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This article contains some notes on certain matters in connection with the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Examples of questions that are considered here: Who were under the Old Covenant – the nation Israel only, or the whole world as some have claimed? What was there, before the Old Covenant was made? Also: Many bible-translations contain wordings which make it seem that the Sinaitic covenant was to be “everlasting” – is that correct? Further: What was “the law that was added 430 years later” (Galatians 3:17–19)?
The root of the word “covenant” is found in the Latin noun conventio which meant “a meeting”, “an agreement”. (The Latin verb convenio meant “to come together”, “to come to an agreement”.) In short: A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties.
In the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the word for “covenant” is beriyth which could refer to such things as “alliance”, “treaty”, “pledge”, “agreement”. The Septuagint version (LXX) translates that Hebrew word into Greek as diathêkê which has a similar meaning. Also the Greek text of the New Testament uses that word.
The phrases “the Old Testament” and “the New Testament” are really mistranslations that came into existence along with the Latin Vulgate version. Clarification: The practical meaning of the old Latin noun testamentum was “a last will”. In contrast to that, the Hebrew and Greek words in the relevant OT and NT passages mostly refer to a covenant.
A note: In the NT, some bible-translators have not been consistent but have rendered the Greek word diathêkê sometimes as “covenant” and sometimes as “testament”. The correct wordings are “the Old Covenant” and “the New Covenant”. – Some translators have used other words, such as “agreement”.
In connection with the matter of the two covenants, old and new, it is good to keep in mind that the book called Old Testament is not the same as the Old Covenant, nor is the book called New Testament the same as the New Covenant. (The OT contains many references to the New Covenant. Likewise, many NT passages refer to the Old Covenant.)
The book-names “Old Testament” and “New Testament” were invented by the Catholics. They began to use the Latin phrases veterum testamentum and novum testamentum, “old testament” and “new testament”.
The Jews view the book which we call “the Old Testament”, as consisting of three sections, Torah, Neviim and Kethuvim. That has then been translated into English as “the Law”, “the Prophets” and “the Writings”. Those section names are used even in the New Testament, for instance in this passage:
Acts 28:17 And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together […] 23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. (AKJV, highlighting added)
That passage means that the apostle used the books of the Old Testament, for teaching those Jews about Jesus and the New Covenant.
In the NT, the phrase “the Law” often refers to the five books of Moses, but not always. Sometimes, it refers to the Old Covenant.
Indeed, the Old Covenant which was between the Lord and the ancient Israelites, was similar to a marriage-relationship, and so is even the New Covenant. Those who have read all of the Bible, may have noticed that several scriptures refer to this.
A marriage, and the contract or agreement attached to it, is something that both parties mutually agree upon, and are then bound by. By Mount Sinai, the Lord did not force anything on the Israelites. It was only after they had given their consent to the covenant which he was proposing (see Exodus 19:8 below), that he spoke the “words of the covenant, the ten words” (those that are recorded in Exodus 20).
Exodus 19:7 And Moses came and sent for the chiefs of the people and put before them all these words which the Lord had given him orders to say. 8 And all the people, answering together, said, Whatever the Lord has said we will do. And Moses took back to the Lord the words of the people. (BBE)
And, it was only after the Israelites had two more times given their consent to the proposed covenant, see Exodus 24:3 and 7, that they became united with him in that covenant – which was in many ways similar to a marriage. The Lord became the “husband” of the nation Israel; again, multiple bible-passages refer to this.
A New Testament (New Covenant) parallel is that the saints [a] were betrothed to Jesus and were waiting for the “wedding feast”.
A marriage-covenant is an agreement or contract which regulates the relationship between the two parties. Some say that in some old Jewish customs, a marriage was not considered to be a marriage until a contract had been made, regarding the rights and duties of both the man and the woman, (the bridegroom and the bride, the husband and the wife).
There were also promises, and a pledge (at betrothal). There are some notes on these things, a bit later.
a In this article, the word “saints” refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in the first century.
Let us consider something the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth. Please read this scripture-quote, point for point, slowly and with thought:
2 Corinthians 3: […] 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8 how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10 Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; 11 for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory! (NRSV)
That passage is easy and clear, as such. But, many people have been subjected to confusing dogmas which have made it hard for them to see what the apostle was actually saying.
