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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 9

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

Ch. 9. After thus tracing the contrast between the Two Covenants, the writer proceeds to shew the difference between their ordinances of ministration (9:1 10:18). He contrasts the sanctuary (1 5), the offering, and the access (6, 7) of the Levitical Priests, in their shadowy and inefficacious ritual (9, 10), with the sanctuary (11), the offering, and the access of Christ (12), stating how far superior was the efficacy of Christ’s work (13, 14). In the remainder of the chapter (15 28) he explains the perfection and indispensableness of Christ’s one sacrifice for sin. His object in this great section of the Epistle is to prove to the Hebrews that Christ is “the end of the Law;” that by His sacrifice all other sacrifices have been rendered needless; and that unlike the brief, intermittent, and partial access of the High Priest to the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, we have through Christ a perfect, universal, and continuous access to God.

1. Then verily the first tabernacle had also ordinances ] Rather, “To resume then, even the first ( covenant ) had its ordinances.” No substantive is expressed with “first,” but the train of reasoning in the last chapter sufficiently shews that “Covenant,” not “Tabernacle,” is the word to be supplied.

had ] Although he often refers to the Levitic ordinances as still continuing, he here contemplates them as obsolete and practically annulled.

and a worldly sanctuary ] Rather, “and its sanctuary a material one.” The word kosmikon , rendered “worldly,” means that the Jewish Sanctuary was visible and temporary a mundane structure in contrast to the Heavenly, Eternal Sanctuary. The adjective “worldly” only occurs here and in Titus 2:12 .

2. made ] “prepared” or “established.” He treats of the Sanctuary in 2 5, and of the Services in 6 10.

the first ] By this is not meant the Tabernacle in contrast with the Temple, but “ the outer chamber (or Holy Place).” It is however true that the writer is thinking exclusively of the Tabernacle of the Wilderness, which was the proper representative of the worship of the Old Covenant. He seems to have regarded the later Temples as deflections from the divine pattern, and he wanted to take all that was Judaic at its best. His description applies to the Tabernacle only. It is doubtful whether the seven-branched candlestick was preserved in the Temple of Solomon; there was certainly no ark or mercy-seat, much less a Shechinah, in the Herodian Temple of this period. When Pompey profanely forced his way into the Holy of Holies he found to his great astonishment nothing whatever ( vacua omnia ).

was ] Rather, “is.” The whole tabernacle is ideally present to the writer’s imagination.

the candlestick ] Exodus 25:31-39 , Exodus 37:17-24 . The word would more accurately be rendered “lamp-stand.” In Solomon’s temple there seem to have been ten (1 Kings 7:49 ). There was indeed one only in the Herodian temple (1 Macc. 1:21, 4:49; Jos. Antt. xii. 7. § 6, and allusions in the Talmud). It could not however have exactly resembled the famous figure carved on the Arch of Titus (as Josephus hints in a mysterious phrase, Jos. B. J. vii. 5. § 5), for that has marine monsters carved upon its pediment, which would have been a direct violation of the second commandment.

and the table ] Exodus 25:23-30 , Exodus 37:10-16 . There were ten such tables of acacia-wood overlaid with gold in Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 4:8 , 2 Chronicles 4:19 ).

and the shewbread ] Lit. “the setting forth of the loaves.” The Hebrew name for it is “the bread of the face” (i.e. placed before the presence of God), Exodus 25:23-30 ; Leviticus 24:5-9 .

which is called the sanctuary ] In the O.T. Kodesh , “the Holy Place.”

3. after the second vail ] Rather, “behind the second veil.” There were two veils in the Tabernacle one called Mâsâk (Exodus 26:36 , Exodus 26:37 , LXX. kalumma or epispastron ) which hung before the entrance; and “the second,” called Parocheth (LXX. katapetasma ) which hung between the Holy Place and the Holiest (Exodus 26:31-35 ). The Rabbis invent two curtains between the Holy Place and the Holiest with a space of a cubit between them, to which they give the name Tarkesin , which is of uncertain origin. They had many fables about the size and weight of this curtain that it was a hand-breadth thick, and took 300 priests to draw it, &c. &c.

the holiest of all ] Lit. “the Holy of Holies,” a name which, like the Latin Sancta Sanctorum is the exact translation of the Hebrew Kodesh Hakkodashim . In Solomon’s Temple it was called “the Oracle.”

