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Hebrews 2:9 – Separated by Grace (Part 6)

by Stephen Hebert on Monday - 5 April 2010

in Biblical Studies, New Testament

Part six of the series “Hebrews 2:9 – Separated by Grace.”

Origen mentions the χωρίς reading of Heb 2:9 six times, four of which are preserved in Greek, two in the Latin translations by Rufinus.1  While Origen does not seem to declare a preference for either reading, he does seem to favor the χωρίς reading over χάριτι.

First, let us consider his use of Heb 2:9 in the Commentary on John: χωρὶς γὰρ θεοῦ ὑπὲρ παντὸς ἐγεύσατο θανάτου (“for apart from God on behalf of all he tasted death”). He then adds the phrase ὅπερ ἔν τισι κεῖται τῆς πρὸς Ἑβραίους ἀντιγράφοις χάριτι θεοῦ (“which among some copies of the [epistle] to the Hebrews is set down ‘by the grace of God’”)—clearly indicating that he knows of manuscripts with both readings.2  As Paul Garnet points out, Origen here seems—somewhat tacitly—to support the originality of χωρίς, and his choice of this reading in no way affects the theological point that he is trying to make (namely, that “Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice not only for men, but for every rational being”).3  For Origen, the point is not that Jesus tasted death χωρὶς θεοῦ, but that he tasted death ὑπὲρ παντός. So, whether or not the manuscript says χωρίς or χάρις is inconsequential for his purpose. If the reading were necessary for Origen’s argument, then it would be easy to infer why he might prefer it.

Contrast this, for example, with Ambrose’s repeated citation of Heb 2:9 in De Fide.4  Because Ambrose finds Jesus’ separation from God (sine Deo) to be so theologically significant, it is obvious why he might prefer that reading.5  It is also possible to conjecture that whichever manuscripts he had in front of him, he would continue to prefer χωρίς every time .So also for Theodore of Mopsuestia, who refers to the χάριτι reading as γελοιότατον (“most ridiculous/most laughable”).

Origen’s use of Heb 2:9, however, does not seem to suffer from the four aforementioned shortcomings of patristic citations. For, the syntax of the sentence does not significantly alter the quotation (though he does add γάρ and change the mood of γεύομαι to the indicative); while he does not explicitly claim to be quoting from a text in front of him, the nature of the quotation (and the appendage of the phrase about other manuscripts) indicates that he is reproducing the text somewhat faithfully; the text we have is found in a good critical edition; and finally, we do not need to worry about issues of translation, since this text is preserved in Greek.

Another citation by Origen that may be significant is found in the Dialogue with Heraclides 27: ζητῶ ἵν’ εὕρω ὅτι Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς ὕπερ πάντων ἀπέθανεν χωρὶς θεοῦ (“I seek so that I find that Christ Jesus died apart from God on behalf of all”).6  Garnet contends that the phrase which introduces this quote (ζητῶ ἵν’ εὕρω) indicates the Origen has actually taken the time to search out the verse.7  While Garnet’s argument for Origen’s direct use of the manuscript for his citation is not altogether convincing (mainly because the citation has Jesus dying rather than “tasting death”—a variant not to be found elsewhere), this citation is important because it comes amidst christological debate.8  As we have discussed earlier, Ehrman is convinced that the alteration of χωρίς to χάριτι most likely centered around christological debate. In the case of Heraclides, we clearly have Heb 2:9 being used as a scriptural argument for a discussion about the nature of Christ. Hebrews 2, in fact, is most intimately concerned with Christology. Verses 5–18 provide a concise description of Jesus’ status as a human being. He was made lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor because of his suffering of death (2:8–9), and he is put on the same level as humans (2:11), taking on the same nature and sharing flesh and blood (2:14).9  In Hebrews 2, the very nature of Christ is at stake, just as it was for scribes of the second century. The passage puts a great deal of emphasis not only on Jesus’ divinity (all things are subjected to him), but also on his humanity (he shares in flesh and blood). Therefore, the text becomes important for two different christological camps—those who would wish to proclaim Jesus’ full divinity, as well as those who might argue that the Divine is incapable of suffering death and thus that the Divine must have left Jesus before his suffering.


  1. Commentary on John, I.35, XXVIII.18 (bis); Dialogue with Heraclides, 27; Commentary on Romans III.8 and V.7. See Garnet,“Hebrews 2:9.” I have adopted where applicable the Sources Chrétiennes system for labeling chapters, rather than the system used by Garnet.
  2. Cecile Blanc, Commentaire Sur Saint Jean (SC 120; Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1966) 186–87; and Garnet, “Hebrews 2:9,” 321.
  3. Ibid., 321.
  4. Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 95.
  5. Ambrose, in De Fide 2.3.65, during a discussion of what it means for Christ to be “made lower,” uses Heb 2:9, making the following statement: “How wisely the Apostle wrote: ‘In order that apart from God He might taste death on behalf of all,’ lest we should think that the Godhead, rather than the flesh, had endured the passion.”
  6. Jean Scherer, Entretien avec Héraclide (SC 67; Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2002).
  7. Garnet, “Hebrews 2:9,” 321–22.
  8. Contrast this with the Origen’s use of Heb 2:9 in The Commentary on John where he is discussing the efficacy of the cross and the redemptive nature of Jesus’ death. The Latin translations by Rufinus for The Commentary on Romans also employ Heb 2:9 in discussion of Jesus’ sacrifice. It is also worth noting that in Commentary V.7, a discussion of grace, Rufinus preserves ut sine Deo pro omnibus gustaret mortem (“So that without God, on behalf of all, he tasted death”). Certainly some form of χάριτι would be preferred in a section about grace. In both Latin cases, Rufinus preserves the Hebrews word order, unlike the Greek citations we have. See Garnet, “Hebrews 2:9,” 322.
  9. Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 149.

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