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Commentary on The Letter to the Hebrews

1:1-4 Hebrews opens with a contrast between two periods of history: the past, where the revelation of God through the prophets was piecemeal and provisional, and the present, where the disclosure of his plan through the Son is complete and definitive. No new revelation will be given to supplant or surpass the faith that was "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). All has been finalized through Christ, who is the divine Creator (Heb 1:2), Sustainer (1:3), and Redeemer of the world (1:3) (CCC 65, 320). Back to text.

1:1 many and various ways: OT revelation came at many different times (primeval, patriarchal, Mosaic, etc.) and in many different ways (dreams, visions, theophanies, etc.). God spoke: A towering theme in Hebrews, linked with divinely sworn oaths (3:11; 6:17-18; 7:21) and with the divine voice speaking in the Scriptures (1:5, 7, 13; 2:11-12; 3:7; 4:3-5; etc.). Back to text.

1:2 these last days: An expression used in the Greek OT for the messianic age (Num 24:14; Is 2:2; Dan 10:14; Hos 3:5). heir of all things: As all things were created through the Son as an instrument, so they return to him as an inheritance. Christ is thus the legal "first-born" (1:6) who inherits the cosmic estate of the Father (Col 1:15-16). See word study: First-born. • If the Son is the heir of all things, then he must be distinct from all things. If God created the world through him, then he cannot be one of its creatures, since he existed before them. No creature has its origin before the foundation of the world but is created in time. Only the Son exists timelessly with the Father and the Holy Spirit (cf. St. Cyril of Alexandria, Treasury of the Trinity 32). the ages: Or "the world"—the Greek term can refer to space as well as to time (e.g., in 11:3, the world/ages refers to all that is "seen" in the visible universe). Back to text.

1:3 reflects the glory: Christ is the divine "brightness" or "radiance" that shines forth from the Lord. As such, he is Light from Light, true God from true God (CCC 464). • The author is using a term from Wis 7:26, where the divine Wisdom of God is described as the "reflection of eternal light". See note on Col 1:15-20. stamp of his nature: Also testifies to the divinity of Christ, who is said to bear the "character" or "imprint" of God's eternal Being. his word: The context implies that Christ himself is the Word of God, in contrast to the fragmentary expressions of God's word that came through the prophets (1:1). See word study: Word at Jn 1:1. purification . . . sat down: Jesus is both priest and king. Later chapters will show that his enthronement is not his retirement, but merely the beginning of his royal-priestly ministry in heaven (7:23-25; 9:24; CCC 662). Back to text.

1:4 name . . . more excellent: The superior name is "Son" (1:5, 8). However, since the angels are collectively called "sons of God" in Scripture (Job 1:6; 38:7), it is possible that the author is thinking specifically of Christ as the "first-born" Son (Heb 1:6), as this would certify his unique preeminence over the angels. See word study: First-born. Back to text.

1:5-13 Seven quotations from the OT are cited to support the exalted description of Christ in the opening verses: he is the Son and heir of the Father (1:2 and 1:5), the mediator of creation (1:2 and 1:10), the eternal God (1:3 and 1:8, 11), and the enthroned king (1:3 and 1:13). • The passages cited are Ps 2:7, 2 Sam 7:14, the LXX Greek version of Deut 32:43, Ps 104:4, Ps 45:6-7, Ps 102:25, and Ps 110:1. Together these texts affirm the divinity (Son of God) and royal dignity (son of David) of Jesus Christ. Back to text.

1:14 ministering spirits: The angels are protectors of the saints, mediators of grace, and ministers who offer the prayers of God's people in heaven (Ps 91:11; Acts 12:11; Rev 8:3-4) (CCC 331-36). • All angels have the same nature among themselves; nevertheless, some of them stand over nations, while others are present beside each one of the faithful (St. Basil the Great, Against Eunomius 3, 1). Back to text.

2:1-18 Hebrews 1 established the exaltation of Christ above the angels; Hebrews 2 looks back on the humiliation of Christ when he stooped lower than the angels. There is also a contrast between the angels as mediators of the Old Covenant and the Lord Jesus as the mediator of the New Covenant (2:1-4). Later chapters will show that Christ is superior to other covenant mediators, such as Moses and Joshua (chaps. 3-4), as well as Aaron and the Levitical priests (chaps. 5-7). Back to text.

