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Hebrews 5

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Qualities of the High Priest 5:1-10

In this chapter, Paul begins a long explanation of the high priesthood under the law of Moses. It gives several major points about the high priesthood and how it is a type of Jesus as High Priest:

1. The high priest is always taken from among men that he may be able to deal compassionately with man (verses 1-3).

2. The high priest is not self-appointed, but he is called of God (verse 4).

3. Jesus Christ, as the great High Priest, received His priesthood from God (verses 5-6).

4. Jesus Christ was made perfect for His priestly work by having to wrestle with the fear of death and learning obedience (verses 7-10).

Verse 1

For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:

For: The word "For" links this chapter with verses 15 and 16 of chapter four regarding Jesus as High Priest, a reference the writer has used several times already in this epistle. For example, he refers to His priesthood in chapter one, verse 3, where he acknowledges Jesus "had by himself purged our sins." Jesus actually became the sin offering. Many other high priests offered sacrifices for the sins of the people, but only Jesus sacrificed Himself. Paul says, "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (2:9). In this act, the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood over other high priests is established. Not only did He become a man in every aspect but also He experienced death for every man. Being fashioned as a man in all points allowed Jesus to understand man and to sympathize with him. Paul, speaking of Jesus’ superior priesthood, says:

Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted (2:17-18).

Jesus, our High Priest, is similar to Moses in many ways; however, His priesthood far exceeds Moses’ because of His position as Son. Paul again speaks of Jesus’ superior priesthood:

Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house. For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end (3:1-6).

Jesus, as High Priest, has sacrificed Himself and has taken His seat at the right hand of God in heaven. Speaking again of Jesus’ lofty priesthood that supplies mercy and grace, Paul says:

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (4:14-16).

every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God: There are three distinctive facts about high priests: they were men, they served man’s spiritual needs, and they served men in things pertaining to God.

Fact 1: All priests came from men. "The participle here is not attributive (’who is taken,’ as if there might be priests that were not); but predicative, ’as being taken,’ (or) since he is taken" (Kendrick 66). Paul is saying that Jesus, as well as every other "high priest" (archiereus), is "taken" (lambano) or "select(ed)" from among men (Thayer 371).

Fact 2: High priests were not only taken from among men but they were "ordained" (kathistemi) for man or, as Thayer says, he was "put (in his position) on behalf of man, to conduct the worship of God" (Thayer 314).

Fact 3: High priests were ordained "for men in things pertaining to God." Paul’s point is that "every high priest" (Jesus, as well as all other high priests) was a mediator between man and God. The central function of the high priest was to make offerings to God for man’s sins.

that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: High priests were responsible to "offer" gifts for man. The words "may offer" (prosphero) mean "to bring" (Thayer 550); thus, Paul says the high priests were to bring "gifts" (doron) for man’s sins. The phrase "gifts and sacrifices" is inclusive of all sacrifices offered by high priests. The word "gifts" (doron) in this context refers to offerings without slaughter. As well, high priests were responsible for bringing "sacrifices for sins." The term "sacrifices" (thusia) means a "victim" (Thayer 294) and refers to "bloody sacrifices" (Vincent 432) offered for the forgiveness of sins.

Verse 2

Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.

Who can have compassion: Paul now addresses the human side of the high priest, who had to be one who had well-balanced emotions and showed "compassion" toward man. The word "compassion" (metriopatheo) means to be "tender" (Vincent 433) or "to be affected moderately or in due measure; to preserve moderation in the passions, esp. in anger or grief" (Thayer 407). The high priest, therefore, had to be one who was neither too severe nor too tolerant, who was neither too harsh nor uncaring when people sin, who was not excessively disturbed by man’s mistakes and faults, and who showed "compassion" for man in spite of his human frailties. In his Word Studies in the New Testament, Vincent explains the trait of "compassion" saying, "The high priest must not be betrayed into irritation at sin and ignorance, neither must he be weakly indulgent" (433). Dods explains that every high priest had to control his emotions regarding every person who sins:

If the priest is cordially to plead with God for the sinner, he must bridle his natural disgust at the loathsomeness of sensuality, his impatience at the frequently recurring fall, his hopeless alienation from the hypocrite and the superficial, his indignation at any confession he hears from the penitent (286).

on the ignorant: The apostle mentions two areas of man’s human frailties for which the high priest had to show compassion: on the "ignorant" (agnoe), meaning "to sin through mistake" (Thayer 8), and in sins of "sudden passion" (Robertson 368). The emphasis here is that every sin committed is not done intentionally or willfully; therefore, the high priest had to have compassion on those who accidentally sin.

