Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 6. An exhortation to advance beyond elementary catechetical instructions (Hebrews 6:1-3). A solemn warning against the peril of Apostasy (Hebrews 6:4-8). A word of encouragement and hope (Hebrews 6:9-12) founded on the immutability of God’s promises (Hebrews 6:13-15), to which they are exhorted to hold fast (Hebrews 6:16-20)
Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,1. leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ] Lit., “leaving the discourse of the beginning of Christ,” i.e. getting beyond the earliest principles of Christian teaching. He does not of course mean that these first principles are to be neglected, still less forgotten, but merely that his readers ought to be so familiar with them as to be able to advance to less obvious knowledge.
let us go on] Lit., “let us be borne along,” as by the current of a stream. The question has been discussed whether the Author in saying “let us,” is referring to himself or to his readers. It is surely clear that he means (as in Hebrews 4:14) to imply both, although in the words “laying a foundation” teachers may have been principally in his mind. He invites his readers to advance with him to doctrines which lie beyond the range of rudimentary Christian teaching. They must come with him out of the limits of this Jewish-Christian Catechism.
unto perfection] The “perfection” intended is the “full growth” of those who are mature in Christian knowledge (see Hebrews 5:14). They ought not to be lingering among the elementary subjects of catechetical instruction which in great measure belonged no less to Jews than to Christians.
not laying again] There is no need for a foundation to be laid a second time. He is not in the least degree disparaging the importance of the truths and doctrines which he tells them to “leave,” but only urging them to build on those deep foundations the necessary superstructure. Hence we need not understand the Greek participle in its other sense of “overthrowing.”
the foundation] Lit., “a foundation.” The subjects here alluded to probably formed the basis of instruction for Christian catechumens. They were not however exclusively Christian; they belonged equally to Jews, and therefore baptised Christian converts ought to have got beyond them.
repentance from dead works] Repentance is the first lesson of the Gospel (Mark 1:15). “Dead works” are such as cause defilement, and require purification (Hebrews 9:14) because they are sinful (Galatians 5:19-21) and because their wages is death (Romans 6:23); but “the works of the Law,” as having no life in them (see our Article xiii.), may be included under the epithet.
faith towards God] This is also one of the initial steps in religious knowledge. How little the writer meant any disparagement of it may be seen from Hebrews 11:1-2; Hebrews 11:6.
Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.2. of the doctrine of baptisms] Perhaps rather, “of ablutions” (Hebrews 9:10; Mark 7:3-4), both (1) from the use of the plural (which cannot be explained either physically of “triple immersion,” or spiritually of the baptisms of “water, spirit, blood”); and (2) because baptismos is never used of Christian baptism, but only baptisma. If, as we believe, the writer of this Epistle was Apollos, he, as an original adherent “of John’s baptism,” might feel all the more strongly that the doctrine of “ablutions” belonged, even in its highest forms, to the elements of Christianity. Perhaps he, like Josephus (Antt. xviii. 5, § 2), would have used the word baptismos, and not baptisma, even of John’s baptism. But the word probably implies the teaching which enable Christian catechumens to discriminate beween Jewish washings and Christian baptism.
of laying on of hands] For ordination (Numbers 8:10-11; Acts 6:6; Acts 13:2-3; Acts 19:6, &c.), confirmation (Acts 8:17), healings (Mark 16:18), &c. Dr Mill observes that the order of doctrines here enumerated corresponds with the system of teaching respecting them in the Acts of the Apostles—Repentance, Faith, Baptism, Confirmation, Resurrection, Judgment.
and of resurrection of the dead] These topics had been severally prominent in the early Apostolic teaching (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19-21; Acts 26:20). Even the doctrine of the resurrection belonged to Judaism (Luke 20:37-38; Daniel 12:2; Acts 23:8).
and of eternal judgment] The doctrine respecting that sentence (krima, “doom”), whether of the good or of the evil, which shall follow the judgment (krisis) in the future life. This was also known under the Old Covenant, Daniel 7:9-10.—The surprise with which we first read this passage only arises from our not realising the Author’s meaning, which is this,—your Christian maturity (τελείοτης, Hebrews 6:1) demands that you should rise far above your present vacillating condition. You would have no hankering after Judaism if you understood the more advanced teaching about the Melchisedek Priesthood—that is the Eternal Priesthood—of Christ which I am going to set before you. It is then needless that we should dwell together on the topics which form the training of neophytes and catechumens, the elements of religious teaching which even belonged to your old position as Jews; but let us enter upon topics which belong to the instruction of Christian manhood. The verse has its value for those who think that “Gospel” teaching consists exclusively in the iteration of threadbare shibboleths. We may observe that of these six elements of catechetical instruction two are spiritual qualities—repentance, faith; two are significant and symbolic acts—washings and laying on of hands; two are eschatological truths—resurrection and judgment.
