Introduction to the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews
Why study Hebrews?
All followers of Jesus Christ will experience trials of their faith, and they may at times wonder if they should abandon their faith. The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to encourage a group of Christians to keep believing and not to return to their former ways. Hebrews also shows the significance of many symbols found in the law of Moses and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. For this reason, the book of Hebrews is an excellent scriptural guide to understanding Old Testament teachings and practices. While the scriptures are replete with references to Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice, His Resurrection, and His Ascension into heaven, Hebrews emphasizes the ongoing work of the Redeemer in the lives of all who turn to Him in obedience and faith.
Who wrote Hebrews?
In some of his sermons and writings, the Prophet Joseph Smith attributed statements from Hebrews to the Apostle Paul (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 104–5; History of the Church, 2:16–17; 4:209). A Christian tradition dating to the second century A.D. holds that Paul was the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the fourth century A.D. Jerome added Paul’s name to the title of Hebrews in his Latin translation of the Bible.
Most Latter-day Saints accept Paul as the author of Hebrews; however, some scholars have questioned the tradition of Paul’s authorship, noting that unlike other epistles, Hebrews does not name its author in the book itself. The earliest manuscripts give the title of the book as simply “To the Hebrews.” Because early Christians were uncertain about the authorship of Hebrews, it became customary to place Hebrews after Paul’s epistles in the order of New Testament books. Moreover, the style, language, and ideas of Hebrews are different from Paul’s other epistles. For the purposes of this manual, we accept Paul as the author.
When and where was Hebrews written?
Since the book of Hebrews makes no mention of the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem, which occurred in A.D. 70, and it always refers to the temple in the present tense, we assume that this letter was written before that time, perhaps between A.D. 65 and 68. The location where Hebrews was written is unknown. A partial clue might be found in the phrase, “They of Italy salute you” (Hebrews 13:24). This may mean that Paul was in Italy, sending greetings from his Italian acquaintances, or that he was in some other portion of the empire, sending greetings to Italy from Italian acquaintances.
To whom was Hebrews written and why?
Because the Epistle to the Hebrews draws heavily on Old Testament themes and practices, it is likely that the intended audience was Jewish (Hebrew) Christians. These converts apparently wrestled with several questions: If we accept that the rituals of the law of Moses are not required of Gentile Christians, what is the true value of the Old Testament? If the gospel of Jesus Christ is the right way, why are we being persecuted so much for being His followers? If Jesus was the Messiah, why is Israel still in bondage to the Romans?
Under the pressure of various afflictions, many of these Jewish Christians were withdrawing from the Church and returning to the relative safety of Jewish worship at the synagogue (see Hebrews 10:25, 38–39). One reason that the book of Hebrews was written was to encourage Jewish converts to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and not revert to their former way of life (see Hebrews 10:32–38). The book’s structure can be seen as three main sections of teachings that build to a concluding exhortation: (1) the preeminence of Jesus Christ as the Son of God (see Hebrews 1:1–4:13); (2) the superiority of Christ’s priesthood (see Hebrews 4:14–7:28); and (3) the superiority of His atoning sacrifice and ministry (see Hebrews 8:1–10:18). They all build to an exhortation to endure in faith (see Hebrews 10:19–13:25).
What are some distinctive features of Hebrews?
Rather than being strictly an epistle, Hebrews is more of a homily—an extended sermon that makes its points by repeated appeals to Israel’s scriptures and practices. It is the longest sermon in scripture on why and how Jesus Christ is superior to all things. Hebrews teaches that Jesus Christ is greater than the law because He gave the law, that the prophets received power through faith in Him, that He was the great High Priest in whom the sacrifices of Old Testament times were fulfilled, and that He has precedence over the angels.
The book of Hebrews is one of the few places in the Bible where we can read about the prophet Melchizedek (see Hebrews 5). Hebrews teaches that the priesthood named after Melchizedek is greater than the Aaronic Priesthood, and it shows that salvation is found not in the law of Moses or in the ordinances administered by Levitical priests but in Jesus Christ and the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood. For example, the high priest of old entered the tabernacle and offered the blood of a lamb as a sacrifice for Israel’s sins. Jesus Christ, the greatest High Priest and the true Lamb of God, offered His own blood to atone for sin, entered the heavenly sanctuary, and thereby made possible the salvation of all mankind. Hebrews accentuates this greater excellence of Christ’s sacrifice: it is through His atoning sacrifice that we may receive a remission of sins. Hebrews 11:1–12:4 provides a distinct discourse on faith and teaches how individuals can trust in Jesus Christ.
