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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Hebrews 4



Verse 1

1. Φοβηβῶμεν. The fear to which we are exhorted is not any uncertainty of hope, but solicitude against careless indifference. It is a wholesome fear taught by wisdom (Philippians 2:12). We have the same use of φοβοῦμαι μὴ to express spiritual anxiety about the state of a Christian community in 2 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 4:11.

μήποτε, lest haply.

καταλειπομένης. It is better to omit the “us” of the A. V. It means “since a promise still remains unrealised.” The promise has not been exhausted by any previous fulfilment.

τις, “any one.” See note on Hebrews 3:12.

ἐξ ὑμῶν. He cannot say “of us,” because he proceeds to describe the case of hardened and defiant apostates.

δοκῇὑστερηκέναι, “should seem to have failed in attaining it.” The Greek might also mean “should imagine that he has failed of (lit., come too late for) it”; but the writer’s object is to stimulate the negligent, not to encourage the despondent. The word δοκῇ is an instance of the figure called litotes, in which a milder term is designedly used to express one which is much stronger. The author of this Epistle, abounding as he does in passages of uncompromising sternness, would not be likely to use any merely euphuistic phrase. The dignity of his expressions adds to their intensity. For a similar delicate yet forcible use of δοκεῖν see 1 Corinthians 11:16. The verb ὑστερεῖν “come short” occurs in Hebrews 12:15, together with a terrible example of the thing itself in Hebrews 12:17.

Verses 1-13


Verses 1-16


Verse 2

2. καὶ γάρ ἐσμεν εὐηγγελισμένοι καθάπερ κἀκεῖνοι. “For we have been evangelized” (have had a Gospel preached to us) “even as also they.” If the A. V. had been correct in rendering it “For unto us was the Gospel preached,” we should have had rather “For unto them as well as unto us.” The better version however is “For indeed we too, just as they, have had a Gospel preached unto us.” The “Gospel” in this instance means the glad tidings of a future rest. The position of the ἐσμεν gives emphasis to the fact, and to the warning involved in the κἀκεῖνοι.

ὁ λόγος τῆς ἀκοῆς. Lit., “the word of hearing.” The function of the hearer is no less necessary than that of the preacher, if the spoken word is to be profitable.

μὴ συνκεκερασμένους τῇ πίστει τοῖς ἀκούσασιν. Owing no doubt to the strangeness of the phrase “because they were not united by faith with them that heard” there is an extraordinary diversity in the readings here. The best supported seems to be that of the text, “because they were not tempered together by faith with them that heard (i.e. effectually listened to) it.” This would mean that the good news of rest produced no benefit to the rebellious Israelites, because they were not blended with Caleb and Joshua in their faith. They heard, but only with the ears, not with the heart. But there is probably some ancient corruption of the text. Perhaps instead of “with them that heard,” the true reading may have been “with the things heard.” The reading of our A. V. (συγκεκραμένος) gives an excellent sense, if it were but well supported. The verb, “to mingle” or “temper,” occurs in 1 Corinthians 12:24.

Verse 3

3. εἰσερχόμεθα γὰροἱ πιστεύσαντες. “For we who believed” (i.e. we who have accepted the word of hearing) “are entering into that rest.” The present implies a continuous process.

Εἰ εἰσελεύσονται, “They shall not enter,” as in Hebrews 3:11. The argument of the verse is [1] God promised a rest to the Israelites. [2] Most of them failed to enter into it. [3] Yet this rest of God began on the first sabbath of God, and some men were evidently meant to enter into it. [4] Since then the original recipients of the promise had failed to enjoy it through disbelief, the promise was renewed ages afterwards, in Psalms 95. by the word “To-day.” The immense stress of meaning laid on incidental Scriptural expressions was one of the features of Rabbinic as well as of Alexandrian exegesis.

ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου. God’s rest had begun since the Creation.

Verse 4

4. εἴρηκενπου. “He hath said somewhere.” By the indefinite “He” is meant “God,” a form of citation not used in the same way by St Paul, but common in Philo and the Rabbis. We have similar impersonal forms of citation λέγει, φησί, μαρτυρεῖ, &c. in 1 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 8:5, &c.

