“He Taketh Away The First”

By Jim McDonald

Paul instructed Timothy, “Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Approval of God requires “handling aright” God’s word and to do that one must make a clear distinction between the Old and the New Testament. The Old Testament has a useful purpose today but that function is not to provide authority for religious practices (Rom. 15:4). It is presented in contrast to the New Testament which contains the words of Christ. God spake in times past “unto the fathers through the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners” but now he “hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his son,” whom all men are commanded both to hear and obey (Heb. 1:1; Matt. 17:5; Acts 3:22, 23).

The Hebrew letter emphasizes that Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek and sharply contrasts Christ in that priesthood with the priesthood of Levi and Aaron. Five times Christ is declared to be a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” a prophecy uttered by David (Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:17, 21; Psa.110:4). The promise of another priesthood suggests several consequences, not the least of which meant a change of law. “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of law” (Heb. 7:18. Having first made this statement, the Hebrew writer expanded upon it explaining, “For he of whom these things are said belongeth to another tribe, from which no man hath given attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah; as to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priests” (Heb. 7:13, 14). Christ, as our high priest, offered himself as a perfect offering for sin which, when once provided, satisfied forever the need for a sacrifice for sins (Heb. 9:23-28).

Hebrews teaches that the priesthood of Aaron was inadequate because its sacrifices could not ensure permanent removal of sin (“it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.” Heb. 10:4). The writer then wrote: “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, ‘Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body didst thou prepare for me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hadst no pleasure; then said I, Lo, I am come (in the roll of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God.’ Saying above, Sacrifices and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein (the which are offered according to the law), then hath he said, Lo, I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first that he may establish the second By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:5-10). The mission of Jesus was to do the will of God, a truth not only prophesied by David but expressed many times by the Lord him-self (Ps. 40:6-8; John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; Luke 22:42). God’s will was to pro-vide permanent, lasting pardon for sinners by the Son offering his own life for the sinner (John 3:16; 10:15; Matt. 26:28). To this end a body was pre-pared for Christ that he might be able to do that (Heb. 10:5, 10).

Having affirmed that he came to do thy will, it is next said: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second” (Heb. 10:9). Since Jesus came to do the Father’s will “and to take away the first that he may establish the second,” it is obvious that it was the Father’s will that the first be removed (taken away) and the second established. The writer speaks of something that is “first” that is taken away so that a “second” might be established. To what does he refer? Verse 10 tells us: “by which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all” (Heb. 10:10) There is an undeniable link between “second” and “will.” “Second” refers to God’s will to give lasting, permanent forgiveness to sinners, which will is set forth and expressed in his New Testament. If the “second” will has reference to the New Testament (and it does), the “first” has reference to the Old Testament. The statement, “He taketh away the first that he may establish the second,” is the Holy Spirit’s declaration that the Old Law has been removed, replaced by the New, an accomplishment other prophets pointed to.

Jeremiah said: “Behold, the day cometh saith the Lord that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I made with them in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt” (Jer. 31:31). Sinners can be sanctified (set apart from their sins) only through the provisions of Christ’s New Testament.

The Hebrew letter uses four words to describe these two covenants: “covenant,” “testament,” “will,” and “law.” These are contrasted by “old-new,” “first-second” (Heb. 8:8; 9:16; 10:9, 16). There is an “old” and a “new” covenant, a “first” and a “second” will (Heb. 8:8, 13; 10:9). By way of clarification let it be understood that the word “covenant” does not mean “law,” but both words are used to describe the nature of God’s revelation to man. The word “covenant” has reference to an agreement between two parties. Still, one must bear in mind that technically a “covenant” today is an agreement between two equal parties, which is not true of any covenant between God and man. In ancient times, it was common for a superior party to deliver his commandments to be obeyed by an inferior party, in the form of a covenant (Josh. 23:16; Ezek. 17:13-14). The technical name for this document in history was a “suzerainty covenant,” referring to the power of a sovereign lord. This is the kind of covenant God made with his people. God handed down his promises; man benefits from that covenant by complying with the terms of God’s covenant ex-pressed as his law.

In Exodus 34 a summarization is given of the law revealed to and by Moses, and verse 27 reads, “And Jehovah said unto Moses, write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant (my emphasis, jump) with thee and with Israel.” The Old Law expressed God’s covenant with Israel and agreeing with this Paul wrote: “Tell me, ye that de-sire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?” In his allegory of Abraham’s wives he wrote: “These women are two covenants one from Mount Sinai bearing children unto bondage, which is Hagar” (Gal. 4:21, 24). The Holy Spirit calls the “law” given at Mt. Sinai a “covenant.” “Speaking as the oracles of God” al-lows us to call that “law” a “covenant” (1 Pet. 4:11).

