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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Hebrews 3

Verses 1-99

Ch. 3. Superiority of Christ to Moses (1 6). Exhortation against hardening the heart (7 19)

There is a remarkable parallelism between the structure of this and the next chapter, and that of the first and second chapters.

Christ higher than angels (1:5 14) Christ higher than Moses (3:1 6). Exhortation (2:1 5). Exhortation (3:7 19). In Him man is exalted above angels (2:6 16). In Him His people enter into rest (4:1 13). His Higher Priesthood (2:17, 18). His Higher Priesthood (4:14 16). 1 . Wherefore ] The same word ( ὅθεν ) as in 2:17, where see the note. It is an inference from the grandeur of Christ’s position and the blessedness of His work as set forth in the previous chapters.

holy brethren ] This form of address is never used by St Paul. It assumes that they answered to their true ideal, as does the ordinary term “saints.”

partakers of the heavenly calling ] Rather, “of a heavenly calling.” It is a heavenly calling because it comes from heaven (12:25), and is a call “upwards” ( ἄνω ) to heavenly things (Philippians 3:14 ) and to holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:7 ).

consider ] The word means “contemplate,” consider attentively, fix your thoughts upon (aorist).

the Apostle ] Christ is called an “Apostle” as being “sent forth” ( apostellomenon ) from the Father (John 20:21 ). The same title is used of Christ by Justin Martyr ( Apol. i. 12). It corresponds both to the Hebrew maleach (“angel” or “messenger”) and sheliach (“delegate”). The “Apostle” unites the functions of both, for, as Justin says of our Lord, He announces ( apangellei ) and He is sent ( apostelletai ).

and High Priest ] Christ was both the Moses and the Aaron of the New Dispensation; an “Apostle” from God to us; an High Priest for us before God. As “Apostle” He, like Moses, pleads God’s cause with us; as High Priest he, like Aaron, pleads our cause with God. Just as the High Priest came with the name Jehovah on the golden plate of his mitre in the name of God before Israel, and with the names of the Tribes graven on his jewelled breastplate in the name of Israel before God, so Christ is “God with us” and the propitiatory representative of men before God. He is above Angels as a Son, and a Lord of the future world; above Aaron as a Priest after the order of Melchisedek; above Moses as a Son over the house is above a servant in it.

of our profession ] Rather, “of our confession ” as Christians (4:14, 10:23; 2 Corinthians 9:13 ; 1 Timothy 6:12 ). It is remarkable that in Philo (Opp. i. 654) the Logos is called “the Great High Priest of our Confession;” but the genuineness of the clause seems doubtful.

Christ Jesus ] Rather, according to the best MSS. “Jesus” (A, B, C, D). Such a variation of reading may seem a matter of indifference, but this is very far from being the case. First of all, the traceable differences in the usage of this sacred name mark the advance of Christianity. In the Gospels Christ is called Jesus and “the Christ;” “the Christ” being still the title of His office as the Anointed Messiah, not the name of His Person , In the Epistles “Christ” has become a proper name, and He is frequently spoken of as “the Lord,” not merely as a title of general respect, but in the use of the word as an equivalent to the Hebrew “Jehovah.” Secondly, the difference of nomenclature shews that St Paul was not the author of this Epistle. St Paul uses the title “Christ Jesus” which (if the reading be here untenable) does not occur in this Epistle. This author uses “Jesus Christ” (10:10, 13:8, 21), “the Lord” (2:3), “our Lord” (7:14), “our Lord Jesus” (13:20), “the Son of God” (6:6, 7:3, 10:29), but most frequently “Jesus” alone, as here (2:9, 4:14, 6:20, 7:22, 10:19, 12:2, 24, 13:12) or “Christ” alone (3:6, 14, 5:5, 6:1, 9:11, &c.). See Prof. Davidson, On the Hebrews , p. 73.

