The author of the book of Hebrews is unknown. Some speculate Paul, Apollos, Barnabas, Luke, or others. One might deduce from the text that the author was not an eye witness of Christ or at least not an apostle. Hebrews 2:3 (WEB) says, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation—which at the first having been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard." So we see that the author includes himself with the "us" of his readers and not the "those" who heard Christ personally. Yet perhaps this is the editorial "we" or rather the editorial "us" as the case may be. After all there is a precedent for this as seen in Hebrews 4:11. In this case the author says, “Let's therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience.” At first glance it would appear the author includes himself in the "us" of those whose final salvation is in question. Yet a few verses earlier in Hebrews 4:3 the author also says, “For we who have believed do enter into that rest." So how can the author be so certain of his salvation in verse 4:3, and then leave room for the possibility of not being saved in verse 4:11? Arminian theologians seize upon this to prove that salvation can be lost. But this is in error because instead the author uses "us" in an editorial sense, that is a gracious willingness to associate with his unbelieving audience. Yet for himself he has no question about his ultimate salvation because he is a believer. However, he urges the unbelievers in his audience to "give diligence" to obtain salvation. This is all to say that because there are other examples of the use of the editorial "we" that Hebrews 2:3 cannot necessarily be used to rule out that an apostle wrote the book.
But why didn’t the author identify himself? The value of speculating may be questionable, but non-the-less I theorize. The Middle East, Asia Minor, and Eastern Europe were on fire due to the gospel. Just as Jesus provoked a show down with the Jews leading to his crucifixion, his followers continued the work resulting in further conflict with the Jews. Specifically the gospel truth that Jesus is the Christ and that he superseded Moses with the New Covenant was a lightning rod. Jews went livid as demonstrated by Paul who went house to house dragging Christians to prison and to death before he became a Christian. Stephen became the first martyr of the church specifically for preaching that Jesus is the "prophet to come" with the authority to supersede the Law of Moses. No New Testament book highlights these truths better than Hebrews. It’s the main point of the book!
So perhaps the author omitted his name intentionally because of the incredible persecution at the time. Now I am NOT suggesting that he hoped to avoid persecution himself. Why that would be more cowardly than lobbing anonymous email arguments at your opponent. We ought to face our opponents like men! Instead perhaps the author is not identified so each Christian can uphold the letter to their neighbors with even greater personal endorsement. Then unbelievers could not undermine the letter by saying, "so you believe what So-and-So wrote" because there is no "So-and-So" in the picture. Christians also demonstrate greater corporate strength as each individual stands behind the beautiful but controversial message on his own two feet. Moreover the anonymity of the author puts the full brilliance of the spot light on Jesus Christ, the main subject of the letter.
These reasons seem plausible and may be the whole, part, or none of the reason for the author’s anonymity. Since the Bible gives not one clue even if we happened to guess the true reason it would still remain only a theory on this side of glory. I simply took the time to propose this theory to remind us of the intense persecution upon Christians for the message contained in this book.
The message of Hebrews can be better understood by observing three structures, or frameworks, throughout the book. These structures highlight the author’s strategy and purpose for the book, to proclaim that...
Jesus is better!
First, this book is filled with the word "therefore." When we see the word "therefore" we should ask what is the "therefore" there for! The word "therefore" links the points before it as the reason for the points after it. The word "therefore" is used to lead the reader somewhere. The NIV uses the word 16 times while the NASB, quoted below, uses it 24. Unfortunately limited time and knowledge of Greek prohibit me from noting all the primary logical Greek connectives in the book, but that is not essential to my point. The point is that this progression of points leads to a climax.
1:9 “THEREFORE GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED…”
2:14 “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood…”
2:17 “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things…”
3:1 “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling…”
3:7 “Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, ‘TODAY IF YOU HEAR…”
3:10 “THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION…”
4:1 “Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering…”
4:6 “Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it…”
4:11 “Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that…”
4:14 “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has…”
4:16 “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace…”
6:1 “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ…”
7:25 “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who…”
9:18 “Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated…”
9:23 “Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in…”
10:5 “Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says…”
10:19 “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter…”
10:35 “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has…”
11:12 “Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as…”
11:16 “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for…”
12:1 “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses…”
12:12 “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the…”
12:28 “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be…”
13:12 “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through…”
Second, since Jesus and his New Covenant are the main point of the book the author introduces Jesus and all his roles and titles in the first four verses of the book. Each of these titles is then elaborated on again in the first chapter and again throughout the remainder of the book. Read the first four verses and consider the preeminence of Christ.
1) God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2) has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. 3) His Son is the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, who, when he had by himself purified us of our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4) having become as much better than the angels as the more excellent name he has inherited is better than theirs.Hebrews 1:1-4 (WEB)
The titles of Christ are then easily outlined through the book of Hebrews.
