《Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges – Hebrews》(a compilation) General Introduction

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Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges – Hebrews(A Compilation)
General Introduction

The general design of the Commentary, has been to connect more closely the study of the Classics with the reading of the New Testament. To recognise this connection and to draw it closer is the first task of the Christian scholar. The best thoughts as well as the words of Hellenic culture have a place, not of sufferance, but of right in the Christian system. This consideration will equally deepen the interest in the Greek and Latin Classics, and in the study of the New Testament. But the Greek Testament may become the centre towards which all lines of learning and research converge. Art, or the expressed thought of great painters, often the highest intellects of their day, once the great popular interpreters of Scripture, has bequeathed lessons which ought not to be neglected. Every advance in science, in philology, in grammar, in historical research, and every new phase of thought, throws its own light on the words of Christ. In this way, each successive age has a fresh contribution to bring to the interpretation of Scripture.

Another endeavour has been to bring in the aid of Modern Greek (which is in reality often very ancient Greek), in illustration of New Testament words and idioms. In this subject many suggestions have come from Geldart's Modern Greek Language; and among other works consulted have been: Clyde's Romaic and Modern Greek, Vincent and Bourne's Modern Greek, the Modern Greek grammars of J. Donaldson and Corfe and the Γραμματικὴ τῆς Ἀγγλικῆς γλώσσης ὑπὸ Γεωργίου Λαμπισῆ.

The editor wished also to call attention to the form in which St Matthew has preserved our Lord's discourses. And here Bishop Jebb's Sacred Literature has been invaluable. His conclusions may not in every instance be accepted, but the line of investigation which he followed is very fruitful in interesting and profitable results. Of this more is said infra, Introd. ch. v. 2.

The works principally consulted have been: Bruder's Concordance of the N.T. and Trommius' of the LXX Schleusner's Lexicon, Grimm's edition of Wilkii Clavis, the indices of Wyttenbach to Plutarch and of Schweighäuser to Polybius, E. A. Sophocles' Greek Lexicon (Roma and Byzantine period); Scrivener's Introduction to the Criticism of the N.T. (the references are to the second edition); Hammond's Textual Criticism applied to the N.T.; Dr Moulton's edition of Winer's Grammar (1870); Clyde's Greek Syntax, Goodwin's Greek Moods and Tenses; Westcott's Introduction to the Study of the Gospels; Bp Lightfoot, On a Fresh Revision of the N.T.; Lightfoot's Horæ Hebraicæ; Schöttgen's Horæ Hebraicæ et Talmudicæ, and various modern books of travel, to which references are given in the notes.



THE General Editor of The Cambridge Bible for Schools thinks it right to say that he does not hold himself responsible either for the interpretation of particular passages which the Editors of the several Books have adopted, or for any opinion on points of doctrine that they may have expressed. In the New Testament more especially questions arise of the deepest theological import, on which the ablest and most conscientious interpreters have differed and always will differ. His aim has been in all such cases to leave each Contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment, only taking care that mere controversy should as far as possible be avoided. He has contented himself chiefly with a careful revision of the notes, with pointing out omissions, with suggesting occasionally a reconsideration of some question, or a fuller treatment of difficult passages, and the like.

Beyond this he has not attempted to interfere, feeling it better that each Commentary should have its own individual character, and being convinced that freshness and variety of treatment are more than a compensation for any lack of uniformity in the Series.


IN undertaking an edition of the Greek text of the New Testament with English notes for the use of Schools, the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press have not thought it desirable to reprint the text in common use[1]. To have done this would have been to set aside all the materials that have since been accumulated towards the formation of a correct text, and to disregard the results of textual criticism in its application to MSS., Versions and Fathers. It was felt that a text more in accordance with the present state of our knowledge was desirable. On the other hand the Syndics were unable to adopt one of the more recent critical texts, and they were not disposed to make themselves responsible for the preparation of an entirely new and independent text: at the same time it would have been obviously impossible to leave it to the judgment of each individual contributor to frame his own text, as this would have been fatal to anything like uniformity or consistency. They believed however that a good text might be constructed by simply taking the consent of the two most recent critical editions, those of Tischendorf and Tregelles, as a basis. The same principle of consent could be applied to places where the two critical editions were at variance, by allowing a determining voice to the text of Stephens where it agreed with either of their readings, and to a third critical text, that of Lachmann, where the text of Stephens differed from both. In this manner readings peculiar to one or other of the two editions would be passed over as not being supported by sufficient critical consent; while readings having the double authority would be treated as possessing an adequate title to confidence.

