Questions From Readers
Hebrews 9:16 says that a covenanter must die for a covenant to become valid. But God made the new covenant, and he did not die. So how can we understand this verse?
We read at Hebrews 9:15-17: “So that is why he [Christ] is a mediator of a new covenant, in order that, because a death has occurred for their release by ransom from the transgressions under the former covenant, the ones who have been called might receive the promise of the everlasting inheritance. For where there is a covenant, the death of the [human] covenanter needs to be furnished. For a covenant is valid over dead victims, since it is not in force at any time while the [human] covenanter is living.”*
Jehovah is the actual Maker of the new covenant. At Jeremiah 31:31-34, God specifically foretold that he himself would make the new covenant with his people. The apostle Paul quotes this scripture at Hebrews 8:8-13, which shows that Paul appreciated that, strictly speaking, God originated this divine covenant.
However, in Hebrews chapter 9, Paul went on to deal with the various roles Jesus played in regard to the new covenant. Christ came as High Priest of this covenant. From another standpoint, Jesus was the sacrifice for the new covenant; only “the blood of the Christ” can “cleanse our consciences from dead works.” Christ was also the Mediator of this covenant, even as Moses had been the mediator of the Law covenant.—Hebrews 9:11-15.
Paul mentioned that a death was needed to validate covenants between God and humans. The Law covenant is an example. Moses was its mediator, the one to bring about this agreement between God and fleshly Israel. Moses thus played a crucial role and was the human who dealt with the Israelites when they were coming into the covenant. Moses could thus be viewed as the human covenanter of the Law covenant that originated with Jehovah. But did Moses have to shed his lifeblood for the Law covenant to come into force? No. Instead animals were offered, their blood substituting for Moses’ blood.—Hebrews 9:18-22.
What about the new covenant between Jehovah and the nation of spiritual Israel? Jesus Christ had the glorious role of go-between, the Mediator between Jehovah and spiritual Israel. Though Jehovah originated this covenant, it rested on Jesus Christ. Besides being its Mediator, Jesus had direct dealings in the flesh with those who would first be taken into this covenant. (Luke 22:20, 28, 29) Moreover, he was qualified to provide the sacrifice needed to validate the covenant. This sacrifice was not of mere animals but of a perfect human life. So Paul could refer to Christ as the human covenanter of the new covenant. After “Christ entered . . . into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us,” the new covenant became valid.—Hebrews 9:12-14, 24.
In speaking of Moses and Jesus as human covenanters, Paul was not suggesting that either of them had originated the respective covenants, which were actually made by God. Rather, those two humans were intimately involved as mediators in bringing about the respective covenants. And in each case, a death was needed—animals substituting for Moses, and Jesus offering his own lifeblood for those in the new covenant.
The two Greek words used here for “of the covenanter” are literally rendered “of the (one) having made for self covenant” or “of the [one] making covenant.”—The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., and The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, by Dr. Alfred Marshall.