Hebrews 10
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 10. The first eighteen verses of this chapter are a summary, rich with fresh thoughts and illustrations, of the topics on which he has been dwelling; namely (1) The one sacrifice of Christ compared with the many Levitic sacrifices (1–10). (2) The perfectness of His finished work (11–18). The remainder of the chapter is occupied with one of the earnest exhortations (19–25) and solemn warnings (25–31), followed by fresh appeals and encouragements (32–39), by which the writer shews throughout that his object in writing is not speculative or theological, but essentially practical and moral.

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.
1–14. The one Sacrifice and the many Sacrifices

1. of good things to come] Of the good things which Christ had now brought into the world (Hebrews 9:11).

not the very image of the things] “The Law,” says St Ambrose, “had the shadow; the Gospel the image; the Reality itself is in Heaven.” By the word image is meant the true historic form. The Gospel was as much closer a resemblance of the Reality as a statue is a closer resemblance than a pencilled outline.

can never] This may be the right reading, though the plural “they are never able,” is found in some mss. If this latter be the true reading the sentence begins with an unfinished construction (anakoluthon).

with those sacrifices …] Rather, “with the same sacrifices, year by year, which they offer continuously, make perfect them that draw nigh,” i.e. the Priests can never with their sacrifices, which are the same year by year, perfect the worshippers. Some have given a fuller sense to the words “the same,” as though it meant that even the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement cannot make any one perfect, being as they are, after all, the same sacrifices in their inmost nature as those which are offered every morning and evening.

For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.
2. once purged] having been cleansed, by these sacrifices, once for all.

conscience] Rather, “consciousness.”

But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.
3. there is a remembrance again made of sins] This view of sacrifices—that they are “a calling to mind of sins yearly”—is very remarkable. It seems to be derived from Numbers 5:15, where “the offering of jealousy” is called “an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.” Philo also speaks of sacrifices as providing “not an oblivion of sins, but a reminding of them.” De plant. Noe, § 25. De Vit. Mos. iii. § 10 (Opp. i. 345, ii. 246). But if the sacrifices thus called sins to remembrance, they also daily symbolised the means of their removal, so that when offered obediently with repentance and faith they became valid symbols.

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
4. it is not possible …] This plain statement of the nullity of sacrifices in themselves, and regarded as mere outward acts, only expresses what had been deeply felt by many a worshipper under the Old Covenant. It should be compared with the weighty utterances on this subject in the O.T., 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8; Psalm 40:6-8 (quoted in the next verses), and Pss. 50. and 51; and above all Hosea 6:6, which, being a pregnant summary of the principle involved, was a frequent quotation of our Lord. Any value which the system of sacrifices possessed was not theirs intrinsically (propriâ virtute) but relatively and typically (per accidens). “By a rudely sensuous means,” says Lünemann, “we cannot attain to a high spiritual good.” Philo in one of his finest passages shews how deeply he had realised that sacrifices were valueless apart from holiness, and that no mere external acts can cleanse the soul from moral guilt. He adds that God accepts the innocent even when they offer no sacrifices, and delights in unkindled altars if the virtues dance around them (De plant. Noe). The heathen had learnt the same high truths. Horace (Od. iii. 23) sings,

“Immunis aram si tetigit manus

Non sumptuosâ blandior hostiâ

Mollivit aversos Penates

Farre pio et saliente micâ.”

Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
5. when he cometh into the world, he saith] The quotation is from Psalm 40:6-8. The words of the Psalmist are ideally and typologically transferred to the Son, in accordance with the universal conception of the O.T. Messianism which was prevalent among the Jews. It made no difference to their point of view that some parts of the Psalm (e.g. in Hebrews 10:12) could only have a primary and contemporary significance. The “coming into the world” is here regarded as having been long predetermined in the divine counsels; it is regarded, as Delitzsch says, “not as a point but as a line.”

Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not] “Thou carest not for slain beast or bloodless oblation.” This is in accordance with the many magnificent declarations which in the midst of legal externalism declared its nullity except as a means to better things (Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21; 1 Samuel 15:22, &c.

but a body hast thou prepared me] This is the rendering of the LXX. In the Hebrew it is “But ears hast thou digged for me.” The text of the Hebrew does not admit of easy alteration, so that either (1) the reading of the Greek text in the LXX. must be a clerical error, e.g. ΚΑΤΗΡΤΙΣΑΣΩΜΑ for ΚΑΤΗΡΤΙΣΑΣΩΤΙΑ, or (2) the LXX. rendering must be a sort of Targum or explanation. They regarded “a body didst Thou prepare” as equivalent to “Ears didst thou dig.” The explanation is usually found in the Hebrew custom of boring a slave’s ear if he preferred to remain in servitude (Exodus 21:6; Deuteronomy 15:17), so that the “bored ear” was a symbol of willing obedience. But the Hebrew verb means “to dig” rather than “to bore,” and the true explanation seems to be “thou hast caused me to hear and obey.” So in Isaiah 48:8 we have “thine ear was not opened,” and in Isaiah 50:5, “God hath opened my ear and I was not rebellious.” Thus in the two first clauses of each parallelism in the four lines we have the sacrifices which God does not desire; and in the second clause the obedience for which He does care. “The prepared body” is “the form of a servant,” which Christ took upon Him in order to “open His ears” to the voice of God (Php 2:7). See Revelation 18:13, where “bodies” means “slaves.” St Paul says, “Ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ” (Romans 7:4).

In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
6. burnt offerings] Lit., “Holocausts.” The word occurs here alone in the N.T. These “whole burnt offerings” typified absolute self-dedication; but the holocaust without the self-sacrifice was valueless.

Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
7. Lo, I come] Rather, “I am come.” This 40th Psalm is one of the special Psalms for Good Friday.

in the volume of the book] The word kephalis, here rendered volume, does not occur elsewhere in the N. T. It means the knob (umbilicus) of the roller on which the vellum was rolled. The word in the Hebrew is Megillah, “a roll.” It cannot be rendered “in the chief part” or “in the beginning.” The words “it is written of me” may mean in the Hebrew “it has been prescribed to me,” and others take the clause to mean “l am come with the roll of the book which is written for me.” If we ask what was “the book” to which the author of the Psalm referred the answer is not easy; it may have been the Law, or the Book of God’s unwritten counsels, as in Psalm 139:16. The writer of the Epistle, transferring and applying David’s words to Christ, thought doubtless of the whole O.T. (comp. Luke 24:26-27, “He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself).

to do thy will] The writer has omitted the words “I delight.” Slavish accuracy in quotation is never aimed at by the sacred writers, because they had no letter-worshipping theory of verbal inspiration. They held that the inspiration lay in the sense and in the thoughts of Scripture, not in its ipsissima verba. Hence they often consider it sufficient to give the general tendency of a passage, and frequently vary from the exact words.

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;
8. which are offered by the law] Rather, “according to the Law.” A whole argument is condensed into these words, which the context would enable readers to develop for themselves.

Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
9. then said he] Lit., “Then he has said.”

He taketh away the first] namely, Sacrifices, &c.

that he may establish the second] namely, the Will of God.

By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
10. By the which will we are sanctified] Rather, “we have been sanctified “because, as we have already seen, the word hagiasmos is not used of progressive sanctification, but of consecration in a pure state to God’s service (Hebrews 2:11, Hebrews 13:12, &c., and comp. John 17:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “This is the will of God, even your sanctification”).

the offering of the body of Jesus Christ] The “body” is a reference to Hebrews 10:5. And because Christ thus offered His body we are bidden to offer our bodies as “a living sacrifice, holy, well-pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1).

And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
11. And every priest] The better reading seems to be “High Priest.”

standeth] None were permitted to sit in the Holy Place. Christ sat in the Holiest, far above all Heavens.

oftentimes] “Day by day for a continual burnt-offering” (Numbers 28:3; comp. Hebrews 7:27).

take away sins] The word is not the same verb (aphairein) as in Hebrews 10:4, but a much stronger one (perielein) which means “at once to strip away,” as though sin were some close-fitting robe (see Hebrews 12:1).