The word “testament” is found in Hebrews 9:15-17. “And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it. For a testament is of force where there hath been death for it doth never avail while he that made it liveth.” The word “testament” and the word “covenant” of verses 15 and 16 are from an identical Greek word (diatheke). Still the statement, “a testament is of force where there hath been death: for it doth never avail while he that made it liveth” is not true of the usual idea of parties in a covenant, but is true where a will (testament) has been made and left. Therefore, translating the word “testament” in Hebrews 9:16, 17 was the proper translation. The same word diatheke was used by the Greeks to define what we would call a “covenant” and what we would call a “will or testament.” It is appropriate that the word should be “testament” instead of “covenant” in Hebrews 9:16, 17, for that is the exact point the writer makes: Christ’s will became valid after his death (blood) had validated it. The preceding verse reads, “. . .they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). An “inheritance” is the result of a “testament” or “will.”

There is no truth more clearly taught than that when Jesus died on the cross he took away the Old Law and dedicated a new covenant. Just as the covenant God made with Israel was expressed in the law Moses gave, so also the covenant Christ has made is expressed in the words of the New Testament. Just as the first covenant was dedicated by blood, so the second is dedicated by the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:15-20; Luke 22:20). Just as Israel was sanctified by the first covenant, so spiritual Israel is sanctified by the second (Heb. 10:10).

Consider these statements, “He taketh away the first that he may establish the second”; “that which is old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanished away”; he “abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandment contained in ordinances; and, “he blotted out the bond written in ordinances”; which was contrary to us and he hath taketh it out of the way, nailing it to the cross” (Heb. 10:9; 8:13; Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14). Get a dictionary and look up these words “taketh away,” “vanishing away,” “abolish,” “blot out.” Now, consider what it was that was “taken away” that “vanished away” and that “was abolished and blotted out.” It was the law of Moses  the entire system, priesthood sacrifice, tabernacle and every ordinance of it including the Ten Commandments.

Galatians 4:21-31

Galatians 4:21-31 reads: “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid, and one by the free woman. Howbeit the son by the handmaid is born after the flesh but the son by the free woman is born through promise. Which things contain an allegory: for these women are two covenants: one from mount Sinai, bearing children unto bondage, which is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to the Jerusalem that now is: for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother… Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, so also it is now. Howbeit what saith the scripture? Cast out the handmaid and her son: for the son of the handmaid shall nor inherit with the son of the free woman. Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the free woman.” In this text is an allegory (“the veiled presentation, in a figurative story, of a meaning metaphorically implied but not expressly stated,” Webster). In this allegory, the Holy Spirit compared Abraham’s wives and sons to the two covenants.

Hagar, the bondwoman with her son Ishmael is made to stand for the first covenant in its entirety. She is identified with Mt. Sinai, representative of God’s ordinances given there: the Ten Commandments, instructions for the priesthood, the sacrifices, the entire religion which had Jerusalem as its center and whose adherents were physical Jews. Sarah stands for the heavenly Jerusalem, the system revealed by Christ, and those who are part of that system are represented in the allegory as “Isaac.” From the text consider these significant statements that bear upon the allegory.

“The son by the handmaid is born after the flesh; but the son by the free woman is born through promise” (Gal. 4:23). The writer asserts that Ishmael (the son of the handmaid) was not part of that promise God made to Abraham (“I will make of thee a great nation,” Gen. 12:1, 2). He was the fleshly issue of Abraham but no promise was connected to his birth at all. It was, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” and it was from Isaac that God made the great nation of Abraham that he promised to make of him (Gen. 21:12). The allegorical application of this is that just as Ishmael and his mother stood for the law and the physical Jew, so Isaac and his mother stand for the second covenant and the Christian. As there was no blessing attaching to Ishmael in the first promise, so there is no blessing based upon being a physical Jew in the second promise. The promised blessing is to the Christian which a Jew may become through walking in the steps of faith of Abraham. Thus, Abraham becomes his father in a spiritual sense, the only sense to which there is value (Gal. 3:7).

“Now we brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). Isaac was the promised son through whom God would make a great nation; Christians are the result of God’s second promise, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blest.”

“Howbeit, what saith the scripture? Cast out the handmaid and her son for the son of the handmaid shall not inherit with the son of the free woman” (Gal. 4:30). Who is the handmaid and her son? Hagar and Ishmael, of course, but in the allegory it is the law given at Sinai and the whole system of Judaism. To “cast out the handmaid and her son” can only mean that the Law has been abolished. In view of this, how can any contend that the Old Law (or covenant as Paul calls it) has not been removed?

