ICC New Testament Commentary
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;The first paragraph (7:1-3), which is one long sentence in Greek, applies and expands εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, the first note of Melchizedek’s priesthood being that it is perpetual, thus typifying the priesthood of Jesus. The next is (7:4-10), that it is prior and superior to the levitical priesthood; this is implied in the former claim, but the writer works it out fancifully from the allusion to tithes.
20 There (ὅπου for the classical ὄποι) Jesus entered for us in advance, when he became highpriest “for ever with the rank of Melchizedek.” 1For “Melchizedek, the king of Salem, a priest of the Most High God,” who “met Abraham on his return from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him”— 2 who had “a tenth part (δεκάτην, sc. μοῖραν) of everything” assigned him by Abraham—this Melchizedek is (sc. ὤν) primarily a “king of righteousness” (that is the meaning of his name); then, besides that, “king of Salem” (which means, king of peace). 3 He has neither father nor mother nor genealogy, neither a beginning to his days nor an end to his life, but, resembling the Son of God, continues to be “priest” permanently.
This paragraph and that which follows (vv. 4-10) are another little sermon, this time on the story of Genesis 14:18-20. In 6:20-7:3 the writer starts from the idea that Jesus is ἀρχιερεὺς εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Μελχισεδέκ, and shows how the Melchizedek priesthood was εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, i.e. explaining Psalm 110:4 from Genesis 14:18-20. Εἰσῆλθεν in 6:20 is explained later, in 9:12f. Πρόδρομος recalls ἀρχηγός (2:10), with its suggestion of pioneering. The term is only used in the LXX of the days ἔαρος, πρόδρομοι σταφυλῆς (Numbers 13:22), or of early fruit (ὡς πρόδρομος σύκου, Isaiah 28:4); the present sense occurs, however, in Wis 12:8, where wasps or hornets are called the πρόδρομοι of God’s avenging host. The thought here is of Christ entering heaven as we are destined to do, after him, once like him (5:9) we are “perfected.” Vv.1-3 in ch. 7 are another of the writer’s long sentences: οὗτος ὁ Μελχισεδέκ … μένει ἱερεὺς εἰς τὸ διηνεκές is the central thought, but the subject is overloaded with quotations and comments, including a long μέν … δέ clause. The length of the sentence and the difficulty of applying μένει ἱερεὺς εἰς τὸ διηνεκές to Melchizedek have led some editors to make Jesus the subject of the sentence: οὗτος (Jesus) γὰρ (ὁ Μελχισεδέκ … τῷ υἱῷ θεοῦ) μένει ἱερεὺς εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. But the οὗτος, as v. 4 shows, is Melchizedek, and the theory is wrecked upon v. 8, for it is quite impossible to take ἐκεῖ κτλ. as “in the upper sanctuary (sc. ἐστιν) there is One of whom the record is that He lives.” There is a slight but characteristic freedom at the very outset in the use of the story, e.g. in ὁ συναντήσας κτλ. The story implies this, but does not say it. It was the king of Sodom who ἐξῆλθεν εἰς συνάντησιν αὐτῷ μετὰ τὸ ὑποστρέψαι αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τῆς κοπῆς, but as Melchizedek is immediately said to have brought the conquering hero bread and wine, our writer assumed that he also met Abraham.
An interesting example of the original reading being preserved in an inferior group of MSS is afforded by ὁ συναντήσας (C* L P). The variant ὄς συναντήσας (א A B C2 D K W 33. 436. 794. 1831. 1837. 1912), which makes a pointless anacolouthon, was due to the accidental reduplication of C (ΟΞΞΨΝ for ΟΞΨΝ), though attempts have been made to justify this reading by assuming an anacolouthon in the sentence, or a parenthesis in ὅς … Ἀβραάμ, or carelessness on the part of the writer who began with a relative and forgot to carry on the proper construction. Some curious homiletic expansions have crept into the text of vv.1, 2. After βασιλέων two late minuscules (456, 460) read ὅτι ἐδίωξεν τοὺς ἀλλοφύλους καὶ ἐξείλατο Λὼτ μετὰ πάσης αἰχμαλωσίας, and after αὐτόν, D* vt 330. 440. 823 put καὶ (Ἀβραὰμ) εὐλογησθεὶς ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ. The latter is another (cp. 11:23) of the glosses which were thrown up by the Latin versions.
In v. 2 ἐμέρισεν is substituted for the ἔδωκεν of the LXX (which reappears in v. 4), in order to make it clear that Abraham’s gift was a sort of tithe. Tithes were not paid by the Hebrews from spoils of war; this was a pagan custom. But such is the interpretation of the story in Philo, e.g. in his fragment on Genesis 14:18 (Fragments of Philo, ed. J. Rendel Harris, p. 72); τὰ γὰρ τοῦ πολέμου ἀριστεῖα δίδωσι τῷ ἱερεῖ καὶ τὰς τῆς νίκης ἀπαρχάς. ἱεροπρεπεστάτη δὲ καὶ ἁγιωτάτη πασῶν ἀπαρχῶν ἡ δεκάτη διὰ τὸ παντέλειον εἶναι τὸν ἀριθμόν, ἀφʼ οὗ καὶ τοῖς ἱερεῦσι καὶ νεωκόροις αἱ δεκάται προστάξει νόμου καρπῶν καὶ θρεμμάτων ἀποδίδονται, ἄρξαντος τῆς ἀπαρχῆς Ἀβραάμ, ὃς καὶ τοῦ γένους ἀρχηγέτης ἐστίν. Or again in de congressu, 17, where he describes the same incident as Abraham offering God τὰς δεκάτας χαριστήρια τῆς νίκης.
