Return to Index
Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
For when for the time - They had heard the Gospel for many years, and had professed to be Christians for a long time; on these accounts they might reasonably have been expected to be well instructed in Divine things, so as to be able to instruct others.
Which be the first principles, certain first principles or elements. The word is not the nominative plural, as our translators have supposed, but the accusative case, and therefore the literal translation of the passage is this: Ye have need that one teach you a second time certain elements of the doctrines of Christ, or oracles of God; i.e. the notices which the prophets gave concerning the priesthood of Jesus Christ, such as are found in Psa_110:1-7 :, and in Isa_53:1-12 : By the oracles of God the writings of the Old Testament, are undoubtedly meant.
And are become such - The words seem to intimate that they had once been better instructed, and had now forgotten that teaching; and this was occasioned by their being dull of hearing; either they had not continued to hear, or they had heard so carelessly that they were not profited by what they heard. They had probably totally omitted the preaching of the Gospel, and consequently forgotten all they had learned. Indeed, it was to reclaim those Hebrews from backsliding, and preserve them from total apostasy, that this epistle was written.
Such as have need of milk - Milk is a metaphor by which many authors, both sacred and profane, express the first principles of religion and science; and they apply sucking to learning; and every student in his novitiate, or commencement of his studies, was likened to an infant that derives all its nourishment from the breast of its mother, not being able to digest any other kind of food. On the contrary, those who had well learned all the first principles of religion and science, and knew how to apply them, were considered as adults who were capable of receiving solid food; i.e. the more difficult and sublime doctrines.
The rabbins abound with this figure; it occurs frequently in Philo, and in the Greek ethic writers also. In the famous Arabic poem called al Bordah, written by Abi Abdallah Mohammed ben Said ben Hamad Albusiree, in praise of Mohammed and his religion, every couplet of which ends with the letter mim, the first letter in Mohammed's name, we meet with a couplet that contains a similar sentiment to that of the apostle: -
"The soul is like to a young infant, which, if permitted, will grow up to manhood in the love of sucking; but if thou take it from the breast it will feel itself weaned."
Dr. Owen observes that there are two Sorts of hearers of the Gospel, which are here expressed by an elegant metaphor or similitude; this consists,
1. In the conformity that is between bodily food and the Gospel as preached.
2. In the variety of natural food as suited to the various states of them that feed on it, answered by the truths of the Gospel, which are of various kinds; and, in exemplification of this metaphor, natural food is reduced to two kinds:
2. strong or solid meat; and those who feed on these are reduced to two sorts:
2. men of ripe age. Both of which are applied to hearers of the Gospel.
1. Some there are who are babes or infants, and some are perfect or full grown.
2. These babes are described by a double properly:
1. They are dull of hearing;
2. They are unskilful in the word of righteousness.
In opposition to this, those who are spiritually adult are,
1. They who are capable of instruction.
2. Such as have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
3. The different means to be applied to these different sorts for their good, according to their respective conditions, are expressed in the terms of the metaphor: to the first milk; to the others strong meat. All these are compromised in the following scheme: -
The hearers of the Gospel Are,
I. Babes or Infants
|II. Perfect or Adult
|1. Dull of hearing
||1. Wise and prudent.|
|2. Inexperienced in the doctrine of righteousness.
||2. And have their senses properly exercised.|
|These have need of milk.
||These have need of solid food.|
But all these are to derive their nourishment or spiritual instruction from the oracles of God. The word oracle, by which we translate the of the apostle, is used by the best Greek writers to signify a divine speech, or answer of a deity to a question proposed. It always implied a speech or declaration purely celestial, in which man had no part; and it is thus used wherever it occurs in the New Testament.
1. It signifies the Law received from God by Moses, Act_7:38.
2. The Old Testament in general; the holy men of old having spoken by the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, Rom_3:2, and in the text under consideration.
3. It signifies Divine revelation in general, because all delivered immediately from God, 1Th_2:13; 1Pe_4:11. When we consider what respect was paid by the heathens to their oracles, which were supposed to be delivered by those gods who were the objects of their adoration, but which were only impostures, we may then learn what respect is due to the true oracles of God.
Among the heathens the credit of oracles was so great, that in all doubts and disputes their determinations were held sacred and inviolable; whence vast numbers flocked to them for advice in the management of their affairs, and no business of any importance was undertaken, scarcely any war waged or peace concluded, any new form of government instituted or new laws enacted, without the advice and approbation of the oracle.
Croesus, before he durst venture to declare war against the Persians, consulted not only the most famous oracles of Greece, but sent ambassadors as far as Libya, to ask advice of Jupiter Ammon. Minos, the Athenian lawgiver, professed to receive instructions from Jupiter how to model his intended government; and Lycurgus, legislator of Sparta, made frequent visits to the Delphian Apollo, and received from him the platform of the Lacedemonian commonwealth. See Broughton.
What a reproach to Christians, who hold the Bible to be a collection of the oracles of God, and who not only do not consult it in the momentous concerns of either this or the future life, but go in direct opposition to it! Were every thing conducted according to these oracles, we should have neither war nor desolation in the earth; families would be well governed, and individuals universally made happy.
Those who consulted the ancient oracles were obliged to go to enormous expenses, both in sacrifices and in presents to the priests. And when they had done so, they received oracles which were so equivocal, that, howsoever the event fell out, they were capable of being interpreted that way.