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1 Then verily the first, etc (138) After having spoken generally of the abrogation of the old covenant, he now refers specially to the ceremonies. His object is to show that there was nothing practiced then to which Christ’s coming has not put an end. He says first, that under the old covenant there was a specific form of divine worship, and that it was peculiarly adapted to that time. It will hereafter appear by the comparison what kind of things were those rituals prescribed under the Law.
Some copies read, πρώτη σκηνὴ the first tabernacle; but I suspect that there is a mistake as to the word “tabernacle;” nor do I doubt but that some unlearned reader, not finding a noun to the adjective, and in his ignorance applying to the tabernacle what had been said of the covenant, unwisely added the word σκηνὴ tabernacle. I indeed greatly wonder that the mistake had so prevailed, that it is found in the Greek copies almost universally. (139) But necessity constrains me to follow the ancient reading. For the Apostle, as I have said, had been speaking of the old covenant; he now comes to ceremonies, which were additions, as it were, to it. He then intimates that all the rites of the Mosaic Law were a part of the old covenant, and that they partook of the same ancientness, and were therefore to perish.
Many take the word λατρείας as an accusative plural. I agree with those who connect the two words together, δικαιώματα λατρείας for institutes or rites, which the Hebrews call חוקים, and the Greeks have rendered by the word δικαιώματα ordinances. The sense is, that the whole form or manner of worshipping God was annexed to the old covenant, and that it consisted of sacrifices, ablutions, and other symbols, together with the sanctuary. And he calls it a worldly sanctuary, because there was no heavenly truth or reality in those rites; for though the sanctuary was the effigy of the original pattern which had been shown to Moses; yet an effigy or image is a different thing from the reality, and especially when they are compared, as here, as things opposed to each other. Hence the sanctuary in itself was indeed earthly, and is rightly classed among the elements of the world, it was yet heavenly as to what it signified. (140)
(138) Rather, “Yet even the first,” etc. It is connected with the last verse of the preceding chapter; as though he had said, — “Though the covenant is become antiquated, yet it had many things divinely appointed connected with it.” Μὲν οὖν mean “yet,” or however. See Art. 8:4. Macknight has “Now verily;” and Stuart, “Moreover.” — Ed
(139) It has since been discovered that it is not found in many of the best MSS., and is dismissed from the text by Griesbach and all modern critics. The noun understood is evidently “covenant,” spoken of in the preceding chapter. — Ed.
(140) Many, such as Grotius, Beza, etc., consider that “ordinances” and “services” (not service) are distinct, and both in the objective case, and render the words “rituals, services, and a wordly sanctuary.” And if the sequel is duly examined, it will be found that this is the right construction. The Apostle, according to the manner of the prophet, reverses the order, and speaks distinctly of these three particulars, — first, “the wordly sanctuary” — the tabernacle in Hebrews 9:2; secondly, “the services” in Hebrews 9:6; and thirdly, “the rituals” in Hebrews 9:10, where the word “ordinances” again occur. There can therefore be hardly a doubt as to the construction of the first verse. The sanctuary is called worldly in contrast with what is heavenly or divine, not made with hands: see Hebrews 9:11. — Ed.
2. For there was a tabernacle, etc. As the Apostle here touches but lightly on the structure of the tabernacle, that he might not be detained beyond what his subject required; so will I also designedly abstain from any refined explanation of it. It is then sufficient for our present purpose to consider the tabernacle in its three parts, — the first was the court of the people; the middle was commonly called the sanctuary; and the last was the inner sanctuary, which they called, by way of eminence, the holy of holies. (141)
As to the first sanctuary, which was contiguous to the court of the people, he says that there were the candlestick and the table on which the shewbread was set: he calls this place, in the plural number, the holies. Then, after this is mentioned, the most secret place, which they called the holy of holies, still more remote from the view of the people, and it was even hid from the priests who ministered in the first sanctuary; for as by a veil the sanctuary was closed up to the people, so another veil kept the priests from the holy of holies. There, the Apostle says, was the θυμιατήριον by which name I understand the altar of incense, or fumigation, rather than the censer; (142) then the ark of the covenant, with its covering, the two cherubim, the golden pot filled with manna, the rod of Aaron, and the two tables. Thus far the Apostle proceeds in describing the tabernacle.
But he says that the pot in which Moses had deposited the manna, and Aaron’s rod which had budded, were in the ark with the two tables; but this seems inconsistent with sacred history, which in Genesis 8:9, relates that there was nothing in the ark but the two tables. But it is easy to reconcile these two passages: God had commanded the pot and Aaron’s rod to be laid up before the testimony; it is hence probable that they were deposited in the ark, together with the tables. But when the Temple was built, these things were arranged in a different order, and certain history relates it as a thing new that the ark had nothing else but the two tables. (143)
(141) See Appendix F 2.
(142) This is evidently a mistake, for the altar of incense was in the sanctuary — the first tabernacle. See Exodus 30:1. The word is used in the Sept., for “censer,” 2 Chronicles 26:19. There were many censors made, as it is supposed, of brass; for they were daily used in the sanctuary for incense; but this golden censor was probably used only on the day of expiation, when the chief priest entered the holiest place; and the probability is, though there is no account of this in the Old Testament, that it was laid up or deposited, as Stuart suggests, in the holy of holies. — Ed.
(143) Stuart observes, “Our author is speaking of the tabernacle, and not of the temple; still less of the second temple, which must have lacked even the tables of testimony. The probability is, that the ark, during its many removals, and in particular during its captivity by the Philistines, was deprived of those sacred deposits; for we hear no more concerning them.” — Ed.
5. Of which we cannot now, etc. As nothing can satisfy, curious men, the apostle cuts off every occasion for refinements unsuitable to his present purpose, and lest a longer discussion of these things should break off the thread of his argument. If, therefore, any one should disregard the Apostle’s example, and dwell more minutely on the subject, he would be acting very unreasonably. There might be, indeed, an occasion for doing this elsewhere; but it is now better to attend to the subject of which he treats: it may further be said, that to philosophize beyond just limits, which some do, is not only useless, but also dangerous. There are some things which are not obscure and fitted for the edification of faith; but discretion and sobriety ought to be observed, lest we seek to be wise above what God has been pleased to reveal.
