David L. Allen’s “Lukan Authorship of Hebrews”

I was in Durham, England a few months ago giving a paper at a conference. After the conference had ended I was invited by two of the scholars in attendance to dinner. I had already met Robert Foster during the conference, and he was an interesting character who had recently had his dissertation published by Mohr Seibeck (The Significance of Exemplars for the Interpretation of the Letter of James). The other scholar was David Allen, whom I had never met but was glad to make his acquaintance. Both men displayed a perfect mix of scholarship and hospitality, and the evening was both enjoyable and enlightening.

Months after returning home I came across the book “Lukan Authorship of Hebrews,” “Allen’s” book from 2010. I decided to give it a look on googlebooks and found it so compelling that I simply had to buy it. I purchased the Kindle version for $10, and although some of the formatting was a bit flawed, the price was very cheap and the advantages of an electronic text outweighed the formatting issues.

I just finished reading the book again, and I found Allen’s thesis to be convincing. Of the authors of the NT, the clear candidate for authorship of Hebrews is Luke. No other writer comes close, frankly, and Allen’s overwhelming presentation of evidence was impressive. He clearly showed that he was up to date on the state of the question, and in command of a myriad of sources that shed light on the issue.

And yet I have to admit that I had been duped. I purchased the book on the strength of Allen’s scholarship as exhibited in Durham, yet the volume was authored by David L. Allen rather than David M. Allen. Both men are Hebrews scholars and I simply did not pay attention to the all important middle initials.

Yet I think my blunder was fortuitous, as I never would have purchased the book had I thought that David Allen was actually David Allen rather than David Allen. I gave the book a chance based on my interaction with David M. Allen (Queens) and I never would have given the same chance to a conservative American scholar with whom I wasn’t acquainted. Give that the book was excellent in many ways, I was glad that my mistake had led to an increased depth of knowledge.

I hope to post some in depth analysis and rebuttal of Allen’s main arguments, but for now I will simply state that I think he is both right and wrong: his contention that Luke is the most likely of the NT authors to have written Hebrews is correct. His overall portrayal of Luke and the reconstruction of the writing of Hebrews is also mostly correct, if a bit speculative in some details. However, I think the basic flaw of the book is that Barnabas is ignored due to the scholarly consensus that the Epistle of Barnabas is pseudepigraphic. While I cannot blame Allen for deferring to the consensus opinion on this issue, when we do consider if Barnabas could have written Hebrews and the Epistle of Barnabas, the authorship of Hebrews looks entirely different. Nearly every argument that supports Lukan authorship also supports authorship by Barnabas. Furthermore, a linguistic analysis of Barnabas and Hebrews supports authorship by Barnabas more than it does that of Luke.

Allen never even considers Barnabas because he thinks that we have no writings of Barnabas. But given that Allen takes a thoroughly conservative approach to authorship (the Pastorals were Pauline, even if written by Luke; the Gospels, Paul, and General Epistles were written by traditional authors all before the destruction of 70; etc.) it is strange that Allen does not point out that Barnabas’ Epistle was thought to be authentic by Clement, Tertullian, Origen, and Didymus the Blind. Only Eusebius claims that the text is “spurious,” and he gives no evidence for this baseless assertion. It is striking that Allen ignores the earliest evidence and opts for a later view of the text, while in the realm of NT writings he takes the opposite approach.

I highly recommend this book for readers interested in Luke, Hebrews, and early Christianity in general. While I have reservations about the conclusion of the book, I do find most of it to be well argued and supported. The fatal flaw is ignoring Barnabas, but this flaw is a common one in scholarly circles.

If time permits I will post a synopsis of Allen’s book and some interaction with the material, but in the meantime here are some reviews of the book by other readers:

Brian Small’s review

Jacob H. Prahlow’s review

Michael Kibbe’s review

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