Hebrews 8
ICC New Testament Commentary
Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;
1 The point of all this is, we do have such a highpriest, one who is “seated at the right hand” of the throne of Majesty (see 1:3) in the heavens, 2 and who officiates in the sanctuary or “true tabernacle set up by the Lord” and not by man. 3 Now, as every highpriest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices, he too must have something to offer. 4 Were he on earth, he would not be a priest at all, for there are priests already to offer the gifts prescribed by Law (5 men who serve a mere outline and shadow of the heavenly—as Moses was instructed when he was about to execute the building of the tabernacle: “see,” God said, “that (sc. ὅπως) you make everything on the pattern shown you upon the mountain”). 6 As it is, however, the divine service he has obtained is superior, owing to the fact that he mediates a superior covenant, enacted with superior promises.

The terseness of the clause ἢν ἔπηξεν ὁ κύριος, οὐκ ἄνθρωπος (v. 1) is spoiled by the insertion of καί before οὐκ (A K L P vg boh syr arm eth Cosm). In v. 4 οὖν becomes γάρ in Dc K L syrhkl arm Chrys. Theod., and a similar group of authorities add ἱερέων after ὄντων. Τόν is prefixed needlessly to νόμον by אc D K L P Chrys. Dam. to conform to the usage in 7:5, 9:22; but the sense is really unaffected, for the only legal regulation conceivable is that of the Law. In v. 6. νῦν and νυνί (9:26) are both attested; the former is more common in the papyri. The Hellenistic (from Aristotle onwards) form τέτευχεν (אc B Dc 5 226, 487, 623, 920, 927, 1311, 1827, 1836, 1873, 2004, 2143, etc.: or τέτυχεν, אc A D* K L) has been corrected in P Ψ 6, 33, 1908 Orig. to the Attic τετύχηκεν. Before κρείττονός, καί is omitted by D* 69, 436, 462 arm Thdt.

Κεφάλαιον (“the pith,” Coverdale), which is nominative absolute, is used as in Cic. ad Attic. v.18: “et multa, immo omnia, quorum κεφάλαιον,” etc., Dem. 13:36: ἔστι δʼ, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, κεφάλαιον ἁπάντων τῶν εἰρημένων (at the close of a speech); Musonius (ed. Hense, 67 f.) βίου καὶ γενέσεως παίδων κοινωνίαν κεφάλαιον εἶναι γάμου, etc. The word in this sense is common throughout literature and the more colloquial papyri, here with ἐπὶ τοῖς λεγομένοις (concerning what has been said). In passing from the intricate argument about the Melchizedek priesthood, which is now dropped, the writer disentangles the salient and central truth of the discussion, in order to continue his exposition of Jesus as highpriest. “Such, I have said, was the ἀρχιερεύς for us, and such is the ἀρχιερεύς we have —One who is enthroned, ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, next to God himself.” While Philo spiritualizes the highpriesthood, not unlike Paul (Romans 12:1f.), by arguing that devotion to God is the real highpriesthood (τὸ γὰρ θεραπευτικὸν γένος ἀνάθημά ἐστι θεοῦ, ἱερώμενον τὴν μεγάλην ἀρχιερωσύνην αὐτῷ μόνῳ, de Fug. 7), our author sees its essential functions transcended by Jesus in the spiritual order.

The phrase in v. 2 τῶν ἁγίων λειτουργός, offers two points of interest. First, the linguistic form λειτουργός. The ει form stands between the older η or ηι, which waned apparently from the third cent. b.c., and the later ι form; “λειτουργός sim. socios habet omnium temporum papyros praeter perpaucas recentiores quae sacris fere cum libris conspirantes λιτουργὸς λιτουργία scribunt” (Crönert, Memoria Graeca Hercul. 39). Then, the meaning of τῶν ἁγίων. Philo has the phrase, in Leg. Alleg. iii. 46, τοιοῦτος δὲ ὁ θεραπευτὴς καὶ λειτουργὸς τῶν ἁγίων, where τῶν ἁγίων means “sacred things,” as in de Fug. 17, where the Levites are described as priests οἷς ἡ τῶν ἁγίων ἀνακεῖται λειτουργία. This might be the meaning here. But the writer uses τὰ ἅγια elsewhere (9:8f. 10:19, 13:11) of “the sanctuary,” a rendering favoured by the context. By τὰ ἅγια he means, as often in the LXX, the sanctuary in general, without any reference to the distinction (cp. 9:2f.) between the outer and the inner shrine. The LXX avoids the pagan term ἱερόν in this connexion, though τὸ ἅγιον itself was already in use among ethnic writers (e.g. the edict of Ptolemy iii., καὶ καθιδρῦσαι ἐν τῶν ἁγίωι = “in sacrario templi,” Dittenberger, OGIS 56:59). It is here defined (καί epexegetic) as the true or real σκηνή, ἣν1 ἔπηξεν ὁ κύριος (a reminiscence of Numbers 24:6 σκηναὶ ἃς ἔπηξεν Κύριος, and of Exodus 33:7 καὶ λαβὼν Μωυσῆς τὴν σκηνὴν αὐτοῦ ἔπηξεν). The reality and authenticity of the writer’s faith come out in a term like ἀληθινός. What he means by it he will explain in a moment (v. 5). Meanwhile he turns to the λειτουργία of Jesus in this ideal sanctuary. This ἀρχιερεύς of ours, in his vocation (v. 3, cp. 5:1), must have (ἀναγκαῖον, sc. ἐστίν) some sacrifice to present before God, though what this offering is, the writer does not definitely say, even later in 9:24. The analogy of a highpriest carrying the blood of an animal inside the sacred shrine had its obvious limitations, for Jesus was both ἀρχιερεύς and offering, by his self-sacrifice. Προσενέγκῃ is the Hellenistic aorist subjunctive, where classical Greek would have employed a future indicative (Radermacher, 138). The writer proceeds to argue that this λειτουργία is far superior to the levitical cultus (vv. 4f.). Even in the heavenly sanctuary there must be sacrifice of some kind—for sacrifice is essential to communion, in his view. It is not a sacrifice according to the levitical ritual; indeed Jesus on this level would not be in levitical orders at all. But so far from that being any drawback or disqualification to our ἀρχιερεύς, it is a proof of his superiority, for the bible itself indicates that the levitical cultus is only an inferior copy of the heavenly order to which Jesus belongs.

