For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
Verses 1-19. - CONCLUDING SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT WITH RESPECT TO CHRIST'S ETERNAL PRIESTHOOD. Verse 1. - For the Law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make the comers thereunto perfect. The Law is said here to exhibit a shadow (σκιὰν) of the good things to come (τῶν μελλόντων ἀγαθῶν), viz. of the "good things" of which Christ is come as "High Priest" (Hebrews 9:11), belonging to the μέλλων αἰών (Hebrews 6:5), μέλλουσα οἰκουμένη (Hebrews 2:5), which is still, in its full realization, future to us, though already inaugurated by Christ, and though we have already tasted the powers of it (Hebrews 6:5). Similarly (Hebrews 8:5) the priests under the Law are said to have served a copy and shadow of the heavenly things; i.e. of the heavenly realities to be revealed in the "coming age." To "shadow" is opposed "very image" (εἰκόνα), which means, not a representation apart from the things (as a statue or portrait may be called an image), but (as emphasized by αὐτὴν) the actual presentment of the things themselves; which were, in fact, archetypal and prior to the shadows of the Law, though their manifestation was reserved to the future age. Such is the sense of εἰκὼν in Colossians 3:10, κατ εἰκόνα τοῦ κτίσαντος αὐτόν: and Romans 8:29, συμμόρφους τῆς εἰκόνος τοῦ υἱοῦ. (Cf. Colossians 1:15, where Christ is called εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου: cf. also Colossians 2:17, where σκιὰ is opposed to σῶμα ( σηαδοω to body.) In the latter part of the verse, "they," who "offer," are the priests of the Law; "the comers thereunto" (οἱ προσερχομένοι) are the people who resort to the rites. "Make perfect" (τελειῶσαι) means full accomplishment for them of what is aimed at; in this case, remission of sin, and acceptance after complete atonement. The verb τελειοῦν, though variously applied, signifies always full completion of the purpose in view (cf. Hebrews 7:19, οὐδεν γὰρ ἐτελείωσεν ὁ νόμος). (For its application to Christ himself, see under Hebrews 2:10; 5:9.)
For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.
Verses 2, 3. - For then (i.e. had it been so able) would they (the sacrifices) not have ceased to be offered, because that the worshippers, having been once purged, should have had no more conscience of sins? But (on the contrary) in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins year by year. The very annual repetition of the same expiatory rites on the Day of Atonement expressed in itself the idea, not of the putting away (ἀθέτησις, Hebrews 9:26) or oblivion, (Hebrews 10:17) of sin, but a recalling to mind of its continual presence. In the following verse the reason of this is found in the nature of the sacrifices themselves; it being impossible for the blood of irrational animals to cleanse moral guilt: it could only avail for the "passing over" (πάρεσιν, Romans 3:25) of sins, as symbolizing an effectual atonement to come in the spiritual sphere of things.
But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Verse 4. - For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats (specified as being the offerings of the Day of Atonement) should take away sins. The principle of the insufficiency of animal sacrifices having been thus expressed, confirmation of it is now further adduced from the Old Testament itself, together with a prophetic anticipation of the great self-oblation which was to take their place.
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
Verses 5-7. - Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body didst thou prepare me: In whole burnt offering and offerings for sin thou hadst no pleasure: Then said I, Lo, I am come (in the volume (i.e. roll) of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God. The quotation is from Psalm 40:6, 7, 8. It is entitled "a psalm of David," nor is there anything in the psalm itself incompatible with his authorship. The question of authorship is, however, unimportant; all that is required for the purpose of the quotation being that it should have been the utterance of an inspired psalmist. The primary import of the passage quoted is that the psalmist, after deliverance from great affliction, for which he gives thanks, expresses his desire to act on the lesson learnt in his trouble by giving himself entirely to God's service. And the service in which God delights he declares to be, not sacrifices of slain beasts, but the doing of his will, the ears being opened to his Word, and his Law being within the heart. Now, bearing in mind what was said under Hebrews 1:5, of the principle on which words used in the Old Testament with a primary human reference are applied in the New Testament directly to Christ, we shall have no difficulty in understanding such application here. The psalmist, it may be allowed, spoke in his own person, and as expressing his own feelings and desires; but, writing under inspiration, he aspired to an ideal beyond his own attainment, the true ideal for humanity, to be realized only in Christ. The ideal is such perfect self-oblation of the human will to God's as to supersede and render needless the existing sacrifices, which are acknowledged to be, in their own nature, valueless. That the psalmist did not really contemplate the fulfillment of this ideal in himself is evident from the penitential confessions of the latter verses of the psalm. It is but the yearning of inspired humanity for what was really needed for reconciliation with God, such yearning being in itself a prophecy. Hence what was thus spoken in the Spirit is adduced as expressing the mind and work of him who fulfilled all those prophetic yearnings, and effected, as Man and for man, what the holy men of old longed to do but could not. The expression, "when he cometh into the world," reminds us of Hebrews 1:6. The word εἰσερχόμενος, here used, is connected in thought with the ἤκω ("I am come") in the quotation. Idle are the inquiries of some commentators as to the precise time, either before or after the Incarnation, at which our Lord is to be conceived as so speaking. Enough to say that his purpose in coming into the world is in these significant words expressed. It is noteworthy, in regard to the attribution of this utterance to him, how frequently he is recorded to have spoken of having come into the world for the accomplishment of a purpose "genie, vel potius, vent, symbolum quasi Domini Jesu fuit" (Bengel). (See Matthew 5:17; Matthew 10:34, 35; Matthew 18:11; Matthew 20:28; Mark 1:38; Luke 9:56; John 9:39; John 10:10; and especially for close agreement with the language of the passage before us, John 6:38, "I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that tent me;" and John 12:46, "I am come a light into the world.") The psalm is quoted from the LXX., with slight variation, not worth considering, as it does not affect the sense of the passage. But the variation of the LXX. from the Hebrew text requires notice.
