In His saying, “A new service,” he has made the first old. But that which is becoming old and ageing is close to vanish away (Hebrews 8:13, PME)

Many people in today’s Messianic community, when reading Hebrews 8:13 in a version like the New American Standard Update, are quite aware that the word “covenant” has been inserted in italics by the translators: “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.”

Many are of the conviction, that given the wider subject matter of Hebrews 8:1, “Now the main point of the things being said is this: we have such a High Priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the Heavens” (PME), that more English versions should have “priesthood” in italics in Hebrews 8:13 (also 8:7). The Greek reads en tō legein kainēn, ““in the saying ‘new’” (YLT), meaning that “priesthood” could actually be what is instead being described.

In Hebrews 8:7, the Practical Messianic Edition Apostolic Scriptures has something a little different: For if that first service had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.” The Greek is Ei gar hē prōtē ekeinē ēn amemptos; “For if that first was faultless” (LITV); “For if that first one had been flawless” (TLV). This clause notably lacks the term diathēkē or “covenant,” even though most English versions provide it. (The NASB/NASU is most appreciable in that “covenant” is marked by italics, unlike most others.)

While the New Covenant is something that features within the author’s discussion for sure in Hebrews 8, what is hē prōtē really connected to? Is adding “covenant” an inappropriate value judgment, as made by most Bible translators? Grammatically speaking, given the surrounding cotext, there are four possible feminine nouns that can be legitimately associated with hē prōtē. Diathēkē or “covenant” is certainly one of them (Hebrews 7:22; 8:6, 9, 10; 9:4, 16, 17, 20), but so are skēnē or “tabernacle”(Hebrews 7:22; 8:6, 9, 10; 9:4, 16, 17, 20), hierōsunē or “priesthood” (Hebrews 7:11, 12, 24), or even leitourgia or “ministry/service” (Hebrews 8:6; 9:21). The latter three would be used as referents to the Levitical sacrificial system, which the author of Hebrews has affirmed previously in ch. 8, is surpassed in effectiveness by the Melchizedekian priesthood of Yeshua (8:1-4).

It was largely the first “priesthood” that was actually discovered by God to not be “faultless,” because its human occupiers (“them,” Hebrews 8:8) cannot perform the same type of work that Yeshua the Son performs before the Father in Heaven. If, for the statement Ei gar hē prōtē ekeinē, translators provided “first priesthood,” “first tabernacle,” “first ministry”—or perhaps the most encompassing of these three, “first service—the reference would be placed upon the Levitical priesthood and Tabernacle service. Not enough realize, that it is upon the basis of Yeshua’s priesthood, that the New Covenant has been inaugurated forth (Hebrews 8:6). The problem was not with any previous covenant God had made with His people, but it was with the actual people—especially the priests—that definitely required salvation history to progress forward (Hebrews 1:1-2), and for a new arrangement to be made via the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah, providing permanent atonement and forgiveness.

The Practical Messianic Edition of the Apostolic Scriptures or PME is a specialty edition of the New Testament, based on the 1901 American Standard Version, incorporating the conclusions defended in Messianic Apologetics’ Practical Messianic commentary series and other publications.