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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Hebrews 9:17

For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

For a testament - Such an arrangement as God enters into with man; see the remarks on Hebrews 9:16.

Is of force - Is ratified, or confirmed - in the same way as a deed or compact is confirmed by affixing a seal.

After men are dead - ἐπὶ νεκροῖς epi nekrois“Over the dead.” That is, in accordance with the view given above, after the animal is dead; or over the body of the animal slain for sacrifice, and to confirm the covenant. “For a covenant is completed or confirmed over dead sacrifices, seeing it is never of force as long as the victim set apart for its ratification is still living.” ms. notes of Dr. JohnP. Wilson. To this interpretation it is objected, that “ νεκροῖς nekrois- “nekrois” - means only “dead men;” but human beings surely were not sacrificed by the Jews, as a mediating sacrifice in order to confirm a covenant.” Prof. Stuart in loc. In regard to this objection, and to the proper meaning of the passage, we may remark:

(1) that the word “men” is not in the Greek, nor is it necessarily implied, unless it be in the use of the Greek word rendered “dead.” The proper translation is, “upon, or over the dead.” The use of the word “men” here by our translators would seem to limit it to the making of a will.

(2) it is to be presumed, unless there is positive proof to the contrary, that the Greeks and Hebrews used the word “dead” as it is used by other people, and that it “might” refer to deceased animals, or vegetables, as well as to human beings. A sacrifice that had been offered was dead; a tree that had fallen was dead; an animal that had been torn by other wild animals was dead. It is “possible” that a people might have one word to refer to “dead men,” and another to “dead animals,” and another to “dead vegetables:” but what is the evidence that the Hebrews or the Greeks had such words?

(3) what is the meaning of this very word - νεκρός nekros- “nekros” - in Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 9:14, of this very Epistle when it is applied to works - “dead works” - if it never refers to anything but people? compare James 2:17, James 2:20, James 2:26; Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5; Revelation 3:1. In Ecclesiastes 9:4, it is applied to a dead lion. I suppose, therefore, that the Greek phrase here will admit of the interpretation which the “exigency of the place” seems to demand, and that the idea is, that a covenant with God was ratified over the animals slain in sacrifice, and was not considered as confirmed until the sacrifice was killed.

Otherwise - Since - ἐπεί epeiThat is, unless this takes place it will be of no force.

It is of no strength - It is not “strong” - ἰσχύει ischuei- it is not confirmed or ratified. “While the testator liveth.” Or while the animal selected to confirm the covenant is alive. It can be confirmed only by its being slain. A full examination of the meaning of this passage Hebrews 9:16-17 may be found in an article in the Biblical Repository, vol. 20, pp. 51-71, and in Prof. Stuart‘s reply to that article. Bib. Repos. 20, pp. 356-381.


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Bibliography
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/hebrews-9.html. 1870.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

For a testament is of force after men are dead,.... The necessity of Christ's death is here urged, from the nature and force of a testament or will, among men, which does not take place, and cannot be executed, till a man is dead.

Otherwise it is of no strength at all whilst the testator liveth; no claim can be made by the legatees for the part they have in it, nor can any disposition be made by the executor of it; not that hereby is suggested, that the testament or will of God was uncertain and precarious till the death of Christ, and subject to change and alteration as men's wills are till they die; nor that the inheritance could not be enjoyed by the Old Testament saints; for it is certain, it was entered upon by them before the death of Christ; but the sense is, that there was a necessity of it, that the saints right unto it, upon the foot of justice, might be evident by it.


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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Bibliography
Gill, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/hebrews-9.html. 1999.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

after — literally, “over,” as we say “upon the death of the testators”; not as Tholuck, “on the condition that slain sacrifices be there,” which the Greek hardly sanctions.

otherwise — “seeing that it is never availing” [Alford]. Bengel and Lachmann read with an interrogation, “Since, is it ever in force (surely not) while the testator liveth?”


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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/hebrews-9.html. 1871-8.

