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Hebrews 8:6-13 – NT

06.29.2011

2 Corinthians 3:5-11

If we claim to be under a New Covenant, we must say something about the old.  We must explain the Old.  Why did it exist?  Was it insufficient to its purpose?  Why has it been superseded?

I’ll address the first question (the why) here.  Perhaps tomorrow’s look at the Hebrews passage will help shed some light on the others.  The Old Covenant can be seen to do three things: teach morality, identify sin, and establish a pattern of sacrifice and atonement.  In order:

The Old Covenant, as embodied in the Law of Moses, sets forth a standard of behavior.  Some of these, such as reproductive, dietary, and hygiene-related laws, were historically specific, providing people in a Bronze/Iron Age environment in the Near East with patterns of cleanliness and health that would help stave off infection and plague.  Others capture a core set of restrictions necessary for any group of people to sustain a government and a society: dont’ steal, don’t kill, don’t lie, etc.  Still others make explicit the ‘moral code’ we talk about common to all humans, this sense that there is a right and wrong and that given behaviors fall on one or the other side of that line.  These are the kinds of rules that you’ll find in most law codes throughout the modern and ancient world, the Law of Moses included.  This is not exhaustive, and some of these categories no doubt overlap, but this is an idea of how the Old Covenant acts as a teacher of morality to God’s people.

Additionally, the Old Covenant convicts people of their sinfulness.  As Paul so deftly points out, sin is a slippery concept without the Law.  Only by setting aside certain behaviors and attitudes as unacceptable can we all realize that we invariably and continually fall short of God’s holiness.  If the New Covenant is the good news of the Gospel, the solution to the problem of sin, then the Old Covenant provides the question, the tension that needs to be solved.

Lastly, the Old Covenant establishes a precedent (a pattern, even) of sacrifice, priesthood, atonement, and salvation.  It sets forth the language and the mechanisms to understand how we stand in relation to God and how our sin separates us from Him.  It lays out how that sin is removed and gives us the necessary concepts to recognize and understand Jesus’ redeeming death and resurrection.

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