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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Hebrews 5

 

 


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Introduction

Introduction to Chapter 5

One central theme running through the letter to the Hebrews is the thought of Jesus Christ the Son of God as our Great High Priest. Along with the reigning son of David the High Priest was the theocratic power in the land. And together they represented Israel before God. Thus when Jesus is revealed as Son of God, son of David and great High Priest, we find in Him the One Who is totally complete to represent us. And when we add to this the revelation of Him as restored Man, the second man replacing Adam, the picture is complete.

The idea of Jesus Christ as our great High Priest is first indicated when the writer is describing Him as ‘the Son’ Who reveals all the fullness of what God is (Hebrews 1:1-2). There He is declared to be the One Who, as the glorious revealer of God, ‘makes purification for sins’, a priestly action, and sits down at the right hand of the Majesty on High (Hebrews 1:3)

The idea is then taken up again in chapter 2 following a passage where His death and saving work has been described, stressing that He is High Priest as supreme Man. There the idea is completed by a description of Jesus as our ‘merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people’ (Hebrews 2:17). So in both places emphasis is laid on His priestly work connected with the offering of a sacrifice for the purpose of atonement, both to cleanse and to propitiate, in the first case as the ‘Son’ from Heaven, and in the second as ‘Jesus’, the perfect Man.

This is taken up in Hebrews 3:1 where Jesus is described as ‘the Apostle and High Priest of our confession’ and emphasis is there laid on His faithfulness and accomplishment as being greater than those of Moses. His purpose is revealed as to bring us into ‘rest’, and this is confirmed in Hebrews 4:14 where after the description of that rest we are told of ‘a great High Priest Who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God’, Who can sympathise with us in all our needs and from Whom we can find help in all our testings and temptations, and Who awaits our approach to His throne (compare Hebrews 1:3), which is a place where mercy and grace are to be found.

Thus in Him is found cleansing, propitiation, and gracious, empathetic response to our needs. Of what sort then is this Great High Priest, for He is certainly unlike the High Priests who are (or have been) active in the world? In this chapter we learn that He is a High Priest Who has also been appointed God’s Son, Who is of the house of David, and is therefore ‘a priest after the order (likenesss) of Melchizedek’. He is a royal priest, of a priesthood older than that of Aaron, and superior to both Moses and Aaron.

Preliminary Note on The Order of Melchizedek.

In the account in Genesis 14 where Abraham is revealed as the deliverer of both Lot, and the captives and wealth of Sodom, from the hands of the kings from the north, Melchizedek is revealed as the priest-king of Salem (Jerusalem), a royal priest who presided over all parties involved, both as a superior, and as having special privilege before the Most High God. He appears suddenly, and disappears equally as suddenly, and in his status ministers to Abraham and receives tithes from him.

The idea of the Melchizedek priesthood is then taken up in Psalms 110:4. The Psalm would later have Messianic connections but it firstly had in mind the Davidic kingship. We must remember that David captured Jerusalem and made it his own city. That is why the people of Jerusalem always saw themselves as separate from Israel and Judah. And it appears that as a result he would have conferred on him by the people of Jerusalem the position as priest-king of Jerusalem, the ‘royal priesthood of Melchizedek’, as the successor to the previous priest-kings. He took the place of the former priest-kings. This need not necessarily mean that he offered sacrifices. Indeed he specifically introduced the Levitical priests into Jerusalem for that purpose, along with the Tabernacle, for he was too good a Yahwist to go against the Law. But he almost certainly in his exalted position took part in major religious ceremonies, in recognition of his royal priestly connections and status. Later Davidic kings, not so scrupulous, might even have gone further, but we have no specific evidence of it in relation to Yahwism. We can also compare the special privileges of the Davidic prince in Ezekiel’s temple (Ezekiel 44:1-3). There too he was to have a unique place. Here was one uniquely in a position to intercede on behalf of his people, which indeed David often did, both in the salvation history (see 2 Samuel 24:17) and in the Psalms.

