What does Hebrews 7:23 mean?
ESV: The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office,
NIV: Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office;
NASB: The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing;
CSB: Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office.
NLT: There were many priests under the old system, for death prevented them from remaining in office.
KJV: And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:
NKJV: Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing.
Verse Commentary:
In these verses, the writer of Hebrews presents several areas in which the Old Testament priesthood was flawed, or limited. The purpose of these criticisms is not to say that the Old Covenant was wrong, or bad—it was part of God's plan to bring His people to faith in Christ (Galatians 3:19—4:7). However, that system cannot be seen as the ultimate, perfect fulfillment of our salvation. Prior verses mentioned that Levitical priests received their position by ancestry, not an oath. Jesus, on the other hand, is guaranteed His role by God (Hebrews 7:21). This, in and of itself, makes His covenant better than that of the law of Moses.

Verses 23 and 24 present another way in which the Old Testament priesthood is imperfect. The law of Moses required many priests and high priests, since those men were mortal. They could not serve as priests any longer than their natural lives. Sooner or later, death would stop them from continuing in their roles, meaning those tasks would need to be passed on to someone else. Jesus, on the other hand, possesses an "indestructible" life—an eternal existence—and so He can serve as a priest forever. This is exactly what God has promised, through the priestly order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4).
Verse Context:
Hebrews 7:11–28 expands on prior arguments related to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Here, the author shows how the priesthood of Jesus is superior to that of the Old Testament Law. This uses the figure of Melchizedek as a model. Christ's priesthood is sinless, perfect, unending, and decreed as such by God. The Levitical priesthood was temporary, flawed, imperfect, and could not last forever. This better promise, in Christ, is tied into the confidence we have as believers.
Chapter Summary:
When Abraham met with Melchizedek in the Old Testament, he honored him with tithes. This shows that Abraham recognized Melchizedek's superiority. Since the Old Covenant was flawed—based on limited priests and limited sacrifices—it is inferior to the priesthood of Melchizedek, which is unending. Jesus Christ fulfills God's promise to establish a priest ''forever'' in a way which perfectly meets our needs.
Chapter Context:
Chapters 5 and 6 detoured from the main theme in order to present a warning about faithlessness and apostasy. Chapter 7 returns to the topic of Melchizedek, who represents a mysterious but important moment in Old Testament history. Here, the author will show how Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, and that Melchizedek's priesthood is superior to the priesthood of Aaron. This leads into the next chapters, which show how Jesus Christ perfectly fulfills our salvation in ways which the Old Covenant cannot.
Book Summary:
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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