"First principles" are fundamental, rudimentary, elementary things. There are things with which we begin, but we have to get off the dime, as it were. Something must be done in order to increase, because if we remain at the starting point, we prove to be not very usable. How much good to human society is a baby? Even so, a newborn Christian is not a great deal of use to. This situation is remedied by growth.
From unskilled to skilled, from oblivious and uncomprehending to discerning—a process happens? It is an integral part of the way of God. It is how He writes His laws into our hearts.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 19)
From the scriptural record, the Hebrews and the Corinthians were not equipped to feed themselves—to discern sacred or spiritual from profane or carnal. If we are in a dependent state, it would be to our advantage to learn how we can wean ourselves spiritually from the bottle. Some of us over the years have seemingly lost our appetite for solid, spiritual food and need to be fed intravenously.
All of us need to become less dependent on spiritual milk and instead become more capable of profiting from solid food. For those who are losing the capacity to enjoy solid food, there is a way to revitalize our spiritual appetite for the weightier matters.
Most of us would agree that the state of spiritual dependency described by the apostle Paul in Hebrews and Corinthians seemed lamentable and disgusting. Yet, how many of us during the last ten, twenty, or thirty years in the church, especially before the massive split, became conditioned to wait for the minister to prepare our weekly baby formula rather than ravenously devour God's Word every day?
Perhaps we have developed "baby-bird syndrome" in which we, in a helpless "take care of me" posture, open our beaks to get our weekly or bi-weekly worm. If Sabbath services were the only times we were spiritually fed, we would eventually starve to death.
Sometimes late in life, after leading a full life, people for no apparent reason lose their will to live and must be fed intravenously. Actually, when we all think about it, without an overriding purpose for our existence, we have no reason to eat or sustain our life. After the belief system was altered in our prior fellowship, people indeed started to lose the vision of their purpose for existence and eventually lost their capacity to endure solid food. Hopefully, most of us have passed the stage of the milk bottle, or God forbid, the need for intravenous feeding.
David F. Maas
Developing a Mature Spiritual Appetite
Although gennao can technically mean "begotten," the weight of Scripture is heavily on it meaning "born" rather than "begotten," even in scriptural areas far removed from the John 3 controversy.
In I Peter 1:23, the phrase "having been born again" is anagennao, which comes from gennao, and means "to beget or (by extension) bear (again)." The apostle makes quite clear in I Peter 2:1-2 that he considers those he is writing to as already born, rather than unborn and within a womb. Only a child already born would feed on milk, or Peter's metaphor would be totally wrong.
A similar circumstance appears in Hebrews 5:13-14:
For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Again, the metaphor pictures an already-born child who eats and drinks.
Paul castigates the members of the Corinthian congregation because of their spiritual immaturity, describing them as babies who needed milk:
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able. (I Corinthians 3:1-2)
The metaphor of eating and drinking only works if we are considered already born spiritually. We were spiritually begotten by the Father at some point in the past through His calling, but we have progressed beyond that begettal to a spiritual birth long before the resurrection of the dead. There is not a single verse that shows us to be begotten but not yet born.
The analogy of being begotten and in the womb of the church is not only scripturally wrong, it is totally inadequate when God commands us to do practical activities normal to Christian life. A child in a womb cannot pray, study, fast, serve, consider, choose, sacrifice, humble himself, repent, forgive, be merciful, walk in the Spirit, rejoice, love, use wisdom, be discreet, intercede, or bring glory to God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Three)
The Hebrews had to be reminded in the strongest of terms that the just shall live by faith, and that God was not pleased with those who turned and ran in the day of battle. We do not want to allow ourselves to get in that fix. Nor do we want to become discouraged, thinking we will never measure up to what God requires of us and think, "This task is too hard."
Jesus, indeed, warned that the way is narrow and difficult, but it is not impossible because God has promised never to give us something that is too hard for us. God plays the game, as it were, according to the abilities of each individual. Though there is a standard against which everyone is judged, everyone is judged fairly—according to their natural ability and according to the gifts that God has given to them. Also, "to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48).
So no one can look at his neighbor and compare himself with him, because no one knows exactly where the other person stands. There has to be some tolerance of and patience with one another. We must have an attitude of forgiveness, even of encouragement. We have to do whatever we can that might help the other person make it into the Kingdom of God. That is part of our responsibility.