There are those who argue that there was a difference between the ceremonial part of the Law and the Ten Commandments and that only the ceremonial part of the Law was removed. The argument as set forth by some is that the Law of Moses (ceremonial law, nailed to cross) and the Law of the Lord (Ten Commandments, still binding) were different. The Holy Spirit made no such distinction. He said the Law of the Lord was the Law of Moses and the Law of Moses was the Law of the Lord (2 Chron. 34:14; Ezra 7:6; Mark 7:10; 2 Chron. 31:3; Neh. 8:1, 13; Luke 2:22-24). Furthermore, the Roman writer said, “Wherefore brethren ye were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ,” and then identified the Law they were dead to as the Law which said, “Thou shalt not covet.” Whatever law it was that said, “Thou shalt nor covet” was the Law they had become dead to. This statement is the tenth of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:17)

When Was the Law Removed?

Let the Scriptures answer. “For where a testament is there must of necessity be the death of him that made it.” “For he is our peace who made both one and brake down the middle wall of partition having abolished in his flesh the enmity even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself the two one new man so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross having slain the enmity thereby: “having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us which was contrary to us: and he hath taketh it out of the way nailing it to the cross” (Heb. 9:15; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:14). Hebrews 9 shows that before a testament is valid there must be the death of the one who made it. The New Testament of Christ was not in force prior to his death but became effective after his death. Ephesians 2:14 identifies the “law of commandments contained in ordinances” as a middle wall that Christ broke down; the Law (the enmity) was abolished in his flesh and it was through the cross that the enmity (Law) was slain (made dead). Colossians 2:14 tells that the bond written against us (the Law and its whole system) was blotted out, nailed to the cross. When Jesus died the veil in the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom; what once was holy is now made common (Matt. 27:51).

Why The Law Was Removed

It was a partition wall between Jew and Greek. God desired that all his people be gathered into one fold. “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold. Them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice and they shall become one flock ,one shepherd” (John 10:16). “Now this he said not of himself but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation; and not for the nation only but that he might also gather together into one the children of God that are scattered abroad” (John 11:51, 52). Jesus accomplished this desire by breaking down the wall (the Law) between Jew and the Gentile, nailing it to the cross (Eph. 2:14-16).

No one could be alive to both laws at the same time, “Or are ye ignorant brethren (for I speak to men who know the law) that the law hath dominion over a man for so long time as he liveth? For the woman that hath a husband is bound by law to her husband while he liveth; but if the husband die she is discharged from the law of the husband So then if while the husband liveth she be joined to another man she shall be called an adulteress: but if the husband die she is free from the law so that she is no adulteress though she be joined to another man Wherefore my brethren ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another even to him who was raised from the dead that we might bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:1-4) In these verses Paul speaks of “the law of the husband” and “the law.” Moving from the universal truth that law hath dominion over man only while he liveth to the “law of the husband,” Paul shows that the woman who is married to a husband is joined to him as long as he lives. For her to be married to a second husband while the first liveth makes her an adulteress. The wife cannot be alive to two husbands at the same time. Neither could the Jew who was “married to the law” be joined to Christ without be-coming “dead” to the Law.

The first Testament was designed to be removed. It was added because of transgressions and came after God’s covenant to bless all nations through the seed of Abraham had been confirmed (Gal. 3:19, 15-18). It was a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ but now that faith is come we now longer are under a schoolmaster (law, Gal. 3:24). When Jesus gave his new law, the old law was removed.

The first Testament could not make alive and was weak and unprofitable. “If there had been a law given which could have made alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law” (Gal. 3:21). “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second (Heb. 8:7). The Hebrew writer further adds, “There is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness (for the law made nothing perfect)” (Heb. 7:18, 19).

Errors From Failure To Distinguish

Between The Two Covenants

The divisions in our religious world can be traced in large measure to man’s failure to recognize the distinction between the two covenants. Consider five errors which exist in our divided world which have arisen out of not “handling aright the word of truth.”

Commanding to abstain from meats. The law set forth certain restrictions on food that the Jew could eat (Lev. 11:1-12). Among those forbidden meats were the flesh of swine and catfish. Although Seventh Day Adventists make distinction between “ceremonial” and “moral” law and theoretically teach that such restrictions on meats were part of “ceremonial law” removed at the cross, their devotees are urged to abstain from such meats.

Sabbath Keeping. Those who argue that the Ten Commandments were not nailed to the cross argue that the Sabbath is still binding on Christians. These affirm that Christians should keep the Sabbath and ignore the first day of the week despite the fact that the first day is the only day of the week specifically identified with “disciple action.” These argue that the apostles “kept the Sabbath” because they went into Jewish synagogues and taught on that day (Acts 13:14). It apparently has never occurred to such that to fulfill their commission to preach to the Jew would re-quire them to preach on the day of Jewish assembly, the Sabbath. Action peculiar to disciples are never recorded as occurring on that day; rather the day specially identified with disciples in things they did because they were disciples is found exclusively on the first day of the week. On that day disciples came together to break bread and on that day disciples gave of their finances to support the divinely appointed work of the church (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:10. May Christians meet as Christians on other days of the week? Certainly (Acts 2:47). The first day of the week is set in contrast to the Sabbath as the day of special assembly of Christians versus the day of special assembling of Jews. The Sabbath was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14).

