A foundational principle of Christianity is the claim that a new covenant was instituted by Jesus’ death and resurrection, replacing the covenant made between YHWH and Israel at Mount Sinai. No longer are we required to observe YHWH’s instructions, for we are saved by simple faith in Jesus and nothing else.
What if it could be easily shown from the New Testament that the new covenant is still in the future? What would that mean for Christianity? Could it be that the Mount Sinai covenant still stands, leaving Christianity without excuse for abandoning YHWH’s instructions, even teaching people to break them?
Disclaimer: Because B'nei Moshe recognizes only the Torah as divine and authoritative, this article should not be misconstrued as lending any credence to any of the post-Torah texts it mentions. Rather, it will disprovea an important tenet of Christianty versus Judaism by juxtaposing the texts to which they both adhere. B'nei Moshe neither endorses nor accepts these texts.
The Christian canon includes the Tanakh (a.k.a. Old Testament). Given that the Tanakh is considerably more ancient than the Christian scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) and insofar as it is considered true as part of "God's Word" by Christianity, let us begin our investigation there.
Does the Tanakh ever suggest there will be a new covenant?
Yes! A new covenant is promised in the Tanakh, by the prophet Jeremiah:
“Indeed, a time is coming,” says YHWH, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says YHWH. “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says YHWH. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people.
“People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says YHWH. “For I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.”
(Jer 31:31-34 NET)
There are three major themes contained in this promised new covenant. The first one we will focus on is what I will refer to as theme #3 (themes #1 and #2 will be discussed later below.)
When does the new covenant happen?
In the New Testament, the author of the book of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah’s prophecy in Hebrews 8:8-12. Then, he sums up with this in verse 13:
When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear.
(Heb 8:13 NET)
The book of Hebrews is thought to have been written between 50 and 60 C.E. This means the author was composing this text some 20 or 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Now, notice carefully how he has cast the “first” covenant, (the Mount Sinai covenant), as something which is “growing obsolete and aging”, and is “about to disappear”.
Something that is aging is still alive. Something that is about to disappear is still visible.
If the author of Hebrews believed that a new covenant had been ushered in with the death of Jesus, this would have been written much differently. Rather than aging, the first covenant would be dead and gone. Rather than about to disappear, it would have vanished and been invisible by then. Clearly, the author of Hebrews understood that the Sinai covenant was still in place, and the new covenant hadn’t yet happened, 2 to 3 decades after Jesus!
So, let’s see if we can figure out why he understood this. Is there anything about the prophecy that points to exactly when the new covenant will happen? Indeed, there is, and we will shortly see that the new covenant cannot happen until the messianic age to come.
Universal knowledge of YHWH
Part of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the coming new covenant includes the phrase “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me”. These words were spoken by YHWH Himself, through Jeremiah the prophet.
Certainly everyone does not know YHWH today. People do need to be taught about Him. We do not innately know him, although we may have something built into us that understands there is something greater than ourselves at work in the world.
The idea of universal knowledge of YHWH is discussed quite frequently in the Tanakh, and it is always found in prophecy of the end times and the messianic age to follow. We will include three such passages to prove the point, though there are more:
They will no longer injure or destroy on my entire royal mountain. For there will be universal submission to YHWH’s sovereignty, just as the waters completely cover the sea. (Isa 11:9 NET)
I will exalt and magnify myself; I will reveal myself before many nations. Then they will know that I am YHWH. (Eze 38:23 NET)
YHWH will then be king over all the earth. In that day YHWH will be seen as one with a single name. (Zec 14:9 NET)
Feel free to read the context surrounding these passages to confirm that these are all end times/messianic age passages. Other passages which speak of the universal knowledge of YHWH include Isa 2:2-3, Isa 42:1, Jer 33:9, Mic 4:1-3, Zeph 3:9,19,20 and Zec 14:16.
Here we have conclusive proof, at least according to the Tanakh, that there is no new covenant in place currently. It will not be made until the messianic age.
So what was he thinking?
The author of the book of Hebrews admits the Sinai (first) covenant is still in place, suggesting that in his day there was no reason to believe the new covenant had come. However, the way he characterizes the first covenant does seem to imply that the Sinai covenant is going to be replaced very soon. This is probably the natural assumption based upon promises made by Jesus, such as:
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
The author of Hebrews, believing Jesus to be the promised redeemer to come, would have been eagerly awaiting his return, within his lifetime, to usher in the messianic age, at which point the new covenant would be introduced. He believed it was right around the corner.
Unfortunately, this did not come to pass, and nearly 2,000 years later the new covenant remains a promise for the future.
Additional new covenant problems
While the timeline of the new covenant, (theme #3 in the list of themes contained in Jeremiah’s prophecy), is the most devastating to the Christian assertion that we live under a new covenant today, the other two major themes contained in the prophecy also present significant problems for Christianity.
Theme #1: “I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt.”
Here we see that the new covenant is to be made with people of Israel and Judah. These are the two kingdoms of Israel, as they were called after they divided post Solomon. That Christianity would think this new covenant applies to non-Israelite nations, or the “church”, is a mystery.
Theme #2: “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and mind.”
The Hebrew word translated law here is Torah, and without a doubt Jeremiah understood YHWH’s law to be the law of Moses. What this means is that the new covenant will have at its center the very same instructions that were the foundation of the previous covenant. This time, however, they will be written inside his people, on their hearts and minds, enabling them to obey naturally and perfectly. That is the key difference between the new covenant and the old.
Christianity sees in this portion of the prophecy a reference to the Christian idea of the “Holy Spirit”. However, there are tens of thousands of Christian denominations around the world, with differences in belief and practice. Clearly this “Holy Spirit” is not leading everyone to follow the same law. In fact, the majority of Christendom is convinced that the Torah has been done away with, in direct contradiction to Jeremiah’s prophecy!
Lastly, where can we find YHWH revealing the terms of this new covenant and his people accepting them in the New Testament writings? Exodus 19-20 tells the story of the Israelites hearing YHWH speak the ten commandments to the entire nation at Mount Sinai, causing them to fear for their lives and send Moses up to receive YHWH’s instructions for them. In Exodus 24 we read that Moses wrote down all the words of YHWH and the covenant was ratified before the nation. There is nothing of the sort in New Testament writings documenting the ratification of the supposed new covenant.
What more can be said? Clearly, the new covenant, whether or not the prophecy thereof is even true, is still in the future, and by this Christianity is in serious error regarding the abandonment of YHWH’s instructions.