Besides the fact that we know those things, there is also the "great cloud of witnesses" that is mentioned in Hebrews 12:1. That is, those who have gone before and are witnesses to us that God is faithful. How are they witnesses? They finished the race, and are awaiting the resurrection! God has given us witness of their lives, and how and why they made it. This witness illustrates His involvement in their lives.
He has recorded those things so that we can understand that God will deal with us in a merciful way. He has not called us to lose us but to save us. He is able to do what He sets His hand to do. We are in good hands—the best! We are in the most secure position that we could possibly be. That "great cloud of witnesses" witnesses to us that, if they did it, we can do it too.
So there is no need to get discouraged, even though the way for each of us is just as hard, just as difficult, as it has to be. He tells us in His Word that He will do far more—over and above what we can even begin to think that He is capable of doing—to ensure that we will be saved.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Conviction and Moses
In using milk as a metaphor in I Peter 2:2, Peter is in no way chiding people as Paul does in Hebrews 5:12-14. The former uses milk simply as a nourishing food because his emphasis is on desire, not depth. Paul uses milk as a metaphor for elementary because he wants to shock the Hebrews into comprehending how far they had slipped from their former state of conversion.
Paul also uses milk as a metaphor for weak or elementary in I Corinthians 3:1-2: "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able." Paul judges the Corinthians as weak based upon their behaviors and attitudes, which reflected no spiritual progress. So he "fed" these immature Christians elementary knowledge because things of greater depth would have gone unappreciated, misunderstood, and unused. These references directly tie spiritual diet to growth in understanding, behavior, and attitude.
Paul's milk metaphors are scathing put-downs! Undoubtedly, he seriously hurt the feelings of many in the congregation, yet he is free and clear before God of any charge of offense. He does not question their conversion, but he certainly rebukes their lack of growth. He rightly judges that they need to have their feelings hurt so they could salvage what remained of their conversion.
In I Corinthians 3, the embarrassing immaturity that required him to feed the people like babies also produced strife and factions in the congregation, proving that the people were far more carnal than converted. The Hebrews account is more complex: The people had once been more mature but had regressed. It is a situation vaguely similar to elderly people becoming afflicted with dementia, except that faith, love, character, conduct, and attitude were being lost rather than mental faculties. This resulted in the people drifting aimlessly.
An additional insight regarding an insufficient spiritual diet appears in the next chapter. Paul tells them that their problems are directly related to being lazy. Dull in the phrase "dull of hearing" in Hebrews 5:11 is more closely related to "sluggish" or "slothful." It is translated as such in Hebrews 6:12, ". . . that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
Paul charges them with being lazy listeners; they are not putting forth the effort to meditate and apply what is taught them. They are, at best, merely accepting. That they are not using what they hear is proof enough for Paul to understand that they are not thinking through the seriousness or the practical applications of the teachings. In other words, they are not assimilating what they hear, and the result is a lack of faith and a consequent faithlessness. His rebuke is far more serious than the one in I Corinthians 3 because these people are older in the faith. They have frittered away a large amount of time that would have been far better spent on spiritual growth.
Paul attempts to shame and shock them into realizing how far they had slipped by calling these grown people—some of them undoubtedly elderly—infants. He goes so far as to tell them that they are unacquainted with and unskilled in the teaching on righteousness. In other words, he attributes to them the one particular trait of infants: that they do not understand the difference between right and wrong, a characteristic that defines immaturity. A parent must instruct and chasten a child until it understands.
The Bible provides ample evidence that a poor spiritual diet results in a spiritually weak and diseased person, just as a poor physical diet works to erode and eventually destroy a person's physical vitality. Similarly, we can see that a person can be in good spiritual health but lose it through laziness or another form of neglect. Just as a mature adult needs good, solid nourishment to maintain his vitality and remain free of disease, the spiritual parallel follows. For one to grow to spiritual maturity and vitality, a mature Christian needs solid, spiritual nourishment, assimilated and actively applied, to continue growing and prevent regressing, as opposed to the Hebrews sluggish spiritual deterioration.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Eight): Conclusion (Part One)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Hebrews 5:13:
1 Corinthians :
1 Corinthians :
1 Thessalonians 5:21
1 Peter 1:22-25
1 Peter :
1 Peter 2:1-2