on Hebrews 9 :16
For where a testament is - A learned and judicious friend furnishes me with the following translation of this and the 17th verse: -
"For where there is a covenant, it is necessary that the death of the appointed victim should be exhibited, because a covenant is confirmed over dead victims, since it is not at all valid while the appointed victim is alive."
He observes, "There is no word signifying testator, or men, in the original. Διαθεμενος is not a substantive, but a participle, or a participial adjective, derived from the same root as διατηκη, and must have a substantive understood. I therefore render it the disposed or appointed victim, alluding to the manner of disposing or setting apart the pieces of the victim, when they were going to ratify a covenant; and you know well the old custom of ratifying a covenant, to which the apostle alludes. I refer to your own notes on Genesis 6:18 (note), and Genesis 15:10 (note). - J. C."
Mr. Wakefield has translated the passage nearly in the same way.
"For where a covenant is, there must be necessarily introduced the death of that which establisheth the covenant; because a covenant is confirmed over dead things, and is of no force at all whilst that which establisheth the covenant is alive." This is undoubtedly the meaning of this passage; and we should endeavor to forget that testament and testator were ever introduced, as they totally change the apostle's meaning. See the observations at the end of this chapter.
on Hebrews 9 :16
For where a testament is - This is the same word - διαθήκη diathēkē - which in Hebrews 8:6, is rendered "covenant." For the general signification of the word, see note on that verse. There is so much depending, however, on the meaning of the word, not only in the interpretation of this passage, but also of other parts of the Bible, that it may be proper to explain it here more at length. The word - διαθήκη diathēkē - occurs in the New Testament thirty-three times. It is translated "covenant" in the common version, in Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; Acts 7:8; Romans 9:4; Romans 11:27; Galatians 3:15, Galatians 3:17; Galatians 4:24; Ephesians 2:12; Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 8:9, "twice," Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 9:4, "twice," Hebrews 10:16; Hebrews 12:24; Hebrews 13:20. In the remaining places it is rendered "testament;" Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6, 2 Corinthians 3:14; Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 9:15-17, Hebrews 9:20; Revelation 11:19. In four of those instances (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20, and 1 Corinthians 11:25), it is used with reference to the institution or celebration of the Lord's Supper. In the Septuagint it occurs not far from 300 times, in considerably more than 200 times of which it is the translation of the Hebrew word בּרית beriyt.
In one instance Zechariah 11:14 it is the translation of the word "brotherhood;" once Deuteronomy 9:5, of דּבר daabaar - "word;" once Jeremiah 11:2, of "words of the covenant;" once Leviticus 26:11), of "tabernacle;" once Exodus 31:7, of "testimony;" it occurs once Ezekiel 20:37, where the reading of the Greek and Hebrew text is doubtful; and it occurs three times 1 Samuel 11:2; 1 Samuel 20:8; 1 Kings 8:9, where there is no corresponding word in the Hebrew text. From this use of the word by the authors of the Septuagint, it is evident that they regarded it as the proper translation of the Hebrew - בּרית beriyt, and as conveying the same sense which that word does. It cannot be reasonably doubted that the writers of the New Testament were led to the use of the word, in part, at least, by the fact that they found it occurring so frequently in the version in common use, but it cannot be doubted also that they regarded it as fairly conveying the sense of the word בּרית beriyt. On no principle can it be supposed that inspired and honest people would use a word in referring to transactions in the Old Testament which did not "fairly" convey the idea which the writers of the Old Testament meant to express. The use being thus regarded as settled, there are some "facts" in reference to it which are of great importance in interpreting the New Testament, and in understanding the nature of the "covenant" which God makes with man. These facts are the following:
(1) The word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - is not what properly denotes "compact, agreement," or "covenant." That word is συνθήκη sunthēkē - "syntheke" or in other forms σύνθεσις sunthesis and συνθεσίας sunthesias; or if the word "diatheke" is used in that signification it is only remotely, and as a secondary meaning; see "Passow;" compare the Septuagint in Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:1; Daniel 11:6, and Wisdom Daniel 1:16; 1 Macc. 10:26; 2 Macc. 13:25; 14:26. It is not the word which a "Greek" would have employed to denote a "compact" or "covenant." He would have employed it to denote a "disposition, ordering," or "arrangement" of things, whether of religious rites, civil customs, or property; or if used with reference to a compact, it would have been with the idea of an "arrangement," or "ordering" of matters, not with the primary notion of an agreement with another.
(2) the word properly expressive of a "covenant" or "compact" - συνθήκη sunthēkē - is "never" used in the New Testament. In all the allusions to the transactions between God and man, this word never occurs. From some cause, the writers and speakers in the New Testament seem to have supposed that the word would leave an impression which they did not wish to leave. Though it might have been supposed that in speaking of the various transactions between God and man they would have selected this word, yet with entire uniformity they have avoided it. No one of them - though the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - has been used by no less than six of them - has been betrayed in a single instance into the use of the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - "syntheke," or has differed from the other writers in the language employed. This cannot be supposed to be the result of concert or collusion, but it must have been founded on some reason which operated equally on all their minds.
(3) in like manner, and with like remarkable uniformity, the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - syntheke - is "never" used in the Septuagint with reference to any arrangement or "covenant" between God and man. Once indeed in the Apocrypha, and but once, it is used in that sense. In the three only other instances in which it occurs in the Septuagint, it is with reference to compacts between man and man; Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:1; Daniel 11:6. This remarkable fact that the authors of that version never use the word to denote any transaction between God and man, shows that there must have been some reason for it which acted on their minds with entire uniformity.
