Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 7. Christ, as an eternal High Priest after the order of Melchisedek, is superior to the Levitic High Priest
Historic reference to Melchisedek (1–4). His Priesthood typically superior to that of Aaron in seven particulars, i. Because even Abraham gave him tithes (4–7). ii. Because he blessed Abraham (7). iii. Because he is the type of an undying Priest (8). iv. Because even the yet unborn Levi paid him tithes, in the person of Abraham (9, 10). v. Because the permanence of his Priesthood, continued by Christ, implied the abrogation of the whole Levitic Law (11–19). vi. Because it was founded on the swearing of an oath (20–23). vii. Because it is intransmissible, never being vacated by death (23, 24). Summary and conclusion (25–28).
For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;1. For this Melchisedec] All that is historically known of Melchisedek is found in three verses of the book of Genesis (Genesis 14:18-20). In all the twenty centuries of sacred history he is only mentioned once, in Psalm 110:4. This chapter is a mystical explanation of the significance of these two brief allusions. It was not wholly new, since the Jews attached high honour to the name of Melchisedek, whom they identified with Shem, and Philo had already spoken of Melchisedek as a type of the Logos (De Leg, Alleg. iii. 25, Opp. i. 102).
king of Salem] Salem is probably a town near Shechem. It is the same which is mentioned in Genesis 33:18 (though there the words rendered “to Shalem” may mean “in safety”), and in John 3:23; and it is the Salumias of Jdt 4:4. This is the view of Jerome, who in his Onomasticon places it eight miles south of Bethshean. The site is marked by a ruined well still called Sheikh Salim (Robinson, Bibl. Res. iii. 333). In Jerome’s time the ruins of a large palace were shewn in this place as “the palace of Melchisedek;” and this agrees with the Samaritan tradition that Abraham had been met by Melchisedek not at Jerusalem but at Gerizim. The same tradition is mentioned by Eupolemos (Euseb. Praep. Evang. ix. 17. See Stanley, Sin. and Pal. p. 237). The more common view has been that Salem is a shortened form of Jerusalem, but this is very improbable; for (1) only a single instance of this abbreviation has been adduced, and that only as a poetic license in a late Psalm which the LXX. describe as “A Psalm with reference to the Assyrian” (Psalm 76:2). (2) Even this instance is very dubious, for (α) the Psalmist may be intending to contrast the sanctuary of Melchisedek with that of David; or (β) even here the true rendering may be “His place has been made in peace” as the Vulgate renders it. (3) Jerusalem in the days of Abraham, and for centuries afterwards was only known by the name Jebus. (4) The typical character of Melchisedek would be rather impaired than enhanced by his being a king at Jerusalem, for that was the holy city of the Aaronic priesthood of which he was wholly independent, being a type of One in whose priesthood men should worship the Father in all places alike if they offered a spiritual worship. We must then regard Salem as being a different place from Jerusalem, if any place at all is intended. For though both the Targums and Josephus (Antt. i. 10 § 2) here identify Salem with Jerusalem, the Bereshith Rabba interprets the word Salem as an appellative, and says that it means “Perfect King,” and that this title was given to him because he was circumcised (see Wünsche, Bibl. Rabbinica. Beresh. Rabba, p. 198). Philo too says “king of peace, for that is the meaning of Salem” (Leg. Alleg, iii. 25, comp. Isaiah 9:5; Colossians 1:20). Nothing depends on the solution of the question, for in any case the fact that “Salem” means “peace” or “peaceful” is pressed into the typology. But the Salem near Sichem was itself in a neighbourhood hallowed by reminiscences scarcely less sacred than those of Jerusalem. Besides this connexion with the name of Melchisedek, it was the place where Jacob built the altar El-Elohe-Israel; the scene of John’s baptism; and the region in which Christ first revealed Himself to the woman of Samaria as the Messiah.
