The Worship of the First Covenant.* 1Now [even] the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. 2For a tabernacle was constructed, the outer one,* in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread of offering; this is called the Holy Place.a 3* Behind the second veil was the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies,b 4in which were the gold altar of incense* and the ark of the covenant entirely covered with gold. In it were the gold jar containing the manna, the staff of Aaron that had sprouted, and the tablets of the covenant.c 5* Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the place of expiation. Now is not the time to speak of these in detail.d
6With these arrangements for worship, the priests, in performing their service,* go into the outer tabernacle repeatedly,e 7but the high priest alone goes into the inner one once a year, not without blood* that he offers for himself and for the sins of the people.f 8In this way the holy Spirit shows that the way into the sanctuary had not yet been revealed while the outer tabernacle still had its place. 9This is a symbol of the present time,* in which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper in conscience 10but only in matters of food and drink and various ritual washings: regulations concerning the flesh, imposed until the time of the new order.g
Sacrifice of Jesus. 11* But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be,* passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation,h 12he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.i 13For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes* can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed,j 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit* offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.k
15* For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant: since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.l 16* Now where there is a will, the death of the testator must be established. 17For a will takes effect only at death; it has no force while the testator is alive. 18Thus not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19* When every commandment had been proclaimed by Moses to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves [and goats], together with water and crimson wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,m 20saying, “This is ‘the blood of the covenant which God has enjoined upon you.’”n 21In the same way, he sprinkled also the tabernacle* and all the vessels of worship with blood.o 22* According to the law almost everything is purified by blood,p and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
23* Therefore, it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified by these rites, but the heavenly things themselves by better sacrifices than these.q 24For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf.r 25Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; 26if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages* to take away sin by his sacrifice.s 27Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment,t 28so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many,* will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.u
* [9:1–10] The regulations for worship under the old covenant permitted all the priests to enter the Holy Place (Heb 2:6), but only the high priest to enter the Holy of Holies and then only once a year (Heb 9:3–5, 7). The description of the sanctuary and its furnishings is taken essentially from Ex 25–26. This exclusion of the people from the Holy of Holies signified that they were not allowed to stand in God’s presence (Heb 9:8) because their offerings and sacrifices, which were merely symbols of their need of spiritual renewal (Heb 9:10), could not obtain forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:9).
* [9:3] The second veil: what is meant is the veil that divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. It is here called the second, because there was another veil at the entrance to the Holy Place, or “outer tabernacle” (Ex 26:36).
* [9:4] The gold altar of incense: Ex 30:6 locates this altar in the Holy Place, i.e., the first tabernacle, rather than in the Holy of Holies. Neither is there any Old Testament support for the assertion that the jar of manna and the staff of Aaron were in the ark of the covenant. For the tablets of the covenant, see Ex 25:16.
* [9:5] The place of expiation: the gold “mercy seat” (Greek hilastērion, as in Rom 3:25), where the blood of the sacrificial animals was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement (Lv 16:14–15). This rite achieved “expiation” or atonement for the sins of the preceding year.
* [9:6] In performing their service: the priestly services that had to be performed regularly in the Holy Place or outer tabernacle included burning incense on the incense altar twice each day (Ex 30:7), replacing the loaves on the table of the bread of offering once each week (Lv 24:8), and constantly caring for the lamps on the lampstand (Ex 27:21).
* [9:7] Not without blood: blood was essential to Old Testament sacrifice because it was believed that life was located in the blood. Hence blood was especially sacred, and its outpouring functioned as a meaningful symbol of cleansing from sin and reconciliation with God. Unlike Hebrews, the Old Testament never says that the blood is “offered.” The author is perhaps retrojecting into his description of Mosaic ritual a concept that belongs to the New Testament antitype, as Paul does when he speaks of the Israelites’ passage through the sea as a “baptism” (1 Cor 10:2).
* [9:9] The present time: this expression is equivalent to the “present age,” used in contradistinction to the “age to come.”
