Hebrews 2:4 Commentary


CONSIDER JESUS OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST
Click chart to enlarge
Charts from Jensen's Survey of the NT - used by permission
Hebrews - Charles Swindoll - Chart on right 

The Epistle
to the Hebrews

INSTRUCTION
Hebrews 1-10:18
EXHORTATION
Hebrews 10:19-13:25
Superior Person
of Christ
Hebrews 1:1-4:13
Superior Priest
in Christ
Hebrews 4:14-10:18
Superior Life
In Christ
Hebrews 10:19-13:25
BETTER
PERSON
Hebrews 1:1-4:13
BETTER
PRIESTHOOD
Heb 4:14-7:28
BETTER
COVENANT
Heb 8:1-13
BETTER
SACRIFICE
Heb 9:1-10:18
BETTER
LIFE
MAJESTY
OF
CHRIST
MINISTRY
OF
CHRIST
MINISTERS
FOR
CHRIST

DOCTRINE

DUTY

DATE WRITTEN:
ca. 64-68AD

Hebrews 2:4 God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: sunepimarturountos (PAPMSG) tou theou semeiois te kai terasin kai poikilais dunamesin kai pneumatos agiou merismois kata ten autou thelesin.

Amplified: [Besides this evidence] it was also established and plainly endorsed by God, Who showed His approval of it by signs and wonders and various miraculous manifestations of [His] power and by imparting the gifts of the Holy Spirit [to the believers] according to His own will. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

Barclay: while God himself added his own witness to it by signs and wonders and manifold deeds of power, and by giving us each a share of the Holy Spirit, according as he willed it? (Westminster Press)

NLT: and God verified the message by signs and wonders and various miracles and by giving gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose to do so. (NLT - Tyndale House)

Phillips: and God moreover has plainly endorsed their witness by signs and miracles, by all kinds of spiritual power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, all working to the divine plan. (Phillips: Touchstone)

Wuest: God also bearing joint-testimony with them, both with attesting miracles and miracles of a startling, imposing, amazement-waking character, and with variegated miracles, and with distributions [of spiritual gifts] from the Holy Spirit according to His will?

Young's Literal: God also bearing joint-witness both with signs and wonders, and manifold powers, and distributions of the Holy Spirit, according to His will.

GOD ALSO TESTIFYING WITH THEM: sunepimarturountos (PAPMSG) tou theou.

  • God also testifying with them Mark 16:20; John 15:26; Acts 2:32-33; 3:15-16; 4:10; 14:3; 19:11,12; Ro 15:18,19
  • Hebrews 2 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries

Related Passages:

John 15:26  “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,

Acts 2:32-33+ “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.

GOD "SEAL OF APPROVAL"
ON THE SPOKEN WORDS

God also testifying with (sunepimartureo) them - God was continually (present tense) testifying thus giving additional testimony to that of the words spoken by Jesus and then by those who heard him.  God corroborated their spoken testimony. It is as if Almighty God placed what they said in bold letters, italicized and followed with an exclamation point! When Jesus preached the gospel, He also did some things that made it even more believable. He said, "Though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father." (Jn 10:38). When He claimed to be God and then did things that only God could do, He confirmed His divinity and, consequently, the truth of His message. On the Day of Pentecost Peter reminded his hearers that "Jesus the Nazarene [was] a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs." (Acts 2:22+)

God gave similar confirming signs through the apostles, the first preachers of the gospel after Christ Himself. Many of their listeners no doubt said, “Why should we believe them? What proof do we have that their message is from God? There have always been false teachers. How can we know that these are true?” So God bore His apostles witness by giving them the ability to do what Jesus had done - signs, wonders, and miracles.

