Archive for the 'Hebrews' Category

Authorship of the Book of Hebrews

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

By Spencer D Gear PhD

(image courtesy Eerdmans)

One of the most controversial books of the New Testament to determine authorship is the Book of Hebrews. Statements about who wrote it have included:[1]

coil-gold-sm ‘neither do we know by whom it was sent’;

coil-gold-sm The author was Clement of Rome;

coil-gold-sm ‘an Epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas’;

coil-gold-sm ‘who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows’;

coil-gold-sm ‘Luke, who was an excellent advocate, translated it from Hebrew into that elegant Greek’;

coil-gold-sm One made a brilliant guess that Apollos was the author.

Let’s examine some of the evidence from church history. This is not meant to be an extensive examination, but an overview of some of the most prominent people suggested since the time of the early church fathers.

Some of the evidence

To accept Clement as the author of Book of Hebrews,[2] supposed author of First Clement (ca 80-140 AD), would place the dating of Hebrews in the late first century (Clement was martyred in ca. 100 AD). No author’s name is officially attached to First Clement. F F Bruce in his commentary on the Book of Hebrews has a sound discussion of the authorship options (Bruce 1964:xxxv-xlii).

Clement of Rome (ca. 30-100)[3]

Pope Clement I.jpg(image courtesy Wikipedia)

 

Of the authorship of Hebrews, Bruce wrote,

‘If we do not know for certain to whom the epistle was sent, neither do we know by whom it was sent. If Clement of Rome had any inkling of the author’s identity, he gives us no indication of it. But we can be quite sure that he himself was not the author, although it has been suggested at various times that he was. In spite of Clement’s familiarity with the epistle, he “turns his back on its central argument in order to buttress his own arguments about the Church’s Ministry by an appeal to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament’ (Bruce 1964:xxxv-xxxvi).

Bruce cites T W Manson’s statement that describes Clement’s procedure in regard to the Church’s Ministry as ‘a retrogression of the worst kind’ (in Bruce 1964:xxxvi, n 57).

 

Barnabas

Barnabas.jpgTertullian (ca. 155/160-220)[4] appealed to the Epistle to the Hebrews as having greater authority than the Shepherd of Hermas, a second century writing, because of the eminence of the author of Hebrews. He wrote, ‘For there is extant withal an Epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas— a man sufficiently accredited by God, as being one whom Paul has stationed next to himself in the uninterrupted observance of abstinence’ (On Modesty ch 20).

(icon of St Barnabas, courtesy Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 Only God knows

The church father, Origen (ca. 185-254),[5] stated,

Origen3.jpg(image of Origen, courtesy Wikipedia)

 

‘If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’s.

But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it. But let this suffice on these matters’ (cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.13-14).

Paul or Luke

Bruce further notes that from the Festal Letter of AD 367 [by Athanasius, Letter XXXIX],

from then on the Pauline ascription became traditional in the west as in the east, although commentators of critical judgment continued to speak of Clement of Rome or Luke as translator or editor of the epistle. Thus Thomas Aquinas says that “Luke, who was an excellent advocate, translated it from Hebrew into that elegant Greek…. Calvin thought of Luke or Clement of Rome as the author, not merely translator or editor; while Luther was apparently the first to make the brilliant guess that the author was Apollos – a guess which has commended itself to many since his day (Bruce 1964:xxxix).

Conclusion

Therefore, after 2,000 years no definitive answer has been found to the question: Who wrote the Book of Hebrews? I am happy to conclude that Hebrews was firmly established in the NT canon when the NT was affirmed in the late fourth century. F F Bruce rightly stated the issue:

The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa — at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 — but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities (Bruce 1959:ch 3).

designRed-small See ‘The Canon of the New Testament’ by F F Bruce.

Works consulted

Bruce, F F 1959. ‘The canon of the New Testament’, Chapter 3 in The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (5th ed, Leicester: Intervarsity Press). Available at: http://www.bible-researcher.com/bruce1.html (Accessed 5 April 2016).

