Milk v. Meat

By Charles H. Welch

Milk v. Meat. One of the many arguments in favour of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, is the employment of certain figures such as the one before us. We set out the seven items that are found in both 1 Corinthians and Hebrews in connexion with the figure of Milk v. Meat for babes and full grown.

1 Corinthians 2 and 3
Hebrew 5 and 6
(1) Babes 3:1. Babes 5:13
(2) Milk 3:2. Milk 5:13
(3) Meat 3:2. Meat 5:14
(4) Perfect 2:6. Perfect 5:14
(5) Foundation 3:11. Foundation 6:1,2
(6) Fire 3:13. Fire 6:8.
(7) Six things erected 3:12. Six-fold elements 6:1,2.

In the presentation of Dispensational Truth we must remember, that to give advanced truth to those who are spiritually immature may indicate zeal that is not according to knowledge. Toward the close of the Lord's earthly ministry He said:

"I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" (John 16:12).

There is such a thing as speaking a "word in season" (Isa. 50:4) and the faithful and wise servant gives meat "in due season" (Matt. 24:45), knowing that there is "a time to keep silence and a time to speak" (Eccles. 3:7).

Although "The Mystery" was not entrusted to Paul before his imprisonment, he was the steward of many mysteries (1 Cor. 4: 1) and as such he desired to be "faithful". The R.V. reads "mystery", in place of the A.V. reading "testimony" in 1 Corinthians 2: I, where the Apostle said:

"And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony (mystery) of God".

Those who adopt the A.V. say that the word mystery is a gloss from verse 7, while those who adopt the R.V. say that the word testimony is a gloss from verse 6.

It is exceedingly difficult to explain what the Apostle could mean by "declaring the testimony of God". Is it the testimony that God has given? or is it the testimony that has been given for or about God? And why should the Apostle especially wish to declare the testimony of God to the Corinthians? The word declare, kataggello, is translated "preach" ten times out of the seventeen occurrences, and to "preach" the testimony of God does not seem to fit the context. If we look a little further down the chapter where the Apostle resumes his subject, he says:

"Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery" (1 Cor. 2:6,7).

This passage seems to be the corresponding fulfilment of the idea commenced in verse one, and seems to demand the word "mystery" there instead of the word "testimony". Accepting therefore, the R.V. we understand Paul to say, that knowing the high-flown style of eloquence that was so much admired a Corinth, remembering that they had actually said of his speech, that it was "contemptible" (2 Cor. 10:10), knowing that this high-flown speech was proverbially called Corinthia verba, he resolved not to stoop to ingratiate himself into their favour by acting unfaithfully as a steward of the mysteries of God, but, as he goes on to explain in chapter four, it was a smal1 thing with him that he should be judged of the Corinthian or of man's judgment, for he had already ''judged'', ekrina "determined", "come to a decision" after due deliberation, that in spite of the Corinthian's desire to hear all about "mysteries", he would know nothing among them save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

This decision cost him something, for he acknowledged that he was with them in weakness, fear and much trembling. However, he would not be misunderstood. He did speak the mystery, he did use words of wisdom, but this was reserved for "the perfect". With the opening of chapter three, he is back to this same theme:

"And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able" (1 Cor. 3:1,2).

The carnality of the Corinthians kept them in the spiritual category of "babes"-only the "perfect" could assimilate any of the mysteries or the strong meat of the Word. This same argument is used in Hebrews five, as we have already seen, by the parallels set out above. Believers may be unable to receive and assimilate truth for more reasons than one. In the Corinthian Church, their divisions and low moral standard prevented growth; "are ye not carnal and walk as men?" said the Apostle reviewing the condition. The epistle to the Hebrews furnishes another set of reasons why spiritual immaturity may persist. This is introduced in Hebrews five upon the introduction into the argument of the Me1chisedec priesthood "of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered" (Heb. 5: 11), and we can imagine a number of things that would make such teaching "hard to be uttered", but the Apostle leaves us in no doubt as to what he intended, going to the root immediately saying, "seeing ye are dull of hearing" (Heb. 5:11). Before we examine this matter more closely, let us get the benefit which can be derived from the structure.

