Friday, October 12, 2018

07 Hebrews 7 – Jesus’ Greater Priesthood – So Draw Near!

Hebrews 6 closed by noting that Jesus has become “a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:19-20). That last phrase returned the discussion to what had been noted in Heb 5:6, 10-11. A parenthesis followed, challenging the readers to sharpen their listening skills and press on to maturity. They – and we – must not remain as babes or fall away into sin.
Now, with that in mind, we come back to the mysterious Melchizedek. He is noteworthy both because of what is said about him and what is not.
These are lesson notes, not written in a polished or finished manuscript form.  
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7:1-10        The Shadow of Jesus’ Greater Priesthood
Please read Heb 7:1-10 carefully before proceeding. Sharpen your listening and thinking skills (Heb 5:11-14). Write down significant words and statements.
That Christ would be both king and priest, was indicated centuries earlier in Psalm 110, a messianic text. Ps 110:1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” … 4 The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
The writer of Hebrews is inspired to develop this idea of Melchizedek as a type (shadow or likeness) of Jesus as the antitype (reality or actuality). He introduces Melchizedek and then compares and contrasts him with Christ.
What precious little we actually know about Melchizedek is recorded here:
Ge 14:17 Then after [Abraham’s] return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all.
As we see in Hebrews, this man was both king and priest. So is Jesus.
His name means “king (mechi) of righteousness (zedek).” He was also king of Salem, which is the same word as shalom, “peace.” Again, all this fits Jesus.
He was a contemporary, not a descendant, of Abraham. So of course he preceded Levi and Aaron. In fact his genealogy was not even listed. As far as the record went, he had no birth certificate naming his father or mother or date of birth. He had no death certificate officially dating the time of his death. Yet he was a king and a priest. How? Why? Simply because God named him as such. Likewise,  Jesus is our king (Ps 110:1) and priest (Ps 110:4) by divine decree.
Ironically, Gen 14 clearly implies that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, the ancestor of all the OT Levitical priests. Though Abraham was the number one patriarch, and father of all the Israelites, Melchizedek was superior. This is clear because of two facts. For one, Abraham (as the implied lesser) gave a tithe (ten percent) of the spoils of battle to Melchizedek (as the implied greater). For another, Melchizedek (as the greater) gave a blessing to Abraham (as the lesser).
Therefore, the argument goes, since Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, the “priest like Melchizedek” (Jesus) is superior to Levi, Aaron, and all the priests who descended from Abraham. Since Levi was “in the loins of Abraham” (as his future descendant) when Abraham gave the tithe to Melchizedek, one could say that, in Abraham, Levi also gave that tithe. Implication? Melchizedek and his priestly order are superior to Levi and his priestly order.
That’s the message of Heb 7:1-10. But before we go on …
Was (is) Melchizedek an angel? Or Christ himself before his birth to Mary?
Some well-meaning students of Scripture have concluded, mistakenly I believe, that Melchizedek was actually an angel or even the pre-incarnate Christ in human form. No Scripture calls Melchizedek an angel or the second person of the Godhead, yet some can be quite dogmatic about their conviction! On what do they base their thinking?
They take Heb 7:3 to require that Melchizedek was never born and never died. They believe that he literally had no father or mother or other human ancestors. He is a priest “perpetually,” and they take this to mean that he is still a priest serving eternally somewhere, perhaps on earth since they claim he never died. The Bible never mentions him going into heaven. Where does he now serve?
Let’s address these teachings.
Heb 7:4 calls Melchizedek a “man.” Though some insist that he was an angel who appeared as a man (as in Gen 18-19), the Bible never says this. We are undeniably safe to say he was a man.
As Martel Pace notes in the Truth for Today commentary on Hebrews (pp. 258ff):
Melchizedek was “without father or mother” in the priesthood. The Romans spoke of one as being “without father” if there was no record of his parentage. The Jews referred to those whose parents were unknown or who were not found in genealogies as being without mother or father (Philo On Drunkenness 14). A rabbi would say that a converted Gentile had no father (Robert Milligan, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, New Testament Commentaries (Cincinnati: Chase and Hall, 1876; reprint, Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1975, p. 249). Josephus told his readers that he himself was born into a priestly family and that he could prove it by the public records (Josephus Life 1).
