Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Hebrews 5:1-10
Posted by Dim Bulb on December 21, 2016
This post includes Fr. MacEvilly’s brief summary analysis of chapter 5, followed by his comments on today’s reading. Text in purple indicates his paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.
ANALYSIS OF HEBREWS CHAPTER 5
Having introduced the subject of Christ’s priesthood rather abruptly in verse 14 of the preceding chapter, the Apostle undertakes in this to show, from the distinguishing marks and qualities which characterised the Aaronic priesthood (for, it is to the Levitical priests, he refers in instituting this comparison), that Christ too was a priest, as possessing in a more excellent degree the qualities of the Aaronic priests. He first points out what these distinguishing qualities are (1–4), and next applies them to Christ. The first note or quality of a priest, viz., that he be a man, he forbears from applying to Christ, as requiring no application, it was a thing known to all. The second, viz., his offering gifts, &c., he defers for a fuller exposition, in a subsequent part of the Epistle. He treats of the two remaining notes, and applies them to Christ, commencing with the last He shows that Christ had as divine a call to the priesthood, as had Aaron or his sons (5, 6).
He then applies to him the third mark, viz., his capability of compassionating sinners, and referring to his infirmities and sufferings during his mortal life, he shows that he had an experimental knowledge of the arduous nature of obedience, and of the difficult of avoiding sin (7, 8). And having attained consummate glory by suffering, he became to all his true followers, the cause of eternal glory, by the merits of his passion, which, as High Priest, he offered up in sacrifice for us, having been declared by his Father, a pontiff, according to the order of Melchisedech (9, 10).
Although he has much to say concerning this priesthood of Melchisedech, and its relation to Christ, he defers treating of it, until he first gives them further instruction in the principles of faith, which, notwithstanding the length of time they had been professing Christianity, they very much needed.
Heb 5:1 For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins:
(In order to establish the assertion made 4:14, &c.—viz., that Christ is our high priest, whom we should approach with confidence, it is merely required to show that he has the qualities and marks of a high priest, such as we know to be necessary for a high priest of the Levitical order). Every high priest, then (of the Levitical order), is taken from among men, and is also constituted by his office in behalf of men, to manage their affairs with God, and to act as their mediator with him. This duty he principally discharges by offering up in sacrifice the gifts voluntarily presented, as also those prescribed by law.
The first quality of a priest is to “be taken from among men,” i.e., to possess human nature. The second is derived from his office, which is to manage the affairs of men, which regard God. And the duty of this office is principally discharged in offering up sacrifice for men. “Gifts,” voluntary oblations, presented by the people. “Sacrifices,” those enjoined by law.
Heb 5:2 Who can have compassion on them that are ignorant and that err: because he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
He should also be possessed of a merciful, kind disposition to sympathize with and compassionate sinners of every description, bearing in mind that he himself is surrounded with the infirmities of our sinful nature.
The third, is to have a merciful, kind disposition to sympathize with sinners The Greek for “have compassion,” μετριοπαθειν, means, to be possessed of a capability of sympathizing with a degree of moderation, which would enable him to observe a dignified mean between harsh severity on the one hand, and misplaced clemency on the other. The latter defect is frequently abused by the perverse, in the further commission of sin. “Ignorant and err,” extend to all sinners, even those who commit sins that are not the result of ignorance; for, they too are fit objects of compassion. “Because he himself is surrounded with infirmities.” The Apostle refers to the infirmities of sin, as appears from the following verse. This note applies to Christ only as far as the sanctity and perfection of his nature will permit. Hence, it will apply to him, so far as regards the common infirmities and possibility of human nature, which he felt, but not so far as sin is concerned; nor is this required, because the liability to sin is a defect in a priest; and hence, follows the perfection of Christ’s priesthood; since, he possesses all the good qualities, without any of the defects of other priests.
Heb 5:3 And therefore he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.
And it is because of this sinful infirmity with which every priest is surrounded, that the Levitical priest is bound by the Law of Moses (Leviticus, 4:3) to offer up sacrifice for his own sins, as well as for those of the people.
And it is on account of this sinful infirmity to which every priest is subject, that the Mosaic Law (Leviticus, 4:3) prescribes, &c.
Heb 5:4 Neither doth any man take the honour to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was.
Again, no legitimate priest ever arrogates to himself, unauthorized, the honour of the priesthood; he alone is a true and legitimate priest who is called by God, as was Aaron.
