Lukan Authorship of Hebrews
David L. Allen
On the back of the book, President of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Daniel L. Akin writes, “This is the definitive word on a Lukan proposal for the authorship of Hebrews”. Though reading Lukan Authorship of Hebrews is my first serious exploration into the subject, I could not see how anyone in the future could write a more definitive word unless new evidence comes to light.
Allen’s proposal is this: Luke was a born Jew who lived and trained in the Diaspora, was a colleague and traveling companion to the apostle Paul, a doctor and every bit a theologian. He wrote his two volume Luke-Acts during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment (c. A.D. 61-63) from Rome to Theophilus, a Jewish high priest who was deposed by Herod in c. A.D. 41 for unknown reasons. Luke was also Paul’s amanuensis for the Pastoral Epistles. The Epistle to the Hebrews was written by Luke in c. A.D. 67 after Paul’s death and before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. It was written to Jewish priests who converted to Christianity and fled Jerusalem to live in Antioch and who are mentioned in Acts 6:7. Hebrews was written by Luke as an appeal made by the leaders of the recipients of the letter, to listen to their leaders and stand fast in faithfulness in the midst of persecution.
I was hugely skeptical of the proposal made by Allen on two fronts:
1) That Luke was a Jew. In Bible college I was told that Matthew was to the Jews, Mark to the Romans, Luke to the Gentiles and John for everyone. I found it highly improbable that Allen could formulate a convincing argument that Luke was a Jew.
2) That Theophilus was a Jewish high priest. Going back – again – to my Bible college days, I was told that Theophilus was a Roman official. So again, I found it highly improbable that Allen could formulate a convincing argument that Theophilus was a Jewish high priest.
On both fronts I was astonished as to the amount of evidence which pointed directly to Allen’s proposal. If Luke-Acts was written for a Jewish recipient it would require me to go back and reinterpret certain passages in his Gospel which is something I am prepared to do, but it will first require a closer look at his arguments. As far as Theophilus goes, there is often mention of two prominent men of that name in the first century: 1) there was an official in Athens mentioned by Origen (p.327) and 2) there was a rich Theophilus in Antioch who is said to have converted to Christianity and who donated his house as a meeting place for the church. The problem with both proposals is that neither of these Theophilus’ lived or came to prominence in Luke’s lifetime (i.e. after A.D. 80).
But there was a third prominent Theophilus who lived during the first half of the first century. He was the son of the Biblical Annas who served as high priest from A.D. 37-41. Josephus tells us that Theophilus was deposed by Herod Agrippa I (the same Herod who put James to death – Acts 12) and so Allen injects that it is conceivable that Theophilus was not as antagonistic to Christians as Herod would have liked (p.330).
If Luke was a Jewish Christian and if Luke-Acts was written to a former Jewish high priest and if Hebrews was written to converted Jewish priests, then a huge barrier has been removed in considering Lukan authorship of Hebrews.
Other persuasive evidence is that when Paul was imprisoned in Rome and instructs Timothy to hurry to him, anticipating that he will soon be a martyr, he writes, “Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11). Hebrews concludes with, “I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been set free” (Hebrews 13:23) and that the author writes, “Those from Italy send you greetings” (Hebrews 13:24), suggesting strongly that Hebrews was written in Rome. It is conceivable that Timothy did make his journey to visit Paul (hopefully before Paul was martyred) and upon arrival was arrested as well. If Luke wrote Hebrews then he is making mention of Timothy’s release, Luke being the only one with Paul in Rome. This makes Luke the only connection between Paul, Rome, Timothy and the Letter to the Hebrews.
Another persuasive argument is the salutation of Hebrews. It has been a problem for Pauline authorship since Paul always mentioned himself in his salutations and in Hebrews no author is mentioned. But if you turn to Luke-Acts you will see that no author is mentioned there as well. Luke’s recipient seems to have known who he was and the recipients of Hebrews also seem to know who he is. But whats equally fascinating is when a comparison is made between the introductions of each, the similarities are astounding.
A final argument which seemed very convincing to me is the area of linguistics. Of all the New Testament writers, Luke, Acts and Hebrews are said to be the best in Greek literature. In English much of the phraseology is clearly Pauline, but many of those phrases come directly from Paul’s speeches found in Acts (i.e. Luke). We should also expect Luke, as one of Paul’s closes traveling companions, to have picked up much of Paul’s phrases (especially if Luke had a hand in writing Paul’s Pastoral Epistles). But Allen moves beyond all of these show that a great number of words, phrases and concepts which are only common in Luke-Acts and Hebrews and nowhere else in the New Testament (which is a strike against Pauline authorship).
I cannot say that I have been convinced for sure, but Allen does make a convincing case for Lukan authorship of Hebrews. Questions remain for me and I hope to read Ruth Hoppin’s book Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. While Ruth’s book came out before Allen’s, it is my hope that in making a case for Priscilla’s authorship of Hebrews, she will have some critical things to say by way of Lukan authorship.