the manner, the style and the temperament are entirely different here from what they were in the ten Pauline Epistles which we have been discussing. Instead of the irregular, warm and personal way in which Paul expressed himself—sometimes so condensed as to be unintelligible, sometimes too full of words, but always lively and natural— the style of Hebrews is smooth and rhythmically rounded, it runs in artistic periods,41 is equable, still, transparent and sometimes impressive, while here and there it is adorned with similes. The rhetorical phrases alone which are mentioned on p. 152 above—and to which might be added ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν (vii. 9), the sole instance of this expression in the New Testament—point to a different education from that which Paul had enjoyed.

Altogether, this Epistle is written in better Greek than any other Book of the New Testament, whereas Paulʼs writings are always tinged with Hebrew colouring. And although it has been proposed to avoid these difficulties by the hypothesis that Paul had written the Epistle in Hebrew, as being addressed to Hebrews, and that what we possessed was merely a very clever translation, this unfortunately only proves that in New Testament criticism we must be prepared for every folly. The faultless elegance of the language, in which not even subtle plays upon words are wanting, and which presents so striking a contrast to the rude Greek of the Old Testament quotations, would be beyond the reach of any translator. Besides, how truly wonderful that in all the countless quotations from the Old Testament, even where it is only a matter of an allusion, his renderings are always correct according to the Septuagint; was this translator, then, in a position to look them all out in his Greek Bible without exception at the right place, and at the same time so fortunate as to be able, even where the Septuagint diverges in sense itself from the Hebrew text—which the original of Hebrews would after all have used—to remodel the context without a sign of stumbling so as to fit in with the altered wording of the references? Moreover, even in the introduction of these quotations the difference between the author and Paul becomes apparent; the latter uniformly prefers such formula as γέγραπται, λέγει ἡ γραφή etc., while in Hebrews these are totally lacking; it is God, or the Holy Spirit, or ʽone somewhereʼ (God speaking through him, of course, as we see from i. 1) who says here what Paul makes the Scriptures say, except when an impersonal λέγει, εἴρηκεν, ἐν τῷ λένγεσθαι, suffices.

But we cannot even allow the Epistle to be traced back indirectly to Paul—to be considered, for instance, as composed by the order and in the name of the Apostle by one of his companions, so that all the peculiarities of form could be set down to the latterʼs account, while the ideas (Td vorpara, according to Origen) were preserved to Paul. For, to begin with, the Epistle does not contain the slightest sign of professing to be written with Apostolic authority—on the contrary, the author distinguishes himself from ʽthem that heardʼ the Gospel of Jesus,42 which Paul could never have done. Then it is impossible in this case to divide the form from the matter; what the author expresses with such consummate clearness and certainty are not ideas thrust upon him from without, but his own inmost possession. Finally, it is true that Hebrews reminds us very often of Paul—so strongly, in fact, that a direct imitation of certain passages, at least, out of Romans and 1. Corinthians has been asserted (and Hebrews v. 12 fol., for instance, cannot be independent of 1. Cor. iii.). But this dependence is not necessarily a literary one, and the author of Hebrews may have appropriated these and other Pauline expressions and ideas from personal intercourse with Paul or with a Pauline community.

But the whole theological standpoint of the author of Hebrews is totally unlike that of Paul, nor can it be understood simply as a further development of the Pauline point of view. The Gentiles (ἔθνη) are not once mentioned, nor are Greeks and Jews; justification by faith and by the works of the Law is never spoken of, but we hear all the more of the perfection which manifests itself in doing the will of God; here we do not find the genuine Pauline idea of faith, but one which leans decidedly towards the side of hope in future possessions43; and the words ʽin Christ,ʼ which are not even lacking in Philemon, may be searched for here in vain. The Cross of Christ is certainly mentioned in xii. 2, and his sufferings and death are also recalled in other passages, but not with the same fervour as with Paul. The idea of justification has disappeared; the antithesis between flesh and spirit, upon which Paul founded his religious conception of the world, is nowhere brought forward as the directing force in the process of salvation. Paulʼs mystical conception of this has vanished. Hebr. vi. 4 and x. 29 are the only passages of the Epistle in which it is claimed that any trace exists of the lofty feeling which marks the possessor of the Holy Spirit, and even there the expressions are not Pauline. It is true that in the picture of Christ there is nothing antagonistic to the Pauline conception, but there is a difference in the salient points; the author of Hebrews is mainly concerned with representing Jesus as the Son of God, who came from heaven to earth and returned again to heaven as inheritor of the dominion of the world, as our example in obedience and our forerunner in the eternal blessedness which consists in nearness to God. In its Christology, though not in that alone, Hebrews stands intermediate between the Epistles of Paul and John. But it is not my intention to give a complete enumeration of its divergences from Pauline ideas; further evidence against the tradition will appear hereafter.

