Women Writing for Men: St. Paul Epistle to the Hebrews and Priscilla

About the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Bible credited to St. Paul but possibly written by Priscilla, biography and theory of the true author.

She Wrote It--He Got the Credit

Only 3 years after publication of Butler's book, the renowned German Bible scholar Adolf von Harnack came forward with an even more provocative proposal--one with profound implications for the equality of the sexes. He claimed that Priscilla, a woman leader of the early church, was the true author of the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews.

Scholars heaped ridicule upon Harnack, and gave his theory an unceremonious burial. However, 2 historical circumstances have converged in a "resurrection" of this theory. One is that recent archaeological discoveries on New Testament studies add to the credibility of Priscilla's authorship. Old and new evidence is set forth in Priscilla: Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews by Ruth Hoppin. Concurrently, the modern feminist movement has made it possible to obtain a hearing for the case. Harnack's theory is steadily gaining acceptance.

St. Paul has been given credit for The Epistle to the Hebrews, but today few scholars believe he wrote it. The "loss" of the real author's name has always been a mystery. In Hebrews, the author's grandeur of style, conversion by apostles, and ministry to former Jews conflict with what we know about Paul, who had a simple style, a conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and the commission to preach to Gentiles, not to Hebrews. However, scholars have long known the author was someone in Paul's circle, someone who found his thoughts congenial, and who worked with Timothy, Paul's right-hand man (Heb. 13:23). Next to Timothy, no one was closer to Paul than Priscilla and her husband Aquila, whom we meet in the Bible as church leaders in Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus. Paul lodged with the couple and labored with them in tentmaking and ministry. On at least one occasion they saved his life.

Priscilla was the daughter of a Roman senatorial family--the Acilii Glabriones. Recent explorations of the catacombs reinforce ancient church tradition confirming her aristocratic background. We can hereby see how she acquired the knowledge of rhetoric, literature, and philosophy so abundantly evident in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Priscilla, who was married to a Hebrew Christian, had a long ministry at Ephesus. There, former Jews of the Essene sect were numerous. In recent decades, publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls has revealed that Hebrews was written in the context of Essene thought. Other evidence places the original destination of the letter as Ephesus. Thus, the author must have been a church leader at Ephesus who could intepret Christianity to former Jews. Priscilla meets these requirements. In fact, she and her husband tutored the learned Alexandrian Jew, Apollos. An early church writer, Chrysostom, named her the sole tutor. Revealingly, after Apollos received instruction from Priscilla, he preached on the theme that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament--a subject identical with the main theme of Hebrews.

The Epistle to the Hebrews was written from Rome (Heb. 13:24) about 65 A.D., during the Neronian persecution of Christians. Paul was in prison. We may hypothesize that Priscilla accompanied Paul and Aquila to Rome (II Tim. 4:9). One of her relatives was a former consul; perhaps she hoped his influence could free Paul. From Rome, she wrote Hebrews, pleading with her people in Ephesus to keep the faith.

Who was the eminent intellectual associate of Paul who wrote the letter--if not Priscilla? The field of possible authors is narrowed to leaders at Ephesus with a ministry to Hebrew Christians. The author's conversion (Heb. 2:3) and educational background match that of Priscilla.

How can we best account for the disappearance of the author's name and the mention of several women "Heroes of Faith" in the 11th chapter of the epistle? Harnack has given us a cogent explanation: A woman wrote it.

We have considered 3 writings of ancient times. One is a tribute to courage; one is a saga of adventure; one is inspired scripture. These writings have been inscribed in the world's consciousness by the vision, creativity, and intellect of women.

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