International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
HEBREWS, EPISTLE TO THE
1. The Author's Culture and Style
2. Letter, Epistle or Treatise?
3. A Unity or a Composite Work?
III. THE AUTHOR
(1) Alexandrian: Paul
(2) African: Barnabas
(3) Rome and the West: Anonymous
2. The Witness of the Epistle Itself
(1) Paul not the Author
(2) Other Theories
(a) Luke and Clement
(b) Barnabas; Priscilla and Aquila; Philip; Aristion; Apollos
1. General Character of the Readers
2. Jews or Gentiles?
3. The Locality of the Readers
1. Terminal Dates
2. Conversion and History of the Readers
3. Doctrinal Development
4. The Fall of Jerusalem
6. Two Persecutions
1. Summary of Contents
2. The Main Theme
3. Alexandrian Influences
4. The Christian Factor
In the King James Version and the English Revised Version the title of this book describes it as "the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews." Modern scholarship has disputed the applicability of every word of this title. Neither does it appear in the oldest manuscripts, where we find simply "to Hebrews" (pros Hebraious). This, too, seems to have been prefixed to the original writing by a collector or copyist. It is too vague and general for the author to have used it. And there is nothing in the body of the book which affirms any part of either title. Even the shorter title was an inference from the general character of the writing. Nowhere is criticism less hampered by problems of authenticity and inspiration. No question arises, at least directly, of pseudonymity either of author or of readers, for both are anonymous. For the purpose of tracing the history and interpreting the meaning of the book, the absence of a title, or of any definite historical data, is a disadvantage. We are left to infer its historical context from a few fragments of uncertain tradition, and from such general references to historical conditions as the document itself contains. Where no date, name or well-known event is fixed, it becomes impossible to decide, among many possibilities, what known historical conditions, if any, are pre-supposed. Yet this very fact, of the book's detachment from personal and historical incidents, renders it more self-contained, and its exegesis less dependent upon understanding the exact historical situation. But its general relation to the thought of its time must be taken into account if we are to understand it at all.
II. Literary Form.
1. The Author's Culture and Style:
The writer was evidently a man of culture, who had a masterly command of the Greek language. The theory of Clement of Alexandria, that the work was a translation from Hebrew, was merely an inference from the supposition that it was first addressed to Hebrew-speaking Christians. It bears none of the marks of a translation. It is written in pure idiomatic Greek. The writer had an intimate knowledge of the Septuagint, and was familiar with Jewish life. He was well-read in Hellenic literally (e.g. Wisdom), and had probably made a careful study of Philo (see VI below). His argument proceeds continuously and methodically, in general, though not strict, accord with the rules of Greek rhetoric, and without the interruptions and digressions which render Paul's arguments so hard to follow. "Where the literary skill of the author comes out is in the deft adjustment of the argumentative to the hortatory sections" (Moffatt, Introduction, 424). He has been classed with Luke as the most "cultured" of the early Christian writers.
2. Letter, Epistle or Treatise?:
It has been questioned whether Hebrews is rightly called a letter at all. Unlike all Paul's letters, it opens without any personal note of address or salutation; and at the outset it sets forth, in rounded periods and in philosophical language, the central theme which is developed throughout. In this respect it resembles the Johannine writings alone in the New Testament. But as the argument proceeds, the personal note of application, exhortation and expostulation emerges more clearly (Hebrews 2:1; Hebrews 3:1-12; 4:1, 14; 5:11; 6:09; 10:09; 13:7); and it ends with greetings and salutations (Hebrews 13:18). The writer calls it "a word of exhortation." The verb epesteila (the Revised Version (British and American) "I have written") is the usual expression for writing a letter (Hebrews 13:22). Hebrews begins like an essay, proceeds like a sermon, and ends as a letter.
Deissmann, who distinguishes between a "true letter," the genuine personal message of one man to another, and an "epistle," or a treatise written in imitation of the form of a letter, but with an eye on the reading public, puts Hebrews in the latter class; nor would he "consider it anything but a literary oration-hence, not as an epistle at all-if the epesteila, and the greetings at the close, did not permit of the supposition that it had at one time opened with something of the nature of an address as well" (Bible Studies, 49-50). There is no textual or historical evidence of any opening address having ever stood as part of the text; nor does the opening section bear any mark or suggestion of fragmentariness, as if it had once followed such an address.
Yet the supposition that a greeting once stood at the beginning of our document is not so impossible as Zahn thinks (Introduction to the New Testament, II, 313), as a comparison with James or 1 Peter will show.
So unusual is the phenomenon of a letter without a greeting, that among the ancients, Pantaenus had offered the explanation that Paul, out of modesty, had refrained from putting his name to a letter addressed to the Hebrews, because the Lord Himself had been apostle to them.
In recent times, Julicher and Harnack have conjectured that the author intentionally suppressed the greeting, either from motives of prudence at a time of persecution, or because it was unnecessary, since the bearer of the letter would communicate the name of the sender to the recipients.
Overbeck advanced the more revolutionary hypothesis that the letter once opened with a greeting, but from someone other than Paul; that in order to satisfy the general conditions of canonization, the non-apostolic greeting was struck out by the Alexandrians, and the personal references in Hebrews 13:22-25 added, in order to represent it as Pauline.
