Today the blog continues to comment on the KJV of Hebrews
For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
5 And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
6 But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
7 And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
8 And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
9 And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.
10 For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.
11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.
15 And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest,
16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.
17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
18 For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.
19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
20 And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest:
21 (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)
22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
23 And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:
24 But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.
25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;
27 Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.
28 For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.
Again the KJV is the one translation to show the author’s sentence structure here, whereby he includes the details of Melchisedec’s greatness between the subject of the sentence and its main verb. He holds back the punchline “abideth a priest continually” until the reader has taken on board the uniqueness of this character. His name in Hebrew may mean King of Righteousness or Justice, and Salem is interpreted as shalom= peace. The very absence of information in Genesis 14 is used by the author to increase the mystery of Melchisedec for the purpose of using him to characterise the priesthood of Jesus The sumptuous language of the KJV “having neither beginning of days nor end of life” suits the rhetorical Greek of the original.
The regular Levitical priesthood of Israel, descended from Levi, the descendant of Abraham, has the right to take tithes from the people, but this man, no descendant of Abraham, received a tenth of the spoils from him, and adds the author, in a sense, the Levites, through their progenitor Abraham, paid him this tenth also. Moreover the Levitical priests are mortal whereas Melchisedec lives forever.
The author uses this superiority to suggest that perfection cannot come from the inferior Levites but only from the superior, Mechisedecian priesthood. The Jewish Law has to be changed, for Jesus, whose priesthood is like that of Melchisedec was not a Levite but from the tribe of Judah which has no connection with priesthood under the law. Jesus, he says, was made a priest, “not after the law of a carnal commandment after the power of an endless life”, that is, the life of the “order of Melchisedec”, which God conferred on Jesus by an oath, by a commitment of his very being. Jesus’ priesthood renders all other priesthood weak and unprofitable.
If we ask the nature of this divine oath surely we must see it as the resurrection of Jesus, the event in which God says “You are a priest forever.”
Jesus is described by the author as the “surety (pledge) of a better testament (covenant). The old covenant was ministered by many mortal priests and therefore changeable while the new covenant is ministered by the one unchangeable Jesus Christ who can rescue all human beings who come to him because he is always present to plead for them with God.
The KJV of verse 26 is now difficult because of its use of the verb to become is archaic. We should translate “Such was the high priest that suited us, holy innocent and uncontaminated, separated from sinners, raised above the heavens.” The author says “separated from sinners” meaning now in his exalted life, as he has spoken also of Jesus sharing human weakness and temptation.
Levitical priests make repeated sacrifices for their own sins and the sins of the people but Jesus has made one sacrifice, the offer of himself in his ministry and death on the cross. The author sums up magnificently, that the Jewish Law made human high priests who are infirm, but the word of God’s oath, (expressed in Jesus’ resurrection) has superseded the Law by making the Son whose priesthood is without end.
The author is engaged in re-interpreting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as the event by which Jesus is established as humanity’s representative before the face of God, as well as being the human face of God turned towards humanity. This is a strange and powerful theology that demands our best attention.