(1) Instead of "a body didst thou prepare for me (σῶμα κατηρτίσω μοι)" of the LXX. and the quotation from it, the Hebrew has "mine ears hast thou opened;" literally, "ears hast thou dug for me," meaning probably, "formed the cavity of my ears through which thy Word may penetrate," equivalent to "given me ears to hear," with reference, of course, to spiritual auscultation. If to the Hebrew verb כָרַה be assigned here the sense of piercing, rather than hollowing out, implying an entrance affected through the ears already formed, the general sense remains the same. In either case the word κατηρτίσω may be accounted for, as being a free rendering, intended to give the meaning of the figure. But the substitution of "body" for "ears" is not so easily accounted for. One conjecture is that some transcriber of the Alexandrian translation of the Hebrew had inadvertently joined the last letter of the preceding word, ἠθελησας, to the following word, ωτια, and that the ΤΙ of ΞΩΤΙΑ was then changed into the Μ of ΟΩΜΑ, so as to make sense of the word thus formed. But this is only conjecture. That some copies of the LXX. had ὠτία appears from the fact that the Vulgate, translated from the LXX., reads aures perfecisti mihi, and that some manuscripts of the LXX. still have ὠτία, or ῶτᾳ. Thus there can be little doubt that σῶμα was a wrong rendering of the Hebrew, however originating, which the writer of the Epistle found in the copies of the LXX. which he used. For that he himself altered the word to suit his purpose, and that the alteration got into copies of the LXX. from the Epistle, is highly improbable, considering the general accuracy of his quotations, and his purpose of proving his positions from the sacred documents to which his readers could refer. As to the unimportance of any such variations from the original Hebrew in the quotations of the Epistle from the LXX., as long as the argument is not affected, see what is said under Hebrews 1:7 with respect to the quotation from Psalm 104. In this case the variation certainly does not affect the argument. For though the word σῶμα is certainly taken up again in ver. 10 as applicable to Christ, yet the argument of the passage by no means rests on this word, but on θέλημα. This is indeed a passage (as was observed under Hebrews 9:14) notable for the very fact that the essence of the atonement is in it represented as consisting, not so much in its physical accompaniments as in its being a spiritual act of perfect self-oblation.
(2) The more probable meaning of the phrase translated in the LXX. and the quotation, "it is written of me γεγράπται περὶ ἐμοῦ)" is in the Hebrew," it is prescribed unto me," i.e. "laid on me as a duty;" this being also the sense in which the same words occur in 2 Kings 22:13, "Great is the wrath of the Lord... because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is prescribed to us;" where the LXX. translates, τὰ γεγραμμένα καθ ἡμῶν. The most obvious reference of the Hebrew psalm is to the Book of the Law generally, in which the duty of fulfilling the Divine will is enjoined, rather than to any prophecy, applied by the writer to himself individually. If so, it is not necessary to inquire what prophecy about himself David might have had in view; whether e.g. Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; or Deuteronomy 17:14, et seq. But the phrase, περὶ ἐμοῦ, does certainly rather suggest a prophecy, and such suggestion is peculiarly appropriate in the application to Christ. Well, then, if here again there is some variation from the original Hebrew text, it is still such as to leave the general argument intact.
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;
Verses 8-10. - Saying above that Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and offerings for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein (such as are offered according to the Law); then hath he said, Lo, I come to do thy will; i.e. he has made this second assertion while making the first also. The purpose of thus putting it is to show the connection between the two assertions; that fulfillment of God's will is spoken of as a substitute for sacrifices, whose inutility in themselves had been declared. Yes; he taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. In the which will (the Divine will, willing our redemption through Christ, and perfectly fulfilled by him) we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. For the sense to be attached to the verb ἁγιάζω see under Hebrews 2:11. It is not our progressive sanctification by the Holy Ghost that is intended, but the hallowing effected for us once for all, as denoted by the perfect participle ἡγιασμένοι. The remainder of this concluding summary (vers. 11-19) serves to weave together the various threads of the foregoing argument and emphasize the result.
Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
Verses 11-13. - And every priest indeed standeth daffy ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but he, having offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet. Thus with the one perfectly accomplished and for ever availing sacrifice is brought into connection, as its result, the fulfillment in Christ for man of the ideal of Psalm 8:6 (which was set forth in Hebrews 2:5-10; see the remarks there made), and also of the Son's exaltation to the right hand of God, declared in Psalm 110. (referred to in Hebrews 1:13, and brought fully into view in Hebrews 8:1, after the chapter about Melchizedek). Be it observed that the priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek" in itself implied this exaltation, which was in fact inferred from it. For the priesthood after this order, having been shown to be eternal and unchangeable, was further seen, from Psalm 110, to be conjoined to the eternal royalty at God's right hand.
But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
Verse 14. - For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. The tense of the participle ἁγιαζομένους, instead of as ver. ἡγιασμένους, in 10, does not involve a different sense of the verb, viz. the ordinary one associated with the word "sanctify." When it was necessary to express by the word itself the accomplishment of sanctification in the sense intended, the perfect participle was used; here the subjects of the same sanctification are denoted, the accomplishment being expressed by τετελείωκε (cf. οἱ ἁγιαζομένοι, Hebrews 2:11). The meaning of τετελείωκε ("hath perfected") may be taken as ruled by τοὺς ἁγιαζομένους: hath perfected them as ἁγίοι, done all that was required for their being such, without any need of any further offering (cf. supra, Hebrews 10:1).
Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,
Verses 15-18. - And the Holy Ghost also testifieth to us: for after that he hath said, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; (then saith he), And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. The apodosis to "after that he hath said," not distinctly marked in the Greek or in the A.V., is denoted in the above rendering by "then saith he" before ver. 17. Another view is that it begins earlier in the sentence, being introduced by "saith the Lord," which occurs in the quotation from Jeremiah. But this is improbable, since
(1) words in the quotation itself could not well be intended to be understood as the quoter's own;
(2) the quotation down to ver. 17 is continuous, whereas the citation of ver. 17 is in the original passage of Jeremiah separated from the preceding one;
(3) the logical conclusion intended to be drawn requires ver. 17 to be the apodosis. For the writer's purpose in referring once more to Jeremiah's prediction of the" new covenant" is to show from it the completeness and finality of Christ's atonement; and this, he argues, follows from this characteristic of the "new covenant" being added to the previous description of it - "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." CH. 10:19-END. HORTATORY PORTION OF THE EPISTLE. The great doctrine of Christ's eternal priesthood having been led up to, established by argument, and at length fully expounded, it remains only to press the practical result of a belief in it in alternate tones of encouragement and of warning. We have seen that, even in the earlier chapters, hortatory passages were frequently interposed, showing the purpose all along in the writer's mind. In the central and deepest part of the argument (Hebrews 7:1-10:19) there were none, close and uninterrupted attention to the course of thought being then demanded. But now, the argument being completed, the previous exhortations are taken up again, and enforced in consequently fuller and deeper tones. The connection of thought between these final admonitions and those previously interposed is evident when we compare the very expressions in Hebrews 10:19-23 with those in Hebrews 4:14-16, and the warnings of Hebrews 10:26, etc., with those of Hebrews 6:4, etc. Thus appears, as in other ways also, the carefully arranged plan of the Epistle, different in this respect from the undoubted Epistles of St. Paul, in which the thoughts generally follow each other without great regard to artistic arrangement. This, however, is in itself by no means conclusive against St. Paul's authorship, since there would be likely to be just this difference between a set treatise composed for a purpose, and a letter written currente calamo by the same author. It does, however, mark a different class of composition, and is suggestive, as far as it goes, of a different writer.