3. A Unity or a Composite Work?:
W. Wrede, starting from this theory, rejects the first part of it and adopts the second. He does not base his hypothesis on the conditions of canonization, but on an examination of the writing itself. He adopts Deissmann's rejected alternative, and argues that the main part of the book was originally not an epistle at all, but a general doctrinal treatise. Then Hebrews 13, and especially 13:18, were added by a later hand, in order to represent the whole as a Pauline letter, and the book in its final form was made, after all, pseudonymous. The latter supposition is based upon an assumed reference to imprisonment in 13:19 (compare Philemon 1:22) and upon the reference to Timothy in Hebrews 13:23 (compare Philippians 2:19); and the proof that these professed Pauline phrases are not really Pauline is found in a supposed contradiction between Hebrews 13:19 and 13:23. But 13:19 does not necessarily refer to imprisonment exclusively or even at all, and therefore it stands in no contradiction with 13:23 (compare Romans 1:9-13). And Timothy must have associated with many Christian leaders besides Paul. But why should anybody who wanted to represent the letter as Pauline and who scrupled not to add to it for that purpose, refrain from the obvious device of prefixing a Pauline greeting? Moreover, it is only by the most forced special pleading that it can be maintained that Hebrews 1-12 are a mere doctrinal treatise, devoid of all evidences of a personal relation to a circumscribed circle of readers. The period and manner of the readers' conversion are defined (2:3). Their present spiritual condition is described in terms of such anxiety and hope as betoken a very intimate personal relation (5:11; 6:9-11). Their past conflicts, temptations, endurance and triumph are recalled for their encouragement under present trials, and both past and present are defined in particular terms that point to concrete situations well known to writer and readers (10:32-36). There is, it is true, not in Hebrews the same intense and all-pervading personal note as appears in the earlier Pauline letters; the writer often loses sight of his particular audience and develops his argument in detached and abstract form. But it cannot be assumed that nothing is a letter which does not conform to the Pauline model. And the presence of long, abstract arguments does not justify the excision or explaining away of undoubted personal passages. Neither the language nor the logic of the book either demands or permits the separation of doctrinal and personal passages from one another, so as to leave for residuum a mere doctrinal treatise. Doctrinal statements lead up to personal exhortations, and personal exhortations form the transition to new arguments; they are indissolubly involved in one another; and chapter 13 presents no such exceptional. features as to justify its separation from the whole work. There is really no reason, but the unwarrantable assumption that an ancient writer must have conformed with a certain convention of letter-writing, to forbid the acceptance of Hebrews for what it appears to be-a defense of Christianity written for the benefit of definite readers, growing more intimate and personal as the writer gathers his argument into a practical appeal to the hearts and consciences of his readers,
III. The Author.
Certain coincidences of language and thought between this epistle and that of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians justify the inference that Hebrews was known in Rome toward the end of the 1st century A.D. (compare Hebrews 11:7, 31 and 1:3 with Clement ad Cor 9, 12, 36). Clement makes no explicit reference to the book or its author: the quotations are unacknowledged. But they show that Hebrews already had some authority in Rome. The same inference is supported by similarities of expression found also in the Shepherd of Hermas. The possible marks of its influence in Polycarp and Justin Martyr are too uncertain and indefinite to justify any inference. Its name does not appear in the list of New Testament writings compiled and acknowledged by Marcion, nor in that of the Muratorian Fragment. The latter definitely assigns letters by Paul to only seven churches, and so inferentially excludes Hebrews.
When the book emerges into the clear light of history toward the end of the 2nd century, the tradition as to its authorship is seen to divide into three different streams.
(1) Alexandrian: Paul
In Alexandria, it was regarded as in some sense the work of Paul. Clement tells how his teacher, apparently Pantaenus, explained why Paul does not in this letter, as in others, address his readers under his name. Out of reverence for the Lord (II, 2, above) and to avoid suspicion and prejudice, he as apostle of the Gentiles refrains from addressing himself to the Hebrews as their apostle. Clement accepts this explanation, and adds to it that the original Hebrew of Paul's epistle had been translated into Greek by Luke. That Paul wrote in Hebrew was assumed from the tradition or inference that the letter was addressed to Aramaic-speaking Hebrews. Clement also had noticed the dissimilarity of its Greek from that of Paul's epistles, and thought he found a resemblance to that of Acts.
Origen starts with the same tradition, but he knew, moreover, that other churches did not accept the Alexandrian view, and that they even criticized Alexandria for admitting Hebrews into the Canon. And he feels, more than Clement, that not only the language, but the forms of thought are different from those of Paul's epistles. This he tries to explain by the hypothesis that while the ideas were Paul's, they had been formulated and written down by some other disciple. He found traditions that named Luke and Clement of Rome, but who the actual writer was, Origen declares that "God alone knows."
The Pauline tradition persisted in Alexandria, and by the 4th century it was accepted without any of the qualifications made by Clement and Origen. It had also in the same period spread over the other eastern churches, both Greek and Syrian. But the Pauline tradition, where it is nearest the fountain-head of history, in Clement and Origen, only ascribes Hebrews to Paul in a secondary sense.
