“In speaking of ‘a new covenant,’ God has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.”
~Hebrews 8:13 (NRSV).
The citing of the oracle of Jeremiah (31:31-34) in this chapter of Hebrews fits with the overall theme of Hebrews; what is better, and particularly in terms of Christ.
Any sensitive and appropriately respectful Christian is not going to downgrade the Law, a.k.a. the Old Covenant. The Ten Commandments, and Mosaic and Deuteronomic Law—as well as the resplendently true Old Testament theology—are still relevant. Though they are obsolete? This doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
A “Faultless” Covenant
The New Covenant, which replaces the old one, making it obsolete, is Grace. It deals with everything and explains everything in completeness. It is not insufficient as the Law was. God’s grace resplendent in the New Covenant is always sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). Besides, it was Jesus’ sacrifice that forges a ‘new agreement’ between our Suzerain God and us as vassals.
Respect for ‘the Law’
But as a relic, the Law can still teach us much. Indeed, there are many who have a passionate partiality for the Old Testament for it is our roots. It’s where we came from. It’s all that Jesus, the apostles and the early church had, apart from the inspiration of the Spirit. It served them well when it was augmented with the Spirit.
It continues to serve us well in the same way.
And the Law is not ‘rewritten’ in Jesus’ broken body and blood on the cross. Jesus came as the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets and not as the abolishment of it (Matthew 5:17).
In fact, it would be blasphemous to throw out the Old Covenant, for its very presence gives us the context from which the New Covenant works. It’s a vital backdrop to the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
Personal and Communal Relevance
The New Covenant is not just about personal relevance—that we’re saved by grace. In our non-communal and self-sufficient world we often forget that the entire landscape of theology was and is still purposed in the people of God, and not so much just individual persons.
But this idea is enhanced by the word “relationship”. Finally, we have what concerns us as individuals and groups that far supersedes any other belief or religion. This faith in God is about a living God who’s keenly interested in each our lives—to each particular dynamic of our lives.
It is important to remember our roots; to not denigrate ‘the obsolete’. We don’t archive it. It’s important to remember that the design of the New Covenant was about inputting within every believer a flourishing heart intent and a stoic mindfulness about a functional faith in God from within us, via the Holy Spirit.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.