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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 5

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Verse 1

Hebrews 5:1 . Πᾶς γὰρ ἀρχιερεὺς … γὰρ introduces the ground of the encouraging counsel of Hebrews 4:16 , and further confirms Hebrews 4:15 . [But cf. Beza: “Itaque γὰρ non tam est causalis quam inchoativa, ut loquuntur grammatici”; and Westcott: “the γάρ is explanatory and not directly argumentative”.] The connection is: Come boldly to the throne of grace; let not sin daunt you, for every high priest is appointed for the very purpose of offering sacrifices for sin ( cf. Hebrews 8:3 ). This he must do because he is appointed by God for this purpose, and he does it readily and heartily because his own subjection to weakness gives him sympathy. πᾶς ἀρχιερ . “Every high priest,” primarily, every high priest known to you, or every ordinary Levitical high priest. There is no need to extend the reference, as Peirce does, to “others who were not of that order”. ἐξ ἀνθρώπων λαμβανόμενος , “being taken from among men,” not, “who is taken from etc.,” as if defining a certain peculiar and exceptional kind of high priest. It might almost be rendered “since he is taken from among men”; for the writer means that all priesthood proceeds on this foundation, and it is this circumstance that involves what is afterwards more fully insisted upon, that the high priest has sympathy. For λαμβ . cf. Numbers 25:4 ; Numbers 8:6 . On the present tense, see below. Grotius renders “segregare, ut quae ex acervo desumimus”. Being taken from among men every high priest is also appointed not for his own sake or to fulfil his own purposes, but ὑπὲρ ἀνθρώπων καθίσταται , “is appointed in man’s behalf”; not with Calvin, “ordinat ea quae ad Deum pertinent,” taking καθ . as middle. The word is in common use in classical writers. “The customariness [implied in λαμβ . and καθ .] applies not to the action of the individual member of the class, but to that of the class as a whole”. Burton, M. and T. , cxxiv. τὰ πρὸς τὸν θεόν , “in things relating to God”; an adverbial accusative as in Romans 15:17 . See Blass, Gram. , p. 94; and cf. Exodus 18:19 , γίνου σὺ τῷ λαῷ τὰ πρὸς τὸν θεόν . In all that relates to God the high priest must mediate for men; but he is appointed especially and primarily, ἵνα προσφέρῃ … ἁμαρτιῶν , “that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins”. Were there no sins there would be no priest. The fact that we are sinners, therefore, should not daunt us, or prevent our using the intercession of the priest. προσφέρειν , technical term, like our “offer”; not so used in the classics. δῶρά τε καὶ θυσίας , the same combination is found in Hebrews 8:3 and Hebrews 9:9 with the same conjunctions. Δῶρα as well as θυσίαι include all kinds of sacrifices and offerings. Thus in Leviticus 1:0 passim, cf . Hebrews 5:3 : ἐὰν ὁλοκαύτωμα τὸ δῶρον αὐτοῦ . It is best, therefore, to construe ὑπὲρ ἁμαρτ . with προσφέρειν and not with θυσίας ; cf. Hebrews 5:3 and Hebrews 10:12 . So Bleek and Weiss against Grotius and others; e.g. , Westcott, who says: “The clause ὑπὲρ ἁμ . is to be joined with θυσίας and not with προσφέρῃ as referring to both nouns. The two ideas of eucharistic and expiatory offerings are distinctly marked.”

