Textual/Contextual Consideration of Hebrews 10:14

Lord willing, my next few posts will be centered on carefully examining one particular verse that is focused on the atonement made by Christ. This verse is Hebrews 10:14, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (NKJV).

So, what is it that God is teaching us about the atonement in Hebrews 10:14? As with any other passage of Scripture, the answer to this question only comes through an understanding of what the human author God used to write this text was intending to communicate to the original recipients. An understanding of any biblical text, therefore, begins with an exploration of who the person is that wrote down the passage under consideration as well as an exploration of the identity of the audience to which the passage was originally written. In a study from the book of Hebrews, however, one immediately encounters a problem in regards to authorship, as the name of the human author is not given. Pastor John MacArthur notes, “Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Apollos, Luke, Philip, Priscilla, Aquila, and Clement of Rome have been suggested [as possible authors of this book] by different scholars, but the epistle’s vocabulary, style, and various literary characteristics do not support any particular claim.”[1]

The seeming impossibility of a positive identification of the human author has led to the following conclusion by New Testament professors D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo:

It is far better to admit our ignorance [concerning the identity of the author of Hebrews, than to try to speculate as to who wrote this book]. We do not know who wrote it; almost certainly the first readers did. In all likelihood the author was a Hellenistic Jew who had become a Christian, a second-generation believer (Heb. 2:3). He was steeped in the LXX (none of his numerous quotations from the Old Testament depend on the Hebrew) and, judging by his excellent vocabulary and Greek style, had enjoyed a good education.[2]

The attempt to discern the original recipients of the book of Hebrews is somewhat more profitable. Though some have tried to deny that the original readers were Jewish [the title “To the Hebrews” is first found attached to this book in Papyrus 46, from the third century[3]], a close examination of the entire book of Hebrews leads the reader inevitably to conclude that the intended audience of this book was a community of Jewish Christians, as demonstrated by the following evidence offered by professors Carson and Moo:

The “elementary teachings” of [Hebrews] 6:1 presuppose a background in Judaism, and the author’s driving insistence that the old covenant has been eclipsed by the new makes sense only if the readers are still trying to live under it, or if they imagine that, having passed beyond it, they may legitimately revert to it. Moreover, as [F.F.] Bruce points out, nothing in this epistle suggests that the problem the author confronts is Judaizing propaganda. In particular, the nonmention of circumcision makes sense if the epistle is directed to a Jewish-Christian community, but would be quite surprising if the readers are Gentile believers in danger of being seduced by the so-called Judaizers.

Futhermore, the author cites the Greek Old Testament as if he assumes that his readers will recognize its authority. That would be true of Hellenistic Jews who had converted to Christianity. Even if they attempted to modify some elements of their Christian beliefs and return in some measure to their erstwhile commitment to Judaism, their confidence in what we call the Old Testament would not be shaken. Pagans who had converted to Christianity, should they be tempted to return to their paganism, would surely also be tempted to abandon their submission to the Scriptures that had contributed to their becoming Christians. Moreover, not a few of the author’s arguments for the superiority of Jesus turn on challenging the assumption that the cultic regulations of the Sinai code were final (e.g., 7:11). Christians converted from paganism and currently in danger of reverting to paganism would scarcely need that kind of argument; Christians in danger of reverting to Judaism certainly would.[4]

It is important to stress that the intended recipients of Hebrews were professing Christians, for this fact influences how the entire book is understood. As evidence that this book was intended by the author to be read by professing Christians, Pastor Fred Malone offers the following observations of the text:

Hebrews is addressed… to professing Christians, Jewish Christians, but professing Christians only… This book is written to Christians, confessing Christians. Chapter 2 clearly identifies the recipients as, quote, “those who are being sanctified, the elect brethren, the children of God whom the Father has given to Christ,” verses 11 and 13. In verse 16 they’re addressed as the “seed of Abraham.” 17, “Christ’s brethren.” In chapter 3:1 they’re addressed this way, “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling”– it is assumed that they are regenerate, that they are the elect– “consider Jesus the apostle and high priest of our confession.” That is, they are assumed elect on the basis of their confession of faith. Chapter 4:13, “Let us hold fast our confession.” 6:18, “We who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope that is set before us.” Chapter 10:23, “Let us hold fast our confession without wavering for He who promised is faithful.”[5]

Having explored the identity of the human author of Hebrews as well as the original recipients, the next question to be addressed is that of genre. That is, what type of writing was the human author of Hebrews sending to the original recipients of this book? Hebrews 13:22 gives some clue of the answer to this question, as the author refers to the book as a “word of exhortation.” This phrase is used in Acts 13:15 in reference to a synagogue speech.[6] This information, along with the wealth of rhetorical devices employed and the concluding greetings at the end of the book, has led many to believe that Hebrews is a sermon or series of sermons that has been published as a letter.[7] The main purpose of this sermon/letter, as mentioned in the above quote from professors Carson and Moo, is to exhort Jewish Christians to stand firm in their faith in Christ alone for their salvation and not to revert back to dependence upon the rituals of Judaism. The author of Hebrews exhorts his audience positively through teaching how Christ is superior to the rituals, offices, and practices of Judaism, and he exhorts his audience negatively by issuing grave warnings to them if they should return to practices that belittle the person and work of Christ.

