Hebrews 9:16
For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
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(16) Testament.—As has been already pointed out, the greatest difference of opinion has existed in regard to the meaning of the Greek word diathēkē in this passage. (See Note on Hebrews 7:22.) It will be seen at once that the interpretation of this verse and the next entirely depends on that one question. If “testament” is the correct meaning of the Greek word, the general sense of the verses is well given in the Authorised version. A few commentators even agree with that version in carrying back the idea of testament into Hebrews 9:15, although in the other two places in which the word is joined with “Mediator” (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 12:24) they adhere to the ordinary rendering, “covenant.” By most, however, it is held that a new thought is introduced in the present verse. The writer, it is urged, having spoken of a promise of an inheritance, (Hebrews 9:15), and a promise that cannot be made valid unless death take place, avails himself of the illustration which a second (and very common) meaning of the leading word affords; and though a covenant has hitherto been in his thoughts, he adds interest and force to his argument by calling up the analogy of a testament or will. It is further urged that this procedure will not seem unnatural if we reflect that the diathēkē between God and man is never exactly expressed by covenant, since it is not of the nature of a mutual compact between equals. (See Hebrews 7:22.) The position is chiefly defended by two arguments:—(1) Hebrews 9:16, being a general maxim, gives no intelligible sense in regard to a covenant, but is easy and natural as applied to a will. (2) A Greek word used in Hebrews 9:17, where the literal translation is “over (the) dead,” cannot be used of sacrifices of slain animals, but of men only. This, we believe, is a fair statement of the case on the one side; and it may be fully acknowledged that, if Hebrews 9:16-17 stood alone, and if they were written of Gentile rather than Jewish usage, the case would be very strong. As it is, we are compelled to believe that the difficulties which this interpretation brings with it are beyond comparison more serious than those which it removes. (1) There is no doubt that in the overwhelming majority of New Testament passages the meaning covenant must be assigned. By many high authorities these verses are considered to contain the only exception. (2) In the LXX. the word is extremely common, both for the covenants of God and for compacts between man and man. (See Note on Hebrews 7:22). (3) The application of diathēkē in this Epistle rests on the basis of the Old Testament usage, the key passage being Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted at length in Hebrews 8. With that quotation this passage is linked by the association of diathēkē with Mediator in Hebrews 9:15 and Hebrews 8:6, and with “the first” in Hebrews 9:15 and in Hebrews 8:13; Hebrews 9:1. (4) In the verses which follow this passage the meaning covenant must certainly return, as a comparison of Hebrews 9:20 with the verse of Exodus which it quotes (Exodus 24:8) will show. (5) It is true that the idea of “death” has appeared in Hebrews 9:15, but it is the death of a sin-offering; and there is no natural or easy transition of thought from an expiatory death to the death of a testator. And yet the words which introduce Hebrews 9:16; Hebrews 9:18 (“For” and “Wherefore”) show that we are following the course of an argument. (6) Though to us Hebrews 9:16 may present a very familiar thought, we must not forget that to Jews dispositions by will were almost altogether unknown. Were it granted that a writer might for illustration avail himself of a second meaning which a word he is using might happen to bear, this liberty would only be taken if by that means familiar associations could be reached, and the argument or exhortation could be thus urged home. In an Epistle steeped in Jewish thought such a transition as that suggested would be inexplicable. There are other considerations of some weight which might be added; but these seem sufficient to prove that, even if the difficulties of interpretation should prove serious, we must not seek to remove them by wavering in our rendering of diathēkē in these verses. We believe, therefore, that the true translation of Hebrews 9:16-17, must be the following:—For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be brought in the death of the covenanter. For a covenant is of force when there hath been death (literally, over the dead); for hath it ever any strength while the covenanter liveth? In Hebrews 9:15 we have seen the two-fold reference of the death of Jesus, to the past and to the future. As High Priest He has offered Himself as a sin-offering to cleanse the conscience from dead works; the same offering is also looked on as a ransom redeeming from the penalty of past transgressions; and, still by means of His death, He has, as Mediator, established a new covenant. We are reminded at once of the words of Jesus Himself, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” (1Corinthians 11:25). It is this very thought which the writer proceeds to develop: a covenant cannot be established without death—cannot exist at all. That amongst Jews and Greeks and Romans alike covenants were confirmed by sacrifice we need not pause to prove; of this usage we have the earliest example in Genesis 15. In such sacrifices, again, there is “brought in,” or assumed the death of him who makes the covenant. There will not, perhaps, be much difficulty in accepting this as a maxim. The conflict of opinion really begins when we ask in what manner this is assumed. The usual answer is, that the death of victims is emblematic of the punishment which the contracting parties imprecated on themselves if they should break their compact. It may have been so amongst the Greeks and Romans, though this is doubtful.[11] Amongst the Jews, however, the analogy of their general sacrificial system, in which the victim represented the offerer, renders such an explanation very improbable. As to the precise idea implied in this representation, it is not easy to speak with certainty. It has been defined in two opposite ways. In the death of the victim each contracting party may be supposed to die either as to the future, in respect of any power of altering the compact (the covenant shall be as safe from violation through change of intention as if the covenanter were removed by death); or as to the past, to the former state of enmity each is now dead. It is not necessary for our argument to decide such a question as this. The only material points are, that a covenant must be established over sacrifices, and that in such a sacrifice “the death of him that made the covenant” must in some manner be “brought in” or assumed. There remains only the application to the particular covenant here spoken of. If this be taken as made between God and man, the sacrificial death of Jesus in man’s stead ratified the covenant for ever, the former state of separation being brought to an end in “the reconciliation” of the gospel. The peculiar character of Hebrews 9:15, however (see above), seems rather to suggest that, as Jesus is set forth as High Priest and sacrifice, so He is both the Author of the covenant and the sacrifice which gives to it validity. In this case we see represented in His sacrifice the death of each “covenanter.” (The transition from “Mediator” to Giver of the covenant is not greater than that which the other interpretation requires—a transition from a mediator of a testament to a testator.) There are minor points relating to details in the Greek which cannot be dealt with here. Of the two arguments quoted above, the former has, we hope, been fully met; though (it may be said in passing) it would be easier to give up Hebrews 9:16 as a general maxim, and to regard it as applying only to a covenant between God and sinful man, than to divorce the whole passage from the context by changing “covenant” into “will.” One point of interest must not be omitted. There are coincidences of expression with Psalm 1:5 which make it very probable that that Psalm, memorable in the development of the teaching of the Old Testament, was distinctly in the writer’s mind. This comparison is also of use in the explanation of some expressions in the original of these two verses.