and on them that are out of the way: The high priest also had to show compassion on those who were "out of the way" (planao), denoting those who were "led aside from the path of virtue, to go astray, sin" (Thayer 514). This reference is to those who sin deliberately. They consider what they are doing, they understand the consequences of their actions, but they commit the sin anyway. They deliberately and intentionally do things contrary to scriptural teaching. Paul gives examples of this type of sin when he says, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (3:12). Paul, later in this epistle, explains the consequences of willfully departing from Jesus and His instructions when he says, "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (10:26).

for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity: In these words, Paul shows an imperfection in the Old Testament priesthood. They were imperfect because they, just as all Jews, committed sin. The pronoun "he" refers to the high priest, who, Paul says, is "compassed with infirmity." The term "compassed" (perikeimai) means to "have round one" (Thayer 503) and is used in the sense of being clothed or wearing a garment; thus, Paul is saying the high priest had to have compassion on others for their human frailties because they (high priests) were humans and they also were clothed with "infirmity" (astheneia) or "weakness" (Thayer 80).

Verse 3

And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.

Other versions of the Bible give a clearer idea of the meaning of "And by reason hereof he ought." For example, the New International Version renders it: "This is why he has to offer"; or as The New Revised Standard Version says, "and because of this he must…." The Revised Standard Version records, "Because of this he is bound...." The New American Standard says, "and because of it he is obligated. " Paul’s message is that the high priest was enwrapped with sins and weaknesses just as were the people for whom he mediated; therefore, he "ought" (opheilo), that is, he was "bound by duty or necessity" (Thayer 469) to offer atonement sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of others.

Unlike every other high priest, Jesus is without sin; but He still offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all so that He could "bear the sins of many" (9:28).

Verse 4

And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.

And no man taketh this honour unto himself: The word "honour" (time) refers to "the honor which one has by reason of the rank and state of the office which he holds" (Thayer 624). No man had ever become a priest by his own volition. No high priest, Paul emphasizes, assumed his office to gratify his own ambition; his actions were to please God.

An additional reason for trusting in the priest is that he has not assumed the office to gratify his own ambition but to serve God’s purpose of restoring men to His fellowship. All genuine priesthood is the carrying out of God’s will. The priest must above all else be obedient, in sympathy with God as well as in sympathy with man (Dods 287).

but he that is called of God, as was Aaron: To be "called" (kaleo) means "to assume some office" and contextually refers to God’s "appointing" (Thayer 321) one to the office of high priest. Paul is saying that every high priest was called by God as Aaron was (Exodus 28:1). Aaron is named here only as an example of how every high priest was chosen. What was true of Aaron was true of every other high priest.

Verse 5

So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.

So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest: The qualifications of a high priest are also found in Jesus in their most perfect sense. Paul says Jesus did not presumptuously glorify Himself as a high priest. The word "glorified" (doxazo) means "to render illustrious, i.e. to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged" (Thayer 157), indicating Jesus did not assume any office or position. Alford agrees that "the word glorified contains in it the whole process of exaltation [through suffering] by which the Lord Jesus has attained the heavenly High Priesthood. This whole process was not his own work, but the Father’s" (The New Testament for English Readers 1487). Jesus says, "If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God" (John 8:54).

but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee: Paul proves Jesus’ sonship by quoting the psalmist: "I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee" (Psalms 2:7). The pronoun "he" refers to God the Father, and the pronoun "him" refers to Jesus Christ; thus, Paul shows that God prepared the way for Jesus to be High Priest by exalting Him to the heavenly sonship. Vincent, quoting F.F. Bruce’s scholarly words, ties together Jesus’ sonship and priesthood, saying:

Christ’s priestly vocation ceases to be an accident in his history, and becomes an essential characteristic of his position as Son: sonship, Christhood, priestliness, inseparably interwoven (434).

Verse 6

As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

By the words, "As he saith also in another place," Paul is referring to Psalms 110:4. The priesthood of Jesus was divinely and prophetically bequeathed. He did not place Himself in the position of High Priest any more than He positioned Himself in equality with God. While encouraging the saints in Philippi to become more like Jesus, Paul says:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:5-7).

Because of His obedience to God, His humility, and His willingness to die for the sins of man, Jesus was chosen by the Father, just as Aaron was, to the positions He held as King, High Priest, and Son. Speaking of Jesus, Paul says:

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-11).

The statement that Jesus is a priest "for ever after the order of Melchisedec" needs little explanation because Paul explains it later in this epistle:

For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life (7:14-16).

