Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 5

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-10


The writer proceeded to take up the terms "merciful" and "faithful" from Hebrews 2:17 and to expound them in reverse order. He spoke of the faithfulness of Jesus (Hebrews 3:1-6, exposition) and the need for his hearers to remain faithful as well (Hebrews 3:7 to Hebrews 4:14, exhortation). He then encouraged his audience with a reminder of Jesus’ compassion as a merciful high priest in the service of God (Hebrews 4:15 to Hebrews 5:10, exposition).

D. The Compassion of the SON 4:15-5:10

Having explored the concept of Jesus as a faithful high priest (Hebrews 3:1 to Hebrews 4:14), the writer proceeded next to develop the idea that Jesus is a merciful high priest in the service of God (cf. Hebrews 2:17). A high priest must be faithful to God and compassionate with people. This section is entirely exposition, except for Hebrews 4:16, which is an exhortation to pray. Hebrews 4:15-16 of chapter 4 announce the perspectives that the writer developed in Hebrews 5:1-10.

"A The old office of high priest (Hebrews 5:1)

B The solidarity of the high priest with the people (Hebrews 5:2-3)

C The humility of the high priest (Hebrews 5:4)

C’ The humility of Christ (Hebrews 5:5-6)

B’ The solidarity of Christ with the people (Hebrews 5:7-8)

A’ The new office of high priest (Hebrews 5:9-10) . . .

"As a unit Hebrews 4:15 to Hebrews 5:10 lays the foundation for the great central exposition of Jesus’ priesthood in Hebrews 7:1 to Hebrews 10:18, where the emphasis will be placed on his dissimilarity to the Levitical priesthood." [Note: Ibid., p. 111.]

Verse 1

To qualify for the high priesthood in Israel one had to be a man. He also had to stand between God and people as their representative before Him. His services included presenting gifts (offerings) of worship and sacrifices for sin.

"Although it would be natural to distinguish between dora, ’gifts’ (i.e., peace and cereal offerings), and thysiai, ’sacrifices’ (i.e., the sin and trespass offerings), in later statements in the OT all sacrifices pertain to the procuring of atonement and the removal of sin (cf. Ezekiel 45:15-17). The bloody offerings for the Day of Atonement are in the foreground of the discussion of the sacrificial ministry of the Levitical high priest here and elsewhere in Hebrews (cf. Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 10:26)." [Note: Lane, p. 116.]

Exodus 28:1; Exodus 28:3; Exodus 29:1 stressed that the high priest was appointed for God, but in this verse the writer said that he was appointed for men. Both statements are true.

Verses 2-3

A high priest also had to be a compassionate person. This grew out of his own consciousness of being a sinner himself. In other words, he needed not only to carry out his duties acceptably, but he also needed to do so with the proper attitudes and feelings. "Deal gently with" (Gr. metriopathein) means neither indifferent to moral lapses nor harsh.

"Although nothing is said in the Old Testament about moral qualities [such as compassion], the writer has deduced this quality of gentle understanding from the basic fact that the high priest is essentially a man among men." [Note: Guthrie, p. 125.]

The evidence of Israel’s high priest’s sinfulness was the fact that he had to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for those of the people. Since Jesus Christ was sinless he did not need to do this (Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:27). However, Jesus Christ’s compassion exceeded that of other high priests.

Verse 4

Finally, a man could attain the high priesthood only by divine appointment.

"The essential nature of a high priest is that he should be chosen by God to act for his fellows in offering sacrifices related to the removal of sin." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 272.]

Only those whom God chose served in this office. These people were primarily Aaron and his successors. This ceased to be true after Israel lost her sovereignty as a nation, beginning with the Babylonian captivity. Then the high priesthood became a political appointment. However the writer was speaking of Israel as a sovereign nation. Disaster befell those individuals who took it upon themselves to perform high priestly duties without divine authorization (Korah, Numbers 16; Saul, 1 Samuel 13:8-14; Uzziah, 2 Chronicles 26:16-21). The writer stressed the essential humility of the high priest who stood in his privileged position only by divine appointment. He was not stressing the dignity of his office or the grandeur of his call to his office. [Note: Lane, p. 117.]