Introduction and Timeline for Hebrews 1–6
Hebrews 1:2–3 states that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, the “heir of all things.” He is the Creator of “the worlds” and is seated at the right hand of God. This introduces a major theme that runs throughout the book of Hebrews—the preeminence of Jesus Christ. Paul taught the Hebrew Saints that because of the Savior’s preeminence, it was important for Church members to give heed to His word over the word of angels or prophets, including Moses (see Hebrews 1:4; 2:1–3; 3:3). The Savior’s preeminence includes His ability to “succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18) because He was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15). With that knowledge of the perfect empathy that Jesus Christ gained through the Atonement and His preeminent position in our Father’s kingdom, Paul exhorted, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The Epistle to the Hebrews encourages followers of Jesus Christ not to repeat the mistake of the first generation of Israelites during the Exodus, who could not enter into the promised land because their unbelief and sin had hardened their hearts (see Hebrews 3–4).
The Epistle to the Hebrews was likely written before A.D. 68.
Commentary for Hebrews 1–6
Hebrews 1:1–4. The Preeminence of Jesus Christ
The epistle’s Jewish-Christian audience was struggling with whether to return to their former Jewish ways. Therefore, it was important for them to hear testimony that Jesus Christ is “better than the angels” because He is the Son of God, the “heir of all things,” and the Creator of the worlds (see Hebrews 1:1–4).
Hebrews 1:1–2. Jesus Christ Created Worlds under the Direction of His Father
Hebrews 1:3. Jesus Christ Is in the Express Image of His Father
The term “express image” (Hebrews 1:3) comes from the Greek word charaktēr, which refers to a representation or reproduction of something else, such as the impression a signet ring leaves on soft wax. This phrase in Hebrews 1:3 indicates that Jesus Christ is a representation of Heavenly Father and shares His divine character. In like manner, the Doctrine and Covenants indicates that Seth was “the express likeness” of his father, Adam (D&C 107:43).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that Jesus being in the express image of His Father is a witness to both the ancient and modern world of what God the Father is like:
“Of course the centuries-long drift away from belief in such a perfect and caring Father hasn’t been helped any by the man-made creeds of erring generations which describe God variously as unknown and unknowable—formless, passionless, elusive, ethereal, simultaneously everywhere and nowhere at all. Certainly that does not describe the Being we behold through the eyes of these prophets. Nor does it match the living, breathing, embodied Jesus of Nazareth who was and is in ‘the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his [Father]’ [Hebrews 1:3; see also 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15].
“In that sense Jesus did not come to improve God’s view of man nearly so much as He came to improve man’s view of God” (“The Grandeur of God,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2003, 72). For additional prophetic statements about how Jesus Christ came to help mankind understand His Father, see the commentary for John 14:7–11; 16:25.
Hebrews 1:5–13; 2:6–8. Quotations from the Old Testament
Several verses in Hebrews teach the importance of Jesus Christ in God’s plan by drawing upon the following Old Testament references: Psalm 2:7 (see Hebrews 1:5); Psalm 8:4–6 (see Hebrews 2:6–8); Psalm 45:6–7 (see Hebrews 1:8–9); Psalm 102:25–27 (see Hebrews 1:10–12); Psalm 104:4 (see Hebrews 1:7); and Psalm 110:1 (see Hebrews 1:13). Using Old Testament quotations in this epistle to Jewish Christians would have added authority to its reasoning and doctrinal teachings.
Hebrews 1:6, 14. “All the Angels of God Worship Him”
The angels of God who worship Jesus Christ are spirit children of our Heavenly Father. Joseph Smith Translation, Hebrews 1:7 indicates that “angels are ministering spirits” (in Hebrews 1:6, footnote b). Hebrews 1:14 teaches that in our Father’s plan one of the purposes of these angels, or ministering spirits, is to minister to His children on the earth (see also Moroni 7:29–31). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated: “I believe we need to speak of and believe in and bear testimony to the ministry of angels more than we sometimes do. They constitute one of God’s great methods of witnessing through the veil” (“A Standard unto My People” [address delivered at the Church Educational System Symposium on the Book of Mormon, Aug. 9, 1994], 11; si.lds.org).