Psalms 110:4 reveals that this unique position of David also reflected God’s view of him. God swore by an oath that David’s unique privilege as representing his people in a special way before God would stand for ever. He would be seen as a priest after the order of, in the likeness of, Melchizedek.

With regard to this we must remember that in ancient days kings were regularly seen as representing their people in religious events, and as having special influence with their divinities. They had a special sacral role which varied from the full deity of the Pharaoh, and the semi-deity of Mediterranean kings, to an exalted priesthood of lesser royalties like Melchizedek. David too enjoyed this special status, and it was linked with him being a priest after the order of Melchizedek through being king of Jerusalem. But by taking the Tabernacle into Jerusalem David prevented a division in the mind of the Jerusalemites over which priesthood was the most important cultwise, for he established and oversaw the Levitical priests for ritual purposes connected with sacrifices (1 Chronicles 16:1-2 - note the ‘they’) and he himself carried out intercessory functions and set up worshipping functions (1 Chronicles 6:31; 1 Chronicles 16:4-6), and thus he and the Levitical priesthood were conjoined in the minds of the people.

The use of the title ‘priest after the order of Melchizedek’ in Psalms 110:4 confirms that it was a recognised part of his royal status, and seen as approved by God. It was seen as making him very much someone who was close to God in a unique non-sacrificing priesthood, having a special religious status before God, and special access in prayer, both on his own behalf and on behalf of the people (see 2 Samuel 24:17), without necessarily himself directly offering sacrifices. And this was closely linked with his kingship and his coming worldwide rule. Thus it could be said of him by God, 'You are my son, today I have begotten (by adoption) you' (Psalms 2:7) in relation to that priesthood (Psalms 5:5-6) which was an essential part of his being the anointed king. Kingship and priesthood went together. He was seen as the 'firstborn' of Yahweh, supreme among kings because of his special relationship with God (Psalms 89:27), and this included his position as priest after the order of Melchizedek. The title ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ was thus representative of his royal priestly status and of his unique position with God as a priest-king ‘begotten’ by God. This link is specifically made here in Hebrews 5:5-6.

The whole Psalm later became recognised as Messianic (an advance on Davidic), as referring to the future king Messiah who would come to bring about God's purposes, who was thus portrayed as both priest after the order of Melchizedek, and as God’s anointed king. The title and function was therefore particularly apt for application to Jesus. (It was also taken up in later Jewish tradition as referring to a heavenly figure, but there is no suggestion of this in Scripture).

End of Note.

It is these ideas which are taken up by the writer to the Hebrews. Jesus is here depicted as the royal priest of a better priesthood than that of the Mosaic law, 1). Because it was more ancient (already established in the time of Abraham), 2). Because it continued for ever in the King, and 3). Because what he offered was heavenly intercession.

And he later draws attention to how Melchizedek, priest-king of Salem, source of the Davidic priesthood, was described as not limited by genealogy and without recognised antecedents. Nothing was known about him. He was simply accepted by God without any such evidence. So from the point of view of the tradition in Scripture how he emerged mysteriously, and disappeared equally mysteriously, was thus a good illustration of the eternal heavenly priesthood. Unlike the Levitical priests, who rooted themselves firmly to earth by their ancestral claims, he was not required to produce a pedigree. There is no mention of birth, no mention of death, but a continuing for ever of his priesthood, as is shown by his reappearance in Psalms 110:4 in connection with the everlasting Davidic kingship (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16). The writer was drawing out the idea, not expressing a verdict on the original Melchizedek.

We must remember the importance of descent and genealogy to the Jew. Each priest assiduously traced his ancestry back (whether accurately or not) to prove his legitimate descent, and as one generation died so another replaced it. This was what gave him his status. He was firmly connected to an earthly source. But this Melchizedek was firmly in place as priest-king, without genealogy, without such claims, and yet he was of such superior status that Abraham acknowledged him, and submitted to him, and there was no record of his being replaced. He stands there as a seemingly eternal, heavenly figure.

