on Hebrews 5 :12
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 - Τινα τα στοιχεια· Certain first principles or elements. The word τινα is not the nominative plural, as our translators have supposed, but the accusative case, governed by διδασκειν· and therefore the literal translation of the passage is this: Ye have need that one teach you a second time (παλιν) 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 Psalm 110:1-7 :, and in Isaiah 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 στερεα τροφη, 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.
on Hebrews 5 :12
For when for the time - Considering the time which has elapsed since you were converted. You have been Christians long enough to he expected to understand such doctrines. This verse proves that those to whom he wrote were not recent converts.
Ye ought to be teachers - You ought to be able to instruct others. He does not mean to say, evidently, that they ought all to become public teachers, or preachers of the gospel, but that they ought to be able to explain to others the truths of the Christian religion. As parents they ought to be able to explain them to their children; as neighbors, to their neighbors; or as friends, to those who were inquiring the way to life.
Ye have need - That is, probably, the mass of them had need. As a people, or a church, they had shown that they were ignorant of some of the very elements of the gospel.
Again - This shows that they "had been" taught on some former occasion what were the first principles of religion, but they had not followed, up the teaching as they ought to have done.
The first principles - The very elements; the rudiments; the first lessons - such as children learn before they advance to higher studies. See the word used here explained in the notes on Galatians 4:3, under the word "elements." The Greek word is the same.
Of the oracles of God - Of the Scriptures, or what God has spoken; see the notes on Romans 3:2. The phrase here may refer to the writings of the Old Testament, and particularly to those parts which relate to the Messiah; or it may include all that God had at that time revealed in whatever way it was preserved; in 1 Peter 4:11, it is used with reference to the Christian religion, and to the doctrines which God had revealed in the gospel. In the passage before us, it may mean" the divine oracles or communications," in whatever way they had been made known. They had shown that they were ignorant of the very rudiments of the divine teaching.
And are become such - There is more meant in this phrase than that they simply "were" such persons. The word rendered "are become" - γίνομαι ginomai - sometimes implies "a change of state," or a passing from one state to another - well expressed by the phrase "are become;" see Matthew 5:45; Matthew 4:3; Matthew 13:32; Matthew 6:16; Matthew 10:25; Mark 1:17; Romans 7:3-4. The idea here is, that they had passed from the hopeful condition in which they were when they showed that they had an acquaintance with the great principles of the gospel, and that they had become such as to need again the most simple form of instruction. This agrees well with the general strain of the Epistle, which is to preserve them from the danger of apostasy. They were verging toward it, and had come to that state where if they were recovered it must be by being again taught the elements of religion.
Have need of milk - Like little children. You can bear only the most simple nourishment. The meaning is, that they were incapable of receiving the higher doctrines of the gospel as much as little children are incapable of digesting solid food. They were in fact in a state of spiritual infancy.
And not of strong meat - Greek. "Strong food." The word "meat" with us is used now to denote only animal food. Formerly it meant food in general. The Greek word here means "nourishment."
on Hebrews 5 :12
5:12 Ye have need that one teach you again which are the first principles of religion. Accordingly these are enumerated in the first verse of the ensuing chapter . And have need of milk - The first and plainest doctrines.