Relevant Biblical Passages: Hebrews 8, 9, and 10
Jesus and the Covenant. Both Testaments in Scripture speak of a “new” covenant and an “old” one. And in every case, the new is lauded as good while the old is portrayed as something less than the ideal. Some have attempted to identify Jesus and the New Testament as the “new” covenant, the Old Testament as the “old.” Such an approach, however, overlooks the fact that the “new” covenant promise was given to Old Testament people in their day, long before Jesus ever appeared on the horizon.
Related to the attempt to identify Jesus and the New Testament as the “new” covenant is the tendency to link grace with the new, law with the old; freedom with the new, obedience with the old. A more wholesome and more biblical approach recognizes grace in both testaments and sees God’s ideal of obedience as flowing out of a grace-touched life, rather than as a means of earning God’s favor. In other words, obedience should be seen as the natural result of salvation, not the means of earning salvation.
Covenant contexts in Scripture. The major new covenant passage from Jeremiah 31:31-34 is quoted twice in Hebrews: 8:8-12 and 10:16-17. These passages clearly place the “new” covenant in the context of the “better” ministry of Jesus. Does Jesus’ ministry signal a replacement of the old or a renewal of the old? In both testaments, the biblical word “new” would often be better translated “renew,” and for two reasons: 1) God’s role in all covenant agreements is always portrayed as being faithful and consistent; 2) In all covenant contexts, “obedience” is expected as part of the covenant agreement.
Question: Are all God’s covenants essentially the same? Or is one of them the “real” covenant and all the others merely human distortions? The following contexts all feed into the discussion:
Gen. 15:18 God’s covenant with Abraham
Exod. 24:8: Blood of the Covenant presented at Sinai
24:9-11: They beheld God and ate and drank
31:18.: Two tablets of the covenant>
34:27-28: Ten commandments as covenant
Deut. 4:13-14 Ten Commandments as covenant
Jeremiah 31:31-34: New covenant
Question: How can Hebrews legitimately re-appropriate the language of “new covenant?” How can one read the book of Hebrews without getting the impression that the world had to wait until Jesus came in order to be right with God?