When Helen and I were in Dublin in the summer of 2008, we were waiting for our timed entrance to Dublin Castle. When we realized that we had almost an hour’s wait, I saw that the Chester Beatty Library was next door. Now for most folks that may not mean much, but I recalled that the famous Chester Beatty Papyri are housed there. These are some of the oldest copies of NT books in the world! So I dragged the wife (actually, she came willingly) and I feasted my eyes for the first time on these precious documents rescued from a trash heap in Egypt.
One of the treasures there is the oldest copy of the Letter to the Hebrews. Now most know that the author of the letter/sermon did not mention his name, so the work is officially anonymous. But there are some folks who almost base their orthodoxy on Pauline authorship of this book! Recently I engaged in a long discussion with a seminary student who attempted to defend Pauline authorship as if it was part of our doctrinal statement!
While I do have an opinion on this issue (see the next post), I am content with the fact that the Lord and the human author did not intend to make this issue a big one because the author’s name is not mentioned at the beginning or the end or anywhere else in the thirteen chapters.
So I was interested to see with me own eyes the first page of Hebrews among the papyri. And what was the title given to this book by that lonely unnamed scribe in Egypt? Here it is in transliterated Greek capital letters.
The translation of the title is so easy a first year student can get it: “To Hebrews.”
So if the earliest copy of the book has that anonymous title while the acknowledged Pauline epistles always mention Paul’s name, why can’t we be satisfied with calling it by that title as well? Now I realize that there are other issues in this discussion, but my point here is that the most obvious things are what we often miss. We don’t know who wrote the book, nor do we need to know his name!
Below is a photograph of the first page of that papyrus.