Epistle to the Hebrews Chapter 12:18-24 Antique Commentary Quotes

Albert Barnes

Hebrews 12:18

For ye are not come – To enforce the considerations already urged, the apostle introduces this sublime comparison between the old and new dispensations; Heb_12:18-24. The object, in accordance with the principal scope of the Epistle, is, to guard them against apostasy. To do this, he shows that under the new dispensation there was much more to hind them to fidelity, and to make apostasy dangerous, than there was under the old. The main point of the comparison is, that under the Jewish dispensation, everything was adapted to awe the mind, and to restrain by the exhibition of grandeur and of power; but that under the Christian dispensation, while there was as much that was sublime, there was much more that was adapted to win and hold the affections. There were revelations of higher truths. There were more affecting motives to lead to obedience. There was that of which the former was but the type and emblem. There was the clear revelation of the glories of heaven, and of the blessed society there, all adapted to prompt to the earnest desire that they might be our own. The considerations presented in this passage constitute the climax of the argument so beautifully pursued through this Epistle, showing that the Christian system was far superior in every respect to the Jewish. In presenting this closing argument, the apostle first refers to some of the circumstances attending the former dispensation which were designed to keep the people of God from apostasy, and then the considerations of superior weight existing under the Christian economy.

The mount that might be touched – Mount Sinai. The meaning here is, that “that mountain was palpable, material, touchable” – in contradistinction from the Mount Zion to which the church had now come, which is above the reach of the external senses; Heb_12:22. The apostle does not mean that it was permitted to the Israelites to touch Mount Sinai – for this was strictly forbidden, Exo_19:12; but he evidently alludes to that prohibition, and means to say that a command forbidding them to “touch” the mountain, implied that it was a material or palpable object. The sense of the passage is, that every circumstance that occurred there was suited to fill the soul with terror. Everything accompanying the giving of the Law, the setting of bounds around the mountain which they might not pass, and the darkness and tempest on the mountain itself, was adopted to overawe the soul. The phrase “the touchable mountain” – if such a phrase is proper – would express the meaning of the apostle here. The “Mount Zion” to which the church now has come, is of a different character. It is not thus visible and palpable. It is not enveloped in smoke and flame, and the thunders of the Almighty do not roll and re-echo among its lofty peaks as at Horeb; yet it presents “stronger” motives to perseverance in the service of God.

And that burned with fire – Exo_19:18; compare Deu_4:11; Deu_33:2.

Nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest – see Exo_19:16.


Marvin Vincent

Hebrews 12:18

Following this allusion to Esau, and perhaps suggested by it, is a passage setting forth the privileges of the Christian birthright and of Christian citizenship in contrast with those under the old covenant.

The mount that might be touched and that burned with fire (ψηλαφωμένῳ καὶ κεκαυμένῳ πυρὶ)

Ὄρει mount is omitted by the best texts, but should be understood. Ψηλαφᾶν is rare in N.T. and lxx; fairly frequent in Class. Radically, it is akin to ψᾶν, to rub, wipe; hence feeling on the surface, as Gen_27:12, Gen_27:21, Gen_27:22, lxx: a touch which communicates only a superficial effect. It need not imply contact with an object at all, but simply the movement of the hands feeling after something. Hence often of the groping of the blind, as Deu_28:29; Isa_59:10; Job_5:14. Appropriate here as indicating mere superficial contact. The present participle that is being touched, means simply that the mountain was something material and tangible. The A.V. which might be touched, although not literally correct, conveys the true sense.

That burned with fire (κεκαυμένῳ πυρὶ)

See Exo_19:18; Deu_4:11; Deu_5:4; Deu_9:15. The participle is passive, set on fire; kindled with fire: not attributive of πυρὶ, enkindled fire.

Blackness, darkness, tempest (γνόφῳ, ζόφῳ, θυέλλῃ)

Γνόφος (N.T.o) and ζόφος (elsewhere only 2 Peter and Jude) belong to the same family. As distinguished from σκότος darkness that conceals, as opposed to light, these words signify half-darkness, gloom, nebulousness; as the darkness of evening or the gathering gloom of death. It is a darkness which does not entirely conceal color. Thus δνόφος, the earlier and poetic form of γνόφος, is used by Homer of water which appears dark against the underlying rock, or is tinged by mire. Γνόφος and σκότος appear together, Exo_10:22; Exo_14:20; Deu_4:11; Deu_5:22. Γνόφος alone, Exo_20:21. Ζόφος only in the later version of Symmachus. See on Joh_1:5. Θύελλα N.T.o , from θύειν to boil or foam. It is a brief, violent, sudden, destructive blast, sometimes working upward and carrying objects into the upper air; hence found with ἀείρειν to lift and ἀναρπάζειν to snatch up (see Hom. Od. xx. 63). It may also come from above and dash down to the ground (Hom. Il. xii. 253). Sometimes it indicates the mere force of the wind, as ἀνέμοιο θύελλα (Hom. Od. xii. 409; Il. vi. 346).


