Questions From Readers
■ When Hebrews 8:13 spoke of the Law covenant as “growing old . . . [and] near to vanishing away,” was it referring to the approaching end of the Jewish system in 70 C.E.?
No. Some have explained Hebrews 8:13 that way. But the context indicates that it refers to the situation of the Law covenant from the time when Jeremiah foretold the new covenant.
In Hebrews chapter eight the apostle Paul contrasts two covenants. The “first covenant” was the Law covenant that Moses mediated. The “second,” or new, covenant is a “better covenant” that has Jesus as Mediator and that “has been legally established upon better promises.”—Hebrews 8:6, 7.
Paul quoted Jeremiah 31:31-34, where Jehovah promised to “conclude with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant.” Then the apostle wrote: “In his saying ‘a new covenant’ he has made the former one obsolete. Now that which is made obsolete and growing old is near to vanishing away.”—Hebrews 8:13.
The book of Hebrews was written during “the conclusion of the [Jewish] systems of things,” likely about nine years before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E. (Hebrews 9:26) Hence, some have explained the verse this way: God’s approval of the Law ended with Jesus’ death, but temple worship continued until 70 C.E. Thus when Paul wrote Hebrews 8:13 the Law covenant was ‘growing old and near to the complete vanishing’ that came in 70 C.E.
Another explanation, however, accords better with what Hebrews chapter 8 says.
Paul was emphasizing God’s statement through Jeremiah that a new covenant would replace the Law covenant, which was not faultless, for it could not produce a righteous people. (Romans 3:20) In Jeremiah’s day it must have surprised the Jews to hear that the Law covenant was to be replaced by a new covenant that could provide for sins to be completely forgiven.
Yet, once God had specifically foretold the new covenant, the old covenant was in a sense obsolete. Even though God allowed it to remain until the Messiah came and served as Mediator of the new covenant, it could be said about the Law covenant that its days were numbered from Jeremiah’s writing what he did. That is why the verse Heb 8:13 begins: “In his saying ‘a new covenant’ he has made the former one obsolete.” Or, as J. B. Phillips renders it: “The mere fact that God speaks of a new covenant . . . makes the old one out of date.”
The prospective obsolescence that existed from when Jeremiah 31:31-34 was written became a full reality when Jesus’ death brought the Law to an end. So some 28 years later Paul could add in the next verse: “For its part, then, the former covenant used to have ordinances of sacred service and its mundane holy place.”—Hebrews 9:1.