Hebrews Part 3 Chapters 5 and 6 and 7


Cockerill, Gareth Lee.  The Epistle to the Hebrews.  Part of the New International Commentary on the New Testament edited by Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon D. Fee.  (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2012).

Harrington, Daniel J., S.J.  Jude and 2 Peter.  Part of the Sacra Pagina commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S. J..  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2003).

Elliott, John H..  1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  Part of the Anchor Bible Commentary series edited by William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman.  (Doubleday, New York, 2000).

Harten, Patrick J.  James. Part of the Sacra Pagina commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S. J..  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2003).

Koester, Craig R.  Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  Part of the Anchor Bible commentary series edited by William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman.  (Doubleday, New York, 2001).

Long, Thomas G.  Hebrews.  Part of the Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching series edited by James Luther Mays.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1997).

Mitchell, Alan C.  Hebrews.  Part of the Sacra Pagina commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S. J..  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2007).

Perkins, Pheme.   First and Second Peter, James, and Jude.  Part of the Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching series edited by James Luther Mays.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1995).

Senior, Donald P., C.P.   1 Peter.  Part of the Sacra Pagina commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S. J..  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2003).

Wright, N. T.  Hebrews for Everyone.  Part of the New Testament for Everyone series edited by N. T. Wright.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2003).


Reproof concerning Maturity in Faith   Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3

Koester p. 306: “Now the author departs from his main arguments to contrast Jesus with the listeners, for instead of learning they seem unresponsive to learning, and instead of being complete they seem to be immature.  Following rhetorical convention, the author signals the end of the digression by taking up the reference to Jesus’ priesthood “according to the type of Melchizedek”, which was introduced just prior to the digression.  Jesus’ priesthood will be a focus in the next section (chapter 7:1ff.).”

Koester p. 308

Image                   primary referent                     secondary referent

Babes                             beginning students                            new Christians

Milk                     elementary education               basic Christian teaching

Adults                  advanced students                             mature Christians

Solid food            ethical philosophy                            the author’s teachings


Koester p. 309: “Contrasting those at the beginning of the process with those at the end, however, presses listeners to see themselves as one or the other so that they will want to move beyond being classed with the primary students in order to be considered mature.”

Koester p. 310:  “Their experience of the Spirit confirmed the message, but continued reproach from society now contradicted it.  Sense perception would lead to the conclusion that faith is evil rather than good, since those who professed Christ were subjected to abuse.  Therefore, the author seeks to renew the listeners’ commitment to a reality that transcends what can be seen by speaking of the good that came from Christ’s suffering and death, and of the exaltation that cannot be perceived with the eye but only by faith.”

Koester p. 310: “Faith in God” means trusting that God will keep his promises.  Although Hebrews often stresses the need for human faithfulness, the basis of human faith is the conviction that God will be true.”


Warning and Encouragement   Hebrews 6:4-12

“it is impossible to restore to repentance…”  difficult verse!   Koester p. 312: “Troubled by the severity of the statement, some softened it to “it is difficult” to restore an apostate (Nicolaus of Lyra; Erasmus, Adnotationes), but Hebrews is unequivocal: it is impossible to restore an apostate, just as it is impossible for God to prove false, for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (10:4), or for people to please God without faith (11:6).  There are three lines of interpretation.  The third is most plausible.”

  1. The text means that it is impossible for an apostate to repent.  But the structure of the sentence does not seem to be talking about repenting as much as restoring to repentance – and it’s not quite clear what that means other than forgiveness and restoring to a place in the community.
  2. The text means that it is impossible for other Christians to restore an apostate.  This was a big area of disagreement in the early church during persecution – could those who denounced Jesus to save themselves (or even turned over other Christians to save themselves) ever be forgiven?  Was this an unforgivable sin?    Or does it mean instead that once someone had tasted the faith and then rejected it they were experienced to be unreachable to the efforts of the community, unresponsive to its arguments.  Hence, it is not a judgment of unforgivability but of the experience of the community.
  3. The text means that it is impossible that God should restore an apostate to repentance.  Not that God lacks the power but that God might refuse to do so.  Those brought out of Egypt, due to disobedience and a lack of faith, were denied entrance to the Promised Land.

Why did people fall away?  Persecution at times, the disconnect between the coming Kingdom and the struggle of reality here and now for many in Hebrews.  To fall away was to become like thorns and thistles rather than good fruit.

Koester p. 318: “Historically, many of the controversies surrounding Hebrews have centered on these passages.  In antiquity Christians in the west read the texts in light of questions about church discipline, with Montanists and Novatians invoking the passages to argue for more rigorous church discipline and others rejecting Hebrews altogether because it seemed to deny forgiveness to the lapsed.  Reception of Hebrews into the canon was facilitated by the idea that the text did not prohibit restoring apostates to communion with the church, but only ruled out re-baptizing them.”

Koester on p. 320 also argues that the text is not meant to be used  as a theological foundation statement about forgiveness or sin but to be a warning, to be a motivation for good people to persevere.  And thus an overstatement, exaggeration.