4. the golden censer ] The Greek word is thumiaterion , and it has been long disputed whether it means Censer or Altar of Incense. It does not occur in the Greek version of the Pentateuch (except as a various reading) where the “altar of incense” is rendered by thusiasterion thumiamatos (Exodus 31:8 ; comp. Luke 1:11 ); but it is used by the LXX. in 2 Chronicles 26:19 ; Ezekiel 8:11 , and there means “censer;” and the Rabbis say that “a golden censer” was used by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement only ( Yoma , iv. 4). “Censer” accordingly is the rendering of the word in this place in the Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic and Æthiopic versions; and the word is so understood by many commentators ancient and modern. On the other hand (which is very important) both in Josephus ( Antt. iii. 6 § 8) and in Philo (Opp. i. 504) the word thumiaterion means “ the Altar of Incense ,” which, like the table, might be called “golden,” because it was overlaid with gold; and this is the sense of the word in other Hellenistic writers of this period down to Clemens of Alexandria. The Altar of Incense was so important that it is most unlikely to have been left unmentioned. Further, it is observable that we are not told of any censer kept in the Tabernacle , but only in the Temple. The incense in the days of the Tabernacle was burnt in a machettah ( πυρεῖον , “brazier,” Leviticus 16:12 ); nor could the censer have been kept in the Holiest Place, for then the High Priest must have gone in to fetch it before kindling the incense, which would have been contrary to all the symbolism of the ritual.

But it is asserted that the writer is in any case mistaken, for that neither the censer nor the “altar of incense” were in the Holiest.

But this is not certain as regards the censer. It is possible that some golden censer-stand may have stood in the Holiest, on which the High Priest placed the small golden brazier ( machettah , LXX. pureion ), which he carried with him. There is indeed no doubt that the “Altar of Incense” was not in the Holiest Place, but as all authorities combine in telling us, in the Holy Place. But there was a possibility of mistake about the point because in Exodus 26:35 only the table and the lamp-stand are mentioned; and Exodus 30:6 is a little vague. Yet the writer does not say that the altar of incense was in the Holiest It was impossible that any Jew should have made such a mistake, unless he were, as Delitzsch says, “a monster of ignorance;” and if he had been unaware of the fact otherwise, he would have found from Philo in several places ( De Victim Offer . § 4; Quis Rer. Div. Haer. § 46) that the Altar (which Philo also calls thumiaterion ) was outside the Holiest. Josephus also mentions this, and it was universally notorious ( B. J. v. 5, § 5). Accordingly, the writer only says that the Holiest “ had ” the Altar of Incense, in other words that the Altar in some sense belonged to it . And this is rigidly accurate; for in 1 Kings 6:22 the altar is described as “belonging to” the Oracle (lit. “the Altar which was to the Oracle,” laddebîr ), and on the Day of Atonement the curtain was drawn, and the Altar was intimately associated with the High Priest’s service in the Holiest Place. Indeed the Altar of Incense (since incense was supposed to have an atoning power, Numbers 16:47 ) was itself called “Holy of Holies” (A. V. “most holy,” Exodus 30:10 ) and is expressly said (Exodus 30:6 , Exodus 40:5 ) to be placed “ before the mercy-seat.” In Isaiah 6:1-8 a seraph flies from above the mercy-seat to the Altar. The writer then, though he is not entering into details with pedantic minuteness, has not made any mistake; nor is there the smallest ground for the idle conjecture that he was thinking of the Jewish Temple at Leontopolis. The close connection of the Altar of Incense with the service of the Day of Atonement in the Holiest Place is illustrated by 2 Macc. 2:1 8, where the Altar is mentioned in connexion with the Ark.

the ark of the covenant ] This, as we have seen, applies only to the Tabernacle and to Solomon’s Temple. “There was nothing whatever,” as Josephus tells us, in the Holiest Place of the Temple after the Exile ( B. J. v. 5. § 5). The stone on which the ark had once stood, called by the Rabbis “the stone of the Foundation,” alone was visible.

overlaid round about with gold ] The word “round about” means literally “on all sides,” i.e. “within and without” (Exodus 25:11 ).

with gold ] The diminutive χρυσίῳ here used for gold seems to imply nothing distinctive. Diminutives always tend to displace the simple forms in late dialects.

the golden pot that had manna …] The Palestine Targum says that it was an earthen jar, but Jewish tradition asserted that it was of gold. The LXX. inserts the word “golden” in Exodus 16:33 and so does Philo. It contained an “omer” of the manna, which was the daily portion for each person. The writer distinctly seems to imply that the Ark contained three things a golden jar ( stamnos ) containing a specimen of the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the Stone Tables of the Decalogue. Here again it is asserted that he made a mistake. Certainly the Stone Tables were in the Ark, and the whole symbolism of the Ark represented the Cherubim bending in adoration over the blood-sprinkled propitiatory which covered the tables of the broken moral law. But Moses was only bidden to lay up the jar and the rod “ before the Testimony ” not “ in the Ark ;” and in 1 Kings 8:9 ; 2 Chronicles 5:10 we are somewhat emphatically informed that “there was nothing in the Ark” except these two tables, which we are told (Deuteronomy 10:2 , Deuteronomy 10:5 ) that Moses placed there. All that can be said is that the writer is not thinking of the Temple of Solomon at all, and that there is nothing impossible in the Jewish tradition here followed, which supposes that “before the Testimony” was interpreted to mean “in the Ark.” Rabbis like Levi Ben Gershom and Abarbanel had certainly no desire to vindicate the accuracy of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and yet they say that the pot and the rod were actually at one time in the Ark, though they had been removed from it before the days of Solomon.