Hebrews 5 and 6

A 5:1-6 Melchisedec. Priest

B 5:6-10 The Priest. Perfected

C 5:11-6:1 Dull (slothful same word) versus the Perfect

B 6: I-I0 The saints. Perfection

C 6: 11-19 Slothful (dull same word) versus the Overcomers

A 6:20. Melchisedec. Priest.

It will be seen that the condition, "dull of hearing", repeated in 6:11-19, and "slothful", is an integral part of the argument.

The LXX uses the word in Proverbs 22:29 to translate "mean" in the expression "mean men" and the verse speaks of one diligent in his business. In Proverbs 12:8 it is used for "perverse".

It would appear from the usage of the word that the A.V. "dull" is hardly strong enough. The Hebrew word in Proverbs 22 :29 is chashok-"obscure" or "darkened" and the cognate choshek is translated scores of times "darkness".

The spiritual ear and eye are of the first importance. Peter in his second epistle uses the word muopazo ("cannot see afar off") of those who had become forgetful of the purification of old sins. We trust our readers will immediately remember the strong emphasis upon "purification for sins" found in Hebrews, especially the fact that in the opening summary this alone is written of the Lord's work on earth, "when He had made purification for sins" (Heb. 1:3). Peter speaks of "adding" to the faith, a parallel expression to the words of Hebrews six, "things that accompany salvation". These added things have in view the rich furnishing of the entry into the aionian kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:11). So in Hebrews the perfecting is connected with the aionian salvation.

This reference to the dullness of hearing is further a gathering up of the words of the great historie type of chapters three and four. "To-day if ye will HEAR HIS voice." Some, when they had HEARD, did provoke. "The word preached did not profit them, because they were not united by faith with them that HEARD."

Dullness of hearing, moreover, is another mode of expressing the truth of chapter 2:1:

"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we drift away."

"Hearing" together with "seeing" may be reckoned as the chiefest of the senses. How sad to allow any precious sense, even in the physical realm, to be atrophied through lack of use. How doubly sad to have the precious gift of hearing spiritually, and then through not having "the senses EXERCISED" (Heb. 5:14) to fail, to come short, to drift! Over against this drifting and dullness the Apostle places endurance, obedience, suffering, steadfastness unto the end. Surely we, too, need the exhortation of the Lord, "Take heed how you hear".

The Apostle in verse twelve proceeds to expand what lies in the expression "dull of hearing".

  1. It indicates laek of progress .
    "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you".

  2. It indicates spiritual infaney.
    "Ye have need of milk and not of solid food".

  3. It indicates laek of experience.
    "For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness".

  4. It indicates the opposite of being "perfect".
    "But solid food belongeth to thero that are perfect".

  5. It indicates a culpable neglect.
    "Perfect, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised" .

  6. It indicates lack of discernment.
    "Senses exercised to discern both good and evil".

Let us take some of these points and gather their lessons.

(1) Teachers are placed together with those who can take solid food, have senses exercised and are perfect. No articles could be written for this book or any magazine if we were to understand the word "perfect" in its ultimate sense. The passage does come to us very solemnly, however, and says that the qualification for teaching is something more than head knowledge and ready speech. In the Sermon on the Mount, breaking the commandments and doing them are associated with teaching men so, and also with losing or gaining a position in the kingdom of heaven. James utters the warning, "My brethren, be not many 'teachers', knowing that we shall receive a greater judgment" (3:1). Instead of progress there was retrogression.

"For even when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again certain rudiments of the beginning of the oracles of God" (Heb. 5:12).

Ta stoicheia tes arches "the rudiments of the beginning" .

Stoicheia are the initial steps in knowledge, and also the "elements" of the natural world. See Galatians 4:3,9, Colossians 2:8,20; 2 Peter 3:10,12. The verb stoicheo comes in Acts 21:24, "walkest orderly"; Romans 4:12, "walk in the steps of that faith"; Galatians 5:25, "walk in the Spirit"; Galatians 6:16, Philippians 3:16, "walk by rule".