R.B. Terry

Hebrews 12:18


TEXT: “plyou have not come to what may be felt of”
EVIDENCE: p46 S A C 048 33 81 lat earlier vg syr(p) cop

NOTES: “plyou have not come to a mountain that may be felt of”
EVIDENCE: D K P Psi 104 614 630 1241 1739 1881 2495 Byz Lect later vg syr(h)

COMMENTS: The translations in braces have either “mountain” in italics, indicating that the word is not in the Greek text, or “Sinai” (NEB). Since NIV and TEV do not use italics to indicate added words, it is likely that they also follow a text that omits “mountain.” Since the word “mountain” is found both before and after “felt of” in the evidence supporting it, it is likely that it was added by copyists to make the meaning clear.


Albert Barnes

Hebrews 12:19

And the voice of a trumpet – Exo_19:19. The sound of the trumpet amidst the tempest was suited to increase the terror of the scene.

And the voice of words – Spoken by God; Exo_19:19. It is easy to conceive what must have been the awe produced by a voice uttered from the midst of the tempest so distinct as to be heard by the hundreds of thousands of Israel, when the speaker was invisible.

Which voice they that heard … – Exo_20:18-19. It was so fearful and overpowering that the people earnestly prayed that if they must be addressed, it might he by the familiar voice of Moses and not by the awful voice of the Deity.


Albert Barnes

Hebrews 12:20

For they could not endure that which was commanded – They could not sustain the awe produced by the fact that God uttered his commands himself. The meaning is not that the commands themselves were intolerable, but that the manner in which they were communicated inspired a terror which they could not bear. They feared that they should die; Exo_20:19.

And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned – Exo_19:13. The prohibition was, that neither beast nor man should touch it on pain of death. The punishment was to be either by stoning, or being “shot through.”

Or thrust through with a dart – Exo_19:13. “Or shot through.” This phrase, however, though it is found in the common editions of the New Testament, is wanting in all the more valuable manuscripts; in all the ancient versions; and it occurs in none of the Greek ecclesiastical writers, with one exception. It is omitted now by almost all editors of the New Testament. It is beyond all doubt an addition of later times, taken from the Septuagint of Exo_19:13. Its omission does not injure the sense.


Cambridge Bible

Hebrews 12:21

the sight] “the splendour of the spectacle” (τὸ φανταζόμενον, here only in N.T.). The true punctuation of the verse is And—so fearful was the spectacle—Moses said …

I exceedingly fear and quake] No such speech of Moses at Sinai is recorded in the Pentateuch. The writer is either drawing from the Jewish Hagadah or (by a mode of citation not uncommon) is compressing two incidents into one. For in Deu_9:19 Moses, after the apostasy of Israel in worshipping the Golden Calf, said, “I was afraid (LXX. καὶ ἔκφοβός εἰμι) of the anger and hot displeasure of the Lord,” and in Act_7:32 we find the words “becoming a-tremble” (ἔντρομος γενόμενος) to express the fear of Moses on seeing the Burning Bush (though here also there is no mention of any trembling in Exo_3:6). The tradition of Moses’ terror is found in Jewish writings. In Shabbath f. 88. 2 he explains “Lord of the Universe I am afraid lest they (the Angels) should consume me with the breath of their mouths.” Comp. Midrash Koheleth f. 69. 4.


Cambridge Bible

Hebrews 12:22

unto mount Sion …] The true Sion is the anti-type of all the promises with which the name had been connected (Psa_2:6; Psa_48:2; Psa_78:68-69; Psa_125:1; Joe_2:32; Mic_4:7). Hence the names of Sion and “the heavenly Jerusalem” are given to “the city of the living God” (Gal_4:26; Rev_21:2). Sinai and Mount Sion are contrasted with each other in six particulars. Bengel and others make out an elaborate sevenfold antithesis here.

to an innumerable company of angels …] This punctuation is suggested by the word “myriads,” which is often applied to angels (Deu_33:2; Psa_68:17; Dan_7:10). But under the New Covenant the Angels are surrounded with attributes, not of terror but of beauty and goodness (Heb_1:14; Rev_5:11-12).


