Here are the results of my study of the content of Hebrews 12:1-3.
1. Check to see if there are important textual issues.
There are a couple of textual variants in the manuscripts that are worth noting. You can see these just by looking at the footnotes of the New Revised Standard Version on Bible Gateway.
The NRSV translation of verse 1 reads, “Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.” The footnote says, “Other ancient authorities read sin that easily distracts.”
The NRSV translation of verse 3 reads, “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners.” The footnote says, “Other ancient authorities read such hostility from sinners against themselves.”
Unfortunately, these footnotes don’t explain why the text version was chosen instead of the variants.
The commentaries that appear on Bible Hub do not mention the first variant (“easily distracting”). F. F. Bruce notes that it appears in the oldest manuscript we have of Hebrews. Lane prefers the variant reading because it removes “the difficulties associated with the traditional reading, which has never been fully explained, and it makes good sense of the exhortation.”
Ellingworth says the variant “would be attractive if the meaning or the reading were more widely attested.” According to Metzger, the variant is either a scribal error or a deliberate modification of the word that appears in most manuscripts.
Given that most translations do not use the variant reading, I will stick with the traditional reading.
In verse 3, the variant reading is “against themselves” instead of “against himself.”
Of the commentaries on Bible Hub, the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges mentions the variant. The Pulpit Commentary says that “there is weighty manuscript authority” for the variant. Metzger says the same thing, but ends up preferring the reading in the text. One of his co-authors, Wikgen, writes: “The plural is the qualitatively best supported and the more difficult (though meaningful) reading, and the one more likely to be altered.” Bruce rejects the variant reading.
Both Ellingworth and Lane accept it. According to Lane, “The statement that Jesus endured from sinners ‘such opposition against themselves’ is biting irony.” While the sinners opposed Jesus, they were really injuring themselves.
Since the translations don’t adopt this variant reading, I probably won’t refer to it in the sermon.
2. Check to see if there are important translation issues because of ambiguous or unclear grammar or differences in punctuation.
A comparison of translations doesn’t reveal too many translation issues in this text.
In verse 1, the KJV speaks of “the sin which doth so easily beset us,” whereas the ESV has “the sin which clings so closely,” and the NIV has “the sin that so easily entangles.”
In verse 2, the KJV refers to “the author and finisher of our faith.” In the ESV it is “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” In the NIV it is “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
There is also the question of whether the translation should be: “because of the joy set before him” or “instead of the joy set before him.”
According to Wallace, “If [the Greek word anti] means because of, then Jesus endured the cross in anticipation of the joy (i.e., glory, inheritance?) that would be his afterwards. If it means instead of, then Jesus forsook the joy that was his (cf. Phil. 2:6–7) that he might bring others into the kingdom of God.
Most English translations translate “because of the joy set before him” or “for the joy set before him.”
3. Translate the text (if you are able to).
Here is my attempt to translate Hebrews 12:1-3. (I have translated in a rather literal and wooden way.)
“For that very reason also, since we have such a great surrounding cloud of witnesses, having set aside every weight and the sin that easily trips us up, let us run with endurance the race set before us, fixing our eyes on the pioneer of our faith and its perfecter, Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, having despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider carefully the one who endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give out.”
4. Analyze the structure of the text.
For that very reason also,
since we have such a great surrounding cloud of witnesses,
having set aside every weight and the sin that easily trips us up,
let us run with endurance the race set before us,
fixing our eyes on the pioneer of our faith and its perfecter, Jesus,
who for the joy set before him
endured the cross,
having despised the shame,
and has sat down at the right hand of God.
For consider carefully the one who endured such hostility by sinners against himself,
so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give out.”
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+12%3A1-3&version=NRSV, accessed 9/7/19. ↑
Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Revised edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990. Print. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. 336. ↑
Lane, William L. Hebrews 9–13. Vol. 47B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991. Print. Word Biblical Commentary. 398. ↑
Ellingworth, Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993. Print. New International Greek Testament Commentary. 638. ↑
Metzger, Bruce Manning, United Bible Societies. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.). London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994. Print. 604. ↑
https://biblehub.com/commentaries/hebrews/12-3.htm, accessed 9/7/19. ↑
Metzger, 605. ↑
Bruce, F. F., 341. ↑
Lane, W. L., 416. ↑
Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996. Print. 367–368. ↑
According to Wallace, the participle I have translated “having set aside every weight” is a participle of attendant circumstance. He says that this participle “derives its “mood” from that of the main verb (a hortatory subjunctive—which is nevertheless semantically equivalent to an imperative).” He translates, “Let us lay aside every burden … and let us run.” Wallace, 644. ↑