Hebrews 9:17
For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator lives.
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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 a testament - Such an arrangement as God enters into with man; see the remarks on Hebrews 9:16.

Is of force - Is ratified, or confirmed - in the same way as a deed or compact is confirmed by affixing a seal.

After men are dead - ἐπὶ νεκροῖς epi nekrois. "Over the dead." That is, in accordance with the view given above, after the animal is dead; or over the body of the animal slain for sacrifice, and to confirm the covenant. "For a covenant is completed or confirmed over dead sacrifices, seeing it is never of force as long as the victim set apart for its ratification is still living." ms. notes of Dr. JohnP. Wilson. To this interpretation it is objected, that "νεκροῖς nekrois - "nekrois" - means only "dead men;" but human beings surely were not sacrificed by the Jews, as a mediating sacrifice in order to confirm a covenant." Prof. Stuart in loc. In regard to this objection, and to the proper meaning of the passage, we may remark:

(1) that the word "men" is not in the Greek, nor is it necessarily implied, unless it be in the use of the Greek word rendered "dead." The proper translation is, "upon, or over the dead." The use of the word "men" here by our translators would seem to limit it to the making of a will.

(2) it is to be presumed, unless there is positive proof to the contrary, that the Greeks and Hebrews used the word "dead" as it is used by other people, and that it "might" refer to deceased animals, or vegetables, as well as to human beings. A sacrifice that had been offered was dead; a tree that had fallen was dead; an animal that had been torn by other wild animals was dead. It is "possible" that a people might have one word to refer to "dead men," and another to "dead animals," and another to "dead vegetables:" but what is the evidence that the Hebrews or the Greeks had such words?

(3) what is the meaning of this very word - νεκρός nekros - "nekros" - in Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 9:14, of this very Epistle when it is applied to works - "dead works" - if it never refers to anything but people? compare James 2:17, James 2:20, James 2:26; Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5; Revelation 3:1. In Ecclesiastes 9:4, it is applied to a dead lion. I suppose, therefore, that the Greek phrase here will admit of the interpretation which the "exigency of the place" seems to demand, and that the idea is, that a covenant with God was ratified over the animals slain in sacrifice, and was not considered as confirmed until the sacrifice was killed.

Otherwise - Since - ἐπεί epei. That is, unless this takes place it will be of no force.

It is of no strength - It is not "strong" - ἰσχύει ischuei - it is not confirmed or ratified. "While the testator liveth." Or while the animal selected to confirm the covenant is alive. It can be confirmed only by its being slain. A full examination of the meaning of this passage Hebrews 9:16-17 may be found in an article in the Biblical Repository, vol. 20, pp. 51-71, and in Prof. Stuart's reply to that article. Bib. Repos. 20, pp. 356-381.

17. after—literally, "over," as we say "upon the death of the testators"; not as Tholuck, "on the condition that slain sacrifices be there," which the Greek hardly sanctions.

otherwise—"seeing that it is never availing" [Alford]. Bengel and Lachmann read with an interrogation, "Since, is it ever in force (surely not) while the testator liveth?"

For a testament is of force after men are dead: the testator being by death disseised of his goods and lands, the right takes place of the legatees, and the time of their challenging it; such a sacred tie there is upon the surviving, that none can of right add to it, alter, or disannul it.

Otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth; it is of no force while the maker of it liveth, because they have need of the things bequeathed; they can alter and change it, and by the will itself it is declared none shall have any right to the things bequeathed in it till the testator be dead. The consequent of all this is, that the Testator of the new testament must put it in force by death; and his death is of greater force to confirm his testament than that of men, because his will can never be violated, it being a Divine constitution, but the human testament may. Christ, God-man, after dieth, as Testator, and puts the testament in force; and by breaking the bonds of death, doth gloriously effect that the legatees perform the conditions required in the will, to fit them for receiving their legacies; and then faithfully distributeth them to them by his grand executor the Holy Spirit, who applieth the virtue of it to the legatees under the Old Testament, as well as these under the New; he being the Testator, as well as the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world. For a testament is of force after men are dead,.... The necessity of Christ's death is here urged, from the nature and force of a testament or will, among men, which does not take place, and cannot be executed, till a man is dead.

