Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 5. Two qualifications for High-Priesthood: (1) capacity for sympathy (Hebrews 5:1-3); (2) a special call (Hebrews 5:4-10). Spiritual dulness of the Hebrews (Hebrews 5:11-14)
For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:1. For every high priest taken from among men] Rather, “being taken,” or “chosen as he is” (comp. Exodus 28:1). The writer now enters on his proof that in order to fit Him for the functions of a High Priest for men it was necessary that Christ should become Man. He has already called attention to the subject in a marked manner in Hebrews 2:7, Hebrews 3:1, Hebrews 4:14-15.
is ordained for men] “Is appointed on men’s behalf.”
in things pertaining to God] Hebrews 2:17. It is his part to act as man’s representative in the performance of the duties of worship and sacrifice.
both gifts and sacrifices] We have the same phrase in Hebrews 8:3, Hebrews 9:9. In O. T. usage no distinction is maintained between “gifts” and “sacrifices,” for in Genesis 4:4, Leviticus 1:2-3, “gifts” is used for animal sacrifices; and in Genesis 4:3; Genesis 4:5, “sacrifices” is used (as in Hebrews 11:4) for bloodless gifts. When, however, the words are used together the distinction between them is that which holds in classical Greek, where “sacrifices” is never used except to mean “slain beasts.” The word “offer” is generally applied to expiatory sacrifices, and though “gifts” in the strict sense—e.g. “freewill offerings” and “meat offerings”—were not expiatory, yet the “gift” of incense offered by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement had some expiatory significance.
for sins] To make atonement for sins (Hebrews 2:17).
Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.2. have compassion on] Rather, “deal gently with” The word metriopathein means properly “to shew moderate emotions.” All men are liable to emotions and passions (pathç). The Stoics held that these should be absolutely crushed and that “apathy” (ἀπάθεια) was the only fit condition for a Philosopher. The Peripatetics on the other hand—the school of Aristotle—held that the philosopher should not aim at apathy, because no man can be absolutely passionless without doing extreme violence to nature; but that he should acquire metriopathy that is a spirit of “moderated emotion” and self-control. The word is found both in Philo and Josephus. In common usage it meant “moderate compassion;” since the Stoics held “pity” to be not only a weakness but a vice. The Stoic apatheia would have utterly disqualified any one for true Priesthood. Our Lord yielded to human emotions such as pity, sorrow, and just anger; and that He did so and could do so, “yet without sin,” is expressly recorded for our instruction.
on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way] Highhanded sinners, willing sinners, those who, in the Hebrew phrase, sin “with upraised hand” (Numbers 15:30; Deuteronomy 17:12), cannot always be treated with compassionate tenderness (Hebrews 10:26); but the ignorant and the erring (1 Timothy 1:13)—those who sin “inadvertently,” “involuntarily” (Leviticus 4:2; Leviticus 4:13, &c.)—and even those who under sudden stress of passion and temptation sin wilfully—need pity (Leviticus 5:1; Leviticus 19:20-22), and Christ’s prayer on the cross was for those “who know not what they do.” No untempted Angel, no Being removed from the possibility of such falls, could have had the personal sympathy which is an indispensable requisite for perfect Priesthood.
is compassed with infirmity] Moral weakness is part of the very nature which, he wears, and which makes him bear reasonably with those who are like himself. The same Greek phrase (perikeimai with an accusative) occurs in Acts 28:20 (“I am bound with this chain”), “Under the gorgeous robes of office there were still the galling chains of flesh.” Kay.
And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.3. And by reason hereof] i.e. because of this moral weakness.
he ought] He is bound not merely as a legal duty, but as a moral necessity.
so also for himself] The Law assumed that this would be necessary for every High Priest (Leviticus 4:3-12). In the High Priest’s prayer of intercession he said, “Oh do thou expiate the misdeeds, the crimes, and the sins, wherewith I have done evil, and have sinned before Thee I and my house!” Until he had thus made atonement for himself, he was regarded as guilty, and so could not offer any atonement for others who were guilty (Leviticus 4:3; Leviticus 9:7; Leviticus 16:6, and comp. Hebrews 7:27).
to offer for sins] The word “offer” may be used absolutely for “to offer sacrifices” (Luke 5:14); but the words “for sins” are often an equivalent for “sin-offerings” (see Hebrews 10:6; Leviticus 6:23; Numbers 8:8, &c).
