Friday 22 June 2012

The amazing arrogance of denying St Paul's authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews


It is now apparently routine to regard the 'author' of the Epistle to the Hebrews as unknown. Yet its authorship was known to be St Paul throughout about 3/4 of the duration of Christianity and through the great ages of faith.

So why do people, nowadays, think that the author is unknown?

Not to put too fine a point on it - how do modern people, with their feeble faith - so arrogantly reject the knowledge of generations of better men, including the most elevated of Saints?


The answer is by the application of secular methods of textual analysis - which purport to prove that the author was not Paul, on the basis of stylistic and content differences with other Pauline works where the provenance is more obvious.


But this is utterly irrelevant to the authorship of scripture.

The main thing about scripture is its status as divine revelation - the revelation is given to a person: in this case St Paul.

How that revelation was heard, was (sooner or later) written down, how the first written version was transmitted (by its preservation, by sequences of copyists, etc) is very variable and usually unknowable.

But - for Christians - there is the underpinning belief that whatever the process or sequence, and whatever omissions or elaborations or scribal errors may be present - once scriptural status has emerged and become established, then matters of the kind regarded by secular scholarship are irrelevant.


In choosing to regard the authorship of Hebrews as unknown, moderns may imagine they are displaying humility.

Quite the opposite is the case - moderns are displaying extreme arrogance in imagining that, by their application of techniques of secular scholarship, they have somehow refuted the knowledge of the early church that St Paul was author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

How could moderns possibly know that the early church was mistaken to regard St Paul as the author of Hebrews? - when the 'author' is properly that person who received the revelations which now we read.


NOTE: I have covered this general topic before, e.g. 

Of course, my point here is that we ought to be shocked at our culture and churches arrogance in rejecting the knowledge of far better people in a far better position than we are to know. Naturally, most most modern Christians simply accept that Biblical criticism is valid, without recognizing the profoundly dangerous implications of this acceptance.

The use of secular techniques of Biblical criticism on sacred scripture in order to reject holy tradition is a major cleavage point in Christian history - comparable to the filioque controversy which was, at root, about whether it was acceptable to change the revealed Christian Creed on the basis of what seemed to be rational-logical considerations.

In both cases, the subordination of tradition to scholarship led to a slippery slope of secularization.



Wm Jas said...

Didn't several of the early Church Fathers (Origen, Tertullian, maybe others?) also question the attribution of Hebrews to Paul?

And why should even a saint's opinion about the authorship of a particular document carry any special weight? Clement, Augustine, and the others who supported Pauline authorship lived long after Paul, and their opinions are just that. A saint would of course be in a better position to recognize the epistle as the revealed word of God and to interpret its meaning -- but why should he have any particular insight into the question of its human authorship?

Do you mean to suggest that God revealed to Clement et al. that Paul was the author?

Bruce Charlton said...

Reasons can always be found for heresy, otherwise it never would happen - but what was the *real* motivation behind the scholars who insisted upon applying their secular methods in situations where there presumed validity was zero; what was their real motivation for persisting in this process for cycle after cycle, when it was clear that the process was open-ended and subversive?

Wm Jas said...

Why would it be heresy to say Paul didn't write the Epistle to the Hebrews? The Bible doesn't say he did. The whole point of scripture is that the real author is supposed to be the Holy Ghost, so it shouldn't matter overmuch who His mortal mouthpiece happened to be in any particular case.

If the real author of Hebrews were Timothy (as it says in the original King James Bible) or Apollos (as Luther suggested), what theological difference would it make? So long as the author was inspired, what does it matter?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - I am trying, on this blog, to retrace the errors of modernity; and the way in which what may have seemed small matters became major changes of cultural direction - such as the Great Schism or the Reformation, which end-up having major effects on *both* sides of the dispute (the wrong side and also the right side - and that this damage is all-but irreperable).

So this is a heresy of assuming that a double negative is the same as a positive - as was the filioque: when the fact that the Bible does not deny that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son is taken to mean that it can, which is then reasoned into that it does.

When people reasoned that because the Bible does not say that Hebrews was written by Paul, then that negative is taken to mean that it might be, then that it *was* written by somebody else - this is part of a secular mind set which sees the scriptures as 'just another text'.

It might have been asserted that 'it did not make any difference' whether Hebrews was written by Paul or Timothy or an alien from outer space so long as it was divinely inspired - but of course it *does* make a difference: a huge difference, as we now know.

The first point is that if it does not make a difference, then why did later scholars want to disregard or deny tradition; the second is the effect of this disregarding or denial of tradition - which is to open up anything and everything in Christianity (including scripture) to secular scholarly quibbling.

We are now at the point when plain Biblical statements and instructions (about which there has been 2000 years of unanimity of interpretation) are thrown into doubt by minuscule considerations of the meansing of words in the context of the time, the variablities of translation, aspects of historical and archaeological knowledge etc.

Every new scholarly publication, every new trend in academia, perpetuates and amplifies the doubt.

We are in a situation where plain statement and tradition are held as open-endedly uncertain, while Politically Correct attutudes of a few decades duration are unchallengeable assumptions.

Such is the end-point of apparently minor matters such as asserting the non-Pauline authorship of Hebrews...

Steve Nicoloso said...

So I suppose St. Peter wrote II Peter as well? I mean I went to a fundamentalist college and was taught this. There were plausible reasons given that how II Peter could be so different from the first epistle... Sure. But even these fundamentalists didn't insist upon Pauline authorship of Hebrews. I find it kind of odd because Pauline authorship of Hebrews actually seems MORE plausible that Petrine authorship of II Peter.

And with Wm Jas, I really don't see how the authorship questions matter at all. The faithful are required to treat these texts as inspired by God, and as part of the deposit of faith. This is irrespective of authorship.

I mean, sure, modern "science" has been employed to cast doubt on authorship. That's just a fact. And, to the the extent that this casts doubt on the supernatural origin of Holy Scripture, this is can be seen as an example of modernity deforming the Christian Church and witness.

But those believers whose faith in Holy Scripture has been so challenged by the "findings" modern "science" haven't erred because of any specific findings so much as they have erred their elevation of science, which properly understood is merely searching for truth about the natural world, to be judge and jury over revealed truth in the Word of God.

In other words, the error is in making science say more than it does say, more than it possibly could say. And if that's the error... then the specific "findings" of modern "science" are rather secondary considerations.

Bruce Charlton said...

SN - it is the weakness of our modern faith that makes people indifferent to the fact that many centuries of trusted church teaching are suddenly contradicted on the basis of 'modern scholarship' - in fact it is truly shocking that this happened.

But the worst - the very worst - example of this must be the denial that St John the Apostle, St John the Evangelist, the writer of the John Epistles and John of Patmos are one and the same person.

That denial or doubt simply *dismembers* the New Testament.