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Letter to the Hebrews |
Author unknown: The mysterious letter to the Hebrews

Letter to the Hebrews is drawn from Chapter Five, beginning on page 144, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit Books.TheChristians.com.

Did this early and extraordinary insight into the identity of Jesus come from Paul’s scholarly helper, Apollos?

Letter to the Hebrews - Author unknown: The   mysterious letter to the Hebrews

Letter to the Hebrews – Author unknown: The mysterious letter to the Hebrews

As Paul worked tirelessly during the decade of the 50s to establish Christian missions in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece, he suddenly acquired a strong, loyal, scholarly, persuasive, and rather mysterious Jewish helper. About ten years later another mystery developed. A letter with an extraordinary insight into the identity of Jesus was written by an unknown Jew, probably from Rome. What is not known, though the question has provoked debate for centuries, is whether Paul’s mystery helper wrote the mystery letter.

The man was named Apollonius, more familiarly Apollos. A product of the huge Jewish community in Alexandria, he appeared in the synagogue at Ephesus, speaking informatively of the teachings of Christ and was sufficiently knowledgeable of the Scriptures to handily refute arguments hurled at him by opponents. Two of his listeners were Paul’s assistants, the tent-makers Priscilla and Aquila, who recruited him to Paul’s work.

In this cause, Apollos was sent across the Aegean to Corinth, a city that was a constant source of problems for Paul, and he gained such success there that Paul, in a subsequent letter, mentions Apollos as developing the kind of personal following that Paul sought to discourage.

Christians should not consider themselves, Paul wrote, as disciples of Paul, or of Peter, or of Apollos. They should all regard themselves disciples of Christ, because it was Christ, not one of his disciples, who was crucified for them. Christ gives each Christian a particular job to do. He, Paul, planted the seed, Apollos watered it, and God made it grow. (1 Cor. 3:5—7). Apollos’s work, in other words, was considered as furthering Paul’s.

Apollos vanishes from the scriptural records at this point. Church tradition takes him from Greece to Rome, and it was there, about ten years later, that the strange letter was probably written. It was addressed to Jewish followers of Jesus, probably in Palestine, who were being tempted away from the faith. It is known to history as the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The theologian Tertullian, writing in the late second century, ascribed Hebrews to Barnabas. Martin Luther, writing in the sixteenth, concluded that Apollos wrote it; the nineteenth-century theologian Adolf von Harnack attributed it to Priscilla; and the twentieth-century Oxford historian F. F. Bruce goes along with Luther and favors Apollos as author. Bruce puts the letter’s date at A.D. 63.

During the second and third centuries, the Christians at Alexandria came to believe it was written by Paul, though his name isn’t on it or in it, and it was accepted into the New Testament as a Pauline letter. Nearly all later historians, however, consider this impossible. Neither the style nor the content is found anywhere in Paul. And though its teaching is compatible with Paul’s, it is not the same and it introduces ideas that Paul nowhere mentions.

On one thing, however, all seem agreed. Since it assumes that the routine rituals of the animal sacrifices were continuing as they had for centuries at the Temple in Jerusalem, Hebrews must have been written before A.D. 70.

This matters. Its portrayal of Christ is that of a being who, while fully man, was also something far beyond the merely human. Paul, too, portrayed such a being, though in a different way. This meant that the earliest theories answering the question–Who was this man?–are depicting something for which no previous human experience had provided adequate language. Christ’s “divinity,” that is, is not a later Christian doctrine, but the earliest one.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, Christ is the “Son.” Through the Son, God made the world. By going through death, the Son destroyed the power of death and made it possible for mankind to be absolved of the sin that besets them.

The Book of Genesis (14:17—19) and the 110th Psalm (3—5), speak of a figure greater than Abraham, a man both king and high priest, named Melchizedek. Christ was greater than the angels and greater, too, than Melchizedek, says the letter, though of the same priestly order. Christ’s sacrifice was not of bulls and goats, but of his own blood. Thus, the New Covenant would replace the Old, whose animal sacrifices are weak, out of date, and will be superseded.

Such a prophecy in the ears of any devout Jew, committed as nearly all were to the eternal rites of the Temple, would be understandably outrageous. Yet, a few years later, with sword, fire and slaughter, it would find grim and ghastly fulfillment.

This is the end of the Letter to the Hebrews category article drawn from Chapter Five, beginning on page 144, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn. To continue reading more about Letter to the Hebrews from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at Books.TheChristians.com