Hebrews 2:9

From the Eisegetical Violence Shelter
An Exegetical Defense of
Hebrews 2:9

One of the most popularly abused texts by the Anti-Calvinists is Hebrews 2:9. Let’s begin by reviewing the text in question:

Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

Hebrews 2:9 is frequently appealled to by anti-Calvinists as suggesting that Christ died for each and every person. That is not what the verse says, and that is not what the verse means. However, given the KJV’s translation of the verse, and given a rabid Anti-Calvinist mentality, it is easy to see why it is pressed into service. To combat this abuse, we must read the verse in context and analyze it exegetically.

Read the Verse in Context

Hebrews 2:7-17
7Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: 8Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. 10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. 13And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. 14Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. 17Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

Address the obvious idiom in verse 9

Verse 9 contains the phrase: “taste death.” This phrase means to experience death, that is to say, “to die.” It is an indirect, figurative way of talking. Death is not something that can literally be tasted. Nevertheless, this idiom is used to express the sense of experience death. It’s not unique to Hebrews 2:9.

Here are some other examples:

  • Matthew 16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
  • Mark 9:1 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.
  • Luke 9:27 But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.
  • John 8:51-52
  • 51Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. 52Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.

The word used here is the Greek word geuomai, which literally means to taste or eat.

In addition to the examples above it is used both literally and figuratively in other Scriptures, as shown below:

Literally:

  • Matthew 27:34 They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
  • Luke 14:24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.
  • John 2:9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
  • Acts 20:11 When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.
  • Acts 23:14 And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.
  • Colossians 2:21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;

Figuratively:

  • Hebrews 6:4-5
  • 4For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
  • 1 Peter 2:3 If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

In the literal examples above, what is being tasted/eaten is food/drink. In the figurative examples, something is being analogized to food/drink.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that this symbology is central the Lord’s supper, in it we taste Christ and His death (figuratively) by tasting the bread and cup’s contents (literally):

1 Corinthians 11:26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

There is a parallel figure of speech relating to another of the senses, “see.”

For example:

Psalm 34:8 O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.

This parallel can also be seen in some of the other verses we saw above:

  • John 8:51-52
  • 51Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. 52Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.
  • Luke 9:27 But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.
  • Matthew 16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

And, of course, in the verse we are discussing:
Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

And, indeed, the figurative use of “see” is – like “taste” – applied to death:

  • Psalm 89:48 What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.
  • Luke 2:26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

And, as well, the verse from John 8 that we have seen a few times now:
John 8:51-52
51Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. 52Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.

The conclusion of this discussion of the figurative language in Hebrews 2:9 is to see the contrast between our experience of Jesus and Jesus experience of death, as well as just to show that the expression means to experience not just to sort of nibble at, or take a tiny crumb of.

Address the preposition in the phrase “for every man” and the sense of the phrase as a whole

The sense of the phrase as a whole is something akin to that of the same phrase (in English, and in the LXX) here:

Jeremiah 29:26 The LORD hath made thee priest in the stead of Jehoiada the priest, that ye should be officers in the house of the LORD, for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in prison, and in the stocks.

To be more precise the phrase “for every man” contains the preposition “for” which is being used, as in Jeremiah 29:26 substitutionarily. Thus “for every man” means “in place of every man” or “in the stead of every man.”

The Greek word translated “for” here is huper. Like almost all prepositions it has a lot of senses. However, the one that fits here is the substitutionary sense.

Acknowledge that “every man” is not the direct literal translation

The Greek word translated by the KJV and other translations as “every man” is a single Greek word “panta” which is the genative, masculine, singular form of the word “all.” It is an adjective being used substantively. That is to say, it is standing as though it were a noun.

Determine whether panta refers to each and every person as the universal atonement crowd claims, or whether panta means something else

Avoid unwarranted conclusory self-serving eisegesis

Only someone who was completely ignorant would think that pas usually means each and every person who has or ever will live. In fact, of the 1200 or so uses of the word pas few refer to all of humanity without exception.

Consider the objects of God’s discussion in the passage

So, rather than impose this relatively rare meaning on the word pas simply to fit one’s theology, let’s examine the context (shown above). Let’s identify candidates for who, in the context, the panta can be referring to, after all, Hebrews 2:9 is not a lone proverb with no context, but part of a message that extends at least from verses 7-17:

Hebrews 2:7-17
7Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: 8Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. 10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. 13And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. 14Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. 17Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

Consider those objects in the verses preceding the verse in question.

In the verses preceding verse 9, we see discussion of “all things” being placed under subjection to Christ, and verse 8 explains that if “all” are in subjection then none are not in subjection. In other words, the “all” is an exhaustive sense of the word all. It is not merely a general sense of the word “all.”

(One should note that it would be tempting for a Reformed reader to take panta in verse 9 in a general sense, as in “all kinds of men” or “every sort of man.” That would resolve the apparent conflict between verse 9 and the verses that more particularly say that Christ died for His sheep or His people, since His elect are from all nations and are of every kind of men, even politicians.)

