Where the world comes to study the Bible

Hebrews 3

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Jesus Superior to Moses The Son Was Faithful Christ is Superior to Moses Jesus is Greater than Moses Christ Higher than Moses
3:1-6 3:1-6 3:1-6 3:1-6 3:1-6
A Rest for the People of God Be Faithful Warning and Exhortation A Rest for God's People How to Reach God's Land of Rest
(3:7-4:13)   (3:7-4:13) (3:7-4:13) (3:7-4:13)
3:7-11 3:7-15 3:7-19 3:7-11 3:7-11
3:12-19 Failure of the Wilderness Wandering   3:12-15 3:12-19
  3:16-19   3:16-19  

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS: HEBREWS 3:1-4:13

A. This section deals with Jesus' superiority over the twin leaders of the Mosaic Covenant, Moses and Aaron, who were brothers and Levites. This leads us into the practical discussion of the Melchizedek priesthood of Heb. 4:14-7:28.

 

B. This section is a rabbinical play on two concepts: (1) "the house of God," in 3:1-6 (cf. Num. 12:7-8; II Samuel 7) and (2) the "rest" in 3:7-4:13 (cf. Ps. 95:7-11).

 

C. The argument develops as follows.

1. Moses was part of God's house/household, but Jesus was the builder of the house/household

2. Moses is a servant in the house, while Jesus is a family member

3. Moses failed to bring in God's rest, while Jesus did not fail

 

D. The theological thrust of the literary unit is a warning to be obedient and faithful. Jesus was obedient and faithful, but the Israelites were not. The Mosaic covenant had consequences for disobedience which were severe. How much more dire are the consequences of rejecting or violating the new covenant (cf. 2:1-4)?

 

E. This section is typological. It views the NT as the new, spiritual exodus!

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3:1-6
 1Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; 2He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. 3For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. 4For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; 6 but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

3:1

NASB, NKJV"holy brethren"
NRSV"brothers and sisters"
TEV"my Christian friends"
NJB"holy brothers"

To whom was this book addressed? The term "brethren" is used repeatedly (cf. 2:11; 3:1,12; 10:19; 13:22) which (along with the subject matter) implies Jewish believers.

▣ "partakers of a heavenly calling" This concept is used in several ways in the Bible.

1. Israel was called by God to be a kingdom of priests to bring the world back to God (cf. Gen. 12:3; Exod.19:5). In the OT this was a call to service, not individual salvation, and a corporate call (national Israel) to an assigned task (worldwide evangelization).

2. Individual believers are called (cf. John 6:44,65) to an eternal salvation.

3. Every individual Christian is called to serve the body of Christ through spiritual giftedness (cf. I Cor. 12:7,11).

 

SPECIAL TOPIC: CALLED

▣ "consider Jesus" This is an aorist active imperative. It means to consider thoughtfully (cf. 10:24). In context this implies comparing His person and work with the leaders of the Mosaic covenant.

▣ "the Apostle and High Priest" These two titles deal with Jesus' superiority over Moses as official messenger and Aaron as the Levitical high priest. Chapters 3 and 4 deal with Jesus' superiority over Aaron. Since the Greek terms for "messenger" and "angel" are the same, "apostle," which was a Greek term "to send," may relate to both angels sent by God to serve those being saved (cf. 1:14) and to Jesus sent by God to redeem those who are being saved (cf. John 3:17). This is the only place in the NT that Jesus is called "the Apostle," although John uses the verb over and over to refer to Him being "sent" from the Father (cf. John 3:17,34; 5:36,38; 6:29,57; 7:29; 8:42; 10:36; 11:42; 17:3,18,21,23,25; 20:21).

▣ "Apostle" This comes from the verb "to send" and was used by the rabbis in the sense of one sent as an official representative of another. Moses served in the house of God as a servant while Jesus was "a son," a family member. God called Moses to serve, but sent Jesus from heaven.