Word Study

First-born (Heb 1:6)

Prōtotokos (Gk.): "first-born" or "oldest son". The term is used three times in Hebrews (1:6; 11:28; 12:23) and five times in the rest of the NT (Lk 2:7; Rom 8:29; Col 1:15, 18; Rev 1:5). In Israel, primogeniture, or first-born sonship, was a mark of fraternal distinction. Socially, the first-born of an Israelite family was entitled to the largest share of his father's inheritance (Deut 21:15-17; 2 Chron 21:3). In patriarchal times, the first-born son succeeded his father as the ruling and religious head of the family. This helps to explain why first-born sonship and priesthood are closely associated in Scripture. Through the Mosaic covenant, Yahweh consecrates his "first-born son" Israel (Ex 4:22) to be a "kingdom of priests" over the family of nations (Ex 19:6). Through the Davidic covenant, Yahweh established David and Solomon as his "first-born" sons (Ps 89:27) to act as kings and priests over Israel (2 Sam 6:12-19; 1 Kings 3:15; 8:62-63). This sets the stage for messianic times, when the Father enthrones his Son as the first-born, priest, king, and heir of all things (Heb 1:2-13; 5:5-6). In union with the First-born, other brothers and sisters in the faith (Heb 12:23) become fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17), as well as a royal and priestly people (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6). See note on Rom 8:29.

2:1 lest we drift: Warnings against falling away and forsaking the Christian faith punctuate the Letter to the Hebrews (3:12-14; 4:1-2; 6:4-12; 10:26-31; 12:15-17). Back to text.

2:2 declared by angels: Jewish and Christian tradition held that angels delivered the Torah to Moses at Sinai (Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19; Josephus Antiquities 15, 136). For the author, this implies that NT revelation, which came directly from the divine Lord Jesus, is not only superior to OT revelation, but comes with more severe consequences for those who reject it. • Angelic mediation of the Law is connected with the Greek version of Deut 33:2, where the "flaming fire" burning around Yahweh on Sinai is rendered "angels". Back to text.

2:3 attested to us: The apostles of Jesus were the primary witnesses to all that he had said and done (Acts 1:21-22; 10:39). The author of Hebrews was not among this original group, but he was part of a second wave of missionary preachers whose message was derived from them. Many read this as evidence against the tradition of Pauline authorship. The argument is not decisive, however, since Paul was not an eye-and-ear witness to the earthly ministry of Jesus; in fact, his preaching had to be confirmed by the original apostles (Gal 2:1-6) and was partly derived from them in the form of apostolic tradition (1 Cor 11:23; 15:3). Back to text.

2:4 signs . . . wonders . . . miracles: The proclamation of the gospel was sometimes accompanied by dramatic displays of God's power (Mk 16:17-18; Acts 4:29-30). The list here corresponds to the same three signs that, according to Paul, authenticate a genuine apostle (2 Cor 12:12) (CCC 156). Back to text.

2:5 subjected the world: The angels are ministers of the created order according to Jewish tradition (e.g., Jubilees 2, 2). Jesus, now enthroned above heaven and earth, is the sovereign Lord of creation, not merely one of its servants (Heb 1:6-14). • Christ is shown to be Lord by the fact that God has subjected the earth to him. The earth is not subject to angels as to a lord but as to a vice-regent, for the whole of visible creation is administered by angels (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Hebrews 2, 2). Back to text.

2:6-8 The Greek version of Ps 8:4-6. It differs from most modern translations of the psalm at two points. First, the Hebrew expression normally rendered "little less" is taken in a temporal sense to mean little while. Second, the Hebrew term most often translated "God" or "gods" is read as a reference to angels. Both are legitimate as interpretive translations of the original text. • The Psalmist marvels that man, so small and frail, was created to share in God's dominion over the world (Gen 1:28). The Greek version envisions two distinct stages in this human vocation: man is first made in subordination to the angels, yet he is destined to be crowned and elevated over the angels. This vocation is fully realized only in Jesus, who experienced in his human nature both humiliation and subsequent exaltation (Heb 2:8-9). Many scholars detect a contrast between Jesus and Adam, because of whom man never reached the goal for which he was made (cf. Rom 5:12-21). Back to text.