And this will we do, if God permit.3. this will we do] We will advance towards perfection. The mss., as in nearly all similar cases, vary between “we will do” (א, B, K, L) and “let us do” (A, C, D, E). It is difficult to decide between the two, and the variations may often be due (1) to the tendency of scribes, especially in Lectionaries, to adopt the hortative form as being more edifying; and (2) to the fact that at this period of Greek the distinction in sound between ποιήσομεν and ποιήσωμεν was small.
if God permit] These sincere and pious formulae became early current among Christians (1 Corinthians 16:7; James 4:15).
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,4–8. The awfulness of apostasy
4. For] An inference from the previous clauses. We must advance, for in the Christian course stationariness means retrogression—non progredi est regredi.
For it is impossible for those] We shall see further on the meaning of the word “impossible.” The sentence begins with what is called the accusative of the subject, “For as to those who were, &c., it is impossible, &c.” We will first explain the particular expressions in these verses, and then point out the meaning of the paragraph as a whole.
once] The word, a favourite one with the writer, means “once for all.” It occurs more often in this Epistle than in all the rest of the N.T. It is the direct opposite of πάλιν in Hebrews 6:6.
enlightened] illuminated by the Holy Spirit, John 1:9. Comp. Hebrews 10:26; Hebrews 10:32; 2 Corinthians 4:4. In the LXX. “to illuminate” means “to teach” (2 Kings 12:2). The word in later times came to mean “to baptise,” and “enlightenment,” even as early as the time of Justin Martyr (a.d. 150), becomes a technical term for “baptism,” regarded from the point of view of its results. The Syriac Version here renders it by “baptised.” Hence arose the notion of some of the sterner schismatics—such as the Montanists and Novatians—that absolution was to be refused to all such as fell after baptism into apostasy or flagrant sin (Tertull. De Pudic. 20). This doctrine was certainly not held by St Paul (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20), and is rejected by the Church of England in her xvith Article (and see Pearson, On the Creed, Art. x.). The Fathers deduced from this passage the unlawfulness of administering Baptism a second time; a perfectly right rule, but one which rests upon other grounds, and not upon this passage. But neither in Scripture nor in the teaching of the Church is the slightest sanction given to the views of the fanatics who assert that “after they have received the Holy Ghost they can no more sin as long as they live here.” It will be remembered that Cromwell on his deathbed asked his chaplain as to the doctrine of Final Perseverance, and on being assured that it was a certain truth, said, “Then I am happy, for I am sure that I was once in a state of grace.”
and nave tasted of the heavenly gift …] These clauses may be rendered “having both tasted of … and being made … and having tasted.” It is not possible to determine which heavenly gift is precisely intended; perhaps it means remission, or regeneration, or salvation, which St Paul calls “God’s unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15); or, generally, “the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:44-46). Calvin vainly attempts to make the clause refer only to “those who had but as it were tasted with their outward lips the grace of God, and been irradiated with some sparks of His Light.” It is clear from 1 Peter 2:3 that such a view is not tenable.
partakers of the Holy Ghost] The Holy Spirit worked in many diversities of operations (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).
And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,5. and have tasted the good word of God] Rather, “that the word of God is good.” The verb “taste,” which in the previous verse is constructed with the genitive (as in classical Greek), is here followed by an accusative, as is more common in Hellenistic Greek. It is difficult to establish any difference in meaning between the constructions, though the latter may imply something which is more habitual—“feeding on.” But possibly the accusative is only used to avoid any entanglement with the genitive “of God” which follows it. There is however no excuse for the attempt of Calvin and others, in the interests of their dogmatic bias, to make “taste of” mean only “have an inkling of” without any deep or real participation; and to make the preciousness of the “word of God” in this place only imply its contrast to the rigour of the Mosaic Law. The metaphor means “to partake of,” and “enjoy,” as in Philo, who speaks of one “who has quaffed much pure wine of God’s benevolent power, and banqueted upon sacred words and doctrines” (De proem. et poen. Opp. i. 428). Philo also speaks of the utterance (rhema) of God, and God, and of its nourishing the soul like manna (Opp. i. 120, 564). The references to Philo are always to Mangey’s edition. The names of the special tracts and chapters may be found in my Early Days of Christianity, 11. 541–543, and passim.
the powers of the world to come] Here again it is not easy to see what is exactly intended by “the powers of the Future Age.” If the Future Age be the Olam habba of the Jews, i.e. the Messianic Age, then its “powers” may be as St Chrysostom said, “the earnest of the Spirit,” or the powers mentioned in Hebrews 2:4; Galatians 3:5. If on the other hand it mean “the world to come” its “powers” bring the foretaste of its glorious fruition.
