Why Care Whether Paul Wrote Hebrews

Why Care Whether Paul Wrote Hebrews

Kim McCall

prepared for delivery at
Sunstone Symposium
Salt Lake City, Utah
August, 1996

Among the 27 books of the New Testament is one that the King James translators labeled "The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews." But for at least its first 300 years in circulation, the actual authorship of this "epistle" had been very much in doubt. Again in the modern era, at least since Erasmus re-encountered the original letter in his compilation of a Greek version of the New Testament, the question has been raised again. To spill a few beans early, it is no exaggeration to say that virtually no current scholar of any repute believes that "Paul the Apostle" wrote this remarkable homily. Nevertheless within Mormon circles the Pauline authorship has been stoutly defended. The Church Educational System's Reading Guide[1] allows that "the question of authorship . . . has puzzled many persons," but, citing arguments from Elder Bruce McConkie, concludes with his emphatic claim that "Paul did write Hebrews, and to those who accept Joseph Smith as an inspired witness of truth, the matter is at rest." The Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual[2] simply assumes Pauline authorship without discussion.

Well, does it actually matter who wrote this book? Why even care? Let's consider this question: "Why care?" It can be taken in either of two ways. First, it could be intended rhetorically, meaning something like "Surely this isn't worth worrying about." And at some level this must be granted to be true. The epistle[3] has exerted its profound, even seminal, impact on our understanding of Christ regardless of who wrote it, why, or to whom. Its truths are utterly independent of its author's identity or status. With some exaggeration, one probably frustrated commentator claimed that the efforts to determine who actually wrote the epistle "have no greater interest than a parlour-game."[4] While that may be going a bit far, we should gladly admit the independence of both the truth and the historical importance of the epistle from its authorship. Granting this, we can then consider a second meaning of "why care?". Clearly, at least within official and quasi-official Mormon circles, many people do care. And, on a moment's reflection, I realize that I care. So, the question is: why? When we care, it is usually because we sense that something is "at stake." The main concern of this paper, then, will be to try to understand and explore what might be at stake for Mormons either in believing or in doubting that Paul wrote Hebrews.

The argument

In order to put this question in perspective it will be valuable to understand at least the outlines of the arguments for and against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews. This would be necessary, if only to relieve the reader from wondering what the fuss is about. But there is another reason to recount the argument, and I must at this point abandon any pretense of neutrality. I think the case against Paul's having written this epistle is quite convincing. It also seems to me that the more decisive the case for one side of an argument, the more interesting become the reasons for believing (or at least defending) the other. So I want the reader to get some sense of the power of this argument in order to bring the "why care?" into sharp relief.

Outline of the argument and its history

By the end of the second century, Hebrews was placed by the Alexandrian church among the Pauline epistles even though neither of that church's two great thinkers was convinced that Paul was responsible for the actual wording of the letter as we have it. Clement speculated that Paul had written it in Hebrew and that Luke had translated it into Greek. Origin credited Paul with its basic concepts and imagined that one of his followers had composed it from notes or memories of Paul's teachings. But the defense of its Pauline origin by these two scholar/priests secured the epistle's place in the cannon of the Eastern church. The Western church continued to harbor serious doubts as to the authorship, but by the end of the fourth century Augustine and Jerome had argued persuasively for it, even though it is clear from their private writings that they were more motivated by a hope for church unity than by any conviction that their arguments or conclusions were sound.

All was well until 1516, when Erasmus began pressing serious objections to Paul's authorship, sparking a long history of investigation and debate. This had led, by the middle of this century, to a nearly universal scholarly consensus that "Paul is neither directly nor indirectly the author."[5] Without hyperbole, one recent commentator writes that "as is generally recognized today, whoever wrote Hebrews, it was certainly not Paul."[6]

What leads to such firm conclusions? There are at least seven letters that most scholars accept as authentically Pauline.[7] Studying these and then comparing them to Hebrews, we find such tremendous contrasts that the conclusion of independent authorship becomes nearly irresistible.

