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Tuesday, May 28th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 13

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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In this chapter we find exhortations apparently springing out of a desire to arrest symptoms of a tendency to hide their Christian profession disowning their teachers and fellow Christians and resenting the shame and hardship incident to the following of Christ.

Verses 1-6

Hebrews 13:1-6 . Exhortations to social manifestations of their Christianity. Ἡ φιλαδελφία μενέτω . “Let love of the brethren continue”; it existed (Hebrews 6:10 ) and so, as Chrys. says, he does not write Γίνεσθε φιλάδελφοι , ἀλλὰ , μενέτω ἡ φιλ . In the general decay of their faith tendencies to disown Christian fellowship had become apparent, Hebrews 10:24-25 . This might also lead to a failure to recognise the wants of Christians coming from a distance, therefore hospitality is urged; not as a duty they did not already practise, but, gently, as that which they might omit through forgetfulness and as that which might bring them a message from God: τῆς φιλοξενίας μὴ ἐπιλανθάνεσθε , “Entertainment of strangers do not neglect; for thus some have entertained angels unawares,” as in Genesis 18-19; Judges 6:11-24 ; Judges 13:2-23 [For testimonies to the hospitality of Christians Bleek refers to Lucian, De Morte Peregrin. , chap. 16 and to the 49th Epistle of Julian. On the hospitality of the East see Palgrave’s Essays , p. 246 7.] ἔλαθόν τινες ξενίσαντες though a common classical idiom, occurs nowhere else in the N.T. Some of their fellow Christians might be in even more needy circumstances and therefore.

Verse 3

Hebrews 13:3 . μιμνήσκεσθε (Hebrews 2:6 ) τῶν δεσμίων (Hebrews 10:34 ), “Be mindful of those in bonds” (Matthew 25:36 ). This also they had already done (Hebrews 10:34 ). The motive now urged is contained in the words ὡς συνδεδεμένοι , “as having been bound with them,” as fellow-prisoners. The ὡς ἐν σώματι of the next clause might invite the interpretation, “for we also are bound as well as they,” and colour might be given to this by the Epistle to Diognetus, chap. 6. χριστιανοὶ κατέχονται μὲν ὡς ἐν φρουρᾷ τῷ κόσμῳ ; but more likely the expression is merely a strong way of saying that all the members of Christ’s body suffer with each, 1 Corinthians 12:26 . τῶν κακουχουμένων , “the maltreated,” cf. Hebrews 11:37 ; you must be mindful of these “as being yourselves also in the body,” i.e. , not emancipated spirits, and therefore liable to similar ill-usage and capable of sympathy. [A striking illustration of the manner in which the early Christians obeyed these admonitions may be found in the Apology of Aristides: ξένον ἐὰν ἴδωσιν , ὑπὸ στέγην εἰσάγουσι καὶ χαίρουσιν ἐπʼ αὐτῷ ὡς ἐπὶ ἀδελφῷ ἀληθινῷ · οὐ γὰρ κατὰ σάρκα ἀδελφοὺς ἑαυτοὺς καλοῦσιν , ἀλλὰ κατὰ ψυχήν . The Syriac Apology adds “If they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs”. Accordingly in the Martyrdom of Perpetua we read that two deacons were appointed to visit her and relieve the severity of her imprisonment.] It is interesting to find that Philo claims for Moses a φιλαδεφία towards strangers, enjoining sympathy, ὡς ἐν διαιρετοῖς μέρεσιν ἕν ζῶον , as being all one living creature though in diverse parts; and in De Spec. Legg . 30 he has ὡς ἐν τοῖς ἑτέρων σώμασιν αὐτοὶ κακούμενοι . Westcott gives from early Christian documents a collection of interesting prayers for those suffering imprisonment.

Verse 4

Hebrews 13:4 . τίμιος ὁ γάμος ἐν πᾶσιν . “Is ἔστω or ἐστὶ to be supplied?” Probably the former, as in Hebrews 13:5 , “Let marriage be held in honour among all”. As a natural result of holding marriage in honour, its ideal sanctity will be violated neither by the married nor by the unmarried. Therefore the καὶ links the two clauses closely together and has some inferential force, “and thus let the bed be undefiled” [ μιαίνειν τὴν κοίτην occurs in Plutarch to denote the violation of conjugal relations. Used with γυναῖκα in Ezekiel 18:6 ; Ezekiel 23:17 ]. The next clause shows in what sense the words are to be taken. William Penn’s saying must also be kept in view: “If a man pays his tailor but debauches his wife, is he a current moralist?” For marriage as a preventative against vice, cf. 1 Corinthians 7:0 and 1 Thessalonians 4:4 . Weiss gathers from the insertion of this injunction that the writer is not guided in his choice of precepts by the condition of those to whom he is writing but by “theoretical reflection”. But in the face of Hebrews 12:16 , this seems an unwarranted inference. πόρνους … ὁ θεός . Fornicators may escape human condemnation, but God (in emphatic position) will judge them.

