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Hebrews 2:1; 3:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to the things that have been heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God.
 Pay Attention: (Gr. prosechō) The sense of προσέχω prosechō is to give heed or the need to pay attention. One must hold more firmly to what they believe, or what they have known to be true. Paul is telling these Hebrew Christians, who no longer have visual aids like the temple or the Jewish high priest, you need to hold more firmly to the things that you have heard.
 Drift Away: (Gr. pararreō) The sense of παραρρέω pararreō is to disbelieve or drift away gradually or slowly from what one had formerly known to be true. It is like being carried away by a water current. These Hebrew Christians because of their daily harassment from the Jews in and around Jerusalem, living in the place where they can see what we now call the eighth wonder of the world, the Jewish temple, were gradually giving up their belief in the truth.–Heb. 2:1.
 Heart, Evil and Unbelieving: (Gr. καρδία kardia, πονηρός ponēros ἀπιστία apistia) The sense of kardia is the inner person, the person’s thoughts (mind), volition (decisions, choices, desires), emotions, and knowledge of right and wrong, i.e., the conscience. The sense of ponēra is evil, wicked, morally bad, or wrong. The sense of apistias is unbelief. In the context of the book of Hebrews, it is the trait of not trusting in or relying on God and his Word. Paul warned the Hebrew Christians about developing an evil, unbelieving heart. We cannot remain “pure in heart” if we develop a heart “lacking faith.”–Heb. 3:12
 Falling Away: (Gr ἀφίστημι aphistēmi) Lit to standoff; to abandon a cognitive position. to cause to rebel, to depart, to forsake. This here is a case of apostasy; that is, one who abandons the faith, who stands off from the truth, who now rejects their former biblical views so that they have now forsaken Jesus Christ.
DRIFTING AWAY, FALLING AWAY
Hebrews 2:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to the things that have been heard, so that we do not drift away from it.
Therefore. Gr. “On account of this”—Διὰ τοῦτο—that is, on account of the exalted dignity and rank of the Messiah as stated in the previous chapter. The sense is, “Since Christ, the author of the new dispensation, is so far exalted above the prophets, and even the angels, we ought to give the more earnest attention to all that has been spoken.”
We ought. It is fit or proper (Gr. δεῖ) that we should attend to those things. When the Son of God speaks to men, every consideration makes it appropriate that we should attend to what is spoken.
To give the more earnest heed. To give the more strict attention.
To the things which we have heard. Whether directly from the Lord Jesus or from his apostles. It is possible that some of those to whom the apostle was writing had heard the Lord Jesus himself preach the gospel; others had heard the same truths declared by the apostles.
Lest at any time. We ought to attend to those things at all times. We ought never to forget them; never to be indifferent to them. We are sometimes interested in them, and then we feel indifferent to them; sometimes at leisure to attend to them, and then the cares of the worlds, or heaviness and dullness of mind, or a cold and weary and weak state of the affections, renders us indifferent to them, and they are suffered to pass out of the mind without concern. Paul says, that this ought never to be done. At no time should we be indifferent to those things. They are always important to us, and we should never be in a state of mind when they would be uninteresting. At all times; in all places; and in every situation of life, we should feel that the truths of God’s Word are of more importance to us than all other truths, and nothing should be suffered to erase their image from the heart.
