Hebrews 5:11-14

 |  September 9, 2016

  1. Locate the passage.

Semantically, the section beginning with Heb 5:11 shifts to hortatory discourse from the previous expository section (5:1–10), and actually extends to Heb 6:20. Hebrews 5:10 concludes with a reference to Melchizedek[1] and 6:20 ends with the identical reference. Thus, 5:11–6:20 is a complete discourse unit. This unit can be subdivided into two primary sections, 5:11–6:12 and 6:13–20.

  1. Genre

Formally, the genre is expository. There are no direct imperatives. However, the genre of 5:11–6:12 as a whole is hortatory and 6:13–20 is expository. 5:11-14 begins the third warning passage of the epistle.

The entire section, 5:11–6:20, can be further subdivided into four preaching paragraphs: 5:11–14; 6:1–8, 6:9–12; and 6:13–20.

  1. Determine the structure of the text

Verse 11 continues the Melchizedek theme and closely links back to v. 10. Verses 12 and 13 each introduce new sentences beginning with gar, thus denoting subordination to v. 11. Verse 14 begins with de and is given a hyperordinating tag by Friberg and Friberg, Analytical Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 668, signaling that it introduces a coordinate clause of greater semantic weight than the preceding clause. Thus, vv. 11 and 14 contain the most important information to be communicated.

  1. Exegete the passage

Hebrews 5:11–14 explains why the author does not proceed with his doctrinal treatment of Christ’s high priesthood. The author chides the readers for their lack of maturity. Although they have been Christians long enough that they should themselves be teachers, yet they have regressed to the point that they are in need of being taught again the elementary principles of basic doctrine.

5:12 Verse 12 begins with the subordinating conjunction “gar,” “for,” and provides the grounds for the conclusion in v. 11—“they have become slow to understand.” Semantically it introduces a contrast between what the readers are and what they should be. Because they have been Christians long enough, they should by now be able to teach others. But in fact, they need to be taught.

5:13 Verse 13 begins a new subordinate sentence (gar) and functions as the grounds/reason for the latter part of v. 12 (note the repetition of “milk).

5:14 Verse 14 is the second half of the sentence begun in v. 13 and introduces a contrast (de) “but” which semantically conveys greater weight than the preceding clause.

In summary, 5:11–14 gives three indicators for the immaturity of the readers. First, their inability to teach others; second, they need “milk” and not solid food; third, they are spiritually untrained in distinguishing good from evil. The crucial thing to note here is that this paragraph is dealing with an issue of sanctification, not salvation.

For more detailed exegetical data on this text, see Neva Miller, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Analytical and Exegetical Handbook, 154-59; J. Harold Greenlee, Hebrews: An Exegetical Summary, 174-84; and David L. Allen, Hebrews, 332-39.

  1. Let the structure of the text drive the structure of the sermon.

I. 5:11 – Spiritual immaturity is expressed in their reluctance to learn and move beyond basic



A. 5:12 – They lack ability to teach others

B. 5:13 – They need milk and not solid food

C. 5:14 – They are spiritually untrained in distinguishing good from evil.

The underlying thrust of this passage is to exhort the hearers to address their spiritual immaturity and do something about it.


[1] Discussion of Melchizedek will be delayed until chapter seven. On Jewish and Christian speculation about Melchizedek, see the lengthy footnote with bibliography in Bruce, Hebrews, 134, and the footnotes here on Heb 7.

Category: Sermon Structure
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