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
Verses 19-21. - Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter (literally, for the entrance) into the holiest (literally, the holies, i.e. the holy place, as τὰ ἅγια is translated in Hebrews 9:25, but meaning, there as here, the holy of holies) by the blood of Jesus, which (entrance) he consecrated (or, dedicated, as the same verb ἐγκαινίζω is translated, Hebrews 9:18, with reference to the Mosaic tabernacle) for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great Priest (ἱερέα μέγαν, not ἀρχιερέα, high priest; but a priest of higher order than any earthly priest; cf. Hebrews 5:14, ἀρχιερέα μέγαν) over the house of God. The epithet πρόσφατον ("new") applied to the "way" dedicated for us by Christ, though meaning originally, according to its etymology, "newly slain," is commonly used to express "recent" only. And so here. It is a new way in relation to the old one of the high priest through the veil - a way untrodden by man till opened and dedicated by "the great Priest." The epithet ζῶσα ("living") applied to the way distinguishes it, as a spiritual mode of approach, from the old one. "Opponitur exanimo. Per prosopopoeiam vita adscribitur viae, ex ipsa vita Christi, qui est Via" (Bengel; see John 14:6). But what is the meaning of the veil (καταπέτασμα, the word always used of the veil in the tabernacle or temple) being said to be "his flesh "? The idea cannot be simply that he passed through the human nature assumed at his incarnation to the heavenly throne; for the intended counterpart to the high priest's passing through the veil must have been after the completed sacrifice. It is rather that, at the moment of death, when, after saying, "It is finished," he "gave up the ghost," the human flesh (which had through all the ages been as a veil hiding "the unseen" from man, and behind which Christ himself had "tabernacled" during his human life) was, as it were, rent asunder and the new way opened. And that this was so was signified by the rending in twain of the veil of the temple from the top to the bottom, mentioned by St. Matthew (Matthew 26:51), at the very moment of the death upon the cross. This incident may have suggested to the writer the expression used. "Quum primum Christus per momentum mortis transierat, praesto fuit mera virtus et vita. Τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ, carnem suam, quae item scissa est, ut velum" (Bengel). "The house of God" in ver. 21 is a resumption of the thought of Hebrews 3:1-7, where Christ was shown to be greater than Moses, as being the SON over the house of God, having (be it observed) been called ἀρχιερέα in ver. 1. (For the comprehensive meaning of the expression, not limited either to the Mosaic dispensation or the visible Church, see what was said under Hebrews 3:4.) On the now firmly grounded doctrinal bases of
(1) open access through Christ to the mercy-seat,
(2) his ever-availing intercession, are built the exhortations
(1) to confidence,
(2) to persistence in faith and corresponding conduct.
By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
And having an high priest over the house of God;
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
Verse 22. - Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water. "Let us draw near" (προσερχώμεθα) is a liturgical phrase, denoting the approach of the people, after ceremonial atonement, to the earthly sanctuary (cf. ver. 1, τοὺς προσερχομένους). We may now draw near to the very heavenly mercy-seat, without any sense of a bar to our doing so on the ground of consciousness of sin. In Christ we are to see accomplished all that is needed for atonement. But there are conditions also required in ourselves, expressed first by the "true heart," and the "fullness of faith," and then by the clauses that fellow. These clauses, like προσερχώμεθα have a liturgical basis - that of the blood-sprinkling (e.g. of the people with the blood of the covenant under Mount Sinai, Hebrews 9:19, and of the priests on their consecration, Leviticus 8:23) and of the ablutions before sacrificial service (Leviticus 8:6; Leviticus 16:4, 24; Exodus 30:39). Hence these two participial clauses are not to be separated from each other, and seem best to be both taken in connection with the preceding προσερχώμεθα. "Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience" means our having the inward consciousness of debarring sin removed through the blood of Christ; the "full assurance of faith" in the completed atonement, and the "true heart," being presupposed. The conjoined clause, καὶ λελουμένοι, etc., is capable also of being figuratively interpreted, in the sense that "our sinful bodies" have been "made clean," so as to be offered through life acceptably as "a living sacrifice," as well as "our souls washed through his most precious blood." And this may be taken as implied. But the terms body and water after hearts and blood certainly suggest a direct reference to baptism. And such definite allusion is in keeping with references elsewhere to the beginning of the Christian life (see Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3, 4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21). The passage last referred to is apposite to that before us in that with an undoubted mention of baptism is conjoined "the answer of a good conscience toward God."
