Hebrews 2:3
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
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(3) How shall we escape?—In a different context these words might naturally mean, “How shall we, transgressors of the law, escape from the penalty it threatens, if we neglect the one means of deliverance now offered us?” (Comp. Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:5.) Here, however, are placed in contrast the command and threatening which came through angels and the salvation “spoken through the Lord”; while the one “word” is thus wholly unlike the other in substance and in form of proclamation, each is a law, in that neglect is visited with penalty. On the intrinsic greatness of the salvation the writer does not dwell; it is implied in the unique dignity and commission of Him through whom it was given.

Which at the first began to be spoken.—Better, which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was made sure unto us by them that heard. “Through the Lord” (comp. Hebrews 1:2) was spoken this word of God which brought salvation. In two other passages Jesus receives the name “our Lord” (Hebrews 7:14; Hebrews 13:20), but nowhere else in this Epistle (unless perhaps in Hebrews 12:14) is He spoken of as “the Lord”; the dignity of the title here heightens the contrast. “By them that heard “the word from Him, the writer says, it “was made sure” (not confirmed, as if stronger attestation were the meaning intended) “unto us.” It is evident that the writer here classes himself with those who had not immediately heard the word from Jesus. Such language as this stands in striking contrast with St. Paul’s claim, repeatedly maintained, to have received his doctrine directly from the Lord Himself (Galatians 1:12; 1Corinthians 9:1, et al.).

2:1-4 Christ being proved to be superior to the angels, this doctrine is applied. Our minds and memories are like a leaky vessel, they do not, without much care, retain what is poured into them. This proceeds from the corruption of our nature, temptations, worldly cares, and pleasures. Sinning against the gospel is neglect of this great salvation; it is a contempt of the saving grace of God in Christ, making light of it, not caring for it, not regarding either the worth of gospel grace, or the want of it, and our undone state without it. The Lord's judgments under the gospel dispensation are chiefly spiritual, but are on that account the more to be dreaded. Here is an appeal to the consciences of sinners. Even partial neglects will not escape rebukes; they often bring darkness on the souls they do not finally ruin. The setting forth the gospel was continued and confirmed by those who heard Christ, by the evangelists and apostles, who were witnesses of what Jesus Christ began both to do and to teach; and by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, qualified for the work to which they were called. And all this according to God's own will. It was the will of God that we should have sure ground for our faith, and a strong foundation for our hope in receiving the gospel. Let us mind this one thing needful, and attend to the Holy Scriptures, written by those who heard the words of our gracious Lord, and were inspired by his Spirit; then we shall be blessed with the good part that cannot be taken away.How shall we escape - How shall we escape the just recompense due to transgressors? What way is there of being saved from punishment, if we suffer the great salvation to be neglected, and do not embrace its offers? The sense is, that there is no other way of salvation, and the neglect of this will be followed by certain destruction. why it will, the apostle proceeds to show, by stating that this plan of salvation was proclaimed first by the Lord himself, and had been confirmed by the most decided and amazing miracles.

If we neglect - It is not merely if we commit great sins. Not, if we are murderers, adulterers, thieves, infidels, atheists, scoffers. It is, if we merely "neglect" this salvation - if we do not embrace it - if we suffer it to pass unimproved. "Neglect" is enough to ruin a man. A man who is in business need not commit forgery or robbery to ruin himself; he has only to "neglect" his business, and his ruin is certain. A man who is lying on a bed of sickness, need not cut his throat to destroy himself; he has only to "neglect" the means of restoration, and he will be ruined. A man floating in a skiff above Niagara, need not move an oar or make an effort to destroy himself; he has only to "neglect" using the oar at the proper time, and he will certainly be carried over the cataract. Most of the calamities of life are caused by simple "neglect." By neglect of education children grow up in ignorance; by neglect a farm grows up to weeds and briars; by neglect a house goes to decay; by neglect of sowing, a man will have no harvest; by neglect of reaping, the harvest would rot in the fields. No worldly interest can prosper where there is neglect; and why may it not be so in religion? There is nothing in earthly affairs that is valuable that will not be ruined if it is not attended to - and why may it not be so with the concerns of the soul? Let no one infer, therefore, that because he is not a drunkard, or an adulterer, or a murderer, that, therefore, he will be saved. Such an inference would be as irrational as it would be for a man to infer that because he is not a murderer his farm will produce a harvest, or that because he is not an adulterer therefore his merchandise will take care of itself. Salvation would be worth nothing if it cost no effort - and there will be no salvation where no effort is put forth.

So great salvation - . Salvation from sin and from hell. It is called "great" because:

(1) Its author is great. This is perhaps the main idea in this passage. It "began to be spoken by the Lord;" it had for its author the Son of God, who is so much superior to the angels; whom the angels were required to worship Hebrews 1:6; who is expressly called God Hebrews 1:8; who made all things, and who is eternal; Hebrews 1:10-12. A system of salvation promulgated by him "must" be of infinite importance, and have a claim to the attention of man.

