“But now [Christ] hath obtained a better ministry, by how much also he is a mediator of a better testament which is established on better promises.” (Heb. 8:6)
The terms “supersessionism” and “replacement theology” are used by Jews and heterodox Christians alike to signify the traditional teaching that the Old Covenant is no longer in effect, but has been surpassed by a superior Covenant, the New Testament in Christ’s Precious Blood. The labels are not at all inaccurate. “Supersessionism” is the better of the two because it implies the superiority of the New Law over the Old, whereas something can be “replaced” with an equal or even an inferior.
The conventional way of discussing the Jews, Judaism, or anything related is to do so with insincerity and an appalling lack of frankness or interest in truth. In writing about these things plainly, I do so contrary to the spirit of effeminate liberal Catholicism, which seeks to placate false religions at every turn. Such frankness is also contrary to the wishes of those Jews who demand that neither they nor their religion can be spoken of in any way other than flatteringly. So be it. Any Jew with a modicum of good-will will at least appreciate the lack of fakeness embodied in this brief study.
This article has as its purpose the defense of the traditional teaching regarding the two testaments (“supersessionism”) from one book of the Bible: St. Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews.
The Epistle Itself
The reason for picking Hebrews as the one book to defend our dogma will become obvious to anyone who reads this excerpt from the Douay Rheims Bible’s introductory comments:
St. Paul wrote this epistle to the Christians in Palestine, the most part of whom being Jews before their conversion, they were called Hebrews. He exhorts them to be thoroughly converted and confirmed in the faith of Christ, clearly shewing them the preeminence of Christ’s priesthood above the Levitical, and also the excellence of the new law above the old.
A few other introductory comments on the Epistle are worthwhile. We will briefly discuss the questions of time, place, canonicity, authorship, theme, and circumstances of the book’s composition before proceeding with our apologetic arguments.
The time for its writing was probably between AD 62 and 67. The year 64 is sometimes given. These years correspond to the circumstances of persecution alluded to in the epistle (10:34; 13:3; 12:4-7). We know from the historians Eusebius and Josephus that in 62 — between the death of the procurator Festus and the arrival of his successor, Albinus — there were some anti-Christian riots in Palestine, during which James the Less was killed (Acts 12:1ff.). The epistle was certainly written before AD 70, as (1) St. Paul was dead by then and (2) the Temple was destroyed in 70. (As the whole book details the superiority of the New Dispensation over the Old one, certainly the destruction of the Temple itself would have been used as a major argument, had it been written afterward.)
The place and audience are disputed, though the common opinion is that it was written from somewhere in Italy, probably Rome, to Palestine. The contents clearly show it is written for Jewish Christians — hence the name “Hebrews” — and possibly to those who were specifically not Hellenized Jews (i.e., Jews who had become culturally Greek). There is an opinion that it went from Jerusalem to Italy, but that does not seem to match the most obvious reading of the text (see 13:24).
Its canonicity (i.e., whether or not it belonged with the list, or “canon,” of inspired works) was disputed between the years 200 and 400, but only in the West. This is possibly due to the misuse, by the Novatian heretics, of two difficult passages regarding the forgiveness of sins (6:4-6;10:26). But early authority — including Clement of Rome (ca. 96), the Pastor of Hermas (150), Justin Martyr (ca.165), and at least one early fragment — witnesses to its canonicity. Pope St. Damasus (382), in the first official Canon, included Hebrews. So did the Council of Carthage in 397.
The authorship was disputed in Rome itself fairly early on, according to St. Jerome. There was more unity in the East on its Pauline authorship. But the style of the epistle is strikingly different from St. Paul’s, and many of the common features of Pauline Epistles are missing. There are three possible solutions to the dilemma: 1) The work is not at all by St. Paul. 2) St. Paul is the author, but his ideas were “written up” by another (an idea proposed by Origen). 3) St. Paul wrote in Hebrew, which was translated into Greek early on by someone else. This third explanation would account for the stylistic differences, but there is no evidence for it (no early Hebrew manuscripts). Another objection to the third solution is the fact that the epistle most often quotes the version of the Old Testament known as the Greek Septuagint. It is unlikely that a Greek Old Testament would have been cited in a Hebrew work. In 1914, the Pontifical Biblical commission decreed that, while we may not doubt the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, Catholics are not bound to believe that St. Paul actually penned it. Thus, explanation two is allowable: St. Paul was the “author” but not the “writer.” This seems a reasonable explanation, especially in light of the fact that many Eastern Fathers, experts in Greek style, never questioned St. Paul’s authorship.
