1892 Housh Talk — Did Early Communities Have a Pauline Reading of Hebrews?

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Each Wednesday PhD students and SBTS faculty engage in useful dialogue, enjoy pour-over coffee, and experience the euphoria of tasting exotic cheese. In this 1892 Club, we converse with current leaders and theologians in the field of theological studies. Our topics of discussion vary and range with diversity, from writing and publishing, to academic societal involvement, to pressing topics in academia. Each week presents itself with new and refreshing times as a PhD student. Some of my favorite times in our 1892 Club and “Housh Talks” are the championing of open ideas, free thinking, mentorship, and peer friendship. To say the least, the 1892 Club is one of the more enjoyable times as an SBTS PhD student.

At the end of each semester, we have “Housh Talks”. A “Housh Talk” is a 6 minute presentation on an idea pertinent to your studies, with an 8 minute response of intense and focused dialogue immediately following. This is a wonderful time to test ideas, to publicly entertain nuanced thoughts, and to hear from critical thinkers across multiple disciplines. The name comes from Housh, one of the first Th.D. graduates from Southern Seminary in 1894. To make the name more intriguing, he was blind too. Therefore, the administration named these TED-like talks after Housh.

Today I gave my Housh talk on a multi-disciplinary idea: Patristic Studies meets Hermeneutics meets Textual Criticism. Something that should be easy to accomplish in 6 minutes, right? I began noticing patterns among MSS and where they decided to place Hebrews in early MSS. Throughout the centuries, Hebrews has lacked a consistent place in the canonical order. But its placement is different in varying eras. Early on (prior to the 8th century), MSS typically placed Hebrews among the Pauline material, predominately after 2 Thessalonians. While reading a Canonical Theology—a theological and hermeneutical discipline arguing that canonical order affects theological interpretation—I decided to openly postulate an idea. Did early communities have a Pauline reading of Hebrews because of its canonical placement in early MSS?

Receiving immediate feedback, I’m fully aware more questions exist. But the following are some helpful research questions to further engage this topic. Following these research questions is my “Housh Talk”.

  • How can you produce communal interpretations of specific MSS? Is this not like reconstructing a Q-like community?
  • What other theories exist for book order in MSS?
  • Did earlier readings of Hebrews influence later MSS and canonical ordering?
  • What early theological traditions exist to help this idea?

Here is my Housh Talk lecture notes: Did early communities have Pauline readings of Hebrews? (PDF)

*   *   *   *   *

Provide a Postulating Thesis

Early MSS evidence supports the idea of some early communities will have a Pauline reading of Hebrews by its predominant canonical ordering within the Pauline corpus.

Provide context for a Canonical Reading

Canonical ordering of books and their hermeneutical influence on theology is a normal questions asked by Brevard Childs in his Canonical Theology taxonomy.[1]

The impetus of such question stems from my recent 2nd–3rd Century study of Hebrews, evaluating the MSS data of Hebrews in this era, and reading a recent Canonical Theology, similar to Brevard Childs, from Matthew Emerson’s Christ and the New Creation.[2]

Problem: Hebrews currently serves as the canonical “gateway” to the Catholic Epistles

Our current canonical placement of Hebrews is unlike its placement in early centuries.

Currently, when we come to the gospels, regardless of our knowledge of the “Synoptic Problem”, Matthew is read first.

When broaching epistolary literature, Romans is the first of the epistles read, despite being written after Galatians. Moreover, we read Galatians prior to 1 Thessalonians, which probably was written historically earlier too.

Hebrews serves as the “gateway” into the Catholic Epistles. Modern works neither include it in the Pauline canon nor as a part of the Catholic tradition.

MSS Evidence Supporting a Pauline Ordering

Over the course of this semester I analyzed the status of the book of Hebrews within the 2nd–3rd century. During such endeavor, I reviewed the extant material summing up the MSS details of Hebrews. During this process, I noticed Text Critical books would frequently ask the “What” and “How” type of questions, but rarely, if at all, the “Why?” questions. Brevard Childs and the most recent, Matthew Emerson helped flesh out the “Why?”

The following MSS place Hebrews after Romans.

  • P46(200ad)
  • 455 (8th Cent)
  • 8 MSS between the 10th–15th century

A few 10th–14th century MSS place Hebrews after Corinthians

An early edition (pre-edited version) of Codex Vaticanus (4th Cent) places Hebrews after Galatians; more information about this MS will follow.

One 11th century MS (606) places Hebrews after Ephesians

The following MSS place Hebrews after 2 Thessalonians

  • Codex Sinaiticus (4th Cent)
  • Codex Alexandrinus (5th Cent)
  • Codex Vaticanus (4th Cent)

(An aside discussion about Codex Vaticanus) Hebrews also appears after Galatians. Codex Vaticanus (B 03) has an interesting testimony because there appears to be two textual traditions for MS B. It is a 4th century document nearly containing the entire extant Bible in Greek. The first tradition, prior to its correction, places Hebrews after Galatians. Pauline literature has continuous numeration beginning with Rom–2 Thess. That is, Romans has chapters 1–16, but when reading 1 Corinthians, which comes next, chapter 1 is chapter 17, and so forth. Therefore, Galatians concludes with chapter 58. One would anticipate Ephesians to begin with chapter 59, but it begins with 70, thereby creating an eleven-chapter gap. When coming to Hebrews, placed after 2 Thessalonians in the edited version, the first chapter is chapter 59. And Hebrews continues its enumeration until Heb 9:14, where “the manuscript breaks off, the remaining part being lost”.[3]

  • 7 other codices between the 5th–10th century
  • 80 miniscules (10th–14th century)

The following MSS place Hebrews after Philemon.

