Intent of Hebrews 2:16

What is the real meaning of the expression, "the nature of," in Hebrews 2:16?

W. E. HOWELL.  [S.D.A. Theological Seminary.']

There is a rather unusual amount of sup­plied verbiage in this verse in the King James Version, where the phrase, "the nature, of," is used in reference to angels and the seed of Abraham. This supplied phrase is evidently an interpretation rather than a translation. The Revised Version also gives somewhat of an interpretation—' doth He give help"—but is much closer to a justifiable translation. A little review of the use of the verb here em­ployed will be very helpful in understanding the force of this passage.

The Greek word is epilambanetai, used in the present tense. Greek students will under­stand what I mean when I say that this verb is used in the middle voice only in the New Testament, where it occurs seventeen times. For the most part, it is used in the literal, concrete sense of .taking or laying hold of. For example, when Peter was walking on the water and began to sink, Jesus "stretched forth His hand, and caught him." Matt. 14:31. When the disciples were disputing over which of them should be greatest, Jesus "took a child, and set him by Him." Luke 9:47. When the masters of a damsel possessed of a spirit of divination saw their gains going, "they caught Paul and Silas" and drew them to the rulers. Acts 16:19. As Jesus was being led to Cal­vary, "they laid hold upon one Simon" to bear the cross for Him. Luke 23:26. In a less material sense, we are exhorted to "lay hold on eternal life." I Tim, 6:12.

Coming now to the book of Hebrews itself. we hear the Lord saying of Israel, "I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt." Heb. 8:9. Here the purpose is plainly to lay hold on for the purpose of deliverance and succor. In the same book Paul uses the same word with the same mean­ing: "He taketh not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold." Heb. 2 :16, margin. The obvious purpose in taking hold of the seed of Abraham is stated clearly in verse 15, to "deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Hence the American Revised Ver­sion renders the passage, "He giveth help to the seed of Abraham."

Since it is connected closely in thought with verse 15, in which the word "deliver" occurs as a definition of God's purpose concerning the sinner, it would seem entirely justifiable to paraphrase Hebrews 8:9 a bit, where He says, "I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt (the land of bond­age),' and make Hebrews 2:16 read, by way of interpretation: "He taketh not hold of angels to deliver them, but He taketh hold of the seed of Abraham to deliver them." Verse 17 then goes on to tell how He does this. The argument comes back again to the idea of rescue in verse 18, "to succor them that are tempted." In fact, it would not be a poor rendering of verse 16 to make it read a bit more literally, "He giveth succor to the seed of Abraham.'      

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W. E. HOWELL.  [S.D.A. Theological Seminary.']

May 1940

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