The simplest and most obvious difference is in vocabulary and style. Hebrews is written in a much more fluent and elevated Greek than are Paul's letters. It uses many different words and many of the same words quite differently.[8] This great contrast, evident to any student of Greek, is what so impressed the most influential defender of Paul's authorship, Clement of Alexandria, that he proposed that Paul had written it in Hebrew and Luke (the New Testament's second most eloquent writer) had translated it into Greek. This is a clever but utterly insupportable hypothesis.[9]

In addition to the vocabulary and diction of the work, its structure, with its characteristic interweaving of doctrine and exhortation is unknown in Paul's writings.

Our author makes great use, as does Paul, of quotations from the Hebrew bible, but he or she[10] introduces and employs these citations very differently. Hebrews adopts a sophisticated, thoroughly typological exegesis, characteristic of the Hellenistic Jewish school of Philo of Alexandria, in which biblical stories are understood not so much as relating important historical events, but as symbolizing eternal heavenly realities.

As to doctrinal content, many scholars argue that "the characteristic ideas of Paul are lacking in Hebrews and vice versa."[11] For example, central Pauline doctrines such as justification, resurrection, mystical union with Christ, the new life through the spirit, and any elaboration on the gifts of the spirit are entirely absent. Central motifs of Hebrews, such as Christ as priest, purification through Christ's sacrifice, the law as a foreshadowing of the true priesthood, and the impossibility of a second repentance are missing from the authentically Pauline corpus.

All of these arguments are quite persuasive, especially when taken together. Indeed, if a personal reference may be indulged, the present author remembers the odd experience of his first encounter with the book as a whole. I was a twenty or twenty-one-year old Mormon missionary before I ever read the New Testament from front to back. I had just read the letters of Paul, immersing myself in his manner of expression, style of thought, and peculiar doctrinal emphases, when I read Hebrews, which I had always been taught (and had, so far as I can recall, little reason to doubt) was also Pauline. I remember finishing this remarkable epistle, closing my Bible, and musing, "well. . . I wonder who wrote that."

But there is one more argument against Paul as the author, which, even taken alone, seems (to the present commentator) convincing. From Paul's writings we get a fairly clear picture of how he views himself, his apostleship, his utter independence of any earthly authority for his knowledge of the gospel, and his right and calling to preach it. He had met Jesus personally and received the gospel from Him directly. He makes this point quite adamantly in all but his very earliest writings. He insists on calling himself an apostle of Christ, by which most scholars understand him to be claiming his personal knowledge of and commission by Christ and his unmediated reception of the gospel message.

This self-understanding is completely inconsistent with the glimpse of a self-portrait the author of Hebrews gives us. In 2:3 he pictures the message of salvation as having been first declared by the Lord, and then "confirmed to us by those who heard him." Our author sees himself as a second-generation Christian, receiving the gospel indirectly, by way of the original witnesses of the Lord. This is not how Paul ever wrote of himself.

LDS contributions to the discussion

So much for my own impressions and for the work of the many scholars who have devoted the greatest efforts of their lives to understanding and elucidating the scriptures. Or, perhaps, so much for "the opinions of men" or for what Elder McConkie calls "uninspired Biblical research" and "sectarian scholarship."[12] What have respected and official Mormon sources had to say on the subject?[13]

Perhaps the only truly official church publications that might be expected to touch on this topic are the relevant adult Sunday School Teacher's Manual[14] and the Church Educational System's New Testament Reading Guide.15 The Sunday School manual makes no mention of any question as to the authorship of Hebrews. It simply assumes Pauline authorship. The Educational System's Reading Guide, on the other hand, contains, for each book it treats, a brief discussion or statement labeled "Authorship." For example, this section of the chapter on Galatians reads "The evidence supporting Paul's authorship is so strong that nearly all scholars attribute the Galatian letter to the apostle." More interesting is the section on the quite doubtful 1 Timothy, which reads simply "Paul is the author of the first letter to Timothy." Happily, the relative brevity of these sections contrasts to the space devoted to the authorship of Hebrews, which gets three fairly substantial paragraphs. The first (and shortest) of these enumerates without any elaboration a few of the reasons that the question of the authorship of Hebrews "has puzzled many persons." The second paragraph mentions a couple of things about the letter that are not inconsistent with Pauline authorship. It then reads, "Latter-day Saints are fortunate in that they do not need to thread their way through a maze of conjecture in order to form a conclusion. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explains why:" It then reproduces a portion of the discussion of this question that appears in Elder McConkie's Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, to which we now turn.

