Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:
Heb 5:1-14. Christ's High Priesthood; Needed Qualifications; Must Be a Man; Must Not Have Assumed the Dignity Himself, but Have Been Appointed by God; Their Low Spiritual Perceptions a Bar to Paul's Saying All He Might on Christ's Melchisedec-like Priesthood.
1. For—substantiating Heb 4:15.
every—that is, every legitimate high priest; for instance, the Levitical, as he is addressing Hebrews, among whom the Levitical priesthood was established as the legitimate one. Whatever, reasons Paul, is excellent in the Levitical priests, is also in Christ, and besides excellencies which are not in the Levitical priests.
taken from among men—not from among angels, who could not have a fellow feeling with us men. This qualification Christ has, as being, like the Levitical priest, a man (Heb 2:14, 16). Being "from men," He can be "for (that is, in behalf of, for the good of) men."
ordained—Greek, "constituted," "appointed."
both gifts—to be joined with "for sins," as "sacrifices" is (the "both … and" requires this); therefore not the Hebrew, "mincha," "unbloody offerings," but animal whole burnt offerings, spontaneously given. "Sacrifices" are the animal sacrifices due according to the legal ordinance [Estius].
Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
2. Who can—Greek, "being able"; not pleasing himself (Ro 15:3).
have compassion—Greek, "estimate mildly," "feel leniently," or "moderately towards"; "to make allowance for"; not showing stern rigor save to the obstinate (Heb 10:28).
ignorant—sins not committed in resistance of light and knowledge, but as Paul's past sin (1Ti 1:13). No sacrifice was appointed for wilful sin committed with a high hand; for such were to be punished with death; all other sins, namely, ignorances and errors, were confessed and expiated with sacrifices by the high priest.
out of the way—not deliberately and altogether wilfully erring, but deluded through the fraud of Satan and their own carnal frailty and thoughtlessness.
infirmity—moral weakness which is sinful, and makes men capable of sin, and so requires to be expiated by sacrifices. This kind of "infirmity" Christ had not; He had the "infirmity" of body whereby He was capable of suffering and death.
And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.
3. by reason hereof—"on account of this" infirmity.
he ought … also for himself, to offer for sins—the Levitical priest ought; in this our High Priest is superior to the Levitical. The second "for" is a different Greek term from the first; "in behalf of the people … on account of sins."
And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
4. no man—of any other family but Aaron's, according to the Mosaic law, can take to himself the office of high priest. This verse is quoted by some to prove the need of an apostolic succession of ordination in the Christian ministry; but the reference here is to the priesthood, not the Christian ministry. The analogy in our Christian dispensation would warn ministers, seeing that God has separated them from the congregation of His people to bring them near Himself, and to do the service of His house, and to minister (as He separated the Levites, Korah with his company), that content with this, they should beware of assuming the sacrificial priesthood also, which belongs to Christ alone. The sin of Korah was, not content with the ministry as a Levite, he took the sacerdotal priesthood also. No Christian minister, as such, is ever called Hiereus, that is, sacrificing priest. All Christians, without distinction, whether ministers or people, have a metaphorical, not a literal, priesthood. The sacrifices which they offer are spiritual, not literal, their bodies and the fruit of their lips, praises continually (Heb 13:15). Christ alone had a proper and true sacrifice to offer. The law sacrifices were typical, not metaphorical, as the Christian's, nor proper and true, as Christ's. In Roman times the Mosaic restriction of the priesthood to Aaron's family was violated.
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.
5. glorified not himself—did not assume the glory of the priestly office of Himself without the call of God (Joh 8:54).
but he that said—that is, the Father glorified Him or appointed Him to the priesthood. This appointment was involved in, and was the result of, the Sonship of Christ, which qualified Him for it. None but the divine Son could have fulfilled such an office (Heb 10:5-9). The connection of Sonship and priesthood is typified in the Hebrew title for priests being given to David's sons (2Sa 8:18). Christ did not constitute Himself the Son of God, but was from everlasting the only-begotten of the Father. On His Sonship depended His glorification, and His being called of God (Heb 5:10), as Priest.