He was manifestly greater than Abraham, for Abraham offered him tithes, whereas Abraham never offered tithes to the Levitical priests, for they came from the loins of Abraham, that is were descended from him, and Abraham was thus superior to them. So the Melchizedek priesthood is represented as superior to the Levitical priesthood. He was a royal priest, associated with righteousness and peace which are elsewhere royal attributes of good kings (Melchizedek indeed means 'my king is righteousness'. Compare Isaiah 11:4-5 for the ‘righteous’ king and Isaiah 9:6 for 'the Prince of Peace' . See also Psalms 72:7.

So all this indicated that the new priesthood of Jesus as the Davidic heir, had good and ancient antecedents, was distinctive from the Levitical priesthood and was far its superior, and yet had close enough connections, confirmed by God in Psalms 110, for Him to replace the Levitical priesthood as the heavenly royal priest, taking over the role of the earthly servants with a better sacrifice than theirs, a sacrifice which the earthly priests could not offer. It signified His eternity, His royalty and His sufficiency to offer the perfect sacrifice, a superior priesthood in every way.

Note on Messianic.

In describing Psalms as Messianic we must recognise what is meant by that. In one sense all psalms which referred to the house of David were ‘Messianic’, in that they referred to the experiences and future prospects of the house of David, of those who were God’s anointed’, and thus also were necessarily applicable to the final, great, everlasting coming king of the Davidic house. But it was only later that this developed into the full blown ideas of ‘the Messiah’ from the house of David that we find later. Many Psalms prepared for such an idea and can therefore be seen as ‘Messianic’ from the start, in intent if not in name. But certain of them later actually became depicted as Messianic.

End of note.

Chapter 5 Our Great High Priest After The Order of Melchizedek.

This chapter begins by outlining the characteristics of the earthly High Priesthood, and goes on to show the superior High Priesthood of Jesus. This then leads on to another digression and exhortation as the writer feels the difficulty of expressing his case before those who through neglect have become babes in doctrine. He is not sure that they can cope with what he has to say, and gives a strict warning in chapter 6 of the dangers of faltering and falling away from the truth.


Verse 1

‘For every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.’

The nature of the high priesthood is defined. The high priest is taken from among men. He is one of the run of men. He is appointed to act for men. Yet his position is exalted in that he is appointed to act for them in relation to God and in things pertaining to God. He is the earthly mediator between man and God. He acted from men to God in the sphere of offering gifts and sacrifices for sins, as very much a man approaching God seeking mercy. ‘Gifts and sacrifices for sins’ covers the whole range of Old Testament offerings (compare Hebrews 8:3; Hebrews 9:9). He did also, however, also receive God’s word to man by the use of Urim and Thummim. But this is never taken up in this letter.

‘Things pertaining to God.’ That which pertains to true relationship with God. ‘Ta pros ton theon.’ Literally ‘the (things) towards God.’ Pros ton theon is found in John 1:1 where ‘the Word was with God’, that is, face to face with God in personal relationship and fellowship. Thus the High Priest acted in ‘that which is towards God’ in order to maintain man’s relationship with God.


Verses 1-4

Characteristics of the Earthly High Priesthood (Hebrews 5:1-4).

The earthly High Priest,

1) Is taken from among men (Hebrews 5:1).

2) Is appointed for men for the offering of gifts and sacrifices (Hebrews 5:1).

3) Can bear gently with the ignorant and erring, because like them he is weak and sinful, and so has to offer sacrifices for sins first for himself and then for his people (Hebrews 5:2-3).

4) Has the honour given to him by God. (Hebrews 5:4).

So, to summarise, he is taken from among men, he is an earthly priest, both weak and sinful, he is appointed by God, on men’s behalf, and it is for the offering of gifts and sacrifices, which are for both himself and the people. As one from among them, although specially chosen, he acts for men before God in an earthly sanctuary.

