Questions From Readers
● According to Hebrews 12:22, 23 (Authorized Version) the apostle Paul speaks of “the spirits of just men made perfect.” Could these “men” be those faithful ones about whom Paul wrote at Hebrews chapter 11?
The suggestion that these words may apply to men of faith and faithfulness in pre-Christian times down to John the Baptizer is not new. Already the Watchtower issue of August 15, 1913, pages 248 and 249, cautiously made this suggestion, and that view continued to be held for many years. In this verse the word “men” does not occur in the original Greek text. That is why the New World Translation reads, “and the spiritual lives of righteous ones who have been made perfect.”—See Jerusalem Bible, Emphatic Diaglott, Rotherham, Westminster Version, Kingdom Interlinear Translation.
Hebrews 11:8-10 referred to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and showed that Abraham left the city of Ur of Chaldea and that he and Isaac and Jacob lived as nomads until Jacob transferred down to the land of Egypt in the days of his son Joseph. So during that period of time they did not live in a settled, established place like a city. Nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures says that God promised these three men a “city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which city is God.” That is Paul’s comment on the matter. Doubtless that expression refers to the established government of God by the ‘seed of Abraham,’ under which government those three patriarchs will live on earth and gain human perfection by the end of the thousand years.—Gal. 3:16.
When God brought the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob out of the land of Egypt and into the land that he had promised to Abraham, they settled in the cities of the Canaanites, Jericho being the only one that was destroyed by God’s power. Thereafter all the faithful prophets and faithful women of ancient times had a fixed residence in cities. Consequently, it could not be said of them as it was said of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that they were seeking a future city on earth. Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70 C.E., 39 years after the beheading of John the Baptizer. So even Jewish Christians lived in that visible, earthly city until after the withdrawal of General Gallus from Jerusalem, when Christians obeyed Jesus’ prophetic command to get out of her.—Matt. 24:15-22.
Hebrews 13:12-14 refers to Jesus’ being impaled outside the walls of earthly Jerusalem, or “outside the gate.” In the face of that circumstance Paul goes on to say, “Let us, then, go forth to him outside the camp [like the scapegoat or “the goat . . . for Azazel” that was sent into the wilderness on the day of atonement, (Lev. 16:10)], bearing the reproach he bore, for we do not have here a city that continues, but we are earnestly seeking the one to come.” This “city” refers to the heavenly kingdom, the New Jerusalem, which Paul mentions in Hebrews 12:22.
The faithful men of old, particularly from Abraham down to John the Baptizer, were not seeking to go to heaven and enter into that heavenly Jerusalem. They had no concept of such a thing. (Matt. 11:11) They could not entertain such a hope because they had not been begotten by God’s holy spirit. John 7:39 proves this, saying: “However, he said this concerning the spirit which those who put faith in him were about to receive; for as yet there was no spirit, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” Spirit begettal of Christian men and women did not begin until Pentecost of 33 C.E. Those begotten of holy spirit from then on looked forward to life in the heavenly city prefigured by earthly Jerusalem.
That is why Paul in writing to Hebrew Christians could correctly say to them in Hebrews 12:22, “But you have approached a Mount Zion [not Mount Sinai in Arabia] and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels.” In Paul’s time “the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens” was not quite 30 years old, so it was near its beginning, and numbered far less than 144,000. The completing of the number 144,000 “firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens” is accomplished by the end of the so-called Christian Era, which ends with the “great tribulation” of Revelation 7:14 and Matthew 24:21, 22. Thus Paul and the Hebrew Christians to whom he wrote were only approaching that “congregation” as respects its full membership of 144,000.
Next, Hebrews 12:23, 24 says “and God the Judge of all, and the spiritual lives [footnote, spirits] of righteous ones who have been made perfect, and Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, which speaks in a better way than Abel’s blood.” So God is the judge of all, including the 144,000 enrolled ones. The prospective members of the glorified “congregation” must therefore pass through a judgment period before they are approved by Jehovah the Supreme Judge. This is why, right after mentioning him, the verse goes on to say, “and the spiritual lives of righteous ones who have been made perfect.” It is the members of the spirit-begotten Christian “congregation” who have been justified by faith. (Rom. 5:1; 8:1-4) For this reason they are referred to as “righteous ones who have been made perfect.”
Accordingly they are exhorted to “present [their] bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason.” (Rom. 12:1) Thus they “go forth to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach he bore.” (Heb. 13:13) These spirit-begotten Christians really have “spiritual lives” now on earth and they are exhorted to walk according to the spirit by which they were begotten.
The apostle Paul refers to the “spiritual lives” of these justified Christians in the same chapter at Hebrews 12:9: “Shall we not much more subject ourselves to the Father of our spiritual life and live?” Literally, the Greek text reads, “the Father of the spirits.” He is the father of the spirit-begotten congregation to which Paul was writing and so the New World Translation here paraphrases the expression with a personal touch, saying “the Father of our spiritual life.” This expression is 14 verses in advance of Hebrews 12:23 and so is in the immediate context.
In Hebrews 12:1 the apostle Paul turns attention away from considering the faithful men and women of pre-Christian times to the spirit-begotten Christian congregation and the course of divine service that lay ahead of these spirit-begotten Christians. So in Hebrews 12:23, he is not reverting to what he had been discussing in Heb chapter 11. In view of these facts the expression “the spiritual lives of righteous ones who have been made perfect” presents the “congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens” from a different viewpoint and therefore is no needless repetition of what has been said in Heb 12 verse 22. There is accordingly no need for trying to apply it to another class of God-fearing persons like the faithful men and women of former times from Abel to John the Baptizer.
Further limiting all of Hebrews 12:22, 23 to apply to the spirit-begotten Christian congregation, Paul goes on to say, “and Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, which speaks in a better way than Abel’s blood.” (Heb. 12:24) The spirit-begotten congregation is in that new covenant and consequently Jesus is their mediator. They are the ones upon whom the “blood” of Jesus Christ has been sprinkled in a spiritual way so that it produces better effects with them than the blood of martyred Abel would do. (Heb. 11:4) That is to say, they are really justified or declared righteous now by their faith in that blood.—Rom. 5:9.
In line with all of this, Paul goes on to address himself to the spirit-begotten congregation in Hebrews 12:25-28, exhorting them to prove worthy of their heavenly kingdom, which is the “city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem,” to which they have approached. The remnant of the spirit-begotten congregation of 144,000 members is now much closer to the things enumerated by Paul in Heb 12 verses 22 and 23 than those Hebrew Christians of the first century were. And a great crowd of “other sheep” are rejoicing with them that this is the case. Really today this “great crowd” is walking by faith just the same as the faithful men and women of pre-Christian times did.