Verse 5

Hebrews 13:5 . As in Ephesians 5:5 and elsewhere impurity and covetousness are combined, so here the precepts of Hebrews 13:4 lead on to a warning against love of money: ἀφιλάργυρος ὁ τρόπος , “let your turn of mind [disposition] be free from love of money, content with what you have”. [ ὁ τράπος frequently in classical writers in this sense, as Demosthenes, p. 683, αἰσχροκερδὴς ὁ τρόπος αὐτοῦ ἐστιν . Other examples in Kypke. ἀρκεῖσθαι τοῖς παροῦσι was also commonly used to denote contentment with what one has. Examples in Raphel and Wetstein.] This contentment has the firm foundation of God’s promise; αὐτὸς γὰρ εἴρηκεν , “for Himself hath said,” i.e. , God. Οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ .… The quotation is from Deuteronomy 31:5 , where however the third person is used. Similar promises, similarly expressed, occur in Genesis 28:15 ; Deuteronomy 31:8 ; Jos 1:5 ; 1 Chronicles 28:20 . Philo ( De Conf. Ling. , chap. 32, not 33 as in Bleek and Davidson) gives the quotation literatim as in the text here. ὥστε θαρροῦντας ἡμᾶς λέγειν , “so that we boldly say, The Lord is my helper, I will not fear”. In Proverbs 1:21 wisdom at the gates of the city θαῤῥοῦσα λέγει . The words quoted under λέγειν are from Psalms 118:6 , the first word Κύριος and the last ἄνθρωπος being brought into strong contrast.