But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
12. on the right hand of God] Hebrews 8:1, Hebrews 1:13.

From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
13. his footstool] Psalm 110:1; 1 Corinthians 15:25.

For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
14. he hath perfected] Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 7:25.

them that are sanctified] “those who are in the way of sanctification” (Hebrews 2:11; comp. Acts 2:47).

Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,
15. Whereof] Rather, “But.”

the Holy Ghost] For “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).

for after that he had said] There is no direct completion of this sentence, but the words “again He saith” are found in some editions before Hebrews 10:17. They have no manuscript authority, but were added by Dr Paris (from the Philoxenian Syriac) in the margin of the Cambridge Bible of 1762.

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;
16. This is the covenant] Jeremiah 31:33-34 (comp. Hebrews 8:10-12).

And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
17. will I remember no more] This oblivion of sin is illustrated by many strong metaphors in Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 38:17; Jeremiah 50:20; Psalm 103:12; Micah 7:19, &c.

Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.
18. there is no more offering for sin] Since the object of all sacrifices is the purging of the soul from guilt, sacrifices are no longer needed when sins have been annulled (Hebrews 9:26). Those words form the triumphant close of the argument. To revert to Judaism, to offer sacrifices, meant henceforth faithlessness as regards Christ’s finished work. And if sacrifices were henceforth abolished there was obviously an end of the Aaronic Priesthood, and therewith of the whole Old Covenant. The shadow had now been superseded by the substance, the sketch by the reality. And thus the writer has at last made good his opening words, that “at this end of the days God had revealed Himself to us by His Son,” and that the New Covenant thus revealed was superior to the First, alike in its Agent (Hebrews 7:1-25), its Priesthood (Hebrews 7:25 to Hebrews 9:12), its Tabernacle, and its sacrificial ordinances (Hebrews 9:13 to Hebrews 10:18).

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
19–25. An exhortation to Christian confidence and Fellowship

19. brethren] Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 13:22.

boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus] Rather, “confidence in the blood of Jesus, for our entrance into the Holiest.” This right of joyful confidence in our access to God through Christ is dwelt upon in Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:12.

By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
20. by a new and living way] The word rendered “new” is not kainos as elsewhere in this Epistle, but prosphatos, which means originally “newly-slain.” It may be doubted however whether the writer intended the oxymoron “newly-slain yet living.” That the road was “new” has already been shewn in Hebrews 9:8-12. It is called “living” not as “life-giving” or “enduring,” but because “the Lord of life” is Himself the way (John 14:6; comp. Ephesians 3:12).

which he hath consecrated] The verb is the same as in Hebrews 9:18, “which He inaugurated for us.”

through the vail, that is to say, his flesh] There is here a passing comparison of Christ’s human body to the Parocheth or Veil (Hebrews 6:19, Hebrews 9:3) through which the High Priest passed into the Holiest, and which was rent at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:51). It was through His Suffering Humanity that He passed to His glory.

And having an high priest over the house of God;
21. a high priest] Lit. “a great Priest” (as in Leviticus 21:10), here meaning a Kingly Priest (Zechariah 6:11-13).

over the house of God] See Hebrews 3:6; 1 Timothy 3:15.

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.
22. Let us draw near] We have seen throughout that the notion of free access and approach to God is prominent in the writer’s mind.

in full assurance of faith] See Hebrews 6:11.

having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience] That is, having our souls—our inmost consciousness—sprinkled as it were with the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:14, Hebrews 12:24, 1 Peter 1:2) and so cleansed from the consciousness of guilt. So the Jewish priests were purified from ceremonial defilement by being sprinkled with blood (Exodus 29:21; Leviticus 8:30).

and our bodies washed] The perfect participles in these clauses—“having been sprinkled,” “having been washed”—imply that it is to be done once and for ever. All Christians are priests to God (Revelation 1:5-6); and therefore Christian Priests, before being permitted to approach to God, must, like the Jewish Priests (Exodus 30:20), be sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and bathed in the water of baptism (Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).

with pure water] “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean” (Ezekiel 36:25).

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
23. the profession of our hope] Rather, “the confession of our Hope.” Here we have the same trilogy of Christian graces as in St Paul—Faith (Hebrews 10:22), Hope (Hebrews 10:23), and Love (Hebrews 10:24).

without wavering] “So that it do not bend.” It must be not only “secure” (Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14), but not even liable to be shaken.

for he is faithful that promised] Hebrews 6:13, Hebrews 11:11, Hebrews 12:26. The writer felt the necessity of insisting upon this point, because the sufferings of the Hebrew converts, and the long delay (as it seemed to them) of Christ’s return, had shaken their constancy.

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
24. to provoke unto love] “For provocation to love.” The word paroxusmos (whence our “paroxysm”) is more generally used in a bad sense, like the English word “provocation” (see Acts 15:39; Deuteronomy 29:28; LXX.). And perhaps the writer here chose the word to remind them that the “provocation” at present prevailing among them was to hatred not to love.

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.
25. the assembling of ourselves together] i.e. “our Christian gatherings.” Apparently the flagging zeal and waning faith of the Hebrews had led some of them to neglect the Christian assemblies for worship and Holy Communion (Acts 2:42). The word here used (episunagôgç) only occurs in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, and is perhaps chosen to avoid the Jewish word “synagogue;” and the more so because the duty of attending “the synagogue” was insisted on by Jewish teachers. In the neglect of public worship the writer saw the dangerous germ of apostasy.

as the manner of some is] This neglect of attending the Christian gatherings may have been due in some cases to fear of the Jews. It shewed a fatal tendency to waver in the direction of apostasy.

exhorting one another] This implies the duty of mutual encouragement.

ye see the day approaching] The Day which Christians expected was the Last Day (1 Corinthians 3:13). They failed to see that the Day which our Lord had primarily in view in His great eschatological discourse (Matthew 24) was the Close of the Old Dispensation in the Fall of Jerusalem. The signs of this were already in the air, and that approaching Day of the Lord was destined to be “the bloody and fiery dawn” of the Last Great Day—“the Day of days, the Ending-day of all days, the Settling-day of all days, the Day of the promotion of Time into Eternity, the Day which for the Church breaks through and breaks off the night of this present world” (Delitzsch).

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
26–31. A solemn Warning of the Peril of Wilful Apostasy

26. For if we sin wilfully) The word “wilfully” stands in contrast with sins of weakness, ignorance and error in Hebrews 5:2. If the writer meant to say that, after the commission of wilful and heinous sins, “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,” this would not only be the most terrible passage in Scripture, but would do away with the very object of Redemption, and the possibility of any Forgiveness of Sins. It would, as Kurz says, “be in its consequences truly subversive and destructive of the whole Christian soteriology.” But the meaning rather is “If we are willing sinners,” “if we are in a state of deliberate and voluntary defiance to the will of God.” He is alluding not only to those sins which the Jews described as being committed presumptuously “with uplifted hand” (Numbers 15:30; Psalm 19:13; see. Hebrews 6:4-8, Hebrews 12:16-17), but to the deliberate continuity of such sins as a self-chosen law of life; as for instance when a man has closed against himself the door of repentance and said “Evil be thou my good.” Such a state is glanced at in 2 Peter 2:20-21; Matthew 12:43-45.

after that we have received the knowledge of the truth] Rather, “the full knowledge of the truth.” Something more is meant than mere historical knowledge. He is contemplating Christians who have made some real advance, and then have relapsed into “desperation or the wretchlessness of unclean living.”

there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins] Lit., “no sacrifice for sins is any longer left for them.” They have rejected the work of Christ, and it cannot be done for them over again. There is one atoning sacrifice and that they have repudiated. He does not say that they have exhausted the infinite mercy of God, nor can we justly assert that he held such a conclusion; he only says that they have, so long as they continue in such a state, put themselves out of God’s covenant, and that there are no other covenanted means of grace. For they have trampled under foot the offer of mercy in Christ and there is no salvation in any other (Acts 4:12).