Verse 2

Hebrews 5:2 . μετριοπαθεῖν δυνάμενος : “as one who is able to moderate his feeling”. The Vulgate is too strong: “qui condolere possit”; Grotius has: “non inclementer affici”; Weizsäcker: “als der billig fühlen kann”; and Peirce: “who can reasonably bear with”. As the etymology shows, it means “to be moderate in one’s passions”. It was opposed by Aristotle to the ἀπάθεια of the Stoics. [Diog. Laert., Arist .: ἔφη δὲ τὸν σοφὸν μὴ εἶναι μὲν ἀπαθῆ μετριοπαθῆ δέ : not without feeling, but feeling in moderation; and Peirce, Tholuck, and Weiss conclude that the word was first formed by the Peripatetics; Tholuck expressly; and Weiss, “stammt aus dem philosophischen Sprachge-brauch”. Cf. the chapter of Philo ( Leg. Allegor. , iii., 45; Wendland’s ed., vol. i. 142) in which he puts ἀπάθεια first and μετριοπάθ . second; and to the numerous exx. cited by Wetstein and Kypke, add Nemesius, De Natura Hominis , cxix., where the word is defined in relation to grief. Josephus ( Ant. , xii. 3, 2) remarks upon the striking self-restraint and moderation ( μετριοπαθησάντων ) of Vespasian and Titus towards the Jews notwithstanding their many conflicts.] 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. This self-repression he must exercise τοῖς ἀγνοοῦσι καὶ πλανωμένοις : “the ignorant and erring”. The single article leads Peirce and others to render as a Hendiadys = τοῖς ἐξ ἀγνοίας πλαν ., those who err through ignorance. ἄγνοια is not frequent in LXX, but in Ezekiel 42:13 , and also in chaps. 44 and 46, it translates אָשָׁם , but in Leviticus 5:18 and in Ecclesiastes 5:5 it translates שְׁגָגָה which in Leviticus 4:2 and elsewhere is rendered by ἀκουσίως . A comparison too of the passages in which the word occurs seems to show that by “sins of ignorance” are meant both sins committed unawares or accidentally, and sins into which a man is betrayed by passion. They are opposed to presumptuous sins, sins with a high hand ἐν χειρὶ ὑπερηφανίας , בְידָ רָמָה (Numbers 15:30 ), sins which constitute a renunciation of God and for which there is no sacrifice, cf. Hebrews 10:26 . ἐπεὶ καὶ αὐτὸς περίκειται ἀσθένειαν : “since he himself also is compassed with infirmity,” giving the reason or ground of μετριοπ . δυνάμενος . περίκειμαι , “I lie round,” as in Mark 9:42 , Luke 17:2 with περί and in Hebrews 12:1 with dative. In Acts 28:20 , τὴν ἅλυσιν ταύτην περίκειμαι , it is used passively as here, followed by an accusative according to the rule that verbs which in the active govern a dative of the person with an accusative of the thing, retain the latter in the passive. See Winer, p. 287, and Rutherford’s Babrius . The priests, living for the greater part of the year in their own homes, were known to have their weaknesses like other men, and even the high priests were not exempt from the common passions. Their gorgeous robes alone separated them from sinners, but like a garment infirmity clung around them. “How the very sanctity of his office would force on the attention of one who was not a mere puppet priest the contrast between his official and his personal character, as a subject of solemn reflection” (Bruce).

Verse 3

Hebrews 5:3 . καὶ διʼ αὐτὴν … ἀμαρτιῶν “and because of it is bound as for the people, so also for himself to offer for sins”. Vaughan recommends the deletion of the stop at the end of Hebrews 5:2 . The law which enjoined that the high priest should on the Day of Atonement sacrifice for himself and his house ( ἐξιλάσεται περὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῦ οἴκου αὐτοῦ ) before he sacrificed περὶ τοῦ λαοῦ , is given in Leviticus 16:6 ; Leviticus 16:15 .

Hebrews 5:4 . καὶ οὐχ ἑαυτῷ τις λαμβάνει τὴν τιμήν “And no one taketh to himself this honourable office.” καί introduces a second qualification of the priest, implied in καθίσταται of Hebrews 5:1 , but now emphasised. 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. God’s appointment also secures that the suitable qualifications will be found in the priest. The office is here called τιμή , best translated by the German “Ehrenamt” or “Ehrenstelle.” For τιμή meaning an office see Eurip., Helena , 15; Herodot., ii. 65, παῖς παρὰ πατρὸς ἐκδέκεται τὴν τιμήν ; and especially Aristotle, Pol. , iii. 10, τιμὰς γὰρ λέγομεν εἶναι τὰς ἀρχάς . Cf. Hor. i. 1, 8 “tergeminis honoribus”. Frequently in Josephus τιμή is used of the high priesthood, see Antiq. , xii. 2 5, Hebrews 4:1 , etc.; and the same writer should be consulted for the historical illustration of this verse ( Antiq. , iii. 8 1). In this remarkable passage he represents Moses as saying ἔγωγε … ἐμαυτὸν ἂν τῆς τιμῆς ἄξιον ἔκρινα … νῦν f1δʼ αὐτὸς ὁ Θεὸς Ἀαρῶνα τῆς τιμῆς ταύτης ἄξιον ἔκρινε . The nolo episcopari implied in the words is amply illustrated in the case of Augustine, of John Knox, and especially of Anselm who declared he would rather have been cast on a stack of blazing faggots than set on the archiepiscopal throne, and continued to head his letters “Brother Anselm monk of Bec by choice, Archbishop of Canterbury by violence”. On the other hand, see the account of the appointment by his own act ( αὐτόχειρ ) of the priest king in Aricia, in Strabo Hebrews 5:3-12 and elsewhere. ἀλλὰ καλούμενος … καθώσπερ καὶ Ἀαρών . “but when called by God as in point of fact even Aaron was”. If the article is retained before καλ . we must translate “but he that is called,” καλούμενος “in diesem amtlichen Sinne nur hier,” says Weiss, but see Matthew 4:21 , Galatians 1:15 . For Aaron’s call, see Exodus 28:1 ff. Schöttgen and Wetstein appositely quote from the Bammidbar Rabbi “Moses said to Korah and his associates: If my brother Aaron took to himself the priesthood, then ye did well to rebel against him; but in truth God gave it to him, whose is the greatness and the power and the glory. Whosoever, then, rises against Aaron, does he not rise against God?” It is notorious that the contemporary priesthood did not fulfil the description here given.