The fantastic interpretation of the Melchizedek episode is all the writer’s own. What use, if any, was made of Melchizedek in pre-Christian Judaism, is no longer to be ascertained. Apparently the book of Jubilees contained a reference to this episode in Abraham’s career, but it has been excised for some reason (see R. H. Charles’ note on Jub 13:25). Josephus makes little of the story (Ant. i. 10. 2). He simply recounts how, when Abraham returned from the rout of the Assyrians, ἀπήντησε δʼ αὐτῷ ὸ τῶν Σοδομιτῶν βασιλεὺς εἰς τόπον τινὰ ὃν καλοῦσι Πεδίον βασιλικόν· ἔνθα ὁ τῆς Σολυμᾶ πόλεως ὑποδέχεται βασιλεὺς αὐτὸν Μελχισεδέκης. σημαίνει δὲ τοῦτο βασιλεὺς δίκαιος· καὶ ἧν δὲ τοιοῦτος ὁμολογουμένως, ὡς διὰ ταύτην αὐτὸν τὴν αἰτίαν καὶ ἱερέα γινέσθαι τοῦ θεοῦ. τὴν μέντοι Σολυμᾶ ὕστερον ἐκάλεσαν Ἱεροσόλυμα. ἐχορήγησε δὲ οὗτος ὁ Μελχισεδέκης τῷ Ἀβράμου στρατῷ ξένια καὶ πολλὴν ἀφθονίαν τῶν ἐπιτηδείων παρέσχε, καὶ παρὰ τὴν εὐωχίαν αὐτὸν τʼ ἐπαινεῖν ἤρξατο καὶ τὸν θεὸν εὐλογεῖν ὑποχειρίους αὐτῷ ποιήσαντα τοὺς ἐχθροὺς. Ἀβράμου δὲ διδόντος καὶ τὴν δεκάτην τῆς λείας αὐτῷ, προσδέχεται τὴν δόσιν κτλ. In the later Judaism, however, more interest was taken in Melchizedek (cp. M. Friedländer in Revue des Études Juives, v. pp. 1f.). Thus some applied the 110th psalm to Abraham (Mechilta on Exodus 15:7, r. Gen. 55:6,), who was ranked as the priest after the order of Melchizedek, while Melchizedek was supposed to have been degraded because he (Genesis 14:19) mentioned the name of Abraham before that of God! This, as Bacher conjectures, represented a protest against the Christian view of Melchizedek (Agada der Tannaiten2, i. p. 259). It denotes the influence of Πρὸς Ἑβραίους. Philo, as we might expect, had already made more of the episode than Josephus, and it is Philo’s method of interpretation which gives the clue to our writer’s use of the story. Thus in Leg. Alleg. iii. 25, 26 he points out (a) that Μελχισεδὲκ βασιλέα τε τῆς εὶρἡνης—Σαλὴμ τοῦτο γὰρ ὲρμηνεύεται—καὶ ἱερέα ἑαυτοῦ πεποίηκεν1 ὁ θεός (in Genesis 14:18), and allegorizes the reference into a panegyric upon the peaceful, persuasive influence of the really royal mind. He then (b) does the same with the sacerdotal reference. Ἀλλʼ ὀ μὲν Μελχισεδὲκ ἀντἰ ὕδατος οἶνον προσφερέτω καὶ ποτιζέτω καὶ ἀκρατιζέτω ψυχάς, ἵνα κατάσχετοι γένωνται θείᾳ μέθῃ νηφαλεωτέρᾳ νήψεως αὐτῆς. ἱερεὺς γάρ ἑστι λόγος κλῆρον ἔχων τὸν ὄντα καὶ ὑψηλῶς περἰ αὐτοῦ καὶ ὑπερόγκως καὶ μεγαλοπρεπῶς λογιζόμενος· τοῦ γὰρ ὐψίστου ἐστὶν ἰερεύς, quoting Genesis 14:18 and hastening to add, οὐχ ὅτι ἐστί τις ἄλλος οὐχ ὕψιστος. Philo points out thus the symbolism of wine (not water) as the divine intoxication which raises the soul to lofty thought of God; but our author does not even mention the food and drink, though later on there was a tendency to regard them as symbolizing the elements in the eucharist. His interest in Melchizedek lies in the parallel to Christ. This leads him along a line of his own, though, like Philo, he sees immense significance not only in what scripture says, but in what it does not say, about this mysterious figure in the early dawn of history.
