and prejudices, excited and augmented, as they daily were, by the
efforts of their unbelieving Jewish brethren ; so the writer of our epistle
employs his principal force, in order to preclude or avert this danger.
Other topics are subordinate with him. Although they are often touched
upon, and with great skill and power, yet they are so interwoven with
the main object before him, that they are in a measure concealed from the
first view of a hasty reader.
The general plan of the epistle may be briefly represented. It consists
in a comparison of the new dispensation with the old, and in pointing-
out the various grounds of preference which belong to the new. From
this superiority of the new dispensation, various arguments are deduced,
in order to shew the importance of cleaving to the Christian profession,
instead of reverting back to Judaism, which could not now be the means
268 GENERAL VIEW OF THE CONTENTS
of saving those who embraced it. Considerations of such a nature are
repeated, as often as the comparisons introduced afford occasion for
them. This accounts for the repetition of hortatory addresses, so often
found in our epistle.
The Jews gloried in their dispensation, because angels had been
employed as mediators of it, when the law was given at Sinai. In their
view, this stamped a high and heavenly honour upon it. Our author
does not attack their views of this subject, but he commences his epistle
by shewing that Christ, the mediator and head of the new dispensation,
as it regards his name, his rank, his dominion, his creative and eternal
power, is superior to the angels, chap. i. 1 14. On this ground, then,
Christianity may claim a precedence ; and hence he exhorts them to
give their most earnest attention to it, chap. ii. 1 4.
Nor can they object to the superiority of the Messiah, that he pos-
sessed a human nature, while the angels are spiritual and heavenly
beings. For in human nature he is Lord of the universe, ch. ii. 5 10.
It was this nature, too, which gave him a nearer and more endearing sym-
pathy with his followers ; and by taking this upon him, he was enabled
to make an expiatory offering for sin by his death; so that he is
now fitted not only to exercise compassion toward men, but to save
them from the bondage of sin, and from its condemning power, ch. ii.
Having thus disposed of this topic, he next proceeds to compare Jesus,
the head of the new dispensation, with Moses, the head of the ancient
one. Like Moses, he was set over the house of God, and entrusted with
it, and was faithful to his trust. But the honour due to Jesus is as much
more than that due to Moses, as the builder of a house is worthy of more
honour than the house itself. Christ too was set over God's house as a
Son ; but Moses only as a servant, ch. iii. 1 6.
If now the Israelites of old were solemnly admonished to hearken to
the precepts given under the Mosaic dispensation ; then surely believers
in Christ may be more solemnly urged, to beware of disobedience to his
injunctions, ch. iii. 7 19. And this warning holds good, and is appli-
cable in all respects, because the rest which was promised to believers in
ancient times, and was lost through unbelief, is still proffered to all who
believe in Jesus and persevere in their profession, and only to believers,
ch. iv. 1 10. Awful commination is indeed still uttered against those
who are guilty of apostacy, ch. iv. 11 13.
Oi-' THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 269
Thus much for the comparison of Christ with Moses. Next, the writer
proceeds to compare Jesus, as a priest, with the Jewish priesthood, and
particularly with the high priest, the most dignified of all who were
invested with the sacerdotal office.
He first introduces Christ as a compassionate high priest, and exalted
to the highest dignity in the heavens, ch. iv. 14 16. Next, he states
the various things which are attached to the priesthood, as existing
among the sons of Levi. (1.) A high priest must present oblations and
sacrifices, ch. v. 1. (2.) He must be compassionate and sympathetic
towards others, and especially so, as he is himself frail and erring,
ch. v. 2, 3. (3.) He must be appointed of God to this office, ch. v. 4.
In all these respects, he now goes on to make a comparison of Jesus,
the high priest of Christianity, and to shew his superiority. He shews,
First, that Christ was divinely appointed a priest, and that of the
highest order, ch. v. 5, 6.
Next, he shews that Christ our great high priest was compassed with
human infirmity, like other priests, so that, like them, he was fitted to
exercise compassionate sympathy, ch. v. 7, 8. But after he had suffered,
he was raised to glory and became a high priest of the most exalted
order, i. e. of the order of Melchisedek, ch. v. 9, 10.
The difficulty of the subject now suggested, affords an occasion for
the writer to advert to the state of religious ignorance, in which those
were whom he addressed, ch. v. 11 14 ; to exhort them to come out of
it, and to warn them against the fearful danger that would result from
not doing so, ch. vi. 1 8. To this he subjoins commendation as to
some things, and powerful motives of encouragement, ch. vi. 9 20.
