In He 6:19 the writer describes the hope set before the Christian, to which he has just referred in the preceding verse, as ‘an anchor of the soul.’ The use of an anchor as a figure of hope was not new, for it is found in pre-Christian Greek and Latin authors, and an anchor appears on ancient pagan medals as an emblem of hope. The figure would naturally suggest itself to any one who reflected on the nature and power of the faculty of hope. For it is of the essence of hope to reach into the future and lay hold of an invisible object, as an anchor drops into the sea and catches hold of the unseen bottom.
Hope has power to keep the soul from wavering in times of storm and stress, just as an anchor by its firm grip keeps the ship from drifting with the winds and tides. But Christian hope reaching out towards the eternal world is something much greater than our familiar human hopes of blessings yet unrealized; and the use which this writer made of an anchor to represent the hope of the Christian soul at once transformed the figure (as the Catacombs bear witness) into one of the dearest symbols of the Christian religion.
Simple and beautiful as the figure is, however, some exegetical difficulties have to be faced in determining the extent of its application in the passage. These difficulties are reflected in the various renderings of AV and RV. In the original the word ‘hope’ of v. 18 is not repeated in v. 19. Strictly rendered, the verse runs, ‘which we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and stedfast and entering into that within the veil’—a statement which has been understood in two different ways. AV, by supplying ‘hope’ at the beginning of the verse, makes ‘sure and stedfast’ apply to the anchor, and by introducing a comma at this point leaves it doubtful whether the anchor is also to be thought of as entering within the veil. RV, by inserting ‘a hope’ immediately after ‘soul,’ limits the figure to a declaration that hope is an anchor of the soul, and makes the three epithets ‘sure,’ ‘stedfast,’ and ‘entering’ apply to hope itself and not to its symbol the anchor.
The most obvious construction of the Gr. vindicates RV in making the three epithets hang together as all relating to one subject. On the other hand, AV is so far supported by the fact that ἀσφαλῆ and βεβαίαν (lit. ‘not failing’ and ‘firm’) suggest that the idea of an anchor was immediately in the writer’s mind. It is probably right, therefore, to conclude that he means to say that the anchor is sure, steadfast, and entering into that which is within the veil, viz. the Holy of Holies. This is really a mixture of metaphors—the metaphor of an anchor entering into the unseen world to which Christian hope clings, and another metaphor by which the Holy of Holies becomes a type of that world unseen.
But, in view of what the writer says at a later stage about the Most Holy Place with its ark of the covenant and cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat (9:4f.) as a pattern of heaven itself where Christ appears before God on our behalf (v. 24), the figurative faultiness of the language is more than atoned for by its rich suggestiveness as to the Christian’s grounds of hope with regard to the world to come.
It is the appearance of our great High Priest ‘before the face of God for us,’ he means to say, that is the ultimate foundation of the Christian hope. Cf. John Knox on his death-bed calling to his wife, ‘Go read where I cast my first anchor!’ with reference to our Lord’s intercessory prayer in Jn 17. Cf. also his answer, when they asked him at the very end, ‘Have you hope?’ ‘He lifted his finger, “pointed upwards with his finger,” and so died’ (Carlyle, Heroes, 1872, p. 140).
AV Authorized Version.
RV Revised Version.
lit. literally, literature.