But in contrast Jesus Christ is shown as having come from Heaven (Hebrews 1:3), as having humbled Himself but as not being sinful (Hebrews 2:9-18), was totally faithful (Hebrews 2:17 to Hebrews 3:6) and while being appointed by God for the offering of a once-for-all sacrifice, did not have to offer it for Himself, but did it only for the people (Hebrews 7:26-27), finalising the procedure in Heaven (Hebrews 4:14 compare Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 9:24; Hebrews 10:12). It is clear therefore that He is of a superior, heavenly priesthood, so that returning to submission to an earthly priesthood can only be seen as blasphemous.


Verse 2-3

‘Who can bear gently with the ignorant and erring, in that he himself also is compassed with infirmity, and by reason thereof is bound, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.

But in this he has one advantage that must not be despised. As a man he can identify himself with men. Because he himself is ‘compassed with infirmity’, is weak and sinful and aware of his humanness and unworthiness, he can bear gently with, empathising with, those who are the same, those who are ‘ignorant and erring’, lacking in knowledge of God and straying from His ways. (This excludes deliberate, high handed sin).

The High Priest must therefore be compassionate. He must be able to restrain his natural disgust at what he might see as unforgiveable behaviour, must maintain constant and compassionate patience with those who frequently fall, must avoid taking in aversion those who appear to him to be hypocrites or superficial, and must not take up attitudes of disfavour against sinners of any kind. Rather he must see their approach as genuine unless he has good reason to think otherwise, because he is aware of how he too so often reveals himself as contrary to what he should be; and that if his inner heart were known, few would seek him out; and because his concern for them all is that they be reconciled to God.

This ideal of the compassionate High Priest who entered into the feelings and needs of those he acted for had in fact become totally unrealistic. Their main thought had become what they could get out of it. But this emphasis here stresses the necessity that there was, for our great High Priest to also have experienced what it was to be human, (see Hebrews 5:7; Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 4:15).

Note his obligation. ‘He is bound to -- offer for sins.’ It is the responsibility and duty of his office.

‘So also for himself, to offer for sins.’ And as well as offering sacrifices for the sins of the people the earthly High Priest had constantly to offer them for his own sins. He too was a failing sinner, the one qualification that Jesus Christ did not have. On the other hand Jesus had experienced depths of temptation which sinful men knew nothing of.


Verse 4

‘And no man takes the honour to himself, but when he is called of God, even as was Aaron.’

And finally he is God-appointed. It is not something that a man can choose to do himself, his appointment comes from God, for he has to act towards God and it is finally to God that he is responsible. This is of course the ideal of priesthood. The later earthly priesthood had manifested few of these characteristics, apart from artificially. The writer is portraying priesthood at its best.

‘When he is called of God.’ It is a divine calling which comes from God and which he cannot refuse. He is in that position simply because God required it; and because God required it, He had no choice in the matter.

‘As was Aaron.’ Aaron, the brother of Moses, was appointed ‘the priest’ in accordance with God’s instructions to Moses (Exodus 28:1 following).


Verse 5

‘So Christ also glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he who spoke to him, “You are my Son, This day have I begotten you.” ’

He emphasises that Christ also did not choose Himself. He did not glorify Himself. In His High Priesthood He was not self-appointed. He was declared to be so by God. The same words that indicated His true Sonship (taken from Psalms 2:7, see on Hebrews 1:5) also indicated His true Priesthood. As the appointed heir of David, chosen and begotten by God, He was automatically both a king and a priest after the order of Melchizedek, but His official appointment by God as such is now described.

‘Christ.’ The writer is careful with his use of names. This is the first mention of Christ. The One appointed and glorified is ‘the Christ’, the anointed of God, the Messiah. He received the kingship and the priesthood at the same time. We may well be intended to see this as indicating His anointing with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38) at His baptism. He is the One sent from God as His anointed King.


Verses 5-10

The Superiority of Christ’s Priesthood (Hebrews 5:5-10).

Christ is therefore now revealed also to be God-appointed, experiencing humanness and weakness, and learning obedience (although never once getting less than 100%). But nothing is said here about sacrifices offered for sin. For that had already been fulfilled in His death on the cross and there would be no more meaningful sacrifices for sin.