It will then be seen that we cannot attach a definitely certain or exact meaning to the separate expressions; on the other hand nothing can be clearer than the fact that, but for dogmatic prepossessions, no one would have dreamed of explaining them to mean anything less than full conversion.
If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.6. if they shall fall away] This is one of the most erroneous translations in the A.V. The words can only mean “and have fallen away” (comp. Hebrews 2:1, Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 10:26; Hebrews 10:29), and the position of the participle gives it tremendous force. It was once thought that our translators had here been influenced by theological bias to give such a rendering as should least conflict with their Calvinistic belief in the “indefectibility of grace” or in “Final Perseverance”—i.e. that no converted person, no one who has ever become regenerate, and belonged to the number of “the elect”—can ever fall away. It was thought that, for this reason, they had put this clause in the form of a mere hypothesis. It is now known however that the mistake of our translators was derived from older sources (e.g. Tyndale and the Genevan) and was not due to bias. Calvin was himself far too good a scholar to defend this view of the clause. He attempted to get rid of it by denying that the strong expressions in Hebrews 6:4-5 describe the regenerate. He applies them to false converts or half converts who become reprobate—a view which, as we have seen, is not tenable. The falling away means apostasy, the complete and wilful renunciation of Christianity. Thus it is used by the LXX. to represent the Hebrew mâal which in 2 Chronicles 29:19 they render by “apostasy”
to renew them again unto repentance] The verb here used (anakainizein) came to mean “to rebaptise.” If the earlier clauses seemed to clash with the Calvinistic dogma of the “indefectibility of grace,” this expression seemed too severe for the milder theology of the Arminians. Holding—and rightly—that Scripture never closes the door of forgiveness to any repentant sinner, they argued, wrongly, that the “impossible” of Hebrews 6:4 could only mean “very difficult,” a translation which is actually given to the word in some Latin Versions. The solution of the difficulty is not to be arrived at by tampering with plain words. What the author says is that “when those who have tasted the heavenly gift … have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them to repentance.” He does not say that the Hebrews have so fallen away; nor does he directly assert that any true convert can thus fall away; but he does say that when such apostasy occurs and—a point of extreme importance which is constantly overlooked—so long as it lasts (see the next clause) a vital renewal is impossible. There can, he implies, be no second “Second Birth.” The sternness of the passage is in exact accordance with Hebrews 10:26-29 (comp. 1 Peter 2:20-21); but “the impossibility lies merely within the limits of the hypothesis itself.” See our Article xvi.
seeing they crucify] Rather, “while crucifying,” “crucifying as they are doing.” Thus the words imply not only an absolute, but a continuous apostasy, for the participle is changed from the past into the present tense. While men continue in wilful and willing sin they preclude all possibility of the action of grace. So long as they cling deliberately to their sins, they shut against themselves the open door of grace. A drop of water will, as the Rabbis said, suffice to purify a man who has accidentally touched a creeping thing, but an ocean will not suffice for his cleansing so long as he purposely keeps it held in his hand. There is such a thing as “doing despite unto the spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29).
to themselves] This is what is called “the dative of disadvantage”—“to their own destruction.”
We see then that this passage has been perverted in a multitude of ways from its plain meaning, which is, that so long as wilful apostasy continues there is no visible hope for it. On the other hand the passage does not lend itself to the violent oppositions of old controversies. In the recognition that, to our human point of view, there does appear to be such a thing as Divine dereliction this passage and Hebrews 10:26-29, Hebrews 12:15-17 must be compared with the passages which touch on the unpardonable sin, and the sin against the Holy Ghost (1 John 5:16; Matthew 12:31-32; comp. Isaiah 8:21). On the other hand it is as little meant to be “a rock of despair” as “a pillow of security.” He is pointing out to Hebrew Christians with awful faithfulness the fatal end of deliberate and insolent apostasy. But we have no right to suppose that he has anything in view beyond the horizon of revealed possibilities. He is thinking of the teaching and ministry of the Church, not of the Omnipotence of God. With men it is impossible that a camel should go through the eye of a needle, but “with God all things are possible,” (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:20-27; Luke 18:27). In the face of sin—above all of deliberate wretchlessness—we must remember that “God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7), and that our human remedies are then exhausted. On the other hand to close the gate of repentance against any contrite sinner is to contradict all the Gospels and all the Epistles alike, as well as the Law and the Prophets.