Aaron’s rod that budded ] Numbers 17:6-10 .

5. the cherubims ] Rather, “the Cherubim,” since im is the Hebrew plural termination.

of glory ] Not “the glorious Cherubim” but “the Cherubim of the Shechinah” or cloud of glory. This was regarded as the symbol of God’s presence, and was believed to rest between their outspread wings (see 1 Samuel 4:22 ; 2 Kings 19:15 ; Haggai 2:7-9 ; Ecclus. 49:8). They were emblems of all that was highest and best in animated nature the grandest products of creation combined in one living angelic symbol (Ezekiel 10:4 ) upholding the throne of the Eternal as on “a chariot” and bending in adoring contemplation of the moral law as the revelation of God’s will.

the mercy-seat ] The Greek word “ hilasterion ” or “propitiatory” is the translation used by the LXX. for the Hebrew Cappôreth or “covering.” The word probably meant no more than “lid” or “cover;” but the LXX. understood it metaphorically of the covering of sins or expiation, because the blood of the expiatory offering was sprinkled upon it.

of which we cannot now speak particularly ] Rather, “severally,” “in detail.” It was no part of the writer’s immediate purpose to enter upon an explanation of that symbolism of the Tabernacle which has largely occupied the attention of Jewish historians and Talmudists as well as of modern writers. Had he done so he would doubtless have thrown light upon much that is now obscure. But he is pressing on to his point, which is to shew that even the most solemn and magnificent act of the whole Jewish ritual the ceremony of the Day of Atonement bears upon its face the signs of complete transitoriness and inefficiency when compared with the work of Christ.

6. Now when these things were thus ordained ] Rather, “since then these things have been thus arranged.”

went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God ] Rather, “into the outer tabernacle the priests enter continually in performance of their ministrations.” Their ordinary ministrations were to offer sacrifice, burn incense, and light the lamps, and in the performance of these they certainly entered the Holy Place twice daily, and apparently might do so as often as they saw fit.

7. But into the second ] i.e. “the inner,” “the Holiest.” There was a graduated sanctity in the Tabernacle and in the Temple. In the Temple any one might go into the Outer Court or Court of the Gentiles; Jews into the Second Court; men only into the Third; priests only in their robes into the Holy Place; and only the High Priest into the inmost shrine (Jos. c. Apion . ii. 8).

once every year ] i.e. only on one day of the whole year, viz. on the tenth day of the seventh month Tisri, the Day of Atonement. In the course of that day he had to enter it at least three, and possibly four times, namely (1) with the incense, (2) with the blood of the bullock offered for his own sins, (3) with the blood of the goat for the sins of the people, and perhaps (4) to remove the censer (Leviticus 16:12-16 ; Yoma, 5:2). But these entrances were practically one.

offered ] The present “offers” is here used, as before.

for the errors of the people ] Lit. “for the ignorances,” but the word seems to be used in the LXX. to include sins as well as errors (5:2, 3; Exodus 34:7 ; Leviticus 16:2 , Leviticus 16:11 , Leviticus 16:34 ; Numbers 15:27-31 ).

8 . that the way into the holiest … was not yet made manifest ] Entrance into the Holiest symbolised direct access to God, and the “way” into it had not been made evident until He came who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 ). He is “the new and living way” (10:19, 20).

while as the first tabernacle was yet standing ] Rather, “while yet the outer Tabernacle is still standing,” i.e. so long as there is (for the Temple, which represented the continuity of the Tabernacle and the Old Covenant, had not sunk in flames, as it did a few years later) an outer Tabernacle, through which not even a Priest was ever allowed to enter into the Holiest. Hence the deep significance of the rending of the veil of the Temple from the top to the bottom at the Crucifixion. (Matthew 27:51 ).

9. which was a figure for the time then present ] i.e. And this outer Tabernacle is a parable for the present time. By “the present time” he means the prae-Christian epoch in which the unconverted Jews were still (practically) living. The full inauguration of the New Covenant of which Christ had prophesied as his Second Coming, began with the final annulment of the Old, which was only completed when the Temple fell, and when the observance of the Levitic system thus became (by the manifest interposition of God in history) a thing simply impossible . A Christian was already living in “the Future Aeon” ( Olam habba ); a Jew who had not embraced the Gospel still belonged to “the present time” ( olam hazzeh ὁ καιρὸς ὁ ἐνεστηκώς ). The meaning of the verse is that the very existence of an outer Tabernacle (“the Holy Place”) emphasized the fact that close access to God (of which the entrance of the High Priest into the Holiest was a symbol) was not permitted under the Old Covenant.

