Monday, November 12, 2012

Hebrews 8

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Jesus, High Priest of a  Better Covenant (v. 1-13)

Jesus is the high priest, presiding from heaven where things are perfect and God-made rather than on Earth where things are man-made. The old priests served only a shadow of the heavenly things, where Jesus actually serves us from heaven. The covenant of Jesus is superior to the old covenant as it is enacted upon better promises, for if the old covenant had been faultless there would have been no reason to look for a better one.

So the message here is 'my new religion is better than your old religion'. I don't have anything to add here.

The old testament is quoted (although I'm assuming the quote isn't quite right, as this seems to be the norm) for evidence that the old covenant is imperfect. v8 mentions that new covenants will be established with the houses of Israel and Judah.

That is actually interesting, if God mentioned that he would establish new covenants back in the OT it does seem to imply an imperfection with the old covenant. I wonder what the actual intention of those original verses was.

v.9 God declares that the descendants of the people leaving Egypt didn't continue the covenant, so God shows no concern for them.

So much for a God who cares about everyone. How could this possibly be an all loving God?

I looked through a handful of commentaries here but no one really addressed this issue. They either ignored it completely or focused on some nuance in the translation. Even giving the benefit of the doubt as much as I could imagine, I still think this point comes through. God decided if they weren't going to pay attention to him, he would ignore them right back. Really doesn't sound like a loving God to me.

God's covenant with Israel is that he will write his law on their hearts and minds. In speaking of the new covenant he makes the old one obsolete.

This idea is something I see a lot when arguing with people about morality. If God is necessary for morality how can atheists be moral? Well, you have God's law written on your heart!

Guzik says that this means that the new covenant features transforming someone from the inside out instead of through application of external laws. I actually like this interpretation. I'm not sure I completely agree with the interpretation though from the text itself. If God is writing his law into your brain he is still applying an external law, he's just using mind control to do it.

v.12 "I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more"

I'm not really sure what to make of this. I guess the key here is to answer the question of who is being referred to here. One reading makes it sound like everyone, because God is writing his law on their hearts. Perhaps we are talking about everyone in Israel, as we are talking about the house of Israel. I would guess the most reasonable interpretation though, would be all Christians, because those are the people whose sins are forgiven. But this declaration seems to be coupled with the idea of God's law being written on your heart and mind, so does that mean that only Christians have his law written on their heart?

For the overview post (If you think I should add or remove stuff from this list please let me know, I think it would make good conversation)


8:9 God does not love everyone

"...For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord."


  1. Hi Hausdorff. To start off, the parallel of Heaven and earth is particularly interesting because it could be showing the influence of some Greek theology which also held the (Platonic?) belief that there were perfected structures in Heaven which had earthly copies below.

    In my opinion, you are right to think there is something odd about the OT. I believe it is taken out of context. It comes from Jeremiah 31:31-34. It appears to me that this is all part of the same set of prophesies which were intended to represent what would occur once the Israelites (Jews) returned from their Babylonian exile. That picture becomes clearer when you read Jeremiah 31.

    It is also my opinion that the prophesies represent this "new" covenant as essentially the same as the old one. Heck, if you got a chance to read my post on the Law, you may remember that according to Deuteronomy 30:11-14, God's Law was in people's hearts at the start of the first covenant.

    So what is "new" about it is two-fold:
    1) It's a fresh start, with the past sins forgotten.
    2) This time around, God is going to play a more active role to prevent the Jews from going astray. Depending on which particular prophesy you look at, this could mean (like here) placing the Law in people's hearts so that they always obey it, and/or that God will personally punish of anyone in the populous who does evil (such as in Isaiah 1:24-31, Ezekiel 34:17-24, Zephaniah 3:9-13).

    And, yes, God did turn His back on Israel for awhile, on purpose, if you believe the text.

    1. Thanks for the reference, I looked at Jeremiah 31 and it seems that God wants to make a new covenant because the people broke the old one. He also says the thing about writing it on their heart instead of teaching it to one another. Although I suppose if people broke it because it wasn't written on their hearts and teaching doesn't really work, it does show that the old covenant was imperfect. Another thought here, Hebrews refers to "the old covenant", but looking back at Jeremiah it seems there were a bunch of old covenants, did God go around making covenants with people all the time? Or did the one mentioned in Jeremiah not come about in the OT?

