Hebrews 5:14
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
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(14) Strong meat.—“Solid food belongs to full-grown men.” If they occupied themselves with the rudiments alone, their spiritual senses could not be trained by use (or, habit) in distinguishing between good and evil, truth and falsehood, in the various systems of teaching which men offered as the doctrine of Christ.

5:11-14 Dull hearers make the preaching of the gospel difficult, and even those who have some faith may be dull hearers, and slow to believe. Much is looked for from those to whom much is given. To be unskilful, denotes want of experience in the things of the gospel. Christian experience is a spiritual sense, taste, or relish of the goodness, sweetness, and excellence of the truths of the gospel. And no tongue can express the satisfaction which the soul receives, from a sense of Divine goodness, grace, and love to it in Christ.Strong meat - Solid food pertains to those of maturer years. So it is with the higher doctrines of Christianity. They can be understood and appreciated only by those who are advanced in Christian experience.

Of full age - Margin, "Perfect." The expression refers to those who are grown up.

Who by reason of use - Margin, Or, "an habit," or, "perfection." Coverdale and Tyndale render it, "through custom." The Greek word means "habit, practice." The meaning is, that by long use and habit they had arrived to that state in which they could appreciate the more elevated doctrines of Christianity. The reference in the use of this word is not to those who "eat food" - meaning that by long use they are able to distinguish good from bad - but it is to experienced Christians, who by long experience are able to distinguish what is useful in pretended religious instruction from what is injurious. It refers to the delicate taste which an experienced Christian has in regard to those doctrines which impart most light and consolation. Experience will thus enable one to discern what is suited to the soul of man; what elevates and purifies the affections, and what tends to draw the heart near to God.

Have their senses - The word used here means properly "the senses" - as we use the term; the seat of sensation, the smell, taste, etc. Then it means "the internal sense," the faculty of perceiving truth; and this is the idea here. The meaning is, that by long experience Christians come to be able to understand the more elevated doctrines of Christianity; they see their beauty and value, and they are able carefully and accurately to distinguish them from error; compare the notes at John 7:17.

To discern both good and evil - That is, in doctrine. They will appreciate and understand what is true; they will reject what is false.


1. Let us rejoice that we have a High Priest who is duly called to take upon himself the functions of that great office, and who lives forever: Hebrews 5:1. True, he was not of the tribe of Levi; he was not a descendant of Aaron; but he had a more noble elevation, and a more exalted rank. He was the Son of God, and was called to his office by special divine designation. He did not obtrude himself into the work; he did not unduly exalt himself, but he was directly called to it by the appointment of God. When, moreover, the Jewish high priests could look back on the long line of their ancestors, and trace the succession up to Aaron, it was in the power of the great High Priest; of the Christian faith to look further back still, and to be associated in the office with one of higher antiquity than Aaron, and of higher rank - one of the most remarkable men of all ancient times - he whom Abraham acknowledged as his superior, and from whom Abraham received the benediction.

2. It is not unmanly to weep; Hebrews 5:7. The Son of God poured out prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears. He wept at the grave of Lazarus, and he wept over Jerusalem. If the Redeemer wept, it is not unmanly to weep; and we should not be ashamed to have tears seen streaming down our cheeks. Tears are appointed by God to be the natural expression of sorrow, and often to furnish a relief to a burdened soul. We instinctively honor the man whom we see weeping when there is occasion for grief. We sympathize with him in his sorrow, and we love him the more. When we see a father who could face the cannon's mouth without shrinking, yet weeping over the open grave of a daughter, we honor him more than we could otherwise do. He shows that he has a heart that can love and feel, as well as courage that can meet danger without alarm. Washington wept when he signed the death-warrant of Major Andre; and who ever read the affecting account without feeling that his character was the more worthy of our love? There is enough in the world to make us weep. Sickness, calamity, death, are around us. They come into our dwellings, and our dearest objects of affection are taken away, and "God intends" that we shall deeply feel. Tears here will make heaven more sweet; and our sorrows on earth are intended to prepare us for the joy of that day when it shall be announced to us that" all tears shall be wiped away from every face."

3. We see the propriety of prayer in view of approaching death; Hebrews 5:7. The Redeemer prayed when he felt that he must die. We know, also, that we must die. True, we shall not suffer as he did. He had pangs on the cross which no other dying man ever bore. But death to us is an object of dread. The hour of death is a fearful hour. The scene when a man dies is a gloomy scene. The sunken eye, the pallid cheek, the clammy sweat, the stiffened corpse, the coffin, the shroud, the grave, are all sad and gloomy things. We know not, too, what severe pangs we may have when we die. Death may come to us in some especially fearful form; and in view of his approach in any way, we should pray. Pray, dying man, that you may be prepared for that sad hour; pray, that you may not be left to complain, and rebel, and murmur then; pray that you may lie down in calmness and peace; pray that you may be enabled to "honor God even in death."

