The epistle to the hebrews

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The language of the Epistle is both in vocabulary and style purer and more vigorous than that of any other book of the N.T.

i. The vocabulary is singularly copious. It includes a large number of words which are not found elsewhere in the apostolic writings, very many which occur in this book only among the Greek Scriptures, and some which are not quoted from any other independent source. Even when allowance is made for the requirements of the peculiar topics with which the writer deals, the number of peculiar words is still remarkable. In the Pastoral Epistles however the proportion is still greater.

Dr Thayer reckons the same number of peculiar words (168) in the Pastoral Epistles and the Epistle to the Hebrews, but the latter is the longer in about the proportion of 21 to 15.

The following words are not quoted from any source independent of the Epistle: ajgenealovghto" (Heb. 7:3); aiJmatekcusiva (9:22); e[ktromo" (12:21 marg.); eujperivstato" (12:1); qeatrivzein (10:33; ejkqeatrivzein in Polyb.); misqapodovth" (11:6) and misqapodosiva (2:2; 10:35; 11:26) for the Classical misqodovth" and misqodosiva; provscusi" (11:28); sugkakoucei'n (11:25); teleiwthv" (12:2).

The list of classical words which are found in the Epistle and in no other part of the Greek Scriptures is large: ajklinhv" (10:23); ajkroqivnion (7:4); ajlusitelhv" (13:17); ajmhvtwr, ajpavtwr (7:3); ajnalogivzesqai (12:3); ajnastaurou'n (6:6); ajntagwnivzesqai (12:4); diovrqwsi" (9:10); ejkdochv (10:27); ejklanqavnein (12:5); ejnubrivzein (10:29); ejpeisagwghv (7:19); eujarevstw" (12:28); katavdhlo" (7:15); kataskiavzein (9:5); o[gko" (12:1); paraplhsivw" (2:14); sumpaqei'n (4:15; 10:34); sunepimarturei'n (2:4); tomwvtero" (4:12); uJpeivkein (13:17).

Other words peculiar to the Epistle among Biblical writings belong to the later stage of Greek Literature:

ajqevthsi" (7:18; 9:26); a[qlhsi" (10:32); ajkatavluto" (7:16); ajmetavqeto" (6:17 f.); ajparavbato" (7:24); ajfora'n (12:2); dusermhvneuto" (5:11); eujpoii?a (13:16); katagwnivzesqai (11:33); Leuitikov" (7:11); mesiteuvein (6:17); metriopaqei'n (Heb. 5:2); polumerw'", polutrovpw" (1:1); sabbatismov" (4:9); trachlivzein (4:13); tumpanivzein (11:35); uJpostolhv (10:39).

A very large number of words used by good Greek authors and found also in the LXX. are found in this Epistle only in the New Testament: ai[geo" (-eio",) aijsqhthvrion, ai[tio", ajnakainivzein, ajnarivqmhto", ajntikatasth'nai, a[peiro", ajpoblevpein, aJrmov" (Apocr.), ajfanhv", ajfanismov", ajfomoiou'n (Apocr.), botavnh, genealogei'n, gewrgei'n (Apocr.), gnovfo", davmali", dekavth, devo" (Apocr.), devrma, dhmiourgov" (Apocr.), diavtagma (Apocr.), dihnekhv", dii>knei'sqai, dokimasiva, e[gguo" (Apocr.), ejkbaivnein, e[legco", e{xi" (Apocr.), ejpileivpein, ejpiskopei'n, e[po", eujarestei'n, eujlavbeia, eujlabei'sqai, qeravpwn, quvella, qumiathvrion, iJerwsuvnh, iJkethvrio", kakoucei'n, karterei'n, katanalivskein, katavskopo", kau'si", merismov", metavqesi", metevpeita (Apocr.), muelov", nevfo", "ovqo" (Apocr.), nomoqetei'n, nwqrov" (Apocr.), oJmoiovth", panhvguri", paradeigmativzein, parapivptein, pararrei'n, pei'ra, phgnuvnai, privzein (privein), problevpein, provdromo" (Apocr.), prosagoreuvein (Apocr.), provsfato", stavmno", sunapolluvnai, sundei'n, timwriva, travgo", trivmhno", fantavzein, foberov", carakthvr (Apocr.).