Verses 5-6

God appointed Christ as king-priest when He sat down at the right hand of God following His ascension (Hebrews 1:5). The title "Christ" (Anointed One) stresses our Lord’s humility. As the Anointed of God, Jesus (cf. Hebrews 4:14) did not exalt Himself as He might well have done. [Note: Guthrie, p. 127.] These two offices and functions were primary in the writer’s argument in this epistle. Psalms 2:7-9 and Psalms 110:1 (cf. Hebrews 1:13) predicted Messiah’s reign. Psalms 110:4 also predicted His priesthood. The same God who appointed Jesus as His Son also appointed Him high priest forever (cf. Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21; Hebrews 7:24; Hebrews 7:28). We have a great high priest, Jesus the Son of God, and it is as He is Son that He carries out His vocation of high priest. [Note: Moffatt, p. 64.] No other New Testament writer referred to Psalms 110:4, but this writer quoted it three times (cf. Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21) and alluded to it eight more times (in chs. 5-7). [Note: See D. M. Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalms 110 in Early Christianity, pp. 46-47.]

"The appeal to Melchizedek, who as the first priest mentioned in Scripture is the archetype of all priesthood, validates Jesus’ priesthood as different from and superior to the Levitical priesthood." [Note: Lane, p. 123.]

"When . . . Jerusalem fell into David’s hands and became his capital city (2 Samuel 5:6 ff.), he and his heirs became successors to Melchizedek’s kingship, and probably also (in a titular capacity at least) to the priesthood of God Most High." [Note: Bruce, pp. 95-96.]

"All that a priest does in offering sacrifice for men Christ does. But whereas they do it only symbolically, he really effects atonement.

"There was no succession of priests from Melchizedek and thus no ’order.’ Jesus, however, was a priest of this kind-not like Aaron and his successors." [Note: Morris, p. 49.]

Verse 7

The phrase "days of his flesh [Gr. sarx]" draws attention to the weakness that characterized Jesus’ life during His earthly sojourn. Jesus’ offerings to God (cf. Hebrews 5:1) included His prayers and petitions. Specifically, Jesus’ prayers from Gethsemane and the cross that were part of His offering of worship and expiation to God illustrate this (cf. Psalms 22:22-24; Hebrews 2:12). However, Jesus’ entire passion ministry is probably in view here. [Note: Lane, p. 120.] God heard and granted Jesus’ prayers, the evidence of which is Jesus’ resurrection (cf. Psalms 22:22-31). "Piety" means reverent submission, godly fear, and trust. Jesus’ prayers show His ability to sympathize with those He represents (Hebrews 5:2-3; cf. John 17). The writer of Hebrews said more about Jesus’ priestly ministry than any other New Testament writer. [Note: See Manson, pp. 109-10.]

Verse 8

Even though Jesus was the Son of God (Son though He was), and as such perfect in one sense, He gained something through His sufferings. He gained experiential knowledge of what being a human involves. Similarly Jesus grew in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). He learned obedience in the sense that He learned to obey His father’s will as a human. For Jesus, God’s will involved suffering (cf. Philippians 2:6-8).

"Innocence is life untested, but virtue is innocence tested and triumphant." [Note: Thomas, p. 64.]

"Here the remarkable thing is that Jesus had to suffer, not because but although he was huios [son], which shows that Jesus is Son in a unique sense; as applied to Jesus huios means something special. As divine huios in the sense of I1f [Hebrews 1:1-2], it might have been expected that he would be exempt from such a discipline." [Note: Moffatt, p. 66.]

Verse 9

This experience perfected Jesus Christ in the sense that it completed Him by giving Him experiential knowledge of what human beings must endure. Obeying God means trusting Him (cf. John 6:29; Acts 6:7; Romans 10:16; 1 Peter 1:22). Jesus is, of course, the source of eternal, not just temporal, salvation to all who initially believe on Him. However, in view of the writer’s emphasis, it may be that he was also referring here to the ultimate aspect of our salvation, our eternal inheritance (Hebrews 1:14; Hebrews 9:15). We obtain this to the extent that we "obey" God, and obey Him through suffering as Jesus did (cf. Mark 8:34-35). [Note: Cf. Dillow, p. 132.] A major reason that early Jewish Christians suffered was because they chose to follow Christ. Likewise today all Christians face temptation to play down our commitment to Christ in the face of persecution of various kinds. Jesus Christ is the source (cause) of our inheritance not only because it comes from Him, but also because as our file leader He has blazed a trail through suffering for us (Hebrews 2:10). He is also the source of our inheritance because as our High Priest He provides what we need to live obediently to God.

