- Locate the Passage
Hebrews 2:1–18 is part of a larger section that begins with 1:5 and comprises two subsections: 1:5–14 and 2:1–18. This second subsection begins with a paragraph unit in 2:1–4 that links the two sections together. 2:1-4 is the third paragraph of the letter and is the first of five warning passages in the letter.
Hortatory (note the command forms and warning nature of the paragraph). “Frequent shift between expository and hortatory genres is a pronounced characteristic of Hebrews. The distinctions between these two genres is clearly indicated in the surface structure, especially by the verbal system. Hortatory genre is characterized by imperative verbs or subjunctives with imperative intent, and first and second person predominate. In expository genre, verbs are generally indicative, and third person has greater frequency” (“A Discourse Analysis of Hebrews,” 3–4, 6. See also G. Guthrie, Structure of Hebrews, 63–64.)
- Determine the Structure of the Passage
The use of dia touto (“therefore”) signals a shift in topic followed by a warning of the danger of neglecting to listen to the things spoken by the Lord and “those who heard him.” The use of “we” and “us” indicates that a shift to a more direct address to the readers is in view. The two paragraphs in chap. 1 (1:1–4; 1:5–14) function as the grounds or reason for the exhortation in 2:1–4, with the focus on the person of Christ; the following three paragraphs (vv. 5–9, vv. 10–13, vv. 14–18) function as the grounds or reason for 2:1–4 as well, with the focus on the work of Christ. Furthermore, in 1:1–14, Jesus is superior to the angels as Son, while in 2:5–14 he is superior to the angels as man via the incarnation, atonement, and exaltation. Hebrews 2:1–4 is the only hortatory paragraph in the first two chapters.
it is necessary
to pay attention more carefully
to what we have heard
so that we do not drift away.
if the message spoken by angels was binding,
and [if] every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,
[then] how shall we escape
if we ignore such a great salvation?
was first announced by the Lord,
and was confirmed to us by those who heard him.
God also testifying
by both signs,
and various miracles,
and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
- Exegete the Passage
A good analysis of the semantic and syntactical structure of this paragraph is given by Neva Miller, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Analytical and Exegetical Handbook (Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1988), 31–38, and P. Cotterell and M. Turner, Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1989), 201–3, 217–23). Both lexical and syntactical information are provided in a helpful summary by J. H. Greenlee, Exegetical Summary of Hebrews (Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1998), 41–51.
- Let the structure of the text drive the structure of the sermon.
I. 2:1 (Main Point – Exhortation – “Pay close attention….”)
A. 2:2-4 (Grounds for the exhortation – introduced by the conjunction “for” in v. 2)
1) 2:3 (Grounds for the two propositions in v. 2 [angels’ message was binding and
disobedience was punished] expressed as a rhetorical question – “How shall we escape…such a great salvation?”)
This salvation was 1) announced by the Lord, and 2) confirmed by those who heard
a) 2:4 (Means used by God to confirm the witness of those who heard the Lord –
expressed in four datives in Greek: “signs,” “wonders,” “miracles,” and “gifts.”)
The sermon would have one main point (v. 1) and one sub-point (vv. 2-4).