James Hastings Dictionary of the NT: Aaron (2)

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James Hastings Dictionary of the NT: Aaron (2)


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AARON.—The name occurs only 5 times in the NT. Three of the passages contain historical references only: Luk_1:5 where Elisabeth is described as ‘of the daughters of Aaron’; Act_7:40 which refers to the request of the Israelites that Aaron would ‘make them gods’; and Heb_9:4 ‘Aaron’s rod that budded.’ The other two passages refer to Aaron’s office as high priest, and are directly concerned with the Christian doctrine of the priesthood of Christ. In Heb_5:4 we read, ‘And no man taketh the honour unto himself, but when he is called of God, even as was Aaron’; and Heb_7:11 speaks of another priest after the order of Melchizedek, who should ‘not be reckoned after the order of Aaron.’ It is as the representative high priest that Aaron has been regarded as a type of Christ.

The two points on which the writer of Hebrews insists are, one of comparison, and one of contrast. On the one hand, Christ, like Aaron, did not take His priestly office on Himself, but was directly appointed by God (Heb_5:5); on the other, the Aaronic type of priesthood is sharply distinguished from that of our Lord in certain fundamental respects. Christ was indeed divinely appointed: He was prepared for service, in being made like His brethren (Heb_2:17), and fitted by His sympathy (Heb_4:15) and fidelity to undertake priestly work on their behalf; through His death on the cross He offered Himself as a sacrifice, apparently on earth and certainly in heaven as a temple not made with hands (Heb_9:24); He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him as priest, seeing He ever lives to make priestly intercession for them (Heb_7:25). Thus far He was Aaron’s antitype. But the analogy fails most seriously in certain important features, as the writer of Hebrews shows. Christ’s priesthood was not according to the Law. If He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, springing as He did from Judah, not from Levi (Heb_7:14). He did not hold His office in virtue of earthly descent, nor was He limited to an earthly sanctuary, nor did He present to God a sin-offering which could be, or needed to be, frequently repeated (Heb_9:24 f.). None of the sacrifices of the Law could ‘make perfect as pertaining to the conscience’ (Heb_9:9). At best they procured only a limited access to God. Into the holiest place the high priest was permitted to enter only once a year, and then in virtue of sacrifices offered for his own sins, as well as the people’s (Heb_9:7). Christ’s priesthood was ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (Heb_6:20), eternal: His sacrifice was a spiritual one, offered once for all; it is impossible to think of the repetition on earth of that offering which ‘through (the) eternal Spirit’ (Heb_9:14) our glorified High Priest presents continually in ‘a more perfect tabernacle’ (Heb_9:11) in heaven itself, for us. He was made a priest, not according to any legal enactment belonging to earth and finding its expression in the flesh; but dynamically, according to the enduring power of an indissoluble life (Heb_7:16).

Thus Christ may well be spoken of as the second Adam, but not as a second Aaron. The lines of Bishop Wordsworth’s hymn, ‘Now our heavenly Aaron enters, Through His blood within the veil,’ can be defended only in so far as the name Aaron is synonymous with high priest. The personal name suggests just those limitations which the generic name avoids, and which the writer of Hebrews expressly warns us must on no account be attributed to our great High Priest who has passed into the heavens. So far as the doctrine of Christ is concerned, it is well to follow Scripture usage and to speak of Him as our Eternal High Priest, rather than to press an analogical or typical relation to Aaron, which fails at many cardinal points.

Literature.—For the further discussion of the subject see Westcott and A. B. Davidson on Hebrews, especially the detached note of the latter on the Priesthood of Christ; also Milligan’s Baird Lectures on The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord, and the art. of Dr. Denney on ‘Priesthood in NT’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , vol. iv.

W. T. Davison.