and put him to an open shame] Expose Him to scorn (comp. Matthew 1:19 where the simple verb is used).
For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God:7. For the earth which drinketh in] Rather, “For land which has drunk.” Land of this kind, blessed and fruitful, resembles true and faithful Christians. The expression that the earth “drinks in” the rain is common (Deuteronomy 11:11). Comp. Virg. Ecl. iii. iii, “sat prata biberunt.” For the moral significance of the comparison—namely that there is a point at which God’s husbandry seems to be rendered finally useless,—see Isaiah 5:1-6; Isaiah 5:24.
by whom it is dressed] Rather, “for whose sake (propter quos. Tert.) it is also tilled”—namely for the sake of the owners of the land.
blessing] Genesis 27:27, “a field which the Lord hath blessed.” Psalm 65:10, “Thou blessest the increase of it.”
But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.8. that which beareth thorns] Rather, “if it bear thorns” (Isaiah 5:6; Proverbs 24:31). This neglected land resembles converts who have fallen away.
rejected] The same word, in another metaphor, occurs in Jeremiah 6:30.
nigh unto cursing] Lit, “near a curse.” Doubtless there is a reference to Genesis 3:18. St Chrysostom sees in this expression a sign of mercy, because he only says “near a curse.” “He who has not yet fallen into a curse, but has got near it, will also be able to get afar from it;” so that we ought, he says, to cut up and burn the thorns, and then we shall be approved. And he might have added that the older “curse” of the land to which he refers, was by God’s mercy over-ruled into a blessing.
whose end is to be burned] Lit., “whose end is for burning.” Comp. Isaiah 44:15, “that it may be for burning.” It is probably a mistake to imagine that there is any reference to the supposed advantage of burning the surface of the soil (Virg. Georg. 1. 84 sqq.; Pliny, H. N. xviii. 39, 72), for we find no traces of such a procedure among the Jews. More probably the reference is to land like the Vale of Siddim, or “Burnt Phrygia,” or “the Solfatara,”—like that described in Genesis 19:24; Deuteronomy 29:23. Comp. Hebrews 10:27. And such a land Judea itself became within a very few years of this time, because the Jews would not “break up their fallow ground,” but still continued “to sow among thorns.” Obviously the “whose” refers to the “land,” not to the “curse.”
But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.9–12. Words of encouragement and hope
9. beloved] The warm expression is introduced to shew that his stern teaching is only inspired by love.
we are persuaded] Lit., “We have been (and are) convinced of.” Comp. Romans 15:14.
better things] Lit., “the better things.” I am convinced that the better alternative holds true of you; that your condition is, and your fate will be, better than what I have described.
that accompany salvation] Rather, “akin to salvation,” the antithesis to “near a curse.” What leads to salvation is obedience (Hebrews 5:9).
though we thus speak] in spite of the severe words of warning which I have just used. Comp. Hebrews 10:39.
thus] As in Hebrews 6:4-8.
For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.10. to forget] The aorist implies “to forget in a moment.” Comp. Hebrews 11:6; Hebrews 11:20. God, even amid your errors, will not overlook the signs of grace working in you. Comp. Jeremiah 31:16; Psalm 9:12; Amos 8:7.
and labour of love] The words “labour of” should be omitted. They are probably a gloss from 1 Thessalonians 1:3. The passage bears a vague general resemblance to 2 Corinthians 8:24; Colossians 1:4.
toward his name] which name is borne by all His children.
in that ye have ministered to the saints] In your past and present ministration to the saints, i.e. to your Christian brethren. It used to be supposed that the title “the saints” applied especially to the Christians at Jerusalem (Romans 15:25; Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1). This is a mistake; and the saints at Jerusalem, merged in a common poverty, perhaps a result in part of their original Communism, were hardly in a condition to minister to one another. They were (as is the case with most of the Jews now living at Jerusalem) dependent in large measure on the Chaluka or distribution of alms sent them from without.
and do minister] The continuance of their well doing proved its sincerity; but perhaps the writer hints, though with infinite delicacy, that their beneficent zeal was less active than it once had been.