[11] See Mr. Wratislaw’s very interesting note in his “Notes and Dissertations,” pp. 155, 156. The whole subject is very carefully treated in an admirable pamphlet by Professor Forbes, of Aberdeen.

Hebrews 9:16-17. For where a testament is — That is, where there is a covenant, which is also a testament; there must of necessity be the death of the testator — As if he had said, The reason why there was a necessity that Christ should die, is taken from the nature of the covenant whereof he is Mediator, which covenant is also a testament, and therefore could not be of force but by his death. For a testament is of force — Has validity; after men are dead — When, and not before, the legatees may claim their legacies. Otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth — And therefore hath power to alter his will at pleasure. But it is not necessary that the expression του διαθεμενου, at the end of Hebrews 9:16, should signify a testator, properly so called: it may mean only a promiser, and one that confirms his promise with his own blood. For διατιθημι, according to Phavorinus, is, I promise, I covenant; and διατιθεσθαι διαθηκην is very commonly in profane authors, to enter into covenant; and in the same sense the phrase is used in the Old Testament; and therefore the participle διαθεμενος, derived from the same verb, must probably have the same signification here, in which it is continually used by the LXX., and which it always bears in the New Testament. Thus, Acts 3:25, Ye are the children, διαθηκης ης διεθετο, of the covenant which God made with our fathers; Luke 22:29; καγω διατιθεμαι υμιν, and I appoint to you a kingdom, καθως διεθετο, as my Father hath appointed to me. So in this epistle, Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 10:16, αυτη η διαθηκη ην διαθησομαι, This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel. And because covenants were usually made victimas cædendo, by sacrifices, as the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin expressions used in the making of covenants show; accordingly, the new covenant was established in the blood of Jesus. Hence the apostle speaks thus of this covenant, and the appointed disposer or maker of it. This sense of the passage is defended at large by Dr. Macknight, in a note too long to be here quoted. His paraphrase on it is as follows: “And for this reason, that the death of Christ is so efficacious, [namely, as is set forth in Hebrews 9:13-14,] of the new covenant he is the Mediator, or High-Priest, by whom its blessings are dispensed; and also the sacrifice by which it is procured and ratified; that his death being accomplished for obtaining the pardon of the transgressions of the first covenant, believers of all ages and nations, as the called seed of Abraham, (Romans 8:28,) may receive the promised eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is made by sacrifice, there is a necessity that the death of the appointed sacrifice be produced. For — According to the practice of God and man; a covenant is made firm over dead sacrifices, seeing it never hath force while the goat, calf, or bullock, appointed as the sacrifice of ratification, liveth. Because from the beginning God ratified his covenant by sacrifice, to preserve among men the expectation of the sacrifice of his Son; hence not even the covenant of Sinai was made without sacrifice.”

9:15-22 The solemn transactions between God and man, are sometimes called a covenant, here a testament, which is a willing deed of a person, bestowing legacies on such persons as are described, and it only takes effect upon his death. Thus Christ died, not only to obtain the blessings of salvation for us, but to give power to the disposal of them. All, by sin, were become guilty before God, had forfeited every thing that is good; but God, willing to show the greatness of his mercy, proclaimed a covenant of grace. Nothing could be clean to a sinner, not even his religious duties; except as his guilt was done away by the death of a sacrifice, of value sufficient for that end, and unless he continually depended upon it. May we ascribe all real good works to the same all-procuring cause, and offer our spiritual sacrifices as sprinkled with Christ's blood, and so purified from their defilement.For where a testament is - This is the same word - διαθήκη diathēkē - which in Hebrews 8:6, is rendered "covenant." For the general signification of the word, see note on that verse. There is so much depending, however, on the meaning of the word, not only in the interpretation of this passage, but also of other parts of the Bible, that it may be proper to explain it here more at length. The word - διαθήκη diathēkē - occurs in the New Testament thirty-three times. It is translated "covenant" in the common version, in Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; Acts 7:8; Romans 9:4; Romans 11:27; Galatians 3:15, Galatians 3:17; Galatians 4:24; Ephesians 2:12; Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 8:9, "twice," Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 9:4, "twice," Hebrews 10:16; Hebrews 12:24; Hebrews 13:20. In the remaining places it is rendered "testament;" Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6, 2 Corinthians 3:14; Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 9:15-17, Hebrews 9:20; Revelation 11:19. In four of those instances (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20, and 1 Corinthians 11:25), it is used with reference to the institution or celebration of the Lord's Supper. In the Septuagint it occurs not far from 300 times, in considerably more than 200 times of which it is the translation of the Hebrew word בּרית beriyt.