Bruce, F F 1964. The Epistle to the Hebrews (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the Centuries, rev ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Notes


[1] These citations are identified below.

[2] I posted this information at Christianity Board, ‘Common Ground’, 5 April 2016, OzSpen#117. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/22418-common-ground/page-4?hl=%20common%20%20ground (Accessed 5 April 2016).

[3] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:73).

[4] Lifespan dates from Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Tertullian).

[5] Lifespan dates from Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Origen).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 April 2016.

Contentious theology: Falling away from the faith

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

(courtesy pinterest.com

By Spencer D Gear PhD

If you want a warmed up or heated discussion in church or online in a Christian forum, raise a passage like this one, Hebrews 6:4-6 (ESV), and contend that a person can fall away from the faith – commit apostasy!

A person quoted this verse and then stated, ‘The writer of Hebrews seemed to think that it is possible for Christians to fall away’.[1]

They were never Christians

This kind of response was predictable. I’ve encountered it many times during my 50 years of Christian experience:

The scriptures you’ve quoted above are NOT speaking about a child of God or Christians , as you put it, rather the word “some” in Heb 6:4 must be qualified, and these are they who are the Tares that God allowed to grow together with the Wheat in the church environment. The Tares are the unsaved and the Wheat the saved. In every congregations of the world, without exceptions, there are saved and unsaved people who gather together in the local churches. The Tares are those that will fall away although they heard the true Gospel preached (enlightened), and have tasted of the heavenly gift (salvation), and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit (communion).

The key verse in understanding Heb 6:4-6 is found in Heb 6:9 which do not speak about a child of God or salvation, but of unbelief which is explained in Heb 3:17-19.

God is the Author of the Bible and I don’t believe He intended that it is possible for His child to fall away!

2 Pet 2:20-22 are companion scriptures to Heb 6: 4-6.[2]

The context refutes that view

I responded:[3] This is not what the verses say in context, we read Heb 5:11-6:8 (ESV):

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

6 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

The context of Heb 6:4-6 (ESV) is very clear that these people are those:

  • Who have become ‘dull of hearing’ (5:11).
  • By this time, for those for whom Jesus ‘became the source of eternal salvation’ (5:9), ‘ought to be teachers’ (5:12), i.e. Christian teachers, but they needed ‘someone to teach you again’ (5:12).
  • Teach what? ‘The basic principles of the oracles of God’ (5:12).
  • These Christians needed to go back to ‘milk’ and not be fed ‘solid food’ (5:12).
  • ‘Everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness’ (5:13). So, the author is not talking about unbelievers but about those who are ‘unskilled’ in righteousness. He is not referring to those who do not know and experience righteousness.
  • He is addressing those who are children in righteousness (5:13). Nevertheless, they are Christians of righteousness, but still need milk as children of God when they should be more mature.
  • However, ‘solid food is for the mature’. These are those who have ‘powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil’ (5:14).
  • The author’s call is that these Christians ‘leave the elementary doctrine of Christ’ (6:1) – the milk – and ‘go on to maturity’ so that the foundation of Christ – repentance – will not be laid again. This problem they were encountering was a ‘foundation’ of ‘dead works and of faith toward God’ (6:1).
  • This elementary doctrine also included ‘instruction about washings’, ‘laying on of hands’, ‘resurrection of the dead’ and ‘eternal judgment’ (6:2). Obviously these kinds of doctrines were involved in these Christians’ belief in and teachings of the ‘milk’ of being ‘unskilled in the word of righteousness’ (5:13).
  • Then the author launches into the warnings of apostasy contained in Heb 6:4-6 (ESV), in which the teaching is that for those who apostatise from the faith by falling away, ‘they are crucifying once again the Son of God’ (6:6), thus making it ‘impossible to restore [them] again to repentance’ (6:4).
  • Then comes the analogy of  land that has absorbed the rain that falls, produces a crop for those who cultivate it and the blessing is thus received from God (6:7).
  • But if that crop ‘bears thorns and thistles’, ‘it is worthless’ and is ‘cursed’ and ‘burned’ (6:8).