Verse 6

‘As he also says in another place, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” ’

And this was confirmed by the psalm in which God said, ‘you are a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalms 110:4). Thus there could be no doubting His priestly credentials. The superiority of this position in Scriptural eyes will be established later.

To be such a priest was depicted in the Psalm as being a position of great honour. He is such a one as is set at the right hand of God with his enemies to be brought into submission (Hebrews 5:1; compare Hebrews 1:3). As such he will rule as priest-king (Hebrews 5:2), and as a result of taking His place at God’s right hand as priest-king he will bring kings into submission and the nations into judgment (Hebrews 5:5-6). The priest after the order of Melchizedek was seen as an important royal personage with a unique position which rendered him especially acceptable to God.

We should note here how easily the writer moves from ‘priest’ to ‘High Priest’. In his kingship Melchizedek was automatically ‘high priest’ in the eyes of his people.

‘In another place.’ A further example of the writer’s supreme trust in Scripture as the very words of God.


Verse 7

‘Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and having been (‘was’) heard for his godly fear.’

And yet He was also a human being, subject to all the trials of a human being. While in the flesh He feared death, and because of it He prayed and appealed to God, strongly and with tears, seeking the help of the One Who could save Him from death, and was heard for His godly fear (or ‘reverent submission’). For an angel came and strengthened Him (Luke 22:43). It was a reminder that He was not alone. The aim of these words is to demonstrate that He was truly a man among men, and that His trust was in God. He did not need to offer sacrifices for Himself, but He did need the means of prayer and supplication. The one would have been to admit to sin, and was unnecessary for One Who was without sin, the other was to admit to humanness, and was very necessary. It may well be that this example was as much for us as for Him, that we might learn the folly of standing alone without full reliance on God.

It is salutary that after the angel strengthened Him His suffering went even deeper, but the moment of crisis had passed. He was now ready to face it alone.

‘The days of His flesh’ may be intended to indicate His whole life’s ministry. He constantly prayed, and He constantly faced the threat of death almost from the beginning (Mark 2:20; Mark 3:6; Mark 8:31; Mark 9:33; John 5:18; John 7:1; John 7:44; John 8:40; John 8:59; John 10:31; John 11:50). But it is generally agreed that it most fits Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and that that is especially in mind here with the remainder as a shadow behind it.

In the Garden he prayed earnestly with tears that the cup that He had to face might pass from Him. It was not so much death that He feared, but all that was involved in His own particular death. And yet He was also fearful of death itself, for it would be the very extinguishing of all that He was. It is impossible for us to begin to conceive what dying must have meant to One Who was the source of life itself, Who throbbed with life, Who knew life in its fullest sense. Death was thus foreign to His very nature, to all that He was, as it could never be to us. It was so alien that in His manhood He feared it. And on top of that it was a death for sin, not His own but the sin of the whole world. He was to die for the sins of men, and Himself take the full impact of God’s aversion to sin. No wonder He recoiled from it.

But He was constantly delivered from death during His ministry, and His prayer in Gethsemane was specifically subject to the will of God and was in the last analysis a prayer for strength to face what God willed. And in this His prayer was successful. He was heard for His godly fear, because of His reverent submission, and sustained through what lay ahead. He went into death, and through it, and emerged again as the Lord of life. He had been saved from death. Death had lost its sting.


Verses 8-10

‘Although being Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered, and having been made perfect, he became to all those who obey him the author of eternal salvation, named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.’

The writer now sums up what He achieved at the cross. Though He was of the nature of ‘Son’ (see Hebrews 1:1-14), yet He learned obedience by the things that He suffered (Hebrews 2:9), and having thus been made perfect (Hebrews 2:10), He became to all those who similarly obeyed Him (Hebrews 4:1-11), the author of eternal salvation, in His appointment by God as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. As King-Priest He too was High Priest.