Some dogmas contain such concepts as “the letter of the law” and “the spirit of the law”, and claim that Paul was talking about “literal” and “spiritual” applications of the rules of the Old Covenant. But, as you can see, those passages do not contain such phrases. Nor are they found in any other part of the Bible, except in some few misleading translations. Clarification:
In the above-quoted 2 Corinthians 3:6–11, the expression “the letter” refers to the Old Covenant and its rules – verse 6, “the letter kills”, and verse 7, “the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets”. The phrase “the Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant – verse 6, “the Spirit gives life”. For more on this, see the article nca110.htm.
A note: The above-quoted NRSV has in verse 9 “the ministry of justification”. The Greek text has dikaiosunê (cf. dikaios, “just”, and dikaioô, “to justify”). That word could refer to justness (“righteousness”), but it is quite clear that in this case, the apostle used it in the meaning “justification” (as opposed to condemnation, same verse).
Important: That passage and matter must not be misunderstood. The saints were “justified”, the meaning being that through Jesus’ sacrifice, their sins were forgiven. But, they were not to continue in sin. The New Testament shows that much more was expected of the saints who were under the New Covenant, in the way of just, righteous living, than was demanded of the Israelites when they were under the Old Covenant. – Those who are led by the Holy Spirit, will live in a just, righteous manner.
Once again: The Scriptures do not contain any such phrases or concepts as “spirit of the law” or “letter of the law”. When the apostle wrote “the letter” (2 Corinthians 3:6 and Romans 7:6), he referred to the Old Covenant with its rules. With the phrase “the Spirit” (same verses), he referred to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant.
The article nca110.htm contains a more detailed study on that matter.
There is a custom to always translate the Hebrew noun torah in the OT into English as “law”. In the case of some passages, that has led to confusion and misunderstandings. It can be good to know that the literal meaning of the old Hebrew word torah was “guidance”, “instruction”. ‘Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament’ by Harris, Archer and Waltke states,
The word tôrâ means basically ‘teaching’ whether it is the wise man instructing his son or God instructing Israel.
Jeremiah 31:33 is one of the passages in question. In that verse, the below-quoted NLT04 correctly translates the word torah according to its literal meaning, “instruction”.
Jeremiah 31:31 “The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. 33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” (NLT04, highlighting added)
Point: The Lord was not talking about writing the Old Covenant or its law-code in men’s inner being. No, he was talking about the Holy Spirit, as the New Covenant’s “writing”. The New Covenant is written, “not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NRSV). The article nca060.htm has more on this.
The word “decalogue” comes from the Greek text of the Septuagint version (LXX). It has in Exodus 34:28 the phrase tous deka logous, “the ten words”. That is a correct translation of the Hebrew text. It talks about “the words of the covenant, the ten words”, Exodus 34:28, or simply “ten words”, Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4. (The English wording “the ten commandments” which came into use in the Middle Ages, is in fact a mistranslation.)
The actual “ten words” are recorded in Exodus 20, but it is in Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4 that they are given a “name”. Here is the first of those three passages, as the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation has it:
Exodus 34:28 And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words. (JPS1917, highlighting added)
Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4 contain a shorter form, “the ten words” (JPS1917).
Those “words of the covenant, the ten words” were an integral and inseparable part of the covenant that was made by Mount Sinai.
The article nca050.htm has more on the Decalogue.
And again, the New Covenant is written,
“not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NRSV).
The article nca060.htm has some notes on the Holy Spirit as the New Covenant’s “writing”.
Some writers have caused people to believe that Galatians 3:17–19 means that the Old Covenant is still in force, “except for some later added rituals”. But what was actually added, and when? Let us take a closer look at those verses, with some of their context.
Galatians 3:15 Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. 19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. (NASB77)
The word “covenant” in verses 15 and 17 refers to the covenant which the Lord made with Abraham, including the promises.
The phrase “the Law” in verses 17 and 19 refers to the Old Covenant which was made 430 years later.
(In the Bible, the phrase “the Law” has different uses and meanings. Often, it refers to the five books of Moses, but sometimes, as here in Galatians 3:17 and 19, it refers to the Old Covenant.)