priest of the most high God] The union of Royalty and Priesthood in the same person gave him peculiar sacredness (“He shall be a Priest upon His throne” (Zechariah 6:13). “Rex Anius, rex idem hominum, Phoebique sacerdos” (Virg. Aen. iii. 80 and Servius ad loc.). The expression “God most high” is El Elîôn, and this was also a title of God among the Phoenicians. It is however certain that Moses meant that Melchisedek was a Priest of God, for though this is the earliest occurrence of the name El Elîôn it is afterwards combined with “Jehovah” in Genesis 14:22, and in other parts of the Pentateuch and the Psalms. There is no difficulty in supposing that the worship of the One True God was not absolutely confined to the family of Abraham. The longevity of the early Patriarchs facilitated the preservation of Monotheism at least among some tribes of mankind, and this perhaps explains the existence of the name Elîon among the Phoenicians (Philo Byblius ap. Euseb. Praep. Evang. i. 10).
who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings] Amraphel king of Shinar, with three allies, had made war on Bera king of Sodom with four allies, and had carried away plunder and captives from the Cities of the Plain. Among the captives was Lot. Abraham therefore armed his 318 servants, and with the assistance of three Canaanite chiefs, Aner, Mamre, and Eshcol, pursued Amraphel’s army to the neighbourhood of Damascus, defeated them, rescued their prisoners, and recovered the spoil. The word here rendered “slaughter” (kopç from kopto “cut”) may perhaps mean no more than “smiting,” i.e. defeat. On his return the king of Sodom going forth to greet and thank him met him at “the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale,” a place of which nothing is known, but which was probably somewhere in the tribe of Ephraim near mount Gerizim. This seems to have been in the little domain of Melchisedek for we are not told that “he went forth to meet” Abraham, but only that (being apparently at the place where Bera met Abraham) he humanely and hospitably brought out bread and wine for the weary victors, and blessed Abraham, and blessed God for granting him the victory. In acknowledgment of this friendly blessing, Abraham “gave him tithes of all,” i.e. of all the spoils.
and blessed him] Evidently as a priestly act. Genesis 14:19-20.
To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;2. first being] This seems to imply that of his two names or titles “Melchisedec,” and “King of Salem,” the first means “King of Righteousness” and the second “King of Peace.” In a passage of mystic interpretation like this, however, the writer may intend to suggest that there is a direct connexion between the two titles, and that “Righteousness” is the necessary antecedent to “Peace,” as is intimated in Psalm 72:7; Psalm 85:10. Comp. Romans 5:1.
by interpretation King of righteousness] The name Melchisedek may mean “King of Righteousness.” This is the paraphrase of the Targums, perhaps with tacit reference to Isaiah 32:1, where it is said of the Messiah “Behold a king shall reign in righteousness.” (Comp. Zechariah 9:9; Jeremiah 23:5.) In the Bereshith Rabba Tzedek is explained to mean Jerusalem with reference to Isaiah 1:21, “Righteousness lodged in it.” Josephus (Antt. i. 19 § 12; B. J. vi. 10) and Philo, however, render it “Righteous King.” Later on in Jewish history (Joshua 10:3) we read of Adonizedek (“Lord of righteousness”) who was a king of Jerusalem. Apart from any deeper meaning “Righteousness” or “Justice” was one of the most necessary qualifications of Eastern Kings who are also Judges. In the mystic sense the interpretation of the names Melchizedek and Salem made him a fit type of “the Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6) and “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6): and he was also a fit type of Christ because he was a Kingly Priest; a Priest who blessed Abraham; a Priest who, so far as we are told, offered no animal-sacrifices; and a Priest over whom Scripture casts “the shadow of Eternity.” See Bishop Wordsworth’s note on this passage.
King of peace] “The work of Righteousness shall be Peace, and the effect of Righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17; Ephesians 2:14-15; Ephesians 2:17; Romans 5:1. Comp. Philo Leg. Alleg. iii. 25, Opp. i. 102).
Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.3. without father, without mother, without descent] Rather, “without lineage” or “pedigree” as in Hebrews 7:6. The mistake is an ancient one, for in consequence of it Irenæus claims Melchisedek as one who had lived a celibate life (which in any case would not follow). The simple and undoubted meaning of these words is that the father, mother, and lineage of Melchisedek are not recorded, so that he becomes more naturally a type of Christ. In the Alexandrian School, to which the writer of this Epistle belonged, the custom of allegorising Scripture had received an immense development, and the silence of Scripture was regarded as the suggestion of mysterious truths. The Jewish interpreters naturally looked on the passage about Melchisedek as full of deep significance because the Psalmist in the 110th Psalm, which was universally accepted as a Psalm directly Messianic (Matthew 22:44) had found in Melchisedek a Priest-King, who, centuries before Aaron, had been honoured by their great ancestor, and who was therefore a most fitting type of Him who was to be “a Priest upon his Throne.” The fact that he had no recorded father, mother, or lineage enhanced his dignity because the Aaronic priesthood depended exclusively on the power to prove direct descent from Aaron which necessitated a most scrupulous care in the preservation of the priestly genealogies. (See Ezra 2:61-62; Nehemiah 7:63-64, where families which could not actually produce their pedigree are excluded from the priesthood.) The idiom by which a person is said to have no father or ancestry when they are not recorded, or are otherwise quite unimportant, was common to Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. In a Greek tragedy “Ion” calls himself “motherless” when he supposes that his mother is a slave (Eurip. Ion, 850). Scipio taunted the mob of the Forum as people “who had neither father nor mother” (Cic. De Orat. ii. 64). Horace calls himself “a man sprung from no ancestors” (Hor. Sat. i. 6, 10). In the Bereshith Rabba we find the rule “a Gentile has no father,” i.e. the father of a proselyte is not counted in Jewish pedigrees. Further the Jews mystically applied the same sort of rule which holds in legal matters which says “that things not producible are regarded as non-existent.” Hence their kabbalistic interpretation of particulars not mentioned in Scripture. From the fact that Cain’s death is nowhere recorded in Genesis, Philo draws the lesson that evil never dies among the human race; and he calls Sarah “motherless” because her mother is nowhere mentioned. There is then no difficulty either as to the idiom or its interpretation.
without mother] The mention of this particular may seem to have no bearing on the type, unless a contrast be intended to the Jewish Priests who were descended from Elisheba the wife of Aaron (Exodus 6:23). But “Christ as God, has no mother, as man no Father.” The early Church neither used nor sanctioned the name Theotokos “Mother of God” as applied to the Virgin Mary.
without descent] Rather, “without a genealogy.” Melchisedek has no recorded predecessor or successor. Bishop Wordsworth quotes “Who shall declare His generation?”
having neither beginning of days, nor end of life]. The meaning of this clause is exactly the same as that of the last—namely that neither the birth nor death of Melchisedek are recorded, which makes him all the more fit to be a type of the Son of God. Dean Alford’s remark that it is “almost childish” to suppose that nothing more than this is intended, arises from imperfect familiarity with the methods of Rabbinic and Alexandrian exegesis. The notion that Melchisedek was the Holy Spirit (which was held by an absurd sect who called themselves Melchisedekites); or “the Angel of the Presence;” or “God the Word, previous to Incarnation;” or “the Shechinah;” or “the Captain of the Lord’s Host;” or” an Angel;” or “a reappearance of Enoch;” or an “ensarkosis of the Holy Ghost;” are, on all sound hermeneutical principles, not only “almost” but quite “childish.” They belong to methods of interpretation which turn Scripture into an enigma and neglect all the lessons which result so plainly from the laws which govern its expression, and the history of its interpretation. No Hebrew, reading these words, would have been led to these idle and fantastic conclusions about the super-human dignity of the Canaanite prince. If the expressions here used had been meant literally, Melchisedek would not have been a man, but a Divine Being—and not the type of one—and he could not therefore have been “a Priest” at all. It would then have been not only inexplicable, but meaningless that in all Scripture he should only have been incidentally mentioned in three verses, of a perfectly simple, and straightforward narrative, and only once again alluded to in the isolated reference of a Psalm written centuries later. The fact that some of these notions about him may plead the authority of great names is no more than can be said of thousands of the most absolute and even absurd misinterpretations in the melancholy history of slowly-corrected errors which pass under the name of Scripture exegesis. Less utterly groundless is the belief of the Jews that Melchisedek was the Patriarch Shem, who, as they shewed, might have survived to this time (Avodath Hakkodesh, iii. 20, &c. and in two of the Targums). Yet even this view cannot be correct; for if Melchisedek had been Shem (1) there was every reason why he should be called by his own name; and (2) Canaan was in the territory of Ham’s descendants, not those of Shem; and (3) Shem was in no sense, whether mystical or literal, “without pedigree.” Yet this opinion satisfied Lyra, Cajetan, Luther, Melanchthon, Lightfoot, &c.