For many years Elder Bruce R. McConkie, first one of the seven presidents of the Seventy and later a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, served as what most viewed as a sort of quasi-official church spokesman on matters doctrinal and scriptural. He wrote far more than any other church leader on the scriptures, penning works with such official-sounding titles as Mormon Doctrine and the three-volume Doctrinal New Testament Commentary. Elder McConkie devotes a chapter of the latter to the book of Hebrews. He titles this chapter exactly after the King James superscript "The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews." The third paragraph of this chapter is important enough to our ensuing discussion to merit reproducing in full.

But the Prophet Joseph Smith says this Epistle was written "by Paul . . . to the Hebrew brethren" (Teachings, p. 59), and repeatedly in his sermons he attributes statements from it to Paul. Peter, himself a Hebrew, whose ministry and teachings were directed in large part to his own people, seems to be identifying its authorship when he writes, "Our beloved brother Paul . . . according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you [the Hebrews]; As also in all his [other] epistles, . . . some things hard to be understood." (2 Pet. 3:15-16.) In any event, Paul did write Hebrews, and to those who accept Joseph Smith as an inspired witness of truth, the matter is at rest.[16]

The passage from Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith to which Elder McConkie refers is not concerned with the authorship of Hebrews. It occurs in the middle of an argument intended to show that the Christian gospel and its ordinances were known before the time of John. Laying the groundwork to talk of very early revelations of the gospel, the prophet mentions revelation to Abel. The passage reads "It is said by Paul in his letter to the Hebrew brethren, that Abel obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts."[17]

At least two prominent Brigham Young University professors of ancient scripture have written on this subject.[18] Sidney B. Sperry, former Director of Graduate Studies in Religion, devotes four full pages to the subject.[19] The most careful and scholarly Mormon to consider this topic, Sperry grants both the importance[20] of the question and the weight of several of the arguments against Pauline authorship. Indeed he grants that given "the very great dissimilarity in style or literary form between Hebrews and the uncontested letters of Paul . . . the author cannot honestly believe that Paul was its actual writer and responsible for its literary form."[21] Nevertheless, he denies the power of several of the arguments against Pauline authorship and gives great weight to some arguments for it. He claims to fail "to see in any way that Hebrews 2:3 and 13:7 seem to speak as if the writer were not an Apostle."[22] In favor of accepting Paul's authorship, Sperry cites the general agreement of Catholic scholarship, "the fact that the earliest reference to the Epistle by author names Paul explicitly,"[23] and the fact that "the prophet Joseph Smith attributes the Epistle to Paul's authorship in his "Inspired" revision of the Bible.[24] He concludes, in exact agreement with Origen some seventeen centuries earlier, "that Paul was the author responsible for the ideas and doctrines of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but that he was not the actual writer who was responsible for its literary form."[25]

More recently, Richard L. Anderson[26] also has devoted four pages to adducing reasons to accept the traditional ascription of Pauline authorship. He begins by claiming that Clement of Rome's apparent first-century citation of passages of Hebrews implies that he accepted it as of apostolic origin.[27] Anderson mentions that a certain second-century codex included Hebrews among the letters attributed to Paul and claims that "Hebrews was widely considered one of Paul's letters a century after his death."[28] He cites the authority of Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and Clement's anonymous teacher to further argue that "there is a substantial second-century conviction of Paul's authorship."[29] Turning to the arguments against Paul's having written the epistle, Anderson mentions none except "the style of the letter."[30] With an allusion to the Gettysburg Address, he points out that differences in audience, subject, and occasion can explain differences in style. On a more positive note, he lists several similarities of expression and metaphor between Hebrews and the generally accepted letters of Paul. Finally, turning to modern authority, he accurately states that "Joseph Smith did not claim formal revelation on the subject but consistently referred to Paul as the author."[31]

Evaluation of LDS writing on the subject

Before exploring why LDS writers might consider this question worth discussing, let's evaluate the strength of the arguments given so far.