4. Since the question of authorship will ever remain the most critical, let us now attempt to set down the internal evidence to be obtained from Hebrews as to its origin. Here we find that the date may be fixed at once with tolerable probability. Our Epistle was unquestionably used in the so-called First Epistle of Clement, which was addressed from Rome to Corinth shortly before the year 100; this alone would be enough to fix the terminus ad quem of Hebrews at about the year 95. And since it is natural to consider the ʽTimothyʼ of xiii. 23 as Paulʼs old friend, this would be reason enough for going back a little earlier in time, for this Timothy, who had just been liberated and was about to start m a journey, could hardly have been a very aged man. On the other hand, it seems probable that Paul was dead, for so long as he was alive it is difficult to find room for this imprisonment of Timothy; and, more than this, those men ʽwho had the rule over youʼ and who ʽspake unto you the word of Godʼ (xiii. 7), had by now brought their pilgrimages to an end. It is natural to suppose that they had met their end through martyrdom, but even then it is quite arbitrary to confine the expression ʽthem that had the rule over youʼ to Peter and Paul. Ver. ii. 3 does not say, indeed, that Jesusʼ hearers had left the stage, and that the Apostolic Age had disappeared, but yet a certain interval of time is implied between those primitive days and the Christianity of the present. Verses v. 1244 and vi. 7 in particular would lead us to assume that the Christianity of those addressed was of tolerably long standing; but this, after all, gives us but an approximate idea. An important point seems to be that in x. 82-84 there is a question of ʽthe former days,ʼ in which the addressees, Christians already, had proved themselves in the grievous afflictions that had come over the believers, partly through their own sufferings and partly through their faithful comradeship with other heroes of the faith. Now it seems that a second trial of this sort had recently set in, but, to the writerʼs sorrow, with few glorious results. Surely, too, vv. xii. 1-11 and the whole of chap. xi.45 were meant to kindle—not merely as a precautionary measure—their courage and their joy in suffering. This suggests the persecution of the Christians under the Emperor Domitian (81-96), at least to those who consider that xiii. 7 refers to the martyrdoms under Nero.

It is true that the majority of scholars place the Epistle between the years 64 and 70, and we cannot prove the impossibility of so doing. But, besides the considerations above mentioned, the isolated features of the picture which the Epistle gives of the contemporary Christian world speak in favour of assigning it to a later date—say, the year 85. The idealism of former days has disappeared46; there is no longer any serious belief in the long and vainly hoped for Second Coming and the heavenly reward—especially as so many persons have died without receiving it47—and, at any rate, no one is prepared to hazard, if need be, his honour and his life for such a faith.48 A careful observer would have noticed nothing but ʽretrogression in religion as well as morals49; there were individuals who had given up attending the public worship of God50; there even appear to have been cases of apostasy and shameless denial of the Son of God.51 It would of course be impossible to assert that this general deterioration was only possible from a certain decade onwards, but it would certainly have been more probable about the year 85 than 20 years earlier. The leaders52 were certainly no clerical order, but they were already noticeably removed from the ʽsaints.ʼ In xiii. 7, as in xiii. 17, they are something more than the προϊστάμενοι of 1. Thessalonians v. 12; they have become the shepherds of souls and the recognised examples. The community appears to have consisted of professional teachers, such as the author himself, and of pupils; and this in itself is little favourable to the early dating of the Epistle. Nor is there anything positive to authorise its assignment to some date before 70 A.D., for the supposed arguments in favour of it are connected with a faulty exegesis. For Zahnʼs cherished discovery in chronology, that the ʽforty yearsʼ of iii. 9 indicated the time between the crucifixion of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem, rests on a misunderstanding of the symbolic meaning of the whole section; according to the spirit of Hebrews we might rather reckon the forty years in the sense of iv. 2-4, as the whole period from the creation to the Incarnation of Christ. It shows very little comprehension of the authorʼs mode of argument to discover a reference to Jerusalem in xiii. 13, or to conclude from the fact of the authorʼs calling upon his readers to leave it (ʽfor we have not here an abiding cityʼ) that the ʽholy cityʼ was still standing (i.e. that he was writing before the August of 70). And even though the institutions of the Law—priests, sacrifices and the like— are frequently, though not without exception, spoken of as things of the present, (the strongest instance of this is ver. ix. 9, though only if we read, with Luther, καθ̓ ὅν for καθ̓ ἥν, which would refer to παραβολή or rather to ἡ πρώτη σκηνή), it does not therefore follow that the Temple of Jerusalem could not have been destroyed by that time. For the writer was not speaking of the Temple at all—the word ναός does not occur in the Epistle—but of the Mosaic tabernacle (σκηνή). Like many others, both of earlier and later times, he works without any regard to historical conditions, thinking only of the Scriptural picture of the Jewish worship, and drawing his knowledge of it solely from the Books of Moses.

