Friday, March 16, 2007

Hebrews 5:8—breathtaking word on Christ's pedagogy

This may be the only verse in the Bible that, without fail, literally makes me stop and catch my breath on every reading. It is Hebrews 5:8.
καίπερ ὢν υἱός, ἔμαθεν ἀφ᾽ ὧν ἔπαθεν τὴν ὑπακοήν,
It is a marvel on so many levels. I remember the first time a friend brought it to bear on me personally. I was going through a very difficult time a couple of decades ago, with a badly broken heart. He quoted me this verse. It took my breath away then, and has ever since. Let's just consider a few of its marvels together.
  1. Doctrinally—where to begin? If one has a word from the great Spurgeon, that's usually the best place, so let's do: "God had one Son without sin, but not a single child without the rod" (CHS, Morning and Evening, 5/31 AM, though on 2 Samuel 15:23). Obviously the Son's "learning" is not like ours, teaching a contrary to a rebel. But submission was something the incarnate Logos learned, and He learned it not in a bucolic school on a lovely afternoon. He learned it through suffering.
  2. Practically—if the sinless Son learned submission thus, how could we born rebels expect to learn it less painfully? He was like us in every regard, except as to sin nature. Christ's nature did not chafe against the yoke, His heart did not most naturally rise up in rebellion against God. He did not walk according to the spirit of the age, working in the sons of disobedience. He was unlike us in all those things...and still suffering was the school in which He learned τὴν ὑπακοήν.
  3. Grammatically—there is so much. There is the anarthrous (no definite article) phrase καίπερ ὢν υἱός. It stresses not so much who He was, as what He was. Not so much that He was The Son, but that Son is what He was. He wasn't a slave, He wasn't a reconciled enemy; He was no less than Son. But Son though He was, suffering was his alma mater in the matter of submission. Then there is the assonance. Read the phrase aloud: ἔμαθεν ἀφ᾽ ὧν ἔπαθεν. What an artist this author is! Then there is what I'll un-academically call the syntactic suspense. The author does not write, ἔμαθεν τὴν ὑπακοήν ἀφ᾽ ὧν ἔπαθεν. Rather, it is ἔμαθεν ἀφ᾽ ὧν ἔπαθεν τὴν ὑπακοήν. "Son though He was, He learned from the things He suffered"— learned what? The wickedness of sin? The brokenness of the world? The rough providences of God? No. "Submission." And this is held in suspense until the last, syntactically. As if to say, "Son though He was, He learned from the things He suffered—submission!"
One parting thought, if I may. A man who didn't know a word of Greek could open up some wonderful thoughts from this verse. But do you see, everything we just reflected on lies under the surface of the English text. The best analogy I've thought of is this: a man with a great translation is like someone with a really good black and white TV. You see what's going on, you follow the story fine.

Ah, but if you really want to see things as they are, and pick up shadings and depth you might otherwise miss, you need color.

The analogy isn't exact, of course. But this text well illustrates its point.

(That said, I say again that I really hope folks are point this site out to pastors!)


Matthew Henry said...


Thanks so much for the post. I am enjoying coming here (yes I am a pastor) and seeing your work. This is great passage and you ministered to me in posting it. I had just finished praying and went to read your post. My prayer involved a confession of my lack of contentment in the midst of suffering. I had just asked the Lord to help me to remember that this world is under the dominion of sin and that I cannot look to it for my joy. I was, by God's grace, able to instead praise Him for His gracious gift of His Son, through whom all blessings, even in suffering flow. And then your post. . . .

God is good.

Pat Park said...


Thanks once again for the reminder of reason for studying the languages, but also for the reminder of the depth of this passage.


Michael said...

When I read the phrase:ἔμαθεν ἀφ' ὧν ἔπαθεν, I too was struck with the beauty of the assonance. Then I checked E. W. Bullinger's book, "Figures of Speech Used in the Bible" on page 320, and found the phrase used as the figure Paronomasia, "the repetition of words similar in sound, but not necessarily in sense". Bullinger further states, "But two things are emphasized, and our attention is called to this emphasis by the similarity of sound. Otherwise, we might read the passage, and pass it by unnoticed; but the eye or the ear is at once attracted by the similarity of sound or appearance, and our attention is thus drawn to a solemn or important statement which would otherwise have been unheeded." It's a shame the english hides this emphasis.