After three weeks in France, I am resuming this blog today. It continues a reflection on the KJV of Hebrews.
1. For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:
2 Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
3 And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.
4 And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
5 So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.
6 As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
7 Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;
8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
10 Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.
The author’s characterisation of Jesus as a high priest includes these points:
1. He is “taken from amongst human beings”. Jesus’ divine birth in no way removes him from humanity.
2. He is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices for the sin of the people and for his own sin. The author does not think that Jesus was sinful, but that he shared all the temptations of sinful human beings.
3. Jesus feels compassion for his fellow human beings in their human weakness which he shares.
4. Jesus was appointed by God to this priestly task. The quotations from Psalms 102 and 110 see the king/ messiah as both ruler and priest, as David was seen. As son of God the king rules; as high priest, he represents the people before God. The image of Melchizedec taken from Psalm 110 and Genesis 14 is in line with the speculative theology of a Dead Sea Scroll, in which Melchizedec is depicted as an angelic figure. Because he appears in the Bible story before the existence of a Jewish priesthood, he can be used as a forerunner of Jesus whose priestly work was not limited by the levitical role. We do not know why Melchizedec was declared a priest forever, but the author does tell us why Jesus is so declared.
5. In his weakness Jesus called out to God with “loud cries amd tears” – he was acting as his own priest here, reaching out to God in human extremity- and was heard because of his “fear” or “reverence”, that is, because of his human trust. Even more humanly, he learned obedience through suffering, as we all do.
6. God heard him but did not spare him from death; rather he “completed or perfected him” by death and resurrection from death.
7. That is how Jesus was “taken from amongst human beings” and “appointed a high priest”, namely, through his human life, suffering, death and resurrection.
8. That is why he can be called the “origin of rescue” ( KJV author of salvation) for his fellow human beings who also suffer and die.
This is a powerful and thought-provoking theology, although it uses unfamiliar language and images. It shows the creative imagination of the first Christian communities. Protestant believers like me, have no personal experience of a priesthood separate from the people of God: all believers are called priests. But just for this reason we may have an insufficient grasp of the priestly role of Jesus and of our own calling as priests to one another. This author advises is that priestly ministry is not a ritual function but a matter of bearing one another’s burdens and sins, as Jesus has done for is all.