And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.4. this honour] i.e. this honourable office. We have here the second Qualification for Priesthood. A man’s own caprice must not be the Bishop which ordains him. He must be conscious of a divine call.
but he that is called of God] Rather, “but on being called by God,” or “when he is called by God.” Great stress is laid on this point in Scripture (Exodus 28:1). Any “stranger that cometh nigh”—i.e. that intruded unbidden into the Priesthood—was to be put to death (Numbers 3:10). The fate of Korah and his company (Numbers 16:40), and of Uzziah, king though he was (2 Chronicles 26:18-21), served as a terrible warning, and it was recorded as a special aggravation of Jeroboam’s impiety that “he made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi” (1 Kings 12:31). In one of the Jewish Midra-shim, Moses says to Korah “if Aaron, my brother, had taken upon himself the priesthood, ye would be excusable for murmuring against him; “but God gave it to him.” Some have supposed that the writer here reflects obliquely upon the High Priests of that day—alien Saddu-cees, not descended from Aaron (Jos. Antt. xx. 10) who had been introduced into the Priesthood from Babylonian families by Herod the Great, and who kept the highest office, with frequent changes, as a sort of apanage of their own families—the Boethusim, the Kantheras, the Kamhits, the Beni-Hanan. For the characteristics of these Priests, who completely degraded the dignity in the eyes of the people, see my Life of Christy ii. 330, 342. In the energetic maledictions pronounced upon them in more than one passage of the Talmud, they are taunted with not being true sons of Aaron. But it is unlikely that the writer should make this oblique allusion. He was an Alexandrian; he was not writing to the Hebrews of Jerusalem; and these High Priests had been in possession of the office for more than half a century.
as was Aaron] The original is more emphatic “exactly as even Aaron was” (Numbers 16-18). The true Priest must be a divinely-appointed Aaron, not a self-constituted Korah.
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.5. So also Christ] Rather, “So even the Christ.” Jesus, the Messiah, the true Anointed Priest, possessed both these qualifications.
glorified not himself] He has already called the High Priesthood “an honour,” but of Christ’s Priesthood he uses a still stronger word “glory” (Hebrews 2:9; John 12:28; John 13:31).
but he that said unto him] God glorified Him, and the writer again offers the admitted Messianic Prophecies of Psalm 2:7; Psalm 110:4, as a sufficient illustration of this. The fact of His Sonship demonstrates that His call to the Priesthood was a call of God. “Jesus said If I honour myself, my honour is nothing; it is my Father that honoureth me, of whom ye say that He is your God,” John 8:54.
As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.6. in another place] Psalm 110:4. This Psalm was so universally accepted as Messianic that the Targum of Jonathan paraphrases the first verse of it “The Lord said to His Word:”
after the order] al-dibhrathi, “according to the style of.” Comp. Hebrews 7:15, “after the likeness of Melchisedek.
after the order of Melchisedec] The writer here with consummate literary skill introduces the name Melchisedek, to prepare incidentally for the long argument which is to follow in chapter 7; just as he twice introduces the idea of High-Priesthood (Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 3:1) before directly dealing with it. The reason why the Psalmist had spoken of his ideal Theocratic king as a Priest after the order of Melchisedek, and not after the order of Aaron, lies in the words “for ever,” as subsequently explained. In Zechariah 4:14, the Jews explained “the two Anointed ones (sons of oil) who stand by the Lord of the whole earth “to be Aaron and Messiah, and from Psalm 110:4, they agreed that Messiah was the nearer to God.
Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;7. Who] i.e. the Christ.
of his flesh] The word “flesh” is here used for His Humanity regarded on the side of its weakness and humiliation. Comp. Hebrews 2:14.
when he had offered up] Lit. “having offered up.”
prayers and supplications] The idiosyncrasy of the writer, and perhaps his Alexandrian training, which familiarised him with the style of Philo, made him fond of these sonorous amplifications or full expressions. The word rendered “prayers” (deçseis) is rather “supplications,” i.e. “special prayers” for the supply of needs; the word rendered “entreaties” (which is joined with it in Job 41:3, comp. 2 Mace. Hebrews 9:18) properly meant olive-boughs (ἱκετηρίαι) held forth to entreat protection. Thus the first word refers to the suppliant, the second implies an approach (ἱκετηρίαι) to God. The “supplications and entreaties “referred to are doubtless those in the Agony at Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46), though there may be a reference to the Cross, and some have even supposed that there is an allusion to Psalms 22, 116. See Mark 14:36; John 12:27; Matthew 26:38-42.
