Home > Hermeneutics > The use of parentheses in Hebrews 4:1-11

The use of parentheses in Hebrews 4:1-11

Most of the commentators have experienced difficulty when attempting to trace the course of the apostle’s argument in Hebrews 4:1-11. Its structure is indeed much involved, but not a little light is cast on it by placing verses 4-10 in parentheses. The exhortation begun in 3:12, is not completed till 4:12, is reached: all that intervenes consists of an exposition and application of the passage quoted from Psalm 95 in 3:7-11. The connecting link between the two chapters is found in, “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (3:19). On those words is based the admonition of 4:1-3, which bids us to take to heart the solemn warning there given. The first clause of verse 3, when literally rendered, reads: “For we enter into the rest, who believe”—the historical tense is thus avoided. It is neither “have entered” nor “shall enter,” but an abstract statement of a doctrinal fact—only believers enter into God’s rest. The second half of 4:3, quotes again from Psalm 95.

In the parentheses of 4:4-10, the apostle enters upon a discussion of the “rest” which the Psalmist spoke of and which he was exhorting his readers to strive to enter, bidding them to take heed lest they fell short of attaining thereto.

First, he pointed out (vv. 4-6) that David had not referred to God’s own rest upon creation and the Sabbath rest which ensued therefrom.

Second, nor was it the rest of Canaan (vv. 7, 8) into which Joshua led Israel.

Third, it was something then future (v. 9), namely the rest announced in the Gospel.

Fourth, in verse 10 there is a noticeable change of number from the “us” in verse 1 and the “we” of verse 3 to “He that is entered into His rest,” where the reference is to Christ Himself—His entrance being both the pledge and proof that His people will do so: “whither the forerunner is for us entered” (6:20).

In 4:11, the apostle returns to his principal exhortation of 3:13, and 4:1-3. There he had said, “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it”; here he makes known how that “fear” is to exert itself: not in dread or doubting, but a reverential respect to the Divine threatenings and promises, with a diligent use of the appointed means of grace.

Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice (first for his own sins, and then for the people’s): for this He did once, when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 7:27). This is another verse which has troubled commentators, but all difficulty is removed by inserting the above parentheses. In this and the next verse, the apostle specifies some of the respects in which our High Priest is superior to the priests of the Aaronic order. His perfections, described in verse 26, exempted Him from all the infirmities and blemishes which pertain to the Levitical priests, and which disqualified them from making an effectual atonement unto God for sin. In blessed contrast, Christ was infinitely well pleasing to God: not only without personal transgression and defilement, but intrinsically holy in Himself. Thus, not only was there no need for Him to offer any sacrifice for Himself, but His oblation for His people was of infinite value and eternal validity. “This He did once” announces the glorious fact of its absolute sufficiency: that it requires no repetition on His part, nor augmentation from us.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

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