Notes on Hebrews
Version Date: December 23, 2020.
Heb 2:3 A literal translation of this verse is: "How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation which having received its beginning spoken through the Lord, was confirmed for us by those who heard him?" This salvation is very great because of what it saves a person from and what a person receives through it. With the coming of the Lord Jesus, the kingdom of God has drawn near. Thus, after a believer dies, he lives in God's kingdom and is in the presence of the Lord. He does not taste death because Jesus, by the grace of God, tasted death for everyone (Heb 2:9). This salvation had a beginning; it began after the resurrection of the Lord. The fact that this salvation had a beginning does not mean that the believers who lived before the coming of the Lord have a different salvation. Though they did not experience this salvation when they died, they received it after the resurrection of the Lord (Mt 27:52, Jn 12:32, Eph 4:8). The beginning of this salvation was spoken through the Lord. The fact that we have δια του κυριου "through the Lord" instead of υπο του κυριου "by the Lord" is taken as emphasizing that the Lord spoke that which the Father gave him to say. Now in the translation above, "its beginning spoken through the Lord" appears instead of "spoken at the first by the Lord". This is because in ητις αρχην λαβουσα λαλεισθαι δια του κυριου the infinitive form λαλεισθαι requires a subject in the accusative case, so the subject is αρχην, not ητις.
Heb 2:6 A literal translation of the beginning of this verse is, "But he testified where one is saying, 'What is man ... '". Here, "where" is interpreted as referring to the place in Scripture where the quotation is taken from and "one" as referring not to the author of the quoted text but to any believer reciting the well known text of the quotation. Thus, "where one is saying" is interpreted as "in the place in Scripture from which one recites". The quotation is from Ps 8, which must have been well known to a Hebrew audience. This verse would also imply that it was often read in church. So the Scripture text here reasons with the hearer by means of a passage that was well known to the original audience. In the context of the previous two verses, in which God is the subject, the subject of "testified" is God. Thus, the passage emphasizes the testimony of God, for we also read in verse 4 about συνεπιμαρτυρουντος του θεου "God bearing witness".
This interpretation of Heb 2:6 can be justified as follows. The verse begins with διεμαρτυρατο δε που τις λεγων, which has a word-for-word translation "testified but where one saying". If "one" is taken as the subject of "testified", then the translation would be, "But someone testified somewhere saying". However, assuming no change of subject, that is, that the subject of Heb 2:5 is also the subject of "testified" in Heb 2:6, the translation is: "But he testified where one is saying". In support of this second interpretation, the following remarks could be made. (a) It seems most natural to assume no subject change from Heb 2:5 to Heb 2:6. If a subject change were meant, the order of the words could have been διεμαρτυρατο δε τις που λεγων instead of διεμαρτυρατο δε που τις λεγων. (b) This interpretation does not involve the words "somewhere" and "someone", so there is no need to explain why a well known passage and a well known author would be mentioned with these words. In fact, the epistle does name David as the author of a psalm quoted in another passage (Heb 4:7). (c) It could be noted also that the meaning "somewhere" of the word που is rarely found in the LXX and the New Testament. In the LXX, it appears in 1Ki 10:12 and Pr 31:21. In the Nestle and Aland Greek New Testament, the word που appears with the meaning "somewhere" in Ac 27:29. Other than this, the only New Testament instances of this common word that could possibly mean "somewhere" are Heb 2:6 and Heb 4:4. However, this document presents evidence that Heb 2:6 and Heb 4:4 use the "where" meaning of που. (See also the note below on Heb 4:4.) Now the word που is found three times in Hebrews, namely in Heb 2:6, 4:4, 11:8, and it clearly means "where" in Heb 11:8. (d) The accent used for the word που could be used to distinguish between the meaning "where" and "somewhere". However, according to the early manuscripts of the New Testament, the original text was written without accents.
