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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Hebrews 6



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. ἀφέντες τὸν τῆς ἀρχῆς τοῦ Χριστοῦ λόγον, “leaving the discourse of the beginning of Christ,” i.e. getting beyond, ceasing to speak of, the earliest principles of Christian teaching. He does not of course mean that these first principles are to be neglected, still less forgotten, but merely that his readers ought to be so familiar with them as to be able to advance to less obvious knowledge.

φερώμεθα, “let us be borne along,” as by the current of a stream. The question has been discussed whether the Author in saying “let us” is referring to himself or to his readers. It is surely clear that he means (as in Hebrews 4:14) to imply both, although in the words “laying a foundation” teachers may have been principally in his mind. He invites his readers to advance with him to doctrines which lie beyond the range of rudimentary Christian teaching. They must come with him out of the limits of this Jewish-Christian Catechism.

ἐπὶ τὴν τελειότητα. The “perfection” intended is the “full growth” of those who are mature in Christian knowledge (see Hebrews 5:14). It does not imply sinlessness. They ought not to be lingering among the elementary subjects of catechetical instruction, which in great measure belonged no less to Jews than to Christians.

μὴ πάλινκαταβαλλόμενοι. There is no need for a foundation to be laid a second time. He is not in the least degree disparaging the importance of the truths and doctrines which he tells them to “leave,” but only urging them to build on those deep foundations the necessary superstructure. Hence we need not understand the Greek participle in its other sense of “overthrowing.”

θεμέλιον, “a foundation.” The subjects here alluded to probably formed the basis of instruction for Christian catechumens. They were not however exclusively Christian; they belonged equally to Jews, and therefore baptized Christian converts ought to have got beyond them.

μετανοίας ἀπὸ νεκρῶν ἔργων. Repentance is the first lesson of the Gospel (Mark 1:15). “Dead works” are such as cause defilement, and require purification (Hebrews 9:14) because they are sinful (Galatians 5:19-21), and because their wages is death (Romans 6:23); but “the works of the Law,” as having no life in them (see our Article xiii.), may be included under the epithet.

πίστεως ἐπὶ θεόν. This is also one of the initial steps in religious knowledge. How little the writer meant any disparagement of it may be seen from Hebrews 11:1-2; Hebrews 11:6.

Verses 1-3


Verse 2

2. βαπτισμῶν διδαχῆς. Not “doctrine of baptisms” as in A. V., but “teaching about ablutions.” The gen. βαπτ. is objective and the διδ. depends on θεμέλιον. That “ablutions” (Hebrews 9:10; Mark 7:3-4) are meant, is clear both [1] from the use of the plural (which cannot be explained either physically of “triple immersion,” or spiritually of the baptisms of “water, spirit, blood”); and [2] because βαπτισμός is never used of Christian baptism, but only βάπτισμα. If, as we believe, the writer of this Epistle was Apollos, he, as an original adherent “of John’s baptism,” might feel all the more strongly that the doctrine of “ablutions” belonged, even in its highest forms, to the elements of Christianity. Perhaps he, like Josephus (Antt. XVIII. 5, § 2), would have used the word βαπτισμὸς “a washing,” and not βάπτισμα, even of John’s baptism. But the word probably implies the teaching which enables Christian catechumens to discriminate between Jewish washings and Christian baptism. On the construction see Winer, pp. 240, 690.

ἐπιθέσεώς τε χειρῶν. For ordination (Numbers 8:10-11; Acts 6:6; Acts 13:2-3; Acts 19:6, &c.), confirmation (Acts 8:17), healings (Mark 16:18), &c. Dr Mill observes that the order of doctrines here enumerated corresponds with the system of teaching respecting them in the Acts of the Apostles—Repentance, Faith, Baptism, Confirmation, Resurrection, Judgement.

ἀναστάσεώς τε νεκρῶν. These topics had been severally prominent in the early Apostolic teaching (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19-21; Acts 26:20). Even the doctrine of the resurrection belonged to Judaism (Luke 20:37-38; Daniel 12:2; Acts 23:8).

