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THE ESSENTIAL CHARACTER OF THE TWO PRIESTHOODS DISTINGUISHED (Hebrews 7:16, 17

It ought to be grasped clearly and once for all that the priesthood of Aaron failed exactly because it was based on the premise of being “according to a carnal commandment.” At the same time we ought to notice that the strength of Christ’s priesthood, which was according to the power of an indissoluble life, could not fail, but is such that it saves us to the uttermost. (Vss 16, 25) 

It is evident from every page of the Gospels that Christ’s priesthood is that of the eternal Son of God in our flesh. The Son of God is called Jesus! And that makes this a priesthood, which has not become a historical reality, manifesting itself in the “law of a carnal commandment.” On the contrary it is evident from every page of the Old Testament, which speaks of the priesthood of Aaron, that it was a matter of flesh, and mere external ceremonies, which in themselves were powerless to save and to cleanse the conscience from sin. 

One has but to peruse such a passage as Leviticus 21:16-14 to see the “carnal commandment.” For the term in the Greek translated “carnal” means: that which ismade of flesh. There are passages in the writings of Paul where the term carnal has an ethical meaning. It then refers to our sinful Adamic nature. The term in the Greek, however, is then a different one from what we have here in our text which is translated “carnal.” In the one case the term is “sarkinos” and in the other case it is “sarkikos.” Thus, for instance, in I Corinthians 3:3, Paul says that the law was written by Christ not in tables of stone but in fleshy tables of the heart. Here the term in the Greek is “sarkinos.” On the other hand Peter speaks in I Peter 2:11 “. . . abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” Here the term is “sarkikos” and refers to evil and sinful lusts.

From the foregoing it ought to be perfectly clear in which sense the writer to the Hebrews is speaking of a “carnal Commandment.” It was a commandment of God in the law of Moses, an ordinance in Israel governing the priesthood. And such a “commandment” could not be set aside by man with impunity. Only (God can annul his own temporary arrangements and institutions. Meanwhile a commandment of God is sacred as a particular expression of the Torah. And of such a commandment the writer to the Hebrews is here speaking! The question is: in which sense of the word is this commandment carnal? And the answer to this question is that this refers to the physical requirements which God laid down for anyone who was to serve in the office of High Priest (In Hebrew: the Great Priest. “Ha-coheen ha-gadool.”)

This carnal commandment concerning the priesthood we have spelled out to us in detail in Leviticus 21:16-24

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or anything superfluous, or a man that is broken-footed or broken-handed, or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; No man that hath a blemish of seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire; he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God. He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy, only he shall not go into the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the LORD do sanctify them. And Moses told it unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto the children of Israel.” 

Now this “commandment” is rather clearly spelled out, isn’t it? 

Yet, it is clearly a “fleshy” commandment. It deals merely with the bodily qualifications of the priesthood after Aaron. These are not qualifications at all of the spiritual nature. These are physical qualifications. Yet, their idea was not merely of a physical nature, but “because the blemishes were to be regarded as the bodily counterpart of inward spiritual defects and shortcomings. The bodily perfection of the priests was not intended merely to point to Jehovah’s holiness, merely to be a reflection in their persons of the sacredness of their functions and ministry, and of the place in which they officiated, but rather to symbolize their (the priests’) spiritual blamelessness, and to symbolize the sanctification of the heart.” (Keil, Vol. I, Biblical Archeology, page 228) Dr. Keil further notates “Only in the various physical defects enumerated in the law we must beware of looking for figures or symbols of certain specific moral or spiritual shortcomings, as Theodoret, for example, in his Quaest. 30 in Levi has done.”

To underscore that his physical perfection of a carnal commandment meant to demonstrate a spiritual reality the Priests and High-priests were admonished also concerning their marital relations. Thus we read inLeviticus 21:13-15 as follows “And he shall take a wife in her virginity, a widow, or a divorced woman or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take; but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife. Neither shall he profane his seed among his people: for I the Lord do sanctify him.” 

From the foregoing it is quite evident that the priests “were enjoined not only to shun every Levitical defilement that could possibly be avoided, but also to show by their domestic life and in their conjugal relations that they were consecrated to God.” (Lev. XXI 7 ff.) Idem. 

