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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Hebrews 8

Verses 1-99

Ch. 8. Having compared the two Priesthoods, and shewn the inferiority of the Aaronic priesthood to that of Christ as “a High Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek,” the writer now proceeds to contrast the two Covenants. After fixing the attention of his readers on Christ as the High Priest of the True Sanctuary (1 6) he shews that God, displeased with the disobedience of those who were under the Old Covenant, had by the prophet Jeremiah promised a New Covenant (7 9) which should be superior to the Old in three respects, i. Because the Law of it should be written on the heart (10). ii. Because it should be universal (11), and iii. because it should be a covenant of forgiveness (12). The decrepitude of the Old Covenant, indicated by its being called “old” is a sign of its approaching and final evanescence (13).

1. of the things which we have spoken this is the sum ] Rather, “the chief point in what we are saying is this.” The word rendered “sum” ( kephalaion ) may mean, in its classical sense, “chief point,” and that must be the meaning here, because these verses are not a summary and they add fresh particulars to what he has been saying. Dr Field renders it “now to crown our present discourse;” Tyndale and Cranmer, “ pyth.

is set ] Rather, “sat” a mark of preeminence (10:11, 12, 12:2).

of the throne ] This conception seems to be the origin of the Jewish word Metatron , a sort of Prince of all the Angels, near the throne ( meta thronios ).

of the Majesty in the heavens ] A very Alexandrian expression. See note on 1:3.

2 . a minister ] From this word leitourgos (derived from λεώς “people,” and ἔργον , “work”) comes our “liturgy.”

of the sanctuary ] This (and not “of holy things,” or “of the saints”) is the only tenable rendering of the word in this Epistle.

and ] The “and” does not introduce something new; it merely furnishes a more definite explanation of the previous word.

of the true tabernacle ] Rather, “of the genuine tabernacle” ( alethinēs not alethous ). The word alethinos means “ genuine ,” and in this Epistle “ ideal ” “ archetypal .” It is the antithesis not to what is spurious, but to what is material, secondary, and transient. The Alexandrian Jews, as well as the Christian scholars of Alexandria, had adopted from Plato the doctrine of Ideas, which they regarded as divine and eternal archetypes of which material and earthly things were but the imperfect copies. They found their chief support for this introduction of Platonic views into the interpretation of the Bible in Exodus 25:40 , Exodus 26:30 (quoted in ver. 5). Accordingly they regarded the Mosaic tabernacle as a mere sketch, copy, or outline of the Divine Idea or Pattern. The Idea is the perfected Reality of its material shadow. They extended this conception much farther:

“What if earth

Be but the shadow of heaven, and things therein

Each to the other like, more than on earth is thought?”

The “genuine tabernacle” is the Heavenly Ideal (9:24) shewn to Moses. To interpret it of “the glorified body of Christ” by a mere verbal comparison of John 2:19 , is to adopt the all-but-universal method of perverting the meaning of Scripture by the artificial elaborations and inferential afterthoughts of a scholastic theology.

pitched ] Lit. “fixed.”

and not man ] Omit “and.” Not a man, as Moses was. Comp. 9:11, 24.

3 . is ordained ] Rather, “is appointed.”

gifts and sacrifices ] See note on 5:1.

that this man ] It would be better as in the R. V. to avoid introducing the word “man” which is not in the original, and to say “that this High Priest.”

have somewhat also to offer ] Namely, the Blood of His one sacrifice. The point is one of the extremest importance, and though the writer does not pause to explain what was the sacrifice which Christ offered as High Priest, he purposely introduces the subject here to prepare for his subsequent development of it in 9:12, 10:5 7, 11, 12. Similarly St Paul tells us “Christ … hath given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour” (Ephesians 5:2 ).

4 . For if he were ] Rather, “now if He were still on earth.”

if he were on earth ] His sanctuary must be a heavenly one, for in the earthly one He had no standpoint.

he should not be a priest ] He would not even be so much as a Priest at all; still less a High Priest; for He was of the Tribe of Judah (7:14), and the Law had distinctly ordained that “no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the Lord” (Numbers 16:40 ).

seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law ] Rather (omitting “priests” with the best mss.), since “there are (already) those who offer their gifts according to the Law.” The writer could not possibly have used these present tenses if the Epistle had been written after the Fall of Jerusalem. Jewish institutions are, indeed, spoken of in the present tense, after the fall of Jerusalem, by Barnabas and Clement of Rome; but they are merely using an everyday figure of speech. In case of the Epistle to the Hebrews the argument would have gained such indefinite force and weight in passages like this by appealing to a fact so startling as the annulment of the Mosaic system by God Himself, working by the unmistakeable demonstrations of history, that no writer similarly circumstanced could possibly have passed over such a point in silence.

