What does Hebrews 8:4 mean?
ESV: Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.
NIV: If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.
NASB: Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law;
CSB: Now if he were on earth, he wouldn't be a priest, since there are those offering the gifts prescribed by the law.
NLT: If he were here on earth, he would not even be a priest, since there already are priests who offer the gifts required by the law.
KJV: For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:
NKJV: For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law;
Verse Commentary:
In this passage, the writer of Hebrews is connecting the unique priesthood of Jesus to the superiority of the new covenant. In order to do that, prior verses pointed out that Jesus' service occurs in a superior place: a God-created heaven, rather than a man-made tabernacle (Hebrews 8:1–2). This points to the idea that the rituals and objects of the Old Testament were intended to be symbols of God's ultimate plan, not the ultimate plan themselves.

Here, the writer of Hebrews again alludes to Jesus' descent from the tribe of Judah. This is the tribe of kings, but not of priests. So, if Jesus were serving on earth, under the old covenant, He could not be a priest at all. And yet, as the writer has already mentioned, God has promised to bring a figure who is both king and priest (Psalm 110:4), part of a priesthood greater than that of Aaron (Hebrews 7:11–19).

This verse also uses a present-tense description of the Jewish priests bringing offerings according to the law. In the prior verse, this seems to be contrasted to Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice for sin. Here, however, it serves as part of a prophecy. According to this statement, the temple sacrifices were ongoing. Later in this chapter, the Old Testament system is said to be "passing away." In AD 70, after this letter was written, the temple was destroyed and the ability to offer gifts and sacrifices under the old covenant was lost (Hosea 3:4).
Verse Context:
Hebrews 8:1–6 foreshadows the idea that earthly things, such as the tabernacle, are meant to be symbols of heavenly things. In particular, Christ's role as priest is superior to the Old Testament system because it occurs in the ''true tent'' which God has arranged, rather than the earthly tent made by man. God's words to Moses prove this symbolic nature of the tabernacle. This also leads into a new reference from Jewish Scripture, proving that this was God's intention all along.
Chapter Summary:
Hebrews chapter 8 indicates that the temples, rituals, and objects of the old covenant were always meant to be symbolic. They were real, and valuable, but their ultimate worth was in their symbolism. Those were always intended by God to point towards a better covenant. Rather than something repetitive, earthly, and limited, God planned to offer something completed, personal, and eternal through Jesus Christ. As further proof of this, the writer of Hebrews offers yet another quotation from the Jewish Scriptures, this time from the prophet Jeremiah.
Chapter Context:
Hebrews chapter 8 builds on the points made in chapter 7. Jesus' service as High Priest is superior, since He is given a better position and serves in a better location than the priests of the Old Covenant. This chapter sets up the idea of earthly things being shadows of heavenly things, especially when it comes to the temple and sacrifices. This leads into the focus of chapter 9, which is the superiority of Christ's sacrifice compared to those of the Levitical system.
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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