Vincent's Word Studies

For a testament is of force after men are dead ( διαθήκη γὰρ ἐπὶ νεκροῖς βεβαία )

Rend. “for a covenant is of force (or sure) over (or upon) dead (victims).” Comp. Soph. Elect. 237; Eurip. Ion. 228; Aesch. Eumen. 316; Hdt. iv. 162. See also Leviticus 21:5.

Otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth ( ἐπεὶ μὴ τότε ἰσχύει ὅτε ζῇ ὁ διαθέμενος )

Rend. “since it hath not then force when the institutor is alive”: until he has been representatively slain.


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Bibliography
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/hebrews-9.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.

After he is dead — Neither this, nor after men are dead is a literal translation of the words. It is a very perplexed passage.


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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Bibliography
Wesley, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/hebrews-9.html. 1765.

William Newell's Commentary on Romans and Revelation

For a covenant is of force where there hath been death: (or, Over dead persons or things): since it in no way has power when he who covenanted is living: Why death, bloodshedding, in pledge or "ratification" of God's "covenant"? First, God could have dealings with fallen man only on the ground of death. "Thou shalt surely die," God had said to Adam--if he should sin. And when he did sin, and God sent him and Eve from Eden, He "made for Adam and for his wife coats of skins" (obtained after death) "and clothed them." Also when Abel learned (as Cain never did) the way of approach to God, it was by blood--the blood of a firstling lamb.

Again, when God desired to confer upon Abram's seed the land of promise, He directed Abram to place on the right hand and on the left the divided carcasses of appointed victims, symbols of the death of Christ by means of which alone He can bestow promised blessing upon His own:

"And it came to pass, that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch that passed between these pieces. In that day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed I have given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates" (Gen. 15:17-18).

Here Abram, with whom Jehovah was covenanting, did not die, but appointed sacrifices died in his stead. It was a covenant of promise, an announced purpose of God to bless him, and--through his Seed, Christ--all nations. The fact, however, that it was a mutual agreement between God and Abram, each fulfilling prescribed conditions, is brought out in Nehemiah 9:7-8:

"Thou art Jehovah the God, Who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham, and foundest his heart faithful before Thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite, and the Girgashite, to give it unto his seed, and hast performed Thy words; for Thou art righteous."

Second, This ratification by blood-shedding certainly indicates the solemnity, "even unto death," of undertakings between God and men. Even men thus ratify their statements and promises: "I hope to die, if I don't do it!"

Third, To go further, there is the sanction of death in these Old Testament covenants, especially in that of Exodus 24. Why should not the Law, which was a "ministration of death," have the sanction of death? As our next verse reads:


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Bibliography
Newell, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wnc/hebrews-9.html. 1938.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.

Ver. 17. While the testator liveth] For it is in his power to alter it at his pleasure, as reason requireth. Our Henry II first crowned, and then cast off his eldest son Henry, not suffering him to be what himself had made him.


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Bibliography
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/hebrews-9.html. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Hebrews 9:17. For a testament is of force, &c.— For a covenant made where death is, is valid. The verse may be paraphrased thus: "For you know that sacrificial rites have ever attended the most celebrated covenants which God hath made with man; so that I may say, a covenant is confirmed over the dead; so that it does not avail, nor has any force at all, while he, by whom it is confirmed, liveth." It may be proper to remark, that Parkhurst is of opinion that the word Διαθηκη should be rendered, when referring to God's transactions with man, not a covenant, but an institution, or dispensation. The word signifies, says Junius, neither a testament, nor a covenant, nor an agreement; but, as the import of the word simply requires, a disposition or institution of God: and in this view our English word dispensation seems very happily to answer it; and thus the dispensation of faith, and free justification, of which Christ is the Mediator, is called new, in respect of the old or Sinaitical one, of which Moses was the mediator. See his Lexicon on the words Βιβαιος and Διαθηκη. The apostle having, in these verses, spoken of the nature of covenants or dispensations in the general, proceeds in what follows to apply it to the Mosaic and Christian institutions; shewing, that as Moses, the mediator of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, ratified the covenant by the blood of the sacrifices; so the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and all mankind, ratified the Christian covenant, by the sacrifice of himself, (Hebrews 9:26.) the great antetype of all the sacrifices slain under the law; himself, as the destined victim, paying the penalty due on man's part for the broken covenant, and, as the great High priest, entering into the presence of God, once for all, with that atoning blood which he had shed for us, Hebrews 9:24.


