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Hebrews Chapter 8:1-6

1. Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;

1. Porro eurum quae dicuntur summa est, Talem habemus pontificem qui consedit in dextera throni majestatis in coelis;

2. A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.

2. Sanctorum minister et tabernaculi veri quod fixit Dominus et non homo.

3. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.

3. Omnis enim pontifex ad offerendum dona et sacrificia constituitur; unde necesse est hunc quoque habere quod offerat.

4. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:

4. Sane si in terra esset, ne pontifex quidem esset, quamdiu essent sacerdotes qui secundum legem offerrent dona;

5. Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

5. Qui in exemplari et umbra ministrant coelestium, quemadmodum oraculo admonitus fuit Moses, quum tabernaculum esset perfecturus, Vide, inquit, ut facias omnia secundum typum qui tibi ostensus fuit in monte.

6. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.

6. Nunc autem excellentius obtinuit ministerium, quanto et potioris testamenti Mediator, quod supeer praestantioiribus promissionibus promulgatum fuit.


1. Now of the things, etc. That readers might know the subject he handles, he reminds them that his object is to prove that Christ’s priesthood, by which that of the law had been abolished, is spiritual. He, indeed, proceeds with the same argument; but as he contends with various reasonings, he introduced this admonition, that he might keep his readers attentive to what he had in view.

He has already shown that Christ is a high priest; he now contends that his priesthood is celestial. It hence follows, that by his coming the priesthood established by Moses under the law was made void, for it was earthly. and as Christ suffered in the humble condition of his flesh, and having taken the form of a servant, made himself of no reputation in the world, (Philippians 2:7;) the Apostle reminds us of his ascension, by which was removed not only the reproach of the cross, but also of that abject and mean condition which he had assumed together with our flesh; for it is by the power of the Spirit which gloriously appeared in the resurrection and the ascension of Christ, that the dignity of his priesthood is to be estimated. He then reasons thus — “Since Christ has ascended to the right hand of God, that he might reign gloriously in heaven, he is not the minister of the earthly but of the heavenly sanctuary. 127127     See Appendix D 2.

2. Of the sanctuary, or, literally, of holy things, etc. The word is to be taken, as being in the neuter gender; and the Apostle explains himself by saying, of the true tabernacle. 128128     It is better to take “holy things” as designating the holy duties of the priest, afterwards specified when the offering of gifts and sacrifices is mentioned, than as signifying “the sanctuary.” Christ is a priest and a minister in sacred things, and a minister in the true tabernacle. He has holy things to do, and he does them, not in the shadowy and typical tabernacle, but in that which is real and celestial.
   We find, that the word in the next chapter means the holiest place, accompanied as here with the article, chapter 9: 8-12, and without the article, the holy place or the sanctuary, chapter 9:2. So then if this meaning be taken, the rendering here ought to be, “the minister of the holiest;” and then “tabernacle” is used as including the whole building, as in chapter 9:2. But the context here seems to favor the former meaning. The version of Doddridge is, “A minister of holy things.” — Ed.

But it may be asked, whether the tabernacle built by Moses was a false one, and presumptuously constructed, for there is an implied contrast in the words? To this I answer, that to us mentioned here is not set in opposition to what is false, but only to what is typical; as we find in John 1:17, “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Then the old tabernacle was not the empty inventions of man, but the effigy of the heavenly tabernacle. As, however, a shadow differs from the substance, and the sign from the thing signified, the Apostle denies it to have been the true tabernacle, as though he had said, that it was only a shadow.

Which the Lord pitched, or, fixed, etc. What does the Apostle mean by locating Christ’s priesthood in heaven? For doubtless he suffered on earth, and by an earthly blood he atoned for our sins, for he derived his origin from the seed of Abraham; the sacrifice of his death was visible; and lastly, that he might offer himself to the Father, it was necessary for him to descend from heaven to the earth, and as man to become exposed to the sorrows of this mortal life, and at length to death itself. To all this I reply, that whatever of an earthly kind appears at first sight to be in Christ, it is to be viewed spiritually by the eye of faith. Thus his flesh, which proceeded from the seed of Abraham, since it was the temple of God, possessed a vivifying power; yea, the death of Christ became the life of the world, which is certainly above nature. The Apostle therefore does not refer to what belongs peculiarly to human nature, but to the hidden power of the Spirit; and hence it is, that the death of Christ has nothing earthly in it. When therefore we speak of Christ, let us learn to raise up all our thoughts to the kingdom of God, so that no doubt may remain in us.