6. Now, when these things were thus ordained, etc. Omitting other things, he undertakes to handle the chief point in dispute: he says that the priests who performed sacred rites were wont to enter the first tabernacle daily, but that the chief priest entered the holy of holies only yearly with the appointed sacrifice. He hence concludes, that while the tabernacle under the Law was standing, the sanctuary was closed up, and that only through that being removed could the way be open for us to the kingdom of God. We see that the very form of the ancient tabernacle reminded the Jews that they were to look for something else. Then foolishly did they act who, by retaining the shadows of the Law, willfully obstructed their own way.
He mentions πρώτην σκηνὴν the first tabernacle, in Hebrews 9:2, in a different sense from what it has here, for here it means the first sanctuary, but there the whole tabernacle; for he sets it in opposition to the spiritual sanctuary of Christ, which he presently mentions. He contends that this had fallen for our great benefit, for through its fall a more familiar access to God has been obtained for us.
7. For himself and for the errors of the people, or for his own and the ignorances of the people. As the verb |shagag|, means in Hebrew to err, to mistake, so |shgagah|, derived from it, properly denotes error, or mistake; but yet it is generally taken for any kind of sin; and doubtless we never sin except when deceived by the allurements of Satan. The Apostle does not understand by it mere ignorance, as they say, but, on the contrary, he includes also voluntary sins; but as I have already said, no sin is free from error or ignorance; for however knowingly and willfully any one may sin, yet it must be that he is blinded by his lust, so that he does not judge rightly, or rather he forgets himself and God; for men never deliberately rush headlong into ruin, but being entangled in the deceptions of Satan, they lose the power of judging rightly. (144)
(144) It is said that the high priest entered the holiest place “once every year,” that is, on one day, the day of expiation, every year; but on that day he went in at least three times. See Leviticus 16:12; and probably four times, according to the Jewish tradition; and one of the times, as supposed by Stuart, was for the purpose of bringing out the golden censer.
The word rendered “errors,” literally means “ignorances,” and so some render it “sins of ignorance;” but it is used in the Apocrypha as designating sins in general; and Grotius refers to Genesis 3:3. And that it means sins of all kinds is evident from the account given in Leviticus 16:1 of the atonement made on the annual man, says Estius, “is ignorant; and all sins proceed from error in judgement.” Hence it seems, sins were called ignorances. — Ed.
9. Which was a figure, etc. The word παραθολὴ, used here, signifies, as I think, the same thing with ἀντίτυπος, antitype; for he means that that tabernacle was a second pattern which corresponded with the first. For the portrait of a man ought to be so like the man himself, that when seen, it ought immediately to remind us of him whom it represents. He says further, that it was a figure, or likeness, for the time then present, that is, as long as the external observance was in force; and he says this in order to confine its use and duration to the time of the Law; for it means the same with what he afterwards adds, that all the ceremonies were imposed until the time of reformation; nor is it any objection that he uses the present tense in saying, gifts are offered; for as he had to do with the Jews, he speaks by way of concession, as though he were one of those who sacrificed. Gifts and sacrifices differ, as the first is a general term, and the other is particular.
That could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience; that is, they did not reach the soul so as to confer true holiness. I do not reject the words, make perfect, and yet I prefer the term sanctify, as being more suitable to the context. But that readers may better understand the meaning of the Apostle, let the contrast between the flesh and the conscience be noticed; he denies that worshippers could be spiritually and inwardly cleansed by the sacrifices of the Law. It is added as a reason, that all these rites were of the flesh or carnal. What then does he allow them to be? It is commonly supposed, that they were useful only as means of training to men, conducive to virtue and decorum. But they who thus think do not sufficiently consider the promises which are added. This gloss, therefore, ought to be wholly repudiated. Absurdly and ignorantly too do they interpret the ordinances of the flesh, as being such as cleansed or sanctified only the body; for the Apostle understands by these words that they were earthly symbols, which did not reach the soul; for though they were true testimonies of perfect holiness, yet they by no means contained it in themselves, nor could they convey it to men; for the faithful were by such helps led, as it were, by the hand to Christ, that they might obtain from him what was wanting in the symbols.
Were any one to ask why the Apostle speaks with so little respect and even with contempt of Sacraments divinely instituted, and extenuates their efficacy? This he does, because he separates them from Christ; and we know that when viewed in themselves they are but beggarly elements, as Paul calls them. (Galatians 4:9.)
10. Until the time of reformation, etc. Here he alludes to the prophecy of Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 31:31.) (145) The new covenant succeeded the old as a reformation. He expressly mentions meats and drinks, and other things of minor importance, because by these trifling observances a more certain opinion may be formed how far short was the Law of the perfection of the Gospel. (146)
(145) Although the original text in the book refers to Jeremiah 31:37, which warns of an ultimate rejection of Israel; it would seem that Jeremiah 31:31 is more appropriate in the current context of reformation. — fj. ]
(146) See Appendix G 2.
11. But Christ being come, etc. He now sets before us the reality of the things under the Law, that it may turn our eyes from them to itself; for he who believes that the things then shadowed forth under the Law have been really found in Christ, will no longer cleave to the shadows, but will embrace the substance and the genuine reality.
