Father Boylan’s Commentary on Hebrews 5:1-6
Posted by Dim Bulb on October 23, 2012
Text in red are my additions.
Heb 5:1. For every High Priest, being taken from among men, is appointed as a representative of men in the things that refer to God, that he may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins
Heb 5:2. as one who can be mild with the ignorant and erring, since he himself is encompassed with weakness,
Heb 5:3. and because of it must make offerings for sin on behalf of the people and on his own behalf.
Heb 5:4. And none taketh the honour but one who has been called by God, just as Aaron.
The first quality required in a true High Priest is similarity in nature with those for whom he acts as priest. Hence if Jesus were God and not also man, He would be inferior as a Mediator to the Jewish High Priests. To be a High Priest it was, therefore, necessary that He should become Man. In the second place, a High Priest should be capable of understanding and sympathising with human frailties, and of distinguishingthe different kinds of sins in regard to their malice and deliberation. Thirdly a High Priest must have received a call to act as Priest. The author will proceed in the verses that follow (Heb 5:5-10) to show that all those qualities are fully present in Jesus.
A High Priest must be taken from among men (1), for only a man can be representative of men. The “gifts” and “sacrifices” cover the whole class of sacrificial offerings. As a rule the Jewish High Priest offered sacrifice only on Sabbaths and feast-days: but the author has here in view chiefly the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. (Cf. Leviticus 16).
μετριοπαθειν (“one who can be mild”, verse 2) suggests the mean between apathy and unbridled passion: it is not the same as σπλάγχνον (“compassion,” i.e., co-suffering), but implies calm understanding of, and kindness towards the erring.
The Jewish High Priest was clad (περικειται “encompassed with,” verse 2) with frailty as with a garment, and therefore, had to offer for himself, as well as for others, on Atonement Day.
(verses 3-4)–Since all men are sinful no man, as such, can have the right of mediating between men and God. Even Aaron, the first High Priest, had to be called. Christ was sinless, and yet He did not of himself assume the rank of High Priest, but waited to be called or appointed; for as one standing between God and man the priest must be capable of representing man, and must be also established by God as official mediator.
Heb 5:5. So, too, Christ hath not taken to Himself the honour of becoming High Priest, but He who said to Him: “Thou art my Son; this day I have begotten Thee.”
Heb 5:6. As He elsewhere saith: “Thou art Priest forever according; to the order of Melchisedech”.
No man can appoint himself a priest, or official mediator, between God and men. Neither can men appoint a man to this office. The appointment, or call, must come from God. So, it was even with the Son of God. Jesus was necessarily made a Priest when He became man, for by His incarnation He became of necessity a Mediator between God and men. Though Jesus was Son of God from all eternity, the words of Psalm 2 here addressed to Him by the Father: “Thou art my Son; this day I have begotten Thee,” are taken as spoken to Him at the moment of the Incarnation. This declaration of the Father is, then, practically equivalent to a declaration of the Priesthood of Christ. The appointment of Jesus as Priest is clearer still in the text of Psalm 110:4~”Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech.” Though Jesus is here declared to be a Priest, not a High Priest, yet His Priesthood, as the Priesthood of the Son of God, could not be other than a High Priesthood. Though the following verses (Heb 5:9-10) seem to imply that it was not until after the Resurrection that the Priesthood of Jesus was made complete, the teaching of this Epistle is that the offering on Calvary was a genuinely priestly offering, and that therefore, Jesus performed priestly functions on earth. Heb 5:10 may be taken as meaning that, though Jesus performed priestly functions on earth, yet the official seal was not set on His Priesthood, as it were, until after the Ascension. Christ is a Priest secundum ordinem Melchisedech, κατα την ταξιν μελχισεδεκ (“According to the order of Melchisedech” verse 6).
ταξιν (“order”) can mean “position”, “post”, “rank”, “prescript,” “ordinance” (Heb 7:11, Heb 7:15, Heb 7:17); in the Psalm-text cited it, represems the Hebrew dibhrah which in the context of the Psalm, means “fashion”, “manner”. In Heb 7:15 the phrase is rendered in the Greek κατα την ομοιοτητα μελχισεδεκ, “according to the likeness of Melchisedech”. In Heb 7:11 the ταξιν (“order”) of Melchisedech is contrasted with the ταξιν (“order”) of Aaron, and seems to mean there a norm, or rule, governing the priesthood.
The Melchisedech-priesthood given to Jesus is peculiar in several ways- (a) It is given to Jesus alone; (b) it is eternal; (c) it is associated with kingship. All, these things follow from an analysis of the Scripture references to Melchisedech (see Heb 7). Patristic writers have usually seen in the bread and wine offered by Melchisedech (Gen 14:18; Proferens panem et vinum, erat enim Sacerdos Dei Altissimi, the Greek being, εξηνεγκεν αρτους και οινον ην δε ιερευς του θεου του υψιστου…”brought forth bread and wine: and he was a priest of El Elyon” ) a type of the Eucharistic sacrifice, and a further point of resemblance between the priesthoods of Christ and Melchisedech; but the author does not make any use of this, point of comparison in this Epistle.