(2) it is "great" because it saves from great sins. It is adapted to deliver from all sins, no matter how aggravated. No one is saved who feels that his sins are small, or that they are of no consequence. Each one sees his sins to be black and aggravated, and each one who enters heaven, will go there feeling and confessing that it is a great salvation which has brought such a sinner there. Besides, this salvation delivers from all sin - no matter how gross and aggravated. The adulterer, the murderer, the blasphemer, may come and be saved, and the salvation which redeems such sinners from eternal ruin is "great."

(3) it is great because it saves from great dangers. The danger of an eternal hell besets the path of each one. All do not see it; and all will not believe it when told of it. But this danger hovers over the path of every mortal. The danger of an eternal hell! Salvation from everlasting burnings! Deliverance from unending ruin! Surely that salvation must be great which shall save from such a doom! If that salvation is neglected, that danger still hangs over each and every man. The gospel did not create that danger - it came to deliver from it. Whether the gospel be true or false, each man is by nature exposed to eternal death - just as each one is exposed to temporal death whether the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and of the resurrection be true or false. The gospel comes to provide a remedy for dangers and woes - it does not create them; it comes to deliver people from great dangers - not to plunge them into them. "Back of the gospel," and before it was preached at all, people were in danger of everlasting punishment, and that system which came to proclaim deliverance from such a danger, is great.

(4) the salvation itself is great in heaven. It exalts people to infinite honors, and places on their heads an eternal crown. Heaven with all its glories is offered to us; and such a deliverance, and such an elevation to eternal honors, deserves to be called great. If that is neglected, there is no other salvation; and man must be inevitably destroyed.

(5) it is "great" because it was effected by infinite displays of power, and wisdom, and love. It was procured by the incarnation and humiliation of the Son of God. It was accomplished amidst great sufferings and self-denials. It was attended with great miracles. The tempest was stilled, and the deaf were made to hear, and the blind to see, and the dead were raised, and the sun was darkened, and the rocks were rent. The whole series of wonders connected with the incarnation and death of the Lord Jesus, was such as the world had not seen elsewhere, and such as was suited to hold the race in mute admiration and astonishment. If this be so, then religion is no trifle. It is not a matter of little importance whether we embrace it or not. It is the most momentous of all the concerns that pertain to man; and has a claim on his attention which nothing else can have. Yet the mass of people live in the "neglect" of it. It is not that they are professedly atheists, or deists, or that they are immoral or profane; it is not that they oppose it, and ridicule it, and despise it; it is that they simply "neglect" it. They pass it by. They attend to other things. They are busy with their pleasures, or in their counting-houses, in their workshops, or on their farms; they are engaged in politics, or in bookmaking, and they "neglect" religion now as a thing of small importance - proposing to attend to it hereafter, as if they acted on the principle that everything else was to be attended to before religion.

Which at the first - Greek "Which received the beginning of being spoken." The meaning is correctly expressed in our translation. Christ "began" to preach the gospel; the apostles followed him. John prepared the way; but the Saviour was properly the first preacher of the gospel.

By the Lord - By the Lord Jesus; see notes on Acts 1:24.

And was confirmed unto us ... - They who heard him preach, that is, the apostles, were witnesses of what he said, and certified us of its truth. When the apostle here says "us," he means the church at large. Christians were assured of the truth of what the Lord Jesus spake by the testimony of the apostles; or the apostles communicated it to those who had not heard him in such a manner as to leave no room for doubt.

3. we—who have received the message of salvation so clearly delivered to us (compare Heb 12:25).

so great salvation—embodied in Jesus, whose very name means "salvation," including not only deliverance from foes and from death, and the grant of temporal blessings (which the law promised to the obedient), but also grace of the Spirit, forgiveness of sins, and the promise of heaven, glory, and eternal life (Heb 2:10).

which—"inasmuch as it is a salvation which began," &c.

spoken by the Lord—as the instrument of proclaiming it. Not as the law, spoken by the instrumentality of angels (Heb 2:2). Both law and Gospel came from God; the difference here referred to lay in the instrumentality by which each respectively was promulgated (compare Heb 2:5). Angels recognize Him as "the Lord" (Mt 28:6; Lu 2:11).

confirmed unto us—not by penalties, as the law was confirmed, but by spiritual gifts (Heb 2:4).