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
Verses 23-25. - Let us hold fast the confession (ὁμολογίαν, see Hebrews 3:1, and ref.; also Hebrews 4:14) of our hope without wavering (ἀκλινῆ, agreeing with "confession"); for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. The readers, having been exhorted to confidence towards God, are further warned against remissness in confession before men, or in their duties within the Church towards each other. They had once, at their baptism, "confessed the good confession" (τὴν καλὴν ὁμολογίαν, 1 Timothy 6:12). Let not the recurrence of Jewish prejudices, or either influence or persecution from their Jewish compatriots, or any delay of the Parousia, induce them to waver in maintaining it. Some among them did, it could not be denied, show signs of such wavering, notably in their remiss attendance at Christian worship; let the faithful give heed to keeping faith alive in themselves and others, and especially through the means of the regular Church assemblies. That by τὴν ἐπισυναγωγὴν ἑαυτῶν is meant definitely the actual assembling together of Christians for reading, exhortation, and worship (such as is referred to in 1 Corinthians 11; James 2:2, etc.,; and described by Justin Martyr, 'Apol., c. 87), we hold confidently with the majority of commentators and with Chrysostom. The word ἐπισυναγωγὴ occurs in the New Testament only here and 2 Thessalonians 2:1, where it denotes the gathering together at the Parousia. In 2 Macc. 2:7, where alone it occurs in the LXX., it expresses the actual assembling of people together, as does the verb ἑπισυνάγω, both in the LXX. and the New Testament (cf. Matthew 23:37; Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27; Mark 1:33; Luke 12:1). Hence, and in regard to the context as well as the etymology of the word, we may reject the less definite meaning, by some here assigned to it, of Christian communion (conjugatio fidelium), and the explanation of Bengel: "Sensus est, non modo debetis synagogam frequentare, ut Judaei, quod libentius facitis, sed etiam episynagogam, ut Christiani. Neque tamen innuitur praecise aggregatio ad unum locum, aut aggregatio ad unam fidem; sed, medio sensu, congregatio mutua per amorem et communicatio publica et privata officiorum Christianorum." The seen approach of the second advent (τὴν ἡμέραν: cf. 1 Corinthians 3:13) is adduced as an additional argument against remissness. The word βλέπετε seems to imply more than the general belief in its imminence, founded on the language of Christ. It would seem as if the signs of the times were interpreted as denoting its approach (el. 1 John 2:18). And it may be that they were rightly so interpreted in reference to the primary fulfillment of our Savior's words, though to that only, as the event proved. The blending together in the discourses of Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 17. and 21, of the times of the fall of Jerusalem and of the final day, would naturally lead Christians to regard the signs of the first event as denoting the other also. And indeed the imminence of the first, of which the signs were really apparent, was in itself a peculiar reason why the Hebrew Christians should stick resolutely to Christianity, for its own sake and apart from Judaism. Else might their whole hold on Christ be loosened in the temple's fall Thus, though the writer might share in the mistaken view then prevalent of the imminence of the final day, his warning, founded on the supposed signs of it, hits well the peculiar needs of his readers.
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
Verses 26-32. - Solemn warning as to the fearful consequences of apostasy. Verses 26, 27. - For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for (ἐκδοχὴ, used here only; but ἐκδέχομαι is frequent in the New Testament in sense of "expect;" e.g. supra, ver. 13. Hence there seems no good ground for disputing, with Afford, the usual rendering, "expectation") of judgment, and fiery indignation (πυρός ζῆλος), which shall devour the adversaries. The warning passage thus begun closely resembles the former interposed one, Hebrews 6:4-9. Both have been similarly misapplied (see notes on Hebrews 6:4-9); but both have the same real meaning, which is further confirmed by comparing them together. The purport of both is the hopelessness of a state of apostasy from the faith after full knowledge and full enjoyment of privilege; both are led up to by cautions against remissness, of which the final issue might be such apostasy; both are followed by the expression of a confident hope, founded on past faithfulness, that no such apostasy will really follow. The state contemplated is here expressed by ἐκουσίως ἁμαρτανόντων, a phrase which in itself might at first sight seem to support one of the erroneous views of the drift of the passage, viz. that all willful sin after baptism or grace received is unpardonable. But it is first to be observed that the participle ἁμαρτανόντων is not aorist, but present, expressing a persistent habit; also that the whole context is sufficient to denote the kind of sin intended. For
(1) the preceding verses have pointed to laxity of allegiance to Christ, which might have further consequences;
(2) the illustration of what is meant, adduced in ver. 28 from the Mosaic Law, is (as will appear under that verse) a case of entire apostasy - a sin not to be atoned for by any sacrifice, but visited by "cutting off;"
(3) the description in ver. 29 of the sin intended implies total repudiation of Christ. Observe, on ἀκουσίως σίως, the contrast to ἁμαρτάνειν (Leviticus 4:2, 27; Leviticus 5:15, al.), expressive of sins of ignorance or infirmity. Not such sins, but deliberate sin with a high hand, is here intended; and further, for the reasons above given, one of this nature so heinous as to be beyond the reach of sacrifice. From all such considerations it appears that ἐκουσίως ἁμαρτανόντων here expresses the same idea as παραπεσόντας (Hebrews 6:6) and ἀποστῆναι ἀπὸ Θεοῦ ζῶντος (Hebrews 3:12), viz. final obdurate defection from the faith. Further, the previous conditions for the possibility of arriving at such a hopeless state, set forth more at length in vers. 4, 5 of Hebrews 6, are here shortly expressed by μετὰ τὸ μαβεῖν τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τῆς ἀληθείας, which is to be interpreted in the light of the other passage (see note thereon). The consequences of such falling away are differently stated in the two passages. In Hebrews 6, it was the impossibility