Verses 7-16

Hebrews 13:7-16 . The Hebrews are exhorted to keep in remembrance their former leaders, to abide steadfastly by their teaching, to rid themselves of the ideas of Judaism, to bear the shame attaching to the faith of Christ, to persevere in good works. Μνημονεύετε τῶν ἡγουμένων ὑμῶν … “Have in remembrance them who had the rule over you, especially as they are those who spoke to you the word of God”. μνημον . might be used, as in Hebrews 11:22 and Galatians 2:10 , τῶν πτωχῶν μνημ ., of keeping living persons in mind (and so Rendall) but what follows makes it more likely that it here refers to the past. These deceased leading men were the persons alluded to in Hebrews 2:3 and Hebrews 4:2 , who first “spoke” the word of the gospel to the Hebrews and who were now no longer present. The word ἡγούμενοι , occurring also in Hebrews 13:17 ; Hebrews 13:24 and in Acts 15:22 (and cf. Sir 30:18 , οἱ ἡγούμενοι ἐκκλησίας ) is a general term for leading and influential men in whom some undefined authority was vested. Official status was not yet defined and official titles were not yet universal. The chief reason why they are to be held in remembrance is given in the clause under οἵτινες , “for they are they who”. But an additional reason is suggested in the following clause, ὧν ἀναθεωροῦντες … “whose faith imitate as you closely consider the issue of their manner of life”. ὧν follows ἀναστροφῆς . ἀναθεωρέω in Theophrastus and Diodorus Siculus is explicitly contrasted with the simple verb to denote a keener and more careful observation. We cannot therefore render, as naturally we might, “look back upon”. ἔκβασιν , in 1 Corinthians 10:18 has the meaning “escape”; but in Wis 2:17 , as here, it denotes the end of life with a distinct reference to the manner of it, as illustrating the man’s relation to God. The leading men among the Hebrew Christians had, whether by martyrdom (as Weiss, etc.) or not, sealed their teaching and exhibited a faith worthy of imitation. Hebrews 13:8 gives force both to Hebrews 13:7 and to Hebrews 13:9 . Imitate their faith, for the object of faith has not changed nor passed away. Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ἐχθὲς .… “Jesus Christ yesterday and to-day is the same, yea and for ever.” ὁ αὐτὸς exactly as in Plutarch’s Pericles , xv. 2, where in describing the influence of success upon Pericles it is said οὐκέθʼ ὁ αὐτὸς ἧν , he was no longer the same. ἐχθὲς is the proper Attic form, χθές the old Ionic, see Rutherford’s New Phryn. , 370. “Yesterday and to-day,” in the past and in the present Jesus Christ is the same, and He will never be different. Therefore, διδαχαῖς ποικίλαις καὶ ξέναις μὴ παραφέρεσθε . “Be not carried away by teachings various and unheard of, and foreign.” παραφερ . is used in Diodorus and Plutarch of being swept away by a river in flood; cf. παραρυῶμεν of Hebrews 2:1 . The teachings against which the Hebrews are here warned are such constructions of Old Testament institutions and practises as tended to loosen their attachment to Christ as the sole mediator of the New Covenant. These teachings were “various,” inasmuch as they laid stress now on one aspect, now on another of the old economy [“bald in der Schriftgelehrsamkeit, bald in peinlicher Gesetzseserfüllung, bald im Opferkult, bald in den Opfermahlzeiten” (Weiss)]. They were ξέναι both as being novel and as being irreconcileable with pure Christian truth. καλὸν γὰρ χάριτι .… “For it is good that by grace the heart be confirmed, not by meats.” The present wavering unsatisfactory condition of the Hebrews is to be exchanged for one of confidence and steadfastness not by listening to teachings about meats which after all cannot nourish the heart, but by approaching the throne where grace reigns and from which it is dispensed, Hebrews 4:16 . From the following verse (Hebrews 13:10 ) in which sacrificial food is expressly mentioned, it would appear that the reference in οὐ βρώμασιν is not to asceticism nor to the distinction of clean and unclean meats, but to sacrificial meals. These are condemned by experiment as useless, ἐν οἷς οὐκ ὠφελήθησαν … “which were of no avail to those who had recourse to them” (Moffatt). Cf. the ἀσθενὲς καὶ ἀνωφελές of Hebrews 7:18 . Sacrificial meals are also shown to be irreconcileable ( ξέναι ) with the Christian approach to God, for our (the Christian) altar is one from which neither worshippers nor priests have any right to eat. The point he wishes to make is, that in connection with the Christian sacrifice there is no sacrificial meal. As in the case of the great sacrifice of the Day of Atonement the High Priest carried the blood into the Holy of Holies, while the carcase was not eaten but burned outside the camp; so the Christian altar is not one from which food is dispensed to priest and worshipper. οἱ τῇ σκηνῇ λατρεύοντες refers to the Christian worshippers. The figure introduced in θυσιαστήριον is continued in these words. To refer them to the O.T. priests is to shatter the argument. Literally the words mean “they who serve the tabernacle,” that is, the priests, cf. Hebrews 8:5 . The peculiarity, he says, of our Christian sacrifice is that it is not eaten. Then follows in support of this statement an analogy from the O.T. ritual, ὧν γὰρ εἰσφέρεται ζώων .… “For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the holy place by the High Priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp.” Cf. Leviticus 4:12 ; Leviticus 4:21 . In conformity with this type ( διὸ καὶ Ἰησοῦς ) Jesus, that He by His own blood might purify the people from their sin, suffered outside the gate. “The burning of the victim was not intended to sublimate but to get rid of it. The body plays no part in the atoning act, and has in fact no significance after the blood has been drained from it. The life, and therefore the atoning energy, resides in the blood and in the blood alone. On the writer’s scheme, then, no function is left for the body of Jesus. It is ‘through his own blood,’ that he must ‘sanctify the people’. It is thus inevitable that while the writer fully recognises the fact of the Resurrection of Christ (Hebrews 13:20 ), he can assign no place to it in his argument or attach to it any theological significance” (Peake). The suffering ἔξω τῆς πύλης is equivalent to the αἰσχύνη of Hebrews 12:2 ; the ignominy of the malefactor’s death was an essential element in the suffering. The utmost that man inflicts upon criminals he bore. He was made to feel that he was outcast and condemned. But it is this which wins all men to Him. τοίνυν ἐξερχώμεθα πρὸς αὐτὸν … “let us therefore go out to him outside the camp bearing his reproach”. Cf. Hebrews 11:26 . Do not shrink from abandoning your old associations and being branded as outcasts and traitors and robbed of your privileges as Jews. This is the reproach of Christ, in bearing which you come nearer to Him. And the surrender of your privileges need not cost you too much regret, “for we have not here (on earth) an abiding city, but seek for that which is to be,” that which has the foundations, Hebrews 11:10 , the heavenly Jerusalem, Hebrews 12:22 . That which is spiritual and eternal satisfies the ambition and fills the heart. Cf. Mark 3:35 ; Philippians 3:20 . The want of recognition and settlement on earth may therefore well be borne.

