The main point of Heb 12:4–11 is to explain why the readers must endure the disciplinary/educative sufferings which God allows them to experience. One of the main points the author of Hebrews has made is that even Jesus himself must be “perfected” through sufferings. If this is true of him, how much more is it true for all believers.
- Locate the passage.
The paragraph follows 12:1-3 without any intervening conjunction. There is a slight shift in topic from endurance in the Christian life to viewing trials as part of God’s training in the Christian life.
- Determine the structure of the text
The paragraph is composed of four sections:
Verse 11 functions as the conclusion to the argument by summarizing the benefits. This conclusion functions as the grounds for the exhortations that will appear in vv. 12-13.
- Exegete the passage
In Heb 12:5–11, the author addresses the subject of how God uses suffering and adversity in the lives of Christians. We have already seen how the readers of this epistle had and were experiencing persecution and the concomitant hardship which it brings. Developing the cultural concept of paideia, “discipline,” the author cogently shows just how it is that his readers can and should reinterpret suffering and adversity as God’s education of their lives, training them for righteous living. The key Old Testament text which the author uses in this section is Prov 3:11–12.
Verse 5 is closely related to v. 4 by the conjunction kai. One interpretive issue in this opening clause of the verse is whether the clause is a statement or a question. The latter seems the most likely.
The author continues his theme of losing heart by his quotation of Prov 3:11–12 in vv. 5–6.
In vv. 7–11, the author gives his exposition on the Proverbs’ text. Three points are made: the necessity of discipline; the proper response to discipline; and the benefits of discipline.
Verse 9 begins a new sub-paragraph signaled by the Greek conjunction eita, “moreover.” The imperfect tenses in the verse indicate customary action in the past.
The unusual phrase “Father of spirits” in the Greek text has garnered significant attention among commentators resulting in several interpretations. The generic view takes the reference to be to spirits in general. Another view takes the phrase as possessive in the sense of “our spirits.” A third approach takes the reference to be to the spiritual life of believers. The fourth possibility is to interpret the genitive adjectivally as describing “Father” in the sense of “our spiritual father.” This fourth view seems least likely, with the second and third views being possible. The generic approach probably comes nearest to the author’s intended meaning.
In v. 10 the author speaks of the benefits of discipline. The verse begins with a temporal description of the discipline, “for a little while,” followed by the motivation behind it, “as they thought best.” The reference is to childhood discipline which was temporary.
Verse 11 begins with the conjunction de which functions to sum up 12:4–10. When we undergo discipline, it is a painful experience. However, “latter on” it will bring forth a harvest which consists of “peace and righteousness.”
See Neva Miller, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Analytical and Exegetical Handbook, 389-400; J. Harold Greenlee, Hebrews: An Exegetical Summary, 512-30; and David L. Allen, Hebrews, 577-83, for more detailed exegetical and semantic analysis of the text.
- Let the structure of the text drive the structure of the sermon.
I. 12:11 (Summary conclusion and most dominant information)