▣ "High Priest" Hebrews is the only book of the Bible to call Jesus high priest. It takes an extensive rabbinical argumentation to convince first century Jews that Jesus, from the tribe of Judah, really was a priest. The Dead Sea Scrolls community expected two Messiahs, one royal (tribe of Judah) and one priestly (tribe of Levi, cf. Psalm 110; Zechariah 3-4).

"our confession" This is the Greek term homologia, which is a compound of "to say" and "the same." The readers had made a confession of their faith in Jesus Christ. Now they must hold fast this confession/profession (cf. 4:14; 10:23). This is one of the main issues of the book.

SPECIAL TOPIC: CONFESSION

3:2 "He was faithful to Him who appointed Him" In context the emphasis is on (1) the Father's choosing and equipping Jesus for an assigned redemptive task (cf. Mark 3:14) and (2) Jesus exercising faith (present participle) in the Father as believers are to exercise faith. He is truly one with mankind. However, one possible etymology for "appointed" is "create." Arius used the verb "appointed" in his controversy with Athanasius to assert that Jesus was the highest creation (cf. Prov. 8:22) of God, but not deity Himself (cf. Acts 2:36; Rom. 1:4; Col. 1:15). This fourth century controversy produced the clear teaching of one divine essence, but three eternal personal manifestations, Father, Son, and Spirit (the Trinity). These three divine persons have eternally made up the one true God (cf. John 1:1-18). For a good brief discussion of Arianism, see Christian Theology (2nd ed.) by Millard J. Erickson, pp. 711-715.

▣ "all His house" This is a reference to Num. 12:7,8. The people of God being the house of God is an oft repeated biblical metaphor (cf. v. 6, "household," Gal. 6:10; I Tim. 3:15; "spiritual house," I Pet. 2:5; "household of God," 4:17). "House" is used six times in this paragraph, sometimes with the connotation of a building and sometimes of a family. The argument seems to run as follows

1. Moses was part of God's house/household, but Jesus was the builder of that house 

2. Moses is a servant, while Jesus is a family member

3. Moses failed to bring in God's rest, while Jesus will not fail

 

3:3 "counted worthy of more glory than Moses" This is a perfect passive indicative. This would have been an absolutely shocking statement to Jews (cf. II Cor. 3:7-11).

3:4 "For every house is built by someone" This has been used for the philosophical/theological argument of "ultimate cause" in an attempt to prove the existence of God (cf. Thomas Aquinas). However, this line of reasoning ("first cause") can never arrive at the revelation of God as Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, nor at God as friend of sinners.

"but the builder of all things is God" The Father is creator of all (cf. Rom. 11:36; I Cor. 15:25-27). Jesus was the Father's agent in creation (cf. John 1:3; I Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).

3:5-6 "but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house" Jesus a son (cf. 1:2; 3:6; 5:8; 7:28) is contrasted with Moses, the servant (cf. 1:2; 3:5; 5:8; 7:28; Exod. 14:31; Num. 12:7). Moses was a faithful servant (cf. Num. 12:7), but Jesus was a family member!

3:5 Moses spoke of Christ in Deut. 18:18-19 (cf. I Pet. 1:11). This repeats the truth of 1:1.

3:6 "whose house we are" This is the family of faith described as a house (cf. Gal. 6:10; I Tim. 3:15; I Pet. 2:5; 4:17). This same type of collective building metaphor is employed when the church is called a temple (cf. I Cor. 3:16). The focus is on (1) Jesus' ownership and (2) the people of God as a corporate entity.

It is unusual to speak of the church as Jesus' house. Because of this some ancient Greek manuscripts changed the pronoun so that it refers to the Father (cf. MSS P46 and D*).

"if" This is a third class conditional which means potential action (ean plus a subjunctive). This gives the statement an element of contingency (cf. 3:14; 4:14; Rom. 11:22; I Cor. 15:2).

▣ "we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope" "Hold fast" is a continuing emphasis on perseverance (aorist active subjunctive, cf. 3:14; 4:14, see Special Topic at 4:14). The rest of this chapter and chapter 4 is one continual warning (1) for the Jewish believers to move to maturity and (2) for those who have heard the gospel and seen it powerfully in the lives of their believing Jewish friends to fully accept it themselves.