The apostle’s idea is that Jesus’ priesthood, while having some similarities to Aaron’s priesthood, has more similarities to the priesthood of Melchisedec, king of Salem and priest of the most high God, who lived during the days of Abraham. Paul emphasizes the eternal nature of Jesus’ priesthood by saying His priesthood will be "for ever." The same message is preached to the churches in Antioch:

And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption (Acts 13:34-37).

The eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ also allows continual salvation for the people who come to God. Later in this epistle, Paul writes:

And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them (7:23-25).

Paul is emphasizing the eternal nature of Jesus’ priesthood in hopes of helping these Hebrew Christians to remain faithful to Him and to His teaching. If they leave Jesus, they will also leave the hope of salvation.

Verse 7

Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;

Who in the days of his flesh: "In the days of his flesh" is an affectionate statement referring to the earthly mortal life of Jesus, the Christ. The term "flesh" (sarx) here refers "to (being) prompted and governed by the flesh" (Thayer 570). Paul’s purpose is to draw attention to Jesus’ human frailties (the temptations He underwent, the suffering He bore, and the death He endured). Jesus endured these things between the time He descended from the Father’s throne and the time that He ascended to heaven fifty days after His resurrection. Kendrick is correct in his explanation, saying that the expression "the days of his flesh":

…mark a period bounded on both sides by a high and glorious existence. With other men, being in the flesh is matter of necessity; it is the condition of their existence. With the Son of man it was purely voluntary….The author, again, does not say, "during the days of his flesh." He is not going to portray the course of our Lord’s earthly life, but only one single striking and representative scene in it. He selects as especially appropriate to his purpose the scene in Gethsemane, as illustrating with pre-eminent force both the conflict and the triumph by which our Lord acquired his moral perfection as high priest (68).

when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death: This reference is to one intense scene in the life of Jesus: His agony in Gethsemane when He says He "offered" up prayers and supplication with strong crying and tears. "There are three kinds of prayers, each loftier than the preceding: prayer, crying, and tears. Prayer is silent, crying with raised voice, tears overcome all things" (Dods 288). The words "prayers" (deesis) and "supplications" (hiketeria) are basically synonymous terms and are used together for emphasis. Jesus prayed often; however, it was not a habitual practice for His prayers to include strong crying and tears. This reference to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane where He contemplated the anguish He was soon to bear, is pictured as pleading with God who was able to save Him from death. Paul says Jesus’ prayers involved "strong" (ischuros) crying, suggesting He was not merely weeping but that His crying was "forcibly uttered" (Thayer 2478). The word "crying" (krauge) is defined as "the wailing of those in distress" (Thayer 359). Jesus prayed this heart-wrenching prayer begging God, the Father "to save him from death." The word "save" (sozo) means to be saved out of death, that is, "to bring safe forth from" (Thayer 610); and the term "death" (thanatos) signifies "to free from the fear of death, to enable one to undergo death fearlessly" (Thayer 282); therefore, in this context, Jesus was not begging that He would not have to die for the sins of man because He was willing to die; that was His purpose in leaving heaven and coming to earth. As any man would, however, He dreaded and feared the agony He was about to undergo; thus, this prayer was His plea to God to remove His fear of death. Luke says Jesus prayed, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done (Luke 22:42). Immediately after this prayer, "there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him" (Luke 22:43). Jesus, as man, needed to be strengthened because, as Luke records: "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44).

and was heard in that he feared: The term "heard" (eisakouo) means "to have one’s request granted" (Thayer 187). The word "feared" (eulabeia), showing His humanity, refers to "reverence towards God, godly fear, piety" (Thayer 259). Jesus’ prayer was granted; yet He died, proving He was not necessarily praying to be saved from dying. His prayer was sincere, He showed godly fear and reverence to God the Father, and He prayed for God’s will to be accomplished (Luke 22:42); therefore, His prayer for God to remove the fear of death from Him was granted when the angel came and strengthened Him (Luke 22:43). Vincent, explaining the purpose of Jesus’ prayer, is correct when he suggests Jesus may have had multiple thoughts in mind and may have been thinking of the fear of the anguish He was to bear as He prayed that God would deliver Him from death:

He was heard, for his prayer was answered, whatever it may have been. God was able to save him from death altogether. He did not do this. He was able to sustain him under the anguish of death, and to give him strength to suffer the Father’s will: he was also able to deliver him from death by resurrection: both these he did. It is not impossible that both these may be combined in the statement he was heard (435).

God, through the angel, did not remove Jesus’ physical death—Jesus died so that the will of God would be done, but He was strengthened so that He would be able to endure the terrible conflict facing Him. John says:

And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die (John 12:23-33).