‘Though he was of the nature of God’s Son.’ Incomprehensible the thought that the One Who was the outshining of the glory of God and the exact representation of what He essentially was, the Creator and Sustainer of all creation, should learn obedience by suffering, and especially the suffering of death. ‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies’, who can begin to understand it?

‘Yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered.’ For Him this was a new learning curve. He had always been ‘He Who must be obeyed’. But He emptied and humbled Himself. He became the servant Who humbly obeyed like the Servant in Isaiah 53, even to the level of his extensive suffering. And in living out a humble life He learned what it meant to obey. And He was totally successful, for He obeyed fully (Romans 5:19; Philippians 2:5-8). Thus did He reveal Himself as truly the perfect man, fully obedient man, obedient to the will of God, and nowhere more so than in the Garden of Gethsemane where He revealed His absolute obedience to the will of God in the face of the utterly unbearable, which He expressed Himself as yet willing to bear, and went forward triumphantly to do so.

‘Learned (emathen) -- by what He suffered (epathen).’ Note the play on words.

‘And having been made perfect.’ His obedience and His suffering, which He chose, made Him perfect, prepared in every way, for the task that lay before Him, to bring eternal salvation to man. It made Him the perfect Sanctifier (Hebrews 2:11), the perfect Trek Leader (Hebrews 2:10), the perfect Sacrifice (Hebrews 2:14), the perfect Deliverer from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). His exaltation to God’s right hand completed His perfect preparation.

‘He became to all those who obey Him the author of eternal salvation.’ Note that the eternal salvation is only for those who obey Him (compare John 3:36). He became the source of and the One responsible for bringing about the future salvation promised in the Old Testament to those who responded in obedience.

‘The author’ (aitios), the One who is finally responsible for bringing about, the One who causes, the One Who is the root cause. Compare its use in 1 Samuel 22:22 LXX ‘I am the cause of/the one responsible for bringing about, the death of the house your father’. It is often found in Greek with soterias (in Aeschines, Philo, Demosthenes) with the idea of the one responsible for bringing about salvation in one way or another (Philo uses it of the brazen serpent). It is not quite the same idea as Author/Trek Leader (archegos - Hebrews 2:10) where the thought is more on the activity involved. Here the thought was of total responsibility for bringing it about.

‘Of eternal salvation.’ The salvation of the coming age (as with ‘eternal’ life, the life ‘of the coming age’), the future everlasting salvation promised by God in the Old Testament (compare Isaiah 45:17 LXX).

‘Named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.’ This reference here, following Hebrews 5:6, demonstrates that all that has gone between in Hebrews 5:7-9 lay behind His unique High Priesthood. This High Priesthood was revealed in His powerful prayers and supplications which achieved victory over death, it was prepared for by His being made perfect through suffering. Compare Hebrews 2:10-11 where the Author/Trek Leader of their salvation, Who also ‘sanctifies’ them, a priestly activity, is made perfect through suffering. And it ended up with Him seated at the right hand of God, the bringer about of eternal salvation for His own.

Note that when quoting the Psalm directly the writer retains ‘priest’ but when referring to it speaks of ‘High Priest’, because He was the royal supreme priest.

The Writer Rebukes His Readers For Not Being In A State To Understand His Message And Warns Of The Danger Of Falling Away From The One Whom He Is Describing (Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:12).

The introduction of Christ’s High Priestly work constantly results in admonition. Hebrews 2:17 to Hebrews 3:1 resulted in the long warning passage from Hebrews 3:7 to Hebrews 4:13. Its mention here now results in Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:12. Mention of it will also result in Hebrews 10:26-31. His readers must choose between the old, now superseded, priesthood, or the new Priesthood of Christ. Christ’s exaltation as High Priest faces all men with a choice, either positive and glad response to Him in faith, or judgment.

He commences here with regret that his readers are in no state to hear what he would say to them because of their lukewarm state, having allowed their senses to atrophy. He then declares his intention to advance to this higher teaching, but warns that those who have turned away from Christ will be in no state to respond, although he then expresses his confidence that his readers are mainly not of this number.


Verse 11

‘Of whom we have many things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing that you are become dull of hearing.’