In vv.1, 2 the only points in the original tale which are specially noted are (a) that his name means βασιλεὺς δικαιοσύνης; (b) that Σαλήμ, his capital, means εἰρήνη; and (c) inferentially that this primitive ideal priest was also a king. Yet none of these is developed. Thus, the writer has no interest in identifying Σαλήμ. All that matters is its meaning. He quotes ἱερεὺς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑψίστου, but it is ἱερεύς alone that interests him. The fact about the tithes (ᾦ καὶ δεκάτην ἀπὸ πάντων ἐμέρισεν Ἀβραάμ) is certainly significant, but it is held over until v. 4. What strikes him as far more vital is the silence of the record about the birth and death of Melchizedek (v. 3). Δικαιοσύνη as a royal characteristic (see Introd. pp. xxxii f.) had been already noted in connexion with Christ (1:8f.); but he does not connect it with εἰρήνη, as Philo does, though the traditional association of δικαιοσύνη καὶ εἰρήνη with the messianic reign may have been in his mind. In the alliteration (v. 3) of ἀπάτωρ, ἀμήτωρ, ἀγενεαλόγητος, the third term is apparently coined by himself; it does not mean “of no pedigree,” nor “without successors,” but simply (cp. v. 6) “devoid of any genealogy.” Having no beginning (since none is mentioned), M. has no end. Ἀπάτωρ and ἀμήτωρ are boldly lifted from their pagan associations. In the brief episode of Genesis 14:18-20, this mysterious Melchizedek appears only as a priest of God; his birth is never mentioned, neither is his death; unlike the Aaronic priests, with whom a pure family descent was vital, this priest has no progenitors. Reading the record in the light of Psalm 110:4, and on the Alexandrian principle that the very silence of scripture is charged with meaning, the writer divines in Melchizedek a priest who is permanent. This method of interpretation had been popularized by Philo. In quod det. pot. 48, e.g., he calls attention to the fact that Moses does not explain in Genesis 4:15 what was the mark put by God upon Cain. Why? Because the mark was to prevent him from being killed. Now Moses never mentions the death of Cain διὰ πάσης τῆς νομοθεσίας, suggesting that ὥσπερ ἡ μεμυθευμένη Σκύλλα, κακὸν ἀθάνατον ἐστιν ἀφροσύνη. Again (de Ebriet. 14) εἶπε γάρ πού τις “καὶ γὰρ ἀληθῶς ἀδελφή μού ἐστιν ἐκ πατρός, ἀλλʼ οὐκ ἐκ μητρός” (Genesis 20:12)—Abraham’s evasive description of Sarah—is most significant; she had no mother, i. e. she had no connexion with the material world of the senses.
Ἀπάτωρ and ἀμήτωρ were applied to (a) waifs, whose parents were unknown; or (b) to illegitimate children; or (c) to people of low origin; or (d) to deities who were supposed to have been born, like Athenê and Hephaestus, from only one sex. Lactantius (diuin. instit. i. 7) quotes the Delphic oracle, which described Apollo as ἀμήτωρ, and insists that such terms refer only to God (ibid. iv. 13). “As God the Father, the origin and source of things, is without parentage, he is most accurately called ἀπάτωρ and ἀμήτωρ by Trismegistus, since he was not begotten by anyone. Hence it was fitting that the Son also should be twice born, that he too should become ἀπάτωρ and ἀμήτωρ.” His argument apparently1 is that the pre-existent Son was ἀμήτωρ and that He became ἀμάτωρ by the Virgin-birth (so Theodore of Mopsuestia). Lactantius proves the priesthood of Christ from Psalm 110:4 among other passages, but he ignores the deduction from the Melchizedek of Gen_14; indeed he gives a rival derivation of Jerusalem as if from ἱερὸν Σολομών. Theodoret, who (Dial. ii.) explains that the incarnate Son was ἀμήτωρ, with respect to his divine nature, and ἀγενεαλόγητος in fulfilment of Isaiah 53:8, faces the difficulty of Melchizedek with characteristic frankness. Melchizedek, he explains, is described as ἀπάτωρ, ἀμήτωρ, simply because scripture does not record his parentage or lineage. Εἰ ἀληθῶς ἀπάτωρ ἧν καὶ ἀμήτωρ, οὐκ ἂν ἧν εἰκὼν, ἀλλʼ ἀλήθεια. Ἐπειδὴ δὲ οὐ φύσει ταῦτʼ ἔχει, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὴν τῆς θείας Γραφῆς οἰκονομίαν, δείκνυσι τῆς ἀληθείας τὸν τύπον. In his commentary he explains that μένει ἱερεὺς εἰς τὸ διηνεκές means τὴν ἰερωσύνην οὐ παρέπεμψεν εἰς παῖδας, καθάπερ Ἀαρὼν καὶ Ἐλεάζαρ καὶ Φινεές.
Ἀφωμοιωμένος in v. 3 means “resembling,” as, e.g., in Ep. Jerem. 70 νεκρῷ ἐρριμένῳ ἐν σκότει ἀφωμοίωνται οἱ θεοὶ αὐτῶν, though it might even be taken as a strict passive, “made to resemble” (i.e. in scripture), the Son of God being understood to be eternal. Εἰς τὸ διηνεκές is a classical equivalent for εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, a phrase which is always to be understood in the light of its context. Here it could not be simply “ad vitam”; the foregoing phrases and the fact that even the levitical priests were appointed for life, rule out such an interpretation.
The writer now (vv. 4-10) moralizes upon the statement that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek and received his blessing, which proves the supreme dignity of the Melchizedek priesthood, and, inferentially, its superiority to the levitical.
