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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Hebrews 13

Verse 1

5. PERSONAL. Admonitions and salutations to the Jerusalem Church, Hebrews 13:1-21.

Though this epistle begins as a treatise and continues as an oration, it ends as a personal letter.

1. Brotherly love A single word, used in the classics of love between brothers and sisters. The Jews applied the word brother to any Jew; the Christians appropriated it from a racial use to a religious one.

Remain It had existed in past times; it was liable to be broken by tendencies to apostasy; let it be firm and permanent.

Entertain strangers A branch of brotherly love. The absence of hotels in the East made hospitality a cardinal virtue. The itinerant servants of Christ ever needed an itinerant home.

Entertained angels unawares A beautiful allusion to Abraham (Genesis 18:0) and to Lot, Genesis 19:1-3. Our author does not suppose that his readers will ever entertain an angel in like manner, but the entertainers of Christian ministers have often in past times found that they entertained something better than angels, namely, messengers of salvation to the family. The successive phrases, remain, be not forgetful, remember, are forms of reminder of virtues which had existed but were liable to perish from negligence. Many a Christian at the present day is lost to the Church because, in going to a new locality, he is received by the Church there with inhospitality and neglect. Christian sociality is a virtue of great churchly value, and ministers should emphasize it in their teachings.

Verse 3

3. Remember them that are in bonds From the travelling brother to be entertained, transition is easily made to the brethren in prison.

As bound with them As if their bonds were your bonds, since ye are one in Christ, liable to the same persecutions.

Suffer The common lot of all in the body, and so demanding a common sympathy between those in common lot. To learn from our own sufferings to sympathize with sufferers is a very valuable piece of education an education of the heart.

Verse 4

4. That social life may be peaceful married life must be pure.

Marriage is honourable The verb should, unquestionably, be in the imperative, like the main verbs in the three previous verses and in Hebrews 13:5. Render it, Let marriage be ( held) among you honourable in all respects, and the marriage bed be undefiled; for (not but) fornicators and adulterers God will judge. The Greek attains a solemn emphasis, unattainable by the English, by closing the sentence with God. The implication is, men may disregard the law of chastity, legislators and judges may set human laws against it; but there is a final judge by whom it will be avenged God.

Verse 5

5. Conversation Your daily course and character in life.

Covetousness The enemy of hospitality, liberality, and peace.

Content Not excluding proper effort to better your condition, but securing tranquillity in the condition that results, and meeting all disadvantages with equanimity.

For he God.

Hath said Our happy equanimity is not based on a stoical reliance on self, but on a divine basis. The faithfulness of God underlies us. He and I, as Delitzsch tells us, are used in post-biblical Hebrew as mystical names of God.

Never leave… forsake thee In substance this promise repeatedly occurs in the Old Testament, but never in exact words. Thus one, a modification, occurs (Septuagint) in Joshua 1:5: “I will never forsake thee nor overlook thee.” Yet it is remarkable that the exact words given by our author are found in Philo, 1:430, 26. It is by all agreed that the coincidence is too peculiar to be accidental. Lunemann says, “Possibly, as Bleek and De Wette believe, the author has quoted it directly from Philo. But possibly, also, the expression, as here found and in Philo, may have been stereotyped into a proverb.” Delitzsch suggests that the passage had assumed this form in the liturgical service of the synagogue, and thence may have been used by both Philo and our author. We know no law that forbids an inspired author to quote an uninspired. Paul quoted the Greek poets, Jude quotes the book of Enoch, and our author may have quoted Philo.

Verse 6

6. Boldly Based on the primitive rock of God’s own promise, how bold may we not be!

Helper Psalms 118:6.

What man More properly, a direct question: What can man do?

Verse 7

7. Remember As of the departed.

Have the rule Rather, the leaders of you.

End of their conversation The close and outcome of their life and career. The phrase suggests, but does not express, the martyrdom of at least some of their leaders. Long ago, nearly thirty years, Stephen was martyred, this our Paul having then consented. James, brother of John, was slain by Herod about twenty years previous; and James, bishop of Jerusalem, perhaps about two years before this epistle was received. Of course, during the thirty years since Stephen many a Church official had deceased, leaving a memory to which Paul could refer as exemplar.