4. It is not sinful to dread death; Hebrews 5:7. The Redeemer dreaded it. His human nature, though perfectly holy, shrank back from the fearful agonies of dying. The fear of death, therefore, in itself is not sinful. Christians are often troubled because they have not that calmness in the prospect of death which they suppose they ought to have, and because their nature shrinks back from the dying pang. They suppose that such feelings are inconsistent with religion, and that they who have them cannot be true Christians. But they forget their Redeemer and his sorrows; they forget the earnestness with which he pleaded that the cup might be removed. Death is in itself fearful, and it is a part of our nature to dread it, and even in the best of minds sometimes the fear of it is not wholly taken away until the hour comes, and God gives them "dying grace." There are probably two reasons why God made death so fearful to man:

(1) One is, to impress him with the importance of being prepared for it. Death is to him the entrance on an endless being, and it is an object of God to keep the attention fixed on that as a most momentous and solemn event. The ox, the lamb, the robin, the dove, have no immortal nature; no conscience; no responsibility, and no need of making preparation for death - and hence - except in a very slight degree - they seem to have no dread of dying. But not so with man. He has an undying soul. His main business here is to prepare for death and for the world beyond, and hence, by all the fear of the dying pang, and by all the horror of the grave, God would fix the attention of man on his own death as a most momentous event, and lead him to seek that hope of immortality which alone can lay the foundation for any proper removal of the fear of dying.

(2) the other reason is, to deter man from taking his own life. To keep him from this, he is made so as to start back from death. He fears it; it is to him an object of deepest dread, and even when pressed down by calamity and sadness, as a general law, he "had rather bear the ills he has, than fly to others that he knows not of." Man is the only creature in reference to whom this danger exists. There is no one of the brute creation, unless it be the scorpion, that will take its own life, and hence, they have not such a dread of dying. But we know how it is with man. Weary of life; goaded by a guilty conscience; disappointed and heart-broken, he is under strong temptation to commit the enormous crime of self-murder, and to rush uncalled to the bar of God. As one of the means of deterring from this, God has so made us that we fear to die; and thousands are kept from this enormous crime by this fear, when nothing else would save them. It is benevolence, therefore, to the world, that man is afraid to die - and in every pang of the dying struggle, and everything about death that makes us turn pale and tremble at its approach, there is in some way the manifestation of goodness to mankind.

5. We may be comforted in the prospect of death by looking to the example of the Redeemer; Hebrews 5:7. Much as we may fear to die, and much as we may be left to suffer then, of one thing we may be sure. It is, that he has gone beyond us in suffering. The sorrows of our dying will never equal his. We shall never go through such scenes as occurred in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. It may be some consolation that human nature has endured greater pangs than we shall, and that there is one who has surpassed us even in our keenest sufferings. It "should" be to us a source of consolation, also of the highest kind, that he did it that he might alleviate our sorrows, and that he might drive away the horrors of death from us by "bringing life and immortality to light," and that as the result of his sufferings our dying moments may be calm and peaceful.

6. It often occurs that people are true Christians, and yet are ignorant of some of the elementary principles of religion; Hebrews 5:12. This is owing to such things as the following; a want of early religious instruction; the faults of preachers who fail to teach their people; a want of inquiry on the part of Christians, and the interest which they feel in other things above what they feel in religion. It is often surprising what vague and unsettled opinions many professed Christians have on some of the most important points of Christianity, and how little qualified they are to defend their opinions when they are attacked. Of multitudes in the Church even now it might be said, that they "need some one to teach them what are the very first principles of true religion." To some of the "elementary" doctrines of Christianity about deadness to the world, about self-denial, about prayer, about doing good, and about spirituality, they are utter strangers. So of forgiveness of injuries, and charity, and love for a dying world. These are the "elements" of Christianity - rudiments which children in righteousness should learn; and yet they are not learned by multitudes who bear the Christian name.


