The Doctrine of Christ in Hebrews
From previous studies and the writing of commentaries on the epistles of Paul, (yes, Paul wrote Hebrews), one develops the habit of looking for the outline of the epistle itself within the epistle. Paul does that all the time. Perhaps it was his nature as a lawyer of the Hebrew nation. And I had the conviction that somehow Hebrews 6:1-3 would be that outline of the whole book of Hebrews. The problem was in the real meaning of leaving behind the first principles of Christ, or fundamental doctrines, then going on to more advanced doctrines. You know sort of like in college when you study first fundamentals of any subject, then pass on to the more advanced courses. Well, it turns out that the Doctrine of Christ and related fundamental doctrines are not exactly that way!
4-1: A Preliminary Look at the Subject of the Chapters in Hebrews.
As we look at each chapter before Hebrews 6:1-3, it became apparent that each was a different aspect of the Doctrine of Christ with the underlying aspects of repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection, and judgment. Look at that with me briefly.
1. The Son of God Himself purged our sins and sat down on the right hand of God. (Hebrews 1:1-14)
a. the final spokesman for God
b. the heir of God
c. the co-creator of the universe
d. the manifestation of the glory of God
e. the image of the Father
f. and the sustainer of the universe
2. Jesus, temporarily made a little lower than the angels, that by the grace of God He should taste death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9-18).
3. Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our Calling (Hebrews 3:1-4:15), in all points tempted as we are yet without sin.
4. Jesus, the high priest, Son of God and priest like Melchisedec, the author of eternal salvation (Hebrew 5:1-10).
You see what is meant: each chapter is another way of talking about the very fundamental doctrine of Christ. How although the Son of God, He was obedient to the will of God, dying on the cross for our sins; and then sitting down on the right hand of God until something.
Then when I looked again at the chapters after Hebrews 6:1-3, although I was expecting more advanced doctrine–whatever that is–I found a repetition of more fundamental doctrine on the Doctrine of Christ with the underlying principles.
1. Hebrews 7:1- 28: Jesus, a forever priest like Melchisedec, is able to save to the uttermost that come to God by Him.
2. Hebrews 8:1-5
“Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” (Hebrews 8:1,2)
3. The More Excellent Ministry of the Doctrine of Christ is the Mediator of a Better Covenant, Hebrews 8:6-9:10.
4. Christ, the high priest of things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle and by the way of His own blood obtained eternal redemption for us, Hebrews 9:11-28.
5. A fundamental doctrine of Christ: don’t put sacrifice, a shadow, in the place of the real body of Christ given for the sins of the world, Hebrews 10:1-18.
You see what I mean! Almost the whole book of Hebrews, except for perhaps the last three chapters which would fall into the typical category like Paul’s other epistles of “special instructions” for Christians is on the Foundational Doctrine of Christ. The underlying principles like judgment, repentance, faith, etc are also there and we will look at those later, after we have a more significant grasp of “doctrine of Christ” and of what Paul means when he writes in Hebrews 6:1-3 of moving on from the fundamentals. It is obvious that he did not move away from the fundamental of the Doctrine of Christ in Hebrews as he kept hitting on it in each chapter.
4-2: The “Doctrine of Christ” in the rest of the New Testament.
The “Doctrine of Christ” in those exact words or phrases is found only three times in the New Testament, here in Hebrews 6:1 and then in the second little epistle of John (2 John) where it is found twice in one verse.
“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” (II John 9)
Right away, we have no doubt from the Apostle John and the Holy Spirit that this “doctrine of Christ” is serious business: (1) It is a doctrine to be lived in or abided in; (2) a person that does not abide in this doctrine does not know God or have anything of God; and (3) to abide in the doctrine of Christ is to have both the Father and the Son.
Wow, this is all we need if we can establish what this fundamental is and still move on as Paul says in Hebrews 6:1-3 into perfection.
Let me say right here that one of the very basic principles of Bible interpretation, sometimes called hermeneutics, is to compare scripture with scripture, For example in order to understand what Paul says in Hebrews 6:1-3 with what John writes on the same subject in 2 John 9. I always enjoy it when it is a matter of comparing what the Apostle Paul wrote with what the Apostle John wrote, because there is really no evidence that the two Apostles every really met, or at least spent some time together. It is sort of like the agreement between Moses in the first of the Old Testament with the Prophet Malachi at the end of the Old Testament: it convinces you of the unity of the Bible and of the prevalent authorship of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the ultimate source of all the scriptures had to be the same!