It was the fleshy cleanliness which was emphasized in the washings and cleansings with water in Israel. And these were amplified and multiplied tenfold by Judaism after, the Babylonian captivity and during the times of Christ. However, of this the writer to the Hebrews would warn the readers. They must see Christ as the end of the law for righteousness. And toward this end he clearly and correctly calls the priesthood of Aaron one of a “carnal commandment.” 

On the other hand it is quite evident that the priesthood of the eternal Son of God in our flesh is not at all according to the rule of a carnal commandment. His is a priesthood according to the “power of indissoluble life.” It has been pointed out by many interpreters that there is here a strong contrast between the description of these priesthoods. The contrast is: law(commandment) and power, and the further contrast:fleshen and endless life! 

The “endless life” here spoken of by the writer is the indestructible life of the eternal Son of God in the flesh. He said, I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6) This is not simply life which will not cease, which will continue on and on forever. It is that too. However, it is much more. It is a life which cannot be destroyed by death. It is immortality. It is divine life in human form. He it is who only hath immortality, who dwelleth in the light which is unapproachable, which no man hath seen, nor can see, to whom be glory and power everlasting. He who came according to the order of Melchizedek’s priesthood is God Himself in our human nature. Was Melchizedek not made after the likeness of the Son of God? (Heb. 7:3)

Such a life is indestructible by sin. Christ did not need to abstain in ceremonial purity but he entered into our world to destroy him who had the grip of death on us. (Heb. 2:14) He came to do this through death. And thus he, through the suffering of death, brings many sons to glory. It is life in the midst of death, conquering death. Thus he says: because I live ye shall live. (John 14:19

This is according to the testimony, the constant testimony of God through David. This is the testimony of the LORD to David’s Lord, the Christ. (Psalm 110:1) This is the testimony which God gave concerning His Son. This testimony is “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Hence, when the Christ comes in the flesh this is said of him continually. This is a testimony of God to the Son in the flesh, to David’s Lord. And David in his day already spoke these words in the midst of a priesthood after a fleshen commandment. It is true that God testified this through David at least a thousand years before the birth of Christ, but the writer here in Hebrews presents this testimony are being one which continues in the present moment. The verb “martureitai” is in the present tense of fact. This testimony, therefore, is as real for the readers to the Hebrews as it was for the believers in the days of David. And thus it is today, and it shall remain so forever! Forever the Son will hear in the present tense: Thou art a priest after the order of Melcbizedek. 

THE ANNULMENT OF THE FOREGOING COMMANDMENT (Hebrews 7:18, 19

Yes, there verily was such a disannulment of the Commandment which went before. It was the commandment of the priesthood as given in Leviticus. It is also the annulment of all that pertains to the priesthood of Aaron. This means that this entire priesthood was done away and superseded by the priesthood of Melchizedek. 

The grammatical construction here in the text affords a bit of difficulty in the Greek. The difficulty is the question of the grammatical relationship of the phrase “but the bringing in of a better hope.” You will notice that the KJV adds the verb “did” in italics. The translators believe that this clause needs a verb added which is not written in the Greek, but which is demanded by the context. We have here a case of where the verb is presupposed. However, thus it is not in the Holland translation. Here we read translated “for the law hath perfected nothing, but was the occasion of a better hope, through which we draw nigh to God.” In this latter case we have the law as subject and not “better hope.” It is of interest to notice that the “kantteekening” in the Holland Bible here gives us the following remarks: “the bringing in of a better hope; namely, perfect all things, by which the power of the New Covenant is to be understood, and of the priesthood of Christ, which is called a better hope, because it powerfully realizes sanctification in our lives. Others translate “but was the occasion (introduction) to a better hope, namely, the law itself, which is therefore denominated a pedagogue to Christ, Gal. 3:24.” 

Besides these two renditions there is still a third translation given by Luther in his translation, and which is also advocated by Dr. Westcott. Luther’s translation reads as follows “For because of this the former commandment was annulled (lifted out) because it was weak and profitable to nothing . . . and a better hope was introduced, by which we draw nigh to God.” ‘Here the verb “became” (ginetai) is made the predicate of both the “annulled” and the “bringing in on a better hope.” With the annulment of the old commandment there was the bringing in of a better hope.