Study Guide

Hebrews Old vs. New

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Old vs. New

When it comes to old stuff versus new stuff, it's no contest, right? You probably love texting way more than sending letters via Pony Express. iPhones. Google. Hyperloop. Yup. New things are the bomb. But then again, we do feel all warm and fuzzy inside every time we put ten dollars in our pockets and head over to the thrift shop. Vintage. Handmade. Artisan. Those things are pretty hip, too. And pretty old.

So which is better? Old things or new things?

New Lease on the Law

Back in the 1st century, Christians were still trying to figure out what it meant to believe in Jesus. Some folks felt pretty strongly that, since Jesus was Jewish, anyone who believed in him needed to also live by Jewish laws, customs, and traditions. For them, the old ways were good ways. Sure, God might be saying something new with Jesus, but that didn't mean that they were supposed to throw away all the golden oldies, right?

Folks like Paul the Apostle and the author of Hebrews totally disagree. They believe that God was doing something so different and so radical with Jesus that it meant that everything that came before it—laws, traditions, customs—was as outdated as a Commodore 64.

Basically, according to Hebrews, the old covenant that the Jewish people had with God was all right, but the new covenant that Jesus brings is pure awesomesauce:

  • "[Jesus] is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. (Hebrews 8:6)
  • "In speaking of 'a new covenant,' he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear." (Hebrews 8:13)
  • "He added, 'See, I have come to do your will.' He abolishes the first in order to establish the second." (Hebrews 10:9)
  • "Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant." (Hebrews 12:24)

In other words, it's out with the old and in with the new. This is why Christians today get to eat bacon and aren't required to be circumcised: the coming of Jesus did away with the need for all 613 Torah laws for Christians.

Oldie But Goodie

To be fair, if the author didn't like Jewish law at all, he probably wouldn't be quoting extensively from Jewish scripture and appealing to the listeners' love of Jewish law and customs. He's constantly name-checking Jewish patriarchs ,and he quotes directly from Genesis, Psalms, and Jeremiah (just to name a few). He even calls Jesus a Jewish high priest.

Really, he's not saying that Jewish laws were evil or wicked or anything like that. (Actually, all the stuff about not lying and murdering is probably still a good idea.) What he's saying is that the law just couldn't stop people from sinning:

  • "Now if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood […] what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising?" (Hebrews 7:11)
  • "For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one." (Hebrews 8:7)
  • "Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these." (Hebrews 9:23)
  • "Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach." (Hebrews 10:1)

According to Hebrews, God didn't hate the old ways. He just saw that it was time for a change. The covenant he had agreed on with the Jewish people wasn't working out like he thought it would, so he decided it was time to try something new. Who knew that the Almighty was so progressive?

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