by them that heard him—(Compare Lu 1:2). Though Paul had a special and independent revelation of Christ (Ga 1:16, 17, 19), yet he classes himself with those Jews whom he addresses, "unto us"; for like them in many particulars (for example, the agony in Gethsemane, Heb 5:7), he was dependent for autoptic information on the twelve apostles. So the discourses of Jesus, for example, the Sermon on the Mount, and the first proclamation of the Gospel kingdom by the Lord (Mt 4:17), he could only know by the report of the Twelve: so the saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Ac 20:35). Paul mentions what they had heard, rather than what they had seen, conformably with what he began with, Heb 1:1, 2, "spake … spoken." Appropriately also in his Epistles to Gentiles, he dwells on his independent call to the apostleship of the Gentiles; in his Epistle to the Hebrews, he appeals to the apostles who had been long with the Lord (compare Ac 1:21; 10:41): so in his sermon to the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia (Ac 13:31); and "he only appeals to the testimony of these apostles in a general way, in order that he may bring the Hebrews to the Lord alone" [Bengel], not to become partisans of particular apostles, as Peter, the apostle of the circumcision, and James, the bishop of Jerusalem. This verse implies that the Hebrews of the churches of Palestine and Syria (or those of them dispersed in Asia Minor [Bengel], 1Pe 1:1, or in Alexandria) were primarily addressed in this Epistle; for of none so well could it be said, the Gospel was confirmed to them by the immediate hearers of the Lord: the past tense, "was confirmed," implies some little time had elapsed since this testification by eye-witnesses.

How shall we escape? This consequent answereth the antecedent in Hebrews 2:2, but in one part of it, that which concerns the punishment of the transgressors of the law, thus: If the word by angels, much more the word by the Son; and if sins against that were punished, much more sins against this: the Spirit including the sanction of the gospel’s power in the judgment which it pronounceth upon its despisers, which it could not do if it were not established. The interrogative how, introducing the consequent, is vehemently negative; by no means, or there is no possibility of our escaping in the case proposed: compare the close of Isaiah 20:6. There is no avoiding the righteous punishment which the just God doth threaten gospel sinners with, such as is recorded in Matthew 10:15 11:22,24 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 Hebrews 10:28,29; none can escape it, neither I nor you, if such transgressors; external offices, or church privileges, will not excuse any one from the just punishment and retribution of God.

If we neglect so great salvation; if being careless, so as to despise and make light of the gospel, or to reject it, Hebrews 8:9 Matthew 22:5. Opposed this is to the sins of commission and omission about the law; any denial of receiving it, or of a progress into the necessary duties it requires, so to neglect them as to end in apostacy. For the gospel law of Christ revealing and promising salvation to believers, opposed here to the law given by angels, will make safe all spiritual good both for time and eternity to the sincere believers and obeyers of it. The gospel is called salvation metonymically, because the subject matter of it is salvation, Ephesians 1:13, and it hath a causal power and virtue to save, Acts 13:26 Romans 1:16; opposed to the law, which was the ministration of death and condemnation, 2 Corinthians 3:7,9, being revealed by angels under carnal types and temporal promises, and, by reason of the veil on their hearts, became killing to them. The word by the Son is salvation, because a full and clear discovery to it. This salvation is transcendent, being not a terrene or temporary, but a heavenly, eternal salvation, delivering those who truly obey it from the worst of enemies, the sorest and most lasting punishment, and instating them in eternal happiness and blessedness in heaven. This was great for clearness of light, 2 Corinthians 4:4, and diffusive efficacy and success.

Which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord; an aggravation of the neglect of this salvation from the Lord publishing it. It had its rise and beginning from the Fountain of all truth, and was first by voice and preaching made known to the Hebrews, and such Gentiles as came to hear the promulgation of it, Matthew 4:17, at Christ’s solemn entering on his ministry, above three years before his death and resurrection. And it may refer higher; for as it was most clearly, plainly, sweetly, and eminently preached by himself, beyond what was taught by the prophets in the Old Testament, or John; yet he first preached it himself in the beginning to our apostate parents in Paradise, Genesis 3:15, and he preached it in all the prophets publishing of it since: yet this priority may be in respect of the ministry which he ordained to follow him, and not of that which went before. It was so preached by the Lord himself, the Mediator, Lord of life and death, Head of angels and all principalities and powers, the great Prophet, swaying all things by the word of his power. The law was preached by angels, the gospel by God the Son himself, Hebrews 1:2; and so is preferred before the law, in respect of its ministration by the Head, not of its authority.

And was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; settled it was, made firm and authentical, by himself. The Trinity bear witness to it in heaven, confirm it on earth by miracles, signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds, by Christ, John 5:36, by his apostles, 2 Corinthians 12:12, and by the gifts of the Holy Ghost in great variety distributed to his apostles and publishers of this gospel, which made their ministration of it effectual, Acts 2:1-3; compare 1 Corinthians 12:9-11; even to the apostles and Hebrews, and to all who believe, it is so confirmed. Nor is Paul less the writer of this Epistle for that he joins himself with them, since he did hear both the Lord and the apostles, and was confirming those of them with whom he had fellowship, and was confirmed by them, Acts 9:17,19 Ga 2:9. Christ’s disciples and apostles heard this gospel from him, and did witness it by preaching, writing, and sealing it with their blood, Philippians 1:12 2 Peter 1:16,17; which confirmation by their sufferings was instrumental, mediate, and subservient to the miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost enjoyed of them and wrought by them.

