Exegesis of Hebrews 2:1 (Holy Tradition and Eternal Security)

NOTE: The following exegesis is in response to an email that proposed the following quoted points regarding Hebrews 2:1.

Verse in Question: “We must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)

  1. “the Word of God” and Holy Tradition? “

“First, note that the verse below seems to be clearly saying that the Word of God was imparted orally (it was heard); this is, I believe, a basic part of what Catholics refer to as holy tradition, i.e., the oral transmission of normative doctrine and practice from the apostles to the Church (very similar to the rabbinic understanding of “oral Torah”).”

  1. Eternal Security?

“Second, note that there is an equally clear suggestion that those under the sound of apostolic teaching (doctrinal and otherwise) are exhorted to observe it so as not to become apostate (drift away).”

Point of Hebrews: To express the superiority of Christ to the glory of the old covenant (Heb. 1:1-2, 1:4-6, 3:3, Joshua 4:8, 4:14-5:10, 7:1-28, 8:1-10:18). Christ is shown throughout those verses to be superior to the prophets, the angels, Moses, Joshua, the OT priesthood and high priest, and most importantly the sacrificial system and sanctuary. In Hebrews 10:38, the author seems rather concerned about Christians “shrink[ing] back”. Perhaps this is in response to the magnificence of Herod’s temple (where house churches would pale in comparison). It would provide further understanding to Hebrew’s effort at establishing Jesus’ authority against the above mentioned. The focus on Hebrew’s expressing Christ’s superiority in reference to all these OT covenants hints again at preventing individuals from “drift[ing] away from it.” What then, is this “from it” that Heb 2:1 speaks of? The pretext of Chapter one provides an explanation, as seen below. One must understand that when we speak of ‘tradition’, it is in reference to this long narrative of God’s redemptive plan in humanity. The Holy Tradition then, is the prophetic coming of Jesus in which it finds it’s climax. The tradition is an understanding of the Christ in the Old Testament, and the Jesus in the New Testament. The tradition is then a profession of this coming, the Gospel, the Good News.

The Focus of Hebrews: On Christ’s bringing a New Covenant (of salvation by Christ’s shed blood). It is this covenant that is superior to the previous one (of obedience to the law).

  • The Superiority of God’s New Revelation (1:1-4)

    1. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed their heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
      • What have we heard? We have heard Jesus. God has “spoken to us in his Son”. This is the Gospel, the proclamation of Jesus. The chapter continues in settling Jesus’ superiority against angels, etc.
  • Christ is Superior to the Angels (1:5-2:18)

  • Danger of Neglecting the Truth About Jesus

    • 1Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
      • The pretext to Ch. 2 concerns how God has spoken to us in his son. This is what is I believe the author is concerned about when he opens the chapter “we must pay greater attention to what we have heard.” He had opened Ch. 1 with what we have heard, and what we have heard was spoken to us through the coming of Jesus. Clearly this verse is focused on warnings against neglecting salvation (further seen in the title of the chapter, ESV). We may understand it both from the pretext (Ch 1 and God speaking to us in his Son), and Heb. 2:3. This is not a warning that we must adhere to the “sound of apostolic teaching (doctrinal and otherwise) are exhorted to observe it so as not to become apostate (drift away),” but that we must not drift away from Jesus himself. The pretext of Heb 1:1-2 clarifies that this is what “we have heard”, and the following verse further puts it in context.
    • 3dhow shall we escape if we eneglect such a great salvation? It was fdeclared at first by the Lord, and it was gattested to us hby those who heard,
      • This verse does well to explain the context of 2:1. The concern is neglecting “such a great salvation,” or understood as Christ himself. Attested to us refers to those who evangelized this good news. We must understand that the Gospel began with Jesus’ teaching. It was the apostles  and Church’s work of taking this Gospel as taught by Christ, and evangelizing it to the world. The authority is not found in an apostolic tradition in the sense you assumed (we would have to define ‘apostolic tradition’, versus ‘bishop catholic authority’), but within the Gospel of Jesus. As Paul explains in Galatians 1:11: 1”For uI would have you know, brothers, that vthe gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel”. Authority is in the Gospel, which is found in inspired form within the Scriptures. God himself brings together the Gospel in written form as to provide to man and the Church an authoritative presentation of God’s grand redemptive plan, and it’s fulfillment in his Son. As apostle says, he preaches a gospel not of man. The Word of God, or the tradition of understanding that Jesus is the fruition of God’s redemptive plan (the Christ of the OT and the Jesus of the NT, which we may call the apostolic tradition as we find their writings, such as this one, focused on relating Jesus to the Christ of the Old Testament), is what individuals attested to them. The verse here establishes the authority of the teaching of Jesus. This all provides little reason to believe it suggests an authority of anything more than the Gospel of Jesus and attested by those who heard (accepted Jesus). The attesting was evangelism of the Good News by those “who heard” this Gospel of Jesus. The concern is a rejection of this Gospel, Jesus himself, which was declared first by God through Jesus.
    • 9But we see him owho for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, pcrowned with glory and honor qbecause of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might rtaste death sfor everyone.