But the particulars of the comparison between Christ and the ancient high priest, ought to be carefully noticed. He had said that the high priest alone entered the sanctuary once a year with blood to expiate sins. Christ is in this life the ancient high priests for he alone possesses the dignity and the office of a high priest; but he differs from him in this respect, that he brings with him eternal blessings which secure a perpetuity to his priesthood. Secondly, there is this likeness between the ancient high priest and ours, that both entered the holy of holies through the sanctuary; but they differ in this, that Christ alone entered into heaven through the temple of his own body. That the holy of holies was once every year opened to the high priest to make the appointed expiation — this obscurely prefigured the one true sacrifice of Christ. To enter once then was common to both, but to the earthly it was every year, while it was to the heavenly forever, even to the end of the world. The offering of blood was common to both; but there was a great difference as to the blood; for Christ offered, not the blood of beasts, but his own blood. Expiation was common to both; but that according to the Law, as it was inefficacious, was repeated every year; but the expiation made by Christ is always effectual and is the cause of eternal salvation to us. Thus, there is great importance almost in every word. Some render the words, “But Christ standing by,” or asking; but the meaning of the Apostle is not thus expressed; for he intimates that when the Levitical priests had for the prefixed time performed their office, Christ came in their place, according to what we found in the seventh chapter. (147)
Of good things to come, etc. Take these for eternal things; for as μέλλων καιρὸς, time to come, is set in opposition to the present τῷ ἐνεστηκότι; so future blessings are to the present. The meaning is, that we are led by Christ’s priesthood into the celestial kingdom of God, and that we are made partakers of spiritual righteousness and of eternal life, so that it is not right to desire anything better. Christ alone, then, has that by which he can retain and satisfy us in himself. (148)
By a greater and more perfect tabernacle, etc. Though this passage is variously explained, yet I have no doubt but that he means the body of Christ; for as there was formerly an access for the Levitical high priest to the holy of holies through the sanctuary, so Christ through his own body entered into the glory of heaven; for as he had put on our flesh and in it suffered, he obtained for himself this privilege, that he should appear before God as a Mediator for us. In the first place, the word sanctuary is fitly and suitably applied to the body of Christ, for it is the temple in which the whole majesty of God dwells. He is further said to have made a way for us by his body to ascend into heaven, because in that body he consecrated himself to God, he became in it sanctified to be our true righteousness, he prepared himself in it to offer a sacrifice; in a word, he made himself in it of no reputation, and suffered the death of the cross; therefore, the Father highly exalted him and gave him a name above every name, that every knee should bow to him. (Philippians 2:8.) He then entered into heaven through his own body, because on this account it is that he now sits at the Father’s right hand; he for this reason intercedes for us in heaven, because he had put on our flesh, and consecrated it as a temple to God the Father, and in it sanctified himself to obtain for us an eternal righteousness, having made an expiation for our sins. (149)
It may however seem strange, that he denies the body of Christ to be of this building; for doubtless he proceeded from the seed of Abraham, and was liable to sufferings and to death. To this I reply, that he speaks not here of his material body, or of what belongs to the body as such, but of the spiritual efficacy which emanates from it to us. For as far as Christ’s flesh is quickening, and is a heavenly food to nourish souls, as far as his blood is a spiritual drink and has a cleansing power, we are not to imagine anything earthly or material as being in them. And then we must remember that this is said in allusion to the ancient tabernacle, which was made of wood, brass, skins, silver, and gold, which were all dead things; but the power of God made the flesh of Christ to be a living and spiritual temple.
(147) See commentary on Chapter 7 ].
(148) “Good things (or blessings) to come,” may have a reference to the blessings promised in the Old Testament as the blessings of the kingdom of Christ, included in “the eternal redemption” mentioned in the next verse. — Ed.
(149) There is no other view that is satisfactory. The idea that has been by some suggested, that the “better tabernacle” is the visible heaven through which he entered into the heaven of heavens, has no evidence in its support. Some of the Ancients, such as Ambrose, and also Doddridge and Scott consider heaven as intended, as in Hebrews 8:2, (but “tabernacle” in that passage means the whole structure, especially the holy of holies.) According to this view διὰ is rendered in — “in a greater and more perfect tabernacle.” But Chrysostom, Theophylact, Grotius, Beza, etc., agree with Calvin in regarding Christ’s human nature as signified by the “tabernacle;” and what confirms this exposition is what we find in Hebrews 10:5. “Not made with hands,” and “not of this creation,” for no objection; for Christ’s body was supernaturally formed; and the contrast is with the material tabernacle, a human structure, made by men and made of earthly materials. It is, however, better to connect “tabernacle” with the preceding than with the following words, —
But Christ, having come the high priest of the good things to come by means of a better and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, has entered once for all into the holiest, not indeed with (or by) the blood of goats and calves but (or by) his own blood, having obtained an eternal redemption.“
Creation” here means the world; it was not made of worldy materials. See Hebrews 9:1. — Ed.
12. Neither by the blood of goats, etc. All these things tend to show that the things of Christ so far excel the shadows of the Law, that they justly reduce them all to nothing. For what is the value of Christ’s blood, if it be deemed no better than the blood of beasts? What sort of expiation was made by his death, if the purgations according to the Law be still retained? As soon then as Christ came forth with the efficacious influence of his death, all the typical observances must necessarily have ceased.
13. For if the blood of bulls, etc. This passage has given to many all occasion to go astray, because they did not consider that sacraments are spoken of, which had a spiritual import. The cleansing of the flesh they leave explained of what avails among men, as the heathens had their expiations to blot out the infamy of crimes. But this explanation is indeed very heathenish; for wrong is done to God’s promises, if we restrict the effect to civil matters only. Often does this declaration occur in the writings of Moses, that iniquity was expiated when a sacrifice was duly offered. This is no doubt the spiritual teaching of faith. Besides, all the sacrifices were destined for this end, that they might lead men to Christ; as the eternal salvation of the soul is through Christ, so these were true witnesses of this salvation.
What then does the Apostle mean when he speaks of the purgations of the flesh? He means what is symbolical or sacramental, as follows, — If the blood of beasts was a true symbol of purgation, so that it cleansed in a sacramental manner, how much more shall Christ who is himself the truth, not only bear witness to a purgation by an external rite, but also really perform this for consciences? The argument then is from the signs to the thing signified; for the effect by a long time preceded the reality of the signs.