Verse 8

8. What is (Hebrews 13:7) that end or outcome? It is Jesus Christ, the immutable. His double name is given in solemn emphasis. The eternity of his sameness consists in this, that the today is an ever movable standpoint. Take whatever to-day you please, and Christ was the same yesterday, and will be the same to-morrow, and so on forever.

Verse 9

9. Fixed on Christ, the immutable, be not carried about like a wind-whirled ship. The winds by which, as coming from different quarters, the ship is whirled and hurled about, are divers and strange doctrines. Probably the true reading is, Be not carried away; and then it suggests a being driven to an unknown destiny. Divers refers to their number and variety, strange to their unnatural and unchristian character.

Established Firmly based on the ever same Jesus Christ. With, or, rather, by grace, and not by meats. It is debated whether reference is here made to sacrificial meats eaten in idol temples or to meats ascetically avoided by religious vegetarians. But the altar of Hebrews 13:10 is undoubtedly suggested by the word meats in this verse, and so indicates a reference to sacrificial meats. And, as Lunemann well argues, profited seems to refer not to abstaining, but to the eating of meats.

An altar We Christians discard all Jewish controversy touching sacrificial meats, for we have a sacrificial altar apart from all Jews. To the question, What is it that our author designates by the term altar? an obvious answer is, “The table of the Lord,” whereon the emblem of the Victim is partaken, and from which all but the believing Christian are excluded. And, knowing as we do that the “table” existed in the full knowledge of our author, we cannot imagine that there should not have been in his mind some reference to it. Others have understood by altar the cross on which the real sacrifice was offered. But the real altar, or the deep reality symbolized by the word altar, has no material shape or nature. The “table,” the cross, and the altar, are all but terms and images by which the saving power of the atonement is represented, the participation of which is limited to living faith. The propitiatory merits of Christ are at once the table, the altar, and the food by which the sinner lives.

No right to eat For they possess not the faith by which that aliment is received.

Serve the tabernacle The tabernacle built by Moses in the wilderness, which was the scene and emblem of Hebrew sacrifices; and was succeeded, when Jerusalem became the capital, by the temple built by Solomon, and rebuilt by Zerubbabel, and re-rebuilt by Herod. The tabernacle was in the desert in the centre of the camp of the hosts of Israel, and our author, as matter of doctrine, refers to it as the primitive institution rather than to the later temple. Yet, while he uses the primitive words tabernacle and camp, he uses the word city in Hebrews 13:14, both being the same thing so far as the symbol was concerned.

Verse 11

11. For To illustrate this separation between the faithful participant and unbeliever. As at the great day of atonement the sacrificed animal was carried out of the limits of camp or city, and burned; and as, similarly, Christ was led out of the city to be crucified, so do we, his followers, leave the symbolic “camp” or “city” of Judaism, and go out unto him. The Jew is in the camp, the city, and we are with the crucified One. Outside the city is the cross. Apart from the tabernacle is the Church, and in the Church is the true altar. The bodies of sacrificed beasts were generally eaten by priests or people. But there was one pre-eminent exception. On the great day of atonement the blood of the victim was brought into the sanctuary and sprinkled on the altar for sin, but the body of the beast, instead of being made a banquet for the people, was taken from the camp while in the desert, and from the city in later ages, and burned without.

Verse 12

12. Jesus, the antitype, in like manner suffered without the gate. Herein was pictured the divine secession from Judaism. The true sacrifice was limited by no city walls; was housed into no tabernacle or temple; was universal as the sky beneath which it was transacted.

Verse 13

13. Let us The followers of the Crucified. Go As he went. He went out of the material city, Jerusalem; we go out of the mystical city, Judaism.

This is a striking proof that our epistle was addressed to Jerusalem.

Bearing his reproach The scorn, oppression, and persecution of the Jerusalem hierarchy and its partisans, under which our author’s beloved “Hebrews” were suffering. Let us go, is his cheering word of command; bearing his reproach, are his words of holy patience and defiance.