2 . who was faithful ] Lit., “Being faithful,” i.e. as Cranmer excellently rendered it, “how that he is faithful.” The word is suggested by the following contrast between Christ and Moses, of whom it had been said “My servant Moses is not so, who was faithful in all mine house,” Numbers 12:7 .

to him that appointed him ] Lit., “to Him that made Him.” There can be little doubt that the expression means, as in the A.V. “to Him that made Him such ,” i.e. made Him an Apostle and High Priest. For the phrase is doubtless suggested by 1 Samuel 12:6 , where the LXX. has “He that made Moses and Aaron” (A.V. “advanced”); comp. Mark 3:14 , “And He made ( ἐποίησε ) Twelve, that they should be with Him.” Acts 2:36 , “God made Him Lord and Christ.” The rendering “appointed” is therefore a perfectly faithful one. Still the peculiarity of the phrase was eagerly seized upon by Arians to prove that Christ was a created Being , and this was one of the causes which retarded the general acceptance of the Epistle. Yet even if “made” was not here used in the sense of “appointed” the Arians would have had no vantage ground; for the word might have been applied to the Incarnation (so Athanasius, and Primasius), though not (as Bleek and Lünemann take it) to the Eternal Generation of the Son. Theodoret and Chrysostom understood it as our Version does.

as also Moses … in all his house ] Rather, “in all His (God’s) house,” Numbers 12:7 . The house is God’s house or household, i.e. the theocratic family of which the Tabernacle was a symbol “the house of God which is the Church of the living God,” 1 Timothy 3:15 . The “faithfulness” of Moses consisted in teaching the Israelites all that God had commanded him (Deuteronomy 4:5 ) and himself “doing according to all that the Lord commanded him” (Exodus 40:16 ).

3 . For this man ] Rather, “For He ,” i.e. Christ. The “for” depends on the “Consider.”

was counted worthy ] Rather, “hath been deemed worthy,” namely, by God.

more glory ] Rather, “a fuller glory” ( amplioris gloriae , Vulg.).

of more glory than Moses ] Eagerly as the writer is pressing forwards to develop his original and central conception of Christ as our Eternal High Priest, he yet has to pause to prove His superiority over Moses, because the Jews had begun to elevate Moses into a position of almost supernatural grandeur which would have its effect on the imaginations of wavering and almost apostatising converts. Thus the Rabbis said that “the soul of Moses was equivalent to the souls of all Israel;” (because by the cabbalistic process called Gematria the numerical value of the letters of “Moses our Rabbi” in Hebrew = 613, which is also the value of the letters of “Lord God of Israel”). They said that “the face of Moses. was like the Sun;” that he alone “saw through a clear glass” not as other prophets “through a dim glass” (comp. St Paul’s “through a mirror in a riddle,” 1 Corinthians 13:12 ) and that whereas there are but fifty gates of understanding in the world, “all but one were opened to Moses.” See the Rabbinic references in my Early days of Christianity , 1. 362. St Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:7 , 2 Corinthians 3:8 contrasts the evanescing splendour on the face of Moses with the unchanging glory of Christ.

he who hath builded the house ] The verb ( κατασκευάσας ) implies rather “equipped” or “established” than “builded” (see 9:2, 6, 11:7 and note on 1:2; Wisd. 13:4).

hath more honour than the house ] The point of this expression is not very obvious. If taken strictly it would imply that Moses was himself “the house” which Christ built. But οἶκος , “house” or “ household ” means more than the mere building ( οἰκία ), It means the whole theocratic family, the House of Israel in its covenant relation; and though Moses was not this House, he was more than a servant in it being also its direct representative and human head. (There is a somewhat similar phrase in Philo, De plant. Noe , 16.)

4 . For every house is builded by some man ] The real meaning would perhaps be better expressed by “Every household is established by some one.” The establisher of the Old Dispensation as well as of the New was Christ, but yet, in some sense (as an instrument and minister) Moses might be regarded as the founder of the Old Covenant (Acts 7:38 ), as Jesus of the New. The verb ( kataskeuazo ) is rendered “prepare” in 9:6, 11:7; Luke 1:17 .

he that built all things is God ] In His humanity Jesus was but “the Apostle” of God in building His house, the Church. “He ( the man whose name is the Branch ) shall build the temple of the Lord ,” Zechariah 6:12 . God is the supreme, ultimate, and universal Founder.