(2) African: Barnabas
In the West, the Pauline tradition failed to assert itself till the 4th century, and was not generally accepted till the 5th century. In Africa, another tradition prevailed, namely, that Barnabas was the author. This was the only other definite tradition of authorship that prevailed in antiquity. Tertullian, introducing a quotation of Hebrews 6:1, 4-6, writes: "There is also an Epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas. and the Epistle of Barnabas is more generally received among the churches than that apocryphal `Shepherd' of adulterers" (De Pudicitia, 20). Tertullian is not expressing his mere personal opinion, but quoting a tradition which had so far established itself as to appear in the title of the epistle in the MS, and he betrays no consciousness of the existence of any other tradition. Zahn infers that this view prevailed in Montanist churches and may have originated in Asia. Moffatt thinks that it had also behind it "some Roman tradition" (Introduction, 437). If it was originally, or at any time, the tradition of the African churches, it gave way there to the Alexandrian view in the course of the 4th century. A Council of Hippo in 393 reckons "thirteen epistles of the apostle Paul, and one by the same to the Hebrews." A council of Carthage in 419 reckons "fourteen epistles of the apostle Paul." By such gradual stages did the Pauline tradition establish itself.
(3) Rome and the West: Anonymous
All the evidence tends to show that in Rome and the remaining churches of the West, the epistle was originally anonymous. No tradition of authorship appears before the 4th century. And Stephen Gobarus, writing in 600, says that both Irenaeus and Hippolytus denied the Pauline authorship. Photius repeats this statement as regards Hippolytus. Neither he nor Gobarus mentions any alternative view (Zahn, Intro, II, 310). The epistle was known in Rome (to Clement) toward the end of the 1st century, and if Paul's name, or any other, had been associated with it from the beginning, it is impossible that it could have been forgotten by the time of Hippolytus. The western churches had no reason for refusing to admit Hebrews into the Pauline and canonical list of books, except only that they did not believe it to be the work of Paul, or of any other apostle.
It seems therefore certain that the epistle first became generally known as an anonymous writing. Even the Alexandrian tradition implies as much, for it appears first as an explanation by Pantaenus why Paul concealed his name. The idea that Paul was the author was therefore an Alexandrian inference. The religious value of the epistle was naturally first recognized in Alexandria, and the name of Paul, the chief letter-writer of the church, at once occurred to those in search for its author. Two facts account for the ultimate acceptance of that view by the whole church. The spiritual value and authority of the book were seen to be too great to relegate it into the same class as the Shepherd or the Epistle of Barnabas. And the conception of the Canon developed into the hard-and-fast rule of apostolicity. No writing could be admitted into the Canon unless it had an apostle for its author; and when Hebrews could no longer be excluded, it followed that its apostolic authorship must be affirmed. The tradition already existing in Alexandria supplied the demand, and who but Paul, among the apostles, could have written it?
The Pauline theory prevailed together with the scheme of thought that made it necessary, from the 5th to the 16th century. The Humanists and the Reformers rejected it. But it was again revived in the 17th and 18th centuries, along with the recrudescence of scholastic ideas. It is clear, however, that tradition and history shed no light upon the question of the authorship of Hebrews. They neither prove nor disprove the Pauline, or any other theory.
2. The Witness of the Epistle Itself:
We are therefore thrown back, in our search for the author, on such evidence as the epistle itself affords, and that is wholly inferential. It seems probable that the author was a Hellenist, a Greek-speaking Jew. He was familiar with the Scriptures of the Old Testament and with the religious ideas and worship of the Jews. He claims the inheritance of their sacred history, traditions and institutions (Hebrews 1:1), and dwells on them with an intimate knowledge and enthusiasm that would be improbable, though not impossible, in a proselyte, and still more in a Christian convert from heathenism. But he knew the Old Testament only in the Septuagint translation, which he follows even where it deviates from the Hebrew. He writes Greek with a purity of style and vocabulary to which the writings of Luke alone in the New Testament can be compared. His mind is imbued with that combination of Hebrew and Greek thought which is best known in the writings of Philo. His general typological mode of thinking, his use of the allegorical method, as well as the adoption of many terms that are most familiar in Alexandrian thought, all reveal the Hellenistic mind. Yet his fundamental conceptions are in full accord with the teaching of Paul and of the Johannine writings.
The central position assigned to Christ, the high estimate of His person, the saving significance of His death, the general trend of the ethical teaching, the writer's opposition to asceticism and his esteem for the rulers and teachers of the church, all bear out the inference that he belonged to a Christian circle dominated by Pauline ideas. The author and his readers alike were not personal disciples of Jesus, but had received the gospel from those who had heard the Lord (Hebrews 2:3) and who were no longer living (Hebrews 13:7). He had lived among his readers, and had probably been their teacher and leader; he is now separated from them but he hopes soon to return to them again (Hebrews 13:18 f).
Is it possible to give a name to this person?
