A Case for Lukan Authorship of Hebrews

The Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the most debated books in the New Testament regarding Authorship. “In view of the confusion in the ancient church regarding the origin of this letter,” notes one commentator, “it is not surprising that modern scholarship has produced a welter of different suggestions.”[1] The subject at hand has been debated since the early church fathers and no one person has been presented as a definitive author.

How Does Lukan Authorship Hold Up Among Scholars?

F.F. Bruce does not present a definitive author at all in his commentary on the Epistle. He does, however, agree with Calvin that the overwhelming consensus is that Paul was not, in fact, the author. Bruce offers the view that the author “was a Hellenist who inherited the outlook of those Hellenists described in Acts 6-8; 11:19ff., the associates of Stephen and Philip, pioneers in the Gentile mission.” He writes, “In spite of his anonymity he is a force to be reckoned with in early Christian theology. He gives us the clearest discussion of the Christian approach to the Old Testament of any of the New Testament writers.”[2]

Lenski is very adamant that Paul was not the author of Hebrews and is also sure that Barnabas was not a candidate. He posits that the author of Hebrews never truly admits that he was the founder of the church to which he was writing. This fact alone rules out the possibility of Barnabas, Lenski observes, because Barnabas was the founder of the congregations in Cyprus. However, Lenski still does not definitively propose one author, similar to Bruce and Guthrie. [3]

Luke Timothy Johnson does, however, contribute the authorship of Hebrews to a person – Apollos. Yet, he is absolutely sure in his work that Paul was not the author. In regard to the rejection of Pauline authorship, Johnson notes six areas of which we can know Paul was not the author and they are as follows: 1) the letter is anonymous and not ascribed to Paul in any way; 2) the letter contains no autobiographical remarks that are evident in Paul’s other letters; 3) the vocabulary shared with Paul is also shared with the broader Christian tradition; 4) the manner in which Scripture is cited is not Pauline; 5) the mode of argumentation has a distinctive character of its own; and 6) a “Platonic worldview” is prevalent in Hebrews and is only parallel in one passage of Paul’s letters (2 Cor. 4-5). [4]

Lastly is John Calvin in the scholars who have presented other authors besides Paul for the Epistle to the Hebrews. Calvin was very apprehensive to say that Paul was the author of Hebrews. However, he does eventually present Luke or Clement of Rome as the possible authors. He notes that the view of Hebrews being translated from Hebrew to Greek is most definitely a possibility, but is a view that stands on faulty ground and can be easily refuted. He does, however, note that the purpose of the writing was not to convince the audience that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah, but rather to “prove what the office of Christ is.” [5]

A Case for Lukan Authorship

David L. Allen, a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the current leading scholar for the Lukan authorship of Hebrews. In 1987, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the subject of Lukan Authorship and published it with B&H Publishing in 2010.[6] His work is more than exceptional on the subject and is a strong contributor to my opinion of this issue in New Testament studies.

In his work, Allen lists three main arguments for the Lukan authorship of Hebrews: lexical, stylistic, and textlinguistic.[7]

Lexical Argument for Lukan Authorship. Allen offers many lexical pieces of evidence for the authorship of Luke by comparing the two-volume work of Luke-Acts to Hebrews. Allen provides a very detailed chart showing his readers the overwhelming number of 53 common words that are shared between Luke-Acts and Hebrews. “Given that Hebrews is considerably shorter than Luke and Acts, this lexical evidence argues strongly for common authorship.” Another argument in comparing Luke-Acts to Hebrews is that there is only 16.2% of Hebrews’s vocabulary that is hapax legomena, this shows us a two-thirds majority of the vocabulary in Hebrews that is shared with Luke-Acts – thus strengthening the argument for Lukan authorship.

Covering the basis of the lexical evidence, the comparison between Luke-Acts, Paul and Hebrews is a must. The lexical reality for the New Testament writings is that “a close lexical kinship exists between Paul and Luke compared to the other New Testament writers.” Of all the gospel accounts, Luke and Paul have the most words found in both writings by approximately 100 words. When adding Acts to the mixture, another 78 words become exclusive to Luke and Paul. This places almost 200 words exclusive to Luke and Paul that are only used in the gospel accounts, Acts, and the Pauline epistles. 

The significance of this comparison is that the evidence shows for a fact that Luke was most definitely a companion of Paul. “If Luke wrote Hebrews, then the vocabulary connection of Luke, Paul, and Hebrews is easily explained.” Simply from a lexical point of view, we can determine, as Allen argues, that Luke is a more likely candidate for the authorship of Hebrews than Paul because of the theological and stylistic differences between the Pauline Epistles and Hebrews, and the number of overlapping words between Luke-Acts and Hebrews.

Stylistic Evidence. “Stylistic studies can furnish evidence that, when tempered with other matters of external and internal evidence, can be used as a discriminating factor in questions of authorship.” What stylistic evidence tries to accomplish is two-fold: first, it is to find an author who could have written a work based on other writings by the same author; second, it is to rule out other authors who could have written a particular work. Allen argues here that Luke has been the more prominent possibility for authorship among the early church fathers dating all the way back to Clement of Alexandria. Because Luke’s style of writing was a Classical Greek style, it seems logical to note that Luke is most likely to be the author of the Hebrews. 