14. strong meat—"solid food."

them … of full age—literally, "perfect": akin to "perfection" (Heb 6:1).

by reason of use—Greek, "habit."

senses—organs of sense.

exercised—similarly connected with "righteousness" in Heb 12:11.

to discern both good and evil—as a child no longer an infant (Isa 7:16): so able to distinguish between sound and unsound doctrine. The mere child puts into its mouth things hurtful and things nutritious, without discrimination: but not so the adult. Paul again alludes to their tendency not to discriminate, but to be carried about by strange doctrines, in Heb 13:9.

But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age; but those great, deep, and high mysteries of the gospel concerning Christ’s natures, their hypostatical union, his offices, his actual fulfilling all his types in the Old Testament both personal and mystical, with the prophecies of his gospel church state, and his mediatory kingdom, &c., these are the strong meat and food of grown Christians, who have reached some maturity in the knowledge of these gospel mysteries, and are of a full age in understanding, 1 Corinthians 2:6 1 Corinthians 14:20 Philippians 3:15; reaching on to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ in knowledge and grace, Ephesians 4:13.

Even those who by reason of use; even those who dia thn ezin, by a gracious habit of wisdom and knowledge infused and perfected by long study, practice, and exercise of themselves in the word of righteousness, by which they are able to apprehend and improve the highest doctrines of the mystery of Christ.

Have their senses: ta aisyhthria are, strictly, organs or instruments of sense, as the eye, the tongue, and the hand, by a metonymy, express seeing, tasting, and feeling; and so is by analogy applied to the inward senses and faculties of the soul, whereby they discern and relish gospel doctrines.

Exercised: gegumnasmena strictly notes such an exercise as wrestlers use for a victory with all their might and strength, being trained up to it by long exercise. The spiritual organs or faculties of Christians are well instructed, practised, made apt and ready, as the external ones are, for their proper work.

To discern both good and evil: prov diakrisin, for the discerning and differencing things, so as the mind discerns what doctrine is true and what is false by the word of righteousness, and the will chooseth what is good and refuseth what is evil, the affections love good and hate evil. As the senses external can by exercise discern what food is gustful, pleasing, and wholesome for the person, and what is nauseous and unwholesome; so the grown Christian is improved by the exercise of his spiritual senses, that can by his enlightened mind discern higher gospel doctrines, and by his renewed will relish the sublimer mysteries of Christ as they are revealed to him. Such the Christian Hebrews ought to have been, so able proficients in the school of Christ.

But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age,.... Or perfect; see 1 Corinthians 2:6. This does not intend a perfection of justification; for though some have a greater degree of faith than others, and a clearer discovery of their justification, yet babes in Christ are as perfectly justified as more grown and experienced believers; nor a perfection of sanctification, for there is no perfection of holiness but in Christ; and though the work of sanctification may be in greater perfection in one saint than in another, yet all are imperfect in this life; and as to a perfection of parts, babes have this as well as adult persons: but it designs a perfection of knowledge; for though none are entirely perfect, yet some have arrived to a greater degree of the knowledge of Gospel mysteries than others, and to these the strong meat of the Gospel belongs; they are capable of understanding the more mysterious parts of the Gospel; of searching into the deep things of God; and of receiving and digesting the more sublime truths of the Christian religion:

even those who by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil; that is, their spiritual senses, the internal senses of the understanding and judgment, signified by external ones; as by seeing the Son; hearing the voice of Christ; savouring or smelling a sweet odour in the things of God, and Christ; tasting that the Lord is gracious; feeling and handling the word of life, as these are held forth in the everlasting Gospel: and these being exercised on their proper object, by use, an habit is contracted; and such are qualified for discerning, as between moral good and evil, and the worse and better state of the church, and between law and Gospel, so between the doctrines of Christ, and the doctrines of men; who find they differ: the doctrines of Christ such experienced persons find to be good, wholesome, nourishing, and salutary; and the doctrines of men to be evil, to eat, as does a canker, and to be pernicious, poisonous, and damnable; and the discernment they make, and the judgment they form, are not according to the dictates of carnal reason, but according to the Scriptures of truth, and their own experience.

But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their {m} senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

(m) All their power by which they understand and judge.

Hebrews 5:14. The opposition: for perfect or more matured Christians, on the other hand (and only for them), is the solid food.

τελείων is with emphasis preposed.

τῶν διὰ τὴν ἕξιν κ.τ.λ.] more precise characterizing of the τέλειοι: for those who, etc.

ἕξις] like the following αἰσθητήριον, in the N. T. a ἅπαξ λεγόμενον. It corresponds to the Latin habitus, and is used in particular of the condition produced by use and wont. Here it denotes the capacity or dexterity acquired by practice. Comp. Quintil. Hebrews 10:1. 1 : firma quaedam facilitas, quae apud Graecos ἕξις nominatur.