He now resumes the subject of Melchisedek ; shews the superiority of
his priesthood over that of the sons of Levi, ch. vii. 1 10 ; and then
argues that Christ, who was a perpetual priest of the like order with
Melchisedek, must of course be superior to the Jewish priests, ch. vii.
Christ too, as high priest, differed in one important respect from other
priests, viz. in that he needed no sacrifice for himself, as an erring, sinful
man, like the sons of Levi, but was sinless and perfect, yea, even exalted
to a state of supreme glory, ch. vii. 26 28.
The great object, however, at which the writer is going to aim in the
sequel of his epistle, is, to shew that the high priest of Christianity offi-
ciates in heaven for his followers, ch viii 1,2. The Jewish priests per-
270 GENERAL VIEW OF THE CONTENTS
form their functions in a temple, which is merely an image of the hea-
venly one, ch. viii. 3 6.
The new covenant, of which Jesus is mediator, is altogether superior,
also, to the old, ch. viii. 6 13. The ordinances and apparatus of ser-
vice attached to this, were all mere types of heavenly things, ch. ix. 1 10.
The services themselves were imperfect, as to the end attained by them,
since they accomplished nothing more than external purification ; but the
blood of Christ sanctifies internally, and procures eternal redemption and
an everlasting inheritance, for all the chosen of God in every age of the
world, ch. ix. 11 15,
The new testament, which gives an inheritance to the people of God,
was sanctioned by the death of Jesus, ch. ix. 15. Such is the custom in
regard to testaments, ch. ix. 16, 17. As a symbol of this, even the first
covenant, (diaSr/Krj,) with all the apparatus attached to it, was sanc-
tioned by blood, i. e. the emblem of death, ch. ix. 18 22. If the
earthly sanctuary was thus consecrated, then the heavenly one must be
so, by a sacrifice of a still higher nature, ch. ix. 23, 24. Sacrifices in
the earthly temple must be often repeated ; but the sacrifice of Christ
did, once for all, accomplish the great purposes for which it was offered,
ch. ix. 2428.
Indeed, no legal sacrifices could make any real atonement for sin,
ch. x. 1 4. Therefore Christ voluntarily proffered himself as a sin
offering, entirely and for ever to effect this, ch. x. 5 18.
Thus is completed the comparison of Christ, and of his functions as a
priest in the heavenly tabernacle, with the Jewish priests and their func-
tions in the earthly tabernacle. In all respects, Jesus, the high priest of
the Christian religion, appears greatly superior.
The writer now proceeds to various bold and powerful exhortations,
mixed with awful warnings against defection from the Christian religion,
ch x. 19 31. He sets before them the effects of persevering faith, in
the ancient patriarchs, prophets, and distinguished worthies, ch. xi. I 40.
This he follows up with continued exhortations, and encouragements,
and warnings, ch. xii. 1 29; and then closes his epistle with divers
practical directions, cautions, and salutations, ch. xiii. 1 25.
Such is the brief view of the course of thought and reasoning in our
epistle. It is plain that there are three great points of comparison in it,
which constitute the main object at which the writer aims, in order that
he may show the superiority of Christianity over Judaism.
OF THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 271
I. The superiority of Christ, the mediator of the new covenant, over
angels who were employed as mediators, when the old covenant was
established, chap. i. ii.
II. The superiority of Christ, the head of the new dispensation, over
r/Ioses, the head of the old, chap. iii. iv.
III. The superiority of Christ as high priest of the new dispensation,
j&nd of the services which he performs, over the priesthood of the Mosaic
institution, and all the services which were appropriate to their office,
ch. v. 1 ; x. 18.
Exhortations, warnings, reproofs, and encouragements, are intermixed
in some manner with the main discussions : e. g. ch. ii. 1 4 ; iii. 1 ;
iii. 7 iv. 16; iv. 11 vi. 20; but from ch. x. 19 to the end of the
epistle, nearly all is of the nature just described ; so that about one half
of the epistle is of a parenetical or hortatory nature.
In judging of the relevancy and importance of the subjects discussed
in our epistle, it is very plain, that we are not to make up an opinion,
deduced merely from viewing the present necessities and condition of
Christians. We were not born Jews, nor educated as such. We have
none of their prejudices, peculiar sympathies, temptations, and trials.