The fourth mark or character is a divine vocation, like that of Aaron and his successors. Aaron was called by God, and ordered to be consecrated (Levit. 8) with the sacerdotal succession, secured to his family. Hence, the necessity of a vocation for the ecclesiastical state, as well as of ordination in the Church. Hence, schismatics and heretics cannot, without sin, perform ecclesiastical functions, not being deputed by God or his Church. Their call is the rebellious usurpation of Core, Dathan, and Abiron, to whom, as they are likened in ministering, so shall they be also in punishment, rather than the divine call of Aaron and his successors transferred to and perpetuated in the holy, Catholic Church.
Heb 5:5 So Christ also did not glorify himself, that he might be made a high priest: but he that said unto him: Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten thee.
Hence it was, that Christ did not take to himself the glorious quality of high priest; it was bestowed on him by his heavenly Father; for, it was the same who addressed him (Psalm 2) as his natural son—“Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee;”
Heb 5:6 As he saith also in another place: Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech. That addressed to him also, as we find in another passage (Psalm, 109), these words—“Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech;” and thus conferred on him the sacerdotal dignity.
He now applies these marks to Christ. He passes over the first altogether, it being evident that Christ was a man, and, therefore, needed no application. The application of the second he reserves for chapters 7, 8, 9, of this Epistle; the other two he here applies, commencing with the fourth. Christ did not arrogate to himself, unauthorized and uncommissioned, the glory of the priesthood. He was called to it by his Father. For, it was the same who said to him, “Thou art my Son,” &c., that also said, as we find it in another place, “Thou art a priest,” &c., and by the very fact of saying it, constituted him such. Christ, then, had the fourth mark of a true priest, viz., a vocation from God. And instead of saying, God the Father, said to him, “Thou art a priest,” &c., the Apostle says, “He who said to him, thou art my son,” &c., also said, “Thou art a priest,” &c., to insinuate the superiority of Christ, as priest and Son of God at the same time, over Aaron or any other.
Heb 5:7 Who in the days of his flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence.
Who, when living here on earth, clad in weak, mortal flesh, but more especially while suspended on the cross, having offered up earnest prayers and suppliant entreaties to his Father with a strong cry and tears, to rescue him from the corruption of the tomb, was heard on account of the great reverence he had for his Father; or, on account of the great reverence in which the Father held this venerable high priest, his own beloved Son.
He now applies the third mark, viz., his capability of compassionating sinners. “Who in the days,” &c.… “with strong cry and tears,” &c. This most probably refers to his prayers on the cross, and his cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” i.e., do not forsake me. “To save him from death,” i.e., from remaining in death. It means, that he begged to be rescued from the grave; and so he was, three days after. “For his reverence.” In Greek, απο της ευλαβειας, may be taken either actively, to denote the reverence which Christ had for the Father; or passively, to denote the Father’s reverence for him. Calvin understands by the Greek word, ευλαβείας, not reverence, but fear of damnation. Christ had fallen into despair, according to the shocking blasphemous notions of this Arch Heretic.
Heb 5:8 And whereas indeed he was the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered.
Nay, although he was the Son of God, he still vouchsafed to learn experimentally the difficulty of obedience from the sufferings which he underwent, in compliance with the will of his heavenly Father.
“And whereas he was the Son of God.” The Greek omits the words, “of God.” “Whereas,” in Greek, καιπερ, although. Having experienced the miseries of sinners (except sin), and knowing from experience the sacrifice of obedience, and the difficulty of avoiding sin, Christ is, then, perfectly capable of sympathizing with sinners.
Heb 5:9 And being consummated, he became, to all that obey him, the cause of eternal salvation:
And having attained consummate glory by sufferings, he is become to all those who obey his precepts, the cause of eternal glory;
“And being consummated” by suffering (2:10). “He became to all who obey him,” i.e., who observe his precepts, among which faith in him is reckoned “the cause of eternal salvation.” And to show us how this was effected, viz.:—by his death on the cross—the Apostle refers to his sacerdotal character, in the following verse.
Heb 5:10 Called by God a high priest, according to the order of Melchisedech.
Being declared by God, a high priest according to the order of Melchisedech,
The sacrifice of the cross was not offered after the rite of Melchisedech; but the Apostle refers to his priesthood, merely for the purpose of showing that it was as priest he redeemed us, or became for us “the cause of eternal salvation.” The sacrifice of the cross was offered after a new and extraordinary rite, different from that of Aaron and Melchisedech, holding a middle place between the cessation of the one, and the succession of the other.