of renewal unto repentance; here it is the absence of any further atoning sacrifice; and this in keeping with what has been now proved of the sacrifice of Christ having superseded all others and been "once for all." The drift is that, if this is deliberately rejected after full knowledge of it, no ether is left to have recourse to. Then the immediate mention of "judgment" is in keeping also with the conclusion of Hebrews 9. (see note on Hebrews 9:27), and is immediately suggested here by τὴν ἡμέραν of ver. 25. The fire in which that day is to be revealed is a prominent figure both in the Old Testament and the New; regarded as both an assaying and a consuming fire (cf. especially 1 Corinthians 3:13-16). The expression, πυρὸς ζῆλος ("zeal, or indignation, of fire"), not only expresses the vehemence of the flame, but also implies the idea of the fire itself being instinct with the Divine wrath or jealousy (as ζῆλος, equivalent to קִגְאָה, is usually translated when attributed to God), of which it is the symbol (cf. Psalm 79:5, Ἐκκαυθήσεται ὡς πῦρ ὁ ζῆλος μου: Ezekiel 38:19, Ὁ ζῆλος μου ἐν πυρὶ τῆς ὀργῆς μου: Zephaniah 1:18, Ἐν πυρὶ ζῆλου αὐτοῦ: and infra, Hebrews 12:29, "Our God is a consuming fire"). (For ἐσθίειν μέλλοντος τοὺς ὑπεναντίους, cf. Isaiah 26:11, Ζῆλος λήψεται λαὸν ἀπαίδευτον καὶ νῦν πῦρ τοὺς ὑπεναντίους ἔδεται).
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Verse 28. - One that hath despised (rather, set at naught) Moses' Law dieth without mercy under (i.e. at the word of) two or three witnesses. The reference is to Deuteronomy 17:2-7, as shown by the mention of the "two or three witnesses" (ver. 6). The sin there spoken of is that of one who "hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD, in transgressing his covenant, and hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or the moon, or any of the host of heaven." The significance of this in its bearing on the meaning of ἁμαρτανόντων in ver. 26 has been already noted.
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
Verses 29, 30. - Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing (κοινὸν, a word commonly denoting things unclean; cf. Mark 7:2; Acts 10:14, 28; Acts 11:8; Romans 14:14; and supra, Hebrews 9:13; and so probably here, meaning more than common, i.e. ordinary human blood. If vilified by denial of its atoning efficacy, it was relegated into the class of unclean things themselves requiring purification. The word is used in opposition to ἡγιάσθη), and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? It has been already remarked how these very strong expressions (answering to those in Hebrews 6:6) further denote the kind of sin. intended by ἁμαρτανόντων in ver. 26. Three characteristics of it are given:
(1) contumelious repudiation of Christ;
(2) vilification of his atonement;
(3) despite to the Holy Spirit that has been given and enjoyed.
Citations from the Old Testament follow, according to the general plan of the Epistle, to show that there is a terrible as well as a gracious side of the revelation of the God of Israel, and especially (as intimated by the second quotation) that his own people may be the objects of his vengeance. For we know him that said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. Both citations are from Deuteronomy 32:35, 36, the second being introduced also into Psalm 135:14. The first is remarkable as a combination of the texts of the Hebrew and the LXX., neither being exactly followed. The Hebrew has (A.V.), "To me belongeth vengeance and recompense;" the LXX., Ἐν ἡμέρα ἐκδικήσεως ἀνταποδώσω. And in the same form as in the text the passage is cited Romans 12:19. It may be, in this and some other cases of variation from the LXX., that a text different from ours was used by the New Testament writers. The difference here is quite immaterial with regard to the drift of the quotation.
For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Verse 31. - It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. David, when the option was given him, preferred falling into the hand of the LORD to falling into the hand of man (2 Samuel 24:14), trusting in the greatness of his mercies. But the case contemplated here is that of its being "too late to cry for mercy, when it is the time of justice." Fearful (the writer would say) is the thought of being exposed, without possibility of escape or of atonement, to the wrath of the Eternal Righteousness. The inspired author of this Epistle had evidently an awful sense of the Divine wrath against sin, and of man's liability to it without atonement. He felt deeply the contradiction between humanity as it is and its ideal of perfection; and hence the wrath attributed to God in Holy Writ would appear to him as inseparable from a just conception of Divine holiness. For the more ardent the love in the human heart of moral good, by so much the keener is the indignation against moral evil, and the sense of the righteousness of retribution. The existence of such evil at all in the good God's universe is indeed a mystery; but, as long as it is there, we cannot but conceive the face of the holy God as set utterly against it; and so any revelation to us of the Divine nature would be imperfect did it not include the idea which is humanly expressed by such terms as "zeal," "jealousy," "wrath," "vengeance." Hence came the long-felt need of some atonement, to reconcile sinful man to the eternal holiness. This need was expressed of old by the institution of sacrifice, which, however - as is so clearly perceived in this Epistle - could never itself be really efficacious in the spiritual sphere of things. In the atonement of Christ (if rightly apprehended) is found at last a true satisfaction of this spiritual need. But, man's concurrence being still required, the idea of Divine wrath remains notwithstanding, as operative against such as, in deliberate perversity of free-will, after full knowledge, refuse to be thus reconciled. Hence the awful anticipations of future judgment on some, contained in this Epistle. The nature and duration of the doom to come, on such as remain subject to it, are in these passages left in obscurity. They speak only of φοβερά τις ἐκδοχὴ, an undefined expectation of something terrible. It may be observed, however, that, whatever be the force of other Scriptures in which the fire of that day is described as eternal and unquenchable, here at least the figure of a zeal of fire to devour the adversaries seems in itself to suggest rather utter destruction than perpetual pain.