14. Who through the eternal Spirit, etc. He now clearly shows how Christ’s death is to be estimated, not by the external act, but by the power of the Spirit. For Christ suffered as man; but that death becomes saving to us through the efficacious power of the Spirit; for a sacrifice, which was to be an eternal expiation, was a work more than human. And he calls the Spirit eternal for this reason, that we may know that the reconciliation, of which he is the worker or effecter, is eternal. (150) By saying, without spot, or unblamable, though he alludes to the victims under the Law, which were not to have a blemish or defect, he yet means, that Christ alone was the lawful victim and capable of appeasing God; for there was always in others something that might be justly deemed wanting; and hence he said before that the covenant of the Law was not ἀμεμπτον, blameless.
From dead works, etc. Understand by these either such works as produce death, or such as are the fruits or effects of death; for as the life of the soul is our union with God, so they who are alienated from him through sin may be justly deemed to be dead.
To serve the living God. This, we must observe, is the end of our purgation; for we are not washed by Christ, that we may plunge ourselves again into new filth, but that our purity may serve to glorify God. Besides, he teaches us, that nothing can proceed from us that can be pleasing to God until we are purified by the blood of Christ; for as we are all enemies to God before our reconciliation, so he regards as abominable all our works; hence the beginning of acceptable service is reconciliation. And then, as no work is so pure and so free from stains, that it can of itself please God, it is necessary that the purgation through the blood of Christ should intervene, which alone can efface all stains. And there is a striking contrast between the living God and dead works.
(150) Some as Grotius and Schleusner, take “the eternal Spirit” as meaning the same thing as “endless life” in Hebrews 7:16, — “who having (or in) an eternal spirit,” or life, etc.; they give the sense of “in” to διὰ. The comparison they represent to be between perishable victims and the sacrifice of Christ, who possesses a spirit or life that is eternal.
Others, as Junius and Beza, consider Christ’s divine nature as signified by “the eternal Spirit.” Beza says, that it was the Deity united to humanity that consecrated the whole sacrifice and endued it with vivifying power. The view of Stuart can hardly be comprehended.
But the explanation most commonly adopted is that given here by Calvin that the Holy Spirit is meant, whose aid and influence are often mentioned in connection with Christ; see Matthew 12:28; Acts 1:2. Some MSS and fathers have “holy” instead of “eternal,” but the greatest number and the best have the last word. Dr. Owen, Doddridge and Scott take this view. Why the Spirit is called “eternal” is not very evident. It may have been for the purpose of showing that the Spirit mentioned before in Hebrews 9:8 is the same Spirit, he being eternal, and thus in order to prove that the offering of Christ was according to the divine will. God is said to be eternal in Romans 16:26, where a reference is made to the past and the present dispensation, with the view, as it seems, to show that he is the author of both. But perhaps the explanation of Calvin is the most suitable. — Ed.
15. And for this cause he is Mediator of the New Testament, etc. He concludes that there is no more need of another priest, for Christ fulfills the office under the New Testament; for he claims not for Christ the honor of a Mediator, so that others may at the same time remain as such with him; but he maintains that all others were repudiated when Christ undertook the office. But that he might more fully confirm this fact, he mentions how he commenced to discharge his office of a Mediator; even through death intervening. Since this is found alone in Christ, being wanting in all others, it follows that he alone can be justly deemed a Mediator. (151)
He further records the virtue and efficacy of his death by saying that he paid the price for sins under the first covenant or testament, which could not be blotted out by the blood of beasts; by which words he was seeking draw away the Jews from the Law to Christ. For, if the Law was so weak that all the remedies it applied for expiating sins did by no means accomplish what they represented, who could rest in it as in a safe harbor? This one thing, then, ought to have been enough to stimulate them to seek for something better than the law; for they could not but be in perpetual anxiety. On the other hand, when we come to Christ, as we obtain in him a full redemption, there is nothing which can any more distress us. Then, in these words he shows that the Law is weak, that the Jews might no longer recumb on it; and he teaches them to rely on Christ, for in him is found whatever can be desired for pacifying consciences.
Now, if any one asks, whether sins under the Law where remitted to the fathers, we must bear in mind the solution already stated, — that they were remitted, but remitted through Christ. Then notwithstanding their external expiations, they were always held guilty. For this reason Paul says, that the Law was a handwriting against us. (Colossians 2:14.) For when the sinner came forward and openly confessed that he was guilty before God, and acknowledged by sacrificing an innocent animal that he was worthy of eternal death, what did he obtain by his victim, except that he sealed his own death as it were by this handwriting? In short, even then they only reposed in the remission of sins, when they looked to Christ. But if only a regard to Christ took away sins, they could never have been freed from them, had they continued to rest in the Law. David indeed declares, that blessed is the man to whom sins are not imputed, (Psalms 32:2;) but that he might be a partaker of this blessedness, it was necessary for him to leave the Law, and to have his eyes fixed on Christ; for if he rested in the Law, he could never have been freed from guilt.
They who are called, etc. The object of the divine covenant is, that having been adopted as children, we may at length be made heirs of eternal life. The Apostle teaches us that we obtain this by Christ. It is hence evident, that in him is the fulfillment of the covenant. But the promise of the inheritance is to be taken for the promised inheritance, as though he had said, “The promise of eternal life is not otherwise made to us to be enjoined, than through the death of Christ.” Life, indeed, was formerly promised to the fathers, and the same has been the inheritance of God’s children from the beginning, but we do not otherwise enter into the possession of it, than through the blood of Christ previously shed.
But he speaks of the called, that he might the more influence the Jews who were made partakers of this calling; for it is a singular favor, when we have the gift of the knowledge of Christ bestowed on us. We ought then to take the more heed, lest we neglect so valuable a treasure, and our thoughts should wander elsewhere. Some regard the called to be the elect, but incorrectly in my judgment; for the Apostle teaches here the same thing as we find in Romans 3:25, that righteousness and salvation have been procured by the blood of Christ, but that we become partakers of them by faith.
(151) Here begins a new subject, that the covenant, or it may be viewed as the resumption of what is found in Hebrews 8:6. “For this cause,” or for this reason, refers, as it seems, to what follows, “in order that,” ὅπως, etc. —
And for this reason is he the Mediator of a new covenant, in order that death being undergone for the redemption of transgressions under the first covenant, they who were called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
As in Romans 3:25, the reference is to the retrospective effect of Christ’s expiatory sacrifice. Hence “are called” is not correct; and the participle is in the past tense. To “receive the promise,” means to enjoy its fulfillment. — Ed.