5 . who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things ] Namely, the priests who are ministering in that which is nothing but an outline and shadow (10:1; Colossians 2:17 ) of the heavenly things. The verb “minister” usually takes a dative of the person to whom the ministry is paid. Here and in 13:10 the dative is used of the thing in which the service is done. It is conceivable that there is a shade of irony in this they serve not a Living God, but a dead tabernacle. And this tabernacle is only a sketch, an outline, a ground pattern (1 Chronicles 28:11 ) as it were at the best a representative image of the Heavenly Archetype.

of heavenly things ] Perhaps rather “of the heavenly sanctuary” (9:23, 24).

as Moses was admonished …] “Even as Moses, when about to complete the tabernacle has been divinely admonished”.… On this use of the perfect see note on 4:9, &c. The verb is used of divine intimations in Matthew 2:12 ; Luke 2:26 ; Acts 10:22 &c.

all things ] This expression is not found either in the Hebrew or the LXX. of the passages referred to (Exodus 25:40 , Exodus 26:30 ); it seems to be due to Philo ( De Leg, Alleg. iii. 33), who may , however, have followed some older reading.

according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount ] Here, as is so often the case in comments on Scripture, we are met by the idlest of all speculations, as to whether Moses saw this “pattern” in a dream or with his waking eyes; whether the pattern was something real or merely an impression produced upon his senses; whether the tabernacle was thus a copy or only “a copy of a copy and a shadow of a shadow,” &c. Such questions are otiose, because even if they were worth asking at all they do not admit of any answer, and involve no instruction, and no result of the smallest value. The Palestinian Jews in their slavish literal way said that there was in Heaven an exact literal counterpart of the Mosaic Tabernacle with “a fiery Ark, a fiery Table, a fiery Candlestick,” &c, which descended from heaven for Moses to see; and that Gabriel, in a workman’s apron, shewed Moses how to make the candlestick, an inference which they founded on Numbers 8:4 , “And this work of the candlestick” (Menachoth, f. 29. 1). Without any such fetish-worship of the letter it is quite enough to accept the simple statement that Moses worked after a pattern which God had brought before his mind. The chief historical interest in the verse is the fact that it was made the basis for the Scriptural Idealism by which Philo and the Alexandrian Jews tried to combine Judaism with the Platonic philosophy, and to treat the whole material world as a shadow of the spiritual world.

6 . But now ] i.e. but, as it is.

a more excellent ministry, by how much also ] Rather, “a ministry more excellent in proportion as He is also.” This proportional method of stating results runs throughout the Epistle (see 1:4, 3:3, 7:22). It might be said with truth that the gist of his argument turns on the word “how much more.” He constantly adopts the argumentum a minori ad majus (7:19, 22, 9:11, 14, 23, 10:29). For his object was to shew the Hebrews that the privileges of Judaism to which they were looking back with such longing eyes were but transitory outlines and quivering shadows of the more blessed, and more eternal privileges which they enjoyed as Christians. Judaism was but a shadow of which Christianity was the substance; Judaism was but a copy of which Christianity was the permanent Idea, and heavenly Archetype; it was but a scaffolding within which the genuine Temple had been built; it was but a chrysalis from which the inward winged life had departed.

the mediator ] 9:15, 12:24; 1 Timothy 2:5 .

upon better promises ] Better, because not physical but spiritual, and not temporal but heavenly and eternal. Bengel notices that the main words in the verse are all Pauline. Romans 9:4 ; 1 Timothy 2:5 .

7 13. Threefold superiority of the New to the Old Covenant, as prophesied by Jeremiah; being a proof that the “promises” of the New Covenant are “better”

7. if that first covenant had been faultless ] Whereas it was as he has said “weak” and “unprofitable” and “earthly” (7:18). The difference between the writer’s treatment of the relation between Christianity and Judaism and St Paul’s mode of dealing with the same subject consists in this: to St Paul the contrast between the Law and the Gospel was that between the Letter and the Spirit, between bondage and freedom, between Works and Faith, between Command and Promise, between threatening and mercy. All these polemical elements disappear almost entirely from the Epistle to the Hebrews, which regards the two dispensations as furnishing a contrast between Type and Reality. This was the more possible to Apollos because he regards Judaism not so much in the light of a Law as in the light of a Priesthood and a system of worship. Like those who had been initiated into the ancient mysteries the Christian convert from Judaism could say ἔφυγον κακὸν εὗρον ἄμεινον “I fled the bad, I found the better;” not that Judaism was in any sense intrinsically and inherently “ bad ” (Romans 7:12 ), but that it became so when it was preferred to something so much more divine.