2:9 taste death: A Semitic expression (Mt 16:28; Jn 18:52). • Perhaps it recalls how Adam, in choosing to taste the forbidden fruit, subjected the human race to spiritual and biological death (Gen 3:17-19). for every one: Jesus died on behalf of the entire human family. This was a representative act of consenting to death in filial obedience to the Father (Phil 2:8) and out of fraternal love for us (Eph 5:2) (CCC 624). Back to text.

2:10 the pioneer: The Greek expression refers to a "forerunner", who leads the way for others to follow (12:2; Acts 5:31). God, in glorifying his first-born Son, has opened the way for other sons to attain glory as well. make . . . perfect through suffering: See word study: Made Perfect at Heb 5:9. Back to text.

2:11 one origin: Christ and his brethren have one and the same Father and so form one covenant family (Jn 17:11; Rom 8:29). Back to text.

2:12-13 Three quotations from the OT. • In the first, the righteous man recounts to his kinsmen how God delivered him from the affliction of his enemies (Ps 22:22). In the second and third, the prophet Isaiah, being warned against fearing earthly threats more than the Lord, resolves to trust in God and to teach his children to do the same (Is 8:17-18). The author of Hebrews puts these oracles on the lips of Jesus, not as a claim that he uttered them during his lifetime, but as a literary device to illustrate how Christ is both a brother (Heb 2:12) and father figure to the children of God (2:13). Back to text.

2:14 flesh and blood: A Semitic idiom for "human beings" or "human nature", with some emphasis on man's weakness and limitations (Mt 16:17; 1 Cor 15:50). partook of the same: The Son of God assumed our mortal nature in order to die and, through this means, to rob the devil of his claim over our lives (Wis 2:24; 1 Jn 3:8; CCC 635, 2602). Back to text.

2:15 fear of death: Human nature cowers from pain, privation, and death. This can overpower our desire to love and obey God in the face of suffering. Even Jesus feared death as a man; nevertheless, he gave consent to suffering and death out of a reverential fear of God (5:7). In this respect, he was prefigured by those saints of the OT who preferred persecution and martyrdom to apostasy (11:17-38). Such heroism speaks directly to the original readers, who had already endured hostility for their faith (10:32-39) and were edging closer to shedding their blood (12:4). Back to text.

2:16 descendants of Abraham: This could be taken in a biological sense, referring to the family of Israel descended from Abraham, or, more likely, in a Christian sense of the family of Jews and Gentiles who together imitate the faith of Abraham (Rom 4:9-13) and inherit the blessings that Yahweh pledged to the patriarch by oath (Gen 22:16-18; Gal 3:6-29). Either way, the point is that Jesus came to rescue, not angels, but fallen men. Back to text.

2:17 high priest: The first of many passages in Hebrews that expound the priestly ministry of Christ. The emphasis is on his credentials: as one experienced in human suffering, Jesus is able to show sympathy and mercy to his brothers undergoing their own trials (4:15); as one victorious over temptations, he can give his brothers the grace and help needed to triumph as he did (4:16). • The description evokes 1 Sam 2:35, where God promised to raise up a "faithful priest" to do his will. The oracle was read as a messianic prophecy in Jewish tradition. to make expiation: I.e., "to wipe away sin". For related terms, see note on Rom 3:25 and word study: Expiation at 1 Jn 2:2. Back to text.

3:1-5:10 The next section of the letter develops the description of Christ introduced in 2:17, showing him to be a "faithful" (3:1-4) and merciful high priest (4:14-5:10). Back to text.

3:1 holy brethren: Believers are "holy" because they are sanctified (2:11) and "brethren" because they share in the Sonship of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity (2:14, 17). a heavenly call: A summons that comes from heaven and leads us to heaven (Phil 3:14). the apostle: I.e., the One sent by God. This is the only time the NT gives this title to Christ, though the notion that Jesus is the One sent into the world by the Father is expressed in other terms (Mt 10:40; Lk 10:16; Jn 3:17, etc.). Back to text.

3:2 God's house: A reference to the People of God (3:6). In Hebrew usage, a father's family is often called his "house" or "household" (e.g., Num 1:2; Josh 7:14). Back to text.