But verse 8 continues that we can see that not “all things” are put under Christ yet. We know from verse 8 that they will be, and we are tantalized with the question of how we get from not all thing to all things being subjected to Christ.

Consider the verse itself.

With the prefatory verse in mind, and the question of how Christ will go from not all things to all things being in subjection to him, we read:

Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

How do all things come to be in subjection to him? They become subjected to him by his Incarnation (made a little lower than the angels), his Sacrifice (for the suffering of death), and his Resurrection and Ascension (crowned with glory and honor). More specifically, they become subjected by experience death for this “all things” (“that he … should taste death for every man”).

Now we can see how the “all things” come to be subject through him. And what are those “all things”? The verses following verse 9 tell us.

Examine the verses that follow verse 9

Hebrews 2:10-17
10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. 13And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. 14Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. 17Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

Verse 10:

From verse 10, we can see that these “all things” are “for” Christ and “all things” are “by” Christ, and that these are the “many sons” that he will bring to glory. And that Christ’s purpose was to become the captain of “their” salvation through suffering.

One interesting point at the front end of this discussion. The Greek uses the same preposition in both cases (“for” and “by” are both indicated in Greek by dia). Like most prepositions, dia has a lot of different senses, and here the two different senses are conveyed by the declension of the prounoun hos or “whom” (in the first case the accusative declension, and in the second case the genative declension).

This way of differentiating does not convey well in English or many other languages, because many languages either do not differentiate between accusative and genative through declension or because many languages that do so decline have more rigid rules regarding objects of prepositions. Thus, for example, the Vulgate (in Latin) uses two different prepositions (“because of whom” and “through whom”) as does the Old Slavonic (“for whom” and “from/through/by whom”).

The “through/by whom” seems to be appropriate here, and follows the sense of John 1:3

John 1:3 (KJV) All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Compare:

John 1:3 (ESV) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In both cases the phrase “by/through him” is dia plus a genative.

Likewise the dia plus the accusative has the sense of cause – thus “because of” seems to be a very precise translation, and is one of the senses of the English word “for” in verse 10. For more discussion, see M. Zerwick’s Biblical Greek, page 37, section 112 (Caution, Roman Catholic printer).

If you are interested in seeing how Greek conveys different senses with the same pronouns using genative versus accusative, see this link (which also mentions dia):http://www.bcbsr.com/greek/gprep.html

The upshot of all of this is that verse 10 is making Christ both the cause (for whom) and the agent (through whom) of the “all things.” Thus he is the captain of “their” salvation – he is the agent and cause of their salvation.

Verse 11: This thought is continued in the eleventh verse, with explanation as to the mechanism.

Verse 11 explains that the way in which Christ is cause and agent of salvation for the “all” is through unity: “he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one.” This unity and union is expressed elsewhere in Scripture with the terminology “in Christ.” You may recall from our previous discussion of Hebrews 10 that “sanctifying” generically means to make holy. One should not assume that it is being used the way a seminary professor would use the term in class. It means to purify them. And this work is ascribed to Christ, the captain of their salvation, not to the Holy Spirit who is the person of the Trinity that sanctifies in the seminarial/academic sense.

Verse 11 continues by explaining that on account of this – this unity and purification – Christ is not ashamed to call “them” brethren. Finally we have an identification of who the “all” is – who “they” are. “They/Every man/all things/all” are those for whom Christ suffered and died, of whose salvation Christ is the captain, and who are in Christ, namely those whom He calls His brethren.

Verse 12: More detail is provided in verse 12.

In case there was any question as to whom Christ’s brethren are, verse 12 makes it clear through parallelism, equating “my brethren” and “the church.” And verse 12 does so by citing as Jesus’ words, the words of Psalm 22. Let’s see what Psalm 22 says:

Psalm 22:22-31
22I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. 23Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. 24For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. 25My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. 26The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever. 27All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. 28For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations. 29All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. 30A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. 31They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

What is Psalm 22 speaking of? It is speaking somewhat in shadow, somewhat in prophecy, of the harvest of the elect. It calls them the seed of Jacob/Israel. We know from Paul’s writings that Israel is a type of the elect – of all true believers. Thus, we are by faith in Christ, children of Abraham. Likewise, Psalm 22 uses some broad language (“all” in extensive, general sense here – the Psalmist is not claiming that there will be universal salvation) to describe the “seed” that will be “accounted to the Lord for a generation.” These are those who are attributed to Abraham.

The Psalmist tells us not that they may come, or they might come, or that they will come if they in their individual sovereignty decide to come, but the Psalmist says with absolute certainty “they will come.” But they won’t just come, they will declare his righteousness to future generations. They will testify to the righteousness of God. And how will they testify to the righteousness of God? They will do so by attributing the “doing” of salvation to Him!

But I have digressed, verse 12 has clarified that this exhaustive “all” and “all things” and “them” and “their” – those whom he calls “brethren” are the church.

Verse 13: Further examples prove the point.