A few words will suffice to explain the manner in which this design has been carried out.

In the Acts, the Epistles, and the Revelation, wherever the texts of Tischendorf and Tregelles agree, their joint readings are followed without any deviation. Where they differ from each other, but neither of them agrees with the text of Stephens as printed in Dr Scrivener’s edition, the consensus of Lachmann with either is taken in preference to the text of Stephens. In all other cases the text of Stephens as represented in Dr Scrivener’s edition has been followed.

In the Gospels, a single modification of this plan has been rendered necessary by the importance of the Sinai MS. (א), which was discovered too late to be used by Tregelles except in the last chapter of St John’s Gospel and in the following books. Accordingly, if a reading which Tregelles has put in his margin agrees with א, it is considered as of the same authority as a reading which he has adopted in his text; and if any words which Tregelles has bracketed are omitted by א, these words are here dealt with as if rejected from his text.

In order to secure uniformity, the spelling and the accentuation of Tischendorf have been adopted where he differs from other Editors. His practice has likewise been followed as regards the insertion or omission of Iota subscript in infinitives (as ζῆν, ἐπιτιμᾶν), and adverbs (as κρυφῆ, λάθρα), and the mode of printing such composite forms as διαπαντός, διατί, τουτέστι, and the like.

The punctuation of Tischendorf in his eighth edition has usually been adopted: where it is departed from, the deviation, together with the reasons that have led to it, will be found mentioned in the Notes. Quotations are indicated by a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence. Where a whole verse is omitted, its omission is noted in the margin (e.g. Matthew 17:21; Matthew 23:12).

The text is printed in paragraphs corresponding to those of the English Edition.

Although it was necessary that the text of all the portions of the New Testament should be uniformly constructed in accordance with these general rules, each editor has been left at perfect liberty to express his preference for other readings in the Notes.

It is hoped that a text formed on these principles will fairly represent the results of modern criticism, and will at least be accepted as preferable to “the Received Text” for use in Schools.



20 April, 1881.


THE old line,

Quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando?

Who? what? where? with what helps? why? how? when?

has sometimes been quoted as summing up the topics which are most necessary by way of “introduction” to the sacred books. The summary is not exhaustive nor exact, but we may be guided by it to some extent. We must, however, take the topics in a different order. Let us then begin with quid? and cur? What is the Epistle to the Hebrews? with what object was it written? for what readers was it designed? Of the ubi? and quando? we shall find that there is little to be said; but the answer to quomodo? “how?” will involve a brief notice of the style and theology of the Epistle, and we may then finally consider the question quis? who was the writer?



IT has been sometimes said that the Epistle to the Hebrews is rather a treatise than an Epistle. The author is silent as to his own name; he begins with no greeting; he sends no special messages or salutations to individuals. His aim is to furnish an elaborate argument in favour of one definite thesis though varied by many side-lights of illustration; and he describes what he has written as “a word of exhortation” (Hebrews 13:22). Nevertheless it is clear that we must regard his work as an Epistle. It was evidently intended for a definite circle of readers to whom the author was personally known. The messages and the appeals, though not addressed to single persons, are addressed to the members of a single community, and the tone of many hortatory passages, as well as the definiteness of the remarks in the last chapter, shew that we are not dealing with a cyclical document, but with one of the missives despatched by some honoured teacher to some special Church. It was the custom of the scattered Jewish synagogues to keep up a friendly intercourse with each other by an occasional interchange of letters sent as opportunity might serve. These letters are still addressed to Jewish communities, both by individuals, and by bodies of their coreligionists; and from the days of St Paul down to those of Benjamin of Tudela, and from his time down to that of Dr Frankl and Sir Moses Montefiore, they have always been conveyed by duly accredited messengers. This custom was naturally continued among the Christian Churches, of which so many had gathered round a nucleus of Gentile proselytes or Jewish converts. If the letter was of a weighty character, it was read in the public assemblies, and preserved among the archives of the Church to which it had been addressed. It is certain that thousands of such documents have perished, owing to the frail materials on which they were written, their small size, and the numberless perils and violences to which they have been exposed. The fact that this and the other Christian Epistles which are included in the Canon have defied the ravages of time and the accidents of change, is due to their own surpassing importance, and to the overruling Providence of God.

