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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Hebrews 2

Verses 1-99

Ch. 2. A solemn warning and exhortation (1 4). Christ’s temporary humiliation for the redemption and glorification of Mankind does not disparage His pre-eminence over Angels (5 13), but was necessary for the perfectness of His High-Priestly work (14 18)

1 . Therefore ] Because we are heirs of a better covenant, administered not by Angels but by a Son , to whom as Mediator an absolute dominion is to be assigned.

we ought ] The word implies moral necessity and not mere obligation. The author never loses sight of the fact that his purpose was to warn as well as to teach.

to give the more earnest heed ] If the command to “take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently lest thou forget the things that thine eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 4:9 ) came with awful force to those who had only received the Law by the disposition of Angels, how much “more abundantly” should Christians attend to Him of Whom Moses had spoken to their fathers? (Acts 3:22 ).

to the things which we have heard ] Lit., “to the things heard,” i.e. to the Gospel.

lest at any time ] Rather, “lest haply.”

we should let them slip ] Rather, “should drift away from them.” Wiclif rendered the word more correctly than the A. V. which here follows the Genevan Bible of 1560 “lest peradventure we fleten away.” The verb thus resembles the Latin praetervehi . The metaphor is taken from a boat which having no “anchor sure and steadfast ,” slips its anchor, and as Luther says in his gloss, “before her landing shoots away into destruction” (Proverbs 3:21 LXX. υἱὲ μὴ παραῤῥυῆς ). It is obvious that these Hebrew converts were in great danger of “drifting away” from the truth under the pressure of trial, and in consequence of the apathy produced by isolation and deferred hopes (3:6, 6:11, 10:25, 36, 37, 12:1 3).

2. For ] An argument a minori ad majus , of which indeed the whole Epistle is a specimen. It was the commonest form assumed by the Rabbinic interpretation of Scripture, and was the first of the seven exegetic rules of Hillel, who called it “light and heavy.”

the word spoken by angels ] The “by” is not ὑπό but διἀ , i.e. “by means of,” “through the instrumentality of.” The presence of Angels at Sinai is but slightly alluded to in the O. T. in Deuteronomy 33:2 ; Psalms 68:17 ; but these allusions had been greatly expanded, and were prominently dwelt upon in Rabbinic teaching the Talmud, Targums, Midrashim, &c. until, at last, we find in the tract Maccoth that God was only supposed to have uttered the First Commandment, while all the rest of the Law was delivered by Angels. This notion was at least as old as Josephus, who makes Herod say that the Jews “had learned of God through Angels” the most sacred part of their laws (Jos. Antt. xv. 5 § 3). The Alexandrian theology especially, impressed with the truth that “no man hath seen God at any time (comp. Exodus 33:20 ) eagerly seized on the allusions to Angels as proving that every theophany was only indirect, and that God could only be seen through the medium of Angelic appearances. Hence the Jews frequently referred to Psalms 104:4 , and regarded the fire, and smoke, and storm of Sinai as being Angelic vehicles of the divine manifestation. And besides this, their boast of the Angelic ministry of the Law was founded on the allusions to the “Angel of the Presence” (Exodus 32:34 , Exodus 32:33 :14; Joshua 5:14 ; Isaiah 63:9 ). In the N. T. the only two other passages which allude to the work of Angels in delivering the Law are Acts 7:53 ; Galatians 3:19 (see my Life of St Paul , ii. 149). Clearly the Hebrew Christians had to be delivered from the notion that Christ, by being “made under the Law,” had subjected Himself to the loftier position of the Angels who had ministered the Law.

was stedfast ] Rather, “ became ” or “proved” steadfast. The Law was no brutum julmen; no inoperative dead-letter, but effective to vindicate its own majesty, and punish its own violation. Philo uses the very same word ( βέβαια ) of the institutions of Moses; but the difference of standpoint between him and the writer is illustrated by the fact that Philo also calls them ἀσάλευτα , “not to be shaken” which this writer would not have done (12:27).

every transgression and disobedience ] i.e. all sins against it, whether of commission or of omission. Parabasis is “transgression;” parakoē is “mishearing” and neglect (Matthew 18:17 ; Romans 5:19 ).

just ] This form of the word ( endikos ) occurs only here and in Romans 3:8 .

received a just recompence of reward ] The word misthos , “wage” or “pay” which is used of punishment as well as of reward would have expressed the same thought; but the writer likes the more sonorous misthapodosia (10:35, 11:26). This remorseless self-vindication by the Law (“without mercy”), the certainty that it could not be broken with impunity, is alluded to in 10:28. The Israelites found even in the wilderness (Leviticus 10:1 , Leviticus 10:2 ; Numbers 15:32 , Numbers 15:36 ; Deuteronomy 4:3 , &c.), that such stern warnings as that of Numbers 15:30 threatening excision to offenders were terribly real, and applied alike to individuals and to the nation.