      • Why does Jesus taste death for everyone? The grace of God. God’s motivation is here established: Grace. Christ suffered death so that, by God’s Grace, he may die for us. It is Jesus suffering and death that provides us freedom from death (not an accompanying of work). This is fueled by God’s grace. To depict works in any of this is to take away from Jesus’ suffering, as it makes an argument that Jesus suffering of death, so that we may not taste death, is conditional on our behavior or association. This is similar to the Old Covenant more than the new. The author is seeking to establish Christ’s superiority against the Old Covenant, in that continual sacrifice is not needed, but that Jesus’ single death and shedding on the cross conquers on our behalf. It is this fullness of grace and his work that provides us life eternal. We see further clarification as follows.
    • 10For it twas fitting that he, ufor whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons vto glory, should make the wfounder of their salvation xperfect through suffering.  11For yhe who sanctifies and zthose who are sanctified aall have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them bbrothers,
  • Christ is Superior to Moses (3:1-4:13)
  • Christ is Superior to the Aaronic Priests (4:14-7:28)
  • The Superior Sacrificial Work of Our High Priest (Hebrews 8-10)

    • 15Therefore he is vthe mediator of a new covenant, so that wthose who are called may xreceive the promised eternal inheritance, ysince a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.1 (Heb. 9:15)

      • Who is our mediator of this new Covenant? Christ. Those who are called to Him (Christian believers), are promised eternal life. Through what? Not some condition of living or continual repentance, but because “a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions.” It is the death of Jesus that redeems us and provides eternal inheritance. An object of Grace as above mentioned. I could see how someone could read this text and assume that his death merely forgives the precious sins, however by first covenant the author is suggestion the entirety of the sacrificial system. Jesus’ new covenant provides a continual mediator on our behalf, who dies once, and provides in this promised eternal inheritance.
    • 2Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and fwithout the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
      • This the necessity of the death on the cross, and the shedding of Christ’s blood. No longer is forgiveness found in the repentance of a sacrificial system, but in the purification of Jesus’ blood. Jesus blood provides us forgiveness of sins, and it is not a sacrifice we participate in. Sure, human hands nailed Jesus to the cross, but the work of salvation is found in Jesus’ shed blood, not no act of our own.
    • 23Thus it was necessary for gthe copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  24For Christ has entered, not into holy places hmade with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God ion our behalf.  25Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as jthe high priest enters kthe holy places every year with blood not his own,  26for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, lhe has appeared monce for all nat the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.  27And just as oit is appointed for man to die once, and pafter that comes judgment,  28so Christ, having been offered once qto bear the sins of rmany, will appear sa second time, tnot to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly uwaiting for him.
      • The author of Hebrews spends the previous chapters going through Christ’ superior nature to the Aaronic Priests and the Old Covenant. The above verses were selected to respond to the inquiry of eternal security. The entire book of Hebrews discusses the superiority of Christ sacrifice and this new covenant. What makes it superior to the old covenant? For one, the Old Covenant was conditional. Righteousness as seen alongside the sacrificial system (forgiveness of sins/repentance), and faith. However, this is inferior to the new covenant of Jesus. His sacrifice, by grace, has forgiven us “once and for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” It is not conditional. Conditional would reflect more the Old Covenant than the New. It would also make little sense as to the superiority of this one. As the author explains, “nor was it to offer himself repeatedly.” His one time shedding of the blood is what forgave us of our sins. You must understand how this is an expression of faith more than a condition of works. It is not our behavior, nor our continued repentance, that brings about salvation. Christ continues as mediator to the Father on our behalf (as long as we don’t reject him, Heb 1:1-2, 2:1, 2:3). His one-time sacrifice, not some repeated dying, is what has forgiven us of our sins. We join this grand New Covenant through Jesus, by accepting this Good News. Hebrews continues later with an exhortation on Holy Living.
      • In addition, how does this relate to the Catholic understanding of the Communion? Hebrews is saying Jesus petitions on our behalf as a mediator at the presence of the father. He does not die continually, but once, for our behalf. He does not suffer repeatedly. Forgiveness is found in one single act: the Cross. I wonder how this relates to the Catholic understanding of the elements in the bread and wine. Does Catholic communion convey a repeated dying of Jesus for our forgiveness? If so, it would go against the narrative of these verses.
  • Exhortation on Holy Living, Danger of Refusing this Message (12:18-29)

    • 15See to it that no one vfails to obtain the grace of God; that no w“root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
    • 24and to Jesus, kthe mediator of a new covenant, and to lthe sprinkled blood mthat speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For nif they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. (Heb. 12:24-25)
      • “mediator of a new covenant.” Here again we see the reminder of the new covenant (Heb. 8:6,8). We are called to recognize the covenant brought about by the work of Jesus, and by grace. It continues with a reminder that within our new mediator is a greater covenant than that of righteousness by the law (the works of the jews). The usage of “sprinkled blood” can allude to the covenant of God and the Israelites (blood of the passover, blood of the covenant, blood of the legal sacrifices, etc), and how this new sprinkled blood is superior. The blood of Jesus brings about justification, pardon and cleansing.
      • In addition, it is extremely clear that by ‘him’ they do not refer to the apostles, but to Jesus. It is Jesus whose sprinkled blood speaks better than the blood of Abel. What we should not refuse is him who is speaking, or Jesus himself.
    • This final chapter expresses the author’s warning to the danger of refusing the ‘message’ of Jesus’ work (as we see in Heb 12:24-25, this is Jesus himself). The final verses end with a warning of the rejection of this message (“our God is a consuming fire.” Heb. 12:29)

I hope this exegesis provides a clarification on “to what we have heard” refers to, and it’s role in eternal security. It is good to follow this with a reading of Romans 5:12-20. “Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14). “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift od God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” 9Romans 8:1-2).

God’s Blessings!


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