Wednesday, February 07, 2018

7. Concentrated Hebrews (7:1-28--Melchizedek)

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d. The Order of Melchizedek (7:1-28)
     1. Overview
  • Chapter 7 resumes where 5:10 left off. Jesus is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. 
  • The author's strategy in this central argument of Hebrews (7:1-10:18) is three fold: 1) Christ is a superior priest, 2) in a superior sanctuary, 3) offering a superior sacrifice. So there is no more need for any Levitical system at all for Jesus has not only fulfilled it. He is actually the reality to which it pointed.
  • The early Christians understood Psalm 110:1 as a verse about Jesus. The author of Hebrews, perhaps uniquely, understood Psalm 110:4 as about Jesus too. The author understood this verse to say that the Messiah would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
  • But what is a priest after the order of Melchizedek? This is the question that Hebrews 7 seeks to answer.
  • To answer this question, the author goes to the only other passage in the Old Testament (his Scriptures) where Melchizedek is mentioned, namely, Genesis 14. This is thus a kind of gezerah shewah, "catchword" argument.
  • There are three basic approaches to Melchizedek: 1) to see him as a Christophany, an appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament, 2) to see him as an archangel of sorts (following the possible lead of 11QMelchizedek), and 3) that Hebrews is doing midrash here, answering an exegetical question in Psalm 110:4 by interpreting the text of Genesis 14.
  • I favor the last option. First, there is no indication in Hebrews 7 that Jesus was Melchizedek. Rather, the Genesis text "likens" Melchizedek to Jesus. Second, if Melchizedek were an angel, surely Hebrews would say that Jesus was greater than he. Or why didn't Melchizedek provide atonement. Neither of these options seems likely.
  • What does seem likely is that Hebrews is using Genesis 14 to identify what a priest after the order of Melchizedek is. He is doing a midrash on the Genesis text far more than investigating the historical Melchizedek. This distinction is often lost on those who read the Bible in a pre-modern way anyway. 
     2. Characteristics of a Melchizedekian Priest (7:1-3)
  • 7:1-3. These verses begin with some preliminary allegorical readings of the Genesis 14 text. What is a priest after the order of Melchizedek? If we take the name Melchizedek as an indication of what such a priest is, then a priest after the order of Melchizedek is a "king of righteousness. If you take the name of the village Salem symbolically, such a priest is a "king of peace."
  • 7:3. With regard to Melchizedek, these seem to constitute a non in thora non in mundo argument, "if it is not in the Torah, it does not exist." This exegetical technique allows you to use the silence of the text in order to draw a conclusion. 
  • So the Genesis text does not mention a priestly genealogy for Melchizedek. It does not mention when he started or ended serving as a priest. So, following Jewish midrash, we can conclude that a priest after the order of Melchizedek has no priestly father, mother, or genealogy. Such a person does not start or end their service according to a designated plan. 
  • These comments are not, in my opinion, meant to suggest that the historical Melchizedek existed from eternity past to eternity future. In that sense, Melchizedek himself was not truly or fully a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Only Jesus is.
  • But this allegorical interpretation of the Genesis text tells us what a priest after the order of Melchizedek is. It is a priest who is not from a Levitical parentage. Most especially, it is a priest with an indestructible life who remains in office forever. Not having a beginning of days could be a reference to Christ's pre-existence.
  • Jerome Neyrey has argued that 7:3 would have been immediately understood to be divine language indicating that Jesus was divine. Could be, although the context seems much more focused on Jesus' genealogy.
     3. The Greater Priesthood (7:4-10)
  • There is a simple "transitive" argument in these verses. Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. Levi was in Abraham. Therefore, Melchizedek was greater than Levi. Therefore, a priest after the order of Melchizedek is greater than a priest after the order of Aaron and Levi.