How shall we escape,.... The righteous judgment of God, and eternal punishment:

if we neglect so great salvation? as the Gospel is, which is called salvation; in opposition to the law, which is the ministration of condemnation; and because it is a declaration of salvation by Christ; and is the means of bringing it near, and of the application of it in conversion, and so is the power of God unto it: and it is a "great" salvation; the Gospel which reveals it is great, for the author of it is Christ; it has been confirmed by miracles, and attended with great success; and has in it great things, great mysteries, and exceeding great and precious promises: and the salvation which it declares is great; it is the produce of great wisdom; it is wrought by a great person, by a Saviour, and a great one, and who is the great God, and our Saviour; it has been procured at great charge and expense, even at the expense of the blood and life of the Son of God; and has been obtained through great difficulties; and is the salvation of the soul, the more noble part of man; and it is a complete and everlasting one: to "neglect" this, is to be careless of it; to condemn it, and to despise the ministers of it; and to make anything else but Christ the way of salvation: and the danger such are in is very great; it is not possible that they should escape divine vengeance, since their sin is so great, and attended with such aggravating circumstances; for it is a contempt of the grace and wisdom of God in providing such a Saviour, and a trampling under foot the Son of God, and a counting his blood as a common thing; and besides, there is no more sacrifice for sin, they can have nothing to atone for it; and that God, whom they offend hereby, is both omniscient and omnipotent, and there will be no escaping out of his hands: to which must be added, that this Gospel of salvation is that

which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord; by the Lord Jesus Christ himself; the Gospel was preached by him, and he was extraordinarily qualified for it; and he spake it as never man did: it was preached by John indeed, and by all the prophets before him, and to the Israelites in the wilderness, and to Abraham before them, and even to Adam in Eden's garden, which was the first time it was spoken; but then it was spoken to him by the Lord; by the Word of the Lord, the essential Word, the Son of God, as the ancient Chaldee paraphrases, which express the sense of the old Jewish church, show (c): besides, it began most fully and clearly to be preached by him in the days of his flesh, so as it never was preached before, nor since; grace and truth, the doctrines of grace and truth came by him, in all their fulness and glory: and

was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; the Gospel is in itself firm and stable; nor did the words of Christ need any confirmation, who is truth itself, the "Amen", and faithful witness; but in condescension to human weakness, and by reason that Christ, as man, was not everywhere, and that by the mouth of more witnesses it should be established, he sent forth his apostles to preach it; who heard it from him, and they published it to the Jews first, as these were to whom the apostle writes, and then to the Gentiles. And though the apostle had it first by revelation from Christ himself, Galatians 1:11 it was confirmed to him by Ananias.

(c) Targum Onkelos & Jon. in Genesis 3.8. & Hieros. in v. 9.

How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; {2} which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by {d} them that heard him;

(2) If the neglect and disobedience of the word spoken by angels was not left unpunished, much less will it be tolerated if we neglect the gospel which the Lord of angels preached, and was confirmed by the voice of the apostles, and with so many signs and wonders from heaven, and especially with great and mighty working of the Holy Spirit.

(d) By the apostles.

Hebrews 2:3. The apodosis follows in the form of a question, which for the rest extends only to σωτηρίας, not to the close of Hebrews 2:4.

πῶς] how is it possible that.

ἡμεῖς] has the emphasis. The Christians in general are meant, in opposition to the men once belonging to the O. T. theocracy, of whom the writer has spoken at least by implication in Hebrews 2:2.

ἐκφευξόμεθα] stands absolutely, as Hebrews 12:25; 1 Thessalonians 5:3. Needlessly do Heinrichs, Stengel, Ebrard, Bisping, Maier, and many others supplement from Hebrews 2:2 : τὴν ἔνδικον μισθαποδοσίαν.

ἀμελήσαντες] Instancing of the case or condition, after the arising of which an escape or deliverance from punishment becomes an impossibility: in case that, or if, we shall have neglected (slighted). The participle aorist is properly used, since the culpability must first have been incurred before a punishment can ensue.

τηλικαύτης σωτηρίας] such a salvation, i.e. one so great, so far surpassing in exaltedness that of the O. T. Theodorus Mopsuestenus: ἐκεῖνο νομίμων δόσις ἦν μόνον, ἐνταῦθα δὲ καὶ χάρις πνεύματος καὶ λύσις ἁμαρτημάτων καὶ βασιλείας οὐρανῶν ἐπαγγελία καὶ ἀθαναδίας ὑπόσχεσις· ὅθεν καὶ δικαίως τηλικαύτης εἶπεν.

