Who Wrote Hebrews? The True Author of the Book (HINT: NOT PAUL!)

Marko Marina Author Bart Ehrman

Written by Marko Marina, Ph.D.

Author |  Historian |  BE Contributor

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Date written: April 3rd, 2024

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

In the realm of New Testament scholarship, few questions provoke as much intrigue and debate as the authorship of its texts. Among these, the Epistle to the Hebrews is a monumental work, unique in style and theology, yet shrouded in mystery regarding its origin. 

The quest to uncover the author of Hebrews invites us into a fascinating journey through early Christian history and textual analysis. It beckons us to look beyond the surface, to scrutinize and question long-held beliefs with a scholarly eye.

In this article, we set out on a scholarly expedition, armed with historical, textual, and theological tools, to explore the myriad clues left behind by the early church fathers, the linguistic stylings of the text, and the theological nuances that might hint at its author. The traditional attribution to the apostle Paul will be put under the microscope.

As we peel back the layers of tradition and hearsay, we invite our readers to join us in this intriguing quest. Who wrote Hebrews? The answer might surprise you! 

But before we begin, I’m pleased to invite you to a captivating course “The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John” by a renowned historian of early Christianity Dr. Bart D. Ehrman. Dr. Ehrman offers a scholarly exploration of the Gospels delineating between history, myth, and tradition. If you want to know what contemporary historians have discovered about the origins of Christianity and Jesus’ life, this course is for you! 

Who Wrote Hebrews_ The True Author of the Book

The Book of Hebrews and the Pauline Attribution

Church tradition has long held the Apostle Paul as the author of the Book of Hebrews, a claim tracing back to at least the end of the 2nd century. This stance is bolstered by early manuscript evidence, which nearly always situates Hebrews within the Pauline corpus.

A notable example is Papyrus 64 (P64), the oldest manuscript collection of Paul's letters, dating from between 150 and 200 C.E. The placement of Hebrews between Romans and Corinthians in the earliest manuscript (P64) suggests the early Church's belief in its Pauline origin.

Bruce Metzger notes the varied position of the Book of Hebrews in other surviving Greek manuscripts. Interestingly enough, its position is always closely related to the Pauline corpus:

  • Immediately after Romans
  • After 2 Corinthians
  • After Galatians
  • After Ephesians
  • After Titus

Philip Comfort highlights the significance of this positioning: “Because of its popularity, the Book of Hebrews seemed to have enjoyed wide circulation - this was promoted by the fact that most Christians in the East thought it was the work of Paul and therefore was included in Pauline collections.” This significant acceptance in the East underscores the epistle's perceived linkage to Paul and its consequent inclusion in the canon. 

Furthermore, several influential early Church figures staunchly defended this traditional view. Eusebius, an eminent church historian, didn’t list Hebrews among the disputed books in his canon, implying his endorsement of its Pauline attribution.

By the end of the 5th century, the epistle's status within the New Testament canon was solidified, in no small part due to Augustine of Hippo's vigorous defense of its traditional authorship. Augustine's influence and theological insights were crucial in cementing Hebrews' place among the divinely inspired scriptures.

This long-standing tradition and the historical evidence supporting Pauline's authorship of Hebrews set the stage for a deeper investigation into the matter. As we delve further, we’ll put to test the traditional theory, exploring whether the internal evidence and external attestations align with or challenge the belief in Paul's authorship. 

The Author of Hebrews: Internal Evidence and External Attestations

Instead of the formal introduction customary to many New Testament letters, the Book of Hebrews captivates us from the outset with a profound theological declaration: “In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe (1:1).”

This striking opening contrasts markedly with, for instance, the beginning of Galatians, where Paul identifies himself and his apostolic mission right from the start: “Paul, an apostle - sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead - and all the brothers and sisters with me. To the churches in Galatia (Gal 1:1-2).”

