Online Bible Commentary
Knowing Good from Evil
Hebrews 5:11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (NIV)
The writer of the book of Hebrews is anonymous, however he knew those Hebrews to whom he wrote this letter and they knew him well. He knew them well enough to issue five warnings in this letter that were relevant to their current condition. This passage begins the third warning. It is a warning against apostasy and turning away from Christ.
The reference to “this” (v.11a) is the subject of the previous passage regarding the priesthood of Christ. The writer must turn away from that teaching for the time being because the Hebrews are “slow to learn” (v. 11b). He realizes that he has covered material that is heavy on theology, heavier than his readers are able to absorb at this time.
The writer states that these Hebrews should be teaching others by this time, instead of having to still be taught by him (v. 12a). They have been so lax in their study of the scriptures that they have not grown. They need to be taught “the elementary truths of God's word all over again” (v. 12b). Because they have neglected reading scripture for so long, they have forgotten much that had been taught to them. They still need “milk”, and have not graduated to “solid food” (v. 12c). They are still babes in Christ, needing to be fed instead of feeding others.
These “infants” in Christ are still living “on milk” (v. 13a). They cannot digest the new teachings that the writer wishes to cover because they lack the fundamentals of the Christian faith. They are not even “acquainted with the teaching about righteousness” (v. 13b). The literal Greek translation of this phrase is “unskilled in the word of righteousness.” These Hebrew believers are “unskilled” in the scriptures.
This “solid food” is only for the “mature” Christians, identified as those who have “trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (v. 14). The phrase translated “trained themselves” in the literal Greek is “through habit the faculties having exercised.” These baby Christians have not done the work needed to grow spiritually. Paul, likely the writer of this letter, often used examples of athletics in his writings. Here the writer contends that these Hebrews lack a habit of exercise, spiritual exercise. Just as we must exercise physically to stay in shape physically, we must exercise spiritually to stay in shape spiritually. We must read and study God’s word in order to grow spiritually.
Immature Christians do not know “good from evil” (v. 14b). Therefore, they are prone to fall for anything that comes along. Most often that means anything that sounds like it reflects the love of God. After all, God is love, right? Of course, mature Christians know that God is love, but they also know that there is much more to Him than just that. The lack of knowing that “much more” is what causes immature Christians to follow the evil ways of the world. They literally do not know “good from evil”.
The writer then encourages the Hebrews to grow spiritually, to “leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity” (v. 1a). Since the writer specifically identifies these teachings as being “about Christ”, he is referring to New Testament teachings, not Old Testament teachings. This interpretation would also fit the context of this passage, which is to grow infants in Christ to maturity in Christ, and not to convert Jews to Christians.
The writer then lists these six “elementary teachings”, doctrines of Christianity, which every Christian must learn in order to move on towards maturity in Christ. These six doctrines are repentance of sin, belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, believer’s baptism, atonement for sin, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (vv. 1b-2).
In this passage, Paul is voicing the frustrations of every Christian teacher. Paul, the greatest Christian teacher, outside of Christ, must have often been frustrated with Christians who refused to grow in their faith. It was the cause of most of his major problems in the ministry. It was the cause of false teaching, and false teachers who tried to destroy his ministry, and ultimately brought his execution.
It is frustrating to see so many Christians living poor examples of the Christian life. They truly do not know the difference between good and evil. They live their lives according to the ways of the world. They give advice to people who trust them, which is not godly advice. They bring disrepute on Christianity, and God. They do more harm, much more harm, than good.
They do evil, because they do not make it a habit to read and study the Bible. If they get to Heaven, they will not receive any rewards. This passage was a warning from God. It also is a warning to today’s Christians. Take your faith seriously. All other religions do. Why should we do less?