“Forever” (7:17, 21) and “perpetually” (7:3) mean, as they often do in the Old Testament, throughout the period to which the term is applied. The Romans applied the title “dictator Perpetuus” as a more honorable office than that of an ordinary dictator (Moses Stuart, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: William Tegg & Co., 1856), p. 391). They realized that a dictator, or a Caesar, could not live forever; but since no statute limited the tenure of a Roman emperor, his rule was said to be “forever.”
Here are some questions for those who hold these other views. If Melchizedek was an angel, why doesn’t the Bible say so? If Melchizedek is an “eternal” priest, where and how does he now serve? And, if he is still God’s appointed king and priest, why would Christ need to serve in that role? Has Christ not superseded all priests who have gone before? Are there now two eternal priests, Melchizedek and Christ? If so, doesn’t that contradict the whole theme of Hebrews, that Christ is the final fulfillment of all that went before, making them obsolete?
Conclusion: Nothing actually stated in Scripture requires that Melchizedek was either an angel or the pre-incarnate Christ. He is specifically said to be a man declared by God to be king and priest, even without genealogical records. In this way he was a type (shadow or facsimile) of Christ, the antitype (reality or substance).
7:11-19      The Succession of Jesus’ New Priesthood
The need for a new priest, such as the priest promised in Ps 110:4, implied that the OT system was broken and had to be replaced. After all, if the Levitical priesthood had worked perfectly and permanently, no change would have been necessary. This is the argument in Heb 7:11.
Well, if there had to be a new priest, there would also have to be a new law as well. The OT law and the OT priesthood were interdependent. Neither could stand without the other. And that fact plays right into what follows.
The previous OT law had established the Aaronic priesthood. It had specified that all the priests had to be from the tribe of Levi and all the high priests from the lineage of Aaron. But since both the priesthood and the law were to be changed, those requirements would no longer apply.
Under those former stipulations, Jesus would not have been qualified to serve as high priest. He was from the tribe of Judah, not Levi. And because the OT was silent about any priests being allowed from Judah, that silence was prohibitive.
However, God had promised that the future priest, Jesus Christ, would be after the order of Melchizedek, not Aaron. This promise implied the removal of the old Aaronic priesthood and the old law with their restrictions. Therefore, there could be no objection to the new high priest having come from a tribe other than Levi.
So, as Heb 7:16 declares, Jesus “has become such [the new high priest] not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life.”
So, see what follows in Heb 7:18-19.
18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
7:20-28      The Superiority of Jesus’ New Priesthood
Remember that Ps 110:4 began by saying, “The LORD has sworn …” Yahweh’s oath in making Christ the new priest is very significant to the writer of Hebrews. God did not swear or take an oath when the former OT priests were appointed. This difference (the unique declaration of God’s oath) makes Jesus the guarantee of a better covenant.
There are other factors that make Jesus’ new priesthood superior.
The former priests were many in number, because their service ended when they died. They had to be replaced continually. They could only provide a partial, limited, temporary kind of salvation.
Jesus, on the other hand, continues forever and therefore holds His priesthood permanently. As a result he is able to save eternally, “to the nth degree,” “to the max.” He always lives to make intercession as the one irreplaceable mediator for God’s people (7:24-25).
Also, unlike the former OT priests, Jesus is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (7:26).
They offered sacrifices daily, first for their own sins, because they were weak and sinful themselves. He, the sinless eternal Son, needed no sacrifice for himself. Nor did he need to offer repeated sacrifices. Rather, he accomplished through one sacrifice for all time – the sacrifice of himself – that which an infinite number of OT priests and offerings could not achieve, our eternal salvation. And his ministry for us continues forever, as he intercedes perpetually for us in the true “tabernacle,” the true “Most Holy Place” in heaven.