  • 7:4. Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe, an ancient practice and precedent for all later biblical tithes.
  • 7:7. The one who blesses is superior to the one who is blessed.
  • 7:8. Throughout this chapter, Jesus' never-ending priesthood is seen as the key feature that makes his priesthood superior to Levi's.
     4. The Change of Law (7:11-19)
  • 7:11. Perfection did not come through the Levitical priesthood. Human perfection in Hebrews has to do with real cleansing from sin. In Hebrews 10:1-2 we will see very clearly that perfection in this context for Hebrews has to do with taking away sins.
  • For the author, Psalm 110:4 points to a priesthood beyond the Levitical priesthood.
  • 7:12. The author understands a change in priesthood to imply a change of law. In Hebrews, the author looks at the Jewish Law almost entirely from the perspective of sacrificial law. That is to say, Hebrews is not interested in the works of Law that Paul was: circumcision, food laws, sabbath observance (this is part of a cumulative argument against Pauline authorship). The Law in Hebrews almost entirely refers to sacrificial law.
  • Hebrews understands priesthoods to stand on the foundation of laws. So the Aaronic priesthood was based on the legitimacy of the Jewish (sacrificial) Law. Now, there is a new covenant, which serves as the basis of the Melchizedekian priesthood.
  • 7:13-14. Here the author states the obvious. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, not the tribe of Levi. He doesn't have the right genealogy to be an earthly priest. But as we will see he is qualified to be a heavenly one.
  • 7:15-17. This verse is strong evidence that 7:3 is about priestly genealogy rather than eternal ontology. Jesus is qualified by his indestructible life, not his earthly parentage. Psalm 110:4 is quoted again, indicating again the kind of priest that Jesus is.
  • 7:18-19. So the earlier sacrificial commandments are now null and void. They didn't actually work (the author will again develop this idea more fully in chapter 10). The Jewish Law did not perfect any worshiper. However, this new priesthood introduces a better hope.  
     4. Confirmed with an Oath (7:20-25)
  • 7:20-21. Hebrews already emphasized the oath of Psalm 110:4. Here he does it again. God made no oath about Levitical priests, but he did about Jesus as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. 
  • 7:22. This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. This is the first time that the word covenant has been used in the sermon.
  • 7:23-24. Here we have a "singular versus many" argument similar to the one we saw in the first two verses of the sermon. There have been many, many priests. But there is only one priest who continues forever, because he never dies. This is the fourth time the author has mentioned or alluded to Jesus never-ending priesthood.
  • 7:25. Jesus thus remains as an atoning intercessor forever. In my opinion, Jesus' intercession in Hebrews relates predominantly to his intercession for the audience's atonement. Again we have the opportunity mentioned for the audience to draw near to God.
5. Conclusion (7:26-28)
  • 7:26. The author generalizes in conclusion. The audience has a great high priest: holy, blameless, without stain, set apart from sinners, higher than the heavens. The last comment relates to the fact that Jesus now sits in the highest heaven at God's right hand, which is also, presumably, the heavenly Holy of Holies, which we will encounter in the next chapters.
  • 7:27. Jesus does not need to offer a sacrifice for his own sins. He does not have sin (cf. 4:15). 
  • You might call this comment a kind of inclusio with 5:3, bringing the high priest part of the argument to an end.
  • 7:28. God's oath is again contrasted with the Jewish Law. Jesus as Son is mentioned again. Jesus' perfection is mentioned again (reminds us of 5:10).

I. Sermon Introduction (1:1-2:18)
     A. Exordium (1:1-4)
     B. Celebration of the Enthroned Son (1:5-14)
     C. Background of Salvation (2:1-18)

II. The Argument (3:1-10:18)
     A. Enter into God's Rest (3:1-4:13)

     B. The High Priestly Argument (4:14-10:18)
          1. A Superior Priest (4:14-7:28)
               a. Hold Fast (4:14-16)
               b. Appointed High Priest (5:1-10)
               c. Central Exhortation (5:11-6:20)

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