8. For finding fault with them ] The “for” introduces his proof that “place for a better covenant was being sought for.” The persons blamed are not expressed, for the word “them” belongs to “He says.” Perhaps the meaning is “blaming the first covenant, He says to them” (who were under it). The “He” is God speaking to the Prophet.

Behold, the days come …] The quotation is from Jeremiah 31:31-24.31.34 .

I will make ] The Hebrew word means literally “I will cut,” alluding perhaps to the slaying of victims at the inauguration of a covenant. But the LXX. and the writer of the Epistle substitute a less literal word.

9. I took them by the hand ] See note on 2:16.

because they continued not in my covenant ] The disobedience of the Israelites was a cause for nullifying the covenant which they had transgressed (Judges 2:20 , Judges 2:21 ; 2 Kings 17:15-12.17.18 ). Comp. Hosea 1:9 , “Ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.”

and I regarded them not ] These words correspond to the “though I was a husband unto them” of the original. The quotation is from the LXX., who perhaps followed a slightly different reading. Rabbi Kimchi holds that the rendering of the LXX. is justifiable even with the present reading.

10. and write them in their hearts ] The gift of an inner law, not written on granite slabs, but on the fleshen tablets of the heart, is the first promise of the New Covenant. It involves the difference between the Voice of the Spirit of the God in the Conscience and a rigid external law; the difference, that is, between spirituality and legalism. This is brought out in Ezekiel 36:26-26.36.29 .

I will be to them a God ] For similar prophecies see Zechariah 8:8 ; Hosea 2:23 ; and for their fulfilment 1 Peter 2:9 , 1 Peter 2:10 ; 2 Corinthians 6:16-47.6.18 .

11. his neighbour ] Lit. “his fellow-citizen.”

for all shall know me ] The second promise of the New Covenant is that there shall be no appropriation of knowledge; no sacerdotal exclusiveness; no learned caste that shall monopolise the keys of knowledge, and lock out those that desire to enter in. “ All thy children shall be taught of the Lord” (Isaiah 54:13 ), and all shall be “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people.”

all shall know me ] By virtue of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which “teacheth us of all things” (1 John 2:27 ).

from the least to the greatest ] That is, from the eldest to the youngest (Genesis 19:11 ; Acts 8:10 , &c.).

12. I will be merciful to their unrighteousness ] Comp. Romans 11:27 . The third promise of the New Covenant is the forgiveness of sins, with a fulness and reality which could not be achieved by the sacrifices of the Old Covenant (see 2:15, 9:9, 12, 10:1, 2, 4, 22). Under the Old Covenant there had been a deep feeling of the nullity of sacrifices in themselves , which led to an almost startling disparagement of the sacrificial system (1 Samuel 15:22 ; Psalms 40:6 , 50:Psalms 40:8-19.40.10 , 51:16; Micah 6:6 , Micah 6:7 ; Isaiah 1:11 ; Hosea 6:6 ; Amos 5:21 , Amos 5:22 , &c.)

13 . he hath made the first old ] The very expression, “a New Covenant,” used in the disparaging connexion in which it stands, superannuates the former covenant, and stamps it as antiquated . The verse is a specimen of the deep sense which it was the constant object of Alexandrian interpreters to deduce from Scripture. The argument is analogous to that of 7:11.

Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away ] Lit. “Now that which is becoming antiquated and waxing aged, is near obliteration.” The expression “ near evanescence “again shows that the Epistle was written before the Fall of Jerusalem, when the decree of dissolution which had been passed upon the Old Covenant was carried into effect. Even the Rabbis, though they made the Law an object of superstitious and extravagant veneration, yet sometimes admitted that it would ultimately cease to be namely, when “the Evil Impulse” (Deuteronomy 31:21 ) should be overcome.

ready to vanish away ] Comp. the expression “near a curse” (6:8), and Dr Kay points out the curious fact that “curse” and “obliteration” ( aphanismos here alone in the N. T.) appear in juxtaposition in 2 Kings 22:19 (where our version renders it “desolation”).

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Hebrews 8". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/hebrews-8.html. 1896.