As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
6. He is here called simply "Priest"; in Heb 5:5, "High Priest." He is a Priest absolutely, because He stands alone in that character without an equal. He is "High Priest" in respect of the Aaronic type, and also in respect to us, whom He has made priests by throwing open to us access to God [Bengel]. "The order of Melchisedec" is explained in Heb 7:15, "the similitude of Melchisedec." The priesthood is similarly combined with His kingly office in Zec 6:13. Melchisedec was at once man, priest, and king. Paul's selecting as the type of Christ one not of the stock of Abraham, on which the Jews prided themselves, is an intimation of Messianic universalism.
Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;
7. in the days of his flesh—(Heb 2:14; 10:20). Heb 5:7-10 state summarily the subject about to be handled more fully in the seventh and eighth chapters.
when he had offered—rather, "in that He offered." His crying and tears were part of the experimental lesson of obedience which He submitted to learn from the Father (when God was qualifying Him for the high priesthood). "Who" is to be construed with "learned obedience" (or rather as Greek, "His obedience"; "the obedience" which we all know about). This all shows that "Christ glorified not Himself to be made an High Priest" (Heb 5:5), but was appointed thereto by the Father.
prayers and supplications—Greek, "both prayers and supplications." In Gethsemane, where He prayed thrice, and on the cross, where He cried, My God, my God … probably repeating inwardly all the twenty-second Psalm. "Prayers" refer to the mind: "supplications" also to the body (namely, the suppliant attitude) (Mt 26:39) [Bengel].
with strong crying and tears—The "tears" are an additional fact here communicated to us by the inspired apostle, not recorded in the Gospels, though implied. Mt 26:37, "sorrowful and very heavy." Mr 14:33; Lu 22:44, "in an agony He prayed more earnestly … His sweat … great drops of blood falling down to the ground." Ps 22:1 ("roaring … cry"), Ps 22:2, 19, 21, 24; 69:3, 10, "I wept."
able to save him from death—Mr 14:36, "All things are possible unto Thee" (Joh 12:27). His cry showed His entire participation of man's infirmity: His reference of His wish to the will of God, His sinless faith and obedience.
heard in that he feared—There is no intimation in the twenty-second Psalm, or the Gospels that Christ prayed to be saved from the mere act of dying. What He feared was the hiding of the Father's countenance. His holy filial love must rightly have shrunk from this strange and bitterest of trials without the imputation of impatience. To have been passively content at the approach of such a cloud would have been, not faith, but sin. The cup of death He prayed to be freed from was, not corporal, but spiritual death, that is, the (temporary) separation of His human soul from the light of God's countenance. His prayer was "heard" in His Father's strengthening Him so as to hold fast His unwavering faith under the trial (My God, my God, was still His filial cry under it, still claiming God as His, though God hid His face), and soon removing it in answer to His cry during the darkness on the cross, "My God, my God," &c. But see below a further explanation of how He was heard. The Greek literally, is, "Was heard from His fear," that is, so as to be saved from His fear. Compare Ps 22:21, which well accords with this, "Save me from the lion's mouth (His prayer): thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns." Or what better accords with the strict meaning of the Greek noun, "in consequence of His REVERENTIAL FEAR," that is, in that He shrank from the horrors of separation from the bright presence of the Father, yet was reverentially cautious by no thought or word of impatience to give way to a shadow of distrust or want of perfect filial love. In the same sense Heb 12:28 uses the noun, and Heb 11:7 the verb. Alford somewhat similarly translates, "By reason of His reverent submission." I prefer "reverent fear." The word in derivation means the cautious handling of some precious, yet delicate vessel, which with ruder handling might easily be broken [Trench]. This fully agrees with Jesus' spirit, "If it be possible … nevertheless not My will, but Thy will be done"; and with the context, Heb 5:5, "Glorified not Himself to be made an High Priest," implying reverent fear: wherein it appears He had the requisite for the office specified Heb 5:4, "No man taketh this honor unto himself." Alford well says, What is true in the Christian's life, that what we ask from God, though He may not grant in the form we wish, yet He grants in His own, and that a better form, does not hold good in Christ's case; for Christ's real prayer, "not My will, but Thine be done," in consistency with His reverent fear towards the Father, was granted in the very form in which it was expressed, not in another.
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
8. Though He WAS (so it ought to be translated: a positive admitted fact: not a mere supposition as were would imply) God's divine Son (whence, even in His agony, He so lovingly and often cried, Father, Mt 26:39), yet He learned His (so the Greek) obedience, not from His Sonship, but from His sufferings. As the Son, He was always obedient to the Father's will; but the special obedience needed to qualify Him as our High Priest, He learned experimentally in practical suffering. Compare Php 2:6-8, "equal with God, but … took upon Him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death," &c. He was obedient already before His passion, but He stooped to a still more humiliating and trying form of obedience then. The Greek adage is, "Pathemata mathemata," "sufferings, disciplinings." Praying and obeying, as in Christ's case, ought to go hand in hand.
