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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Hebrews 8:10 talks about the new covenant and its law. What is the content of that law?
The text you quoted does not explicitly state the content of the “law,” but the terminology used in the immediate context, as well as the view of the law in the rest of the letter to the Hebrews, provides a clear answer to your question. Let’s examine both of them.
1. The Law in Hebrews 8:10: The verse quotes Jeremiah 31:33, the only place in the Old Testament where the “new covenant” is mentioned. According to the new covenant the Lord promises to “put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts” (Heb. 8:10).* We should notice several things. First, there is no reference to a new law. It is simply “my laws,” suggesting that its meaning was clear to the intended readers. What is new is that under the new covenant the law will be placed in the human mind/heart.
Second, it explicitly states that God will write His laws in the human heart. It is impossible to miss the reference to the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai: “And he [God] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments” (Ex. 34:28). They were “inscribed by the finger of God” (31:18). These tablets are called “the tablets of the covenant” (Deut. 9:9, 15), that is to say the covenant law, and were placed inside the “ark of the covenant” (Deut. 10:8). In the new covenant, the Lord will inscribe this same covenant law on the human heart. It will be internalized, becoming part of the life of the believer.
Third, the plural, “laws,” used only in Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16, does not refer to a diversity of laws different from those in the Old Testament, but to the content of the Decalogue. In the Hebrew text of Jeremiah 31:33 the term “law” is singular, but the Greek translation of the Old Testament, used by the apostle, translated it as a plural. The plural was employed because the law inscribed on the tablets consisted of a list of specific laws—the Ten Commandments (cf. Ex. 34:28).
Based on that evidence we can conclude that the biblical writer had in mind the Decalogue as the covenant law of the new covenant.
2. Hebrews Sets Aside the Law: It could be argued that we should not take the verb “I will write” too narrowly by limiting it to the Decalogue; that perhaps it is being used in a loose way. But the only thing we have to interpret the passage is what the passage says, and the connections it makes with other parts of the Bible. But let’s examine the use of the term “law” in the rest of Hebrews.
There is a law the apostle believes has been “set aside” (Heb. 7:18), not because it was bad but because it was “only a shadow of the good things that are coming” (Heb. 10:1). This is the priestly law dealing with the restriction of the priesthood to the descendents of Levi (chap. 7:5, 16, 18), with the sacrificial system (chap. 8:4; 10:8), with ritual ablutions (chap. 9:10), and with the blood of animals (chap. 9:22). Since these laws were “set aside” through the sacrifice and the priestly work of Jesus, they cannot be part of the laws inscribed in the heart of those who accept the new covenant.
3. Hebrews Affirms the Law: Hebrews reaffirms the law, particularly the commandments found in the Ten Commandments, and indicates that it is still valid in the life of the new covenant community. The author states “God will judge the adulterer” (chap. 13:4), that we need to worship God (chap. 12:28), and calls his readers to be obedient to the will of God for them (chap. 10:36). There is even a reference to the seventh-day Sabbath (chap. 4:4), and to the fact that God rested and that “there remains … a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (chap. 4:9). This shows us that Hebrews establishes a difference between the Ten Commandments as the law of the new covenant and the commandments of the old covenant related to the priestly laws.
Perhaps the most important thing in this discussion is that the law should be internalized, shaping our character and actions. It is not a burden but a joyful expression of our covenant relationship with God; a covenant instituted through the gracious blood of Jesus.
*All Scriptures quoted in this article are from the New International Version.