καὶ κρίματος αἰωνίου. The doctrine respecting that Sentence (κρῖμα), whether of the good or of the evil, which shall follow the Judgement (κρίσις) in the future life. This was also known under the Old Covenant, Daniel 7:9-10.—The surprise with which we first read this passage only arises from our not realising the Author’s meaning, which is this,—your Christian maturity (τελειότης, Hebrews 6:1) demands that you should rise far above your present vacillating condition. You would have no hankering after Judaism if you understood the more advanced teaching about the Melchisedek Priesthood—that is the Eternal Priesthood—of Christ which I am going to set before you. It is then needless that we should dwell together on the topics which form the training of neophytes and catechumens, the elements of religious teaching which even belonged to your old position as Jews; but let us enter upon topics which belong to the instruction of Christian manhood. The verse has its value and its warning for those who think that “Gospel” teaching consists exclusively in the iteration of threadbare shibboleths. We may observe that of these six elements of catechetical instruction two are spiritual qualities—repentance, faith; two are significant and symbolic acts—washings and laying on of hands; two are eschatological truths—resurrection and judgement.

Verse 3

3. τοῦτο ποιήσομεν. We will advance towards perfection. The MSS., as in nearly all similar cases, vary between “we will do” (אBKL) and “let us do” (ACDE). It is difficult to decide between the two, and the variations may often be due [1] to the tendency of scribes, especially in Lectionaries, to adopt the hortative form as being more edifying; and [2] to the fact that at this period of Greek the distinction in sound between ποιήσομεν and ποιήσωμεν was small.

ἐάνπερ ἐπιτρέπῃ ὁ θεός. These sincere and pious formulae became early current among Christians (1 Corinthians 16:7; James 4:15).

Verse 4

4. γάρ. An inference from the previous clauses. We must advance, for in the Christian course stationariness means retrogression—non progredi est regredi.

ἀδύνατον γὰρ τοὺς κ.τ.λ. We shall see further on the meaning of the word “impossible.” The sentence begins with what is called the accusative of the subject, “For as to those who were, &c., it is impossible, &c.” We will first explain the particular expressions in these verses, and then point out the meaning of the paragraph as a whole.

ἅπαξ. The word, a favourite one with the writer, means “once for all.” It occurs more often in this Epistle than in all the rest of the N. T. It is the direct opposite of πάλιν in Hebrews 6:6.

φωτισθέντας. “Illuminated” by the Holy Spirit, John 1:9. Comp. Hebrews 10:26; Hebrews 10:32; 2 Corinthians 4:4. In the LXX. “to illuminate” means “to teach” (2 Kings 12:2). The word in later times came to mean “to baptize,” and φωτισμός, even as early as the time of Justin Martyr (A.D. 150), becomes a technical term for “baptism.” regarded from the point of view of its results. The Syriac Version here renders it by “baptized.” Hence arose the notion of some of the sterner schismatics—such as the Montanists and Novatians—that absolution was to be refused to all such as fell after baptism into apostasy or flagrant sin (Tertull. De Pudic. 20). This doctrine was certainly not held by St Paul (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20), and is rejected by the Church of England in her 16th Article (and see Pearson, On the Creed, Art. x.). The Fathers (abandoning the view of St Cyprian in this respect for those of the Western Church and of St Augustine) deduced from this passage the unlawfulness of administering Baptism a second time; a perfectly right rule, but one which rests upon other grounds, and not upon this passage. But neither in Scripture nor in the teaching of the Church is the slightest sanction given to the views of the fanatics who assert that “after they have received the Holy Ghost they can no more sin as long as they live here.” It will be remembered that Cromwell on his deathbed asked his chaplain as to the doctrine of Final Perseverance, and on being assured that it was a certain truth, said, “Then I am happy, for I am sure that I was once in a state of grace.”

