People are often identified with the most enduring of their works, for better and for worse. Shakespeare is treasured not because of his life or personhood but because of the body of literature he left behind. Vlad the Impaler is remembered amongst the legions of Balkans princes because his notorious cruelties gave rise to a rather memorable sobriquet. Indeed, our lives are rather unchanged by the sum of Shakespeare or Vlad’s lives but rather by what they have left behind.
How fascinating it is then that in a world focused on achievement the book of Hebrews stands as written anonymously. Church history is littered with unconvincing arguments attributing the book to Paul, Luke, Silas, Apollos, Aquila, Priscila, Barnabas, and Clement among others. In truth, we just don’t know who wrote it. And short of digging up a manuscript with “by xxxxx” appended to the end of it, we won’t ever figure the mystery out.
It’s easy to forget that someone sat down and wrote Hebrews. It may have been a transcribed sermon. It may have been a letter. Regardless, somebody sat down and composed the book. It was a labor of love to create, intended to grow his (or her) fellow believers in their love for Christ. Care and craft went into its formulation. Prayer and perspiration preceded its delivery. And it’s beautiful. Some of our most treasured Scriptures come from the book of Hebrews.
In these last days He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through him. (1:2)
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword. . . It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. (4:12)
Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. (11:1)
Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before him endured a cross… (12:1-2)
How much spiritually poorer the church would be without these passages! More personally, how much poorer I would be without them. In times of deep difficulty, the Hall of Faith has served as a crowd cheering me on to not give up. In counseling, I’ve seen the promise that the Word is living and active give hope to people who have all but given up.
Generations across the world have spoken reverentially about the Apostle Paul and his ministry. Sermon after sermon has been preached about Peter’s life and epistles. 10 million parents in the United States alone have named their newborn son “John” within the last 80 years.* Yet the author of Hebrews is entirely unremembered. His greatest accomplishment stands, but the memory of him (or her) has fallen.
Ronald Regan once quipped, “There’s no limit to what a man can do so long as he doesn’t care who gets the credit.” There’s something instructive to us in the lost author of the book of Hebrews. So often we think that worth is measured by being remembered. Truth is the Lord is far less concerned with us being remember than he is with him being glorified. John the Baptist saw his disciples leaving him to follow Jesus and declared, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). Our goal isn’t to get our names into history books, it’s to faithfully build one another up in Christ.
Truth is, nothing we do is ever forgotten. Men may forget, but what’s the purpose in being remembered by those whose flesh is decaying? God, on the other hand, has no such amnesia. 1 Peter 5:6 promises that “He will exalt you at the proper time.” One day the author of Hebrews will get his due for his magnum opus. And so will the countless other anonymous servants of Christ as they hear the same words offered to their better-known brothers and sisters: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”