But perhaps the most preposterous argument of all is that based on ver. vill. 13, where the old covenant is spoken of as ʽnigh unto vanishing awayʼ (ἐγγὺς ἀφανισμοῦ), and therefore did not count as vanished yet—as though it did disappear in the year 70! The word nigh, of course, applies to the moment when God spoke, i.e. Jeremiah xxxi. 81 ete., and the vanishing away began at the moment when Jesus inaugurated the new covenant. If we were to affirm, however, that the author, supposing him to have witnessed the catastrophe of the year 70, could not have allowed the most telling argument for his super-Judaistic attitude to escape him—viz. the fulfilment of the doom prophesied against the earthly Jerusalem—we should be confusing our own feelings with those of the unknown writer; in his eyes the political history of the Jews of that day was incapable of serving as evidence, for this he found exclusively in the divine revelation as manifested either in the Old Testament or in Christ. Were it not so, how could he have forgotten that still stronger piece of evidence, that the earthly High-Priests had bound the heavenly High-Priest to the Cross? So long, then, as we do not know when Timothy died, there is no reason for considering the year 70 A.D. as a terminus ad quem; there is nothing against fixing the date between 75 and 90 A.D.

5. The position taken up by most investigators with regard to the question of the date of Hebrews depends on their judgment as to the object of the Epistle, and certainly some definite information as to its destination would be most desirable. Where are we to look for the community, or closely connected group of communities, which we have already53 established as forming the addressees for the Epistle? The superscription πρὸς Ἑβραίους does not help us much towards a decision, for we only have evidence of it towards the end of the second century —although then it is uncontested, and Hast and West possess it alike; but it gives far too strong an impression of having been decided on to suit the contents,54 by men who were seeking an address to correspond with those of the rest of the Pauline Epistles. It is for us only a piece of the same ecclesiastical tradition which has shown itself so little trustworthy in the matter of the author.

But, even if it were genuine, the choice would still be an open one between (1) Hebrew-speaking and therefore Palestinian Christian communities, (2) those of the Dispersion consisting of former Jews,55 and even (8) Jewish Christian members of a great Gentile community—for, after all, the addressees can only have been baptised Christians. But it is only the force of tradition which can possibly explain the astounding fact that to this day the community of Jerusalem —which did indeed migrate to Pella in the year 66 or 67—is seriously considered as having been the recipient of Hebrews. All the evidence we have speaks against this theory. Even though Greek may have been understood in Palestine, it would still have been scarcely suitable to address an epistle written in the most polished Greek to the Jewish-Christian community of Jerusalem, while to have made use of the Septuagint alone would have been naive indeed. Nor is it easy to suppose that the Christians of Jerusalem should have looked forward so eagerly to the return of Timothy. According to Gal. 11. 10 the community there was miserably poor, but such is not the impression we receive of its readers from Hebr. x. 34, still less from vi. 10, whoever may have been the recipient of the succour there mentioned. And is it probable that our author would have waited till ii. 3 to tell such Christians as these who was their security for the true Gospel—that in his warnings against degeneration and backsliding he should have overlooked his most effective argument, the fact that they were walking on the very ground over which Jesus had borne his Cross, and on which he had appeared in glory as the Risen One?

There are fewer objections to the countless other hypotheses —such as those of Alexandria, Antioch, Jamnia and Ravenna —but this is chiefly because we know next to nothing of the earliest history of these communities. The only supposition that is really encouraged by the Epistle itself—although absolute certainty is nevertheless out of the question—is that Hebrews was addressed to the place where it first made its appearance, z.e. to Rome. In Rome Timothy was certainly well known and beloved, and he might have been expelled thence for a time by the authorities; the greeting from ʽthem of Italyʼ would also suit Rome well, for these men were probably Christians now in the writerʼs company, but far from their own homes; and how but through some local connection should they and no others be linked so closely to the recipients of the letter?