We should let them slip. Marg. Run out as leaking vessels. Tyndale renders this, “lest we be spilt.” The expression here has given rise to much discussion as to its meaning and has been very differently translated. Doddridge renders it, “lest we let them flow out of our minds.” Prof. Stuart, “lest at any time we should slight them.” Whitby, “that they may not entirely slip out of our memories.” The word here used—παραρρέω pararreō—occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The Septuagint translators have used the word but once. Prov. 3:21. “Son, do not pass by (μὴ παραῤῥυῇς) but keep my counsel;” that is, do not pass by my advice by neglect, or suffer it to be disregarded. The word means, according to Passow, to flow by, to flow over; and then to go by, to fall, to go away. It is used to mean to flow near, to flow by—as of a river; to glide away, to escape—as from the mind, i.e. to forget; and to glide along—as a thief does by stealth. See Robinson’s Lex. The Syriac and Arabic translators have rendered it, that we may not fall. After all that has been said on the meaning of the word here, (comp. Stuart in loc.), it seems to me that the true sense of the expression is that of flowing, or gliding by—as a river; and that the meaning here is, that we should be very cautious that the important truths spoken by the Redeemer and his apostles should not be suffered to glide by us without attention, or without profit. We should not allow them to be like a stream that glides on by us without benefiting us; that is, we should endeavor to secure and retain them as our own. The truth taught, is that there is great danger, now that the true understanding of God’s Word has been revealed, that it will not profit us, but that we shall lose all the benefit of it. This danger may arise from many sources—some of which are the following:—(1.) We may not feel that the truths revealed are important—and before their importance is felt, they may be beyond our reach. So we are often deceived in regard to the importance of objects—and before we perceive their value they are irrecoverably gone. So it is often with time, and with the opportunities of obtaining an education, or of accomplishing any object which is of value. The opportunity is gone before we perceive its importance. So the young suffer the most important period of life to glide away before they perceive its value, and the opportunity of making much of their talents is lost because they did not embrace the suitable opportunities. (2.) By being engrossed in business. We feel that that is now the most important thing. That claims all our attention. We have no time to pray, to read the Bible, to think of our Christian meetings, or evangelizing, that sharing truths with others, for the cares of the world engross all the time—and the opportunities of salvation glide insensibly away, until it is too late. (3.) By being attracted by the pleasures of life. We attend to them now, and are drawn along from one to another until our appreciation for the deeper things of God’s Word is suffered to glide away with all its hopes and consolations, and we perceive, too late, that we have let the opportunity of salvation slip forever. Allured by those pleasures, the young neglect it; and new pleasures, starting up in future life carry on the delusion, until every favourable opportunity for salvation has passed away. (4.) We suffer favorable opportunities to pass by without improving them. Youth is by far the best time, as it is the most appropriate time, to become a Christian—and yet how easy is it to allow that period to slip away without becoming interested in the Saviour! One day glides on after another, and one week, and one month, one year passes away after another—like a gently-flowing stream—until all the precious time of youth has gone, and we are not Christians. So a revival of religion is a favorable time—and yet many suffer this to pass by without becoming interested in it. Others are converted, and the heavenly influences descend all around us, but we are unaffected, and the season so full of happy and heavenly influences is gone—to return no more. (5.) We let the favorable season slip because we design to attend to it at some future period of life. So youth defers it to manhood—manhood to old age—old age to a deathbed—and then neglects it—until the whole of life has glided away, and the soul is not saved. Paul knew man. He knew how prone he was to let the things of religion slip out of the mind—and hence the earnestness of his caution that we should give heed to the subject now—lest the opportunity of salvation should soon glide away. When once passed, it can never be recalled. Learn hence (1.) the truths of religion will not benefit us unless we give heed to them. It will not save us that the Lord Jesus has come and spoken to men unless we are disposed to listen. It will not benefit us that the sun shines unless we open our eyes. Books will not benefit us, unless we read them; medicine, unless we take it; nor will the fruits of the earth sustain our lives, however rich and abundant they may be, if we disregard and neglect them. So with the truths of religion. There is truth enough to save the world—but the world disregards and despises it. (2.) It needs not great sins to destroy the soul. Simple neglect will do it as certainly as atrocious crimes. Every man has a sinful heart that will destroy him unless he makes an effort to be saved; and it is not merely the great sinner, therefore, who is in danger. It is the man who neglects his soul—whether a moral or an immoral man—a daughter of amiableness, or a daughter of vanity and vice.
CPH NOTE: Albert Barnes wrote that insightful information in 1885. We have gained a far deeper knowledge of biblical Greek since then. Thus, (Gr. pararreō) The sense of παραρρέω pararreō is to disbelieve or drift away gradually or slowly from what one had formerly known to be true. It is like being carried away by a water current. These Hebrew Christians because of their daily harassment from the Jews in and around Jerusalem, living in the place where they can see what we now call the eighth wonder of the world, the Jewish temple, were gradually giving up their belief in the truth.–Heb. 2:1.
David L. Allen on 2:1
Hebrews 2 begins with the connector dia touto (“therefore”). The issue is determining how far back into chap. 1 it reaches. Ellingworth construed “therefore” to connect only to the final words of 1:14 with the meaning, “Because God intends to give us salvation as a permanent possession, we must be all the more attentive to what he and others have said about it.” “Therefore” could connect the entire paragraph in 1:5–14 to 2:1–4, or most likely, it includes the entire argument of Hebrews 1.
