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.
the tôdâ of Jesus is celebrated in faith and trust, since it looks to future deliverance and not to deliverance which is past51.
Specifically, it is being argued here that in alluding to Ps 22 in 5,7-8 the author of Hebrews (1) is indicating the initial cry of Jesus portrayed by Matthew and Mark just before He dies when He cites the introductory verse of the same psalm, and (2) is indicating the point of view from which he wants the allusion to be principally considered: the tôdâ. The verses thus are a studied indication that the death of Jesus on the cross is a counterpart to the tôdâ-ceremony which He celebrated with His disciples at the Last Supper. The cry of Jesus by which He introduces the psalm (O God, my God, why have You abandoned me?) is a cry of suffering but which presumes a cry of final triumph: both Jesus celebration of the tôdâ at the Supper and His living out His death which is its bloody counterpart, are carried out before the event, i.e., in faith and trust. The fact that Jesus cries out with the beginning of the psalm indicates that He accepts in this faith and trust the entirety of what the psalm stands for death and the arrival of the Kingdom to which it leads in the context of the tôdâ-celebration of the Last Supper. All of this Jesus accepts and indeed pleads for, as part of Gods will. And the Father grants His Sons request, even though it involves death.
The present essay is an attempt to sketch the lines of a solution to the crux at Heb 5,7-8. Through a rigorous syntactical acceptance of what the Greek is probably saying, Jesus seems to be asking to die even though He is son and to be heard, i.e., have His petition granted by God (ei)sakousqei_j ... kai/per w@n ui(o/j).
A search for a plausible Sitz im Leben for this implausible idea indicates that the vocabulary of Heb 5,7 is probably based on Ps 22, 21. Ps 22 is the primary Old Testament source used for interpreting the passion and death of Jesus, so the finding of relevance for this verse of the psalm is not antecedently improbable. Further, Ps 22 is presented in Matthew and Mark as being cited by Jesus as an introduction to the psalm in order to explain how He understands what is happening. And the citation of the verse gives both evangelists the occasion to remark that Elijah is being called on by Jesus to save Him from death. But to attribute to Jesus this plea to be saved from death in