Hebrews 5: “From Milk to Meat”

As you read Chapter 5 of the book of Hebrews, it doesn’t take long to realize the chapter doesn’t end the way it began. In fact, it’s such a strange and abrupt change it almost sounds like a preacher who’s trying to get the attention of his congregation. Truth is, that’s exactly what scholars believe is going on here.

Knowing this information, read the passage from the perspective of a pastor to his people: Hebrews 5:11-14 (NLT) 11 There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen.12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.

Spiritually Dull

The Zondervan Illustrated Bible indicates, “The Greek expression, “spiritually dull” here means “dull of hearing. ” The first word in the phrase, nōthroi, can mean “sluggish, dull, dimwit, negligent,” or “lazy. ” For instance, Plutarch notes that Parmenion was sluggish and lazy in battle; the term could also be used of an athlete who was slow because he was out of shape physically. In both the Wisdom literature and Greek literature generally, the word connotes the failure to follow through with work or a responsibility because of being dull or slow in some aspect of life. Specifically the author links the laziness of the recipients of Hebrews to “hearing,” since he is concerned that they are failing to give full attention to God’s Word.”

So basically, the author, who we believe is preaching a sermon, is trying to challenge the audience to wake up, listen, do something, don’t just be “hearers of the word, but be doers (James 1:22).” There’s a call to the audience to move from spiritual “milk” to spiritual “solid food.”

How Does Paul Fit In?

This sounds familiar doesn’t it? It should because it sounds a lot like 1 Corinthians 3:2. In fact, it’s very similar when you read 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 (NLT) in context: 1 Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready…

Because of this similarity, many people believe that surely Paul has to be the author of Hebrews, but again, he is not. But just like Paul desired to teach the Corinthians so they could grow in their relationship with Jesus, the writer of Hebrews is suggesting the same things. “You need someone to teach you” is the equivalent of sitting down and teaching a young student their ABC’s. It’s a “starting from the basics” mentality that the writer believes would be helpful for the Jewish Christians.

Milk to Meat

The challenge for us in this reading is to ask ourselves this critical question: In my own life, do I see a pattern of growth from “milk” to “meat?” In the Christians life you’re either moving forward or you’re moving backward; in between is considered lukewarm, and that’s not an advisable place to be according to the book of Revelation. What should be interesting to us is the connection between spiritual growth (i.e. meat) and “teaching.” Meaning, if you’re teaching, you’re growing. So the question is, are you teaching? Because according to the author of Hebrews, there’s a point in time when you’ve been a Christian long enough that you then should be teaching others.