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St. Mark - Author of Book of Hebrews?
Robert E. Gentet
© 2006

The authorship of the New Testament Book of Hebrews has been questioned in one way or another ever since the time of the early Church Fathers. We shall examine some of the reasons why St. Paul has been connected with the Book of Hebrews almost from the beginning. Nevertheless, much disagreement has also traveled with the Book since early times as to its actual author. Many names have been suggested and we shall examine some of them.

The writer of this paper is suggesting a name seldom mentioned as a possible author of the Book of Hebrews. He is John Mark, commonly known as "St. Mark" the Gospel writer. It's a name that has been seldom mentioned (as far as I can determine), but nevertheless one that offers strong promise. But, first, a brief review of what has been said before on the subject is needed and can prove beneficial.

Some Pro's and Con's of St. Paul's Authorship

The first person known to have quoted from the Book of Hebrews was Clement of Rome in the latter part of the First Century AD. Clement said St. Paul was the author of the book and originally wrote it in the Hebrew language. [1]

To be sure, there are various strong similarities between St. Paul's writings and that of the Book of Hebrews. Many writers have pointed out these similarities.

Origen is quoted by Eusebius as saying:

"The diction in Hebrews does not have the rough quality the apostle himself admitted having [2 Cor. 11:6], and its syntax is better Greek. The content of the epistle is excellent, however, and not inferior to the authentic writings of the apostle....If I were to venture my own opinion, I would say that the thoughts are the apostle's but the style and construction reflect someone who recalled the apostle's teaching and interpreted them. If any church, then, regards this epistle as Paul's, it should be commended, since men of old had good reason to hand it down as his. But who wrote the epistle only God knows. Traditions reaching us claim it was either Clement, Bishop of Rome, or Luke, who wrote the Gospel and the Acts." [2]

Jerome in Jerusalem (c. 347-420), Augustine (354-430), Hilary, Ambrose, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Justin Martyr, Athanasius, the Synod of Antioch (264), the Council of Nicaea (315), the Council of Laodicea (360), the Council of Hippo (393), the 3rd Council of Carthage (397), and the 6th Council of Carthage (419) all accepted St. Paul as the author.

Nevertheless, since the author never identifies himself by name in the epistle, the origin has remained uncertain and highly contested through the centuries. Hebrews 2:3 seems to strongly point in the direction of one who never had a conversion contact with Jesus:

"How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him." (NIV)

St. Paul, on the other hand, repeatedly affirmed that he had seen and talked with the risen Lord from the very beginning of his dramatic call into the ministry. [3] Other differences from the known writings of St. Paul will be discussed later in this paper.

Some attempts at identifying the author of the Book of Hebrews include Luke (Origen, Clement of Alexandria), Barnabas (Tertullian, Novatian), Clement of Rome (Origen), and other authors have suggested Silas, St. Peter, Priscilla & Aquila, Philip the Deacon and Aristion (an elder known to Papias).

It's well known that Martin Luther and others considered Apollos as the possible author. This is based upon a whole host of reasons ranging from Apollos' known learning and eloquence (Acts 18:24) to his ability to powerfully refute the doubting Jews by use of the Scriptures (Acts 18:25) and his known close association with St. Paul. Furthermore, the many Scriptural quotes in the Book of Hebrews are from the Septuagint (LXX) and Apollos was from Alexandria, the birth city of the LXX (Acts 18:24). [4]

When, Why and to Whom Written?

While it is true that some scholars believe Hebrews was written to Gentile converts, the evidence seems to weigh heavily against such a conclusion. The Concordia Self-Study Commentary puts it well by saying:

"But it is difficult to see why the letter should be in that case [written to Gentile and not Jewish Christians] be from beginning to end one great and emphatic exposition of the superiority of the New Testament revelation over that of the Old Testament. Why should an appeal to Gentile Christians in danger of apostasy take just this form? Jewish Christians seem to be more likely recipients of the letter." [5]

Others believe the book may have been written to Hellenistic Jews not living in Palestine but scattered throughout great metropolitan cities in the Mediterranean world. While the Book of Hebrews is especially meaningful to all Jewish Christians, I believe the original recipients were in the land of Palestine, as we shall see as the evidence unfolds for St. Mark being the author. This would mean the letter was meant for those Jews converted soon after Christ's Ascension. While some may have seen Jesus, they did not respond until after the Spirit was poured out from on high on Pentecost in Jerusalem.

Most readily agree the overwhelming purpose of the book is to encourage the aging believers to remain faithful. They had grown weary in their faith (Heb. 12:12). Their faith was wavering (Heb. 10:23). They were being tempted to return to Judaism (Heb. 13:9-14).

