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7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save him from death, and He was heard for his godly fear.
8 Although He was a Son, He became skilled at obedience through what He experienced;
9 and at the point at which He was perfected, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him
œmaqen: "became skilled at": to learn by use and practice, to be in the habit of, accustomed to.
2nd aorist active, past tense, third person, singular
Noun, accusative, feminine, singular.
œpaqe: an experience, "experienced": to be affected by an event or events. These can be either good or bad.
2nd aorist active, past tense, third person, singular
teleiwqeˆj: "at the point at which He was perfected"
Adjectival participle, first aorist passive, nominative, masculine.
The Greeks had two ways of translating an adjectival participle. One would indicate an action which occurred after another, "after He was perfected He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him." The other indicates two actions which occurred simultaneously, "at the point at which He was perfected He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him." Which translation we use has to be determined by the context. As we will see, both the context and the word teleiwqeˆj itself favor the later translation indicating that the two events, Christ's perfection and our resulting salvation, occur simultaneously.
"Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered." (RSV)
Many take this verse to mean that Jesus started out being disobedient, or suffered through a time of disobedience, and then was "forced" into submission through His sufferings. We certainly see this happen frequently in the lives of children, and have seen it happen this way in our own lives. But if we examine the words closely we'll see a different message being conveyed.
First we're going to look at the word which is frequently translated suffered. This word in the Greek is not limited to just this definition. It, in fact, is used to indicate both positive and negative experiences. The translators change the meaning of the verse in using only the negative aspect because the context doesn't call for it. To see a verse where the suffering aspect of œpaqe is used you can turn to Hebrews 2:18. However, in Hebrews 5:8, a better rendering would be to translate œpaqe as, "experienced."
The word translated, learned is, " œmaqen ". The type of learning experience described by this verb can be likened to an individual learning to play an instrument through practice, or to a child learning to walk, or to any other skill we gain proficiency in only through doing. œmaqen does not imply a turning away from disobedience to obedience because of a negative learning experience or experiences. It indicates the acquiring of a skill or ability through practice.
So what we have in verse eight is Jesus becoming practiced and skilled at obedience to the Holy Spirit through the events in His life, both the good and the bad. Nowhere in here is there any hint of iniquity. But, rather, we see the heart of a loving and obedient Son desiring to do His Father's will, and becoming proficient at it as He experienced life in like manner as we do.
The key word we need to examine in verse 9 is, teleiwqeˆj, "being made perfect." It is an
adjectival participle, first aorist passive, nominative, masculine. The key aspect of this word we need to discuss is what is called, "voice." We'll take a look at two different voices, the active and the passive, to compare how the change in voice can affect the meaning of a verb.
If a verb is written in the active voice, it indicates that the subject does the action on or to the object:
The man hit the ball.
Direction of action:
From subject to object
If a verb is written in the passive voice, it means the object is doing the action on or to the subject.
The man was hit by the ball.
Direction of action:
To subject from object.
In this passage, teleiwqeˆj (being made perfect) is passive, indicating that Jesus was made perfect by an outside source rather than through His own efforts. In this case it was God through the Holy Spirit who perfected Jesus.
We tend to associate sin with imperfection. But just because someone isn't perfected doesn't necessarily means he/she is sinful. Imperfection can also indicate an unfinished job.
For example, while I'm building a house it isn't perfected. It may in its essence be flawless, even though it isn’t finished. But it isn’t considered to be perfected until it is finished. When it is done, in theory at least, it then is perfected. This is what this particular verb means in it's original form. It does not mean the eradication of personal sin - that Jesus had to be made sinless. No! It indicates the completion of a job, task, or project.
Jesus wasn't considered perfected until He had completed the full plan of God, which included dying on the cross for our sins. This passage indicates He was perfected when He became the source of our eternal salvation. His perfection was measured on His actively following the will of the Father, and on fulfilling every jot and tittle of the law concerning Himself, His life, and His role in God's plan for our redemption, and on His willfully submitting to the Father to allow the Father to mold Him into the person the Father desired the Son to be.
One could make the argument that the last thing I just said indicates an active role on Christ's part - and certainly we must take on an active willingness to submit to God and His plan for our lives, just as Christ did. But this section of scripture is discussing how Christ was perfected - that is, who perfected Him into the person God desired Him to be, He Himself, or an outside force?
John 5:19 Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise."
John 8:28 So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of man,1 then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me."
The same can be said for us. We are not perfected until God Himself through the ministrations of the Holy Spirit has molded us into what He desires us to be, and until we complete the task He has laid before us in this life. Some equate our imperfections with sin. In some cases it is, if it is by willful, obstinate disobedience. But from the standpoint of this passage and the meaning of the word, "teleiwqeˆj," none of us are "perfected" (teleiwqeˆj) until this life is over, even though we can through the infilling of the Holy Spirit be sinless. (Sinless perfection and applied perfection are not synonymous terms. One indicates a lack of sin, the other maturity in relationship, judgment, and skill)
If we take a good look at the way God works, we'll see that He is a builder. He does things one step at a time. He rarely if ever just speaks the word and has a completed work in front of Him. Just look at the life of Jesus. He certainly wasn't perfected when He came to earth, even though He was sinless. He was a baby and did the things babies do. He was in no position to teach anyone anything at this stage. Couldn't you see the Sanhedrin nailing a baby to the cross?
The lessons we have to learn from this study are:
- We become skilled at obeying God through practice as we learn how to discern God's will and apply it to our daily lives.
- There is a type of perfection in whose definition is: the completion of our growth process as the Holy Spirit continuously and daily molds us into what He wants us to be, including our completing the task for which the Father has created us through His leadership and our obedience.2
May God bless you as you continue your walk in Him!
Glen Lee Edwards
- The phrase, "lifted up the Son of man," indicates the type of death He would die - on the cross.
- Try not to get this statement confused with holiness, which is a state of perfection. Our walk in Christ follows this pattern; sinful > saved > holy in heart > mature in Christ > glorified (the work is completed or perfected). Hebrews 5:9 refers to a state of completion, not a state of sinlessness, which is assumed already existed.
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