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Hebrews Chapter 9:13-17

13. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:

13. Si enim sanguis taurorum et hircorum, et cinis vitulae aspersus eos qui communicant, sanctificat ad carnis puritatem,

14. How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

14. Quanto magis sanguis Christi, qui per Spiritum aueternum sepsum obtulit irreprehensibilem Deo, mundabit conscientiam vestram a mortuis operibus ad serviendum Deo viventi?

15. And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

15. Ac propterea testamenti novi mediator est, ut morte intercedente in redemptionem transgressionum quae sub priore testamento erant, qui vocati sunt promissionem accipiant aeternae haeriditatis.

16. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.

16. Nam ubi est testamentum, illic necesse est mortem testatoris intercedere.

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

17. Testamentum enim in mortuis firmum est, quia nunquam validum est quandiu vivit testator.


13. For if the blood of bulls, etc. This passage has given to many all occasion to go astray, because they did not consider that sacraments are spoken of, which had a spiritual import. The cleansing of the flesh they leave explained of what avails among men, as the heathens had their expiations to blot out the infamy of crimes. But this explanation is indeed very heathenish; for wrong is done to God’s promises, if we restrict the effect to civil matters only. Often does this declaration occur in the writings of Moses, that iniquity was expiated when a sacrifice was duly offered. This is no doubt the spiritual teaching of faith. Besides, all the sacrifices were destined for this end, that they might lead men to Christ; as the eternal salvation of the soul is through Christ, so these were true witnesses of this salvation.

What then does the Apostle mean when he speaks of the purgations of the flesh? He means what is symbolical or sacramental, as follows, — If the blood of beasts was a true symbol of purgation, so that it cleansed in a sacramental manner, how much more shall Christ who is himself the truth, not only bear witness to a purgation by an external rite, but also really perform this for consciences? The argument then is from the signs to the thing signified; for the effect by a long time preceded the reality of the signs.

14. Who through the eternal Spirit, etc. He now clearly shows how Christ’s death is to be estimated, not by the external act, but by the power of the Spirit. For Christ suffered as man; but that death becomes saving to us through the efficacious power of the Spirit; for a sacrifice, which was to be an eternal expiation, was a work more than human. And he calls the Spirit eternal for this reason, that we may know that the reconciliation, of which he is the worker or effecter, is eternal. 150150     Some as Grotius and Schleusner, take “the eternal Spirit” as meaning the same thing as “endless life” in chapter 7:16, — “who having (or in) an eternal spirit,” or life, etc.; they give the sense of “in” to διὰ. The comparison they represent to be between perishable victims and the sacrifice of Christ, who possesses a spirit or life that is eternal.
   Others, as Junius and Beza, consider Christ’s divine nature as signified by “the eternal Spirit.” Beza says, that it was the Deity united to humanity that consecrated the whole sacrifice and endued it with vivifying power. The view of Stuart can hardly be comprehended.

   But the explanation most commonly adopted is that given here by Calvin that the Holy Spirit is meant, whose aid and influence are often mentioned in connection with Christ; see Matthew 12:28; Acts 1:2; 10:38. Some MSS and fathers have “holy” instead of “eternal,” but the greatest number and the best have the last word. Dr. Owen, Doddridge and Scott take this view. Why the Spirit is called “eternal” is not very evident. It may have been for the purpose of showing that the Spirit mentioned before in verse 8 is the same Spirit, he being eternal, and thus in order to prove that the offering of Christ was according to the divine will. God is said to be eternal in Romans 16:26, where a reference is made to the past and the present dispensation, with the view, as it seems, to show that he is the author of both. But perhaps the explanation of Calvin is the most suitable. — Ed.
By saying, without spot, or unblamable, though he alludes to the victims under the Law, which were not to have a blemish or defect, he yet means, that Christ alone was the lawful victim and capable of appeasing God; for there was always in others something that might be justly deemed wanting; and hence he said before that the covenant of the Law was not ἀμεμπτον, blameless.

From dead works, etc. Understand by these either such works as produce death, or such as are the fruits or effects of death; for as the life of the soul is our union with God, so they who are alienated from him through sin may be justly deemed to be dead.

To serve the living God. This, we must observe, is the end of our purgation; for we are not washed by Christ, that we may plunge ourselves again into new filth, but that our purity may serve to glorify God. Besides, he teaches us, that nothing can proceed from us that can be pleasing to God until we are purified by the blood of Christ; for as we are all enemies to God before our reconciliation, so he regards as abominable all our works; hence the beginning of acceptable service is reconciliation. And then, as no work is so pure and so free from stains, that it can of itself please God, it is necessary that the purgation through the blood of Christ should intervene, which alone can efface all stains. And there is a striking contrast between the living God and dead works.

15. And for this cause he is Mediator of the New Testament, etc. He concludes that there is no more need of another priest, for Christ fulfills the office under the New Testament; for he claims not for Christ the honor of a Mediator, so that others may at the same time remain as such with him; but he maintains that all others were repudiated when Christ undertook the office. But that he might more fully confirm this fact, he mentions how he commenced to discharge his office of a Mediator; even through death intervening. Since this is found alone in Christ, being wanting in all others, it follows that he alone can be justly deemed a Mediator. 151151     Here begins a new subject, that the covenant, or it may be viewed as the resumption of what is found in chapter 8:6, 7. “For this cause,” or for this reason, refers, as it seems, to what follows, “in order that,” ὅπως, etc. —
   And for this reason is he the Mediator of a new covenant, in order that death being undergone for the redemption of transgressions under the first covenant, they who were called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

   As in Romans 3:25, 26, the reference is to the retrospective effect of Christ’s expiatory sacrifice. Hence “are called” is not correct; and the participle is in the past tense. To “receive the promise,” means to enjoy its fulfillment. — Ed.