τηλικαύτης does not in itself contain a reference to ἥτις (Tholuck and others; the former will then have ἥτις taken in the sense of ὥστε), but stands there independently of any correlative; it is then, however, after the question has closed with σωτηρίας, enforced by the clause with ἥτις (quippe quae).

ἥτις ἀρχὴν λαβοῦσα λαλεῖσθαι διὰ τοῦ κυρίου, ὑπὸ τῶν ἀκουσάντων εἰς ἡμᾶς ἐβεβαιώθη] which indeed, at first proclaimed by the Lord, was handed down with certainty to us by them that heard it. Wrongly does Ebrard translate: “which was confirmed to us by the hearers, as one proclaimed by the Lord from the very first,” in supposing that ἀρχὴν λαβοῦσα depends upon ἐβεβαιώθη as an “apposition of object.” For how can ἀρχὴν λαβὸν λαλεῖσθαι denote something proclaimed “from the very beginning,” or “from the commencement”? And how unskilfully would the author have proceeded in the choice and position of his words, if—as Ebrard supposes—he had wished to express the thought, “that the σωτηρία was directly revealed by the Lord, has been transmitted to us as a certainty, and thus as a divine legitimation of the σωτηρία by the ἀκούσαντες, the ear- (and eye-) witnesses!” Ἀρχὴν λαβεῖν, to begin, always presupposes an opposition, expressed or understood, to a being continued, or to a being brought to an end. When thus in our passage there is mention made not only of an ἀρχὴν λαβεῖν λαλεῖσθαι by the Lord, but also of a βεβαιωθῆναι εἰς ἡμᾶς on the part of those who heard the Lord, it is clear that the author will have these two factors regarded as statements of two distinct but mutually corresponding periods of time.

In general, it is wrong when Ebrard, in connection with his explanation just adduced, will find in Hebrews 2:3 the twofold contrast with the law—(1) That the law was a mere word (λόγος); the gospel, on the other hand, a deliverance, a redemption, an act. (2) That the σωτηρία was manifested and proclaimed to men as at first hand, by the Lord Himself; the law, on the contrary, only at second hand, by the angels. For, as concerns the first alleged point of difference, assuredly the emphasis rests neither upon λόγος, Hebrews 2:2, nor upon σωτηρίας, Hebrews 2:3; but, Hebrews 2:2, upon διʼ ἀγγέλων, and, Hebrews 2:3, upon τηλικαύτης. The second alleged point of difference falls, however, with the consideration that the author employs the preposition διά, as before ἀγγέλων, Hebrews 2:2, so also before τοῦ κυρίου, Hebrews 2:3; thus indicates that the supreme Author alike of the Mosaic law and of the gospel is God Himself, both consequently are proclaimed to man “only at second hand.”[42] The pre-eminence of the gospel can accordingly have been discovered by our author only in the fact that in connection with this the Lord Himself was the intervening agent; in connection with the law, on the other hand, only the angels, who, according to chap. 1., are subordinate to the Lord.

ὑπὸ τῶν ἀκουσάντων] by them that heard it (sc. from the Lord; παρὰ τοῦ κυρίου, Chrysost.), thus by His apostles and immediate disciples. From these ἈΚΟΎΣΑΝΤΕς the author distinguishes himself and his readers (ΕἸς ἩΜᾶς). As well he himself as the Palestinian Christians to whom he writes must consequently have already belonged to a second generation of Christendom, and the author of the epistle cannot have been Paul (comp. Introd. p. 11). When Hofmann (Schriftbew. II. p. 378, 2 Aufl.) objects to this: “from εἰς ἡμᾶς is in truth evident only that the author belonged not to the number of those who could testify that they had with their own ears heard the Lord, at the time when He was upon earth proclaiming that salvation which they now preached,” this is indeed perfectly correct. But when he adds that Paul likewise had certainly only heard the word of salvation from the mouth of those who had listened to Jesus, this is—so long as the solemn asseveration of Paul himself (comp. expressly Galatians 1:12) has any value for us—decidedly false. For Paul reckons himself not among the disciples of the ἈΚΟΎΣΑΝΤΕς, but among the ἈΚΟΎΣΑΝΤΕς themselves. For the circumstance that the ἈΚΟΎΕΙΝ was otherwise brought about in his case than in the case of the original apostles, inasmuch as these had stood in the relation of ἈΚΟΎΣΑΝΤΕς to the Christ walking upon earth, Paul, on the other hand, stood in the relation of an ἈΚΟΎΣΑς to the exalted or heavenly Christ, left the essence of the matter itself untouched. Nor even by the assumption of a so-called ἈΝΑΚΟΊΝΩΣΙς, to which recourse has very frequently been had, can the conclusion resulting with stringent necessity from the words of our verse be set aside; for that which the writer of a letter says to his readers by means of an ἈΝΑΚΟΊΝΩΣΙς is always of such nature as to be likewise true of himself; never can it stand in excluding opposition to himself.

