What Does Hebrews Really Say About “A New Covenant”?

I believe Hebrews has been misunderstood to a great extent, and in particular Hebrews 8. We are taught in most Christian churches that “the new covenant” means that all the law was laid down and replaced with Yeshua’s death on the cross. However, in contradiction to that, we are also taught that some elements of the law still apply while others do not. Sabbath need not be kept, but we should not murder as one example. One that always amazes me is Christians that teach all of the law is done away with and we have freedom to do what we will, but somehow the tithe is still in effect (despite the temple and the Levitical priesthood being eliminated). There are inherent contradictions in most Christian teaching, not because God’s word is wrong, but because Christians do not understand it and really test what they are told by men against what God’s word really says.

The context of Hebrews 8 is best understood if we look back into Hebrews 7 first. Hebrews 7 speaks about the new covenant, but focuses clearly on articulating it in regards to Yeshua replacing the Levitical priests. More specifically, the focus is on the role of the priest in offering sacrifices on our behalf for atonement of sin. That is the entirety of the scope of the letter in Hebrews 7 and 8.

Hebrews 7:18-28

18For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19(for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. 20And inasmuch as it was not without an oath

21(for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him,
“THE LORD HAS SWORN
AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND,
‘YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER’”);

22so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.

      23The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

      26For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

When we start reading Hebrews 8, about a new covenant replacing an old one, remember the context of Hebrews 7 leading into Hebrews 8. It is focused specifically on sacrifices offered for atonement of sin and on the priest who offers it. This is the element which is being transitioned from the old covenant to the new covenant, not a laying down of all things in the law.

He even says in verse 10 that he will write his laws into their hearts and minds. He does not say he is writing new laws. He does not say he is laying down all the old laws. He is (through the Holy Spirit) helping us by giving us more of a mind and heart to know and follow his laws. If I write a law on a piece of paper, it does not imply I changed it, but quite the opposite that I copied what already existed somewhere else. It is the same in this verse. This letter does not declare that the law has changed with exception to the specifics around the priest and the sacrifice for atonement to sin.

Hebrews 8

A Better Ministry

      1Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. 3For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. 4Now 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; 5who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “SEE,” He says, “THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN.” 6But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

A New Covenant

      7For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.

8For finding fault with them, He says,
“BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD,
WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT
WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH;

      9NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS
ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND
TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT;
FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT,
AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD.

      10“FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL
AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD:
I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS,
AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS.
AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD,
AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.

      11“AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN,
AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, ‘KNOW THE LORD,’
FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME,
FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM.

      12“FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES,
AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE.”

13When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

Reflect carefully on what Hebrews actually says and what it does not. Many take this out of context and use it as cause to lay down God’s laws and instructions rather than indeed writing them further into our minds and hearts so we would obey more completely and joyfully.

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