16. For where a testament is, etc. Even this one passage is a sufficient proof, that this Epistle was not written in Hebrew; for ברית means in Hebrew a covenant, but not a testament; but in Greek, διαθήκη, includes both ideas; and the Apostle, alluding to its secondary meaning, holds that the promises should not have been otherwise ratified and valid, had they not been sealed by the death of Christ. And this he proves by referring to what is usually the case as to wills or testaments, the effect of which is suspended until the death of those whose wills they are.
The Apostle may yet seem to rest on too weak an argument, so that what he says may be easily disproved. For it may be said, that God made no testament or will under the Law; but it was a covenant that he made with the ancient people. Thus, neither from the fact nor from the name, can it be concluded that Christ’s death was necessary. For if he infers from the fact, that Christ ought to have died, because a testament is not ratified except by the death of the testator, the answer may be this, that |berit|, the word ever used by Moses, is a covenant made between those who are alive, and we cannot think otherwise of the fact itself. Now, as to the word used, he simply alluded, as I have already said, to the two meanings it has in Greek; he therefore dwells chiefly on the thing in itself. Nor is it any objection to say, that it was a covenant that God made with his people; for that very covenant bore some likeness to a testament, for it was ratified by blood. (152)
We must ever hold this truth, that no symbols have ever been adopted by God unnecessarily or unsuitably. And God in establishing the covenant of the law made use of blood. Then it was not such a contract, as they say, between the living, as did not require death. Besides, what rightly belongs to a testament is, that it begins to take effect after death. If we consider that the Apostle reasons from the thing itself, and not from the word, and if we bear in mind that he avowedly takes as granted what I have already stated, that nothing has been instituted in vain by God, there will be no great difficulty.
If anyone objects and says, that the heathens ratified covenants according to the other meaning by sacrifices; this indeed I admit to be true; but God did not borrow the rite of sacrificing from the practice of the heathens; on the contrary, all the heathen sacrifices were corruptions, which had derived their origin from the institutions of God. We must then return to the same point, that the covenant of God which was made with blood, may be fitly compared to a testament, as it is of the same kind and character.
(152) See Appendix H 2.
18. Whereupon neither the first, etc. It hence appears that the fact is what is mainly urged, and that it is not a question about the word, though the Apostle turned to his own purpose a word presented to his attention in that language in which he wrote, as though one, while speaking of God’s covenant, which is often called in Greek μαρτυρία, a testimony, were to recommend it among other things under that title. And doubtless that is a testimony, μαρτυρία, to which angels from heaven has borne witness, and of which there have been so many illustrious witnesses on earth, even all the holy Prophets, Apostles, and a vast number of martyrs, and of which at last the Son of God himself became a surety. No one in such a discourse would deem any such thing as unreasonable. And yet the Hebrew word, תעודה will admit of no such meaning as a covenant; but as nothing is advanced but what is consistent with the thing itself, no scrupulous regard is to be paid to the meaning of a word.
The Apostle then says, that the old testament or covenant was dedicated with blood. He hence concludes, that men were even then reminded, that it could not be valid and efficacious except death intervened. For though the blood of beasts was then shed, yet, he denies that it availed to confine an everlasting covenant. That this may appear more clearly, we must notice the custom of sprinkling which he quotes from Moses. He first teaches us that the covenant was dedicated or consecrated, not that it had in itself anything profane; but as there is nothing so holy that men by their uncleanness will not defile, except God prevents it by making a renewal of all things, therefore the dedication was made on account of men, who alone wanted it.
He afterwards adds, that the tabernacle and all the vessels, and also the very book of the law, were sprinkled; by which rite the people were then taught, that God could not be sought or looked to for salvation, nor rightly worshipped, except faith in every case looked to an intervening blood. For the majesty of God is justly to be dreaded by us, and the way to his presence is nothing to us but a dangerous labyrinth, until we know that he is pacified towards us through the blood of Christ, and that this blood affords to us a free access. All kinds of worship are then faulty and impure until Christ cleanses them by the sprinkling of his blood. (153)
For the tabernacle was a sort of visible image of God; and as the vessels for ministering were destined for his service, so they were symbols of true worship. But since none of these were for salvation to the people, we hence reasonably conclude, that where Christ does not appear with his blood, we have nothing to do with God. So doctrine itself, however unchangeable may be the will of God, cannot be efficacious for our benefit, unless it be dedicated by blood, as is plainly set forth in this verse.
I know that others give a different interpretation; for they consider the tabernacle to be the body of the Church, and vessels the faithful, whose ministry God employs; but what I have stated is much more appropriate. For whenever God was to be called upon, they turned themselves to the sanctuary; and it was a common way of speaking to say that they stood before the Lord when they appeared in the temple.
(153) It is worthy of notice that the Apostle mentions here several things which are not particularly by Moses in Exodus 24:3, where the account is given; and yet what is there stated sufficiently warrants the particulars mentioned here. The blood of “goats” is not mentioned, and yet burnt offerings are said to have been offered, and goats were so offered; see Leviticus 1:10. Moses says nothing of “scarlet wool and hyssop;” but he mentions “sprinkling,” and this was commonly done thereby; see Leviticus 14:51. “Blood” only is mentioned by Moses; but we find that when sprinkled, “water” was often connected with it. See Leviticus 14:52; Numbers 19:18 The main difficulty is respecting “the book” being sprinkled, which is not stated by Moses. But as the altar was sprinkled, there was the same reason for sprinkling the book, though that is not expressly mentioned. However, it is evident that this was the general opinion among the Jews, for otherwise the Apostle would not have mentioned it in an Epistle especially addressed to them.