In one instance Zechariah 11:14 it is the translation of the word "brotherhood;" once Deuteronomy 9:5, of דּבר daabaar - "word;" once Jeremiah 11:2, of "words of the covenant;" once Leviticus 26:11), of "tabernacle;" once Exodus 31:7, of "testimony;" it occurs once Ezekiel 20:37, where the reading of the Greek and Hebrew text is doubtful; and it occurs three times 1 Samuel 11:2; 1 Samuel 20:8; 1 Kings 8:9, where there is no corresponding word in the Hebrew text. From this use of the word by the authors of the Septuagint, it is evident that they regarded it as the proper translation of the Hebrew - בּרית beriyt, and as conveying the same sense which that word does. It cannot be reasonably doubted that the writers of the New Testament were led to the use of the word, in part, at least, by the fact that they found it occurring so frequently in the version in common use, but it cannot be doubted also that they regarded it as fairly conveying the sense of the word בּרית beriyt. On no principle can it be supposed that inspired and honest people would use a word in referring to transactions in the Old Testament which did not "fairly" convey the idea which the writers of the Old Testament meant to express. The use being thus regarded as settled, there are some "facts" in reference to it which are of great importance in interpreting the New Testament, and in understanding the nature of the "covenant" which God makes with man. These facts are the following:

(1) The word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - is not what properly denotes "compact, agreement," or "covenant." That word is συνθήκη sunthēkē - "syntheke" or in other forms σύνθεσις sunthesis and συνθεσίας sunthesias; or if the word "diatheke" is used in that signification it is only remotely, and as a secondary meaning; see "Passow;" compare the Septuagint in Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:1; Daniel 11:6, and Wisdom Daniel 1:16; 1 Macc. 10:26; 2 Macc. 13:25; 14:26. It is not the word which a "Greek" would have employed to denote a "compact" or "covenant." He would have employed it to denote a "disposition, ordering," or "arrangement" of things, whether of religious rites, civil customs, or property; or if used with reference to a compact, it would have been with the idea of an "arrangement," or "ordering" of matters, not with the primary notion of an agreement with another.

(2) the word properly expressive of a "covenant" or "compact" - συνθήκη sunthēkē - is "never" used in the New Testament. In all the allusions to the transactions between God and man, this word never occurs. From some cause, the writers and speakers in the New Testament seem to have supposed that the word would leave an impression which they did not wish to leave. Though it might have been supposed that in speaking of the various transactions between God and man they would have selected this word, yet with entire uniformity they have avoided it. No one of them - though the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - has been used by no less than six of them - has been betrayed in a single instance into the use of the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - "syntheke," or has differed from the other writers in the language employed. This cannot be supposed to be the result of concert or collusion, but it must have been founded on some reason which operated equally on all their minds.

(3) in like manner, and with like remarkable uniformity, the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - syntheke - is "never" used in the Septuagint with reference to any arrangement or "covenant" between God and man. Once indeed in the Apocrypha, and but once, it is used in that sense. In the three only other instances in which it occurs in the Septuagint, it is with reference to compacts between man and man; Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:1; Daniel 11:6. This remarkable fact that the authors of that version never use the word to denote any transaction between God and man, shows that there must have been some reason for it which acted on their minds with entire uniformity.

(4) it is no less remarkable that neither in the Septuagint nor the New Testament is the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - "ever" used in the sense of "will" or "testament," unless it be in the case before us. This is conceded on all hands, and is expressly admitted by Prof. Stuart; (Com. on Heb. p. 439), though he defends this use of the word in this passage. - A very important inquiry presents itself here, which has never received a solution generally regarded as satisfactory. It is, why the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - was selected by the writers of the New Testament to express the nature of the transaction between God and man in the plan of salvation. It might be said indeed that they found this word uniformly used in the Septuagint, and that they employed it as expressing the idea which they wished to convey, with sufficient accuracy. But this is only removing the difficulty one step further back.

Why did the Septuagint adopt this word? Why did they not rather use the common and appropriate Greek word to express the notion of a covenant? A suggestion on this subject has already been made in the notes on Hebrews 8:6; compare Bib. Repository vol. xx. p. 55. Another reason may, however, be suggested for this remarkable fact which is liable to no objection. It is, that in the apprehension of the authors of the Septuagint, and of the writers of the New Testament, the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - in its original and proper signification "fairly" conveyed the sense of the Hebrew word בּרית beriyt, and that the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - or "compact, agreement," would "not" express that; and "that they never meant to be understood as conveying the idea either that God entered into a compact or covenant with man, or that he made a will." They meant to represent; him as making "an arrangement, a disposition, an ordering" of things, by which his service might be kept up among his people, and by which people might be saved; but they were equally remote from representing him as making a "compact," or a "will." In support of this there may be alleged.

(1) the remarkable uniformity in which the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - is used, showing that there was some "settled principle" from which they never departed; and,

(2) it is used mainly as the meaning of the word itself. Prof. Stuart has, undoubtedly, given the accurate original sense of the word. "The real, genuine, and original meaning of διαθήκη diathēkē (diatheke) is, "arrangement, disposition," or "disposal" of a thing." P. 440. The word from which it is derived - διατίθημι diatithēmi - means to place apart or asunder; and then to set, arrange, dispose in a certain order. "Passow." From this original signification is derived the use which the word has with singular uniformity in the Scriptures. It denotes the "arrangment, disposition," or "ordering" of things which God made in relation to mankind, by which he designed to keep up his worship on earth, and to save the soul. It means neither covenant nor will; neither compact nor legacy; neither agreement nor testament. It is an "arrangement" of an entirely different order from either of them, and the sacred writers with an uniformity which could have been secured only by the presiding influence of the One Eternal Spirit, have avoided the suggestion that God made with man either a "compact" or a "will."

