We have already established elsewhere that while it is definitely a teaching of the Bible that the Old Covenant (specifically, the Mosaic Covenant; cf. Jer. 31:31) has been replaced by a New (or Renewed) Covenant, this does not require that the Torah be replaced by a “New Law” as well. This can be further demonstrated by at least two illustrations:
- When Moses descended from Mt. Sinai to see the golden calf, he shattered the tablets of the covenant containing the Ten Words to symbolize that Israel had broken their covenant with G-d by their idolatry. When G-d forgave Israel that sin, He had Moses inscribe a second set of tablets to symbolize the renewal of the covenant—but the commandments remained the same.
- Likewise, when Moses re-established the covenant with the second generation of the Exodus after the first, disobedient generation had passed away, but the commands of the covenant remained the same, though with some amendments due to the upcoming change in circumstances (that is, of entering the Land; e.g., Deu. 12:15 vs. Lev. 17:3f).
The last is important, because it sets the precedent that God (though no one else; Deu. 12:32) may amend the Torah when there is a change of circumstances without annulling or exchanging the whole—think “Constitutional amendment.” Thus, when Heb. 7:12 speaks of a change (Gr. metatitheimi, a movement, not a wholesale exchange of one for another; cf. Acts 7:16, Gal. 1:6, Heb. 11:5) of the priesthood and a change of the Torah (metathesis, again indicating movement), this can be understood as an amendment which transfers the High Priesthood from the tribe of Aaron to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
This corresponds with a transference of the primary service from the Temple in Jerusalem into the heavenlies. The author of Hebrews makes a point of using the same noun and verb forms if metathesis in Hebrews 11:5 to refer to the bodily translation of Enoch to heaven (Gen. 5:24)–in fact, he seems to go out of his way to do so. This is to make sure that his readers would understand that the Law was not really changed so much as transferred; that just as Deuteronomy contained new commandments to deal with life settled in the Land, so too a new commandment could be amended into the Law to deal with life in a time when the only Temple would be the one in Heaven, the original Temple that the earthly was merely the copy of (Heb. 8:2-5). Indeed, if the service had remained on the earth, Yeshua could not be the High Priest, since the earthly priesthood was restricted to the Levites (Heb. 7:14ff).
This does not, by the way, indicate a complete end of the Levitical priesthood, as this would violate God’s promises (Num. 25:13, Jer. 33:17-22); there were many priests under the High Priest, who will one day return to rule a restored Temple (Ezk. 40-48). A further change in circumstances (the Second Coming) will result in another transference. It is usually objected that such sacrifices would have no purpose and would simply undermine the Cross, but Hebrews is clear that sacrifices, even after the cross, have the purpose of ritual purification (9:13) and to serve as a remembrance of sins (10:3), and by extension, a remembrance of the One who took away our sins.
Since Hebrews is focused solely on the subject of the Temple service and the sacrifices, and since the key words used indicate a transference, a movement, and not a wholesale change in the Torah, it cannot legitimately be used to advocate the complete removal of the Torah in favor of some “new law.” As Albert Barnes (Notes) writes on Heb. 7:12,
The connection requires us to understand it only of the Law “so far as it was connected with the Levitical priesthood.” This could not apply to the ten commandments – for they were given before the institution of the priesthood . . .
Neither could it be applied to the Feastdays—both Passover and the Sabbath were given before the priesthood, and all of the Feasts had elements that were completely independent of the Temple service which can still be (and are) observed—or to wearing tzitzit (tassels), circumcision of Jewish children (cf. Acts 21:21f), the agricultural commandments, kosher, releasing debts, or numerous other commandments which the Church today considers part of the “old law.” In fact, Sha’ul actually commands the Corinthians to keep the Passover (1 Co. 5:8) and draws a teaching (more specifically, a kal v’ chomer, or a fortiori argument) from an obscure agricultural command (1 Co. 5:9, 1 Ti. 5:18). The author of Hebrews (possibly Sha’ul, very likely one of his associates) also restates the command to keep the Sabbath on the seventh day, and the decision of Acts 15 assumes that the Gentiles would continue to observe the Sabbath by coming to synagogue.
So when Heb. 10:9 says, “He takes away the first in order to establish the second,” we have to look carefully at what is taken away and replaced. The whole Torah? This is not supported by the context, which is focused solely on the sacrificial system: In fact, it would be utterly inconsistent with the quotation of Psalm 40:6 in v. 5, as the psalm goes on to say (v. 8), “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law (Torah) is within my heart.”
Therefore, it is one sacrificial system which the Holy One takes away to establish a second: That which was formerly conducted by fallible (and even outright corrupt, in the time the NT was written) human priests, offering only the blood of animals, which could never truly take away sin (Heb. 10:4) has been replaced by an Eternal High Priest who has by His one sacrifice forever redeemed us.
God does not delight in sacrifices and offerings, because sacrifice was something done after one had disobeyed His commandments: “Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams’” (2 Sa. 15:22). He would rather that we keep His Torah, bearing it in our hearts, than to require any sacrifice, least of all the sacrifice of His Son, but because of our sin and His love, He has given us the grace of the Sacrifice as well.