by Jerry Shugart
Appendix 2: The Book of Hebrews
For this study on the use of diatheke in the book of Hebrews I will quote from Dr. Rodney Decker's paper titled The Law, The New Covenant, and the Christian: Studies in Hebrews 7-10. This paper was delievered to the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics in September, 2009.
Dr. Decker writes that "it is not, in my opinion, possible to postulate two new covenants without doing violence to the unified, four chapter argument of Heb 7-10. Nor is it possible to divorce Christians from some relationship to the new covenant so described" (Decker, The Law, The New Covenant, and the Christian: Studies in Hebrews 7-10, p.29).
"For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament" (Heb.7:19-22).
Dr. Decker says, "The specific covenant has not yet been named, but the argument to this point has now equated the 'better hope,' which has been introduced in place of the annulled law, as a covenant--in particular, a 'better covenant'...Thus the means by which the Christian draws near to God is a better covenant than the 'former regulation' (the law, i.e., the old covenant). The writer will identify the covenant explicitly in the next chapter (at this point he may be assuming that its identity is understood and obvious)" [emphasis added] (Ibid., p.9-10).
According to Dr. Decker the "better hope" is the same thing as a "better covenant." However, when we examine what is said earlier about the "hope" it is evident that the hope is the Lord Jesus as High Priest:
"That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Heb.6:18-20).
Now let us look again at what is said about the particular diatheke in the passage I previously quoted:
"The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament (diatheke)" (Heb.7:21-22).
Those who rely on the suretyship of the Lord Jesus are those who receive salvation according to the terms of the gospel, the better diatheke which is the Lord Jesus' "Last will and Testament." The Lord Jesus is the security and the pledge that those who believe the gospel are saved and will remain saved despite the sins which we commit after being saved. And just three verses later we read the following about our High Priest:
"Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb.7:25).
So if we do not ignore the context we can see that Dr. Decker is in error when he says that the "better hope" is a new covenant but instead we know that the "better hope" the Lord Jesus as our High Priest.
"But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better diatheke, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant (diatheke) had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant (diatheke) with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Heb.8:6-8).
In verse six we see that the diatheke which Christ mediates is spoken of as being established or placed in force. In order to understand the meaning of this diatheke please go to page twelve of this study, which demonstrates that the diatheke refers to the Lord Jesus' Last Will and Testament, the gospel.
Now let us look at Dr. Decker's commentary on Hebrews 8:7-8. He says that "The author then cites Jer 31:31 -34 (=Heb 8:8b-12), which can only be understood in this context to be a reference to that second covenant of which Jesus is the mediator, which replaced the earlier, faulty, first covenant" (Ibid., p.13).
There is no evidence that when the author quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 that he is saying that the second diatheke is now in force.
John Walvoord understands this to be true, writing that "The argument hangs on the point that the Mosaic covenant was not faultless-was never intended to be an everlasting covenant (Heb. 8:7). In confirmation of this point, the new covenant of Jeremiah is cited at length, proving that the Old Testament itself anticipated the end of the Mosaic law in that a new covenant is predicted to supplant it...A further statement is made that the old covenant is 'becoming old' and is 'nigh unto vanishing away.' It should be noted that nowhere in this passage is the new covenant with Israel declared to be in force. The only argument is that which was always true-the prediction of a new covenant automatically declares the Mosaic covenant as a temporary, not an eternal covenant" [emphasis added] (Walvoord, "The New Covenant with Israel," Bibliotheca Sacra 110 [July 1953], p.201).
"And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (Heb.9:15).
Dr. Decker writes that "After describing his high priestly work (11 - 14), the writer concludes that 'for this reason Christ is the mediator of the new covenant...The time reference is present: Jesus is presently the mediator of this covenant" (Ibid., p.16 - 17).
Dr. Decker merely assumes that this verse is speaking of the Lord Jesus being a Mediator of the new "covenant" despite the fact that an "inheritance" is spoken of and that fact points to the Lord Jesus' Last Will and Testament instead. And besides that the context makes it plain that it is indeed a Last Will and Testament which is in view:
"For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth" (Heb.9:16-17).
Matthew Henry wrote, "The solemn transactions between God and man, are sometimes called a covenant, here a testament, which is a willing deed of a person, bestowing legacies on such persons as are described, and it only takes effect upon his death" (Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary, Commentary at Hebrews 9:16-17).
"Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second" (Heb.10:8-9).
Dr. Decker says that "The first covenant comes to an end; the second takes its place" (Ibid., p.23).
Hebrews 10:9 does not say that the second has now taken the place of the first diatheke. The Greek verb translated "he may establish" is not in the "present" tense but instead the "aorist" tense:
"The aorist tense is characterized by its emphasis on punctiliar action; that is, the concept of the verb is considered without regard for past, present, or future time" (The Blue Letter Bible).
Hebrews 10: 15-18
Dr. Decker says that "The significance of this discussion is laid out in vv. 15 -18. The author is making two points. First, he is shifting the discussion from OT believers (who were the focus of vv. 1-14, being contrasted with Jesus' obedience) to NT believers. Second, he is arguing that the new covenant text of Jer 31 is relevant to this discussion...The basis on which we are 'made perfect forever' (v. 14) is the new covenant" [emphasis added] (Ibid., p.24-25).
First of all, those in the Body of Christ are perfected forever when they are sanctified (Heb.10:14). And it is faith in the "gospel of Christ" by which those in the Body are sanctified, as witnessed by the following words of the Lord Jesus spoken to Paul:
" I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:18).
Those who had been sanctified in Christ Jesus were the ones who had believed the gospel of Christ, His Last Will and Testament. Their sanctification was not a result of a diatheke promised to Israel. Dr. Decker continues:
"So that the point is not missed, following the second part of the quotation (v. 17), the writer summarizes again, 'where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any offering for sin' (v. 18)" (Ibid., p.25).
Now let us look at this passage, which Dr Decker refers to, that is speaking of Israel's New Diatheke:
"Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb.10:15-17).
The point which the author wanted to make is in regard to the words in "bold" and here is his point :
"Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin" (Heb.10:15-18).
Here the author was using Israel's New Diatheke, which speaks of final forgiveness, in order to show that the offerings under the law were no longer in effect as they were before:
"For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect...But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year" (Heb.10:1,3).
The author was telling these Hebrew Christians that Christ's death upon the Cross was done "once for all":
" By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb.10:10).
The author was not telling these Hebrew Christians that their sins were forgiven due to Israel's New Diatheke because the forgiveness of sins under that diathake remains in the future, as evidenced by what Paul said here:
"And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (Ro.11:26-27).