5 . in all his house ] i.e. in all God’s house. Two “houses” are contemplated, Mosaism and Christianity, the Law and the Gospel. Both were established by God. In the household of the Law, Moses was the faithful minister; in the household of the Gospel, Christ took on Him, indeed, “the form of a slave,” and as such was faithful even unto death, but yet was Son over the House. This seems a more natural explanation than that the writer regards both the covenants as one Household, in which Moses was a servant, and over which Christ was a Son.

as a servant ] The word used is not doulos “slave,” nor diakonos “minister,” but therapōn “voluntary attendant.” It is also applied to Moses in the Ep. of Barnabas and in Exodus 14:31 (LXX.).

for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after ] They were to be spoken afterwards by Christ, the Prophet to whom Moses had pointed, Deuteronomy 18:15 . The Law and the Prophets did but witness to the righteousness of God which was to be fully revealed in Christ (Romans 3:21 ). They were but a shadow of the coming reality (10:1). But although it is natural for us to understand the expression in this way, the author possibly meant no more than that the faithfulness of Moses was an attestation of the Law which was about to be delivered.

6 . as a Son over his own house ] Rather, “over His (i.e. God’s) house.” In the words “Servant” and “Son “we again (as in 1:5, 8) reach the central point of Christ’s superiority to Moses. The proof of this superiority did not require more than a brief treatment because it was implicitly involved in the preceding arguments.

whose house are we ] This is a metaphor which the writer may well have learnt in his intercourse with St Paul (2 Corinthians 6:16 ; Ephesians 2:21 , Ephesians 2:22 . Comp. 1 Peter 2:5 ).

the confidence ] Literally, “our cheerful confidence,” especially of utterance, as in 10:19, 35. The word rendered “confidence” in verse 14 is different. This boldness of speech and access, which were the special glory of the old democracies, are used by St John also to express the highest Christian privilege of filial outspokenness (1 John 3:21 ). Apollos, the probable writer of this Epistle, was known for this bold speech (Acts 18:26 ), and evidently feels the duty and privilege of such a mental altitude (Hebrews 4:16 , Hebrews 4:10 :19, 35).

the rejoicing of the hope ] Rather, “the glorying of our hope.” The Greek word means “an object of boasting,” as in Romans 4:2 ; 1 Corinthians 5:6 , &c. The way in which the writer dwells on the need for “a full assurance of hope” (6:11, 18, 19) seems to shew that owing to the delay in Christ’s coming his readers were liable to fall into impatience (10:36, 12:1) and apathy (6:12, 10:25).

firm unto the end ] The same phrase occurs in ver. 14. The word “firm” being feminine does not agree with the neuter word “object of boast,” and the repetition of the phrase by a writer so faultlessly rhetorical is singular. It cannot however be regarded as a gloss, for it is found in all the best Manuscripts.

unto the end ] That is, not “until death,” but until hope is lost in fruition; until this dispensation has attained to its final goal. This necessity for perseverance in well-doing is frequently urged in the N. T. because it was especially needed in times of severe trial. Matthew 10:22 ; Colossians 1:23 , and see infra 10:35 39.

7 19. A solemn warning against hardening the heart

[This constant interweaving of warning and exhortation with argument is characteristic of this Epistle. These passages (2:1 4, 3:7 19, 4:1 14, 6:1 9, 10:19 39) cannot, however, be called digressions, because they belong to the object which the writer had most distinctly in view namely, to check a tendency to relapse from the Gospel into Judaism].

7 . Wherefore ] The verb which depends on this conjunction is delayed by the quotation, but is practically found in ver. 12, “Take heed.” Christ was faithful: therefore take heed that ye be not unfaithful.

as the Holy Ghost saith ] For this form of quotation see Mark 12:36 ; Acts 1:16 ; 2 Peter 1:21 .