γευσαμένους τε κ.τ.λ. These clauses may be rendered “having both tasted of … and being made … and having tasted.” It is not possible to determine which heavenly gift is precisely intended; perhaps it means remission, or regeneration, or salvation, which St Paul calls “God’s unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15); or, generally, “the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:44-46). Calvin vainly attempts to make the clause refer only to “those who had but as it were tasted with their outward lips the grace of God, and been irradiated with some sparks of His Light.” This is not to explain Scripture, but to explain it away in favour of some preconceived doctrine. It is clear from 1 Peter 2:3 that such a view is not tenable.

μετόχουςπνεύματος ἁγίου. The Holy Spirit worked in many diversities of operations (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Verses 4-8


Verse 5

5. καλὸν γευσαμένους θεοῦ ῥῆμα. “That the word of God is good.” The verb “taste,” which in the previous verse is constructed with the genitive (as in the classical Greek), is here followed by an accusative, as is more common in Hellenistic Greek. It is difficult to establish any difference in meaning between the constructions, though the latter may imply something which is more habitual—“feeding on.” But possibly the accusative is only used to avoid any entanglement with the genitive “of God” which follows it. There is however no excuse for the attempt of Calvin and others, in the interests of their dogmatic bias, to make “taste of” mean only “have an inkling of” without any deep or real participation; and to make the beauty (καλόν) of the “utterance of God” in this place only imply its contrast to the rigour of the Mosaic Law. The metaphor means “to partake of,” and “enjoy,” as in Philo, who speaks of one “who has quaffed much pure wine of God’s benevolent power, and banqueted upon sacred words and doctrines” (De proem. et poen. Opp. I. 428). Philo also speaks of the utterance (ῥῆμα) of God, and of its nourishing the soul like manna (Opp. I. 120, 564). The references to Philo are always to Mangey’s edition. The names of the special tracts and chapters may be found in my Early Days of Christianity, II. 541–543, and passim.

δυνάμεις τε μέλλοντος αἰῶνος. Here again it is not easy to see what is exactly intended by “the powers of the Future Age.” If the Future Age be the Olam habba of the Jews, i.e. the Messianic age, then its “powers” may be as St Chrysostom said, “the earnest of the Spirit,” or the powers mentioned in Hebrews 2:4; Galatians 3:5. If on the other hand it mean “the world to come” its “powers” bring the foretaste of its glorious fruition.

It will, then, be seen that we cannot attach a definitely certain or exact meaning to the separate expressions; on the other hand nothing can be clearer than the fact that, but for dogmatic prepossessions, no one would have dreamed of explaining them to mean anything less than full conversion.

Verse 6

6. παραπεσόντας. The rendering “if they shall fall away” is one of the most erroneous translations in the A. V. The words can only mean “and have fallen away” (comp. Hebrews 2:1, Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 10:26; Hebrews 10:29), and the position of the participle gives it tremendous force. It was once thought that our translators had here been influenced by theological bias to give such a rendering as should least conflict with their Calvinistic belief in the “indefectibility of grace” or in “Final Perseverance”—i.e. that no converted person, no one who has ever become regenerate, and belonged to the number of “the elect,” can ever fall away. It was thought that, for this reason, they had put this clause in the form of a mere hypothesis. It is now known however that the mistake of our translators was derived from older sources (e.g. Tyndale and the Genevan) and was not due to bias. Calvin was himself far too good a scholar to defend this hypothetical view of the clause. He attempted to get rid of it by denying that the strong expressions in Hebrews 6:4-5 describe the regenerate. He applies them to false converts or half converts who become reprobate—a view which, as we have seen, is entirely untenable. The falling away means apostasy, the worst kind of παράπτωμα, the complete and wilful renunciation of Christianity. Thus it is used by the LXX. to represent the Hebrew מַעַל which in 2 Chronicles 29:19 they render by “apostasy.”

πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν εἰς μετάνοιαν. Denuo renovare. The verb ἀνακαινίζειν came to mean “to rebaptize.” If the earlier clauses seemed to clash with the Calvinistic dogma of the “indefectibility of grace,” this expression seemed too severe for the milder theology of the Arminians. Holding—and rightly—that Scripture never closes the door of forgiveness to any repentant sinner, they argued, wrongly, that the “impossible” of Hebrews 6:4 could only mean “very difficult,” a translation which is actually given to the word in some Latin Versions (perdifficile). The solution of the difficulty is not to be arrived at by tampering with plain words. What the author says is that “when those who have tasted the heavenly gift … have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them to repentance.” He does not say that the Hebrews have so fallen away; nor does he directly assert that any true convert can thus fall away; but he does say that when such apostasy occurs and—a point of extreme importance which is constantly overlooked—so long as it lasts (see the next clause), a vital renewal is impossible. There can, he implies, be no second “Second Birth.” The sternness of the passage is in exact accordance with Hebrews 10:26-29 (comp. 2 Peter 2:20-21); but “the impossibility lies merely within the limits of the hypothesis itself.” See our Article 16.

ἀνασταυροῦντας. “While crucifying,” “crucifying as they are doing.” The right understanding of the whole passage depends on the meaning of these present participles in their contrast with the preceding aorist participles. Even the rigid Novatians did not refuse Divine forgiveness, but only Church absolution, to post-baptismal sins. At the Council of Nice the Novatian Bishop Acesius said that those who “sinned a sin unto death” could not indeed be admitted to the sacraments ἐλπίδα δὲ τῆς ἀφέσεωςπαρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐκδέχεσθαι. Socr. H. E. I. 10. Thus the words imply not only an absolute, but a continuous apostasy, for the participle is changed from the past into the present tense. While men continue in wilful and willing sin they preclude all possibility of the action of grace. So long as they cling deliberately to their sins, they shut against themselves the open door of grace. A drop of water will, as the Rabbis said, suffice to purify a man who has accidentally touched a creeping thing, but an ocean will not suffice for his cleansing so long as he purposely keeps it held in his hand. There is such a thing as “doing despite unto the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29).

ἑαυτοῖς. This is “the dative of disadvantage”—“to their own destruction.”

We see then that this passage has been perverted in a multitude of ways from its plain meaning, which is, that so long as wilful apostasy continues there is no visible hope for it. On the other hand the passage does not lend itself to the violent oppositions of old controversies. In the recognition that, to our human point of view, there does not appear to be such a thing as final dereliction, this passage and Hebrews 10:26-29, Hebrews 12:15-17 must be compared with the passages which touch on the unpardonable sin, and the sin against the Holy Ghost (1 John 5:16; Matthew 12:31-32; comp. Isaiah 8:21). On the other hand it is as little meant to be “a rock of despair” as “a pillow of security.” He is pointing out to Hebrew Christians with awful faithfulness the fatal end of deliberate and insolent apostasy. But we have no right to suppose that he has anything in view beyond the horizon of revealed possibilities. He is thinking of the teaching and ministry of the Church, not of the Omnipotence of God. Even the stern Montanists and even the hard Novatians—though they denied all Church-absolution to deadly sins committed after baptism, did not pretend to deny the possibility of their receiving Divine forgiveness. With men it is impossible that a camel should go through the eye of a needle, but “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:23-27; Luke 18:27). In the face of sin—above all of deliberate wretchlessness—we must remember that “God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7), and that our human remedies are then exhausted. On the other hand to close the gate of repentance against any contrite sinner is to contradict all the Gospels and all the Epistles alike, as well as the Law and the Prophets.

παραδειγματίζοντας. Exposing Christ to scorn (comp. Matthew 1:19 where the simple verb is used).