Elder McConkie gives three reasons for accepting Pauline authorship.

* Joseph Smith "says [it] was written by Paul"

* Joseph Smith "attributes statements from it to Paul."

* Peter "seems to be identifying its authorship . . ."

He concludes that "to those who accept Joseph Smith as an inspired witness of truth, the matter is at rest".[32] A glance at the Joseph Smith quotation in question shows that the prophet did not actually "say" that Paul wrote the epistle. He clearly believed this, but that is quite different from implying, as Elder McConkie does, that he actually considered the question and formed a conclusion which he then asserted. Elder McConkie's second point is true enough, but it is a strong argument only if we maintain that the prophet never (or at least rarely) even believed anything false. His third argument is fairly far fetched. Judging from context, the letter from Paul mentioned in 2 Peter (if indeed a single letter is intended) best fits Romans.[33] Thus Elder McConkie's argument for the traditional ascription is quite weak.

Professor Sperry's main non-religious argument for accepting the epistle as Pauline is the fact that the first Christian to comment on the subject (Clement of Alexandria) names Paul as author. Professor Anderson likewise gives great emphasis to a supposed ancient "substantial . . . conviction" that Paul wrote our epistle. But it must be noted that the nature of Clement's discussion is essentially defensive. Both Professors Anderson and Sperry seem to ignore the obvious point that Clement (and Origen after him) wouldn't have needed to address the question in the first place if it were not in considerable doubt. A truly settled proposition is in no need of such defense as these two great teachers mount.

What of Professor Anderson's effort to create room for the huge stylistic differences between Hebrew's and Paul's (other?) letters. It is a relatively brief treatment and cites William Leonard's 1939 work on the subject.[34] While this brevity is to be expected, as authorship is not really Anderson's main focus, it seems a good deal too facile when dealing with a problem that forced Professor Sperry to posit another "writer" in addition to his "author," Paul. Clearly, the issue can be decided only by a much deeper analysis. While such an analysis is beyond the scope of this paper as well, the strength of the stylistic objection will perhaps be illuminated by analogy. Imagine you have made a thorough study of a number of sermons by Brigham Young. Now you are presented with a sermon or book by Neal Maxwell. How much trouble would you have deciding that it came from a different source? What changes in audience, subject, or occasion could ever have induced President Young to write like Elder Maxwell?[35]

Finally, both Professors Sperry and Anderson try to establish Joseph Smith's views on the subject. Sperry's point that Joseph didn't change the King James Version at this point must be seen in light of the facts that he never considered his inspired revision complete and that he didn't change a lot of other things that are pretty obviously wrong in the KJV. As for the fact that the prophet "consistently referred to Paul as the author," this shows only that he accepted, probably without questioning them, certain of the common beliefs of his day.

So, it seems to the present author that none of the LDS attempts to argue for Pauline authorship is even remotely persuasive. They give far too much weight to an opinion Joseph Smith shows no evidence of ever having considered, and they both overestimate and overvalue the ancient agreement on the subject.

XXXXX Temple preparation class?[36]

An appreciation of the epistle

Unique theological contributions of Hebrews

Summary in terms of creativity and influence

What is at stake?

Let us now, at long last, turn to the question of what difference it makes whether Paul wrote this remarkable, creative, and influential work. Is the historical debate nothing but meaningless sound and fury, or are important issues at stake? In other words, "so what?"

Elder McConkie states, "the principles set forth in the Epistle are more important than the personage who recorded them; an understanding of the doctrines taught is of greater worth than a knowledge of their earthly authorship."[37]

On the other hand, the scriptures are more than a repository of such "principles" and "doctrines." They are, both in their content and in the manner of their origin, an evidential record of God's dealings with his people and his church. Their very existence and the ways in which they came to exist have much to teach us about ourselves, our relationship to God, and the possibilities of revelation. It is this author's guess that we are now touching on the actual arena of concern when Mormons (however rarely) discuss the authorship of Hebrews - the nature, limits, and reliability of revelation past and present, rather than the historical authorship of a certain treatise. This, broadly speaking, is what is "at stake" and what animates the discussion, both among defenders and, speaking for myself, doubters of Pauline authorship.

