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1. For every high priest, etc. He compares Christ with the Levitical priests, and he teaches us what is the likeness and the difference between them; and the object of the whole discourse is, to show what Christ’s office really is, and also to prove that whatever was ordained under the law was ordained on his account. Hence the Apostle passes on at last to show that the ancient priesthood was abolished.
He first says that the priests were taken from among men; secondly, that they did not act a private part but for the whole people; thirdly, that they were not to come empty to appease God, but furnished with sacrifices; fourthly, that they were not to be exempt from human infirmities, that they might more readily succor the distressed; and lastly, that they were not presumptuously to rush into this office, and that then only was the honor legitimate when they were chosen and approved by God. We shall consider briefly each of these points.
We must first, however, expose the ignorance of those who apply these things to our time, as though there was at this day the same need of priests to offer sacrifices; at the same time there is no necessity for a long refutation. For what can be more evident than that the reality found in Christ is compared with its types, which, being prior in time, have now ceased? But this will appear more fully from the context. How extremely ridiculous then are they who seek by this passage to establish and support the sacrifice of the mass! I now return to the words of the Apostle.
Taken from among men, etc. This he says of the priests. It hence follows that it was necessary for Christ to be a real man; for as we are very far from God, we stand in a manner before him in the person of our priest, which could not be, were he not one of us. Hence, that the Son of God has a nature in common with us, does not diminish his dignity, but commends it the more to us; for he is fitted to reconcile us to God, because he is man. Therefore Paul, in order to prove that he is a Mediator, expressly calls him man; for had he been taken from among angels or any other beings, we could not by him be united to God, as he could not react down to us.
For men, etc. This is the second clause; the priest was not privately a minister for himself, but was appointed for the common good of the people. But it is of great consequence to notice this, so that we may know that the salvation of us all is connected with and revolves on the priesthood of Christ. The benefit is expressed in these words, ordains those things which pertain to God. They may, indeed, be explained in two ways, as the verb καθίσταται has a passive as well as an active sense. They who take it passively give this version, “is ordained in those things,” etc.; and thus they would have the preposition in to be understood; I approve more of the other rendering, that the high priest takes care of or ordains the things pertaining to God; for the construction flows better, and the sense is fuller. 8484 The former view is what is commonly taken, “is appointed;” and it comports with the subject in hand — the appointment of the priest, as it appears evident from what follows in verses 5 and 6. — Ed. But still in either way, what the Apostle had in view is the same, namely, that we have no intercourse with God, except there be a priest; for, as we are unholy, what have we to do with holy things? We are in a word alienated from God and his service until a priest interposes and undertakes our cause.
That he may offer both gifts, etc. The third thing he mentions respecting a priest is the offering of gifts. There are however here two things, gifts and sacrifices; the first word includes, as I think, various kinds of sacrifices, and is therefore a general term; but the second denotes especially the sacrifices of expiation. Still the meaning is, that the priest without a sacrifice is no peacemaker between God and man, for without a sacrifice sins are not atoned for, nor is the wrath of God pacified. Hence, whenever reconciliation between God and man takes place, this pledge must ever necessarily precede. Thus we see that angels are by no means capable of obtaining for us God’s favor, because they have no sacrifice. The same must be thought of Prophets and Apostles. Christ alone then is he, who having taken away sins by his own sacrifice, can reconcile God to us.
2. Who can, etc. This fourth point has some affinity to the first, and yet it may be distinguished from it; for the Apostle before taught us that mankind are united to God in the person of one man, as all men partake of the same flesh and nature; but now
he refers to another thing, and that is, that the priest ought to be kind and gentle to sinners, because he partakes of their infirmities. The word which the Apostle uses, μετριοπαθεῖν is differently explained both by Greek and Latin interpreters.
“The classic or philosophic use of the word μετριοπαθεῖν, may be briefly explained. The Stoics maintained that a man should be ἀπαθὴς, i.e., not subject to passions, such as anger, fear, hope, joy, etc. The Platonists on the other hand averred that a wise man should μετριοπαθὴς,
moderate in his affections, and not ἀπαθὴς. The leading sense, then, or the word μετριοπαθεῖν, is to be moderate in our feelings or passions.” — Stuart.
But this is not exactly its meaning here. Schleusner, quoting the Greek Lexicographers, shows that it was used in the sense of being indulgent, or of acting kindly and forgivingly, or forebearingly; and this seems to be its meaning in this passage. The sentence is rendered by Macknight, “Being able to have a right measure of compassion on the ignorant and erring.” It may be rendered, “Being capable of duly feeling for the ignorant and the erring,” or the deceived, that is by sin. See as to the ignorant Leviticus 5:17-19; and as to the deceived by passions or interest, see Leviticus 6:1-7 — Ed. I, however, think that it simply means one capable of sympathy. All the things which are here said of the Levitical priests do not indeed apply to Christ; for Christ we know was exempt from every contagion of sin; he therefore differed from others in this respect, that he had no necessity of offering a sacrifice for himself. But it is enough for us to know that he bare our infirmities, though free from sin and undefiled. Then, as to the ancient and Levitical priests, the Apostle says, that they were subject to human infirmity, and that they made atonement also for their own sins, that they might not only be kind to others when gone astray, but also condole or sympathize with them. This part ought to be so far applied to Christ as to include that exception which he mentioned before, that is, that he bare our infirmities, being yet without sin. At the same time, though ever free from sin, yet that experience of infirmities before described is alone abundantly sufficient to incline him to help us, to make him merciful and ready to pardon, to render him solicitous for us in our miseries. The sum of what is said is, that Christ is a brother to us, not only on account of unity as to flesh and nature, but also by becoming a partaker of our infirmities, so that he is led, and as it were formed, to show forbearance and kindness. The participle, δυνάμενος is more forcible than in our common tongue, qui possit, “who can,” for it expresses aptness or fitness. The ignorant and those out of the way, or erring, he has named instead of sinners, according to what is done in Hebrew; for שגגה, shegage, means every kind of error or offense, as I shall have presently an occasion to explain.