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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Hebrews 13


CHAP. 13. The exhortations with which the Epistle closes are various; but all are connected with the argument and with the condition of those addressed. The writer has sought to confirm their faith and grace, and now a loving holy life, which ever grows feeble with waning faith, is his chief concern. To their faith he has exhorted them to add godliness (Hebrews 12:28-29), and now they are to add to godliness brotherly kindness and universal love. It is characteristic of the Epistle, too, that the graces commended in the earlier verses of this chapter are those for which the readers are commended in previous chapters (Hebrews 10:33-34, Hebrews 6:10).

Verse 1

Hebrews 13:1. The first admonition is to ‘brotherly love’ a term used in the N. T. (not as in classic Greek to describe the love of brothers and sisters, but) to describe the love which Christians bear to one another in Christ, and as children of one Father (cp. Hebrews 2:11), part of the wider love which ἁγάπη describes (2 Peter 1:7). It was not extinct (Hebrews 10:32), the precept therefore is as in the case of their faith that it should continue, or abide. It is appropriately put first among earthly duties, as it is the first-fruit of faith and the beginning of all else. How the title here given to this grace struck the heathen is made very clear by a passage in Lucian: ‘Their most distinguished lawgiver (? Paul) has taught that they all become brethren one of another as soon as they are changed; that is, when they deny the Greek gods, and adore the crucified sophist.’ He also enlarges on their sympathy with those in bonds, and on their hospitality. The sentiment struck the observer even while he scorned it as new and impracticable (see the passage in Delitzsch, ii. 371).

Verse 2

Hebrews 13:2. Nor was this love confined to the family. The God they worshipped loves strangers (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). In His gracious philanthropy (Titus 3:4) He had welcomed them when strangers; and now He sometimes sends His messengers His angels in the disguise of wayfarers, that He may know whether those who bear His name are like Him in their kindness, and that He may reward them as of old (Genesis 18:0). Hebrews 13:3. Debtors to all the brotherhood, and to others besides, there were some who had strong claims on their sympathy. There were prisoners who were their bonds for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s; and in loving tenderness these they were to remember as bound with them (Hebrews 10:34). There were others in afflictions natural to men; these also they were to bear ever in mind as being themselves in the body, and subject to like trials. Loving and prayerful remembrance might bring deliverance, and would certainly comfort their hearts and deepen their thankfulness.

Verses 4-5

Hebrews 13:4-5. The writer now speaks of two relations of life which are often placed side by side in Paul’s Epistles marriage and the purity which belongs to it, and covetousness, or ‘the love of money’ (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). The abrupt form of the sentences and the curt energy of the admonitions are intensely Pauline.

Let marriage be held in honour in all, and the bed be undefiled. Whether these words are affirmative (‘marriage is honourable’), as the A. V. and Delitzsch hold, or hortative (‘let it be held’), has been much discussed. But the question is now settled. The words stand in the midst of exhortations. The next verse is equally without a verb, and is yet translated as an exhortation. And moreover, the reading in the next clause is ‘for’ and not ‘but,’ enforcing not a statement, but a command. ‘In all persons,’ of whatever rank, degree, or profession; or ‘in all respects’ a rebuke of the ‘false science’ which was already spreading in the Church (1 Timothy 4:13). It may be better to be single, if God’s adjustment of gifts and tastes makes single life no serious burden (1 Corinthians 7:0), and if Christ is thereby better served. But all who marry in the Lord assume an honourable place. Only, where Christians have entered into that state, the bed must be undefiled by adulterous intercourse, or by lascivious sensuality. Those who dishonour the relation in either way, God will judge.

Let your life a word which describes the turn of a man’s thoughts and actions be free from covetousness (‘the love of money’), [and be] content with (finding your sufficiency in) such things as you have. They needed the warning: For as men decline in grace, they grow in selfishness. The mischievous influence of this deceitful vice is strikingly described in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, where ‘the love of money’ (the same word) is said to be a root of all kinds of evil, drowning men in perdition, or piercing them through with many sorrows. One guard against this evil is that we be content with what we have; but the security against it is the Divine promise.

For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Five negations, ‘I will never, no never, no never forsake,’ give strength to the assurance. The words are taken from three passages (see marginal references) spoken to various Hebrew saints, and forming part of the general promise of the Gospel given to each believer. Our God is the God of salvations (Psalms 68:20), not one, but many, and delivers us from want as well as from sin. He spared not His Son, and freely gives with Him all things.

Verse 6

Hebrews 13:6. So that we boldly say, The Lord is my helper, I will not fear: what shall man do unto me? So the Hebrew reads, and so more naturally the Greek of this passage.

