Hebrews 8 Commentary

vv. 1-13 In Hebrews 8 we have a synopsis of the new covenant in prophetic form. Since the new covenant is true Christianity, this passage, although not exhaustive, sums up the essence of what it means to be a Christian. […]

Let us consider what the new covenant is. It is, as expressed above, grounded in Judaism (8:10). Consequently, any adequate understanding of Christianity must grasp its Jewish roots and the implication of those roots for Christian belief. It is about the internalization of religion, not merely the external practice of religion (8:10). God’s laws are written on the minds and hearts of true Christians. As such, transformation and intrinsic motivation form powerful, foundational elements of Christian life and living. The new covenant is about relationship with God (8:10 – 11), not merely service for God. Finally, the forgiveness of sins forms the basis for this new covenant relationship (8:12).

Any conception of Christianity, therefore, that neglects the idea of sin and forgiveness has departed from the understanding of covenant expressed in Hebrews 8 via the prophet Jeremiah. So the new covenant, in essence, has to do with a relationship with God established by the forgiveness of sins, lived out by the internalization of God’s laws, and conceptually set against the backdrop of God’s working through the people of Israel.

We should also pause to reflect on misconceptions about Christianity that could flow from a misuse of this passage.

The new covenant does not mean that Christians need not give attention to external practices such as morality, kindness, and church attendance. Hebrews 8 cannot be used to suggest that believers should just “follow their hearts” in attempting to discern proper behavior. For example, the author of Hebrews later challenges his hearers to love fellow believers in tangible terms, to be sexually pure, and to reject greed (13:1 – 6). Believers are encouraged to perform “good deeds” (10:24; 13:16), with which God is well pleased.

[…] when Jeremiah proclaims that God forgives the wickedness of those under the new covenant and remembers their sins no more, this neither implies that true Christians cease from sin completely nor provides us with a license to sin. Elsewhere the author encourage us to “throw off … the sin that so easily entangles us” (12:1) and warns that a flippant attitude toward sin brings about imminent judgment (10:26 – 27). Moreover, that those under the new covenant “know the Lord” does not remove our need to grow in our relationship with God, since growth is a hallmark of true Christian faith (e.g., 5:11 – 6:3).

*Commentary from: Guthrie, George H. “Hebrews 8:1 – 13” In The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews. By George H. Guthrie, 277-296. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1998.

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