Our author has developed his case in twelve chapters. He has broken into his discussion periodically with urgent exhortations or earnest warnings. Now he has come to the end of his literary task, and he closes with specific words of practical import. Throughout the epistle he has spoken of God’s new-covenant people who have come into a relationship with Him based on the saving work of the Son. The admonitions of chapter thirteen are addressed to Christians as faith-pilgrims. Because they share the benefits of Christ’s work, they must encourage and tolerate and forgive each other.
Some critics have argued that this chapter was not an original part of Hebrews. They say it has no relation to the rest of the epistle, and that it was added by a later scribe or editor. Filson has clearly demonstrated the unity between this chapter and the previous twelve (see his book listed in the bibliography). In fact, he affirms that it is this final chapter which provides a key to the rest of the book. One does not have to agree with all Filson’s conclusions to appreciate his basic point. It is enough here to say that the unity of Hebrews has been demonstrated convincingly, even from the standpoint of modern critical scholarship.
13:1. Brotherly love properly exists between those sharing a common father (see 2:11). It is more than sentiment or affection; it involves the the practical demonstration of what is in the heart and mind. The Hebrew Christians had manifested brotherly love soon after their conversion (10:32-34) and throughout their Christian lives (6:10). Our author does not tell them to begin its practice, therefore, but to let it continue.
13:2. Nor are they to forget hospitality. The Greek word translated hospitality literally means a love of strangers or travelers, and the King James Version tries to give this sense in its entertain strangers. Inns were available to travelers of the first century, but they were notoriously ill-kept, usually expensive, frequently bawdy and sometimes dangerous.
For these reasons, Jews and Christians normally cared for their own brethren who might be traveling or visiting in a strange city. Paul mentions this practice several times in his epistles John speaks of the custom and corrects two abuses: that of giving fraternal hospitality and blessing to antichrists who denied the Christian gospel (II John 6-11), and that of failing to extend care to worthy brethren who needed it (III John 5-10). Peter also urges hospitality (I Peter 4:9), which for Christians was grounded in the words of Christ Himself (Matthew 25:35-36). In a book known as the Didache, an unknown Christian who lived shortly after the time of the apostles gave detailed instructions concerning the reception and treatment of traveling preachers and teachers. Later a Roman writer named Lucian called Christians gullible, saying that any tramp could find food and housing if he could convince them of his religion.
Our author notes that some in the past have entertained angels without knowing it, referring no doubt to Abraham (Genesis 18) and Lot (Genesis 19), and perhaps others. Because of what our author has already stated in 1:14 we must agree with Delitzsch that “any man whom we entertain without knowing any details as to him, may be even for us a very angel of God.” Not that this is the general rule, but hospitality does frequently return unexpected blessings, and by it Christ is served.
13:3. The original readers knew what it meant to remember them in bonds (10:34), as bound with them, and them which suffer adversity or literally “have it bad,” as being also in the body. It is inviting to take the phrases as bound with them and as being in the body in the sense of the bond of love (Colossians 3:14) and the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12). Unless one assumes that Paul wrote Hebrews, however, he may not be sure that meaning is intended here. Even so, the point of the exhortation is about the same. Christians are to be so captivated by brotherly love that when one is bound the others sympathize as being themselves bound. When some are in bad circumstances the rest are concerned to help, being subject also to the ailments of mortality.
13:4. The original text has no verb here and the statement may be translated either as an indicative (as in the King James Version) or, perhaps better in this context, as an imperative. Let marriage be respected and regarded as honorable. Let it be free from the sanctions and regulations of asceticism on the one hand, and the profligate and licentious behavior of libertinism on the other. In all may be interpreted as among all people or in all things. The Greek expression frequently means simply “altogether” or “completely.”
Let the marriage bed and the relationship it stands for be undefiled, for God (this word is emphatic in the original) will judge the impure (uncleanness, fornication and prostitute are all of the same word-family with this in the Greek) and adulterers. When Scripture makes a distinction between fornication and adultery the former refers to sexual impurity in general and in terms of moral uncleanness, while the latter refers to extramarital sexual relations by a husband or wife and in terms of the marriage covenant and relationship. A proper respect for the institution and relationship of marriage is the best prevention against God’s judgment for fornication or adultery.
