The writer of Hebrews says he has "much to say about" the subject he is discussing (which is the priesthood of Jesus Christ), but as a teacher he finds it "difficult to explain" to his listeners because they "are slow to learn." The phrase "slow to learn" is the word nothros in the Greek, and it does
not mean those Christians were dumb, academically challenged, or suffering from some type of first century learning disability. Nor, does it mean the writer of Hebrews was struggling with his teaching gift or the ability to communicate his thoughts.
The actual problem is seen in the word nothros, which means "dull, slow, sluggish". In the Greek language, the word nothros was used to refer to the numbed limbs of a sick lion. The lion in this example would have been hit by poison-tipped darts, which numbed the feeling and impeded the
use of the limbs. The same word was also used in an ancient Greek story to describe the vain
hopes of a foolish wolf who had heard a child's nurse threaten to throw the child out to the wolves.
The wolf had an opinion and an interpretation of the nurse's words, but because the wolf's doctrine was wrong, so was the hope he had based on false understanding.
Adding to the interest of the meaning of the word nothros ("slow to learn"), is the original meaning
of the word which is translated as "are" in the English NIV translation of this sentence: "it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn." The word in the Greek is gegonate, which is the perfect
tense (complete action in the past with abiding results), indicative mood (the mood of reality), active voice (the subject causes the action – that is, these "dull" Christians had made themselves dull) of the root word ginomai, giving it the meaning "you have become."
So we see that these believers had at one time heard and understood the teaching of the Word of God, but they had become distracted by some other form of teaching, ritual or philosophy. The
perfect tense of gegonate in 5:11, and again in 5:12, implies that they had not only failed to grow
at a reasonable rate toward Christian maturity, but they had even begun regressing in their spiritual capacity. These degenerated believers were at one time strong and active, but when they drifted
away from the Word of God and turned to myths, rituals and human opinion they became ineffective and
non-productive. In other words, this dull, sluggish, unspiritual, immature condition was acquired.
These Hebrew believers were not hearing or believing the Word of God, which meant their faith was
not growing. The result of this spiritual malnutrition is the collapse of their confidence and the loss
of their hope. This same problem is reflected throughout the book of Hebrews.
In Matthew 5:39 Jesus says, "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to thim the other also."
But, in John 18:23 when Jesus is struck in the face he says:
“If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?"