This view of Pauline authorship of the epistle is not taken seriously by most modern Biblical academics. However, one contemporary scholar, a Jesuit at the Pontifical Biblicum — hardly a bastion of traditionalism — bucked the liberal establishment by concluding that St. Paul was indeed the author.
The overarching theme of the epistle is the superiority of the New Testament over the Old. The New Dispensation has a superior mediator — Christ, the son of God, coequal with the Father — who outranks both the angels and Moses. It has a superior High Priest, for Our Lord outranks the Levitical Priests. Indeed, He is that “priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech” foreseen by King David in Psalm 109:4 (or 110:4 in the more modern numbering). The New Dispensation is also a superior covenant, the first being ministered in the earthly tabernacle made by hands, but this one in the heavenly tabernacle. It has a superior sacrifice, Christ Himself. St. Paul also draws practical moral conclusions from these dogmatic facts, spurring his readers on to the practice of the virtues, especially the theological virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity), amid their
More than one commentator has suggested that the epistle was an apologia for Jewish Christians preparing to abandon the Holy City and the Temple prior to their destruction in AD 70. Our Lord had warned of the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt. 24:15ff.), giving signs by which this event would be recognized. The Christian Jews gathered in the city of Pela, northeast of Jerusalem, on the east side of the Jordan River. The dilemma of certain Jewish Christians could have been this: Do we abandon our people to the Romans and go to Pela, or do we stay and defend the Temple? Not only were their lives in danger from the Roman invasion, but their souls were, too. In sharing the plight of suffering from the pagan Romans with their unbelieving fellow Jews, they could easily have fallen prey to indifferentism, thinking that the Jews’ defense of Jerusalem and the Temple were good and holy, thus making belief in Christ a “secondary issue.” The danger would have been heightened by the possibility of apostasy, e.g., by embracing one of Jerusalem’s Jewish defenders, such as Eleazar, the son of Simon; John, the son of Levi; or Simon, the son of Goria — the false christs Our Lord had prophesied and who brutally vied with one another for control over the doomed city.
This danger of apostasy is likely what motivated such urgent exhortations as this: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering (for he is faithful that hath promised), and let us consider one another, to provoke unto charity and to good works: Not forsaking our assembly, as some are accustomed; but comforting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching. For if we sin willfully after having the knowledge of the truth, there is now left no sacrifice for sins, but a certain dreadful expectation of judgment, and the rage of a fire which shall consume the adversaries” (10:23-27).
It is said that not one Christian perished in the Roman siege on Jerusalem, while 1.2 million Jews did. “For our God is a consuming fire” (12:29).
“By His Son”
The epistle gets to the point immediately. The first argument is that, whereas God formerly spoke through many prophets, bit by bit giving His revelations to His chosen people; now He definitively speaks through His Son, not His son by grace — as are regenerated men and angels — but His Son by nature, the Man-God. And, whereas the Old Law was given to the Israelites “by the disposition of angels” (Acts 7:53), now it is the “firstborn Son,” who is Himself fully divine, who ministers the New Law:
God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son , whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high. Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they . For to which of the angels hath he said at any time, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith: And let all the angels of God adore him. And to the angels indeed he saith: He that maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But to the Son: Thy throne, O God , is for ever and ever: a sceptre of justice is the sceptre of thy kingdom. (1:1-8)
In this excerpt, St. Paul cites Psalms 103 (104) and 44 (45) to show that the Son is greater than the angels. The importance of this to a Jewish readership is the role of angels in ministering the Old Law. The Jews were very much aware that the angels were mediators between God and men in the Mosaic Covenant (note the remark in St. Stephen’s martyrdom-meriting sermon: Acts 7:53). Moreover, in applying the text from Psalm 44 to the Son, the Apostle explicitly calls Jesus “God.” The reasoning of the whole passage is that the human prophets and angelic mediators of the Old Law have been superseded by the Son of God, who is greater in dignity than they. The rest of Chapter One goes on to give more proofs from the Old Testament of the same truth, with citations from Psalm 101 (102) and 109 (110), both of which call the Messias “Lord.”