Verse 7

Hebrews 13:7. This verse is connected in part with the preceding. Remember them who are your leaders a title found only in this chapter in the Epistles, but used in the Gospels and Acts for the leaders of the Church (Acts 15:22; Luke 22:26). Leadership is the prominent thought with so much of ruling as is essential to lead. As applied to ministers, it gives no authority to make new laws in Christ’s kingdom, or even to enforce Christ’s commands by any authority except His own.

The which (who have this quality that a word which defines the ground and the limit of their authority) have spoken to you the word of God (the Gospel); whose faith (not their creed, but their blessed trust in trouble and fidelity to principle) copy (or imitate), thoroughly considering what a blessed end their life had. These words refer not necessarily to martyrdom, of which, as yet, there were but few examples. The meaning is rather, that a course of Christian conduct, which even to the end is the outcome of a holy noble faith, is well worthy of the contemplation and imitation of all who observe it.

Verse 8

Hebrews 13:8. This verse is closely connected with the preceding, though not in the way the Authorised Version (with a colon, or sometimes a comma, at the end of Hebrews 13:7) indicates, as it is also with what follows. It is a general truth. Jesus Christ is, the same yesterday (when our fathers lived and struggled), today (now that we live and struggle), and throughout the ages. He was the chief theme of the Gospel they preached so ‘the word of God’ generally means in the New Testament. His power and love and grace are all unchanging and exhaustless.

Verse 9

Hebrews 13:9. Very different from the varied and strange (foreign) doctrines (teachings) with which this Gospel is sometimes confounded, and very different from the legal precepts as to meats which are profitless as means of quickened life, or of true salvation, by which we must not suffer ourselves to be carried away (the true reading, not ‘carried about’): For it is a good thing (a fine thing a thing that has the beauty of virtue as well as the substance of it) that the heart be established (be made strong and firm) with grace (here opposed as a Divine operation in the soul to the outward and lifeless precepts of Jewish teachers, Colossians 2:22-23) the flesh profiting nothing (John 6:63), wherein those that walked (a common Pauline expression, Ephesians 2:2-11; Colossians 3:7) were not profited. The precepts of a ritual law have no living power, no saving efficacy. The mind that is occupied with them is generally blind to the great duties of piety and virtue, and is neither peaceful nor strong. The simplicity of Gospel rites is as certainly helpful to holiness as the purity of Gospel truth.

Verses 10-12

Hebrews 13:10-12. And yet we have our altar and our meat. We are worshippers, nay, even priestly worshippers. Our altar is the cross: our sin-offering the body of our Lord. ‘His flesh is meat indeed, and His blood is drink indeed.’ But all is hidden from the view and forbidden to the touch of those who serve the earthly tabernacle. Under the Law, some offerings were shared by the priest and people, and the arrangement implied that fellowship was restored and ceremonial expiation was completed. But the sin-offering of atonement was not eaten (Leviticus 6:30), and the bodies of national and priestly expiations were burnt without the camp. When atonement was a figure only, and not a reality, the worshipper had no communion with what professed to furnish it. Now we discern the body, and are partakers of it, and claim the reconciliation which the partaking implies. The old altar must be renounced, and the old sacrifice abandoned. Men must go to the place where Christ was offered (cp. Hebrews 9:28), the place where Christ offered Himself (Hebrews 9:25), and those who seek acceptance through legal sacrifices have no part in Him, as they had no part in that sacrifice, which was the completest type of His work, yet was itself powerless to make full atonement, and therefore insufficient to secure the reconciliation and the strength of which the eating of the altar was the sign.

Verse 13

Hebrews 13:13. Of Christ the sin-offering we may partake, provided we go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. The cross is the meeting-place of all who would be saved. To number ourselves with those who cast Him out, and so unconsciously made Him the antitype of the holiest of the ancient sacrifices, is to be undone. We must abandon the Law, we must find in Christ Himself the sin-offering in which we are to share, if we desire to partake of the forgiveness and holiness of the Gospel.

Verse 14

Hebrews 13:14. Israel still claimed to be the people of God, and Jerusalem was outwardly His dwelling-place. But God had already quitted it. Jerusalem, with its temple and rites all were condemned. Here, therefore, we have no continuing city, no material temple, no imperfect sacrifice; but the cross and Christ and heaven the antitype of them all.

Verse 15

Hebrews 13:15. Meanwhile our sacrifice or peace-offering is praise; ‘the perpetual offering,’ as even Jews described it, ‘which is never to cease’ the fruit, ‘the calves,’ of lips that are ever giving thanks to His name. Praise, continuous praise, is the fitting recognition of an abiding Saviour and an unending salvation.

