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Hebrews 5



Jesus the Great High Priest   The Theme of Jesus Our High Priest Jesus the Great High Priest Jesus the Compassionate High Priest
(4:14-5:10) Qualifications for High Priesthood (4:14-5:14) (4:14-5:10) (4:14-5:10)
5:1-4 5:1-4 5:1-6 5:1-6 5:1-10
   A Priest Forever      
5:5-10 5:5-11      
    5:7-10 5:7-10  
Warning Against Apostasy     Warning Against Abandoning the Faith Christian Life and Theology
(5:11-6:12)     (5:11-6:17)  
5:11-6:8 Spiritual Immaturity 5:11-14 5:11-14 5:11-14

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


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.



A. In 3:1 two terms are introduced to describe Jesus: "apostle" and "high priest." The second one is uniquely developed in Hebrews (cf. 2:17; 3:!; 4:14-15; 5:5,10; 6:20; 7:26,28; 8:1,3; 9:11; 10:21).


B. The author of Hebrews knew that the concept of Jesus as high priest in the line of Melchizedek would be difficult for his Jewish Christian recipients to accept.


C. The literary unit, 5:11-6:20, is a parenthesis in the author's discussion about Melchizedek to warn both the believing Jews and the unbelieving Jews.


D. In 5:11-6:20 we have three key pronouns: "we" (5:11); "you" (5:11-12–three times); and "those"/"they" (6:4-8). These pronouns reflect three groups.

1. "we" and "us," 5:11; 6:1-3, the writer and his/her missionary team

2. "you," 5:11-12; 6:9-12, the believing Jews to whom the author is writing

3. "those" and "they," 6:4-8, the unbelieving Jews who are co-worshipers and friends of the recipients of the letter



 1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; 2he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; 3and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. 4And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.

5:1-4 Verses 1-4 describe OT Levitical high priests.

1. comes from one of the tribes (Levi)

2. stands before God on humanity's behalf

3. offers gifts and sacrifices for sin (cf. 8:3; 9:9)

4. deals gently with sinners because he is a sinner (cf. Lev. 16:3,6)

5. does not take personal honor, but is honored by God's choice and use



NASB, NRSV"gently"
TEV"able to be gentle"
NJB"sympathize with"

This Greek term is used only here in the NT and does not occur at all in the Septuagint. It is used in Aristeas 256 to refer to the philosophy of moderation (cf. Moulton and Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, p. 406).

▣ "the ignorant and misguided" In the OT the sins of ignorance and passion were forgivable through sacrifice (cf. Lev. 4:2,22,27; 5:15-18; 22:14; Num. 15:22-31), but sins of premeditation were not (cf. Deut. 1:43; 17:12,13; 18:20; Psalm 51).

In Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 5, A. T. Robertson makes the theological connection between the premeditated sins of the OT for which there was no forgiveness through sacrifice and the warnings of 3:12 and 10:26. His statement is "for deliberate apostasy (3:12; 10:26) no pardon is offered" (p. 368).

Paul believed God had mercy on him because of his ignorance of the truth and not his intentional rejection of the gospel.

5:3 "and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins as for the people, so also for himself" This refers to the procedures for the high priest atoning for himself is found in Lev. 9:7-17 (initial consecration; 16:6-19 Day of Atonement; and Heb. 9:7. We learn from Heb. 7:26,27 that Jesus never had to make an offering for His own sin, but He does understand our need (cf. 4:15).

5:4 "no one takes the honor to himself" God appointed a certain tribe (Levi) and a certain family (Aaron's, cf. Exod.28:1; I Chr. 23:13) to act as priests (cf. Num. 16:40; 18:7; I Sam. 12:9-14; II Chr. 16:18).

 5So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him,
 "You are My Son,
 Today I have begotten You";
 6 just as He says also in another passage,
 "You are a priest forever
 According to the order of Melchizedek."
 7In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, 10being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

5:5 "Christ did not glorify Himself" See John 8:50,54.

▣ "become a high priest" It would be very difficult to convince a group of Jews that Jesus was high priest when He did not come from the line of Levi. That is the purpose of this extensive argumentation (cf. 4:14-5:10; 6:13-7:28) based on OT quotes.

"but He who said" The author asserts that the Father affirms Jesus' exalted position by quoting a key royal Psalm, 2:7. The Father quoted this same Psalm combined with Isa. 42:1 at Jesus' baptism (cf. 3:17) and His transfiguration (cf. Matt. 17:5).

Arius (i.e., in the fourth century a.d.) in his theological conflict with Athanasius over the full deity of Jesus) used the second part of this quote to assert that Jesus was the first and highest creation of God (cf. Prov. 8:22-31), but the thrust of the quote is Jesus' sonship (cf. 1:2; 3:6; 5:8; 7:28). The original psalm was an annual renewal ceremony for the King of Israel or Judah.