Furthermore, the author of Hebrews maintains this anonymity throughout the text, never stepping forward to identify himself. This silence departs from the personal touches and direct addresses that characterize Paul's undisputed letters

This lack of internal evidence gently points us to a tantalizing possibility: Could it be that the traditional theory that confidently places the Book of Hebrews alongside Paul’s letters needs to be reconsidered? Let’s explore this question further by looking at the external attestations! 

Did the early Church unanimously accept the theory of Paul's authorship of the Book of Hebrews? Let’s see! 

Unlike the authentic letters of Paul, the authorship of Hebrews was a matter of dispute among the influential early Church authors. Tertullian, for instance, claimed that Barnabas (a traveling companion of Paul) wrote it. 

According to Eusebius, both Hippolytus of Rome and Gaius of Rome rejected the Pauline origin of the Book of Hebrews. Writing about Hippolytus’ views, Eusebius asserts: “He mentions only thirteen epistles of the holy apostle, not counting that to the Hebrews with the others.” Interestingly enough, Eusebius then notes that “unto our day there are some among the Romans who do not consider this a work of the apostle.”

Perhaps Origen’s remark best capitulates the early Church uncertainty about the authorship of Hebrews: “If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of someone who remembered the apostolic teachings and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher…  But who wrote the epistle, in truth, only God knows.”

Who Wrote Hebrews in the Bible? Looking at Themes and Content

The Book of Hebrews isn't a letter nor written to the Hebrews. It’s a sermon, or what the author calls a “word of exhortation” (13:22).  

That’s enough to cast another layer of doubt on the traditional attribution. Paul’s letters, in contrast, are more clearly structured as epistolary communications addressing specific community issues, theological disputes, or moral guidance, often responding to reports or questions from the community.

The author of Hebrews addresses a congregation that has lost enthusiasm for the faith and in which some members may be drifting away. The group may have lost enthusiasm because of some earlier persecution, which the author describes as a “hard struggle with suffering". 

While the Book of Hebrews captivates us with its rich theology and mysterious authorship, it’s fascinating to note that the early Christian world was abuzz not just with this epistle but also with a text known as the Gospel According to Hebrews! This lesser-known work was distinct from the canonical Gospels and is referenced by several early Church Fathers, including Clement of Alexandria and Origen. 

Unlike the Book of Hebrews, which has been preserved in the New Testament canon, the Gospel According to Hebrews survives only in fragments and quotations by these early commentators. It provides a glimpse into the diversity of early Christian literature and reminds us of the myriad voices and perspectives that shaped the early Church's faith and practice.

He encourages the believers to persevere and endure. These Christians need faith, which the author defines in Hebrews 11:1 as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” To direct believers to what they cannot see, the author uses the Temple in Jerusalem, the sacrifices there, and the Jewish tradition as earthly things that point to the more real heavenly things. 

In the same chapter, the author offers several Old Testament figures as examples of faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Moses, and many more. This is where Abraham comes in. 

The author recalls that Abraham left his native land to set out for a place that he did not know. Even when Abraham lived in the land that God had promised him, he lived in tents, as if he were in a foreign country. That’s because, the author says, Abraham “looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Likewise, Abraham’s faith enabled him to look beyond his and Sarah’s barrenness and to receive the power to procreate and look forward to numerous descendants.

His faith empowered him to sacrifice his son Isaac because he looked forward to God’s ability to raise someone from the dead. This is a good example of typology: The author says that Abraham received Isaac back as a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection.

Here, Abraham serves as a model for a particular understanding of faith. Faith is placing one’s confidence in things unseen, things that lie in the future, and heaven. 

People who have such faith, as Abraham did, persevere in moving through this life, even when there is hardship and disappointment because they know that something better has been promised them. That’s the message of Hebrews for Christians who may have lost their initial enthusiasm for the Christian gospel.