Verse 5

Hebrews 5:5 . οὕτω καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς .… “So even the Christ glorified not himself to be made a high priest.” [“So hat auch der Christus nicht sich selbst die Herrlichkeit des Hohenpriestertums zugeeignet,” Weizsäcker.] The designation, “the Christ,” is introduced, because it might not have seemed so significant a statement if made of “Jesus”. It was not personal ambition that moved Christ. He did not come in His own name, nor did He seek to glorify Himself. See John 8:54 ; John 5:31 ; John 5:43 ; John 17:5 , and passim . ἀλλʼ ὁ λαλήσας … Μελχισεδέκ . “but He [glorified Him to be made a priest] who said, Thou art My Son, I this day have begotten Thee; as also in another place He says, Thou art a priest for ever after the order Melchizedek”. The question here is: Why does the writer introduce the quotation from the 2nd Psalm at all? Why does he not directly prove his point by the quotation from the Messianic 110th Psalm? Does he mean that He who said, Thou art my Son, glorified Christ as priest in saying this? Apparently he does, otherwise the καὶ in καθὼς καὶ ἐν ἐτέρῳ would be unwarranted. By introducing the former of the two quotations and designating God as He that called Christ Son, or nominated him to the Messianic dignity, which involved the priesthood, he shows that the greater and more comprehensive office of Messiahship was not assumed by Christ at His own instance and therefore that the priesthood included in this was not of His own seeking, but of God’s ordaining; cf. Weiss. Bleek says the reference to Psalms 2:0 is made to lessen the marvel that God should glorify Christ as priest. Similarly Riehm “dass Christus in einem so unvergleichlich innigen Verhältnisse zu Gott steht, dass seine Berufung zum Hohepriesteramt nicht befreundlich sein kann;” and Davidson, “It is by no means meant that the priesthood of Christ was involved in His Sonship (Alford), an a priori method of conception wholly foreign to the Epistle, but merely that it was suitable in one who was Son, being indeed possible to none other (see on Hebrews 1:3 ).” Bruce thinks the writer wishes to teach that Christ’s priesthood is coeval with His Sonship and inherent in it. κατὰ τὴν τάξιν “after the order;” among its other meanings τάξις denotes a class or rank, “ordo quâ dicitur quispiam senatorii ordinis, vel equestris ordinis”. Thus in Demosthenes, οἰκέτου τάξιν οὐκ ἐλευθέρου παιδὸς ἔχων , in Diod. Sic., iii. 6, οἱ περὶ τὰς τῶν θεῶν θεραπείας διατρίβοντες ἱερεῖς , μεγίστην καὶ κυριωτάτην τάξιν ἔχοντες . In the subsequent exposition of the Melch. priesthood it is chiefly on εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα that emphasis is laid.

