Hebrews 12:1-3 – Step Two – Introductory Survey

Here I will do an introductory survey of Hebrews 12:1-3

1. Pray for wisdom, insight, the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

2. Review introductory information about the book of the Bible in which the text appears.

We can start by looking at the author, audience, date, occasion, genre and outline of Hebrews.

The author of Hebrews is unknown. In spite of the fact that some in the history of the church have identified Paul as the author, it is almost certain that Paul did not write Hebrews. Some have suggested that the writer was Apollos, but that cannot be proven. Moo and Carson write:

“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 [the Greek translation of the Old Testament] (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.”[1]

We also do not know who the recipients of Hebrews were. Given all the Old Testament references in Hebrews, it seems likely that the addressees were Jewish Christians.

Because of the reference to “those from Italy” in chapter 13:24, it has been suggested that Hebrews was written to a church in Italy, possibly in Rome. But the letter could have been written from Italy to a church located elsewhere.

The date at which Hebrews was written is also unknown. Scholars say it could have been written at any point between A.D. 60 and A.D. 100. It appears from chapter 10:2-3 that sacrifices are still being offered at the time Hebrews was written. Therefore, many argue that it must have been written before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

What occasioned the writing of Hebrews? The writer is concerned that his readers are in drifting spiritually and have grown “dull of understanding.” Therefore, they are danger of falling away from the Christian faith. The writer urges them to maintain their Christian confession (see chapters 3:6,14; 4:14; 10:23).

The genre of Hebrews is not immediately clear. The book ends with words that make it sound like a letter (chapter 13:17-25) and indeed in chapter 13:22 the writer calls it a letter. In the same verse he speaks of his “word of exhortation.” It appears that the book is actually a kind of written sermon that was sent as a letter.

Commentators disagree as to the outline of Hebrews. Here is one outline:

Prologue: God Has Spoken in a Son (1:1-4)

I. The Son Is Superior to the Angels (1:5-2:18)

II. The Son Is Superior to Moses and Joshua (3:1-4:13)

III. The Son Is Superior to Aaron and Melchizedek (4:14-10:18)

IV. Continue to Have Faith and Endure (10:19-13:25)

3. Read the chapters that surround the text.

I can get some sense of the context of Hebrews 12:1-3 by reading all of Hebrews 11 and 12 in the ESV.

As I read Hebrews 11, I note the emphasis on faith and the list of Old Testament men and women who lived by faith. This helps me understand the phrase “such a great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1. The witnesses are these Old Testament men and women of faith.

I should bear in mind that there were no chapter breaks in Hebrews as originally written. Hebrews 12:1-3 is pretty clearly the conclusion of all the writer has been saying in Hebrews 11.

The repeated reference to faith in chapter 11 raises the question of how this is related to the description of Jesus in Hebrews 12:2 as “the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

In reading chapter 12, I notice the word “endure” in verse 7. This reminds me of the word “endurance” in Hebrews 12:1, the word “endured” in Hebrews 12:2 and the word “endured” in Hebrews 12:3. It appears that the writer is concerned that his readers show endurance as Jesus did.

Starting my survey of the context with Hebrews 10:19 is even more helpful. When I begin there, I see the word “endured” in Hebrews 10:32 (“you endured a hard struggle with suffering”) and “endurance” in Hebrews 10:36 (“you have need of endurance”). Endurance is definitely a theme in this part of Hebrews.

4. Read the text in multiple translations.

I can use the Bible Gateway site or a Bible software program like Logos to read Hebrews 12:1-3 in a variety of translations.

5. Review where the text begins and ends.

There is a question as to whether the text should be verses 1-3 or just verses 1-2.

In the NIV the first three verses are a paragraph. In the ESV verses 1-2 are titled, “Jesus, Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith.” Verse 3 is put under a separate heading, titled, “Do Not Grow Weary.” Other translations also set verse 3 apart from verses 1-2.

Commentaries on Hebrews also differ as to whether verse 3 should be included with verses 1-2 or in the following section.

In the commentaries that appear on Bible Hub, Meyer refers to the “animating summons expressed in Hebrews 12:1-2.” The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges refers to verses 1-3 as “an exhortation to faith and steadfastness.”[2]

Here is what I find in other commentaries. F. F. Bruce considers verses 1-3 as a unit.[3] Attridge in his commentary also considers verses 1-3 to be a unit.[4] William Lane says, “The note of endurance is present in each verse of 12:1–3. This initial paragraph sets forth the tenor of the exhortation and its basis in Jesus’ own endurance of hostile opposition in the world. A second unit, 12:4–11, is integrally connected to 12:1–3.”[5] In Ellingworth’s words, “The introduction to chap. 12 contained in vv. 1–3 is developed in vv. 4–13.”[6] O’Brien considers verse 3 as part of the section continuing through verse 17.[7]

Many translations ignore the connecting particle “γὰρ” (“for”) which appears at the beginning of verse 3 and connects it with verses 1-2.

My conclusion is that it is legitimate to preach on Hebrews 12:1-3 as a unit.

5. Ask questions of the text.

Now I will ask some questions of Hebrews 12:1-3 and record my answers.

What is the main thought of the text, around which other thoughts are organized?

The text is primarily an exhortation: “Let us run with endurance the race set before us.” This is what the author wants his readers to do.

Obviously, he is not talking about a literal running of a literal race. The Christian life of faith and obedience is being depicted as a race and we are runners in that race who are called upon to run.

A reason or motivation for running this race is that we are surrounded by such a great number of witnesses, the men and women of faith he has listed in chapter 11.

The writer also describes the manner in which we are to run the race. We are to lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely. We are also to look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. We are also to consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that we may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Is there conflict in the text or behind it?

The fact that the readers are being exhorted to run may indicate that they are inclined not to run. Verse 3 speaks of Christ who endured such opposition by sinners against himself. The implication is that the readers likewise are enduring opposition and are inclined to grow weary and give up.

What is the fallen condition focus?

See above on conflict. The fallen condition focus is the tendency of people not to endure when faced with opposition and suffering and the tendency of people to shrink back instead of continuing to have faith.

What question is the text seeking to answer?

It seems to be answering these questions: How should we respond when faced with opposition and difficulty in the Christian life? What can encourage us to endure?

What is the text saying? What is the text doing?

The text is exhorting the readers to continue with endurance trusting in Christ and living the Christian life.

How is the text related to God’s gracious redemption in Christ? How does it show the meaning of or the need for redemption?

Jesus is presented as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame and sat down at the right hand of God. He is being presented as someone we should look to and consider as we seek to live the Christian life. He has blazed the trail, so to speak.

  1. Carson, D. A., & Moo, D. J. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. 604.

  2. https://biblehub.com/hebrews/12-1.htm, accessed 8/30/19.

  3. 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. 332.

  4. Attridge, Harold W., and Helmut Koester. The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989. Print. Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. 353.

  5. Lane, William L. Hebrews 9–13. Vol. 47B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991. Print. Word Biblical Commentary. 404.

  6. 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. 637.

  7. O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. 448.