ἘΒΕΒΑΙΏΘΗ] corresponds to the ἘΓΈΝΕΤΟ ΒΈΒΑΙΟς, Hebrews 2:2; and ΕἸς ἩΜᾶς ἘΒΕΒΑΙΏΘΗ is a well-known blending of the notion of rest with that of the preceding movement. See Winer, Gramm., 7 Aufl. p. 386 f. Theophylact: διεπορθμεύθη εἰς ἡμᾶς βεβαίως καὶ πιστῶς, it came to us in a firm, trustworthy manner, so that it has become for us a σωτηρία βεβαία. Wrongly Heinrichs (and so also Seb. Schmidt, Wittich, Wolf, Cramer, Paulus, and others), according to whom ΕἸς ἩΜᾶς signifies ad nostra tempora, or usque ad nos.

[42] I cannot bring myself to recall this remark, although Delitzsch takes so great offence at it that he finds therein “a toning down of the opposition in gross misapprehension of the sense of the author.” The conception of an “immediate” speaking on the part of Jehovah in the N. T., on which Delitzsch insists, p. 49, 51, is regarded in general unbiblical; it is, moreover, remote from the thought of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, as the whole chapter in itself shows; only by forcing upon him dogmatic notions already a priori determined, and entirely disregarding the laws of grammar, can it be brought out from his statements.

Hebrews 2:3. πῶς ἡμεῖς.… “How shall we”—to whom God has spoken through the Son, Hebrews 1:2—“escape (ἔνδικον μισθ. prob. in final judgment, as in Hebrews 10:27) if we have neglected (the aorist ἀμελήσαντες suggesting that life is looked at as a whole) so great a salvation?”—the salvation which formed the main theme of the new revelation. The meaning of ἀμελήσαντες is best illustrated by Matthew 22:5, where it is used of those who disregarded, or treated with contempt, the invitation to the marriage-supper. The guilt and danger of so doing are in proportion to the greatness of the announcement, and this is no longer of law but of life, cf. 2 Corinthians 3. The word now spoken is vastly more glorious and more fully expressive of its Author than the Law, “Non erat tanta salus in V.T., quanta est in gratia quam Dei filius nobis attulit” (Atto Vercell:). The “greatness” of the salvation is involved in the greatness of Him who mediates it (Hebrews 1:4), of the method employed (Hebrews 2:10), of the results, many sons being brought to glory (Hebrews 2:10). But one relevant aspect of its greatness, the source and guaranteed truth of its proclamation is introduced by ἥτις, which here retains its proper qualitative sense and may be rendered “inasmuch as it …”. “Its object is to introduce the mention of a characteristic quality, which explains or emphasises the thing in question” (Vaughan). It was the trustworthiness of the new revelation of salvation which the Hebrews were beginning to question. The law had proved its validity by punishing transgressors but the majesty and certainty of the recent proclamation were doubtful. Therefore the writer insists that it is “very great,” and illustrates its trustworthiness by adducing these three feattures: (1) its original proclamation by the Lord, (2) its confirmation by those who heard Him, (3) its miraculous certification by God. [This is not contradicted by Bleek’s “Das τηλικ., tantae talisque salutis, verweist an sich wohl nicht auf den nachfolgenden relativen Satz,” nor by Weiss’ “Das ἥτις hängt weder sprachlich noch sachlich mit τηλικ. zusammen.”] ἀρχὴν λαβοῦσα λαλεῖσθαι, lit.: “having received a beginning to be spoken” = “having begun to be spoken,” or “which was first proclaimed”. ἀρχὴν λαβ., a common phrase in later Greek, see Stephanus and Wetstein. In Polybius of a war “taking its rise”. In Ælian, V. H., ii. 28. πόθεν τὴν ἀρχὴν ἔλαβεν ὅδε ὁ νόμος, ἐρῶ. It is used here to indicate with precision the origin of the proclamation of the revelation about which they are feeling uncertain. λαλεῖσθαι refers back to Hebrews 2:2 and also to Hebrews 1:1. διὰ to be connected with ἀρχὴν λαβ.; it is used instead of ὑπὸ because God is throughout viewed as the ultimate source of revelation. τοῦ Κυρίου, “the Lord” supreme over angels, and whose present exaltation reflects dignity and trustworthiness on the revelation He made while on earth. The salvation which they are tempted to neglect was at first proclaimed not by angels sent out to minister, not by servants or delegates who might possibly misapprehend the message, but by the Lord Himself, the Supreme. The source then is unquestionably pure. Has the stream been contaminated? God testifies to its purity. There is only one link between the Lord and you, they that heard Him delivered the message to you, and God by witnessing with them certifies its truth. The main verb is ἐβεβαιώθη which looks back to βέβαιος of Hebrews 2:2, and compares the inviolability of the one word or revelation with that of the other. We must not, he argues, neglect a gospel of whose veracity and importance we have assurance in this, that it was first proclaimed by the Lord Himself and that we have it on the authority of those who themselves heard Him, and who therefore were first-hand witnesses who had also made experimental verification of its validity. For ἀκουσάντων though without an object expressed, plainly means those who heard the Lord, cf. Luke 1:1. εἰς ἡμᾶς is rendered by Theophylact διεπορθμεύθη εἰς ἡμᾶς βεβαίως, it has been conveyed to us in a trustworthy manner. To their testimony was added the all-convincing witness borne by God, συνεπιμαρτυροῦντος τοῦ θεοῦ. The word is found in Aristotle, Philo and Polybius, xxvi. 9, 4, παρόντων δὲ τῶν Θεττάλων καὶ συνεπιμαρτυρούντων τοῖς Δαρδανίοις. Also in Clement, Ep., c. xxiii., συνεπιμαρτυρούσης τῆς γραφῆς; but only here in N.T., cf. 1 Peter 5:12; Romans 2:15; Romans 8:16; Romans 9:1. The sense is found in Mark 16:20, ἐκήρυξαν πανταχοῦ, τοῦ Κυρίου συνεργοῦντος καὶ τὸν λόγον βεβαιοῦντος διὰ τῶν ἐπακολουθούντων σημείων. This witness was borne σημείοις τε καὶ τέρασιν “by signs and wonders,” the two words referring to the same manifestations (τε καὶ closely uniting the words), which in one aspect were “signs” suggesting a Divine presence or a spirtual truth, and in another aspect “wonders” calculated to arrest attention. [The words are similarly conjoined in Polybius, Plutarch, Ælian, Philo and Josephus.] καὶ ποικίλαις δυνάμεσιν “and various miracles,” lit. powers, as in Matthew 11:21, καὶ οὐκ ἐποίησεν ἐκεῖ δυνάμεις πολλάς. Bleek thinks it is not the outward manifestations but the powers themselves that are here meant. This, he thinks, is suggested by the connexion of the word with πνεύματος ἁγίου μερισμοῖς, “distributions of the Holy Spirit”. The genitive is genitive objective, “distributions consisting of the Holy Spirit”. The remarkable character of the Charismata and the testimony they bore to a Divine presence and power are frequently alluded to in the N.T. and are enlarged upon in 1 Corinthians 12:14. Paul uses the same argument as this writer in Galatians 3:1-4. The article is wanting before πνεύματος in accordance with the usage noted by Vaughan, that it is generally omitted when the communication of the Spirit is spoken of, cf. Luke 2:25, John 7:39, with John 14:26, Acts 19:2 with 6. μερισμός only here and in a different sense in Hebrews 4:12; the verb is common. St. Paul uses it in connection with the distribution of spiritual gifts in Romans 12:3, 1 Corinthians 7:17. No one thought himself possessed of the fulness of the Spirit, only a μέρος. These distributions or apportionings, being of the Spirit of God, are necessarily made κατὰ τὴν αὐτοῦ θέλησιν “according to His [God’s] will”. In 1 Corinthians 12:11 the will is that of the Spirit. “Non omnibus omnia dabat Deus, sed quae et quantum et quibus vellet, Ephesians 4:7” (Grotius). [θέλησις only here in N.T., but ten times in LXX. Pollux calls it a “vulgarism” ἰδιωτικόν. On the substitution of nouns in -μα for nouns in -σις, see Jannaris’ Hist. Gram., p. 1024, and cf. 10:7, 9:36, 13:21, so that in the present passage the choice of the active form is deliberate.] The clause is added to enforce the writer’s contention that all the Charismata with which his readers were familiar were not mere fruits of excitement or in any way casual, but were the result of a Divine intention to bear witness to the truth of the gospel.

3. how shall we escape] The “we” (being expressed in the original) is emphatic—we who are sons, not servants. The verb means “how shall we succeed in escaping,” or, “make good our escape”—namely, from similar, but yet more awful punishment (comp. Hebrews 12:25).

if we neglect] Rather, “after neglecting,” or “when we have neglected.”

so great salvation] The transcendence (Hebrews 7:25) of the safety provided is a measure of the guilt involved in ceasing to pay any attention to it (Hebrews 10:29; John 12:48). It came from Christ not from Angels, its sanctions are more eternal, its promises more divine, its whole character more spiritual.

which at the first began to be spoken] Literally, “seeing that it, having at the first been spoken.”

by the Lord] The Gospels shew that Jesus was the first preacher of His own Gospel (Mark 1:14). “The Lord,” standing alone, is very rarely, if ever, used as a title for Christ in St Paul. (1 Thessalonians 4:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Timothy 4:18, are, to say the least, indecisive.)