Hebrews 5:7 . ὃς … ἔμαθεν … καὶ ἐγένετο . In these verses the writer shows how much there was in the call to the priesthood repugnant to flesh and blood; how it was through painful obedience, not by arrogant ambition he became Priest. The main statement is, He learned obedience and became perfect as Saviour. ὃς ἐν τ . ἡμέραις τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ “who in the days of His flesh,” and when therefore He was like His brethren in capacity for temptation and suffering; cf. Hebrews 2:14 . δεήσεις … προσενέγκας “having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death”. προσενέγκας has sometimes been supposed to refer to the προσφἐρειν of Hebrews 5:3 , and to have a sacrificial sense. It was such an offering as became His innocent ἀσθένεια . As the ordinary high priest prepared himself for offering for the people by offering for himself, so, it is thought, Christ was prepared for the strictly sacrificial or priestly work by the feeling of His own weakness. There is truth in this. Weiss’ reason for excluding this reference is “dass ein Opfern mit starkem Geschrei und Thranen eine unvollziehbare Vorstellung ist”. Cf. Davidson, p. 113, note. προσφ . is used with δέησιν in later Greek writers: instances in Bleek. δεήσεις τε καὶ ἱκετηρίας , these words are elsewhere combined as in Isocrates, De Pace , 46; Polybius, iii. 112, 8; cf. Job 40:22 . The relation of the two words is well brought out in a passage from Philo quoted by Carpzov: γραφὴ δὲ μηνύσει μου τὴν δέησιν ἣν ἀνθʼ ἱκετηρίας προτείνω . Cf. Eurip., Iph. Aul. , 1216. ἱκετηρία [from ἵκω I come, ἱκέτης one who comes as a suppliant] is originally an adjective = fit for suppliants, then an olive branch [sc. ἐλαία , or ῥάβδος ] bound with wool which the suppliant carried as a symbol of his prayer. The conjunction of words in this verse is for emphasis. These supplications were accompanied μετὰ κραυγῆς ἰσχυρᾶς καὶ δακρύων “with strong crying and tears,” expressing the intensity of the prayers and so the keenness of the suffering. The “strong crying” is striking. Schöttgen quotes: “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.” It is to the scene in Gethsemane reference is made, and although “tears” are not mentioned by the evangelists in relating that scene, they are implied, and this writer might naturally thus represent the emotion of our Lord. The prayer was addressed πρὸς τὸν δυνάμενον σώζειν αὐτὸν ἐκ θανάτου “to Him that was able to save Him from death,” which implies that the prayer was that Christ might be saved from death [“Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”] but also suggests that the prayer was not formally answered else why emphasise that God had power to answer it? σώζειν ἐκ θανάτου . The prayer recorded in Mark 14:36 , and the anticipation of Gethsemane alluded to in John 12:27 [ Πάτερ σῶσόν με ἐκ τῆς ὥρας ταύτης ] are sufficient to show that it is deliverance from dying that is meant. Milligan, however, says: “Christ is thus represented as praying not that death may be averted, but that He may be saved ‘out of it,’ when it comes.” Westcott thinks the word covers both ideas and that in the first sense the prayer was not granted, that it might be granted in the second. It is preferable to abide by the simple statement that the passion of Christ’s prayer to escape death was intensified by the fact that He knew God could deliver Him by twelve legions of angels or otherwise. His absolute faith in the Father’s almighty power and infinite resource was the very soul of his trial. καὶ εἰσακουσθεὶς ἀπὸ τῆς εὐλαβείας “and having been heard on account of His godly reverence”. εὐλάβεια [from εὖ λαβεῖν to take good hold, or careful hold] denotes the cautious regard which a wise man pays to all the circumstances of an action. Thus Fabius Cunctator was termed εὐλαβὴς . And in regard to God εὐλάβεια means that reverent submission to His will which caution or prudence dictates. [See Proverbs 28:14 and the definitions by Philo. Quis. Rer. Div. Haer. , 6.] That ἀπό following εἰσακουσθεὶς means in Biblical Greek “on account of” we have proof in Job 35:12 and Luke 19:3 , as well as from the frequent use of ἀπό in N.T. to denote cause, John 21:6 ; Acts 12:14 , etc. In classical Greek also ἀπό is used for propter , see Aristoph., Knights , 1. 767 ὡς ἀπὸ μικρῶν εὔνους αὐτῷ θωπευματίων γεγένησαι . See also the Birds , 1. 150. The cautious reverence, or reverent caution the fear lest He should oppose God or seem to overpersuade Him which was heard and answered was expressed in the second petition of the prayer in Gethsemane, “Not my will but thine be done”. And ἀπό is used in preference to διά , apparently because the source of the particular petition is meant to be indicated, that we may understand that the truest answer to this reverent submission was to give Him the cup to drink and thus to accomplish through Him the faultless will of God. To have removed the cup and saved Him from death would not have answered the εὐλάβεια of the prayer. The meaning of the clause is further determined by what follows.