The hortatory nature of 2:1–4 is immediately obvious in v. 1: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The combination of dei (“must,” lit. “it is necessary”) with the comparative adverb perissoterōs (“more careful”) followed by prosechō (“pay attention to”) and pararuōmen (“drift away”) arrests the attention of the reader with a strong warning. The use of dei indicates strong necessity. Whether a logical or moral necessity or both is difficult to decide, but the immediate and broader context of Hebrews favors both.
Prosechein is in this context most likely a technical nautical term meaning “to hold a ship toward port” since the author used pararrein (“to drift”), another nautical term, in the same verse. The term also can be used in a general non-nautical sense, and some commentators prefer to so take it in this verse. But given the overall context and the similar metaphor in Heb 6:19 (an anchor that holds sure and steadfast), the nautical reference is likely. It has been suggested that prosechein indicates the fastening of the anchor to the seabed to keep the ship from drifting. What better way for the author to picture for his readers a sense of drifting from the truth of what they had been taught than by the use of the metaphor of a drifting ship carried by currents beyond some fixed point. The author used a cognate (katechein) when he exhorted the readers to “hold on” or “hold firmly” (3:6, 14; a third use is in 10:23, “hold unswervingly”).
Ellingworth suggested that the author may have had in mind Moses’ exhortation to the people in Deut 32:46, “Take to heart all of these words” (prosechete tē kardia epi pantas tous logous toutous) when he used the term prosechein, since he quoted Deut 32:43 in Heb 1:6. This suggestion seems plausible given that the warning in 2:1–4 had to do with failure to obey the word of God and that Heb 3:7–4:11 uses the example of the exodus generation that did disobey God’s word. Interestingly, the only other place where prosechein is followed by the strong negative mēpote (“so that … not”) as here is in Luke 21:34, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down.” In v. 33 Jesus said that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
The readers are exhorted to pay close attention “to what we have heard.” As used in Hebrews (with the exception of 12:19), the phrase “to what we have heard” implies submissive acceptance of what is heard. The author makes prominent throughout the epistle the theme of salvation as that which is spoken by God and the prologue states God “has spoken” in his Son, Jesus. Contextually, “to what we have heard” refers to the message received from both Jesus and the early Christian witnesses. The consequence of failing to pay attention to the word is that the readers will “drift away,” where the word in Greek can mean “drift” or “slip away” as the lexicons indicate.117 The context and that the verb is not followed by an object probably indicate that the author intended the meaning “drift away.”
EVIL, UNBELIEVING HEART, FALLING AWAY
Hebrews 3:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God.
Take heed, brothers. In view of the conduct of the rebellious Jews, and of their fearful doom, be on your guard lest you also be found to have had the same feelings of rebellion and unbelief. See to it, that under the new dispensation, and in the enjoyment of the privileges of the gospel, you be not found to manifest such feelings as shall exclude you from the heavenly world. The principle has been settled by their unbelief that they who oppose God will be excluded from his rest. That may be shown under all dispensations, and in all circumstances, and there is not less danger of it under the gospel than there was when the fathers were conducted to the promised land. You are travelling through a wilderness—the barren wilderness of this world. You are exposed to trials and temptations. You meet with many a deadly and mighty foe. You have hearts prone to apostasy and sin. You are seeking a land of promise; a land of rest. You are surrounded by the wonders of Almighty power, and by the proofs of infinite beneficence. Disobedience and rebellion in you will as certainly exclude you from heaven as their rebellion did them from the promised land; and as their great sin was unbelief, be on your guard lest you manifest the same.