was confirmed] The “word of this salvation”—the news of this Gospel—was ratified to us (comp. 1 Corinthians 1:6), and so it becomes “steadfast.” The verb is derived from the adjective so rendered in Hebrews 2:2.

by them that heard] We did not indeed receive the Gospel at firsthand, but from those who were its appointed witnesses (Luke 24:47-48; Acts 1:8; Acts 5:32). This verse, as Luther and Calvin so clearly saw, furnishes a decisive proof that St Paul was not the writer of this Epistle. He always insisted on the primary and direct character of the revelation which he had received as his independent Gospel (Galatians 1:1; Galatians 1:12; Acts 22:10; Acts 26:16; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3, &c.). To talk of “accommodation” here is quite beside the mark.

Hebrews 2:3. Πῶς ἡμεῖς ἐκφευξόμεθα) how shall we escape the just and severe retribution? So Hebrews 12:25, They did not escape; (therefore) we shall not escape.—σωτηρίας) salvation, in the world to come, joined with glory, Hebrews 2:5; Hebrews 2:10, notes. The term salvation, which is repeated in the tenth verse, is akin to the name Jesus, which resounds in the gospel of salvation.—ἀρχήν, beginning) Formerly there had not been preached so great a salvation, and by so august an interpreter [exponent or mediator of it].—λαλεῖσθαι, to be spoken) from His baptism up to His ascension, Acts 1:2.—διὰ τοῦ Κυρίου, by the Lord) A majestic appellation; comp. ch. Hebrews 3:4, and the following verses; Psalm 110:1. He does not say here, by our Lord; for he intimates that He is also Lord of the angels, whom the angels themselves call Lord: Luke 2:11; Matthew 28:6. [Whatever is mentioned, ch. 1, and afterwards, Hebrews 2:7-10, is included in this appellation.—V. g.] The antithesis is, by angels, Hebrews 2:2. Comp. Hebrews 2:5, and the following,—ὑπὸ τῶν ἀκουσάντων) by those who had heard it face to face from the Lord Himself. They also had been eye-witnesses and ministers, Luke 1:2 : but the apostle mentions their having heard Him here, agreeably to what he began with, Hebrews 2:1-2. The apostle has regard not only to the evangelical history in general, but even to particular heads of it, for example, that concerning the supplication in the garden, etc., ch. Hebrews 5:7, note. Paul, writing to the churches of the Gentiles generally, speaks much of his calling, and of the fruits of his labour; but here, when he writes to the brethren of the circumcision, he most especially appeals to the apostles who had been long with the Lord; comp. Acts 1:21; Acts 10:41; Acts 13:31, note; and he only appeals to the testimony of those apostles in a general way, in order that he may bring the Hebrews to the Lord alone.—εἰς ἡμᾶς, to us) This denotes that age then present.—ἐβεβαιώθη, has been confirmed) not by penalties, but by spiritual gifts. This word corresponds to βέβαιος, firm, stedfast, Hebrews 2:2.

Hebrews 2:3How shall we escape (πῶς ἡμεῖς ἐκφευξόμεθα)

The rhetorical question expressing denial. We is emphatic. We, to whom God has spoken by his Son, and who, therefore, have so much the more reason for giving heed. Ἐκφευξόμεθα lit. flee out from. The English escape conveys the same idea, but contains a picture which is not in the Greek word, namely, to slip out of one's cape, ex cappa, and so get away. Comp. French chapper. In Italian we have scappare "to escape," and also incappare "to fall into a snare," and incappuciare "to wrap up in a hood or cape; to mask."

If we neglect (ἀμελήσαντες)

Lit. having neglected. Rare in N.T., oP. Comp. Matthew 22:5; 1 Timothy 4:14. The thought falls in with drift past, Hebrews 2:1.

Salvation (σωτηρίαν)

Characterizing the new dispensation, as the word (Hebrews 2:2) characterizes the old. Not the teaching or word of salvation, but the salvation itself which is the gift of the gospel, to be obtained by purification from sin through the agency of the Son (Hebrews 1:3).

Which (ἥτις)

Explanatory. A salvation which may be described as one which was first spoken by the Lord, etc.

At the first began to be spoken (ἀρχὴν λαβοῦσα)

Lit. having taken beginning to be spoken. Rend. which, having at the first been spoken. The phrase N.T.o.

By the Lord (διὰ τοῦ κυρίου)

Const. with ἀρχὴν λαβοῦσα, not with λαλεῖσθαι. It is the beginning, not the speaking which is emphasized.

Was confirmed (ἐβεβαιώθη)

It was sure (βέβαιος) even as was the word spoken by angels (Hebrews 2:2), and it was confirmed, proved to be real, by the testimony of ear-witnesses.


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