If you read all of the above-quoted verses 15–19, you perhaps noticed that there was a previously ratified covenant between the Lord and Abraham, a binding agreement with promises which could not be nullified by later things. And that later, something was “added”, because of transgressions. That addition (“the Law which came four hundred and thirty years later”, verse 17) was simply the Old Covenant. But, it was only a temporary arrangement which was to last “until the Offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (verse 19). That is, until Jesus came. Here are verses 16 and 19:
Galatians 3:16 Now it was to Abraham that the promises were spoken, and to his offspring. God did not say, “offsprings” as if speaking of many, but “and to your offspring,” as of one; and this is Christ. […] 19 To what purpose, then, was the Law? It was imposed later for the sake of transgressions, until the “Offspring” should come to whom the promise had been made. It was arranged through angels by the hand of a mediator. (CT)
Those verses refer to Jesus who is the prophesied offspring (descendant) of Abraham. When he came and then made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, it became possible to launch the New Covenant. When that happened, the added temporary thing (the Old Covenant) had served its purpose and was set aside. – The apostle Paul continued, writing from the viewpoint of a Jew who had been under the Old Covenant:
Galatians 3:23 Before the Faith came we were perpetual prisoners under the Law, in preparation for the destined faith about to be revealed. 24 So the Law has been our tutor-slave our pedagogue to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith; 25 but now that the Faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor-slave. (CT)
Regarding the word “tutor-slave”, verses 24 and 25: The Greek text has paidagôgos. A pais or paidion was a child; an agôgos was a guide. In the old Greek culture, a paidagôgos was often a slave who was used for rearing children. But when the children grew up and matured, they were no longer under the tutor-slave. And yes, the apostle was using metaphors. He likened the Old Covenant to such a tutor. The Jewish saints had in the past been under that tutor (the Old Covenant), but now they were not that any longer.
The article nca080.htm has more on Galatians 3 and the matter of the “added law”. Even verse 21 and its translation and meaning is considered there.
Many bible-translators have rendered the Hebrew word olam as “for ever” or something similar. This has led to many misunderstandings, especially in connection with the matter of the two covenants, old and new. Many people have been caused to think that the Old Covenant was to be “everlasting”. But, a closer study of the Old Testament shows that the old Hebrew word in question, olam, did not mean “for ever” but simply “a long time”, either past or future.
It is said that the word olam was related to the verb alam which apparently meant something like “to conceal”, “to hide” (such as, “to hide from sight”). It might be that the idiomatic meaning of olam was “of long duration, so that the end of the matter cannot be seen” (on the relatively short human point of view).
Those who study the use of the word olam in the Hebrew OT text in more depth, will find that it did not mean “for ever” the way that English concept is understood today. When olam was used of past events or past time, the meaning was something like “since the days of old”, and when it was used of ongoing or coming things, it meant “a long time into the future”.
For instance the NAS Hebrew dictionary defines the meaning of olam simply as “long duration, antiquity, futurity”.
The article nca130.htm has more on the word olam.
A note: Many or perhaps most of the things that are mentioned in Old Testament passages where the Hebrew text has olam, came to their end a long time ago.
Through Moses, the Lord said to the ancient Israelites:
Leviticus 20:26 And you are to be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy and have made you separate from the nations, so that you may be my people. (BBE)
When those Israelites made by Mount Sinai a covenant with the Lord, that set them apart, as separate and different from the other nations. The Old Covenant was only between the Lord and ancient Israel. He did not have such relationship with any other people or nation here on Earth.
And, when it comes to our day, no one is under the Old Covenant, not even the Jews. That covenant came to its end, almost two thousand years ago.
Then, as for the New Covenant: The saints were joined to it, when they received the Holy Spirit. But, the world in general was not joined to that covenant. (The article nga030.htm considers who are saints, that is, who belong to God and his son Jesus.)
Earlier in this article it was noted that the Old Covenant which was between the Lord and the ancient Israelites, was similar to a marriage-relationship, and that it is so even in regard to the New Covenant. Several bible-passages refer to this.
In modern customs, a marriage is perhaps considered as “made” when the wedding feast has taken place. But, it is said that in some ancient customs, already the betrothal was a binding agreement regarding a marriage. At that covenant making – at betrothal – the woman was given something valuable as a pledge, as a guarantee that the man would live up to what he covenanted, including the promises he made to the woman.