3. how shall we escape ] The “ we ” (being expressed in the original) is emphatic we who are sons, not servants. The verb means “how shall we succeed in escaping,” or, “make good our escape” namely, from similar, but yet more awful punishment (comp. 12:25).

if we neglect ] Rather, “after neglecting,” or “when we have neglected.”

so great salvation ] The transcendence (7:25) of the safety provided is a measure of the guilt involved in ceasing to pay any attention to it (10:29; John 12:48 ). It came from Christ not from Angels, its sanctions are more eternal, its promises more divine, its whole character more spiritual.

which at the first began to be spoken ] Literally, “seeing that it, having at the first been spoken.”

by the Lord ] The Gospels shew that Jesus was the first preacher of His own Gospel (Mark 1:14 ). “The Lord,” standing alone, is very rarely, if ever, used as a title for Christ in St Paul. (1 Thessalonians 4:15 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:2 ; 2 Timothy 4:18 , are, to say the least, indecisive.)

was confirmed ] The “ word of this salvation” the news of this Gospel was ratified to us (comp. 1 Corinthians 1:6 ), and so it becomes “steadfast.” The verb is derived from the adjective so rendered in ver. 2.

by them that heard ] We did not indeed receive the Gospel at firsthand, but from those who were its appointed witnesses (Luke 24:47 , Luke 24:48 ; Acts 1:8 , Acts 5:32 ). This verse, as Luther and Calvin so clearly saw, furnishes a decisive proof that St Paul was not the writer of this Epistle. He always insisted on the primary and direct character of the revelation which he had received as his independent Gospel (Galatians 1:1 , Galatians 1:12 ; Acts 22:10 , Acts 22:26 :16; 1 Corinthians 11:23 , 1 Corinthians 11:15 :3, &c.). To talk of “accommodation” here is quite beside the mark.

4. God also bearing them witness ] The original is stronger, “God bearing witness with them; ” the supernatural witness coincided with the human.

both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles ] “Signs” to shew that there was a power behind their witness; “portents” to awaken the feeling of astonishment, and so arouse interest; and various “powers.” These are alluded to, or recorded, in Mark 16:20 ; Acts 2:43 , Acts 19:11 . St Paul himself appealed to his own “mighty signs and wonders” (Romans 15:18 , Romans 15:19 ; 1 Corinthians 2:4 ).

and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will ] The word “gifts” means rather “ distributions ” (4:12, “dividing”), and the words “according to His own will” apply only to this clause the gifts which the Holy Spirit distributes as He wills (1 Corinthians 7:17 , 1 Corinthians 7:12 :11; Romans 12:3 ).

5 13. The voluntary humiliation of Jesus was a necessary step in the exaltation of Humanity

5. For ] The “for” resumes the thread of the argument about the superiority of Jesus over the Angels. He was to be the supreme king, but the necessity of passing through suffering to His Messianic throne lay in His High-Priesthood for the human race. To Him, therefore, and not to Angels, the “future age” is to belong.

unto the angels hath he not put into subjection the world to come ] Lit. “for not to Angels did He subject the inhabited earth to come.” In this “inhabited earth” things in their pre-Christian condition had been subjected to Angels. This is inferred directly from Psalms 8:0 where the “little” of degree is interpreted as “a little” of time. The authority of Angels over the Mosaic dispensation had been inferred by the Jews from Psalms 82:1 , where “the congregation of Elohim” was interpreted to mean Angels; and from Deuteronomy 32:8 , Deuteronomy 32:9 , where instead of “He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel ,” the LXX. had “according to the number of the Angels of God.” From this passage, and Genesis 10:0 , Daniel 10:13 , &c. they inferred that there were 70 nations of the world, each under its presiding Angel, but that Israel was under the special charge of God, as is expressly stated in Ecclus. 17:17 (comp. Isaiah 24:21 , Isaiah 24:22 , LXX.). The notion is only modified when in Daniel 10:13 , Daniel 10:20 , Michael “the first Prince,” and in Tobit 12:15, “the seven Archangels,” are regarded as protectors of Israel. But now the dispensational functions of Angels have ceased, because in “the kingdom of God” they in their turn were subordinated to the man Christ Jesus.

