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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Hebrews 2



Verses 1-18

Chapter 2


2:1-4 We must, therefore, with very special intensity pay attention to the things that we have heard. For, if the word which was spoken through the medium of the angels proved itself to be certified as valid, and if every transgression and disobedience of it received its just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, a salvation of such a kind that it had its origin in the words of the Lord, and was then guaranteed to us by those who had heard it from his lips, while God himself added his own witness to it by signs and wonders and manifold deeds of power, and by giving us each a share of the Holy Spirit, according as he willed it?

The writer is arguing from the less to the greater. He has in his mind two revelations. One was the revelation of the law which came by the medium o the angels, that is to say, the Ten Commandments. Now any breach of that law was followed by strict and just punishment. The other was the revelation which came through the medium of Jesus Christ, the Son. Because it came in and through the Son it was infinitely greater than the revelation of God's truth brought by the angels; and therefore any transgression of it must be followed by a far more terrible punishment. If men cannot neglect the revelation which came through the angels, how much less can they neglect the revelation which came through the Son?

In the first verse there may be an even more vivid picture than there is in the translation which we have used. The two key words are prosechein (Greek #4337) and pararruein (Greek #3901). We have taken prosechein (Greek #4337) to mean to pay attention to, which is one of its commonest meanings. Pararrein (Greek #3901) is a word of many meanings. It is used of something flowing or slipping past; it can be used of a ring that has slipped off the finger; of a particle of food that has slipped down the wrong way; of a topic that has slipped into the conversation; of a point which has escaped someone in the course of an argument; of some fact that has slipped out of the mind; of something that has ebbed or leaked away. It is regularly used of something which has carelessly or thoughtlessly been allowed to become lost.

But both these words have also a nautical sense. Prosechein (Greek #4337) can mean to moor a ship; and pararrein (Greek #3901) can be used of a ship which has been carelessly allowed to slip past a harbour or a haven because the mariner has forgotten to allow for the wind or the current or the tide. So, then, this first verse could be very vividly translated: "Therefore, we must the more eagerly anchor our lives to the things that we have been taught lest the ship of life drift past the harbour and be wrecked." It is a vivid picture of a ship drifting to destruction because the pilot sleeps.

For most of us the threat of life is not so much that we should plunge into disaster, but that we should drift into sin. There are few people who deliberately and in a moment turn their backs on God; there are many who day by day drift farther and farther away from him. There are not many who in one moment of time commit some disastrous sin; there are many who almost imperceptibly involve themselves in some situation and suddenly awake to find that they have ruined life for themselves and broken someone else's heart. We must be continually on the alert against the peril of the drifting life.

The writer to the Hebrews characterizes under two headings the sins for which the law brings its punishment: he calls them transgression and disobedience. The first of these words is parabasis (Greek #3847), which literally means the stepping across a line. There is a line drawn both by knowledge and by conscience, and to step across it is sin. The second is parakoe (Greek #3876). Parakoe begins by meaning imperfect hearing, as, for instance, of a deaf man. Then it goes on to mean careless hearing, the kind which through inattention either misunderstands or fails to catch what has been said. It ends by meaning unwillingness to hear, and therefore disobedience to the voice of God. It is the deliberate shutting of the ears to the commands and warnings and invitations of God.

The writer to the Hebrews ends this paragraph by stating three ways in which the Christian revelation is unique.

(i) It is unique in its origin. It came direct from Jesus himself. It does not consist of guessings and gropings after God; it is the very voice of God himself which comes to us in Jesus Christ.

(ii) It is unique in its transmission. It came to the people to whom Hebrews was written from men who had themselves heard it direct from the lips of Jesus. The one man who can pass on the Christian truth to others is he who knows Christ "other than at second hand." We can never teach what we do not know; and we can teach others of Christ only when we know him ourselves.

(iii) It is unique in its effectiveness. It issued in signs and wonders and manifold deeds of power. Someone once congratulated Thomas Chalmers after one of his great speeches. "Yes," he said, "but what did it do?" As Denney used to say, the ultimate object of Christianity is to make bad men good; and the proof of real Christianity is the fact that it can change the lives of men. The moral miracles of Christianity are still plain for all to see.


