It is not uncommon to hear people say that Hebrews teaches that the Mosaic commandments are weak and useless, and that Jesus enacted a better covenant that replaced the old laws of Moses. But is this the true message of Hebrews? A closer look at the letter reveals that the author does not dismiss the entire Torah in light Yeshua; instead, Hebrews shows how Jesus stands in for the priestly sacrifices that could no longer be made after the destruction of the Second Temple.

It’s true that Hebrews mentions a “change” in the Law of Moses: “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also…. For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness. (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.” (Hebrews 7:12, 18–19 NASB)

These verses are often used to demonstrate that the Law was set aside as something obsolete. It’s simple, some say: Yeshua is a new priest who changes the Law! But we must clarify the context in which our author refers to the commandments. Here is a hint… Hebrews has some very specific priestly commandments in mind. If we miss or ignore this crucial context, we’re sure to misunderstand the writer’s meaning. The above passage of Hebrews does not discuss the validity or the usefulness of the Torah in general. These verses are only interested in the role of Messiah in relation to the levitical priesthood.

A look at the broader context is helpful. Hebrews 4 speaks of entering into God’s covenant-rest, God’s end-time Shabbat, the Lord’s presence. Chapter 5 asserts that Yeshua is a superior High Priest compared to the earthly priests, and chapter 6 compares Jesus with the royal priest Melchizedek. Finally, chapter 7 highlights how Melchizedek traditions relate to the teachings about the Messiah. Thus, Hebrews 4-7 does not deal with the entire Law of Moses, nor does it set up a dichotomy between Jesus and Torah. Rather, these chapters are focused on a discussion about priesthood, which constitutes only one part of Moses’ Law.

The rest of Hebrews also highlights concepts like priesthood and sacrifice. Chapter 8 explores the facets of Jesus’ priesthood and the New Covenant. Hebrews 9 and 10 proclaim the superiority of the New Covenant and outline the benefits of Yeshua’s sacrifice of his own body. All this priestly discussion does not question the Torah’s validity, but rather highlight Yeshua’s unique role as an eternal high priest.

So here’s the questions readers need to ask: “Which law is being changed in Hebrews 7:12?” and “Which commandments are weak in Hebrews 8:18?” Certainly not all of them! Instead, the writer of Hebrews is concerned with how Jesus relates to the commandments for Israel’s priests. When Hebrew says that Jesus “set aside” (ἀθέτησις; atheteisis) a former commandment (7:18) the command pertains to the priestly service. Hebrews mentions the “weakness” or “lack of perfection” (ἀσθενής, astheneis) in these commandments because the human priests are human and, therefore, imperfect (see Heb 10:1).

Moreover, it’s likely that Hebrews was written after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, which made the sacrifices no longer possible. Therefore, our letter writer is offering readers a way to ensure a continued atonement after the earthly Temple: as exalted heavenly high priest, Jesus offered himself as a “once for all” sacrifice for sin (cf. Heb 7:27; 9:26; 10:10). In this way, Jesus actually upholds the commands about sacrifice and atonement given to the Levites; though the priesthood’s cessation after 70 manifested its weakness and frailty, Yeshua strengthens and extends the longevity of the sacrificial system. Hebrews does not dismiss the Torah as obsolete or useless, but it does address a world without customary sacrifices and shows how Jesus serves as an everlasting high priest in heaven who makes atonement for all time.

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61 COMMENTS

  1. Many years ago, I studied the Bk of Psalms, especially the 6 different meanings of the words in their context of Torah, Testimonies, misphat, mitsvah and the 2 others. It gave me a greater appreciation and insights into the overall meaning of the Law in the OT. Protestantism in general have a negative view of the Law since the Reformation. Prof Shir in the last 2 paragraphs makes it quite clear.
    Christians should look to the resurrected Christ Jesus for their righteousness because Jesus fufilled the Law. Mat 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Fulfill in Greek is pleroo meaning to make full or fill up.
  2. Thanks for sharing, in Matthew, Jeshua Messiah said "do not think I have come to change the laws or the prophets, I have come to fulfill...and if anyone teaches you otherwise is a false....
  3. Hallo David - Mathew 5:17, Jesus came to DO (fulfill) the Law. Using common sense, Yeshua preached Law observance even after Mathew 5:17 utterances. Matthew 19:16-30 suffices.
    • Villa Kumar.A , how can that be? If sin is to transgress the law, and if all the law is abolished, then either sin is impossible or we no longer know what constitutes sin. If not "all the law", then which instructions are voided? And how do we know which? I am unaware of any NT passage saying "continue to follow these, but you can ignore these others." Except, that is, those instructions that simply *cannot* be followed, such as those regarding the priesthood and the Temple, which I believe is the point of Prof. Shir's article.
    • Why don't you put those references into the search on this website and see what articles come up? This article is on the verses of Hebrews.
  4. Insightful as no where else. It’s missing in ALL “Christian” church services. We need this original message of Jesus. A BIG mistake removing the Torah from Protestant Worship. How foolish. Follow the order synagogues used when Jesus was there. Win Jews to Messiah. Next - world wide harvest of souls.
  5. SHALOM... Dans Hebreux chapitre 8,9 et 10... on dirait que c'est la Nouvelle Alliance qui est de mise. Heb 8v6-13 et Heb 10v9 , v14-18. Merci
  6. To answer to your questions, firstly I would like to say it is wrong to say that the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE that made the sacrifices no longer possible! No, it was was no longer possible right away from the day Christ was been Crucified.
  7. The Scripture made it clear that the time Jesus cried out that it is finished and gave up His last breath, the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. This shows that no longer any sacrifice whether animals or whatever!!
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