Verse 7

7. γῆ γὰρ ἡ πιοῦσα. “For land which has drunk.” Land of this kind, blessed and fruitful, resembles true and faithful Christians. The expression that the earth “drinks in” the rain is common (Deuteronomy 11:11). Comp. Virg. Ecl. III. 111, “sat prata biberunt.” For the moral significance of the comparison—namely that there is a point at which God’s husbandry seems to be rendered finally useless,—see Isaiah 5:1-6; Isaiah 5:24.

διʼ οὓς καὶ γεωργεῖται. “For whose sake (propter quos, Tert.) it is in fact (καὶ) tilled”—namely for the sake of the owners of the land. With the καὶ compare 1 Peter 2:8, εἰς ὃ καὶ ἐτέθησαν. See Winer, p. 546.

εὐλογίας. Genesis 27:27, “a field which the Lord hath blessed.” Psalms 65:10, “thou blessest the increase of it.”

Verse 8

8. ἐκφέρουσα δὲ ἀκάνθας. “But if it freely bear thorns,” Isaiah 5:6; Proverbs 24:31. This neglected land resembles converts who have fallen away.

τριβόλους. The Latin tribuli (τρεῖς, βολή). Genesis 3:18, &c. In N. T. only here, and Matthew 7:16.

ἀδόκιμος. The same word, in another metaphor, occurs in Jeremiah 6:30.

κατάρας ἐγγύς. Lit., “near a curse.” Doubtless there is a reference to Genesis 3:18. St Chrysostom sees in this expression a sign of mercy, because he only says “near a curse.” “He who has not yet fallen into a curse, but has got near it, will also be able to get afar from it”; so that we ought, he says, to cut up and burn the thorns, and then we shall be approved. And he might have added that the older “curse” of the land, to which he refers, was by God’s mercy over-ruled into a blessing.

ἡς τὸ τέλος εἰς καῦσιν. Lit., “whose end is for burning.” Comp. Matthew 13:30; Isaiah 44:15; “that it may be for burning.” It is probably a mistake to imagine that there is any reference to the supposed advantage of burning the surface of the soil (Virg. Georg. I. 84 sqq.; Pliny, H. N. XVIII. 39, 72), for we find no traces of such a procedure among the Jews. More probably the reference is to land like the Vale of Siddim, or “Burnt Phrygia,” or “the Solfatara,”—like that described in Genesis 19:24; Deuteronomy 29:23. Comp. Hebrews 10:27. And such a land Judea itself became within a very few years of this time, because the Jews would not “break up their fallow ground,” but still continued to “sow among thorns.” Obviously the “whose” refers to the “land,” not to the “curse.”

Verse 9

9. Πεπείσμεθα. Lit., “We have been (and are) convinced of.” Comp. Romans 15:14.

ἀγαπητοί. The warm expression is introduced to shew that his stern teaching is only inspired by love. This word and ἀδελφοί are often introduced to temper the severity of the sterner passages in the Epistles.

τὰ κρείσσονα. Lit., “the better things.” I am convinced that the better alternative holds true of you; that your condition is, and your fate will be, better than what I have described.

ἐχόμενα σωτηρίας. “Akin to salvation,” the antithesis to “near a curse.” What leads to salvation is obedience (Hebrews 5:9).

εἰ καὶ οὕτως λαλοῦμεν. In spite of the severe words of warning which I have just used. Comp. Hebrews 10:39.

οὕτως. As in Hebrews 6:4-8.

Verses 9-12


Verse 10

10. ἐπιλαθέσθαι. The aorist implies “to forget in a moment.” Comp. Hebrews 11:6; Hebrews 11:20. God, even amid your errors, will not overlook the signs of grace working in you. Comp. Jeremiah 31:16; Psalms 9:12; Amos 8:7.

καὶ τῆς ἀγάπης. “And your love.” The words τοῦ κόπου of the Text. receptus should be omitted. They are probably a gloss from 1 Thessalonians 1:3. The passage bears a vague general resemblance to 2 Corinthians 8:24; Colossians 1:4.

εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ. Which name is borne by all His children.