We have no word which precisely expresses this idea, and hence, our conceptions are constantly floating between a "compact" and a "will," and the views which we have are as unsettled as they are. unscriptural. The simple idea is, that God has made an "arrangement" by which his worship may be celebrated and souls saved. Under the Jewish economy this arrangement assumed one form; under the Christian another. In neither was it a compact or covenant between two parties in such a sense that one party would be at liberty to reject the terms proposed; in neither was it a testament or will, as if God had left a legacy to man, but in both there were some things in regard to the arrangement such as are found in a covenant or compact. One of those things - equally appropriate to a compact between man and man and to this arrangement, the apostle refers to here - that it implied in all cases the death of the victim.

If these remarks are well-founded, they should be allowed materially to shape our views in the interpretation of the Bible. Whole treatises of divinity have been written on a mistaken view of the meaning of this word - understood as meaning "covenant." Volumes of angry controversy have been published on the nature of the "covenant" with Adam, and on its influence on his posterity. The only literal "covenant" which can he supposed in the plan of redemption is that between the Father and the Son - though even the existence of such a covenant is rather the result of devout and learned imagining than of any distinct statement in the volume of inspiration. The simple statement there is, that God has made an arrangement for salvation, the execution of which he has entrusted to his Son, and has proposed it to man to be accepted as the only arrangement by which man can be saved, and which he is not at liberty to disregard.

There has been much difference of opinion in reference to the meaning of the passage here, and to the design of the illustration introduced. If the word used - διαθήκη diathēkē - means "testament," in the sense of a "will," then the sense of that passage is that "a will is of force only when he who made it dies, for it relates to a disposition of his property after his death." The force of the remark of the apostle then would be, that the fact that the Lord Jesus made or expressed his "will" to mankind, implied that he would die to confirm it; or that since in the ordinary mode of making a will, it was of force only when he who made it was dead, therefore it was necessary that the Redeemer should die, in order to confirm and ratify what he made. But the objections to this, which appears to have been the view of our translators, seem to me to be insuperable. They are these:

(1) the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - is not used in this sense in the New Testament elsewhere; see the remarks above.

(2) the Lord Jesus made no such will. He had no property, and the commandments and instructions which he gave to his disciples were not of the nature of a will or testament.


16. A general axiomatic truth; it is "a testament"; not the testament. The testator must die before his testament takes effect (Heb 9:17). This is a common meaning of the Greek noun diathece. So in Lu 22:29, "I appoint (by testamentary disposition; the cognate Greek verb diatithemai) unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me." The need of death before the testamentary appointment takes effect, holds good in Christ's relation as MAN to us; Of course not in God's relation to Christ.

be—literally, be borne": "be involved in the case"; be inferred; or else, "be brought forward in court," so as to give effect to the will. This sense (testament) of the Greek "diathece" here does not exclude its other secondary senses in the other passages of the New Testament: (1) a covenant between two parties; (2) an arrangement, or disposition, made by God alone in relation to us. Thus, Mt 26:28 may be translated, "Blood of the covenant"; for a testament does not require blood shedding. Compare Ex 24:8 (covenant), which Christ quotes, though it is probable He included in a sense "testament" also under the Greek word diathece (comprehending both meanings, "covenant" and "testament"), as this designation strictly and properly applies to the new dispensation, and is rightly applicable to the old also, not in itself, but when viewed as typifying the new, which is properly a testament. Moses (Ex 24:8) speaks of the same thing as [Christ and] Paul. Moses, by the term "covenant," does not mean aught save one concerning giving the heavenly inheritance typified by Canaan after the death of the Testator, which he represented by the sprinkling of blood. And Paul, by the term "testament," does not mean aught save one having conditions attached to it, one which is at the same time a covenant [Poli, Synopsis]; the conditions are fulfilled by Christ, not by us, except that we must believe, but even this God works in His people. Tholuck explains, as elsewhere, "covenant … covenant … mediating victim"; the masculine is used of the victim personified, and regarded as mediator of the covenant; especially as in the new covenant a MAN (Christ) took the place of the victim. The covenanting parties used to pass between the divided parts of the sacrificed animals; but, without reference to this rite, the need of a sacrifice for establishing a covenant sufficiently explains this verse. Others, also, explaining the Greek as "covenant," consider that the death of the sacrificial victim represented in all covenants the death of both parties as unalterably bound to the covenant. So in the redemption-covenant, the death of Jesus symbolized the death of God (?) in the person of the mediating victim, and the death of man in the same. But the expression is not "there must be the death of both parties making the covenant," but singular, "of Him who made (aorist, past time; not 'of Him making') the testament." Also, it is "death," not "sacrifice" or "slaying." Plainly, the death is supposed to be past (aorist, "made"); and the fact of the death is brought (Greek) before court to give effect to the will. These requisites of a will, or testament, concur here: (1) a testator; (2) heirs; (3) goods; (4) the death of the testator; (5) the fact of the death brought forward in court. In Mt 26:28 two other requisites appear: witnesses, the disciples; and a seal, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the sign of His blood wherewith the testament is primarily sealed. It is true the heir is ordinarily the successor of him who dies and so ceases to have the possession. But in this case Christ comes to life again, and is Himself (including all that He hath), in the power of His now endless life, His people's inheritance; in His being Heir (Heb 1:2), they are heirs.