What was adapted to them, in the days of Paul, and under the circum-
stances above described ; nay, what was absolutely indispensable for
their instruction, reproof, and confirmation, may, in many respects, be
scarcely appropriate to us, in our condition and circumstances. Such is
indeed the fact, in regard to many of the things introduced into the
epistle to the Hebrews ; as I shall have occasion hereafter repeatedly to
notice. But who, that judges with any good degree of candour and
fairness, would ever think of bringing it as an accusation against our
author, that he has inserted in his epistle, that which was altogether
appropriate to those whom he addressed, although it may not, and does
not, have an equal bearing upon all times and nations ? Surely, the last
ground of just accusation which can be advanced against any writer, is,
that " he has written in a manner peculiarly adapted to accomplish the
end for which he wrote." In what a different plight would the world of
authors be, if all of them were justly liable to such an imputation !
Of necessity, now, many things addressed to the Jews of Paul's day,
are comparatively inapplicable to us. So far, however, as our circum-
stances agree with theirs in any respect, just so far the spirit of what
was said to them will apply to us. So far as what was said to them was
272 GENERAL VIEW OF THE CONTENTS, &C.
founded in general Christian truths and principles, just so far we may be
instructed and guided by it. Consequently, as it must follow from these
positions, the epistle, while it contains many things appropriate to the
Hebrews of early times, also contains many which can never cease to
interest the church of God, while Christianity exists in the world.
These general views may serve to aid the critical student, in com-
mencing the exegetical study of our epistle. The more particular detail
of what is here hinted, is reserved for the introductions to various parts
of the epistle, which are inserted, pro re natd, in the body of the com-
mentary which follows.
CONTENTS OF CHAPTERS I. 1 II. 4.
The object of the writer being to commend Christianity to those whom he addressed,
in such a manner as to prevent defection from this religion ; he begins by setting forth
Christ as the author of the new revelation which God had made to men, ch. i. 1. He
then touches upon the dignity of his office ; he is Lord of the universe ; which, indeed,
he also created, ver. 2. He is the true image of God, and the representative of his
glory and perfections to men ; he is endowed with sovereign power; and having made
atonement for the sins of men, he is exalted to the highest majesty in the heavens,
ver. 3. This mediator of the new dispensation is exalted above angels, who were the
mediators of the ancient one. His name, SON, is more exalted than theirs ; for they
have not been addressed, like him, with such an appellation, ver. 4, 5. He is the
object of worship by the angels ; while they are employed only as the swift and ready
messengers of God, ver. 6, 7. The King Messiah has an eternal and righteous
dominion ; and is elevated, on account of his love of righteousness, to honour and
happiness above all other kings, ver. 8, 9. Him, too, the sacred writer addresses, as
tlte Creator of the heavens and the earth, and as immutable and imperishable, ver.
10 12. But no exaltation to such dominion is conferred upon angels, ver. 13; they
are only ministerial agents, employed for the good of those who are to be heirs of the
salvation which Christ bestows, ver. 14.
If such be the dignity and elevation of the Messiah, then, surely he may justly
demand the attentive consideration of all which he addresses to his followers. Obedi-
ence to the ancient revelation Was enforced by just and unavoidable penalties ; how can
the neglect of the new and more perfect one go unpunished ? ch. ii. 1, 2. Especially
must this be the case, since it was promulgated by Christ himself in person, and was
confirmed, on the part of God, by a great variety of wondrous miracles, ver. 3, 4.
'H Trpoe 'E/3paiove etriffToXrj. See, on this title, 10. p. 35, seq.
1 . IloXvjufpwc ical TroXvrporrwc, literally in various parts and in various
ways. Of the Greek commentators, some give a different sense to each
of the words ; e. g. Theodoret, TroXv^iepwe rctc iravTodairas olxovo/u'afc
tnjpaiveif TO tie TroXvrpOTrwc, rwv Qduv OTrraenaiv TO ^ta^OjOov, i. e. TroXvpeptic
signifies the various dispensations , and TroXvrpoTrwe the diversity of
divine visions. Theophylact interprets the words in question,
274 COMMENTARY ON HEB. 1. 1.
g, diversely, and in various ways. But Chrysostom expresses
the sense of both words, by ia0opa>e simply. Modern commentators are
divided in the same manner. The Greek idiom allows either mode of
interpretation ; and precedents may be found for each. See Schleusner
on the words ; and compare Clem. Alex. Strom. I. 4. p. 331; V.p. 667,
ed. Potter. If the two words be construed separately, then TroXv^epwc
should be interpreted as referring to the matter of ancient revelation,
given in different parts and at different times, thus conveying the idea
of the gradual development of truth in different ages and by different
persons ; and TroXvrpoTrwe must be understood as indicating the various
ways in which these revelations were communicated, i. e. by dreams,
visions, symbols, Urim and Thummim, prophetic ecstacy, &c. But if
both words are regarded, as being used only to designate with intensity
the variety of ancient revelations, (and such a mode of phraseology is
very common both in the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures,) then the whole
may be paraphrased thus : " God, who in ancient times made communi-
cations, in many different ways, by the prophets to the fathers, hath,"
&c. The word TroXvptpus does not, of itself, signify sundry times; but
still, the idea of various parts or portions, which it does properly signify,
may very naturally be understood as implying diverse times at which,
or occasions on which, the different parts of revelation were communi-
cated ; or the idea of TroXv/^pwg may be simply that of repetition, so
that often would well communicate the sense of it. In this way I have
ventured to translate it.