Who then was Melchisedek? Josephus and some of the most learned fathers (Hippolytus, Eusebius, &c), and many of the ablest modern commentators, rightly hold that he was neither more nor less than what Moses tells us that he was—the Priest-King of a little Canaanite town, to whom, because he acted as a Priest of the True God, Abraham gave tithes; and whom his neighbours honoured because he was not sensual and turbulent as they were, but righteous and peaceful, not joining in their wars and raids, yet mingling with them in acts of mercy and kindness. How little the writer of this Epistle meant to exaggerate the typology is shewn by the fact that he does not so much as allude to the “bread and wine” to which an unreal significance has been attached both by Jewish and Christian commentators. He does not make it in any way a type of the shewbread and libations; or an offering characteristic of his Priesthood; nor does he make him (as Philo does) offer any sacrifice at all. How much force would he have added to the typology if he had ventured to treat these gifts as prophecies of the Eucharist, as some of the Fathers do! His silence on a point which would have been so germane to his purpose is decisive against such a view.
made like unto the Son of God] Lit. “having been likened to the Son of God,” i.e. having been invested with a typical resemblance to Christ. The expression explains the writer’s meaning. It is a combination of the passage in Genesis with the allusion in Psalms 110, shewing that the two together constitute Melchisedek a Divinely appointed type of a Priesthood received from no ancestors and transmitted to no descendants. The personal importance of Melchisedek was very small; but he is eminently typical, because of the suddenness with which he is introduced into the sacred narrative, and the subsequent silence respecting him. He was born, and lived, and died, and had a father and mother no less than any one else, but by not mentioning these facts, the Scripture, interpreted on mystic principles, “throws on him a shadow of Eternity: gives him a typical Eternity.” The expressions used of him are only literally true of Him whose type he was. In himself only the Priest-prince of a little Canaanite community, his venerable figure was seized upon, first by the Psalmist, then by the writer of this Epistle, as the type of an Eternal Priest. As far as Scripture is concerned it may be said of him, that “he lives without dying fixed for ever as one who lives by the pen of the sacred historian, and thus stamped as a type of the Son, the ever-living Priest.”
continually] The Greek expression is like the Latin in perpetuum.
Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.4. Now consider] The verb means “to contemplate spiritually.”
how great this man was] Here begin the seven particulars of the typical superiority of Melchisedek’s Priesthood over that of Aaron. First. Even Abraham gave him tithes.
the patriarch Abraham] There is great rhetoric force in the order of the original “to whom even Abraham gave a tithe out of his best spoils—he the patriarch.” Here not only is the ear of the writer gratified by the sonorous conclusion of the sentence with an Ionicus a minore pătriarchçs; but a whole argument about the dignity of Abraham is condensed into the position of one emphatic word. The word in the N. T. occurs only here and in Acts 2:29; Acts 7:8-9.
of the spoils] The word rendered “spoils” properly means that which is taken from the top of a heap (ἄκρος θίς); hence some translate it “the best of the spoils,” and Philo describes the tithe given by Abraham in similar terms.