Bruce C. Hafen, who later became a member of the Seventy, pointed out that angelic ministrations can be either seen or unseen:
“Some of these personal visits were dramatic and powerful. Think of the angels who ministered to the Nephite children in the account of 3 Nephi 17, or the angel who chastised Alma and Mosiah’s sons in answer to a father’s prayer. (See Mosiah 27.)
“Other personal manifestations have been so quiet that those who received them were unaware of the angelic presence. The ministry of these unseen angels is among the most sublime forms of interaction between heaven and earth, powerfully expressing God’s concern for us and bestowing tangible assurance and spiritual sustenance upon those in great need” (“When Do the Angels Come?” Ensign, Apr. 1992, 12).
Hebrews 2:6–9. “A Little Lower than the Angels”
Paul drew upon a messianic prophecy from Psalm 8:4–6 when he stated in Hebrews 2:9 that Jesus “was made a little lower than the angels.” Christ condescended from His premortal throne and came to earth so that He could experience mortality with its physical restrictions (see also Philippians 2:7–9; 1 Nephi 11:16, 26–32).
Hebrews 2:10, 14–18. “He Is Able to Succour Them That Are Tempted” (see also Hebrews 4:15–16)
These verses in Hebrews 2 explain that because Jesus Christ lived as a mortal and experienced the trials and temptations of mortality, He is able to help us as we face our own trials and temptations. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland described why Jesus is able to succor those who are tempted:
“When Christ bids [us] to yield, to submit, to obey the Father, He knows how to help us do that. He has walked that way, asking [us] to do what He has done. He has made it safer. He has made it very much easier for [our] travel. … He knows where the sharp stones and the stumbling blocks lie and where the thorns and the thistles are the most severe. He knows where the path is perilous, and He knows which way to go when the road forks and nightfall comes. He knows this because He has suffered ‘pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind … that he may know … how to succor his people according to their infirmities’ (Alma 7:11–12). To succor means ‘to run to.’ … Christ will run to [us], and is running even now, if [we] will but receive the extended arm of His mercy.
“To those who stagger or stumble, He is there to steady and strengthen us. In the end He is there to save us, and for all this He gave His life. However dim our days … may seem, they have been a lot darker for the Savior of the world” (“Therefore, What?” [Church Educational System Conference on the New Testament, Aug. 8, 2000], 9; si.lds.org).
On another occasion, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland wrote of Christ’s compassion and ability to help us: “Christ walked the path every mortal is called to walk so that he would know how to succor and strengthen us in our most difficult times. He knows the deepest and most personal burdens we carry. He knows the most public and poignant pains we bear. He descended below all such grief in order that he might lift us above it. There is no anguish or sorrow or sadness in life that he has not suffered in our behalf and borne away upon his own valiant and compassionate shoulders” (Christ and the New Covenant , 223–24).
Hebrews 2:16. “The Seed of Abraham”
“The seed of Abraham” refers not only to literal blood-lineage descendants of Abraham but also to all those who enter the gospel covenant (Hebrews 2:16). Those who are wholly of Gentile lineage, when they are converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and are baptized, are adopted into the lineage of Abraham (see Galatians 3:7, 29; 2 Nephi 30:2; Abraham 2:10). Doctrine and Covenants 132:31–32 explains that the promises made to Abraham extend to his seed today.
Hebrews 2:17; 3:1. Jesus Christ as the Great High Priest
Hebrews 3:1–6. Jesus Christ Is Greater than Moses
For the Jews, Moses was the most highly revered prophet, the one who received God’s law at Sinai. The Jewish Christians being addressed in Hebrews were contemplating abandoning their faith in Christ and returning to Judaism in an attempt to remain loyal to the law of Moses. They did not understand (or believe deeply enough) that Christ was preeminent to Moses. Having shown in Hebrews 1–2 that Jesus Christ is greater than the angels, Paul next explained that as “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession,” Jesus is greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:1).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pointed out one reason that Christ was “counted worthy of more glory than Moses” (Hebrews 3:3): “Christ is the chief minister of salvation for men on earth, in that through his atoning sacrifice salvation itself comes” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 3:147). Hebrews 3:3–6 teaches further about Jesus Christ’s superiority to Moses, stating that Moses was a servant in God’s house, but Christ built and rules over the house as God’s Son.