"boast of our hope" This emphasis on hope is characteristic of Hebrews (cf. 3:6; 6:11; 7:19; 10:23; 11:1). Hope refers to the sure consummation of our faith!

SPECIAL TOPIC: HOPE

▣ "firm until the end" This phrase does not appear in the ancient Greek manuscripts P46 or B and, therefore, is possibly not original. However, it is included in other ancient uncial Greek manuscripts (א, A, C, D, K, and P). It is included in v. 14 and was probably transposed here by a scribe for the sake of balance. It surely fits the theology of the context. See Special Topic at 7:11.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3:7-19 (complete paragraph includes 3:7-4:13)
 7Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says,
 "Today if you hear His voice,
  8Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me,
 As in the day of trial in the wilderness,
  9Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me,
 And saw My works for forty years.
 10Therefore I was angry with this generation,
 And said, 'They always go astray in their heart,
 And they did not know My ways';
  11As I swore in My wrath,
 'They shall not enter My rest.
'"
 12Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, 15while it is said,
 "Today if you hear His voice,
 Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me."
 16For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? 17And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.

3:7 "as the Holy Spirit says" This is attributing the inspiration of the OT to the Holy Spirit. In context this is very significant because Scripture is attributed to the Father in 1:5,13; 2:6,11; 4:3,4; 10:9; 13:5. Therefore, this is a strong passage on the deity and personality of the Spirit (cf. 9:8; 10:15).

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY

▣ "today if you hear his voice" Verses 7-11 are a quote from the Septuagint of Ps. 95:7-11, which is a warning to Israel during the wilderness wandering against unbelief. Hebrews 3:17 through 4:13 is based on an exposition of this passage. This is a third class conditional sentence. They had the opportunity to see and hear (cf. v. 9) but willfully refused and hardened their hearts.

3:8 "do not harden your hearts as when they provoked me" The historical allusion is to Israel's wilderness wandering period. The Masoretic Hebrew text lists the geographical sites of Israel's rebellion as Meribah (cf. Exod.17:7; Num. 20:13) and Massah (cf. Exod.17:7; Deut. 6:16). The Septuagint translates them by their etymology (Meribah–place of strife and Massah–temptation, cf. v. 9).

The term "heart" refers to the entire person (cf. Deut. 6:4-5). These Israelites initially had faith, but later did not act in faith (i.e., the report of the 12 spies). As a result they were not permitted to enter the Promised Land.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEART

"as in the day" Here is an example of the Hebrew term "yom" used in a figurative sense (cf. John 8:56; Heb. 8:9), not in the sense of a literal 24 hour period.

SPECIAL TOPIC: YOM

3:9 "tried Me by testing Me" The term "provoking" in v. 8 and the term "test" in v. 9 in the Masoretic Text are "meribah" and "massah," two geographical locations mentioned in Exod.17:1-7 where Israel rebelled against God.

In the Greek translation two different terms for "test" or "try" are used. The first (peirazō) normally had the connotation of "to test with a view toward destruction" and the second (dokimazō) "to test with a view toward approval," but in this context they are synonymous. See Special Topic at 2:18.

"and saw my works" God's miraculous dealings with the children of Israel during the forty year period of the wilderness wanderings did not bring them to complete trust. The parable in Luke 16 of Lazarus and the rich man combined with Matt. 24:24 shows that the miraculous is not necessarily the sign of God, nor the best tool for winning men to faith (cf. the devil's temptation of Jesus in Matt. 4:3,6).

"forty years" This number is used often in the Bible. It must be a Hebrew idiom for a long, indefinite period of time. Actually, in this context, it refers to 38 years (cf. Num. 14:34).

The author of Hebrews has modified both the Hebrew text and Greek text of this Psalm (e.g., Paul's quote of Ps. 68:18 in Eph. 4:8) by connecting the "forty years" with the Israelites seeing YHWH's miracles during the wilderness wandering period. However, the Masoretic Text and Septuagint relate the phrase to YHWH's anger at the people during this period (cf. Ps. 95:10). New Testament authors under inspiration often interpret the OT by rabbinical word plays. This seems to violate our modern commitment to authorial intent as the proper way to interpret the Bible. We must allow the NT authors the right to use the OT in ways that would be inappropriate for modern interpreters. We cannot reproduce the hermeneutical approach of the inspired authors.