Spurgeon on God also testifying observes that "Those who doubt the truth of the gospel, or who say they do, are often found believing historical statements that are not half as well proved. A man sits down, and reads the book of the Gallic wars, and he believes that Julius Caesar wrote it; yet there is not a half or a tenth as much evidence to prove that he did write it as there is to prove that our Lord Jesus lived, and died, and rose again from the dead. The witness to the truth of these great matters of fact has been borne by God himself with signs, and wonders, and miracles. Honest and true men, apostles and others, have witnessed to them; and they have also been certified by Incarnate Deity, even by the Lord who deice to speak to us by his Spirit. We cannot, therefore, trifle with this gospel without incurring most serious guilt. Observe, then, that this gospel comes to us by Christ, and it is confirmed to us by His apostles, and further confirmed by those signs and wonders, and divers miracles, which God sent as the seals of apostolic teaching; so that this spell is not one about which we can raise any question whatever. It comes by a medium which we must not dare to question, it has confirming seals in it which it is blasphemous for us to dispute. Oh, how gladly should we receive it! How tenderly should we treat it? How devoutly grateful should we be for it; and how earnestly should we comply with all its requirements? This gospel of ours is stamped with the seal of God; He has set His mark upon it, to attest its genuineness and authority. The miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were the seal that the gospel was no invention of man, but that it was indeed the message of God. Gifts of healing, gifts of tongues, gifts of miracles of divers kinds, were God’s solemn declaration to man, “This is the gospel; this is My gospel which I send to you; therefore, refuse it not.” (Spurgeon's Expositional Commentary on Hebrews)

Pulpit Commentary - The passage is instructive as expressing the grounds of acceptance of the gospel. Its truth was already "confirmed" to believers by the testimony of unimpeachable witnesses to that which, so attested, carried with it its own evidence. But the signs attending the apostolic ministry were granted for further attestation. Thus "signs and wonders," the craving for which as a condition of belief was so condemned by our Lord, have their true evidential value assigned them. They did not furnish the original basis of belief, which rested on Christ himself, his Person. and his work, as unimpeachably attested. They came in only as suitable accompaniments of a Divine dispensation, and as additional confirmations. (Hebrews 2 Commentary)

Testifying (bearing witness) with them (4901) (sunepimartureo from sun/syn = with, speaks of intimate relation + epi - upon + martureo - to bear witness) to attest jointly with.

In this section we see the Character of Christ. Certainty of Judgment, Confirmation of God.

BOTH BY SIGNS AND WONDERS AND BY VARIOUS MIRACLES: semeiois te kai terasin kai poikilais dunamesin:

Related Passage:

Acts 2:22+ “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know–

SIGNS, WONDERS
MIRACLES

Both by (instrumental case used with all following four items) signs (semeion) and wonders (teras) and by various (poikilos - "many colored", variegatedmiracles (dunamis- Signs speak of the "fingerprints" of God, valuable not so much for what they are as for what they indicate of the grace and power of the Almighty. The use of the Greek word semeion indicates that the event is not an empty show of power, but significantly points to the reality of the mighty hand of God in operation. (See Acts 3:7-9,11-12,16; Acts 5:12-16; Acts 9:32-41; Acts 14:3,8-9; Acts 19:11-12; Acts 28:8-9) Wonders attract attention. Miracles demonstrate divine (supernatural) power.

The greatest sign, wonder and miracle is when bad men are made holy and righteous by God's grace through faith as testified by changed lives. Truly miracles in Christianity are still evident today for all to behold. People are hungry to see the power of Christ in reality, not the charade of charlatans masquerading as spiritual magicians or carnival side show freaks.

Lenski - “Signs and wonders” refer to the apostolic miracles which were great and glorious indeed. Others, too, like Stephen, were given this grace. “Signs” is the greater word because it is ethical and designates the miracles as signifying something; “wonders” or portents indicates only their astonishing character so that the New Testament never uses this word alone as it does “signs.” The latter is broader; a sign does not always need to be a wonder. Moreover, pagan religion had wonders and portents which, however, were never true signs. (The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews)

William Newell - So we have (1) the Lord Himself, (2) those that heard from His lips, (3) the direct “confirming” witness from God, from Pentecost on (Mk. 16:20): the “greater” works which Jesus said His disciples would do after He should go to the Father (Jno. 14:12); the “many signs and wonders wrought among the people” by Stephen; the “signs which Philip did”; the catching away of Philip by “the Spirit of the Lord”; Peter’s healing of Aeneas and raising Dorcas from the dead; the deliverance of Peter from prison; the healing of the cripple at Lystra by Paul; the “special miracles” at Ephesus; and the “signs and wonders”† God wrought everywhere among both Gentiles and Jews where the gospel came! (Hebrews 2 Commentary)


Signs (4592) (semeion from sema = sign or mark) describes an event which is regarded as having some special meaning. Semeion is that by which something is known or distinguished. The word indicates that the event is not an empty ostentation of power; it is significant in pointing beyond itself to the reality of the mighty hand of God in operation. The related verb semaino means to cause something to be both specific and clear. The root word sema, was used for example by Homer to describe optical impressions that convey insights, e.g., signs like lightning that indicate the will of Zeus. Thus the signs may be simply pointers and as such are characterized by prominence and visibility. 