It is true that the Roman community was not a Hebrew one in the year 90, nor even in the year 66. But it is surely nothing but custom and an imperfect comprehension of the writerʼs mode of argument that still leads so many to consider the Jewish-Christian character of the recipients as an axiom, or, as they put it, ʽa self-evident conclusion.ʼ Even if Rome is not its right address,.we must still assert that Hebrews was directed simply to Christians, without any reference to their nationality, and that the question of the origin of these members of the true People of God existed neither for the writer nor for the readers of the Epistle. The words ʽthe fathersʼ56 and ʽthe seed of Abrahamʼ57 are explained by Romans iv. 1 and 12; and passages like ii. 2 and 8 and iii. 5 and 6—in which the ʽweʼ is said to have been meant as an antithesis—if anything, prevent the identification of those called to the salvation of the New Covenant with the members of the Old. Verse ix. 15 does not by any means oblige us to regard those ʽthat had been calledʼ as the perpetrators of the — ʽtransgressions that were under the first covenantʼ; it is merely the writerʼs object to teach men to regard the death of Jesus as much in the light of a termination of the period of transgression as in that of an introduction to the period of the eternal inheritance; for the threats of punishment in the Old Covenant must first be carried out in that death before the new age of fulfilment could begin. The mention of the many whom Jesus led to salvation58 is surely meant as a comparison with the ʽsmall peopleʼ of the Old Testament. In i. 9 we hear that Jesus tasted death ʽfor every man,ʼ and since in vii. 27 and xiii. 12 he is described as having done this for ʽthe people,ʼ and as having been able to make propitiation59 for the sins of the people, this means something different from ʽthe peopleʼ of the Old Testament: it means the Elect, the People of God. In vii. 11 and ix. 19, the author speaks of the people to whom the law of Moses was given as of an alien body. Is it possible that the saints, whose way into the Holy Place now lay open before them for all time,60 could be identical or, indeed, even commensurate with the people,61 whose ʽerrorsʼ could only be imperfectly removed by the worship of the Old Covenant? And does the description of his readers as men ʽcleansed from dead works to serve the living Godʼ62 apply so very aptly to converted Jews?

A still stronger argument is afforded by v. 12-vi. 5, according to which these readers needed again and again to be informed of ʽthe rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God,ʼ and even of such things as ʽrepentance for dead works,ʼ ʽfaith towards God,ʼ ʽteaching of baptisms and of laying on of hands,ʼ ʽthe resurrection of the dead and the eternal judgment.ʼ Of these things it was surely unnecessary to remind men who had once been Jews. Besides this, the faults which the writer contends against as of the first magnitude among his readers—fornication, the want of zeal, of vigorous faith and of joy in hope—point rather to a community of Gentile Christians. If, however, it be urged that the writerʼs arguments move exclusively upon an Old Testament foundation, and that chaps. vii—ix. especially presuppose an intimate acquaintance with the religious ordinances of the Old Testament, it is at most thereby proved that many Gentile Christian readers must have misunderstood the authorʼs meaning. But although this would apply to many a Jewish Christian reader too, and although the speculations of Hebrews are devoid of all convincing power for us to-day, the author himself certainly believed that they would have a great effect; and since the Christians of that day had other needs than those of ours, and considered it one of their first duties to be fully acquainted with the Holy Scriptures—with Leviticus no less than with the Psalms— they probably did have such an effect.

But, it may be urged, what if the deadly sin mentioned specifically and threatened with the direst punishment in Hebrews— that apostasy against which the writer warns us—signified a relapse from Christianity into Judaism? The only passage which might seem to suggest this interpretation is xiii. 9-16, where the advice concerning the proper sacrifices and such as would be well pleasing to God does certainly sound as though the ʽmeatsʼ which were so important in the readersʼ eyes were meats of sacrifice. But here the end of verse 9 shows precisely that the readers themselves had not yet learnt the worthlessness of such meats (οἱ περιπατοῦντες are not the same persons as those addressed in the preceding μὴ παραφέρεσθε: a theologian of the first century would never have characterised the Judaistic preaching as ʽdivers and strange teachingsʼ); rather some new heresy had recently made its appearance among them—some teaching of a Judaistic character, perhaps like that of Colossae, which found favour with the Christians of that day in their craving for reality. But that this was not the most serious danger, but only a symptom of the general falling-off in religious energy, is shown by the mere fact that it is only mentioned cursorily at the end of the Epistle and met by the fluent methods of an artificial exegesis. Since it is here,63 however, that the cry is raised, ʽLet us therefore go forth unto Jesus without the camp . . . for we have not here an abiding city,ʼ the patrons of the Hebrew hypothesis interpret this as a summons to the readers to leave behind them the national and religious fabric of Israel to which they belonged. The readers themselves would hardly have understood so dark a speech, and a form of rhetoric which brought in the main idea of the Epistle so incidentally—à propos of a statement about sacrifices—and expected success to follow would indeed be strange. The going forth to Jesus is equivalent to a searching for the future city, and the camp which was to be abandoned represents the outward world64 with its pleasures— in fact the meaning of this verse is exactly the same as that of iv. 11, ʽlet us give diligence to enter into that rest.ʼ Nor does the writer speak of the ʽweakness and unprofitablenessʼ of the Law65 out of anxiety lest his readers should once more subject themselves to it, but because it was in this way that he could most triumphantly demonstrate the dignity and sublimity of the Christian revelation. He knows that the fair growth of the Christian spirit among his readers was threatened less by false teachers than by all manner of temptations to sin, to recantation in adversity and trouble, when their endurance was put to too severe a test, and to perplexity concerning the prophecies, whose fulfilment was too long delayed. These things he hopes to check by making it clear to them with all his theological skill and all his earnestness of conscience, that the religion of the New Covenant rested on a firm66 foundation, that it fulfilled all the prophecies, and with its infinite wealth in heavenly goods could never make too high a claim upon their conduct, or be too dearly bought by any sacrifice.