And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:11. And] Rather, “But.”
we desire] A strong word: “we long to see in you.”
that every one of you] Here again in the emphasis of the expression we seem to trace, as in other parts of the Epistle, some individual reference.
the samé diligence] He desires to see as much earnestness (2 Corinthians 7:11) in the work of advancing to spiritual maturity of knowledge as they had shewn in ministering to the saints.
to the full assurance] i.e. with a view to your attaining this full assurance. Comp. Hebrews 10:22, Hebrews 3:14. The word also occurs in 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Colossians 2:2.
unto the end] till hope becomes fruition (Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14).
That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.12. that ye be not slothful] Rather, “that ye become not slothful” in the advance of Christian hope as you already are (Hebrews 5:11) in acquiring spiritual knowledge.
followers] Rather, “imitators,” as in 1 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6, &c.
through faith and patience inherit the promises] See Hebrews 6:15, Hebrews 12:1; Romans 2:7. The word rendered “patience” (makrothumia) is often applied to the “long suffering” of God, as in Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 3:20; but is used of men in Colossians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 6:6, &c., and here implies the tolerance of hope deferred. It is a different word from the “endurance” of Hebrews 12:1, Hebrews 10:36.
inherit] Partially, and by faith, here; fully and with the beatific vision in the life to come.
For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,13. For when God] The “for” implies “and you may feel absolute confidence about the promises; for,” &c.
made promise to Abraham] Abraham is here only selected as “the father of the faithful” (Romans 4:13); and not as the sole example of persevering constancy, but as an example specially illustrious (Calvin).
because he could swear by no greater] In the Jewish treatise Berachoth (f. 32.1) Moses is introduced as saying to God, “Hadst thou sworn by Heaven and Earth, I should have said They will perish, and therefore so may Thy oath; but as Thou hast sworn by Thy great name, that oath shall endure for ever.”
he sware by himself] “By myself have I sworn” (Genesis 22:16). “God sweareth not by another,” says Philo, in a passage of which this may be a reminiscence—“for nothing is superior to Himself—but by Himself, Who is best of all” (De Leg, Alleg. iii. 72). There are other passages in Philo which recall the reasoning of this clause (Opp. i. 622, ii. 39).
Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.14. blessing I will bless thee] The repetition represents the emphasis of the Hebrew, which expresses a superlative by repeating the word twice.
I will multiply thee] In the Heb. and LXX. we have “I will multiply thy seed.”
And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.15. after he had patiently endured] Lit., “having patiently endured,” which may mean “by patient endurance.” The participles in this passage are really contemporaneous with the principal verbs.
he obtained the promise] Genesis 15:1; Genesis 21:5; Genesis 22:17-18; Genesis 25:7, &c.; John 8:56. There is of course no contradiction to Hebrews 11:13; Hebrews 11:39, which refers to a farther future and a wider hope.
For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.16. men verily swear by the greater] Genesis 21:23; Genesis 24:3; Genesis 26:30-31. The passage is important as shewing the lawfulness of Christian oaths (see our Article xxxix).
strife] Rather, “for an oath is to them an end of all gainsaying” (or “controversy” as to facts) “with a view to confirmation.” It is meant that when men swear in confirmation of a disputed point their word is believed. There is an exactly similar passage in Philo, De sacr. Abel. et Cain (Opp. i. 181).
Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:17. Wherein] Rather, “on which principle;” “in accordance with this human custom.”
willing] Rather, “wishing.” The verb is not thelôn, but boulomenos.
more abundantly] i.e. than if he had not sworn.
unto the heirs of promise] Rather, of the promise.” The heirs of the promise were primarily Abraham and his seed, and then all Christians (Galatians 3:29).
the immutability of his counsel] “I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6). See too Isaiah 46:10-11; Psalm 33:11; James 1:17.) His changeless “decree” was that in Abraham’s seed all the nations of the world should be blessed. On the other hand the Mosaic law was mutable (Hebrews 7:12, Hebrews 12:27).
confirmed it by an oath] Rather, “intervened with an oath,” i.e. made His oath intermediate between Himself and Abraham. Philo, with his usual subtle refinements, observes that whereas our word is accredited because of an oath, God’s oath derives its credit because He is God. On the other hand, Rabbi Eleazer (in the second century) said “the word Not has the force of an oath,” which he deduced from a comparison of Genesis 9:11 with Isaiah 54:9; and therefore a fortiori the word “yes” has the force of an oath (Shevuoth. f. 36. 1). The word “intervened,” “mediated” (emesiteusen) occurs here only in the N.T.