Having examined issues of author, audience, genre, and purpose of the book of Hebrews, it is now time to turn to the wording of the particular verse under consideration. In this section of the paper, two specific phrases– “He has perfected” (teteleivwken) and “are being sanctified” (tou;V aJgiazomevnouV)– will be given special attention (in reverse order), with the phrase “one offering” explored in the following sections.

The phrase “are being sanctified” (tou;V aJgiazomevnouV) found in Hebrews 10:14 is the masculine accusative plural present (continuous) passive participle form of the verb aJgiavzw, “to sanctify.” Of this word, Pastor MacArthur notes, “’Sanctify’ means to ‘make holy,’ to be set apart from sin for God.”[8] As a participle, this term should be translated “are being sanctified,” as in the English Standard Version and New King James Version, rather that simply “are sanctified,” as in some other versions, since the word “being” here helps to show continuous action, which is the most important consideration in translating a participle.[9]

The phrase “He has perfected” (teteleivwken) found in Hebrews 10:14 is the third person singular perfect active indicative form of the Greek verb teteleiovw, which would, in this case, signify “bringing to completeness.”[10] What kind of perfection or completeness is signified by this term? Professors Carson and Moo answer, writing, “Perfection in this epistle is essentially a matter of completion– in particular, the completion of God’s plan of salvation.”[11] Pastor MacArthur agrees that the phrase “He has perfected” in this verse has salvific import, noting, “This term is repeatedly used in Hebrews to refer to salvation… This involves a perfect standing before God in the righteousness of Christ.”[12] As noted above, this particular instance of the verb is in the perfect tense in the Greek. This is important to recognize because, as Greek scholar William D. Mounce notes, “The Greek perfect is one of the more interesting tenses and is often used to express great theological truths. The Greek perfect describes an action that was brought to completion and whose effects are felt in the present.”[13] So in reading “He has perfected” in Hebrews 10:14, it is to be understood that Christ has completed God’s plan of salvation, bringing “those who are being sanctified” into a perfect standing before God. As will be further demonstrated in subsequent posts, this verse would indicate, among other things, that the “one offering” of Christ upon the cross has secured specific effects that will be certainly applied to a particular people.

[1] John F. MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible (La Habra, CA: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 1863.

[2] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

2005), 604.

[3] W.A. Criswell, ed., The Believer’s Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 1736.

[4] Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 610-611.

[5] Fred A. Malone, “The Covenant from an Exegetical Perspective,” (sermon, 6 March 2001) [on-line], accessed 24 November 2006, http://www.sermonaudio.com/ search.asp?currPage=2&keyword= Rev%2E%5EFred%5EMalone&SpeakerOnly=true&currSection=sermonsspeaker&AudioOnly=false&SortBy=; Internet.

[6] R.C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible (Orlando: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), 1776.

[7] Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 596.

[8] MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, 1882.

[9] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 246.

[10] W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, ed. Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 466.

[11] Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 599.

[12] MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, 1882-1883.

[13] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, 225. [Emphasis in original.]

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3 Comments on “Textual/Contextual Consideration of Hebrews 10:14”

  1. Max Snook Says:

    You cite comments that go further than I think is merited when it is proposed that the people were Christians or professing Christians. It think it is more accurate to say that they were people of a largely Jewish congregation that by their presence implied some Christian symphathies. That is certainly more like my own congregation. They attend meetings and other people get the impression of their general assent or agreement with Christianity but for the most part, we don’t know their true state or even their true confession.

  2. Mr. Snook,

    While I appreciate the comment, I stand by what I’ve written on this point. I think, for example, that the author’s reference to his recipients as “Christ’s brethren” goes beyond implying “some Christian sypathies.”

    For His glory,

  3. […] The perfection of Christ’s atoning work has been demonstrated by the text of Hebrews 10:14, which teaches that Christ has completed God’s plan of salvation, bringing “those who are being sanctified” into a perfect standing before God. The perfection of Christ’s atoning work has been demonstrated by the place of Hebrews 10:14 in redemptive history, which tells of the inauguration of the new covenant by the “one offering” of Christ that brought about a condition in which the Lord places His laws on the hearts and writes them on the minds of His new covenant people, and He forgives the sins of His new covenant people. The perfection of Christ’s atoning work has been demonstrated by the function of Hebrews 10:14 within the whole canon of Scripture, in which the “one offering” of Christ is the antitype of the old covenant system of offerings. […]

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