Verse 13 continues to provide Scriptural proof. The author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 91 and 18:

Psalm 91:2 I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.

Psalm 18:2 The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.

The illustration is of a castle. We who trust in God view Him as our castle, fortress, high wall, strong tower, and so forth. We know that we are “in Him” (there’s the proof of the idea that He that sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one) and therefore we are safe. We trust in Him, the way that natural man trusts in his fortifications, his armor, and his watchmen.

And the author of Hebrews ties those two together and strengthens them with a quotation of Isaiah 8:

Isaiah 8:17-18
17And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. 18Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion.

The author of Hebrews analogizes the seed, the church, the “all” to the “children whom the hath given me” with “me” and “I” pointing to Christ. Will someone suppose that Isaiah’s children came to him by their own will? If so, then one can attribute the “all”s salvation to the will of man. But if they came to Isaiah by God’s will, and without any contribution from the children, then we can see that the author of Hebrews is making a Reformed analogy.

Verse 14: The Reformed analogy from Isaiah’s children to the children God gave Jesus is expanded upon.

Verse 14 expands on the children analogy. It says that because “the children” (the “all things/all/brethren/church/them/their”) are flesh and blood, and therefore He became flesh and blood for the purpose of destroying death and the devil.

Verse 15: The reason set forth in verse 14 is continued.

Verse 15 continues that the purpose in destroying death and the devil was to deliver “them” who were subject to bondage by fear of death. Notice that purpose is to destroy death and to deliver those who were captive on account of the fear of death. Death is to be feared because it triggers judgment for sins. Thus, we can see that Christ’s work for the “them” is to free them for that fear of death, from the guilt of their sins.

Verse 16: Verse 14 is tied back to verses 7 and 9, as well as to 13 and Psalm 22.

Verse 16 essentially rephrases verse 14 but does so by saying that Jesus was incarnate not as an angel (cf. verses 7 and 9) but as one of the “seed of Abraham” which we recall frm verse 13 and Psalm 22 point toward the “them/all/etc.” that the passage is talking about – the group that the Reformed generally refer to as the elect. We should also notice that this ties back to the first chapter of Hebrews, in which Christ is compared with the angels.

Verse 17: Summarizes the theme of the passage by rewording verse 10 and working in the other aspects of the passage.

Verse 17 states:
“Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.”

In case there was any doubt that the “made like the seed of Abraham” did not mean “made like his brethren” verse 17 clarifies that point. Verse 17 then explains that purpose of the Incarnation and sacrifice was for Christ to serve as high priest of God, and specifically to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.”

This “people” is the Greek word laos, which means essentially a “nation.” What nation? It is the chosen nation, the elect nation, namely the people of God. Just as Aaron the High Priest made reconciliation for physical Israel ceremonially and outwardly, even more so Christ the True High Priest made reconciliation for spiritual Israel, the elect, really and completely. This sets up much of the remaining discussion about Christ as High Priest in the remainder of Hebrews.

Step 6: Conclusion

Having seen the passage, the context, the way that panta is paralleled with “the seed of Abraham” and “his brethren” and even “the church,” we can conclude that all is a reference to every last one of the elect, both those who are already his subjects, and those who will be. Thus, we can consistently understand Hebrews 2:9 as describing Christ’s priestly atoning work for the church, the congregation, the elect.

Let us remember the words of the Lord, who said:

  • Luke 15:4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
  • Luke 19:10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
  • John 6:39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.

So then, we affirm the consistency of Hebrews 2:9 with the context, as well as with Jesus’ purpose and mission of actually saving those who are his. All 100 sheep will be saved, nothing will be lost, for such is the Father’s good pleasure.

Objections Answered
I think the explanation above should answer most questions, but I welcome objections, corrections, comments, and rebukes.

Praise be to our Substitute, Jesus Christ the Righteous!

-Turretinfan

2 Responses to “Hebrews 2:9”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    You go to great lengths to show what normal, unbiased (non-Arminian) people should see as the case: “all” does not mean “each and every” in everyday parlance as well as in Scripture much of the time. Besides, compare Scripture to Scripture, and one easily deduces election.

  2. Turretinfan Says:

    I agree that much of the abuse of this passage that we see is from those who have Anti-Calvinist (Amyraldian, Arminian, Molonist, Open Theist, Pelagian, Semi-Pelagian, Roman Catholic, Mormon, etc.) presuppositions. In other words, if it weren’t talking about Christ’s death, I doubt we’d see the kind of abuse of this passage that we see.Nevertheless, it is a verse that is particularly susceptible to abuse, and it is worthwhile knowing WHY the eisegists are wrong, and not just THAT the eisegists are wrong.You are right that we can find election (directly stated, without even deduction being necessary) in Scripture. However, we can also reject the Arminian and Amyraldian errors of combining election (respectively conditional and unconditional election) with universal atonement by properly understanding verses like this one.Are there any other verses that you see abused a lot?May God’s blessing rest on you,-Turretinfan

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