But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;
Verses 32-39. - As at Hebrews 6:9, the tones of solemn warning, founded on a real sense of the possibility of apostasy in some, are now relieved by a better hope. In Hebrews 6:9, et seq., the writer expressed his own confidence in his readers on the ground of their conduct in the past; here he reminds them of their conduct by way of confirming their own steadfastness, and this with judgment as well as delicacy; for, as Theodoret remarks on this passage, "nothing so excites to zeal as the remembrance of one's own right doings." Verse 32. - But call to mind the former days, in which, after ye were enlightened, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; rather, conflict of sufferings. On φωτισθέντες ("enlightened"), cf. Hebrews 6:4, and what was said there as to the meaning of the word. Here certainly the context seems naturally to suggest a definite reference to baptism, as marking the date of the commencement of exposure to persecution. But if so, not, of course, so as to exclude the idea of inward spiritual enlightenment. "Hie primus erat ingressus ad Christianismum; baptismus apud idoneos salutare medium. Existimo haec instituta divina etiam in theoria non tanti aestimari quanti decebat. Apud ipsum baptismum Christi sancta ejus humanitas magnifice illuminata fuit" (Bengel).
Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.
Verse 33. - Partly, being made a gazing-stock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, having become partakers with them that were so used. On θεατριζομένοι (translated "made a gazing-stock"), cf. 1 Corinthians 4:9, Θέατρον ἐγενήθημεν τῷ κόσμῳ καὶ ὀγγέλοις καὶ ἀνθρώποις. The figure is drawn from the Roman amphitheatres, where persons doomed to death were exposed to the gaze and the contumely of crowds; and the expression may not be wholly figurative, but denote the actual treatment of Christians, as expressed by the common cry, "Christianos ad leones!" The phrase, τῶν οὕτω ἀναστρεφομένων, (translated "them that were so used"), might be more correctly rendered (as ἀναστρέφεσθαι is elsewhere), "them that so had their conversation," i.e. manner of life. For the word is not used in a passive sense, but as equivalent to versari; cf. Matthew 17:22; 2 Corinthians 1:12; Ephesians 2:3; Hebrews 13:18; also Galatians 1:13; Ephesians 4:22, etc. (ἀναστροφὴ). The Vulgate has taliter conversantium; Wickliffe, "men living so;" Tyndale and Cranmer, "them who so passed their time." But the A.V. may give the meaning with sufficient correctness, the main thought being probably the experience of the persons referred to rather than their demeanor under it.
For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.
Verse 34. - For ye had compassion on those who were in bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing that ye have for yourselves a better possession, and an abiding one. For τοῖς δεσμίοις, the Receptus has τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου, which the A.V., so as to avoid the impropriety of expressing sympathy with the bonds themselves, renders "me in my bonds." Even apart from manuscript authority, δεσμίοις is evidently to be preferred, both as suiting the verb συνεπαθήσατε and as being more likely to have been altered to the common Pauline expression, δεσμοῖς μου, than vice versa, especially on the supposition of the writer being St. Paul himself. Thus no evidence as to the authorship of the Epistle is hence deducible. The allusion is to persecutions of Christians, under which the Hebrews addressed had been plundered, and had succored others who were prisoners for the faith, as is intimated also in Hebrews 6:10. More than one such persecution might be in the writer's view, including, perhaps, that after the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1; Acts 11:19); that instituted by Herod Agrippa, under which James the elder suffered (Acts 12.); that which led to the martyrdom of James the Just (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 20:09. 1) and others.
Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.