the world to come ] The Olam habba or “future age” of the Hebrews, although the word here used is not aion but oikoumenē , properly the inhabited world. In Isaiah 9:6 the Theocratic king who is a type of the Messiah is called “the Everlasting Father,” which is rendered by the LXX. “father of the future age.” In the “new heavens and new earth,” as in the Messianic kingdom which is “the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ,” man, whose nature Christ has taken upon Him, is to be specially exalted. Hence, as Calvin acutely observes, Abraham, Joshua, Daniel are not forbidden to bow to Angels, but under the New Covenant St John is twice forbidden (Revelation 19:10 , Revelation 22:9 ). But, although the Messianic kingdom, and therefore the “future age,” began at the Resurrection, there is yet another “future age” beyond it, which shall only begin when this age is perfected, and Christ’s kingdom is fully come.

whereof we speak ] i.e. which is my present subject.

6. but one in a certain place testified ] The writer was of course perfectly well aware that the Psalm on which he proceeds to comment is the 8th Psalm. This indefinite mode of quotation (“some one, somewhere”) is common in Philo and the Rabbis. Scripture is often quoted by the words “It saith” or “He saith” or “God saith. Possibly the indefinite form (comp. 4:4) which is not found in St Paul is only here adopted because God is Himself addressed in the Psalm. (See Schöttgen, Nov. Hebr. p. 928.)

What is man ] The Hebrew word enosh means man in his weakness and humiliation. The “what” expresses a double feeling how mean in himself! how great in Thy love! The Psalm is only Messianic in so far as it implies man’s final exaltation through Christ’s incarnation. It applies, in the first instance, and directly, to man; and only in a secondary sense to Jesus as man. But St Paul had already (1 Corinthians 15:27 ; Ephesians 1:22 ) applied it in a Messianic sense, and “Son of man” was a Messianic title (Daniel 7:13 ). Thus the Cabbalists regarded the name Adam as an anagram for Adam, David, Moses, and regarded the Messiah as combining the dignity of all three. David twice makes the exclamation “What is man?”; once when he is thinking of man’s frailty in connection with his exaltation by God (Psalms 8:0 ); and once (Psalms 144:3 ) when he is thinking only of man’s emptiness and worthlessness, as being undeserving of God’s care, (comp. Job 7:17 ).

7. a little lower ] The “little” in the original ( mëat ) means “little in degree;” but is here applied to time “for a little while” as is clear from ver. 9. The writer was only acquainted with the LXX. and in Greek the βραχύ τι would naturally suggest brevity of time (comp. 1 Peter 5:10 ). Some of the Old Greek translators who took the other meaning rendered ὄλιγος παρὰ θεόν .

than the angels ] The original has “than Elohim ,” i.e. than God; but the name Elohim has, as we have seen, a much wider and lower range than “Jehovah,” and the rendering “angels” is here found both in the LXX. and the Targum. It must be borne in mind that the writer is only applying the words of the Psalm, and putting them as it were to a fresh use. The Psalm is “a lyric echo of the first chapter of Genesis” “and speaks of man’s exaltation. The author is applying it to man’s lowliness (“ad suum institutum deflectit,” says Calvin, “ κατʼ ἐπεξεργασίαν ”). Yet David’s notion, like that of Cicero, is that “Man is a mortal God,” and the writer is only touching on man’s humiliation to illustrate his exaltation of the God-Man. See Perowne on the Psalms (1. 144).

and didst set him over the works of thy hands ] This clause is probably a gloss from the LXX., as it is absent from some of the best MSS. and Versions (e.g. B and the Syriac). The writer omitted it as not bearing on his argument.

8. thou hast put … ] Rather, “Thou didst put …” by one eternal decree. This clause should be added to the last verse. The clause applies not to Christ (as in 1 Corinthians 15:25 ) but to man in his redeemed glory.

all things ] This is defined in the Psalm (8:8, 9) to mean specially the animal world, but is here applied to the universe in accordance with its Messianic application (Matthew 28:18 ).