in which …”] The true reading is not καθʼ ὅν , but καθʼ ἥν , so that the “which” refers to the word “parable” or “symbol,” “in accordance with which symbolism of the outer Tabernacle, both gifts and sacrifices are being offered, such as ( μὴ ) are not able, so far as the conscience is concerned, to perfect the worshipper.” He says “are offered” and “him that does the service,” using the present (not as in the A. V. the past tense), because he is throwing himself into the position of the Jew who still clings to the Old Covenant. The introduction of “a clear conscience” (or moral consciousness) into the question may seem like a new thought, but it is not. The implied argument is this: only the innocent can “ascend the hill of the Lord, and stand in His Holy Place:” the High Priest was regarded as symbolically innocent by virtue of minute precautions against any ceremonial defilement, and because he carried with him the atonement for his own sins and those of the people: he therefore, but he alone , was permitted to approach God by entering the Holiest Place. The worshippers in general were so little regarded as “perfected in conscience” that only the Priests could enter even the outer “Holy” (7:18, 19, 10:1 4, 11).

10. which stood only in meats and drinks ] The “which” of the A. V. refers to the “present time.” The Greek is here elliptical, for the verse begins with the words “only upon.” The meaning is that the “gifts and sacrifices” consist only in meats and drinks and divers washings being ordinances of the flesh, imposed (only) till the season of reformation.

meats ] Exodus 12:0 .; Leviticus 11:0 .; Numbers 6:0 .

drinks ] Leviticus 10:8 , Leviticus 10:9 ; Numbers 6:2 , Numbers 6:3 ; Leviticus 11:34 .

divers washings ] Leviticus 8:6 , Leviticus 8:12 ; Exodus 40:31 , Exodus 40:32 ; Numbers 19:0 and the Levitical law passim . All these things had already been disparaged by Christ as meaning nothing in themselves (Mark 7:1-15 ); and St Paul had written “Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink … which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16 , Colossians 2:17 ).

and carnal ordinances ] This is a wrong reading. The “and” should be omitted, and for dikaiomasi we should read dikaiomata in the accusative case. It stands in apposition to the sentence in general, and to the “gifts and sacrifices” of the last verse; they could not assure the conscience, because they had only to do with meats, &c. being only ordinances of the flesh, i.e. outward, transitory, superficial.

imposed on them ] There is no need for the “on them.” The verb means “imposed as a burden,” “lying as a yoke.” Comp. Acts 15:10 , Acts 15:28 ; Galatians 5:1 .

until the time of reformation ] The season of reformation is that of which Jeremiah prophesied: it is in fact the New Covenant, see 8:7 12. The “yoke of bondage,” which consists of a galling and wearisome externalism, was then changed for “an easy yoke and a light burden” (Matthew 11:29 ).

11 14. Assurance of Conscience, the condition of access to God, was secured through Christ alone

11. being come ] “Being come among us.”

a high priest of good things to come ] Another and perhaps better reading is “of the good things that have come” ( γενομένων B, D, not μελλόντων ). The writer here transfers himself from the Jewish to the Christian standpoint. The “good things” of which the Law was only “the shadow” (10:1) were still future to the Jew, but to the Christian they had already come.

by a greater and more perfect tabernacle ] The preposition dia rendered “by” may mean either “ through ” in which case “the greater and better tabernacle” means the outer heavens through which Christ (anthropomorphically speaking) passed (see ver. 24 and 4:14); or “ by means of ” in which case “the better tabernacle” is left undefined, and may here mean either the human nature in which for the time “He tabernacled” (10:20; John 1:14 , John 1:2 :19; Colossians 2:9 ; 2 Corinthians 5:1 ), or as in 8:2, the Ideal Church of the firstborn in heaven (comp. Ephesians 1:3 ).

not made with hands ] Because whatever tabernacle is specifically meant it is one which “the Lord pitched, not man.”

not of this building ] The word ktisis may mean either” building “or “creation.” If the latter, then the meaning is that the better tabernacle, through which Christ entered, does not belong to the material world. But since ktizo means “to build,” ktisis may mean “building,” and then the word “this” by a rare idiom means “vulgar,” “ordinary’ (Field, Otium Norvicense , iii. 142); otherwise the clause would be a mere tautology.