“Examples of a near-Classical style observable in both Luke and Hebrews – frequent use of genitive absolute, frequent insertion of material between adjective and noun and article and noun, the use of lengthy and balanced sentences, and relatively few Hebraisms (Allen asserts in a footnote that the lack of Hebraisms in Hebrews doesn’t necessarily rule out Luke as author, it just places his diction in a higher quality.) – are more typical of Luke and Hebrews than of any other New Testament writer.”

Allen moves further into his argument by giving some examples of the relationship between Luke-Acts and Hebrews stylistically. Just to name a couple, Allen notes the use of that particle kaitoi in Hebrews 4:3 is only elsewhere found in Acts 14:17 and the preposition dia with the genitive is used in Luke 5:5, Hebrews 2:15, and Acts 1:3. One other mention of stylistic evidence is the use of first-person plural pronouns such as “we” and “us.” Allen asserts that similar to Acts, when Luke used these pronouns noting he was with Paul in certain locations, these same pronouns are used in the same style in Hebrews in Acts.

Textlinguistic Evidence. The first evidence for textlinguistics is the prologues of Luke, Acts, and Hebrews and their similarities. Allen gives seven specific features they all possess: a similar length, an exclusive literary style not found in any other New Testament writing, all three prologues are retrospective and prospective, an alliteration with the letter “p” in all three prologues, an absence of de and kai in Luke’s and Hebrews’ prologue (indicating a Classical Greek style), lengthy texts are sandwiched between subject and verb, and words and phrases in Hebrews prologue are only found in Luke’s prologue. 

Another textlinguistic proof is the comparison between Acts 7 and Hebrews 11 – the two passages in the New Testament possessing the longest summaries of the Old Testament. Arguments have been made regarding these two passages as a “common tradition,” according to Allen, but he goes even further to say that there may have been a common author, as well. He writes, “Stephen’s defense in Acts 7 totals 1,022 words in Greek…Nearly 90 percent of the vocabulary there recurs in Hebrews. Acts 7 has 301 vocabulary words, and nearly 70 percent of these are in Hebrews.” 

Lastly, there is the macrostructure and the superstructure in Luke-Acts and Hebrews. Allen notes Goulder, building on the work of Evans, “shows the Lukan travel narrative (9:51-19:46) as chiastic.” This places the themes in Luke cross-wise in a literary pattern of ABBA. Both Luke and Acts have this chiastic structure to them – showing that Paul’s missionary journey in Acts (15:1-21:26) as a mirror image of the Lukan travel narrative, thus showing the writing’s similarities. Allen argues that the chiastic framework of both Luke and Acts cover the same structure as the Gospel message itself. 

Hebrews has a very similar chiastic structure to that of Luke-Acts. Allen presents two different cases where authors Vanhoye and Neely have proposed a chiastic structure in Hebrews that would be of interest to the question of authorship. Since Luke shares this literary style with his two-volume work, it is highly possible and likely that Hebrews is most definitely a Lukan writing. In concluding the argument, Allen notes that “The best reading of the evidence is that these factors point to Luke as the author of Hebrews – or at the very least as coauthor with Paul.”

Some Opposing Questions

Wasn’t Luke a gentile?

 I have met many people who believe Luke was a Gentile. Allen argues that Luke was Jewish – a view which is very unpopular among scholars, young and old. Allen explains that “[T]he point of view expressed by Luke in his two-volume work is consistently that of the Jewish Scriptures.” There is hardly any disagreement among scholars that Luke was the author of both Luke and Acts. And yet still, they were both written to a former high priest named Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), which implies a Jewish rhetoric within the two-volume work from Luke, the physician. 

Allen believes that one main reason for a lack of Lukan authorship support is because of the presumption that Luke was, in fact, a Gentile, while the author of Hebrews is most definitely Jewish. This is an interesting logic to follow because if this hypothesis from Allen is true, it would change the trajectory of the issue at hand. 

How can we truly know the author if it is anonymous?

The anonymity of Hebrews does not denote an unknown author – it simply means that the author did not list his name. Anonymity was quite a commonplace attribution in the first century. For instance, the book of Esther, Ruth, Matthew, the epistle to the Hebrews among others are all considered anonymous writings in the Scripture. Anonymity does not definitely mean unknown.

Wasn’t the author of the Hebrews a “second generation believer”?

Hebrews 2:3 states “It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard.” Many scholars and lay-interpreters characterize the meaning of this verse to be the written note of a second generation believer – that someone heard the message from Christ and was converted, then told it to the author of the Hebrews. While the epistle itself does affirm the second generation issue, it does seem to fit the narrative of the letter. However, the author here is aiming to connect his audience with Christ himself, since salvation is ultimately from God and not from men.

Conclusion

From the small amount of research done, we can see that Lukan authorship is, at the very least, a strong possibility for the epistle to the Hebrews. Of course, there is no way to definitively say yes or no, but there is much evidence for it. More than anything else, it is the Lord’s Word and we should heed its message intently for our sanctification.


[1] Donald Guthrie. The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 19. 

[2] F.F. Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans, 1964). 

[3] R.C.H. Lenski. Interpretation of Hebrews and James (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1968).

[4] Luke Timothy Johnson. Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).

[5] John Calvin. Commentaries on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans, 1949). 

[6] David L. Allen. Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010). I would encourage readers to pick up a copy of Allen’s work. It is immensely helpful in diagnosing the anonymity of authorship for the epistle.

[7] The quotes in this section of writing are attributed to David Allen because of his tireless work toward the issue of Lukan authorship. Instead of citing every quote, I have chosen to attribute here in one footnote rather than a large number.

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