with strong crying and tears] Though these are not directly mentioned in the scene at Gethsemane they are implied. See John 11:35; John 12:27; Matthew 26:39; Matthew 26:42; Matthew 26:44; Matthew 26:53; Mark 14:36; Luke 19:41.
and was heard] Rather, “and being heard” or “hearkened to,” Luke 22:43; John 12:28 (comp. Psalm 22:21; Psalm 22:24).
in that he feared] Rather, “from his godly fear,” or “because of his reverential awe.” The phrase has been explained in different ways. The old Latin (Vetus Itala) renders “exauditus a metu,” and some Latin Fathers and later interpreters explain it to mean “having been freed from the fear of death.” The Greek might perhaps be made to bear this sense, though the mild word used for “fear” is not in favour of it; but the rendering given above, meaning that His prayer was heard because of His awful submission (Proverbs suâ reverentiâ, Vulg.) is the sense in which the words are taken by all the Greek Fathers. The word rendered “from” (apo) may certainly mean “because of” as in Luke 19:3, “He could not because of (apo) the crowd;” Luke 24:41, “disbelieving because of (apo) their joy” (comp. John 21:6; Acts 22:11, &c). The word rendered “feared” is eulabeia, which means “reverent fear,” or “reasonable shrinking” as opposed to terror and cowardice. The Stoics said that the wise man could thus cautiously shrink (eulabeisthai) but never actually be afraid (phobeisthai). Other attempts to explain away the passage arise from the Apollinarian tendency to deny Christ’s perfect manhood: but He was “perfectly man “as well as “truly God.” He was not indeed “saved from death,” because He had only prayed that “the cup might pass from Him” if such were His Father’s will (Hebrews 10:7); but He was saved out of (ἐκ) death” by being raised on the third day, so that “He saw no corruption.” For the word eulabeia, “piety” or “reverent awe” see Hebrews 12:28.
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;8. Though he were a Son] Rather, “Son though He was,” so that it might have been thought that there would be no need for the great sacrifice; no need for His learning obedience from suffering.
yet learned he obedience] Perhaps rather “His obedience. The stress is not on His “learning” (of course as a man), but the whole expression is taken together, “He learnt from the things which He suffered,” in other words “He bowed to the experience of absolute submission.” “The things which He suffered” refer not only to the Agony and the Cross, but to the whole of the Saviour’s life. Some of the Fathers stumbled at this expression. Theodoret calls it hyperbolical; St Chrysostom is surprised at it; Theophylact goes so far as to say that here Paul (for he accepts the traditional authorship) “for the benefit of his hearers used such accommodation as obviously to say some unreasonable things.” All such remarks would have been obviated if these fathers had borne in mind that, as St Paul says, Christ “counted not equality with God a thing at which to grasp” (Php 2:6). Meanwhile passages like these, of which there are several in this Epistle, are valuable as proving how completely the co-equal and co-eternal Son “emptied Himself of His glory.” Against the irreverent reverence of the Apollinarian heresy (which denied Christ’s perfect manhood) and the Monothelite heresy (which denied His possession of a human will), this passage, and the earlier chapters of St Luke are the best bulwark. The human soul of Christ’s perfect manhood “learned” just as His human body grew (Luke 2:52). On this learning of “obedience” see Isaiah 50:5, “I was not rebellious.” Php 2:8, “Being found in fashion as a man he became obedient unto death.” The paronomasia “he learnt [emathen) from what He suffered (epathen)” is one of the commonest in Greek literature. For the use of paronomasia in St Paul see my Life of St Paul, i. 628.
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;9. and being made perfect] Having been brought to the goal and consummation in the glory which followed this mediatorial work. See Hebrews 2:10 and comp. Luke 13:32, “the third day I shall be perfected.”
he became the author] Literally, “the cause.”
of eternal salvation] It is remarkable that the epithet aionios is here alone applied to the substantive “salvation.”
salvation unto all them that obey him] In an author so polished and rhetorical there seems to be an intentional force and beauty in the repetition in this verse of the two leading words in the last. Christ prayed to God who was able to “save” Him out of death, and He became the cause of “eternal salvation” from final death; Christ learnt “obedience” by His life of self-sacrifice, and He became a Saviour to them that “obey” Him.
Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.10. called] Lit, “saluted” or “addressed by God as.” This is the only place in the N.T. where the verb occurs.
a high priest after the order of Melchisedec] We should here have expected the writer to enter at once on the explanation of this term. But he once more pauses for a solemn exhortation and warning. These pauses and landing places (as it were) in his argument, cannot be regarded as mere digressions. There is nothing that they less resemble than St Paul’s habit of “going off at a word,” nor is the writer in the least degree “hurried aside by the violence of his thoughts.” There is in him a complete absence of all the hurry and impetuosity which characterise the style of St Paul. His movements are not in the least like those of an eager athlete, but they rather resemble the stately walk of some Oriental Sheykh with all his robes folded around him. He is about to enter on an entirely original and far from obvious argument, which he felt would have great weight in checking the tendency to look back to the rites, the splendours and the memories of Judaism. He therefore stops with the calmest deliberation, and the most wonderful skill, to pave the way for his argument by a powerful mixture of reproach and warning—which assisted the object he had in view, and tended to stimulate the spiritual dulness of his readers.
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.11–14. Complaint that his readers were so slow in their spiritual progress
11. Of whom] i.e. of Melchisedek in his typical character. There is no need to render this “of which matter” or to refer it to Christ. The following argument really centres in the word Melchisedek, and its difficulty was the novel application of the facts of his history to Christ.
hard to be uttered] Rather, “respecting whom what I have to say is long, and hard of interpretation.” The word “being interpreted” (hermçnenomenos, whence comes the word “hermeneutics”) occurs in Hebrews 7:2.
ye are] Rather, “ye are become,” as in Hebrews 5:12, Hebrews 6:12. They were not so sluggish at first, but are become so from indifference and neglect.
dull of hearing] Comp. Matthew 13:14-15. Nothros “dull” or “blunted” is the antithesis to ὀξὺς “sharp.”
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.12. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers] That is, “though you ought, by this time, to be teachers, considering how long a time has elapsed since your conversion.” The passage is important as bearing on the date of the Epistle.
ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles] Rather, “ye again have need that borne one teach you the rudiments of the beginning of the oracles of God.” It is uncertain whether we should read τινὰ “that some one teach you” or τίνα “that (one) teach you which are.” The difference in sense is not great, but perhaps the indefinite “some one” enhances the irony of a severe remark. For the word “rudiments” see Galatians 4:3; Galatians 4:9.
the oracles of God] Here not the O.T. as in Romans 3:2.
such as have need of milk] So the young students or neophytes in the Rabbinic schools were called thînokoth “sucklings.” Philo (De Agric. Opp. i. 301) has this comparison of preliminary studies to milk, as well as St Paul, 1 Corinthians 3:1-2.
strong meat] Rather, “solid food.”
For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.13. that useth milk] The meaning is “who feeds on milk.”
for he is a babe] This is a frequent metaphor in St Paul, who also contrasts “babes” (nçpioi) with the mature (teleioi), Galatians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 2:6; Ephesians 4:13-14. We are only to be “babes” in wickedness (1 Corinthians 14:20).
the word of righteousness] i.e. the Scriptures, and especially the Gospel (see 2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 1:17, “therein is the righteousness of God revealed”).
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.14. belongeth to them that are of full age] The solid food of more advanced instruction pertains to the mature or “perfect.”
by reason of use] “Because of their habit,” i.e. from being habituated to it. This is the only place in the N.T. where this important word ἕξις habitus occurs.
their senses] Their spiritual faculties (αἰσθητήρια. It does not occur elsewhere in the N.T.)
exercised] Trained, or disciplined by spiritual practice.
to discern both good and evil] Lit., “the discrimination of good and evil.” By “good and evil” is not meant “right and wrong” because there is no question here of moral distinctions; but excellence and inferiority in matters of instruction. To the natural man the things of the spirit are foolishness; it is only the spiritual man who can “distinguish between things that differ” and so “discriminate the transcendent” (1 Corinthians 2:14-15; Romans 2:18; Php 1:9-10). The phrase “to know good and evil” is borrowed from Hebrew (Genesis 2:17, &c), and is used to describe the first dawn of intelligence (Isaiah 7:15-16).