13:5. Again the verb must be supplied to urge that the conversation or turn of mind and life be without covetousness. Again there is a verbal link with what has gone before. Covetousness is literally a love of silver. Our author has urged love of brethren and love of strangers, but now he cautions against the love of money. Since this sin comes from the mind the solution must begin there as well.
Be content with such things as ye have. Milligan accurately states the teaching of Scripture in saying: “Be diligent in business; do all that you can lawfully and consistently to improve your own condition and to promote the happiness of others; and then with calmness and resignation leave all the consequences to God.”
The basis of such trustful contentment is the word of God in such passages as Genesis 28:15; Deuteronomy 31:6, 8 Joshua 1:5; I Chronicles 28:20; Isaiah 41:17; Matthew 6:25-30 and many others, that I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. This promise is made very emphatic in the original Greek by the succession of three negatives.
13:6. Because God has given His word (and the phrase quoted here seems to have been common in Jewish speech, to judge from its use by the non-biblical writer Philo), the believer is to respond with a word of his own. We may boldly say in the words of Psalm 118:6, which were also regularly quoted during the great feasts of the Jews, the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. Both the Hebrew and the Greek may also be translated: “The Lord is my helper and I will not fear. What shall man do unto me?” In either case, the thought is the same. Because God speaks in promise the possessor of faith should speak in trust and confidence.
13:7. As examples of faith, the readers should remember their former leaders who used to speak the word of God unto them. Their conversation or way of life (not the same word used in verse five) led them to a praiseworthy end, which the readers are to be considering by thorough and continuing contemplation. Whether this refers to death by martyrdom or simply a life ending in faith we cannot tell. The point is that the faith of these leaders was not in vain. Both the author and his readers had heard the gospel from the apostles (2:3-4). Since we do not know the author, the readers, or even their location, we cannot know the specific identity of these who had the rule or leadership in earlier days.
13:8. The first leaders had died, but their faithfulness had been consistent The object of their faith also remains the same. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Our author spoke of the eternal “sameness” of Christ in 1:12, quoting from Psalm 102:27. Christ is the greatest example of faithfulness and steadfastness: the same yesterday and today and forever. He is the same subject of preaching yesterday, today and forever. He is the same object of faith: yesterday, today and forever.
Yesterday seems to refer to our author’s immediate past. That was the time when Jesus became lower than the angels, became partaker of flesh and blood, received a body in which to do the will of God, offered Himself as a sinless sacrifice and was subsequently raised from the dead and taken up into glory. Today would refer to our author’s present. For ever would refer to his future.
The atoning work of Christ took place in time and in human history, but that work has now reached its goal. God’s salvation-purpose unfolded gradually. With the events involving Christ, which culminated in His position at God’s right hand, the earthly work of atonement has reached perfection. No opportunity remains for possible failure, so far as Christ is concerned. He was tempted in all points during His “once for all” ministry, but that took place in the beginning of these last days and will never be repeated. The constant believer in any age may know that his salvation is secured in the person of the Son — the Son at God’s right hand in heaven — Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and for ever.
13:9. If the readers will hold fast to the non-changing Christ (verse eight), imitating the faith of their leaders who also trusted in Him (verse seven), they will not be carried about as in a flood with various doctrines or teachings. These teachings are not part of the old familiar gospel or the teachings which had come from the apostles and prophets. Instead they are strange, alien and foreign. Specifically, the author warns against teachings about meats or foods, which have not profited those occupied with them, and which draw attention from grace by which the heart is established and strengthened.
At least five explanations have been offered of these teachings about meats. (1) Some think of a Jewish dispute over kosher food, over clean and unclean meats, as apparently is the case in 9:10. (2) Others think of meats offered to pagan gentile idols, as in I Corinthians 8. (3) Some suppose he refers to ascetic regulations of a gentile philosophy, as in Colossians. (4) Still others think of sacrificial meats of the Old Testament system, of which some were eaten by the priests and/or the people. (5) And some have suggested a kind of Jewish fellowship meal, as described, for instance, by Josephus.
