Read This Week’s Passage: Hebrews 7:1–10:18

Making the First Obsolete

In the past five lessons, we have explored New Testament passages that contain the negative characterizations of the covenant and law we noted in the introduction to this series, namely, that it is: a tutor no longer needed once one comes to Christ (Gal. 3:24, 25); of “the flesh,” not the Spirit (Gal. 4:23, 30); something that keeps people from “shar[ing] in the [eternal] inheritance” (Gal. 4:30, NIV); “a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1, NIV); “the letter [that] kills” (2 Cor. 3:6, NKJV); a “ministry that brought death” and “condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:7, 9); keeping people “under the law” not “under grace” (Rom. 6:14, NIV); something we must die to in order to be married to Christ and receive salvation (Rom. 7:4). Most scholars ascribe these characterizations to the historical old covenant (the Sinai covenant). This interpretation forms their primary argument against the applicability of observing the seventh-day Sabbath in the New Testament era. But this interpretation collides with the biblical teaching that the Sinai covenant and historical new covenant share the same spiritual DNA and gospel (see lessons 2–4). At the same time, every one of these negative characterizations fits perfectly with an interpretation that identifies the old covenant specified or alluded to in these passages as an old covenant experience of “not continu[ing] in My covenant” (Heb. 8:9, NKJV), i.e., rejecting its gospel appeal or merely legalistically complying with it—that God said created the need for a new covenant in the first place (lesson 2). Most interpreters, however, do not even acknowledge the existence of an old covenant experience; this requires them to mistakenly assign all these negative characterizations to the Sinai covenant.

Another group of interpreters holds that all New Testament references and allusions to the old and new covenants have experiential, not historical, emphases in mind. But this equal and opposite extreme from that described above blinds its adherents to a full appreciation of the monumental significance of the historicity of the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and high priestly ministry of Jesus that, in its own right, demarcated the historical new covenant.

This brings us to our extended passage for this lesson, and most particularly to Hebrews 8:13, which is generally interpreted to apply to the Sinai covenant as a whole (including the Sabbath): “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13, NKJV). Does not at least this one verse apply exclusively to the historical covenants, thus making the Sinai covenant and all its provisions, including the Sabbath, obsolete?