4Now mark the dignity of this man. The patriarch “Abraham paid” him “a tenth” of the spoils. 5 Those sons of Levi, who receive the priestly office, are indeed ordered by law to tithe the people (that is, their brothers), although the latter are descended from Abraham; 6 but he who had no levitical (ἐξ αὐτῶν = ἐκ τῶν υἰῶν Λευεί) genealogy actually tithed Abraham and “blessed” the possessor of the promises! 7 (And there is no question that it is the inferior who is blessed by the superior.) 8 Again, it is mortal men in the one case who receive tithes, while in the other it is one of whom the witness is that “he lives.” 9 In fact, we might almost say that even Levi the receiver of tithes paid tithes through Abraham; 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
Θεωρεῖτε (v. 4) is an oratorical imperative as in 4 Mac 14:13 (θεωρεῖτε δὲ πῶς πολύπλοκός ἐστιν ἡ τῆς φιλοτεκνίας στοργή); πηλίκος is a rare word, often used for ἡλίκος after vowels, though not in Zechariah 2:6 (τοῦ ἰδεῖν πηλίκον τὸ πλάτος αὐτῆς ἐστιν), where alone it occurs in the LXX. The οὗτος (om. D* 67**. 1739 Blass) repeats the οὗτος of v. 1. We have now a triple proof of the inferiority of the levitical priesthood to Melchizedek. (a) Melchizedek, though not in levitical orders, took tithes from and gave a blessing to Abraham himself (vv. 4-7); (b) he is never recorded to have lost his priesthood by death (v. 8); and (c) indeed, in his ancestor Abraham, Levi yet unborn did homage to Melchizedek (9, 10). Τὰ ἀκροθίνια (v. 4), which this alone of NT writers has occasion to use, explains the πάντα of v. 2; it is one of the classical terms for which he went outside the LXX. Ὁ πατριάρχης is thrown to the end of the sentence for emphasis. In v. 5; ἱερατείαν is chosen instead of ἱερωσύνην for the sake of assonance with Λευεί. The LXX does not distinguish them sharply. The general statement about tithing, κατὰ τὸν νόμον (the ἐντολή of Numbers 18:20, Numbers 18:21), is intended to throw the spontaneous action of Abraham into relief; ἀποδεκατοῦν of “tithing” persons occurs in 1 S 8:15f., but usually means “to pay tithes,” like the more common δεκατοῦν (v. 6), the classical form being δεκατεύειν. In v. 6; the perfect εὐλογήκε is like the Philonic perfect (see above). In describing the incident (de Abrahamo, 40), Philo lays stress upon the fact that ὁ μέγας ἱερεύς τοῦ μεγίστου θεοῦ offered ἐπινίκια and feasted the conquerors; he omits both the blessing and the offering of tithes, though he soon allegorizes the latter (41).
Moulton calls attention to “the beautiful parallel in Plato`s Apol. 28c, for the characteristic perfect in Hebrews, describing what stands written in Scripture,” holding that “ὅσοι ἐν Τροίᾳ τετελευτήκασι (as is written in the Athenians’ Bible) is exactly like Hebrews 7:6, Hebrews 7:11:17, Hebrews 7:28.” But these perfects are simply aoristic (see above, p. 91, note).
V.7 is a parenthetical comment on what blessing and being blessed imply; the neuter (ἔλαττον) is used, as usual in Greek (cp. Blass, § 138. 1), in a general statement, especially in a collective sense, about persons. Then the writer rapidly summarizes, from vv. 1-4, the contrast between the levitical priests who die off and Melchizedek whose record (μαρτυρούμενος in scripture, cp. 11:5) is “he lives” (μήτε ζωῆς τέλος … μένει εἰς τὸ διηνεκές). Finally (vv. 9, 10), he ventures (ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν, a literary phrase, much affected by Philo) on what he seems to feel may be regarded as a forced and fanciful remark, that Levi was committed διʼ Ἀβραάμ (genitive) to a position of respectful deference towards the prince-priest of Salem. In v. 5; καίπερ ἐληλυθότας ἐκ τῆς ὀσφύος Ἀβραάμ (the Semitic expression for descendants, chosen here in view of what he was going to say in v. 10 ἐν τῇ ὀσφύϊ τοῦ πατρός) is another imaginative touch added in order to signalize the pre-eminent honour of the levitical priests over their fellow-countrymen. Such is their high authority. And yet Melchizedek’s is higher still!
(a) In v. 6; “forte legendum, ὁ δὲ μἡ γενεαλογούμενος αὐτὸν δεδεκάτωκε τὸν Ἀβραάμ, ipsum Abrahamam” (Bentley). But ἐξ αὐτῶν explains itself, and the stress which αὐτόν would convey is already brought out by the emphatic position of Ἀβραάμ, and by the comment καὶ τὸν ἕχοντα κτλ. (b) In v. 4 καὶ is inserted after ᾧ, in conformity with v. 2, by א A C Dc K L P syrhkl arm, etc. For ἀποδεκατοῦν in v. 5; the termination (cp. Thackeray, 244) ἀποδεκατοῖν is read by B D (as κατασκηνοῖν in Matthew 13:32). In v. 6; the more common (11:20) aorist, εὐλόγησε, is read by A C P 6, 104, 242. 263. 326. 383. 1288. 1739. 2004. 2143, Chrys. for εὐλόγηκε.
He now (vv. 11f.) turns to prove his point further, by glancing at the text from the 110th psalm. “It is no use to plead that Melchizedek was succeeded by the imposing Aaronic priesthood; this priesthood belonged to an order of religion which had to be superseded by the Melchizedek-order of priesthood.” He argues here, as already, from the fact that the psalter is later than the pentateuch; the point of 7:11 is exactly that of 4:7f.
11 Further, if the levitical priesthood had been the means of reaching perfection (for it was on the basis of that priesthood that the Law was enacted for the People), why was it still necessary for another sort of priest to emerge “with the rank of Melchizedek,” instead of simply with the rank of Aaron (12 for when the priesthood is changed, a change of law necessarily follows)? 13 He who is thus (i.e. “with the rank of M.”) described belongs to another tribe, no member of which ever devoted himself to the altar; 14 for it is evident that our Lord sprang from Judah, and Moses never mentioned priesthood in connexion with that tribe. 15 This becomes all the more plain when (εἰ = ἐπεί) another priest emerges “resembling Melchizedek,” 16 one who has become a priest by the power of an indissoluble (ἀκαταλύτου, i.e. by death) Life and not by the Law of an external command; 17 for the witness to him is,
“Thou art priest for ever, with the rank of Melchizedek.”
18 A previous command is set aside on account of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and there is introduced a better Hope, by means of which we can draw near to God.