Heb 4:4 A close translation of the text is: "For he has spoken this way in the passage concerning the seventh day, 'And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.'" The passage concerning the seventh day is Ge 2:2-3, from which only the ending of Ge 2:2 is quoted, as it speaks about God's rest. In view of Heb 4:3, it is clear that the focus is on God resting, not on the seventh day. Thus, the previous translation fits better the context than this alternative translation: "For he has spoken somewhere concerning the seventh day this way: 'And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.'". The latter interpretation of the text has been very common. In comparison, the former translation interprets differently the beginning of the verse. The verse begins with ειρηκεν γαρ που περι της εβδομης ουτως, which has a word-for-word translation "for has spoken where concerning the seventh thus". In the former interpretation, περι της εβδομης "concerning the seventh" modifies που "where", and so the beginning of the verse is: "For he has spoken this way where the passage concerning the seventh day is", that is, "For he has spoken this way in the passage concerning the seventh day". In the latter interpretation, περι της εβδομης modifies ειρηκεν "has spoken". Some evidence in favor of the former interpretation is as follows. (a) που is closer to περι της εβδομης than ειρηκεν. (b) There is no need to explain why "somewhere" is used to denote a well known Scripture passage. (c) The meaning "somewhere" of που is rare in the Scripture; see the note above on Heb 2:6.
Heb 7:27 The verse mentions two sacrifices that a high priest had to offer: first a sacrifice for his own sins, and then a sacrifice for the sins of the people. The fact that Jesus offered only the sacrifice for the sins of the people can be seen from the singular number of τουτο "this", where this word appears in τουτο γαρ εποιησεν εφαπαξ "for this he did once". The closest possible antecedent of the word τουτο "this" is the sacrifice for the sins of the people. Therefore, τουτο "this" refers to the sacrifice for the sins of the people and states that Jesus offered it once. Since Jesus is without sin, there was no need to offer also the first sacrifice which a high priest would offer for his own sins. If the text had ταυτα "these" instead of τουτο "this", it would refer to both sacrifices. However, the text has the singular form τουτο "this", indicating that only the sacrifice for the sins of the people was offered.
Heb 8:12 Literally, the Byzantine text states: "For I will forgive their iniquities and I will remember no more their sins and their lawless deeds." The Nestle and Aland version of the Greek New Testament has the same text except for lacking "and their lawless deeds". Note that the Greek text of Heb 8:12 is a close translation of the Hebrew text of Jer 31:34. The Byzantine text translates חטאתם "their sins" with των αμαρτιων αυτων και των ανομιων αυτων "their sins and their lawless deeds". Since any lawless deed is sinful, the additional phrase "and their lawless deeds" does not change the meaning of the text but emphasizes the extent of God's forgiveness. To see that ιλεως εσωμαι means "I will forgive", the LXX usage of the word ιλεως could be examined. The word ιλεως appears 26 times in the LXX. Most of the time it is used in the translation of the verb סלח "to forgive"; see the article ιλεως. In view of the LXX usage, "I will forgive" is a close translation of ιλεως εσωμαι. Now ιλεως εσωμαι has been commonly translated "I will be merciful". While God is certainly merciful when he forgives, the translation "I will be merciful" is not as close to the text as "I will forgive".
Heb 9:1 A good translation of this verse would be, "Therefore, the first dwelling place, the holy place of earth, had also regulations for worship." This translation follows the received text of Stephanus and Elzevir, which have η πρωτη σκηνη "the first dwelling place" instead of just η πρωτη "the first". As for translating σκηνη with the meaning "dwelling place", this meaning is mentioned in the Liddell-Scott lexicon and in the Gingrich lexicon, which also illustrates it with Lk 16:9, Ac 15:16, Rev 13:6, 21:3. The translation of το τε αγιον κοσμικον as "the holy place of earth" fits the observation that the temple was the only place on earth that was truly holy, being set apart by the presence of the Lord. The word ουν "therefore" indicates that what follows illustrates the point made in the previous verses, that the old covenant was meant to be temporary. Since the epistle was written before the destruction of the temple, the imperfect tense of ειχον "was having" shows that the passage speaks about the original form of the temple; it refers to the tabernacle.