For where a testament is: for gives the reason of the Mediator’s death, even the putting the called into the possession of the bequeathed inheritance, demonstrated by a common, natural law in all nations of the testament’s effect on the testator’s death; a testament being a disposition by will nuncupative, or written, of either goods or lands, which are the person’s own, to be the right and possession of others after his death, whom he nominateth in it: such in proportion is the new covenant, where God gives freely all spiritual good things with a heavenly inheritance, as legacies to all his called ones in Christ, by this last and best will and testament of his, written in his Scripture instrument, witnessed by the prophets and apostles, sealed by the two sacraments, especially the Lord’s supper, Luke 22:20.

There must also of necessity be the death of the testator; he who maketh a testament by the law of nature, as of nations, must die before the legatees have any profit by the will; the son and heir inherits not but on the father’s death; then is the testament firm and valid, the time being come for the heir’s inheriting, and for the will’s execution, it being now unalterable; the necessity of which is cleared, Hebrews 9:17.

For where a testament is,.... The covenant of grace, as administered under the Gospel dispensation, is a testament or will. The Jews have adopted the Greek word, here used, into their language, and pronounce it and by it understand a dying man's last will and testament (d). Some of them make it to be of Hebrew derivation; as if it was said, , "this shall be to confirm" (e), or this shall be stable and firm; though others own it to be the same with this Greek word (f). The covenant of grace, is properly a covenant to Christ, and a testament or will to his people: it is his and their Father's will, concerning giving them both grace and glory; it consists of many gifts and legacies; in it Christ is made heir of all things, and his people are made joint heirs with him; they are given to him as his portion; and they have all things pertaining to life and godliness bequeathed to them, even all spiritual blessings; the witnesses of it are Father, Son, and Spirit; and the seals of it are the blood of Christ, and the grace of the Spirit; and this is registered in the Scriptures by holy men as notaries; and is unalterable and immutable: and this being made,

there must also of necessity be the death of the testator; who is Christ; he has various parts in this will or testament; he is the surety and Mediator of it; and he is the executor of it; what is given in it, is first given to him, in order to be given to others; all things are put into his hands, and he has a power to give them to as many as the Father has given him; and here he is called the "testator": Christ, as God, has an equal right to dispose of the inheritance, both of grace and glory; and as Mediator, nothing is given without his consent; and whatever is given, is given with a view to his "death", and comes through it, and by virtue of it: hence there is a "necessity" of that, and that on the account of the divine perfections; particularly for the declaration of God's righteousness, or by reason of his justice; and also because of his purposes and decrees, which have fixed it, and of his promises, which are yea and amen in Christ, and are ratified by his blood, called therefore the blood of the covenant; and likewise on account of the engagements of Christ to suffer and die; as well as for the accomplishment of Scripture prophecies concerning it; and moreover, on account of the blessings which were to come to the saints through it, as a justifying righteousness, pardon of sin, peace and reconciliation, adoption and eternal life.

(d) T. Hieros. Peah, fol. 17. 4. & T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 152. 2.((e) T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 19. 1. Maimon & Bartenora in Misn. Moed Katon, c. 3. sect. 3. & in Bava Metzia, c. 1. sect. 7. & in Bava Bathra, c. 8. sect. 6. (f) Cohen de Lara Ir David, p. 30.

{11} For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.

(11) A reason why the testament must be established by the death of the Mediator, because this testament has the condition of a testament or gift, which is made effective by death, and therefore that it might be effective, it must be that he that made the Testament, should die.

Hebrews 9:16-17. Demonstration of the necessity of the θάνατον γενέσθαι by means of a truth of universal application. That Christ might be able to become the Mediator of a new διαθήκη, His death was required. For, to the validity of a διαθήκη, it is essential that the death of the διαθέμενος be first proved. Since immediately before (Hebrews 9:15) and immediately after (Hebrews 9:18 ff.) διαθήκη was employed in the sense of “covenant,” elsewhere usual in our epistle, we might naturally, on account of the conjunction of Hebrews 9:16-17, by means of γάρ, with Hebrews 9:15, and on account of ὅθεν, by which again Hebrews 9:18 is joined to Hebrews 9:15-16, expect this signification of the word to be found also in Hebrews 9:16-17. This has accordingly been insisted upon, here too, by Codurcus (Critt. sacrr. t. VII. P. ii. p. 1067 sqq.), Seb. Schmidt, Peirce, Whitby [in com.], Macknight, Michaelis, Sykes, Cramer, Paulus, and others, lastly also by Ebrard. But it is altogether inadmissible. For if we take διαθήκη as covenant, ὁ διαθέμενος could only designate him who makes or institutes the covenant; to take ὁ διαθέμενος as the mediator of the covenant, as is generally done in connection with that view, and to understand this again of the sacrificial victims, by the offering of which the covenant was sealed, is pure caprice. The thought, however, that for the validity of a covenant-act the death of the author of the covenant must first ensue, would be a perfectly irrational one. Irrational the more, inasmuch as, Hebrews 9:16-17, only an entirely general truth is contained, passing for a norm in ordinary life. Ebrard finds expressed the thought: “Where a sinful man wishes to enter into a covenant with the holy God, the man must first die, must first atone for his guilt by death (or he must present a substitutionary עוֹלָה).” But all these definings have been arbitrarily imported. For Hebrews 9:16-17 nothing is said either about a “sinful man,” or about a volition on his part, or about the “holy God,” or about an “atoning for guilt,” or about a “substitutionary עוֹלָה.” From what has been said, it follows that διαθήκη, Hebrews 9:16-17, can be taken only in the sense, likewise very frequently occurring with the Greek authors, of “testament” or “disposition by will.” It is true there arises therefrom a logical inaccuracy,[93] owing to the fact that διαθήκη is used in these two verses in another sense than before, and the formal demonstrative force of that which is advanced by the author—although the underlying thoughts are in themselves perfectly just—is thereby sacrificed. It is, however, to be observed that while for us, since we are obliged to employ a twofold expression for the reproducing of the diversity of sense, the transition from the one notion to the other appears abruptly made, this transition for the author, on the other hand, might be an imperceptible one, inasmuch as in the Greek one and the same word included within itself both significations. Thus, accordingly, it has happened that the ancient Greek interpreters explain ΔΙΑΘΉΚΗ, Hebrews 9:16-17, expressly in the sense of a testament or will, then at once pass over to the declaration contained in Hebrews 9:18, without so much as noticing the logical inaccuracy which presents itself. The sense consequently is: where a testament or deed of bequest exists, there it is necessary, in order to give it validity (comp. ἰσχύει, Hebrews 9:17), that the death of the testator first be proved. The New Covenant, therefore, which Christ has established between God and man by His sacrificial death, the author here represents—in accordance with the figure of the κληρονομία, Hebrews 9:15—as a testamentary disposition on the part of Christ, which, however, as such could only acquire validity, and put the heirs in possession of the blessings bequeathed to them, by means of the death of Christ.