>Εἰ μέν οὗν (without any δέ to follow, as in 8:4) τελείωσις (“perfection” in the sense of a perfectly adequate relation to God; see v. 19) διὰ της Λευειτικης ἱερωσύνησκτλ. Λευειτικῆς is a rare word, found in Philo (de fuga, ἡ Λευιτικὴ μόνη), but never in the LXX except in the title of Leviticus; ἱερωσύνη does occur in the LXX, and is not distinguishable from ἱερατεία (v. 5). In the parenthetical remark ὁ λαὸς γὰρ ἐπʼ αὐτῆς νενομοθέτηται, αὐτῆς was changed into αὐτήν (6, 242, 330, 378, 383, 440, 462, 467, 489, 491, 999, 1610, 1836 Theophyl.), or αὐτῇ (K L 326, 1288, etc. Chrys.) after 8:6 (where again we have this curious passive), and νενομοθετήται altered into the pluperfect ἐνενομοθέτητο (K L, etc.). The less obvious genitive (cp. Exodus 34:27 ἐπὶ γὰρ τῶν λόγων τούτων τέθειμαι σοὶ διαθήκην καὶ τῷ Ἰσραήλ) ἐπʼ αὐτῆς is not “in the time of,” for the levitical priesthood was not in existence prior to the Law; it might mean “in connexion with,” since ἐπί and περί have a similar force with this genitive, but the incorrect dative correctly explains the genitive. The Mosaic νόμος could not be worked for the λαός without a priesthood, to deal with the offences incurred. The idea of the writer always is that a νόμος or διαθήκη depends for its validity and effectiveness upon the ἱερεύς or ἱερεῖς by whom it is administered. Their personal character and position are the essential thing. Every consideration is subordinated to that of the priesthood. As a change in that involves a change in the νόμος (v. 12), the meaning of the parenthesis in v. 11 must be that the priesthood was the basis for the νόμος, though, no doubt, the writer has put his points in vv. 11, 12 somewhat intricately; this parenthetical remark would have been better placed after the other in v. 12, as indeed van d. Sande Bakhuyzen proposes. Three times over (cp. v. 19) he puts in depreciatory remarks about the Law, the reason being that the Law and the priesthood went together. It is as if he meant here: “the levitical priesthood (which, of course, implies the Law, for the Law rested on the priesthood).” The inference that the νόμος is antiquated for Christians reaches the same end as Paul does by his dialectic, but by a very different route. Ἀνίστασθαι ( = appear on the scene, as v. 15) and λέγεσθαι refer to Psalm 110:4, which is regarded as marking a new departure, with far-reaching effects, involving (v. 12) an alteration of the νόμος as well as of the ἱερωσύνη. In καὶ οὐ … λέγεσθαι the οὐ negatives the infinitive as μή usually does; Ἀαρών, like Κανᾶ (John 21:2), has become indeclinable, though Josephus still employs the ordinary genitive Ἀαρῶνος. In v. 12 μετάθεσις, which is not a LXX term, though it occurs in 2 Mac 11:24, is practically equivalent here (cp. 12:27) to ἀθέτησις in v. 18. A close parallel occurs in de Mundo, 6, νόμος μὲν γὰρ ἡμῖν ἰσοκλινὴς ὁ θεὸς, οὐδεμίαν ἐπιδεχόμενος διόρθωσιν ἤ μετάθεσιν, and a similar phrase is employed by Josephus to describe the arbitrary transference of the highpriesthood (Ant. xii. 9. 7, ὑπὸ Λυσίον πεισθεὶς, μεταθεῖναι τὴν τιμὴν ἀπὸ ταύτης τῆς οἰκίας εἰς ἕτερον).
We now (vv. 13f.) get an account of what was meant by οὐ κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Ἀαρών or ἕτερος (“another,” in the sense of “a different”) ἱερεύς in v. 11; Jesus, this ἱερεὺς κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Μελχισεδέκ, came from the non-sacerdotal tribe of Judah, not from that of Levi. Ἐφʼ ὅν is another instance of the extension of this metaphorical use of ἐπί from the Attic dative to the accusative. The perfect μετέσχηκεν may be used in an aoristic sense, like ἔσχηκα, or simply for the sake of assonance with προσέσχηκεν, and it means no more than μετέσχεν in 2:14; indeed μετέσχεν is read here by P 489, 623*. 1912 arm, as προσέσχεν is (by A C 33, 1288) for προσέσχηκεν. The conjecture of Erasmus, προσέστηκεν, is ingenious, but προσέχειν in the sense of “attend” is quite classical. The rule referred to in εἰς ἧν φυλήν (ἐξ ἧς φυλῆς, arm?), i.e. ἐκ φυλῆς εἰς ἥν (as Luke 10:10) κτλ. is noted in Josephus, Ant. xx. 10. 