What does Hebrews 5:2 mean?
ESV: He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.
NIV: He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.
NASB: he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is clothed in weakness;
CSB: He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he is also clothed with weakness.
NLT: And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses.
KJV: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
NKJV: He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.
Verse Commentary:
Jesus understands our flaws, since He has experienced humanity in the same way we have (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). A critical part of the role of priest is compassion: grasping the struggle that a person has, and then approaching God on their behalf. In the case of a normal, fallible priest, this includes a recognition of one's own sin. Other verses in Hebrews show that Christ, in this way, was different from ordinary high priests, in that He had no actual sins to be forgiven of (Hebrews 7:27). This verse summarizes details given in verses 7 and 8.

The idea of Jesus being gentle with sinners echoes the sentiment of Hebrews 4:16, which reminds us that believers can come to Christ in confidence. Rather than fearing His anger, we can trust in His compassion and gentleness. However, this idea of responding "gently" actually involves more than simply a lack of uncontrolled anger. The Greek term metriopathein implies an overall control of emotions. This means that a high priest, including Christ, also responds to sin without undue coddling. This kind of "gentleness" gives us confidence, but it does not give us license to sin freely.

The Old Testament law made a distinction between sins committed in ignorance, or in passion, compared to deliberate acts of rebellion (Exodus 21:12–14; Numbers 15:27–31). It stands to reason that Christ's response to our sins, while always merciful and compassionate, is not without variation. The fact that Christ has experienced our weakness makes Him sympathetic, not feeble.
Verse Context:
Hebrews 5:1–10 explains how Jesus fits the requirements of a high priest. Earlier verses showed that the Messiah promised by the Old Testament would be entirely human (Hebrews 2:17). That humanity allows Christ to sympathize with our temptations and weaknesses. Here, the writer of Hebrews points out that this also makes Jesus qualified to be our ultimate High Priest. Because of His humanity, His prayers, His sacrifice for sin, and His appointment by God, Jesus' status is far superior to any other figure.
Chapter Summary:
Hebrews chapter 5 completes the previous commentary about Jesus' humanity. His human existence qualifies Him to understand other men and to offer sacrifice to God on our behalf. Jesus also fulfills the roles of both high priest and king, which the author demonstrates by returning to the Old Testament. The figure of Melchizedek is used to illustrate this point: that Christ, unlike any before, was able to be both the kingly Son of David and the High Priest for all people. The deeper meaning of this example, however, may well be lost on the letter's audience, since they are languishing in spiritual immaturity.
Chapter Context:
The book of Hebrews shows how Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of God's purpose for mankind. For the sake of Jewish Christians, in particular, the author explains that Christ is superior to all other figures, and His covenant is superior to all other relationships. Chapter 5 continues the point made in chapter 4, that Christ's humanity makes Him a uniquely qualified High Priest. This passage bridges that idea into the writer's next warning: spiritual immaturity. This call to avoid apathy will run through all of chapter 6, before the writer returns to Jesus' priesthood in chapter 7.
Book Summary:
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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