Verse 15

Hebrews 13:15 . διʼ αὐτοῦ οὗν ἀναφέρωμεν .… Going without the camp as believers in the virtue of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and bearing His shame as those who seek to be identified with Him, we are brought near to God and are disposed to offer Him a sacrifice of praise (Leviticus 7:2 ff.). The διʼ αὐτοῦ is in the emphatic position; “through Him” and not through any Levitical device. And this Christian sacrifice is not periodic, but being spiritual is also continual ( διαπαντὸς ). That there may be no mistake regarding the material of the sacrifice of praise, an explanation is added: τοῦτʼ ἔστιν καρπὸν χειλέων , “that is to say, the fruit of lips ( cf. Hosea 14:3 ) celebrating His name”. Thayer gives this translation, supposing that ὁμολογ . is here used in the sense of ἐξομολογέω , Psalms 45:17 , etc.; cf. also Esther 9:8; Esther 9:8 . But the sacrifice of praise which can be rendered with the lips is not enough. “Be not forgetful of beneficence and charity for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

Verse 17

Hebrews 13:17 . “Obey your rulers and submit; for they watch for your souls, knowing they are to give account, that they may do this with joy not with lamentation for this would be profitless to you.”

Having exhorted the Hebrews to keep in mind their former rulers and adhere to their teaching, the writer now admonishes them, probably in view of a certain mutinous and separatist spirit (Hebrews 10:25 ) encouraged by their reception of strange doctrines, to obey their present leaders, and yield themselves trustfully ( ὑπείκετε ) to their teaching an admonition which, as Weiss remarks, shows that these teachers held the same views as the writer. The reasonableness of this injunction is confirmed by the responsibility of the rulers and their anxious discharge of it. They watch, like wakeful shepherds ( ἀγρυπνοῦσιν ), or those who are nursing a critical case, in the interest of your souls ( ὑπὲρ τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν ) to which they may sometimes seem to sacrifice your other interests. They do this under the constant pressure of a consciousness that they must one day render to the Chief Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20 ) an account of the care they have taken of His sheep ( ὡς λόγον ἀποδώσοντες ). Obey them, then, that they may discharge their responsibility and peform these kindly offices for you ( τοῦτο referring not to λόγον ἀποδώσοντες as Vaughan, etc., which would require a much stronger expression than ἀλυσιτελές , but to ἀγρυπνοῦσιν ) joyfully and not with groaning ( στενάζοντες , the groaning with which one resumes a thankless task, and with which he contemplates unappreciated and even opposed work). And even for your own sakes you should make the work of your rulers easy and joyful, for otherwise it cannot profit you. Your unwillingness to listen to them means that you are out of sympathy with their teaching and that it can do you no good ( ἀλυσιτελὲς γὰρ ὑμῖν τοῦτο ).

Verse 18

Hebrews 13:18 . προσεύχεσθε περὶ ἡμῶν .… Both the next clause and the next verse seem to indicate that by ἡμῶν the writer chiefly, if not exclusively, meant himself; the next clause, for he could not vouch for the conscience of any other person; the next verse because one principal object or result of their prayer was his restoration to them. Request for prayer is common in the Epistles, 1 Thessalonians 5:25 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:1 ; Romans 15:30 ; Ephesians 6:18 ; Colossians 4:3 . The reason here annexed is peculiar. “The allusion to his purity of conduct, and strong assertion of his consciousness of it, in regard to them and all things, when he is petitioning for their prayers, implies that some suspicions may have attached to him in the minds of some of them. These suspicions would naturally refer to his great freedom in regard to Jewish practises” (Davidson). But notwithstanding Hebrews 13:23 it may be that he was under arrest and shortly to be tried and naturally adds to his request for prayer a protestation of his innocence of all civil offence. [ καλῶς ἀναστραφῆναι occurs in Perg. Inscrip. , v. Deissmann, p. 194, E. Tr.] The writer was conscious of a readiness and purpose to live and conduct himself rightly in all circumstances. This gives him confidence and will lend confidence to their prayers. He is more urgent in this request ( περισσοτέρως παρακαλῶ ) because he is desirous to be quickly restored to them; implying that he in some sense belonged to them and that the termination of his present exile from them would be acceptable to them as well as to him. [The verb ἀποκαθ . first occurs in Xenophon, see Anz. p. 338.]

While asking their prayers for himself the writer prays for them: ὁ δὲ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης .… He prays to the God of peace ( cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:16 ; Romans 15:33 ; Romans 16:20 ; 2 Corinthians 13:11 ; Philippians 4:9 ) because this attribute of God carries in it the guarantee that a termination shall be put to all misunderstanding, disturbance, and inability to do His will. His love of peace is shown in nothing more than in His concluding an eternal covenant with men. This covenant was sealed when “our Lord Jesus,” having laid down his life for the sheep, was brought up from the dead in virtue of the perfect and accepted sacrifice ( ἐν αἵματι διαθήκης ). Elsewhere in the Epistle the blood is spoken of as giving entrance to the presence of God, here as delivering from that which prevented that entrance. As Vaughan says: “The arrival in the heavenly presence for us in virtue of the atoning blood is here viewed in its start from the grave … It was in virtue of the availing sacrifice that Christ either left the tomb or reentered heaven.” ἐν αἵματι διαθήκης is therefore more naturally connected with ἀναγαγών than with τὸν ποιμένα , although the two connections are closely related. It was as the Great Shepherd that Jesus gave His life for the sheep and by this act established for ever His claim to be the Shepherd of His people. It is this claim also that guarantees that He will lose none but will raise them up at the last day ( cf. John 15:0 ). [It is probable that the phrasing of this verse was influenced by Zechariah 9:7 , σὺ ἐν αἵματι διαθήκης σου ἐξαπέστειλας δεσμίους σου ἐκ λάκκου οὐκ ἔχοντος ὕδωρ , and by Isaiah 63:11 , ποῦ ὁ ἀναβιβάσας ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης τὸν ποιμένα τῶν προβάτων .] The prayer follows, καταρτίσαι ὑμᾶς , “perfectly equip you” ( cf. Hebrews 11:3 ) ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ , “in every good work,” that is, enabling you to do every good work and so equipping you εἰς τὸ ποιῆσαι τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ , “for the doing of His will,” “doing in you that which is well pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ” ( cf. Philippians 2:13 ). The words διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ are apparently attached not exclusively to f1τὸ εὐάρεστον κ . τ . λ ., but to the whole clause and especially to καταρτίσαι ; it is through Jesus, now reigning as Christ, that all grace is bestowed on His people. The doxology may be to the God of peace to whom the prayer is addressed, more probably it is to Jesus Christ, last-named and the great figure who has been before the mind throughout the Epistle.

Verse 22

Hebrews 13:22 . The writer adds, in closing, a request that the Hebrews would take in good part his “word of exhortation” a request which implies that they were in an irritable state of mind, if not against the writer, then because their own conscience was uneasy. As a reason for their bearing with his exhortation he urges its brevity “for indeed ( καὶ γὰρ ) I have written ( ἐπέστειλα as in Acts 15:20 ) to you with brevity” ( διὰ βραχέων , cf. διʼ ὀλίγων ἔγραψα , 1 Peter 5:12 ). To them it might seem that he had said too much; his own feeling was that he had been severely cramped by the limits of a letter.

Verse 23

Hebrews 13:23 . γινώσκετε τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἡμῶν .… “Know that our brother Timothy has been released” ( ἀπολελυμένον , for example of this use of the participle, see Winer, sec. 45, 4 b). Evidently Timothy had been under arrest; where, when, or why is not known. The information is given because it would interest these Hebrew Christians, who were therefore friends of his, not Judaizers. μεθʼ οὗ … “with whom, if he come soon, I will see you”. He takes for granted that Timothy would at once go to them; and he speaks as one who is himself free or is immediately to be free to determine his own movements. [ τάχειον , = θᾶττον , a comparative in the sense of a positive; a classical usage; and cf. John 13:27 , ὃ ποιεῖς ποίησον τάχιον .] The usual greetings are added. Epistolary form required this (see the Egyptian papyri) but in view of what the writer has said regarding the rulers, and in view of the πάντας here expressed, it may be supposed that the formula was here filled with significant contents. Who was to convey the salutations? Or, in other words, who was directly to receive the letter? Probably one or two of the leading men representing the Church. This would account for the πάντας . The greetings were not on the writer’s part only. οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰταλίας , “they of Italy” joined in them. The form of expression is that which is ordinarily used to denote natives of a place, as in Luke 23:50 ; John 1:44 ; John 11:1 ; Acts 17:13 , etc. Winer says (p. 785): “a critical argument as to the place at which the Epistle was written should never have been founded on these words”. Vaughan is certainly wrong in saying that the more natural suggestion of the words would be that the writer is himself in Italy and speaks of the Italian Christians surrounding him. The more natural suggestion, on the contrary, is that the writer is absent from Italy and is writing to it and that therefore the native Italians who happen to be with him join him in the salutations he sends to their compatriots.

The Epistle closes with one of the usual formulae, “Grace be with you all”.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Hebrews 13". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/hebrews-13.html. 1897-1910.
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