The Epistle to the Hebrews is one of many letters which must have been despatched to the various Christian communities in the first century. Passing over for the present the question of the particular Church to whose members it was addressed, we see at once that the superscription “to the Hebrews”—whether it came from the hand of the writer or not—correctly describes the class of Christians by whom the whole argument was specially needed. The word “Hebrews,” like the word “Greeks,” was used in different senses. In its wider sense it included all who were of the seed of Abraham (2 Corinthians 11:22), the whole Jewish race alike in Palestine and throughout the vast area of the Dispersion (Philippians 3:5). But in its narrower sense it meant those Jews only who still used the vernacular Aramaic, which went by the name of “Hebrew,” though the genuine Hebrew in which the Old Testament was written had for some time been a dead language. In a still narrower sense the designation “Hebrews” was confined to the inhabitants of Judæa. The letter itself sufficiently shews that the Hebrews, to whom it is addressed, were Jewish converts to Christianity[2]. Although the writer had adopted many of the views of St Paul, and makes use of some of his phrases, and accords with him in his general tone of thought, especially as regards the relation of the Gospel to the Law, yet throughout this Epistle he ignores the very existence of the Gentiles to an extent which would have been hardly possible in any work of “the Apostle of the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6; Galatians 2:7; Galatians 2:9; 2 Timothy 1:11), and least of all when he was handling one of his own great topics—the contrast between Judaism and Christianity. The word Gentiles (ἔθνη) does not once occur, nor are the Gentiles in any way alluded to. The writer constantly uses the expression “ὁ λαός” (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:9; Hebrews 5:3; Hebrews 7:5; Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 9:7; Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 10:30; Hebrews 11:25; Hebrews 13:12), but in every instance he means “the chosen people,” nor does he give the slightest indication that he is thinking of any nation but the Jews. We do not for a moment imagine that he doubted the call of the Gentiles. The whole tendency of his arguments, the Pauline character of many of his thoughts and expressions, even the fundamental theme of his Epistle, that Judaism as such—Judaism in all its distinctive worship and legislation—was abrogated, are sufficient to shew that he would have held with St Paul that “all are not Israel who are of Israel,” and that “they who are of the faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham.” But while he undoubtedly held these truths,—for otherwise he could not have been a Christian at all, and still less a Pauline Christian,—his mind is not so full of them as was the mind of St Paul. It is inconceivable that St Paul, who regarded it as his own special Gospel to proclaim to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:4-8), should have written a long Epistle in which the Gentiles do not once seem to cross the horizon of his thoughts; and this would have been peculiarly impossible in a letter addressed “to the Hebrews.” The Jews regarded St Paul with a fury of hatred and suspicion which we find faintly reflected in his Epistles and in the Acts (Acts 21:21; 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Corinthians 11:24; Philippians 3:2). Even the Jewish Christians looked on the most characteristic part of his teaching with a jealousy and alarm which found frequent expression both in words and deeds. It would have been something like unfaithfulness in St Paul, it would have been an unworthy suppression of his intensest convictions, to write to any exclusively “Hebrew” community without so much as distantly alluding to that phase of the Gospel which it had been his special mission to set forth (Galatians 1:11; Galatians 2:2; Romans 2:16, &c.). The case with the writer of this Epistle is very different. He was not only a Jewish Christian, but a Jewish Christian of the Alexandrian school. We shall again and again have occasion to see that he had been deeply influenced by the thoughts of Philo. Now Philo, liberal as were his philosophical views, was a thoroughly faithful Jew. He never for a moment forgot his nationality. He was so completely entangled in Jewish particularism that he shews no capacity for understanding the universal prophecies of the Old Testament. His LOGOS, or WORD, so far as he assumes any personal distinctness, is essentially and preeminently a Jewish deliverer. Judaism formed for Philo the nearer horizon beyond which he hardly cared to look. Similarly in this Epistle the writer is so exclusively occupied by the relations of the Levitic ritual to Christianity, that he does not even glance aside to examine any other point of difference between the New Covenant and the Old. What he sees in Christianity is simply a perfected Judaism. Mankind is to him the יָשָׁר, the ideal Hebrew. Even when he speaks of the Incarnation he speaks of it as “a taking hold” not “of humanity” but “of the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16).

