Secret Service Theologian



"GOD, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets…spake unto us in His Son."
Does the "us" here refer to us Christians of the Gentile dispensation? The question is not whether the Epistle has a voice for us; "Every student of Hebrews must feel that it deals in a peculiar degree with the thoughts and trials of our own time,"1 but what was the meaning which they to whom it was primarily addressed were intended to put upon the words. The opening verses are an undivided sentence; and as "the fathers" were Israel, we may assume with confidence that the "us" must be similarly construed. There was no "us" in the Apostle Paul’s references to the revelation with which he was entrusted as Apostle to the Gentiles. "My Gospel" he calls it. And again, "that Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles." It was the precious charge, "the good deposit" (Timothy 2:1-4)2 which, in view of his passing from his labours to his rest, he very specially committed to his most trusted fellow-worker. But much as he "magnified his office" as Apostle to the Gentiles, he never forgot, and never ceased to boast, that he was an Israelite. And he had a special ministry to the covenant people. To them it was that he first addressed himself in every place he visited throughout the whole circuit of his recorded labours.3 Even in Rome, although his relations with the Christians there were so close and so tender, his first care was to call together "the chief of the Jews." And, assuming the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, the book was the work, not of "the Apostle to the Gentiles," but of Paul the Messianic witness to Israel - "our beloved brother Paul," as "the Apostle to the Circumcision" designates him with reference (ex hypothesi) to this very Epistle. This lends a special significance to the tense of the verbs in the opening sentence. "God, having spoken to the fathers in the prophets, spake to us in the Son." In the one case as in the other the reference is to a past and completed revelation. It is not the distinctively Christian revelation which was still in course of promulgation in the Epistles to Gentile churches, but the revelation of the Messiah in His earthly ministry - that ministry in respect of which He Himself declared "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the House of Israel." For, as the inspired Apostle wrote,
"Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made unto the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy." (Romans 15:8-9)
Promises for Israel, but mercy for those who were
"strangers to the covenants of promise." (Ephesians 2:12)
These words may remind us of the distinction already noticed between the Judaism of the Hebrew Scriptures, and the Judaism of the Pharisees. Using the word "religion" in its classical acceptation, the religion of the Pentateuch is the only divine religion the world has ever known; for in that sense Christianity is not a religion, but a revelation and a faith. The little company of spiritual Israelites who became the first disciples of Christ accepted Him because He was the realization and fulfillment of that divine religion. But the religion of the nominal Jew was as false as is the religion of the nominal Christian. And while "the Jews' religion," which rejected Christ, is denounced in the Apostle Paul’s ministry toward Judaisers, the divine religion which pointed to Christ is unfolded in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
"That gospel which I preach among the Gentiles." These words are usually read with a false emphasis. It is not "the gospel which I preach,"4 as contrasted with the preaching of the other Apostles, but "the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles," as contrasted with his own preaching to Israel. And the contrast will be clear to any one who will compare his epistles to Gentile churches with his sermon to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia. (Acts 13:16-41) There was not a word in that sermon which might not have been spoken by any Jew who had embraced the faith of Christ at or after Pentecost. It is based entirely on the history, and the promises and hopes, of Israel, and upon the coming and work of Christ as recorded in the Gospels - the salvation, as Hebrews expresses it, "confirmed unto us by them that heard Him." Writing as an Israelite to Israelites, the words of (Hebrews 2:2) are just what we should expect from the Apostle Paul. They are the precise counterpart of his words recorded in (Acts 13:26-33). And if the one passage be proof that he could not have been the author of Hebrews, the other is equal proof that he could not have been the preacher at Antioch.5
We thus see that what appeared to be a fatal bar to the Pauline authorship of Hebrews admits of a solution which is both simple and adequate. And we can understand why the Apostle did not declare himself in the opening words, according to his usual practice. For the writer, I again repeat, was not "the Apostle to the Gentiles," but Paul "of the stock of Israel," "a Hebrew of the Hebrews." To describe the book as "anonymous" is a sheer blunder; for the concluding chapter gives the clearest proof that the writer was well known to those whom he was addressing.