Then the “tabernacle,” it was not expressly mentioned that it was sprinkled with blood when consecrated; and this was some time after the covenant was made. The setting up of the tabernacle is mentioned in Exodus 40:17. In the previous verses, Exodus 40:9, there is a direction given to anoint the tabernacle, and all its vessels, and also to hallow them and to anoint the alter, and to sanctify it. The hallowing or sanctifying was no doubt done by sprinkling them with blood. See as a proof of this Exodus 29:21. We hence perceive how well acquainted the writer must have been with the Jewish rituals. — Ed.
20. Saying, This is the blood of the testament, (154) etc. If that was the blood of the testament, then neither the testament was without blood ratified, nor the blood without the testament available for expiation. It is hence necessary that both should be united; and we see that before the explanation of the Law, no symbol was added, for what would a sacrament be except the word preceded it? Hence a symbol is a kind of appendage to the word. And mark, this word was not whispered like a magic incantation, but pronounced with a clear voice, as it was destined for the people, according to what the words of the covenant express, which God hath enjoined unto you. (155) Perverted, then, are the sacraments, and it is a wicked corruption when there is no explanation of the commandment given, which is as it were the very soul of the sacrament. Hence the Papists, who take away the true understanding of things from signs, retain only dead elements.
This passage reminds us that the promises of God are then only profitable to us when they are confirmed by the blood of Christ. For what Paul testifies in 2 Corinthians 1:20, that all God’s promises are yea and amen in Christ — this happens when his blood like a seal is engraven on our hearts, or when we not only hear God speaking, but also see Christ offering himself as a pledge for those things which are spoken. If this thought only came to our minds, that what we read is not written so much with ink as with the blood of Christ, that when the Gospel is preached, his sacred blood distills together with the voice, there would be far greater attention as well as reverence on our part. A symbol of this was the sprinkling mentioned by Moses!
At the same time there is more stated here than what is expressed by Moses; for he does not mention that the book and the people were sprinkled, nor does he name the goats, nor the scarlet wool, nor the hyssop. As to the book, that it was sprinkled cannot be clearly shown, yet the probability is that it was, for Moses is said to have produced it after he had sacrificed; and he did this when he bound the people to God by a solemn compact. With regard to the rest, the Apostle seems to have blended together various kinds of expiations, the reason for which was the same. Nor indeed was there anything unsuitable in this, since he was speaking of the general subject Or purgation under the Old Testament, which was done by means of blood. Now as to the sprinkling made by hyssop and scarlet wool, it is evident that it represented the mystical sprinkling made by the Spirit. We know that the hyssop possesses a singular power to cleanse and to purify; so Christ employs his Spirit to sprinkle us in order to wash us by his own blood when he leads us to true repentance, when he purifies us from the depraved lusts of our flesh, when he imbues us with the precious gift of his own righteousness. For it was not in vain that God had instituted this rite. David also alluded to this when he said,“
Thou wilt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed.” (Psalms 51:7.)
These remarks will be sufficient for those who wish to be soberminded in their speculations.
(154) Both Calvin and our verse retain the word “testament” as derived from Hebrews 9:17; but as that verse and the preceding are to be viewed as parenthetic, the word “covenant” is the term used by Moses. The latter is the word adopted by Beza, Doddridge, Macknight, and Stuart, “This is the blood of the covenant,” etc. — Ed.
(155) The Apostle here follows neither the Hebrew nor the Septuagint. The Hebrew is “which the Lord (Jehovah) hath made with you;” and the Septuagint, “Which the Lord hath covenanted ( διέθετο) with you.” And instead of “Behold the blood of the covenant,” (the same in both) we have here, “This is the blood of the covenant.” But though the words are different, yet the meaning is essentially the same, — the main things regarded by the Apostles in their quotations. — Ed
22. And almost all things, etc. By saying almost he seems to imply that some things were otherwise purified. And doubtless they often washed themselves and other unclean things with water. But even water itself derived its power to cleanse from the sacrifices; so that the Apostle at length truly declares that without blood there was no remission. (156) Then uncleanness was imputed until it was expiated by a sacrifice. And as without Christ there is no purity nor salvation, so nothing without blood can be either pure or saving; for Christ is never to be separated from the sacrifice of his death. But the Apostle meant only to say that this symbol was almost always made use of. But if at any time the purgation was not so made, it was nevertheless through blood, since all the rites derived their efficacy in a manner from the general expiation. For the people were not each of them sprinkled, (for how could so small a portion of blood be sufficient for so large a multitude?) yet the purgation extended to all. Hence the particle almost signifies the same as though he had said, that the use of this rite was so common that they seldom omitted it in purgations. For what Chrysostom says, that unfitness is thus denoted, because these were only figures under the Law, is inconsistent with the Apostle’s design.
No remission, etc. Thus men are prevented from appearing before God; for as he is justly displeased with them all, there is no ground for them to promise themselves any favor until he is pacified. But there is but one way of pacification, and that is by an expiation made by blood: hence no pardon of sins can be hoped for unless we bring blood, and this is done when we flee by faith to the death of Christ.
(156) Metals were purified by fire, and clothes by being washed in water, (Numbers 31:22;) but these were purifications not accompanied with remission of sins. So that what is said here is literally true. — Ed.
23. The patterns, or exemplars, etc. Lest any one should object and say that the blood by which the old testament was dedicated was different from that of a testator, the Apostle meets this objection, and says that it was no wonder that the tabernacle which was earthly was consecrated by the sacrificing of beasts; for there was an analogy and a likeness between the purification and the things purified. But the heavenly pattern or exemplar of which he now speaks was to be consecrated in a very different way; there was here no need of goats or of calves. It hence follows that the death of the testator was necessary.
The meaning then is this, — as under the Law there were only earthly images of spiritual things, so the rite of expiation was also, so to speak, carnal and figurative; but as the heavenly pattern allows of nothing earthly, so it requires another blood than that of beasts, such as may correspond with its excellency. Thus the death of the testator is necessary, in order that the testament may be really consecrated.
He calls the kingdom of Christ heavenly things, (157) for it is spiritual and possesses a full revelation of the truth. Better sacrifices he mentions instead of “a better sacrifice,” for it was only one; but he uses the plural number for the sake of the antithesis or contrast.