Verses 35, 36. - Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience (or, endurance), that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise; or, doing the will of God, ye may receive, etc. The aorist participle ποιήσαντες does not of necessity express priority to the receiving (cf. Hebrews 6:15, μακροθυμήσας ἐπέτυχε). The meaning is that by endurance in doing the will they would receive. The full and final enjoyment of what is promised is still future and conditioned by perseverance. Observe the difference between the words κομίζεσθαι, here used, and ἐποτυγχάνειν, used in Hebrews 6:15. The former (occ. Hebrews 11:19, 39; also 2 Corinthians 5:10; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:25; and 1 Peter 1:9) means the actual reception of what is denoted, equivalent to sibi acquirere; the latter (etc. Hebrews 6:15; Hebrews 11:33; also Romans 11:7; James 4:2) means only "to attain to," without involving full possession. It is not said of Abraham (Hebrews 6:15) that he ἐκομίσατο, only that he ἐπέτυχε. So also of all the faithful of old described in the following chapter (Hebrews 11:39). And even to believing Christians, as this verse shows, the κομίζεσθαι is still future and contingent.
For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
Verses 37, 38. - For yet a little (rather, very little) while, and he that cometh will come, and will not tarry. But the just shall live by faith: and if he draw back, my soul hath no pleasure in him. In these verses, after the manner of the Epistle, what is being urged is supported by an Old Testament quotation (Habakkuk 2:3, 4), its drift being
(1) the certainty, notwithstanding delay, of the fulfillment of the Divine promise;
(2) the necessity meanwhile of continuance in faith and perseverance. The quotation serves also as a step of transition (this, too, after the Epistle's manner) to the disquisition on faith, which forms the subject of the following chapter. For the prophet speaks of faith as what the righteous one is to live by until the Lord come. It was faith - a fuller faith - that the Hebrew Christians wanted to preserve them from the faltering of which they showed some signs; and the requirement of faith was no new thing - it had been the essential principle of all true religious life from the beginning, and thus is led up to the review which follows of the Old Testament history, showing that this had always been so. The quotation, as usual, is from the LXX., which, in this case as in some others, differs from the Hebrew. But here, as in ver. 29, supra, the LXX. is not exactly followed. The writer cites freely, so as to apply the essential meaning of the passage to his purpose. The Prophet Habakkuk (writing probably during the long evil days of Manasseh) had in his immediate view the trials of faith peculiar to his own time - violence and iniquity in Israel, and imminence of judgment at the hands of Chaldean conquerors, under which he had cried, "O Lord, how long?" But he stands upon his watch and sits upon his tower, to look out what the LORD will say to him in answer to his difficulties. And the LORD answered him, and said, "Write the vision, and make it plain upon the tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie [rather, 'but it hasteth to the end, and doth not lie']: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, and not tarry [or, 'be behindhand']. Behold, his soul that is lifted up is not upright in him [or, 'behold, his soul is lifted up, it is not upright in him']; but the just shall live by his faith." The drift of this Divine answer, which inspired the song of joyful confidence with which the Book of Habakkuk so beautifully concludes, is, as aforesaid, that, in spite of all appearances, the prophetic vision will ere long be realized; God's promises to the righteous will certainly be fulfilled; and that faith meanwhile must be their sustaining principle. The variations of the LXX. from the Hebrew are:
(1) Ἐρχόμενος ἥξει, instead of "It (i.e. the vision) shall come;"
(2) Ἐὰν ὑποστείληται οὐκ εὐδοκεῖ ἡ ψυχή μου ἐν αὐτῷ, instead of "Behold, his soul," etc.;
(3) Ὁ δὲ δικαιός μου ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται
(A), or δὲ Ὁ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως μου ζήσεται
(B), instead of "The just shall live by his faith." The variations in the Epistle from the LXX. are:
(1) Ἔτι μικρὸν ὅσον ὅσον (etc. Isaiah 26:20), interpolated at the beginning of the quotation;
(2) Ὁ ἐρχόμενος for ἐρχόμενος, so as to denote more distinctly the Messiah who was to come (cf. Matthew 10:3; John 6:14); here, of course, with a view to his second advent;
(3) the reversal of the order of the two concluding clauses, ἐὰν ὑποστείληται, and ὁ δὲ δίκαιος:
(4) in the Textus Receptus the omission of μου after either δίκαιος or πίστεως (as the same text is cited by St. Paul, Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11). There is, however, good authority for reading it here after δίκαιος (equivalent to "my Righteous One"). None of these variations from the LXX. affect the meaning of the passage, being only such as to point more clearly the intended application. One of the variations of the LXX. from the Hebrew (ἐὰν ὑποστείληται, etc.) does alter the meaning of that particular clause, though not the general purport of the whole passage. The adoption here of the LXX. reading, and still more the fact that the following verse depends upon this reading, is among the strong evidences of the Epistle having been originally written, not in Hebrew, but in Greek.
Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
Verse 39. - But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe unto the saving of the soul; literally, not of the drawing back unto... but of faith unto, etc. Thus, once more before proceeding to the subject now before him, the writer is careful to disclaim any real expectation of defection in his readers, and with delicacy he includes himself with them by his use of the nominative plural.