Hebrews With A Hebrew – Part 15

Written by Neil Silverberg

July 12, 2023

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you
have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be
teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles
of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who
lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of
discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

                                                                                     Hebrews 5:11

We saw in our previous blog how the writer introduces Messiah as our high priest. This teaching on Messiah as our high priest constitutes the main portion of the epistle. It actually begins in chapter four and extends to chapter ten. We should remember why this writer fixates on this subject.  As we have seen before, the readers were possibly former priests, which would make this teaching very relevant. The temple probably still stood when the author wrote the letter. It is also possible that they were also part of the so-called Dead Sea sect, which focuses much on Messiah as a high priest. So this teaching that Messiah is our high priest was very relevant to the readers of this letter.

But the writer, in chapter five, begins to introduce them to the Messiah, who is a high priest of a higher order than Aaron (Hebrews 5:10). By quoting Psalm 110:4, he demonstrates that he is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. This is the second time he quoted this Psalm, Hebrews 5:6 records the first instance.

Suddenly, as the writer is about to introduce his theme of the Melchizedek priesthood of Jesus, he feels that he can’t go on and pursue his subject. It is not due to the fact that he himself has difficulty explaining it or that these things are difficult to grasp. Rather, discerning their condition, he judges them as not able to receive it. That’s because they have become “dull of hearing.” He likens them to those who have learned their ABCs and never used them to read. After a while, they have forgotten even the alphabet they previously learned.

The writer says that they should, by this time, have become teachers. He does not mean by this that they should be teachers in the official sense, but those who have graduated to the place where they are able to instruct others in the faith. They have instead remained infants needing milk. The word for infants the author uses is “nepios” which literally  means a child without words.’ He presents them as those who still need milk rather than solid food. Milk here is representative of the elementary principles of God’s word. “One who is so unadvanced that he needs to be introduced once more to the ABCs of the faith is no better than a child in spiritual understanding: milk is the only diet suited to his immature condition, not the solid food of sound Christian doctrine. To go on living on milk, mere baby food is indicative of arrested development, and the recipients of this letter have evidently failed to advance beyond or have relapsed into a state of spiritual infancy. Instead of being strong and well-developed, they are weaklings in the faith” (A Commentary on the Book of Hebrews, pg. 191, Philip Edgecumbe Hughes).

The author wanted to give them strong meat, the things pertaining to Jesus, beyond the first principles. Such food is only for the mature, who, by constant use, have learned for themselves what is good doctrinally and what is not. Notice that it is by applying themselves to what they have already heard and incorporating it into their lives that they will become mature.

This demonstrates that in Christianity, we either are growing or shrinking; there is no standing still. It is similar to riding a bicycle; we either move forward or stumble. These believers had their growth stunted. We can see the progression of how this happened. It first began when they did not pay careful attention to what they had originally heard (Hebrews 2:1). As they drifted from the truth, they progressively found it harder and harder to feed upon the solid food of the gospel, having become dull of hearing. That is why so many of God’s people seem unable to grow, sitting under the solid food of the Word of God. They find it necessary to return to the ABCs of the Gospel.

At this juncture, the writer explained why he couldn’t move with the teaching he had wanted to give them. But coming into chapter six, he tells them he must proceed anyway. In our next blog, we will examine the first half of chapter six, a section admittedly containing one of the most difficult passages in God’s Word. But seeing it in its proper context, we are assured it is not difficult to understand clearly.

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