I repeat once more: all these considerations by no means exclude Jewish-born Christians from among the addressees of Hebrews; but the author himself is at bottom indifferent as to what the brethren had believed before their enlightenment; for him Christianity was a new religion, and it is principally a matter of accident that from isolated indications let fall by the writer, it appears that he himself conceived of his hearers as former idolaters. But it was only possible to ignore the difference between ʽGentile and Jewʼ with such absolute freedom, after Paul had completed his mission, with its profound effect upon the history of the world; and where else than in Rome could the conditions for this attitude of indifference have been so favourable? Thus, then, we find both Zahn and Harnack agreeing as to Rome, but both qualifying their assignment; Zahn adds that it was ʽa group of Roman Christians consisting entirely of native Jews,ʼ while Harnack describes them as ʽa small circle of Christians (a single household of the faithful) in Rome.ʼ The arguments which they bring forward do not seem to me to be convincing. The theory of a Jewish group has been already disposed of, and why should we suppose that the author did not write to a whole community? First, they reply, because those to whom the Epistle was addressed formed an absolutely united and harmonious group, and such uniformity in religious and moral conditions would have been incredible in so large and varied a community as that of Rome. But we do not know whether the author of Hebrews had sufficient art to throw light on the different shades of opinion which certainly existed, or whether he even wished to do so: was not his chief object, perhaps, to bring into prominence the fundamental errors in which one and all were partakers? The larger the circle to whom he wrote, the easier would it be, as well as the more fruitful from an educational point of view, to employ this method of treating the subject; it would have been little short of tactless in addressing a household of which he knew every member personally. Secondly, it is urged that the warning in v. 12 (that his readers ought long since to have been teachers) would not be appropriate if addressed to a community in which youths and new converts were constantly to be found: it must be intended for a group of older Christians. But did the house-community never increase? and can we seriously think of it as of a school from which in course of time bands of teachers regularly emerged? The ὀφείλοντες εἶναι διδάσκαλοι is intended to be taken cum grano salis, and serves to emphasise the contrast between the ideal and the real. But the ideal could be applied in an unqualified degree to the collective community, whose ultimate aim must indeed be to teach, even though all its members did not attempt it in so subtle a form as the author of Hebrews, or even by word of mouth at all. Thirdly, it is asserted that only a narrow circle of older Christians could be exhorted67 to remember their glorified. leaders of former times, or reminded of the rich fame which they bore with them from those early days; and that the words ʽwe desire that each one of you may show the same diligenceʼ68 sound as though they were addressed to a small homogeneous group. But I cannot imagine any better way of stirring up the sense of honour in a large community than by pointing to the noble features of its past. None of us in a similar case would mention the exceptions—those who had had no share in them; and Paul, for instance, would have uttered the desire expressed in vi. 11, not only to a large community, but to the whole of Christendom.

It is said that xiii, 17-24 cannot easily mean anything but that the addressees had their own ἡγούμενοι, but were also subordinate to the ἡγούμενοι of the community. I can detect no difference between the ἡγούμενοι of ver. 17 and those of ver. 24; the πάντας which is quite natural in the greeting of 24 would be absurd in the exhortation to obedience of 17; and ʽall the saintsʼ who are to be greeted in 24b are not the other Christians outside the house-community, but the other Christians who are not ἡγούμενοι.69 To interpret the ἐπισυναγωγὴ ἑαυτῶν70, again, as a separate assembly of this narrow circle is only possible if we assume a division of the collective community into parishes with settled boundaries: but would that be expedient about the year 85 A.D.?