Nearly to the same purpose is the language of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1; he calls God the builder of this tabernacle, in order to set forth its stability and perpetuity; for, on the other hand, what is built by men’s hands, is unstable, and at last sure to perish. But he says this, because redemption was truly a divine work, attained by the death of Christ; and in this the power of Christ manifested itself in a wonderful manner.

3. For every high priest, etc. The Apostle intends to show, that Christ’s priesthood cannot coexist with the Levitical priesthood. He proves it in this way, — “The Law appointed priests to offer sacrifices to God; it hence appears that the priesthood is an empty name without a sacrifice. But Christ had no sacrifice, such as was offered under the Law; it hence follows, that his priesthood is not earthly or carnal, but one of a more excellent character.”

Let us now examine every clause. The first thing that deserves notice, is that which he teaches that no priest is appointed except to offer gifts; it is hence evident, that no favor from God can be obtained for men except through the interposition of a sacrifice. Hence, that our prayers may be heard, they must be founded on a sacrifice; their audacity, therefore, is altogether pernicious and fatal, who pass by Christ and forget his death, and yet rush into the presence of God. Now, if we wish to pray in a profitable manner, we must learn ever to set before us the death of Christ, which alone sanctifies our prayers. For God will never hear us unless he is reconciled; but he must be first pacified, for our sins cause him to be displeased with us. Sacrifice must necessarily precede, in order that there may be any benefit from prayer.

We may hence further conclude, that no one either among men or angels is qualified for pacifying God, for all are without any sacrifice of their own which they can offer to appease God. And hereby is abundantly exposed the effrontery of the Papists who make Apostles and martyrs to share with Christ as mediators in the work of intercession; for in vain do they assign them such an office, except they supply them with sacrifices. 129129     “This man” of our version, in the latter clause of the verse, should be either “he,” or “this high priest,” in contrast with the high priest at the beginning of the verse. Such is the rendering of Macknight and Stuart. — Ed.

4. For if he were on earth, etc. It is now beyond dispute that Christ is a high priest; but as the office of a judge does not exist without laws and statutes, so the office of sacrificing must be connected with Christ as a priest: yet he has no earthly or visible sacrifice; he cannot then be a priest on earth. We must always hold this truth that when the Apostle speaks of the death of Christ, he regards not the external action, but the spiritual benefit. He suffered death as men do, but as a priest he atoned for the sins of the world in a divine manner; there was an external shedding of blood, but there was also an internal and spiritual purgation; in a word, he died on earth, but the virtue and efficacy of his death proceeded from heaven.

What immediately follows some render thus, “He could not be a priest of the number of those who offer gifts according to the Law.” But the words of the Apostle mean another thing; and therefore I prefer this rendering, “He could not be a priest as long as there are priests who,” etc. For he intends to show one of these two things, either that Christ is no priest, while the priesthood of the Law continued, as he had no sacrifice, or that the sacrifices of the law ceased as soon as Christ appeared. The first of these is against all reason, for it is an act of impiety to deprive Christ of his priesthood. It then remains for us to confess, that the Levitical order is now abolished.

5. Who serve unto the example, etc. The verb λατρεύειν to serve, I take here to mean the performing of sacred rites; and so ἐν or ἐπὶ is to be understood. This is certainly more appropriate than the rendering given by some, “Who serve the shadow and example of heavenly things; and the construction in Greek will admit naturally of the meaning I have proposed. In short, he teaches us that the true worship of God consists not in the ceremonies of the Law, and that hence the Levitical priests, while exercising their functions, had nothing but a shadow and a copy, which is inferior to the prototype, for this is the meaning of the word ὑποδείγμα, exemplar. And he thus anticipates what might have been raised as an objection; for he shows that the worship of God, according to the ancient sacrifices, was not superfluous, because it referred to what was higher, even to heavenly realities. 130130     Our version of this clause is hardly intelligible. Calvin’s rendering with a little addition would convey a clear meaning. “Who do service in that which is the exemplar and shadow of celestial things.” Stuart considers “tabernacle” as being understood. We have the words, “who serve the tabernacle,” in chapter 13:10, that is, “who do the service belonging to the tabernacle,” or, “who attend on the tabernacle.” So the literal rendering here is, “who serve the model and shadow of celestial things,” which means, “who do the service belonging to the model and shadows of celestial things.” The tabernacle no doubt is what is meant; and it is called a “model,” or likeness, because it emblematically represented, or exhibited things heavenly, and a “shadow,” because it was not the substance or the reality. Stuart seems to have unwisely combined the two words, “a mere copy;” for the two ideas they convey are not thus so clearly seen.
   But to “serve,” or to do service, includes what was done by the people as well as by the priests. Those who offered the sacrifices, as well as the priests through whom they offered the sacrifices, or performed the services belonging to the tabernacle; the latter are meant here, and the former or both in chapter 10:2; 13:10. To serve the Lord, and to offer sacrifices to him, are in Exodus represented as the same; see chapter 8:1; 10:7, 26. — Ed.