For ] The “for” continues the reasoning of ver. 5. The writer with deep insight seizes upon the juxtaposition of “humiliation” and “dominion” as a paradox which only found in Christ its full solution.

he left nothing that is not put under him ] The inference intended to be drawn is not “and therefore even angels will be subject to man,” but “and therefore the control of angels will come to an end.” When however we read such a passage as 1 Corinthians 6:3 (“Know ye not that we shall judge angels?”) it is uncertain whether the author would not have admitted even the other inference.

But now ] i.e. but, in this present earthly condition of things man is not as yet supreme. We see as a fact ( ὁρῶμεν ) man’s humiliation; we perceive by faith the glorification of Jesus, and of all humanity in Him.

under him ] i.e. under man.

9. But we see ] Rather, “But we look upon.” The verb used is not ὁρῶμεν videmus as in the previous verse, but βλέπομεν cernimus (as in 3:19). In accordance with the order of the original the verse should be rendered “ But we look upon Him who has been, for a little while, made low in comparison of angels even Jesus on account of the suffering of death crowned , &c.”

who was made a little lower than the angels ] This alludes to the temporal (“for a little while”) and voluntary humiliation of the Incarnate Lord. See Philippians 2:7-11 . For a short time Christ was liable to agony and death from which angels are exempt; and even to the “intolerable indignity” of the grave.

for the suffering of death ] Rather, “ because of the suffering of death.” The Via crucis was the appointed via lucis (comp. 5:7 10, 7:26, 9:12). This truth that the sufferings of Christ were the willing path of His perfectionment as the “Priest upon his throne” (Zechariah 6:13 ) is brought out more distinctly in this than in any other Epistle.

crowned with glory and honour ] Into the nature of this glory it was needless and hardly possible to enter. “On His head were many crowns” (Revelation 19:12 ).

that ] The words refer to the whole of the last clause. The universal efficacy of His death resulted from the double fact of His humiliation and glorification. He was made a little lower than the angels, He suffered death, He was crowned with glory and honour in order that His death might be efficacious for the redemption of the world.

by the grace of God ] The work of redemption resulted from the love of the Father no less than from that of the Son (John 3:16 ; Romans 5:8 ; 2 Corinthians 5:21 ). It is therefore a part of “the grace of God” (Romans 5:8 ; Galatians 2:21 ; 2 Corinthians 6:1 ; Titus 2:2 ), and could only have been carried into completion by the aid of that grace of which Christ was full. The Greek is χάριτι Θεοῦ , but there is a very interesting and very ancient various reading χωρὶς Θεοῦ apart from God .” St Jerome says that he only found this reading “in some copies” (in quibusdam exemplaribus) whereas Origen had already said that ne only found the other reading “by the grace of God” in some copies ( ἐν τίσιν ἀντιγράφοις ). At present however the reading “ apart from God ” is only found in the cursive manuscript 53 (a MS. of the 9th century), and in the margin of 67. It is clear that the reading was once more common than is now the case, and it seems to have been a Western and Syriac reading which has gradually disappeared from the manuscripts. Theodore of Mopsuestia calls the reading “by the grace of God” meaningless, and others have stamped it as Monophysite (i.e. as implying that in Christ there was only one nature). We have seen that this is by no means the case, though the other reading may doubtless have fallen into disfavour from the use made of it by the Nestorians to prove that Christ did not suffer in His divinity but only “apart from God,” i.e. in His humanity (so too St Ambrose and Fulgentius). But even if the reading be correct (and it is certainly more ancient than the Nestorian controversy) the words may belong to their own proper clause “that he may taste death for every being except God ;” the latter words being added as in 1 Corinthians 15:27 . But the reading is almost certainly spurious. For (1) in the Nestorian sense it is unlike any other passage of Scripture; (2) in the other sense it is unnecessary (since it bears in no way on the immediate argument) and may have been originally added as a superfluous marginal gloss by some pragmatic reader who remembered 1 Corinthians 15:27 ; or (3) it may have originated from a confusion of letters on the original papyrus. The incorporation of marginal glosses into the text is a familiar phenomenon in textual criticism. Such perhaps are 1 John 5:7 ; Acts 8:37 ; the latter part of Romans 8:1 ; “without cause” in Matthew 5:22 ; “unworthily” in 1 Corinthians 11:29 , &c.