(1) Paul not the Author
Although the Pauline tradition itself proves nothing, the internal evidence is conclusive against it. We know enough about Paul to be certain that he could not have written Hebrews, and that is all that can be said with confidence on the question of authorship. The style and language, the categories of thought and the method of argument, all differ widely from those of any writings ascribed to Paul. The latter quotes the Old Testament from the Hebrew and Septuagint, but He only from Septuagint. Paul's formula of quotation is, "It is written" or "The scripture saith"; that of Hebrews, "God," or "The Holy Spirit," or "One somewhere saith." For Paul the Old Testament is law, and stands in antithesis to the New Testament, but in Hebrews the Old Testament is covenant, and is the "shadow" of the New Covenant. Paul's characteristic terms, "Christ Jesus," and "Our Lord Jesus Christ," are never found in Hebrews; and "Jesus Christ" only 3 times (10:10; 13:8), and "the Lord" (for Christ) only twice (2:3; 7:14)-phrases used by Paul over 600 times (Zahn). Paul's Christology turns around the death, resurrection and living presence of Christ in the church, that of Hebrews around His high-priestly function in heaven. Their conceptions of God differ accordingly. In Hebrews it is Judaistic-Platonistic, or (in later terminology) Deistic. The revelation of the Divine Fatherhood and the consequent immanence of God in history and in the world had not possessed the author s mind as it had Paul's. Since the present world is conceived in Hebrews as a world of "shadows," God could only intervene in it by mediators.
The experience and conception of salvation are also different in these two writers. There is no evidence in Hebrews of inward conflict and conversion and of constant personal relation with Christ, which constituted the entire spiritual life of Paul. The apostle's central doctrine, that of justification by faith, does not appear in Hebrews. Faith is less the personal, mystical relation with Christ, that it is for Paul, than a general hope which lays hold of the future to overcome the present; and salvation is accomplished by cleansing, sanctification and perfection, not by justification. While Paul's mind was not uninfluenced by Hellenistic thought, as we find it in Alexandria (as, e.g. in Col and Eph), it nowhere appears in his epistles so clearly and prominently as it does in Hebrews. Moreover, the author of Hebrews was probably a member of the community to which he writes (Hebrews 13:18 f), but Paul never stood in quite the relation supposed here to any church. Finally, Paul could not have written Hebrews 2:3, for he emphatically declares that he did not receive his gospel from the older disciples (Galatians 1:12; Galatians 2:6).
The general Christian ideas on which He was in agreement with Paul were part of the heritage which the apostle had left to all the churches. The few more particular affinities of Hebrews with certain Pauline writings (e.g. Hebrews 2:2 parallel Galatians 3:19 Hebrews 12:22; Hebrews 3:14 parallel Galatians 4:25 Hebrews 2:10 parallel Romans 11:36; also with Ephesians; see yon Soden, Hand-Commentar, 3) are easily explicable either as due to the author's reading of Paul's Epistles or as reminiscences of Pauline phrases that were current in the churches. But they are too few and slender to rest upon them any presumption against the arguments which disprove the Pauline tradition.
(2) Other Theories
The passage that is most conclusive against the Pauline authorship (Hebrews 2:3) is equally conclusive against any other apostle being the author. But almost every prominent name among the Christians of the second generation has been suggested. The epistle itself excludes Timothy (Hebrews 13:23), and Titus awaits his turn. Otherwise Luke, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Silas, Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, Philip the Deacon, and Aristion have all had their champions.
(a) Luke and Clement
The first two, Luke and Clement, were brought in through their connection with Paul. Where it was recognized that a direct Pauline authorship could not be maintained, the Pauline tradition might still be retained, if the epistle could be assigned to one of the apostle's disciples. These two were fixed upon as being well-known writers. But this very fact reveals the improbability of theory. Similar arguments from language and thought to those derived from the comparison of Hebrews with the Pauline writings avail also in the comparison of Hebrews with the writings of Luke and Clement. Both these disciples of the apostle adhere much closer to his system of thought than Hebrews does, and they reveal none of the influences of Alexandrian thought, which is predominant in Hebrews.
(b) Barnabas; Priscilla and Aquila; Philip; Aristion; Apollos
Of all the other persons suggested, so little is known that it is impossible to establish, with any convincing force, an argument for or against their authorship.
(i) Barnabas was a Levite of Cyprus (Acts 4:36), and once a companion of Paul (Acts 13:2). Another ancient writing is called "the Epistle of Barnabas," but it has no affinity with Hebrews. The coincidence of the occurrence of the word "consolation" in Barnabas' name (Acts 4:36) and in the writer's description of Hebrews (13:22) is quite irrelevant. Tertullian's tradition is the only positive argument in favor of the Barnabas theory. It has been argued against it that Barnabas, being a Levite, could not have shown the opposition to the Levitical system, and the unfamiliarity with it (Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:4), which is supposed to mark our epistle. But the author's Levitical system was derived, not from the Hebrew Old Testament, nor from the Jerusalem temple, but from Jewish tradition; and the supposed inaccuracies as to the daily sin offering (7:27), and the position of the golden altar of incense (9:4) have been traced to Jewish tradition (see Moffatt, Introduction, 438). And the writer's hostility to the Levitical system is not nearly as intense as that of Paul to Pharisaism. There is nothing that renders it intrinsically impossible that Barnabas was the author, nor is anything known of him that makes it probable; and if he was, it is a mystery why the tradition was confined to Africa.
