Understanding The Book of Hebrews
by Christine Egbert
Galatians and Hebrews, by far, contain the most-often cited verses to prove the contention that the Torah is no longer in effect. According to the argument, the law was either nailed to the cross, fulfilled then done away with, or replaced in the new covenant with new commandments. Exactly what those new commandments are varies according to denomination.
Some denominations dichotomize God’s Torah (instructions) into moral and ceremonial, then toss out what they deem ceremonial. Some claim there are only two commandments in the new covenant: love God and love your fellow man; which is strange, because according to Scripture both loving God (John 14:15) and loving our fellow man (2 John 1:5-6) are demonstrated by keeping God’s commandments.
Others maintain that new covenant believers need only observe those four things mentioned in Acts 15:20: 1. Abstain from the pollution of idols; 2. abstain from fornication; 3. abstain from (eating) things strangled; 4. and abstain from (eating) blood. There are even those who simply make up their own commandments: Thou shall not drink alcohol. Thou shall not dance. Thou shall not smoke. Women shall not wear makeup. Women shall not cut their hair. Thou shall not keep the 7th Day Sabbath. Well, you get the idea.
In this article, we will examine what the author of Hebrews taught in chapters 7 through 10. Did he teach that the Torah was nullified? Or did he contrast the temporal Levitical priesthood, with its long line of mortal High Priests, to Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) eternal and sinless High Priesthood?
But before we do that, I want to bring to your attention an often-unnoticed context the writer of Hebrews established in chapter two, verse five, which is that Jesus (Yeshua) will function on the new earth, in the Olam Haba—the “world to come”—as High Priest.
Read Hebrews 2:5 from the Complete Jewish Bible. It says, “For it was not to angels that God subjected the ‘olam haba (world to come), which is what we are talking about.”
Hebrews 7:1 opens with a Priest of the Most High God named Melchizedek, the King of Salem (King of Peace), meeting Abraham as he returns from war. Melchizedek blesses Abraham, then in verse 2 we learn that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. Verse 3 tells us that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, nor beginning of days,” nor did this king have an end of life, scripture says, but was made “like the Son of God” and he remains a priest forever.
The F. B. Myer Bible Commentary says this regarding Hebrews 7:1-10: “The one thing for us to notice is that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, thus confessing him (Melchizedek) to be the greater. Levi was, so to speak, included in (Abraham) his grandfather’s act, so that the Hebrew priesthood which sprang from Levi was confessedly inferior to Melchizedek’s. If, then, Melchizedek is a type of Christ, we are taught that Christ’s priesthood is eternally superior to all other priesthoods.”
In verse 4 of chapter 7, the author of Hebrews writes, “Behold how great this one (Melchizedek) was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. (Verse 5) And verily they who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham. (6). But he whose descent (Melchizedek) is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him who had the promises (Abraham), (7) and without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.”
In verses 8-10, the writer of Hebrews goes on to make the point that although Levi was yet in the loins of his father, through Abraham Levi also paid tithes to Melchizedek. Then, in verses 11 and 12, we get to the topic of Hebrews chapters 7 and 8. Let’s read it:
Hebrews 7:11-12 “If therefore perfection were by the Levitical Priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another Priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change of law also occurs.”
The word translated as “changed” in the verse above is “metatithēmi” (μετατίθημι – Strong’s G3346). The very first definition Strong’s lists for this particular word is “to transfer”. But wait! I’m not done. The word “change” found further on in the verse is “metathesis” (μετάθεσις – Strong’s G3331). It’s primary definition is “transposition, that is, transferral.” With this in mind, I will now replace both “changed” and “change” with the more accurate rendering.
Here it is: “For the Priesthood being transferred, there is made of necessity a transferral also of the law.” Now that makes sense. But based on the poor translation of verse 12, the assumption is that all of the Torah was nullified, rather than what Scripture actually teaches: the High Priesthood was transferred to Jesus (Yeshua) after the order of Melchizedek, and, therefore, those laws regarding the priesthood were also transferred to the Melchizedek Priesthood.
And this specific amendment was not a spur of the moment change in God’s plan, but was established from the foundation of the world, when the Lamb of God was slain (Revellation 13:8).