For this reason, Hebrews constantly reminds them how much superior the New Covenant is to the old one. While the temptation weighed heavily to return to the Old Covenant (to escape persecution from fellow Jews), there was a much more lasting reason to stick with the superior New Covenant. It is a much better covenant in every way. [6]

The writer of Hebrews could easily see how the recipients had failed to mature as Christians (Heb. 6:1-3; 12:1). Much time had passed since their conversion and they were yet in an Old Testament frame of mind. The full significance of the New Way had yet to penetrate their dull minds.

It also seems likely the book was written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They had not yet shed their blood, at least in masse (compare Heb. 12:4 with 13:7), but the implication is that the time would soon come when the reverse would be true. They had lost their first prominent leaders and seem to need encouragement to obey their new leaders (Heb. 13:7).

St. Mark as Possible Author

Hebrews 13:23 concludes by saying:

"I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you." (NIV)

From this it is obvious that the recipients of the letter (unlike so many after them!) had no problem understanding who wrote the letter. The author was obviously in close association with Timothy. Together, he and Timothy sought to personally visit the readers.

II Timothy is St. Paul's final recorded epistle. It was written when he was imprisoned for the final time at Rome. He knew that the end of his earthly life was near (II Tim. 4:6-8). It is in this context that St. Paul issued a final plea to Timothy (II Tim. 4:9, 11-13):

"Do your best to come to me quickly...Get [John] Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry...When you come, bring...my scrolls, especially the parchments." (NIV)

These final few verses from St. Paul tell us much! They put Timothy in the area of St. Paul at the end of his life. And, for what reason is he there? Timothy's mission is to bring with him St. Mark and the scrolls and parchments "...because he [Mark] is helpful to me in my ministry."

What possible work could St. Paul have for Mark? Interestingly, we know that tradition says St. Mark wrote his Gospel account based upon the sermons of St. Peter. [7] Furthermore, tradition says the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome, and St. Peter did not arrive in Rome until the mid-60s of the First Century.

St. Paul and St. Peter were both martyred in Rome under Emperor Nero a few years before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD probably 67/68 AD. When Paul wrote to Timothy to bring Mark and the scrolls and parchments, the time was short! [8] Much still remained to be done!

I Peter 5:13 specifically mentions Mark being with Peter. [9] Thus, if "Babylon" here is symbolically referring to Rome, we have, as tradition says, Mark being with St. Peter when he wrote his first letter. By the time of the second letter, St. Peter also knows his time is short and says (1:13-15):

"I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things." (NIV) [10]

Therefore, St. Mark is clearly in the geographic area of St. Peter and St. Paul at the time of their final days. Tradition says St. Mark used material from St. Peter to write a Gospel to the Gentiles, at the request of the Christian Gentiles in Rome. It is also quite possible that St. Paul used John Mark to write his final letter to Jewish believers in the homeland. [11] Paul had an intense love for his fellow countrymen, those whose eyes were still blinded (Rom. 9:1-5). It is no stretch of the imagination for Paul, in his final days, to be very concerned about believing Jews whose faith was now wavering, just at the time when the collapse of the Old Covenant system was imminent.

St. Paul's principal calling was to be an apostle to the Gentiles, yet we know his heart was always towards the conversion of his fellow Jews. Furthermore, he and John Mark were intimately acquainted with the headquarters Church in Jerusalem. At the first mention of John Mark in the Book of Acts (12:12), he is identified as the son of Mary at Jerusalem. It is believed that the Last Supper was held at her house. [12] Also, it is the implication of Mark 14:51-52 that a youthful Mark (and at that time yet unconverted) is the one who fled naked the night Christ was taken captive in the Garden.

So, if St. Mark is the author of Hebrews, it should come as no surprise that the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem would readily recognize who was soon coming to see them. The word had undoubtedly reached them of the deaths of both St. Paul and St. Peter. This would help explain why Timothy was briefly put in prison (because of his association with the apostles) and was now to the relief of all released.

The Book of Hebrews, then, was something St. Paul wanted written to the weakened Jewish brothers and sisters in the area where Christianity originally began many years earlier. St. Mark with his known writing skills and attachment to the recipients was the logical one to help with St. Paul's final project. St. Paul knew that it was likely he would not live to finish it. But, he had great confidence that God would see the letter to completion by the hand of trustworthy Mark. Paul knew the "Hebrews" needed the encouragement as well as warnings of things shortly to come with the passing of the old way and the destruction of the Temple worship (Heb. 8:13).

It should not surprise us that confusion developed as to the author of the Book. The Jewish Christians who received the Book were either killed or scattered soon afterwards and unlike their Gentile believer counterparts, they became a minority in the emerging New Testament Church.

