Expositor's Bible Commentary
Let brotherly love continue.CHAPTER XVI.
Hebrews 13:1-25Let love of the brethren continue. Forget not to shew love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; them that are evil entreated, as being yourselves also in the body. Let marriage be had in honour among all, and let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Be ye free from the love of money; content with such things as ye have: for Himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee. So that with good courage we say.
The Lord is my helper; I will not fear: What shall man do unto me?
Remember them that had the rule over you, which spake unto you the word of God; and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea and for ever. Be not carried away by divers and strange teachings: for it is good that the heart be established by grace; not by meats, wherein they that occupied themselves were not profited. We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us therefore go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. For we have not here an abiding city, but we seek after the city which is to come. Through Him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to His name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account: that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: for this were unprofitable for you.
Pray for us: for we are persuaded that we have a good conscience, desiring to live honestly in all things. And I exhort you the more exceedingly to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.
Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of the eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
But I exhort you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation: for I have written unto you in few words. Know ye that our brother Timothy hath been set at liberty; with whom if he come shortly, I will see you.
Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
Grace be with you all. Amen.
The condition of the Hebrew Christians was most serious. But one excellence is acknowledged to have belonged to them. It was almost the only ground of hope. They ministered to the saints. Yet even this grace was in peril. In a previous chapter the writer has exhorted them to call to remembrance the former days, in which they had compassion on them that were in bonds. But he considers it sufficient, in reference to brotherly love, to urge them to see that it continues. They were in more danger of forgetting to show kindness to their brethren of other Churches, who, in pursuance of the liberty of prophesying accorded in Apostolic times, journeyed from place to place for the purpose of founding new Churches or of imparting spiritual gifts to Churches already established. Besides, it was a time of local persecutions. One Church might be suffering, and its members might take refuge in a sister-Church. Missionaries and persecuted brethren would be the strangers to whom the enrolled widows used hospitality, and whose feet they washed. We can well understand why in that age a bishop would be especially expected to be given to hospitality. Uhlhorn excellently observes that "the greatness of the age consisted in this very feature: that Christians of all places knew themselves to be fraternally one, and that in this oneness all differences disappeared." In the case of a Church consisting of Hebrews the duty of entertaining strangers, many of them necessarily Greeks, would be peculiarly apt to be forgotten. When a Church wavered in its allegiance to Christianity, the alienation would become still more pronounced.
The constant going and coming of missionary brethren reminds the author of the ministry of angels, who are like the swift breezes, and carry Christ's messages over the face of the earth. Sometimes they are as a flame of fire. When they were on their way to destroy the Cities of the Plain, Abraham and Lot entertained them, not knowing that they were heaven-sent ministers of wrath. It would be presumptuous in any man to deny the possibility of angelic visitations in the Christian Church; but the Apostle's meaning is not that hospitality ought to be shown to strangers in the hope that angels may be among them. They are to be received unawares; otherwise the fragrance of the deed is gone. But the fact remains, and has been proved in the experience of many, that kindness to strangers, be they preaching friars, or itinerant exhorters, or persecuted outcasts, brings a rich blessing to children's children. A Syrian builds for himself a hut on the riverside, and offers to carry the wayfarers across on his shoulders. One day a child asks to be taken over. But the light burden becomes every moment heavier. The exhausted bearer asks in astonishment, "Who art thou, child?" It was Christ, and the Syrian was named the Christ-bearer in remembrance of the event.
The next exhortation is to purity. It is better not to attempt to connect these exhortations. Their special importance in the case of the Hebrew Christians is reason enough for them. Abstinence from marriage is not commended. Our author is not an Essene. On the contrary, he would discourage it. "Let marriage be held in honour among all classes of men." It is the Divinely appointed remedy against incontinence. But in the married state itself let there be purity. For the incontinent, whether in the bonds of wedlock or not, God's direct, providential judgments will overtake.
Then follows a warning against love of money, and the Lord's promise not to fail or forsake Joshua is appropriated by our author on behalf of his readers. Their covetousness arose from anxiety, which may have been occasioned by their distressing poverty in the days of Claudius. That the advice was needed shows the precise character of their threatening apostasy. Worldliness was at the root of their Judaism. It is still the same. The self-righteous do not hate money.