In verse 18 and 19, the writer of Hebrews says, “…an annulment of the preceding command (not all of the Torah) comes about because of its weakness and unprofitableness. (19) For the law (of the Levitical priesthood) perfected nothing, but the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.”
Verses 20 and 21 explain that Jesus (Yeshua), unlike the Levitical priests, was made a priest through an oath: “The LORD (Yahweh) has sworn and will not repent,You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 7:17; Psalms 110:4).
Next, the writer of Hebrews explains how Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) eternal (never-ending) Priesthood provides surety of a better covenant.
Hebrews 7:22-28 says, “By so much Jesus (Yeshua) has become surety of a better covenant. And there truly are many priests, prevented from continuing because of death, but He has the priesthood not to be passed on, because of His remaining to the age. And from this He is able to save to the end completely the ones drawing near to God through Him, forever living to intercede on their behalf. For such a High Priest was fitting for us: holy, harmless, undefiled, and separated from sinners, and having become higher than the heavens, who has no need, as do the high priests, to offer sacrifices day by day, first for His own sins, then for those of the people. For He did this once for all, offering up Himself. For the Law makes men high priests who have infirmity, but the word of the oath-taking after the Law appoints the Son to the age, having been perfected.” So you see, this renewed covenant is better because Jesus (Yeshua), its High Priest, is sinless and lives forever to intercede on our behalf.
Hebrews Chapter Eight
Hebrews 8:1-2 “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a High Priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, minister of the Holy of Holies, and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man. (Psalms 110:1 the LORD (Yahweh) says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”). The focus of chapter 8 is still Jesus (Yeshua), as the High Priest of the new covenant. Let’s continue.
Hebrews 8:3-8 “For every high priest is set in place to offer both gifts and sacrifices, from which it is necessary for this One also to have something which He may offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law, who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle, for he says, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown to you on the mount.’ But now has He obtained a more excellent ministry, also by so much as He is a Mediator of a better covenant…” Now pay attention. The writer of Hebrews is about to explain exactly what makes this New Covenant better and what the problem was with the first. Let’s continue.
Hebrews 8:7 “For if that first was faultless, place would not have been sought for a second. For finding fault them, he says, ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD (Yahweh), ‘when I will make a new (kanios) covenant…”
Please note that the writer of Hebrews, when writing the word which in English is translated as “new” did not use the Greek word “néos” (νέος – Strong’s G3501) which means “new on the scene”, and that would have been incorrect. Bible Hub says this about néos: “néos suggests something “new in time”, something which never before existed. In contrast, according to Bible Hub, “its near-synonym (Strong’s G2537 kainós) means “new in quality”.
So why did the author of Hebrews choose “kainos” rather than “néos”? Because the author was quoting directly from Jeremiah 31:31, where the Hebrew word translated as new is “chadash”, which the Bible Hub defines as “to renew, to repair.” With this fact established, I will in the future write “Renewed Covenant”, for the covenant is with the very same people group and the very same commandments. Now let us continue.
Hebrews 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.” Now pay very close attention. The author of Hebrews is about to explain the “fault” God found with the original covenant. “For finding fault with them…”
Stop. Did you catch that? The fault with the first covenant was not with the Torah (God’s instructions) as so many claim. The fault was with the people. Now let’s continue.
Hebrews 8:8 “For finding fault with them, he says, Behold, the days are coming, saith the LORD (Yahweh), when I will make a renewed covenant with (who?) the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day of My taking hold of their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, because they did not continue in My covenant (this is the Fault the LORD (Yahweh) found with them) and I regarded them not, says the LORD (Yahweh). Because this is the covenant which I will covenant with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD (Yahweh). I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Recap: In the first covenant God had a problem with the people failing to keep His commandments. So in the renewed covenant God will write His laws in their (the House of Judah and House of Israel’s) minds and hearts. Let’s continue.
Hebrews 8:11 “And they shall no more teach each one their neighbor, and each one his brother, saying, Know the Lord; because all shall know Me, from the least of them to their great ones. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses, and I will not at all remember their sins and their lawless deeds. In the saying, renewed (kainos, not néos), He made the first obsolete, and those things being made obsolete (the Levitical Priesthood) are about to disappear.”