As Moses was admonished by God, etc. This passage is found in Exodus 25:40; and the apostle adduces it here on purpose, so that he might prove that the whole service, according to the Law, was nothing more than a picture as it were, designed to shadow forth what is found spiritually in Christ. God commanded that all the parts of the tabernacle should correspond with the original pattern, which had been shown to Moses on the mount. And if the form of the tabernacle had a reference to something else, then the same must have been the case as to the rituals and the priesthood; it hence follows that there was nothing real in them.

This is a remarkable passage, for it contains three things entitled to special notice.

First, we hence learn that the ancient rituals were not without reason appointed, as though God did by them engage the attention of the people as with the diversions of children; and that the form of the tabernacle was not an empty thing, intended only to allure and attract the eyes by its external splendor; for there was a real and spiritual meaning in all these things, since Moses was commanded to execute every thing according to the original pattern which was given from heaven. Extremely profane then must the opinion of those be, who hold that the ceremonies were only enjoined that they might serve as means to restrain the wantonness of the people, that they might not seek after the foreign rites of heathens. There is indeed something in this, but it is far from being all; they omit what is much more important, that they were the means of retaining the people in their expectation of a Mediator.

There is, however, no reason that we should be here overcurious, so as to seek in every nail and minute things some sublime mystery, as Hesychius did and many of the ancient writers, who anxiously toiled in this work; for while they sought refinedly to philosophize on things unknown to them, they childishly blundered, and by their foolish trifling made themselves ridiculous. We ought therefore to exercise moderation in this respect, which we shall do if we seek only to know what has been revealed to us respecting Christ.

Secondly, we are here taught that all those modes of worship are false and spurious, which men allow themselves by their own wit to invent, and beyond God’s command; for since God gives this direction, that all things are to be done according to his own rule, it is not lawful for us to do anything different from it; for these two forms of expression, “see that thou do all things according to the patterns,” and, “See that thou do nothing beyond the pattern,” amount to the same thing. Then by enforcing the rule delivered by himself, he prohibits us to depart from it even in the least thing. For this reason all the modes of worship taught by men fall to the ground, and also those things called sacraments which have not proceeded from God.

Thirdly, let us hence learn that there are no true symbols of religion but those which conform to what Christ requires. We must then take heed, lest we, while seeking to adapt our own inventions to Christ, transfigure him, as the Papists do, so that he should not be at all like himself; for it does not belong to us to devise anything as we please, but to God alone it belongs to show us what to do; it is to be “according to the pattern” showed to us.

6. But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, etc. As he had before inferred the excellency of the covenant from the dignity of the priesthood, so also now he maintains that Christ’s priesthood is more excellent than that of Aaron, because he is the interpreter and Mediator of a better covenant. Both were necessary, for the Jews were to be led away from the superstitious observance of rituals, by which they were prevented from advancing directly forward to the attainment of the real and pure truth of the Gospel. The Apostle says now that it was but right that Moses and Aaron should give way to Christ as to one more excellent, because the gospel is a more excellent covenant than the Law, and also because the death of Christ was a nobler sacrifice than the victims under the Law.

But what he adds is not without some difficulty, — that the covenant of the Gospel was proclaimed on better promises; 131131     Instead of “proclaimed,” it is “established” in our version, and in that of Doddridge, and Macknight, and of Stuart, “sanctioned.” The verb means what is set as a law; that is, firmly and irrevocably fixed. It was a covenant firmly set or founded on more excellent promises. What these are, we learn in the following verses.
   This verse is connected with the fourth; and the fifth is to be put in a parenthesis. The reasoning is, — Though he is no priest on earth, yet he has a higher ministry, inasmuch as the covenant of which he is the Mediator is far superior to that of priests on earth; that is, the Levitical priests. Then he proceeds to the end of the chapter with the covenant, and shows its superiority. — Ed.
for it is certain that the fathers who lived under the Law had the same hope of eternal life set before them as we have, as they had the grace of adoption in common with us, then faith must have rested on the same promises. But the comparison made by the Apostle refers to the form rather than to the substance; for though God promised to them the same salvation which he at this day promises to us, yet neither the manner nor the character of the revelation is the same or equal to what we enjoy. If anyone wishes to know more on this subject, let him read the 4th and 5th chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians and my Institutes.

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