(4) it is no less remarkable that neither in the Septuagint nor the New Testament is the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - "ever" used in the sense of "will" or "testament," unless it be in the case before us. This is conceded on all hands, and is expressly admitted by Prof. Stuart; (Com. on Heb. p. 439), though he defends this use of the word in this passage. - A very important inquiry presents itself here, which has never received a solution generally regarded as satisfactory. It is, why the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - was selected by the writers of the New Testament to express the nature of the transaction between God and man in the plan of salvation. It might be said indeed that they found this word uniformly used in the Septuagint, and that they employed it as expressing the idea which they wished to convey, with sufficient accuracy. But this is only removing the difficulty one step further back.
Why did the Septuagint adopt this word? Why did they not rather use the common and appropriate Greek word to express the notion of a covenant? A suggestion on this subject has already been made in the notes on Hebrews 8:6; compare Bib. Repository vol. xx. p. 55. Another reason may, however, be suggested for this remarkable fact which is liable to no objection. It is, that in the apprehension of the authors of the Septuagint, and of the writers of the New Testament, the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - in its original and proper signification "fairly" conveyed the sense of the Hebrew word בּרית beriyt, and that the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - or "compact, agreement," would "not" express that; and "that they never meant to be understood as conveying the idea either that God entered into a compact or covenant with man, or that he made a will." They meant to represent; him as making "an arrangement, a disposition, an ordering" of things, by which his service might be kept up among his people, and by which people might be saved; but they were equally remote from representing him as making a "compact," or a "will." In support of this there may be alleged.
(1) the remarkable uniformity in which the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - is used, showing that there was some "settled principle" from which they never departed; and,
(2) it is used mainly as the meaning of the word itself. Prof. Stuart has, undoubtedly, given the accurate original sense of the word. "The real, genuine, and original meaning of διαθήκη diathēkē (diatheke) is, "arrangement, disposition," or "disposal" of a thing." P. 440. The word from which it is derived - διατίθημι diatithēmi - means to place apart or asunder; and then to set, arrange, dispose in a certain order. "Passow." From this original signification is derived the use which the word has with singular uniformity in the Scriptures. It denotes the "arrangment, disposition," or "ordering" of things which God made in relation to mankind, by which he designed to keep up his worship on earth, and to save the soul. It means neither covenant nor will; neither compact nor legacy; neither agreement nor testament. It is an "arrangement" of an entirely different order from either of them, and the sacred writers with an uniformity which could have been secured only by the presiding influence of the One Eternal Spirit, have avoided the suggestion that God made with man either a "compact" or a "will."
We have no word which precisely expresses this idea, and hence, our conceptions are constantly floating between a "compact" and a "will," and the views which we have are as unsettled as they are. unscriptural. The simple idea is, that God has made an "arrangement" by which his worship may be celebrated and souls saved. Under the Jewish economy this arrangement assumed one form; under the Christian another. In neither was it a compact or covenant between two parties in such a sense that one party would be at liberty to reject the terms proposed; in neither was it a testament or will, as if God had left a legacy to man, but in both there were some things in regard to the arrangement such as are found in a covenant or compact. One of those things - equally appropriate to a compact between man and man and to this arrangement, the apostle refers to here - that it implied in all cases the death of the victim.
If these remarks are well-founded, they should be allowed materially to shape our views in the interpretation of the Bible. Whole treatises of divinity have been written on a mistaken view of the meaning of this word - understood as meaning "covenant." Volumes of angry controversy have been published on the nature of the "covenant" with Adam, and on its influence on his posterity. The only literal "covenant" which can he supposed in the plan of redemption is that between the Father and the Son - though even the existence of such a covenant is rather the result of devout and learned imagining than of any distinct statement in the volume of inspiration. The simple statement there is, that God has made an arrangement for salvation, the execution of which he has entrusted to his Son, and has proposed it to man to be accepted as the only arrangement by which man can be saved, and which he is not at liberty to disregard.
There has been much difference of opinion in reference to the meaning of the passage here, and to the design of the illustration introduced. If the word used - διαθήκη diathēkē - means "testament," in the sense of a "will," then the sense of that passage is that "a will is of force only when he who made it dies, for it relates to a disposition of his property after his death." The force of the remark of the apostle then would be, that the fact that the Lord Jesus made or expressed his "will" to mankind, implied that he would die to confirm it; or that since in the ordinary mode of making a will, it was of force only when he who made it was dead, therefore it was necessary that the Redeemer should die, in order to confirm and ratify what he made. But the objections to this, which appears to have been the view of our translators, seem to me to be insuperable. They are these:
(1) the word διαθήκη diathēkē - "diatheke" - is not used in this sense in the New Testament elsewhere; see the remarks above.
(2) the Lord Jesus made no such will. He had no property, and the commandments and instructions which he gave to his disciples were not of the nature of a will or testament.
on Hebrews 9 :16
9:16 I say by means of death; for where such a covenant is, there must be the death of him by whom it is confirmed - Seeing it is by his death that the benefits of it are purchased. It seems beneath the dignity of the apostle to play upon the ambiguity of the Greek word, as the common translation supposes him to do.