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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

The mention of Melchisedech in the last verse of the preceding chapter, affords the Apostle an opportunity of reverting to the subject of his priesthood, from which, after merely alluding to it (chap. 5), he digressed with a view of inspiring the Hebrews with a salutary fear of relapsing into sin, particularly into the hateful crime of apostasy (chap. 6). In the first three verses of this chapter, he points out the mystic relation which Melchisedech bore to Christ, in his name, place of residence, office, and genealogy (1–3).

In the next place, he proves the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over that of Aaron, and grounds this superiority on two circumstances: 1st, on the circumstance of Abraham giving Melchisedech, who was a mere type of Christ, tithes out of all his spoils, both for himself and all his descendants, and consequently, for Levi, who was then in Abraham’s loins, thus acknowledging the superiority of Melchisedech, as priest, over Aaron. The Apostle notes one feature of this decimation on the part of Abraham, as still more expressive of his inferiority; viz., its perfect voluntariety, without the requirement of any law to enforce payment, as in the case of the Levitical tithes. 2ndly, he founds the superiority on the circumstance of Melchisedech blessing Abraham, which the Apostle regards as an undoubted proof of this superiority of the former, as as priest, over the latter (4–10).

The Apostle proves, in the next place, the translation and total abrogation of the priesthood of Aaron. His first argument is founded on the difference of tribe to which he belonged, to whom God promised an eternal priesthood (11–14). His next argument in proof of the translation of the Aaronic priesthood is founded on the difference of the chiefs of both orders (15). His next argument is founded on the difference of the ordination and fundamental rules of both orders (16, 17). The Apostle then assigns the causes of the abrogation of the Levitical priesthood, as also of the entire Mosaic Law (18, 19). He adduces another proof of the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over that of Aaron, grounded on the difference of ceremonies employed by God in the institution of both (21, 22). A further proof of the superiority of Christ’s priesthood is derived from its eternal duration, and its incommunicability, by way of succession, to any other (23, 24). Another proof of the same is derived from the superior qualities of Christ, as Pontiff, over the Jewish High Priests.

Paraphrase

1. This Melchisedech then (according to whose order Christ was High Priest), was king of the city of Salem, and priest of the Most High God, the same who went out to meet Abraham after the slaughter of the hostile kings (Genesis, 14:17, &c.), and, as Priest, blessed him:

2. To whom Abraham also paid tithes out of all his spoils; this same Melchisedech, looking to the etymology of the term, signifies “king of justice” (a title admirably suited to Christ, his antitype); the words “king of Salem,” also signify “king of peace” (a title equally applicable to Christ).

3. Without father, without mother, i.e., neither his father, nor his mother, nor genealogy, is mentioned in SS. Scripture. (Christ has neither a father on earth, nor mother in heaven, and his “genealogy who shall declare?”) Neither have we any account of his birth, nor of his death; hence, he is said to have neither beginning of days nor end of life. Our Lord neither had a beginning nor will he have an end. In all these things, Melchisedech has been a type of the Son of God; but his resemblance to Christ is particularly marked in the eternal duration of his priesthood—respecting the beginning and end of which the Scriptures are equally silent.

4. Consider, then, how great a man this Melchisedech must have been, from the fact that Abraham, though a patriarch and the father of nations, gave him, in tithes, the most valuable part of his spoils, which is an acknowledgement of superiority.

5. And the very circumstances of this decimation on the part of Abraham, render it still more expressive of his inferiority. For, how do such of the sons of Levi as enjoy the priesthood, that is to say, the family and descendants of Aaron, receive the tithes? Is it as voluntary offerings? No—but, they must have recourse to the law to enforce their rights. From whom? Is it from strangers? No—but from their own brethren, over whom their claims to superiority are derived solely from the payment of tithes and the exercise of the priesthood; for, in point of descent, they are their equals, having been, as well as they, descended from Abraham.

6. But Melchisedech, a mere stranger, who had no tie of consanguinity with Abraham, received tithes from him, as quite a voluntary matter, without any legal claim whatever; and besides, he blessed this great man to whom were made so many splendid and magnificent promises.

7. Is not this an undoubted proof of his superiority over Abraham? for, beyond all question, the man who solemnly and, ex aflilo, blesses another is, so far, his superior.

8. Another great point of difference between the payment of tithes on the part of Abraham and that made to the Levitical priesthood is this: that in the case of the Levitical priest, the term for paying him tithes is confined to his natural life, and therefore, his contemporaries alone are bound to him; whereas, in the case of Melchisedech, the very silence of Scripture respecting his death represents him, as perpetually living; and therefore, in a condition to receive tithes from all succeeding generations.

9. So that we may say, that Levi himself, though entitled to receive tithes from his brethren, paid tithes to Melchisedech, on this occasion.

10. For he was in the loins of his father Abraham, and consequently, destined to be one of his carnal descendants, at the time Melchisedech met him.

11. If, then, true sanctification, the reconciliation of man with God, were effected by the Levitical priesthood (and what I say of the priesthood, I wish to extend to the Mosaic law also, given to the people in connexion with the priesthood, which it was designed to uphold and regulate), what further necessity would there be for another priesthood according to the order of Melchisedech, and not according to the order of Aaron?

12. I have connected the law with the priesthood; because such is their inseparable connexion, that the priesthood being transferred, so must the law also, as it was principally employed in regulating the priestly functions.

13. (The Lord did institute a priesthood of a different order from that of Aaron), for, the person to whom are directed the words regarding the priesthood after the order of Melchisedech (Psalm 109), is not of the tribe of Levi, but of a tribe, no one belonging to which ministered at the altar.

14. For it is evident—from the genealogical tables extant, as well as from the universal admission of all—that Christ our Lord is of the tribe of Juda, to which none of the precepts regarding the exercise of the priesthood was addressed by Moses.

15. And this translation of the Aaronic priesthood will become still more evident, if there arise another priest, after the likeness of Melchisedech,

16. Who is not regulated in his priestly office or power by the rules or law of the carnal mandate, attaching the priesthood to carnal descent and succession; but who is established in the priestly dignity, by the power or efficacy of an immortal life; which excludes the idea of succession.

17. Now, that there was to arise another priest, or rather the chief of another priesthood different from Aaron, also admitting of no succession, is clear from Psalm 109, wherein he is said to be “a priest according to the order of Melchisedech,” therefore, distinct from Aaron, and “a priest for ever;” therefore, having no successor.

18. The Levitical priesthood, together with the entire ceremonial law, was abrogated, because of their infirmity and inutility for the purpose of justifying man.

19. For, the law brought nothing to the perfection of justifying man; it served, however, for another end—it served as an introduction to a covenant, which holds out better hopes, in pledge of which hope, it abundantly ministers grace, which brings us nearer to God.

20. And inasmuch as Jesus was not made a priest without an oath (the Levitical priests were constituted without an oath);

21. But Christ was constituted priest with an oath on the part of God the Father, who, as the Psalmist tells us, swore by an oath of which he shall never repent, (“Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech”),

22. By so much, i.e., in proportion to the excellence shown by the use of an oath on the part of God beyond the omission of the same, does the testament of which Jesus is sponsor, and to which an oath was annexed, excel the other, regarding which it was omitted.

23. And the Levitical priests are advanced to the priesthood in a long line of succession—one succeeding to the other, because, owing to death, they cannot always exercise the priestly functions:

24. But Jesus, on account of being constituted a priest “for ever,” by his Father, has an eternal priesthood, not transmissible, by way of succession, to any other,

25. Whence, he can convey perfect salvation, of grace here, and of eternal glory hereafter, on those who, through him, approach to God, because always living and exercising an eternal priesthood, he can always make intercession for us, in quality of high priest.

26. For, Christ alone is gifted with the qualities and attributes with which it is meet and necessary that the Pontiff who undertakes to make full and adequate reparation for the sins of man, should be gifted, viz., endowed with sanctity, free from malice, exempt from the stain of sin, segregated from sinners, and placed beyond the reach of moral contamination, more exalted than the highest creatures in heaven.

27. Who is not bound by the Law (like the Levitical high priests) to offer up daily sacrifice of expiation, in the first place, for his own sins, and in the next place, for those of the people; for, he offered himself once as a sacrifice of expiation, not for his own sins, but for the sins of the world—the value of which bloody oblation of himself being such, as to render any repetition thereof, as a Redemptory sacrifice, and in a bloody manner, quite useless.

28. The law very properly enacted that the priests should offer up sacrifice for their own sins; because it instituted as high priests men liable to sin, which required a sacrifice of expiation. But the oath referred to by David, long after the promulgation of the law and the institution of the Levitical priesthood, has constituted as High Priest, the Son of God, not for a time but for ever, not subject to sin, but wholly perfect; and free from it.

Commentary

1. One of the chief grounds on which the false teachers mainly relied, and one of the principal motives artfully advanced by them, for seducing the Hebrew converts from the faith, under the pressure of persecution, was the consideration of the efficacy and permanency of the priesthood of Aaron. Faith, it was alleged, might be an easier mode of obtaining justification; but, it was not indispensable; since, the Patriarchs and just of old had been justified without it, through the aids administered by the different parts of the Mosaic law, and among the rest, by the ministrations of the Aaronic priesthood. The Apostle, therefore, employs the four following chapters in showing the inefficacy, the inferiority, the total abrogation of the Aaronic priesthood and its sacrifices, together with the eternal duration and absolute superiority of the priesthood of Christ and his sacrifice. He devotes the 11th chapter to proving, that it was by faith, and not by the Sacrifices of the Old Law, the Patriarchs and just of old were sanctified.

“For this Melchisedech;” as if he said, I now revert to the subject of Melchisedech’s priesthood, to which I have briefly adverted already (chap 5) “Salem” most probably refers to Jerusalem, of which Melchisedech was king. “Priest of the most high God,” and not of the idols of the Chanaanites. “Who met Abraham,” &c. The Apostle refers to the history recorded, Genesis, 14:17, 18, &c. He dwells on these two circumstances, viz., the giving of tithes, and the receiving a blessing, as expressive of Abraham’s inferiority.

2. “Melchisedech” is compounded of Malak, a king, and Sadek, justice. “Salem,” signifies “peace.”

3. It is not difficult to see how, in the etymology of his name, and of the place over which he ruled; in the omission of his genealogy, which was passed over in Scripture for mystical reasons; in the omission of all mention of his birth and death, designed by the Holy Ghost for the purpose of typifying eternity, as well as in the omission of the beginning and end of the exercise of his priesthood, Melchisedech was a figure of Christ; and, as such, assimilated to him. He bore as near a resemblance to Christ, as the type could bear to the thing typified. But it is in the eternal duration of his priesthood, regarding the beginning and end of which the Scripture is silent, that this resemblance is particularly marked.

4. From the superiority of Melchisedech, as priest, over Abraham, which the Apostle proves here, he wishes to establish the superiority of the priesthood of Christ, according to the order of Melchisedech, over the priesthood of Aaron. The Apostle dwells upon two points, the payment of tithes by Abraham to Melchisedech, and the receiving his benediction, as a priest, to prove Abraham’s inferiority.

5. The Apostle puts forward the mode in which Abraham paid tithes, that is to say, voluntarily, and also the fact of Melchisedech being to him a perfect stranger, as adding still greater weight to this acknowledgement of inferiority to Melchisedech, as priest, and contrasts it with the mode in which the Aaronic priests received tithes, they had the law to enforce their rights; and they received tithes, not from strangers but from their own brethren, over whom, although in point of birth their equals having been in common with them descended from Abraham, the very payment of tithes and the exercise of the priesthood established their superiority. (This is the meaning adopted in the Paraphrase). Others, among whom is A’Lapide, say, that this verse is intended by the Apostle to prove, that the very fact of Melchisedech receiving tithes from Abraham is a proof of his superiority, as a priest, just as the legal enactment enforcing the payment of tithes to the Aaronic priests by their brethren, was a proof of the superiority of the former, though in other respects, the latter are perfectly their equals having come forth from the loins of Abraham, as well as they.

6. But the very fact of Melchisedech being a perfect stranger, and having no legal claims for tithes on Abraham, proves still more his superiority over the latter, since Abraham would not have paid a stranger tithes, if he did not acknowledge his eminent superiority in this respect.

7. At least in the time of the Apostle, it was regarded as an undoubted mark of superiority, in one man to bless another. Upon this circumstance, he lays great stress, as a proof of the superiority of Melchisedech over Abraham.

8. There is another circumstance in the payment of tithes by Abraham, worthy of notice. According to the disposition of the Mosaic law, the Levitical priest was entitled to tithes, only during the term of his natural life; and, therefore, only from his contemporaries; whereas, in the case of Melchisedech, the very omission of his death in sacred Scripture, tacitly represents him as perpetually hung; and contains also a silent mystery, in which it is intended to teach us, that he is in a condition for receiving tithes, not only on the occasion referred to, not merely from Abraham himself; but also from all included in the person of Abraham, even in alter generations. From the eternal duration of Melchisedech’s priesthood the Apostle infers its superiority over that of Aaron.

9. Levi paid tithes; for, Abraham on that occasion represented his posterity.

10. And consequently he represented Levi, who was to be descended of him.

OBJECTION.—Was not Christ also in the loins of Abraham and carnally descended from him? Did he too not pay tithes to Melchisedech, and therefore, as well as Aaron, was he not inferior to him?

The reply to this is, that although Christ was descended of Abraham; still, he was born according to a new generation and after a miraculous way, wherein he was exempt from the least stain of sin; and consequently had no tithes to pay, the payment of which supposed sins to be expiated; for, he had no connexion with the spiritual disorders of the people, on account of which the priestly order entitled to tithes was established among men. From all this is to be inferred how much Christ must be superior to Levi or Aaron, Melchisedech, a mere type of Christ, being superior as priest to Abraham, who himself was a priest of an inferior order.

But how does the superiority of Christ over Aaron follow from his superiority over Abraham? Was not the priesthood of Aaron divinely instituted and sanctioned specially by God, in a way superior to anything recorded in Scripture of the priesthood of Abraham? Hence, although superior to Abraham, as priest, it would by no means seem to follow, that Melchisedech was superior to Aaron.

In reply it is held, that the priesthood of Abraham did not differ from that of Aaron, although the mode of exercising it was different in the time of both. In the time of Abraham, it was exercised by the heads of families, and transmitted successively to the next first-born. In the time of Aaron, the same priesthood transmitted from Abraham was, for the more orderly discharge of the priestly duties, and the better expression of unity, confined to the tribe of Levi. But, the priesthood of both was the same.

The Apostle omits all mention of the sacrifice of Melchisedech and its typical relation to the sacrifice of Christ offered at the last supper, after the ritual of Melchisedech; because, allusion to it would not serve his purpose in showing the superiority of the priesthood of Melchisedech over that of Aaron; for, the Levitical victims of choice animals were as dignified as bread and wine, the oblation of Melchisedech. Moreover, until the Hebrews rightly understood the bloody offering of Christ upon the cross, they were not in a condition to understand the unbloody offering made of him on the altar; and the Apostle did not wish to expose the sacred mysteries to profanation, by a distinct and express reference to this latter offering here. This same prudence was afterwards observed by the Church, in enforcing the discipline of the Secret.

11. The Apostle, having established the superior excellence of the priesthood of Christ over that of Aaron, now proceeds to refute the error of the Hebrews regarding the efficacy and permanency of the Aaronic priesthood. In the supposition, that the priesthood of Aaron caused justification, the institution of another order of priesthood would he quite useless; hence, as God instituted another order of priesthood, after the rite of Melchisedech, this must not be useless; and consequently the priesthood of Aaron did not confer justice. (“For under it the people received the law”). These words are added by the Apostle, with the view of showing the connexion between the law and the priesthood to be so close, that the abrogation of the one would involve that of the other, as in the following verse.

12. This verse may be connected with the preceding in another way besides that in Paraphrase, by giving “for,” the meaning of, but. “But the priesthood being translated,” &c., and, then, the verse will have no other connexion, save merely to express incidentally, the abrogation of the entire ceremonial law, which the translation of the priesthood involves.

13. In the foregoing reasoning, verse 11, the only thing that required proof, or that could for a moment be called in question, was that God did institute a priesthood of a different order from that of Aaron—and this the Apostle now proved from the fact of the person to whom the words were directed, “Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech” (Psalm 109), belonging to quite a different tribe from that of Levi; to a tribe, out of which no one had hitherto ministered at the altar.

14. “Concerning priests.” The Greek is, περὶ ἱερωσύνης, concerning priesthood. The genealogical tables extant in the days of the Apostle made it clear, that Christ was of the tribe of Juda, and the Jews themselves admitted, that the 109th Psalm regarded the Messias. Hence, the priesthood of Melchisedech belongs to a different tribe from that of Levi, and is, therefore of a different order.

OBJECTION.—Was not Christ descended of Levi, his mother being cousin of Elizabeth, one of the daughters of Aaron?

The answer is quite easy. Mary might be cousin to Elizabeth, without a drop of Levi’s blood flowing through her veins. Because a Levite might have married the mother of Elizabeth, of the tribe of Juda; Mary and Elizabeth would thus be cousins. Again, Christ should be paternally descended from Levi, to be qualified for discharging the priestly functions.

15. The Apostle founds another argument in favour of the translation of the Jewish priesthood, on the difference of the chiefs, and the fundamental rules of both orders. (The preceding argument is founded on the difference of tribe, from that of Levi). “If, according to the similitude of Melchisedech.” The Apostle uses “similitude,” in preference to “order” of Melchisedech, to show us, that, although according to the Psalmist, Melchisedech was a type of Christ, and Christ a priest, according to his order; still, this consisted merely in the likeness of Melchisedech’s priesthood to that of Christ, the priesthood of Christ being in reality of a more exalted character.

16. “Carnal commandment,” according to which the sons of Aaron, by their descent from him, are made priests, one succeeding the other. “According to the power of an indissoluble life,” i.e., by the divine power, which grants him immortal life, excluding all grounds for succession. In these words, is contained an allusion to Melchisedech’s apparent perpetuity (verse 8).

17. That the chief of this order is different from Aaron, and that there is no succession of chiefs, one to another—one of the fundamental rules of the order of Aaron being, that one high priest was to succeed another when defunct—are both proved from Psalm 109. (vide Paraphrase). This is all true of Christ. He is a priest according to the order of Melchisedech, in the sense already assigned. Melchisedech’s priesthood was a type of his. Secondly, he has no successor, all other priests are only his vicars and the dispensers of his mysteries.

18. The Apostle, having proved the institution of a priesthood, altogether different from that of Aaron, proceeds to account for the abrogation of the Levitical priesthood; under it, he includes the entire law, on which account he (verses 11 and 12) shows the inseparable connexion of both. They were abrogated, not because they were evil, but because they were weak and incapable of justifying man.

19. “The law brought nothing to the perfection,” of justifying man—a matter which the Apostle abundantly proves in his Epistles to the Romans, Galatians, &c. But it may be said, if the law be thus infirm and useless, why did God institute it? The Apostle replies, that though useless for the purpose referred to—a purpose for which it was never intended—it served another end, it served as an introduction to a covenant or law, &c. (vide Paraphrase).

20. Another proof of the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over that of Aaron, and of the consequent abrogation of the latter, is derived from the difference of ceremonies used by God in the institution of both one and the other. “And inasmuch as” Jesus was not made priest “without an oath,” which oath is a proof of the exceeding importance of the thing to which it is attached, beyond a similar thing in regard to which it is omitted. This difference is not without foundation; because, the Levitical priesthood was constituted without an oath.

21. “But this,” i.e., Christ, “with an oath.” The words, “the Lord hath sworn and he will not repent,” are the words of the Psalmist, and not of God, as their collocation in this verse would imply, “Thou art a priest for ever.” In some Greek copies are added the words, according to the order of Melchisedech. Griesbach doubts their authenticity.

22. “By so much,” i.e., in proportion to the difference of excellence proved by the omission, on the one hand, and the adoption, on the other, of an oath by God, does the testament of which Jesus is sponsor—for the fulfilment of whose promises he is surety—exceed the other.