Therefore, let us draw near!

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Wine-Drinking in New Testament Times – Robert H. Stein

The following article was written by Robert H. Stein to describe the use of wine in the first century. The source of the article is noted at the end of this post.
As evangelicals we maintain that the Bible is for us the only infallible rule of faith and practice. It is our final authority in all matters of doctrine (faith) and ethics (practice). Yet the Bible was not written to evangelicals living in the twentieth century. The science—or better, the art—of interpreting the biblical text so that the revelation of God written centuries ago is meaningful and correctly understood today is called “hermeneutics.” The basic principle of hermeneutics, to be somewhat simplistic, is that the question “What does it mean for us today?” must be preceded by the question “What did it mean for them yesterday?” If we do not seek first to understand what the text meant when it was written, it will be very difficult to interpret intelligently what it means and demands of us today. 
My subject here is the use of the term “wine” in the New Testament. Some readers may already be thinking, “Is he going to try to tell us that wine in the Bible means grape juice? Is he going to try to say that the wine mentioned in the New Testament is any different from the wine bottled today by Christian Brothers or Ch√Ęteau Lafite-Rothschild or Mogen David?” Well, my answers are no and yes. No, the wine of the Bible was not unfermented grape juice. Yes, it was different from the wine of today. 
In ancient times wine was usually stored in large pointed jugs called amphorae. When wine was to be used it was poured from the amphorae into large bowls called kraters, where it was mixed with water. Last year 1 had the privilege of visiting the great archaeological museum in Athens, Greece, where I saw dozens of these large kraters. At the time it did not dawn on me what their use signified about the drinking of wine in biblical times. From these kraters, cups or kylix were then filled. What is important for us to note is that before wine was drunk it was mixed with water. The kylix were filled not from the amphorae but from the kraters. 
The ratio of water to wine varied. Homer (Odyssey IX, 208f.) mentions a ratio of 20 to 1, twenty parts water to one part wine. Pliny (Natural History XIV, vi, 54) mentions a ratio of eight parts water to one part wine. In one ancient work, Athenaeus’s The Learned Banquet, written around A.D. 200, we find in Book Ten a collection of statements from earlier writers about drinking practices. A quotation from a play by Aristophanes reads: “‘Here, drink this also, mingled three and two.’ Demus. ‘Zeus! But it’s sweet and bears the three parts well!’” The poet Euenos, who lived in the fifth century B.C., is also quoted: 
The best measure of wine is neither much nor very little;
For ‘tis the cause of either grief or madness.
It pleases the wine to be the fourth, mixed with three nymphs.
Here the ratio of water to wine is 3 to 1. Others mentioned are: 
3 to 1—Hesiod
4 to 1—Alexis
2 to 1—Diodes
3 to 1—Ion
5 to 2—Nichochares
2 to 1—Anacreon 
Sometimes the ratio goes down to 1 to 1 (and even lower), but it should be noted that such a mixture is referred to as “strong wine.” Drinking wine unmixed, on the other hand, was looked upon as a “Scythian” or barbarian custom. Athenaeus in this work quotes Mnesitheus of Athens: 
The gods have revealed wine to mortals, to be the greatest blessing for those who use it aright, but for those who use it without measure, the reverse. For it gives food to them that take it and strength in mind and body. In medicine it is most beneficial; it can be mixed with liquid and drugs and it brings aid to the wounded. In daily intercourse, to those who mix and drink it moderately, it gives good cheer; but if you overstep the bounds, it brings violence. Mix it half and half, and you get madness; unmixed, bodily collapse. 
It is evident that wine was seen in ancient times as a medicine (and as a solvent for medicines) and of course as a beverage. Yet as a beverage it was always thought of as a mixed drink. Plutarch (Symposiacs III, ix), for instance, states. “We call a mixture ‘wine,’ although the larger of the component parts is water.” The ratio of water might vary, but only barbarians drank it unmixed, and a mixture of wine and water of equal parts was seen as “strong drink” and frowned upon. The term “wine” or oinos in the ancient world, then, did not mean wine as we understand it today but wine mixed with water. Usually a writer simply referred to the mixture of water and wine as “wine.” To indicate that the beverage was not a mixture of water and wine he would say “unmixed (akratesteron) wine.” 
