Paul makes an important point about covenants in Galatians 3:15:
“Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.”
Before a covenant is ratified, you can make changes to it. You can add things to it, and you can take them away from it again. Up until the point it is ratified. Once the blood has been shed in ratification of the covenant you cannot disannul any part of it, or add anything to it.
Since the Old Covenant was ratified in Exodus 24:8, nothing could be added to it or
taken away from it after that point. It was fixed.
Which raises a question about the sanctuary services that were established at Sinai and done away with at the death of Christ: We typically think of them as being a part of the Old Covenant, but does the Bible show that they were?
They can only be a part of it if they were added before its ratification, so at what point in time then does the Bible say the sanctuary and all its services were instituted?
“And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” Exodus 25:8.
This means the sanctuary services were instituted after the ratification of the Old Covenant, after it had been confirmed and could not be added to.
With that in mind, which covenant did the sanctuary services fit in best with, anyway? What covenant did they shadow forth?
|Ark containing the law||“Obey His voice, and do all that I speak.”Exodus 23:22.||“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15.|
|“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Galatians 3:10.||“For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23.|
|Sin Offering||I “will not pardon your transgressions.” Exodus 23:21||“I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:34.|
|Golden Candlestick (Holy Spirit/Grace)||“All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient.” Exodus 24:7.||“I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” Jeremiah 31:33.|
|Lamb||(No promised Savior)||“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” |
Why the Confusion?
Why then do many Christians today assume the sanctuary services were part of the Old Covenant?
I believe some of the confusion comes from how the Bible was translated from Greek into English. In a bit of randomness, sometimes they translated the Greek word “διαθηκη” as “covenant” and other times they translated it “testament”.
Here are two examples:
Hebrews 9:15 “And for this cause He is the mediator of the new testament.”
Hebrews 12:24 “And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling.”
This is more confusing because they divided the Bible up into two sections calling them the Old and New “Testament”. (The words “Covenant” and “Testament” mean the same thing, but we don’t typically realize this or think about it).
And in some cases (for example in some theological writings, and in the writings of Ellen White) the Old Testament of the Bible is occasionally referred to as the “Old Covenant” (since these words, “covenant” and “testament”, are synonymous).
In addition to this, and with the best intentions, the translators sometimes supplied (added) the word “covenant” (or “testament”) in places where the Bible writers never placed it. (In the KJV Bible you can tell which words the translators supplied themselves, because they’re in italics.)
Here’s an example of that:
“In that He saith, A new [covenant], He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” Hebrews 8:13.
Old and New
There are at least three unique pairs of things that can be referred to using the terms “first” and “old” or “new”, and “second”:
- There is of course the Old Covenant (First Covenant) and the Everlasting Covenant (New Covenant).
- There is the first sanctuary (first established in the wilderness) and the second sanctuary (in Heaven, in the New Jerusalem). (Hebrews 10:4, 9)
- And there are the Old Testament (First Testament) and the New Testament sections of the Bible.
So using our text above, which “first” is it referring to—which word should the translators have supplied?
“In that He saith, A new __________, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. Then verily the first __________ had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary” Hebrews 8:13-9:1 (supplied words removed).
- Is it referring to the first covenant—the Old Covenant?
- Is it referring to the first tabernacle—the Jewish temple services?
- Or is it referring to the first Testament—the Old Testament?
So considering each of those possibilities:
- Could it be talking about the Old and New Covenants? As far as I know, no one believes that at the time that Paul wrote this (decades after the death of Christ), that the Old Covenant would have still been in force—albeit waxing old and sometime after that to vanish away. Not only that, the Old Covenant was ratified before the earthly sanctuary services were established, making it impossible for it to have included “ordinances of divine service and a worldly sanctuary”.
- Could it be talking about the earthly sanctuary system vs. the one in Heaven? It seems very plausible. Paul wrote this shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans. The temple services were obsolete (waxing old) at the time he wrote this and about to vanish away (which they did in A.D. 70).
- Could it be talking about the Old Testament? Perhaps. The Old Testament did have ordinances of divine service and a worldly sanctuary. While it’s not correct to say that the Old Testament itself was ready to vanish away at the time Paul was writing this (as today it still very much exists in written form), very much of the Old Testament was concerned with the sacrificial systems which were about to vanish away. Paul uses similar language in 2 Corinthians 3:14: “But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament; which vail is done away in Christ.”
Two Old Covenants
Lastly, in many ways the the Old Covenant, and Sanctuary Services of the Old Testament, are similar, and in a few verses it isn’t so important to distinguish between them.
- Both were established at Sinai
- Both were object lessons (neither the blood of sacrifices, nor the graceless Old Covenant could actually save)
- Both were ratified by blood (Hebrews 9:20-21—note the word “moreover” ομοιως meaning “likeways—in the same way”.)
- Both were done away with.
- Both pointed to the New/Everlasting Covenant—the only covenant that has ever saved anyone.
But then the Old Covenant and the Sanctuary Services were different in a number of important ways:
- One revealed a coming savior. The other didn’t.
- One illustrated Divine help. The other didn’t.
- One showed forgiveness of sins. The other didn’t.
You could say there were two Old Covenants. I prefer to call one the “Old Testament” and the other the “Old Covenant”.
(To be continued…)