Some say the Ten Commandments were not nailed to the cross and that we keep the Sabbath because our “Sabbath is Christ,” we find our rest in him. On the one hand, to invalidate part of the Law invalidates all the Law. We are made dead to the Law which said, “Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7). The command, “Thou shalt not covet,” is part of the Ten Commandments. We are made dead to the Ten Commandments, then. On the other hand, if one keeps part of the Law, he is bound to keep the whole Law. Paul wrote: “Yea, I testify again to every man that receiveth circumcision that he is a debtor to do the whole law” Gal 5:3). If one refrains from adultery because the Ten Commandments forbade it, he is debtor to keep all Ten Commandments including, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy” (Exod. 20:4). James wrote: “Whoso keepeth the whole law and yet offends in one point he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). If a man keeps nine of the Ten Commandments but breaks the fourth (Sabbath), he is become guilty of breaking all the Ten Commandments. How much clearer must the Holy Spirit speak that one might under-stand that if we are under the Ten Commandments, we are obligated to keep the Sabbath, but if we are not bound to keep the Sabbath, we are not bound to keep any of the other nine? The new law incorporates nine of the ten commandments into it, but coveting, lying, stealing, adultery, murder and dishonor of parents are not wrong because prohibited by the Ten Commandments but wrong because prohibited by Christ in his New Covenant.

Instrumental Music. Those who want instrumental music in worship justify it on the grounds that instruments were permitted under the Law and that David used them. David offered animal sacrifices in his worship. Are animal sacrifices appropriate in our worship? David was a polygamist. May man practice polygamy today? If we may use instruments in worship because David did, we may offer animal sacrifices in worship and have a dozen wives because David did these things as well. Since we can only have one wife and cannot offer animal sacrifices although David did, it also follows that we cannot have instrumental music in worship just because David had them.

Marriage and divorce for every cause. The Jews questioned Jesus asking, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause” to which Jesus responded, “Have you never read, that he that made them from the beginning made them male and female and said, `For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife and the two shall become one flesh? So that they are no more two but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”‘ (Matt. 19:3-6). The Pharisee then asked, “Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement and to put her away. He saith unto them, Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives but from the beginning it hath not been so. And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another committeth adultery and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery” (Matt. 19:7-9).

Under the Law a man could divorce his wife and both of them remarry (Deut. 24:1-4). Some argue that Christ was not giving new instructions relating to marriage in Matthew 19; they say he was only explaining the Law of Moses and that, as under the Law of Moses, a couple could divorce and both remarry; so it can be done today. Christ was not explaining Moses’ law. He was pointing to his new covenant which would return to God’s original law concerning marriage. Originally (“from the beginning”) when God joined a couple together, he said, “What I have joined together let not man put asunder.” Under Moses’ Law, “Moses, for hardness of their hearts, allowed them to put away their wives.” But such is true no more. Christ’s law returns to the original law God gave. Instead of a couple divorcing and both re-marrying as per Moses law, when a couple now divorce only one can remarry (the one whose mate committed fornication), and in the absence of fornication, when a couple divorce and each marries another mate, four people are living in adultery.

Keep the Ten Commandments to be saved. Many say that all man needs to do to be saved is “just keep the Ten Commandments.” The Ten Commandments say nothing about being baptized that one may be saved, about Christians assembling, nor does it say one word about observing the Lord’s Supper (Mark 16:16, Heb. 10:25; Acts 20:7).

Those who teach we are under the Ten Commandments fail to do what Paul charged Timothy to do: “handle aright the word of Truth” (2 Tim 2:15).


The Law has been removed. “Cast out the handmaid and her son for the son of the handmaid shall not inherit with the son of the free woman” (Gal. 4:30). To accept part of the Law (circumcision, et al) obligates one to keep the whole Law. Yet, if we accept the Law, we have fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4) The Old Testament is not authority for any religious practice. Never forget that while God in times past spake unto the fathers by the prophets in divers portions and in divers manners, yet hath he in the end of these days, spoken unto us through his Son. Of the Son God said, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye him” (Matt 17:3). Let all remember that God has warned “that every soul that shall not hearken to that prophet, shall be utterly destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:23).

Guardian of Truth XL: 11 p. 6-10
June 6, 1996