Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews: The Last Prophet is Christ
Weekly Sermon, 15, October, 2017
Several things about this epistle to the Hebrews have been a subject of debate throughout Christian history, including the identity of the author, where and when it was written, and to whom it was addressed. We will rather confidently answer all of those questions here, even if some of our proofs are only circumstantial. First, it is evident from the closing salutation in the final verses of Hebrews chapter 13 that Paul of Tarsus is the author. There he says “23 Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.” This promise is similar to others made by Paul elsewhere in his epistles, however that alone does not prove Paul’s authorship. Unlike all of his other epistles, this one has no opening salutation. But that too is for an important reason.
Now many of those who acknowledge that Paul is the author of this epistle claim that it was written while he was under arrest in Rome, however that is not true. They base that claim on the next verse of Hebrews chapter 13, where it says “Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints”, which is also a statement sounding very much like Paul although we would translate it differently, and then “They of Italy salute you.” Now, on the surface that last phrase seems to support the assertion that the epistle was written in Rome, however it actually does precisely the opposite. In the original Greek wording of that statement there is a preposition, ἀπό, which denotes separation and origin. If Paul were in Italy, he did not need that preposition, but only the Genitive Case noun to denote the origin of those whom he meant to describe. Using ἀπό, he is actually saying that these individuals were from Italy, and it becomes evident that he is describing people who had originated from Italy but were not necessarily in Italy as he was writing.
Paul was indeed allowed to receive visitors as he was detained in Judaea, and many Judaeans from abroad frequently visited Jerusalem, especially for the feasts. Caesareia, being on the coast, was the usual port of call for people going to and from Jerusalem, which we also see in Paul’s own travels. And Caesareia was also the place where Paul was held in bonds for two years, as it is recorded in Acts chapters 23 through 27, during which the opportunities for visits from traveling Christians of the circumcision, who continued to keep the feasts as Paul had also done, must have been frequent. The conditions under which Paul were held are recorded in Acts chapter 24, where it states that Felix would keep him detained, “23 And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.” So all of the circumstances under which Paul could have written this epistle in Caesareia, and had visitors from Italy as he wrote it, are fully evident.
In verse 23 of Hebrews chapter 13, which we have just cited, we see that Timothy must have been under arrest, and then by the time Paul wrote this epistle, Timothy was released. While the accounts of Paul’s arrest in the Book of Acts are very concise, it is evident from the records that Paul was not arrested alone. It is also evident that Timothy and others were with Paul when he was arrested. From Acts chapter 20 we see both Timothy and Aristarchus in the company of Paul as he travels with Luke and his other companions, from the Troad through Miletus and on to Judaea and Jerusalem where his arrest had occurred. Then in Acts chapter 27, two years after his arrest, Paul is sent to Rome in chains and Aristarchus is a prisoner being transported along with him. Aristarchus, a Roman citizen of Makedonia, also had a right to have his case heard by Caesar rather than in Judaea. Luke had written “2 And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.” If Timothy were in bonds with them, surely Luke may have also mentioned him, since he was much closer and dearer to Paul than Aristarchus.
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