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 context of the beneficent result of Ps 22 is unthinkable: Jesus has come precisely to do Gods will. This is the situation which gives a plausible Sitz im Leben for Jesus request to die: He does not wish to be liberated by God through the agency of Elijah or of anyone else.
The explanation of the phrase e!maqen a)f ) w|n e!paqen th_n u(pakoh/n is suggested to be the knowledge growing from experience by Jesus of the result of His antecedent commitment to Gods will as expressed in Heb 10,5-10 and possibly alluded to in the phrase a)po_ th=j eu)labei/aj of 5,7. It is an experience of the beneficent quality of Gods will as manifested in Ps 22 in the arrival of the Kingdom. Thus the intrinsic process of the movement from lamentation to thanksgiving in the psalm becomes the basis for Jesus growth in experiential obedience.
The above argumentation is intended to serve only as a suggestion for further work. In this same spirit a final suggestion is offered that Jesus as the source of salvation for those who believe in Him (cf. Heb 5,9) alludes to the obedience of the followers of Jesus in performing the Christian tôdâ as He commanded them to do: Do this in memory of me (1 Cor 11,24-25). As Jesus was obedient to Gods will in submitting to the process of death leading to the Christian tôdâ involving the arrival of the Kingdom, so the Christians who are obedient to Christs will find in Him the cause of their salvation.