(ii) Harnack has argued the probability of a joint authorship by Priscilla and Aquila. The interchange of "I" and "we" he explains as due to a dual authorship by persons intimately related, but such an interchange of the personal "I" and the epistolary "we" can be paralleled in the Epistles of Paul (e.g. Romans) where no question of joint authorship arises. The probable relation of the author to a church in Rome may suit Priscilla arid Aquila (compare Romans 16:5 with Hebrews 13:22-24), but even if this interpretation of the aforementioned passages were correct, it is possible and probable that Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, and certainly Clement, stood in a similar relation to a Roman church. Harnack, on this theory, explains the disappearance of the author's name as due to prejudice against women teachers. This is the only novel point in favor of this theory as compared with several others; and it does not explain why Aquila's name should not have been retained with the address. The evidences adduced of a feminine mind behind the epistle are highly disputable. On the other hand, a female disciple of Paul's circle would scarcely assume such authority in the church as the author of Hebrews does (13:17; compare 1 Corinthians 14:34). And nothing that is known of Priscilla and Aquila would suggest the culture and the familiarity with Alexandrian thought possessed by this writer. Acts 18:26 does not prove that they were expert and cultured teachers, but only that they knew and could repeat the salient points of Paul's early preaching. So unusual a phenomenon as this theory supposes demands more evidence to make it even probable. (But see Rendel Harris, Sidelights on New Testament Research, 148-76.)
(iii) Philip the Deacon and Aristion, "a disciple of the Lord" mentioned by Papias, are little more than names to us. No positive knowledge of either survives on which any theory can be built. It is probable that both were personal disciples of the Lord, and they could not therefore have written Hebrews 2:3.
(iv) Apollos has found favor with many scholars from Luther downward. No ancient tradition supports this theory, a fact which tells heavily against it, but not conclusively, for someone must have written the letter, and his name was actually lost to early tradition, unless it were Barnabas, and that tradition too was Unknown to the vast majority of the early churches. All that is known of Apollos suits the author of Hebrews. He may have learned the gospel from "them that heard" (2:3); he was a Jew, "an Alexandrian by race, a learned (or eloquent) man," "mighty in the Scriptures," "he powerfully confuted the Jews" (Acts 18:24), and he belonged to the same Pauline circle as Timothy and Titus (1 Corinthians 16:10-12 Titus 3:13; compare Hebrews 13:23). The Alexandrian type of thought, the affinities with Philo, the arguments from Jewish tradition and ceremonial, the fluent style, may all have issued from "an eloquent Jew of Alexandria." But it does not follow that Apollos was the only person of this type. The author may have been a Gentile, as the purity of his Greek language and style suggests; and the combination of Greek and Hebrew thought, which the epistle reflects, and even Philo's terms, may have had a wide currency outside Alexandria, as for instance in the great cosmopolitan cities of Asia. All that can be said is that the author of Hebrews was someone generally like what is known of Apollos, but who he actually was, we must confess with Origen, "God alone knows."
The identity of the first readers of Hebrews is, if possible, more obscure than that of the author. It was written to Christians, and to a specific body or group of Christians (see I above). The title "to Hebrews" might mean properly Palestinian Jews who spoke the Hebrew language, but the fact that the epistle was written in Greek excludes that supposition. It therefore meant Christians of Jewish origin, and gives no indication of their place of residence. The title represents an early inference drawn from the contents of the document, and the tradition it embodies was unanimously accepted from the 2nd century down to the early part of the last century. Now, however, a considerable body of critics hold that the original readers were Gentiles. The question is entirely one of inference from the contents of the epistle itself.
1. General Character of the Readers:
The readers, like the writer, received the gospel first from "them that heard" (Hebrews 2:3), from the personal disciples of the Lord, but they were not of their number. They had witnessed "signs and wonders" and "manifold powers" and "gifts of the Holy Spirit" (Hebrews 2:4). Their conversion had been thorough, and their faith and Christian life had been of a high order. They had a sound knowledge of the first principles of Christ (Hebrews 6:1).
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HEBREWS, GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE
(Euaggelion kath' Hebraious, to Hebraikon, to Ioudaikon; Evangelium Hebraeorum, Judeorum):
1. References in Early Church History
2. Its Character and Contents
3. Its Circulation and Language
4. Relation to Matthew
5. Time of Composition
6. Uncanonical Sayings and Incidents
"The Gospel according to the Hebrews" was a work of early Christian literature to which reference is frequently made by the church Fathers in the first five centuries, and of which some twenty or more fragments, preserved in their writings, have come down to us. The book itself has long disappeared. It has, however, been the subject of many critical surmises and discussions in the course of the last century. It has been regarded as the original record of the life of Jesus, the Archimedespoint of the whole gospel history. From it Justin Martyr has been represented as deriving his knowledge of the works and words of Christ, and to it have been referred the gospel quotations found in Justin and other early writers when these deviate in any measure from the text of the canonical gospels. Recent discussions have thrown considerable light upon the problems connected with this Gospel, and a large literature has grown up around it of which the most important works will be noted below.
1. References in Early Church History:
Speaking of Papias Eusebius mentions that he has related the story of a woman who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is contained in the "Gospel according to the Hebrews." This does not prove that Papias was acquainted with this Gospel, for he might have obtained the story, which cannot any longer be regarded as part of John's Gospel, from oral tradition. But there is a certain significance in Eusebius' mentioning it in this connection (Euseb., HE, III, xxxix, 16). Eusebius, speaking of Ignatius and his epp., takes notice of a saying of Jesus which he quotes (Ep. ad Smyrn, iii; compare Luke 24:39), "Take, handle me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit." The saying differs materially from the saying in Luke's Gospel, and Eusebius says he has no knowledge whence it had been taken by Ignatius. Jerome, however, twice over attributes the saying to the "Gospel according to the Hebrews," and Origen quotes it from the "Teaching of Peter." Ignatius may have got the saying from oral tradition, and we cannot, therefore, be sure that he knew this Gospel.