Heb 9:4 Many times χρυσουν εχουσα θυμιατηριον "having a golden censer" is translated "having the golden altar of incense." Some evidence that θυμιατηριον means "censer" and not "altar of incense" is as follows. First, it could be noticed that the word appears without the definite article. The only other item without the definite article is σταμνος χρυση "golden jar" in this verse; all other items appear with the definite article, such as η λυχνια "the lamp", η τραπεζα "the table", and την κιβωτον της διαθηκης "the ark of the covenant". That the golden jar is mentioned without the definite article is not surprising, since the Old Testament mentions it with the words צנצנת אחת "a jar" (Ex 16:33). In contrast, the Old Testament describes the altar of incense in detail, and so the definite article would have been expected if θυμιατηριον referred to the altar of incense. Second, the LXX translates מקטרת "censer" with θυμιατηριον, where מקטרת and θυμιατηριον appear only in 2Ch 26:19 and Eze 8:11. In both 2Ch 26:19 and Eze 8:11 θυμιατηριον refers to something that one would hold in his hand. Therefore, θυμιατηριον refers to a censer, not to an altar of incense. The presence of the golden censer could be inferred from Lev 16:12-13. See the note on Lev 16:12.
A question that might arise is that if θυμιατηριον means "censer", why the altar of incense is not mentioned. The apparent reason is that the altar of incense is irrelevant to the topic of the passage. The passage speaks about matters of the old covenant that had passed away (Heb 9:8-10). The ark of the covenant and its content represented things that were most holy, and so they are mentioned because the tabernacle indicated that the way to the most holy had not been revealed. The golden censer was used to cover the ark with the cloud of smoke (Lev 16:12-13), so it represents something that had passed away, since now the believer is able to behold the glory of the Lord with an unveiled face (2Co 3:18). The bread of presence would fit the category of the gifts (Heb 9:9), and these are no longer required. The lampstand indicated the presence of darkness, but now the believer is in the light. However, the altar of incense refers to prayer, which is something that remains under the new covenant. So it was not mentioned in this passage together with what was standing for things passing away.
Now Nu 17:10 mentions the rod being placed before the testimony and Ex 16:34 the jar of manna. The ark of the covenant was overlaid with gold, indicating the value of what was stored in it. Its content represented God's testimony, his word. The tablets of the covenant had God's word. The manna indicated that God's word is food to the soul. The budded rod indicated that God's word brings life to those who receive it, just as the dead wood of Aaron's rod was caused to bud and bear almonds (Nu 17:8).
Heb 9:6-7 The present tense of the verb forms εισιασιν "enters" and προσφερει "offers" indicate that the temple was standing when the epistle was written.
Heb 10:37-38 In addition to Hab 2:3-4, this passage makes a reference to Is 26:20. To see this, it could be noted that the phrase μικρον οσον οσον "a little while", which is found only in Heb 10:37, appears once also in LXX, in Is 26:20. It could be noted also that Is 26:20 is in the context of the resurrection of the dead (Is 26:19) and of the justice that the Lord will bring at his return (Is 26:21). Now the previous verses in Heb 10:35-36 encouraged the hearers to persevere and reminded them of their reward. In this context, the reference to Is 26:20 served as another reminder of the time when they would be rewarded. The reference to Hab 2:3-4 exhorted the hearers to persevere and stand firm in the faith.
Heb 11:22 The words of the Lord to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must have been known among the descendants of Jacob. As this verse reminds the hearer, Joseph recalled God's word, treated it as something certain, spoke about it, and responded to it by asking that his bones be taken when Israel would depart from Egypt (Ge 50:24-25). Joseph was likely well acquainted with the words of the Lord to Abraham about the exodus of Israel (Ge 15:13-14).
Heb 12:4 Jesus is without sin in spite of having been tempted like all other men. He resisted sin to the end. This verse could remind the hearer that Jesus resisted sin to the point of shedding his blood. Though he was tempted to save himself from death, he did not yield to this or any other temptation to sin. He continued to live righteously, though he knew so well that this would lead to his suffering and death.