Verse 8

Hebrews 5:8 . καίπερ ὢν υἱὸς ἔμαθεν ἀφʼ ὧν ἔπαθε τὴν ὑπακοήν [having been heard …] although He was a son He learned obedience from the things He suffered. The result of his being heard was therefore that he suffered, but in the suffering He learned obedience, perfect unison with the will of God for the salvation of men so that He became a perfected Priest. He learned obedience καίπερ ὢν υἱός : “this is stated to obviate the very idea of assumption on his part” (Davidson). Perhaps, therefore, we should translate, with a reference to Hebrews 5:5 , “although He was Son”. Although Son and therefore possessed of Divine love and in sympathy with the Divine purpose, He had yet to learn that perfect submission which is only acquired by obeying in painful, terrifying circumstances. He made deeper and deeper experience of what obedience is and costs. And the particular obedience [ τὴν ὑπακ .] which was required of Him in the days of His flesh was that which at once gave Him perfect entrance into the Divine love and human need. It is when the child is told to do something which pains him, and which he shrinks from, that he learns obedience, learns to submit to another will. And the things which Christ suffered in obeying God’s will taught Him perfect submission and at the same time perfect devotedness to man. On this obedience, see Robertson Smith in Expositor for 1881, p. 424. καίπερ is often joined with the participle to emphasise its concessive use [see Burton, 437], as in Diod. Sic., iii. 17, οὗτος ὁ βίος καίπερ ὢν παράδοξος . ἔμαθεν ἀφʼ ὧν ἔπαθε , a common form of attraction and also a common proverbial saying, of which Wetstein gives a number of instances; Herodot. i. 207; Æsch., Agam. , 177, πάθει μάθος , Demosth., 1232 τοὺς μετὰ τὸ παθεῖν μανθάνοντας . Carpzov also quotes several from Philo, as from the De Somn. , ὁ παθὼν ἀκριβῶς ἔμαθεν , and De Profug. , 25. ἔμαθον μὲν ὃ ἔπαθον . see also Blass, Gram. , p. 299 E. Tr.

Verse 9

Hebrews 5:9 . καὶ τελειωθεὶς … αἰωνίου “and having [thus] been perfected became to all who obey Him the source [originator] of eternal salvation”. τελειωθείς (v. Hebrews 2:10 ) having been perfectly equipped with every qualification for the priestly office by the discipline already described. Several interpreters (Theodoret, Bleek, Westcott) include in the word the exaltation of Christ, but illegitimately. The word must be interpreted by its connection with ἔμαθεν ὑπακοήν ; and here it means the completion of Christ’s moral discipline, which ended in His death. He thus became αἴτιος σωτηρίας αἰωνίου author, or cause of eternal salvation, in fulfilment of the call to an eternal priesthood, Hebrews 5:6 εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα and Hebrews 5:10 . αἴτιος frequently used in a similar sense from Homer downwards, as in Diod. Sic., iv. 82, αἴτιος ἐγένετο τῆς σωτηρίας . Aristoph., Clouds , 85, οὗτος γὰρ ὁ θεὸς αἴτιός μοι τῶν κακῶν . Philo, De Agri. , 22, πᾶσι τοῖς ὑπακούουσιναὐτῷ with a reference to τὴν ὑπακ . of Hebrews 5:8 . The saved must pass through an experience similar to the Saviour’s. Their salvation is in learning to obey. Thus they are harmonised to the one supreme and perfect will. This is reversely given in Hebrews 2:10 .