should taste death ] The word “taste” is not to be pressed as though it meant that Christ “saw no corruption.” “To taste” does not mean merely “ summis labris delibare .” It is a common Semitic and metaphoric paraphrase for death, derived from the notion of Death as an Angel who gives a cup to drink; as in the Arabic poem Antar “Death fed him with a cup of absinth by my hand.” Comp. Matthew 16:28 ; John 8:52 .

for ] “on behalf of” ( ὑπὲρ ), not “as a substitution for” ( ἀντί ).

for every man ] Origen and others made this word neuter “for everything” or “for every existence;” but this seems to be expressly excluded by ver. 16, and is not in accordance with the analogy of John 1:29 , John 1:3 :16; 2 Corinthians 5:21 ; 1 John 2:2 . It will be seen that the writer deals freely with the Psalm. The Psalmist views man in his present condition as being one which involves both glory and humiliation: it is here applied as expressing man’s present humiliation and his future glory, which is compared with Christ’s temporal humiliation leading to his Eternal glory. It is the necessity of this application which required the phrase “a little” to be understood not of degree but of time. No doubt the writer has read into the words a pregnant significance; but (1) he is only applying them by way of illustrating acknowledged truths; and (2) he is doing so in accordance with principles of exegesis which were universally conceded not only by Christians but even by Jews.

10. For it became him ] Unlike St Paul the writer never enters into what may be called “the philosophy of the plan of salvation.” He never attempts to throw any light upon the mysterious subject of the antecedent necessity for the death of Christ. Perhaps he considered that all which could be profitably said on that high mystery had already been said by St Paul (Romans 3:25 ; Galatians 3:13 ; 2 Corinthians 5:21 ). He dwells upon Christ’s death almost exclusively in its relation to us . The expression which he here uses “it was morally fitting for Him” is almost the only one which he devotes to what may be called the transcendent side of Christ’s sacrifice the death of Christ as regards its relation to God. He develops no theory of vicarious satisfaction, &c., though he uses the metaphoric words “redemption” and “make reconciliation for” (9:15, 2:17). The “moral fitness” here touched upon is the necessity for absolutely sympathetic unity between the High Priest and those for whom he offered His perfect sacrifice. Compare Luke 24:46 , “thus it behoved Christ to suffer.” Philo also uses the phrase “it became Him.” It is a very remarkable expression, for though it also occurs in the LXX. (Jeremiah 10:7 ), yet in this passage alone does it contemplate the actions of God under the aspect of inherent moral fitness.

for whom ] i.e. “for whose sake,” “on whose account.” The reference here is to God, not to Christ.

by whom ] i.e. by whose creative agency. Compare Romans 11:36 , “of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.” The same words may also be applied to Christ, but the context here shews that they refer to God the Father.

in bringing ] Lit., “having brought.” The use of the aorist participle is difficult, but the “glory” seems to imply the potential triumph of man in the one finished act of Christ which was due to “the grace of God.” The “Him” and the “having brought” refer to God and not to Christ. God led many sons to glory through the Captain of their Salvation, whom in that process of Redemptive Work which is shared by each “Person” of the Blessed Trinity He perfected through suffering. On the Cross the future glory of the many sons was won and was potentially consummated.

many ] “A great multitude which no man could number” (Revelation 7:9-14 ).

sons ] This word seems to shew that the “having brought” refers to God, not to Christ, for we are called Christ’s “brethren,” but never His sons.

the captain ] The word also occurs in Acts 5:31 . In Acts 3:15 it means “author,” or “originator,” as in 12:2. The word primarily signifies one who goes at the head of a company as their leader ( antesignanus ) and guide (see Isaiah 55:4 ), and then comes to mean “originator.” Comp. 5:9.

to make … perfect ] Not in the sense of making morally, or otherwise, perfect, but in the sense of leading to a predestined goal or consummation. See the similar uses of this word in 5:9, 7:28, 9:9, 10:14, 11:40, 12:23. The LXX. uses the word to represent the consecration of the High Priest (Leviticus 21:10 ). In this Epistle the verb occurs nine times, in all St Paul’s Epistles probably not once. (In 2 Corinthians 12:9 the reading of A, B, D, F, G, L is τελεῖται . In Philippians 3:12 the reading of D, E, F, G is δεδικαίωμαι ).

through sufferings ] See note on ver. 9, and comp. Revelation 5:9 ; 1 Peter 5:10 . Jewish Christians were slow to realise the necessity for a crucified Messiah, and when they did so they tried to distinguish between Messiah son of David and a supposed Messiah son of Joseph. There are however some traces of such a belief. See an Appendix to Vol. 11. of the last Edition of Dean Perowne on the Psalms.