12. neither ] “Nor yet.”

by the blood of goats and calves ] “by means of the blood of goats and calves,” (this is the order of the words in the best mss.). It is not meant that the sacrifices of the Old Covenant were useless , but only that when they were regarded as meritorious in themselves apart from the faith, and the grace of God, by which they could be blessed to sincere and humble worshippers they could neither purge the conscience, nor give access to God. When the Prophets speak of sacrifices with such stern disparagement they are only denouncing the superstition which regarded the mere opus operatum as sufficient apart from repentance and holiness (Hosea 6:6 ; Isaiah 1:10-17 , &c.).

by his own blood ] His own blood was the offering by which He was admitted as our High Priest and Eternal Redeemer into the Holy of Holies of God’s immediate presence (13:20; Revelation 5:6 ).

once ] “once for all.”

into the holy place ] i.e. into the Holiest, as in Leviticus 16:3 , Leviticus 16:9 .

eternal redemption ] i.e. “the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7 ), and ransom from sinful lives (1 Peter 1:18 , 1 Peter 1:19 ) to the service of God (Revelation 5:9 ). It should always be borne in mind that the Scriptural metaphors of Ransom and Propitiation describe the Atonement by its blessed effects as regards man . All speculation as to its bearing on the counsels of God, all attempts to frame a scholastic scheme out of metaphors only intended to indicate a transcendent mystery, by its results for us have led to heresy and error. To whom was the ransom paid? The question is idle, because “ransom” is only a metaphor of our deliverance from slavery. For nearly a thousand years the Church was content with the most erroneous, and almost blasphemous notion that the ransom was paid by God to the devil , which led to still more grievous aberrations. Anselm who exploded this error substituted for it another the hard forensic notion of indispensable satisfaction . Such terms, like those of “substitution,” “vicarious punishment,” “reconciliation of God to us” (for “of us to God”), have no sanction in Scripture, which only reveals what is necessary for man, and what man can understand, viz. that the love of God in Christ has provided for him a way of escape from ruin, and the forgiveness of sins.

having obtained … for us ] The “for us” is rightly supplied; but the middle voice of the verb shews that Christ in His love to us also regarded the redemption as dear to Himself.

13. if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean ] The writer has designedly chosen the two most striking sacrifices and ceremonials of the Levitical Law, namely the calf and the goat offered for the sins of people and priest on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:0 ) and “the water of separation,” or rather “of impurity,” i.e. “to remove impurity” “as a sin-offering” described in Numbers 19:1-12 (comp. Hebrews 7:26 ).

of a heifer ] The Jews have the interesting legend that nine such red heifers had been slain between the time of Moses and the destruction of the Temple.

the unclean ] Those that have become ceremonially defiled, especially by having touched a corpse.

sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh ] i.e. if these things are adequate to restore a man to ceremonial cleanness which was a type of moral purity. So much efficacy they had; they did make the worshipper ceremonially pure before God: their further and deeper efficacy depended on the faith and sincerity with which they were offered, and was derived from the one offering of which they were a type.

14. how much more ] Again we have the characteristic word the key-note as it were of the Epistle.

the blood of Christ ] which is typified by “the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1 ).

who through the eternal Spirit ] If this be the right rendering the reference must be to the fact that Christ was “quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 ); that “God gave not the Spirit by measure unto Him” (John 3:34 ); that “the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him” (Luke 4:18 ); that He “by the Spirit of God” cast out devils (Matthew 12:28 ). For this view of the meaning see Pearson on the Creed , Art. iii., and it is represented by the reading “Holy” for Eternal in some cursive mss. and some versions. It may however be rendered “by an Eternal Spirit,” namely by His own Spirit by that burning love which proceeded from His own Spirit and not by a mere “ordinance of the flesh” (vers. 10). In the Levitic sacrifices involuntary victims bled; but Christ’s sacrifice was offered by the will of His own Eternal Spirit.

without spot ] Christ had that sinless perfection which was dimly foreshadowed by the unblemished victims which could alone be offered under the Levitic law (1 Peter 1:19 ).

from dead works ] See 6:1. If sinful works are meant, they are represented as affixing a stain to the conscience; they pollute as the touching of a dead thing polluted ceremonially under the Old Law (Numbers 19:11-16 ). But all works are “dead” which are done without love. It is to be observed that the writer true to the Alexandrian training which instilled an awful reverence respecting Divine things attempts even less than St Paul to explain the modus operandi . He tells us that the Blood of Christ redeems and purifies us as the old sacrifices could not do. Sacrifices removed ceremonial defilement they thus “purified the flesh:” but the Blood of Christ perfects and purifies the conscience (10:22) and so admits us into the Presence of God. The “ how can this be?” belongs to the secret things which God has not revealed; we only know and believe that so it is .

to serve the living God ] Not to serve “dead works” or a mere material tabernacle, or fleshly ordinances, but to serve the Living God who can only be truly served by those who are “alive from the dead” (Romans 6:13 ).