Instead of contrasting at this point (v. 4) τἀ δῶρα (sacrifices, as in 11:4) of the levitical priests with the spiritual sacrifice of Jesus, he hints that the mere fact of these sacrifices being made ἐπὶ γῆς is a proof of their inferiority. This is put into a parenthesis (v. 5); but, though a grammatical aside, it contains one of the writer’s fundamental ideas about religion (Eusebius, in Praep. Evang. xii.19, after quoting Hebrews 8:5, refers to the similar Platonic view in the sixth book of the Republic). Such priests (οἵτινες, the simple relative as in 9:2, 10:8, 11, 12:5) λατρεύουσι (with dative as in 13:10) ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ τῶν ἐπουρανίων (cp. 9:23). Ὑπόδειγμα here as in 9:23 is a mere outline or copy (the only analogous instance in the LXX being Ezekiel 42:15 τὸ ὑπόδειγμα τοῦ οἴκου); the phrase is practically a hendiadys for “a shadowy outline,” a second-hand, inferior reproduction. The proof of this is given in a reference to Exodus 25:40: Καθὼς κεχρημάτισται Μωυσῆς— χρηματίζω,2 as often in the LXX and the papyri, of divine revelations as well as of royal instructions—μέλλων ἐπιτελεῖν τὴν σκηνήν. The subject of the φησι is God, understood from κεχρημάτισται, and the γάρ1 introduces the quotation, in which the writer, following Philo (Leg. Alleg. iii. 33), as probably codex Ambrosianus (F) of the LXX followed him, adds πάντα. He also substitutes δειχθέντα for δεδειγμένον, which Philo keeps (κατὰ τὸ παράδειγμα τὸ δεδειγμένον σοι ἐν τῷ ὄρει πάντα ποιήσεις), and retains the LXX τύπον (like Stephen in Acts 7:44). The idea was current in Alexandrian Judaism, under the influence of Platonism, that this σκηνή on earth had been but a reproduction of the pre-existent heavenly sanctuary. Thus the author of Wisdom makes Solomon remind God that he had been told to build the temple (νάον … καὶ θυσιαστήριον) as μίμημα σκηνῆς ἁγίας ἣν προητοίμασας ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς (9:8), where σκηνὴ ἁγία is plainly the heavenly sanctuary as the eternal archetype. This idealism determines the thought of our writer (see Introd. pp. xxxi f.). Above the shows and shadows of material things he sees the real order of being, and it is most real to him on account of Jesus being there, for the entire relationship between God and man depends upon this function and vocation of Jesus in the eternal sanctuary.