3:3 more glory . . . honor: Just as Jesus was crowned with glory and honor over the angels (2:9), so too he is elevated above Moses, whom Judaism revered as the greatest saint of biblical times, even "equal in glory" to the holy angels (Sir 45:2). In stressing the superiority of Christ to other covenant mediators, the author is preparing to show in later chapters how the New Covenant surpasses the Old (Heb, chaps. 8-10; 2 Cor 3:4-11). Back to text.

3:5-6 Moses and Jesus are compared. • The backdrop is Num 12:7, where Moses is honored as the Lord's "servant", who is put in charge of his "house", i.e., the whole covenant people. Jesus is also a father figure over the household of God's people, not as a servant, however, but as the faithful first-born Son (1:4-6). Some perceive an additional allusion to Nathan's oracle, where the messianic heir of David is designated the "son" of God and the one who will "build" a "house" for God (2 Sam 7:13-14; 1 Chron 17:13-14). Back to text.

3:7-11 A citation from Ps 95:7-11. • The Psalmist reflects on the apostasy of the Exodus generation. The Hebrew version of Ps 95 focuses on the defiance of Israel at Massah and Meribah (Ex 17:1-7), but the Greek version quoted here laments the rebellion at Kadesh, where the Israelites, paralyzed by fear of the Canaanites, refused to seize possession of the Promised Land (Num 14:1-38). For this, the Lord swore an oath of disinheritance that condemned that entire generation (except Joshua and Caleb) to die in the wilderness without setting foot in Canaan. The readers of Hebrews face the same critical decision: like the Exodus generation, they too have experienced the salvation of God and now stand on the threshold of a heavenly inheritance; only by a faith in God that overcomes fear will they enter the eternal rest that awaits them. Back to text.

3:14 firm to the end: The Letter to the Hebrews is adamant that even true believers can forfeit their salvation by forsaking the Lord (6:4-8; 10:26-31; 12:14-17). This warning applies to genuine Christian "brethren", who can "fall away" from God if they allow their hearts to become "evil" and "unbelieving" (3:12). Back to text.

3:15 Today, when you hear: The author, alluding to Psalm 95 (quoted in 3:7-11), identifies the voice of God with the gospel message spoken through his Son (1:2; 2:3; 4:2) (CCC 1165). Back to text.

3:19 because of unbelief: The Exodus generation refused to believe that God could give them a land occupied by fearsome Canaanite warriors (Num 13:25-33). See note on Heb 3:7-11Back to text.

4:1-11 A theological explanation of rest, a term held in common by Ps 95:11 (3:11; 4:3-4) and Gen 2:2 (4:4). • The interpretation of these passages is typological, i.e., the land of Canaan in the psalm and the Sabbath day in Genesis are interpreted as spatial and temporal representations of heaven. Life itself is like a wilderness journey toward a better land and like a week of labor that leads to a day of refreshment. Readers are urged to persevere in faith lest they fail to enter the rest prepared for them by God (4:11) (CCC 624, 1720). • There are three rests of which he speaks: the first is the Sabbath, in which God rested from his works; the second is Palestine, in which the Jews found rest from their hardships; and the third is rest indeed—the kingdom of heaven— in which those who obtain it rest from their labors and troubles (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Hebrews 6). Back to text.

4:1 the promise . . . remains: The opportunity to take hold of salvation remains "today" but will soon pass by (3:13; cf. 2 Cor 6:2). Back to text.

4:4 God rested: A citation from Gen 2:2. • God rested on the seventh day after creating the world in six days. The point is not that God was tired and needed a break; rather, he was showing us our need to live and work for the rest that lies ahead. The call to enter his rest is a call to unite ourselves with God—weekly on the Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11) and ultimately in the attainment of salvation (Rev 14:13) (CCC 345). Back to text.

4:7-8 The author demonstrates that the land of Canaan was only an earthly sign of a heavenly country (11:16). • His logic is historical: had Joshua given Israel the fullness of rest promised by God (Josh 1:10-13), David would not have reissued the invitation to enter God's rest long after the tribes had settled down in the land (Ps 95:7-11). Back to text.