Verse 10

Hebrews 5:10 . προσαγορευθεὶς … Μελχισεδέκ “styled by God High Priest after the order of Melchizedek”. “ προσαγορεύειν expresses the formal and solemn ascription of the title to Him to whom it belongs (‘addressed as,’ ‘styled’)” (Westcott). “When the Son ascended and appeared in the sanctuary on High, God saluted Him or addressed Him as an High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, and, of course, in virtue of such an address constituted Him such an High Priest” (Davidson). Originally called to the priesthood by the words of Psalms 110:0 , He is now by His resurrection and ascension declared to be perfectly consecrated and so installed as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. It may be doubted, however, whether the full meaning of προσαγορεύειν “address” should here be found. The commoner meaning in writers of the time is “named” or “called”. Thus in Plutarch’s Pericles , iv. 4, Anaxagoras, ὃν Νοῦν προσηγόρευον , xxvii. 2, λευκὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην προσαγ ., xxiv. 6, of Aspasia, Ηρα προσαγορεύεται . and viii. 2 of Pericles himself, Ὀλύμπιον … προσαγορευθῆναι . So in Diod. Sic., i. 51, of the Egyptians, τάφους ἀϊδίους οἴκους προσαγορεύουσιν . It cannot be certainly concluded either from the tense or the context that this “naming” is to be assigned to the date of the ascension and not to the original appointment. The emphasis is on the words ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ , not by man but by God has Christ been named High Priest; and on κατὰ … Μελχ . as warranting αἰωνίου .

The passage Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:20 is a digression occasioned by the writer’s reflection that his argument from the priesthood of Melchizedek may be too difficult for his hearers. In order to stimulate attention he chides and warns them, pointing out the danger of backwardness. He justifies, however, his delivery of difficult doctrine notwithstanding their sluggishness, and this on two grounds: (1) because to lay again the foundations after men have once known them is useless (Hebrews 6:1-8 ); and (2) because he cannot but believe that his readers are after all in scarcely so desperate a condition. They need to have their hope renewed. This hope they have every reason to cherish, seeing that their fathers have already entered into the enjoyment of it, that God who cannot lie has sworn to the fulfilment of the promises, and that Jesus has entered the heavenly world as their forerunner.

Verse 11

Hebrews 5:11 . περὶ οὗ . “Of whom,” not, as Grotius ( cf. Delitzsch and von Soden) “De quâ,” of which priesthood. It is simplest to refer the relative to the last word Μελχισεδέκ ; possible to refer it to ἀρχιερεὺς … Μελχ . The former seems justified by the manner in which c. vii. resumes οὗτος γὰρ ὁ Μελχ . No doubt the reference is not barely to Melchizedek, but to Melchizedek as type of Christ’s priesthood. Concerning Melchisedek he has much to say πολὺς ἡμῖν ὁ λόγος , not exactly equivalent to ἡμῶν ὁ λόγος , but rather signifying “the exposition which it is incumbent on us to undertake”. [ Cf. Antigone , 748, ὁ γοῦν λόγος σοι πᾶς ὑπὲρ κείνης ὅδε .] The exposition is necessarily of some extent (c. vii.), although of his whole letter he finds it possible to say (Hebrews 13:22 ) διὰ βραχέων ἐπέστειλα . It is also δυσερμηνευτος “difficult to explain,” “hard to render intelligible.” “ininterpretabilis” (Vulg.); used of dreams in Artemidorus, τοῖς πολλοῖς δυσερμήνευτοι (Wetstein). This difficulty, however, arises not wholly from the nature of the subject, but rather from the unpreparedness of the readers, ἐπεὶ νωθροὶ γεγόνατε ταῖς ἀκοαῖς “seeing that you are become dull of hearing”. νωθρός = νωθής [see Prom. Vinct. , 62] slow, sluggish; used by Dionysius Hal., to denote λίθου φύσιν ἀναίσθητον , ἀκίνητον . But Plato was said to be νωθρός in comparison with Aristotle. Babrius uses the word of the numbed limbs of the sick lion and of the “stupid” hopes of the wolf that heard the nurse threaten to throw the child to the wolves. ταῖς ἀκοαῖς “in your sense of hearing.” Both in classical and biblical Greek ἀκοή has three meanings, “the thing heard,” as in John 12:38 ; “the sense of hearing,” as in 1 Corinthians 12:17 ; and “the ear,” as in Mark 7:35 , ἠνοίγησαν αὐτοῦ αἱ ἀκοαί ; cf. Plummer on Luke, p. 194. Here the ear stands for intelligent and spiritual reception of truth. γεγόνατε , “ye are become,” and therefore were not always. It is not a natural and inherent and pardonable weakness of understanding he complains of, but a culpable incapacity resulting from past neglect of opportunities.

Verses 11-14

Hebrews 5:11-14 . Complaint of their sluggishness of mind.