που. The “somewhere” of the original is here expressed in the A. V. by “in a certain place,” see note on Hebrews 2:6. The reference is to Genesis 2:2; Exodus 20:11; Exodus 31:17. The writer always regards the Old Testament not as a dead letter, but as a living voice.

Verse 6

6. ἀπολείπεται. The promise is still left open, is unexhausted.

διʼ ἀπείθειαν. Not “because of unbelief” as in A. V., but “because of disobedience.” It was not the Israelites of the wilderness, but their descendants, who came to Shiloh, and so enjoyed a sort of earthly type of the heavenly rest (Joshua 18:1).

Verse 7

7. πάλιν τινὰ ὁρίζει ἡμέραν. There is no reason whatever for the parenthesis in the A. V., of which the reading, rendering, and punctuation are here alike infelicitous to an extent which destroys for ordinary readers the meaning of the passage. It should be rendered (putting only a comma at the end of Hebrews 4:6), “Again, he fixes a day, To-day, saying in David, so long afterwards, even as has been said before, To-day if ye will hear,” &c. In the stress laid upon the word “to-day” we find a resemblance to Philo, who defines “to-day” as “the infinite and interminable aeon,” and says “Till to-day, that is for ever” (Leg. Allegg. III. 8; De Profug. 11). The argument is that “David” (a general name for “the Psalmist”) had, nearly five centuries after the time of Moses, and three millenniums after the Creation, still spoken of God’s rest as an offer open to mankind. If we regard this as a mere verbal argument, turning on the attribution of deep mystic senses to the words “rest” and “to-day,” and on the trains of inference which are made to depend on these words, we must remember that such a method of dealing with Scripture phraseology was at this period universally current among the Jews. But if we stop at this point all sorts of difficulties arise; for if the “rest” referred to in Psalms 95 was primarily the land of Canaan (as in Deuteronomy 1:34-36; Deuteronomy 12:9, &c.), the oath of God, “they shall not enter into my rest,” only applied to the generation of the wanderings, and He had said “Your little ones … them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised,” Numbers 14:31. If, on the other hand, the “rest” meant heaven, it would be against all Scripture analogy to assume that all the Israelites who died in the wilderness were excluded from future happiness. And there are many other difficulties which will at once suggest themselves. The better and simpler way of looking at this, and similar trains of reasoning, is to regard them as particular modes of expressing blessed and eternal truths, and to look on the Scripture language applied to them in the light rather of illustration than of Scriptural proof. Quite apart from this Alexandrian method of finding recondite and mystic senses in the history and language of the Bible, we see the deep and glorious truth that God’s offer of “Rest” in the highest sense—of participation in His own rest—is left open to His people in the eternal to-day of merciful opportunity. The Scripture illustration must be regarded as quite subordinate to the essential truth, and not the essential truth made to depend on the Scripture phraseology. When God says “They shall not enter my rest,” the writer—reading as it were between the lines with the eyes of Christian enlightenment—reads the promise “but others shall enter into my rest,” which was most true.

ἐν Δαυεὶδ λέγων. A common abbreviated form of quotation like “saying in Elijah” for “in the part of Scripture about Elijah” (Romans 11:2). The quotation may mean no more than “in the Book of Psalms.” The 95th Psalm is indeed attributed to David in the LXX.; but the superscriptions of the LXX., as well as those of the Hebrew text, are wholly without authority, and are in some instances entirely erroneous. The date of the Psalm is more probably the close of the Exile. We may here notice the fondness of the writer for the Psalms, of which he quotes no less than eleven in this Epistle (Psalms 2, 8, 22, 40, 45, 95, 102, 104, 110, 118, 135.).

Verse 8

8. Ἰησοῦς, i.e. Joshua. The needless adoption of the Greek form of the name (“Jesus”) by the A.V. is here most unfortunately perplexing to uninstructed readers, as also in Acts 7:45.