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
9. made perfect—completed, brought to His goal of learning and suffering through death (Heb 2:10) [Alford], namely, at His glorious resurrection and ascension.
eternal salvation—obtained for us in the short "days of Jesus' flesh" (Heb 5:7; compare Heb 5:6, "for ever," Isa 45:17).
unto all … that obey him—As Christ obeyed the Father, so must we obey Him by faith.
Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.
10. Greek, rather, "Addressed by God (by the appellation) High Priest." Being formally recognized by God as High Priest at the time of His being "made perfect" (Heb 5:9). He was High Priest already in the purpose of God before His passion; but after it, when perfected, He was formally addressed so.
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
11. Here he digresses to complain of the low spiritual attainments of the Palestinian Christians and to warn them of the danger of falling from light once enjoyed; at the same time encouraging them by God's faithfulness to persevere. At Heb 6:20 he resumes the comparison of Christ to Melchisedec.
hard to be uttered—rather as Greek, "hard of interpretation to speak." Hard for me to state intelligibly to you owing to your dulness about spiritual things. Hence, instead of saying many things, he writes in comparatively few words (Heb 13:22). In the "we," Paul, as usual, includes Timothy with himself in addressing them.
ye are—Greek, "ye have become dull" (the Greek, by derivation, means hard to move): this implies that once, when first "enlightened," they were earnest and zealous, but had become dull. That the Hebrew believers AT Jerusalem were dull in spiritual things, and legal in spirit, appears from Ac 21:20-24, where James and the elders expressly say of the "thousands of Jews which believe," that "they are all zealous of the law"; this was at Paul's last visit to Jerusalem, after which this Epistle seems to have been written (see on Heb 5:12, on "for the time").
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
12. for the time—considering the long time that you have been Christians. Therefore this Epistle was not one of those written early.
which be the first principles—Greek, "the rudiments of the beginning of." A Pauline phrase (see on Ga 4:3; Ga 4:9). Ye need not only to be taught the first elements, but also "which they be." They are therefore enumerated Heb 6:1, 2 [Bengel]. Alford translates, "That someone teach you the rudiments"; but the position of the Greek, "tina," inclines me to take it interrogatively, "which," as English Version, Syriac, Vulgate, &c.
of the oracles of God—namely, of the Old Testament: instead of seeing Christ as the end of the Old Testament Scripture, they were relapsing towards Judaism, so as not only not to be capable of understanding the typical reference to Christ of such an Old Testament personage as Melchisedec, but even much more elementary references.
are become—through indolence.
milk … not … strong meat—"Milk" refers to such fundamental first principles as he enumerates in Heb 6:1, 2. The solid meat, or food, is not absolutely necessary for preserving life, but is so for acquiring greater strength. Especially in the case of the Hebrews, who were much given to allegorical interpretations of their law, which they so much venerated, the application of the Old Testament types, to Christ and His High Priesthood, was calculated much to strengthen them in the Christian faith [Limborch].
For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
13. useth—Greek, "partaketh," that is, taketh as his portion. Even strong men partake of milk, but do not make milk their chief, much less their sole, diet.
the word of righteousness—the Gospel wherein "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith" (Ro 1:17), and which is called "the ministration of righteousness" (2Co 3:9). This includes the doctrine of justification and sanctification: the first principles, as well as the perfection, of the doctrine of Christ: the nature of the offices and person of Christ as the true Melchisedec, that is, "King of righteousness" (compare Mt 3:15).
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
14. strong meat—"solid food."
them … of full age—literally, "perfect": akin to "perfection" (Heb 6:1).
by reason of use—Greek, "habit."
senses—organs of sense.
exercised—similarly connected with "righteousness" in Heb 12:11.
to discern both good and evil—as a child no longer an infant (Isa 7:16): so able to distinguish between sound and unsound doctrine. The mere child puts into its mouth things hurtful and things nutritious, without discrimination: but not so the adult. Paul again alludes to their tendency not to discriminate, but to be carried about by strange doctrines, in Heb 13:9.