The entire context of Hebrews seems to narrow the choice to a Jewish answer. The fellowship meal is not attested in Scripture and might not have been a widespread custom at all. Disputes over clean and unclean foods would fit the general context but not these specific verses. The verses following seem to indicate sacrificial meats which were eaten by worshippers and/or the priest who offered them. If such sacrificial meats are intended, the point is that the Christian’s sacrifice results in the distribution of grace which strengthens his heart, not in meat which strengthens his body.
13:10. The pagans frequently called Christians atheists because they had no visible gods. It is likely that the Jews pointed to the absence of visible sacrifices and cultic priests in their attacks on Christians. Our author has already affirmed that Christians have a high priest, though He is in heaven (8:1). Here he says we have an altar as well, and of its benefits those Jewish priests who used to serve the Mosaic tabernacle do not have a right to partake or eat. An Old Testament reason is given for this in the next verse.
Some Catholic writers apply this reference to the Mass, but against such a view stands the once-for-all nature of Christ’s sacrifice in Hebrews, as well as the specific point of the next verse. Various other authors have explained the altar as being the cross, or a heavenly altar, or the death of Christ. It may be best not to seek a specific application, leaving our author’s single point to stand alone. Christians do have an altar and, by metonymy, a sacrifice for their sins. On that, also see Appendices II and III.
13:11. Under the Old Testament system, when blood of sacrificial animals was brought into the most holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, the bodies of those beasts were burned outside the camp. This was true in general (Leviticus 6:30), and of the Day of Atonement sin-offerings in particular (Leviticus 16:27). Because the offering of Christ fulfills the sin-offering of the Day of Atonement, and because it is the only sin-offering God now accepts, our altar is one of which no Old Testament priest could partake even according to his own Law,
13:12. In keeping with this figure, Jesus also suffered outside the gate of Jerusalem and therefore outside the camp of Israel, so that he might sanctify the people with his own blood. He not only was treated shamefully (12:2), but He was in the literal sense an outcast.
13:13. The believer in Christ is to be willing therefore to go forth unto him outside the camp and fellowship of Israel. If this means bearing a reproach, the reproach is his (see 11:26). To be with Jesus the believer must leave the camp and go outside the gate, for that is where He went. The reproach is overshadowed, however, by the fact that Jesus’ death not only was that of a sin-offering, but was the only sin offering God will ever again accept.
13:14. The loss of fellowship in the city of the Jews is further softened by the fact that Christ’s people are faith-pilgrims who seek another city which is yet to come, though they have already come to it by faith (see comments at 12:22-24). On the other hand, the city which is here on earth (Jerusalem) is no continuing city at all, and either had been or shortly would be destroyed when our author wrote this epistle.
13:15. By Christ, the high priest and mediator, Christians are urged to offer their sacrifice to God continually (see 7:25). This is not a sin-offering. Only Christ offers that, and He offered one sacrifice one time for all men of all time. The believer offers a sacrifice of praise, the same term used in the Greek Old Testament for the peace-offering of thanksgiving (Leviticus 7:12-25). The fruit of lips giving thanks to his name did not originate with the new covenant (Psalm 50:12-15, 23; 141:2; Hosea 14:2). Such praise does belong to it, however, and fulfills the types of thank-offerings under the old covenant.
13:16. God is also well pleased with the spiritual sacrifices offered by His people when they do not forget to do good, and to communicate or to share with those in need (Amos 5 21-24; Micah 6:6-12). Communicate translates the verb of the “fellowship” family.
13:17. The practical instructions continue, this time with regard to Christian leaders or them that have the rule. The community of faith is to obey them because of persuasion and to submit to their guidance. The leaders, on the other hand, have a charge to watch for the souls of those in the community, for whom they must give account. If Christians do submit and obey as the rulers watch and lead, the report may be with joy and not with grief, which would be unprofitable for those of whom a bad account was given.
Dods relates that which is unprofitable to the watch for your souls rather than the give account, and suggests that believers are to obey and submit so that the watching by the leaders will be a joyful task. A failure to cooperate will not only cause grief to those watching, but will make their work unprofitable for those for whose sake it is done.