So, it is possible for Christians to feed on the milk instead of the food and be immature in their faith and then become vulnerable to the temptations to apostatise and fall away from the faith.

That’s the context of Heb 6:4-6 (ESV) as I understand it. It is addressing Hebrew Christians who are warned that they could apostatise BUT ‘in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – things that belong to salvation’ (6:9). Who are the ‘beloved‘? Christians, of course!

The writer of Hebrews had this longing for the believers to whom he addressed this letter: ‘We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises’ (Heb 6:11-12 ESV).

So the writer is dealing with immature Christian believers who had been feeding on milk instead of solid food. For these, the temptation to fall away from the faith was always a possibility. But for these Hebrew Christians, the writer desired better things – perseverance in the faith.

I don’t believe the context, based on this reasoning, allows us to say that these people were ‘NOT speaking about a child of God or Christians’ (the language of the person on the forum). They were immature Christians who could be tempted away from the faith and fall into apostasy.

So close, but not a Christian

Image result for cross public domain(www.clipartlord.com)

 

How do you think this person would respond to the above exposition? Here goes:

Unfortunately, the passage concerned is Hebrews 6:4-6 which speaks that there will be “some” (in a church setting), who will fall away.

I was merely responding to Barrd’s post #10 where she claimed those who will fall away are Christians, just as you do but in a different twist, by saying these who fall away are also Christians but unskilled in the doctrines of Christ. I have yet to read in the Bible that anyone lacking in the knowledge of scriptures cannot be saved!!

We are not saved because of knowledge of Scripture.

FYI, the gist of Hebrews 6:4-6 is about someone who was brought so close to salvation but rejected it!

Consider these scriptures which are self explanatory:

1Jo 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Heb 4:2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

Heb 3:17-19 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?

18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?

19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

To God Be The Glory.[4]

What has he done here?

Red herring fallacy in place of evidence

Red Herring Clipart(courtesy clipartsheep.com)

 

This fellow has done what many Christians resort to. My response was that I am flabbergasted that I provided an extended examination of the context to demonstrate the nature of the salvation that the people of Heb 6:4-6 (ESV) had. He refuted not a word of this, but then gave this red herring logical fallacy:

‘FYI, the gist of Hebrews 6:4-6 is about someone who was brought so close to salvation but rejected it!’

Could I be wasting my time in providing this person with an exposition in context? Seems so![5]

This person is imposing his view on the text. In biblical interpretation, this is called eisegesis, that is, ‘The reading into a text, in this case, an ancient text of the Bible, of a meaning that is not supported by the grammar, syntax, lexical meanings, and over-all context, of the original’ (Exegesis v. eisegesis).

Conclusion

Hebrews 6:4-6, when examined in context, demonstrates that it is speaking about Christians who are so immature in the faith that they are still being fed on spiritual milk.

They are so weak in the faith that they do not persevere but are tempted away from the faith and may even commit apostasy.

A person who had a pre-commitment to once-saved-always-saved theology could not accept this explanation so engaged in fallacious reasoning by committing a red herring logical fallacy. It’s impossible to have a logical conversation with anyone who uses a logical fallacy and will not deal with the illogic of his or her views.

Therefore, Heb 6:4-6 teaches that it is possible for Christians living on the milk of the Word to be so immature in the faith that they can fall away from the faith. This apostasy is so serious that they cannot be restored to repentance, which means they are lost permanently because ‘they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt’ (Heb 6:6).

It is serious charge to make against Scripture to make it say what it does not say. To the contrary, those who promote eternal security and deny apostasy are teaching false doctrine.

Notes


[1] Christianity Board, Christian Theology Forum, ‘The Law & The Gospel’, The Barrd#10, 8 October 2015. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/21997-the-law-the-gospel/#entry263608 (Accessed 12 October 2015).

[2] Ibid., Jun2u#18.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

[4] Ibid., Jun2u#20.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#22.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 December 2015.