Furthermore, Bart Ehrman notes another important theme constantly present in the Book of Hebrews: The superiority of Christ and the salvation he brings

  • Christ is superior to the Prophets (Heb 1:1-3)
  • Christ is superior to the Angels (Heb 1:4-11; 2:5-18)
  • Christ is superior to Moses (Heb 3:1-6)
  • Christ is superior to the Jewish Priesthood (4:14-5:10; 7:1-29)

While Paul and Hebrews share a common theological heritage, Hebrews embarks on a unique path, emphasizing the supremacy of Christ in aspects unparalleled in Paul’s writings. 

In Hebrews, Jesus is meticulously portrayed as superior to angels, Moses, the Jewish priesthood, and the sacrificial system, establishing a complex typology that intricately connects Old Testament figures and rituals with Christ’s celestial priesthood and once-for-all sacrifice. 

This focus on Christ's high priesthood and the detailed exploration of his intermediary role between God and humanity contrasts with Paul’s emphasis on Christ’s death and resurrection as the foundation for salvation and justification by faith. 

This thematic departure, alongside the sermon-like presentation of Hebrews compared to the direct, often personal communication style of Paul’s letters, subtly underscores the question, "Who wrote Hebrews?" It suggests that we might be looking at a different authorial voice within the early Christian tradition.

If the content and themes in the Book of Hebrews diverge from those found in the undisputed letters of Paul, what about the writing style and language? This question leads us further down the path of inquiry, as we now turn to examine the stylistic and linguistic aspects of Hebrews. 

Did Paul Write Hebrews? Theology and Writing Style

While Hebrews shares some theological themes with Paul’s writings, such as faith, the role of Christ, and the concept of a new covenant, it presents these themes differently. Hebrews places a unique emphasis on Christ’s priesthood, drawing extensively on Old Testament imagery and the figure of Melchizedek, which isn't paralleled in the same way in Paul’s writings.

Moreover, Hebrews lacks these personal touches unlike Paul’s undisputed letters, which often begin with a personal greeting and include personal references and direct communication with the recipients. It doesn’t start with Paul's typical greeting formula, nor does it conclude with his usual personal remarks and greetings, suggesting a different authorial approach.

Concerning the writing style, the author of Hebrews utilizes long, complex sentences and a rhetorical style that reflects the influence of Hellenistic rhetoric and Jewish homiletical traditions. This contrasts with Paul’s writing, which, while occasionally rhetorical, generally adopts a more argumentative and less formal tone.

Furthermore, Paul’s letters often display a passionate, personal, and occasionally abrupt style, which differs from the cohesive, sermon-like exposition found in Hebrews.

Clement of Alexandria was among the first to note the substantial linguistic differences between the Book of Hebrews and other Pauline epistles. Writing at the beginning of the 3rd century, He expressed the view that Luke had a role in the composition of Hebrews, as the translator of Paul’s original Hebrew version into Greek. 

St. Jerome also noted the stylistic differences but still accepted Paul as the author suggesting that he deliberately chose not to put his name on the letter because it was written to Hebrews who held Paul in disrepute. Modern scholars agree with the stylistic concerns of the early Church bishops.

Harold Attridge, for instance, notes: “There isn’t in the Pauline corpus, even in such a relatively reflective and carefully composed work as Romans, anything that matches the studied prose of Hebrews with its careful structure and rich rhetorical embellishment.”

This growing body of internal evidence accompanied by the lack of secure external attestation gently erodes the certainty of Pauline's authorship, layering our inquiry with doubt and intrigue. 

As we peel back these layers, we are compelled to ask: if the thematic content and stylistic nuances of Hebrews stray so markedly from Paul's known works, could this signal a different authorship? Who was the author of Hebrews?

With each piece of evidence nudging us away from the traditional attribution to Paul, we now turn our attention to the date of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Examining the timing of its composition offers another vital clue in our ongoing investigation. 

did Paul write Hebrews

Dating the Book of Hebrews: Another Clue In the Quest of Authorship

When was Hebrews written? This question marks a pivotal point in our investigation into the authorship of this enigmatic text. Clement of Rome, writing around 96 C.E., implicitly references the Book of Hebrews, setting a terminus ante quem - the latest possible date for the composition. In other words, this early reference provides an important clue, situating Hebrews within the timeline of Christian texts and suggesting its authorship occurred within the first century.