TDNT observes that signs refer to "The general sense of a mark by which someone or something is recognized makes possible a varied use, e.g., for monuments, finishing posts in races, or identifying marks on the body. Despite divergent use, the sense is uniform. What is meant is an object or circumstance that conveys a perception or insight. The perception may be moral or religious, but the term as such is not intrinsically a religious one." (Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Eerdmans)

Semeion may or may not be supernatural like the dunamis and teras. They are "signs" in the sense of being comparable to prophecies or spiritual truths. Semeion stresses the spiritual truth embodied in the miracle (Jn 20:30, 31).

Wonders (5059) (teras from tereo = to keep, watch) emphasizes that which due to its extraordinary character is apt to be observed and kept in the memory. It is a miracle regarded as startling, imposing or amazing.

Signs emphasizes the divine communication in the miraculous. Attests the truth of that which was preached/spoken.

Wonders stresses impression made by something out of the common course of things, arresting one's attention or causing one to "look again".

Miracles is better rendered "powers" and calls attention to the awesome abilities which produce the miraculous.

Signs reveal the purpose of God in the miracles.

Wonders attract attention.

Miracles show God's power.

Various (4164) (poikilos) means existence in various kinds or modes, diversified, manifold, variegated, many colored. Poikilos was used to describe the skin of a leopard, the different-colored veining of marble or an embroidered robe and thence passes into the meaning of changeful, diversified, applied to the changing months or the variations of a strain of music. Poikilos is used in Heb 13:9 in the phrase "varied and strange teachings." 

Miracles (1411) (dunamis from dunamai = to be able, to have power) speaks of power and especially of achieving power. The chief idea is that of something with intrinsic power or inherent ability, the power or ability to carry out some function, the potential for functioning in some way (power, might, strength, ability, capability), the power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature. Dunamis emphasizes the dynamic character of the event, with particular regard to its outcome or effect. Dunamis is the implied ability or capacity to perform. It conveys the idea of effective, productive energy, rather than that which is raw and unbridled. Dunamis is the word generally used by Paul of divine energy. The writer of Hebrews uses dunamis to describe deeds that exhibit the ability to function powerfully -- deeds of power or miracles. These miracles attested the spoken word of the apostles before it was given in written form

Dunamis in Hebrews - Heb. 1:3 - "upholds all things by the word of His power."; Heb. 2:4; Heb. 6:5 - "the powers of the age to come"; Heb. 7:16 - "according to the power of an indestructible life"; Heb. 11:11 - "By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive"; Heb. 11:34 - " quenched the power of fire"

Related Resource:

AND BY GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT ACCORDING TO HIS OWN WILL: kai pneumatos hagiou merismois kata ten autou thelesin:

  • According to His Own will - Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:5,9
  • Hebrews 2 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries

Related Passages:

Daniel 4:35+ (NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S TESTIMONY) “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ 

Ephesians 1:5, 9+  He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,...9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him

GIFTS GIVEN BY
GOD'S SOVEREIGN PLEASURE

And by gifts (merismosof the Holy Spirit according to His own will (thelesis)- These gifts are not the "classic" miraculous gifts described above, but they are nevertheless manifestations of the supernatural Source behind the gifts, proofs of His divine control. If spiritual gifts draw attention to us, they are being sadly misused and abused! The purpose of these gifts in context is to validate and authentic the words spoken by Jesus and by His apostles (who carried out various signs, wonders and miracles). The placement (so to speak) of these gifts in individuals was not because the individual sought the gift but because the Spirit of God saw fit to distribute the gifts in accord with His good and acceptable and perfect will. Gifts of the Holy Spirit could be a subjective genitive (“distribution which the Holy Spirit gives”), or perhaps better objective genitive (“distribution of the Holy Spirit”) emphasizing God’s distribution of spiritual gifts to His people. 