"It is a nice touch that he who learned to obey brought salvation to those who obey." [Note: Morris, p. 50.]

Verse 10

It was for this purpose, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest, that God appointed Jesus as our High Priest. The writer developed the subject of the order of Melchizedek later (ch. 7).

Jesus Christ is not only superior to angels (Hebrews 1:5-14) and Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6) but also Aaron (Hebrews 5:1-10).

"The orientation given to the exposition is intensely practical. The solidarity of the heavenly high priest with the community in its weakness provides a strong motivation for earnest prayer. The demand to draw near to the one who is thoroughly familiar with the human condition, who suffers with their suffering, and who is therefore qualified to mediate renewed strength (Hebrews 4:15-16) is an appeal to recognize the importance of prayer in the rhythm of Christian life." [Note: Lane, p. 123.]

Verse 11

"Him" refers to Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:10; cf. Hebrews 6:20 to Hebrews 10:18). Evidently the original readers had begun to let their minds wander as they heard the same things repeatedly. Rather than listening carefully, hearing completely, and comprehending clearly, they had become mentally and spiritually dull in their hearing. They were not slow learners but had allowed themselves to grow lazy. A spiritual callus was growing over their ears.

"Deafness or dullness in receptivity is a dangerous condition for those who have been called to radical obedience. The importance of responsible listening has been stressed repeatedly in the sermon (Hebrews 2:1 . . .; cf. Hebrews 3:7-8, Hebrews 3:15; Hebrews 4:1-2; Hebrews 4:7 b)." [Note: Lane, p. 136.]

"One of the first symptoms of spiritual regression, or backsliding, is a dullness toward the Bible. Sunday School class is dull, the preaching is dull, anything spiritual is dull. The problem is usually not with the Sunday School teacher or the pastor, but with the believer himself." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:294.]

Verses 11-12

A. The Danger of Immaturity (The Third Warning) 5:11-6:12

"Dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11) and "sluggish" (Hebrews 6:12, Gr. nothroi in both cases) form an inclusio that frames this pericope and sets it off as a distinct textual segment. This Greek word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The first two warnings in Hebrews were against drifting (Hebrews 2:1-4) and disbelief (Hebrews 3:7-19). All the warning passages in Hebrews involve actions in relation to the Word of God.

"It is commonly assumed on the basis of Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:3 that the community addressed had failed to mature in faith and understanding, and consequently required rudimentary instruction rather than the advanced exposition of Christ’s priesthood and sacrifice presented in Hebrews 7:1 to Hebrews 10:18. The problem with this reconstruction of the situation is that it is not supported by the detail of the text. The biblical interpretation and the presentation of christology in Hebrews 1:1 to Hebrews 5:10 presuppose advanced Christian instruction and a level of understanding that corresponds to the adult consumption of solid food and not to a diet of milk. In addition, the writer shows no inclination to review with his hearers the foundational elements of the Christian faith [Hebrews 6:1]. He clearly regarded the hearers as mature. He reminds them that they have ingested over a considerable period of time the instruction that qualified them to be the teachers of others (Hebrews 5:12). Consequently, the portrayal of them as infants who have to be nurtured with milk is not an actual description of some or all of the members of the community. It is irony, calculated to shame them and to recall them to the stance of conviction and boldness consonant with their experience (Hebrews 6:4-5; Hebrews 6:10) and hope (Hebrews 6:9-12). The community has deviated from its earlier course (cf. Hebrews 10:32-34) by becoming sluggish in understanding (Hebrews 5:12). Their regression to infancy must represent a quite recent development. It was apparently an attempt to sidestep their responsibility in a world that persecuted them and held them in contempt, but it threatened their integrity. The purpose of Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:12 is to preserve the community from such aberration by reminding them of what they have experienced and what they possess through the gospel . . ." [Note: Lane, p. 135. For defense of the view that Jesus is the object of faith in this passage, and not just our model and enabler of faith, see Victor (Sung-Yul) Rhee, "Christology and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 5:11-6:20," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:1 (March 2000):83-96.]