Verse 16

Hebrews 13:16. Nor is that all: there must be also the further sacrifice of a beneficent and generous life; for with such sacrifices ‘well-doing’ and fellowship in love, in service, and in gifts God is well pleased. A life of cheerful thankfulness, of ceaseless well-doing, of ready participation with others in the gifts God has entrusted to us these are the offerings of the Gospel; the one great sin-offering of our Lord possessing ceaseless power.

Verse 17

Hebrews 13:17, etc. Having referred to deceased leaden and to their stedfastness, the writer is naturally led to speak of the danger of apostatizing to Judaism; he therefore exhorts them to come completely out of it and boldly follow Christ. He now returns to their leaders. Obey (give, and keep giving, the obedience which springs from trust in them, and from the persuasion that their rule is right) your leaders, and submit yourselves (to their reproof and admonition, even to their authority); and this rule he enforces by a delicate reference to the leaders’ responsibility; for it is their duty and their right to watch over and in the interest of your souls, free alike from indolence and from false security, as having to give account, that they may do this work (of watching) with joy, and not mourning (literally ‘groaning ‘) over it or you; for, if it is a grief to them, the loss will be yours; that is unprofitable for you.

Verse 18

Hebrews 13:18. The writer now speaks of himself and of his colleagues, all watchers over them, and asks the prayers of his readers, as Paul does in all his Epistles. Pray for us, for we are persuaded (the perfect tense, ‘we trust,’ gives place to the present passive) that we have a good conscience. He was conscious of no evil. He had exhorted them, rebuked them, and instructed them. He had also suffered. And he felt he was blameless in all. The feeling, however, may be a delusion; and yet it rests on the teaching of God’s Word, and is confirmed by God’s blessing and by our higher consciousness that we are really desiring (striving, having a will) to behave, to live, honourably in all things. The Greek words for ‘a good’ conscience and ‘honourably,’ are forms of the same word, and express the beauty, the nobleness of goodness. To live a good and noble life in all things is an earnest purpose, and the conscience which affirms this is our purpose, is itself worthy of the life we desire to live; not blind or perverted, but noble and true. His life and his teaching had probably both been subjects of distrust among the Hebrews. Paul’s gospel, which this Epistle certainly represents, was still in disrepute. He therefore asks their prayers as helpful both to himself and to themselves.

Verse 19

Hebrews 13:19. And I beseech you the more exceedingly (earnestly) to do this, i.e to pray for us (comp. Philemon 1:22), that I may be restored to you the sooner. This language agrees remarkably with the deep affection Paul cherished for the Hebrew Church at Jerusalem, a Church he visited many times.

Verses 20-21

Hebrews 13:20-21. To this desire for their prayers is added his own benediction, as in Paul’s Epistles generally (1 Thessalonians 5:23, etc.). Now the God of peace a common title of God in Paul’s Epistles, used in different connections, and probably with different meanings. Here it is specially appropriate; partly because of the troubles that harassed and threatened them, and partly because it implies how completely God had been pacified and reconciled through the death of His Son, who ‘came preaching peace.’ God is further described, who brought again from the dead (not too much for ἁγα and ἰϰ ), as one who had made full atonement for sin, and having paid the debt, could no longer be held in the bondage of the grave. Only here in this Epistle is the resurrection named, probably as proving the completeness of Christ’s work. Everywhere else Christ passes from the altar to the Holy of Holies as priest and offering, to make intercession for us. The phrase, ‘from the dead,’ coupled with what follows, ‘that great Shepherd of the sheep,’ points to Isaiah 63:11, where Moses, the shepherd of the sheep, is said to have been brought up out of the sea. Moses from the sea, Christ from the dead, each for his own work.

The great shepherd of the sheep, who had given His life for them, who was great as Priest (Hebrews 10:21), and great as Shepherd too. His self-sacrificing tenderness, His ceaseless care. His power, His resources, His authority, all are included in this title a favourite representation of our Lord in ancient Art.

In the blood of the everlasting covenant, i.e God brought Him from the dead by virtue of, in the power of, the blood, which ratified not the temporary covenant of Sinai, but the eternal covenant of grace. God’s peace is not a truce for a time; it is a permanent peace, an agreement for eternity. The interpretation that Christ was made shepherd by virtue of the blood of the covenant is hardly scriptural. He was shepherd before He died. The acceptance of His atonement, the efficacy of His blood, was the condition of His resurrection. If He had not risen, it must have been because atonement was not made; and if atonement was not made, we should still have been in our sins.