τὰ αἰσθητήρια] the organs of the senses; transferred to that which is spiritual: the power of apprehension. Comp. LXX. Jeremiah 4:19 : τὰ αἰσθητήρια τῆς ψυχῆς μου.

γεγυμνασμένα] Predicate; literally: as exercised. On the whole turn of discourse, comp. Galen, De dignot. puls. 3 (in Wetstein): ὅς μὲν γὰρτὸ αἰσθητήριον ἔχει γεγυμνασμένον ἱκανῶςοὗτος ἄριστος ἄν εἴν γυώμων.

πρὸς διάκρισιν κ.τ.λ.] for the distinguishing of good and bad. The words may be taken with γεγυμνασμένα, or they may be taken with the whole expression γεγυμνασμένα ἐχόντων. The καλόν τε καὶ κακόν, however, is to be understood of the right and the wrong, or of the wholesome and the pernicious, not, with Stein, of that which is morally good or evil. Chrysostom: νῦν οὐ περὶ βίου αὐτῷ ὁ λόγος, ὅταν λέγῃ· πρὸς διάκρισιν καλοῦ καὶ κακοῦ (τοῦτο γὰρ παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ δυνατὸν εἰδέναι καὶ εὔκολον) ἀλλὰ περὶ δογμάτων ὑγιῶν καὶ ὑψηλῶν, διεφθαρμένων τε καὶ ταπεινῶν.

Hebrews 5:14. τελείων δὲ.… “But solid food is for the mature, those who, by reason of their mental habits, have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.” τέλειος commonly opposed in classical and Biblical Greek to νήπιος; as in Polyb. 5:29, 2, ἐλπίσαντες ὡς παιδίῳ νηπίῳ χρήσασθαι τῷ Φιλίππῳ, εὗρον αὐτὸν τέλειον ἄνδρα. Cf. Ephesians 4:13; and Xen., Cyr., viii. 7, 3. They are here further defined as τῶνκακοῦ. ἕξις [from ἔχω, as habitus from habeo], a habit of body, or of mind; as in Plato, Laws (p. 666), τὴν ἐμμανῆ ἕξιν τῶν νέων. Also, p. 966, Ἀνδραπόδου γάρ τινα σὺ λέγεις ἕξιν. Aristotle (Nic. Eth. ii. 5) determines that virtue is neither a δύναμις nor a πάθος, but a ἕξις, a faculty being something natural and innate, while virtue is not. Plutarch (Moral., 443), following him, defines ἕξις as ἰσχὺςἐξ ἔθους ἐγγινομένη, which resembles Quintilian’s definition (x. 1, 1), “firma quaedam facilitas, quae apud Graecos ἕξις nominatur”. Aristotle (Categor., viii. 1) distinguishes ἕξις from διάθεσις, τῷ πολὺ χρονιώτερον εἶναι καὶ μονιμώτερον, but elsewhere he uses the words as equivalents. Longinus (xliv. 4) uses it of faculty. ἕξις, then, is the habitual or normal condition, the disposition or character; and the expression in the text means that the mature, by reason of their maturity or mental habit, have their senses exercised, etc. αἰσθητήρια: “senses”. Bleek quotes the definition of the Greek lexicographers and of Damascene τὰ ὄργανα ἢ τὰ μέλη διʼ ὧν αἰσθανόμεθα. So Galen in Wetstein, “organs of sense”. Here the reference is to spiritual faculties of perception and taste. γεγυμνασμέναπρὸς διάκρισιν …, “exercised so as to discriminate between good and evil,” i.e., between what is wholesome and what is hurtful in teaching. [Wetstein quotes from Galen, De Dignot. Puls., ὃς μὲν γὰρ τὸ αἰσθητήριον ἔχει γεγυμνασμένον ἱκανῶς οὗτος ἄριστος ἂν εἴη γνώμων.] The child must eat what is given to it; the boy is warned what to eat and what to avoid; as he grows, his senses are exercised by a various experience, so that when he reaches manhood he does not need a nurse or a priest to teach him what is nutritious and what is poisonous. The first evidence of maturity which the writer cites is ability to teach; the second, trained discernment of what is wholesome in doctrine. The one implies the other. Cf. Isaiah 7:16, πρὶν γνῶναι τὸ παιδίον ἀγαθὸν ἢ κακόν, and Deuteronomy 1:39. Chrysostom says οὐ περὶ βίου ὁ λόγοςἀλλὰ περὶ δογμάτων ὑγιῶν καὶ ὑψηλῶν διεφθαρμένων τε καὶ ταπεινῶν; the whole passage should be consulted.