An evil heart of unbelief. An evil, unbelieving heart. The word unbelief is used to qualify the word heart, by a Hebraism—a mode of speech that is common in the New Testament. An unbelieving heart was the cause of their apostasy, and what worked their ruin will produce ours. The root of their evil was a want of confidence in God—and this is what is meant here by a heart of unbelief. The great difficulty on earth everywhere is a want of confidence in God—and this has produced all the ills that man has ever suffered. It led to the first apostasy, and it has led to every other apostasy—and will continue to produce the same effects to the end of the world. The apostle says that this heart of unbelief is “evil.” Men often feel that it is a matter of little consequence whether they have faith or not, provided their conduct is right; and hence they do not see or admit the propriety of what is said about the consequences of unbelief in the Scriptures. But what do they say about a want of confidence between a husband and wife? Are there no evils in that? What husband can sleep with quietness on his pillow, if he has no confidence in the virtue of his wife? What child can have peace who has no confidence in a parent? How can there be prosperity in a community where there is no confidence in a bank, or an insurance office, or where one merchant has no confidence in another; where a neighbor has no confidence in his neighbour; where the sick have no confidence in a physician, and where in general all confidence is broken up between man and man? If I wished to produce the deepest distress in any community, and had the power, I would produce the same want of confidence between man and man which there is now between man and his Maker. I would thus take away sleep from the pillow of every husband and wife; every parent and child; and make every man wretched with the feeling that all the property which he had was insecure. Among men, nothing is seen to be productive of greater evil than a want of confidence or faith—and why should not the same evil exist in the divine administration? And if want of confidence produces such results between man and man, why should it not produce similar, or greater, miseries where it occurs in relation to God? There is not an evil that man endures which might not be alleviated or removed by confidence in God; and hence one great object of the Christian religion is, to restore to man his lost confidence in the God that made him.
In departing from the living God. Manifested in departing from him, or leading to a departure from him. The idea is, that such a heart of unbelief would be connected with apostasy from God. All apostasy first exists in the heart, and then is manifested in the life. They who indulge in unbelief in any form, or in regard to any subject, should remember that this is the great source of all alienation from God and that if indulged it will lead to complete apostasy. They who wish to live a life of piety should keep the heart right. He that lives “by the faith of the Son of God” is safe; and none is safe but he.
David L. Allen on 3:12
The final paragraph of this chapter (3:12–19) comprises the author’s application of the quotation to his readers. It is primarily hortatory in nature. The situation of the original readers (3:12–14) is compared to that of the wilderness generation (3:15–19). The question of how v. 12 is related to what precedes is not easy to answer. Some say it is connected to the dio of 3:7 and is parenthetical. Others begin a new sentence with v. 12 and see it as an application of the preceding comments.
The imperative “see to it” introduces an urgent warning, implying “that there is urgent cause for apprehension founded on the actual state of the case.” But it should not be interpreted to suggest that the author thought the “evil unbelieving heart” already existed among the readers. As noted previously, the heart includes the entire human personality of mind, will, and emotions. The noun apistia (“unbelief”) is translated by the NIV as a participle, “unbelieving.” The genitive phrase “heart of unbelief” is, according to Delitzsch, a qualitative genitive “in the widest sense,” not the genitive of cause or the genitive of consequence.523 Westcott argued that “evil heart” should be seen closely together with “unbelieving,” which characterizes the “evil heart.” Unbelief stands in contrast to “faithfulness,” which was the glory of Moses and Christ (3:1–6). This “unbelief finds its practical issue in ‘disobedience.’ ” The importance of the heart for the author appears later in 8:10 and 10:10, where the Jeremiah quotation indicates that the new covenant includes a provision for a clean and established heart. In Heb 10:22, with language very similar to 3:12, the author exhorted his readers to draw near to God with a “true heart … having our hearts cleansed from an evil conscience.” Finally, the author spoke of the heart being strengthened by grace (13:9), which contrasts with a hard heart due to sin’s deceitfulness (3:13).
According to Delitzsch, the apistia is both the root and the fruit of ponēra, and we don’t have to decide between the meaning of “unbelief” or “unfaithfulness”: the word contains both meanings “which mutually involve each other.” Mēpote introduces a clause that can be interpreted as expressing the content of seeing: “see to it that there not be an evil unbelieving heart.” It can also be taken to indicate purpose: “Take care, brothers, [in order] that there not be” (NASB). Mēpote followed by the indicative implies urgent cause of apprehension founded on the actual state of the case and marks the reality and urgency of the danger. The entire construction to this point may be Semitic, as noted by many.