Verse 12

Hebrews 5:12 . καὶ γὰρ ὀφείλοντες .… “For indeed, though in consideration of the time [since you received Christ] ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the beginning [the elements] of the oracles of God.” διὰ τὸν χρόνον , cf. Hebrews 2:3 , Hebrews 10:32 ; how long they had professed Christianity we do not know, but quite possibly for twenty or thirty years. Those who had for a time themselves been Christians were expected to have made such attainment in knowledge as to become διδάσκαλοι . This advance was their duty, ὀφείλοντες . Instead of thus accumulating Christian knowledge, they had let slip even the rudiments, so far at any rate as to allow them to fall into the background of their mind and to become inoperative. Their primal need of instruction had recurred. The need had again arisen, τοῦ διδάσκειν ὑμᾶς τινὰ “of some one teaching you,” the genitive following χρείαν , as in Hebrews 5:12 and in Hebrews 10:36 . The indefinite pronoun seems preferable, as the form of the sentence requires an expressed subject to bring out the contrast to εἶναι διδάσκαλοι , and to ὑμᾶς . τὰ στοιχεῖα … Θεοῦ . The meaning of τῆς ἀρχῆς would seem to be determined by τῆς ἀρχῆς τ . Χριστοῦ in Hebrews 6:1 , where it apparently denotes the initial stages of a Christian profession, the stages in which the elements of the Christian faith would naturally be taught. Here, then, “the beginning of the oracles of God” would mean the oracles of God as taught in the beginning of one’s education by these oracles. This of itself is a strong enough expression, but to make it stronger τὰ στοιχεῖα is added, as if he said “the rudiments of the rudiments,” the A B C of the elements. τῶν λογίων τ . θεοῦ , “oraculorum Dei, i.e. , Evangelii, in quo maxima et summe necessaria sunt Dei oracula, quae et sic dicuntur, 1 Peter 4:11 ” (Grotius). The “Oracles of God” sometimes denote the O.T., as in Romans 3:2 , Acts 7:38 ; but here it is rather the utterance of God through the Son (Hebrews 1:1 ), the salvation preached by the Lord (Hebrews 2:3 ) (so Weiss). καὶ γεγόνατε χρείαν ἔχοντες γάλακτος … “and are become such as have need of milk and not of solid food,” “et facti estis quibus lacte opus sit, non solido cibo” (Vulgate). For the metaphor, cf. 1 Peter 2:2 ; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 , a strikingly analogous passage, cf. John 16:12 , and the Rabbinic term for young students “Theenekoth” “Sucklings” (Schoettgen). The same figure is found in Philo, De Agric. , ii. (Wendland, vol. ii., p. 96) ἐπεὶ δὲ νηπίοις μέν ἐστι γάλα τροφή , τελείοις δὲ τὰ ἐκ πυρῶν πέμματα · καὶ ψυχῆς κ . τ . λ . Abundant illustrations from Greek literature in Wetstein. Instead of becoming adults, able to stand on their own feet, select and digest their own food, they had fallen into spiritual dotage, had entered a second childhood, and could only receive the simplest nourishment. Milk represents traditional teaching, that which has been received and digested by others, and is suitable for those who have no teeth of their own and no sufficiently strong powers of digestion. This teaching is admirably adapted to the first stage of Christian life, but it cannot form mature Christians. For this, στερεὰ τροφή is essential.

Verse 13

Hebrews 5:13 . πᾶς γὰρ … νήπιος γάρ ἐστι . “For every one who partakes of milk [as his sole diet] is without experience of the word of righteousness; for he is a babe.” The reference of γὰρ is somewhat obscure. It seems intended to substantiate the last clause of Hebrews 5:12 : “Ye cannot receive solid food, for you have no experience of the word of righteousness”. But he softens the statement by generalising it. Every one that lives on milk is necessarily unacquainted with the higher teaching, which is now λόγος δικ . ἄπειρος having no experience of, ignorant; as κακότητος ἄπειροι , Empedocles in Fairbanks, Phil. of Greece , p. 202. ἄπειρος ἀγρεύειν , Babrius, lxix. 2; ἄπ . τοῦ ἀγωνίζεσθαι , Antiphon, Jebb, p. 8. λόγου δικαιοσύνης , with teaching of righteous conduct the suckling has nothing to do; he cannot act for himself, but can merely live and grow; he cannot discern good and evil, and must take what is given him. Righteousness is not within the suckling’s horizon. He cannot as yet be taught it; still less can he be a teacher of it (Hebrews 5:12 ) νήπιος γάρ ἐστι , for he cannot even speak [ νη - ἔπος = infans], he is an infant. The infant can neither understand nor impart teaching regarding a life of which he has no experience, and whose language he does not know. Indirectly, this involves that the higher instruction the writer wished to deliver was important because of its bearing on conduct. [Other interpretations abound. Chrysostom and Theophylact understand the reference to be either to the Christian life or to Christ Himself and the knowledge of His person. Others, as Beza, Lünemann, and many others, take it as “a periphrasis for Christianity or the Gospel, inasmuch as the righteousness which avails with God is precisely the contents of the Gospel”. Riehm also thinks that the Gospel is meant, “because it leads to righteousness”. Westcott understands it of the “teaching which deals at once with the one source of righteousness in Christ, and the means by which man is enabled to be made partaker of it”. The view of Carpzov, and also that of Bleek, is governed by the connection of Melchizedek with righteousness in Hebrews 7:2 .]