The first early Christian writer who is mentioned as having actually used the "Gospel according to the Hebrews" is Hegesippus, who flourished in the second half of the 2nd century. Eusebius, to whom we owe the reference, tells us that Hegesippus in his Memoirs quotes passages from "the Syriac Gospel according to the Hebrews" (Historia Ecclesiastica, IV, xxii, 7).
Irenaeus, in the last quarter of the 2nd century, says the Ebionites use only the "Gospel according to Matthew" and reject the apostle Paul, calling him an apostate from the law (Adv. Haer., i. 26, 2). There is reason to believe that there is some confusion in this statement of Irenaeus, for we have the testimony of Eusebius, Jerome and Epiphanius that it was the "Gospel according to the Hebrews" that was used by the Ebionites. With this qualification we may accept Irenaeus as a witness to this Gospel.
Clement of Alexandria early in the 3rd century quotes from it an apocryphal saying with the same formula as he employs for quotation of Holy Scripture (Strom., ii.9). Origen, Clement's successor at Alexandria, has one very striking quotation from the "Gospel according to the Hebrews" (Comm. in Joann, ii), and Jerome says this Gospel is often used by Origen. Eusebius, in the first half of the 4th century, mentions that the Ebionites use only the "Gospel according to the Hebrews" and take small account of the others (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, xxvii, 4). He has, besides, other references to it, and in his widely known classification of Christian Scriptures into "acknowledged" "disputed," and "rejected," he mentions this Gospel which he says some have placed in the last category, although those of the Hebrews who have accepted Christ are delighted with it (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, xxv, 5). Eusebius had himself in all probability seen and handled the book in the library of his friend Pamphilus at Caesarea, where Jerome, half a century later, found it and translated it.
Epiphanius, who lived largely in Palestine, and wrote his treatise on heresies in the latter half of the 4th century, has much to say of the Ebionites, and the Nazarenes. Speaking of the Ebionites, he says they receive the "Gospel according to Matthew" to the exclusion of the others, mentioning that it alone of the New Testament books is in Hebrew speech and Hebrew characters, and is called the "Gospel according to the Hebrews" (Haer., xxx.3). He goes on to say, that their "Gospel according to Matthew," as it is named, is not complete but falsified and mutilated, "and they call it the Hebrew Gospel" (Haer., xxx. 13). The quotations which Epiphanius proceeds to make show that this Gospel diverges considerably from the canonical Gospel of Matthew and may well be that according to the Hebrews. It is more likely that "the Gospel according to Matthew, very full, in Hebrew," of which Epiphanius speaks, when telling about the Nazarene, is the Hebrew "Gospel of Matthew" attested by Papias, Irenaeus, and a widespread early tradition. But as Epiphanius confesses he does not know whether it has the genealogies, it is clear he was not himself acquainted with the book.
Jerome, toward the end of the 4th century, is our chief authority for the circulation and use of the "Gospel according to the Hebrews," although his later statements on the subject do not always agree with the earlier. He was proud of being "trilinguis," acquainted with Hebrew as well as with Latin and Greek. "There is a Gospel," he says, "which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use, which I lately translated from the Hebrew tongue into Greek and which is called by many the authentic Gospel of Matthew" (Commentary on Matthew 12:13). The fact here mentioned, that he translated the work, seems to imply that this Gospel was really something different from the canonical Matthew which he had in his hands. In another place, however, he writes: "Matthew. first of all composed the Gospel of Christ in Hebrew letters and words, in Judea, for behoof of those of the circumcision who had believed, and it is not quite certain who afterward translated it into Greek. But the very Hebrew is preserved to this day in the Caesarean library, which Pamphilus the Martyr, with such care, collected. I myself was allowed the opportunity of copying it by the Nazarenes in Berea who use this volume. In which it is to be observed that the evangelist, when he uses the testimonies of the Old Testament, either in his own person, or in that of the Lord and Saviour, does not follow the authority of the Septuagint translators, but the Hebrew. Of those, the following are two examples: `Out of Egypt have I called my Son' (Matthew 2:15 the King James Version); and `He shall be called a Nazarene' (Matthew 2:23)" (De Vir. Ill., iii). It certainly looks as if in the former instance Jerome meant the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and in the latter the well-authenticated Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. At a later time, however, Jerome appears to withdraw this and to introduce a confusing or even contradictory note. His words are: "In the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which was written indeed in the Chaldee-Syr (Aramaic) language, but in Hebrew characters, which the Nazarenes use as the `Gospel of the Apostles,' or as most people think `according to Matthew,' which also is contained in the library at Caesarea, the narrative says" (Adv. Pelag., iii.2). As he proceeds, he quotes passages which are not in the canonical Matthew. He also says: "That Gospel which is called the Gospel of the Hebrews which was latedly translated by me into Greek and Latin, and was used frequently by Origen" (Catal. Script. Eccl., "Jacobus"). Jerome's notices of the actual Gospel were frequent, detailed and unequivocal.