Hebrews 3:7–15. The Importance of Hearing Christ’s Voice Today
Quoting from Psalm 95:7–11, Paul encouraged the Saints in Hebrews 3:7–15 to act in faith immediately (“to day”) by listening to the Lord’s voice, by exhorting one another, by avoiding unbelief and sin, and by not being hard in heart. Becoming hardened and unable to enter the Lord’s rest stems from disobeying the Lord.
Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy spoke of the danger of procrastinating spiritual matters: “Many of us place ourselves in circumstances far more consequential than embarrassment because of our procrastination to become fully converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We know what is right, but we delay full spiritual involvement because of laziness, fear, rationalization, or lack of faith. We convince ourselves that ‘someday I’m going to do it.’ However, for many ‘someday’ never comes, and even for others who eventually do make a change, there is an irretrievable loss of progress and surely regression” (“Do It Now,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2007, 49–50).
Hebrews 3:8–17; 4:1–11. Entering into God’s Rest
The people of ancient Israel provoked the Lord to anger and were therefore not allowed to enter into the Lord’s rest, which was symbolically represented by the land of Canaan (see Exodus 19:3–25; 20:18–21; Numbers 14; Jacob 1:7–8; Alma 12:33–37; 13:6, 12–13, 28–29).
Photograph by Richard L. W. Cleave
In latter-day revelation, the Lord defined His rest as “the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84:24; see also verse 23). President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) taught that there is also a sense in which we might enter the Lord’s rest while in mortality: “The ancient prophets speak of ‘entering into God’s rest’; what does it mean? To my mind, it means entering into the knowledge and love of God, having faith in his purpose and in his plan, to such an extent that we know we are right, and that we are not hunting for something else, we are not disturbed by every wind of doctrine, or by the cunning and craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive. … The man who has reached that degree of faith in God that all doubt and fear have been cast from him, he has entered into ‘God’s rest.’ … I pray that we may all enter into God’s rest—rest from doubt, from fear, from apprehension of danger, rest from the religious turmoil of the world” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 58).
Hebrews 4:2–3. Combining the Word of God with Faith
One reason the first generation of Israelites in the wilderness failed to enter the promised land is that they “hardened their hearts” (D&C 84:24). The Joseph Smith Translation of Hebrews 4:3 highlights what will happen if we do not harden our hearts: “If they harden their hearts they shall not enter into my rest; also, I have sworn, If they will not harden their hearts, they shall enter into my rest” (in the Bible appendix). Another reason they failed to enter the promised land was that they failed to combine hearing the word with faith; they did not live the teachings. Brother A. Roger Merrill, while serving as general president of the Sunday School, explained one process that might describe what it means to join the word of God with faith:
“In our Church meetings, in our personal and family scripture study, and even … as we listen to the Lord’s prophets and apostles, some of us will receive more than others. Why? I am learning that those who truly receive do at least three things that others may not do.
“First, they seek. We live in an entertainment world, a spectator world. Without realizing it, we can find ourselves coming to conference or going to church with the attitude, ‘Here I am; now inspire me.’ We become spiritually passive.
“When we focus instead on seeking and receiving the Spirit, we become less concerned about a teacher or speaker holding our attention and more concerned about giving our attention to the Spirit. Remember, receive is a verb. It is a principle of action. It is a fundamental expression of faith.
“Second, those who receive, feel. While revelation comes to the mind and heart, it is most often felt. Until we learn to pay attention to these spiritual feelings, we usually do not even recognize the Spirit. …
“Third, those who receive by the Spirit intend to act. As the prophet Moroni instructed, to receive a witness of the Book of Mormon, we must ask ‘with real intent’ (Moroni 10:4). The Spirit teaches when we honestly intend to do something about what we learn” (“Receiving by the Spirit,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 93–94).