      Although you also said that in Deuteronomy it was written on their hearts when it says (in Jeremiah and in Hebrews) that the old ones don't work because they have to teach it to each other, is that accurately referring to anything, or is it just revisionist history trying to explain why it didn't work last time? I think maybe I've confused myself here.

    2. "Or did the one mentioned in Jeremiah not come about in the OT?"
      Indeed, that's the key issue. There were several prophesies which indicated that after the Jews returned from their Babylonian exile, they would live happily-ever-after in the land of Israel. The prophesies also included bits about an anointed leader (a.k.a. a Messiah) for that time, who would kick off an ever-lasting dynasty of righteous rulers. But it didn't work out that way. That opened it up for re-interpretation that the happily-ever-after time would come later. With the various religious indignities and offenses they experience under Roman ruling, they were sure that the end was near, and those prophesies would soon be fulfilled. Enter Jesus...

      " that accurately referring to anything, or is it just revisionist history trying to explain why it didn't work last time?"
      The thing is that with the first covenant, it only started in their hearts. And by "their," that refers to the people who were alive at that particular time. The next generation had to be taught about God from their parents.

      With this new covenant, God is essentially promising to be the teacher, or at least promising to make that teaching stick. But the important thing to note is that this is not intended to be altogether different. The same Law was going to be placed into effect. It's just that God was going to help ensure that it worked this time.

    3. That's really interesting that originally it is only the original people who had it written on their hearts.

      "The same Law was going to be placed into effect."
      But it's not completely the same law, for example, all of the sacrifice stuff has been taken out. Is everything else the same? Or is the sacrifice stuff not counted as part of the law or something?

    4. Well, a funny thing happened on the way through the OT prophesies... they were ignored. Not only were sacrifices prophesied to continue, but God went into detailed description of what the new, eternal Temple would be like where those sacrifices would take place. You can start reading in Ezekiel 40 for yourself, or read my less-painful summarized version here.

      The best they can do is point to Daniel 9:20-27, and in particular Daniel 9:27, where there is a line about putting an end to sacrifices. But they yank it so far out of context that even within the same verse, the person responsible for ending the sacrifices is also going to set up an abomination in the sacred Temple! This is anything but the Messiah! Besides, you've got multiple chapters in Ezekiel, plus lots of other sacrifice references, versus just this one verse in Daniel saying that they would end. Which is more likely to be correct?

    5. I'm not sure I completely understood your ezekiel reference, does it say somewhere in the verses that the temple was supposed to be eternal, or that the sacrifices would go on forever? I didn't see that, although I only read your summary and did some quick page find's of the text, didn't dig through that giant block of verses :)

      as for daniel 9:27, if I'm reading it right, it also seems to say he'll only put an end to sacrifices for half of a week.

      One last question, when you linked me to your ezekiel page, you sent me down the page to ch 40, how did you do that?

    6. I love your commentary TWF. I feel like I've learned a lot based on the stuff you've talked about. I've even added a lot of notes to my bible. I think what bother's me about the new commandment stuff is why God didn't get it right the first time if he's perfect?

    7. Jkerber,

      That's just the old testament that says he's perfect, you can't trust that :P.

      And I agree with you about TWF, the day he found my blog was definitely a good day for me :), if you like his commentary make sure you check out his blog as well.

  2. I too would be interested to know what the OT stated. TWF sheds some light on it--things are often taken out of context. I know that many historians have pointed out that the prophecies that Jesus was said to fulfill, did not actually apply in any way to him and were also taken out of context. This is mind boggling to hard can it be to write something today about something I predicted yesterday?

    1. Yeah, it makes me think of Nostradamus, or even the likes of silvia brown. Just make a whole bunch of predictions every year and some will hit. Imagine if we wanted to write a history of her career in a good light, we could only report the things that came true and make it look like she had huge predictive power. We wouldn't even have to lie, every correct prediction we attribute to her would be correct and legitimate, it's just not impressive when put next to all of the failures, so we wouldn't mention them.


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