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Bibliography
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/hebrews-9.html. 1801-1803.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

17.] for (renders a fresh reason within the domain of the former γάρ, explaining the axiom of Hebrews 9:16) a testament is of force ( βεβαία, see on ch. Hebrews 2:2, and Romans 4:16) in the case of the dead ( ἐπί, over, the thing predicated being the substratum or condition of the subject. Doubtless in choosing the plural, and indeed the word itself, the Writer has in his mind the transition which he is about to make from the death of the New Testament to the typical deaths of the Old, which were of animals, between which and men, νεκρά, not ἀποθανόντα, would be the common term), seeing that it (a διαθήκη) is never (we should expect οὔποτε here, the assertion being absolute and of matter of fact: but it appears to be a habit of later writers after ἐπεί to use the subjective, not the objective negation. So Ælian xii. 63, ἐπεὶ μὴ πάνυ ἦν πλούσιος: Lucian, Hermot. 47, ἐπεὶ μηδενὸς ἡγεμόνος τοιούτου ἔς γε τὸ παρὸν εὐποροῦμεν: Ptol. Geogr. viii., ἐπεὶ μηδὲν εἶχε τοιοῦτονἀντιπαραγράφειν. But we must not render μήποτε as = μήπω, which vulg., Faber Stap., Erasm., Luther, Calv., Böhme have done. Many expositors take it interrogatively: “surely it is not?” &c. So Œc., Thl., De Dieu, Bengel, Lachmann, and even Delitzsch: but quite unnecessarily, as the above usage is undoubted, and the question introduces an unnecessary harshness) availing when ( ὅτε corresponding to μή ποτε) he that made it is alive.


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Bibliography
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/hebrews-9.html. 1863-1878.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

Hebrews 9:17. Confirmatory elucidation of Hebrews 9:16. The words of the verse are connected together as parts of a single statement. We have no right to break up the same, in such wise that διαθήκη γὰρ ἐπὶ νεκροῖς βεβαία is made a parenthesis, and ἐπεὶ κ. τ. λ. joined to Hebrews 9:16 (Hofmann).

ἐπὶ νεκροῖς] in the case of dead persons, i.e. only upon condition that the author of the διαθήκη is dead, or has died.

βεβαία] firm or inviolable (comp. Hebrews 2:2), inasmuch, namely, as, after the death of the testator has supervened, the abrogation or alteration of the testament on his part is no longer possible.

μήποτε] never. The making of μήποτε equivalent to μήπω or nondum (Vulgate, Faber Stapulensis, Erasmus, Luther, Schlichting, Böhme) is linguistically inadmissible. Oecumenius, Theophylact, Lud. de Dieu, Heinsius, Bengel, Chr. Fr. Schmid, Lachmann, Hofmann (Schriftbew. II. 1, 2 Aufl. p. 429), Delitzsch, and Ewald regard the word as an interrogative particle, which does not alter the sense, and might appear the preferable course, since, on the supposition of an assertory statement, the objective οὔποτε might have been expected in place of the subjective μήποτε. Nevertheless, elsewhere too, with later authors, the placing of the subjective negation is not at all rare after ἐπεί, when it introduces an objectively valid reason. See Winer, Gramm., 7 Aufl. p. 447; Buttmann, Gramm. des neutest. Sprachgebr. p. 304.

ἰσχύει] sc. διαθήκη, not διαθέμενος (Peirce).


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Bibliography
Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hmc/hebrews-9.html. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

Hebrews 9:17. ἐπὶ νεκροῖς, over [super] the dead) briefly expressed, instead of this expression, over or upon the death of the testators. So LXX. Leviticus 21:5, ἐπὶ νεκρῷ, over the dead [upon the death of a relative].— μήποτε) This particle plainly implies an interrogation;(51) moreover, ἐπεὶ, with an interrogation, has great force, Romans 3:6; 1 Corinthians 14:16; 1 Corinthians 15:29. See Not. ad Chrys. de Sacerd., p. 424.