διακονήσαντες τοῖς ἁγίοις καὶ διακονοῦντες. “In your past and present ministration to the saints,” i.e. to your Christian brethren. It used to be supposed that the title “the saints” applied especially to the Christians at Jerusalem (Romans 15:25; Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1). This is a mistake; and the saints at Jerusalem, merged in a common poverty, perhaps a result in part of their original Communism, were hardly in a condition to minister to one another. They were (as is the case with most of the Jews now living at Jerusalem) dependent in large measure on the Chaluka or distribution of alms sent them from without.

διακονοῦντες. The continuance of their well-doing proved its sincerity; but perhaps the writer hints, though with infinite delicacy, that their beneficent zeal was less active than it once had been.

Verse 11

11. ἐπιθυμοῦμεν δὲ κ.τ.λ.But we long to see in you,” &c.

ἕκαστον ὑμῶν. Here again in the emphasis of the expression we seem to trace, as in other parts of the Epistle, some individual reference.

τὴν αὐτὴνσπουδήν. He desires to see as much earnestness (2 Corinthians 7:11) in the work of advancing to spiritual maturity of knowledge as they had shewn in ministering to the saints.

πρὸς τὴν πληροφορίαν, i.e. with a view to your attaining this full assurance. Comp. Hebrews 10:22, Hebrews 3:14. The word also occurs in 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Colossians 2:2.

ἄχρι τέλους. Till hope becomes fruition (Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14).

Verse 12

12. ἵνα μὴ νωθροὶ γένησθε. “That ye become not slothful” in the advance of Christian hope as you already are (Hebrews 5:11) in acquiring spiritual knowledge.

μιμηταί. “Imitators,” as in 1 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6, &c.

διὰ πίστεως καὶ μακροθυμίας. See Hebrews 6:15, Hebrews 12:1; Romans 2:7. ΄ακροθυμία is often applied to the “long suffering” of God, as in Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 3:20; but is used of men in Colossians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 6:6, &c., and here implies the tolerance of hope deferred. It is a different word from the “endurance” of Hebrews 12:1, Hebrews 10:36 (ὑπομονή).

κληρονομούντων. Partially, and by faith, here; fully and with the beatific vision in the life to come.

Verse 13

13. τῷ γὰρ Ἀβραάμ. The “for” implies “and you may feel absolute confidence about the promises; for,” &c. Abraham is here only selected as “the father of the faithful” (Romans 4:13); and not as the sole example of persevering constancy, but as an example specially illustrious (Calvin).

κατʼ οὐδενὸς εἶχεν μείζονος ὀμόσαι. In the Jewish treatise Berachoth (f. 32. 1) Moses is introduced as saying to God, “Hadst thou sworn by Heaven and Earth, I should have said They will perish, and therefore so may Thy oath; but as Thou hast sworn by Thy great name, that oath shall endure for ever.”

καθʼ ἑαυτοῦ. Κατὰ with the gen. of the person adjured is peculiar to Hellenistic Greek (Matthew 26:63). In classical Greek κατὰ only takes the gen. of acts or objects by which the oath is made, and the acc. of the person (or πρὸς with the gen.). “By myself have I sworn” (Genesis 22:16). “God sweareth not by another,” says Philo, in a passage of which this may be a reminiscence—“for nothing is superior to Himself—but by Himself, Who is best of all” (De Leg. Alleg. III. 72). There are other passages in Philo which recall the reasoning of this clause (Opp. I. 622, II. 30).

Verses 13-15


Verse 14

14. Εἰ μήν. “In very truth.” A mixed and Hebraic form, used here alone (if the reading be correct) in the N.T. Comp. LXX., 2 Samuel 19:35; Job 27:3.

εὐλογῶν εὐλογήσω. The repetition represents the emphasis of the Hebrew, which gives the effect of a superlative by repeating the word twice. The construction is not known in classical Greek, though Lucian (who knew something of Christian writings) once uses ἰδὼν εἶδον. It is very common in the LXX., where it is used to represent the Hebrew absolute. Winer, p. 465.

