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New American Bible

2002 11 11
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Chapter 7


1 This "Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High," 2 "met Abraham as he returned from his defeat of the kings" and "blessed him."


3 And Abraham apportioned to him "a tenth of everything." His name first means righteous king, and he was also "king of Salem," that is, king of peace.


Without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, 4 thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.


5 See how great he is to whom the patriarch "Abraham (indeed) gave a tenth" of his spoils.


The descendants of Levi who receive the office of priesthood have a commandment according to the law to exact tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, although they also have come from the loins of Abraham.


But he who was not of their ancestry received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had received the promises.


Unquestionably, a lesser person is blessed by a greater. 6


In the one case, mortal men receive tithes; in the other, a man of whom it is testified that he lives on.


One might even say that Levi 7 himself, who receives tithes, was tithed through Abraham,


for he was still in his father's loins when Melchizedek met him.


8 If, then, perfection came through the levitical priesthood, on the basis of which the people received the law, what need would there still have been for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not reckoned according to the order of Aaron?


When there is a change of priesthood, there is necessarily a change of law as well.


Now he of whom these things are said 9 belonged to a different tribe, of which no member ever officiated at the altar.


It is clear that our Lord arose from Judah, 10 and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.


11 It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek,


who has become so, not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. 12


For it is testified: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."


On the one hand, a former commandment is annulled because of its weakness and uselessness,


for the law brought nothing to perfection; on the other hand, a better hope 13 is introduced, through which we draw near to God.


14 And to the degree that this happened not without the taking of an oath 15  - for others became priests without an oath,


but he with an oath, through the one who said to him: "The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent: 'You are a priest forever'" - 


to that same degree has Jesus (also) become the guarantee of an (even) better covenant. 16


Those priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office,


but he, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away.


17 Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.


It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: 18 holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. 19


He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, 20 first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.


For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests, but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law, appoints a son, who has been made perfect forever.



1 [1-3] Recalling the meeting between Melchizedek and Abraham described in Genesis 14:17-20, the author enhances the significance of this priest by providing the popular etymological meaning of his name and that of the city over which he ruled ( Hebrews 7:2). Since Genesis gives no information on the parentage or the death of Melchizedek, he is seen here as a type of Christ, representing a priesthood that is unique and eternal ( Hebrews 7:3).

2 [1] The author here assumes that Melchizedek was a priest of the God of Israel (cf Genesis 14:22 and the note there).

3 [2] In Genesis 14, the Hebrew text does not state explicitly who gave tithes to whom. The author of Hebrews supplies Abraham as the subject, according to a contemporary interpretation of the passage. This supports the argument of the midrash and makes it possible to see in Melchizedek a type of Jesus. The messianic blessings of righteousness and peace are foreshadowed in the names "Melchizedek" and "Salem."

4 [3] Without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life: this is perhaps a quotation from a hymn about Melchizedek. The rabbis maintained that anything not mentioned in the Torah does not exist. Consequently, since the Old Testament nowhere mentions Melchizedek's ancestry, birth, or death, the conclusion can be drawn that he remains . . . forever.

5 [4-10] The tithe that Abraham gave to Melchizedek ( Hebrews 7:4), a practice later followed by the levitical priesthood ( Hebrews 7:5), was a gift ( Hebrews 7:6) acknowledging a certain superiority in Melchizedek, the foreign priest ( Hebrews 7:7). This is further indicated by the fact that the institution of the levitical priesthood was sustained by hereditary succession in the tribe of Levi, whereas the absence of any mention of Melchizedek's death in Genesis implies that his personal priesthood is permanent ( Hebrews 7:8). The levitical priesthood itself, through Abraham, its ancestor, paid tithes to Melchizedek, thus acknowledging the superiority of his priesthood over its own ( Hebrews 7:9-10).

6 [7] A lesser person is blessed by a greater: though this sounds like a principle, there are some examples in the Old Testament that do not support it (cf 2 Sam 14:22; Job 31:20). The author may intend it as a statement of a liturgical rule.