Of the two modes of interpreting these words, I rather prefer that
which separates them, and gives a distinct meaning to each. The writer
evidently designs to present an antithesis between the manner of the
ancient and the Christian dispensation. This antithesis is rendered more
striking, if we understand the first clause in the verse thus : " God, who
in ancient times made communications to the fathers by the prophets, in
sundry parts and in various ways, has now made a revelation to us by
his Son;" i. e. he has completed the whole revelation, which he intends
to make under the new dispensation, by his Son t by his Son only, and
not by a long continued series of prophets, as of old. The apostles,
and other inspired writers of the New Testament, received their com-
munications from the Son, who gave them the Holy Spirit, Matt. xi. 27,
comp. John xiv. 26; xvi. 13; and facts shew, that the Christian revela-
tion was completed, during that generation who were contemporary with
the Saviour, when he dwelt on earth.
COMMENTARY ON HEB. I. 1. 275
IldXai, in ancient times ; for communications by prophets to the Jews
had ceased, from the time of Malachi and his contemporaries, i. e. for
the space of about four hundred years. Hence, the writer avoids using
an expression which would imply, that revelations had been continued
down to the time then present. By n-aXtu, he evidently means to
designate the whole time, during which communications of the Divine
will were continued under the former dispensation.
AaXryo-ae most commonly designate* oral communication. But since
the writer here affirms, that God had spoken (\d\rjcrag} TroXvrpoTrwe, it
must of course be understood (as indeed it is often used) to designate
the more general idea of communication made in any manner, by visions,
symbols, &c. as well as by voices.
To7g Trarpacnv, ancestors; see Wahl's Lex. We might naturally
expect that fjpuv would be subjoined ; but Paul commonly uses the
word irarepee in the sense just noted, without the pronoun annexed.
See Rom. ix. 5 ; xi. 28 ; xv. 8.
'Ev rolg 7rpo<pr]TaiQ, by the prophets. The use of iv with the dative,
instead of Sta with the genitive, is frequent in the New Testament ; as
any one may see in Wahl's Lexicon, iv no. 3. a. The frequent use
of it, in this way, is a Hebraism; for h corresponds to the Hebrew 21,
which is employed with great latitude of signification, and in cases of the
same nature as that in question ; e. g. Hosea i. 2, the word of the Lord
by Hosea, ^ttfinS,. But an occasional use of ev in a similar way, by
native Greek writers, may also be found; e. g. Thucyd. VII. 11, what
has been done before, ye know, iv aXXcug TroXXale 7rt?oXcu, by many
IIpo0//7cue, in the language of the New Testament, means, not only
those who predict future events, but all who were employed by God, as
the medium of making religious communications of any kind to his
'E?r' ecr^arov r&v fipepwv, in many copies ITT' f<r)(arw>/ rwv fyucpwy. The
LXX. use both forms of expression, as a translation of the Hebrew
D'pTT JT*inN ; thus showing that they were regarded by them as
synonymes. It is a matter of indifference, as to the sense of the text,
which reading is adopted.
The meaning of the phrase is best understood, from a comparison
of the corresponding expressions in Hebrew. In the Old Testament,
DWT /inrTN, JTHnN, ]3"Hn, and fnm* DV>, are often employed
synonymously ; and all of them to designate the general idea of here-
276 COMMENTARY ON HEB. I. 1.
after 9 at a future time, in the sequel. Whether this future time be
more or less remote, depends entirely on the context, and scope of the
passage. See Gen. xlix. 1. Numb. xxiv. 14. Deut. iv. 30. Prov.
xxxi. 25. But D^il JTHriN, in particular, is used to denote the
future period in which the Messiah (o tpyofJitvoG) was *
Isa. ii. 2. Hos. iii. 5. Micah iv. 1. Joel iii. 1, [Eng. ii. 28,]
This phrase (as it would seem from the usage in these places) early
passed into a kind of technical designation of the time of the Messiah,
or rather of the new dispensation under him. Thus Rabbi Nachmanides,
on Gen. xlix. 1, says, "All our doctors agree, that D^Pf JT">rTN means,
the times of the Messiah." That such a use of the phrase in question,
was already an established one, in the time of our Saviour, is abundantly
evident, from the frequency with which ai 'lar-^arai fjnepat is employed in
the New Testament, to designate the period of the Christian dispensation.