A key phrase in v. 12 that impinges on the interpretation of the warning passages in Hebrews 6 and 10 is en tō apostēnai, the aorist active infinitive of aphistēmi (“that turns away”). Lane agreed with the NIV and translated the phrase “that turns away,” taking the infinitive in an epexegetical sense. The word carries with it the notion of movement away from a point of reference—in this case, the living God. In Acts 15:38 it means “desert.” There is little doubt that the author was thinking of Num 14:9 (LXX): apo tou kuriou mē apostatai ginesthe, where the very word in its nominal form is used. In Num 14:9 the basic meaning of the Hebrew word is “to rebel.” The Greek noun can mean either “rebel” or “apostate,” and context must determine which is intended. Both meanings appear to be equally legitimate in the present context. Gheorghita gave a “slight advantage” to the reading “do not become apostates.” On the other hand, Wevers translated it, “do not rebel against YHWH,” noting that the LXX rendering best fits the Hebrew verb.
The language and imagery of Hebrews 3 are paralleled in the other warning passages in the epistle with such verbs as pararreō (“drift away” in 2:1), parapiptō (“fall away” in 6:6), and apostrephō (“turn away” in 12:25). Gheorghita stated:
In the NT the primary meanings of the verb ἀφίστημι [aphistēmi] are “to (physically) depart, to be separated from” (Lk. 2:37, 4:13, Acts 12:10, 15:38, 19:10) and “to (be) release(d)”, or “to send away” (Lk. 13:27, Acts 2:38, 22:29, 2 Cor. 12:8). In addition to these frequent connotations, the verb ἀφίστημι and its cognate noun ἀποστῆναι [apostēnai] are occasionally employed by other NT writers with the same meaning as in Hebrews. Especially in the latter writings of the NT the verb is used with the specific meaning of “falling away from the faith / Lord” (Lk. 8:13) and it probably acquired the status of terminus technicus to describe the falling away from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1, 2 Tim. 2:3 [sic]).
The semantic range of this verb in the NT is much less extensive than in the LXX, where no less than 40 different Hebrew verbs are employed.533 The phrase in Num 14:9 (LXX) is mē apostatai ginesthe, which translates the Hebrew ʾal-timrōdû (“do not rebel”). The Hebrew verb mārad (“to revolt/rebel”) and its cognate noun mered (“rebellion”; only in Josh 22:22) are translated by the verb aphistēmi or its cognates more than a dozen times in the LXX. Our author used the verb aphistēmi only once in this passage and did not use it again in any of the other warning passages, which argues against understanding his meaning as “apostasy” in the traditional sense of that term.
The author warned his readers not to turn away from “the living God.” The absence of the Greek articles in this phrase focuses on God’s character and nature. Westcott translated it “from Him who is a living God” because of the anarthrous construction, and he explained that the phrase suggests “the certainty of retribution on unfaithfulness.” This phrase corresponds to “as I live” in Num 14:21, 28. In 14:3–4 the wilderness generation was about to abandon God by faulting him for bringing them out of Egypt. According to Num 14:9, Joshua warned the people not to abandon God by disobeying his command to enter the promised rest. By analogy, the readers of Hebrews were in danger of doing the same thing, as chap. 4 makes clear. Rhetorically, the author connected the “living God” (3:12) with “the word of God is living” (4:12) to form a possible chiasm—God/living and living [word]/of God.
Lane and the NIV take the infinitive clause en tō apostēnai as a comment on the unbelieving heart as one “that turns away.” Ellingworth said it expresses the possible result of the unbelieving heart: “should fall away as a result of disbelief.” His point that the danger the author fears for his readers “seems to have been a passive drift (2:1) away from faith rather than active revolt” tones down the harshness of the term and tends to interpret the infinitive in light of 2:1 rather than vice versa. Hughes interpreted the phrase to mean “a heart that is evil because it is unbelieving.” Following Aquinas, Hughes correctly explained that this is not a case of a heart that has not yet come to belief, but a heart that departs from belief.538
This falling away is not passive but deliberate disobedience. This is the antithesis of the spirit of those who draw near to God (see 10:22). Peter referred to those who have “left the straight way and wandered off” (2 Pet 2:15). He went on to say about them that “if they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning” (2 Pet 2:20). The author used apostēnai only this once in the entire book, which leads to a crucial question: If apistia and apeithēs are synonyms for apostēnai, then is apostasy in the usual theological sense what the author had in mind? It is highly unlikely that the theological sense of the term is what the author intended.
These verses contain an important aspect of the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament. The author’s reference to the failure of the exodus generation as a warning for his readers is an example of Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 10:6–11 that Old Testament events are written as warnings for the church.
 Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Hebrews, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 50–52.
 David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 191–193.
 Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Hebrews, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 83–84.
 David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 259–263.