The "Give" and "Take" of Hebrews 2:16

by Tim Haile

     The words of Hebrews 2:16 have been variously construed by brethren. Some, limiting themselves to the use of the King James rendering of this verse, believe it to teach that Jesus acquired human spiritual attributes as a result of His coming in the flesh. They believe Jesus became human in "body, soul, and spirit." I grant that a cursory reading of the verse from the KJV, apart from the consideration of other related passages, might lead one to think that Jesus acquired human nature from man. However, such a conclusion does indeed contradict the teaching of other plain passages. Speaking to the Jews about His origin and nature, Jesus said, "You are from beneath; I am from above: You are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:23). He was the same person on earth that He was in Heaven. In John chapter 6 Jesus repeatedly stated that He "came down from Heaven" (Vs. 32-33, 38, 50-51, 58). He was the same person He had always been. His spirit remained unchanged. He is "the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb. 13:8). Hebrews 2:16 does not teach that Jesus' spiritual nature was changed by the incarnation.

What Does Hebrews 2:16 Teach?

     The King James Version translates Hebrews 2:16:

     "For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham."

     The first thing we should consider about this verse, and the thing that is the most obvious, is the ambiguity of the King James translation. The translators saw fit to put 5 of the 20 words that compose this verse in Italics. This means they were unsure as to the proper translation and construction of the verse. Some brethren have fabricated their entire Christological position upon the combination of these italicized words coupled with their own lack of understanding of the phrase "took not on." There are three different areas we need to consider in determining the actual meaning of the verse; 1) proper definitions, 2) other translations, 3) the contextual setting of the verse.


     In his Greek-English Lexicon, on page 240, J.H. Thayer said the Greek epi-lambano is used metaphorically in Hebrews 2:16, "drawn from laying hold of another to rescue him from peril, to help, to succor."" The same word is used in Hebrews 8:9 where it is translated "took them by the hand," describing what God did in leading the Jewish people out of Egyptian bondage. These are examples of metaphors. Perhaps a literal example will help the reader to better understand the full meaning of the word. In Mark 8:23 we are told that Jesus "took the blind man by the hand, an led him out of the town. . ." Now the question is simple. Did the Father acquire something from the Jews by "taking" their hand? Did Jesus "take" anything from the blind man by taking his hand? The answer to each question is no and neither does Hebrews 2:16 teach that Jesus "took" from the nature of man.

     You may be wondering about the definition of the word "nature" in Hebrews 2:16. Concerning this word, Vincent said, "The nature is not in the Greek, and it does not need to be supplied if epilambano is properly translated." (Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, pg. 406). Thus there is no word to define! Those who cite Hebrews 2:16 as proof that Jesus "took nature" from man have absolutely no foundation for their theory.

Other Translations

     It is sometimes helpful to consult other translations of a passage, especially if there are questions about the passage. The King James translators admitted to having a question about Hebrews 2:16, seeing that they felt the necessity to supply five words in their translation of the verse. Let us consider how other reliable translations read in Hebrews 2:16:

     "For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham." (NKJV)

     "For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham." (NASB)

     "For it is clear that He did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham." (NRSV)

     "For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham's descendants." (NIV)

     "It is certain that He does not help angels, but He helps Abraham's offspring." (McCord's Translation)

     These scholars all translated epilambano the same way. It means to give "aid" or "help." It does not mean to obtain it. Those who insist otherwise must consider themselves greater Greek scholars than the combined total of all of the above!

     Please note that Hebrews 2:16 actually teaches the exact opposite of what some brethren teach. Hebrews 2:16 has nothing at all to do with Jesus "taking nature," it has to do with Him providing help; The kind of help that no one but God can provide.


     Let us not overlook the context in determining the meaning of this passage. The context proves that Jesus' holy incarnation served the purpose of helping man, not His being helped by man! For example, verse 9 tells us that Jesus "was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death," and He "tasted death for every man." This is exactly how Jesus "humbled Himself" (Phil. 2:8). He assumed a fleshly existence. Through this act, His humility was fully demonstrated to man. His fervent love for His creatures impassioned Him to voluntarily accept the many human injustices that were carried out against Him (Acts 8:33; Jn. 15:13; 1 Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). His immense desire to help fallen man is what motivated Him to endure such a vast "contradiction of sinners against Himself" (Heb. 12:3).

     It is important to note the Hebrew writer's opening words in verse 9: "But we see Jesus. . ." How did it happen that men were able to see a person of God? Hebrews 2:14 contains the answer. We are told that Jesus "shared in flesh and blood." He "was made flesh" (John 1:14), and was "manifest" in that flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). Why did He do such? The rest of the verse tells us that Jesus used that flesh to accomplish the work of redemption. He helped us by dying for us. He "delivered those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Heb. 2:15). This propitiatory sacrifice was not the only way He helped us. Verse 17 tells us that Jesus continues to help us by His ongoing work in Heaven, at the right hand of God. He is "our merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God." That is, Jesus serves as our "advocate," pleading our case before the Father (1 John 2:1). He "ever lives to make intercession for us" (Heb. 7:25).

     According to Hebrews chapter 2, the only thing Jesus needed in order to become fully man was a physical "flesh and blood" body (Heb. 2:14). Jesus did not "take help" from Abraham's seed, He gave it to them. It is a travesty of exegesis for one to defend an ungodly view of Jesus using 5 interpolated words in the King James reading of Hebrews 2:16. Those who do should be ashamed.

Tim Haile
7693 Russellville Rd.
Bowling Green, KY 42101

Back to the Top | Back Home