The figure of a watchman comes from the Old Testament, particularly from Ezekiel (3:17-21; 33:1-9). Here it is joined to the pastoral task of the spiritual shepherd. While the leaders in this chapter are given no technical or descriptive name, several parallels with I Peter 5:1-5 suggest those there called Elders. Even there, though, the term is apparently used in both a general (verse five) and a specific (verse one) way.
13:18. Pray for us, the author urges, for we trust (or perhaps, are persuaded) that we have a good conscience and are willing or wishing to live honestly in all things. Some think that the author had been criticized or suspected of evil doing by certain of his readers. Whether that is the case, or not, we cannot tell. He simply states a request and makes a statement of good conscience. Nor do we know whom the author includes in his we.
13:19. The rather is better translated “abundantly” or “exceedingly,” and may modify either beseech or to do or both. He strongly requests their earnest prayers, that he may be restored or reunited to them the sooner. It is an assumption to say that the author was in prison at this time; he could have been on a preaching tour or some other mission. All the text proves is that he was not presently with his readers but hoped to be shortly, and that he asked for their prayers to that end.
13:20. This verse and the next give the author’s benediction for his readers and touch on the major points of his teaching throughout the epistle. He calls on the God of peace, a designation comforting for worshippers who faced persecution or even instructive discipline. As is usual in Scripture, God is described in terms of His mighty acts. He brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus. This is the only explicit reference in Hebrews to the resurrection of Christ, though that has been presupposed throughout the discussion, and was necessary if the sacrificial victim were to become a living high priest.
Christ is described as that great Shepherd of the sheep. Not only do the church leaders watch for souls under His charge (on the analogy of I Peter five) but, as the great Shepherd, Christ has laid down His life for the sheep (see John ten). The blood of the everlasting covenant is related to the resurrection, as the evident sign and seal of its merits, and to the great Shepherd who proved His right to the title by shedding His blood.
Of Moses and Israel it was said that God “brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flock” (Isaiah 63:11, see Psalm 77:20). As Christ is counted worthy of more glory than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6), God has brought Him up from the dead and will bring up His flock as well.
13:21. The prayer is that God, who has already raised Christ, will now make the readers perfect or equipped in very good thing for doing his will, and that he will be working or doing in them what is well pleasing to Him. All this is to be done through Jesus Christ, in whose name the prayer is offered.
To whom be glory forever and ever may apply either to God the Father or to the Lord Jesus, and scripturally it applies to both. Milligan says that “doctrinally it may refer either to God or to Christ, but grammatically, it refers properly to God” in this passage. Lenski applies it to Christ here and sees it as complementary to the description of Christ’s exalted position in chapter one.
13:22. Our author appeals to his readers to bear with his word of exhortation, meaning the entire book. He refers to it as a letter, although it is not in regular epistolary form. He apparently had much more he would have been pleased to write (see 5:11; 11:32), but he stops with these few words which may be read in about an hour.
13:23. Brother Timothy had been set at liberty, a phrase which might refer either to release from prison or to the completion of a mission. With him our author will see his readers if Timothy comes shortly. This verse is used as an argument for the Pauline authorship of Hebrews because of the close relationship between Paul and Timothy. We may wish such matters were clearly revealed, but in fact they are not, and no specific relationship is given here between the author and Timothy. It is generally assumed, however, that this is the Timothy of Paul’s epistles and Acts, which gives an outward time limit for the date of the book. Again, however, we are unable to learn much from the fact, for we have no information at all about an imprisonment of Timothy–if that is the meaning intended by the phrase here.
13:24. The writer sends greetings to all the leaders and all the saints, indicating that the epistle would be read in a gathered assembly of the Christians to whom it was sent (see Colossians 4:16; I Thessalonians 5:27).
They of Italy are simply “the Italians.” The Greek words do not tell whether they and our author were in Italy or away from Italy at the time. All we can know from this verse is that he was in company with some Italians, wherever he was. Those who argue for a Roman destination of the epistle use this verse as evidence, as do those who argue for a Roman origin.
13:25. The epistle closes with the familiar Christian greeting. Grace be with you all. Amen. A suggestive discussion entitled The Grace of God is available online by the author of this commentary.
The subscript in some Bibles concerning the author, origin and destination of the Epistle to the Hebrews is a later addition, not part of the original text.
Next: Appendix I