15 28. The indispensableness and efficacy of the death of Christ

15. for this cause ] i.e. on account of the grandeur of His offering.

the mediator of the new testament ] Rather, “a mediator of a New Covenant.” Moses had been called by Philo “the Mediator” of the Old Covenant, i.e. he who came between God and Israel as the messenger of it. But Christ’s intervention His coming as One who revealed God to man was accompanied with a sacrifice so infinitely more efficacious that it involved a New Covenant altogether.

by means of death ] This version renders the passage entirely unintelligible. The true rendering and explanation seem to be as follows: “And on this account He is a Mediator of a New Covenant, that since death” [namely the death of sacrificial victims] “occurred for the redemption of the transgressions which took place under the first covenant those who have been called [whether Christians, or faithful believers under the Old Dispensation] may [by virtue of Christ’s death, which the death of those victims typified] receive [i.e. actually enjoy the fruition of, 6:12, 17, 10:36, 11:13] the promise of the Eternal Inheritance.” Volumes of various explanations have been written on this verse, but the explanation given above is very simple. The verse is a sort of reason why Christ’s death was necessary. The ultimate, a priori , reason he does not attempt to explain, because it transcends all understanding; but he merely says that since under the Old Covenant death was necessary, and victims had to be slain in order that by their blood men might be purified, and the High Priest might enter the Holiest Place, so, under the New Covenant, a better and more efficacious death was necessary, both to give to those old sacrifices the only real validity which they possessed, and to secure for all of God’s elect an eternal heritage.

16. For where a testament is ] In these two verses (16, 17), and these only, Diathēkē is used in its Greek and Roman sense of “a will,” and not in its Hebrew sense of “a covenant.” The sudden and momentary change in the significance of the word explains itself, for he has just spoken of an inheritance , and of the necessity for a death . It was therefore quite natural that he should be reminded of the fact that just as the Old Covenant ( Diathēkē ) required the constant infliction of death upon the sacrificed victims, and therefore (by analogy) necessitated the death of Christ under the New, so the word Diathēkē in its other sense of “Will” or “Testament” (which was by this epoch familiar also to the Jews) involved the necessity of death, because a will assigns the inheritance of a man who is dead. This may be called “a mere play on words;” but such a play on words is perfectly admissible in itself; just as we might speak of the “New Testament” (meaning the Book) as “a testament” (meaning “a will”) sealed by a Redeemer’s blood. An illustration of this kind was peculiarly consonant with the deep mystic significance attached by the Alexandrian thinkers to the sounds and the significance of words. Philo also avails himself of both meanings of Diathēkē ( De Nom. Mutat. § 6; De Sacr. Abel , Opp. i. 586. 172). The passing illustration which thus occurs to the writer does not indeed explain or attempt to explain the eternal necessity why Christ must die; he leaves that in all its awful mystery, and merely gives prominence to the fact that the death was necessary, by saying that since under the Old Covenant death was required, so the New Covenant was inaugurated by a better death; and since a Will supposes that some one has died, so this “Will,” by which we inherit, involves the necessity that Christ must die. The Old Covenant could not be called “a Will” in any ordinary sense; but the New Covenant was, by no remote analogy, the Will and Bequest of Christ.

there must also of necessity be the death of the testator ] Wherever there is a will, the supposition that the maker of the will has died is implied, or legally involved ( φέρεσθαι , constare ).

17. after men are dead ] This rendering expresses the meaning rightly a will is only valid “in cases of death,” “in the case of men who are dead.” Ex vi termini , “a testament,” is the disposition which a man makes of his affairs with a view to his death. The attempt to confine the word diathēkē to the sense of “covenant” which it holds throughout the rest of the Epistle has led to the most strained and impossible distortion of these words ἐπὶ νεκροῖς in a way which is but too familiar in Scripture commentaries. They have been explained to mean “over dead victims,” &c.; but all such explanations fall to the ground when the special meaning of diathēkē in these two verses is recognised. The author thinks it worth while to notice, in passing, that death is the condition of inheritance by testament , just as death is necessary to ratify a covenant (Genesis 15:7-10 ; Jeremiah 34:18 ).

otherwise it is of no strength at all … ] The words are better taken as a question “Since is there any validity in it at all while the testator is alive?” This is an appeal to the reader’s own judgment.

18. Whereupon ] Rather, “Wherefore;” because both “a covenant” and “a testament” involve the idea of death.

neither ] “not even.”

was dedicated ] Lit. “has been handselled” or “inaugurated.” The word is from the same root as “Encaenia,” the name given to the re-dedication of the Temple by the Maccabees (John 10:22 . Comp. Deuteronomy 20:5 ; 1 Kings 8:63 ; LXX.). The perfect is used by the author, as in so many other instances.

19. and of goats ] This is not specially mentioned, but it may be supposed that “goats” were among the burnt-offerings mentioned in Exodus 24:5 .

water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop ] These again are not mentioned in Exodus 24:6 , but are perhaps added from tradition on the analogy of Exodus 12:22 ; Numbers 19:6 ; and Leviticus 14:4-6 .

hyssop ] the dry stalks of a plant resembling marjoram.

both the book ] See Exodus 24:6-8 , where however it is not specially mentioned that the Book was sprinkled. The Jewish tradition was that it lay upon the altar (see Exodus 24:7 ). The “book” seems to have been the written record of what was uttered to Moses in Exodus 20:22 to 23:33. This is one of several instances in which the writer shews himself learned in the Jewish legends ( Hagadoth ).