"If you keep in mind that the emphasis in this section is on making spiritual progress, you will steer safely through misinterpretations that could create problems." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:294.]

Verses 11-14

1. The readers’ condition 5:11-14

Verses 11-39


The transition from exposition (Hebrews 4:15 to Hebrews 5:10) to exhortation (Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:20) marks the beginning of a new division in this sermon. The structure of this division is as follows. [Note: Ibid., p. 128.]

a Preliminary exhortation (Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:20)

A The priest who is like Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-28)

B The single, personal sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 8:1 to Hebrews 9:28)

C The achievement of eternal salvation (Hebrews 10:1-18)

a’ Concluding exhortation (Hebrews 10:19-39)

A major theme of Hebrews, redemptive sacrifice, now comes into prominence in this section of the text.

Verse 12

Every Christian becomes capable of instructing others when he or she learns the elementary truths of the faith. This is true whether one has the gift of teaching (i.e., the ability to communicate with unusual clarity and effectiveness) or not. However, when we fail to pass on what we know, we begin to lose what we know. Eventually, we may need to relearn the most basic teachings of Scripture. When we stop growing, we start shrinking. We do not just stay the same.

"Christians who have really progressed in the faith ought to be able to instruct others (as 1 Peter 3:15 shows; cf. Romans 2:21)." [Note: Morris, p. 51.]

Verse 13

Immature babies consume only milk. They cannot chew and assimilate solid food because they are immature. Comparing milk and solid food was very common in Greek ethical philosophy. [Note: Moffatt, pp. 70-71.] Thus the readers would have had no question about the writer’s meaning. Similarly immature Christians take in only the basics of the gospel because they cannot receive and assimilate the more advanced aspects of the faith. They cannot do this because they have not tried repeatedly (practiced) to understand and apply these more advanced truths. This is a picture of Christians who have been content to know and practice only the most elementary lessons of their faith. They are too lazy to do what is necessary to grow. Of course, even mature adults continue to need milk, which is pre-digested food, but they can also eat solid food.

Verse 14

The writer’s point in these verses is not just that spiritual babies lack information, which they do, but that they lack experience. A person becomes a mature Christian not only by gaining information, though that is foundational, but by using that information to make decisions that are in harmony with God’s will. "The word of righteousness" (Hebrews 5:13) is the solid food that results in righteous behavior. In this context the "solid food" must refer to instruction about the high priestly office of Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 7:1 to Hebrews 10:18). Practice is essential for maturity. Consequently a new Christian cannot be mature even though he or she follows the leading of the Spirit (i.e., is "spiritual," cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14 to 1 Corinthians 3:3).

"Spiritual maturity comes neither from isolated events nor from a great spiritual burst. It comes from a steady application of spiritual discipline." [Note: Guthrie, p. 136.]

The readers were in danger of not comprehending what the writer had to tell them because they had not put what they did understand into practice in their lives. Instead, they were thinking of departing from the truth.

"As we grow in the Word, we learn to use it in daily life. As we apply the Word, we exercise our ’spiritual senses’ and develop spiritual discernment. It is a characteristic of little children that they lack discernment. A baby will put anything into its mouth. An immature believer will listen to any preacher on the radio or television and not be able to identify whether or not he is true to the Scriptures." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:295.]

This section gives four marks of spiritual immaturity: laziness (dullness) toward the Word (Hebrews 5:11), inability to teach the Word to others (Hebrews 5:12), a diet of only elementary truths in the Word (Hebrews 5:12-13), and lack of skill in applying the Word (Hebrews 5:14). As with the muscles in our bodies, if we do not use what we have gained spiritually we will lose it (cf. 2 Peter 3:18).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hebrews 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.