Hebrews 4:15. Jesus Christ Was “in All Points Tempted Like As We Are, Yet without Sin”
We learn in Hebrews 4:15 that even though Jesus Christ is the Son of God, He was not shielded from the temptations of Satan (see also Mosiah 15:5; D&C 20:22). Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught concerning the Savior’s mortal experiences: “There is no physical pain, no anguish of soul, no suffering of spirit, no infirmity or weakness that you or I ever experience during our mortal journey that the Savior did not experience first. You and I in a moment of weakness may cry out, ‘No one understands. No one knows.’ No human being, perhaps, knows. But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He felt and bore our burdens before we ever did. And because He paid the ultimate price and bore that burden, He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy in so many phases of our life. He can reach out, touch, and succor—literally run to us—and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do through relying only upon our own power” (“In the Strength of the Lord” [Brigham Young University devotional, Oct. 23, 2001], 7–8; speeches.byu.edu).
President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) taught, “It is important to remember that Jesus was capable of sinning, that he could have succumbed, that the plan of life and salvation could have been foiled, but that he remained true. Had there been no possibility of his yielding to the enticement of Satan, there would have been no real test, no genuine victory in the result. If he had been stripped of the faculty to sin, he would have been stripped of his very agency. It was he who had come to safeguard and ensure the agency of man. He had to retain the capacity and ability to sin had he willed so to do. As Paul wrote, ‘Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered’ (Heb. 5:8); and he ‘was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb. 4:15). He was perfect and sinless, not because he had to be, but rather because he clearly and determinedly wanted to be” (“The Temptations of Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 19). To read more about the Savior living a sinless life, see the commentary for Hebrews 7:26.
Hebrews 4:15–16. The Savior Knows Our Infirmities and Can Help in Time of Need
While serving in the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Merrill J. Bateman taught that the Atonement was an intimate, personal experience through which Jesus Christ came to know perfectly how to help each of us:
“For many years I thought of the Savior’s experience in the garden and on the cross as places where a large mass of sin was heaped upon Him. Through the words of Alma, Abinadi, Isaiah, and other prophets, however, my view has changed. Instead of an impersonal mass of sin, there was a long line of people, as Jesus felt ‘our infirmities’ (Hebrews 4:15), ‘[bore] our griefs, … carried our sorrows … [and] was bruised for our iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:4–5). …
“The Pearl of Great Price teaches that Moses was shown all the inhabitants of the earth, which were ‘numberless as the sand upon the sea shore’ (Moses 1:28). If Moses beheld every soul, then it seems reasonable that the Creator of the universe has the power to become intimately acquainted with each of us. He learned about your weaknesses and mine. He experienced your pains and sufferings. He experienced mine. I testify that He knows us. He understands the way in which we deal with temptations. He knows our weaknesses. But more than that, more than just knowing us, He knows how to help us if we come to Him in faith” (“A Pattern for All,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2005, 75–76).
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles concluded that “we can turn to Him … because He understands. He understands the struggle, and He also understands how to win the struggle. …
“Most importantly, we may look to Jesus to help restore the inner unity of our soul when we have succumbed to sin and destroyed our peace” (“That They May Be One in Us,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 71).
Hebrews 4:16. “Let Us Therefore Come Boldly unto the Throne of Grace”
In many ancient cultures, to approach a king’s throne uninvited was to risk one’s life, but at the king’s invitation, one could approach and speak with assurance. To approach God “boldly” means having confidence that God wants us to approach His throne and that we will receive His help. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained, “It is pleasing to that God whose we are when we fast and pray and seek his blessings; when we plead with all the energy of our souls for those things we so much desire; when, as Paul says, we ‘come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.’ (Heb. 4:16.)” (“Patterns of Prayer,” Ensign, May 1984, 32).
Hebrews 5:1–6, 10. “Called of God, as Was Aaron”
In Hebrews 5:4–6, 10, Paul noted that Jesus received His authority from God the Father, just as Aaron and other ancient high priests were called of God and received their priesthood by proper authority, rather than taking the honor of the calling upon themselves. Articles of Faith 1:5 states: “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) taught: “We believe that no man can administer salvation through the gospel, to the souls of men, in the name of Jesus Christ, except he is authorized from God, by revelation, or by being ordained by some one whom God hath sent by revelation. … Hebrews 5:4 [states], ‘And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.’—And I would ask, how was Aaron called, but by revelation?” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 110; see also D&C 42:11).