He stresses that he has much more to say to them, which they may find somewhat difficult to understand, simply because they have become spiritually deafened. These men who should have been teaching others are themselves not in a position to be taught.

‘Of whom (or ‘which’) we have many things to say.’ Many things to say, that is, about God’s great High Priest, or about His ministry, which he will in fact continue to say in Hebrews 7:1 onwards.

‘Hard of interpretation.’ Difficult to teach clearly to the spiritually immature, and difficult to be understood by them.

‘Seeing that you are become dull of hearing.’ They have lost their first spiritual understanding and eagerness to hear and have become bogged down. This may be because this group had sought to reconcile the new message with the old Judaism, using a new patch to repair an old garment (Mark 2:21), and had simply found that it was not possible, and that both were thereby spoiled.


Verse 12

‘For when by reason of the time you ought to be teachers, you have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food.’

This has resulted in the fact that while they had been Christians long enough to have been able to be teachers, they in fact needed again to learn the old truths that they had believed in the beginning when they had claimed to accept Christ. They needed again to be taught ‘the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God’. They needed to be bottle fed rather than given solid food.

For the truth was that they were all mixed up, and it remained to be seen whether ‘His anointing’ would restore them to the truth, or they would reveal themselves as unanointed (1 John 2:20) by turning from that truth. He will in fact point out that he still has much hope for them because previously they have given clear indications of fruitful service (Hebrews 6:9-12).

‘By reason of the time.’ Either referring to the fact that such long-time Christians should by now surely be mature in Christ, or to the dangerous times then present which meant that mature Christians should be ready to teach.

‘You have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God.’ It has been a common problem through the ages that men can learn the simplicity of the true Gospel and then allow it to become blurred by incorporating other teachings and philosophies so that the Gospel is drowned out. The fascination of new ideas, or the desire to be well thought of, can be very deceptive. Here almost certainly it was their desire to incorporate Judaism into their form of Christianity which was blurring the Gospel and leading to their downfall. So the writer’s solution is that they return to the first principles of the Gospel.

‘The rudiments of the first principles of (the beginning of)’, the very basics of the basic teaching as expressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:1-2). ‘The rudiments’, or as we would put it the ABC, the first steps in a subject.

‘First principles/beginning’. They need to start at the very beginning again, considering the first principles, not because they have not learned them but because they have neglected them. All teachers must ensure that they do not neglect the first principles, otherwise their congregations may become moribund.

‘The first principles (beginning) of the oracles (diminutive of logos - ‘words’) of God.’ Almost certainly signifying the Old Testament (compare Acts 7:38; Romans 3:2). They needed to discern in it the new from the old, for pedantic interpretation could lead them astray. They needed to get to the heart of its true message. Compare ‘the first principles of Christ’ in Hebrews 6:1.


Verse 13

‘For every one who partakes of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.’

Being those who are partaking of milk and not meat demonstrates that they are without experience of the ‘word of righteousness’. ‘The word of righteousness’ is probably intended to cover all aspects of righteousness as it pertains to God and His people. For God’s purpose is that His people be both accounted righteous and made righteous. Both are in the end part of one process, part of the righteousness of God. Those who but drink milk have no experience of the teachings concerning the righteousness of Christ as it applies to His people, both as imputed and imparted. They know nothing of justification, sanctification and growth in righteousness, of the deeper significance of the cross as a provider of righteousness and crucifier of the flesh, and thus no knowledge of the High Priesthood of Christ. They only know about the very basics of such things as sin and repentance, and general faith towards God, and outward ceremonies, and general resurrection and judgment (Hebrews 6:1-2). And this demonstrates that they are still totally dependent babes at the breast. Compare Ephesians 4:13-16; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3.


Verse 14

‘But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.’

For solid teaching is for fullgrown adults who constantly use their minds and are thus able to discern between right and wrong, and what teachings are good and what are evil. Compare 1 Corinthians 2:9-16.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hebrews 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/hebrews-5.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 28th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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