Reflection 10/2: Who Wrote Hebrews?
Dear Beloved People of St. John’s,
The epistle to the Hebrews, to be read this coming Sunday, is something of a puzzlement. One of my preaching professors, when I attributed Hebrews to St. Paul, wrote across the entire page in a red Sharpie, “NO!” As a new seminarian, not having yet taken a New Testament course—well, I had been taught that all of the epistles flowed from the pen of Paul. Thus, the response to my misattribution was one of the crucial lessons that the bible is more complex than I realized.
If Paul didn’t write Hebrews, then who did? The Greek language of Hebrews is the most beautiful of all of the texts in our Christian testament. Hebrews is a preaching text. The claim has been convincingly made that Hebrews was written by a Christian woman—Priscilla. In the Acts of the Apostles, Priscilla is introduced, along with her husband Aquila, as a fellow tent-maker to Paul. Together, Paul, Pricilla, and Aquila shared tent-making, their faith in Christ, and, perhaps along with Timothy, developed a plan to evangelize and church-plant not only in Corinth, but in Ephesus and Rome as well. Priscilla is attested as an important leader and gifted teacher in the early church.
It was common in the ancient world for writers to attribute their work to a more recognized author. Paul had a huge profile in the early church, and he already had authored many epistles. Priscilla understood that to ensure that her sermon to the Hebrews wouldn’t be suppressed and forgotten, she attributed it to Paul. The early compilers of the New Testament saw through the subterfuge. One ancient biblical theologian wrote that Hebrews was a “gift of God.” Exactly.
It would behoove all of us to understand that Hebrews was authored by a flinty, self-possessed woman of deep faith and extraordinary talent.