And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:5. who receive the office of the priesthood] The word used for “priesthood” is defined by Aristotle to mean “care concerning the gods.”
to take tithes of the people according to the law] Indirectly, through the agency of the Levites. Delitzsch argues that after the Exile the Priests collected the tithes themselves. It cannot however be proved that the Priests themselves tithed the people. This was done by the Levites, who gave the tithe of their tithes to the priests, Numbers 18:22-26, Nehemiah 10:38. There is however no real difficulty about the expression, for the Priests might tithe the people, as Jewish tradition says that they did in the days of Ezra; and (2) Qui facit per alium facit per se. There is therefore no need to alter “the people” (laon) into Levi (Leuin). The Priests stood alone in receiving tithes and giving none.
come out of the loins] A Hebrew expression, Genesis 35:11.
But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.6. and blessed] Lit., and hath blessed. Second point of superiority. The act is regarded as permanent and still continuous in its effects, in accordance with the writer’s manner of regarding Scripture as a living and present entity.
And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.7. of the better] i.e. the inferior is blessed by one who is (Proverbs hoc vice or quoad hoc) the Superior. Hence blessing was one of the recognised priestly functions (Numbers 6:23-26).
And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.8. And here] As things now are; while the Levitic priesthood still continues.
men that die] “Dying men”—men who are under liability to die (comp. Hebrews 7:23), as in the lines
“He preached as one who ne’er should preach again
And as a dying man to dying men.”
it is witnessed that he liveth] i.e. he stands as a living man on the eternal page of Scripture, and no word is said about his death; so far then as the letter of Scripture is concerned he stands in a perpetuity of mystic life. This is the third point of superiority.
And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.9. as I may so say] Rather, “so to speak;” shewing the writer’s consciousness that the expression is somewhat strained, especially as even Isaac was not born till 14 years later. The phrase is classic, and is common in Philo, but occurs here only in the N.T.
Levi … payed tithes] This is the fourth point of superiority.
For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.
If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?11. If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood] At this point begins the argument which occupies the next nine verses. “Perfection” (compare the verb in Hebrews 9:9, Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:14, Hebrews 11:40) means power of perfectionment, capacity to achieve the end in view; but this was not to be attained through the Levitic priesthood. The fifth point of superiority is that the Melchisedek Priesthood implies the abrogation of the Levitic, and of the whole law which was based upon it.
for under it] Rather, “for on the basis of it.” The writer regards the Priesthood rather than the Law as constituting the basis of the whole Mosaic system; so that into this slight parenthesis he really infuses the essence of his argument. The Priesthood is obviously changed. For otherwise the Theocratic King of Psalms 110 would not have been called “a Priest after the order of Melchisedec” but “after the order of Aaron” Clearly then “the order of Aaron” admitted of no attainment of perfection through its means. But if the Priesthood was thus condemned as imperfect and inefficient, the Law was equally disparaged as a transitory institution. Righteousness did not “come by the Law;” if it could so have come Christ would have died in vain (Galatians 2:21. Comp. Hebrews 10:1-14).
what further need was there] There could be no need, since none of God’s actions or dispensations are superfluous.
another priest] Rather, “a different priest”
and not be called after the order of Aaron] Lit., “and that he should not be said (viz. in Psalm 110:4) to be after the order of Aaron.”
For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.12. being changed] He here uses the comparatively mild and delicate term “being transferred” When he has prepared the mind of his readers by a little further argument, he substitutes for “transference” the much stronger word “annulment” (Hebrews 7:18). It is a characteristic of the writer to be thus careful not to shock the prejudices of his readers more than was inevitable. His whole style of argument, though no less effective than that of St Paul in its own sphere, is more conciliatory, more deferential, less vehemently iconoclastic. This relation to St Paul is like that of Melanchthon to Luther.
of necessity] The Law and the Priesthood were so inextricably united that the Priesthood could not be altered without disintegrating the whole complex structure of the Law.