Verse 8

Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;

Jesus, even though He is the Son of God, yielded to that which He dreaded—a horrifying and excruciating death. Jesus never considered the possibility of disobeying God; His willingness to endure the cross showed "obedience" (hupakoe), that is, His willingness to die on the cross showed "compliance" or "submission" (Thayer 637) to God’s will. Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees in the temple, says:

When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him (John 8:28-29).

Jesus learned obedience by His submission to God’s will. In Hebrews, the apostle writes:

In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (10:6-10).

Jesus’ learning about obedience was an essential part of His humanity as He was in training for His office of High Priest. He did not become High Priest by conceited or condescending aspiration, but through submission to God’s will. Alford correctly explains:

Christ was a Son: as a Son, He was ever obedient, and ever in union with His Father’s will: but His special obedience, that course of submission by which He became perfected as our High Priest, was gone through in Time, and matter of acquirement for Him, and practice, by suffering (The New Testament for English Readers 1489).

Verse 9

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;

And being made perfect: The fundamental idea of Jesus’ being made "perfect" (teleioo) is that He reached the goal of God’s expectation; therefore, God exalted Him "to the state of heavenly majesty" (Thayer 619). Later in this epistle, Paul, proving that Jesus’ gospel is superior to the teaching of the Old Testament, says:

For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God (7:19)….For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect….For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified (10:1, 14)….God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect (11:40)….To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect (12:23).

he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him: The word "author" (aitios) refers to "that in which the cause of anything resides" (Thayer 18). The apostle ties "salvation" in this verse to "save" in verse 7 and "obey" in this verse to Jesus’ "obedience" in verse 8. The situation he wants his readers to grasp is that if Jesus—the Messiah, the Son, the King, the High Priest—must learn obedience, so must His followers learn obedience. Paul emphasizes that because of the death of Jesus, He became the contributory factor of "eternal salvation" to every man who will "obey" (hupakouo) or "submit" to His teachings (Thayer 638). Paul’s point is that Jesus, because of His perfect obedience, is the source of salvation to every person who obeys Him. This is the same message Paul has for the Christians in Rome: "For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one (Jesus) shall many be made righteous" (Romans 5:19).

Verse 10

Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.

The word "called" (prosagoreuo) means that Jesus was "address(ed) by some name" (Thayer 543). In this passage Paul says He was addressed or saluted by God as "an high priest after the order of Melchisedec." After the "order" (taxis) means to "become equivalent to character, fashion, quality, (and) style" of Melchisedec’s priesthood (Thayer 614).

Jesus, just as Melchisedec, held two offices: both were "high priests" and both were "kings." Kendrick is correct in explaining that the Apostle Paul compares and then ties together Aaron’s priesthood and Melchisedec’s priesthood:

The author, by calling him "high priest after the order of Melchisedec," unites the qualities of both the priesthoods—the regal, untransferable, abiding priesthood represented by Melchisedec, and the expiatory, interceding priesthood symbolized by Aaron. With the one, he treads the heavenly courts in kingly majesty; with the other, he brings an efficient offering (71).

Verse 11

Consequences of Apostasy

Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.

Of whom we have many things to say: It appears the apostle is about to enter into a comparison between Jesus’ priesthood and the priesthood of Melchisedec; however, as is done so often in his writings, Paul deviates (from 5:11 to 6:20) from this subject to issue an admonition to his readers for their departing from Christ. The study of Melchisedec’s priesthood will be picked up again in chapter seven.

The pronoun "we" refers to the Apostle Paul as the writer. "Of whom" does not refer to Melchisedec, but to Jesus or more specifically to Jesus’ priesthood that has been briefly compared to Aaron’s priesthood and to the priesthood of Melchisedec.

and hard to be uttered: The expression "hard to be uttered" (dusermeneutos) does not suggest Paul has difficulty expressing himself, but he is speaking of Jesus’ doctrinal matters that are "hard to interpret" or "difficult of explanation" (Thayer 160) to those who are not growing spiritually. It is difficult, Paul says, to explain the teaching of Jesus to those who are "dull of hearing." The New International Version translates verse 11 clearer than the King James, saying, "We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn." The difficulty is not the subject matter but the unpreparedness of his readers because of their lack of Christian growth.

seeing ye are dull of hearing: The Hebrew Christians have not grown spiritually as they should have. Paul says that for a Christian not to advance in his Christian life is to be in danger of slipping back; therefore, he explains to them that he cannot teach them the more complicated matters of Christianity because "seeing" (epei) or "since" (Thayer 229) they are "dull of hearing." To be "dull" (nothros) of hearing is an indictment of these readers; they are "sluggish, indolent" (Thayer 431). The Hebrew Christians have become lethargic, that is, wavering in their perseverance in Jesus and wavering on many spiritual truths about Jesus. As he will explain in the next verse, these truths are not complicated teachings about the Christian life; rather they are the simpler teachings about Jesus. They are not merely stagnant and inactive; instead, they have regressed. There was a time when they were thriving in their Christian lives; however, they have now started slipping away from the Master’s teaching.