One might wonder whether the custom of mixing wine with water was limited to the ancient Greeks. The burden of proof would be upon anyone who argued that the pattern of drinking wine in Jewish society was substantially different from that of the examples already ‘given. And we do have examples in both Jewish and Christian literature and perhaps in the Bible that wine was likewise understood as being a mixture of wine and water. In several instances in the Old Testament a distinction is made between “wine” and “strong drink.” In Leviticus 10:8, 9, we read, “And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying, ‘Drink no wine nor strong drink, you nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting. . . .‘“ Concerning the Nazarite vow Numbers 6:3 states that the Nazarite “shall separate himself from wine and strong drink.” This distinction is found also in Deuteronomy 14:26; 29:6; Judges 13:4, 7, 14; First Samuel 1:15: Proverbs 20:1; 31:4,6: Isaiah 5:11, 22; 28:7; 29:9; 56:12; and Micah 2:11. 
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia (Vol. 12, p. 533) states that in the rabbinic period at least “‘yayin’ [or wine] ‘is to be distinguished from ‘shekar’ [or strong drink]: the former is diluted with water (mazug’); the latter is undiluted (‘yayin hal’).” ln the Talmud, which contains the oral traditions of Judaism from about 200 B.C. to A.D. 200, there are several tractates in which the mixture of water and wine is discussed. One tractate (Shabbath 77a) states that wine that does not carry three parts of water well is not wine. The normal mixture is said to consist of two parts water to one part wine. In a most important reference (Pesahim 108b) it is stated that the four cups every Jew was to drink during the Passover ritual were to be mixed in a ratio of three parts water to one part wine. From this we can conclude with a fair degree of certainty that the fruit of the vine used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper was a mixture of three parts water to one part wine. In another Jewish reference from around 60 B.C. we read, “It is harmful to drink wine alone, or again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one’s enjoyment” (II Maccabees 15:39). 
In ancient times there were not many beverages that were safe to drink. The danger of drinking water alone raises another point. There were several ways in which the ancients could make water safe to drink. One method was boiling, but this was tedious and costly. Different methods of filtration were tried. The safest and easiest method of making the water safe to drink, however, was to mix it with wine. The drinking of wine (i.e., a mixture of water and wine) served therefore as a safety measure, since often the water available was not safe. (I remember drinking some water in Salonica, Greece, that would have been much better for me had it been mixed with wine or some other purifying agent.) 
When we come to the New Testament the content of the wine is never discussed. The burden of proof, however, is surely upon anyone who would say that the “wine” of the New Testament is substantially different from the wine mentioned by the Greeks, the Jews during the intertestamental period, and the early church fathers. In the writings of the early church fathers it is clear that “wine” means wine mixed with water. Justin Martyr around A.D. 150 described the Lord’s Supper in this way: “Bread is brought, and wine and water, and the president sends up prayers and thanksgiving” (Apology 1, 67, 5). Some sixty-five years later Hippolytus instructed the bishops that they shall “eucharistize [bless] first the bread into the representation of the Flesh of Christ; and the cup mixed with wine for the antitype of the Blood which was shed for all who have believed in Him” (Apostolic Tradition XXIII, 1). Cyprian around A.D. 250 stated in his refutation of certain heretical practices: 
Nothing must be done by us but what the Lord first did on our behalf, as that the cup which is offered in remembrance of Him should be offered mingled with wine. . . . 
Thus, therefore, in considering the cup of the Lord, water alone cannot be offered, even as wine alone cannot be offered. For if anyone offer wine only, the blood of Christ is dissociated from us: but if the water be alone, the people are dissociated from Christ. . . . Thus the cup of the Lord is not indeed water alone, nor wine alone, unless each be mingled with the other [Epistle LXII, 2, 11 and 13]. 