In this Epistle then he is writing to Jewish Christians, and he deals exclusively with the topics which were most needful for the particular body of Jewish Christians which he had in view. All that we know of their circumstances is derived from the contents of the letter. They, like the writer himself, had been converted by the preaching of Apostles, ratified “by signs, and portents, and various powers, and distributions of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 2:3-4). But some time had elapsed since their conversion (Hebrews 5:12). Some of their original teachers and leaders were already dead (Hebrews 13:7). They had meanwhile been subjected to persecutions, severe indeed (Hebrews 10:32-34), but not so severe as to have involved martyrdom (Hebrews 12:4). But the afflictions to which they had been subjected, together with the delay of the Lord’s Coming (Hebrews 10:36-37), had caused a relaxation of their efforts (Hebrews 12:12), a sluggishness in their spiritual intelligence (Hebrews 6:12), a dimming of the brightness of their early faith (Hebrews 10:32), a tendency to listen to new doctrines (Hebrews 13:9; Hebrews 13:17), a neglect of common worship (Hebrews 10:25), and a tone of spurious independence towards their teachers (Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:24), which were evidently creating the peril of apostasy. Like their ancestors of old, the Hebrew Christians were beginning to find that the pure spiritual manna palled upon their taste. In their painful journey through the wilderness of life they were beginning to yearn for the pomp and boast and ease of Jewish externalism, just as their fathers had hankered after the melons and fleshpots of their Egyptian servitude. They were casting backward glances of regret towards the doomed city which they had left (Hebrews 13:12). That the danger was imminent is clear from the awful solemnity of the appeals which again and again the writer addresses to them (Hebrews 2:1-4; Hebrews 3:7-19; Hebrews 6:4-12; Hebrews 10:26-31; Hebrews 12:15-17), and which, although they are usually placed in juxtaposition to words of hope and encouragement (Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 10:39; Hebrews 12:18-24; &c.), must yet be reckoned among the sternest passages to be found in the whole New Testament.

A closer examination of the Epistle may lead us to infer that this danger of apostasy—of gradually dragging their anchor and drifting away from the rock of Christ (Hebrews 2:1)—arose from two sources; namely—[1] the influence of some one prominent member of the community whose tendency to abandon the Christian covenant (Hebrews 3:12) was due to unbelief, and whose unbelief had led to flagrant immorality (Hebrews 12:15-16); and [2] from the temptation to listen to the boastful commemoration of the glories and privileges of Judaism, and to recoil before the taunt that Christians were traitors and renegades, who without any compensatory advantage had forfeited all right to participate in the benefits of the Levitic system and its atoning sacrifices (Hebrews 13:10, &c.).

In the communities of Jewish Christians there must have been many whose faith and zeal—not kindled by hope, not supported by patience, not leavened with absolute sincerity, not maintained by a progressive sanctification—tended to wax dim and cold. They were disappointed at the delay of Christ’s coming, and at the frustration of all their glowing temporal hopes. They had failed to see the necessity of suffering as an element necessary for the final glorification (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:9). And if such men chanced to meet some unconverted Jew, burning with all the patriotism of a zealot, and inflated with all the arrogance of a Pharisee, they would be liable to be shaken by the appeals and arguments of such a fellow-countryman. He would have asked them how they dared to emancipate themselves from a law spoken by Angels? (Hebrews 2:2; Galatians 3:19). He would have reminded them of the heroic grandeur of Moses; of the priestly dignity of Aaron; of the splendour and significance of the Temple Service; of the disgrace incurred by ceremonial pollution; of the antiquity and revealed efficacy of the Sacrifices; of the right to partake of the sacred offerings; above all, of the grandeur and solemnity of the Great Day of Atonement. He would dwell much on the glorious ritual when the High Priest passed into the immediate presence of God in the Holiest Place, or when “he put on the robe of honour and was clothed with the perfection of glory, when he went up to the holy altar, and made the garment of holiness honourable,” and “the sons of Aaron shouted, and sounded the silver trumpets, and made a great noise to be heard for a remembrance before the Most High” (Sirach 50:5-16). He would have asked them how they could bear to turn their backs on the splendid history and the splendid hopes of their nation. He would have poured scorn upon them for leaving the inspired wisdom of Moses and the venerable legislation of Sinai for the teaching of a poor crucified Nazarene, whom all the Priests and Rulers and Rabbis had rejected. He would have contrasted the glorious Deliverer who should break in pieces the nations like a potter’s vessel with the despised, and crucified, and “accursed” Sufferer—for had not Moses said “Cursed of God is every one who hangeth on a tree”? (Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23)—whom they had been so infatuated as to accept for the Promised Messiah, and whose promises such a Jewish scoffer would have put upon a par with the exploded allurements of a Judas or a Theudas.