So, in this section, we will explore what the various discussants seem to have felt was at stake as they presented their reasons for their beliefs. We can learn a great deal about our actual underlying assumptions when we probe behind the language and the reasoning we use.

Inerrancy of the scriptures and of the King James Version of the Bible in particular

Although both The King James Version of the Bible and Joseph Smith's "inspired" revision of it attribute this epistle to Paul, no modern translation does. When Professor Sperry's argument is examined carefully, it becomes clear that the only argument he gives in favor of Pauline authorship besides the defense of Clement and Origen is the fact that the "`Inspired' revision" attributes it to him. But this attribution is simply a carryover from the King James Version. Elder McConkie does not cite this reason, but takes his chapter title directly from the King James Version's title for the epistle. Church policy now instructs Sunday School teachers not to use alternative translations in their teaching. Liturgically, the LDS church allows that the Bible may not have been "translated correctly," and the church hopes for "further light and knowledge," but it tends to act, in practice, as though KJV is the final Word, except where it has been amended by Joseph Smith. To admit that the Pauline authorship of Hebrews was in doubt would be to call the King James Version of the bible into doubt.

The sense of religious certainty

Another major casualty of admitting that we don't know who wrote Hebrews would be our sense of religious certainty. Consider the Church Educational System's Reading Guide's way of introducing Elder McConkie's arguments for Pauline authorship. "Latter-day Saints are fortunate in that they do not need to thread their way through a maze of conjecture in order to form a conclusion." How comforting to know that we don't actually have to think about anything! One is tempted to remind the anonymous writer that Joseph Smith taught that "the things of God are of deep import, ... and careful and solemn and ponderous thought .... can only find them out." After recovering from the self-congratulatory tone and the encouragement to mental complacency, we are left to consider the fear of the "maze of conjecture." If Paul didn't write this epistle, then who did? How much of the rest of what I've been taught might turn out not to be true?

One of the great blessings of continuing revelation is the chance to receive clarity in a confusing world. This is one of the great and (the present author contends) legitimate appeals of Mormonism; but the desire for this clarity shouldn't blind us to the fact that there is a lot we actually don't know, a lot God has yet to reveal. We must resist the temptation to pretend to revelation where it hasn't been given. Pandering to our desire for religious certainty blinds us to our need for more understanding and revelation.

Inerrancy of Joseph Smith

Elder McConkie concludes his argument for Pauline authorship with finality: "for those who accept Joseph Smith as an inspired witness of truth, the matter is at rest." Since he can only show that Joseph believed this, not that he ever taught it as doctrine, Elder McConkie is here invoking an extremely strong version of prophetic infallibility. To claim that the incidental comments of "an inspired witness of truth" put matters at rest is to claim much greater authority for the prophet than he claimed for himself. But clearly Elder McConkie feels that doubting Pauline authorship is equivalent to doubting the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. Can any claim to prophecy long endure such a high standard of accuracy?

This raises the question of what it means to be a prophet. Although this deserves a paper of its own, it is worth pointing out that in neither the Old nor the New Testament were prophets held to such a high standard, and in neither was being a prophet an office of ecclesiastical presidency. Rather, prophets were forceful, inspired exponents of the gospel. In the Old Testament, they tended to act outside the accepted religious structures of priest and temple. In the New, they expounded the gospel of Christ to their local congregations. Their gifts were teaching and calling to repentance, not directing or presiding. And when the people were either especially good or especially bad, there could be lots of them at once. Joseph needn't have never held a false opinion to be a true prophet.

Conflation of ecclesiastical authority and revelatory insight

This brings us to the question that probably provoked the ancient discussion of the authorship of Hebrews in the first place. Let's consider it first in a modern manifestation. "Hebrews . . . was written to those schooled in the law of Moses. Yet it took Paul, a living prophet, to unfold its symbolism and explain the meaning of Mosaic rituals to the Jewish saints of his day."[38] This same sense, that only an authorized voice could teach such great truths and be accorded scriptural status, lay behind the need of Augustine and Jerome to accept Pauline authorship. In the early church the reason for debating authorship was in order to establish how much authority should be granted the epistle. The Christians of the second and third centuries seems to have conflated ecclesiastical authority and revelatory insight, much as Latter-day Saints do today.