ΘΆΝΑΤΟΝ] emphatically preposed, while ΤΟῦ ΔΙΑΘΕΜΈΝΟΥ, upon which no emphasis falls, comes in at the end of the clause.

ΦΈΡΕΣΘΑΙ] be declared or proved. Wrongly Grotius: the verb to be regarded as equivalent to exspectari (“est enim exspectatio onus quoddam”); Wittich: it denotes the being endured on the part of the relatives; Carpzov, Chr. Fr. Schmid, Schulz, Kuinoel, Klee, Stein, Stengel, Hofmann (Schriftbew. II. 1, 2 Aufl. p. 428), and others, that it denotes nothing more than ensue or γίνεσθαι, Hebrews 9:15.

[93] For the author does not reason, as de Wette supposes, from the mere “analogy of a will or testament.”—The course, moreover, pursued by Hofmann (Schriftbew. II. 1, p. 426 ff.), in order to manifest the non-existence of a logical inaccuracy, in that, namely, in the whole section, ver. 15ff., he will have διαθήκη signify neither “covenant” nor “testament,” but throughout the whole only “disposal” (Verfügung), is, as also Delitzsch and Riehm (Lehrbegr. des Hebräerbr. p. 598, Obs.) acknowledge, an utter breakdown. See likewise the observations of Nickel in Reuter’s Repertor. 1858, März, p. 194 f.—Nor will it do, with Kurtz, to set aside the logical inaccuracy, at which he takes so great offence that he thinks himself obliged to designate such inaccuracy, in case it were present, an “inexcusable confusion” (!), in taking not only at vv. 16, 17, but also in like manner at vv. 15, 18, the διαθήκη in the special sense of “establishing as heir.” For the connection with that which precedes (comp. Hebrews 7:22, Hebrews 8:6 ff., Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:4) leads at vv. 15, 18 exclusively to the idea of a covenant.

Hebrews 9:16. ὅπου γὰρ διαθήκη … The meaning of these words is doubtful. In the LXX διαθήκη occurs about 280 times and in all but four instances translates בְרִית, covenant. In classical and Hellenistic Greek, however, it is the common word for “will” or “testament” (see especially The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Grenfell and Hunt, Part I., 105, etc., where the normal meaning of the word appears also from the use of ἀδιάθετος for “intestate” and μεταδιατίθεσθαι for “to alter a will”). Accordingly it has been supposed by several interpreters that the writer, taking advantage of the double meaning of διαθήκη, at this point introduces an argument which applies to it in the sense of “will” or “testament,” but not in the sense of “covenant”; as if he said, “where a testamentary disposition of property is made, this comes into force only on the decease of the testator”. θάνατον ἀνάγκη φέρεσθαι τοῦ διαθεμένου “it is necessary that the death of him who made the disposition be adduced”. On the very common omission of the copula in the third singular indicative see Buttmann, p. 136. φέρεσθαι, “necesse est afferri testimonia de morte testatoris” (Wetstein). For passages establishing its use as a term of the courts for the production of evidence, etc., see Field in loc. and especially Appian, De Bell. Civil. ii. 143, διαθῆκαι f1δὲ τοῦ Καίσαρος ὤφθησαν φερόμεναι. (See also Eisner in loc.) φέρειν is apparently even used for “to register” in the Oxy. Papyri, Part II., 244. The reason of this necessity is given in Hebrews 9:17. διαθήκη γὰρ ἐπὶ νεκ ροῖς βεβαία … “for a testament is of force with reference to dead people, since it is never of any force when the testator is alive”. On this interpretation the words mean that before the inheritance, alluded to in Hebrews 9:15, could become the possession of those to whom it had been promised, Christ must die. He is thus represented as a testator. The illustration from the general law relating to wills or testaments extends only to the one point that Christ’s people could inherit only on condition of Christ’s death. The reason of Christ’s death receives no illustration. He did not die merely to make room for the heir. The objections to this interpretation are (1) the constant Biblical usage by which, with one doubtful exception in Galatians 3, διαθήκη stands for “covenant,” not for “will”. On this point see the strong statement of Hatch, Essays in Bibl. Greek, p. 48. “There can be little doubt that the word must be invariably taken in this sense of “covenant” in the N.T., and especially in a book which is so impregnated with the language of the LXX as the epistle to the Hebrews”. (2) His argument regarding covenants receives no help from usages which obtain in connection with testaments which are not covenants. The fact that both could be spoken of under the same name shows that they were related in some way; but presumably the writer had in view things and not merely words. To adduce the fact that in the case of wills the death of the testator is the condition of validity, is, of course, no proof at all that a death is necessary to make a covenant valid. (3) The argument of Hebrews 9:18 is destroyed if we understand Hebrews 9:16-17 of wills; for in this verse it is the first covenant that is referred to.