5:6 "you are a priest forever

 according to the order of Melchizedek" This is a quote from Ps. 110:4. This Psalm is unique in the fact that it specifically gives the Messiah both a priestly and a kingly office (i.e., the two olive trees, cf. Zech. 4:3,11-14; and i.e., Joshua as a branch, cf. 6:13). We learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Essenes were expecting two Messiahs, one royal and one priestly. Jesus fulfilled both offices. As a matter of fact, He fulfills all three OT anointed offices: prophet, priest and king (cf. 1:1-3).

"Melchizedek" The full development of this theme is in chapter 7. The imagery is taken from Gen. 14:17-20, where he is a Canaanite priest/king of Salem (Jebus, Jerusalem).

5:7 "In the days of His flesh" This refers to Jesus, not Melchizedek. It does not mean to imply that Jesus is not still human. Jesus became Incarnate and remains Incarnate forever.

▣ "prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears" This may relate to Jesus' Gethsemane experience in Matt. 26:37 and Luke 22:44. This is possibly related to the rabbis' three levels of prayer, showing the intensity of Jesus' emotion in the Garden of Gethsemane or His high priestly prayer in John 17 the night of the disciples' Passover meal before Gethsemane.

"to the One able to save Him from death" Was Jesus afraid of death? Death is a natural human fear and Jesus was fully human. Supremely I think He was afraid of the loss of fellowship with the Father (cf. Mark 15:34, quoting Psalm 22). He knew who He was and why He came (cf. Mark 10:45; Matt. 16:21).

All three persons of the Trinity were involved in Jesus' resurrection, not just the Father (cf. the Spirit, Rom. 8:11; and Jesus, John 2:19-22; 10:17-18). Usually the NT asserts that it was the Father who raised Jesus (cf. Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30,33,34,37; 17:31; Rom. 6:4,9; 10:9; I Cor. 6:14; II Cor. 4:14; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:20; Col. 2:12; I Thess. 1:10.

This phrase may reflect several OT texts that assert that YHWH will save the Messiah from physical death (cf. Ps. 33:19; 56:13 or Hos. 13:14) or resurrect Him from death (cf. Ps. 16:10; 49:15; 86:13). If this context reflects Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane, then option #1 is best.

NASB"He was heard because of His piety"
NKJV"and was heard because of His godly fear"
NRSV"he was heard because of his reverent submission"
TEV"Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him"
NJB"winning a hearing by his reverence"

This phrase, like Rom. 1:4, was used to support the theological heretical concept of "adoptionism," which asserts that God rewarded the man Jesus because of His godly, obedient life. The NT as a whole presents the paradox that Jesus was incarnate deity and was rewarded for His good service! Somehow, both are true.

The differences in the English translations come from the ambiguity of the Hebrew term "fear," especially as it is used of mankind's relationship to God. It seems that it means "reverent awe" or piety, not "terror of." Its basic meaning is "to hold on to securely" in the sense of doing the known will of God.

5:8 "Although He was a Son" The word "son" should not be capitalized. It is another in a series of the comparisons between a family member versus a family servant (cf. 1:2; 3:6; 5:8; 7:28).

▣ "He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" This whole section has emphasized both Jesus as a "son" of God (cf. 4:14) and yet human (cf. "in the days of His flesh" v. 7, 5:7). He was tempted; He prayed; He cried; He suffered; He learned obedience! It is difficult theologically to hold Jesus' true deity and true humanity as one truth (one nature). Throughout Church history, heresies have developed when either side is depreciated (cf. I John 4:1-3).

It is hard for believers to realize that they must follow Jesus' example. This was the problem the believing recipients faced. Would they, like Jesus, follow through to the end, even it if involved suffering? Suffering is part of the package (cf. 2:10; Matt. 5:10-12; John 15:18-21; 16:1-2; 17:14; Rom. 8:17; II Cor. 4:16-18; I Pet. 4:12-19).

How could Jesus be perfected if He was deity? This must refer to His human development (cf. Luke 2:40,52). Suffering served a purpose of developing trust as nothing else could do. If it is true that God's goal for every believer is Christlikeness (i.e., Rom. 8:29; Eph. 4:13), then why do modern western Christians flee the very mechanism that produces maturity?

5:9 "and having been made perfect" This is an aorist passive (deponent) participle. The word "perfect" means "mature" or "fully equipped for the assigned task." The perfection or maturity of both Jesus and His followers is a central concept in Hebrews (cf. 2:10; 5:9,14; 6:1; 7:11,19,28; 9:9,11; 10:1,14; 11:40; 12:2,23). See Special Topic at 7:11.