1, πάτριόν ἐστι μηδένα τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν ἀρχιερωσύνην λαμβάνειν ἥ τόν ἐξ αἵματος τοῦ Ἀαρῶνος. No tribe except Levi supplied priests. (Πρόδηλον in v. 14 is not a LXX term, but occurs in this sense in 2 Malachi 3:17 (διʼ ὧν πρόδηλον ἐγίνετο) and 14:39, as well as in Judith 8:29.) In Test. Leviticus 8:14 it is predicted (cp. Introd. p. xlviii) that βασιλεὺς ἐκ τοῦ Ἰούδα ἀναστήσεται καὶ ποιήσει ἱερατείαν νέαν: but this is a purely verbal parallel, the βασιλεύς is Hyrcanus and the reference is to the Maccabean priest-kings who succeed the Aaronic priesthood. Ἀνατέλλειν is a synonym for ἀνίστασθαι (v. 15), as in Numbers 24:17, though it is just possible that ἀνατέταλκεν is a subtle allusion to the messianic title of Ἀνατολή in Zechariah 6:12; in commenting on that verse Philo observes (de confus. ling. 14): τοῦτον μὲν γὰρ πρεσβύτατον υἱὸν ὁ τῶν ὅλων ἀνέτειλε πατήρ. (For ἱερέων the abstract equivalent ἱερωσύνης, from v. 12, is substituted by Dc K L.) The title ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν is one of the links between the vocabulary of this epistle and that of the pastorals (1 Timothy 1:14, 2 Timothy 1:8). As the result of all this, what is it that becomes (v. 15) περισσότερον (for περισσότερως) κατάδηλον?1 The provisional character of the levitical priesthood, or the μετάθεσις νόμου? Probably the latter, though the writer would not have distinguished the one from the other. In v. 15 κατὰ τὴν ὁμοιότητα linguistically has the same sense as ἀφωμοιώμενος (v. 3). In v. 16 σαρκίνης (for which σαρκικῆς is substituted by Cc D K Ψ 104, 326, 1175, etc.) hints at the contrast which is to be worked out later (in 9:1-14) between the external and the inward or spiritual, the sacerdotal ἐντολή being dismissed as merely σαρκίνη, since it laid down physical descent as a requisite for office. Hereditary succession is opposed to the inherent personality of the Son (= 9:14). The distinction between σαρκικός ( = fleshly, with the nature and qualities of σάρξ) and σάρκινος (fleshy, composed of σάρξ) is blurred in Hellenistic Greek of the period, where adjectives in -ινος tend to take over the sense of those in -ικος, and vice versa. In v. 17 μαρτυρεῖται (cp. μαρτυρούμενος, v. 8) is altered to the active (10:15) μαρτυρεῖ by C D K L 256, 326, 436, 1175, 1837, 2127 syrhkl Ap.vg; arm Chrys.
The μετάθεσις of v. 12 is now explained negatively (ἀθέτησις) and positively (ἐπεισαγωγή) in vv. 18, 19. Ἀθέτησις (one of his juristic metaphors, cp. 9:26) γίνεται (i.e. by the promulgation of Psalm 110:4) προαγούσης (cp. IMA iii. 247, τὰ προάγοντα ψαψίσματα: προάγειν is not used by the LXX in this sense of “fore-going”) ἐντολῆς (v. 16) διὰ τὸ αὐτῆς (unemphatic) ἀσθενὲς καὶ ἀνωφελές (ailiteration). Ἀνωφελές is a word common in such connexions, e.g Ep. Arist. 253, ὅπερ ἀνωφελὲς καὶ ἀλγεινόν ἐστιν: Polyb. xii. 25:9 ἄζηλον καὶ ἀνωφελές. The uselessness of the Law lay in its failure to secure an adequate forgiveness of sins, without which a real access or fellowship (ἐγγίζειν τῷ θεῷ) was impossible; οὐδὲν ἐτελείωσεν, it led to no absolute order of communion between men and God, no τελείωσις. The positive contrast (v. 19) is introduced by the striking compound ἐπεισαγωγή (with γίνεται), a term used by Josephus for the replacing of Vashti by Esther (Ant. xi. 6, 2, σβέννυσθαι γὰρ τὸ πρὸς τὴν προτήραν φιλόστοργον ἑτέρας ἐπεισαγωγῇ, καὶ τὸ πρὸς ἐκείνην εὔνουν ἀποσπώμενον κατὰ μικρὸν γίγνεσθαι τῆς συνούσης); there is no force here in the ἐπει, as if it meant “fresh” or “further.” The new ἐλπίς is κρείττων by its effectiveness (6:18); it accomplishes what the νόμος and its ἱερωσύνη had failed to realize for men, viz. a direct and lasting access to God. In what follows the writer ceases to use the term ἐλπίς, and concentrates upon the ἐγγίζειν τῷ θεῷ, since the essence of the ἐλπίς lies in the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus the Son. With this allusion to the κρείττων ἐλπίς, he really resumes the thought of 6:18, 19; but he has another word to say upon the superiority of the Melchizedek priest, and in this connexion he recalls another oath of God, viz. at the inauguration or consecration mentioned in Psalm 110:4, a solemn divine oath, which was absent from the ritual of the levitical priesthood, and which ratifies the new priesthood of Jesus as permanent (vv. 20-22), enabling him to do for men what the levitical priests one after another failed to accomplish (vv. 23-25).
20 A better Hope, because it was not promised apart from an oath. Previous priests (οἱ μέν = levitical priests) became priests apart from any oath, 21 but he has an oath from Him who said to him,
“The Lord has sworn, and he will not change his mind, thou art a priest for ever.”
22 And this makes Jesus surety for a superior covenant. 23 Also, while they (οι ̔μέν) became priests in large numbers, since death prevents them from continuing to serve, 24 he holds his priesthood without any successor, since he continues for ever. 25 Hence for all time he is able to save those who approach God through him, as he is always living to intercede on their behalf.