(157) By making “heavenly things” to mean things in heaven above, and not in the kingdom of heaven on earth, commentators have been under the necessity of altering the sense of the word “purified.” The tabernacle represented the whole kingdom of Christ, both on earth and in heaven. The sanctuary and the court, where the alter of burnt offering was, represented what Christ has done and is doing on earth; and the holy of holies was a representation of Christ’s kingdom in heaven. The victims were slain in the court without the vail; the shedding of blood was the atonement, but its sprinkling was its purifying and sanctifying effects. All the heavenly things in the Church on earth require purifying by the sprinkling of the blood of the atoning sacrifice once offered by Christ; and it is to this the reference is made here. And having provided means for purification, he as the high priest, by virtue of his sacrifice, entered into the holiest, heavenly things on earth, for the Church here below, in order to prepare it for the holiest above. “In the heavens” may probably refer to two parts of Christ’s kingdom, the one in heaven and the other on earth; and latter, as things which require a sacrifice; and then in the following verse the former part is alluded to, the kingdom above, even heaven, represented by the holy of holies. — Ed.
24. For Christ is not entered, etc. This is a confirmation of the former verse. He had spoken of the true sanctuary, even the heavenly; he now adds that Christ entered there. It hence follows that a suitable confirmation is required. The holy places he takes for the sanctuary; he says that it is not made with hands, because it ought not to be classed with the created things which are subject to decay; for he does not mean here the heaven we see, and in which the stars shine, but the glorious kingdom of God which is above all the heavens. He calls the old sanctuary the ἀντίτυπον, the antitype of the true, that is, of the spiritual; for all the external figures represented as in a mirror what would have otherwise been above our corporeal senses. Greek writers sometimes use the same word in speaking of our sacraments, and wisely too and suitably, for every sacrament is a visible image of what is invisible.
Now to appear, etc. So formerly the Levitical priest stood before God in the name of the people, but typically; for in Christ is found the reality and the full accomplishment of what was typified. The ark was indeed a symbol of the divine presence; But it is Christ who really presents himself before God, and stands there to obtain favor for us, so that now there is no reason why we should flee from God’s tribunal, since we have so kind an advocate, through whose faithfulness and protection we are made secure and safe. Christ was indeed our advocate when he was on earth; but it was a further concession made to our infirmity that he ascended into heaven to undertake there the office of an advocate. So that whenever mention is made of his ascension into heaven, this benefit ought ever to come to our minds, that he appears there before God to defend us by his advocacy. Foolishly, then, and unreasonably the question is asked by some, has he not always appeared there? For the Apostle speaks here only of his intercession, for the sake of which he entered the heavenly sanctuary.
25. Nor yet that he should offer himself often, etc. How, then, is he a priest, one may say, if he offers no sacrifices? To this I reply that it is not requited of a priest that he should be continually sacrificing; for even under the Law there were days appointed for the chief sacrifices every year; they had also their hours daily morning and evening. But as that only true sacrifice which Christ offered once for all is ever efficacious, and thus perpetual in its effects, it is no wonder that on its virtue, which never fails, Christ’s eternal priesthood should be sustained. And here again he shows how and in what things Christ differs from the Levitical priest. Of the sanctuary he had spoken before; but he notices one difference as to the kind of sacrifice, for Christ offered himself and not an animal; and he adds another; that he repeated not his sacrifice, as under the Law, for the repetition there was frequent and even incessant.
26. For then must he often have suffered, etc. He shows how great an absurdity follows, if we do not count it enough that an expiation has been made by the one sacrifice of Christ. For he hence concludes that he must have died often; for death is connected with sacrifices. How this latter supposition is most unreasonable; it then follows that the virtue of the one sacrifice is eternal and extends to all ages. And he says since the foundation of the world, or from the beginning of the world (158) for in all ages from the beginning there were sins which needed expiation. Except then the sacrifice of Christ was efficacious, no one of the fathers would have obtained salvation; for as they were exposed to God’s wrath, a remedy for deliverance would have failed them, had not Christ by suffering once suffered so much as was necessary to reconcile men to God from the beginning of the world even to the end. Except then we look for many deaths, we must be satisfied with the one true sacrifice.
And hence it is evident how frivolous is the distinction, in the acuteness of which the Papists take so much delight; for they say that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was bloody, but that the sacrifice of the mass which they pretend to offer daily to God, is unbloody. Were this subtle evasion adopted, then the Spirit of God would be accused of inadvertence, having not thought of such a thing; for the Apostle assumes it here as an admitted truth, that there is no sacrifice without death. I care nothing that ancient writers have spoken thus; for it is not in the power of men to invent sacrifices as they please. Here stands a truth declared by the Holy Spirit, that sins are not expiated by a sacrifice except blood be shed. Therefore the notion, that Christ is often offered, is a device of the devil.
But now once in the end of the world, etc. He calls that the end of the world or the consummation of the ages, which Paul calls “the fullness of time,” (Galatians 4:4;) for it was the maturity of that time which God had determined in his eternal purpose; and thus cut off is every occasion for men’s curiosity, that they may not dare to inquire why it was no sooner, or why in that age rather than in another. For it behooves us to acquiesce in God’s secret purpose, the reason for which appears clear to him, though it may not be evident to us. In short, the Apostle intimates that Christ’s death was in due time, as he was sent into the world for this end by the Father, in whose power is the lawful right to regulate all things as well as time, and who ordains their succession with consummate wisdom, though often hid from us
This consummation is also set in opposition to the imperfection of past time; for God so held his ancient people in suspense, that it might have been easily concluded that things had not yet reached a fixed state. Hence Paul declares that the end of the ages had come upon us, (1 Corinthians 10:11;) by which he means that the kingdom of Christ contained the accomplishment of all things. But since it was the fullness of time when Christ appeared to expiate sins, they are guilty of offering him an atrocious insult, who seek to renew his sacrifice, as though all things were not completed by his death. He then appeared once for all; for had he done so once or twice, there must have been something defective in the first oblation; but this is inconsistent with fullness.