3:10 "I was angry with this generation" A good example of YHWH's anger and judgment is found in Numbers 14:11,22-23,27-30,35.

"know" The Hebrew term has an element of personal relationship (cf. Gen. 4:1; Jer. 1:5), not just facts about someone or something. Biblical faith has both a cognitive element (truths) and a personal element (trust).

"My ways" There are many synonyms in Hebrew referring to God's Law (cf. Ps. 19:6-9; 119). God's will was clear to them (i.e., OT Israelites), but they willfully rejected it. This was the problem of the unbelieving Jewish recipients of Hebrews. The message of Jesus had changed "God's ways" (i.e., Matt. 5:21-48; Mark 7:19; 10:5-6). It was hard for these Jewish worshipers to leave Moses and trust completely in the Apostolic message of a "new covenant" (i.e., Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38) totally apart from human performance!

SPECIAL TOPIC: TERMS FOR GOD'S REVELATION (using DEUTERONOMY and PSALMS)

3:11 "as I swore in my wrath" God's wrath is as true biblically as is God's love. It must be stated; however, that both are anthropomorphic metaphors using human emotions and terminology. They surely are true about God but not ultimate. God has adequately revealed Himself to us, but there is so much about God that we simply cannot receive while still a part of this temporal, physical, sinful reality.

SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN (ANTHROPOMORPHISM)

3:12

NASB, NRSV,
NJB"Take care brethren"
NKJV"Beware"
NJB"be careful"

This is a present active imperative; continue to be watchful! It not only is the beginning of the life of faith that is crucial, but also the finish (cf. chapter 11)!!!

NASB, NKJV"brethren"
NRSV"brothers and sisters"
NJB"brothers"

See note at 3:1. This designation seems to refer to believing Jews, although it could denote ethnic paternity.

"an unbelieving heart" This describes a believer who deserts the living God. A believing heart is one that continues firm to the end (cf. v. 14 and chapter 11). The phrase "unbelieving heart" reflects a Hebrew idiom "heart of unbelief" (cf. 4:6), as does "fall away," which reflects the Hebrew shuv ("return" or "turn").

▣ "that falls away from the living God" This is an aorist active infinitive. This verb is the source of our English word "apostasy." This is addressing a developing faithlessness (it is the opposite of 3:14). To whom does this passage relate: (1) believing Jews or (2) unbelieving Jews? The use of "brothers" in 3:1 and the added phrase "partakers of a heavenly calling" and "brothers" in 3:12 demand that it refer to believers.

What then is the warning relating to: (1) salvation or (2) faithfulness? In context it seems to refer to faithfulness; Jesus was faithful, they must be faithful. Hebrews views the Christian life from the end (cf. v. 14), not the beginning (like Paul).

The "falling away" of v. 13 must relate to continual faith and faithfulness. The Israelites had faith, but not functioning, obedient faith. They rejected God's promise of the land flowing with milk and honey by accepting the spies' report (cf. Numbers 13-14), not their belief in God. In this context "falling away" does not mean "falling from faith," but "falling from faithfulness"! However, both are required for a helathy faith. See note at 3:16-18.

God always comes to us in a covenant relationship. We must respond in faith and faithfulness. The Sovereign God has allowed us to participate in our initial decision and on-going discipleship. The author of Hebrews is difficult to follow because

1. he uses rabbinical logic and hermeneutics

2. he is addressing two groups

a. believing Jews

b. unbelieving Jews

3. he views Christian assurance and victory from the criteria of faithfulness as well as faith

4. he focuses on faithfulness to the end (cf. 4:14; chapter 11). He views the Christian life from its conclusion, not its beginning.