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Bibliography
Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/hebrews-9.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

For a testament is of force after men are dead: the testator being by death disseised of his goods and lands, the right takes place of the legatees, and the time of their challenging it; such a sacred tie there is upon the surviving, that none can of right add to it, alter, or disannul it.

Otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth; it is of no force while the maker of it liveth, because they have need of the things bequeathed; they can alter and change it, and by the will itself it is declared none shall have any right to the things bequeathed in it till the testator be dead. The consequent of all this is, that the Testator of the new testament must put it in force by death; and his death is of greater force to confirm his testament than that of men, because his will can never be violated, it being a Divine constitution, but the human testament may. Christ, God-man, after dieth, as Testator, and puts the testament in force; and by breaking the bonds of death, doth gloriously effect that the legatees perform the conditions required in the will, to fit them for receiving their legacies; and then faithfully distributeth them to them by his grand executor the Holy Spirit, who applieth the virtue of it to the legatees under the Old Testament, as well as these under the New; he being the Testator, as well as the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world.


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Bibliography
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/hebrews-9.html. 1685.

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

17. ἐπὶ νεκροῖς. Lit., “over the dead.” The A.V. rendering (“after men are dead”) 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 διαθήκη 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 διαθήκη 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). To his readers, in all probability, the momentary change of sense would have been at once intelligible; and especially if they were readers of Philo. The unusual expression ἐπὶ νεκροῖς, where ἐπὶ τοῖς ἀποθανοῦσιν might have been more intelligible, is due to the silent parallel between the “testament” and the “covenant” which is passing through the author’s mind. Ἐπὶ often implies supposition or condition; ἐπὶ ν. over dead persons, i.e. not until there are dead persons, when death has taken place. Winer, p. 491.

ἐπεὶμήποτε ἰσχύει; The words are perhaps 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 judgement. The μὴ is thus accounted for, which we must otherwise explain by the fact that he is not thinking of any particular testament, Winer, p. 602. As a matter of fact, however, though we should here have expected the absolute denial of οὔποτε, later writers constantly use μὴ after ἐπεί.


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Bibliography
"Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/hebrews-9.html. 1896.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Hebrews 9:17. For a covenant is of force over the dead (or on the condition that some persons (or things) have died), since it has no avail at all while the covenanting victim liveth.


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Bibliography
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/hebrews-9.html. 1879-90.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

of force = sure. Greek. bebaios. See Hebrews 6:19.

after, &c. = over (Greek. epi) the dead (victims). See Genesis 15:9-18. Jeremiah 34:18.

no . . . at all. Greek. me pote.

strength. Greek. ischuo. Compare App-172. The two covenants referred to above show the necessity of a victim being slain for the validity of a covenant, and the ceremony of passing between the parts thereof. To the unconditional covenant with Abraham, Jehovah was the only party (Genesis 15:17, Genesis 15:18); in the other, note verses: Hebrews 18:19. The passage here has nothing to do with a "will" or "will-making".


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Bibliography
Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/hebrews-9.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.

After , [ epi (Greek #1909)] - 'over;' we say 'upon the death of the testator.' The Greek hardly sanctions Tholuck, 'on the condition that slain sacrifices be there.'

Otherwise , [ epei (Greek #1893) mee (Greek #3361) pote (Greek #4218) ischuei (Greek #2480)] - 'seeing that it is never availing' (Alford). Lachmann, with an interrogation, 'Since, is it ever in force (surely not) while the testator liveth?'


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Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/hebrews-9.html. 1871-8.

The Bible Study New Testament

For a will means nothing. "During a man's lifetime, he may do as he pleases with his will, because it is not valid. His death is necessary for it to go into effect, just as an animal must die on the altar to become a sacrifice to God."


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Bibliography
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". "The Bible Study New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/hebrews-9.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.
Genesis 48:21; John 14:27; *Gr:; Galatians 3:15

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Bibliography
Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:17". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/hebrews-9.html.

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