Verse 14

14. Here In Judaism, the mystic old Jerusalem. The words have, we think, no reference to our transitory abode on earth.

One to come Christianity, the mystic new Jerusalem below, the earthly counterpart and preparatory for the New Jerusalem above. Though the localities outside the city of Jerusalem, where the victim was sacrificed, look bare and desolate, yet mystically, outside the old Judaism, there is the future evangelic city to come. There is the mystic temple, the true Church; within it is the true altar, the “table of the Lord,” the banquet of his atoning grace. From the old and past, let us go to the new and future. This symbolism of the mystical earthly Jerusalem must not be confounded with that of the celebrated new Jerusalem of Revelation xxi, though merging often in thought and in reality into it.

Verse 15

15. This mystical Jerusalem has also its sacrifice, namely, of the fruit of our lips, which is praise and thanks. In reference to man we endure reproach; yet to God our voice is holy song. Says Delitzsch: “According to a favourite Old Testament idea, thoughts are the branches and twigs, and words the flowers and fruit, which, rooted in the mind and heart, and springing up thence, shoot forth and ripen from the mouth and lips.”

Verse 16

16. Other sacrifices belong to this new city, namely, to do good and to communicate; that is, impart benefactions.

Verse 17

17. Have the rule over you A prolix and not very correct rendering of words signifying (as in Hebrews 13:7) your leaders, or guides. Both verses imply certainly a distinction between laity and ministry. We have rather a distinct view of the Church polity at Jerusalem in Acts 21:18, (where see notes,) indicating that St. James was resident apostle with subordinate elders. The words obey, or trust, and submit, or yield, concede to, imply a mental position of trust and acknowledged authority. Our author endorses their ministry as true and faithful.

They watch That is, are sleepless, as vigilant shepherds.

Account To God in judgment. That refers to grief.

Verse 18

18. For us Uniting the leaders and himself as a common subject of their prayers. Paul alone, of all the New Testament writers, asks the prayers of his readers. 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1.

Live honestly A slight reminiscence that his character had been questioned at Jerusalem.

Verse 19

19. But I Narrowing from us in the last verse to himself alone.

Restored It was St. Paul who had once been with them, was snatched from them, is now detained from them, hopes to be restored to them. This entire passage to the end of the epistle demonstrates that it was written, not directly to a general section, as Palestine, but to a particular Church.

Yet though addressed to the mother city, it was intended to be treasured and read in all the churches.

Verse 20

20. In the coming two verses the epistle proper closes, after the Pauline manner, with a benedictory prayer. It is offered with a glance of retrospect over the whole epistle.

God of peace The formula of Paul alone. See Romans 15:33; 1 Corinthians 14:23; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:16. The whole of this chapter has, beginning with brotherly love, churchly peace, unity, stability, and obedience to pastoral rule, as its key-note. And the whole epistle has Christian stability and unity under the atoning Christ as its object.

Shepherd of the sheep Under whom it should be one peaceful fold.

Blood of the everlasting covenant Whose import our epistle has so richly unfolded. It is through (or, rather, Greek, in) the blood of the covenant that the risen Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep. In that character, and in possession of the power of that atoning blood, he was raised from the dead.

Verse 21

21. Perfect Symmetrical and complete.

In every good work In all well doing. A perfection of Christian life, not consisting only in internal emotion, or showing itself mainly by outward profession, but manifesting itself in all well doing, and rendering vocal profession less necessary.

His will Which is the expression of perfect right.

Working in you Whilst you cooperate with his working. God will not work effectually in us unless we work efficiently with him.

To whom The nearness of the word Christ induces many commentators to make whom refer to him; and thus to him would be ascribed glory for ever and ever. But the naming of Christ here is comparatively incidental, the main subject being God, (Hebrews 13:20,) so that the reference is more probably to him.

Amen This closes the epistle, and what follows is a personal postscript.

Verse 22

6. Postscript, Hebrews 13:22-25.

22. Paul here makes earnest request for a considerate reception by the Hebrews of this epistle.

I beseech you His letter is full of solemn warnings and deep rebukes, and now, retracting nothing, he implores a patient acceptance.