Verse 14

Hebrews 5:14 . τελείων δὲ .… “But solid food is for the mature, those who, by reason of their mental habits, have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.” τέλειος commonly opposed in classical and Biblical Greek to νήπιος ; as in Polyb. 5:29, 2, ἐλπίσαντες ὡς παιδίῳ νηπίῳ χρήσασθαι τῷ Φιλίππῳ , εὗρον αὐτὸν τέλειον ἄνδρα . Cf. Ephesians 4:13 ; and Xen., Cyr. , viii. 7, 3. They are here further defined as τῶν … κακοῦ . ἕξις [from ἔχω , as habitus from habeo], a habit of body, or of mind; as in Plato, Laws (p. 666), τὴν ἐμμανῆ ἕξιν τῶν νέων . Also, p. 966, Ἀνδραπόδου γάρ τινα σὺ λέγεις ἕξιν . Aristotle ( Nic. Eth . ii. 5) determines that virtue is neither a δύναμις nor a πάθος , but a ἕξις , a faculty being something natural and innate, while virtue is not. Plutarch ( Moral. , 443), following him, defines ἕξις as ἰσχὺς … ἐξ ἔθους ἐγγινομένη , which resembles Quintilian’s definition (x. 1, 1), “firma quaedam facilitas, quae apud Graecos ἕξις nominatur”. Aristotle ( Categor. , viii. 1) distinguishes ἕξις from διάθεσις , τῷ πολὺ χρονιώτερον εἶναι καὶ μονιμώτερον , but elsewhere he uses the words as equivalents. Longinus (xliv. 4) uses it of faculty. ἕξις , then, is the habitual or normal condition, the disposition or character; and the expression in the text means that the mature, by reason of their maturity or mental habit, have their senses exercised, etc. αἰσθητήρια : “senses”. Bleek quotes the definition of the Greek lexicographers and of Damascene τὰ ὄργανα ἢ τὰ μέλη διʼ ὧν αἰσθανόμεθα . So Galen in Wetstein, “organs of sense”. Here the reference is to spiritual faculties of perception and taste. γεγυμνασμένα … πρὸς διάκρισιν …, “exercised so as to discriminate between good and evil,” i.e. , between what is wholesome and what is hurtful in teaching. [Wetstein quotes from Galen, De Dignot. Puls. , ὃς μὲν γὰρ τὸ αἰσθητήριον ἔχει γεγυμνασμένον ἱκανῶς οὗτος ἄριστος ἂν εἴη γνώμων .] The child must eat what is given to it; the boy is warned what to eat and what to avoid; as he grows, his senses are exercised by a various experience, so that when he reaches manhood he does not need a nurse or a priest to teach him what is nutritious and what is poisonous. The first evidence of maturity which the writer cites is ability to teach; the second, trained discernment of what is wholesome in doctrine. The one implies the other. Cf. Isaiah 7:16 , πρὶν γνῶναι τὸ παιδίον ἀγαθὸν ἢ κακόν , and Deuteronomy 1:39 . Chrysostom says οὐ περὶ βίου ὁ λόγος … ἀλλὰ περὶ δογμάτων ὑγιῶν καὶ ὑψηλῶν διεφθαρμένων τε καὶ ταπεινῶν ; the whole passage should be consulted.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Hebrews 5". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/hebrews-5.html. 1897-1910.
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