James Swetnam, «The Crux at Hebrews 5,7-8», Vol. 81 (2000) 347-361
Heb 5,7-8 is a classic crux. It is not clear, as the text seems to say, how Jesus could beg to be freed from death and then be heard `although He was son'. Further, it is not clear how Jesus could `learn obedience from the things He suffered' since Hebrews pictures Him as antecedently ready to do God's will. The present paper reviews some of the principal suggestions which have been made and makes its own: that the Sitz im Leben of Jesus' plea is the cross, and the words refer to Ps 22 which Jesus cites in Matthew and Mark. In the context, reference to the psalm is taken by bystanders as an allusion to God intervening through Elijah to save Jesus. Hebrews understands Jesus' citing the initial verse of the psalm as an agreement to all that the psalm implies, i.e., as an implicit petition to die. Further, the main verse alluded to in Ps 22 seems to refer to the t˘dÔ which Jesus celebrated with His disciples, and this explains how He could `learn' obedience: He learned by experience the benignant effect of obedience to God.
One of the classic cruces in the Epistle to the Hebrews is the passage at Heb 5,7-8 which speaks of the petitions made by Christ. The Greek text of these verses, as well as of the following vv. 9-10, is as follows:
o$j e)n tai=j h(me/raij th=j sarko_j au)tou= deh/seij te kai_ i(kethri/aj pro_j to_n duna/menon sw/|zein au)to_n e)k qana/tou meta_ kraugh=j i)sxura=j kai_ dakru/wn prosene/gkaj kai_ ei)sakousqei_j a)po_ th=j eu)labei/aj,5.8 kai/per w@n ui(o_j, e!maqen a)f' w|n e!paqen th_n u(pakoh/n, 5.9 kai_ teleiwqei_j e)ge/neto pa=sin toi=j u(pakou/ousin au)tw=| ai!tioj swthri/aj ai)wni/ou, 5.10 prosagoreuqei_j u(po_ tou= qeou= a)rxiereu_j kata_ th_n ta/cin Melxise/dek1.
A translation would read as follows:
7who in the days of his flesh, offered with a loud cry and tears prayers and petitions to the one able to save him from death, and having been heard because of His reverence, 8 even though Son, learned from the things He suffered obedience, 9 and once brought to perfection became for all those who obeyed him cause of eternal salvation, 10 having been addressed by God as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
There are a number of problems associated with these verses, but one problem is crucial: Jesus seems to be pictured as begging to be saved from death and as having been heard. But this seems to contradict the obvious fact that Jesus died. The problem centers on the words kai_ ei)sakousqei_j a)po_ th=j eu)labei/aj, kai/per w@n ui(o/j (and having been heard because of His reverence even though Son)2.
I. Proposed Solutions Which Seem To Be Unsatisfactory
Attempts to solve this crux have taken different forms. The following presentation would seem to account for the major suggestions made in view of a solution:
1. Jesus Was Delivered from Fear
Jesus was heard out of his fear, i.e., was heard in such a way that he was delivered from fear. This is the way His prayer was