“Let us…!”: First Person Plural Subjunctives in Hebrews

What is the “subjunctive mood”?

“The subjunctive is the most common of the oblique moods in the NT. In general, the subjunctive can be said to represent the verbal action (or state) as uncertain but probable.”
(Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament [Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], p. 461, emphasis original.)

The subjunctive mood, particularly when used in the first person plural, can function similarly to the indicative mood (i.e. a command) and is referred to as a ‘hortatory subjunctive’:

“The [hortatory] subjunctive is commonly used to exhort or command oneself and one’s associates. This use of the subjunctive is used ‘to urge some one to unite with the speaker in a course of action upon which he has already decided.’ Since there is no first person imperative, the hortatory subjunctive is used to do roughly the same task. Thus this use of the subjunctive is an exhortation in the first person plural. The typical translation, rather than we should . . . is let us . . . ” (ibid, p. 464, emphasis original).

The hortatory subjunctive (first person plural subjunctive) in Hebrews 19x’s. What follows are the verses in which it is used by the writer of Hebrews (with relevant contexts) with the English translation of the pertinent verb in bold italics.

Hebrews 2:1

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away [παραρυῶμεν] from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1–2 ESV).

Hebrews 3:6

“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast [κατάσχωμεν] our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Hebrews 3:1–6 ESV).

Hebrews 3:14 and 4:1

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold [κατάσχωμεν] our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,
‘Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’
16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear [φοβηθῶμεν] lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest…” (Hebrews 3:12–4:3 ESV).

Hebrews 4:11

“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
11 Let us therefore strive [σπουδάσωμεν] to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:8–13 ESV).

Hebrews 4:14 and 4:16 (3x’s)

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast [κρατῶμεν] our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near [προσερχώμεθα] to the throne of grace, that we may receive [λάβωμεν] mercy and {we may} find [εὕρωμεν] grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14–16).

Hebrews 6:1

“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on [φερώμεθα]* to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings,the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. (Hebrews 6:1–3 ESV).
*note: Contrary to what the word order in this English translation suggests, the hortatory subjunctive is with the “go” rather than the “leave” (which is a participle): “Therefore, leaving behind…let us go on to maturity…”

Hebrews 6:18

“For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have [ἔχωμεν] fled* for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:16–20 ESV).
*note: The participle “fled” (οἱ καταφυγόντες, lit. “the fleeing ones”) is bolded to add clarity on the subjunctive “have”.

Hebrews 10:22–24 (3x’s)

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near [προσερχώμεθα] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast [κατέχωμεν] the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider [κατανοῶμεν] how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:19–25 ESV).

Hebrews 12:1

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run [τρέχωμεν] with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV).

Hebrews 12:28 (2x’s)

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ 27 This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be [ἔχωμεν] grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer [λατρεύωμεν] to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:25–29 ESV).

Hebrews 13:13 and 13:15

“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go [ἐξερχώμεθα] to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up [ἀναφέρωμεν] a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:11–16 ESV).

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