  • Codex Claromantanus MS D (Pauline portion is 6th Cent)
  • 048 (5th Cent)
  • 5 other MSS between 5th–10th Cent.
  • The majority of miniscules

Therefore, multiple early traditions would have read Hebrews interspersed within Pauline literature. Various text traditions would have served as Scripture to early communities and early Pauline readings would have included Hebrews.

Childs, however, argues against such thesis. He first agrees with the question, “How is the understanding of the Pauline letters affected by the inclusion of Hebrews within the corpus.”[4] This question is very similar to what I am asking. But, because Hebrews lacks a consistent Pauline order in early MSS, Hebrews slowly moves out of the Pauline corpus and precedes the Catholic Epistles.[5]

Second, Emerson likewise asks similar questions, but concludes with Childs. A lack of consistency in canonical ordering argues against Pauline readings.

Clare Rothschild, a critical scholar, however, argues in favor of my thesis. She would argue for a more narrow position than what I would affirm. In her 2009 article, “Hebrews as a Guide to Reading Romans,” she argues for a canonical order and hermeneutical reading found in g. Her thesis is, “One of the original purposes for Hebrews was to serve as a reading guide or instructional appendix, as if by Paul, for Romans.”[6] One systemic reason for her thesis is the placement of Hebrews after Romans in P46.

Early Church Evidence

My question stems from the evaluation of MSS evidence and not early church theology and traditions, so it is therefore limited. In order to aid some of these conclusions, either in favor of Emerson and Childs or to argue a Pauline posture when reading Hebrews, more data needs to be provided. Mere MSS data, I think, begins the conversation, but Patristic theological construction will prove more promising.

Example 1: A Theological Example

Ambrose of Milan (d.397)[7], in Concerning Repentance 2.2.7, interprets Heb 6:4–6 in light of Corinthian texts.

Could Paul teach in opposition to his own act? He had at Corinth forgiven sin through penance; how could he himself speak against his own decision?

This quote assumes three items: 1. It assumes Pauline authorship of Hebrews. 2. Ambrose assumes no theological contradictions exist. 3. Ambrose uses other Pauline texts, instead of other NT texts, to aid the interpretation of Heb 6.

Example 2: An Ethical Example

Irenaeus of Lyons (d.200ad)[8], a Western Father, briefly quotes and alludes to Hebrews. In Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, he quotes Mal 1:11 and attributes Malachi as the author. Immediately following, he quotes Rom 12:1 and Heb 13:15.

Then again, Paul exhorts us “to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” And again, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of the lips.”[9]

This quote is helpful for two reasons. First, a Western Father attributes Pauline authorship to Hebrews when Western Fathers typically denied Pauline authorship. Second, this models the canonical ordering of g. It is nearly impossible to discern the canonical order Irenaeus assumes.[10]

Postulating Thesis

Therefore, on the basis of early MSS evidence, early communities would most likely be influenced to have a Pauline reading of Hebrews.


Childs, Brevard S. The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Emerson, Matthew Y. Christ and the New Creation: A Canonical Approach to the Theology of the New Testament. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2013.

Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 1994.

Nienhuis, David R. Not By Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007.

Rothschild, Clare K. “Hebrews as a Guide to Reading Romans.” In Pseudepigraphie Und Verfasserfiktion in Frühchristlichen Briefen, edited by Jörg Frey, Jens Herzer, Martina Janben, and Clare K. Rothschild, 537–73. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 246. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.

———. Hebrews as Pseudepigraphon. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 235. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.

[1] Brevard S. Childs, The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

[2] Matthew Y. Emerson, Christ and the New Creation: A Canonical Approach to the Theology of the New Testament (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2013).

[3] Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 1994), 591n2.

[4] Childs, Reading Paul, 237.

[5] Childs, Reading Paul, 238.

[6] Clare K. Rothschild, “Hebrews as a Guide to Reading Romans,” in Pseudepigraphie Und Verfasserfiktion in Frühchristlichen Briefen, ed. Jörg Frey et al., Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 246 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 538.

[7] Hubertus R. Drobner, The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction, trans. Siegried S. Schatzmann (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 309.

[8] Drobner, Fathers of the Church, 117.

[9] Irenaeus, Epid. 37.

[10] In Adv. Haer. 3.1.1, Irenaeus may have a four-fold canonical tradition already present. He possesses the Gospels in a canonical order (Matt, Mark, Luke, John) that, ultimately, persists throughout the centuries.

3 thoughts on “1892 Housh Talk — Did Early Communities Have a Pauline Reading of Hebrews?

  1. Pingback: Day 351: Hebrews 1-4; Introduction to Hebrews | Overisel Reformed Church

  2. Pingback: 1892 Club: Ben Mast on Writing | Doctrinae Coram Deo

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