2:5-9 It was not to angels that he subjected the order of things to come of which we are speaking. Somewhere in scripture someone bears this witness to that fact: "What is man that you remember him? Or the son of man that you visit him? For a little time you made him lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honour; you set him over the work of your hands; you subjected all things beneath his feet." The fact that all things have been subjected to him means that nothing has been left unsubjected to him. But as things are, we see that all things are not in a state of subjection to him. But we do see him who was for a little while made lower than the angels, Jesus himself, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of his death, a suffering which came to him in order that, by the grace of God, he might drain the cup of death for every man.

This is by no means an easy passage of which to grasp the meaning; but when we do, it is a tremendous thing. The writer begins with a quotation from Psalms 8:4-6. If we are ever to understand this passage correctly we must understand one thing--the whole reference of Psalms 8:1-9 is to man. It sings of the glory that God gave to man. There is no reference to the Messiah.

There is a phrase in the psalm which makes it difficult for us to grasp that. This is the son of man. We are so used to hearing that phrase applied to Jesus that we tend always to take it to refer to him. But in Hebrew a son of man always means simply a man. We find, for instance, that in the book of the prophet Ezekiel, more than eighty times God addresses Ezekiel as son of man. "Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem" (Ezekiel 21:2). "Son of man, prophesy and say ." (Ezekiel 30:2).

In the psalm quoted here the two parallel phrases: "What is man that you remember him?" and "Or the son of man that you visit him?" are different ways of saying exactly the same thing. The psalm is a great lyric cry of the glory of man as God meant it to be. It is in fact an expansion of the great promise of God at creation in Genesis 1:28, when he said to man: "Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

The glory of man, incidentally, is even greater than the King James Version would lead us to understand. It has: "Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels" (Psalms 8:5). That is a correct translation of the Greek but not of the original Hebrew. In the original Hebrew it is said that man is made a little lower than the 'Elohiym (Greek #430); and 'Elohiym is the regular word for "God." What the psalmist wrote about man really was: "Thou hast made him little less than God," which, in fact, is the translation of the Revised Standard Version. So then this psalm sings of the glory of man, who was made little less than divine and whom God meant to have dominion over everything in the world.

But, the writer to the Hebrews goes on, the situation with which we are confronted is very different. Man was meant to have dominion over everything but he has not. He is a creature who is frustrated by his circumstances, defeated by his temptations, girt about with his own weakness. He who should be free is bound; he who should be a king is a slave. As G. K. Chesterton said, whatever else is or is not true, this one thing is certain--man is not what he was meant to be.

The writer to the Hebrews goes further on. Into this situation came Jesus Christ. He suffered and he died, and because he suffered and died, he entered into glory. And that suffering and death and glory are all for man, because he died to make man what he ought to be. He died to rid man of his frustration and his bondage and his weakness and to give him the dominion he ought to have. He died to recreate man until he became what he was originally created to be.

In this passage there are three basic ideas. (i) God created man, only a little less than himself, to have the mastery over all things. (ii) Man through his sin entered into defeat instead of mastery. (iii) Into this state of defeat came Jesus Christ in order that by his life and death and glory he might make man what he was meant to be.

We may put it another way. The writer to the Hebrews shows us three things. (i) He shows us the ideal of what man should be--kin to God and master of the universe. (ii) He shows us the actual state of man--the frustration instead of the mastery, the failure instead of the glory. (iii) He shows us how the actual can be changed into the ideal through Christ. The writer to the Hebrews sees in Christ the One, who by his sufferings and his glory can make, man what he was meant to be and what, without him, he could never be.


2:10-18 For, in his work of bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that he for whom everything exists and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of salvation fully adequate for his destined work through suffering. For he who sanctifies and they who are sanctified must come of one stock. It is for this reason that he does not hesitate to call them brothers, as when he says: "I will tell your name to my brothers; I will sing hymns to you in the midst of the gathering of your people." And again: "I will put all my trust in him." And again: "Behold me and the children whom God gave to me." The children then have a common flesh and blood and he completely shared in them, so that, by that death of his, he might bring to nothing him who has the power of death, and might set free all those who, for fear of death, were all their lives liable to a slave's existence. For I presume that it is not angels that he helps; but it is the seed of Abraham that he helps. So he had in all things to be made like his brothers, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the things which pertain to God, to win forgiveness for the sins of his people. For in that he himself was tried and suffered, he is able to help those who are undergoing trial.

