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Updated: Aug 15, 2023

By Richard M. Davis, MTS

Texas Bible College Program Chair for Theology and Class of 1976

The Epistle to the Hebrews is a work written to encourage downtrodden believers who were suffering from great persecution. Its writings provide stark warnings to those who fail to hold to the truth and who forsake biblical principles, but it also offers amazing promises and hope for those who remain steadfast in the midst of earthly trials and temptations.

In chapter 12 the author of Hebrews drew out a concept from the book of Proverbs concerning fathers, sons, and chastisement, which became the focus of much discussion. This interesting conversation involved the issue of paideia (chastisement) Heb 12:5-11. The writer began these verses with a mild rebuke, or at the least a reminder:

“5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,

Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;

6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6 New King James Version).

Verses 5-6 are a quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12. It raises the issue of the Lord chastising or punishing those whom He loves. When considering the context of Hebrews 12, however, and the author’s use of this quotation within the pericope, a legitimate conversation arises over why he used these verses and what he means by their use. As noted by Ched Spellman, whenever we consider discipline (paideia) in Scripture we have to determine whether the context indicates a “punitive or educative sense of the term.”[1] Spellman asks, “Does it mean correction for disobedience or does it mean the process of education or training for a task?”[2] Whereas the NKJV translators chose to use “chastening,” the translators of the NRSV chose “punishment.” While the clear meaning of the quoted portion from Proverbs refers to punishment, can we so quickly conclude the Hebrews author was also transferring the sense of punishment to the context of chapter 12? Perhaps further investigation would be in order before reaching a hasty conclusion.

Typically, the North American mindset views chastisement primarily as punitive or punishment. For example, many theologians have traditionally viewed the pericope of Hebrews 12:1-13 as speaking of chastisement in the negative sense. Michael Jones indicates that παιδεία (paideia) is instruction or discipline, “often by corrective discipline. . . . which refer to instruction that results from chastening”[3] thus making it appear that his conclusion is that of punishment. However, is it possible the modern reader of Scripture is reading meaning into the text not intended by its author? For example, author Andy Naselli observes that parental views regarding the discipline of children often are rooted in their own personal experiences.[4] A wide array of personal experiences concerning discipline in America ranges from outright abuse to a complete absence of correction or at least the absence of corporal punishment. Consequently, there are many views and ideologies about discipline, but most all of them view discipline in the negative perspective of punishment. Although Naselli lands upon a common interpretation of discipline (chastisement, KJV) as involving an application of punishment, he correctly defines the word: “‘discipline’ (παιδεία, paideia: w . 5, 7, 8, 11) means ‘the act of providing guidance for responsible living, upbringing, training, instruction . . . chiefly as it is attained by discipline, correction.’”[5] It is the opinion of this writer, however, that those who view paideia as correction or guidance by punishment are possibly missing the primary point intended by the author of Hebrews.

While scholars recognize the connection between this pericope and Proverbs 3:11-12, the Lord correcting His children as a father corrects his son, they might be reading unintended meaning into the author’s use of these verses. Clayton Croy believes that the athletic imagery of the text “favors a non-punitive understanding of παιδεία. Sinners face punishments; athletes face struggles and challenges.”[6] DeSilva also recognizes the more positive application of paideia as appropriate to athletic training: “Not all discipline, moreover, was punitive (i.e., punishment for doing something wrong). Educative discipline

also involved the endurance of rigorous exercises, which trained the mind, soul, and body, and it is this second aspect that the author highlights both in his selection of terms to expand upon from the quotation of Proverbs and in his return to the more athletic image of ‘being exercised’ (γεγυμνασμένοις, 12:11) by this discipline.”[7] Croy believes the author of Hebrews provides readers with two sources of encouragement: “the supreme paradigm of endurance in suffering and a view of suffering as divinely purposeful and personally beneficial.”[8] As noted by Croy, in verses 5-6 the author quotes from Proverbs the more punitive-concept words, ἐλέγχω (rebuked, KJV) and μαστιγόω (scourgeth, KJV), but he does not appropriate an application for them within the passage.[9] In other words, he makes no additional use of those concepts or refers to them any further than only within the quoted text itself.

As the author continues the discussion, he refers only to chastisement with the use of paideia, which bears the overarching concept of guidance and instruction, whether it be administered through teaching discipline or through discipline as punishment. The recipients of the Hebrews epistle were not suffering as a result of their wrongdoing or waywardness as far as we can know, but because of standing for their faith. Certainly, the biblical principle stands true that if there were sin to be found in them, God would indeed punish them with corrective discipline because of His love for them, but there is no clear evidence their suffering was the result of sinful choices. True, they were in danger of making a wrong choice of falling into apostasy, but that was the purpose of writing in the first place. An application of chastisement that bears the negative aspect of punishment appears to be out of place within this context.

John Calvin obviously concluded a punitive aspect of chastisement, and he evidently viewed the letter's recipients to have already become apostate.[10] He viewed God’s chastisement as punishment designed “to promote their salvation; it is a demonstration of his paternal love.”[11] One thing is clear through the biblical pericope of Hebrews 12:1-13: The idea of painful suffering in the lives of believers unveils “the positive notions of love and sonship”[12] between God and His children.