To day if ye will hear his voice ] Rather, “if ye hear ,” or “shall have heard.” The quotation is from Psalms 95:7-11 , and the word means “Oh that ye would hear His voice!”; but the LXX. often renders the Hebrew im by “if.” The “to-day” is always the Scripture day of salvation, which is now , 2 Corinthians 6:2 ; Isaiah 55:6 . “If any man hear my voice … I will come in to him,” Revelation 3:20 . The sense of the Imminent Presence of God which reigns throughout the prophecies of the O. T. as well as in the N. T. (10:37; 1. 2. Thess.; 1 Peter 1:5 , &c.) is beautifully illustrated in the Talmudic story of the Rabbi ( Sanhedrin 98. 1) who went to the Messiah by direction of Elijah, and asked him when he would come; and He answered “to-day.” But before the Rabbi could return to Elijah the sun had set, and he asked “Has Messiah then deceived me?” “No,” answered Elijah; “he meant ‘Today if ye hear His voice.’ ”

8 . harden not your hearts ] Comp. Acts 19:9 . Usually God is said to harden man’s heart (Exodus 7:3 , &c.; Isaiah 63:17 ; Romans 9:18 ) an anthropomorphic way of expressing the inevitable results of neglect and of evil habit. But that this is man’s own doing and choice is always recognised (Deuteronomy 10:16 ; 2 Kings 17:14 , &c.).

as in the provocation ] Lit., “in the embitterment.” The LXX. here seem to have read Marah (which means “bitter” and which they render by πικρία in Exodus 15:23 ) for Meribah which, in Exodus 17:1-7 , they render by Loidoresis “reproach.” This is not however certain, for though the substantive does not occur again, the verb “I embitter” is frequently used of provoking God to anger. For the story of Meribah, see Numbers 20:7-13 .

in the day of temptation ] Rather, “of the temptation,” i.e. at Massah; Exodus 17:7 ; Deuteronomy 6:16 , though the allusion might also be to Numbers 14:0 .

9 . when ] Rather, “where,” i.e. at Massah, or in the wilderness. The rendering “wherewith” or “with which temptation,” would have been more naturally expressed in other ways.

proved me ] The better reading is “by proving me.”

saw my works forty years ] The “forty years” is purposely transferred from the next verse of the Psalm. The scene at Massah took place in the 40th and that at Meribah in the 1st year of the wanderings. Deuteronomy 9:7 , Deuteronomy 33:8 . They indicate the spirit of the Jews through the whole period. The number 40 is in the Bible constantly connected with judgment or trial, and it would have sounded more impressive in this passage if the date of the Epistle was shortly before the Fall of Jerusalem, i.e. about 40 years after the Ascension. The Rabbis had a saying “The days of the Messiah are 40 years.”

10 . I was grieved ] Rather, “I was indignant.” The Greek word is derived from the dashing of waves against a bank. It only occurs in the N. T. here and in verse 17, but is common in the LXX.

with that generation ] The better reading is “with this generation,” and it is at least possible that the writer intentionally altered the expression to make it sound more directly emphatic. The words “ this generation” would fall with grave force on ears which had heard the report of our Lord’s great discourse (Matt, 23:36; comp. 24:34). To the writer of this Epistle the language of Scripture is not regarded as a thing of the past, but as being in a marked degree, present, living, and permanent.

They do alway err in their heart ] See Psalms 78:40 , Psalms 78:41 . The word “alway” is not in the original. The Apostles in their quotations are not careful about verbal accuracy. The Hebrew says “they are a people ( am ) of wanderers in heart,” and Bleek thought that the LXX. read ad and understood it to mean “always.”

11 . So I sware in my wrath ] The reference is to Numbers 14:28-30 . Numbers 14:33 :13.

They shall not enter ] This is the correct rendering of the idiom (here used by a Hebraism) “ if they shall enter.”

my rest ] The writer proceeds to argue that this expression could not refer to the past Sabbath-rest of God: or to the partial and symbolic rest of Canaan; and must therefore refer to the final rest of heaven. But he does not of course mean to sanction any inference about the future and final salvation either of those who entered Canaan or of those who died in the wilderness.