It is not clear what kind of a pledge women in ancient Israel used to receive at betrothal, but the story of Rebekah shows that at least earlier, in Abraham’s day, expensive things were given to women as such a pledge.
The New Covenant is in many ways similar to a marriage covenant. The saints were betrothed to Jesus, and they all together formed his Bride. The pledge of great value which they were given in connection with that betrothal, was the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul wrote about that matter, to the saints in Corinth and Ephesus:
2 Corinthians 1: […] 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. (NASB77, highlighting added)
2 Corinthians 5:5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. (NASB77, highlighting added)
Ephesians 1:13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (NASB77, highlighting added)
In the three above-quoted passages, where the NASB77 has “pledge”, the Greek text has arrabôn which indeed meant “pledge”.
Some bible-versions have in those three passages the word “pledge”; some others have “earnest” or similar. It is important to understand what the apostle Paul was talking about.
The WordWeb dictionary states that when the word “earnest” is used as a noun, it refers to “something of value given by one person to another to bind a contract”. That is, a pledge.
But, some writers have caused people to think that the word “earnest” which some bible-versions have in 2 Corinthians 1:22 and 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14, means that the saints had received the Holy Spirit “only in a limited amount”. – That is not so. Either one has the Holy Spirit, or then one does not have it. “God does not give the Spirit by measure”, John 3:34.
In the Greek text of 2 Corinthians 1:22 and 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14, the relevant word is arrabôn. Apparently, that comes from the old Hebrew arabown, “pledge”, something given as a security.
The point here is that the saints had received the Holy Spirit as a pledge – as a guarantee of that they would later receive all the things that had been promised to them.
Again, it is said that in old customs, a betrothal was a binding contract regarding a marriage.
When a man and a woman get married, they often make promises to each other. Faithfulness (fidelity) and love are among the normal promises in that connection, but even other things can be promised, or formally contracted. That can include such things as that the man makes specific promises in regard to where and how the woman is to live and what other things he will provide for her.
As was noted earlier, the Old Covenant between the Lord and the Israelites was similar to a marriage covenant. Its promises were on the earthly level, including an earthly land and an earthly life in it, and earthly blessings. The New Covenant has better promises. This is something the apostle Paul mentioned, in his letter to the Jewish saints. We read:
Hebrews 8:6 […] a better covenant, which was established upon better promises (KJV1769)
Better promises, or higher promises as some translate it. That is: With the New Covenant, the value of the things promised to the Bride was much higher or greater, than in the case of the Old Covenant and its promises.
The Old Covenant’s promises were mentioned above. They were all on the earthly level. When it comes to the New Covenant, the bride was promised everlasting life, a land and a city in Heaven, and blessings there. The apostle Paul wrote about that better land and city, in his letter to some Jewish saints:
Hebrews 11:16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. (NASB77)
Now, why quote that verse, seeing that it refers to Abraham and other people of old times? Well, it can be said that the promises which the Lord made to Abraham, were in a way a basis for the New Covenant which was to come. Or, putting that in another way: The ultimate fulfilment of those promises was connected to Jesus and the New Covenant. [b]
b Consider for instance the earlier quoted Galatians 3:16 – “Now it was to Abraham that the promises were spoken, and to his offspring. God did not say, ‘offsprings’ as if speaking of many, but ‘and to your offspring,’ as of one; and this is Christ.” (CT) – And again, the saints formed Jesus’ bride. Through that, they came to share the promised things with Jesus.
The articles nba040.htm and nxa100.htm have some notes on the saints’ heavenly Promised Land.
In Old Testament times, God directed certain events so that they in a prophetic way portrayed things that were and are to come. The apostle Paul wrote about this, in his letter to the saints in Corinth. We read:
1 Corinthians 10:11 And all these things as types did happen to those persons, and they were written for our admonition, to whom the end of the ages did come (YLT)
“Types” – some other translations have “examples”, “in figure” and so on. The Greek word Paul used was tupoi, plural of tupos which meant such things as “a mark”, “a form”, “an outline”. The English word “type” comes from the Greek tupos.
Many things in connection with the Old Covenant and its rituals were symbols – types, pictures, shadows – which pointed to Jesus and the New Covenant and the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul wrote to some Jewish saints:
Hebrews 10:1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come and not the very image of those things, can never, with those sacrifices which they offered continually year by year, make those who come unto it perfect. (KJ21, highlighting added)
(In that verse, the phrase “the Law” refers to the Old Covenant with its rituals.)