Let them imitate the trustfulness of their great leaders in the past, who had not given their time and thoughts to heaping up riches, but had devoted themselves to the work of witnessing and of speaking the word of God. Let them review with critical eye their manner of life, and observe how it ended. They all died in faith. Some of them suffered martyrdom, so complete and entirely unworldly was their self-surrender to Jesus Christ! But Jesus Christ is still the same One. If He was worthy that Stephen and James should die for His sake, He is worthy of our allegiance too. Yea, He will be the same for ever. When the world has passed away, with its fashion and its lust, when the earth and the works that are therein are burned up and dissolved, Jesus Christ abides. What He was yesterday to His martyr Stephen, that He is to all that follow Him in earth's today, and that He will for ever be when He shall have appeared unto them who expect Him unto salvation. The antithesis, it will be seen, is not between the departed saints and the abiding Christ, but between the world, which the Hebrew Christians loved too well, and the Christ Whom the saints of their Church had loved better than the world and served by faith unto death.
If Jesus Christ abides, He is our anchorage, and the exhortation first given near the beginning of the Epistle once more suggests itself to the Apostle. "Permit not yourselves to drift and be carried past the moorings by divers strange doctrines." The word "doctrines" is itself emphatic, "Be not borne aside from the personal, abiding Jesus Christ by propositions, whether in reference to practice or to belief." What these "doctrines" were in this particular case we learn from the next verse. They were the doubtful disputations about meats. The epithets "divers and strange" restrict the allusion still more nearly. He speaks not of the general and familiar injunctions of Jewish teachers respecting meats, the subject rather contemptuously dismissed by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans: "One man hath faith to eat all things; but he that is weak eateth herbs." Our author could not have regarded these doctrines as "strange," and he could scarcely have spoken of "strengthening the heart with meats" if he had meant abstinence from meats. A recent English expositor has pointed out the direction in which we must seek the interpretation of this difficult passage. The Apostle brushes aside the novel teaching of the Essenes, who, without becoming Christians, "had broken away from the sacrificial system" of the Mosaic law and "substituted for it new ordinances of their own, according to which the daily meal became a sacrifice, and the president of the community took the place of the Levitical priest." Such teaching was quite as inconsistent with Judaism as with Christianity. But the writer of this Epistle rejects it for precisely the same reason for which he repudiates Judaism. Both are inconsistent with the perfect separateness of Christ's atonement.
It is well, as St. Paul said, for every man to be fully assured in his own mind. A doubting conscience enfeebles a man's spiritual vigour for work. The Essenes found a remedy for morbidness in strictness as to meats and minute directions for the employment of time. St. Paul taught that an unhealthy casuistry would be best counteracted by doing all things unto the Lord. "He that eateth eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord." The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews considers that it betokens a littleness of soul to strengthen conscience by regulations as to various kinds of food. The noble thing is that the heart--that is, the conscience--be stablished by thankfulness, which will produce a strong, placid, courageous, and healthy moral perception. The moral code of the New Testament is direct and simple. It is entirely free from all casuistical crotchets and distinctions without a difference. Those who busy themselves about such matters have never gained anything by it.
Do the Essenes repudiate the altar the sacrifice of which may not be eaten? Do they teach that the only sacrifice for sin is the daily meal? This is a fatal error. "We have" says the Apostle, "an altar of which the worshippers are not permitted to eat." All these expressions are metaphorical. By the altar we must understand the atoning sacrifice of Christ; by "those who serve the tabernacle" are meant believers in that sacrifice, prefigured, however, by the priests and worshippers under the old covenant; and by "eating of the altar" is meant participation in the sacredness that pertains to the death and atonement of Christ. The purpose of the writer is to teach the entire separateness of Christ's atonement. It is true that Christians eat the body and drink the blood of Christ. But the words of our Lord and of St. Paul refer to the passover, whereas our author speaks of the sin-offering. In the former the lamb was eaten; in the latter the carcases of the beasts whose blood was brought by the worshipper through his representative, the high-priest, into the holiest place on the day of atonement, were carried forth without the camp and burned in the fire. Both sacrifices, the passover and the sin-offering, were typical. The former typified our participation in Christ's death, the latter the separateness of Christ's death.