Even our Lord Jesus Christ. Here the name that is above every name (our ‘Lord’) is given to Jesus. He who is the Shepherd, who died for His sheep, who keeps them, feeds them, guides them, protects them, is also their lord; the Lord of their hearts as He is also of their creed. By His resurrection God acknowledges the validity of the atonement; by accepting Christ as Lord, we make the blessings of it our own.

Perfect you (not the common word so translated. It means to complete all the parts, to put them in order, and fit them for use), make you ready, active, fit, in every good work to do (literally, to do out and out so as to accomplish the force of the tense) his will, doing in you (the same repetition of words as in Philippians 2:13) that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ Whether God works through Jesus Christ, or whether what is well-pleasing to God is well-pleasing through Jesus Christ, has been much discussed. The former is preferable to the latter; but there is no reason why both should not be combined. God works in us through Him what is well-pleasing through Him. To whom, i.e to God, the principal subject of the sentence; to Him who brought up from the dead the Lord Jesus, who can perfect us, and is working for this purpose. Glory and dominion are ascribed to the Son in Revelation 1:5-6, and perhaps in 1 Peter 4:11, as they are to the Father, Philippians 4:20, and to both, Revelation 5:13; and so it is not material to whom we refer the inscription here. But it is more natural to refer it to the Father, to whom the prayer is presented.

Verse 22

Hebrews 13:22. Now I exhort you, brethren, bear with (in the sense of giving a patient, willing audience to; see Acts 18:14; 2 Corinthians 11:4) the word of exhortation. The language is partly apologetic, on the ground that the writer stands in no close relation to his readers, and yet had not spared them in his warnings (cp. 6 and 10). All be had to say, however, is made as brief as possible

For (with deeper reasons for such forbearance, there is also the brevity of the letter itself) I have written a letter (which is implied in the word used) in few words. This is the first time the writer speaks in the singular number, as it is the first intimation he gives that the treatise is an epistle. A similar close is found in Romans 16:17, and in 1 Corinthians 16:15.

Verse 23

Hebrews 13:23. Know ye (imperative rather than indicative, as a matter of joy, one of the prisoners whose bonds you shared in spirit is now free) that our brother Timothy is set at liberty (the most natural rendering. The word is used for entering on some official work, Acts 13:3; Acts 15:30; but a fuller description would have been necessary if that had been the meaning here); with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you. This language does not prove that Paul wrote the Epistle, but it intimates that the readers knew the writer, and it is certain that no one stood in closer relation to Paul than Timothy, especially towards the close of the apostle’s life (see Philippians 2:19).

Verse 24

Hebrews 13:24. Salute all your leaders, the chief men among you, and all the saints, i..e either of the Church or those Christians outside of the Church, whom they or their leaders might meet. They of Italy, i..e those who belonged to Italy, whether then residing in Italy or not (comp. Acts 17:13). In these expressions there seems an intentional indefiniteness intended to conceal the place where the Epistle was written.

Grace be with you all (rather, Grace be with all of you; an order of words that gives individuality to the message as well as universality).

Amen: Grace, the free result of Divine love; grace which justifies and sanctifies and guides us; grace which begins and completes our salvation; an especially appropriate ending of this Epistle, and the characteristic ending of each of Paul’s Epistles, and of his only, in the New Testament.

The only subscription that has any critical value is ‘To the Hebrews.’ Variations are found in some MSS.; ‘was written from Italy by Timothy,’ one MS. adding ‘in Hebrew;’ ‘from Rome’ (A). But no argument can be based on these readings.

Three lessons are suggested by the structure and argument of this Epistle.

1. The teaching which distinguishes doctrine from precept, and makes precept the more important, is rebuked by the very order of the Epistle itself, as in all Paul’s Epistles. The doctrinal teaching suggests the form of the precepts, and supplies the strongest reasons for obedience. Spiritual truths on sin, Christ, redemption, eternal life, are largely the foundation and the motive-forces of practical duty.

2. The need of a priesthood, and the fact that Christ is the great High Priest, superseding every other, all-sufficient and eternal, are essential parts of the Gospel. Without the recognition of the first, there is no adequate sense of sin and of God. Without the recognition of the second, there is no pacifying of the conscience, and no free personal access to God as the loving Father of all who believe.

3. False conceptions of the Gospel and of God’s way of peace, when based on institutions and teaching that are originally Divine, are among the greatest hindrances to salvation, and among the most fruitful sources of apostasy. Because Judaism was Divine, and the Jews believed it, they were in danger of rejecting Christ in greater danger than if they had been heathens. Truth blended with error, God’s word misunderstood and believed, may be as great hindrances to holiness and charity as heresy or unbelief.

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Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Hebrews 13". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.