Hebrews Chapter Nine
Hebrews 9:1-5 explains ordinances in the original covenant concerning items found in the Holy of Holies in the earthly tabernacle. Then in verse 6, he goes on to say (ERV): “Everything in the tent was made ready in the way I have explained. Then the priests went into the first room every day to do their worship duties. But only the high priest could go into the second room, and he went in only once a year. Also, he could never enter that room without taking blood with him. He offered that blood to God for himself and for the sins the people committed without knowing they were sinning. The Holy Spirit uses those two separate rooms to teach us that the way into the Most Holy Place was not open while the first room was still there. This is an example for us today. It shows that the gifts and sacrifices the priests offer to God are not able to make the consciences of the worshipers completely clear. These gifts and sacrifices are only about food and drink and special washings. They are only rules about the body. God gave them for his people to follow until the time of his new (deorthosis, Strong’s G1357, means “to straighten thoroughly”) way. But Christ has already come to be the high priest. He is the high priest of the good things we now have. But Christ does not serve in a place like the tent that those other priests served in. He serves in a better place. Unlike that tent, this one is perfect. It was not made by anyone here on earth. It does not belong to this world. Christ entered the Most Holy Place only once, for all time. He entered the Most Holy Place by using his own blood, not the blood of goats or young bulls. (Psalms 40:6 ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, my ears have you opened: burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then said I, Lo, I come. In the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Your will, O my God, yea, Your law is within my heart.) Let’s continue.
Hebrews 9:13 “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a cow were sprinkled on those who were no longer pure enough to enter the place of worship. The blood and ashes made them pure again—but only their bodies. So surely the blood sacrifice of Christ can do much more. Christ offered himself through the eternal Spirit as a perfect sacrifice to God. His blood makes us completely clean from the evil we have done. It will give us clear consciences so that we can worship the living God. So Christ brings a renewed (kainos) agreement from God to his people. He brings this agreement so that those who are chosen by God can have the blessings God promised, blessings that last forever. This can happen only because Christ died to free people from sins committed against the commands of the first agreement. (Notice the writer did not say Christ died to free them from the law.)
Hebrews 9:16 ”When someone dies and leaves a will, there must be proof that the one who wrote the will is dead. A will means nothing while the one who wrote it is still living. It can be used only after that person’s death. That is why blood was needed to begin the first agreement between God and his people. First, Moses told the people every command in the law. Then he took the blood of young bulls and mixed it with water. He used red wool and a branch of hyssop to sprinkle the blood and water on the book of the law and on all the people. Then he said, “This is the blood that makes the agreement good—the agreement that God commanded you to follow.” In the same way, Moses sprinkled the blood on the Holy Tent. He sprinkled the blood over everything used in worship. The law says that everything must be made clean by blood. Sins cannot be forgiven without a blood sacrifice.
Hebrews 9:23 ”These things are copies of the real things that are in heaven. These copies had to be made clean by animal sacrifices. But the real things in heaven must have much better sacrifices. Christ went into the Most Holy Place. But it was not the man-made one, which is only a copy of the real one. He went into heaven, and He is there now before God to help us. The high priest enters the Most Holy Place once every year. He takes with him blood to offer. But he does not offer his own blood like Christ did. Christ went into heaven, but not to offer himself many times like the high priest offers blood again and again. If Christ had offered himself many times, he would have needed to suffer many times since the time the world was made. But He came to offer himself only once (the lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world). And that once is enough for all time. He came at a time when the world is nearing an end. He came to take away all sin by offering himself as a sacrifice. Everyone must die once. Then they will be judged. So Christ was offered as a sacrifice one time to take away the sins of many people. And he will come a second time, but not to offer himself for sin. He will come the second time to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
Hebrews Chapter Ten
Hebrews 10:1 “The law gave us only an unclear picture of the good things coming in the future. The law is not a perfect picture of the real things. (That was never the Law’s purpose.) The law tells people to offer the same sacrifices every year. Those who come to worship God continue to offer those sacrifices. But the law can never make them perfect. If the law could make people perfect, those sacrifices would have already stopped. They would already be clean from their sins, and they would not still feel guilty. But that’s not what happens. Their sacrifices make them remember their sins every year, because it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. So when Christ came into the world he said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings, but you have prepared a body for me (Psalms 40:6). You are not satisfied with the sacrifices of animals killed and burned or with offerings to take away sins. Then I said, ‘Here I am, God. It is written about me in the book of the law. I have come to do what you want.’”