12. Take heed, brethren, lest there be … ] It is evident that deep anxiety mixes with the warning.

in any of you ] The warning is expressed indefinitely; but if the Epistle was addressed to a small Hebrew community the writer may have had in view some special person who was in danger (comp. 10:25, 12:15). In any case the use of the singular might lead to individual searching of hearts. He here begins a homily founded on the quotation from the Psalm.

an evil heart of unbelief ] Unbelief has its deep source in the heart more often perhaps than in the mind.

in departing ] Lit., in the apostatising from . In that one word Apostasy the moral peril of his Hebrew readers was evidently summed up. To apostatise after believing is more dangerous than not to have believed at all.

from the living God ] The epithet is not idle. It conveys directly the warning that God would not overlook the sin of apostasy, and indirectly the thought that Christ was in heaven at the right hand of God.

13 . exhort one another ] The verb implies the mutually strengthening intercourse of consolation and moral appeal. It is the verb from which comes the word Paraclete , i.e. the Comforter or Strengthened The literal rendering is “exhort yourselves ,” but this is only an idiom which extends reciprocity into identity, and the meaning is “exhort one another .”

while it is called To day ] Another rendering is “so long as to-day is being proclaimed.” The meaning is “while the to-day of the Psalm ( τὸ σήμερον ) can still be regarded as applicable,” i.e. while our “day of visitation” lasts, and while we still “have the light.” Luke 19:44 ; John 12:35 , John 12:36 .

be hardened ] See note on ver. 8. The following clause indicates that God only “hardens” the heart, in the sense that man is inevitably suffered to render his own heart callous by indulgence in sin.

14 . we are made ] Rather, “we are become.”

partakers of Christ ] Rather, “partakers with Christ,” for the thought of mystical union with Christ extending into spiritual unity and identity, which makes the words “in Christ” the “monogram” of St Paul, is scarcely alluded to by this writer. His thoughts are rather of “Christ for us” than of “Christ in us.” “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne ,” Revelation 3:21 .

the beginning of our confidence ] The word hypostasis is here rendered confidence, as in Psalms 39:7 (“sure hope”). This meaning of the word (elsewhere rendered “substance,” to which it etymologically corresponds, 1:3, 11:1), is found only in later Greek. The expression “ beginning ” does not here imply anything inchoate or imperfect, but is merely in contrast with “end.”

stedfast unto the end ] See note on ver. 6.

16 . some, when they had heard, did provoke ] Rattier, “Who ( τίνες ) when they heard, embittered (Him)”? This is the reading of the Peshito. It would have been absurd to use the word “some” of 600,000 with only two exceptions, Numbers 14:38 ; Joshua 14:8 , Joshua 14:9 .

howbeit not all ] Rather, “Nay! was it not all?” (i.e. all except Caleb and Joshua). It is true that the rendering is not free from difficulty, since there seems to be no exact parallel to this use of ἀλλʼ οὐ . But it involves less harshness than the other.

17 . grieved ] Rather “indignant.” See ver. 10.

whose carcases ] To us the words read as though there were a deep and awful irony in this term ( κῶλα ), as though, “dying as it were gradually during their bodily life, they became walking corpses” (Delitzsch). It is doubtful, however, whether any such thought was in the mind of the writer. The word properly means “limbs” but is used by the LXX. for the Hebrew pegarim , “corpses” Numbers 14:29 .

fell ] Compare the use of the word in 1 Corinthians 10:8 .

18 . to them that believed not ] Rather, “that disobeyed .”

19 . So we see ] Lit. “ and we observe.” The translators of the A. V. seem by their version to regard the words as a logical inference from the previous reasoning. It is better, however, to regard them as the statement of a fact “we see by the argument,” or ex historia cognoscimus . Grotius. See Psalms 106:24-26 .

that they could not enter in ] They did make the attempt to enter, but failed because they lacked the power which only God could give them (Numbers 14:40-45 ).

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Hebrews 3". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/hebrews-3.html. 1896.