For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar.13. pertaineth] Lit., “hath had part in.”
of which no man gave attendance at the altar] Sacerdotal privileges were exclusively assigned to the tribe of Levi (Deuteronomy 10:8; Numbers 3:5-8). The attempt of King Uzziah, who was of the tribe of Judah, to assume priestly functions, had been terribly punished (2 Chronicles 26:3-19).
For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.14. evident] “Known to all.” The word (prodçlon) occurs in 1 Timothy 5:24-25.
our Lord] This is the first time that we find this expression in the N.T. standing alone as a name for Christ. It is from this passage that the designation now so familiar to Christian lips is derived.
sprang] Lit., “hath sprung.” The verb is used generally of the sun rising (Malachi 4:2; Luke 12:54; 2 Peter 1:19), but also of the springing up of plants (Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12, &c). Hence the LXX. choose the word Anatolç which usually means sunrise, to translate the Messianic title of “the Branch.”
out of Juda] Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 11:1; Luke 3:33. “The Lion of the tribe of Judah,” Revelation 5:5.
concerning priesthood] The better reading is “concerning priests.” Uzziah, of the tribe of Judah, king though he was, had been punished by lifelong leprosy for usurping the functions of the tribe of Levi.
And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest,15. yet far more evident] The word used (katadçlon) is stronger than that used in Hebrews 7:14 (prodçlon) and does not occur elsewhere in the N.T. The change of the Law can be yet more decisively inferred from the fact that Melchisedek is not only a Priest of a different tribe from Levi, but a priest constituted in a wholly different manner, and even—as he might have said—out of the limits of the Twelve tribes altogether; and yet a Priest was to be raised after his order, not after that of Aaron.
for that] Rather, “if” (as is the case), i.e. “seeing that.”
Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.16. is made] Lit., “is become.”
after the law of a carnal commandment] Rather, “in accordance with the law of a fleshen (i.e. earthly) commandment.” Neither this writer, nor even St Paul, ever called or would have called the Law “carnal” (sarkikos), a term which St Paul implicitly disclaims when he says that the Law is “spiritual” (Romans 7:14); but to call it “fleshen” (sarkinos) is merely to say that it is hedged round with earthly limitations and relationships, and therefore unfit to be adapted to eternal conditions. Its ordinances indeed might be called “ordinances of the flesh” (Hebrews 9:10), because they had to do, almost exclusively, with externals. An attentive reader will see that even in the closest apparent resemblances to the language of St Paul there are differences in this Epistle. For instance his relative disparagement of the Law turns almost exclusively on the conditions of its hierarchy; and his use of the word “flesh” and “fleshen,” refers not to sensual passions but to mortality and transience.
of an endless life] Lit., “of an indissoluble life,” the life of a tabernacle which “could not be dissolved.” The word (akatalutos) is not found elsewhere in the N.T. The Priest of this new Law and Priesthood is “the Prince of Life” (Acts 3:15).
For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.17. he testifieih] Rather, “he is testified of.”
For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.18. there is) Rather, “there occurs” or “results,” in accordance with Psalm 110:4.
a disannulling] See note on Hebrews 7:12. Comp. Galatians 3:15.
of the commandment] Most ancient and modern commentators understand this of the Mosaic Law in general.
for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof] The writer here shews how completely he is of the school of St Paul, notwithstanding the strength of his Judaic sympathies. For St Paul was the first who clearly demonstrated that Christianity involved the abrogation of the Law, and thereby proved its partial, transitory, and inefficacious character as intended only to be a preparation for the Gospel (Romans 8:3). The law was only the “tutor” or attendant-slave to lead men to Christ, or train their boyhood till it could attain to full Christian manhood (Galatians 3:23; Galatians 3:14). It was only after the consummation of the Gospel that its disciplinary institutions became reduced to “weak and beggarly rudiments” (Galatians 4:9).
going before] Comp. 1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Timothy 5:24. The “commandment” was only a temporary precursor of the final dispensation.