20. This is ] In the Hebrew “Behold!” Some have supposed that the writer adopted the variation from a reminiscence of our Lord’s words “This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ). But if such a reference or comparison had been at all present to his mind, he would hardly have been likely to pass it over in complete silence.

which God hath enjoined unto you ] Rather, “which God commanded with regard to you,” i.e. which (covenant) Jehovah commanded me to deliver to you.

21. both the tabernacle ] This again is not mentioned in the scene to which the writer seems to be referring (Exodus 24:6-8 ), which indeed preceded the building of the Tabernacle. It is nowhere recorded in Scripture that the Tabernacle was sprinkled, although it is perhaps implied that on a later occasion this may have been done (Exodus 40:9 , Exodus 40:10 ); and Josephus, closely following the same Hagadah as the writer, says that such was the case (Jos. Antt. iii. 8. § 6).

all the vessels ] This again is not directly mentioned, though we are told that Aaron and his sons, and the altar, were consecrated by such a sprinkling (Leviticus 8:30 ), and that the “propitiatory” was so sprinkled on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:14 ). By these references to unrecorded traditions the writer shews that he had been trained in Rabbinic Schools.

22. almost all things ] There were a few exceptions (Exodus 19:10 ; Leviticus 5:11-13 , Leviticus 5:15 :5, Leviticus 5:16 :26, &c.) The word σχεδὸν , “almost,” is only found in two other passages of the N.T. (Acts 13:44 , Acts 19:26 ).

without shedding of blood ] This, and not “pouring out of blood” at the foot of the altar (Exodus 29:16 , &c.), is undoubtedly the true rendering. Comp. Leviticus 17:11 ; Luke 22:20 . The Rabbis have a proverb, “no expiation except by blood.” The writer merely mentions this as a revealed fact : he does not attempt to construct any theory to account for the necessity.

23. patterns ] Rather, “copies,” or outlines Abbilden (not Urbilden ), 4:11, 8:5.

the heavenly things themselves ] Not “the New Covenant,” or “the Church,” or “ourselves as heirs of heaven,” but apparently the Ideal Tabernacle in the Heavens, which was itself impure before Him to whom “ the very heavens are not clean .” If this conception seem remote we must suppose that by the figure called Zeugma the verb “purified” passes into the sense of “handselled,” “dedicated.”

with better sacrifices than these ] The plural is here only used generically to express a class . He is alluding to the one transcendent sacrifice.

24. For Christ is not entered ] “For not into any Material Sanctuary did Christ enter a (mere) imitation of the Ideal, but into Heaven itself, now to be visibly presented before the face of God for us.” The Ideal or genuine Tabernacle is the eternal uncreated Archetype as contrasted with its antitype (or “imitation”) made with hands. The Ideal in the Alexandrian philosophy, so far from being an antithesis of the real, meant that which alone is absolutely and eternally real; it is the antithesis of the material which is but a perishing imitation of the Archetype. The word “to be visibly presented” ( ἐμφανισθῆναι ) is not the same as that used in ver. 26 ( πεφανέρωται “He hath been manifested,”) nor with that used in ver. 28 ( ὀφθήσεται “He shall be seen,”) though all these are rendered in English by the verb “appear.”

25. entereth into the holy place every year ] In this entrance of the High Priest once a year, on the Day of Atonement, into the Holiest Place culminated all that was gorgeous and awe-inspiring in the Jewish ritual. The writer therefore purposely chose it as his point of comparison between the ministrations of the Two Covenants. For if he could shew that even the ceremonies of this day called by the Jews “ the Day” were a nullity compared with the significance of the Gospel, he was well aware that no other rite would be likely to make a converted Hebrew waver in his faith. The Day of Atonement was called “the Sabbath of Sabbatism” or “perfect Sabbath.” It was the one fast-day of the Jewish Calendar. The 70 bullocks offered during the Atonement-week were regarded as a propitiation for all the 70 nations of the world. On that day the very Angels were supposed to tremble. It was the only day on which perfect pardon could be assured to sins which had been repented of. On that day alone Satan had no power to accuse, which is inferred by “ Gematria ” from the fact that “ the Accuser ” in Hebrew was numerically equivalent to 364, so that on the 365th day of the year he was forced to be silent. On the seven days before the day of Atonement the High Priest was scrupulously secluded, and was kept awake all the preceding night to avoid the chance of ceremonial defilement. Till the last 40 years before the Fall of Jerusalem it was asserted that the tongue of scarlet cloth tied round the neck of the goat “for Azazel” (“the Scape Goat”) used to turn white in token of the Remission of Sins. The function of the High Priest was believed to be attended with much peril, and the people awaited his reappearance with deep anxiety. The awful impression made by the services of the day is shewn by the legends which grew up respecting them, and by such passages as Ecclus. 50:5 16, 45:6 22. See an Excursus on this subject in my Early Days of Christianity , ii. 549 552.

with blood of others ] Namely of the goat and the bullock. See ver. 22. A Rabbinic book says “Abraham was Circumcised on the Day of Atonement; and on that Day God annually looks on the blood of the Covenant of the Circumcision as atoning for all our iniquities.”

