Hebrews 5:12

Thursday, 18 October 2018

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. Hebrews 5:12

The verse begins with “For” in order to build upon the previous words which said, “…since you have become dull of hearing.” Due to their lethargy in paying heed to the things of God, they had failed to mature. And so as a rebuke of their shoddiness in attending to their theological knowledge, he says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers…” In other words, “Because of the amount of time you have been around, you should be so familiar with the matters we have been discussing that you yourselves should have a deep enough understanding of them that you should be teaching them.” But instead, he continues, “you need someone to teach you again the first principles.”

Actually, the word, “Again,” is in the emphatic position. And so it should be connected to “you need,” not “to teach you.” Therefore, it should read, “You need, again, someone to teach you the first principles.” He is stressing the absolute dull nature of their spiritual walk. Not only were they not teachers, but they were so lacking in paying heed to the things of God, that once again they needed to be taught the very basics (first principles).

Just what these “first principles” are is debated. Some look at them as being explained in verse 6:1, speaking of the “elementary principles of Christ.” Others, however, see them as the basics of the Old Testament Scriptures which point to Christ. As his discussion so far has been of how the Old points to the New, the latter is likely the case. The same Greek term, stoicheion, is used by Paul when speaking of the Old Testament rudiments in Galatians 4:3 & 4:9, and in Colossians 2:8 & 2:20. In all of these cases, Paul shows the lesser nature of these elements (first principles) in relation to the surpassing knowledge of the work of Christ. In Galatians 4:9, he even calls them “weak and beggarly.” It is a term similar to what the author will call the Law of Moses in Hebrews 7:18.

As we can see, so far and in particular, he has been speaking of the duties of the high priest of Israel and then those of Jesus being on a different order, that of Melchizedek. And so surely he is referring to these “first principles” as the body of Old Testament writing. This is more certain because they are fully termed by the author, “the first principles of the oracles of God.”

The term, “oracles,” is used in Acts 7:38, Romans 3:2, and 1 Peter 4:11. In the first two instances, it is referring only to the body of Old Testament Scriptures, inclusive of the law, the writings, and the prophets. In 1 Peter 4:11, Peter uses the term as a comparison to the utterances of God, but he most fully is referring to the body of Scripture known as the Old Testament, along with any prophetic revelation since then. When the author comes to the elementary principles of Christ in verse 6:1, he will be using the term in how those things are established in Christ as the fulfillment of these Old Testament oracles. This then seems the likely interpretation based on the next words of this verse, and how they tie into the final two verses of the chapter.

Understanding this, the author continues his rebuke of his audience with the words, “and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” The words, “and you have come,” shows a change in the audience. They were in one state and progressing well in it, and then they moved to another state and are now reduced to a lower level; there is a degeneracy in their theology. The obvious explanation is that they had been progressing in applying, to their lives, the knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures and how they pointed to Christ. However, the believing Hebrews had suddenly gone off course and started to look at the Old Testament Scriptures again as a means to an end in and of themselves. It is thus representative of Paul’s words to the Galatians, rebuking them for going back from sound theological development in Christ and turning again to the Old Testament by adhering to the Law of Moses. This is confirmed in the term, “you have come to need milk and not solid food.”

Milk is for babies, not adults. One must develop from one to the other. Once developed, it would make no sense to fall back to the lesser category. It is reflective of Paul’s words to the Corinthians –

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal.” 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

The author is equating the first principles of the oracles of God, meaning the truths of the Old Testament in how they point to Christ, to mere milk. He is then showing that the deeper theology which is found in Christ is the true solid food which those who are mature will dine on. However, as noted above, they had regressed in their theology by once again applying Old Testament theology to their lives. They had gone from faith alone in Christ to adherence to law. The coming two verses will more fully reveal this.

Life application: The book of Hebrews, like the letters of Paul, warns against devolving in one’s theology from the supremacy of trusting in the finished work of Christ to instead going back to adherence to the Old Testament. Unfortunately, this same problem, warned against over 2000 years ago, has greatly increased in the world again today. Those who follow the Hebrew Roots Movement are doing exactly what is warned against in Hebrews. The author will continue to explain this, in great detail, in the chapters ahead.

Lord God! How blessed are we to have the full revelation of Your plan of redemption in the pages of Scripture. We have what the ancients longed for. In the coming of Jesus, the first principles of theology found in the Old Testament are fulfilled. Now, we can move onto solid food by understanding what He has done. May we pursue the beauty of the finished work of Christ all our days! And to You, we shall give all of our praise. Amen.

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