Nicephorus at the beginning of the 9th century puts the Gospel according to the Hebrews in his list of disputed books of the New Testament along with the Apocalypse of John, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Epistle of Barnabas. This list is believed to rest upon an authority of about the year 500 A.D., and, in the stichometry attached, this Gospel is estimated to have occupied 2,200 lines, while the canonical Matthew occupied 2,500.
Codex Lambda of the 9th century, discovered by Tischendorf, and now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, has marginal notes affixed to four passages of Matthew giving the readings of to Ioudaikon, the lost Gospel according to the Hebrews (Scrivener, Textual Criticism, I4, 160; see also Plate XI, 30, p. 131).
2. Its Character and Contents:
All that survives, and all that we are told, of this work, show that it was of the nature of a Gospel, and that it was written in the manner of the Synoptic Gospels. But it seems not to have acquired at any time ecclesiastical standing outside the very limited circles of Jewish Christians who preferred it. And it never attained canonical authority. The Muratorian Fragment has no reference to it. Irenaeus knew that the Ebionites used only the Gospel according to Matthew in Hebrew, although, as we have seen, this may be really the Gospel according to the Hebrews; but his fourfold Gospel comprises the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which we know. There is no reason to believe that it was the source of the quotations made by Justin from the Apomnemoneumata, or of quotations made anonymously by others of the early Fathers. Like the Synoptic Gospels, however, it contained narratives of events as well as sayings and discourses. It had an account of John the Baptist's ministry, of the baptism of Jesus, of the call of the apostles, of the woman taken in adultery, of the Last Supper, of the denial of Peter, of appearances of Jesus after the resurrection; and it contained the Lord's Prayer, and sayings of Jesus, like the forgiveness of injuries seventy times seven, the counsel to the rich young ruler, and others. One or two sayings have a Gnostic tinge, as when Jesus calls the Holy Spirit His mother, and is made to express His unwillingness to eat the flesh of the Passover Lamb. There are apocryphal additions, even where incidents and sayings are narrated belonging to the canonical Gospels, and there are sayings and incidents wholly apocryphal in the fragments of the Gospel which have survived. But these superfluities do not imply any serious deviation from Catholic doctrine; they only prove, as Professor Zahn says, "the earnestness of the redactor of the Gospel according to the Hebrews to enrich the only Gospel which Jewish Christians possessed up to that time from the still unexhausted source of private oral tradition" (GK, II, 717).
The very title of the work suggests that it circulated among Jewish Christians. Those Christians of Palestine to whom Jerusalem was the ecclesiastical center betook themselves, after the troubles which befell the Holy City, to the less frequented regions beyond the Jordan, and were thus cut off from the main stream of catholic Christianity.
3. Its Circulation and Language:
It was accordingly easier for the spirit of exclusiveness to assert itself among them and also for heretical tendencies to develop. The Ebionites went farthest in this direction. They denied the supernatural birth of our Lord, and insisted upon the binding character of the Law for all Christians. The Nazarenes, as all Jewish Christians were called at first, observed the ceremonial law themselves, but did not impose it upon GentileChristians. And they accepted the catholic doctrine of the person of Christ. It was among a community of these Nazarenes at Berea, the modern Aleppo, that Jerome, during a temporary residence at Chalcis in Northern Syria, found the Gospel according to the Hebrews in circulation. No fewer than 9 times does he mention that this Gospel is their one Gospel, and only once does he connect the Ebionites with them in the use of it. Epiphanius draws a clear line of distinction between the Ebionites and the Nazarenes; and we can scarcely suppose that a Gospel which satisfied the one would be wholly acceptable to the other. There is reason to believe that the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew was most to the mind of the Hebrew Christians, and that it took different forms in the hands of the sects into which the Jewish Christian church became divided. Thus the Gospel of the Nazarenes was the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which in all probability had some affinity with the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. The Gospel of the Ebionites, which seems to have been the same as the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, was something of a more divergent doctrinal tendency suited to the exclusive and heretical views of that sect. But it is not easy to reconcile the statements of Epiphanius with those of Eusebius and Jerome.
That the Hebrew tongue in which Papins says Matthew composed his Logia was the Aramaic of Palestine is generally accepted. This Aramaic was closely akin to the Syriac spoken between the Mediterranean and the Tigris. It was the same as the Chaldee of the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel, of which examples have so recently been found in the Aramaic papyri from Elephantine at Assouan. Eusebius and Jerome are emphatic and precise in recording the fact that the Gospel according to the Hebrews was not only Hebrew or Aramaic in composition, but written in the square Hebrew characters, so different from the Old Hebrew of the Moabite Stone and the Siloam inscription. That there was a Greek translation before the time of Jerome of the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which was used by Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and others, is strenuously affirmed by Professor Harnack (Altchristliche Literatur, I, 6) and as strenuously denied by Professor Zahn (GK, II, 648). One reason why the book never attained to any ecclesiastical authority was no doubt its limited circulation in a tongue familiar, outside the circle of Jewish Christians, to only a learned few. For this reason also it is unlikely that it will ever be found, as the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd, and other works have been.