Unmixed wine and plain water at the Lord’s Supper were both found unacceptable. A mixture of wine and water was the norm. Earlier in the latter part of the second century Clement of Alexandria stated: 
It is best for the wine to be mixed with as much water as possible. . . . For both are works of God, and the mixing of the two, both of water and wine produces health, because life is composed of a necessary element and a useful element. To the necessary element, the water, which is in the greatest quantity, there is to be mixed in some of the useful element [Instructor II, ii, 23.3—24.1].
To consume the amount of alcohol that is in two martinis by drinking wine containing three parts water to one part wine, one would have to drink over twenty-two glasses. In other words, it is possible to become intoxicated from wine mixed with three parts of water, but one’s drinking would probably affect the bladder long before it affected the mind. 
In concluding this brief article I would like to emphasize two points. First, it is important to try to understand the biblical text in the context in which it was written. Before we ask “What does the biblical text mean for us today?” we must ask “What did it mean to them originally?” Second, there is a striking difference between the drinking of alcoholic beverages today and the drinking of wine in New Testament times. If the drinking of unmixed wine or even wine mixed in a ratio of one to one with water was frowned upon in ancient times, certainly the drinking of distilled spirits in which the alcoholic content is frequently three to ten times greater would be frowned upon a great deal more.  
Robert H. Stein is associate professor of New Testament at Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota. He has the B.D. from Fuller Seminary, S.T.M. from Andover Newton Theological School, and Ph.D. from Princeton Seminary.

The Most Clever Thief - Ann Landers

The following essay appeared in Ann Landers’ column in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers on July 28, 1993. She reprinted it on that occasion in response to a reader’s request. I have included that reader’s request at the end of this post.
The Most Clever Thief in the World
I invited her into our home for special occasions. We’d become good friends, I thought. And then I began to look forward to our meeting at the end of each day. After a while, we became so friendly I had to see her every evening.
People began to think of us as a couple. Even the police knew our names. Our identities were too closely linked, I thought, so I began to see her on the sly.
At first, she stole small change from my pocket. I wasn’t concerned. Before long, she crept into my billfold. I wasn’t happy about that, but I enjoyed her company too much to complain.
Friends said I was seeing too much of her and that she had made changes in me they didn’t like. I resented their interference and said so. They dropped me.
My wife and children complained about the time I took from them to spend with her. I said, “If you insist that I make a choice, I will choose her.” And I did. She began to demand so much of my money I could no longer afford new clothes. I heard people at work whisper about my shabby appearance. They blamed her. I was annoyed and distanced myself from my colleagues.
She started to visit me at the office. My boss became upset. He said my friend was interfering with my work. After several warnings, I lost my job. We had some heavy arguments after that. I told her to stay away for a while, so I could think. She said, “So long, buddy. You’ll come back to me before long.” She knew me better than I knew myself. Within three days, I was seeing her again.
Our affair became more intense than ever. We spent every day and night together. I lost my wife, my family and my job. The next thing to go was my health.
When I became so sick I couldn’t eat or sleep, I realized she had taken everything in my life that had meaning. Although I was not religious, I decided to turn to God. He wrapped his loving arms around me and gave me strength I cannot describe to this day. He made me feel whole. My sense of self-worth and sanity began to return. I knew I would never again let my friend back into my life.
Today, though I still bear the scars of that hideous friendship, I am on my way back. With God at my side, I know I will make it. My old friend will always be around the corner, waiting for me to weaken and stumble and come back to her, but I am determined to keep her out of my life forever. I have found a magnificent replacement.
Here is the reader’s request that caused Ann Landers to reprint this essay:
Dear Ann Landers: Ten years ago, you published an essay titled “The Most Clever Thief in the World.” That essay changed my life. The next day, I went to my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I haven’t had a drink since.
I clipped out that column and carried it in my wallet for many years. I often showed it to people I thought it might help. Unfortunately, I lost the clipping a few days ago and am asking you to reprint it. Thanks, Ann. You and A.A. saved my life.