κατέπαυσεν. He did, indeed, give them a rest and, in some sense (Deuteronomy 12:9), the rest partially and primarily intended (Joshua 23:1); but only a dim shadow of the true and final rest offered by Christ (Matthew 11:28; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Revelation 14:13).

οὐκ ἂνἐλάλει.He would not have been speaking.” The “He” is here Jehovah. The phrases applied to Scripture by the writer always imply his sense of its living power and ideal continuity. The words are as though they had just been uttered (“He hath said,” Hebrews 4:4) or were still being uttered (as here, and throughout). There is a similar mode of argument in Hebrews 7:11, Hebrews 8:4; Hebrews 8:7, Hebrews 11:15.

Verse 9

9. ἄρα. In classical Greek ἄρα can never occupy the first place in a clause, but this rule is frequently violated in the N.T. (Luke 11:48; Romans 10:17, &c.); and, indeed, in Hellenistic Greek the delicate ironic use of ἄρα to express surprise (“it seems,” “after all”) is almost obliterated.

σαββατισμός. From σαββατίζειν (Heb. שָׁבַת, Exodus 16:30 ). Since the word used for “rest” is here a different word from that which has been used through the earlier part of the argument (κατάπαυσις) it is a pity that King James’s translators, who indulge in so many needless variations, did not here introduce a necessary change of rendering. The word means “a Sabbath rest,” and supplies an important link in the argument by pointing to the fact that “the rest” which the author has in view is God’s rest, a far higher conception of rest than any of which Canaan could be an adequate type. The Sabbath, which in 2 Maccabees 15:1 is called “the Day of Rest,” is a nearer type of Heaven than Canaan. Dr Kay supposes that there is an allusion to Joshua’s first Sabbatic year, when “the land had rest from war” (Joshua 14:15), and adds that Psalms 92-104. have a Sabbatic character, and that Psalms 92. is headed “a song for the Sabbath day.”

Verse 10

10. ὁ γὰρ εἰσελθὼν κ.τ.λ. This is not a special reference to Christ, but to any faithful Christian who rests from his labours. The verse is merely an explanation of the newly-introduced term “Sabbath-rest.” κατέπαυσεν is a gnomic and general aorist.

Verse 11

11. Σπουδάσωμεν. Not “festinemus” (Vulg.) but “let us be zealous,” or “give diligence” (2 Peter 1:10-11; Philippians 3:14).

μὴτις. See note on Hebrews 4:1.

τῆς ἀπειθείας, “of disobedience.”

Verse 12

12. ζῶν γὰρ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ. The writer feels the force of the word ζῶν which he four times applies to God, Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 9:14, Hebrews 10:31, Hebrews 12:22. “Quick” is an old English expression for “living”; hence St Stephen speaks of Scripture as “the living oracles” (Acts 7:38). The “word of God” is not here the personal Logos; a phrase not distinctly and demonstrably adopted by any of the sacred writers except St John, who in the prologue to his Gospel calls Christ “the Word,” and in the Apocalypse “the Word of God.” The reference is to the written and spoken word of God, of the force and almost personality of which the writer shews so strong a sense. To him it is no dead utterance of the past, but a living power for ever. At the same time the expressions of this verse could hardly have been used by any one who was not familiar with the personification of the Logos, and St Clemens of Rome applies the words “a searcher of the thoughts and desires” to God. The passage closely resembles several which are found in Philo, though it applies the expressions in a different manner (see Introduction).

ἐνεργής. Lit., “effective, energetic.” The vital power shews itself in acts.

τομώτερος ὑπὲρ πᾶσαν μάχαιραν. The same comparison is used by Isaiah (Isaiah 49:2) and St Paul (Ephesians 6:17) and St John (Revelation 2:16; Revelation 19:15). See too Wisdom of Solomon 18:15-16, “Thine Almighty Word leaped down from heaven … and brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword.” Philo, Quis rer. div. haer. §§ 26, 27 (Opp. I. 491), compares the Logos to the flaming sword (ῥομφαία) of Eden (Genesis 3:24) and “the fire and knife” (μάχαιραν) of Genesis 22:6. Comp. Ephesians 6:17.