The Christian life is one of continual growth and development in spiritual knowledge. A lack of knowledge is a serious danger sign in the lives of all Christians. Paul writes a similar message to the Christians in Galatia when he says, "But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?" (Galatians 4:9). The lack of growth in knowledge causes Christians to backslide to their former lives. The Apostle Peter writes the same message when he warns Christians in his second epistle:

Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:17-18).

Verse 12

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers: Verse 12 is Paul’s proof that the Hebrew Christians are "dull of hearing" because they lack spiritual growth. If they were not dull of hearing, they would have grown in knowledge. Every Christian’s knowledge should consistently increase; and, as his knowledge increases, he is expected to assist other Christians who have not reached the same level of understanding of Jesus’ teaching. For example, the length of time that Paul’s readers have been Christians (possibly twenty or thirty years) is long enough that they should have grown in knowledge and should be teaching other Christians. Later in his epistle, Paul reminds his readers of the days when they were true to Christ and were living Christian lives. He says, "But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions" (10:32). By now, they should have advanced in knowledge, but they have not; instead, they have digressed and have begun to slip away from the rudiments of Jesus’ teaching.

ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God: Instead of being able to teach others, Paul’s readers need to be re-taught the "first principles," that is, the initial teachings, of Christ. These people are Christians; they are not as those about whom Paul writes to Timothy who were "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7). These Hebrew Christians have come to the knowledge of the truth, but they are on the verge of leaving Jesus and His teaching. The word "principles" (stoicheion) means "the rudiments, primary and fundamental principles" (Thayer 589). The term "oracles" (logion), referring to the "utterances of God," denotes "the substance of the Christian religion" (Thayer 379). These Christians need to be taught again the basic doctrine of Christianity. Not only were they not able to teach these basic doctrines; they apparently have forgotten them.

and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat: The word "milk" (gala) is a metaphor referring to the rudiments or "the less difficult truths of the Christian religion" (Thayer 108). Likewise, Paul uses the metaphor "strong meat" (stereos trophe) to refer to the more advanced truths presented by the Lord. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul gives similar teaching, saying they are not spiritually mature but are babes: "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able" (1 Corinthians 3:2). Just as the Corinthians needed the deeper doctrines of Christ, so do the Hebrews.

Verse 13

For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

A Christian’s spiritual growth is compared to a human’s physical growth. Those who "useth" (metecho) or "partakes of" (Thayer 407) only milk receive nourishment (metaphorically) from only the elementary teachings of Christ and are compared to a "babe," one who is "untaught" (Thayer 425). They, therefore, are spoken of as being "unskillful" (apeiros), meaning they are "inexperienced" (Thayer 56) in the "word of righteousness." Thayer says "the word of righteousness" refers to "the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain to a state approved of God" (149). By the phrase "the word of righteousness," Paul probably refers to all moral truth coming from Jesus. These would be the words spoken by the Son that Paul refers to when he says, "Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds" (1:2). Later, in chapter two, Paul warns of the dangers of neglecting the Lord’s teaching, saying, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him" (2:3).

Verse 14

But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

If Christians have grown spiritually, they are compared to humans who are of "full age" (teleios), indicating they are "mature" (Thayer 618) and capable of solid food. Spiritually speaking, they are adult men and women who have learned God’s word to the point that they can discriminate between what is good and what is evil. A true Christian is one who is capable of making good moral judgments. In this verse, Paul emphasizes that he is speaking of those who by "reason of use" (diav hexis) have matured, referring to their "power acquired by custom, practice, (or) use" (Thayer 224). He has reference to the spiritual faculties of discernment or awareness. These Christians would be those who are growing spiritually as proved by their learning the truths about Jesus Christ; therefore, they are able to teach others the distinction between things that are "good" and things that are "evil," things that are true and things that are false. Dods’ conclusion is right on target when he says "the first evidence of maturity…is ability to teach; the second, trained discernment of what is wholesome in doctrine" (293).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Hebrews 5". "Contending for the Faith". 1993-2022.