Due weight has never been given to this fact in estimating the value of the general testimony of the Greek Fathers that the writer was the Apostle Paul. To attribute equal value to the statements of certain Latin Fathers of a later date betrays ignorance of the science of evidence. The testimony of the earlier Fathers, moreover, is confirmed in the most striking way by the explicit statement of 2 Peter 2:3-15, that Paul did in fact write an Epistle to Hebrews. And if this be not that Epistle, what and where can it be? But this is not all. Writers without number have noticed the striking fact that the book is a treatise rather than an epistle. This is met, however, by pointing to the strictly epistolary character of the closing chapter. But may not the twenty-second verse of that chapter afford the solution of this seeming paradox? "Bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written unto you in few words."6 Apart, from the authorship controversy no one would venture to suggest that this could refer to the book as a whole. Even in these days of typewriters, such an ending to a letter of some 8000 words would be worthy of a silly schoolgirl! To common men the suggestion will seem reasonable that Chap. 13 is "a covering letter," written to accompany the treatise. And if that letter stood alone no one but a professional skeptic would question that it emanated from the Apostle Paul. For, in every word of it, as Delitzsch so truly says, "we seem to hear St. Paul himself and no one else."
Unless therefore such a conclusion is barred on the grounds already indicated, the presumption is irresistible that the author of the letter was the author of the book:. And if the solution here offered of the doctrinal peculiarities of Hebrews be deemed adequate, the whole question becomes narrowed to a single issue. It is an issue, moreover, which cannot be left to the decision of Greek scholars as such. For even if they were agreed, which they are not, we should insist on its being considered on more general grounds. Will any student of literature maintain that so great a master of the literary art as the Apostle Paul might not, in penning a treatise such as Hebrews, display peculiarities and elegancies of style which do not appear in his epistolary writings?
Some people might object that this remark ignores the divine inspiration of the Epistle, which is the one question of essential importance, the question of the human authorship being entirely subordinate. But if the objector’s estimate of inspiration be of that kind which eliminates the element of human authorship, cadit quoestio. If, on the other hand, that element be recognized, it is easy to conjecture circumstances which would account for any peculiarities of style. Here, however, I should repeat, scholars differ. The following is the testimony of one of our most eminent Greek scholars: "After a study of the Greek language as diligent, and an acquaintance with its writers of every age, as extensive probably as any person at least of my own country now living, I must maintain my decided opinion that the Greek is, except as regards the structure of sentences, not so decidedly superior to the Greek of St. Paul as to make it even improbable that the Epistle was written by him."7
Any one who is accustomed to deal with the evidence of witnesses would here consider whether circumstances may not have existed to account for "the structure of sentences" in the Epistle, and for the occasional use of words not found in the Apostle’s other writings. Let us suppose, for example, that Hebrews was written with "the beloved physician" by his side, either in "his own hired house" during his Roman imprisonment, (Acts 28:30) or in the house of some Italian Christian after his release, may he not have accepted literary suggestions from his companion? No "theory of inspiration" is adequate which does not assume Divine guidance in the very terminology of Scripture. But God makes use of means. When he fed Elijah, He used the birds of the air. And when the Lord fed the multitudes, He did not "command the stones to become bread," as the Devil suggested in the Temptation, but utilized the disciples’ little store, utterly insignificant though it was. And no devout mind need refuse the suggestion that as the Apostle read (or possibly dictated) Hebrews to his companion, the Evangelist would suggest that this sentence or that might be made more forcible by transposing its clauses, or that some other word would more fitly express the Apostle’s meaning than that which he had employed. It is, as Bengel declares, "with the general consent of antiquity" that the authorship of Hebrews is attributed to the Apostle Paul. And the only other witness I will here call is another eminent German expositor, whose great erudition is but one element in his competence to deal with this question. Franz Delitzsch’s words are always weighty; but the value of his testimony to the Pauline authorship is all the greater because he ranks with those by whom the Epistle is attributed to the Evangelist. In the introduction to his Commentary he writes as follows: -
"We seem at first to have a treatise before us, but the special hortatory references interwoven with the most discursive and dogmatic portions of the work soon show us that it is really a kind of sermon addressed to some particular and well-known auditory; while at the close the homiletic form (the Paraclesis) changes into that of an epistle (Ch. 13:22). The epistle has no apostolic name attached to it, while it produces throughout the impression of the presence of the original and creative force of the apostolic spirit. And if written by an Apostle, who could have been its author but St. Paul? True, till towards the end it does not make the impression upon us of being of his authorship; its form is not Pauline, and the thoughts, though never un-Pauline, yet often go beyond the Pauline type of doctrine as made known to us in the other epistles, and even where this is not the case they seem to be peculiarly placed and applied; but towards the close, when the epistle takes the epistolary form, we seem to hear St. Paul himself, and no one else.8
Chapter Three

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