Otherwise it is of no strength at all whilst the testator liveth; no claim can be made by the legatees for the part they have in it, nor can any disposition be made by the executor of it; not that hereby is suggested, that the testament or will of God was uncertain and precarious till the death of Christ, and subject to change and alteration as men's wills are till they die; nor that the inheritance could not be enjoyed by the Old Testament saints; for it is certain, it was entered upon by them before the death of Christ; but the sense is, that there was a necessity of it, that the saints right unto it, upon the foot of justice, might be evident by it.

For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.
Hebrews 9:17. Confirmatory elucidation of Hebrews 9:16. The words of the verse are connected together as parts of a single statement. We have no right to break up the same, in such wise that διαθήκη γὰρ ἐπὶ νεκροῖς βεβαία is made a parenthesis, and ἐπεὶ κ.τ.λ. joined to Hebrews 9:16 (Hofmann).

ἐπὶ νεκροῖς] in the case of dead persons, i.e. only upon condition that the author of the διαθήκη is dead, or has died.

βεβαία] firm or inviolable (comp. Hebrews 2:2), inasmuch, namely, as, after the death of the testator has supervened, the abrogation or alteration of the testament on his part is no longer possible.

μήποτε] never. The making of μήποτε equivalent to μήπω or nondum (Vulgate, Faber Stapulensis, Erasmus, Luther, Schlichting, Böhme) is linguistically inadmissible. Oecumenius, Theophylact, Lud. de Dieu, Heinsius, Bengel, Chr. Fr. Schmid, Lachmann, Hofmann (Schriftbew. II. 1, 2 Aufl. p. 429), Delitzsch, and Ewald regard the word as an interrogative particle, which does not alter the sense, and might appear the preferable course, since, on the supposition of an assertory statement, the objective οὔποτε might have been expected in place of the subjective μήποτε. Nevertheless, elsewhere too, with later authors, the placing of the subjective negation is not at all rare after ἐπεί, when it introduces an objectively valid reason. See Winer, Gramm., 7 Aufl. p. 447; Buttmann, Gramm. des neutest. Sprachgebr. p. 304.

ἰσχύει] sc. διαθήκη, not ὁ διαθέμενος (Peirce).17. after men are dead] This rendering expresses the meaning rightly—a will is only valid “in cases of death,” “in the case of men who are dead.” Ex vi termini, “a testament,” is the disposition which a man makes of his affairs with a view to his death. The attempt to confine the word diathçkç to the sense of “covenant” which it holds throughout the rest of the Epistle has led to the most strained and impossible distortion of these words ἐπὶ νεκροῖς in a way which is but too familiar in Scripture commentaries. They have been explained to mean “over dead victims,” &c.; but all such explanations fall to the ground when the special meaning of diathçkç in these two verses is recognised. The author thinks it worth while to notice, in passing, that death is the condition of inheritance by testament, just as death is necessary to ratify a covenant (Genesis 15:7-10; Jeremiah 34:18).

otherwise it is of no strength at all …] The words are better taken as a question—“Since is there any validity in it at all while the testator is alive?” This is an appeal to the reader’s own judgment.Hebrews 9:17. Ἐπὶ νεκροῖς, over [super] the dead) briefly expressed, instead of this expression, over or upon the death of the testators. So LXX. Leviticus 21:5, ἐπὶ νεκρῷ, over the dead [upon the death of a relative].—μήποτε) This particle plainly implies an interrogation;[51] moreover, ἐπεὶ, with an interrogation, has great force, Romans 3:6; 1 Corinthians 14:16; 1 Corinthians 15:29. See Not. ad Chrys. de Sacerd., p. 424.

[51] So Lachm. rightly has an interrogation marked at ὁ διαθέμενος;—ED.For a testament is of force after men are dead (διαθήκη γὰρ ἐπὶ νεκροῖς βεβαία)

Rend. "for a covenant is of force (or sure) over (or upon) dead (victims)." Comp. Soph. Elect. 237; Eurip. Ion. 228; Aesch. Eumen. 316; Hdt. iv. 162. See also Leviticus 21:5.

Otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth (ἐπεὶ μὴ τότε ἰσχύει ὅτε ζῇ ὁ διαθέμενος)

Rend. "since it hath not then force when the institutor is alive": until he has been representatively slain.

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