Even the Old Covenant’s high days (Leviticus 23) were types and symbols. We read:
Colossians 2:16 Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah. (HCSB, highlighting added)
The article noa070.htm has some notes on Colossians 2:16–17.
Casual bible-readers could easily misunderstand these verses:
Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law till all is fulfilled. (VW06)
This passage makes Matthew 5:17–18 easier to understand:
Luke 24:44 Then He said to them, These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. (VW06, highlighting added)
The phrases “the Law” and “the Prophets” which appear in Luke 24:44 and Matthew 5:17–18, refer to specific sections in the Old Testament. In both cases, Jesus spoke about the fulfilling of certain prophecies which are recorded “in the Law” and “in the Prophets” (in the Old Testament).
Many prophecies in the Old Testament – which consists of “the Law”, “the Prophets” and “the Psalms” – had pointed to Jesus. The meaning of “jot” and “tittle” in Matthew 5:18 is that those prophecies were to be fulfilled, down to the smallest points.
For more on Matthew 5:17–18, and also 19–20, see the article nca010.htm. Regarding the Old Testament sections “the Law”, “the Prophets” and “the Psalms”, see the appendix at the end of that article.
Certain bible-versions have in Romans 3:31 such wordings as “we uphold the law”. Someone might quote such translations and take that verse out of its context and claim that the apostle Paul meant that the Old Covenant’s rules should be kept. But, those who have carefully studied all of Paul’s letters and the book of Acts, know that he did his best to explain that the Old Covenant had come to its end, and that the saints were under a new and different covenant.
Let us check the passage in question. Please read all of this scripture-quote, point for point, slowly and with thought:
Romans 3:20 Wherefore, by works of law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; because through law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now, a justification which is of God, without law, is exhibited, attested by the law and the prophets: 22 even a justification which is of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, for all, and upon all, who believe; for there is no difference. 23 For all, having sinned and come short of the glory of God, 24 are justified freely by his favor, through the redemption which is by Christ Jesus: 25 whom God has set forth a propitiatory, through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his own justice, in passing by the sins which were before committed, through the forbearance of God: 26 for a demonstration, also, of his justice in the present time, in order that he may be just, when justifying him, who is of the faith of Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. By what law? of works? No: but by the law of faith. 28 We conclude, then, that by faith man is justified, without works of law. 29 Is he the God of the Jews only, and not of the Gentiles, also? Yes, of the Gentiles, also. 30 Seeing there is one God, he will justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through the faith. 31 Do we, then, make law useless through the faith? By no means: but we establish law. (LO, note signs added)
Verse 31: What did Paul mean? For, on the surface it might seem that that verse is in conflict with verse 21 which talks about “justification which is of God, without law” (see even verse 28). – It is clear that Paul was not contradicting himself. The following takes a closer look at that passage and matter.
In those three verses (21, 28 and 31): Where the above-quoted LO has “law”, the Greek text has the noun nomos. That word could mean “law”, but it was also used in such meanings as “custom”, “usage”, “way” and “manner”. – Here, one must keep in mind that Paul often played with words, using them in different meanings within the same passage.
Also: In verse 31, the wording in the Greek text has no definite article. Paul did not write ho nomos which could mean “the Law”, but only nomos. Let us consider what kind of nomos he was talking about, in the case of that verse.
In the middle part of verse 21 (“without law”), and in verse 28 (“without works of law”), the word nomos refers to the Old Covenant with its rules (“the law”).
In the last part of verse 21, the phrase “attested by the law and the prophets” refers to the Old Testament sections “the Law” and “the Prophets” where several passages prophetically “attested” (gave witness) regarding the New Covenant which was to come.
And then, in the case of verse 31 where the LO has “we establish law”, it appears that Paul used the word nomos (νόμος) in the meaning “way”, “manner” – that he was saying, in effect: “Are we saying that the New Covenant has no νόμος but only ‘faith’? Not by any means; rather, we are establishing νόμος!”
And then, the νόμος (nomos) which Paul and the saints in general were establishing, was not the Old Covenant, nor was it a “law”. They were establishing a way, a new way of life, that of the New Covenant, a life of righteousness [c] under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The article nca100.htm considers what Paul meant when he elsewhere in that epistle noted that the saints were not under law (nomos) but under grace, and that the [Jewish] saints had been “released from the law” (nomos), Romans 6:14–15 and 7:6.
