While the authorship of some other books in the New Testament is sometimes disputed, the book of Hebrews is unique in that there is today apparently no traditionalist view on who wrote it, and as best I can tell no majority view either. The original King James Version, and I believe older Catholic Bibles, labeled it Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews, but it’s now acknowledged that there are problems with Pauline authorship, and other possible names — Apollos, Barnabas, Timothy, Luke, and Priscilla have all been suggested — have their own problems.
And, yes, it seems odd to have a book in the New Testament canon when we don’t know who wrote it. But Hebrews made the cut because of its rhetorical strength and theological soundness. Its purpose was apparently to convince Jews, and perhaps specifically Jewish Christians who might be wavering, of Christianity’s superiority to Judaism. It is theologically rich, but what I’ve collected below are mostly the verses that deal with how Christians are to behave, a strong secondary theme.
“[E]ncourage one another day after day” (3:13).
“Let us therefore be diligent” (4:11) and don’t be “sluggish” (6:12).
Chapter 6, verses 1-2: “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.” (That is, all this is true, but let’s move on now that we’ve established these things.)
The “new covenant” is mentioned at 8:13 (quoting God).
Jesus “has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26). And “by one suffering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (10:14).
It’s interesting that 10:5-10 is a quote from Jesus that appears nowhere else in the New Testament.
Chapter 10, verses 23-25: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Here’s perhaps the book’s most famous verse: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).
“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (11:3); this is helpfully illuminated by my NIV study Bible, which says, “God called the universe into existence out of nothing; he declared that it was to be, and it was.”
There follows in chapter 11 (verses 4-38) what has been called “faith’s hall of fame,” as the book goes through numerous Old Testament exemplars of strong faith. It concludes (verses 39-40) rather oddly, but to quote again my NIV study Bible: “No doubt the author surprised his readers by this conclusion: these mighty Jewish heroes did not receive God’s total reward, because they died before Christ came. In God’s plan, they and the Christian believers (who were also enduring much testing) would be rewarded together. Once again Hebrews shows that Christianity offers a better way than Judaism.”
Chapter 12, verses 14-16: “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God: that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless persons like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.”
Chapter 13, verses 1-5: “Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have ….”
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (13:7).
“And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (13:16).
“Obey your [church, presumably] leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls” (13:17).
“Pray for us” (13:18).
Let me end by circling back to where we began with this post, with the authorship question. Who would we like the author to have been? And by that I mean to ask which of the New Testament figures would we like to hear from that we haven’t already.
When you think about it, it’s remarkable how few gaps there are in that list. We’d want to hear from the disciples, of course, particularly the ones that seem to have been most prominent. And indeed we have a couple of books by Peter, and a gospel (Mark) through him; five books by John; and another gospel by another disciple, Matthew. We have books by Jesus’ two half-brothers, James and Jude. And James was also an important early church leader, along with Peter, so it’s good to hear from both of them. Paul had a church leadership role as well, and of course was important for both his evangelism and his theology, and we have plenty by him.
So who’s missing? Somewhat prominent disciples who are not authors are Phillip and Thomas, but they are less prominent than Peter, certainly, and also John. Other important New Testament believers are John the Baptist, and of course Mary and, to a lesser extent, Joseph, but I don’t know what we would necessarily expect them to have written. I’m not ignoring Jesus Himself, by the way, but while He’s not a formal author we get plenty quoting Him.
So my vote would be to hope for new evidence that Hebrews was written by … Barnabas. He was a key leader and evangelizer, a close companion of Paul’s, and indeed a possible author (per Tertullian and others).