For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.19. the law made nothing perfect] This is illustrated in Hebrews 9:6-9.
but the bringing in of a better hope did] The better punctuation is “There takes place a disannulment of the preceding commandment on account of its weakness and unprofitableness—for the Law perfected nothing—but the superinduction of a better hope.” The latter clause is a nominative not to “perfected,” but to “there is,” or rather “there takes place,” in Hebrews 7:18. The “better hope” is that offered us by the Resurrection of Christ; and the whole of the New Testament bears witness that the Gospel had the power of “perfecting,” which the Law had not. Romans 3:21; Ephesians 2:13-15, &c.
And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest:20. inasmuch as not without an oath] This is the sixth point of superiority. He has lingered at much greater length over the fifth than over the others, from the extreme importance of the argument which it incidentally involved. The oath on which the Melchisedek Priesthood was founded is that of Psalm 110:4. The word used for “oath” is not the common word horkos (as in Hebrews 6:17), but the more sonorous horkomosia.
(For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)21. those priests were made without an oath] Lit., “these men have been made priests without an oath.”
By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.22. of a better testament] A clearer rendering would be “By so much better was the covenant of which Jesus has been made surety.” The words—which might be taken as the keynote of the whole Epistle—should undoubtedly be rendered “of a better covenant” The Greek word diathçkç is the rendering of the Hebrew Berîth, which means a covenant. Of “testaments” the Hebrews knew nothing until they learnt the custom of “making a will” from the Romans. So completely was this the case that there is no word in Hebrew which means “a will,” and when a writer in the Talmud wants to speak of a “will,” he has to put the Greek word diathçkç in Hebrew letters. The Hebrew berîth is rendered diathçkç in the LXX., and “covenant” by our translators at least 200 times. When we speak of the “Old” or the “New Testament” we have borrowed the word from the Vulgate or Latin translation of St Jerome in 2 Corinthians 3:6. The only exception to this meaning of diathçkç is in Hebrews 9:15-17. Of the way in which Jesus is “a pledge of this “better covenant,” see Hebrews 7:25 and Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 9:15, Hebrews 12:24. The word for “pledge” (ἔγγυος) occurs here alone in the N.T., but is found in Sir 29:15.
And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:23. many priests] Lit., “And they truly have been constituted priests many in number.”
they were not suffered to continue by reason of death] The vacancies caused in their number by the ravages of death required to be constantly replenished (Numbers 20:28; Ezekiel 22:20; Ezekiel 22:30).
But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.24. but this man] Rather, “but He”
hath an unchangeable priesthood] Rather, “hath his priesthood unchangeable” (sempiternum, Vulg.) or perhaps “untransmissible;” “a priesthood that doth not pass to another,” as it is rendered in the margin of our Revised Version. The rendering “not to be transgressed against,” or “inviolate” (intransgressibile, Aug.), is not tenable here. This is the seventh particular of superiority. I think it quite needless to enter into tedious modern controversies as to the particular time of Christ’s ministry at which He assumed His priestly office, because I do not think that they so much as entered into the mind of the author. The one thought which was prominent in his mind was that of Christ passing as our Great High Priest with the offering of His finished sacrifice into the Heaven of Heavens. The minor details of Christ’s Priestly work are not defined, and those of Melchisedek are passed over in complete silence.
Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.25. to save them to the uttermost] i.e. “to the consummate end.” All the Apostles teach that Christ is “able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory” (Jude 24; Romans 8:34; John 6:37-39.
to save] He saves them in accordance with His name of Jesus, “the Saviour.” Bengel.
by him] “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.”
to make intercession] “to appear in” the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24). Philo also speaks of the Logos as a Mediator and Intercessor (Vit. Mos. iii. 16).