The phrase "the living God" is a play on God's covenant name YHWH, which is from the Hebrew verb "to be" (cf. Exod.3:14). See Special Topic: Names for Deity at 2:7. These readers were not rejecting YHWH, but the irony is that rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ is, in fact, a rejection of YHWH (cf. I John 5:9-12).

SPECIAL TOPIC: APOSTASY (APHISTĒMI)

3:13 "But encourage one another" This is a present active imperative. Believers are to emulate the Spirit and the Son in encouraging faith and faithfulness (cf. 10:24). This is the same root as the word paraclete, which means "one called alongside to help" and is used of the Spirit (cf. John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7) and of Jesus (cf. I John 2:1).

▣ "Today" "Today," used in Psalm 95, shows that the time for trusting God and finding His rest was still open as it was in David's day. The author is emphasizing that now is the time for decision because there comes a time when continual rejection results in blinded eyes that cannot see (i.e., unpardonable sin of the Gospels and the sin unto death of I John).

No one chooses the time when they come to God (cf. John 6:44,65). Our only choice is to respond, and respond immediately. Continued rejection and willful unbelief causes a spiritual hardening of the human heart (cf. Aorist passive subjunctive, "be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin"). This is not God's will, but the inevitable consequence of rejection. The people of God who left Egypt in faith balked at God's promise related to possessing the Promised Land. Believers often practice practical unbelief. Beware of segmenting initial faith from continuing faith (cf. vv. 6,14).

▣ "that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" This is an aorist passive subjunctive. Sin is personified as the enemy that hardens hearts. Notice how this truth is presented:

1. take care brethren (v. 12)

2. lest one have (v. 12)

a. an unbelieving heart

b. fall away from God

3. encourage one another (v. 13)

4. lest you be hardened by sin (v. 13)

5. we are partakers, if we hold fast (v. 14)

What a powerful encouragement and warning these verses present.

3:14 "we have become partakers of Christ" This is a perfect active indicative. This implies a finished progress that results in an abiding state of being.

▣ "if" This is a third class conditional which means potential action. This is another warning admonishing Christians to hold fast their confession (cf. 3:6; 4:14; 10:23).

NASB"if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end"
NKJV"if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end"
NRSV"if only we hold our confidence firm to the end"
TEV"if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at the beginning"
NJB"if we keep the grasp of our first confidence firm to the end"

This is an emphasis on perseverance. It is as valid a biblical emphasis as is security. They must be super-glued together for a biblically balanced perspective (cf.3:6; 4:14; Mark 13:13; Rom. 11:22; I Cor. 15:2; Gal. 6:7-9; I John 2:19; Rev. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21; 21:7). See SPECIAL TOPIC: GUARANTEE at 2:2. For "to the end" see Special Topic at7:11.

Most biblical doctrines come in dialectical or paradoxical pairs. The Bible is an eastern book which uses figurative language expressing truth in very strong statements, but then balances it with other seemingly contradictory statements. Thereby truth is found between the two stated extremes. Western people tend to proof-text one side of the paradox and radicalize truth by literally and dogmatically interpreting one expression of truth without seeking and being open to the opposite truth. In many ways this is the major source of tension among modern western denominations! See Special Topics below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: CHRISTIAN ASSURANCE

SPECIAL TOPIC: ARCHĒ

3:15 "if" This is another third class conditional sentence, like v. 14, which means potential action. This is a quote from Ps. 95:7-8, which has been the focus of chapter 3.

3:16-18 There are three rhetorical questions in these verses (cf. vv. 16,17,18). If this analogy is taken literally, it seems that all who died in the wilderness (cf. Num. 14), including Moses, Aaron, and the faithful priests during Korah's rebellion, were all spiritually lost for eternity. This is impossible. This is a play on the words "rest" and "disobedience." These are the two key terms of this context. God has a "rest" for those who trust Him (and continue to trust Him), yet there are consequences for "disobedience," both to unbelievers and believers!

3:19 The unbelief of v. 19 deals with the continuing faithlessness of Israel during the Wilderness Wandering Period!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is Jesus called an "apostle" in 3:1?

2. List the different uses of "rest."

3. Define "the perseverance of the saints."