Here the writer to the Hebrews uses one of the great titles of Jesus. He calls him the pioneer (archegos, Greek #747) of glory. The same word is used of Jesus in Acts 3:15; Acts 5:31; Hebrews 12:2. At its simplest it means head or chief. So Zeus is the head of the gods and a general is the head of his army. It can mean a founder or originator. So it is used of the founder of a city or of a family or of a philosophic school. It can be used in the sense of source or origin. So a good governor is said to be the archegos (Greek #747) of peace and a bad governor the archegos (Greek #747) of confusion.

One basic idea clings to the word in all its uses. An archegos (Greek #747) is one who begins something in order that others may enter into it. He begins a family that some day others may be born into it; he founds a city in order that others may some day dwell in it; he founds a philosophic school that others may follow him into the truth and the peace that he himself has discovered; he is the author of blessings into which others may also enter. An archegos (Greek #747) is one who blazes a trail for others to follow. Someone has used this analogy. Suppose a ship is on the rocks and the only way to rescue is for someone to swim ashore with a line in order that, once the line is secured, others might follow. The one who is first to swim ashore will be the archegos (Greek #747) of the safety of the others. This is what the writer to the Hebrews means when he says that Jesus is the archegos (Greek #747) of our salvation. Jesus has blazed the trail to God for us to follow.

How was he enabled to become such? The King James and Revised Standard Versions say that God made him perfect through suffering. The verb translated make perfect is teleioun (Greek #5048), which comes from the adjective teleios (Greek #5046) which is usually translated "perfect." But in the New Testament teleios (Greek #5046) has a very special meaning. It has nothing to do with abstract and metaphysical and philosophic perfection. It is used, for instance, of an animal which is unblemished and fit to be offered as a sacrifice; of a scholar who is no longer at the elementary stage but mature; of a human being or an animal who is full grown; of a Christian who is no longer on the fringe of the Church but who is baptized. The basic meaning of teleios (Greek #5046) in the New Testament is always that the thing or person so described fully carries out the purpose for which designed Therefore the verb teleioun (Greek #5046) will mean not so much to make perfect as to make fully adequate for the task for which designed. So, then, what the writer to the Hebrews is saying is that through suffering Jesus was made fully able for the task of being the pioneer of our salvation.

Why should that be?

(i) It was through his sufferings that he was really identified with men. The writer to the Hebrews quotes three Old Testament texts as forecasts of this identity with men--Psalms 22:22; Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 8:18. If Jesus had come into this world in a form in which he could never have suffered, he would have been quite different from men and so no Saviour for them. As Jeremy Taylor said: "When God would save men, he did it by way of a man." It is, in fact, this identification with men which is the essence of the Christian idea of God. When the Greeks thought of their gods they thought of them as Tennyson pictures them in the Lotos Eaters:

"For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts

are hurl'd

Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds

are lightly curl'd

Round their golden houses, girdled with the

gleaming world:

Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted


Blight and famine, plague and earthquake,

roaring deeps and fiery sands,

Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking

ships, and praying hands."

The basis of the Greek idea of God was detachment; the basis of the Christian idea is identity. Through his sufferings Jesus Christ identified himself with man.

(ii) Through this identity Jesus Christ sympathizes with man. He literally feels with them. It is almost impossible to understand another person's sorrows and sufferings unless we have been through them. A person without a trace of nerves has no conception of the tortures of nervousness. A person who is perfectly physically fit has no conception of the weariness of the person who is easily tired or the pain of the person who is never free from pain. A person who learns easily often cannot understand why someone who is slow finds things so difficult. A person who has never sorrowed cannot understand the pain at the heart of the person into whose life grief has come. A person who has never loved can never understand either the sudden glory or the aching loneliness in the lover's heart. Before we can have sympathy we must go through the same things as the other person has gone through--and that is precisely what Jesus did.

(iii) Because he sympathizes Jesus can really help. He has met our sorrows; he has faced our temptations. As a result he knows exactly what help we need; and he can give it.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 2:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 28th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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