Many expositors see a reference in the Apostle's words to the Lord's Table, and some of them infer from the word "altar" that the Eucharist is a continual offering of a propitiatory sacrifice to God. It is not too much to say that this latter doctrine is the precise error which the Apostle is here combating.
Two other interpretations of these verses have been suggested. Both are, we think, untenable. The one is that we Christians have an altar of which we have a right to eat, but of which the Jewish priests and all who cling to Judaism have no right to eat; and, to prove that they have not, the Apostle mentions the fact that they were not permitted to eat the bodies of the beasts slain as a sin-offering under the old covenant. There are several weighty objections to this view, but the following one will be sufficient. The reference to the sin-offering in the eleventh verse is made in order to show that it was a type of Christ's atoning death. As the bodies of the slain beasts were carried outside the camp and burned, so Christ suffered without the gate. But there is no real resemblance between the two things unless the Apostle intends to teach that the atonement of Christ stands apart and cannot be shared in by any other person, which implies that the tenth verse does not convey the notion that Christians have a right to eat of the altar.
The other interpretation is that we, Christians, have an altar of which we who serve the ideal tabernacle have no right to eat, inasmuch as the sacrifice is spiritual. "Our Christian altar supplies no flesh for carnal food." But if the reference is to carnal food, the expression "We have no right to eat" is not the appropriate one. The writer would surely have said, "of which we cannot eat." Besides, this view misses the connection between the ninth and tenth verses. To say that Christ's death procured spiritual blessings and that we do not eat His body after a carnal manner does not affect the question concerning meats, unless the doctrine concerning meats includes the notion that they are themselves an atoning sacrifice. Such was the doctrine of the Essenes. The argument of the Apostle is good and forcible if it means that Christ's atonement is Christ's alone. We share not in its sacredness, though we partake of its blessings. It resembles the sin-offering on the day of atonement, as well as the paschal lamb.
But it was not enough that the slain beasts should be burned without the camp. Their blood also must be brought into the holiest place. The former rite signified that the slain beast bore the sin of the people, the latter that the people themselves were sanctified. Similarly Jesus suffered without the gate of Jerusalem, in reproach and ignominy, as the Sin-bearer, and also entered into the true holiest place, in order to sanctify His people through His own blood.
We must not press the analogy. The author sees a quaint but touching resemblance between the burning of the slain beasts outside the camp and the crucifying of Jesus on Golgotha outside the city. The point of resemblance is in the ignominy symbolized in the one and in the other. Here too the writer finds the practical use of what he has said. Though the atonement of the Cross is Christ's, and cannot be shared in by others, the reproach of that atoning death can. The thought leads the Apostle away from the divers strange doctrines of the Essenes, and brings him back to the main idea of the Epistle, which is to induce his readers to hold no more dalliance with Judaism, but to break away from it finally and for ever. "Let us come out," he says. The word recalls St. Paul's exhortation to the Christians of Corinth "to come out from among them, to be separate, and not to touch the unclean thing. For what concord can there be between Christ and Belial, between a believer and an unbeliever, between the sanctuary of God and idols?" Our author tells the Hebrew Christians that on earth they have nothing better than reproach to expect. Quit, therefore, the camp of Judaism. Live, so to speak, in the desert. (He speaks metaphorically throughout.) You have no abiding city on earth. The fatal mistake of the Jews has been that they have turned what ought to be simply a camp into an abiding city. They have lost the feeling of the pilgrim; they seek not a better country and a city built by God. Shun ye this worldliness. Not only regard not your earthly life as a permanent dwelling in a city, but leave even the camp; be not only sojourners, but outcasts. Share in the reproach of Jesus, and look for your citizenship in heaven.
Reverting to the teaching of the Essenes, the writer proceeds: "Through Jesus let us offer a sacrifice of praise." The emphasis must rest on the words "through Jesus." The daily meal is not a sacrifice, except in the sense of being a thanksgiving; and our thanksgiving is acceptable to God when it is offered through Him Whose death is a propitiation. Even then lip-worship only is not accepted. Share the meal with the poor. God is pleased with the sacrifices of doing good to all and contributing to the necessities of the saints.