* [9:11–14] Christ, the high priest of the spiritual blessings foreshadowed in the Old Testament sanctuary, has actually entered the true sanctuary of heaven that is not of human making (Heb 9:11). His place there is permanent, and his offering is his own blood that won eternal redemption (Heb 9:12). If the sacrifice of animals could bestow legal purification (Heb 9:13), how much more effective is the blood of the sinless, divine Christ who spontaneously offered himself to purge the human race of sin and render it fit for the service of God (Heb 9:14).
* [9:13] A heifer’s ashes: ashes from a red heifer that had been burned were mixed with water and used for the cleansing of those who had become ritually defiled by touching a corpse; see Nm 19:9, 14–21.
* [9:14] Through the eternal spirit: this expression does not refer either to the holy Spirit or to the divine nature of Jesus but to the life of the risen Christ, “a life that cannot be destroyed” (Heb 7:16).
* [9:15–22] Jesus’ role as mediator of the new covenant is based upon his sacrificial death (cf. Heb 8:6). His death has effected deliverance from transgressions, i.e., deliverance from sins committed under the old covenant, which the Mosaic sacrifices were incapable of effacing. Until this happened, the eternal inheritance promised by God could not be obtained (Heb 9:15). This effect of his work follows the human pattern by which a last will and testament becomes effective only with the death of the testator (Heb 9:16–17). The Mosaic covenant was also associated with death, for Moses made use of blood to seal the pact between God and the people (Heb 9:18–21). In Old Testament tradition, guilt could normally not be remitted without the use of blood (Heb 9:22; cf. Lv 17:11).
* [9:16–17] A will…death of the testator: the same Greek word diathēkē, meaning “covenant” in Heb 9:15, 18, is used here with the meaning will. The new covenant, unlike the old, is at the same time a will that requires the death of the testator. Jesus as eternal Son is the one who established the new covenant together with his Father, author of both covenants; at the same time he is the testator whose death puts his will into effect.
* [9:19–20] A number of details here are different from the description of this covenant rite in Ex 24:5–8. Exodus mentions only calves (“young bulls,” NAB), not goats (but this addition in Hebrews is of doubtful authenticity), says nothing of the use of water and crimson wool and hyssop (these features probably came from a different rite; cf. Lv 14:3–7; Nm 19:6–18), and describes Moses as splashing blood on the altar, whereas Hebrews says he sprinkled it on the book (but both book and altar are meant to symbolize the agreement of God). The words of Moses are also slightly different from those in Exodus and are closer to the words of Jesus at the Last Supper in Mk 14:24; Mt 26:28.
* [9:22] Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness: in fact, ancient Israel did envisage other means of obtaining forgiveness; the Old Testament mentions contrition of heart (Ps 51:17), fasting (Jl 2:12), and almsgiving (Sir 3:29). The author is limiting his horizon to the sacrificial cult, which did always involve the shedding of blood for its expiatory and unitive value.
* [9:23–28] Since the blood of animals became a cleansing symbol among Old Testament prefigurements, it was necessary that the realities foreshadowed be brought into being by a shedding of blood that was infinitely more effective by reason of its worth (Heb 9:23). Christ did not simply prefigure the heavenly realities (Heb 9:24) by performing an annual sacrifice with a blood not his own (Heb 9:25); he offered the single sacrifice of himself as the final annulment of sin (Heb 9:26). Just as death is the unrepeatable act that ends a person’s life, so Christ’s offering of himself for all is the unrepeatable sacrifice that has once for all achieved redemption (Heb 9:27–28).
* [9:26] At the end of the ages: the use of expressions such as this shows that the author of Hebrews, despite his interest in the Platonic concept of an eternal world above superior to temporal reality here below, nevertheless still clings to the Jewish Christian eschatology with its sequence of “the present age” and “the age to come.”
* [9:28] To take away the sins of many: the reference is to Is 53:12. Since the Greek verb anapherō can mean both “to take away” and “to bear,” the author no doubt intended to play upon both senses: Jesus took away sin by bearing it himself. See the similar wordplay in Jn 1:29. Many is used in the Semitic meaning of “all” in the inclusive sense, as in Mk 14:24. To those who eagerly await him: Jesus will appear a second time at the parousia, as the high priest reappeared on the Day of Atonement, emerging from the Holy of Holies, which he had entered to take away sin. This dramatic scene is described in Sir 50:5–11.