Such ideas were not unknown in other circles. Seneca (Ep. lviii.18-19) had just explained to Lucilius that the Platonic ideas were “what all visible things were created from, and what formed the pattern for all things,” quoting the Parmenides, 132 D, to prove that the Platonic idea was the everlasting pattern of all things in nature. The metaphor is more than once used by Cicero, e.g. Tusc. iii.2. 3, and in de Officiis, 3:17, where he writes: “We have no real and life-like (solidam et expressam effigiem) likeness of real law and genuine justice; all we enjoy is shadow and sketch (umbra et imaginibus). Would that we were true even to these! For they are taken from the excellent patterns provided by nature and truth.” But our author’s thought is deeper. In the contemporary Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch the idea of Exodus 25:40 is developed into the thought that the heavenly Jerusalem was also revealed to Moses along with the patterns of the σκηνή and its utensils (4:4f.); God also showed Moses “the pattern of Zion and its measures, in the pattern of which the sanctuary of the present time was to be made” (Charles’ tr.). The origin of this notion is very ancient; it goes back to Sumerian sources, for Gudea the prince-priest of Lagash (c. 3000 b.c.) receives in a vision the plan of the temple which he is commanded to build (cp. A. Jeremias, Babylonisches im NT, pp. 62 f.). It is to this fundamental conception that the author of Πρὸς Ἑβραίους recurs, only to elaborate it in an altogether new form, which went far beyond Philo. Philo’s argument (Leg. Alleg. iii. 33), on this very verse of Exodus, is that Bezaleel only constructed an imitation (μιμήματα) of τὰ ἀρχέτυπα given to Moses; the latter was called up to the mountain to receive the direct idea of God, whereas the former worked simply ἀπὸ σκιᾶς τῶν γενομένων. In de Plant. 6 he observes that the very name of Bezaleel (בְּצֵל אַל) means “one who works in shadows” (ἐν σκιαῖς ποιῶν); in De Somniis, i. 35, he defines it as “in the shadow of God,” and again contrasts Bezaleel with Moses: ὁ μὲν οἶα σκιὰς ὑπεγράφετο, ὁ δʼ οὐ σκιάς, αὐτὰς δὲ τὰς ἀρχετύπους ἐδημιούργει φύσεις. In Vit. Mos. iii.3 he argues that in building the σκηνή Moses designed to produce καθάπερ ἀπʼ ἀρχετύπου γραφῆς καὶ νοητῶν παραδειγμάτων αἰσθητὰ μιμήματα … ὁ μὲν οὖν τύπος τοῦ παραδείγματος ἐνεσφραγίζετο τῇ διανοίᾳ τοῦ προφήτου … τὸ δʼ ἀποτέλεσμα πρὸς τὸν τύπον ἐδημιουργεῖτο.

He then continues (v. 6 νῦν δέ, logical as in 2:8, 9:26, answering to εἰ μέν in v. 4) the thought of Christ’s superior λειτουργία by describing him again (cp. 7:22) in connexion with the superior διαθήκη, and using now not ἔγγυος but μεσίτης. Μεσίτης (see on Galatians 3:19) commonly means an arbitrator (e.g. Job 9:33, ReinP 44:3 [a.d. 104] ὁ κατασταθεὶς κριτὴς μεσίτης) or intermediary in some civil transaction (OP 1298:19); but this writer’s use of it, always in connexion with διαθήκη (9:15, 12:24)1 and always as a description of Jesus (as in 1 Timothy 2:5), implies that it is practically (see on 7:22) a synonym for ἔγγυος. Indeed, linguistically, it is a Hellenistic equivalent for the Attic μετέγγυος, and in Diod. Siculus, iv. 54 (τοῦτον γὰρ μεσίτην γεγονότα τῶν ὁμολογιῶν ἐν Κόλχοις ἐπηγγέλθαι βοηθήσειν αὐτῇ παρασπονδουμένῃ), its meaning corresponds to that of ἔγγυος. The sense is plain, even before the writer develops his ideas about the new διαθήκη, for, whenever the idea of reconciliation emerges, terms like μεσίτης and μεσιτεύειν are natural. Μεσίτης καὶ διαλλακτής is Philo’s phrase2 for Moses (Vit. Mos. iii:19). And as a διαθήκη was a gracious order of religious fellowship, inaugurated upon some historical occasion by sacrifice, it was natural to speak of Jesus as the One who mediated this new διαθήκη of Christianity. He gave it (Theophyl. μεσίτης καὶ δότης); he it was who realized it for men and who maintains it for men. All that the writer has to say meantime about the διαθήκη is that it has been enacted (v. 6) ἐπὶ κρείττοσιν ἐπαγγελίαις. This passive use of νομοθετεῖν is not unexampled; cf. e.g. OGIS. 493:55 (ii a.d.) καὶ ταῦτα μὲν ὑμεῖν ὀρθῶς καὶ καλῶς … νενομοθετήσθω. It is implied, of course, that God is ὁ νομοθετῶν (as in LXX Psalm 83:7). What the “better promises” are, he now proceeds to explain, by a contrast between their διαθήκη and its predecessor. The superiority of the new διαθήκη is shown by the fact that God thereby superseded the διαθήκη with which the levitical cultus was bound up; the writer quotes an oracle from Jeremiah, again laying stress on the fact that it came after the older διαθήκη (vv. 7-13), and enumerating its promises ascontained in a new διαθήκη.

7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second. 8 Whereas God does find fault with the people of that covenant, when he says:

“The day is coming, saith the Lord,

when I will conclude a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

9 It will not be on the lines of the covenant I made with their fathers,

on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt’s Lan

A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.
For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.
For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:
Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.
But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.
ICC New Testament commentary on selected books

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