But is it possible to retain the meaning “covenant”? Westcott, Rendall, Hatch, Moulton and others think it is possible. To support his argument, proving the necessity of Christ’s death, the writer adduces the general law that he who makes a covenant does so at the expense of life. What is meant becomes plain in the 18th verse, for in the covenant there alluded to, the covenanting people were received into covenant through death. That covenant only became valid ἐπὶ νεκροῖς over the dead bodies of the victims slain as representing the people. Whatever this substitutionary death may have meant, it was necessary to the ratification of the covenant. The sacrifices may have been expiatory, indicating that all old debts and obligations were cancelled and that the covenanters entered into this covenant as clean and new men; or they may have meant that the terms of the covenant were immutable; or that the people died to the past and became wholly the people of God. In any case the dead victims were necessary, and without them, χωρὶς αἵματος, the covenant was not inaugurated or ratified. Great light has been thrown on this passage by Dr. Trumbull in his Blood Covenant, in which he shows the universality of that form of compact and the significance of the blood. The rite of interchanging blood or tasting one another’s blood, indicates that the two are bound in one life and must be all in all to one another. On the whole, this interpretation is to be preferred. Certainly it connects much better with what follows. For having shown that by dead victims all covenants are ratified, the writer proceeds ὅθεν οὐδʼ ἡ πρώτη χωρὶς ἅματος ἐνκεκαίνισται, “wherefore not even the first,”—although imperfect and temporary—“was inaugurated without blood,” i.e., without death. [The perfect here as elsewhere in Hebrews is scarcely distinguishable from the aorist.] Proof that this statement regarding the first covenant is correct he forthwith gives in Hebrews 9:19-20.

Hebrews 9:19. λαληθείσης γὰρ πάσης ἐντολῆς.… “For when Moses had spoken to the people every commandment of the law,” this being the needful preliminary, that the people might clearly understand the obligations they assumed on entering the covenant, he then took the blood of the calves and the goats, etc. In Exodus 24:3 ff., an account is given of the inauguration of the first covenant. To that narrative certain additions of no importance are here made. In Exodus no mention is made of goats, only of μοσχάρια. (See Westcott on this discrepancy.) Probably this addition is due to an echo of Hebrews 9:12-13. Water, which was added to the blood to prevent coagulation or possibly as a symbol of cleansing; (cf. John 19:34; 1 John 5:6) scarlet wool, κόκκινος, so called from κόκκος “the grain or berry of the ilex coccifera” used in dyeing (cf. Leviticus 14:4) and the hyssop or wild marjoram on which the wool was tied, are all added as associated with sacrifice in general, and all connected with the blood and the sprinkling. ἐράντισεν here takes the place of the κατεσκέδασε of Exodus and the action is not confined to the people as in the original narrative but includes αὐτὸ τὸ βιβλίον, the book itself, that is, even the book in which Moses had written the words of the Lord, the terms of the covenant. Everything connected with the covenant bore the mark of blood, of death. Again, in Hebrews 9:20, instead of the ἰδοὺ of the LXX, which literally renders the Hebrew we have τοῦτο τὸ αἶμα κ.τ.λ., a possible echo of our Lord’s words in instituting the new covenant, and instead of διέθετο of Exodus 24:8 we have ἐνετείλατο corresponding with the ἐντολή of Hebrews 9:19.

16. For where a testament is] In these two verses (16, 17), and these only, Diathçkç is used in its Greek and Roman sense of “a will,” and not in its Hebrew sense of “a covenant.” The sudden and momentary change in the significance of the word explains itself, for he has just spoken of an inheritance, and of the necessity for a death. It was therefore quite natural that he should be reminded of the fact that just as the Old Covenant (Diathçkç) required the constant infliction of death upon the sacrificed victims, and therefore (by analogy) necessitated the death of Christ under the New, so the word Diathçkç in its other sense of “Will” or “Testament” (which was by this epoch familiar also to the Jews) involved the necessity of death, because a will assigns the inheritance of a man who is dead. This may be called “a mere play on words;” but such a play on words is perfectly admissible in itself; just as we might speak of the “New Testament” (meaning the Book) as “a testament” (meaning “a will”) sealed by a Redeemer’s blood. An illustration of this kind was peculiarly consonant with the deep mystic significance attached by the Alexandrian thinkers to the sounds and the significance of words. Philo also avails himself of both meanings of Diathçkç (De Nom. Mutat. § 6; De Sacr. Abel, Opp. i. 586. 172). The passing illustration which thus occurs to the writer does not indeed explain or attempt to explain the eternal necessity why Christ must die; he leaves that in all its awful mystery, and merely gives prominence to the fact that the death was necessary, by saying that since under the Old Covenant death was required, so the New Covenant was inaugurated by a better death; and since a Will supposes that some one has died, so this “Will,” by which we inherit, involves the necessity that Christ must die. The Old Covenant could not be called “a Will” in any ordinary sense; but the New Covenant was, by no remote analogy, the Will and Bequest of Christ.

there must also of necessity be the death of the testator] Wherever there is a will, the supposition that the maker of the will has died is implied, or legally involved (φέρεσθαι, constare).