We know that St Paul was charged—charged even by Christians who had been converted from Judaism—with “apostasy from Moses” (Acts 21:21). So deep indeed was this feeling that, according to Eusebius, the Ebionites rejected all his Epistles on the ground that he was “an apostate from the Law.” Such taunts could not move St Paul, but they would be deeply and keenly felt by wavering converts exposed to the fierce flame of Jewish hatred and persecution at an epoch when there arose among their countrymen throughout the world a recrudescence of Messianic excitement and rebellious zeal. The object of this Epistle was to shew that what the Jews called “apostasy from Moses” was demanded by faithfulness to Christ, and that apostasy from Christ to Moses was not only an inexcusable blindness but an all-but-unpardonable crime.

If such were the dangerous influences to which the Hebrew community here addressed was exposed, it would be impossible to imagine any better method of removing their perplexities, and dissipating the mirage of false argument by which they were being deceived, than that adopted by the writer of this Epistle. It was his object to demonstrate once for all the inferiority of Judaism to Christianity; but although that theme had already been handled with consummate power by the Apostle of the Gentiles, alike [1] the arguments and [2] the method of this Epistle differ from those adopted in St Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans.

[1] The arguments of the Epistle are different. In the Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans St Paul, with the sledgehammer force of his direct and impassioned dialectics, had shattered all possibility of trusting in legal prescriptions, and demonstrated that the Law was no longer obligatory upon Gentiles. He had shewn that the distinction between clean and unclean meats was to the enlightened conscience a matter of indifference; that circumcision was now nothing better than a physical mutilation; that the Levitic system was composed of ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχὰ στοιχεῖα (Galatians 4:9); that ceremonialism was a yoke with which the free converted Gentile had nothing to do; that we are saved by faith and not by works; that the Law was a dispensation of wrath and menace, introduced τῶν παραβάσεων χάριν (Galatians 3:19; Romans 5:20); that so far from being (as all the Rabbis asserted) the one thing on account of which the Universe had been created, the Mosaic Code only possessed a transitory, subordinate, and intermediate character, coming in (as it were in a secondary way) between the Promise to Abraham and the fulfilment of that promise in the Gospel of Christ. To St Paul therefore the whole treatment of the question was necessarily and essentially polemical; and in the course of these polemics he had again and again used expressions which, however unavoidable and salutary, could not fail to be otherwise than deeply wounding to the inflamed susceptibilities of the Jews at that epoch. There was scarcely an expression which he had applied to the observance of the Mosaic law which would not sound, to a Jewish ear, depreciative or even contemptuous. No Jew who had rejected the Lord of Glory, and wilfully closed his reason against the force of conviction, would have been able to read those Epistles of St Paul without something like a transport of fury and indignation. They would declare that pushed to their logical consequences, such views could only lead (as in fact, when extravagantly perverted, they did lead) to Antinomian Gnosticism. It was, indeed, the reaction against Pauline freedom which tended to confirm Jewish Christians in those Ebionite tendencies which found expression a century later in the Pseudo-Clementine writings. Those writings still breathe a spirit of bitter hatred against St Paul, and are “the literary memorial of a manoeuvre which had for its aim the absorption of the Roman Church into Judaeo-Christianity[3].”

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