Hebrews 10:8 Christ first said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings. You are not pleased with animals killed and burned or with sacrifices to take away sin.” Then He said, “Here I am, God. I have come to do your will.’ So God ends that first system of sacrifices and starts his new way. Jesus Christ did what God wanted him to do. And because of that, we are made holy through the sacrifice of Christ’s body. Christ made that sacrifice one time—enough for all time. Every day the priests stand and do their religious service. Again and again, they offer the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But Christ offered only one sacrifice for sins, and that sacrifice is good for all time. Then He sat down at the right hand of God. And now Christ waits there for his enemies to be put under his power. With one sacrifice Christ made his people perfect forever, those being made holy. The Holy Spirit also tells us about this. First He says, “This is the agreement I will make with My people in the future,” says the Lord. “I will put my laws in their hearts. I will write my laws in their minds.” Then He says, “I will forget their sins and never again remember the evil they have done.”
Hebrews 10:18 “And after everything is forgiven, there is no more need for a sacrifice to pay for sins. And so, brothers and sisters, we are completely free to enter the Most Holy Place. We can do this without fear because of the blood sacrifice of Jesus. We enter through a new, living way Jesus opened for us, that leads through the curtain—Christ’s body. And we have a great priest who rules the house of God. Sprinkled with the blood of Christ, our hearts have been made free from a guilty conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. So come near to God with a sincere heart, full of confidence because of our faith in Christ. We must hold on to the hope we have, never hesitating to tell people about it. We can trust God to do what He promised.”
Hebrews 10:24 ”We should think about each other to see how we can encourage each other to show love and do good works. We must not quit gathering together, as some are doing, but to keep on encouraging each other as we see the Day getting closer. If we decide to continue sinning (violating Torah, 1 John 3:4) after we have learned the truth, then there remains no other sacrifice that will take away sins. If we continue sinning (violating Torah), all that is left for us is a fearful time of waiting for the judgment and the angry fire that will destroy those who live against God.
Whoever refused to obey the Law of Moses was found guilty from the testimony given by two or three witnesses. Such people were not forgiven. They were killed. How much more punishment will people who show their hate for the Son of God receive—people who show no respect for the blood sacrifice of the covenant which made them holy, who insult the Spirit of God’s grace. We know that God said, “I will punish people for the wrongs they do. I will repay them.” And He also said, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a terrible thing to face punishment from the living God.” The rest of Hebrews Chapter 10, verses 32-39, go on to a new subject.
Wrapping This Up
So let us review what we have learned: 1. The New Covenant is not new as we understand new in English. It is a renewed Covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. The second version was needed because they (the people) had violated the first. So, now, in the renewed covenant, God writes His Torah on their hearts and minds instead of on tablets of stone. 2. The entire Torah was not done away with. A change–much like a codicil to a will, which modifies a particular part of the will, while leaving the rest in full effect, was enacted. This change regarded the (temporarily instituted) Levitical Priesthood and its sacrifices, particularly the Yom Kippur yearly sacrifice for Israel’s sins. But make no mistake, from the foundation of the world, the Father had planned that His Son, Jesus (Yeshua), would in the fullness of time become the sinless and eternal High Priest, who shed His own blood (as the Lamb of God), once and for all, to atone for sins committed by His in-covenant people.
Galatians 3:19 asks: “Why the Law then? It was for the sake of transgressions, until the Seed should come, to whom it had been promised, being ordained through angels in a mediator’s hand.” Most Christians have been taught that Paul was saying the entire Torah was given because of transgression, and that it would be in effect only until Jesus (Yeshua), the Seed, should come, and then the entire Torah would be done away with. But that is not what our so often misunderstood Paul meant!