Having thus proved in seven particulars the transcendence of the Melchisedek Priesthood of Christ, as compared with the Levitic Priesthood, he ends this part of his subject with a weighty summary, into which, with his usual literary skill, he introduces by anticipation the thoughts which he proceeds to develop in the following chapters.
For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;26. For such a high priest became us] The “for” clinches the whole argument with a moral consideration. There was a spiritual fitness in this annulment of the imperfect Law and Priesthood, and the introduction of a better hope and covenant. So great and so sympathetic and so innocent an High Priest was suited to our necessities. There is much rhetorical beauty in the order of the Greek. He might have written it in the order of the English, but he keeps the word “Priest” by way of emphasis as the last word of the clause, and then substitutes High Priest for it.
holy] towards God (Leviticus 20:26; Leviticus 21:1; Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27). He bore “holiness to the Lord” not on a golden mitre-plate, but as the inscription of all His life as “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24).
harmless] as regards men.
undefiled] Not stained, Isaiah 53:9 (and as the word implies unstainable) with any of the defilements which belonged to the Levitic priests from their confessed sinfulness. Christ was “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15); “without spot” (Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19). He “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
separate from sinners] Lit., “Having been separated from sinners.” The writer is already beginning to introduce the subject of the Day of Atonement on which be proceeds to speak. To enable the High Priest to perform the functions of that day aright the most scrupulous precautions were taken to obviate the smallest chance of ceremonial pollution (Leviticus 21:10-15); yet even these rigid precautions had at least once in living memory been frustrated—when the High Priest Ishmael ben Phabi had been incapacitated from his duties because in conversing with Hareth (Aretas) Emir of Arabia, a speck of the Emir’s saliva had fallen upon the High Priest’s beard. But Christ was free not only from ceremonial pollution, but from that far graver moral stain of which the ceremonial was a mere external figure; and had now been exalted above all contact with sin in the Heaven of Heavens (Hebrews 4:14).
made higher than the heavens] Having “ascended up far above all heavens” (Ephesians 4:10).
Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.27. daily] A difficulty is suggested by this word, because the High Priest did not offer sacrifices daily, but only once a year on the Day of Atonement. In any case the phrase would be a mere verbal inaccuracy, since the High Priest could be regarded as potentially ministering in the daily sacrifices which were offered by the inferior Priests; or the one yearly sacrifice may be regarded as summing up all the daily sacrifices needed to expiate the High Priest’s daily sins (so that “daily” would mean “continually”). It appears however that the High Priest might if he chose take actual part in the daily offerings (Exodus 29:38; Exodus 29:44; Leviticus 6:19-22; Jos. B. J. Hebrews 7:5-7). It is true that the daily sacrifices and Mincha or “meat offering” had no recorded connexion with any expiatory sacrifices; but an expiatory significance seems to have been attached to the daily offering of incense (Leviticus 16:12-13, LXX.; Yoma, f. 44. 1). The notion that there is any reference to the Jewish Temple built by Onias at Leontopolis is entirely baseless. Both Philo (De Spec. Legg. § 53) and the Talmud use the very same expression as the writer, who seems to have been perfectly well aware that, normally and strictly, the High Priest only offered sacrifices on one day in the year (Hebrews 9:25, Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:3). The stress may be on the necessity. Those priests needed the expiation by sacrifice for daily sins; Christ did not.
he did once] Rather, “once for all” (Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28, Hebrews 10:10; Romans 6:10). Christ offered one sacrifice, once offered, but eternally sufficient.
when he offered up himself] The High Priest was also the Victim, Hebrews 8:3, Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:25, Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 10:14; Ephesians 5:2 (Lünemann).
For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.28. men] i.e. ordinary “human beings.”
the oath, which was since the law] Namely, in Psalm 110:4.
consecrated] Rather, “who has been perfected.” The word “consecrated” in our A.V. is a reminiscence of Leviticus 21:10; Exodus 29:9. The “perfected” has the same meaning as in Hebrews 2:10, Hebrews 5:9.
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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