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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THE MEANING OF toi/j avkou,sasin HEBREWS 4,2
â€œfor we also have received the good news just as theyâ€. The ga,r indicates a
relationship between the previous verse and what follows. This good news
must involve the â€œpromiseâ€ (evpaggeli,a) of 4,1 which, in turn, involves en-
trance into Godâ€™s rest 23. The change from evpaggeli,a to euvaggeli,zomai suggests
that the author of Hebrews is reminding the addressees that the promise was
received by them differently from the way it was received by the desert gen-
eration. The promise of entering into Godâ€™s rest was originally made to Abra-
ham, as is explicitly recognized by the author of Hebrews in Heb 11,9 24.
The addressees were well aware of the role of Abraham in their lives and
that they were associated with him through faith (cf. Heb 2,16; 6,13; 7,1-9;
11,8-19): it is through faith and the lack of faith that the author of Hebrews
approaches the whole question of Godâ€™s promise to Abraham of entrance
into the land in Heb 3,7â€“4,12, as the interpretation given by the author of
Hebrews to the thematic citation of Psalm 95 in Heb 3,13 makes clear.
The present writer has interpreted Heb 2,5â€“3,6 in terms of faith in-
volving Abraham and involving Jesus. In this interpretation the author of
Hebrews understands the â€œseedâ€ (spe,rma) of Abraham in 2,16 just as Paul
does in Galatians 4 and Romans 5, i.e. to be that of all those who believed
as Abraham believed. The context suggests that faith is directed to over-
coming the fear of anotherâ€™s death, as Abraham did in Genesis 22 (cf.
Heb 2,15; 11,19). But the addressees also have faith in the face of their
own deaths, thus sharing in the faith of Jesus before his death 25. As ap-
plied to Heb 4,1-2, the desert generation received the promise of entrance
into the land from the reading of the Mosaic Law by Moses (cf. Heb 9,19),
whereas the Christian addressees received the good news which involves
the promise of entering into eternal life from the risen Christ in the context
of the Eucharist (Heb 2,5-13a) and thus ultimately from the words of insti-
tution of the Eucharist itself which were corroborated by the resurrection 26.
The addressees received the promise of entering into Godâ€™s rest just as the
Israelites of the desert generation did, but it was received in a different way,
not as spoken by Moses but, ultimately, as spoken by Christ, to whom they
were linked by faith through the first Christians who heard him. Thus the
â€œ â€¦ the context suggests that the implied â€˜good newsâ€™ is closely linked
with the â€˜promiseâ€™ of v. 1, and so with the â€˜resting placeâ€™ of v. 3 and the wider
contextâ€ (ELLINGWORTH, Hebrews, 241).
In his comments on Heb 11,9, Ellingworth observes: â€œCanaan is indeed
the land which God has promised to Abraham and his descendants, yet it does
not exhaust the significance of his promise, as vv. 10, 13-17 [sc, in chap. 11]
will make clearâ€ (ELLINGWORTH, Hebrews, 583). The text of Genesis was cer-
tainly familiar to the addressees, as the frequent citations and allusions in He-
brews to the Abraham cycle show.
Cf. SWETNAM, â€œ vEx e`no,j in Hebrews 2,11â€, 519-524.
Cf. J. SWETNAM, â€œThe Crux at Hebrews 2,9 in Its Contextâ€, Bib 91
(2010) 103-111, especially 105.
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