διϊκνούμενος ἄχρι μερισμοῦ κ.τ.λ. The meaning is not that the word of God divides the soul (the “natural” soul) by which we live from the spirit by which we reason and apprehend; but that it pierces not only the natural soul, but even to the Divine Spirit of man, and even to the joints and marrow (i.e. to the inmost depths) of these. Thus Euripides (Hippol. 527) speaks of the “marrow of the soul.” It is obvious that the writer does not mean anything very specific by each term of the enumeration, which produces its effect by the rhetorical fulness of the expressions. The ψυχὴ or animal soul is the sphere of that life which makes a man ψυχικός, i.e. carnal, unspiritual; he possesses this element of life (anima) in common with the beasts. It is only by virtue of his spirit (πνεῦμα) that he has affinity with God.

κριτικὸς ἐνθυμήσεων κ.τ.λ. These words are a practical explanation of those which have preceded. The phraseology is an evident reminiscence of Philo. Philo compares the Word to the flaming sword of Paradise; and calls the Word “the cutter of all things,” and says that “when whetted to the utmost sharpness it is incessantly dividing all sensuous things” (see Quis rer. div. haeres, § 27; Opp. ed. Mangey I. 491, 503, 506). By ἐνθυμήσεις is meant (strictly) our moral imaginations and desires; by ἔννοιαι our intellectual thoughts and active will (1 Peter 4:1): but the distinction of meaning is hardly kept (Matthew 9:4, &c.).

Verse 13

13. ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ, i. e. in the Sight of God, not of “the Word of God.” “He seeth all man’s goings,” Job 34:21. “Thou hast set our … secret sins in the light of Thy countenance,” Psalms 90:8; comp. Psalms 139:1-12. ἐνώπιον like coram is only used of persons.

πάντα δέ. The δὲ is emphatic as in Hebrews 2:6.

τετραχηλισμένα, “laid bare.” The word must have some such meaning, but it is uncertain what is the exact force of the metaphor from which it is derived. It comes from τράχηλος, “the neck,” and has been explained to mean: [1] “seized by the throat and thrown on the back”; or [2] “with the neck forced back like that of a malefactor compelled to shew his face” (Sueton. Vitell. 17; Plin. Paneg. 34. 3); or [3] “with the neck held back like that of animals in order that the Priest may cut their throats” (the Homeric αὖ ἔρυσαν); or [4] “flayed”; or [5] “anatomised” (comp. Leviticus 1:6; Leviticus 1:9). This anatomic examination of victims by the Priests was called μωμοσκοπία since it was necessary that every victim should be “without blemish” (ἄμωμος), and Maimonides says that there were no less than 73 kinds of blemishes. Hence Polycarp (ad Phil. IV.) says that “all things are rigidly examined (πάντα μωμοσκοπεῖται) by God.” The usage of Philo, however (De Cher. § 24) shews that the word probably means “laid prostrate.” Τραχηλισμὸς meant a wrestler’s victorious grip on the back of his adversary as in Plutarch (ὁρᾶτε τὸν ἀθλήτην ὑπὸ παιδισκαρίου τραχηλιζόμενον). For the truth suggested see Proverbs 15:11; “I try the reins,” Jeremiah 17:10; Psalms 51:6; Proverbs 20:27, “the candle of the Lord searching all the inner parts of the belly.”

τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς αὐτοῦ. “The Son of God, who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire.” Revelation 2:18.

πρὸς ὃν ἡμῖν ὁ λόγος. This might be rendered, “to whom our account must be given.” Thus in Luke 16:2, “render thy account” (τὸν λόγον). Perhaps, however, our A. V. correctly represents it, “Him with whom we have to do.” Comp. 1 Kings 2:14; 2 Kings 9:5 (LXX.), where a similar phrase occurs in this sense.

