Recently, I came across a web page of a convert who appears to have been smitten by the popular Roman Catholic claim to canon certainty. How does one know who wrote particular books of the Bible without infallible Tradition? The answer must be: one couldn’t know without an infallible church! Well, if the Roman Catholic Church has the power to declare biblical authorship, when they have sort of said who wrote what, I wonder if anyone takes such a declaration seriously. For instance, the Council of Trent stated,
“Of the New Testament: fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews.”
Notice that last book and who they say wrote it? Eric Svendsen points out:
“Until the latter half of the fourth century the Western church almost unanimously resisted ascribing Pauline authorship to Hebrews [Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and the Muratorian Fragment all insist that Paul is not the author]. However, both Jerome and Augustine appealed to the Eastern Church’s view that Paul wrote the epistle, and their view was eventually adopted at the Sixth Synod of Carthage in 419 A.D., and then reaffirmed at the Council of Trent. Yet, the number of New Testament scholars that would defend Pauline authorship today is practically nil.” [Eric Svendsen, Evangelical Answers: A Critique of Current Roman Catholic Apologists (New York: Reformation Press, 1999), p.11].
I haven’t found many Roman Catholics willing to defend the Pauline authorship of Hebrews. Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong distinguishes the author of Hebrews from Peter and Paul: “The author of Hebrews, like Peter and Paul…”, and “St. Paul and the author of Hebrews.” Similarly, a web search over on Catholic Answers will produce a myriad of hits referring to the “author of Hebrews,” not Paul. Catholic Answers via This Rock states,
“Internal examination of [Hebrews] does show that it is in many ways different from the rest of Paul’s writings. For example, it is more elegant, more eloquent, it does not carry the usual greeting and introduction, and it does not quote Scripture in the way Paul does. Its doctrine is Pauline but the way it is expounded makes it difficult to attribute its direct authorship to Paul.”
When I’ve mentioned Trent’s determination of Pauline authorship in the past, it was counter argued that such a statement from Trent is only infallible in the area of faith and morals. Well, who determines which is and which is not an element of faith or morals? Some Roman Catholics use canon arguments to prove the necessity of the Roman Church for any sort of certainty, hence they use it to argue for infallibility. So, the authorship of Hebrews would indeed then be a matter of faith and morals. This Rock answers the dilemma differently: “The letter’s canonicity is not in doubt; it was included in the canon by the Council of Trent (8 April 1546) among the other writings of Paul, although the Council chose not to state categorically that it was written by Paul.” What? When Trent says, “Of the New Testament: fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle” according to This Rock, this doesn’t categorically state Paul wrote Hebrews. Once again, we see that infallible statements are open to interpretation. So much for the clarity of the Roman magisterium.