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.
passage. But, on the strength of the greater syntactic probability, the following translation would seem to be indicated:
7... who, in the days of His flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with a loud and tearful cry to the one who was able to save Him from death, and having been heard because of His reverence 8 although He was Son, learned obedience from what He suffered, 9 and having been brought to perfection He became for all who obeyed Him cause of an eternal salvation, 10 having been designated by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
The challenge is to see what the above translation means. Two principal points need to be explained: (a) In what sense can Christ be heard even though He is son. (b) In what sense can Christ learn obedience from the things He suffered.
2. A Plausible Sitz im Leben for the Interpretation Based on Syntax
a) In What Sense Christ Can Be Heard Even Though Son
Many commentators instinctively look to the Agony in Gethsemane as the scene to which Heb 5,7-10 refer33. But an analysis of the key words of the verses yields a different source. Much more plausible as a point of reference is Ps 22,2534:
o#ti ou)k e)coude/nwsen ou)de_ prosw/xqisen th=| deh/sei tou= ptwxou= ou)de_ a)pe/streyen to_ pro/swpon au)tou= a)p )e)mou= kai_ e)n tw|= kekrage/nai me pro_j au)to_n ei)sh/kouse/n mou35
For he has not despised nor disregarded the petition of the poor one, nor turned away his face from me, and in my cry to him he has heard me36.
The reason for citing Ps 22,25 as the principal source of the terminology of Heb 5,7-8 is the convergence of three words used in both passages: de/hsij, kra/zw and ei)sakou/w. Further, in v. 3 are found kra/zw and ei)sakou/w, and in v. 6 kra/zw and sw|/zw, and these verses accordingly