Adam Clarke - all these were proved to come from himself; for no man could do those miracles at his own pleasure, but the power to work them was given according to God's own will; or rather, God himself wrought them, in order to accredit the ministry of his servants. (Hebrews 2 Commentary)

John MacArthur explains that as a result of the exercise of God's will "Every believer receives the exact gift and resources best suited to fulfill his role in the body of Christ… every person has his own special but limited set of capabilities. Trying to operate outside those capabilities produces frustration, discouragement, guilt feelings, mediocrity, and ultimate defeat. We fulfill our calling when we function according to God’s sovereign design for us. (See context  in Romans Commentary)

THOUGHT - THIS TRUTH BEGS THE QUESTION - DO YOU SEEK THE GIFTS OR THE GIVER?  

S Lewis Johnson - These evidences were further extended by the giving of gifts to believers by the Holy Spirit. Such signs, wonders, powers, and gifts are faithfully recorded in the four Gospels and in the record in the Acts. The gifts are mentioned in Rom 12; 13; 1 Cor 7:7; 1 Cor 12. Not the least of the reinforcing witnesses was the oneness of believers of every racial and national background. The implication is transparent. God was in Christ and in the Gospel, and therefore this message of salvation was to be heeded. To fail to pay attention held the threat of judgment. It is so today. (Borrow the Wycliffe Bible Commentary

MacArthur tells the story of "Dr. Earl Radmacher, president of Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, once told me of his receiving a pamphlet in the mail that gave the steps necessary to get the Holy Spirit. First you were to say two phrases, "Praise the Lord" and "Hallelujah," three times faster than normal for a period of ten minutes. If you did that long enough you would lapse into a strange language and then get the Holy Spirit. That is as ridiculous as it is blasphemous. Gifts of the Spirit are according to His own will, not our efforts. (See context in Hebrews MacArthur New Testament Commentary)

Believer's Study Bible notes that "Gifts of the Holy Spirit" could mean that God distributes the Holy Spirit to each believer (Gal. 3:5) or that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to believers (1 Cor. 12:11). The verse employs all three of the terms generally used in the N.T. to convey the idea of the miraculous. "Signs" emphasizes the divine communication in the miraculous. "Wonders" stresses the impression made upon those witnessing the miracle. "Miracles" is better rendered "powers" and calls attention to the awesome abilities which produce the miraculous (cf. Acts 2:22).

The Holy Spirit's role in giving of spiritual gifts is described in 1 Corinthians 12 about which Newell writes "Here we have the same two thoughts together, the Spirit “dividing” various gifts to individual believers, and doing this according to His will—the will of God":

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills." (1 Corinthians 12:4-11+)

In Ephesians Paul records that "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN." 9 (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Eph 4:8-11+)

MacArthur sums up Hebrews 2:1-4 -  Thus, the three great reasons why a man should not neglect the gospel of salvation are: the character of Christ, the certainty of judgment, and the confirmation of God. God has attested to this gospel with signs, wonders, miracles, and special spiritual gifts; but now He attests to it in the miracle and authority of His written Word. (See context in Hebrews MacArthur New Testament Commentary)

According to the His own will - This is the qualifying phrase regarding the gifts. They are not capriciously given or at random but are divinely in accord with the will of God. In other words the Holy Spirit distributed the gifts to each one individually (thus every believer has at least one gift - see 1 Pe 4:10-11+) and just as He wills.


Gifts (3311) (merismos from merizo = to divide into parts) refers to the act of distribution, separation, or that which is distributed and is used only here and in Hebrews 4:12+ where it is translated "piercing as far as the division (merismos) of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow… " Friberg says merismos is (1) as a process dividing up, division, separation (Heb 4.12); (2) as a result distribution, apportionment, distributed gifts (Heb 2.4) 

Will (2308) (thelesis) refers to the act of willing as contrasted to thelema which objectively is that which is willed. Thelesis emphasizes the active exercise of will. God's free and sovereign will, assigning one gift of the Spirit to one, another to another as He choose. In other words God as the Sovereign Ruler of all creation gave where He pleased, and imparted in such measure as He chose.


Summary of some of the supernatural manifestations in Acts...