The non-classical words found in the LXX. which are found only in this Epistle in the N.T. are comparatively few:

ajgnovhma, ai[nesi", ajpauvgasma (Apocr.), dekatou'n, ejgkainivzein, ejmpaigmov", qevlhsi", leitourgikov", mhlwthv, ojleqreuvein, oJrkwmosiva, parapikraivnein, prwtotovkia.

A study of the lists of words in these three different classes will illustrate the freedom and power with which the author of the Epistle dealt with the resources of the Greek language. His love for compound words is characteristic of the period at which he wrote, but their number is largely in excess of the average of their occurrence in the N. T.

Seyffarth has calculated that there are in the Epistle to the Romans 478 ‘vocabula composita et decomposita’ and in the Epistle to the Hebrews 534 (De ep. ad Heb. indole, § 40, 1821. This Essay contains good materials, but they require careful sifting).

The number of words found in the Epistle which have a peculiar Biblical sense is comparatively small. Some are derived from the Greek translation of the books of the Hebrew Canon (e.g., ajgavph, a[ggelo", ajdelfov", aijwvn, ajnafevrein, oJ diavbolo", iJlasthvrion, kaqarivzein, klhronomei'n & c., leitourgei'n & c., makroqumiva, oJmologei'n, paideiva, peiravzein, pivsti", prwtovtoko", savrkino", fwtivzein, cavri"), some from the Apocrypha (e.g., e[kbasi", koinov", kovsmo", ktivsi"), some owe their characteristic force to Christian influences (ajpovstolo", kosmikov").

The absence of some words (e.g., plhrou'n, eujaggevlion, oijkodomei'n, musthvrion, suvn) is remarkable.

ii. The style is even more characteristic of a practised scholar than the vocabulary. It would be difficult to find anywhere passages more exact and pregnant in expression than 1:1-4; 2:14-18; 7:26-28; 12:18-24. The language, the order, the rhythm, the parenthetical involutions, all contribute to the total effect. The writing shews everywhere traces of effort and care. In many respects it is not unlike that of the Book of Wisdom, but it is nowhere marred by the restless striving after effect which not unfrequently injures the beauty of that masterpiece of Alexandrine Greek. The calculated force of the periods is sharply distinguished from the impetuous eloquence of St Paul. The author is never carried away by his thoughts. He has seen and measured all that he desires to convey to his readers before he begins to write. In writing he has, like an artist, simply to give life to the model which he has already completely fashioned. This is true even of the noblest rhetorical passages, such as ch. 11. Each element, which seems at first sight to offer itself spontaneously, will be found to have been carefully adjusted to its place, and to offer in subtle details results of deep thought, so expressed as to leave the simplicity and freshness of the whole perfectly unimpaired. For this reason there is perhaps no Book of Scripture in which the student may hope more confidently to enter into the mind of the author if he yields himself with absolute trust to his words. No Book represents with equal clearness the mature conclusions of human reflection.

The contrast of the Style of the Epistle to that of St Paul may be noticed in the passages which are quoted as echoes of St Paul's language:

Heb. 2:10. Comp. Rom. 11:36.

Heb. 3:6. Comp. Rom. 5:2.

Heb. 11:12. Comp. Rom. 4:19.

The richer fulness of expression is seen in corresponding phrases: e.g., Col. 3:1, compared with Heb. 12:2 (note).

The writer does not use St Paul's rhetorical forms tiv ou\n; tiv gavr; ajllj ejrei' ti"..., mh; gevnoito, a[ra ou\n, oujk oi[date (Credner Einl. S. 547). On the other hand we notice the peculiar phrases, wJ" e[po" eijpei'n, eij" to; dihnekev", e[laqon xenivsante", and the particle o{qen.