▣ "to all those who obey Him" Obedience is an evidence of true discipleship (cf. Luke 6:46). Jesus is our example in all areas. Obedience gives evidence of a true salvation!

5:10 "being designated by God as a high priest according to the order" So far in Hebrews there have been three titles for Jesus mentioned: (1) son, (2) apostle, and (3) high priest. See SPECIAL TOPIC: JESUS AS HIGH PRIEST at 2:17.

▣ "the order of Melchizedek" Melchizedek is alluded to because he is the only person in the OT who is called both priest and king, and who adequately fulfills the theological requirements of this rabbinical argument. Melchizedek is a rather shadowy figure of Gen. 14:17-20 and Ps. 110:4 who is used to describe the superiority of Jesus' priesthood over the Aaronic priesthood. See full discussion in chapter 7.

 11Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

5:11-6:12 This is one literary unit. Chapter and verse divisions are not inspired and were added much later. See Contextual Insights to chapter 6.

5:11 "him" This pronoun can be either masculine or neuter. I think the neuter fits better (cf. NRSV, TEV, NJB, NIV). Therefore, it would refer to Jesus' Melchizedekian priesthood. Hebrews 5:11-6:20 is a theological parenthesis. The author will return to Melchizedek in chapter 7.

We" This is a literary plural, and refers to the one author.

"you have become dull of hearing"  This context is unique in Hebrews in that three pronouns are used: "you" (5:11,12; 6:9-12), "we" and "us" (5:11; 6:1-3,9), and "those" (6:4-8). See contextual Insights, D. This seems to support the supposed historical reconstruction that the book of Hebrews was written to a group of believing Jews still content to worship in a synagogue setting with unbelieving Jews, never fully embracing the consequences of the gospel.

This is a perfect active indicative, which emphasizes a settled state of being. The term "dull" is used only twice in the NT, here and in 6:12. The author was having difficulty explaining, not because of the subject matter, but because of the immaturity of the readers. They had become hard of hearing and lazy in spiritual matters.

5:12 "For though by this time you ought to be teachers" Although these believers had been Christians for a long period they had not matured. Length of time is not directly related to maturity. It seems they were continuing to fellowship with unbelieving Jews on the basis of non-controversial Jewish subjects (cf. 6:1-2). This was possibly (1) to avoid governmental persecution and/or (2) to avoid the "great commission" commitment required of Christians.

NASB"elementary principles"
NKJV"first principles"
NRSV"the basic elements"
TEV"the first lessons"
NJB"the elements of the principles"

This term has many possible meanings (i.e., wide semantical field).

1. the basic teachings of a subject

2. the origin of a subject

3. angelic powers (cf. Gal. 4:3,9; Col. 2:8)

In this context #1 seems best. The author asserts that these immature believers need the basics of Christianity taught to them (use # 1), but in 6:1, definition #2 fits best because 6:1-2 relates to Jewish teaching, not uniquely Christian teachings, which they are to move beyond. The Greek word here is stoichea, while in 6:1 it is archē (see Special Topic: Archē at 3:14 (see Special Topic: Archē at 3:14..

▣ "oracles of God" This term is used of OT truths in Acts 7:38 and Rom. 3:2.

▣ "milk. . .solid food" These are both God given and both are appropriate at certain times. However, milk is inappropriate for the mature (cf. I Cor. 3:2; I Pet. 2:2).

5:13 "word of righteousness" The interpretive question is how does this phrase relate to the "good and evil" of v. 14? The NJB translates the first as relating to doctrine, "the doctrine of saving justice." The TEV translates them as parallel "right and wrong" (v. 13) and "good and evil" (v. 14). The first phrase deals with a problem of immaturity, while the second deals with a problem of lack of action/experience.

It is possible that this phrase is in contrast to "the elementary principles" of v. 12; 6:1. Thereby it would refer to the gospel as over against Jewish doctrines of 6:1-2.

For a word study on righteousness see special topic at 1:9.

5:14 "the mature" This term is from the same Greek root translated "perfect" in 5:9. Telos means mature, fully equipped for an assigned task. See Special Topic at 7:11. Jesus' humanity is an example of faithfulness and growth to maturity (cf. vv. 8-9), just as the readers' lives must be. These believing Jews had experienced some persecution (cf. 12:4), but they tended to pull back (cf. "shrink back," 10:38) into the relative safety of Judaism.

▣ "because of practice have their senses trained" This is a perfect passive participle, which speaks of repeated action that has become consolidated into a settled state of being—practice makes perfect! The same verb is used of God's disciples in 12:11.


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 was it so difficult for Jewish people to accept the truth that Jesus was the high priest?

2. How is suffering related to maturity, both of Jesus and believers?

3. What factors had caused these readers not to mature?