That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:18. by two immutable things] Namely, by the oath and by the word of God. The Targums for “By Myself” have “By My Word have I sworn.”
in which it was impossible for God to lie] St Clement of Rome says “Nothing is impossible to God, except to lie” (Ep. ad Cor. 27). “God that cannot lie” (Titus 1:2. Comp. Numbers 23:19).
consolation] Rather, “encouragement.”
who have fled for refuge] As into one of the refuge-cities of old. Numbers 35:11.
to lay hold upon the hope set before us] “The hope” is here (by a figure called metonymy) used for “the object of hope set before us as a prize” (comp. Hebrews 10:23); “the hope which is laid up for us in heaven,” Colossians 1:5.
Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;19. as an anchor of the soul] An anchor seems to have been an emblem of Hope—being something which enables us to hope for safety in danger—from very early days (Aesch. Agam. 488), and is even found as a symbol of Hope on coins. The notion that this metaphor adds anything to the argument in favour of the Pauline authorship of the Epistle, because St Paul too sometimes uses maritime metaphors, shews how little the most ordinary canons of literary criticism are applied to the Scriptures. St Paul never happens to use the metaphor of “an anchor,” but it might have been equally well used by a person who had never seen the sea in his life.
“Or if you fear
Put all your trust in God: that anchor holds.”
Tennyson, Enoch Arden.
and which entereth into that within the vail] This expression is not very clear. The meaning is that the hawser which holds the anchor of our Christian hope passeth into the space which lies behind the veil, i.e. into the very sanctuary of Him who is “the God of Hope” (Romans 15:13). “The veil” is the great veil (Parocheth) which separated the Holy from the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:31-35; Hebrews 10:20; Matthew 27:51, &c.) The Christian’s anchor of hope is not dropped into any earthly sea, but passes as it were through the depths of the aerial ocean, mooring us to the very throne of God.
“Oh! life as futile then as frail!
What hope of answer or redress?—
Behind the veil! Behind the veil!”
The word katapetasma usually applies to this veil before the Holy of Holies, while kalumma (as in Philo) is strictly used for the outer veil.
Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.20. whither the forerunner is … entered] Lit. “where a forerunner entered … Jesus;” or “where, as a forerunner” (or harbinger) “Jesus entered.”
for us] “on our behalf.” This explains the introduction of the remark. Christ’s Ascension is a pledge that our Hope will be fulfilled. He is gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3). His entrance into the region behind the veil proves the reality of the hidden kingdom of glory into which our Hope has cast its anchor (Ahlfeld). This is evidently a prominent thought with the writer (Hebrews 4:14, Hebrews 9:24).
made] Rather, “having become,” as the result of His earthly life.
after the order of Melchisedec] By repeating this quotation, as a sort of refrain, the writer once more resumes the allusion of Hebrews 5:10, and brings us face to face with the argument to which he evidently attached extreme importance as the central topic of his epistle. In the dissertation which follows there is nothing which less resembles St Paul’s manner of “going off at a word” (as in Ephesians 5:12-15, &c.) The warning and exhortation which ends at this verse, so far from being “a sudden transition” (or “a digression”) “by which he is carried from the main stream of his argument” belongs essentially to his whole design. The disquisition on Melchisedek—for which he has prepared the way by previous allusions and with the utmost deliberation—is prefaced by the same kind of solemn strain as those which we find in Hebrews 2:1-3, Hebrews 3:2; Hebrews 3:12-14, Hebrews 12:15-17. So far from being “hurried aside by the violence of his feelings” into these appeals, they are strictly subordinated to his immediate design, and enwoven into the plan of the Epistle with consummate skill. “Hurry” and “vehemence” may often describe the intensity and impetuosity of St Paul’s fervent style which was the natural outcome of his impassioned nature; but faultless rhetoric, sustained dignity, perfect smoothness and elaborate eloquence are the very different characteristics of the manner of this writer.
for ever] The words in the Greek come emphatically at the end, and as Dr Kay says strike the keynote of the next chapter (Hebrews 7:3; Hebrews 7:16-17; Hebrews 7:21; Hebrews 7:24-25; Hebrews 7:28).