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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 8

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-13

VIII 1-X 18 Superiority of Christ’s Sacrifice— The kernel of Heb being the priesthood of Christ, it remains to show in detail the superior efficacy of his priestly work. St Paul shows this superiority in relation to the old sanctuary, the old covenant, the annual and daily sacrifices of the old dispensation.

VIII 1-5 Superiority of Christ’s Sanctuary— At first sight this section seems to be simply a matter of contrasting heaven with the Mosaic tabernacle, but it will be found that a purely local interpretation of it is difficult to maintain. The contrast is certainly between celestial and terrestrial, and place considerations are included, but it cannot simply be worked out in terms of ’above the sky and on this earth below’. The celestial has to be conceived socially as the Church, which is the kingdom of heaven. The interpretation here followed is that of St Cyril of Alexandria ( "De adoratione in spiritti et veritate", Bk9, PG 68, 590-631).

1. ’A principal or main point in the subject under discussion is (the following): Such is the High Priest that we have (cf. 7:26)—a High Priest who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of majesty (cf. 1:4) in heaven (cf. 4:14; 6:20)’.

2. The enthroned Christ does not offer sacrifice in heaven, for sitting is not the posture of a ministering Priest; yet ’having made a cleansing of sins’, 1:4, he is a minister of the sanctuary. What is this ’Sancta’ or Sanctuary? It is generally taken to mean the place of God’s special manifestation which we call Heaven; but Christ reigns in heaven, he does not minister. It seems, therefore, that the Sanctuary must be the whole Church Militant and Triumphant, which is the extension of that Tabernacle of God which is Christ himself, John 2:19, John 2:21, which St Paul calls by the local name of ’the Jerusalem above’, Galatians 4:26, and which St John heard described to him as ’the tabernacle or God with men’, Apoc 21:3. This is the perfect (??ðT???) tabernacle or tent which the Lord (? ?????? here meaning God) pitched, not man.

3. Christ must have offered a sacrifice belonging to and bringing him into that celestial sphere. Sacrifice is the correlative of priesthood, for every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices (i.e. oblations of all kinds as in 5:1). Christ could not bea priest without having a victim to offer.

4. ’Yea rather, if he were on earth, he would not be a priest, because the legal victims were being offered by priests of a tribe to which he did not belong’. His sacrifice had therefore to be offered and consummated outside of the terrestrial sphere of Mosaism.

5. The Levitical priests do not belong to the heavenly sphere, for they serve a sanctuary which is only an image and shadow of the heavenly realities. This is intimated in the history of the institution of the tabernacle itself, Ex 40, for the oracle addressed to Moses said: ’See that thou make all things according to the pattern shown to thee on the mount’ The rabbis imagined a design in fire or light shown to Moses in vision and visually representing the tabernacle as it was to be set up. The Epistle, however, indicates that Moses received some revelation of the Messianic and heavenly realities which his Hebrew tabernacle was to foreshadow. 6. A verse of conclusion and transition states that Christ has obtained a more excellent ministry (?e?t????ía) inasmuch as he is the mediator of a better covenant established on better promises. The word ’Mediator’ occurs here in Heb for the first of three times, also 9:15; 12:24. It is always a title of Jesus and related to ’covenant’. It occurs also thrice in the other Paulines, in two different contexts, Galatians 3:19, Galatians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:5, once of Moses in relation to the old Covenant and once of Christ in relation to redemption. As the redemptive character of Christ’s sacrifice is here implied (cf. 9:12), the Mediator combines in a higher way the sacerdotal and ambassadorial offices of Aaron and Moses. The ’better’ covenant is the alliance based on the redemption-transaction to which our author will later attribute the special character of testament, 9: 16, 17. The ’better promises’ are chiefly pardon, grace and glory.

7-13 Superiority of the New Covenant— 7. On the principle that God does not lay aside a perfect ordinance for a less perfect one (beginning high and ending low —cf.Galatians 3:3), his introduction of a second covenant must imply censure of the former one. 8. Actually that censure is spoken by God himself through the prophet Jeremias, 31:31-34 (Heb). The censure indeed falls first on the Israelites, but it also embraces the regime which could not change the nation’s ’heart of stone into a heart of flesh’, Ez 11:19 The text is taken from an impressive group of Restoration. oracles Jer 30-33) in which the Messianic future looms large. Christ our Lord had alluded to the same text in the institution of the Eucharist, Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25, and it is also the background of 2 Cor 3. Cited from the LXX 38:31-34 with interesting but merely accidental variations, it announces a new covenant different from that of the Exodus which the people did not keep.

9. Note that whereas DV has ’And I regarded them not’, Jeremiah 31:32c has: ’I gave up caring for them’, which is probably, the true sense (cf. GeseniusBuhl sub voce II; also Peshitta). God’s rejection of the old Israel was very clearly forecast at the Babylonian captivity.

10. This verse describes the new covenant as an interior law under which knowledge and obedience will be a matter of inner light and love rather than external teaching and the discipline of a code.

12. It states that the remission of sins is a special characteristic of the New Covenant, cf. 10:15-18. It is, however, on the word ’new’ that the Apostle’s present argument ests. /par/par13. To describe the second covenant as ’new’ is to declare the former one old, senescent, and near its demise—?Fa??sµó? is very frequent in Jer (LXX) in the sense of ’destruction’. Jer 30-33 should be read as a whole; they are the finest pages of a great prophet.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Hebrews 8". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/hebrews-8.html. 1951.
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