How Much Lettuce in Hebrews 12:1-2?
Can we talk about vegetables for a moment? Lettuce to be exact. How much lettuce is there in Hebrews 12:1-2?
The NIV has three “let us”s in Hebrews 12:1-2, two more than the original Greek has. Even the NASB has two “let us”s – one more than the original author wrote. The national security of the United States may not depend on this issue, but accuracy is, after all, the goal of every translator. If the passage contains only one explicit command – only one “lettuce” if you will – shouldn’t that be taken into consideration?
Hebrews 12:1-2 form a single sentence in Greek. The main clause is “let us keep on running,” which is qualified by three dependent clauses introduced by the participles “having,” “throwing off,” and “looking off.” Rendering the last two clauses with “let us” is grammatically permissible but causes certain problems, for such a rendering would suggest that they carry the same weight as the main clause. In other words, while it is true that we are to throw off what hinders us and look off to Christ, the main command – and the only real “lettuce” – remains “let us keep on running.” This may be reflected in translation as follows:
Therefore, having so vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, and throwing off everything that hinders us and especially the sin that so easily entangles us, let us keep on running with endurance the race set before us, looking off to Jesus, the Founder and Finisher of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Now, how can this bring clarity to Bible study? One way is in terms of constructing an outline for teaching or preaching. The following analysis of Hebrews 12:1-2 demonstrates how we can get in touch with the text through an awareness of its structure:
let us keep on running with endurance the race set before us
having so vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, and
throwing off everything that hinders us and especially the sin that so easily entangles us,
looking off to Jesus, the Founder and Finisher of faith....
Here the basic thought units jump out like the white lines on a football field. The theme is brought out to the left, while the more subordinated ideas cluster to the right. We can immediately see the author’s main point – running the race with endurance – as well as his qualifications of the “race”:
By knowing that others have finished the race the present generation of runners can expect to complete it;
No runner, however, can hope to attain the goal without an abhorrence of personal sin;
The runner must look to Jesus, “the Pioneer and Perfecter of faith.”
By reducing these elements to an outline, we can move directly from analysis to presentation:
Text: Hebrews 12:1-2
1. Our Encouragement
(“having so vast a cloud of witnesses”)
I once heard Corrie ten Boom, one of my favorite lay theologians, summarize it this way: “Look inside and be depressed; look outside and be distressed; look to Him and be at rest.” So the question today is: Are you looking at, fixing your eyes on, focusing all of your attention upon the Lord Jesus Christ? If you are, then you can be at rest despite the vexations and cares of life.
This simple outline clearly demonstrates how by analyzing the text one can move from theory to practice. But you can’t get there without just the right amount of “lettuce”!
October 1, 2004
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. His latest book is Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon.