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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 7 - Verse 8

Verse 8. And here men that die receive tithes. Another point showing the inferiority of the Levitical priesthood. They who thus received tithes, though by the right to do this they asserted a superiority over their brethren, were mortal. Like others, they would soon die; and in regard to the most essential things they were on a level with their brethren. They had no exemption from sickness, affliction, or bereavement, and death came to them with just as much certainty as he approached other men. The meaning of this is, that they are mortal like their brethren, and the design is to show the inferiority of their office by this fact. Its obvious and natural signification, in the apprehension of the great mass of readers, would not be, as the meaning has been supposed to be, that it refers "to the brief and mutable condition of the Levitical priesthood." See Stuart, in loco. Such an interpretation would not occur to any one if it were not to avoid the difficulty existing in the correlative member of the verse, where it is said of Melchizedek that "he liveth." But is the difficulty avoided then? Is it not as difficult to understand what is meant by his having an immutable and perpetual priesthood, as it is to know what is meant by his not dying literally ? Is the one any more true than the other whatever difficulties, therefore, there may be, we are bound to adhere to the obvious sense of the expression here; a sense which furnishes also a just and forcible ground of comparison. It seems to me, therefore, that the simple meaning of this passage is, that under the Levitical economy those who received tithes were mortal, and were thus placed in strong contrast with him of whom it was said, "he liveth." Thus they were inferior to him—as a mortal is inferior to one who does not die; and thus also they must he inferior to him who was made a priest after the "order" of him who thus "lived."

But there. In contrast with "here" in the same verse. The reference here is to the account of Melchizedek: "Here" in the Levitical economy, men received tithes who are mortal; "there," in the account of Melchizedek, the case is different.

He receiveth them. Melchizedek — for so the connexion evidently demands.

Of whom it is witnessed. Of whom the record is. There is not, in Genesis, indeed any direct record that he lives, but there is the absence of a record that he died; and this seems to have been regarded as, in fact, a record of permanency in the office, or as having an office which did not pass over to successors by the death of the then incumbent.

That he liveth. This is an exceedingly difficult expression, and one which has always greatly perplexed commentators. The fair and obvious meaning is, that all the record we have of Melchizedek is, that he was "alive;" or, as Grotius says, the record is merely that he lived. We have no mention of his death, from anything that the record shows, it might appear that he continued to live on, and did not die. Arguing from the record, therefore, there is a strong contrast between him and the Levitical priests, all of whom we know are mortal, Heb 7:23. The apostle is desirous of making out a contrast between them and the priesthood of Christ, on this point, among others; and in doing this he appeals to the record in the Old Testament, and says that there was a case which furnished an intimation that the priestly office of the Messiah was not to pass over from him to others by death. That case was, that he was expressly compared Ps 110:4 with Melchizedek, and that in the account of Melchizedek there was no record of his death. As to the force of this argument, it must be admitted that it would strike a Jew more impressively than it does most readers now; and it may not be improbable that the apostle was reasoning from some interpretation of the passages in Ge 14 and Ps 110, which was then prevalent, and which would then be conceded on all hands to be correct. If this was the admitted interpretation, and if there is no equivocation, or mere trick in the reasoning—as there cannot be shown to be—why should we not allow to the Jew a peculiarity of reasoning as we do to all other people? There are modes of reasoning and illustration in all nations, in all societies, and in all professions, which do not strike others as very forcible. The ancient philosophers had methods of reasoning which now seem weak to us; the lawyer often argues in a way which appears to be a mere quirk or quibble, and so the lecturer in science sometimes reasons. The cause of all this may not be always that there is real quibble or quirk, in the mode of argumentation, but that he who reasons in this manner has in his view certain points which he regards as undisputed which do not appear so to us; or that he argues from what is admitted in the profession, or in the school where he is taught, which are not understood by those whom he addresses. To this should be added also the consideration, that Paul had a constant reference to the Messiah, and that it is possible that in his mind there was here a transition from the type to the antitype, and that the language which he uses may be stronger than if he had been speaking of the mere record of Melchizedek if he had found it standing by itself. Still his reasoning turns mainly on the fact, that in the case of Melchizedek there was no one who had preceded him in that office, and that he had no successor, and, in regard to the matter in hand, it was all one as if he had been a perpetual priest, or had continued still alive.

{a} "of whom" Heb 5:6

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