This could also possibly explain why Clement of Rome first quoted from what came to be known as the Book of Hebrews. A copy would have been left with the Church in Rome for their understanding as well. Because of the disruption in Jerusalem in 70 AD and its violent aftermath, the original copy could have been easily lost. The letter indeed has all the markings of the mind of St. Paul, as Origen noted long ago, but the more sophisticated Greek style is that of Mark.

Guthrie writes:

"The Alexandrian colouring has suggested an Alexandrian destination, but this seems dubious because the church at Alexandria not only laid no claim to it but the early Alexandrian Fathers assumed it was addressed to the Hebrew people of Palestine by Paul." [13]

Here it is also interesting to note that, according to Eusebius:

"Mark is said to have been the first sent to Egypt to preach the Gospel that he had also written down and the first to found churches in Alexandria itself." [14]

Here we find a connection between the writer Mark and Alexandria, the LXX's place of birth. It is well known that the many Old Testament references in the Book of Hebrews are from the LXX and not the Masoretic text. Mark must have been thoroughly schooled with the LXX. It would also account for the reason the Church at Alexandria knew the destination of the Book (to the Hebrews in Palestine) by St. Paul, but out of humility and deference to the great apostle, not to mention the name of the actual composer who had to finish Paul's work.

Thus, while the writer to the Hebrews may still, in the words of Origen, be known only to God, the combination of St. Paul and St. Mark seems worthy of consideration.

Footnotes
  1. "The epistle to the Hebrews he [Clement] attributes to Paul but says that it was written for Hebrews and then carefully translated by Luke for the Greeks." (EUSEBIUS The Church History, translated by Paul L. Maier, Grand Rapids, MI, Kregel Publications, 1999, p. 217)
  2. Ibid. page 227.
  3. See such Scriptures as Acts 22:14, 26:16; I Cor. 9:1, 15:8.
  4. Eusebius quotes Irenaeus who said: "Before the Romans established their rule, while the Macedonians still possessed Asia, Ptolemy the son of Lagus, eager to adorn the library he had founded at Alexandria with all the finest writings from everywhere, asked the people of Jerusalem to have their Scriptures [in Hebrew] translated into Greek. Still subject to the Macedonians at the time, they sent him seventy elders, the most competent they had in the Scriptures and in both languages, thus fulfilling God's purpose." 1, page 184.
  5. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1971, page 233 of NT section.
  6. Throughout the Book of Hebrews, the terms of the New Covenant are shown to be superior ("better") Christ better than angels (1:4), better things for them (6:9), a better Priesthood (7:7), a better hope (7:19), a better covenant (7:22), better promises (8:6), a superior ministry (8:6), better sacrifices (9:23), better and lasting possessions (10:34), a better country (11:16), a better resurrection (11:35), a better future (11:40), and better blood (12:24).
  7. Again, Eusebius comes to our rescue by saying: "Papias also quotes other interpretations of the Lord's sayings given by Aristion, mentioned above, or John the presbyter." Regarding Mark, the writer of the Gospel, he states: "The Presbyter used to say this also: 'Mark became Peter's interpreter and wrote down accurately, but not in order, all that he remembered of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of his followers, but later, as I said, a follower of Peter. Peter used to teach as the occasion demanded, without giving systematic arrangement to the Lord's sayings, so that Mark did not err in writing down some things just as he recalled them. For he had one overriding purpose: to omit nothing that he had heard and to make no false statements in his account.'" (1. Pages 129-130)
  8. The "scrolls and parchments" could well have been OT writings and previous material St. Paul had written to NT Christians. This indicates strongly that St. Paul had a last writing he wanted done before his soon-to-be demise and since tradition tells us of the skills of John Mark in writing the Gospel, it is not unlikely that both apostles used him in their final days.
  9. St. Peter calls Mark "my son" (I Peter 5:13), an indication that Mark's conversion was by the Holy Spirit through Peter's ministry. As we shall see, dramatic early New Testament events centered around the home of Mark (Acts 12,especially verse 12 where the miraculously released Peter goes to the house of Mary, Mark's mother. Soon after this, Mark goes on a missionary trip with Barnabas and the newly converted Saul, see verse 25.)
  10. Certainly the Gospel account of Mark using the knowledge and experiences of Peter with Jesus was one way in which Peter could always bring these important truths to the minds of those who would come thereafter. It may also signal that Peter had something to do with the early formation of the NT canon, as he already calls the writings of St. Paul "Scripture" (II Peter 3:15-16).
  11. Hebrews 13:22 speaks of the Book as being "my word of exhortation." This is the same phraseology used for a sermon text (see Acts 13:15).
  12. "It may even be that the house of Mark's mother, Mary, was the house in whose upper room our Lord celebrated the Passover with His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed." Reference 5, page 44 of New Testament section.
  13. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, page 700.
  14. Reference 1, page 73.

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