4:12 the word of God: Penetrates into the hidden recesses of the heart. If God finds the heart hard and unbelieving (3:8, 10, 12, 15), his word becomes a weapon that destroys. If he finds it full of faith, his word becomes a pledge and help toward salvation (2:3; 4:2). living and active: Emphasizes that God's word is the instrument of his will, i.e., he always does what he declares (Gen 1:3; Is 55:11). sword: A sword with both sides of the blade sharpened can maim and kill, but the divine word is more lethal still, for it can bring eternal death and destruction (10:26-31). • The danger that readers could "fall" by the sword (4:11) recalls the rebellion of the Exodus generation, which has dominated the thoughts of the author since 3:7. The sword imagery seems to be drawn from this episode: because Israel feared it would "fall by the sword" if the people followed the Lord into Canaan (Num 14:3), the word of God descended upon them as an oath of disinheritance and death (Num 14:20-34). Unable to reverse this tragedy, Moses had to warn the people not to advance into Canaan lest they "fall by the sword" (Num 14:43). Note that the oath Yahweh swears at the end of the Exodus period compares his word to a sharpened "sword" that cuts down his enemies (Deut 32:40-41; Ezek 21:8-17). soul and spirit: The spiritual elements of man. These are not hidden from God any more than the interior components of his body, such as his joints and marrow. See note on 1 Thess 5:23Back to text.

4:14-7:28 The next section of the letter examines the Melchizedekian priesthood of Jesus, showing how it supersedes the Levitical priesthood of Aaron. Back to text.

4:14 passed through the heavens: Christ ascended into the most intimate presence of God in heaven (9:24). Jewish tradition sometimes speaks of multiple levels of heaven. See note on 2 Cor 12:2Back to text.

4:15 without sinning: One of several NT passages that assert the sinlessness of Jesus (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 Jn 3:5). Having triumphed over temptation as a man (Mt 4:1-11), he understands our struggles and is able to help us through them (2:18; 4:16) (CCC 612, 2602). Back to text.

4:16 confidence: Or, "boldness" (CCC 2778). the throne of grace: The heavenly throne of the Father (8:1; 12:2), in whose presence Christ intercedes for us as high priest (7:25). • In ancient Israel, the Lord sat enthroned on the wings of the cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6:2; Is 37:16). Given the Tabernacle imagery that permeates the theology of Hebrews, the throne of the Father is probably envisioned as the Ark of the heavenly sanctuary (Rev 11:19). It is here that God gives us mercy after we sin and grace to keep us from sin (CCC 2795). Back to text.

5:1-4 Priests are mediators between man and God. As such, they must be united with men and called by God. The priests of Israel, who traced their lineage to Aaron and his sons, were united with men in the weakness of human sin and were called by God to an earthly priesthood (Ex 28:1-4; 40:12-15). Jesus, too, was united with men in his human nature (Heb 2:14); however, unlike the Aaronic priests, he was free from sin (4:15) and was called by God to a heavenly priesthood (5:5-6; 8:14). Priestly ministry is a vocation from God, not volunteer work that men can take upon themselves (CCC 1539, 1578). Back to text.

5:2 ignorant and wayward: May refer to two classes of sin distinguished in the Torah: those committed unwittingly (Num 15:27-29) and those committed willfully (Num 15:30-31). Back to text.

5:3 his own sins: The author has in mind the Day of Atonement, the annual feast when the high priest of Israel carried sacrificial blood into the presence of God to expiate his own personal sins (Lev 16:11), as well as those of the people (Lev 16:15). Back to text.

5:5-6 Two enthronement psalms concerning the Davidic Messiah. • In the first, Yahweh declares the anointed king to be his own Son (Ps 2:7). In the second, Yahweh swears an oath to ordain the anointed king as a priest in the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4). For the implied link between sonship and priesthood, see essay: The Order of Melchizedek at Heb 7:1-28. Back to text.