  1. The healing of the lame man at the gate Beautiful (Acts 3:1-11).
  2. The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-12).
  3. (This narrative actually ends with the observation that "many signs and wonders" were wrought among the people).
  4. The healing of the sick in Jerusalem (Acts 5:16).
  5. The opening of prison doors (Acts 5:19).
  6. The cure of the palsied man (Acts 9:32-34).
  7. The raising of Dorcas (Acts 9:36-41).
  8. The opening of prison gates (a second time) (Acts 12:5-10).
  9. The fearful death of Herod (Acts 12:21-23).
  10. The blindness of Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:8-12).

Related Resources:


John Piper - IS THE HOLY SPIRIT PHASE THREE OF GOD’S WORD? Preserving the Finality of Phase Two

Meditation on Hebrews 2:3–4RSV

How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard. God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by distributions of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

The point of Hebrews 1 is to make us realize the enormous value of God’s speaking to us through the Son of God and revealing to us a way of salvation. We know this because the chapter begins with the trumpeting of the superior value of God’s speaking “in these last days by a Son,” and because chapter 2 begins by saying, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard.” In other words, the whole first chapter is to help us pay attention to the Word of God spoken through the Son.

Then again in Hebrews 2:2–3 this great Word of salvation is contrasted with the word of angels: “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” So again the point is the superiority of the Word that God has spoken through Jesus concerning our salvation. Listen! Listen! Take heed! Don’t take it for granted! That is the message.

Then, in Hebrews 2:3, the writer tells us how this Word comes to the generations who were not there to hear it from Jesus himself or to see it with their own eyes when he died and rose again. There are three stages. Look for them in this text: “After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard.”

The three stages in this verse are: 1) the Lord spoke, once for all, by his life and teaching and death and resurrection, 2) those who heard and saw him (the apostles) testify and confirm the truth of the Lord’s Word, and finally, 3) others hear or read the confirming testimony of the apostles.

But what is the role of the Holy Spirit in this connection? The answer is given in Heb 2:4: “God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by distributions of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” This verse says that God himself testified to the Word in three ways: 1) by signs and wonders, 2) by various miracles, and 3) by distributions of the Holy Spirit.

The function of the “distributions of the Holy Spirit” was to testify to the Word, that is, the “great salvation” which was “at the first spoken through the Lord” (verse 3). In other words, the role of the Holy Spirit is to direct attention and conviction toward the Word of the Son of God which has been spoken “in these last days.” Which means that the work of the Holy Spirit is not a “third phase” of divine communication after phase one (the Old Testament) and phase two (the incarnation of the Son of God). The work of the Holy Spirit is a clarification and application and certification of phase two.

Thus one test of the Spirit’s voice is whether it orients us more and more on the Word of God spoken once for all “in these last days” through the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in his decisive work of redemption. If a claim to spiritual revelation leads us to depend less on the once-for-allness of the historical Word that comes to us by Jesus Christ through the apostles (2:3), then that claim is dubious.

“In these last days God has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb 1:2, emphasis added). The “us” in this verse is a third generation of Christians—the ones to whom the apostles delivered the message in Heb 2:3. This means that, in principle, any of us after the apostles, whether third generation or fiftieth generation, can hear God in the Son. He has spoken to us. This is where we hear God. He is not silent. Nor has any of us exhausted this Word. Oh, let us read and ponder and meditate and memorize and saturate our minds in this great, final Word—which the Holy Spirit serves by all his gifts. (Taste and See - download)


A W Tozer - GIFTS AND GRACES

…gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will. Hebrews 2:4

I go back often to Genesis 24 for the illustration and the figure in the Old Testament reminding us of the adornments of grace and beauty that will mark the believing Body of Christ. Abraham sent his trusted servant to his former homeland to select a bride for Isaac.

The adornment of Rebekah’s beauty consisted of jewels and the raiment that came as gifts of love from the bridegroom whom she had not yet seen.

It is a reminder of what God is doing in our midst right now. Abraham typifies God the Father; Isaac, our Lord Jesus Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom. The servant who went with the gifts into the far country to claim a bride for Isaac speaks well of the Holy Spirit, our Teacher and Comforter.

He gives us, one by one, the gifts and the graces of the Holy Spirit that will be our real beauty in His sight. Thus we are being prepared, and when we meet our coming Lord and King, our adornment will be our God-given graces!

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