This author contends that this conflation represents a failure to understand how the gifts of the Spirit worked in the early church. "The Spirit bloweth where it listeth."[39] Prophets abounded, and saints had to seek the spirit to understand which of all the voices they were hearing represented the true gospel of Christ. Again, such a world sounds less secure than one in which we can always be safe if we just "follow the brethren." But perhaps that's the world we actually live in.

Preservation of our endowment of truth and authority

As the LDS Church grows, its leaders may easily become increasingly worried about the possibilities of heterodoxy and fragmentation, increasingly concerned about repeating what they see as the mistakes of the Roman Catholic church. This reflects the natural conservatism of those who see themselves as having been bequeathed a priceless endowment of truth and authority. They are tempted to become the conservators of the doctrine, its guardians against corruption. Thus emerges an emphasis on conformity and orthodoxy rather than on experience and on-going revelation. To appropriate Professor Harold Hill, we find certain words creeping into our vocabularies, words like "file leader" and "doctrinal purity."

In discussing the authorship of Hebrews with a Mormon friend, I found one thing he said especially interesting. Let me stress that this friend is someone whose dedication to God and to divine truth I respect more than I do my own - someone who reads the standard works (the entire LDS cannon) in full each year (and who has, thus, read Hebrews at least a dozen more times than I). Defending the epistle's Pauline authorship, he urged that no one who had not actually known the Savior would dare to take it upon himself to teach so much about him that doesn't appear in other sources. He assumed the author must, therefore, be an apostle, or at least very familiar with Jesus. This assumption, which seems to be explicitly contradicted in Heb 2:3, exemplifies a way of thinking that I imagine is pervasive in Mormonism. We can't imagine someone without the highest ecclesiastical authority going out on such doctrinal limbs as Hebrews seems to do. And we project this deference for authority and this tendency to theological conservatism back onto the early church and its leaders and writers.

Why might we want to doubt Pauline authorship

Let us turn now from exploring what seems to be at stake for those who defend the claim that Paul wrote Hebrews to consider why other Latter-day Saints, including the present author, might be interested in believing that he didn't.

On a purely evidential level, the LDS arguments for accepting Pauline authorship seem to place either too great a trust in the inerrancy of Joseph Smith's every opinion, or too little weight on the techniques and conclusions of genuine scholarship. I find myself at odds with both of these biases. I resist feeling bound by the narrowest interpretation of every nuance of every word Joseph Smith ever spoke or even thought. Joseph himself certainly didn't, as he railed at feeling trammeled by frozen dogmas[40] and even altered his own revelations over time as he gained new theological insights.[41] Many of us also rebel against the church hierarchy's apparent rejection of nearly all scriptural scholarship over the last two centuries. We have felt the joy of tasting the fruits of further light and knowledge from diverse quarters, and we want to enrich our understanding of scripture and what it is to be a Christian with the fruits of current scholarship.

XXXResistance to anti-intellectualism.

But my interest in believing that Paul didn't write Hebrews goes well beyond the desire to freely evaluate the evidence I see and believe the fruits of sound study. As I told my Gospel Doctrine class, what makes this question exciting is that if Paul didn't write Hebrews, then somebody else did. There was somebody in the early Christian church who, although he didn't consider himself an apostle, believed that he had both the capability and the right to teach new truths, to expound, under the guidance of the Spirit, new ways of understanding the ceremonies of the temple and the mission of Christ. And he did it. Apparently, the intellectual/spiritual climate of the second-generation church was still sufficiently nurturing of continuing revelation that such a work as Hebrews could be conceived and offered to the church. Furthermore our author's words were so appreciated by the saints of his day that they were preserved, spread abroad, and so treasured that they had eventually to be admitted to the cannon. In later years, to be sure, when the conservatizing, preservationist impulse came to dominate the church, the epistle needed to be attributed to an "authority" like Paul. The epistle introduces such important and fundamental doctrine that the church fathers couldn't imagine losing it, and so they agreed to attribute it to Paul. But among the first recipients, this was not necessary. The Spirit had blown where it listed and they were grateful to receive it.