5:7 days of his flesh: Recalls the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane (Mk 14:32-42) and possibly his suffering and prayers on the Cross (Mk 15:34; Lk 23:34, 46). offered up: The Greek term is closely linked with priestly sacrifices in Hebrews (5:1, 3; 8:3-4; 9:7, 9; etc.). able to save him: Jesus acknowledged that the Father, had he willed it, could have delivered him from torment and death (Mt 26:53; Mk 14:36). he was heard: The Father heeded the prayers of the Son, not by sparing him the experience of death, but by rescuing him from death in the Resurrection (13:20). godly fear: The reverential fear of God that proved stronger in Jesus than his human fear of death. His reverence was manifest as heroic obedience to the will of the Father (Mt 26:39; Phil 2:8) (CCC 612, 2606). Back to text.

5:8 learned obedience: Not by trial and error, but from the experience of passing through the human trials and ordeals that test our commitment to God. • Christ, being eternally divine, possessed the fullness of knowledge from the first instant of his conception as a man. He was ignorant of nothing, so he could not learn anything new by simple recognition. But there is also knowledge acquired by experience, and in this sense he learned obedience through what he suffered. Having accepted our weakness, he learned how difficult it is to obey, for he obeyed in the most difficult of circumstances, even unto death on a cross (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Hebrews 5, 2). Back to text.

5:11-14 Readers are reprimanded for culpable immaturity. In terms of Christian formation, they are more like infants than the mature believers they should be (1 Cor 3:2). The author exhorts them with words of warning (Heb 6:1-8) and encouragement (6:9-20). Back to text.

5:14 good from evil: Points to a childish and underdeveloped moral sense (Deut 1:39). Back to text.

6:1-2 A summary of Christian catechesis in a Jewish context. It was necessary to explain (1) how sacramental Baptism differed from other baptisms, such as the baptism of John (Acts 1:5) and the ritual washings of the Torah (Num 19:11-13), (2) how the imposition of hands in conferring the Spirit (Acts 8:17; 19:6) and priestly ordination (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6) differed from other forms of the laying on of hands in ancient Judaism (Num 8:10; Deut 34:9), and (3) how the traditional Jewish doctrines of resurrection and judgment (Dan 12:2) must now be understood in relation to Christ (2 Cor 5:10; 1 Thess 4:16) (CCC 1288). Back to text.

6:4-8 Even a baptized Christian can forfeit salvation and end up cursed rather than blessed (6:8). This dreadful prospect is noted elsewhere in Hebrews at 10:26-31 and 12:15-17. Some interpret this passage as if the author envisions, not a genuine believer, but one who only seems to be a Christian. This has no basis in the text. The person described has come to enlightenment, has partaken of the Spirit, and is capable of falling away through apostasy. Moreover, the illustration in 6:6-7 is meaningless if the individual has not already been showered with heaven's gifts like a field doused with rain (CCC 679). Back to text.

6:4 enlightened: Perhaps a reference to Baptism, which was called "enlightenment" in early Christian times. This developed from the notion that incorporation into Christ, which is the effect of Baptism (Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27), is described in the NT as an enlightening of the believer (2 Cor 4:6; Eph 5:14; 1 Pet 2:9) (CCC 1216). • We are enlightened when we are baptized. The rite is called enlightenment since by it we behold the holy light of salvation, that is, we come to see God clearly (St. Clement of Alexandria, Christ the Teacher 1, 6, 26). heavenly gift: Probably a reference to the Eucharist. The life-giving humanity of Jesus received in the sacrament is the Father's gift of manna from heaven (Jn 6:32-58). partakers of the Holy Spirit: I.e., sharing the indwelling presence of the Spirit (Acts 2:38; Rom 8:11) and endowed with his spiritual gifts (Heb 2:4; 1 Cor 12:4-11). Back to text.

Word Study

Made Perfect (Heb 5:9)

Teleioō (Gk.): means "to complete" or "to perfect". The verb is used nine times in Hebrews and 14 times elsewhere in the NT. It can describe a mission accomplished (Lk 13:32), a prophecy fulfilled (Jn 19:28), a faith brought to completion (Jas 2:22), or the perfection of unity and love (Jn 17:23; 1 Jn 4:12, 17-18). In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author uses the term to stress that the ritual observances of the Old Covenant cannot penetrate beyond the body to perfect the soul (Heb 7:19; 9:9; 10:1; 12:23). He also uses the verb with reference to Jesus, who was perfected through his Passion (Heb 2:10; 5:9; 7:28). At one level, the humanity of Jesus, being fired in the furnace of human suffering, came out a perfect image of filial obedience as well as a perfect instrument of our salvation. At another level, the author seems to adopt the language of the Greek OT, where teleioō often renders a Hebrew idiom ("fill up the hands") for the rite of priestly ordination (Ex 29:29, 35; Lev 8:33; 16:32; 21:10; etc.). It can be said that, viewed against this backdrop, obedient suffering ordained the humanity of Christ for priestly ministry, which he now exercises in heaven above (Heb 8:1-2; 9:24) (CCC 609).