But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
27. but a certain fearful looking for of judgment …] All that is left for willing apostates when they have turned their backs on the sole means of grace is “some fearful expectance of a judgment.” They are “heaping up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath” (Romans 2:5).

and fiery indignation] Lit., “and a jealousy of fire.” He is thinking of God “as a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) and of the question “Shall thy jealousy burn like fire?” Psalm 79:5 (comp. Ezekiel 35:5).

which shall devour the adversaries] “Yea let fire devour thine enemies” (Isaiah 26:11). It has so long been the custom to interpret such passages of “eternal torments” that we lose sight of the fact that such a meaning, if we may interpret Scripture historically, was in most cases not consciously present to the mind of the writers. The constant repetition of the same metaphor by the Prophets with no reference except to temporal calamities and the overthrow of cities and nations made it familiar in this sense to the N.T. writers. By “the adversaries” here are not meant “sinners,” but impenitent Jews and wilful apostates who would perish in the Day of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:8). It is at least doubtful whether the writer meant to imply anything beyond that prophecy of doom to the heirs of the Old Covenant which was fulfilled a few years later when the fire of God’s wrath consumed the whole system of a Judaism which had rejected its own Messiah. The word for “adversaries” only occurs in the N.T. in Colossians 2:14.

He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
28. He that despised Moses’ law] Especially by being guilty of the sin of idolatry (Deuteronomy 17:2-7). Literally, it is “any one, on setting at nought Moses’ law.”

died] Lit., “dies.” Here is another of the favourite Jewish exegetical arguments a minori ad majus.

without mercy] The Mosaic law pronounced on offenders an inexorable doom. “The letter killeth” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

under two or three witnesses] i.e. by the testimony of at least two (John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1).

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?
29. of how much sorer punishment] The word for “punishment” in the N.T. is in every other passage kolasis, which means, in accordance with its definition, and in much of its demonstrable usage, “remedial punishment.” Here the word (though the difference is not observed by our A.V. which has created so many needless variations, and obliterated so many necessary distinctions) is timoria which means “vengeance” or “retribution.” It need hardly be said that “vindictive punishment” can only be attributed to God by the figure of speech known as anthropopathy, i.e. the representation of God by metaphors drawn from human passions. It is also obvious that we misuse Scripture when we press casual words to unlimited inferences. “Vengeance” is here used because (1) the author is alluding to defiant and impenitent apostates, in language derived from the earthly analogies, and (2) because he is referring to the temporal ruin and overthrow of the Jewish polity at the fast-approaching Day of Christ’s Coming. The passage which he proceeds to quote (Deuteronomy 32:35) refers directly to national and temporal punishments. The verb “to avenge” is only used twice in the N.T. (Acts 22:5; Acts 26:11)—both times of the persecution of Christians by Saul.

trodden under foot the Son of God] The writer could hardly use stronger language to imply the extremity of wilful rebellion which he has in view. It scarcely applies to any except blaspheming infidels and to those Jews who have turned the very name of Jesus in Hebrew into an anagram of malediction, and in the Talmud rarely allude to Him except in words of scorn and execration.

the blood of the covenant] He uses the same phrase in Hebrews 13:20.

an unholy thing] Lit., “a common thing,” i.e. either “unclean” or “valueless.” Clearly such conduct as this must be the nearest approach we can conceive to “the sin against the Holy Ghost,” “the unpardonable sin,” “the sin unto death,” for which no remedy is provided in any earthly means of grace (Matthew 12:31; 1 John 5:16).

done despite unto] Lit., “insulted;” e.g. “by blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 12:31-32). It is possible to grieve utterly that Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and so to become “reprobate.” The apostates whose case is here imagined despise alike the Father (Hebrews 5:5), the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 6:4-6). They reject the very promises of their baptismal profession and abnegate the whole economy of grace. The verb for “to do despite” occurs here only in the N.T.

