To The Hebrews

The Epistle to the Hebrews

Cecil N. Wright

1. HEBREWS 2:5: "For not unto the angels did he subject the world to come, whereof we speak."

  In our common English versions of the New Testament, there are four different words translated "world" (aion, age, 38 times; ge, earth, 1 time; kosmos, usually referring to the universe, 186 times; and oikoumene, referring to the habitable or inhabited earth, 14 times). The latter is the word for "world" in the above text. It occurs in the New Testament 15 times, translated "world" in Matt; 24:14; Lk.2:1; 4:5; Acts 11:28; 17:6,31; 19:27; 24:5; Rom.10:18; Heb. 1:6 (above); 2:5; Rev.3:10; 12:9; 16:14, and translated "earth" in Lk. 21:26.

  With the possible exception of "the world to come" in the above text, all references are to our present earth or, figuratively speaking, its inhabitants, as can be seen by examining each passage. But there is not complete agreement among commentators as to the meaning of "the world to come" (ten oikoumen ten mellousan, the coming inhabited earth, 2:5), which is not the same expression in Greek as "the world to come" in 6:5 (mellontos aionos, a coming age). Note the following:

  1. The Cambridge Bible Commentary: "the world to come: the heavenly world, which in a sense is the theme of the whole letter."

  2. B. W. Johnson, People's New Testament with Notes: "Literally, ' the inhabited earth of the future.' The Jewish dispensation was called by the Jews ' the present world.' A dispensation following it would be the world to come.' The reference is rather to the future gospel ages than to the eternal world."

  PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS: Whether or the not Johnson's conclusion is correct, the reasoning by which he reaches it is not conclusive. It might or might not be correct with reference to Matt.12:32, "neither in this world, nor in that which is to come" (oute en touto to aioni oute en mellonti), uttered while Christ was still living and before the Jewish age had ended. But in Eph. 1:21, written after the Jewish age had ended and the gospel age had already succeeded it, "not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" (ou monon en to aioni touto alla kai en to mellonti), obviously means not only in the present Christian dispensation on earth but also in the eternal age to follow.

  And Jesus himself (Mark 10:30; Lk. 18:30), before the Jewish age had ended, promised his apostles certain blessings "now in this time. . . . .and in the world to come eternal life" (nun en to kairo. . . kai en to aioni to erchomeno zoen aionion) -- obviously referring to blessings in their lifetime on earth and eternal life in the eternal world to come.

  Moreover, in Lk.20:34-36 Jesus said: "The sons of this world (ainos touto, this age) marry, and are given in marriage: but they that are accounted worthy to attain to that world (ainos ekainou, that age), and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: for neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection." Clearly this does not have reference to the Jewish age as "this world" and to the Christian dispensation on earth as "that world."

  So it would seem that Johnson's conclusion, whether correct or not, is not adequately supported by his premise.)

  3. Thomas Hewitt, Tyndale Commentaries: "Some have understood the world to come, he oikoumene he mellousa, as having the same meaning as in the verse, ' Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness' (2 Pet.3:13). In 6:5 the expression occurs again, but instead of oikoumene (the inhabited earth) aion (age) is used. The expression most probably carries the same breadth of meaning as ' at the end of these days' (1:2,RV). Such terms as these have extensive meanings, embracing the entire divine activity to bring about the salvation of man. Calvin remarks that, ' the world to come is not that which we hope for after the resurrection, but that which began at the beginning of Christ's Kingdom, but it no doubt will have its full accomplishment in our final redemption.' Whatever meaning is applied to the phrase it is not put in subjection to angels; it merely states that the new order will not be in subjection then but to Christ, the Son of man."

  4. James Macknight, Apostolical Epistles: "The gospel dispensation is called ainos milloutos, the age to come, Heb.6:5, but never oikoumene millousan, the inhabitable world to come. The phrase, if I mistake not, signifies the heavenly country promised to Abraham and his spiritual seed. Wherefore, as oikoumene, the world, Lk.2:1, and elsewhere, by a usual figure of speech, signifies the inhabitants of the world, the phrase oikoumene millousan may very well signify the inhabitants of the world to come, called [in] Heb.1:14 ' Them who shall inherit salvation.'"

  5. Robert Milligan, Epistle to the Hebrews: " The world to come (he oikoumene he mellousa) means, not the coming age (ho aion ho mellon) as in Matt.12:39, etc., but the habitable world under the reign and government of the Messiah (ch.1:6). It is the world in which we now live; and in which, when it shall have been purified from sin [emphasis added], the redeemed shall live forever. For man, it was first created (Gen.1:28-31); and to man, it still belongs by the immutable decree of Jehovah."

  PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS: Milligan's comment makes the inhabited earth to embrace both the present and future worlds (ages) under the reign of the Messiah, and seems to have much to commend it.

  The time will come when the first heaven and first earth (the earth with its surrounding expanse called heaven, also called heavens) shall pass away but be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth as a continuum, wherein dwells righteousness (2 Pet.3:12-13; Rev.20:11; 21:1-2), with a city, the new Jerusalem, come down out of heaven from God (Rev.21:10-11), inhabited by those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life (Rev.21:24-27).

  Moreover, since his resurrection and ascension Christ has had all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt.28:19), and will reign in both till all enemies have been put under his feet (Acts 2:33-35), the last of which will be death, and upon its destruction (see Rev.20:13-14) and the end of the present earth, he will deliver up the kingdom to the Father, becoming subject to him (1 Cor.15:20-28) -- evidently, however, though subordinate, being co-regent for ever and ever (see Heb.1:8; Isa.9:6-7; Dan. 2:44; Rev.22:1-5). Note: Should it be insisted that the first three of these passages do not necessarily embrace eternity, surely Rev.22:1-5 does, during which there is to be "the throne of God and of the Lamb" -- in the "heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb.12:22) come to the "new earth" (Rev.21:1-2,10) -- heaven and earth become one, as it were.

  II. HEBREWS 2:9: "(a) But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, -- (b) because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, -- (c) that by the grace of God he should taste death for every man."

  Such (from the ASV) is as near a literal rendering of the original as possible, and to represent and highlight the original grammatically we have introduced its three major components with (a), (b), and (c) and separated them by dashes.

  That makes it evident that (b) and (c) are equally related to (a), and that either (b) or (c) could be omitted without doing violence to the grammatical structure of the sentence. Yet to do so would not say all the author wanted to impress. It likewise becomes evident that (b) relates more closely thoughtwise to the preceding v.8, and (c) more closely to the following vs.10-18; and this likely accounts for the order of mention contrary to the order of occurrence.

  Various translations have sought to improve the thought communication by paraphrasing, some to a greater degree than others -- but not without blurring to some extent the precise thought connections we have just mentioned. The following examples are offered, with increasing degrees of paraphrase, and the reader will judge as to whether they present an over-all improvement for him or her, and how much.

  NIV: "but we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone."

  NAB: "But we do see Jesus crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death: Jesus, who was made a little while lower than the angels, that through God's gracious will he might taste death for the sake of all men."

  Barclay: "What we see is Jesus. For a short time he was made lower than the angels. But now we see him crowned with glory and honor, because of the death he suffered, for it was the gracious purpose of God that Jesus should experience death for all."

  Phillips: "What we actually see is Jesus, after being made temporarily inferior to the angels (and so subject to pain and death), in order that he should, by God's grace, taste death for every man, now crowned with glory and honor." (Phillips does a beautiful job of rearranging according to order of occurrence, but in so doing does blur the precise thought connections mentioned above.)