πληθυνῶ σε. In the Heb. and LXX. we have “I will multiply thy seed.”

Verse 15

15. μακροθυμήσας. “Having patiently endured,” which may mean “by patient endurance.” The participles in this passage are really contemporaneous with the principal verbs.

ἐπέτυχεν. Genesis 15:1; Genesis 21:5; Genesis 22:17-18; Genesis 25:7, &c.; John 8:56. There is of course no contradiction to Hebrews 11:13; Hebrews 11:39, which refers to a farther future and a wider hope.

Verse 16

16. ἄνθρωποι γάρ. Some MSS. read μὲν γάρ. But there is no subsequent δέ, and it is better to omit μέν. Winer, p. 719.

κατὰ τοῦ μείζονος. “By a greater.” The article is distributive, as also in ὁ ὅρκος. Genesis 21:23; Genesis 24:3; Genesis 26:30-31. The passage is important as shewing the lawfulness of Christian oaths (see our Article 39).

καὶ πάσης κ.τ.λ.And an oath is to them an end of all gainsaying” (or “controversy” as to facts) “with a view to confirmation.” It is meant that when men swear in confirmation of a disputed point their word is believed. There is an exactly similar passage in Philo, De sacr. Abel et Cain (Opp. I. 181).

Verses 16-20


Verse 17

17. ἐν ᾦ. “On which principle”; “in accordance with this human custom.” The relative might indeed be made to agree with ὅρκῳ, but it seems better here to regard it as nearly equivalent to ἐφʼ qua-propter.

περισσότερον, i.e. than if he had not sworn.

βουλόμενος. “Wishing.” θέλω is volo; βοίλομαι is malo.

τῆς ἐπαγγελίας. “Of the promise.” The heirs of the promise were primarily Abraham and his seed, and then all Christians (Galatians 3:29).

τὸ ἀμετάθετον. “I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6. See too Isaiah 46:10-11; Psalms 33:11; James 1:17). His changeless “decree” was that in Abraham’s seed all the nations of the world should be blessed. On the other hand the Mosaic law was mutable (Hebrews 7:12, Hebrews 12:27).

ἐμεσίτευσεν ὅρκῳ. “Intervened (interposed, or mediated) with an oath,” i.e. made His oath intermediate between Himself and Abraham. Philo, with his usual subtle refinements, observes that whereas our word is accredited because of an oath, God’s oath derives its credit because He is God. On the other hand, Rabbi Eleazer (in the second century) said “the word Not has the force of an oath,” which he deduced from a comparison of Genesis 9:11 with Isaiah 54:9; and therefore a fortiori the word “yes” has the force of an oath (Shevuoth, f. 36.1). The word μεσιτεύω occurs here only in the N. T.

Verse 18

18. διὰ δύο. Namely, by the oath and by the word of God. The Targums for “By Myself” have “By My Word have I sworn.”

ἀδύνατον ψεύσασθαι θεόν. St Clement of Rome says “Nothing is impossible to God, except to lie” (Ep. ad Cor. 27). “God that cannot lie” (Titus 1:2. Comp. Numbers 23:19).

παράκλησιν, “encouragement.”

καταφυγόντες. As into one of the refuge-cities of old. Numbers 35:11.

ἐλπίδος. “The hope” is here (by a figure called metonymy) used for “the object of hope set before us as a prize” (comp. Hebrews 10:23); “the hope which is laid up for us in heaven,” Colossians 1:5.

Verse 19

19. ὡς ἀγκύραν. An anchor seems to have been an emblem of Hope—being something which enables us to hope for safety in danger—from very early days (Aesch. Agam. 488), and is even found as a symbol of Hope on coins. Clement of Alexandria tells us that it was one of the few symbols which Christians wore on their signet-rings, and it is frequent in the Catacombs. The notion that this metaphor adds anything to the argument in favour of the Pauline authorship of the Epistle, because St Paul too sometimes uses maritime metaphors, shews how little the most ordinary canons of literary criticism are applied to the Scriptures. St Paul never happens to use the metaphor of “an anchor,” but it might have been equally well used by a person who had never seen the sea in his life.

