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Hebrews 7-10: The Old Law Has Been Replaced by the New Testament (or New Law) 

by Michael Bugg

The book of Hebrews is concerned with the Torah only in regards to the sacrificial service.  Furthermore, the Greek words used indicate a movement of the priesthood and Torah, not a wholesale abrogation, and the actual promise of the New Covenant is that the Torah would be written on our hearts by the Spirit, not that the Torah would be done away with or replaced by a "new law."  Those who try to read such a meaning into this passage must interpret it in such a way that Hebrews is actually contradictory to the rest of Scripture, which would cast doubt on its canonicity.  Only by interpreting Hebrews in such a way that it compliments rather than contradicts the rest of Scripture do we preserve the integrity of the whole.

We have already established elsewhere that while it is definitely a teaching of the Bible that the Old Covenant (specifically, the Mosaic Covenant; cf. Jer. 31:31) has been replaced by a New (or Renewed) Covenant, this does not require that the Torah be replaced by a “New Law” as well.  This can be further demonstrated by at least two illustrations:

  1. When Moses descended from Mt. Sinai to see the golden calf, he shattered the tablets of the covenant containing the Ten Words to symbolize that Israel had broken their covenant with G-d by their idolatry.  When G-d forgave Israel that sin, He had Moses inscribe a second set of tablets to symbolize the restoration of the covenant—but the commandments remained the same.
  2. Likewise, when Moses re-established the covenant with the second generation of the Exodus after the first, disobedient generation had passed away, but the commands of the covenant remained the same, though with some amendments due to the upcoming change in circumstances (that is, of entering the Land; e.g., Deu. 12:15 vs. Lev. 17:3f).

The last is important, because it sets the precedent that G-d (though no one else; Deu. 12:32) may amend the Torah when there is a change of circumstances without annulling or exchanging the whole—think “Constitutional amendment.”  Thus, when Heb. 7:12 speaks of a change (Gr. metatitheimi, a movement, not a wholesale exchange of one for another; cf. Acts 7:16, Gal. 1:6, Heb. 11:5) of the priesthood and a change of the Torah (metathesis, again indicating movement), this can be understood as an amendment which transfers the High Priesthood from the tribe of Aaron to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. 

This does not, by the way, indicate a complete end of the Levitical priesthood, as this would violate God’s promises (Num. 25:13, Jer. 33:17-22); there were many priests under the High Priest, who will one day return to rule a restored Temple (Ezk. 40-48).  A further change in circumstances (the Second Coming) will result in another transference.  It is usually objected that such sacrifices would have no purpose and would simply undermine the Cross, but Hebrews is clear that sacrifices, even after the cross, have the purpose of ritual purification (9:13) and to serve as a remembrance of sins (10:3), and by extension, a remembrance of the One who took away our sins.

Since Hebrews is focused solely on the subject of the Temple service and the sacrifices, and since the key words used indicate a transference, a movement, and not a wholesale change in the Torah, it cannot legitimately be used to advocate the complete removal of the Torah in favor of some “new law.”  As Albert Barnes (Notes) writes on Heb. 7:12,

The connection requires us to understand it only of the Law “so far as it was connected with the Levitical priesthood.” This could not apply to the ten commandments - for they were given before the institution of the priesthood . . .

Neither could it be applied to the Feastdays—both Passover and the Sabbath were given before the priesthood, and all of the Feasts had elements that were completely independent of the Temple service which can still be (and are) observed—or to wearing tzitzit (tassels), circumcision of Jewish children (cf. Acts 21:21f), the agricultural commandments, kosher, releasing debts, or numerous other commandments which the Church today considers part of the “old law.”  In fact, Sha’ul actually commands the Corinthians to keep the Passover (1 Co. 5:8) and draws a teaching (more specifically, a kal v’ chomer, or a fortiori argument) from an obscure agricultural command (1 Co. 5:9, 1 Ti. 5:18).  The author of Hebrews (possibly Sha’ul) also restates the command to keep the Sabbath on the seventh day, and the decision of Acts 15 assumes that the Gentiles would continue to observe the Sabbath by coming to synagogue. 

So when Heb. 10:9 says, “He takes away the first in order to establish the second,” we have to look carefully at what is taken away and replaced.  The whole Torah?  This is not supported by the context, which is focused solely on the sacrificial system:  In fact, it would be utterly inconsistent with the quotation of Psalm 40:6 in v. 5, as the psalm goes on to say (v. 8), “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law (Torah) is within my heart."

Therefore, it is one sacrificial system which the Holy One takes away to establish a second:  That which was formerly conducted by fallible (and even outright corrupt, in the time the NT was written) human priests, offering only the blood of animals, which could never truly take away sin (Heb. 10:4) has been replaced by an Eternal High Priest who has by His one sacrifice forever redeemed us. 

God does not delight in sacrifices and offerings, because sacrifice was something done after one had disobeyed His commandments:  “Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams’” (2 Sa. 15:22).  He would rather that we keep His Torah, bearing it in our hearts, than to require any sacrifice, least of all the sacrifice of His Son, but because of our sin and His love, He has given us the grace of the Sacrifice as well.



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