7 [9] Levi: for the author this name designates not only the son of Jacob mentioned in Genesis but the priestly tribe that was thought to be descended from him.

8 [11-14] The levitical priesthood was not typified by the priesthood of Melchizedek, for Psalm 110:4 speaks of a priesthood of a new order, the order of Melchizedek, to arise in messianic times ( Hebrews 7:11). Since the levitical priesthood served the Mosaic law, a new priesthood ( Hebrews 7:12) would not come into being without a change in the law itself. Thus Jesus was not associated with the Old Testament priesthood, for he was a descendant of the tribe of Judah, which had never exercised the priesthood ( Hebrews 7:13-14).

9 [13] He of whom these things are said: Jesus, the priest "according to the order of Melchizedek." According to the author's interpretation, Psalm 110 spoke prophetically of Jesus.

10 [14] Judah: the author accepts the early Christian tradition that Jesus was descended from the family of David (cf Matthew 1:1-2, 16, 20; Luke 1:27; 2:4; Romans 1:3). The Qumran community expected two Messiahs, one descended from Aaron and one from David; Hebrews shows no awareness of this view or at least does not accept it. Our author's view is not attested in contemporaneous Judaism.

11 [15-19] Jesus does not exercise a priesthood through family lineage but through his immortal existence (15-16), fulfilling Psalm 110:4 ( Hebrews 7:17; cf Hebrews 7:3). Thus he abolishes forever both the levitical priesthood and the law it serves, because neither could effectively sanctify people ( Hebrews 7:18) by leading them into direct communication with God ( Hebrews 7:19).

12 [16] A life that cannot be destroyed: the life to which Jesus has attained by virtue of his resurrection; it is his exaltation rather than his divine nature that makes him priest. The Old Testament speaks of the Aaronic priesthood as eternal (see Exodus 40:15); our author does not explicitly consider this possible objection to his argument but implicitly refutes it in Hebrews 7:23-24.

13 [19] A better hope: this hope depends upon the sacrifice of the Son of God; through it we "approach the throne of grace" ( Hebrews 4:16); cf Hebrews 6:19, 20.

14 [20] An oath: God's oath in Psalm 110:4.

15 [20-25] As was the case with the promise to Abraham ( Hebrews 6:13), though not with the levitical priesthood, the eternal priesthood of the order of Melchizedek was confirmed by God's oath ( Hebrews 7:20-21); cf Psalm 110:4. Thus Jesus becomes the guarantee of a permanent covenant ( Hebrews 7:22) that does not require a succession of priests as did the levitical priesthood ( Hebrews 7:23) because his high priesthood is eternal and unchangeable ( Hebrews 7:24). Consequently, Jesus is able to save all who draw near to God through him since he is their ever-living intercessor ( Hebrews 7:25).

16 [22] An [even] better covenant: better than the Mosaic covenant because it will be eternal, like the priesthood of Jesus upon which it is based. Hebrews 7:12 argued that a change of priesthood involves a change of law; since "law" and "covenant" are used correlatively, a new covenant is likewise instituted.

17 [25] To make intercession: the intercession of the exalted Jesus, not the sequel to his completed sacrifice but its eternal presence in heaven; cf Romans 8:34.

18 [26] This verse with its list of attributes is reminiscent of Hebrews 7:3 and is perhaps a hymnic counterpart to it, contrasting the exalted Jesus with Melchizedek.

19 [26-28] Jesus is precisely the high priest whom the human race requires, holy and sinless, installed far above humanity (Hebrews 1:26); one having no need to offer sacrifice daily for sins but making a single offering of himself (Hebrews 1:27) once for all. The law could only appoint high priests with human limitations, but the fulfillment of God's oath regarding the priesthood of Melchizedek ( Psalm 110:4) makes the Son of God the perfect priest forever ( Hebrews 7:28).

20 [27] Such daily sacrifice is nowhere mentioned in the Mosaic law; only on the Day of Atonement is it prescribed that the high priest must offer sacrifice . . . for his own sins and then for those of the people ( Lev 16:11-19). Once for all: this translates the Greek words ephapax/hapax that occur eleven times in Hebrews.

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