Albert Barnes

Hebrews 12:22

But ye are come unto Mount Sion – You who are Christians; all who are under the new dispensation. The design is to “contrast” the Christian dispensation with the Jewish. and to show that its excellencies and advantages were far superior to the religion of their fathers. It had more to win the affections; more to elevate the soul; more to inspire with hope. It had less that was terrific and alarming; it appealed less to the fears and more to the tropes of mankind; but still apostasy from this religion could not be less terrible in its consequences than apostasy from the religion of Moses. In the passage before us, the apostle evidently contrasts Sinai with Mount Zion, and means to say that there was more about the latter that was adapted to win the heart and to preserve allegiance than there was about the former. Mount Zion literally denoted the Southern hill in Jerusalem, on which a part of the city was built.

That part of the city was made by David and his successors the residence of the court, and soon the name Zion, was given familiarly to the whole city. Jerusalem was the center of religion in the land; the place where the temple stood, and where the worship of God was celebrated, and where God dwelt by a visible symbol, and it became the type and emblem of the holy abode where He dwells in heaven. It cannot be literally meant here that they had come to the Mount Zion in Jerusalem, for that was as true of the whole Jewish people as of those whom the apostle addressed, but it must mean that they had come to the Mount Zion of which the holy city was an emblem; to the glorious mount which is revealed as the dwelling-place of God, of angels, of saints. That is, they had “come” to this by the revelations and hopes of the gospel. They were not indeed literally in heaven, nor was that glorious city literally on earth, but the dispensation to which they had been brought was what conducted them directly up to the city of the living God, and to the holy mount where he dwelt above. The view was not confined to an earthly mountain enveloped in smoke and flame, but opened at once on the holy place where God abides. By the phrase, “ye are come,” the apostle means that this was the characteristic of the new dispensation that it conducted them there, and that they were already in fact inhabitants of that glorious city. They were citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem (compare note, Phi_3:20), and were entitled to its privileges.

And unto the city of the living God – The city where the living God dwells – the heavenly Jerusalem; compare notes on Heb_11:10. God dwelt by a visible symbol in the temple at Jerusalem – and to that his people came under the old dispensation. In a more literal and glorious sense his abode is in heaven, and to that his people have now come.

The heavenly Jerusalem – Heaven is not unfrequently represented as a magnificent city where God and angels dwelt; and the Christian revelation discloses this to Christians as certainly their final home. They should regard themselves already as dwellers in that city, and live and act as if they saw its splendor and partook of its joy. In regard to this representation of heaven as a city where God dwells, the following places may be consulted: Heb_11:10, Heb_11:14-16; Heb_12:28; Heb_13:14; Gal_4:26; Rev_3:12; Rev_21:2, 10-27. It is true that Christians have not yet seen that city by the physical eye, but they look to it with the eye of faith. It is revealed to them; they are permitted by anticipation to contemplate its glories, and to feel that it is to be their eternal home. They are permitted to live and act as if they saw the glorious God whose dwelling is there, and were already surrounded by the angels and the redeemed. The apostle does not represent them as if they were expecting that it would be visibly set up on the earth, but as being now actually dwellers in that city, and bound to live and act as if they were amidst its splendors.

And to an innumerable company of angels – The Greek here is, “to myriads (or ten thousands) of angels in an assembly or joyful convocation.” The phrase “tens of thousands” is often used to denote a great and indefinite number. The word rendered “general assembly,” Heb_12:22 – πανήγυρις panēguris – refers properly to an “assembly, or convocation of the whole people in order to celebrate any public festival or solemnity, as the public games or sacrifices; Robinson’s Lexicon. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and refers here to the angels viewed as assembled around the throne of God and celebrating his praises. It should be regarded as connected with the word “angels,” referring to “their” convocation in heaven, and not to the church of the first-born. This construction is demanded by the Greek. Our common translation renders it as if it were to be united with the church – “to the general assembly and church of the first-born;” but the Greek will not admit of this construction.

The interpretation which unites it with the angels is adopted now by almost all critics, and in almost all the editions of the New Testament. On the convocation of angels, see the notes on Job_1:6. The writer intends, doubtless, to contrast that joyful assemblage of the angels in heaven with those who appeared in the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. God is always represented as surrounded by hosts of angels in heaven; see Deu_33:2; 1Ki_22:19; Dan_7:10; Psa_68:17; compare notes, Heb_12:1; see also Rev_5:11; Mat_26:53; Luk_2:13. The meaning is, that under the Christian dispensation Christians in their feelings and worship become united to this vast host of holy angelic beings. it is, of course, not meant that they are “visible,” but they are seen by the eye of faith. The “argument” here is, that as, in virtue of the Christian revelation, we become associated with those pure and happy spirits, we should not apostatize from such a religion, for we should regard it as honorable and glorious to be identified with them.


