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 tôdâ 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.
II. Another Suggested Solution
The text at Heb 5,7-8 offers a complicated challenge. A number of elements have to be reconciled with each other in such a way that the resulting meaning makes sense in the particular and general context of the epistle. A preliminary survey of the various components of the text (vv. 7-8) and context (vv. 9-10) would seem to be called for:
o$j e)n tai=j h(me/raij th=j sarko_j au)tou= these words refer to the existence of Christ (cf. 5,5) before His death and resurrection.
deh/seij te kai_ i(kethri/aj these two words, are probably synonymous17 and are used together for purposes of stylistic reinforcement and rhetorical effect.
pro_j to_n duna/menon sw/|zein au)to_n e)k qana/tou the expression refers to God and can either refer to prevention of death or rescue from death through resurrection 18.
meta_ kraugh=j i)sxura=j kai_ dakru/wn the mention of tears indicates that the kraugh/ is one of suffering19.
prosene/gkaj the word prosfe/rw is used in Hebrews always in a cultic or sacrificial sense except at 12,7 where it has the more general idea of treat20. Its use in the immediate context (cf. 5,1.3, with reference to the Aaronic high priest), indicates that in 5,7 it is being used in a cultic, sacrificial sense but metaphorically, with a distinctively Christian meaning, since it concerns Christs earthly, cultic sacrifice21.