I, too, want to believe in the possibility of more and richer revelatory channels in the life of the modern church. In a day when the leaders, overwhelmed by the task of maintaining a cohesive world-wide organization, are so sensitive to the need for "doctrinal purity," I long for the refreshing kind of further light and knowledge that Hebrews exemplifies. In a day when I sometimes feel like "Follow the Brethren" is just about the only word proceeding from Salt Lake, I long for the realization that God speaks to all as we are prepared to receive, a realization that might be strengthened by understanding the non-hierarchical origin of Hebrews. How many of us fail to feast on and teach the word of Christ, received directly from the Spirit as Nephi advocated[42], because we don't feel we are "authorized" to speak for Him? How often do we miss the true word as declared among us because it is not falling from authorized lips? This spiritual austerity may insure us against some errors of belief, but it stunts our growth, starving our souls of the rich fruits on which the Lord invites us to feast.

As I have attended Sunstone Symposia over the years, I have thrilled at the gems of spiritual insight my fellow saints have shared. To hear Linda Wilcox explore the concept of a Mother in Heaven, to discuss with my brothers and sisters how we experience the love of Christ, or to witness Lavina's combined faithfulness and bold honesty has enlivened my soul and, I hope, strengthened my commitment to Christ. I have felt here what I imagine to be the Spirit, not just reassuring or blessing, as I often do in church, but "quick [alive] and powerful." Indeed, I am tempted to an admittedly romanticized analogy. There are some clues in Hebrews that it was written by a couple, perhaps with the woman taking the leading role. Looking for such a couple, some commentators have speculated that it might have been written by Priscilla and Aquila, two of Paul's favorites, in whose home the Corinthian congregation may have met. Treating as they do, the twin themes of the temple rituals and the mission of Christ, I am led to think of another couple I know who have written a good deal of what they call "speculative theology" exploring and enriching my understanding of these same themes. In their attempts to understand and find meaning for our day in these ceremonies and in Christ's teachings and sacrifice, Paul and Margaret Toscano can be seen as trying to write another Book of Hebrews. And I wonder whether in a church more receptive to non-hierarchical dispensations of truth their contributions wouldn't be seen as revelatory, enlivening us all in our understanding of and commitment to Christ. So maybe some "Paul" did write Hebrews after all.[43]


In conclusion, it should be clear that Christian theology has benefited immeasurably from the fact that the early church and its leaders were able to accept as divine revelation words that they had reason to doubt had come through apostolic channels. I imagine similar blessings for the modern church, both in the richness and power of our understanding of God and his/her work and in the enriched spiritual lives of the saints if they can believe in and develop their own potential for prophecy. The fact that the epistle to the Hebrews was not, in fact, written by Paul, and was not, apparently, written by anyone who even thought of himself as an apostle (at least in the sense in which that title was used in the early church) should free and encourage us to try to emulate the author's example. The very existence of the book challenges us all to ask the questions and nurture the humble receptivity that can make us conduits for inspired truth.

Why care whether the apostle Paul wrote Hebrews? What is at stake, for me, is the welcome that we give, individually and collectively, for the Spirit to indeed blow where it listeth. In the second generation of Christianity, the revelatory operation of the Spirit was sufficiently unconstrained by the cramping concern for doctrinal purity that someone could learn wholly new ways of conceiving of Christ's mission and eternal role and new ways of making that mission meaningful and inspiring to his or her fellow saints. A New Testament prophet in deed, our author did "speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost"[44] and the words became scripture.

Thus the book of Hebrews offers a tantalizing taste of the partial fulfillment of Moses' hope that "all the Lord's people [would be] prophets."[45] May that hope find further fulfillment in us, and may all Joel's sons and daughters yet prophecy.[46]

[1]Church Educational System, Ye Shall Be Witnesses unto Me: The Discourses and Writings of the Early Apostles: A New Testament Reading Guide: Acts to Revelation (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1975), p, 177. The present author considers it noteworthy that this manual refers to itself as a "Reading Guide" rather than as a "Study Guide".

[2] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, New Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989), p, 35.