These Hebrew believers had progressed no further than the initial steps of the faith, and indeed needed teaching in these things all over again. An intellectual grasp of the teaching of men on any subject may be sufficient, but a mere intellectual grasp of God's truth is not sufficient. The doctrine and faith of the early church was rightly called "The Way", for it was walk as well as word, life as well as lip.

"Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord" (Hos. 6:3).

What these "first principles" were that they needed to be retaught we shall see better when we come to Hebrews six.

(2) The spiritual infancy of these saints is indicated by the figurative use of foods for doctrine. "Ye have need of milk and not of solid food." The Apostle had occasion to use this same figure when writing to the Corinthian Church, and for similar reasons:

"And I, brethren, cou1dnot speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able" (1 Cor. 3:1,2).

The milk, the rudiments of the beginning of the oracles of God, to them had been "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (2:2). "Howbeit," said the Apostle, "we speak wisdom among them that are PERFECT"(2:6). The thought is resumed and developed in chapter 13:8-13.

Milk diet is natural and right for infants, but it has a purpose and a limit. "As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may GROW thereby." The Apostle Peter adds a word to this that links it with Hebrews six. "If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious" (1 Pet. 2:2,3). Some believe that there is a definite reference to the epistle to the Hebrews in 2 Peter 3:15,16 where Peter speaks of "our beloved brother Paul" who had written unto the readers of 1 and 2 Peter. In verse 16 there is a word very like the word "difficult to interpret", dusermeneutos, of Hebrews 5:11, where "some things hard to be uttered", dusnoetes, which those that are unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction, are spoken of. In contrast Peter urges them to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18).

There is much in Peter's two epistles that bears upon the teaching of the epistle to the Hebrews. Such subjects as the saving of the "soul", the "fiery trial", "suffering and glory", come to mind at once as obvious parallels.

(3) The outstanding feature of the babe that the Apostle mentions in Hebrews five is that such is "without experience". We have drawn attention elsewhere (The Berean Expositor, Vol. xxxiii) to the place that "temptation" occupies in the epistles of the race and the crown, see Hebrews 2:18,11:17,37; James 1:2,12; 1 Peter 1:6; Revelation 3:10, etc. The Greek word for "tempt" is peirazo. The Greek word for "unskilful" is apeiros, and carries with it the thought "untested". Solid food belongs to the perfect. The perfect are placed in opposition to the untested. It is one of the marks of those pressing on to perfection that they endure "temptation". The wilderness journey, we have seen, is the great historical type of the early part of Hebrews, and that wilderness journey was a "day of temptation" in more than one sense.

An important note is struck in the expression "senses exercised". In Philippians 1:9 where the Apostle prays for the saints who, like the Hebrews, were reaching forward unto perfection (see chapter three), he writes:

"And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all discernment (or perception)."

The word is aisthesis. Luke 9:45 uses the verb aisthanomai, "to perceive". The word "senses" in Hebrews five is aistheterion. It will be seen that the senses in their capacity of discernment, of discrimination, of right division, of trying the things that differ, are intended. These senses are "exercised" in the perfect. The word "exercise" comes from gumnazo, which gives us our word gymnasium, etc. In Hebrews 12:11, where the discipline and correction of the son by the father is the subject, the word occurs again:

"But all discipline, indeed as to the time being, does not seem to be joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterward it gives back the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been EXERCISED thereby."

This exercise of the perception enables the perfect to discriminate between good and evil. It does not necessarily mean moral good and moral evil. Agathos is the usual word for "good", here it is kalos. Those concerning whom the Apostle entertained doubts had "tasted the good (kalos) word of God", but had failed to realize the difference between that which belonged to perfection and that which was "the word of the beginning". The two words kalos "good" and kakos "bad" dftfer only in one letter. The doctrines for which they stand are often confused and said to be "all one and the same". We need "senses exercised" if we are to discriminate and "go on unto perfection".

These two outstanding passages which use the figure of Milk v. Meat do not exhaust, but illustrate the ways in which truth should be taught, how it can be received and the care that must be exercised in making known Dispensational Truth, lest we choke rather than feed those who for any reason are still "babes". The article entitled BABES should be read as a supplement.

An Alphabetical Analysis

| About LW | Site Map | LW Publications | Search
Developed by © Levend Water All rights reserved