11. For ] The next three verses are an illustration of the moral fitness, and therefore of the Divine necessity, that there should be perfect unity and sympathy between the Saviour and the saved.

both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified ] The idea would perhaps be better, though less literally, expressed by “both the sanctifier and the sanctified,” for the idea of sanctification is here not so much that of progressive holiness as that of cleansing (13:12). This writer seems to make but little difference between the words “to sanctify” and “to purify,” because in the sphere of the Jewish Ceremonial Law, from which his analogies are largely drawn, “sanctification” meant the setting apart for service by various means of purification. See 9:13, 14, 10:10, 14, 13:12, and comp. John 17:17-19 ; 1 John 1:7 . The progressive sanctification is viewed in its ideal result, and in this result the whole Church of Christ shares, so that, like Israel of old, it is ideally “holy.”

are all of one ] That is, they alike derive their origin from God; in other words the relation in which they stand to each other is due to one and the same divine purpose (John 17:17-19 ). This seems a better view than to refer the “one” to Abraham (Isaiah 51:2 ; Ezekiel 33:24 , &c.) or to Adam.

he is not ashamed to call them brethren ] If the Gospels had been commonly known at the time when this Epistle was written, the author would doubtless have referred not to the Old Testament, but to such direct and tender illustrations as Matthew 12:49 , Matthew 12:50 , “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother:” or to John 20:17 , “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God:” Matt, 28:10, “go unto my brethren.” Or are we to suppose that this application of Messianic Psalms would have come with even greater argumentative force to his Judaising readers?

to call ] i.e. to declare them to be His brethren by calling them so.

12. I will declare thy name unto my brethren ] Psalms 22:22 . This is a typico-prophetic Psalm, accepted in a Messianic sense, which was supposed to be mystically indicated by its superscription, “ On the hind of the dawn .” The sense of its prophetic and typical character had doubtless been deepened among Christians by our Lord’s quotation from it on the Cross (Matthew 27:46 ). It is one of our special Psalms for Good Friday. See the references to it in Matthew 27:35 ; John 19:24 .

in the midst of the church ] Rather, “of the congregation.”

13. And again, I will put my trust in him ] The quotation is probably from Isaiah 8:17 , but nearly the same words are found in Psalms 18:2 and 2 Samuel 22:3 (LXX.). The necessity of putting His trust in God is a proof of Christ’s humanity, and therefore of His brotherhood with us. When He was on the Cross His enemies said by way of taunt, “ He trusted in God ” (Matthew 27:43 ).

Behold, I, and the children which God hath given me ] This verse furnishes a marked instance of the principles of Biblical interpretation, of which we have already seen many specimens. Isaiah by the prophetess has a son to whom he is bidden to give the name Maher-shalal-hash-baz, or “ Speed-plunder-haste-spoil ;” to his elder son he has been bidden to give the name Shear-Jashub, “ a remnant shall remain; ” and as the names of both sons are connected with prophecies concerning Israel he says “Lo! I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts .” The words are here entirely dissociated from their context and from their primary historical meaning to indicate the relation between Christ and His redeemed children. The LXX. in Isaiah 8:17 insert the words “And He will say,” and some have supposed that the author (who, like most Alexandrians, was evidently unacquainted with the original Hebrew) understood these words to imply that it was no longer the Prophet but the Messiah who was the speaker. It is however more probable that he took for granted the legitimacy of his application. In this he merely followed the school of interpretation in which he had been trained, in accordance with principles which were at that period universally accepted among Jews and Christians. We must ourselves regard it as a somewhat extreme instance of applying the words of Scripture in a Messianic sense. But we see the bearing of the illustration upon the immediate point in view, when we recall the typical character and position of Isaiah, and therefore the mystic significance which was naturally attached to his words. Our Lord Himself uses, with no reference to Isaiah, a similar expression, “those that thou gavest me,” in John 17:12 .