6:6 commit apostasy: The Greek verb means "to fall away" in the sense of failing to make good on a commitment. Here the apostate is compared to an executioner who crucifies and humiliates Jesus all over again (CCC 598). Back to text.

6:8 thorns and thistles: Brushwood is good for nothing but firewood. Jesus uses a similar analogy in Jn 15:5-6. • The expression comes from Gen 3:18, where the sin of Adam brings a curse upon the ground, making it yield "thorns and thistles". Back to text.

6:9 better things: Shows that the author was cautioning his readers, not condemning them, in the preceding verses (6:48). Their works of service and love show that they are indeed bearing some fruit (6:10). Back to text.

6:11 until the end: A call to perseverance (6:12). See note on Heb 3:14Back to text.

6:13-20 Readers are urged to press ahead in the faith by considering the reliability of God. Because God never lies (Tit 1:2), he can always be taken at his word (Jn 17:17). Nevertheless, because of human weakness, God not only made a verbal promise to bless the world through Abraham (Gen 12:3), but later he strengthened that promise by swearing an irrevocable oath (Gen 22:16-18). In this way, God gave his people a double assurance of what he intended to do (Heb 6:18). Back to text.

6:13 swore by himself: Oaths involve calling upon God to be a witness and guarantor of the pledge being made (6:16). However, when God swears an oath, he has no superior, so he can invoke only himself (Is 45:23; Jer 22:5). Back to text.

6:14 Surely I will bless: An excerpt from Gen 22:17. • This is the historic moment when the promise of God to bless the world through Abraham (Gen 12:3) is upgraded to a divinely sworn oath (Gen 22:16-18). The occasion is Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, who is rescued at the last minute and chosen to be the instrument of worldwide blessing. Christian tradition sees the sacrifice of Isaac as a prophetic preview of the sacrifice of Jesus, whose death fulfilled God's oath to bless all nations through the offspring of Abraham (Acts 3:25-26; Gal 3:14-16). See note on Rom 8:32Back to text.

6:15 Abraham . . . patiently endured: The patriarch waited about 25 years between God's promise to bless him with countless descendants (Gen 15:4-5) and the birth of his first descendant, Isaac (Gen 21:1-5). Back to text.

6:17 heirs of the promise: The family of Abraham by faith. See note on Heb 2:16Back to text.

6:18 the hope: The confident desire for "glory" (2:10), "rest" (4:1), and "blessing" (6:7). It can keep the believer from drifting (2:1), just as an anchor secures a boat (6:19) (CCC 1820). Back to text.

6:19 the inner shrine: The dwelling place of God in the heavenly sanctuary. Its earthly counterpart is the "Holy of Holies" (9:3), also called the "most holy place", the innermost chamber of the Tabernacle where the presence of God was curtained off by a decorated veil (Ex 26:31-34). Back to text.

7:1-28 The priesthood of Christ is examined at two levels: it is connected with the royal priesthood of Melchizedek and contrasted with the Levitical priesthood of Aaron (CCC 1544). Back to text.

7:2 king of righteousness: The meaning of "Melchizedek" in Hebrew. king of peace: The city name "Salem" is related to the Hebrew term for "peace". Back to text.

