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.
support Ps 22 as the source of the allusions in Heb 5,7-8. Attribution of some of the distinctive key vocabulary of Heb 5,7-8 to Ps 22,25 would seem to suggest that the author is portraying the offering of Jesus in terms of this psalm. The use of Ps 22 to elucidate the death of Jesus at Heb 5,7-8 would hardly be a novelty for a New Testament author, for Ps 22 was the psalm and the Old Testament text in general for interpreting the death of Jesus on the cross37.
Jesus is presented as uttering the introductory verse of Ps 22 in both Mark and Matthew as He is about to die (Mk 15,34; Mt 27,46). And the reaction of some of the bystanders is given: they were saying that a pause should be allowed to see if Elijah comes to take Jesus down from the cross (kaqaire/w Mark) or to save Him (sw|/zw Matthew). Whether this interpretation of the cry of Jesus was malicious or not is irrelevant for the present purpose: both evangelists presuppose that there was a general belief that Jesus could possibly be saved by Elijah, i.e., by divine intervention acting through Elijah as the precursor of the Kingdom (Mark 1,6; 9,11-13)38 or as acting as a more obvious divine agent (Mt 27,49)39.
Viewed against this background, Jesus utterance of the opening verse of Ps 22, with its implication that the opening verse stands for the psalm in its entirety40, can be viewed as a plea that this divine intervention through Elijah not be carried out.
This interpretation would square with another aspect of the death of Jesus in Matthew and Mark, the two gospels which cite the opening verse of Ps 22 as a cry of Jesus. For in both of these gospels, when Jesus finally dies, there is voiced the recognition that He was a son of God (Mk 15,39; Mt 27,54). This would help explain the use of the idea of son in Heb 5,8. But the word son in Hebrews is not modified by