Hebrews 5:1-10


Hebrews 5:1 Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

TEV, NIV and JB omit the "For" which begin this verse in the Greek. It simply carries the narrative along. Verse 1-4 are a brief description of the Levitical High Priest. At this point Leviticus 16 ought be read. Verses 5-10 are about Christ Who is the fulfillment of this Priesthood. Christ takes their place. The synonym objects at the end of the verse denote the active and passive obedience of Christ.

Westcott: Jesus is as near to us as the human high-priests, no, nearer than they were . . . 'gifts and sacrifices' is the commonly use LXX term, and it is used nineteen times in this Epistle.
Lenski: Jesus, too, is one of the people and shares our weaknesses, which is imaged to a degree in moderation of the high priest toward the weak.  The type extends no farther, for the high priest has the weakness that produces sins while Jesus is wholly 'without sin' (4:15).

Hebrews 5:2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.

Note that we have only one article with two nouns. Bruce finds a hendiadys in these words: "those who go astray through ignorance." RSV is beautiful: "the ignorant and the wayward." Note the parallelism between 4:15 and this verse. Christ is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses since He Himself was tempted too. The Old Testament High priest was able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward since he himself is surrounded with weakness. As noted above, Lenski says:  "The high priest has the weakness that produces sins while Jesus is wholly 'without sin.'" 

Hebrews 5:3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

The antecedent of "this is" is  "weakness." "He" is the Old Testament High priest. The versions render this verb with "must, ought, is required." In his official work for the people there is a personal requirement. The vicarious atonement is hinted at here. The allusions to the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) are clear. The writer never mentions the Book of Leviticus by name but alludes to it frequently.

Hebrews 5:4 No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.

This is axiomatic for Old Testament Priests.  "Upon himself" contextually means "the office." This verse is actually a compound-complex sentence because the ellipses must be supplied. With ellipses completed the sentence means: "Not for himself does anyone receive the office, but (he does receive the office) because he is called by God, just as also Aaron (received the office because he was called by God.)" 

Three things were required for a man to qualify for the Levitical Priesthood:

  1. Humanity, verse 1;

  2. Gentleness, verse 2;

  3. Humility, verse 4.

Aaron typified Christ's humanity, gentleness and humility. This becomes clear in verses 5-10 where we are also introduced to Melchizedek, the Old Testament type of Jesus' divinity.

Hebrews 5:5 So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father." 

Verses 5-10, in the Greek, are one period, a compound-complex sentence. The writer introduces the comparison between the Levitical Priesthood and Christ. Like Aaron He had the qualification of humanity, sympathy, and humility. Furthermore, Melchizedek typifies Christ so far as divinity and eternity are concerned. The point of the quote in verse 5 is that Christ was divinely appointed. Like Aaron, Christ was humble. He did not have "an inner call." This verse from Psalm 2 was quoted already at 1:5.

Hebrews 5:6 And he says in another place, "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." 

The point of this quote from Psalm 110 is that Christ is more than Aaron.

Lenski: These readers are startled to find one who is greater than Aaron in the Old Testament, one whom Abraham himself honored as being no less than a king-priest.

The translations of the latter phrase are interesting: NIV and AAT have  "like Melchizedek." NEB: "In the succession of Melchizedek." LB:  "With the same rank as Melchizedek." Jesus is an eternal king-priest. Aaron, the first Levitical Priest, could never make this claim. The comparison begins to unfold.

Hebrews 5:7 During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

"The days of His flesh" is rendered "in His humble life on earth" by AAT. The word "flesh" must always be handled with care.  "After He had offered prayers and supplications to the One Who could save him from death, etc." Note the reference to Matthew 26:38-46, Gethsemane. The loud crying and tears are not mentioned in the Gethsemane account. The next phrase reads "and after he was heard because of His piety." It is implied that the Levitical Priest lacked piety. Christ was heard by receiving the strength to do God's will.

Hebrews 5:8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered

Here "son" denotes Jesus' divinity. AAT correctly has "the Son." Similarly LB and TEV: "God's Son." The noun is definite. Stress is laid on its quality. These Notes do not agree with KJV, RSV, NASB, NKJV, NIV: "A son." 

Here we have a figure of speech called parachesis. What did He learn? Obedience. This does not imply imperfection or sinfulness. "From what he suffered He learned obedience" shows His humanity and deep humiliation.

Westcott: The word 'obedience' contains a reference to the occasion of sin. Man's fall was due to disobedience; his restoration come through obedience Romans 5:19.
Lenski: The great object of the writer is to describe the agony of Jesus in its full intensity. That is the depth of his humiliation . . . Jesus learned 'from what he suffered' the ultimate obedience, learned it as a man learns by actually undergoing that suffering in obedience.

Hebrews 5:9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him

In Hebrews "perfect" never means moral perfection. Here it means  "when He was brought to His goal," the goal of obedience through suffering. The text speaks of faith as obedience. In 4:6 and elsewhere the author spoke of unbelief as disobedience.

Hebrews 5:10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Concerning "designated" Rienecker-Rogers state:  "The word contains the idea of a formal and solemn ascription of a title." It is variously translated "called, designated, declared, acclaimed, proclaimed, named." God is the agent. God Himself in Psalm 110 acclaimed Christ as Priest like Melchizedek.

The word "high priest" occurs fifteen times in this section, twice before (2:17 and 3:1) and once thereafter (13:11) for a total of eighteen. In the Gospel and Acts it is used of the rebellious chief priests of Jesus' day but in Hebrews only of the true Levitical priest or of Jesus. In the New Testament it is not found outside of the Gospel, Acts and Hebrews.

The Levitical Priests had to have the qualifications of gentleness, meekness, and humanity, had to be called, had to offer sacrifices for themselves, but did not have "piety" as did Jesus, and were not sinless and eternal as was Jesus.


Adapted for Buls' Notes on the Web, from Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts, Series B, Sundays After Pentecost By Harold H. Buls, Pages 89-90

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