In my research to teach and write on this “Doctrine of Christ”, let me show you exactly how this principle of Biblical interpretation worked for me. Up until this particular study, as you can tell by the reading of the last chapter, I was persuaded that according to Hebrew 6:1-3, Paul discussed those fundamental doctrines like the doctrine of Christ in the first five chapters of Hebrews and then more advanced doctrine in Hebrews 7 and following. However, we just illustrated how the fundamentals are covered over and over in almost all the chapters of Hebrews.
The key to the proper interpretation came from II John 9. The word “transgresseth” can also be translated “goeth onward” and often is so translated in other versions like the American Version.
“Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son.” (II John 9)
In order to amplify on this, let us look at some of the comments by Ross in THE NEW INTERNATIONAL COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT. As I read this very good and conservative with more contemporarily written commentary I thought of the statement by Charles Spurgeon in LECTURES TO MY STUDENTS, “Be not such a wiseacre as to think that you have nothing to learn from the past. But here is Alexander Ross, commenting on II John 9.
“The reading ‘goeth onward’ is to be preferred to ‘transgresseth (AV). John is here shooting a sharp dart at the ‘advanced’ thinkers of his day. They claimed to be the possessors of a richer fulness of truth than the common herd of believers. Moffat translates: ‘Anyone who is advanced and will not remain by the doctrine of Christ, does not possess God.’ Growth and advance there must be in the teaching of Christ, as the Spirit of Truth leads us step by step into all the fulness of its meaning and its implications, but to advance beyond the teaching of Christ is to wander about aimlessly in the misty region of unaided human speculation. To do that is to have no longer the only Real God as our God. He who abides in the teaching of Christ, as the well-loved home of his soul, has both the Father and the Son, and advances daily to closer and deeper communion with the Father and the Son.”
Wow, that will preach!
Okay, here is the bottom line on Hebrews 6:1-3 based on our understanding from II John 9: Paul is saying that there is no need to lay another foundation, that is not real foundation on to maturity; but to build upward on the same foundation. So in all of Hebrews Paul builds the same foundational doctrine of Christ with the underlying principles in many different ways, primarily as related to the priesthood of Melchidec and the tabernalce and the real blood of Christ.
4-3: Other Ways the New Testament Says the Same Thing about the Immovable Foundation of the Doctrine of Christ.
While it may not use the same phrase, “The Doctrine of Christ”, I am sure that you have thought of many other ways the New Testament says the same thing about the foundational nature of this doctrine.
1. For example, all of us think of “the no other foundation can any man lay” Scripture, I Corinthians 3:11.
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus.” (I Corinthians 3:11)
This is interested because we had already decided in the last chapter that I Corinthians would, along with Hebrews and Romans, be part of our study on Fundamental Doctrines. Of course, based on our present understanding of Hebrews 6:1-3 and II John 9 with these reinforcements from other New Testament Scriptures, we are starting to modify our conception of Fundamental and Advanced Doctrines. Indeed, as we study the context of I Corinthians 3, we will have to decide that Paul is saying much the same thing as in Hebrews 6:1-3 as is the Apostle John in II John 9 and the context. I Corinthians 3 even begins with the contrast betwwen caral and spiritual or bases versus maturity as does Hebrews 5:11-14, just before the outline of Hebrews 6:1-3. It would do well to compare those verses at this very point.
I Corinthians 3:1-4 Hebrews 5:11-14
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spirtual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able, For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and visions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” “Of whom (Christ) we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are full of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the orcles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteouesness: for he is a babe. But strong meat meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reasons of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
2. We find that the “gospel of Christ” is the “doctrine of Christ” when we consider the foundation in Romans 15:20.
“Yes, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not hwere Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: but as it is written, ‘To whom he was not spoke of , they shall see: and they haat have not heard shall understand.’” (Romans 15:20,21 and Isaiah 52:15)
NOTE: By the way, in this quote from Isaiah 52:15 is there the possibility that we could find in the context a prediction about the ministry of Paul, for we know of a certainty that the unique minstry of Paul was an Apostle to the Gentiles. However, as we look at the context it applies more to Christ Jesus.
3. The foundation enlarges to the apostles and prophets in Ephesians 2:20 with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone of that foundation.
