I am resuming my Hebrews study in 5:1-10 with Peter T. O’Brien and John Owen as my aides. What has struck me most so far about Owen is his concern for application. The structure of his presentation is a bit different from many modern commentaries. First, he goes through the verse and analyzes its grammar, syntax, and flow of thought (interacting with Greek, Syriac, and Latin manuscripts – pretty amazing for his times!). Not a word is missed in this section: he is meticulous and scrutinizing the contours of the text. Then Owen goes through the same verse all over again and makes theological and practical observations. In many commentaries, this second stage is lumped in with the first, or in some cases (especially with seemingly impractical verses) by-passed altogether. But I love how Owen keeps them separate. Take Hebrews 5:1 for instance:
“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”
Most commentators and readers would not pause too much for application here. The bulk of time would be spent noting how 5:1 connects with the book’s overall flow of thought and making a few exegetical observations. Owen, by contrast, after addressing these issues, proceeds to make 9 practical observations about how we see the gospel through this verse. He talks about the incarnation, and how comforting it is that Christ became like us as our priest. He talks about how terrible sin is that it should require “gifts and sacrifices,” which he unpacks in terms of old covenant ritual. He talks about how gracious of God it was to send typical prefigures to Christ throughout the old covenant dispensation. He discusses the indissoluble relationship of priest and sacrifice, and how Jesus Christ was both priest and sacrifice at the same time. He talks about the absolute perfection of the blood of Jesus Christ which makes all further sacrifice and priesthood unnecessary and even inappropriate. He unpacks the nature of Christ’s sacrifice and uses terms like atonement, propitiation, and reconciliation. He marvels at how faithfully and excellently Christ has performed these duties appointed to him by the Father. And so so and so forth – all this wonderfully rich application from such a small and seemingly impractical verse!
For me, this is what makes Owen so incredibly valuable as a commentator – despite his difficult language and at times dizzying organization of thought, Owen has a constant concern to apply the text to the heart in a gospel-centered way. If I were a pastor preaching through Hebrews, I would think Owen would not only help me understand the text better: he would teach me how to preach it.