Hebrews 5:1-14

“Every high priest taken” or selected from among men functions for them in matters relating to God, offering “gifts and sacrifices for sins.” The gifts would include offerings of thanksgiving for blessings received, deliverance from danger or distress, and aid in time of need, and the sacrifices for sins would be presented to be granted God’s forgiveness. (5:1)

As a flawed human, a high priest had his own weaknesses or failings. Aware of his personal limitations, he was able to deal gently with those who erred in ignorance or strayed from the right course. (5:2) Like the people, he failed in adhering to divine requirements in a faultless manner. So, in carrying out his sacred service, he had to offer sacrifices for them and also for himself. (5:3; Leviticus 16:6, 11)

To be a legitimate high priest in ancient Israel, a man could not seize this honor for himself. It depended on God’s calling (or on God’s requirements for service) as was the case with Aaron, who came to be the high priest by divine appointment. In subsequent centuries, no man other than one qualified according to the law’s requirements and in the line of Aaron could serve in this capacity. (5:4; Leviticus 8:2-9:24; 21:17-23)

Jesus Christ, too, did not appoint himself as high priest, not “glorifying” or honoring himself. His Father honored him. The writer of Hebrews quoted from Psalm 2:7 (LXX), indicating the words to refer to Christ and that his being honored originated with his Father, who said, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.” (5:5)

Then, quoting from another passage (Psalm 109[110]:4, LXX), the writer of Hebrews called attention to the appointment as priest, “You are a priest forever, according to the order [táxis] of Melchizedek.” The Greek term táxis can denote “order” or “rank.” In this context, however, the word appears to relate to the nature or kind of priesthood, signifying a priesthood like that of Melchizedek, the priest-king of ancient Salem. (5:6; Genesis 14:18; see the Notes section.)

“In the days of his flesh” (as a man on earth), Jesus prayed with great intensity. “Strong cries and tears” accompanied his petitions to his Father, “the one who was able to save him out of death.” His prayers were heard on account of his godliness. (5:7)

On the final night before his death, Jesus appears to have been subjected to the relentless assault of the powers of darkness. (Compare John 14:30.) Each of the three times he then prayed, his petitions reflected full submission to his Father, for he always asked that his Father’s will be done. (Matthew 26:38-44) Particularly at that time, his prayers must have been expressed in loud cries and with tears. According to Luke 22:44, Jesus came to be in anguish and his perspiration came to be like drops of blood (possibly meaning that perspiration flowed from his forehead like drops of blood from a cut). (5:7)

The reference to saving “out of death” seems to mean delivering from the power of death by means of a resurrection. Jesus manifested his godliness or reverential regard for his Father by loyally subjecting himself to his will. Therefore, his fervent appeals were favorably heard, for his Father’s will was done. (5:7; for another possible meaning of “out of death,” see the Notes section.)

Although being God’s unique Son, Jesus learned obedience from undergoing suffering. While he had at all times been submissive to his Father, his obedient response prior to his coming to the earth never entailed distress. So, on earth, he learned obedience under trying circumstances. (5:8)

Through his experiences as a man on earth, which included suffering, Jesus was made complete or was perfected for the saving role his Father purposed for him. The Son of God is responsible for the eternal salvation (or the permanent deliverance from sin and its consequences) in the case of all who obey him, faithfully adhering to his teaching and patterning their conduct according to his example and thereby submitting to him as their Lord who died for them. (5:9)

Christ’s saving role specifically relates to his being the high priest, his Father having designated him as such. With a quotation from Psalm 109(110):4 (LXX), the writer of Hebrews proved that the priesthood of Jesus Christ is like that of Melchizedek, the priest-king of ancient Salem. (5:6, 10)

In view of the main thrust of Hebrews, the writer had much to say about Jesus Christ, including his position as high priest. The Hebrews to whom he directed his words, though, had become “dull in hearing,” that is, in hearing with understanding. This made it hard for the writer to explain matters he wanted to discuss. (5:11)

The Hebrews were the first to hear the message about Jesus Christ. Many of them would have been believers for some time and should have been able to teach others. They, however, had failed to make the essential progress. Instead of being teachers, they still needed to be taught the “basic elements” (literally, “elements of the beginning”) of God’s “words.” It appears that the Hebrews continued to rely on the outward observance of the law as the means to demonstrate their upright standing before God and so did not appear to recognize fully the exclusive role of Christ in their being declared guiltless and enjoying the status of children in his Father’s family. (Compare Acts 21:20-26.) The ABCs they still needed to be taught, therefore, would have included the truth about the complete deliverance from sin that Christ had attained for them. So, like babes, they still needed milk, teaching adapted to the level of their spiritual condition. They were not ready for “solid food,” teaching that focused on the full revelation of God’s purpose respecting his Son and the significance of his death and resurrection. (5:12)

All who still partake of milk have not advanced sufficiently in their spiritual life to grasp all that Jesus Christ accomplished and what this means for them. The writer of Hebrews referred to them as being inexperienced in, or deficient in knowing, the “word of righteousness.” This indicated that they did not fully understand the sole basis on which individuals came to have a righteous or approved standing before God. They were still babes, lacking in the needed powers of comprehension. (5:13)

“Solid food,” on the other hand, is the nourishment for those who are mature, having attained the level of spiritual growth needed for spiritual comprehension. Mature believers have trained perceptive faculties gained through experience and are, therefore, capable of judging or discerning good from bad. This could mean that they do not need others to instruct them regarding what is and is not acceptable to their heavenly Father as his beloved children. They are fully capable of making proper evaluation. It is also possible that “good” and “bad” relate to spiritual nourishment. Mature believers are not like babies who are prone to stick anything they might find into their mouths, but they are able to discern what is good and wholesome for their spiritual well-being and what is bad or injurious. (5:14)


In verse 6, numerous manuscripts do not include the verb translated “are” (“you are a priest”), but this verb is found in the oldest extant manuscript (P46, c. 200 CE).

There is a possibility that the writer of Hebrews, when identifying the Father as the One who could save his Son “out of death” (5:7), had in mind Jesus’ prayer, “Father, save me from this hour.” If the possibility of being delivered from a dreadful death had been an option, Jesus would have wanted his Father to save him from experiencing it. He realized, however, that submission to his Father’s will mattered most. So he immediately added, “But therefore I have come to this hour.” (John 12:27, 28)