Exhortation Though full of argument, the whole is exhortation exhortation to persevere in Christian faith.

Few words Few, not as compared with his other epistles, but few in comparison with the vastness of the subject.

Written a letter in few words A reference to the brevity of his letter, characteristic of St. Paul alone of all the New Testament writers. Comp. Ephesians 3:3; Galatians 6:11.

Verse 23

23. Know ye The Greek form may be either indicative or imperative. But it is clear that our writer introduces this remark here to inform the Hebrews that he hopes that Timothy will visit them with himself, and that requires the imperative. The words are very conclusive proof that the writer is Paul. For, 1. They accord with the relations of Paul with Timothy, appearing in every mention of Timothy, and with no other. 2. The terms in which Timothy is mentioned as ο αδελφος , “the brother,” are precisely the terms in which Timothy is designated in 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; and Philemon 1:1. The words is set at liberty, Delitzsch acknowledges are as well rendered sent on an official mission, (Acts 13:3; Acts 15:30;) and what that mission was we learn from Philippians 2:19: “I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you.” This was written shortly before the epistle to the Hebrews, and fits with our present text so perfectly as to form a strong probability of unity. 3. If Timothy returns soon enough for Paul’s visit to the Hebrews, then they will come together; if not, Paul comes alone. Delitzsch says, that there is no apparent subordination of Timothy here; but assuredly there is. Paul’s visit to them is the main fact, Timothy’s is the incidental. Timothy is as subordinate in being an attendant on Paul’s visit, as he is in being sent on a mission by Paul to Philippians 4:0. The words in regard to Timothy’s quick return curiously correspond with Paul’s words in Philippians 2:19; Philippians 2:24, where the same Greek word for shortly is used. In all this is an accumulation of coincidences not to be set aside.

Verse 24

24. Them that have the rule over you Same word as in Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:15, and signifying leaders. The antithesis here between leaders and all the saints implies a distinct and authorized drawn line between ministry and laity. The doctrine that such distinction is post-apostolical is inadmissible. And the duty of the latter to the former is expressed in Hebrews 13:17 (where see notes) in terms rarely used by modern Congregationalism.

They of Italy That is, (as the best criticism now interprets the Greek,) the Italian Christians. The Greek phrase is, οι απο τηςΙταλιας , they from Italy. The German critic Bleek, in reviewing Stuart on Hebrews, maintained that the Greek απο signified that the they were away from Italy, and so the epistle could not have been written in Italy. But Stuart triumphantly quoted instances where the phrase simply implied origin, or birthplace, or residence. Thus John 11:1: Lazarus, of ( απο ) Bethany; Lazarus being both a resident of the place, and at that time in Bethany. A salutation to the Hebrews at Jerusalem from so wide-spread a body as “Italian Christians” generally, might seem strange. But, 1. Paul says to the Corinthians, (1 Corinthians 16:19,) “The Churches of Asia salute you.” And St. Peter (1 Peter 1:1) addresses the Churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. 2. The leading body of Christians in Italy were doubtless known to Paul; his writing this epistle was doubtless known to them; he was authorized in spirit to salute the Jerusalem Church in their name. 3. What Church was more suitable or more likely to be saluted from Rome than the mother Church of all, in whose streets Jesus had preached, and without whose gates he was crucified Jerusalem? And in this we have a strong confirmation of the judgment of Christian antiquity, unwisely impugned by modern “criticism,” that this epistle was written to the Church of that city.

Verse 25

25. Grace… all Here, as said in our Introduction to this epistle, we have St. Paul’s own appointed sign-manual given to authenticate his own epistle. This was declared by him to be the “token” of his hand in the second one of his written epistles extant. 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18: “The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the TOKEN in every epistle: so I write, The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” In every one of Paul’s fourteen epistles is this token found. 1 Thessalonians 5:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:18; Galatians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 16:23; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Romans 16:24; Colossians 4:18; Philemon 1:25; Ephesians 6:24; Philippians 4:23; 1Ti 6:21 ; 2 Timothy 4:22; Titus 3:15. This seems to be a declaration by the author himself that he is no other than Paul.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Hebrews 13". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.