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.
30. Vengeance belongeth unto me] The Scripture warrant adduced in support of this stern language is Deuteronomy 32:35, and a similar phrase (“O God, to whom vengeance belongeth”) is used in Psalm 94:1-2. It is remarkable that the citation does not agree either with the Hebrew or the LXX., but is quoted in the same form as in Romans 12:19, where however the application is quite different, for it is there used as an argument against avenging our own wrongs. The writer of this Epistle, as a friend of St Paul and one who was of his school, may have been familiar with this form of the quotation, or may have read it in the Epistle to the Romans, with which he seems to have been familiar (comp. Hebrews 13:1-6 with Romans 12:1-21); and indeed there are traces that the quotation in this form was known in the Jewish schools. Perhaps it had become proverbial.

saith the Lord] The words are omitted in א, D, and most ancient versions, and may have been added from Romans 12:19.

And again] Deuteronomy 32:36.

The Lord shall judge his people] In the original passage the “judgment” consists in saving His people from their enemies, as also in Psalm 135:14.

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
31. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God] Fearful for the deliberate apostate and even for the penitent sinner (1 Chronicles 21:13; 1 Samuel 24:14; LXX. Sir 2:18), and yet better in any case than to fall into the hands of man.

of the living God] Hebrews 3:12.

But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;
32–39. Words of appeal and encouragement

32. But call to remembrance the former days] Rather, “keep in remembrance.” Here, as in Hebrews 6:9-12, he mingles appeal and encouragement with the sternest warnings. The “former days” are those in which they were in the first glow of their conversion.

after ye were illuminated] The word photizein “to enlighten” only became a synonym for ‘to baptise’ at a later period. Naturally however in the early converts baptism was synchronous with the reception of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (see Hebrews 6:4). For the metaphor—that “God hath shined in our hearts”—see 2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 2:9.

ye endured a great fight of afflictions] Rather, “much wrestling of sufferings.” These were doubtless due to the uncompromising hostility of the Jewish community (see 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16), which generally led to persecutions from the Gentiles also. To the early Christians it was given “not only to believe on Christ, but also to suffer for His sake” (Php 1:29).

Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.
33. ye were made a gazingstock] Lit. “being set upon a stage” (theatrizomenoi). The same metaphor is used in 1 Corinthians 4:9 (“We became a theatre,” comp. 1 Corinthians 15:32).

companions] Rather, “partakers.”

that were so used] “Who lived in this condition of things.”

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.
34. ye had compassion of me in my bonds] This reading had more to do than anything else with the common assumption that this Epistle was written by St Paul. The true reading however undoubtedly is not τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου, but τοῖς δεσμίοις, “ye sympathised with the prisoners.” The reading of our text was probably introduced from Colossians 4:18; Php 1:7, &c. In the first persecutions many confessors were thrown into prison (Acts 26:10), and from the earliest days Christians were famed for their kindness to their brethren who were thus confined. See too Hebrews 13:3. The verb συμπαθεῖν occurs only here and in Hebrews 4:15. St Paul uses συμπάσχειν “to suffer with” in Romans 8:17.

took joyfully the spoiling of your goods] Christians were liable to be thus plundered by lawless mobs. Epictetus, by whose time Stoicism had become unconsciously impregnated with Christian feeling, says, “I became poor at thy will, yea and gladly.” On the supposition that the letter was addressed to Rome, “the spoiling of goods” has been referred to the edict of Claudius which expelled the Jews (and with them the Christian Jews) from Rome; or to the Neronian persecution. But the supposition is improbable.

knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven] The “in heaven” is almost certainly a spurious gloss, and the “in” before “yourselves” should be unquestionably omitted. If the true reading be ἐαυτοῖς, the meaning is “recognising that ye have for yourselves,” but if we may accept ἑαυτούς, the reading of א, we have the very beautiful and striking thought, “recognising that ye have yourselves as a better possession and an abiding.” He points them to the tranquil self-possession of a holy heart (Luke 9:25; Luke 21:19), the acquisition of our own souls, as a sufficient present consolation for the loss of earthly goods (Hebrews 11:26), independently of the illimitable future hope (Matthew 6:20; Romans 8:18; 1 Peter 1:4-8).

Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.
35. your confidence] Hebrews 3:6, Hebrews 4:16.

which hath] The Greek relative implies “seeing that it has” (quippe quae).

recompence of reward] The compound misthapodosia as before for the simple misthos (Hebrews 2:2, Hebrews 11:26; comp. Hebrews 11:6).

For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
36. of patience] Few graces were more needed in the terrible trials of that day (Hebrews 6:12; Luke 21:19; Colossians 1:11; James 1:3-4).

after ye have done] The meaning perhaps rather is “by doing,” or “by having done the will of God ye may win the fruition of the promise.” The apparently contradictory expressions, about “receiving” and “not receiving “the promise or the promises, arise in part from the fact that “promise” is used both for the verbal promise, and for its actual fulfilment (Hebrews 9:15, Hebrews 11:39).

For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
37. yet a little while] The original has a very emphatic phrase (μικρὸν ὅσον ὅσον) to imply the nearness of Christ’s return, “yet but a very very little while.” The phrase occurs in the LXX. in Isaiah 26:20. The quotations in this and the next verse are adapted from Habakkuk 2:3-4. In the original it is “the vision” which will not tarry, but the writer quotes from the LXX., only inserting the definite article before ἐρχόμενος, and applying it to the Messiah. “The coming one” was a Messianic title (Matthew 11:3; Luke 7:19; comp. Daniel 7:13, &c). In Matthew 24:34 our Lord has said, “This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled;” and by the time that this Epistle was written few still survived of the generation which had seen our Lord. Hence, Christians felt sure that Christ’s coming was very near, though it is probable that they did not realise that it would consist in the close of the Old Dispensation, and not as yet in the End of the World.

Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
38. Now the just shall live by faith] The true reading here (though not in the Hebrew) perhaps is, “But my righteous one shall live by faith” (as in א, A, K), and this is all the more probable because the “my” is omitted by St Paul, and therefore might be omitted here by the copyists. In D, as in some mss. of the LXX., “my” is found after “faith.” In the original Hebrew the passage seems to mean “But the righteous shall live by his fidelity.” On the deeper meaning read into the verse by St Paul see my Life of St Paul, i. 369. The Rabbis said that Habakkuk had compressed into this one rule the 365 negative and 248 positive precepts of the Law.

but if any man draw back] The introduction of the words “any man” by the A.V. is wholly unwarrantable, and at first sight looks as if it were due to dogmatic bias and a desire to insinuate the Calvinistic doctrine of the “indefectibility of grace.” But throughout this Epistle there is not a word which countenances the dogma of “final perseverance.” The true rendering is “And ‘if he draw back My soul approveth him not;’ ” i.e. “if my just man draw back” (comp. Ezekiel 18:24, “when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness).” The verb implies that shrinking from a course once begun which is used of St Peter in Galatians 2:12. It means, primarily, “to strike or shorten sail,” and then to withdraw or hold back (comp. Acts 20:20; Acts 20:27). This quotation follows the LXX. in here diverging very widely from the Hebrew of Habakkuk 2:4, which has “Behold his (the Chaldean’s) soul in him is puffed up, it is not humble (lit. ‘level’); but the righteous shall live by his faithfulness.” All that we have seen of previous quotations shews us how free was the use made, by way of illustration, of Scripture language. Practically the writer here applies the language of the old Prophet, not in its primary sense, but to express his own conceptions (Calvin). On the possible defection of “the righteous” see Article 16 of our Church.

But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
39. But we are not of them who draw back] More tersely in the original, “But we are not of defection unto perdition, but of faith unto gaining of the soul.” “Faith,” says Delitzsch, “saves the soul by linking it to God … The unbelieving man loses his soul; for not being God’s neither is he his own.” He does not possess himself. The word for “gaining” is found also in Ephesians 1:14. In these words the writer shews that in his awful warnings against apostasy he is only putting a hypothetical case. “His readers,” he says, “though some of them may have gone towards the verge, have not yet passed over the fatal line.” The word Faith is here introduced with the writer’s usual skill to prepare for the next great section of the Epistle.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

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