In my opinion the only argument left for the household hypothesis is that it is very difficult to explain how the Romans came to forget the origin of the Epistle, if we take for granted that Hebrews was written to the whole Roman community by one of its prominent teachers. But since Harnack considers this forgetfulness to be intentional, he deprives himself of this point in his argument; the whole community, which would probably be dependent on a few leaders in such matters, might have shared the intention of giving the Epistle another name. As a matter of fact, the riddle is not so insoluble if the author was not an Apostle, but only some other highly honoured member of the community, of whom there were many in Rome. The letter would be read with gratitude once, and then laid aside—the more readily that it was considered far too learned for the average Christian—and its author would not have encouraged a cult of his ʽshortʼ epistle if, in effect, he soon returned to his community and was able to continue his work there for some time longer. When the public began once more to take an interest in the Epistle all data as to its origin had disappeared, and it was not the manner of that age to undertake methodical investigations, which might have yielded satisfactory results even then.

But those who cannot accept Rome as the destination of the Epistle can choose some other Italian community, or the Italian Christians collectively; the character of the Epistle is far rather ʽCatholicʼ than that of a private letter addressed to a religious clique.

6. Thus it is almost conclusively proved that the author was closely connected with the Pauline circle (as is indeed indicated by the ʽTimothyʼ of ver. xiii. 23), that he had been active as a teacher in Rome for a long period, and that, at a time when he was withdrawn from his community (probably by force, and certainly not merely for a short space), he communicated to them, in the form of a didactic epistle, the exhortations which were unfortunately most necessary, and which he considered it dangerous to delay until the time of his hoped for return. In view of the meagreness of the New Testament traditions, however, we certainly cannot maintain a priori that the name of this man, so full of the Spirit and of energy as he was, must be found somewhere in the New Testament. Since it became necessary to give up Paul, an endless variety of names have been suggested: Apollos, Barnabas, Clement, Luke, Silas, and lately even the husband and wife Aquila and Priscilla. Now the Epistle betrays no sign of composite authorship, but only shows that the writer was not alone, that he was surrounded by Christians who were likeminded with himself, and who shared his fate: in short, that Hebrews is the work of a single author is placed beyond all doubt. Anything which may be adduced in favour of the Apollos hypothesis applies almost equally to Aquila (or to his wife, if anyone can discover a feminine temperament or feminine fancy in the Epistle), viz. the probability of a continuous friendship with Timothy, the gift of teaching, the high culture (Apollos was an Alexandrian, but Priscilla and Aquila had expounded to this Alexandrian the tenets of Christianity), the fiery zeal for the Gospel, the close connection with Pauline theology, the freedom from the Law, the familiarity with Pauline forms of speech not necessarily resting on the study of his Epistles. Indeed, we might have expected that upon either of these the Pauline Gospel in all its fulness would have had a more powerful effect. We do not know whether Apollos ever went to Rome; Aquila and Priscilla, for their part, left Rome about 52 A.D. and generously supported Paul in Corinth and Ephesus; they could in no case have founded their Roman house-community before 52, but must have gone back from Ephesus to Rome and again have emigrated thence, or perhaps have been expelled from it. Some have felt justified in inferring from Romans xvi. 8 fol. that they returned to Rome before 58,71 in spite of the passage in 2. Timothy iv. 19, where they are mentioned as living in Ephesus. But we know far too little of the group which surrounded Paul to be able to say that only Apollos and Priscilla satisfy the demands which must be made for the author of Hebrews.

For Barnabas there is the evidence of the Latins; but may not their evidence be founded on error there no less than in the case of the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, which we find among the Apostolic Fathers and which no one now ascribes to Barnabas? Is not this ʽBarnabaeʼ just such an hypothesis of the Romans as the Παύλου is an hypothesis of the Alexandrians? In any case, we should have to suppose that Barnabas had developed greatly since the event spoken of in Gal. ii. 13—but that is not inconceivable. Can we, however, credit the Levite, to whom Jerusalem was thoroughly familiar, with misunderstandings in regard to Old Testament ceremonial such as those of ix. 8 fol., and vii. 27? According to ix. 4 the censer stood in the Holy of Holies; according to vii. 27 the high-priest offered his sacrifices daily for his own sins and the sins of the people: none but the exegete who takes the critical method of Hebrews for his model, will believe that ἔχουσα θυμιατήριον signifies only an ideal adjunct of the altar of the Holy of Holies, and that καθ̓ ἡμέραν means the same thing as κατ̓ ἐνιαυτόν. Others again see in such errors (which, moreover, need not be taken too seriously) nothing but the effects of a mistaken point of view: the author, they say, drew his picture of Jewish worship only from the study of the Scriptures. This is a point against Barnabas, and the absolute indifference of the writer to the antagonism between Jew and Gentile would be as remarkable in him as in Aquila, Paul or any others who had fought the battle of this fundamental principle. For the argument that Barnabas, the υἱὸς παρακλήσεως,72 might well have written this λόγος παρακλήσεως, as the Epistle declares itself to be,73 is surely only meant as a joke. Accordingly, the Barnabas hypothesis is not one which ʽhas all the probabilities on its sideʼ; but we should do best simply to decline to give any answer to the question of the writerʼs name. It would be far more valuable if we could give a sketch of his personality, but unfortunately the author, like everything personal in Hebrews, retires so much into the background that we must confine ourselves to a few indications, completing what was said on pp. 149, 152 and 153 above.