The long sentence (vv. 20-22) closes with Ἰησοῦς in an emphatic position. After καὶ καθʼ ὅσον οὐ χωρὶς ὁρκωμοσίας, which connect (sc. τοῦτο γίνεται) with ἐπεισαγωγὴ κρείττονος ἐλπίδος, there is a long explanatory parenthesis οἱ μὲν γὰρ … εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, exactly in the literary style of Philo (e.g. quis rer. div. 17, ἐφʼ ὅσον γὰρ οἶμαι κτλ.—νοῦς μὲν γὰρ … αἴσθησις—ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον κτλ.). In v. 20 ὁρκωμοσία (oath-taking) is a neuter plural (cp. Syll. 593:29, OGIS 229:82) which, like ἀντωμοσία, has become a feminine singular of the first declension, and εἰσὶν γεγονότες is simply an analytic form of the perfect tense, adopted as more sonorous than γεγόνασι. As we have already seen (on 6:13), Philo (de sacrific. 28-29) discusses such references to God swearing. Thousands of people, he observes, regard an oath as inconsistent with the character of God, who requires no witness to his character. “Men who are disbelieved have recourse to an oath in order to win credence, but God’s mere word must be believed (ὁ δὲ θεὸς καὶ λέγων πιστός ἐστιν); hence, his words are in no sense different from oaths, as far as assurance goes.” He concludes that the idea of God swearing an oath is simply an anthropomorphism which is necessary on account of human weakness. Our author takes the OT language in Psalm 110:4 more naively, detecting a profound significance in the line ὤμοσεν κύριος καὶ οὐ μεταμεληθήσεται (in the Hellenistic sense of “regret” = change his mind). The allusion is, of course, to the levitical priests. But Roman readers could understand from their former religion how oaths were needful in such a matter. Claudius, says Suetonius (Vit. Claud. 22), “in co-optandis per collegia sacerdotibus neminem nisi juratus (i.e. that they were suitable) nominavit.”
The superfluous addition of κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Μελχιζεδέκ was soon made, after εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, by אc A D K L P vt Syrpesh hkl boh eth Eus (Dem. iv. 15, 40), etc.
Παραμένειν means to remain in office or serve (a common euphemism in the papyri). The priestly office could last in a family (cp. Jos. Ant. xi. 8. 2, τῆς ἱερατικῆς τιμῆς μεγίστης οὔσης καὶ ἐν τῷ γένει παραμενούσης), but mortal men (ἀποθνήσκοντες, v. 8) could not παραμένειν as priests, whereas (v. 24) Jesus remains a perpetual ἱερεύς, διὰ τὸ μένειν (= πάντοτε ζῶν, v. 25) αὐτόν (superfluous as in Luke 2:4 διὰ τὸ αὐτὸν εἶναι). Ἀπαράβατον, a legal adjective for “inviolable,” is here used in the uncommon sense of non-transferable (boh Chrys. οὐκ ἔχει διάδοχον, Oecumenius, etc. ἀδιάδοχον), as an equivalent for μὴ παραβαίνουσαν εἰς ἄλλον, and contrasts Jesus with the long succession of the levitical priests (πλείονές). The passive sense of “not to be infringed” (cp. Justin Martyr, Apol. i. 43, εἱμαρμένην φαμὲν ἀπαράβατον ταύτην εἶναι, where the adjective = ineluctabile) or “unbroken” does not suit the context, for Jesus had no rivals and the word can hardly refer to the invasion of death. Like γεγυμνασμένα in 5:14, also after ἔχειν, it has a predicative force, marked by the absence of the article. Philo (quis rer. div. heres, 6) finds a similar significance in the etymology of κύριος as a divine title: κύριος μὲν γὰρ παρὰ τὸ κῦρος, ὃ δὴ βέβαιόν ἐστιν, εἴρηται, κατʼ ἐναντιότητα ἀβεβαίου καὶ ἀκύρου. But our author does not discover any basis for the perpetuity of ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν in the etymology of κύριος, and is content (in vv. 22-24) to stress the line of the psalm, in order to prove that Jesus guaranteed a superior διαθήκη (i.e. order of religious fellowship). Ἔγγυος is one of the juristic terms (vg, sponsor) which he uses in a general sense; here it is “surety” or “pledge.” Διαθήκη is discussed by him later on; it is a term put in here as often to excite interest and anticipation. How readily ἔγγυος could be associated with a term like σώζειν (v. 25) may be understood from Sir 29:15f.:
χάριτας ἐγγύου μὴ ἐπιλάθῃ,
ἔδωκεν γὰρ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ὑπὲρ σου.
ἀγαθὰ ἐγγύου ἀνατρέψει ἁμαρτωλός,
καὶ ἀχάριστος ἐν διανοίᾳ ἐγκαταλείψειῥυσάμενον.
Our author might have written μεσίτης here as well as in 8:6; he prefers ἔγγυος probably for the sake of assonance with γέγονεν or even ἐγγίζομεν. As μεσιτεύειν means to vouch for the truth of a promise or statement (cp. 6:17), so ἔγγυος means one who vouches for the fulfilment of a promise, and therefore is a synonym for μεσίτης here. The conclusion (v. 25) is put in simple and effective language. Εἰς τὸ παντελές is to be taken in the temporal sense of the phrase, as in BMiii:161:11 (a.d. 212) ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν εἰς τὸ παντελές, being simply a literary variant for πάντοτε. The alternative rendering “utterly” suits Luke 13:11 better than this passage. This full and final ἱερωσύνη of Jesus is the κρείττων ἐλπίς (v. 19), the τελείωσις which the levitical priesthood failed to supply, a perfect access to God’s Presence. His intercession (ἐντυγχάνειν, sc. θεῷ as in Romans 8:34 ὃς καὶ ἐντύγχανει ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν) has red blood in it, unlike Philo’s conception, e.g. in Vit. Mos. iii.14, ἀναγκαῖον γὰρ ἦν τὸν ἱερωμένον (the highpriest) τῷ τοῦ κόσμου πατρὶ παρακλήτῳ χρῆσθαι τελειοτάτῳ τὴν ἀρετὴν υἱῷ(i.e. the Logos) πρός τε ἀμνηστίαν ἁμαρημάτων καὶ χορηγίαν ἀφθονωτάτων ἀγαθῶν, and in quis rer. div. 42, where the Logos is ἱκέτης τοῦ θνητοῦ κηραίνοντος ἀεὶ πρὸς τὸ ἄφθαρτον παρὰ δὲ τῷ φύντι πρὸς εὐελπιστίαν τοῦ μήποτε τὸν ἵλεω θεὸν περιιδεῖν τὸ ἴδιον ἔργον. The function of intercession in heaven for the People, which originally (see p. 37) was the prerogative of Michael the angelic guardian of Israel, or generally of angels (see on 1:14), is thus transferred to Jesus, to One who is no mere angel but who has sacrificed himself for the People. The author deliberately excludes any other mediator or semi-mediator in the heavenly sphere (see p. xxxix).