Like other appellations, acquired in a similar way, (comp. Luke vii. 20,)
it continued to be employed, after the " last days," i. e. the Christian
dispensation, had commenced; and it is employed to designate any part
of the time which this dispensation comprises : being limited only by
the context, in the same manner, as the Hebrew D^D"!! JTHIIN &c. as
exhibited above. In John vi. 39, 40. 44. 54, and xi. 24, ta^a-rri fjuepa is
indeed used to denote the end of time, when the resurrection of the dead
will take place. But, in each of these cases, am<r//<rw or ava^naiQ accom-
panies it, so as to save all doubt in respect to its meaning. In all other
cases, it designates the period of the new dispensation. Many
synonymous expressions are also employed, to designate the same
idea : e. g. 6 to-^aroe Kaipog, ol 'iaya.roi Kaipol, r/ kayim] wpa, and
The Jews, it is said, divided the periods of the world into ntj"T DT^TT'
the present age or world, i. e. the period of the Mosaic dispensation, and
N3il D^tyn, the age or world to come, i. e. the time of the Messiah's
reign. The former is called, in the New Testament, 6 atwv OVTOQ, 6 vvv
aluv rov Kocrpov TOVTOV, 6 aiu)t> o tveorwe, naipbs ovrog, and 6 aluiv '. the
latter, o cuwj/ 6 yuc'XXwv ip-^ofjievoQ tKelvog, ol atoJ^ee eircpx6ftcvoi t rj OIKOV-
fjtivr) / fj,e\\ov(ra. This latter class of expressions, thus understood, are
equivalent to the phrases to-^arat ijfj,pai, taya.T&v fipEp&v, &c.
Such is the representation of Wahl, (on the word cu<W, in his Lexicon,)
of Brettschneider (Lex.), and of other critics, in regard to this subject.
But that it is too definitely made, and therefore not in all respects well
founded, is quite clear from the very authority to which Wahl refers ;
COMMENTARY ON HEB. I. 1. 277
.,. e. Buxtorf. Lex. Chald. sub voc. D^ty. The Rabbins certainly used
njn DTiy for mundus hie, mundus habitabilis ; also for mundus medius,
i. e. the regions of the air, stars, firmament, &c. ; and for mundus supre-
mus, i. e. of angels and spirits. It is equally certain, that they employed
N2n DTI}? for mundus post resurrectionem mortuorum, mundus anima-
rum a corpore solutarum, as well as for the age of the Messiah. Bux-
torf merely says, " Quidam per K2H tf?ty intelligent fTttfSn JT)D\ dies
Messiae." It would seem, then, that Wahl and Brettschneider have
made an excessive use of the supposed Rabbinic sense of the word aluv.
Be this, however, as it may; from the Old Testament usage we may
easily make out (as I have endeavoured to do,) the sense of CTT* ia^arov
rwv fjulpuv. The phrase, in Heb. i. 1, appears to mean, during the last
dispensation) or, under the last period, viz. that of the Messiah.
Totrwv, THESE last days, is as much to say, " The period in question
has already commenced."
'llfjuv, to us, by a KOLVUXTIQ, i. e, a figure of speech, or mode of speak-
ing, in which the writer joins himself with those whom he addresses.
The meaning is, to Christians, to the church ; not excluding others, but
intending still to designate, in this place, particularly himself and those
to whom he wrote. So Luke uses fyuj/ for Christians, in chap. i. 1 ,
and Paul, in like manner, often, in his epistles.
'Ev via, i. e. ia TOV vlov. So Chrysostom and Theophylact ; for lv
here is used as above, in kv TO~LQ Trpo^r/raie. That the article would be
added to vt here, if the phrase was constructed according to the com-
mon usage of the Greek language, and of the New Testament writers, is
quite obvious ; although I find none of the modern commentators who
take notice of it. In accordance with this principle, both Chrysostom
and Theophylact supply it in their paraphrase, expressing the sense by
&a TOV vlov. After all the rules which have been laid down respecting
the insertion or omission of the article in Greek, and all the theories
which have been advanced, he who investigates for himself, and is guided
only by facts, will find not a little that is arbitrary in the actual use of