4. Relation to Matthew:
It is natural to seek for traces of special relationship between the Gospel according to the Hebrews, circulating among communities of Jewish Christians, and the Gospel according to Matthew which grew up on the soil of Palestine, and which was originally composed in the interest of Jewish Christians, and circulated at a very early period in a Hebrew recension, soon superseded by the canonical Gospel of Matthew and now altogether lost. We have already seen that Irenaeus in all likelihood confused the "Gospel according to the Hebrews" with the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew; and that Jerome says the Gospel used by the Nazarenes was called by many the authentic Gospel of Matthew. Moreover, among the fragments that have survived, there are more which resemble Matthew's record than either of the other Synoptics. E.B. Nicholson, after a full and scholarly examination of the fragments and of the references, puts forward the hypothesis that "Matthew wrote at different times the canonical Gospel and the Gospel according to the Hebrews, or, at least, that large part of the latter which runs parallel to the former" (The Gospel according to the Hebrews, 104). The possibility of two editions of the same Gospel-writing coming from the same hand has recently received illustration from Professor. Blass' theory of two recensions of the Acts and of Luke's Gospel to explain the textual peculiarities of these books in Codex Bezae (D). This theory has received the adhesion of eminent scholars, but Nicholson has more serious differences to explain, and it cannot be said that his able argument and admirably marshaled learning have carried conviction to the minds of New Testament scholars.
5. Time of Composition:
If we could be sure that Ignatius in his Epistle to the Smyrneans derived the striking saying attributed to our Lord, "Take, handle me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit," from the Gospel according to the Hebrews, we should be able to fix its composition as at any rate within the 1st century. The obscurity of its origin, the primitive cast of its contents, and the respect accorded to it down into the 5th century, have disposed some scholars to assign it an origin not later than our Synoptic Gospels, and to regard it as continuing the Aramaic tradition of the earliest preaching and teaching regarding Christ. The manifestly secondary character of some of its contents seems to be against such an early origin. Professor Zahn is rather disposed to place it not earlier than 130, when, during the insurrection of Bar-cochba, the gulf that had grown up between Jews and Jewish Christians was greatly deepened, and with an exclusively Gentilechurch in Jerusalem, the Jewish Christians had lost their center and broken off into sects. The whole situation seems to him to point to a date somewhere between 130-50 A.D. The data for any precise determination of the question are wanting.
6. Uncanonical Sayings and Incidents:
There is a saying which Clement of Alexandria quotes from it as Scripture: "He that wonders shall reign and he that reigns shall rest" (Strom., ii.9). Origen quotes from it a saying of Jesus, reminding us somewhat of Ezekiel (8:3): "Just now My Mother the Holy Spirit took me by one of my hairs, and bore me away to the great mountain Thabor" (Orig., In Joann., ii; it is quoted several times both by Origen and Jerome). Jerome more than once quotes from it a saying of the Lord to His disciples: "Never be joyful except when ye look on your brother in love" (Hieron. in Ephesians 5:4; in Ezekiel 18:7). In his commentary on Matthew (6:11) Jerome mentions that he found in the third petition of the Lord's prayer for the difficult and unique Greek word epiousios, which he translates "supersubstantialis," the Aramaic word machar, crastinus, so that the sense would be, "Tomorrow's bread give us today." Of unrecorded incidents the most notable is that of the appearance of the Risen Lord to James: "And when the Lord had given His linen cloth to the servant of the priest, He went to James and appeared to him. For James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour wherein he had drunk the cup of the Lord until he saw Him rising from the dead. Again a little afterward the Lord says, Bring a table and bread. Immediately it is added: He took bread and blessed and brake, and afterward gave it to James the Just and said to him, My brother, eat thy bread for the Son of Man has risen from them that sleep" (Hieron., De Vir. Illustr., "Jacobus").
Jerome also tells that in the Gospel according to the Hebrews, there is the following passage: "Lo, the mother of the Lord and His brethren said unto Him: John the Baptist is baptizing for the remission of sins; let us go and be baptized by him. But He said to them: What sin have I committed that I should go and be baptized by him? Unless perchance this very word which I have spoken is a sin of ignorance" (Hieron., Adv. Pelag., iii.2).
This Gospel is not to be classed with heretical Gospels like that of Marcion, nor with apocryphal Gospels like that of James or Nicodemus. It differed from the former in that it did not deviate from any essential of catholic truth in its representation of our Lord. It differed from the latter in that it narrated particulars mostly relating to our Lord's public ministry, while they occupy themselves with matters of curiosity left unrecorded in the canonical Gospels. It differs from the canonical Gospels only in that it is more florid in style, more diffuse in the relation of incidents, and more inclined to sectional views of doctrine. Its uncanonical sayings and incidents may have come from oral tradition, and they do lend a certain interest and picturesqueness to the narrative. Its language confined it to a very limited sphere, and its sectional character prevented it from ever professing Scriptural authority or attaining to canonical rank.
See also APOCRYPHAL GOSPELS.
E.B. Nicholson, The Gospel according to the Hebrews (1879); R. Handmann, Das Hebrder-Evangelium: Texte u. Untersuchungen, Band V (1889); Zahn, GK, II, 642-723 (1890); Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, I, 6; II, 1, 625-51 (1897); Neutestamentliche Apocryphen (Hennecke), I, 11-21 (1904).
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE HEBREWS
See APOCRYPHAL GOSPELS.
HEBREWS, RELIGION OF THE
See ISRAEL, RELIGION OF.