A triumphant little summary (vv. 26-28) now rounds off the argument of 6:19f-7:25:
26 Such was the highpriest for us, saintly, innocent, unstained, far from all contact with the sinful, lifted high above the heavens, 27 one who has no need, like yonder highpriests, day by day to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for (the preposition is omitted as in Acts 26:18) those of the People—he did that once for all in offering up himself. 28 For the Law appoints human beings in their weakness to the priesthood; but the word of the Oath (which came after the Law) appoints a Son who is made perfect for ever.
The text of this paragraph has only a few variants, none of any importance. After ἡμῖν in v. 27 καί is added by A B D 1739 syrpesh hkl Eusebius (“was exactly the one for us”). In v. 27 it makes no difference to the sense whether προσενέγκας (א A W 33, 256, 436, 442, 1837, 2004, 2127 arm Cyr.) or ἀνενέγκας (B C D K L P etc. Chrys.) is read; the latter may have been suggested by ἀναφέρειν, or προσενέγκας may have appealed to later scribes as the more usual and technical term in the epistle. The technical distinction between ἀναφέρειν (action of people) and προσφέρειν (action of the priest) had long been blurred; both verbs mean what we mean by “offer up” or “sacrifice.” In v. 28 the original ἱερεῖς (D* 1 vg) was soon changed (to conform with ἀρχιερεῖς in v. 27) into ἀρχιερεῖς. The reason why ἱερεῦς and ἱερεῖς have been used in 7:1f. is that Melchizedek was called ίερεύς, not ἀρχιερεύς. Once the category is levitical, the interchange of ἀρχιερεύς and ἱερεύς becomes natural.
The words τοιοῦτος γὰρ ἡμῖν ἔπρεπεν (another daring use of ἔπρεπεν, cp. 2:10) ἀρχιερεύς (v. 26) might be bracketed as one of the author’s parentheses, in which case ὅσιος κτλ. would carry on πάντοτε ζῶν … αὐτῶν. But ὅς in Greek often follows τοιοῦτος, and the usual construction is quite satisfactory. Γάρ is intensive, as often. It is generally misleading to parse a rhapsody, but there is a certain sequence of thought in ὅσιος κτλ., where the positive adjective ὅσιος is followed by two negative terms in alliteration (ἄκακος, ἀμίαντος), and κεχωρισμένος ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν is further defined by ὑψηλότερος τῶν οὐρανῶν γενόμενος (the same idea as in 4:14 διεληλυθότα τοὺς οὐρανούς). He is ὅσιος, pious or saintly (cp. ERE vi.743), in virtue of qualities like his reverence, obedience, faith, loyalty, and humility, already noted. Ἄκακος is innocent (as in Job 8:20, Jeremiah 11:19), one of the LXX equivalents for תָּם or תָּמִים, not simply = devoid of evil feeling towards men; like ἀμίαντος, it denotes a character χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας. Ἀμίαντος is used of the untainted Isis in OP 1380 (ἐν Πόντῳ ἀμίαντος). The language may be intended to suggest a contrast between the deep ethical purity of Jesus and the ritual purity of the levitical highpriest, who had to take extreme precautions against outward defilement (cp. Leviticus 21:10-15 for the regulations, and the details in Josephus, Ant. iii.12. 2, μὴ μόνον δὲ περὶ τὰς ἱερουργίας καθαροὺς εἶναι, σπουδάζειν δὲ καὶ περὶ τὴν αὐτῶν δίαιταν, ὡς αὐτὴν ἄμεμπτον εἶναι· καὶ διὰ ταύτην τὴν αἰτίαν, οἱ τὴν ἱερατικὴν στολὴν φοροῦντες ἄμωμοι τε εἰσι καὶ περὶ πάντα καθαροὶ καὶ νηφάλιοι), and had to avoid human contact for seven days before the ceremony of atonement-day. The next two phrases go together. Κεχωρισμένος ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν is intelligible in the light of 9:28; Jesus has ἅπαξ sacrificed himself for the sins of men, and in that sense his connexion with ἁμαρτωλοί is done. He is no levitical highpriest who is in daily contact with them, and therefore obliged to sacrifice repeatedly. Hence the writer at once adds (v. 27) a word to explain and expand this pregnant thought; the sphere in which Jesus now lives (ὑψηλότερος κτλ.) is not one in which, as on earth, he had to suffer the contagion or the hostility of ἁμαρτωλοί (12:2) and to die for human sins.
“He has outsoared the shadow of our nigh
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;
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.
Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
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:
But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.
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?
For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar.
For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.
And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest,
Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.
For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.
For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest:
(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:)
By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:
But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.
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.
For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;
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.
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.
ICC New Testament commentary on selected books
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.