The Two Laws in Hebrews 10

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews [in all probability the apostle Paul; see: Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews?], in Chapter 10, continues his theme about the law of God. In 7:12, he had talked about a “change of the law” being made of necessity because of the change in the priesthood from Aaron/Levi to Jesus/Melchizedek.

The author then proceeds to explain the law being changed in regard to the tribe of Israel assigned by God to the priesthood: from Levi to Judah (7:14-17) — in Jesus Christ, who was a Jew (short for Judah). Paul then cites the superiority of Christ’s priesthood to that of Aaron, for the following reasons:

  • Jesus, being eternal, continues forever — in contrast to Aaron’s descendants, who are mortal (7:23-24)
  • Jesus is holy and sinless and therefore doesn’t need to offer sacrifices to purify Himself as the Aaronic priests were required by the law (7:26-28)
  • Jesus serves as High Priest in a heavenly sanctuary, not an earthly one as Moses was instructed in the law (8:1-2), concerning the Aaronic priests
  • Jesus ministers a better covenant than Moses did — one based on better promises: a new heart that obeys God’s law (8:6-13).

The immediate context of Hebrews 10 is found in the previous chapter, Chapter 9. The change in the law concerning the priesthood has now also changed the “ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary” (9:1). The “services” concerned the work of the Levites and the priests in offering the various sacrifices prescribed by the law (9:6-10) in a  physical or earthly sanctuary.

With Christ having come as the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sin of all mankind (John 1:29), the law has been changed (Hebrews 9:11-15, 25-28). The author describes that law as “having a shadow of the good things to come” (10:1). The “law” referred to here has to do with the sacrificial system commanded Israel. The author shows how ineffective that system was: “For the law…can never with these same sacrifices, which they continually offer year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered?…For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins….And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices  which can never take away sins” (10:1-2, 4, 11).

The second law

Christ came to do away with this particular law [of sacrifices] in order to establish a second, new law (10:9)  —   a law that embodies God’s true will: that “a body” which God has prepared (that of Jesus Christ) is the true and only effective remedy for sin (10:10, 14) — one of the “good things” that have now come! Paul, in Romans 8:2, describes this as “…the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus [which] has made me free from the law of sin and death.”

As a result of this true “sanctification” (a sinner being made clean of sin and thus now “sanctified” or made “holy” before God), a believer enters into a new covenant with God and enjoys its wonderful promises. One of the promises: “I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them” (10:16) — in addition to “their sins and lawless deeds” being remembered no more (10:17).

Now here is where the author speaks of a different set of laws than the ones he had earlier explained as having been changed or replaced. The author cannot be speaking of the same laws!

Law written on the heart

The “laws” which God, under the new covenant,  writes on the hearts and puts in the minds of believers do not concern the “law of Moses” particularly on the sacrificial system, which Moses described as consisting of “fleshly commandments” (7:15) concerning “foods and drinks (relating to the earthly sanctuary or temple [10:1, 6]), various washings and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation” (10:10). [See: Law Added to Law Transgressed.]

The “reformation” that has come with Christ does not do away with the law that defines sin or righteousness, even as Jesus plainly said, “I did not come to destroy [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). A law that God writes on or places in our hearts is not something we throw away. Rather, we treasure and cherish it like a loved one who, as an old song puts it, is told by her lover: “You are always in my heart.”

Otherwise, if such law of God has been done away, why would God need to “remember no more” the believer’s “sins and …lawless deed” (10:17), if such a law has been done away with and therefore no longer holds the sinner accountable for breaking it? As Hebrews 9:15 says, believers in Christ are redeemed from their Transgressions Under the First Covenant.

A sin is still a sin, is still a sin, under the new covenant as it was under the first or old covenant, unless otherwise plainly rescinded in the new covenant. That is why the author of the letter to the Hebrews warns believers against sinning willfully (10:26-31). He also tells them later: “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily  ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1). Instead, he urges them “to stir up love and good works” in one another (10:24).

Jesus told the woman who was taken to be stoned for adultery that He did not condemn her (He had forgiven her), and that she should “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). If the law that defines sin is no longer in effect, what’s the sense of Christ telling us to “sin no more?” As Paul explains, “…for where there is no law there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15). [See: No Such Thing as Sin?]

Law and good works

“Good works” are what the law is about [see: Saved for Good Works and Being and Doing].  A person who truly has faith in Christ will have such works as fulfill “the will of God” (Hebrews 10:36).  In Hebrews 11 the author lists some heroes of the faith who obeyed the will of God by doing what God had commanded them to do. Abel “offered” (11:4). Enoch “pleased God” (11:5). Noah “prepared an ark” (11:7). Abraham “obeyed” when he “went out” and “dwelt in the land of Promise” and when he “offered up Isaac” (11:7). Moses “forsook Egypt,” “kept the Passover,” and “passed through the Red Sea” (11:27-29). Rahab “received the spies with peace” (11:30).

For a Christian today, “good works” would include all that God, in Christ, has commanded. That includes everything else apart from those laws which the author of Hebrews explains as being now changed.  “Jesus Christ…the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8) is the God — the Holy One — who gave Israel the law (1 Corinthians 10:4; Acts 3:14; Psalm 78:41; Isaiah 5:24, etc.) that should still be obeyed today by all believers. [See: The Law of Christ, Peter Knew the Holy OneMoses and Jesus — Are They Contraries? and The True Christ.]

In a word, all of God’s laws are based on one eternal principle: God’s love. [See: Freed From Bondage.]

Paul desired that God would make His people “…complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in  His sight, through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

Through His Spirit, Christ will empower His true disciples to understand God’s law in its various aspects, and obey it fully. [See:  God’s Spirit and Obedience and The Higher Law of the Spirit .]


Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.


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