“Or if you fear

Put all your trust in God: that anchor holds.”

Tennyson, Enoch Arden.

εἰσερχομένην εἰς τὸ ἐσώτερον τοῦ καταπετάσματος. This expression is not very clear. The meaning is that the hawser which holds the anchor of our Christian hope passeth into the space which lies behind the veil, i.e. into the very sanctuary of Him who is “the God of Hope” (Romans 15:13). “The veil” is the great veil (Parocheth) which separated the Holy from the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:31-35; Hebrews 10:20; Matthew 27:51, &c.). The Christian’s anchor of hope is not dropped into any earthly sea, but passes as it were through the depths of the aerial ocean, mooring us to the very throne of God.

“Oh! life as futile then as frail!

What hope of answer or redress?—

Behind the veil! Behind the veil!”

In Memoriam.

The word καταπέτασμα usually applies to this veil before the Holy of Holies, while κάλυμμα (as in Philo) is strictly used for the outer veil.

Verse 20

20. ὅπου πρόδρομοςεἰσῆλθεν. Lit., “where a forerunner entered … Jesus”; or better “where, as a forerunner” (or harbinger), “Jesus entered.” I see no reason to depart from the normal force of the aorist by rendering it (as in the A.V.) “is entered,” which would rather require the perfect εἰσελήλυθεν. The aorist calls attention to the single act, and is therefore, here, a vivid picture.

ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν, “on our behalf.” This explains the introduction of the remark. Christ’s Ascension is a pledge that our Hope will be fulfilled. He is gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3). His entrance into the region behind the veil proves the reality of the hidden kingdom of glory into which our Hope has cast its anchor (Ahlfeld). This is evidently a prominent thought with the writer (Hebrews 4:14, Hebrews 9:24).

κατὰ τὴν τάξιν ΄ελχισεδέκ. Melchisedek resembled Christ in his twofold τάξις of kingly rank, and priestly office. By repeating this quotation, as a sort of refrain, the writer once more resumes the allusion of Hebrews 5:10, and brings us face to face with the argument to which he evidently attached extreme importance as the central topic of his epistle. In the dissertation which follows there is nothing which less resembles St Paul’s manner of “going off at a word” (as in Ephesians 5:12-15, &c.). The warning and exhortation which ends at this verse, so far from being “a sudden transition” (or “a digression”) “by which he is carried from the main stream of his argument,” belongs essentially to his whole design. The disquisition on Melchisedek—for which he has prepared the way by previous allusions and with the utmost deliberation—is prefaced by the same kind of solemn strain as those which we find in Hebrews 2:1-3, Hebrews 3:12-14, Hebrews 12:15-17. So far from being “hurried aside by the violence of his feelings” into these appeals, they are strictly subordinated to his immediate design, and inwoven into the plan of the Epistle with consummate skill. “Hurry” and “vehemence” may often describe the intensity and impetuosity of St Paul’s fervent style which was the natural outcome of his impassioned nature; but faultless rhetoric, sustained dignity, perfect smoothness and elaborate eloquence are the very different characteristics of the manner of this writer.

γενόμενος, “haviny become,” as the result of His earthly life.

εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. The words come emphatically at the end, and as Dr Kay says strike the keynote of the next chapter (Hebrews 7:3; Hebrews 7:16-17; Hebrews 7:21; Hebrews 7:24-25; Hebrews 7:28). St Luke in the same way begins his Gospel and ends his Acts of the Apostles with a sonorous antispastus ( ἐπειδήπερ) and epitrite ( ἀκωλύτως).


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Hebrews 6:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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Sunday, November 29th, 2020
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