One Covenant and New Hermeneutics

By Frank Jamerson

If the priesthood did not change and Christ did not give a new covenant, how are we going to look to the New Testament as a pattern for our worship, organization, or work? This theory is indeed the “new hermeneutics” in different attire, and like any other rejection of New Testament authority will result in total departure from God’s pattern.

In December 1988, there was an exchange in Nashville between conservative and liberal thinking brethren. Some of the liberal thinkers turned out to be ultra-liberal and advocated what has been called “new hermeneutics.” They said that the canon of the New Testament was not decided until the fourth century and therefore the teaching of the apostles could not have been looked upon as a pattern. One speaker said “precept, example and necessary inference is Greek to me.” Instead of appealing to pattern authority, they said we should study the life of Jesus and do what we feel he would do in the circumstances. After the first speaker, I asked one who was to speak later on the liberal side (though he was much more conservative than that speaker), the source of that doctrine. He said: “Frank, that is rank modern-ism,” and it is!

Since I wrote a review of the “One Covenant” theory, I have been corresponding with two men who are trying to defend the theory. Some brethren have started traveling this road when they do not know its destination! One of the writers, a chief advocate of the theory, has made the same statement to me that the ultra-liberal speaker made in Nashville. I will quote that later, but first notice the argument that the priesthood has not changed and Christ gave no new covenant.

In the conclusion of my review, I quoted Hebrews 7:12 and said, “If theywill convince me that there has been one continuing priesthood, I will accept the doctrine of one continuing law!” Both men who wrote me took issue with that statement and argued that since Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek and that priest-hood does not change, I should accept their theory of one continuing law. One called it “proof-texting” when I said that this verse teaches a change in the Law. He said, “The preconception is that (1) the priesthood changed, and (2) the law changed. The text of He-brews 7:12 does not demand this conclusion, and so if I can show that there is one continuing priesthood, then you’ll have to, by your own statement, accept the truth of one continuing law. Hold on to your hat!” He said that the Holy Spirit should have said “the law of the priesthood” changed, not “the law,” and then argued that Christ’s priesthood “already existed in heavenly reality” in the Old Testament. Then he asserted that “change of law” does not mean “to do away with it. The Law of Moses was in the first century still there . . . still a tutor, bringing people to Christ.” (He ignores what Paul said about the “tutor” after faith came, Gal. 3:24, 25!)

Brethren, if they are wrong about Hebrews 7:12, their whole theory of “one covenant” is wrong, so let us look carefully at the Hebrew writer’s argument on priesthood and law.

First, the priesthood under discussion is the Levitical. The writer had just said, “Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that an-other priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek…” (Heb. 7:11). Neil Lightfoot commented: “When the author speaks of an inevitable change in the law, he is speaking of the whole Mosaic arrangement conceived of as sacrificial in essence. The law and the Levitical priesthood went together. One was integral to the other because on the basis of the priesthood the law was given. This is the meaning of the parenthetical statement in verse 11 (cf. NEB). Much of the law depended on the sacrificial system and could not operate without it” (Commentary on the Book of Hebrews, 142). Verse 11 says “the law made nothing perfect,” and verse 18 says “there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect.” “Change” in verse 11 means the same thing as “annul-ling” (declare void, invalidate, abrogate) in verse 18. The law was “changed” or “annulled” because the Levitical priesthood was “changed.” If the Old Law continues, so does the Levitical priesthood! If the priesthood changed, so did the law! Yes, if they will prove that we still have the Levitical priesthood, I will accept an unchanged law.

Second, Melchizedek was typical of Christ, but if Christ’s priesthood was in effect during the Old Covenant, he was a priest without a sacrifice! We want to scan five chapters of Hebrews and note some facts about Christ’s priesthood. “Christ did not magnify Himself to become High Priest” (5:5). Notice that he was not eternally the High Priest, but he became one when the Father said, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You” (v. 5b). Paul said, “And we declare to you glad tidings  that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also writ-ten in the second Psalm: You are My Son, Today I have begotten You” (Acts 13:32, 33). Jesus had been “perfected” through suffering and was “called of God as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (5:8-10). If he was a high priest before suffering, he was an “imperfect” one! The seventh chapter describes Melchizedek as “king of Salem and priest of the Most High God” (v. 1). There is no record of his genealogy, birth or death, there-fore was “made like the Son of God,” who truly has no beginning of days nor end of life (v. 3). Verse 15 says “there arises another priest.” The arising of this new priest is identified with “the bringing in of a better hope” because the “former commandment” (the law) was “weak and unprofitable” and “made nothing perfect” (vv. 18, 19). This high priest does not need to offer sacrifices “first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Him-self’ (v. 27). Then he says, “For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son of God who has been perfected forever” (v. 28). The oath God made through David (Ps. 110:4) was fulfilled when Christ was “perfected through suffering” (2:10: 5:8, 9) and “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (8:1).

These brethren are wrong when they say that the priesthood and the law did not change. The Levitical priesthood changed, and Christ became a priest after the order of Melchizedek when he was perfected and exalted. Every high priest must “have something to offer” (8:3), and “once at the end of the ages, He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (9:26). Christ’s priesthood was prophesied in the Old Testament, but became reality in the New. He is the “Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (8:6), and that is not the “former commandment,” the “law that made nothing perfect,” which was annulled (7:18, 19). The “newcovenant” that Jeremiah prophesied is now established and “where there is remission of these (sins), there is no longer an offering for sin” (10:16-18). If the new covenant of Jeremiah was established when the Jews were re-stored to the land, as “one covenant” theorists claim, then sacrifices should have ceased in 536 B.C.! The Holy Spirit said they ceased when Christ made the “one sacrifice for sins for-ever” (10:12).

What are the consequences of this theory that we have no new covenant? In a letter from the author of the two books which are being distributed to advance this theory, he said: “For al-most four centuries after the cross, there was no definite closed NT canon of the 27 present books. The `church fathers’ did the best with what they had; this is the same standard today. These early saints had no pattern principle and were not into proof-texting. They concentrated instead on the nature and person of God, the Son as the Christ of longstanding hope, the Spirit, the LS, collective worship, benevolence and the love feast.” He went on to say, “None of my theology is de-rived from necessary inference, no, not even the frequency of my par-taking of the LS.” Does that sound familiar? The early saints “had no pattern principle and were not into proof-texting” (which, to him means “patternism”  giving precept, ex-ample or necessary inference for your practice), “instead they concentrated on the nature and person of God, the Son…”

Brethren, if the priesthood did not change and Christ did not give a new covenant, how are we going to look to the New Testament as a pattern for our worship, organization, or work? This theory is indeed the “new hermeneutics” in different attire, and like any other rejection of New Testament authority will result in total departure from God’s pattern.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 21 p. 10-11
November 6, 1997