Hebrews 9:15-17

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Here the Holy Spirit reverts to Christ's mediation, but avails Himself also of the revelation of inheritance in the close of Heb. 9:1515And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15) to introduce, what was familiar to all, the allusion to a testamentary disposition or will, inasmuch as the Greek word for “covenant” had equally the sense of “testament” in ordinary usage. This accordingly serves to illustrate and confirm the all-importance of Christ's death, as the hinge of present and everlasting blessing from God, alike the end of the old covenant, and the basis of the new, with the added truth that death as a fact is essential to give validity to a will, which has no operation as long as the devisor is alive. Such is the digression by the way in Heb. 9:16-1716For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. (Hebrews 9:16‑17).
“And on this account He is mediator of a new covenant, that, death having taken place for redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, those that are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a testament [is], the testator's death must be brought in; for a testament [is] valid in case of dead persons, since it is never of force while the testator liveth” (Heb. 9:15-1715And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. 16For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. (Hebrews 9:15‑17)).1
It will be observed, that, notwithstanding the doubt cast on the rendering of “testament” in the last two verses by many eminent Christians and able scholars, there need be no hesitation in deciding for this sense, as here the sole tenable one. That “covenant” is meant everywhere else in the N.T., as in the Old, is clear from contextual requirement. The same reason of the context here excludes “covenant” and demands “testament,” but here only. As there has already been given a general view of the other occurrences throughout the later scriptures, it is not needful to repeat it. Let it suffice, without a shade of disrespect for other commentators, to examine these three verses, with what follows them immediately, and judge if there be not proof, that the meaning in either case is certain from evidence as it were on the spot, ample and convincing for every soul subject to scripture.
For as to Heb. 9:1515And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15) there ought never to have been a question that “a new covenant” is the real sense, not only because “new” is beyond controversy a reference to the prophecy of Jeremiah, who speaks of a “covenant,” and not a testament, but, without going from the same clause, because it has a “mediator.” Now a mediator was familiar to the Hebrews in connection with a “covenant.” Nobody, in any people, place, or age, heard of a mediator to a “will.” There is the further disproof in the same verse that we hear of “the first covenant,” which furnishes the reason for and explanation of “a new covenant” if there was to be redemption from the guilt and misery under the first. For the first covenant, as we are elsewhere taught, was a ministration of death and condemnation, as the new is of the Spirit and righteousness (2 Cor. 3). On every ground “testament” would be here out of place, indefensible, and misleading. “Covenant” alone satisfies every condition of the verse. Death (and what a death!) met “the transgressions that were under the first covenant,” and effected a redemption that answered to the glory of His person and the efficacy of His sacrifice. By virtue of His death Jehovah said according to the prophet (as we have it already cited and shall have it again), Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Such is the voice of the new covenant, in contrast with the old which could only claim obedience, and on failure sentence to die. But His death having taken place, so that law's authority was established to the uttermost, grace could act freely and grant remission of sins, instead of keeping up their remembrance; yea more, it could righteously vindicate God's forbearance in the past for redemption of the transgressions “under the then legal condition, with its penalty of death for the offender. Now, on the contrary, death having come in, Christ is Mediator of a new covenant, that the called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. All hangs on Christ and His efficacious death; and those that are called pay earnest heed to the glad tidings of God and await the eternal inheritance that is promised. For the blessing comes of faith, that it may be according to grace: no other way honors Christ to God's glory, or puts man in his true place.
No less determinate is the meaning of what follows in Heb. 9:16-1716For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. (Hebrews 9:16‑17), the idea of the inheritance naturally suggesting a will, which comes into force by the death of him who made it. The general principle is laid down in the broadest terms; and these can only mean, without strain of known phraseology, a “testament,” not a “covenant.” “For where a testament [is], the testator's death must be brought in; for a testament [is] valid in case of dead persons, since it is never of force while the testator liveth.” Now this, which is an axiom and universally applicable to a will, is notoriously untrue of covenants in general; so much so, that it would be hard to point out a single covenant so established among men. For it would assume the necessity of every one's death who made a covenant to ensure its operation. Who ever heard of such a covenant? Yet the rendering would imply that it is true of any covenant, and of all. Hence to understand “covenant” in these verses has led many from the appropriate sense of “the testator” to substitute for “the covenanter” (here obviously impossible) “the covenanting victim,” “that which establishes the covenant,” or some equivalent phrase; a sense which appears in no writing sacred or profane, and is easily shown to be ungrammatical, especially as being inconsistent with the middle voice. Quite as great violence is done ἐπὶ νεκροῖς in Heb. 9:1717For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. (Hebrews 9:17), which cannot express “over animals slain,” but “when men are dead,” or the like.
Now our Lord in Luke 22:2929And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; (Luke 22:29) (to say nothing of John 14:2727Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)) prepares the way for the technical term here twice given as “testator.” There He was in the act of devising; here it is in its regular form and force, though of course not that exclusively. But no Greek, if he read the sentence simply as it stands in these two verses, would hesitate to take it substantially as given in the A. and R. V. It is the equally sure sense of “covenant” in Heb. 9:1515And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15), as before also; and no less clearly is “covenant” understood in Heb. 9:1818Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. (Hebrews 9:18) and expressed in Heb. 9:2020Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. (Hebrews 9:20) (as it should be) and in Heb. 10:2020By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; (Hebrews 10:20). “Testament” here is through neglect of the context, which in every other place of scripture, save Heb. 9:16-1716For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. (Hebrews 9:16‑17), needs “covenant.” What has a testament to do with blood-shedding? A hard and fast uniformity has its snares as well as a too great facility of change; both are to be shunned as unfaithful to the written word, which is as profound as it is simple, being God's word.