14. belongeth to them that are of full age] The solid food of more advanced instruction pertains to the mature or “perfect.”

by reason of use] “Because of their habit,” i.e. from being habituated to it. This is the only place in the N.T. where this important word ἕξις habitus occurs.

their senses] Their spiritual faculties (αἰσθητήρια. It does not occur elsewhere in the N.T.)

exercised] Trained, or disciplined by spiritual practice.

to discern both good and evil] Lit., “the discrimination of good and evil.” By “good and evil” is not meant “right and wrong” because there is no question here of moral distinctions; but excellence and inferiority in matters of instruction. To the natural man the things of the spirit are foolishness; it is only the spiritual man who can “distinguish between things that differ” and so “discriminate the transcendent” (1 Corinthians 2:14-15; Romans 2:18; Php 1:9-10). The phrase “to know good and evil” is borrowed from Hebrew (Genesis 2:17, &c), and is used to describe the first dawn of intelligence (Isaiah 7:15-16).

Hebrews 5:14. Τελείων, of them that are perfect) τελειότητα, perfection, ch. Hebrews 6:1, is the conjugate term. Τέλειοι καὶ μανθάνοντες are opposed to each other, 1 Chronicles 25:8, מבין עם־תלמיד.—ἔστιν, is [belongeth to]) They who are perfect both desire and take solid meat.—διὰ) by reason of.—τὴν ἕξιν, habitual strength of understanding[37] [‘use’]) The LXX. use this word, Jdg 14:9; 1 Samuel 16:7; Daniel 7:15; and also Wis 13:14. It is said of a whole, in which the parts have themselves and are had in turn, hold and are held in turn; and here it denotes the strength of the faculty of perception (discernment) arising from the maturity of the spiritual age: not habit acquired by practice, διὰ τὴν ἕξιν, because they are possessed of more habitual strength of understanding. Exercise follows habit (habitual faculty); and strength makes a man put his faculty in exercise with alacrity, dexterity, profit, without affectation or the perverse imitation of others.—τὰ αἰσθητήρια) properly the organs of the senses, for example, the tongue, the organ of tasting: comp. αἰσθήσει, in perception, sense, Php 1:9, note.

[37] Latin habitum, Th. habeo: as ἕξις from ἕχω.—ED.


Verse 14. - But solid food is for them that are of full age (τελείων, equivalent to "perfect;" but in the sense of maturity of age or growth, in contrast with νήπιοι; as in 1 Corinthians 14:20; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6; Ephesians 4:13; Philippians 3:15), those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil. Here the comparison is carried out with peculiar aptness. Τὰ αἰσθητήρια in the illustration are the organs of sense. In the infant the digestive organs, in the first place, exercised in the beginning on milk, acquire through that exercise the power of assimilating more solid and more complex food, while at the same time its sensitive organs generally, also through exercise, become consciously discriminative of "good and evil" (cf. Isaiah 7:15, 16, where "to know to refuse the evil and choose the good" denotes, as if proverbially, the age after early childhood). So, in the spiritual sphere, the mental faculties, exercised at first on simple truths, should acquire by practice the power of apprehending and distinguishing' between higher and more recondite ones. It was because the Hebrew Christians had failed thus to bring out their faculties that they were open to the charge of being still in a state of infancy.

Hebrews 5:14Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age (τελείων δέ ἐστιν ἡ στερεὰ τροφή)

This rendering is clumsy. Rend. solid food is for full-grown men. For τελείων full-grown, see on 1 Corinthians 2:6. Often by Paul, as here, in contrast with νήπιοι immature Christians. See 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 4:4. Paul has the verb νηπιάζειν to be a child in 1 Corinthians 14:20.

By reason of use (διὰ τὴν ἕξιν)

For use rend. habitude. N.T.o. It is the condition produced by past exercise. Not the process as A.V., but the result.

Their senses (τὰ αἰσθητήρια)

N.T.o. Organs of perception; perceptive faculties of the mind. In lxx see Jeremiah 4:19; 4 Macc. 2:22.

Exercised (γεγυμνασμένα)

See on 2 Peter 2:14, and see on 1 Timothy 4:7.

Good and evil

Not moral good and evil, but wholesome and corrupt doctrine. The implication is that the readers' condition is such as to prevent them from making this distinction.

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