The safest conclusion is that in him ideas fundamentally Pauline were combined with numerous elements of Alexandrian theology, in such a way that he must be looked upon as a unique phenomenon in the history of the first century. The author was a Paulinising Christian of Alexandrian education. And since there was only a Jewish Alexandrinism at that time, he must have received this education and brought it with him into Christianity as a Jew—for to consider him as a Gentile by birth at such an early period would surely be somewhat bold. That he had read the works of the leader of the Jewish school of Alexandria, Philo,74 is, if not absolutely beyond question, at least extremely probable, when we consider his relatively numerous points of contact with that writer, e.g. in his Christological terms. For it goes without saying, that the similarity between him and Philo was in a sense ʽformal and confined,ʼ seeing that the latter had remained a Jew while the author of our Epistle had become a Christian. His taste not being identical with that of the modern ʽhistorianʼ he probably did not find the writings of the Alexandrian Jew so distressingly dull. The form of ʽexegesis in Hebrews, consisting in a reasoning from symbols, is very Philonian, and the description of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies as the first and second tabernacles,75 in connection with the first and second Covenants, is a model of this kind. The antitheses between shadow and reality,76 created and uncreated,77 things. divine and things earthly,78 things of the past79 and things to come80 (which for the believer indeed are already present), things transient and things enduring,81 rule the thoughts of the exegetist, not that between sin and grace. What was essential in his eyes to a true comprehension of the Old Testament revelation was to recognise behind the shadow, the emblem, the parable, the antitype (εἰκών, σκία, ὑπόδειγμα, παραβολή, ἀντίτυπον) the forms of the things themselves82; and the more artificial and farfetched were the means of attaining to such knowledge, the more convincingly would they act upon the disciple of such an art. With the complete lack of historical sense characteristic of Alexandrinism, it entirely ignores such historical questions as that of the religious value of the Jewish worship, practised as it was or would still be according to the letter. Such a question could only excite interest in so far as it supplied the colours for the religious ideal to be depicted.

Professor Riehm has tried to prove that the leading theological ideas in Hebrews are of Palestinian origin—e.g. that of the Sabbath rest of the Children of Israel—but has stated the fundamental question wrongly, so that his lengthy work on the doctrinal ideas of Hebrews (1867) is no more than a sign of retrogression. We could not do our author a greater wrong than by bringing him into direct connection with the Christianity of the Primitive Apostles. Nowhere does he declare himself to be their disciple, least of all in ii. 8, where ʽeven οἱ ἀκούσαντες can scarcely refer exclusively to the Primitive Apostles,ʼ and still less can the author alone be understood in ἡμᾶς. Only the eyes that are endowed with the power of searching the Apostolic world of thought in its other aspects also, can see that the mortal shape of Jesus was present to our authorʼs mind quite otherwise than to that of Paul—in colours more vivid—and this precisely on the ground that he possessed the testimony of eyewitnesses. Are we to suppose that the fact mentioned in Hebrews xiii. 12, that the hill of Golgotha lay outside the gates of Jerusalem, was known only in Primitive Apostolic circles? The merit of Riehmʼs theory lies in its recognition of the fact that the incarnation of the Son of God and his sojourn on earth was of greater religious importance to the author than to Paul: yet this is not a sign of pre-Pauline thought, but of victory over Pauline one-sidedness. The theologian of the second Christian generation is seen throughout. In reality Hebrews is in its essential points further removed from the Primitive Apostles than Paul himself; its author thinks no longer of a settlement with Judaism; he knows of no prior rights of the Israelites under the New Covenant. The stress he lays upon sanctification, upon good works, and upon obedience, is not specifically primitive Apostolic; it is rather primitive Catholic.

Thus we willingly renounce the idea of finding a name for a great unknown; we can understand the Epistle and assign it an historical value, without knowing its gifted author by name. It is a document of post-Apostolic times, and to us it is almost pathetic, because it shows us one of the best men of those days labouring by means of the subtleties of his artificial theology to reanimate the spirit which was threatening to vanish from among the multitude; we see a representative of the ecclesiastical aristocracy then in progress of formation, impressed with the sense of each believerʼs responsibility for the rest83; his work is the most living protest we possess against the pietistic self-satisfaction of a collection of independent communities.