Seyffarth has rightly called attention to the relative frequency of the use of participial constructions in the Epistle: Octogies atque quater in...epistola habes participia activa, centies et septies participia passiva et media, atque septies genitivos absolutos...In Romanos multum prolixiori nonagies reperi constructionem quam dicunt participialem activam, duodequadragesies tantum constructionem participialem passivam atque mediam, nec tamen ullibi genitivos absolutos. Decies tantum Paulus apostolus, quantum vidi, in omnibus epistolis suis utitur genitivis absolutis plerumque contra regulas a grammaticis scriptas...(de ep. ad Heb. indole § 36).

Some correspondences with the Epistles of St Paul to the Romans (in addition to those given above) and Corinthians (1) which have been collected (Holtzmann Einl. 315 f.) deserve to be quoted, if only to shew the difference of style in the Epistle to the Hebrews: Heb. 6:12 f. (Rom. 4:13, 20); Heb. 10:38 (Rom. 1:17); Heb. 12:14 (Rom. 12:18; 14:19); Heb. 13:1 (Rom. 12:10); Heb. 13:2 (Rom. 12:13); Heb. 13:9 (Rom. 14:3 f.); Heb. 2:4 (1 Cor. 12:4, 7-11); Heb. 2:8 (1 Cor. 15:27); Heb. 2:10 (1 Cor. 8:6); Heb. 2:14 (1 Cor. 15:26); Heb. 3:7-19; 12:18-25 (1 Cor. 10:1-11); Heb. 5:12 (1 Cor. 3:2); Heb. 5:14 (1 Cor. 2:6); Heb. 6:3 (1 Cor. 16:7); Heb. 9:26 (1 Cor. 10:11); Heb. 10:33 (1 Cor. 4:9); Heb. 13:10 (1 Cor. 10:14-21); Heb. 13:20 (1 Cor. 7:15; 14:33).

The close resemblance of the language of the Epistle to that of St Luke was noticed by Clement of Alexandria (ap. Euseb. H. E. 6.14...Louka'n [fhsivn]...meqermhneuvsanta ejkdou'nai toi'" {Ellhsin: o{qen to;n aujto;n crw'ta euJrivskesqai kata; th;n eJrmhneivan tauvth" te th'" ejpistolh'" kai; tw'n pravxewn—the form of expression is remarkable), and his criticism was repeated by later writers. The significance of the coincidences may have been overrated, but no impartial student can fail to be struck by the frequent use of words characteristic of St Luke among the writers of the N.T. e.g., diamartuvresqai (Heb. 2:6), ajrchgov" (2:10), o{qen (2:17), iJlavskesqai (2:17), mevtoco" (3:1), perikei'sqai accus. (5:2), eu[qeto" (6:7), katafeuvgein (6:18), patriavrch" (7:4) eij" to; pantelev" (7:25), scedovn (9:22), ajnwvteron (10:8), paroxusmov" (10:24), u{parxi" (10:34), ajnastavsew" tugcavnein (11:35), e[ntromo" (12:21), ajsavleuto" (12:28), oiJ hJgouvmenoi (13:7), ajnaqewrei'n (13:7).

The imagery of the Epistle is drawn from many sources. Some of the figures which are touched more or less in detail are singularly vivid and expressive: Heb. 4:12 (the word a sword); 6:7 f. (the land fruitful for good or evil); 6:19 (hope the anchor); 11:13 (the vision of the distant shore); 12:1 (the amphitheatre); 12:8 ff. (the discipline of life). A whole picture often lies in single words: 2:1 (pararuw'men); 4:2 (sunkekerasmevno" -ou"); 4:9 (sabbatismov"); 4:13 (tetrachlismevna); 5:2 (perivkeitai ajsqevneian, comp. 10:11 perielei'n); 6:1 ferwvmeqa); 6:6 (ajnastaurou'nte"); 8:5 (skiav, comp. 9:23 f.; 10:1, 11); 8:13 (ghravskon); 10:20 (oJdo;" zw'sa); 10:33 (qeatrizovmenoi); 12:23 (panhvguri"). Compare also 1:3; 2:9, 15; 3:2; 5:12 f.; 10:22, 27; 12:13.

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