23. Another argument of the superiority of the priesthood of Christ, is derived from the number of Aaron’s successors, who succeeded one another in due course, owing to their mortality.

24. But Christ, on account of his eternity, has a priesthood eternal, and incommunicable to any one by way of succession. Christ’s priests are only his vicars, not his successors. The Apostle, in these verses, explains the words of the Psalm, “for ever,” to which he briefly alluded, verse 16. “Everlasting,” in Greek, no transmissible. The difference here pointed out between the Christian and Levitical priesthood does not exclude the succession of inferior priests to each other in the New Law. The comparison is only instituted between the High Priests of both Laws The argument of the Apostle requires no further extension.

25. “Whereby,” i.e., because, “he continueth for ever, and hath an everlasting priesthood” (verse 24), he can save those who have recourse to his intercession, bestowing on them the life of grace here, to be consummated and perfected by a life of glory hereafter. “Always living to make intercession for us.” In Greek, for them. Of course, this intercession is quite different from the intercession of the saints, to which it is no ways opposed. Christ intercedes, as high priest; whereas, the intercession of the saints has no reference to the priestly character, which some of them may have borne on earth.—(See 1 John, 2:2). The Apostle, for reasons already stated (verse 10), forbears referring to the principal exercise of Christ’s priesthood, in the sacrifice of the Mass. In this verse, the Apostle merely refers incidentally to one of the effects, or results of his priesthood, viz., his interceding for us.

26. Another argument of the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over that of Aaron is derived from the superior qualities and attributes, which Christ, as high priest, possesses over the Jewish high priests. Christ alone has the attributes required in every high priest who can make reparation for sin, being, “holy, innocent,” &c. “And made higher than the heavens,” which means, that he has penetrated the highest heavens, and is more exalted than the highest creature therein; for, no creature, however exalted, could redeem us. The implied contrast supposes that the Jewish high priest was not possessed of such qualities.

27. Another point in which Christ was superior to the Levitical priest. First, he had no sins to expiate, and therefore, was not bound by the law to offer a sacrifice of expiation for his own sins; this first point is proved next verse, 28; secondly, he was not bound by the law prescribing the offering of daily sacrifice of expiation for the sins of the people; this second point he proves in this verse; for, the meritorious value of the bloody oblation of himself, which he “once” offered, as a redemptory sacrifice for others, on the altar of the cross, are such as to render its repetition useless. It is to be observed, that although Christ once offered himself, in a bloody manner on the cross, he still continues to offer himself, in an unbloody manner. This he does in heaven by presenting his humanity continually to his Father (9:24); but it is on earth, he chiefly performs this function, by offering himself daily, being really, truly, and substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine, in the adorable Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the same with the Sacrifice of the Cross—the victim the same, the principal offerer the same; differing only in manner; the one, bloody, the other, unbloody. This latter part is abundantly proved in the several treatises on Theology. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is, then, a commemoration and continuation of the Sacrifice of the Cross. The principal parts or actions of a sacrifice are, the immolation of the victim, and the oblation of the same, once immolated. Now, the Sacrifice of the Cross ended only as to the bloody immolation; the same victim is immolated mystically by the separate consecration of the bread and wine, and continues, as to the oblation. It is also to be borne in mind, that the oneness of Christ’s sacrifice no more excludes sacrifices applicatory of this one Redemptory Sacrifice, than it excludes the sacraments, which are merely the channels for applying the merits purchased on the Sacrifice of the Cross. The Apostle makes two assertions in this verse, viz., that our High Priest was not under the necessity of offering up sacrifices daily, first, for his own sins, and secondly, for those of his people. In proving these points, he inverts the order, proving the second point in the first place.

28. The Apostle explains the words “as the other priests,” or as the Greek has it ἀρχιερεῖς, high priests (verse 27), and proves the first assertion made by him in preceding verse, viz., that our High Priest did not offer up daily sacrifice for his own sins, because he was sinless; the enactment was necessary as regarded the Levitical priests; because, they themselves were subject to sin; but Christ, whom God constituted priest by oath, which was expressed by David long after the law, was the Son of God, free from all sin; in all things perfect and constituted, for evermore.








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