To put away, or to destroy sin, etc. (159) This agrees with Daniel’s prophecy, in which the sealing up and the abolition of sins are promised, and in which it is also declared that there would be an end to sacrifices, (Daniel 9:24;) for to what purpose are expiations when sins are destroyed? But this destruction is then only effected, when sins are not imputed to those who flee to the sacrifice of Christ; for though pardon is to be sought daily, as we daily provoke God’s wrath; yet as we are reconciled to God in no other way than by the one death of Christ, sin is rightly said to be put away or destroyed by it.
(158) This sentence is not to be taken strictly in its literal meaning; for the world was founded and all things were set in due order before sin entered into it. The phrase is used in a similar way in Luke 11:50. It is a popular mode of speaking intelligible to common readers though not suitable to over-nice and hair-splitting critics.
The truth implied, as Beza observes, is, that sins since the beginning of the world have alone have been expiated by the blood of Christ, the virtue of which extends to all sins, past and future. The effects of his sufferings being perpetual and the same as to all ages, from the beginning to the end of the world, there was no necessity of having them repeated. As to their retrospective influence, see Hebrews 9:15, and Romans 3:25 — Ed.
(159) Literally it is “for the abolishing of sin,” as Doddridge renders it. The word occurs only in one other place, Hebrews 7:18, and is rendered “disannulling;” and Macknight gives it that meaning here, taking “sin” in the sense of sin-offering, “He hath been manifested to abolish sin-offering by the sacrifice of himself.” But this is inconsistent with the drift of the passage. To remove or abolish sin is doubtless what is meant. To “take away sin,” is the version of Beza; and “to remove the punishment due to sin,” is that of Stuart. — Ed.
27. And as it is appointed, etc. The meaning is this: since we patiently wait after death for the day of judgment, it being the common lot of nature which it is not right to struggle against; why should there be less patience in waiting for the second coming of Christ? For if a long interval of time does not diminish, as to men, the hope of a happy resurrection, how unreasonable would it be to render less honor to Christ? But less would it be, were we to call upon him to undergo a second death, when he had once died. Were any one to object and say, that some had died twice, such as Lazarus, and not once; the answer would be this, — that the Apostle speaks here of the ordinary lot of men; but they are to be excepted from this condition, who shall by an instantaneous change put off corruption, (1 Corinthians 15:51;) for he includes none but those who wait for a long time in the dust for the redemption of their bodies.
28. The second time without sin, etc. The Apostle urges this one thing, — that we ought not to be disquieted by vain and impure longings for new kinds of expiations, for the death of Christ is abundantly sufficient for us. Hence he says, that he once appeared and made a sacrifice to abolish sins, and that at his second coming he will make openly manifest the efficacy of his death, so that sin will have no more power to hurt us. (160)
To bear, or, take away sins, is to free from guilt by his satisfaction those who have sinned. He says the sins of many, that is, of all, as in Romans 5:15. It is yet certain that all receive no benefit from the death of Christ; but this happens, because their unbelief prevents them. At the same time this question is not to be discussed here, for the Apostle is not speaking of the few or of the many to whom the death of Christ may be available; but he simply means that he died for others and not for himself; and therefore he opposes many to one. (161)
But what does he mean by saying that Christ will appear without sin? Some say, without a propitiation or an expiatory sacrifice for sin, as the word sin is taken in Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; and in many places in the writings of Moses; but in my judgment he intended to express something more suitable to his present purpose, namely, that Christ at his coming will make it known how truly and really he had taken away sins, so that there would be no need of any other sacrifice to pacify God; as though he had said, “When we come to the tribunal of Christ, we shall find that there was nothing wanting in his death.” (162)
And to the same effect is what he immediately adds, unto salvation to them who look, or wait for him. Others render the sentence differently, “To them who look for him unto salvation;” But the other meaning is the most appropriate; for he means that those shall find complete salvation who recumb with quiet minds on the death of Christ; for this looking for or wanting has a reference to the subject discussed. The Scripture indeed does elsewhere ascribe this in common to believers, that they look for the coming of the Lord, in order to distinguish them from the ungodly, by whom his coming is dreaded, (1 Thessalonians 1:10;) but as the Apostle now contends that we ought to acquiesce in the one true sacrifice of Christ, he calls it the looking for Christ, when we are satisfied with his redemption alone, and seek no other remedies or helps. (163)
(160) “Was once offered,” προσενεχθεὶς, — Grotius regarded this participle as having a reflective sense, “having once for all offered up himself;” and so does Stuart. The first aorist passive has often this sense. “By whom was he offered?” asks Theophylact; he answers, “by himself, he being a high priest.” This amounts to the same thing. — Ed
(161) “We are told that οἱ πολλοὶ is often equivalent to πάντες. It is not however quite certain that the Apostle here meant to express πάντων; the verse concludes with the mention of those who ‘wait for him’ i.e., who wait for Christ’s second coming in humble hope of receiving their reward; and these manifestly are not the whole human race.” — Bp. Middleton, quoted by Bloomfield. — Ed
(162) Schleusner and Stuart consider “without sin” to mean “without sin-offering” without any sacrifice for sin. Doddridge and Scott take its meaning to be “without being in the likeness of sinful flesh,” or, without that humiliating form in which he atoned for sin. Some have said, “without sin” being imputed to him. The construction which the passage seems to afford is this, “without bearing sin.” The previous clause is that, to bear or to suffer for, he having made the first time a full and complete expiation.
To “bear sins,” is not, as some say, to take them away, in allusion to the scape goat, but to endure the punishment due to them, to make an atonement for them. See 1 Peter 2:24; where the same word to “bear,” in connection with “sins,” is used; and where it clearly means to bear the penalty of sin; the end of the verse is, “with whose stripes we are healed.” — Ed.
(163) Most commentators adopt the same view, as conveyed in our version, connecting “salvation” with appearing, such as Beza, Grotius, Doddridge, Scott and Stuart. — Ed.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 9". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Seventh Sunday after Easter