The Apostle next exhorts them to obey their leaders, and that with yielding submission. The atmosphere is certainly different from the democratic spirit of the Corinthian Church. Yet it is not improbable that the safety of the Hebrew Christians everywhere from a violent reaction towards Judaism was due to the wisdom and profounder insight of the leaders. Our author evidently considers that he has them on his side. "They, whatever we may think of the common herd, are wide awake. They understand that they will have to give an account of their stewardship over you to Christ at His coming. Submit to them, that they may watch over your souls with joy, and not with a grief that finds utterance in frequent sighs. When they give their account, you will not find that your fretful rebelliousness has profited you aught. The Essenian society gain nothing by absorption of the individual in the community, and you will gain nothing, but quite the reverse, by asserting your individual crotchets to the destruction of the Church."
He asks his readers to pray for him and Timothy, who has been released from prison. Their prayers are his due. For he believes he has an upright conscience in breaking with Judaism. For the same reason he is confident that their prayers on his behalf will be answered. He and his friends wish in all things to live noble lives. He is the more desirous of having their prayers because of his eagerness to be "restored" to them. He means much more than to return to them. He wishes to be "restored," or "refitted." Their prayers will put an end to the perturbation of his mind, and bring back the happiness of their first love.
He, too, prays for them. His prayer is that God may furnish them with every gift of grace to do His will, and His will is their consecration, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once. God will answer his prayer and provide in them that which is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ. For He has not left His Church without a Shepherd, though it is in the wilderness. He has brought up from the dead, and restored out of the ignominious death without the gate, our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd, Who is ever with them, whatever may become of the undershepherds. That He has been raised from the dead is certain. For, when He was crucified in ignominy without the gate, His blood was at the same time offered in the true holiest place. That blood has ratified the new and final covenant between God and His people. It was through His own blood of this eternal covenant that He was raised from the dead, and it is in virtue of the same blood and of the same covenant that He is now the Shepherd of His Church.
Here, again, we must not draw too broad a distinction between the resurrection of Christ and His ascension to heaven. On the one hand, we must not say that by the words "bringing up from the dead" the Apostle means the ascension; on the other hand, the words do not exclude the ascension. The resurrection and the ascension coalesce in the notion of Christ being living. The only distinction present, we think, to the writer's mind was that between the shame of Christ's death without the camp and the offering of His blood by the living Christ in the holiest place. He Who died on the Cross through that death liveth evermore. He lives to be the Shepherd of His people. Therefore to Him must be ascribed the glory for ever and ever.
The Apostle once more begs his readers to bear with the word of exhortation. Let them remember that he has written briefly in order to spare them. He might have said more, but he has refrained.
He hopes to bring Timothy with him, unless his friend tarries long. In that case he will come alone, so great is his anxiety to see them.
He sends his greetings to all the saints, but mentions the leaders. Brethren who have come from Italy are with him. They may have been exiles or fugitives who had sought safety during the first great persecution of the Church in the days of Nero. They too send greetings.
He closes with the Apostolic benediction. For, whoever he was, he was truly an Apostolic man.
 Hebrews 6:10.
 Hebrews 10:34.
 Hebrews 13:1.
 1 Timothy 5:10.
 1 Timothy 3:2.
 Christian Charity in the Ancient Church, English Trans., p. 92.
 Hebrews 1:7.
 Genesis 18:2; Genesis 19:1.
 The legend of Christopher is beautifully told by Oosterzee at the beginning of his book on The Person and Work of the Redeemer, English Trans. (Ed. 1886).
 Joshua 1:5.
 Acts 11:28.
 mê parapheresthe (Hebrews 13:9).
 Romans 9:13.
 Rendall: The Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 25: and 139.
 Romans 14:15.
 Romans 14:6-8.
 kalon (Hebrews 13:9).
 chariti. The author has chosen a more classical word than that which St. Paul uses.
 Hebrews 13:10.
 John 6:51-55.
 1 Corinthians 10:16.
 Exodus 12:1-51 dia.
 Leviticus 16:27.
 So Rendall, loc. cit.
 2 Corinthians 6:15 sqq.
 Hebrews 13:15.
 stenazontes (Hebrews 13:17).
 alysiteles. Comp. Hebrews 13:9.
 apokatastathô (Hebrews 13:19).
 Hebrews 10:10.