The author of Hebrews neither names himself nor clearly designates his audience. The traditional title “to the Hebrews” reflects the ancient assumption that the original recipients were Jewish Christians.
The author’s identity has been a matter of significant conjecture throughout church history. In antiquity, authorship was attributed to figures such as Barnabas or especially Paul. However, several of the most astute church fathers recognized considerable differences in style and method of argument between this book and Paul’s named writings. Scholars have suggested other possible authors, such as Clement, Luke, or Apollos. However, most today concede that this author remains anonymous. It seems that the judgment expressed by Origen (d. c. A.D. 254) remains correct: “Who actually wrote the epistle, only God knows” (cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.14).
The author clearly knew his recipients and longed to be reunited with them (Heb. 13:19). They had a mutual friend in Timothy (Heb. 13:23), and probably this was the same Timothy who ministered alongside Paul. The author was presumably male, since he refers to himself using a masculine participle (see Heb. 11:32: “would fail me to tell”). Since “us” included the author in Hebrews 2:3 (the salvation “attested to us by those who heard”; also Heb. 2:1), it appears that he was not an eyewitness of Jesus. The author passed on the greetings of those “from Italy” (Heb. 13:24). Scholars debate whether he was in Italy writing to the church elsewhere or was outside Italy (though accompanied by Italians) and writing back to an audience in Italy (possibly at Rome).
The audience’s social situation can be inferred from commands to “remember those who are in prison” and who are “mistreated” (Heb. 13:3). Timothy himself had just been set free (Heb. 13:23). Indeed, the author of Hebrews commended his audience for their former endurance of persecution, for their compassion on those in prison, and for having “joyfully accepted the plundering of your property” (Heb. 10:32–34).
The author warned against “strange teachings” in the church (Heb. 13:9), and these teachings may have been related to the use of ritual foods (Heb. 13:9–10). Moreover, he repeatedly called his audience to persevere in the faith and cautioned them about the danger of leaving the Christian communion, as he sought to show the superiority of Christ to Mosaic sacrifices and rituals (chs. 3–10). Hence the early church was likely correct to assert that Jewish Christians (as well as Gentiles who had previously been drawn to the Jewish religion) were the intended audience for this book (see “our fathers,” Heb. 1:1). Furthermore, such an audience would have well understood the book’s many citations and allusions to the OT (and would have shared in the writer’s frequent use of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT).
Hebrews was almost certainly written in the first century and probably before A.D. 70. Reasons for asserting a first-century date include the mention of Timothy (Heb. 13:23), who was known to be active in the first century, and the influence of Hebrews (and its way of thinking) on 1 Clement (written c. A.D. 96).
The crucial issue in dating the book concerns whether the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (A.D. 70) had already occurred. Hebrews speaks of the Jewish sacrificial system as if it were a still-present reality (Heb. 7:27–28; 8:3–5; 9:7–8, 25; 10:1–3; 13:10–11), which does not seem likely after the cessation of the Jerusalem temple sacrifices in A.D. 70. Admittedly, Hebrews focuses on the Mosaic tabernacle rather than the Solomonic (or the Herodian) temple. Nonetheless, if the writer was attempting to convince his readers of the inferiority of the Mosaic system (and possibly dissuade church members from returning to Jewish practices), an obvious argument would have been to mention the cessation of the temple sacrifices, if they were in fact no longer taking place.
Taken from the ESV® Study Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2008 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For more information on how to cite this material, see permissions information here.