The author of the book of Hebrews remains one of the enticing mysteries of the New Testament. Upon reading the Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (hereafter 1 Clement), it is not hard to see why he has been suggested as an author. Eusebius quotes Origen as stating, “But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it.” (Ecclesiastical History VI.25.11-14)
After stating in the introduction to his commentary on Hebrews, “I, indeed, can adduce no reason to show that Paul was its author,” John Calvin concludes in commenting on 13:23 with the statement, “…it is very probable that either Luke or Clement was the author of this Epistle.”
There are some striking similarities between Hebrews and 1 Clement.
By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
1 Clement 9
Noah, being found faithful, by his ministration preached regeneration unto the world, and through him the Master saved the living creatures that entered into the ark in concord.
By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.
1 Clement 12
For her faith and hospitality Rahab the harlot was saved.
Heb 1:3-13 (portions)
…who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person…having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” And of the angels He says: “Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.” But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. But to which of the angels has He ever said: “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”?
1 Clement 36
Who being the brightness of His majesty is so much greater than angels, as He hath inherited a more excellent name. For so it is written; Who maketh His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire; but of His Son the Master said thus; Thou art My Son, I this day have begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Thy possession. And again He saith unto Him; Sit Thou on My right hand until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.
Furthermore, both books have a similar way of citing Scripture. Hebrews 2:6 introduces a quotation, “But one testified in a certain place, saying…” and 4:4 introduces a quotation, “For He has spoken in a certain place…” In chapters 15 and 21 Clement introduces Scripture quotations with the phrase, “For he saith in a certain place.” Furthermore both works have a tendency to connect multiple Scripture quotations with the simple phrase, “and again.” (Heb. 1:5; 2:13; 4:5; 10:30 cf. 1 Clement 15; 16).
In addition, I see a striking similarity in flow of argument in Hebrews 11-12 and 1 Clement 9-21. Hebrews 11 is the well known chapter listing so many examples of the faithful. 1 Clement 9 states, “Let us fix our eyes on them that ministered perfectly unto His excellent glory.” And then proceeds to mention, in order, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Rahab, and “those who went about in goatskins and sheepskins” (cf. Heb. 11:37). Toward the conclusion of both lists of holy examples, both works mention those who “obtained a good report.” (Heb. 11:39; 1 Clem. 17; 19.)
Both works move from example to application in similar ways. Heb 11:39-40 states:
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
While 1 Clement 19 states:
The humility therefore and the submissiveness of so many and so great men, who have thus obtained a good report, hath through obedience made better not only us but also the generations which were before us, even them that received His oracles in fear and truth.
So both works encourage us to not just remember the examples of those before us; but to consider and reckon a true unity with those who have gone before us. In Hebrews, they are not complete without us. In 1 Clement we are bettered by them.
Hebrews 12:1-2 continues:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
While 1 Clement 19 continues:
Seeing then that we have been partakers of many great and glorious doings, let us hasten to return unto the goal of peace which hath been handed down to us from the beginning, and let us look stedfastly unto the Father and Maker of the whole world, and cleave unto His splendid and excellent gifts of peace and benefits. Let us behold Him in our mind, and let us look with the eyes of our soul unto His long-suffering will.
In both we are to consider our place, and look with patience at the life we are called to lead.
In concluding the argument, Hebrews 12:25 warns:
See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven.
While 1 Clement 21 warns:
Look ye, brethren, lest His benefits, which are many, turn unto judgment to all of us, if we walk not worthily of Him, and do those things which are good and well-pleasing in His sight with concord.
Did Clement of Rome write the book of Hebrews? I do not think so. In fact, I hope he did not. For if Clement of Rome did not write the book of Hebrews, his work to the Corinthians stands as a sterling example of a mind saturated with Scripture. It is clear that Clement had not only allowed Scripture to influence how he talked, but how he thought as well. May our minds be as dominated by the words of God.
ADDENDUM: Reasons Clement did not write Hebrews.
- Style of Greek. It is a good day when I can translate much more than a phrase. So like most people I just have to accept the word of scholars on this one.
- Lack of clear early support. Like pretty much every background issue of Hebrews, the original destination of the letter is disputed. Many commentators make a good case for a Roman destination. (Some others argue for a Roman origin). In either case it seems odd that Rome, a church eager to accrue glory to itself would not celebrate Hebrews as the product of one of its bishops. The fact that the West didn’t fully embrace Hebrews until Jerome and Augustine attributed it to Paul argues against Clement’s authorship. Would Rome keep this secret or forget so quickly?
- Concept of priesthood. Clement portrays believers as carrying on the Aaronic priesthood. Hebrews views that priesthood as rendered obsolete by the work of Christ.