Cambridge Bible

Hebrews 12:23

to the general assembly] The word Pançguris means a general festive assembly, as in Son_6:13 (LXX.). It has been questioned whether both clauses refer to Angels—”To myriads of Angels, a Festal Assembly, and Church of Firstborn enrolled in Heaven”—or whether two classes of the Blessed are intended, viz. “To myriads of Angels, (and) to a Festal Assembly and Church of Firstborn.” The absence of “and” before Pançguris makes this latter construction doubtful, and the first construction is untenable because the Angels are never called in the N.T. either “a Church” (but see Psa_89:5) or “Firstborn.” On the whole the best and simplest way of taking the text seems to be “But ye have come … to Myriads—a Festal Assembly of Angels—and to the Church of the Firstborn … and to spirits of the Just who have been perfected.”

and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven] Rather, “who have been enrolled in heaven.” This refers to the Church of living Christians, to whom the Angels are “ministering spirits,” and whose names, though they are still living on earth, have been enrolled in the heavenly registers (Luk_10:20; Rom_8:16; Rom_8:29; Jas_1:18) as “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” unto God and to the Lamb (Rev_14:4). These, like Jacob, have inherited the privileges of firstborn which the Jews, like Esau, have rejected.

to God the Judge of all] Into whose hands, rather than into the hands of man, it is a blessing to fall, because He is “the righteous Judge” (2Ti_4:8).

and to the spirits of just men made perfect] That is, to saints now glorified and perfected—i.e. brought to the consummation of their course—in heaven (Rev_7:14-17). This has been interpreted only of the glorified saints of the Old Covenant, but there is no reason to confine it to them. The writer tells the Hebrews that they have come not to a flaming hill, and a thunderous darkness, and a terror-stricken multitude, but to Mount Sion and the Heavenly Jerusalem, where they will be united with the Angels of joy and mercy (Luk_15:10), with the happy Church of living Saints, and with the spirits of the Just made perfect. The three clauses give us a beautiful conception of “the Communion of the Saints above and the Church below” with myriads of Angels united in a Festal throng, in a Heaven now ideally existent and soon to be actually realised.


Albert Barnes

Hebrews 12:23

To the general assembly – see the notes on Heb_12:22.

And church of the first-born – That is, you are united with the church of the first-born. They who were first-born among the Hebrews enjoyed special privileges, and especially pre-eminence of rank; see the notes on Col_1:15. The reference here is, evidently, to those saints who had been distinguished for their piety, and who may be supposed to be exalted to special honors in heaven – such as the patriarchs, prophets, martyrs. The meaning is, that by becoming Christians, we have become in fact identified with that happy and honored church, and that this is a powerful motive to induce us to persevere. It is a consideration which should make us adhere to our religion amidst all temptations and persecutions, that we are identified with the most eminently holy men who have lived, and that we are to share their honors and their joys. The Christian is united in feeling, in honor, and in destiny, with the excellent of all the earth, and of all times. He should feel it, therefore, an honor to be a Christian; he should yield to no temptation which would induce him to part from so goodly a fellowship.

Which are written in heaven – Margin, enrolled. The word here was employed by the Greeks to denote that one was enrolled as a citizen, or entitled to the privileges of citizenship. Here it means that the names of the persons referred to were registered or enrolled among the inhabitants of the heavenly world; see the notes, Luk_10:20.

And to God the Judge of all – God, who will pronounce the final sentence on all mankind. The object of the reference here to God as judge does not appear to be to contrast the condition of Christians with that of the Jews, as is the case in some of the circumstances alluded to, but to bring impressively before their minds the fact that they sustained a especially near relation to him from whom all were to receive their final allotment. As the destiny of all depended on him, they should be careful not to provoke his wrath. The design of the apostle seems to be to give a rapid glance of what there was in heaven, as disclosed by the eye of faith to the Christian, which should operate as a motive to induce him to persevere in his Christian course. The thought that seems to have struck his mind in regard to God was, that he would do right to all. They had, therefore, everything to fear if they revolted from him; they had everything to hope if they bore their trials with patience, and persevered to the end.

