James Swetnam, «The Meaning of toi/j a)kou/sasin at Hebrews 4,2», Vol. 93 (2012) 601-608
The words toi/j a)kou/sasin in Heb 4,2 are frequently taken as referring either to the Israelites of the desert generation who, in contrast to the majority, did believe in God’s care, or to the Christians who, in contrast to the desert generation, do believe. After indicating why each interpretation is unsatisfactory, the note argues from the wording of the entire verse in the context of the epistle as a whole that the words refer to the Christians who heard the words of the Lord as he instituted the Eucharist. He is the one who, through the linkage of faith, makes entrance into God’s rest possible.
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602 JAMES SWETNAM
word â€œhearâ€ in the phrase toi/j avkou,sasin is effective hearing, i.e., obe-
dience, and not just physical hearing.
Another view based on the reading sugkekerasme,nouj is that the words
toij avkou,sasin refer not to anyone of the desert generation but to the Chris-
tian author and addressees of the epistle 5. But if the words refer to the Chris-
tians, it is not clear what point the author is trying to make; it is rather banal
to say that the desert generation should have had faith as the Christians do.
And even if he is making such a banal point, it is not clear why he has used
such an elaborate way to say it, using the verb sugkera,nnumi 6.
Another view, based on the reading sugkekerasme,nouj, is that the words
toij avkou,sasin should be construed as a dative of advantage, â€œfor the ben-
efit of those who had heardâ€. This interpretation, however, relies on a tex-
tual variant that lacks strong support in the manuscript tradition 7.
The identity of those referred to by the words toi/j avkou,sasin, is of
secondary importance, since the main point would be to emphasize for
the Christian addressees the importance of individual responsibility 8. But
in the discussions of the possible persons referred to by the words toi/j
akousasin one group of persons prominent in the epistle has been ignored.
II. Another Suggested Interpretation
Four elements regarding 4,2 need explaining with regard to a basic un-
derstanding of the words â€œthose who (had) heardâ€ (toi/j avkou,sasin): 1) the
identity of â€œthose who (had) heardâ€; 2) the nature of â€œthe word heardâ€ (o`
logoj th/j avkoh/j); 3) the precise force of the phrase mh. sugkekerasme,nouj
th/ pistei; 4) the meaning in the context of kai. ga,r evsmen euvhggelisme,noi
1) â€œThose who (had) heardâ€ must refer to a group other than the group
referred to by the word avkou,santej in 3,16, i.e., the desert generation, all
of whom rebelled 9. That is, they â€œheardâ€ in the sense only of becoming
aware of the message, not in the sense of also obeying what they had
heard. For the avkou,santej of 3,16 did not believe whereas the avkou,santej
of 4,2, by implication, did.
At first glance, given the fact that the immediately preceding verse im-
plies that no one of the desert generation believed, the avkou,santej of 4,2
This view is advanced by ATTRIDGE, Hebrews, 125-126.
â€œThis is the least unsatisfactory interpretation, but the possibility of prim-
itive corruption is not to be ruled out â€¦â€ (ELLINGWORTH, Hebrews, 243).
ELLINGWORTH, Hebrews, 243. Ellingworth himself does not hold this view.
Cf. SPICQ, Lâ€™Ã‰pÃ®tre aux HÃ©breux, 81.
For the sake of the argument the minority who did believe is ignored by
the author of Hebrews, as explained above.
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