From Feast upon the Word (http://feastupontheword.org). Copyright, Feast upon the Word.
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 Lexical notes
 Verse 2
- "have compassion on": The Greek term translated “have compassion on” is “metriopathein.” It does not appear anywhere else in the New Testament. It does pop up, however, as a technical term in Stoic philosophy where it is defined as the proper mean between passion and lack of feeling.
Verses 1-5 offer a commentary on the office of a high priest. The author is setting up a contrast between the earthly high priest of the temple and Christ as a cosmic high priest. He starts by talking about the high priest strictly in terms of his liturgical function. He is ordained to perform particular ordinances: gifts and sacrifices for sins. The sacrifice for sins is particularly important. It references the high priest’s role in the expiation of the sins of the nation. In this role, the high priest is a mediator between man and God, a role that the author also places Christ in.
 Verse 2
The author now moves away from the formal understanding of the high priest’s role to a more humane understanding. It is the priest’s weakness – “compassed with infirmity” – that gives him compassion on the sinfulness of the people. Notice that this creates another parallel with Christ, who is referred to in Heb 4:15 as “touched with the feelings of our infirmities” and “tempted like we are”.
 Verse 3
This verse sets up a contrast between Christ and the high priest. Whereas the mortal high priest makes an offering for his sins and the sins of the people, Christ is without sin. In a sense, we see Christ as a purification of the high priest, carrying his understanding and compassion for weakness and sinfulness but not his sinfulness itself.
"And by reason hereof . . .": That is, by reason of the high priest's infirmity (v. 2).
". . . he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.": The high priest should make an offering for his own sins (cf. Lev 16:6 and Lev 16:11) as well as for the sins of the people (cf. Lev 16:15).
 Verses 4-5
This is a favorite Mormon proof text for the necessity of priesthood ordination. In context, what is interesting is the extent to which the author sees being called from something beyond oneself as important. The virtue of the high priest lies not only in his compassion and sacrifice, but also in his passivity: he does not reach for the office; it is bestowed upon him. In the very next verse this idea is expanded upon with reference to Christ who “glorified not himself to be made an high priest” (v. 5). The Revised Standard Version translates this language from verse 5 as “he did not confer on himself the glory of becoming high priest.” The meaning is subtly different, as it suggests not an absence of glory in being high priest – it is indeed a glory – but rather that it was not taken up for its own sake.
The virtue of passivity—of receiving the glory of the high priesthood rather than taking it—that is emphasized in these verses contrasts with the exhortation in Heb 4:16, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” The tension cannot be avoided by arguing that the grace spoken of is wholly different than the glory of the high priesthood. The reason is that coming to the throne of grace is about entering the presence of God to receive mercy. Yet this is precisely the office of the high priesthood alluded to in verse 1. The sin offering was brought by the high priest into the presence of God—the Holy of Holies—on the Day of Atonement. In a sense, the exhortation of 4:16 is an exhortation to perform a priestly function.
One possible answer is that salvation through Christ is ultimately being conceptualized as a kind of temple-related priesthood. Or rather, the temple and priesthood are being offered as a model—and enactment—of salvation through Christ. At this point the exegesis admittedly becomes quite speculative (perhaps a strong misreading in Harold Bloom's terms), but the exortation in 4:16 may be an invitation for the believers themselves to become priests, entering in the the Holy of Holies of the temple, a place from which they were categorically excluded under the law of Moses. In other words, the assertiveness called for in 4:16 is a new understanding of temple worship, from the passivity of the old service, where a single priest was chosen to enter symbolically into God's presence, with the rest of the nation passively looking on, to a new service were all believers are invited to put aside the awe and horror associated with entry into God's presence, and couragously go beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies. At this point, there is a uniquely LDS twist on the interpretation of Hebrews. Traditionally, Christians have interpreated the references to the "Melchisedec" priesthood of Christ in spiritual, metaphorical, and cosmic terms. The Restoration, however, suggests a much more literal reading, namely that the priesthood is actually confered on individuals who then use it to recieve their temple endowments and enter -- symbolically, like the Levitical high priest -- the presence of God. In other words, we are invited to boldly go where in the past only the one chosen high priest of Israel could go: ritually into the presence of God.
Another possibility is that boldly (parrhesia) in "come boldly unto the throne of God" is not mean to suggest an assertiveness in approaching God that stands in contrast to the passivity recommended in these verses. Instead boldly in 4:16 may be better understood to mean openly, frankly, i.e., without concealment. In that view, instead of interpreting 4:16 as a suggestion, for example, that we should boldly march to the temple, 4:16 counsels us to open ourselves to God as we approach his throne. This intepretation makes 4:16 a natural continuation of the ideas about God discerning thoughts and intents in 4:12 and having "all things . . . naked and opened" unto him in 4:13.
On this view, there is not so much a tension between passivity and assertiveness, rather the passivity in being called of God is one facet of a broader submission to and unity with God that we should strive for by also "hold[ing] fast our profession" of God (4:14), relating to God's infirmities (4:15), opening ourselves to God (4:16), offering prayers to God (5:7), and learning and suffering like God (5:8).
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