Aaron was called of God by revelation to serve as the high priest, who represented the people before God in sacred matters and presided over other priesthood holders (the Levites). His calling came from God through a revelation to Moses: “And take thou thee Aaron thy brother … that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office” (Exodus 28:1). After the time of Aaron, the high priest was selected from among the priestly families descended from Aaron and his sons. In ancient Israel, the office of high priest was an office in the Aaronic Priesthood and was comparable to the office of Presiding Bishop of the Church in our day. Aaron’s sons and other Levites performed many tasks, including serving in the tabernacle, conducting the morning and evening sacrifices in the tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem temple, keeping watch over the fire of the sacred altar, and teaching the people of Israel the commandments.
Both the Old and New Testaments show that priesthood holders received the priesthood through being ordained by an authorized holder of the priesthood. This practice continues in the Church today. President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “The priesthood cannot be conferred like a diploma. It cannot be handed to you as a certificate. It cannot be delivered to you as a message or sent to you in a letter. It comes only by proper ordination. An authorized holder of the priesthood has to be there. He must place his hands upon your head and ordain you” (“The Aaronic Priesthood,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 32).
Hebrews 5:7–8. Christ Learned Obedience
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that Hebrews 5:7–8 pertains to both Jesus Christ and to Melchizedek: “[Hebrews 5,] verses 7 and 8 apply to both Melchizedek and to Christ, because Melchizedek was a prototype of Christ and that prophet’s ministry typified and foreshadowed that of our Lord in the same sense that the ministry of Moses did. (Deut. 18:15–19; Acts 3:22–23; 3 Ne. 30:23; [Joseph Smith—History] 2:40.) Thus, though the words of these verses, and particularly those in the 7th verse, had original application to Melchizedek, they apply with equal and perhaps even greater force to the life and ministry of him through whom all the promises made to Melchizedek were fulfilled” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:157).
President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency taught that Jesus Christ is the perfect example of obedience and identified a key attitude that will help us learn to be obedient: “As in all things, the Savior is our pattern. The Apostle Paul wrote, ‘Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience’ [Hebrews 5:8]. In our own finite way, we too can learn obedience even as Christ did. … When obedience becomes our goal, it is no longer an irritation; instead of a stumbling block, it becomes a building block” (“Obedience: The Path to Freedom,” Ensign, May 1999, 46–47).
Hebrews 5:8–9. Learning through Suffering
President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) taught that the Savior’s suffering prepared Him to be the “author of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:8–9) and that we are refined by the things we suffer: “There is a refining process that comes through suffering, I think, that we can’t experience any other way than by suffering. … We draw closer to Him who gave His life that man might be. We feel a kinship that we have never felt before. … He suffered more than we can ever imagine. But to the extent that we have suffered, somehow it seems to have the effect of drawing us closer to the divine, helps to purify our souls, and helps to purge out the things that are not pleasing in the sight of the Lord” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee , 207).
President Lee further taught that suffering has a necessary purpose: “A young mother went through the trying experience of having a little child who was killed in an accident, and she came and sought a blessing for comfort. She asked through her tears, ‘Must there always be pain in this life?’ I thought a few minutes and then said, ‘The Apostle Paul said of the Master, the Lord and Savior, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8.) I suppose that the answer is yes; there must always be pain in this life of travail and sorrow, and there is a purpose in it all’” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 25).
Hebrews 6:1–3. What Is Meant by “Leaving the Principles of the Doctrine of Christ”?
The Joseph Smith Translation of Hebrews 6:1 prevents a possible misconception when it states, “Therefore not leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ” (in Hebrews 6:1, footnote a). This change supports the original Greek text of the phrase, which translates as “having left behind the beginning of the doctrine.” The Saints addressed in Hebrews had already received the first principles, ordinances, and doctrines of the gospel (including faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost; see Hebrews 6:1–2). They were not to abandon those principles but were to continue growing toward spiritual maturity from that beginning point (compare 2 Nephi 31:15–21).
The Joseph Smith Translation of Hebrews 6:3 also contains a significant addition: “And we will go on unto perfection if God permit” (in the Bible appendix).