Koester p. 321: “Both statements (apostates can’t be restored, that God should prove false) are issued unequivocally, and neither should be softened; instead, we should consider the kind of response appropriate to each statement.  Listeners respond properly to the warning when they heed it, and they respond properly to the promise when they trust it.  The warning about apostasy and the promise of god’s faithfulness function differently – the warning disturbs while the promise gives assurance – but they serve the same end, which is that listeners might persevere in faith.”

The Impossibility of God’s Unfaithfulness  Hebrews 6:13-20

Koester translates v. 18 to include “we refugees” while the NAB goes with “we who have taken refuge”.  The first resonates with our current political and economic environment, the second more with a more traditional understanding of faith.

ALL of the Torah, most of the OT, centers on the promises of God to Abraham: a land flowing with milk and honey, descendants as numerous as the stars.  If God doesn’t exist or doesn’t keep His promises then all of the faith is empty.  For Christians there is the added promise of resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

In hearkening back to Abraham it is also established that the promises take time, that it can appear for a long time that nothing is happening and that the fullness of the promises are given to future generations.

Later in the section: Koester p. 335: “As high priest Jesus passed through the curtain to make atonement for others, while as forerunner he opened a way for others to follow.  Rhetorically, this helps to heighten the listeners’ appreciation for what Jesus has done.”

Priesthood of Melchizedek    Hebrews 7:1-10

This section picks up the Melchizedek image.  This, and the role of the high priest in the Temple (descendants of Aaron from within the tribe of Levi), will dominate the next 4 chapters.  El Elyon is “God Most High” – one of the names for God within the strands of tradition that is woven into the ancient narratives.

Genesis 14:14-24

When Abram heard that his kinsman had been captured, he mustered three hundred and eighteen of his retainers, born in his house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.  He and his servants deployed against them at night, defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus.  He recovered all the possessions. He also recovered his kinsman Lot and his possessions, along with the women and the other people.


When Abram returned from his defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were allied with him, the king of Sodom went out to greet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).  Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was a priest of God Most High.  He blessed Abram with these words:

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

the creator of heaven and earth;

And blessed be God Most High,

who delivered your foes into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.


The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the captives; the goods you may keep.”  But Abram replied to the king of Sodom: “I have sworn to the LORD, God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth, that I would not take so much as a thread or a sandal strap from anything that is yours, so that you cannot say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ Nothing for me except what my servants have consumed and the share that is due to the men who went with me—Aner, Eshcol and Mamre; let them take their share.”


That no lineage is provided for Melchizedek seems striking to the author of Hebrews, less so to us.  The name Melchizedek comes from melek =  king, and zadok = righteousness.  He is identified as King of Salem, Salem from shalom = peace.


Koester p. 346: “Psalm 110 is the scriptural key to what Hebrews says about Melchizedek.  The author assumes that Ps 110:1 refers to the exalted Christ, when it says: “The Lord said to my lord, “sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”.  Psalm 110:4 refers to this same exalted figure when it says: “You are a priest forever according to the type of Melchizedek”.”


Psalm 110

A psalm of David.


The LORD says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand,

while I make your enemies your footstool.”

The scepter of your might:

the LORD extends your strong scepter from Zion.

Have dominion over your enemies!


Yours is princely power from the day of your birth.

In holy splendor before the daystar,

like dew I begot you.

The LORD has sworn and will not waver:

“You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.”


At your right hand is the Lord,

who crushes kings on the day of his wrath,


Who judges nations, heaps up corpses,

crushes heads across the wide earth,

Who drinks from the brook by the wayside

and thus holds high his head.



Perfection and the Levitical Priesthood    Hebrews 7:11-19

Koester p. 354: “One strain of messianic hope anticipated two messiahs: one Davidic and one Aaronic, or priestly.  The author of Hebrews compares Jesus to Aaron in 5:1-10 without suggesting that Jesus is an Aaronic messiah, and he contrasts Jesus with the Levites in 7:11-19, but does not seem familiar with the idea that a messianic figure might come from Levi.”   This idea WAS present in the Qumran / Essene community and elsewhere – though never broadly popular.

The Pharisees and Jesus were seen as a threat by the priests and scribes of the Temple, as threats to their authority and standing among the people.  To the extent that they cooperated with the Roman authorities they de-legitimized themselves.  With the rebellion against Rome and the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem many thousands of priests and Levites (and Pharisees / rabbis) were slaughtered – some suggest as many as 100,000.  Judaism had to be re-invented in such a way that it moved away from Temple/sacrifices to synagogue / Torah and Law.  Away from priests and Levites to rabbis.  In the first 100 years after Jesus the tension between the two camps remained.

Hebrews does not advocate throwing out the Law (which came from God, which established the Aaronic / Levitical priesthood).  Instead it suggests that God Himself provided for it to be completed in the heir to Melchizedek.  It is different from and superior to it.





The Lord will not Change His Mind   Hebrews 7:20-28

To become a Levitical priest involved bathing, donning sacred vestments, being anointed, and offering sacrifices.  They did not simply “take an oath”.  Koester points out on p. 363 that the point is that God did not take an oath with regard to their priesthood as was done for Melchizedek / Jesus.


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