And to the spirits of just men made perfect – Not only to the more eminent saints – the “church of the firstborn” – but to “all” who were made perfect in heaven. They were not only united with the imperfect Christians on earth, but with those who have become completely delivered from sin, and admitted to the world of glory. This is a consideration which ought to influence the minds of all believers. They are even now united with “all” the redeemed in heaven. They should so live as not to be separated from them in the final day. Most Christians have among the redeemed already not a few of their most tenderly beloved friends. A father may be there; a mother, a sister, a smiling babe. It should be a powerful motive with us so to live as to be prepared to be reunited with them in heaven.


Cambridge Bible

Hebrews 12:24

the mediator of the new covenant] Rather, “Mediator of a New Covenant.” The word for “new” is here νέας (“new in time”), not καινῆς (“fresh in quality”), implying not only that it is “fresh” or “recent,” but also young and strong (Mat_26:27-29; Heb_9:15; Heb_10:22).

that speaketh better things than that of Abel] The allusion is explained by Heb_9:13, Heb_10:22, Heb_11:4, Heb_13:12. “The blood of Abel cried for vengeance; that of Christ for remission” (Erasmus). In the original Hebrew it is (Gen_4:10) “The voice of thy brother’s bloods crieth from the ground,” and this was explained by the Rabbis of his blood “sprinkled on the trees and stones.” It was a curious Jewish Hagadah that the dispute between Cain and Abel rose from Cain’s denial that God was a Judge. The “sprinkling” of the blood of Jesus, an expression borrowed from the blood-sprinklings of the Old Covenant (Exo_24:8), is also alluded to by St Peter (1Pe_1:2).


Albert Barnes

Hebrews 12:24

And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant – This was the crowning excellence of the new dispensation in contradistinction from the old. They had been made acquainted with the true Messiah; they were united to him by faith; they had been sprinkled with his blood; see the notes on Heb_7:22, and Heb_8:6. The highest consideration which can be urged to induce anyone to persevere in a life of piety is the fact that the Son of God has come into the world and died to save sinners; compare notes on Heb_12:2-4 of this chapter.

And to the blood of sprinkling – The blood which Jesus shed, and which is sprinkled upon us to ratify the covenant; see notes on Heb_9:18-23.

That speaketh better things than that of Abel – Greek “Than Abel;” the words “that of” being supplied by the translators. In the original there is no reference to the blood of Abel shed by Cain, as our translators seem to have supposed, but the allusion is to the faith of Abel, or to the testimony which he bore to a great and vital truth of religion. The meaning here is, that the blood of Jesus speaks better things than Abel did; that is, that the blood of Jesus is the “reality” of which the offering of Abel was a “type.” Abel proclaimed by the sacrifice which he made the great truth that salvation could be only by a bloody offering – but he did this only in a typical and obscure manner; Jesus proclaimed it in a more distinct and better manner by the reality. The object here is to compare the Redeemer with Abel, not in the sense that the blood shed in either case calls for vengeance, but that salvation by blood is more clearly revealed in the Christian plan than in the ancient history; and hence illustrating, in accordance with the design of this Epistle, the superior excellency of the Christian scheme over all which had preceded it.

There were other points of resemblance between Abel and the Redeemer, but on them the apostle does not insist. Abel was a martyr, and so was Christ; Abel was cruelly murdered, and so was Christ; there was aggravated guilt in the murder of Abel by his brother, and so there was in that of Jesus by his brethren – his own countrymen; the blood of Abel called for vengeance, and was followed by a fearful penalty on Cain, and so was the death of the Redeemer on his murderers – for they said, “his blood be on us and on our children,” and are yet suffering under the fearful malediction then invoked; but the point of contrast here is, that the blood of Jesus makes a more full, distinct, and clear proclamation of the truth that salvation is by blood than the offering made by Abel did. The apostle alludes here to what he had said in Heb_11:4; see the notes on that verse. Such is the contrast between the former and the latter dispensations; and such the motives to perseverance presented by both.

In the former, the Jewish, all was imperfect, terrible, and alarming. In the latter, everything was comparatively mild, winning, alluring, animating. Terror was not the principal element, but heaven was opened to the eye of faith, and the Christian was permitted to survey the Mount Zion; the New Jerusalem; the angels; the redeemed; the blessed God; the glorious Mediator, and to feel that that blessed abode was to be his home. To that happy world he was tending; and with all these pure and glorious beings he was identified. Having stated and urged this argument, the apostle in the remainder of the chapter warns those whom he addressed in a most solemn manner against a renunciation of their Christian faith.


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