The use of the word nomos in the Greek text of Romans 13:10 is considered in the articles noa111.htm and nca060.htm.
c The English word “righteousness”, older form rihtwisnes, really means right-wise-ness = “right-ways-ness”. The article nga081.htm explains what new-covenantal righteousness is and consists of.
In his letter to some Jewish saints, “Hebrews”, the apostle Paul noted that there was a “change of law” (nomos). Please note that that phrase does not refer to “modification of the Old Covenant” as some writers have claimed. The change was from the Old Covenant, to the New Covenant which is something new and different.
Hebrews 7:12 For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well. […] 18 So the previous commandment is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable (HCSB, highlighting added)
As was noted earlier, the Old Covenant was a temporary arrangement which was added because of transgressions. It was to last “until the Offspring should come to whom the promise had been made”, Galatians 3:19. That is, until Jesus came.
Regarding the above-quoted Hebrews 7:12 – a number of bible-versions have in that verse wordings which could cause casual bible-readers to think that it was a matter of “modifying an existing law”. But again, it was not a matter of making changes to the Old Covenant or its rules. The Old Covenant was only a type and shadow of what was to come. When Jesus came and then made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, it became possible to launch the New Covenant. When that happened, the Old Covenant was set aside. That meant that even the Old Covenant’s system with mortal priests was voided, abolished. (But, the Jews who rejected Jesus and the New Covenant, continued with the old rituals, until the temple was destroyed.)
The New Covenant has only one priest: The resurrected Jesus. [d]
Point: Hebrews 7 is about the fact that the Old Covenant with its rules came to its end and was set aside. The New Covenant is indeed a new and different covenant. The article nca090.htm has some notes on that matter.
d Many churches have priests, but that has nothing to do with what the saints practised. The Old Covenant had its priests, but the New Covenant does not have any mortal priesthood, and God does not have any mortal “special representatives” here on Earth today.
Hebrews 8:6 was cited earlier in this article. Let us consider even verses 7–9. Even that passage talks about the matter of the two covenants, old and new. In verse 8, many bible-versions have such wordings as “finding fault with them”, but it could also be that the meaning is “finding fault, he says to them”, as some versions have it. Consider this translation:
Hebrews 8:6 But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. 8 But showing its fault, God says to them, “Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 9 “It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers […] (NET, highlighting added)
A note: Verse 8 and 9 refer to Jeremiah 31:33 whose translation and meaning was discussed earlier in this article. Here is that verse again:
Jeremiah 31:33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (NLT04)
And yes, it is true that there was fault with the Israelites. Even for that reason, a new covenant was needed – a covenant which included the Holy Spirit, to instruct and guide people in the right ways. So, also in that way it is true that “if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one” (NET).
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
Where can one find the rules of the New Covenant, in written form? → nca060.htm
On the Decalogue, “the words of the covenant, the ten words”. → nca050.htm
Many talk about “the spirit of the law” versus “the letter of the law”, but those expressions are not found in the Bible. On the meaning of the phrases “the Spirit” and “the letter” in 2 Corinthians 3:6–8 and Romans 7:6. → nca110.htm
On Galatians 3:17–19 and what the apostle Paul meant by “added law”. → nca080.htm
Some notes on bible-translations which make it seem that the Old Covenant was to be “everlasting”. On the word olam in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. → nca130.htm
What does the word “saint” mean and refer to, in the Bible? → nga030.htm
What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → nba040.htm
Hebrews 4:9, the sabbatismos or rest which the saints were to enter – a clarification of its actual nature. → nxa100.htm
Colossians 2:16–17, “let no man therefore judge you”. What was the apostle Paul really talking about? → noa070.htm
The New Covenant versus the Old Covenant. Also, some notes on Matthew 5:17–18 and 19–20. → nca010.htm
Some notes on the phrases “not under law but under grace” and “released from the law”. → nca100.htm
The apostle Paul and his teachings. → noa111.htm
What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → nga081.htm
The New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “renewal” or “modification” of the Old Covenant. → nca090.htm
On 1 John 3:4 and its translation and meaning. → nca120.htm
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