Alan C. Mitchell offers insightful analysis of the timing of Hebrews' composition, pointing out, “There are good reasons to think the sermon was written after the destruction of the Temple. Chief among them are the lack of specific references to the Temple cult in Hebrews and the development of the high-priestly Christology, which may have been facilitated by the end of the Jewish priesthood in Jerusalem.”

This observation aligns with internal evidence suggesting Hebrews was addressed to a second generation of Christians, navigating the complexities of faith amid suffering and possibly persecution. 

Moreover, the absence of direct references to the Temple, coupled with a sophisticated Christology that positions Jesus as the ultimate high priest, hints at a post-70 C.E. context - after the destruction of the Temple.

Adding to this, Raymond E. Brown's analysis of theological motifs presents another compelling reason to date Hebrews after 70 C.E. Brown highlights the thematic parallels between the Book of Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark, particularly in their understanding of Christ’s death as “redemption” (Greek λύτρον).

With these considerations in mind, it becomes increasingly clear that Paul could not have been the author of Hebrews. As Robert H. Gundry succinctly puts it: “Hebrews was written anonymously, and neither its contents and style nor early church tradition enables us to guess with confidence who may have written it.”

This definitive statement, supported by the evidence of dating, thematic content, and theological development, allows us to assert with certainty that Paul wasn’t the author of Hebrews. The question, "Who wrote Hebrews?" thus remains open, inviting further scholarly exploration.

If we can't pinpoint the real author behind this captivating document, might we uncover clues about its intended audience? Let’s take a look! 

Who Was the Book of Hebrews Written to?

The question of to whom the Book of Hebrews was written continues to intrigue scholars. The document's complex theological arguments and the nuanced understanding of Jewish traditions have led many to speculate about the specific community or communities that were its intended recipients.

While ancient commentators and some modern scholars lean towards a Palestinian location, particularly Jerusalem, due to the deep engagement with Jewish scripture and tradition found within the text, the hypothesis of a Roman audience cannot be dismissed lightly. 

Raymond Brown and John P. Meier, among others, have pointed to Rome - or perhaps a specific house church within the Roman community - as the likely recipients of this profound theological discourse. This speculation is further fueled by the diversity of scholarly suggestions including Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and Cyprus.

The argument for a Roman origin finds a curious piece of evidence in the author's conveyance of greetings from “those in Italy” (13:24). This reference, while intriguing, remains ambiguous and open to interpretation

Bart D. Ehrman notes that the phrase could imply greetings from individuals residing in Italy or from those originating from Italy but now living elsewhere, perhaps even with the author himself. This ambiguity has led to various interpretations, none of which can be conclusively proven given the current evidence.

The final decision, unfortunately, must be shrouded in uncertainty. Most scholars would agree that Rome is just one of several other possibilities. 


At the end of this scholarly journey through the mists of history and textual analysis, the question "Who wrote Hebrews?" remains open and invites further investigation and discussion. 

This article has traversed the realms of tradition, style, content, and external attestations, each turn on the path peeling back layers of assumption and revealing a richer tapestry of early Christian writing than previously imagined. 

Through this investigation, we have seen the traditional attribution to Paul unravel, confronted by the compelling divergence in theological focus, stylistic execution, and the epistle's historical context.

The evidence, both internal and external, points away from Paul as the author of Hebrews to a horizon of possibilities that has yet to be fully explored. Scholars such as Robert H. Gundry remind us that the anonymity of Hebrews, combined with its unique content and style, places us in a position of humble uncertainty, where definitive claims about authorship slip through our fingers like grains of sand. 

Marko Marina

About the author

Marko Marina is a historian with a Ph.D. in ancient history from the University of Zagreb (Croatia). He is the author of dozens of articles about early Christianity's history. He works as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Zagreb where he teaches courses on the history of Christianity and the Roman Empire. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball and spending quality time with his family and friends.

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