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.
reference to God, implying that son is being used in a more general sense. What seems to be taking place in Heb 5,8 is that the author of Hebrews is taking the idea of the death of Jesus as son of God, an idea which he finds in Matthew and Mark, and enlarges it to take in Jesus as son of Abraham or even son of man41. As alluded to in Hebrews, the phrase kai/per w@n ui(o/j alludes not only to the divine sonship of Jesus, which would militate against His being allowed to offer Himself in sacrifice, but also to Isaac, who enjoyed a last-minute reprieve from death (cf. Heb 11,19 and the phrase e)n parabolh|=): this plea of Jesus in Heb 5,8 is a request that He not be spared as Isaac was spared by a last-minute divine intervention through the agency of the angel (Gen 22,11-14). On grounds then of His reverence His plea was heard, i.e., granted, so that He was allowed to die. And this even though He was the son foreshadowed by Isaac and could thus be presumed to deserve freedom from death just as Isaac was freed from death. Thus the phrase kai/per w@n ui(o/j can be viewed as an adaptation of the plea of Ps 22 expressed in language appropriate to Hebrews. Here, then, is a plausible Sitz im Leben for the phrase kai/per w@n ui(o/j, and one which seems to be indicated by the language of Heb 5,7-8.
b) In What Sense Christ Can Learn Obedience from the Things He Suffered
There remains the second question, i.e., of giving a plausible Sitz im Leben to the clause e!maqen a)f; w|n e!paqen th_n u(pakoh/n. The clause can be inferred to indicate that Jesus comes to appreciate fully the implications of being obedient to the divine will, since He is portrayed in Hebrews as obedient to that will from His entrance into the world (cf. 10,5-10)42. To perceive what these implications are it is necessary to