Verse 14

14. Ἔχοντες οὖν ἀρχιερέα μέγαν. These verses refer back to Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 3:1, and form the transition to the long proof and illustration of Christ’s superiority to the Levitic Priesthood which occupies the Epistle to Hebrews 10:18. The writer here reverts to his central thought, to which he has already twice alluded (Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 3:1). He had proved that Christ is superior to Angels the ministers, and to Moses the servant of the old Dispensation, and (quite incidentally) to Joshua. He has now to prove that He is like Aaron in all that made Aaron’s priesthood precious, but infinitely superior to him and his successors, and a pledge to us of the grace by which the true rest can be obtained. Christ is not only a High Priest, but “a great High Priest,” an expression also found in Philo (Opp. I. 654).

διεληλυθότα τοὺς οὐρανούς, “who hath passed through the heavens”—the heavens being here the lower heavens, regarded as a curtain which separates us from the presence of God. Christ has passed not only into but above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26). “Transiit, non modo intravit, caelos.”—Bengel.

Ἰησοῦν τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ. The title combines His earthly and human name with His Divine dignity, and thus describes the two natures which make His Priesthood eternally necessary.

τῆς ὁμολογίας. “Our confession,” as in Hebrews 3:1. κρατεῖν with the gen. implies to grasp firm hold of a thing. The gen. is partitive; with the accus. it means “to be master of.”

Verses 14-16


Verse 15

15. γάρ. He gives the reason for holding fast our confession; [we may do so with confidence], for Christ can sympathise with us in our weaknesses, since He has suffered with us (συμπάσχειν). Romans 8:17; 1 Corinthians 12:26.

συμπαθῆσαι ταῖς ἀσθενείαις ἡμῶν. Even the heathen could feel the force and beauty of this appeal, for they intensely admired the famous line of Terence,

“Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto”;

at the utterance of which, when the play was first acted, it is said that the whole of the audience rose to their feet; and the exquisite words which Virgil puts into the mouth of Dido,

“Haud ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco.”

πεπειρασμένον. This is the best-supported reading, not πεπειραμένον, “having made trial of,” “experienced in.” It refers alike to the trials of life, which are in themselves indirect temptations—sometimes to sin, always to murmuring and discontent; and to the direct temptations to sin which are life’s severest trials. From both of these our Lord suffered (John 11:33-35; “ye are they who have continued with me in my temptations,” Luke 22:28; Luke 4:2, &c.).

καθʼ ὁμοιότητα, “after the likeness”; a stronger way of expressing the resemblance of Christ’s “temptations” to ours than if an adverb had been used.

χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας, “apart from sin.” Philo had already spoken of the Logos as sinless (De Profug. 20; Opp. I. 562). His words are “the High Priest is not Man but the Divine Word, free from all share, not only in willing but even in involuntary wrongdoing.” Christ’s sinlessness is one of the irrefragable proofs of His divinity. It was both asserted by Himself (John 14:30) and by the Apostles (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5, &c.). Being tempted, Christ could sympathize with us; being sinless, He could plead for us.

Verse 16

16. προσερχώμεθα οὖν μετὰ παρρησίας, “let us then approach with confidence.” The notion of “approach” to God (προσέρχεσθαι) in the Levitical service (Leviticus 21:17; Leviticus 22:3) is prominent in this Epistle (Hebrews 7:25, Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:22, Hebrews 11:6, Hebrews 12:18-22). In St Paul it only occurs once (1 Timothy 6:13), and then in a different sense. His ideal of the Christian life is not “access to God” (though he does also allude to this in one Epistle, Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:12) but “oneness with Christ.”

τῷ θρόνῳ τῆς χάριτος. Comp. Hebrews 8:1. This throne was typified in the mercy-seat above the Ark (Exodus 25:21), over which the Shechinah shone between the wings of the cherubim.

ἔλεος καὶ χάριν. Mercy in our wretchedness, and free favour, though it is undeserved.

εἰς εὔκαιρον βοήθειαν, “for a seasonable succour.” Seasonable because “it is still called to-day” (Hebrews 3:13), and because the help is so deeply needed (Hebrews 2:18).


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Hebrews 4:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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