14 18. A fuller statement of the moral fitness of Christ’s participation in human sufferings

14. are partakers of flesh and blood ] Rather, “have shared (and do share) in blood and flesh,” i.e. are human. They are all inheritors of this common mystery. This is implied by the perfect tense. “Blood and flesh,” as in Ephesians 6:12 .

likewise ] This word furnished the Fathers with a strong argument against the Docetae who regarded the body of Christ not as real but as purely phantasmal.

took part of the same ] Because, as he goes on to intimate, it would otherwise have been impossible for Christ to die. Comp. Philippians 2:8 . The aorist implies the one historic fact of the Incarnation.

he might destroy ] Rather, “He may bring to nought,” or “render impotent.” See 2 Timothy 1:10 , “Jesus Christ … hath abolished death;” 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 ; Revelation 1:18 . The word occurs 28 times in St Paul, but elsewhere only here and in Luke 13:7 , though sometimes found in the LXX.

him that had the power of death ] Rather, “him that hath ,” i.e. in the present condition of things. But Christ, by assuming our flesh, became “the Death of death,” as in the old epitaph,

“Mors Mortis Morti mortem nisi morte dedisset

Aeternae vitae janua clausa foret;”

which we may render

“Had not the Death of death to Death by death his death-blow given,

For ever closèd were the gate, the gate of life and heaven.”

It is, however, possible that the phrase, “the power of death,” does not imply that the devil can, by God’s permission, inflict death, but that he has “a sovereignty, of which death is the realm.”

that is, the devil ] This is the only place in this Epistle in which the name “Devil” occurs. It is nowhere very frequent in the N.T. The English reader is liable to be misled by the rendering “devils” for “demons” in the Gospels. Satan has the power of death, if that be the meaning here, not as lord, but as executioner (comp. Revelation 9:11 ); his power is only a permissive power (John 8:44 ; Revelation 12:10 ; Wisdom 2:24, “Through envy of the devil came death unto the world).” The manner in which Christ shall thus bring Satan to nought is left untouched, but the best general comments on the fact are in 1 Corinthians 15:0 and the Apocalypse. Nor does this expression encourage any Manichean or dualistic views; for, however evil may be the will of Satan, he can never exercise his power otherwise than in accordance with the just will of God. The Jews spoke of an Angel of Death, whom they called Sammael, and whom they identified with Satan (Eisenmenger, Entd. Judenth . ii. p. 821

15. them who ] Lit. “those, as many as,” i.e. “all who.”

through fear of death ] This was felt, as we see from the O.T., far more intensely under the old than under the new dispensation. Dr Robertson Smith quotes from the Midrash Tanchuma , “In this life death never suffers man to be glad.” See Numbers 17:13 , 18:5; Ps. 6, 30, &c., and Isaiah 38:10-20 , &c. In heathen and savage lands the whole of life is often overshadowed by the terror of death, which thus becomes a veritable “bondage.” Philo quotes a line of Euripides to shew that a man who has no fear of death can never be a slave. But, through Christ’s death, death has become to the Christian the gate of glory. It is remarkable that in this verse the writer introduces a whole range of conceptions which he not only leaves without further development, but to which he does not ever allude again. They seem to lie aside from the main current of his views.

16. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels ] Rather, “for assuredly it is not angels whom He takes by the hand .” The word δήπου , “certainly,” “I suppose,” occurs here only in the N. T. or LXX., though common in Philo. In classic Greek it often has a semi-ironic tinge, “you will doubtless admit that,” like opinor in Latin. All are now agreed that the verb does not mean “to take the nature of,” but “to take by the hand,” and so “to help” or “rescue.” Beza indeed called it “execrable rashness” ( exsecranda audacia ) to translate it so, when this rendering was first adopted by Castellio in 1551; but the usage of the word proves that this is the only possible rendering, although all the Fathers and Reformers take it in the other way. It is rightly corrected in the R. V. (comp. Isaiah 49:9 , Isaiah 49:10 ; Jeremiah 31:32 ; Hebrews 8:9 ; Matthew 14:31 ; Wisd. 4:11, “Wisdom … takes by the hand those that seek her”). To refer “ he taketh not hold” to Death or the Devil is most improbable.

the seed of Abraham ] i.e. He was born a Hebrew. He does not at all mean to imply that our Lord came to the Jews more than to the Gentiles, though he is only thinking of the former.