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded togther for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
We saw that analogy of Christains as the house of God in I Corinthians 3, also in our preview of the book of Hebrews. Let us compare the three Scriptures on the church as the house or tabernacle of God.
Ephesians 2:19-22 I Corinthians 3:9-11,16 Hebrews 3:1-6
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded togther for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ….Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus: who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house. For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be poken after; but Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”
4-4: Doctrine and Exhortation in Hebrews.
Something that was not mentioned when we did a cursory look at the subject content in the chapters of Hebrews is that each chapter covers some aspect of the “Doctrine of Christ” with underlying principles and then exhortation. This illustrates another purpose of commentaries that we have found in the past to be conservative and reliable. What I suspected to be true in the pedantic nature of Hebrews, Dr. B. H. Carroll confirmed in his commentary on Hebrews in AN INTERPRETATION OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE.
“All New Testament exhortation is based on antecedent statement of doctrine. In Hebrews the whole letter is a succession of doctrines and exhortations–first a doctrine, then its application. In some respects, then, is it a model in homiletics.
1. It shows the relation between dogma and morals. There can be no morals apart from dogma. To leave out dogma undermines morality.
2. Dogma, as a mere theory, is valueless. Its power lies in its application to practical life, governing thought, emotion, imagination, words, and deeds in all of life’s relations to God, home, country, and the universe.
The present-day ministry has deteriorated in the power of exhortation based on vivid conceptions of great and definitive doctrines concerning God, law, sin, salvation, heaven, and hell.”
Although it is more doctrinal sections than I would try to cover in a look at “The Doctrine of Christ” in Hebrews, Carroll finds twelve doctrinal sections concluded in each case by an exhortation passage.
Doctrine in Hebrews Exhortation in Hebrews
1. Hebrews 1: Christ’s threefold Sonship 1. Hebrews 2:1-3: neglect of so great a salvation, “drifting” from the foundation.
2. Hebrews 2:5-3:6: all things under feet of Christ including the world to come. 2. Hebrews 3:8: “hardening of the heart” about the foundation.
3. Hebrews 3:9-4:10: guard against an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. 3. Hebrews 4:11: labor to enter into the rest of God.
4. Hebrews 4:12,13: God sees and knows all things. 4. Hebrews 4:14: hold fast to our confession.
5. Hebrews 4:15: Jesus is touched with our infirmities. 5. Hebrews 4:16: come boldly to the throne of grace for help.
6. Hebrews 5:1-10: a perfect author of eternal salvation 6. Hebrews 5:11-14: They were in a state of arrested development as Christians*
7. Hebrews 5:15-10:21: the new and living way by the blood of Jesus into the holiest 7. Hebrews 10:22-25: let us draw near, hold fast, and consider one another
8. Hebrews 10:30-39: believe to the saving of the soul, not draw back to perdition. 8. Hebrews 10:26-29: unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit
9. Hebrews: the example of Jesus as the model 9. Hebrews 12:1-3: run with patience the race, looking to Jesus
10. Hebrews 11:1-40: a roll call of persecution as well as faith 10. Hebrews 12:4-13: about the chastening of the Lord
11. Hebrews 12:15-27: the assembly of the firstborn and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant 11. Hebrews 12:14: follow after peace and sanctification
12. Hebrews 12:28-29: our God is a consuming fire and you have received a kingdom that cannot be shakern 12. Hebrews 12:28-29: offer service well-pleasing to God
* They were trying to advance by moving off the foundation of the doctrine of Christ with underlying principles instead of moving upward and onward with the doctrine of Christ. B. H. Carroll comments on this exhortation of Hebrews 5:11-14.
“The occasion for the sixth exhortation is that they were in a state of arrested development, remaining ‘babes in Christ’ when they ought to have been teachers, and so not only unprepared to receive the higher grades of Christian knowledge, but they were unable to discern between good and evil because their spiritual senses had not been exercised; hence they were continually tempted to try to rub out and make a new start from the very beginning (see 5:11-14). This reminds us of the three classes into which our Lord divided his flock: (1) Lambs, Greek: arnia, i.e., new converts; (2) Sheep, Greek probata i.e., mature Christians; (3) Little sheep, Greek (best manuscript): ‘probatia’, i.e., Christians stunted in growth (see John 21:15-19). These Hebrews were ‘little sheep.’