26. for then must he often have suffered ] Since He could not have entered the Sanctuary of God’s Holiest in the Heavens without some offering of atoning blood.

once ] “Once for all.”

in the end of the world ] This phrase does not convey the meaning of the Greek which has “at the consummation of the ages” (Matthew 13:39 , Matthew 13:49 , Matthew 13:24 :3, Matthew 13:28 :20), in other words “when God’s full time was come for the revelation of the Gospel” (comp. 1:1; 1 Corinthians 10:11 ).

hath he appeared ] Lit., “He has been manifested” namely, “in the flesh” at the Incarnation (1 Timothy 3:16 ; 1 Peter 1:20 , &c.).

to put away sin ] The word is stronger “for the annulment of sin.” Into this one word is concentrated the infinite superiority of the work of Christ. The High Priest even on the Day of Atonement could offer no sacrifice which could put away sin (10:4), but Christ’s sacrifice was able to annul sin altogether.

by the sacrifice of himself ] The object of which was, as St Peter tells us, “to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18 ).

27. as ] “Inasmuch as.”

it is appointed ] Rather, “it is reserved;” lit., “it is laid up for.”

the judgment ] Rather, “a judgment.” By this apparently is not meant “a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31 ), but a judgment which follows immediately after death.

28. was once offered ] Christ may also be said as in ver. 14 “to offer Himself; ” just as He is said “to be delivered for us” (Romans 4:25 ) and “to deliver up Himself” (Ephesians 5:2 ).

to bear the sins ] The word rendered “to bear” may mean “to carry them with Him on to the Cross,” as in 1 Peter 2:24 ; or as probably in Isaiah 53:12 “to take them away .”

of many ] “Many” is only used as an antithesis to “few.” Of course the writer does not mean to contradict the lesson which runs throughout the N.T. that Christ died for all . Once for all One died for all who were “many” (see my Life of St Paul , ii. 216).

without sin ] Not merely “without ( χωρὶς )” but “apart from ( ἄτερ ) sin,” i.e. apart from all connexion with it, because He shall have utterly triumphed over, and annulled it (ver. 26); Daniel 9:24 , Daniel 9:25 ; Isaiah 25:7 , Isaiah 25:8 ). The words do not go with “the second time” for at Christ’s first coming He appeared without sin indeed, but not “apart from sin,” seeing that “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12 ) and was “made sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ).

unto salvation ] “It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; … we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9 ). It is remarkable that the Sacred Writers unlike the Mediæval painters and moralists almost invariably avoid the more terrible aspects of the Second Advent. “How shall He appear?” asks St Chrysostom on this passage, “As a Punisher? He did not say this, but the bright side.” The parallelism of these verses is Man dies once, and is judged; Christ died once and shall return he might have said “to be man’s judge ” (Acts 17:31 ) but he does say “He shall return … for salvation.”

We may sum up some of the contrasts of this previous chapter as follows. The descendants of Aaron were but priests; Christ, like Melchisedek, was both Priest and King. They were for a time; He is a Priest for ever. They were but links in a long succession, inheriting from forefathers, transmitting to dependents; He stands alone, without lineage, without successor. They were established by a transitory ordinance, He by an eternal oath. They were sinful, He is sinless. They weak, He all-powerful. Their sacrifices were ineffectual, His was perfect. Their sacrifices were offered daily, His once for all. Theirs did but cleanse from ceremonial defilement, His purged the conscience. Their tabernacle was but a copy, and their service a shadow; His tabernacle was the Archetype, and His service the substance. They died and passed away; He sits to intercede for us for ever at God’s right hand. Their Covenant is doomed to abrogation; His, founded on better promises, is to endure unto the End. Their High Priest could but enter once and that with awful precautions, with the blood of bulls and goats, into a material shrine; He, entering with the blood of His one perfect sacrifice into the Heaven of Heavens, has thrown open to all the right of continual and fearless access to God. What a sin then was it, and what a folly, to look back with apostatising glances at the shadows of a petty Levitism while Christ the Mediator of a New, of a better, of a final Dispensation Christ whose blood had a real and no mere symbolic efficacy had died once for all, and Alone for all, as the sinless Son of God to obtain for us an eternal redemption, and to return for our salvation as the Everlasting Victor over sin and death!

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Hebrews 9". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/hebrews-9.html. 1896.
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