He further records the virtue and efficacy of his death by saying that he paid the price for sins under the first covenant or testament, which could not be blotted out by the blood of beasts; by which words he was seeking draw away the Jews from the Law to Christ. For, if the Law was so weak that all the remedies it applied for expiating sins did by no means accomplish what they represented, who could rest in it as in a safe harbor? This one thing, then, ought to have been enough to stimulate them to seek for something better than the law; for they could not but be in perpetual anxiety. On the other hand, when we come to Christ, as we obtain in him a full redemption, there is nothing which can any more distress us. Then, in these words he shows that the Law is weak, that the Jews might no longer recumb on it; and he teaches them to rely on Christ, for in him is found whatever can be desired for pacifying consciences.

Now, if any one asks, whether sins under the Law where remitted to the fathers, we must bear in mind the solution already stated, — that they were remitted, but remitted through Christ. Then notwithstanding their external expiations, they were always held guilty. For this reason Paul says, that the Law was a handwriting against us. (Colossians 2:14.) For when the sinner came forward and openly confessed that he was guilty before God, and acknowledged by sacrificing an innocent animal that he was worthy of eternal death, what did he obtain by his victim, except that he sealed his own death as it were by this handwriting? In short, even then they only reposed in the remission of sins, when they looked to Christ. But if only a regard to Christ took away sins, they could never have been freed from them, had they continued to rest in the Law. David indeed declares, that blessed is the man to whom sins are not imputed, (Psalm 32:2;) but that he might be a partaker of this blessedness, it was necessary for him to leave the Law, and to have his eyes fixed on Christ; for if he rested in the Law, he could never have been freed from guilt.

They who are called, etc. The object of the divine covenant is, that having been adopted as children, we may at length be made heirs of eternal life. The Apostle teaches us that we obtain this by Christ. It is hence evident, that in him is the fulfillment of the covenant. But the promise of the inheritance is to be taken for the promised inheritance, as though he had said, “The promise of eternal life is not otherwise made to us to be enjoined, than through the death of Christ.” Life, indeed, was formerly promised to the fathers, and the same has been the inheritance of God’s children from the beginning, but we do not otherwise enter into the possession of it, than through the blood of Christ previously shed.

But he speaks of the called, that he might the more influence the Jews who were made partakers of this calling; for it is a singular favor, when we have the gift of the knowledge of Christ bestowed on us. We ought then to take the more heed, lest we neglect so valuable a treasure, and our thoughts should wander elsewhere. Some regard the called to be the elect, but incorrectly in my judgment; for the Apostle teaches here the same thing as we find in Romans 3:25, that righteousness and salvation have been procured by the blood of Christ, but that we become partakers of them by faith.

16. For where a testament is, etc. Even this one passage is a sufficient proof, that this Epistle was not written in Hebrew; for ברית means in Hebrew a covenant, but not a testament; but in Greek, διαθήκη, includes both ideas; and the Apostle, alluding to its secondary meaning, holds that the promises should not have been otherwise ratified and valid, had they not been sealed by the death of Christ. And this he proves by referring to what is usually the case as to wills or testaments, the effect of which is suspended until the death of those whose wills they are.

The Apostle may yet seem to rest on too weak an argument, so that what he says may be easily disproved. For it may be said, that God made no testament or will under the Law; but it was a covenant that he made with the ancient people. Thus, neither from the fact nor from the name, can it be concluded that Christ’s death was necessary. For if he infers from the fact, that Christ ought to have died, because a testament is not ratified except by the death of the testator, the answer may be this, that |berit|, the word ever used by Moses, is a covenant made between those who are alive, and we cannot think otherwise of the fact itself. Now, as to the word used, he simply alluded, as I have already said, to the two meanings it has in Greek; he therefore dwells chiefly on the thing in itself. Nor is it any objection to say, that it was a covenant that God made with his people; for that very covenant bore some likeness to a testament, for it was ratified by blood. 152152     See Appendix H 2.

We must ever hold this truth, that no symbols have ever been adopted by God unnecessarily or unsuitably. And God in establishing the covenant of the law made use of blood. Then it was not such a contract, as they say, between the living, as did not require death. Besides, what rightly belongs to a testament is, that it begins to take effect after death. If we consider that the Apostle reasons from the thing itself, and not from the word, and if we bear in mind that he avowedly takes as granted what I have already stated, that nothing has been instituted in vain by God, there will be no great difficulty.

If anyone objects and says, that the heathens ratified covenants according to the other meaning by sacrifices; this indeed I admit to be true; but God did not borrow the rite of sacrificing from the practice of the heathens; on the contrary, all the heathen sacrifices were corruptions, which had derived their origin from the institutions of God. We must then return to the same point, that the covenant of God which was made with blood, may be fitly compared to a testament, as it is of the same kind and character.

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