Hebrews 9:16. Διαθήκη) testament. This is the peculiar force of the Greek word, as compared with (above, præ) the Hebrew ברית. The article omitted agrees with the general sentiment expressed, as in Galatians 3:15.—φέρεσθαι) be shown, or made good, fulfilled (præstari). The Greek words, φέρεσθαι, προσφέρεσθαι, Hebrews 9:14, allude to each other.—τοῦ διαθεμένου, of the testator) Christ is the testator in respect of us. This agrees with the words of the Lord before His death; Luke 22:29.

Hebrews 9:16For where a testament is (ὅπου γὰρ διαθήκη)

"The English Version has involved this passage in hopeless obscurity by introducing the idea of a testament and a testator." This statement of Rendall (Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 159) is none too strong. That interpretation, however, is maintained by a very strong array of modern expositors. It is based upon κληρονομία inheritance; it being claimed that this word changes the whole current of thought. Hence it is said that the new covenant established by Christ is here represented as a testamentary disposition on his part, which could become operative in putting the heirs in possession of the inheritance only through the death of Christ. See Additional Note at the end of this chapter.

There must also of necessity be the death of the testator (θάνατου ἀνάγκη φέρεσθαι τοῦ διαθεμένου)

Rend. it is necessary that the death of the institutor (of the covenant) should be borne. With the rendering testament, φέρεσθαι is well-nigh inexplicable. If covenant the meaning is not difficult. If he had meant to say it is necessary that the institutor die, he might better have used γένεσθαι: "it is necessary that the death of the institutor take place"; but he meant to say that it was necessary that the institutor die representatively; that death should be borne for him by an animal victim. If we render testament, it follows that the death of the testator himself is referred to, for which θάνατου φέρεσθαι is a very unusual and awkward expression.

Additional Note on Hebrews 9:16

Against the rendering testament for διαθήκη, and in favor of retaining covenant, are the following considerations:

(a) The abruptness of the change, and its interruption of the line of reasoning. It is introduced into the middle of a continuous argument, in which the new covenant is compared and contrasted with the Mosaic covenant (8:6-10:18).

(b) The turning-point, both of the analogy and of the contrast, is that both covenants were inaugurated and ratified by death: not ordinary, natural death, but sacrificial, violent death, accompanied with bloodshedding as an essential feature. Such a death is plainly indicated in Hebrews 9:15. If διαθήκη signifies testament, θάνατον death in Hebrews 9:16 must mean natural death without bloodshed.

(c) The figure of a testament would not appeal to Hebrews in connection with an inheritance. On the contrary, the idea of the κληρονομία was always associated in the Hebrew mind with the inheritance of Canaan, and that inheritance with the idea of a covenant. See Deuteronomy 4:20-23; 1 Chronicles 16:15-18; Psalm 105:8-11.

(d) In lxx, from which our writer habitually quotes, διαθήκη has universally the meaning of covenant. It occurs about 350 times, mostly representing בְּרִית, covenant. In the Apocryphal books it has the same sense, except in Sir. 38:33, where it signifies disposition or arrangement. Διατιθέσθαι to dispose or arrange represents כָּרַֽת, to cut off, hew, divide. The phrase כָּרַֽת בְּרִֽת, to cut (i.e., make) a covenant, is very common. The verb marks a disposing by the divine will, to which man becomes a party by assent; while συντιθέσθαι indicates an arrangement between two equal parties. There is not a trace of the meaning testament in the Greek O.T. In the classics διαθήκη is usually testament. Philo uses the word in the sense of covenant, but also shows how it acquired that of testament (De Mutatione Nominum, 6 ff.). The Vulgate has testamentum, even where the sense of covenant is indisputable. See Exodus 30:26; Numbers 14:44; 2 Kings 6:15; Jeremiah 3:16; Malachi 3:1; Luke 1:72, Acts 3:25; Acts 7:8. Also in N.T. quotations from the O.T., where, in its translation of the O.T., it uses foedus. See Jeremiah 31:31, cit. Hebrews 8:8. For διατιθέσθαι of making a covenant, see Hebrews 8:10; Acts 3:25; Hebrews 10:16.

(e) The ratification of a covenant by the sacrifice of a victim is attested by Genesis 15:10; Psalm 1:5; Jeremiah 34:18. This is suggested also by the phrase כָּרַֽת בְּרִֽת, to cut a covenant, which finds abundant analogy in both Greek and Latin. Thus we have ὅρκια τάμνειν to cut oaths, that is, to sacrifice a victim in attestation (Hom. Il. ii. 124; Od. xxiv. 483: Hdt. vii. 132). Similarly, σπονδὰς let us cut (make) a league (Eurip. Hel. 1235): φίλια τέμνεσθαι to cement friendship by sacrificing a victim; lit. to cut friendship (Eurip. Suppl. 375). In Latin, foedus ferire to strike a league foedus ictum a ratified league, ratified by a blow (ictus).

(f) If testament is the correct translation in Hebrews 9:16, Hebrews 9:17, the writer is fairly chargeable with a rhetorical blunder; for Hebrews 9:18 ff. is plainly intended as a historical illustration of the propositions in Hebrews 9:16, Hebrews 9:17, and the illustration turns on a point entirely different from the matter illustrated. The writer is made to say, "A will is of no force until after the testator's death; therefore the first covenant was ratified with the blood of victims.

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