17. Wherefore ] The Greek word ὅθεν , “ whence ,” common in this Epistle, does not occur once in St Paul, but is found in Acts 26:19 , in a report of his speech, and in 1 John 2:18 .

in all things ] These words should be taken with “to be made like.”

it behoved him ] Stronger than the “it became Him” of ver. 10. It means that, with reference to the object in view, there lay upon Him a moral obligation to become a man with men. See 5:1, 2.

that he might be ] Rather, “that he might become ” or, “prove Himself.”

a merciful and faithful high priest ] Merciful, or rather, “ compassionate ” to men; “faithful” to God. In Christ “mercy and truth” have met together. Psalms 85:10 . The expression “a faithful priest” is found in 1 Samuel 2:35 . Dr Robertson Smith well points out that the idea of “a merciful priest,” which is scarcely to be found in the O.T., would come home with peculiar force to the Jews of that day, because mercy was a quality in which the Aaronic Priests had signally failed ( Yoma , f. 9. 1), and in the Herodian epoch they were notorious for cruelty, insolence and greed (see my Life of Christ , ii. 329, 330). The Jews said that there had been no less than 28 High Priests in 107 years of this epoch (Jos. Antt. xx. 10) their brief dignity being due to their wickedness (Proverbs 10:27 ). The conception of the Priesthood hitherto had been ceremonial rather than ethical; yet it is only “by mercy and truth” that “iniquity is purged.” Proverbs 16:6 . The word “High Priest,” here first introduced, has evidently been entering into the writer’s thoughts (1:3, 2:9, 11, 16), and is the most prominent conception throughout the remainder of the Epistle. The consummating steps in genuine high priesthood are touched upon in 5:10, 6:20, 9:24.

high priest ] The Greek word is comparatively new. In the Pentateuch the high priest is merely called “the Priest” (except in Leviticus 21:10 ). In later books of Scripture the epithet “head” or “great” is added. The word occurs 17 times in this Epistle, but not once in any other.

in things pertaining to God ] Comp. 5:1. The phrase is found in the LXX. of Exodus 18:19 .

to make reconciliation for the sins of the people ] More literally, “to expiate the sins of the people.” Christ is nowhere said in the N. T. to “expiate” or “propitiate” God or “the wrath of God” (which are heathen, not Christian, conceptions), nor is any such expression found in the LXX. Nor do we find such phrases as “God was propitiated by the death of His Son,” or “Christ propitiated the wrath of God by His blood.” God Himself fore-ordained the propitiation (Romans 3:25 ). The verb represents the Hebrew kippeer , “to cover,” whence is derived the name for the day of Atonement ( Kippurim ). In Daniel 9:24 Theodotion’s version has ἐξιλάσαθαι ἀδικίας . We are left to unauthorised theory and conjecture as to the manner in which and the reason for which “expiation,” in the form of “sacrifice,” interposes between “sin” and “wrath.” All we know is that, in relation to us , Christ is “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2 , 1 John 2:4 :10; Romans 3:25 ). Accepting the blessed result as regards ourselves we shall best shew our wisdom by abstaining from dogmatism and theory respecting the unrevealed and transcendent mystery as it affects God.

the people ] Primarily the Jewish people, whom alone the writer has in mind. Angels, so far as we are told, did not need the Redemptive work.

18. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted ] These words have been taken, and grammatically may be explained, in eight or nine different ways. One of the best ways is that here given by the A. V. and endorsed by the R. V. This method regards the Greek ἐν ᾦ as equivalent to the Hebrew ba-asher , which means “in so far as.” “By His Passion ,” says Bp. Wordsworth, “He acquired compassion .” Of other possible ways, the most tenable is that which takes ἐν ᾦ quite literally. “ In that sphere wherein He suffered by being tempted” the sphere being the whole conditions of human life and trial (comp. 6:17; Romans 8:3 ). But the first way seems to be the better. Temptation of its own nature involves suffering, and it is too generally overlooked that though our Lord’s severest temptations came in two great and solemn crises in the wilderness and at Gethsemane yet Scripture leads us to the view that He was always liable to temptation though without sin, because the temptation was always repudiated with the whole force of His will throughout the whole course of His life of obedience. After the temptation in the wilderness the devil only left Him “for a season” (Luke 4:13 ). We.must remember too that the word “temptation” includes all trials.

he is able to succour them that are tempted ] Rather, “that are under temptation” (lit. “that are being tempted,” i.e. men in their mortal life of trial). This thought is the one so prominent throughout the Epistle, viz. the closeness of Christ’s High-Priestly sympathy, 4:15, 5:1, 2.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Hebrews 2". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/hebrews-2.html. 1896.