My Loose Paraphrase of Hebrews 12:1-3

Remember all of the people in the “Hall of Faith” chapter, Hebrews 11? They’re watching us run our race. So let’s shed the things that aren’t helping us run well—namely the sin that so quickly weighs us down. And let’s run with endurance the race God gave us. If we need motivation, we can turn our eyes upon Jesus—just like He turned His eyes on His future reward when He faced the cross. He was patient even through the hostility of people He died to save, and meditating on that can give you strength not to falter in your own trials.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

5 thoughts on “My Loose Paraphrase of Hebrews 12:1-3”

  1. We just studied this passage in church and were sad to see the end of studying the book of Hebrews. 🙁 Wonderful challenge to all of us not to give up! Love you, Monkey Brother.

  2. Mark,

    May I express an alternate opinion? I don’t think the word *witnesses* is referring to the saints’ function of watching us, but to their function of speaking to us. The saints of chapter 11 testify to us that the race can be run successfully, despite all of our imperfections. (Even Samson made the list!) So we should run with endurance.

    Some interpreters read 12.1 to support the idea that departed saints can see us. I don’t think it provides any basis for that at all.

    dpo

  3. Two thoughts:

    1. I disagree with the opinion that names Hebrews 11 as the “Hall of Faith,” which seems to indicate that there are believers and then there are *believers*, the first composed of all who believe, the second composed of those who had greater faith. Based on the last eight verses of chapter ten (which introduce chapter 11), I would argue pretty strongly that the list provided in chapter 11 proves what genuine faith (not great faith) looks like. In other words, chapter 11 isn’t saying, “If you want to be a Hall-of-Famer, look at the Michael Jordans of the church”; it’s saying, “If you want to be in the game, your faith must look like this.” You can hear an expanded version of this in my sermons on Hebrews 10.32-39 at hbcchurch.sermonaudio.com.

    2. A pretty significant omission: “the author and finisher of our faith.” Jesus isn’t merely our Example; he is our Substitute–in his death *and* in his life. What brings the believer hope is not merely looking to Jesus as our Example; that may actually beget greater frustration. What brings hope is realizing that Jesus endured *for* us, earning the righteousness that our faltering endurance could never have merited. And this text is one of the clearest that teaches it. So don’t miss it in your paraphrase.

    Blessings!
    Matthew

  4. Lesson: Don’t post anything half-baked! Heritage exegetes will get you! =)

    Good thoughts, Dr. O. and (Dr.) Matt. Thank you for your interaction.

    Dr. O—
    I checked out your interpretation, and Bruce (NICNT) and Lane (WBC) are in agreement with you. Ellingworth (NIGTC), fwiw, isn’t, and for the same reason I took this passage as I did: that the word picture points naturally to spectators at a race. It’s unclear to me why the witnesses would be “surrounding” us if not, at least in this word picture, to watch and perhaps cheer (Lane admits this). I don’t even think you could conclude from this that the author of Hebrews is saying they are indeed watching us physically, anymore than we would say that sanctification involves literal jogging. It’s just a picture. John Owen recognizes both interpretations, takes yours, Dr. O., but says of mine, “I shall not oppose it”!

    However, on balance, I was persuaded by a look at the usage of the word μαρτυς in the NT that your interpretation is more likely. The word doesn’t seem to speak generally of mere beholders but of people who are saying something. I’ll have to come back to this while preaching expositionally some day!

    Comments to Matt coming up…

  5. Matt—
    I’m with you on point 1. I’ll have to listen to your sermon.

    Point 2 is well taken. I made that omission because I couldn’t figure out a way to include it and still have the one turn of phrase I felt was an advance on my previous understanding of the passage, namely that there’s a parallel between Jesus’ looking to a reward and our looking to Jesus: Jesus is our reward!

    Looks like I need to give more attention than I can right now (dissertation day!) to what “Author and Finisher” means. I admit I’ve never felt I understood it.

    But I have one push-back to make! I know preaching Jesus as moral example can be a discouragement, but my reading of John Frame’s DCL has made me wary of over-correcting for what I think we’d both see as rampant evangelical/fundamentalist moralism. A little comment Dever made also helped me here: Jesus and Paul don’t feel bound to attach an explicit mention of God’s necessary grace to every moral command. We know grace underlies all true obedience, but we’d be going beyond the testimony of Scripture to insist that we always make explicit mention of that fact. It’s ok to say Jesus is our moral example, and it’s ok to say that Paul is.

    I just wrote a lesson for Bible Truths that rang the changes on Php 2:13, 1 Cor 15:10, and other passages that point to God’s ultimacy in sanctification, and I love gospel-centeredness because it’s just another way of saying God-centeredness—but I still think there’s a real possibility of over-correcting.

    If I understand you correctly, you objected to my final phrase. Isn’t that where you saw implied moralism? Bruce, Lane, and Ellingworth all see “Consider Jesus…” as a call to imitate His example. We can’t be so scared of using Him as a moral example—lest we deny the need for grace—that we feel we have to reinterpret what I think is the clear import of this verse.

    Right? Have I missed something? You gave intense attention to this area of Scripture in your dissertation, I believe, so I really may be off!

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