Hebrews 6:4–6. Crucifying the Son of God Afresh (see also Hebrews 10:26–31)
Hebrews 6 contains a warning to those who might abandon their faith in Jesus Christ and fall into personal apostasy. Hebrews 10:26–31 also hints at the consequences that await such actions (see also 2 Peter 2:20–21; Alma 24:30). The writer of Hebrews used the phrase “crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh” (Hebrews 6:6) to describe the actions of those who will not be forgiven because they turn from knowledge of the truth and will not repent.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: “Commission of the unpardonable sin consists in crucifying unto oneself the Son of God afresh and putting him to open shame. (Heb. 6:4–8; D. & C. 76:34–35.) To commit this unpardonable crime a man must receive the gospel, gain from the Holy Ghost by revelation the absolute knowledge of the divinity of Christ, and then deny ‘the new and everlasting covenant by which he was sanctified, calling it an unholy thing, and doing despite to the Spirit of grace.’ [History of the Church, 3:232.] He thereby commits murder by assenting unto the Lord’s death, that is, having a perfect knowledge of the truth he comes out in open rebellion and places himself in a position wherein he would have crucified Christ knowing perfectly the while that he was the Son of God. Christ is thus crucified afresh and put to open shame. (D. & C. 132:27.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:161). To read further about what is meant by the “unpardonable sin,” see the commentary for Matthew 12:31–32, 43–45.
Hebrews 6:7–8. “Thorns and Briers”
An abundance of thistles and thorns grew in the Holy Land, and they did not escape the figurative eye of Jesus and His Apostles. Thistles and thorns served only to afflict and annoy. The parable of the four kinds of soil has seeds falling among thorns, which sprang up and choked the seeds (see Matthew 13:7; Mark 4:7; Luke 8:7). Those thorns represented the cares and pleasures of this world and the “deceitfulness of riches” (see Matthew 13:22; Mark 4:18–19; Luke 8:14). Thorns do not symbolize anything good or positive in the scriptures. Rather, “that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:8).
Hebrews 6:11, 18–19. “Which Hope We Have as an Anchor of the Soul”
Paul wanted his readers to have hope.
“When we have hope, we trust God’s promises. We have a quiet assurance that if we do ‘the works of righteousness,’ we ‘shall receive [our] reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come’ (D&C 59:23). …
“The principle of hope extends into the eternities, but it also can sustain you through the everyday challenges of life” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference , 85–86).
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency drew upon numerous scripture passages to teach about hope: “Hope is a gift of the Spirit. It is a hope that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of His Resurrection, we shall be raised unto life eternal and this because of our faith in the Savior. This kind of hope is both a principle of promise as well as a commandment, and, as with all commandments, we have the responsibility to make it an active part of our lives and overcome the temptation to lose hope. Hope in our Heavenly Father’s merciful plan of happiness leads to peace, mercy, rejoicing, and gladness. The hope of salvation is like a protective helmet; it is the foundation of our faith and an anchor to our souls” (“The Infinite Power of Hope,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 21–22).
Hebrews 6:13–20. After Patiently Enduring, Abraham Obtained the Promise
Paul declared that when God made great promises to Abraham, He “sware by himself” (Hebrews 6:13). In ancient times, swearing with an oath was a formal part of the religious life of the people (see Genesis 24; Numbers 30; 1 Nephi 4:32–33).
“Veil” in Hebrews 6:19 is a reference to the veil of the temple. The high priest entered through the veil into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to symbolically cleanse Israel. In the same way, Jesus, the great High Priest, entered through the veil into heaven to prepare the way for us to return to heaven (see the commentary for Hebrews 9:1–7 and for Hebrews 9:11–15, 23–28; 10:1).
To read more about the faith of Abraham, see the commentary for Romans 4:18–22. To study about ancient prophets waiting to receive promised blessings from the Lord, see the commentary for Hebrews 11:8–16.
Hebrews 5:8 indicates that Melchizedek (and Jesus Christ) learned obedience by the things he suffered. How have the things that you have suffered taught you obedience and trust in the Lord?
Points to Ponder
In Hebrews 2:1; 4:1; and 6:1, the word “therefore” is used much in the same way that the prophet Mormon used the phrase “and thus we see” in the Book of Mormon to draw our attention to what he felt we should learn. Explain in writing what you think Paul wanted his readers to learn from what he wrote just prior to each of these verses.
Hebrews 2:10 refers to Jesus Christ as the “captain of [our] salvation.” As you study Hebrews, chapters 1–6, make a list of what is taught about Jesus Christ that qualifies Him to be the captain of our salvation.