commentary from the Greek text on KJV Hebrews
2 Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.
2 For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;
3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
4 God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?
5 For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.
6 But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?
7 Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:
8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.
9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,
12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.
13 And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.
14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.
17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.
If we were tempted to see the teaching of this author as standard stuff, we ought to be challenged by this chapter which gives a unique perspective on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It begins with a warning, that if breaches of the Torah given by angels to Moses were justly punished, followers of Jesus, who have received such a great rescue, should expect at least as much if they allow the message to slip away from them. The KJV translation of verse 3 is to be preferred to many modern versions, in that it catches the image of God’s goodness being wasted.
The author moves on, quoting Psalm 8 which follows Genesis 1 in stating that all the earth’s creatures are put under the authority of human beings. But the Psalm says “all things” are under human control, which allows the author to note that this is not true of humanity as yet, but is true of Jesus, who has conquered even death. Jesus is presented here as the pioneer of humanity, tasting death in order to overcome it on behalf of his human brothers and sisters. Verse 9 has one of the most intriguing manuscript issues in the bible. The accepted reading says that Jesus tasted death “through the grace of God” in Greek “chariti theou”. But some ancient writers and some very old collections of bible readings say that Jesus tasted death “without God” in Greek “choris theou.” How could these be confused by a copy scribe? My guess is that at some point a scribe, scandalised by the notion that Jesus was abandoned by God, changed choris to charis (grace) which subsequently was put into the correct grammatical form chariti by other scribes. If I am right, this author affirms the tradition of Mark and Matthew that Jesus died “abandoned” by God, as we all do.
The author uses the text of the Psalm to describe the earthly life of Jesus as a process of diminishment whereby the Son of God was accomodated to human experience through suffering, so that human beings through their trust in him could be accomodated to his God-given victory over death and the devil.
In verse 10 the author introduces the key description of Jesus as “archegos” captain, leader who goes before the rest, therefore pioneer of salvation, Greek soteria, which means rescue, victory, salvation. Human beings have suffered and died but not achieved victory; Jesus has shared the suffering, the dying, the lack of God; but in God’s goodness he has found a way through, into life, which he wants to give to his human brothers and sisters. In a marvellous expression the author says that because of his suffering Jesus “has no shame” in addressing human beings as brothers and sisters. He has earned his human identity; in human flesh he has defeated the lord of death. Newman got it right in his great hymn, “A second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.” The fear of death which enslaves mortal human beings is lifted by Jesus in his death and resurrection.
Verse 17 introduces another of the author’s insights into the significance of Jesus, designating him as “merciful high priest” who “makes God merciful” Greek, hilaskesthai, to the sins of the people. It’s a strong and challenging description of the work of Jesus.
Images by Rouault