David Allen agrees with the idea of a non-punitive perspective of God’s correction in the lives of the recipients of the Hebrew epistle. Allen sees this passage as showing “how God uses suffering and adversity in the lives of Christians.”[13] Although suffering may not be due to one’s personal sins, believers should still allow their suffering to be a means of guiding and training them toward righteous living. Discipline in this sense is God’s use of circumstances that believers experience in order to sharpen their spiritual senses and guide them toward a closer relationship with Himself. It does not necessarily involve punishment for wrongdoing they have committed or God correcting error within them, but God uses life experiences to guide, teach, and instruct His people more perfectly. Further, discipline reminds us of our place in the body of Christ as a loved child of God, for God allows chastening or discipline in the lives of His children for their perfection.

Certainly, the Greek paideia can refer to corporeal punishment, but does the idea of punishment fit within the context of the kind of suffering the Hebrews were experiencing? In this writer’s opinion, no. Rather, it would seem to call for the other nuanced ideas of guidance, instruction, and correction that would enable the runner to complete his race victoriously. According to Allen, Chrysostom understood the meaning to be non-punitive and Allen himself, while recognizing that punitive discipline is part of the Christian experience, sees this passage as reflecting “non-punitive discipline.”[14] Croy further mentions that “the list of exemplars in chapter 11, especially with Jesus as the culmination in 12.1-3, 3, lionizes not persons who have endured the punishment for sin, but those who have endured (undeserved) hardship, privation, and mistreatment.”[15] Ellingworth also points out that the Hebrew believers were not suffering as the result of their own sins and that the idea of punishment could be misleading, suggesting the readers were suffering because of their own wrongdoings or failures.[16] Whatever the cause of one’s chastening, it is without doubt a cause of grief to the one chastened because of his or her human feelings.[17] Ultimately, however, it will produce good fruit in the person’s life as a discipline of the Spirit as long as the suffering person endures faithfully. Further, the final goal and purpose of all suffering experienced by believers is the making of them as “partakers of” Christ’s holiness and their bearing of righteous fruit.

The final two verses of this pericope conclude on a high note of encouragement: “12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed” (Heb 12:12-13).

O’Brien explains the encouraging nature of these verses as an encouragement to finish the race and in which the author returns to the athletic imagery in speaking of “drooping hands and weak knees” to demonstrate “exhaustion and discouragement, while strengthening them is a sign of determination to press on to the final goal.”[18] The author obviously wanted to build up a renewed sense of hope within their hearts, for there is great power within hope.

Whatever your experience in the faith may be today, be encouraged and have your hope anchored securely in Jesus Christ! We will reap the reward of victory if we do not faint (Gal 6:9).

By Richard M. Davis, MTS

Texas Bible College Program Chair for Theology and Class of 1976

[1] Ched E. Spellman, “The Drama of Discipline: Toward an Intertextual Profile of Paideia in Hebrews 12,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 59 no 3 2016, 487. [2] Spellman, “Drama,” 487.

[3]Michael R. Jones, “Teaching,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014). [4] Andrew David Naselli, “Training Children for Their Good,” The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry, 3 no 2 Spr – Sum 2013, 48. [5] Naselli, “Training,” 49.

[6] N. Clayton Croy, Endurance in Suffering: Hebrews 12:1-13 in its Rhetorical, Religious, and Philosophical Context (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series) (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Kindle Location 59. [7]David A. deSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle “to the Hebrews” (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), 448. [8] Croy, Endurance, 44-45. [9] Croy, Endurance, 53.

[10] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews(Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 316. [11]Calvin and Owen, Commentary on Hebrews, 316. [12]Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 464. [13] Allen, Hebrews, 578. [14]Allen, Hebrews, 580.

[15] O’Brien, The Letter, 470.

[16] Croy, Endurance, 64-65. [17]Ellingworth, A Handbook, 294. [18]Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae: 2 Timothy to Hebrews, vol. 19 (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1833), 461.

Works Cited

Allen, David L. Hebrews, The New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010.

Bauckham, Richard. “‘Only the Suffering God Can Help’: Divine Passibility in Modern Theology.” Themelios 9 no 3, 1984.

Calvin, John and Owen, John. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Croy, N. Clayton. Endurance in Suffering: Hebrews 12:1-13 in its Rhetorical, Religious, and Philosophical Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

DeSilva, David A. Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle “to the Hebrews.” Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000.

Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene Albert. A Handbook on the Letter to the Hebrews, UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies, 1994.

Jones, Michael R. “Teaching.” ed. Douglas Mangum et al. Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014.

Naselli, Andrew David. “Training Children for Their Good.” The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry. 3 no 2 Spr – Sum, 2013.

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

Simeon, Charles. Horae Homileticae: 2 Timothy to Hebrews. vol. 19. London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1833.

Spellman, Ched. “The Drama of Discipline: Toward an Intertextual Profile of Paideia in Hebrews 12.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 59 no 3 Sep, 2016.

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