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Author and Authority of Faith

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Immediately following Hebrews 11, which is often referred to as the great "Hall of Fame of the Faith" chapter, we read this in Hebrews 12:1-2: "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." The teaching found in these two verses is far more profound than we usually give it credit. As always with the Bible, there are many layers of meaning found here, but for today I want to concentrate on the first part of verse 2.

The writer of the book of Hebrews is very deliberate and systematic in his approach. I personally believe that Paul wrote Hebrews, which, to me, helps to make sense of the book. If you read Romans immediately before reading Hebrews, I think that is pretty difficult to maintain that they were written by different authors. Hebrews sounds like Romans with another target audience in mind. Both books are really nothing more than a precise, extended argument for the gospel of Jesus Christ; one for the Gentiles, one for the Jews. For a full examination of this issue, consult John Owen’s massive seven-volume commentary on Hebrews where he laboriously gives 27 reasons for the authorship of Paul. Any claims to the contrary must first deal with Owen.

You may be thinking: "Does it really matter who wrote Hebrews? Can’t we just read the book for what it says and not be worried about who the author was?" To a certain extent, the answer is yes. It is true that we have come to expect that when someone refers to the book they will almost always attribute the content to "the writer of Hebrews," and that we will nod our heads in unison, acknowledging the words to have been written by "someone" in the first century. But, I think the very ironic point of the entire book of Hebrews is that it most certainly does matter WHO is the author of something. Notice that Paul (from this point on, I will refer to Paul as the author) writes in verse 2 of the above passage that Jesus is the "author and finisher of our faith." Paul seemed to think it important to inform his readers who the Author of the faith was. Notice also that the word "our" is italicized. This means that it was added by the translators of the New King James Bible and is not in the original Greek manuscripts. In other words, Jesus is the author and finisher of faith, not "our" faith. Jesus is the source of faith, period, not merely the source of the Christian faith.

The idea of authorship is a very important point that Paul is using to draw his conclusion that Jesus is the redemptive fulfillment of all that the Old Testament had to say. The 1599 Geneva Bible, in its introductory paragraph to the book of Hebrews puts it this way:

The drift and end of this Epistle, is to show that Jesus Christ the Son of God both God and man, is that true eternal and only Prophet, King, and high Priest, that was shadowed by the figures of the old Law, and is now indeed exhibited: of whom the whole Church ought to be taught, governed and sanctified.

Paul labors this very point throughout the first 11 chapters of the book, showing that Jesus is the final sacrifice of the Old Covenant system—the sacrificial, sinless Lamb of God, who took away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Finally, after a quick overview of the Old Testament saints who lived "by faith" in chapter 11, Paul drops the other shoe of his theological argument. By enlisting many of the Old Testament heroes as ones who lived by faith, and now revealing that Jesus is the "author and finisher" of that faith, Paul single-handedly destroys any notion of Jesus being some sort of "new development" in the covenantal plan of God. Jesus is not only the ultimate "sacrifice" of the Old Covenant order, he is the creator of the order in the first place. Authorship implies authority. The author is the one who has the authority to determine and establish the who, what, when, where, and why of his story. If you want to know what something means beyond a shadow of a doubt, you must ask the man who wrote it what he meant.

If, as Paul states in Hebrews 12:2, that Jesus is the author of faith, this means that Jesus has ultimate authority when it comes to faith. It also means that even the Jews who refused to acknowledge him as the Messiah were serving him without knowing it. Every animal and grain sacrifice commanded by the Old Covenant was being offered up in obedience to the Law-Word of Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of faith. Jesus is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega of the entire Bible. Jesus wrote it and Jesus fulfilled it. It was all his doing and only he can speak authoritatively about faith.

Article posted May 28, 2009

Recommended further reading:
The 1599 Geneva Bible
Herman Bavinck: Our Reasonable Faith
John Owen: Biblical Theology

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