A state of spiritual indifference such as is combated by the writerʼs strong idealism might at one time or another have come over any community, and therefore the Epistle would from the very first day of its appearance, even if it was only intended for Rome or Puteoli, have been equally useful to other Christians. It has a right to dwell in the Canon, in spite of its Alexandrian subtleties, for through it there breathes something of the spirit of the first great age.



1) x. 26-31, xi. 1-40, xiii, 10-12.

2) xiii, 8,

3) xiii. 22, and cf. x. 25b.

4) v. 12.

5) v. 13.

6) vi. 1,

7) v, 14.

8) v. 1-3. 4 i.

9) i. 4-ii. 18.

10) iii. l-iv. 13.

11)  iv. 14_vii. 28.

12) viii. 1-x. 18.

13) E.g., ii. 1-4, iii. 7-iv. 2, iv. 14-16, v. 11-vi. 12.

14) x, 19-25.

15) x, 26-31.

16) x, 32-39.

17) xi. 1-40.

18) xii, 1-11.

19) xii. 12-17.

20) xii. 18-29.

21) xiii. 1-17.

22) Vv. 9-16.

23) iii. 22, x. 19) xiii. 22.

24) vi. 9.

25) iii. 1.

26) E.g., iii. 1 and 6, ii. 13 and 14, iv. 1, φοβηθῶμεν μήποτέ . . . τις ἐξ ὑμῶν; xii. 1-3, xii. 25, xii. 2-6:

27) xi. 32.

28) ii. 5, viii. 1, ix. 5.

29) E.g., in ii. 1 and 3, but also in Paulʼs 1st Epistle to the Thessalonians, v. 5b-10, beside 1-5a and 11.

30) ii. 5, vi. 9, 11, xiii. 18.

31) x, 32-34, vi. 10.

32) v, 11-vi. 8.

33) About 220.

34) After 250.

35) E.g. ii. 2, cf. Gal. iii, 19; ii. 10, cf. Rom. xi. 36; x. 10 fol. 19-23, xiii 6,

36) xiii. 23.

37) Esp. ver. iii. 2.

38) x. 10. xiii. 8 and 21.

39) vi. 6

40) 2. Cor. iv. 16; Col. iii. 10.

41) E.g., i. 1-4, ii, 2-4, 14 fol., vii. 20-22 and 23-25.

42) ii. 3.

43) xi. 1.

42) ii. 3.

43) xi. 1.

44) By reason of the time, ye ought to have been teachers.ʼ

45) Esp. vv. 35b-38.

46) xii. 3, 12 fol.

47) xi. 13, 40,

48) iii, 6, 12-14 and 19, iv. 1 fol., vi. 15, x. 19-25.

49) v. 11-vi. 8, xii. 15 fol., xiii, 4.

50) x. 25.

51) x. 29, and cf. xii. 25.

52) xiii. 7, 17, 24.

53) Pp, 152, 153.

54) Thus as early as i. 1 we have ʽthe fathers,ʼ in ii. 16,ʽAbrahamʼs seed,ʼ and xiii. 13 is still more suggestive.

55) Thus in Philip, iii. 5, the Tarsian Paul is called Ἑβραῖος.

56) i. 1.

57)  ii, 16.

58) ii. 10, ix. 28, xii. 15.

59) ii. 17.

60) ix. 8.

61) ix. 7.

62) ix. 14,

63) ver, 13.

64) x. 5, vi. 7, 38.

65) vii. 18 fol.

66) βέβαιος, ii, 2, iii. 6, 14, vi. 19, ix. 17.

67) Heb. x. 32 fol., xiii. 7.

68) vi. 11.

69) Cf. the πάντας of 2. Cor. xiii, 12 fol.; Philip. iv. 21 fol.

70) x. 25.

71) Against this see above, pp. 109-111.

72) Acts iv. 36.

73) Heb. xiii. 22.

74) Died A.D. 40.

75) viii. 7-ix. 12.

76) ἡ σκηνὴ ἡ ἀληθινή, viii. 2, and cf. ix. 24.

77) ix. 11.

78) ix. 1, x. 5, vi. 4, viii. 5, ix. 23.

79) ix. 9.

80) μέλω αἰών, μέλλοντα ἀγαθά, and the like: vi. 5, ix. 11, x. 1, and cf. xi. 20.

81) vii. 3 and 24, x. 34, xii. 27; xiii. 14.

82) x. 1.

83) xii. 15.