Hebrews 12:23 and congregation [church] of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, (NET)
When the writer to the Hebrews says that his readers have come to the congregation/church of the firstborn (ejkklhsiva/ prwtotovkwn, ekkle?sia pro?totoko?n) it is not easy, as Leon Morris has pointed out, to determine exactly who the referent is.13 But, since the term is plural, it does not refer to Christ, as it always does in the singular.
Some have suggested that the ?highest created angels? are in view,? but this is unlikely since angels are never said to have their names written in heaven as the ?church of the firstborn? is. That is, the angels are never referred to as ?enrolled in heaven? (NET) whereas similar designations are made for believers (Luke 10:20; Rev 21:27).
It is best to identify ?the church of the firstborn? with all the saints, both those on earth and those who have died and are now referred to as the ?spirits of righteous men made perfect.?14 It includes the company of the redeemed from all ages.15 But the sense conveyed by firstborn should be derived from the use of the same term in 1:6. There it is singular and is used in reference to Jesus. It connotes special status as the firstborn and regal heir of the Davidic promises. The fact that the company of all redeemed people are so referred in Hebrews 12:23 indicates their connection to Christ and the fact that they too now enjoy special status as heirs of God.1613 Leon Morris, "Hebrews," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 142-43.
14 Cf. William L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, vol. 47b (Dallas: Word, 1991), 2: 469.
15 This would involve a less technical and historically sensitive use of ekkle?sia than one finds in texts such as Ephesians 3:10.
16 Lane, Hebrews, 2:469.
The Superiority of the New Covenant: Hebrews
Study Guide Commentary Series New Testament, Vol. 10 by Bob Utley
Hebrews 12:23 “church of the firstborn” Because of Exod. 4:22 some commentators understand the references to...
OT Israelites, but context demands that it be understood as all the people of faith (cf. 11:40). The “first
born” is a reference to Christ, “the first born”
1. of many brothers (the image of God, Rom. 8:29)
2. of all creation (the image of God, Col. 1:15)
3. of the dead (Col. 1:18 and I Cor. 15:20,23 [first fruits])
Look at all the ways the new covenant is designated in this paragraph.
1. Mt. Zion
2. the city of the living God
3. the heavenly Jerusalem
4. myriads of angels
For “church” see Special Topic at 2:12. For “firstborn” see Special Topic at 1:6.
SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRSTBORN
This is the second of three descriptive phrases. This word “firstborn” (prÇtotokos) is used in the Bible in several distinct senses:
1. its OT background refers to the pre-imminence of the first-born son of the family (cf. Ps. 89:27; Luke 2:7; Rom. 8:29; Heb. 11:28)
2. its use in Col. 1:15 speaks of Jesus as the first of creation which is a possible OT allusion to Prov. 8:22-31, or God’s agent of creation (cf. John 1:3; I Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:15-16; Heb. 1:2)
3. its use in Col. 1:18; I Cor. 15:20 (and here) refers to Jesus as the firstborn from the dead
4. it is an OT title used of the Messiah (cf. Ps. 89:27; Heb. 1:6; 12:23). It was a title which combines several aspects of the primacy and centrality of Jesus. In this context #3 or #4 fits best.