7:3 without father . . . mother: Not literally, but in contrast to the requirements for priestly ministry in Israel, where a prospective candidate had to show proof of Aaronic descent on his father's side and a compatible genealogy on his mother's side. Failure to meet these requirements rendered aspiring men ineligible for priestly service (Ezra 2:61-63; Neh 7:63-65). Neither Melchizedek nor Jesus was bound by these restrictions; indeed, neither had a Levitical genealogy (Heb 7:6, 14). Some take the silence of Scripture about the life-span and parents of Melchizedek as an allegorical sign of the eternal generation of God the Son. This is a valid theological point, but it is not the point being made in Hebrews. neither beginning . . . nor end: Not literally, but in contrast to the age limits set for the Aaronic priesthood, where ministry began at 30 and ended at 50 (Num 4:3, 43). Melchizedek was not limited to two decades of ministry, for no such age restriction was in force in pre-Levitical times. Jesus likewise exercises his priesthood for as long as he lives— for ever (Heb 7:24). for ever: The Greek expression here is both different and weaker than the one translated "for ever" in 6:20 and 7:17, 21, 28. The sense is that Melchizedek was priest "for a long time", whereas Jesus remains a priest "for all eternity". Back to text.

7:4-10 Genesis implies that Melchizedek outranks Abraham, first, because he blessed the patriarch (Heb 7:6; Gen 14:19) and, second, because he received a tithe from the patriarch just as a priest receives offerings from the laity (Heb 7:4; Gen 14:20). Back to text.

7:5 the law to take tithes: A reference to Num 18:2129. • The tribe of Levi was given no land inheritance in Israel but was supported by the lay tribes in return for its ministerial service. A tithe is 10 percent of a family's produce and income. Back to text.

7:8 mortal men: Levitical priests (7:23). he lives: Melchizedek (7:3). Back to text.

7:11-19 God's oath to reestablish the priesthood of Melchizedek (7:17) implies that the priesthood of Aaron was deficient and destined to pass away. The problem: its laws and liturgies were powerless to cleanse and perfect the worshiping People of God (7:19; 9:9-10; 10:1-4). For a similar line of reasoning, See note on Heb 8:7Back to text.

7:12 change in the priesthood: Insofar as Ps 110:4 envisions a change from the Levitical priesthood of Aaron to the Melchizedekian priesthood of Christ, it follows that the Mosaic laws of worship must also give way to the messianic laws of worship (7:18-19). Essentially this is a change from sacrificial rites that involve the blood of animals (10:4) to sacramental rites such as Baptism (10:22) and the Eucharist (6:4; 13:10), whose efficacy derives from the blood of Christ (9:11-14). In all probability, the maxim that a new priesthood brings new laws is based on a pattern established in the Bible. In fact, when the family priesthood of patriarchal times gave way to the clerical priesthood of Aaron in Mosaic times, this change was followed by the promulgation of an extensive code of law concerning the rites of liturgical worship (mainly in the Book of Leviticus). For more details, see essay: Priesthood in the Old Testament at Num 18. Back to text.

7:14 from Judah: Jesus was not a Levite of the priestly family of Aaron but a Judahite of the royal family of David (Mt 1:1-16). Back to text.

7:17 You are a priest for ever: The words of Ps 110:4. • This is the oath of perpetual priesthood that Yahweh swore to confer on the royal heir of David. It has provisional reference to Solomon, who exercised a limited priestly ministry (1 Kings 3:15; 8:63; 9:25), just as David had done (2 Sam 6:12-19). But only the Davidic Messiah, risen to an immortal life (Heb 7:16), qualifies for the everlasting priesthood envisioned by the psalm (Heb 7:23-25). Back to text.

7:21 without an oath: The priesthood of Aaron, established without a divine oath, is a revocable and changeable arrangement. Back to text.

7:22 the surety: A legal term for someone who puts his life on the line for someone else (Sir 29:15; cf. Gen 43:9). Back to text.

7:25 lives to make intercession: Jesus exercises an ongoing priestly ministry in heaven, where he intercedes for the saints at the Father's right hand (8:1-2; Rom 8:34; CCC 519, 662). Back to text.

7:27 daily . . . his own sins: The author appears to telescope the daily sacrifices offered by priests every morning and evening (Num 28:1-8) and the annual sacrifices of the Day of Atonement, which the high priest offered for the sins of Israel, including his own (Lev 16:11-19). This is in contrast to Christ, who offered only one sacrifice, and that for his people and not for himself. For a similar use of this technique, see note on Heb 9:12. once for all: Several times Hebrews stresses how the single sacrifice of Jesus is definitive and unrepeatable (9:12, 26) (CCC 1085). Back to text.


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