1. Chapter 1:1-4
2. Chapter 1:5-14
a. Son – 1:5
b. Prophet – 1:7-8
c. Heir – 1:9
d. Creator – 1:10
e. God – 1:6-8
f. Upholder – 1:11-13
g. Priest – 1:13-14
h. King – 1:8, 1:13
3. Chapter 2-13
a. Son – 3:6, 5:5, 5:8, 7:28, 10:29
b. Prophet – 2:2-3, 3:2-5
d. Creator – 3:4, 4:3
e. God – 3:12, 6:10, 10:22, 10:31
f. Upholder – 10:13-14
g. Priest – 2:17, 3:1, 4:14-15, 5:6, 5:9-10, 6:20, 7:11, 7:17, 7:21, 7:24, 8:1, 9:11, 10:21
h. King – 2:5-8, 4:13, 4:16, 12:2
Third, the book of Hebrews compares Jesus with the lead spiritual figure on every playing field from angels to Abel with the conclusion that Christ is better than everything and therefore the best. This last structured look at Hebrews is perhaps the most striking. Some may be confused, but it is clear that Moses, the Law of Moses, and the Old Covenant had been superseded, cancelled, abolished by the advent of Jesus, the Law of Christ, and his New Covenant.
Jesus is better!
1. Better than Angels 1:1-2:18
2. Better than Moses 3:1-4:13
3. Better than Aaron 4:14-7:21
4. Better Ministry and Covenant 7:22-12:29
5. Better than Abel 12:24
6. Therefore do his will 13:1-25
The Insecurity of the Unbeliever
I grew up in a church family that rejected guaranteed salvation and warned that security is not promised to the believer. Several verses in Hebrews seemed to agree with this. Yet Philippians 1:6 (WEB) promises, “being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.“ Even Hebrews 13:5 (WEB) guarantees, “I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.” So, is a believer allowed to believe these promises?
Hebrews 4:11 (WEB) warns, “Let's therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience.” But how do we understand this verse? Certainly the author of Hebrews is a Christian, yet he seems to put himself in the same uncertain shoes as his audience of being able to fall short of heaven in the end. As already explained above, a better way to reconcile this with Scriptural promises is to observe the author's use of the editorial "we." The author says "us" to an audience mixed with believers and unbelievers, but his warning is to his unbelieving audience who has not yet entered the rest of salvation through faith.
Hebrews 12:25 (WEB) also warns, “See that you don't refuse him who speaks. For if they didn't escape when they refused him who warned on the earth, how much more will we not escape who turn away from him who warns from heaven.” This verse is also used to teach that believers can lose the gift of eternal life. But this view does not maintain hope in God’s promises. Rather those who refuse him who speaks are those who reject Christ and remain unbelieving! He is not talking to Christians in the struggle with sin, like all of us, or even to terrible Christians, like Ananias and Sapphira, who were punished by death. Yes Chapter 12 begins exhorting believers to persist in the struggle against sin, but in verse 16 while reminding us of Esau he expands his audience. He begins warning those who never received grace in the first place. The unbelievers listening to his sermon came as far as the foot of Mount Zion in hearing the gospel and he now presses them to look to Christ and believe.
The Heart of the Matter
Various issues divide God’s people today, even our understanding of grace in salvation. Though all would say we are saved by grace, doctrinal statements show differences great and small. Curiously the definition of grace itself was not the debate in the 1st century. Instead the debate was whether Jesus was or was not the Christ, and whether circumcision and the Laws of Moses were still in force or were superseded by the New Covenant. Hebrews answers these questions. Yet today while many debate grace versus free will, the significance of the change of covenants is overlooked. And it seems that some have slipped back to Moses as we lobby for our secular government to post the Ten Commandments in the public square. What is happening? Have we re-joined the Jews?
However, I must be careful. Though I am fascinated that Christ has superseded Moses with the Law of Christ it is still not the most important issue. Paul put the importance of this as secondary the truth of Christ himself saying,
19) For though I was free from all, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. 20) To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain those who are under the law; 21) to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law.I Corinthians 9:19-21 (WEB)
Hebrews concludes, “Therefore, receiving a Kingdom that can't be shaken, let's have grace, through which we serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29 WEB). Does fire scare you? The picture here is not the fire of wrath, but the fire of God’s passion for his people. God loves us so much he will burn up every thing that competes for our devotion to him. Moses told Israel in Deuteronomy 4 that God was a “consuming fire” not because he would burn them up but because he would forgive them and burn their idols! David sang in Psalm 130 that the Lord is feared not for his wrath, but his forgiveness! God says in Malachi 3 that he is a “refiner’s fire… but do not fear me!”
So do not fear that God is a consuming fire that will harm you, but do warn your idols to look out!