[3] We shall often refer to this work as an epistle, even though it is doubtful that it was actually written as a letter.

[4] W. T. Manson. .XXXX.

[5] Jerome Bible Commentary XXXX

[6] Attridge XXXX

[7]Harris XXXXX These are 1 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthans, Galatians, Romans, Philemon, and Philippians. Some also consider 2 Thessalonians and/or Colossians to be genuinely Pauline. Fewer accept Ephesians, and almost none the letters to Timothy and Titus.

[8] e.g. "mediator"

[9] The letter appears in elegant, fluent Greek, rather than a stilted "translation Greek." The Hebrew bible is nearly always quoted directly from the Septuagint. At least one argument (10:5ff) depends on a Septuagint deviation from the Hebrew bible. Finally, the argument of 9:15-20 depends on the double meaning of the Greek word "d[iota]a[theta][eta][kappa][eta]" as both "covenant" and "testament", But there is no such double-sensed Hebrew words that could underlie this Greek one and justify the argument. see Bruce p. xxxvi. XXXX

[10] I shall generally refer to our author as "he," for which there is a fairly good argument, though I will eventually suggest that there is some reason to hope that Hebrews was written, at least in large measure, by a woman, possibly Priscilla with some contributions from her husband Aquila.

[11] Interpreters Bible XXXX

[12]Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973), 3:133.

[13] I should first admit that I need to do some more research on this subject than time has so far permitted. I wish that I could find anything that B. H. Roberts or James Talmage has said on the subject. Has it ever been discussed from the pulpit in a church General Conference or in any articles in The Ensign? Further, it is also hard to know just what should be counted as an official church publication.

[14] New Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual

15 Ye Shall Be Witnesses unto Me, p. 177.

[16] McConkie, DNTC, 3:133. All italics and punctuation are reproduced exactly.

[17] Joseph Smith, Jr. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: XXXX) p. 59. All punctuation is reproduced exactly

[18] I have been told (verbally) that Wilford Griggs has also defended the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, but I have not found anything he has published on this question.

[19] Sydney B. Sperry, Paul's Life and Letters (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955), pp. 268-272.

[20] Ibid., p. 268.

[21] Ibid., p. 272.

[22] Ibid., p. 271.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., p. 272.

[25] Ibid. (emphasis added)

[26] Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1983) pp. 197-201.

[27] The present author hopes to be forgiven for pointing out that Anderson's argument for this claim is utterly specious. It relies on the assertion that "with the exception of some quotations from the Gospels and Acts, all of Clement's New Testament quotations come from letters attributed to apostles." (Ibid., p. 197) Isn't this equivalent to saying that Clement never quotes from Jude (and possibly James)?

[28] Ibid., p. 198.

[29] Ibid., p. 201

[30] Ibid., p. 198.

[31] Ibid., p. 201.

[32] McConkie, DNTC, 3:133.

[33] J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1969), pp. 369-374. In this extended discussion, Kelly argues that "Peter" is talking about Paul's writings generally, rather than about a single letter. But if one must be chosen, Romans is most likely.

[34] William Leonard, Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Rome: Vatican Polyglot Press, 1939)

[35]A more universal analogy would compare Ross Perot and Bill Bradley. They both advocate a balanced budget and campaign finance reform, but would either ever give a speech that sounded like the other?

[36] Indeed, the present author, when invited to speak at a temple chapel session associated with a ward conference, spoke on subjects and in terms he would have felt inappropriate to explore in a normal worship service.

[37] B. R. McConkie, DNTC, p. 133.

[38] Joseph F. McConkie, "Jesus Christ, Symbolism, and Salvation," Studies in Scripture, ed. Rober L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1987), 6:205.

[39] Reference please!

[40] Reference please

[41] Reference please.

[42]2 Nephi 31:1-4, I hope.

[43] The analogy between Sunstone papers and the book of Hebrews is weakened by the absence from most of the former of any call to repentance or renewed commitment to Christ. But these are not unknown, as witness the gentle reproofs of Orson Scott Card or the "sharper than a two-edged sword" indictments of Kathleen Flake.

[44] D&C 68:4.

[45] Numbers 11:29

[46] Joel 2:28

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