Better than Moses
In Chapter Three, St. Paul goes on to show Our Lord’s superiority to Moses. Jesus is
faithful to him that made him, as was also Moses in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by so much as he that hath built the house, hath greater honour than the house. For every house is built by some man: but he that created all things, is God . And Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant , for a testimony of those things which were to be said: But Christ as the Son in his own house : which house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and glory of hope unto the end. (3:2-6)
There was no greater figure to the Jews than Moses. He was the very icon of fidelity and endurance. He was the exalted “lawgiver” who merits much praise for his perseverance in Chapter Eleven of this same epistle. When Aaron and Miriam (his own brother and sister) were rebelling against Moses, it was God Himself who said that Moses was “faithful in all my house” (Num. 12:7). St. Paul cites this passage to build on the “house” metaphor. Moses was part of the house of God (God’s covenant people), but although “faithful” in it, he was still only a “servant” in it. Jesus, being God, is the builder of the house. It is “his house.” Other references to Christ’s superiority to Moses are found in 9:19, 10:28, and 12:21ff.
Jesus is greater than Moses, and His Law is greater than Moses’ Law.
A Better Priesthood
There is a centrality in our epistle to the subject of the priesthood. The way that God is worshipped has always been something of utmost importance in the true religion. We learn from the story of Cain and Abel that some sacrifices are pleasing to God and some are not (Gen 4:3ff). In the Levitical Law given to Moses, the social worship of God was minutely detailed in its divinely-prescribed rituals. To preserve the unity of faith and worship, the priestly sacrifices could be offered, at first, only in the tabernacle built by Moses. Then, after Jerusalem was finally conquered, Solomon built the Temple there in the Holy City. Such was the importance of this central place of worship that Jewish men, even those at a distance, were bound, to be present at the Temple on three important feasts every year (Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles).
Given its centrality in the worship of the one true God, it is not surprising that the Temple was the glory of the nation, and its most sacrosanct place. Had this not been the case, Our Lord’s references to Himself as a Temple (e.g., Jn. 2:19) would have been meaningless, as would St. Paul’s copious references to the New Testament Church being a temple.
The holiest place in the Temple was the Holy of Holies (or “the Holies”), which contained, among other things (before the Babylonian captivity), the holiest artifact of the Temple: the Ark of the Covenant. It was forbidden for anyone to enter into the Holy of Holies, except the High Priest, and he could do so only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. On other days, lesser priests could offer various sacrifices in that part of the Temple just outside the Holy of Holies, known as the “Holy Place.” These gradations continue down, so that the less holy the place, the more people have access to it, until the least holy: the Court of the Gentiles, where non-Jews were allowed to go. These gradations formed a Jewish cosmology, a way of looking at the universe as a giant Temple, with heaven being the Holy of Holies. Like Gothic Cathedrals, the Temple was a catechism in architecture.
The divine service in the Temple was offered by the Levitical Priests, male descendants of Aaron, with the assistance of their fellow Levites, the “deacons” of the Old Covenant. The Levites earned themselves this privilege when they slew 320,000 of the Israelites who had fallen into idolatry (Ex. 32:25ff.).
As important as the Levitical priesthood was to the Jews, St. Paul points out to his readers that Scripture spoke of another priesthood, the priesthood of Melchisedech. He proves, using Psalm 109, that this priesthood is greater than the priesthood of Aaron. The mysterious Melchisedech was that “priest of the most high God” who blessed Abraham after his victory over the four kings (Gen. 14:18). The Psalms made reference to him, speaking of the Messias:
The Lord hath sworn and he will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech. (Ps. 109:4)
St. Paul posits several reasons for the superiority of this priesthood over the Aaronic priesthood. One is that God has made an oath in creating this priesthood, whereas he made no such oath in instituting the Levitical priesthood. (“The Lord hath sworn,” from the passage in question, is an expression of an oath.) He also points to Melchisedech’s superiority to Abraham, which he inferred from his blessing Abraham (an inferior never blessed a superior) and from Abraham’s giving him tithes, something properly rendered to a superior. Since the Levites were descended from Abraham, they are all inferior to Melchisedech; hence, the Levitical priesthood is inferior to that of Melchisedech. Further, the Apostle shows that this priesthood must be part of a Covenant other than the Mosaic Covenant, which was in full effect during the time Psalm 109 was written, roughly 400 years after Melchisedech blessed Abraham.
Now consider how great this man [Melchisedech] is, to whom also Abraham the patriarch gave tithes out of the principal things. And indeed they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law [Num. 18:21], that is to say, of their brethren: though they themselves also came out of the loins of Abraham. But he, whose pedigree is not numbered among them, received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction, that which is less, is blessed by the better. And here indeed, men that die, receive tithes: but there he hath witness, that he liveth. And (as it may be said) even Levi who received tithes, paid tithes in Abraham: For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedech met him. If then perfection was by the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchisedech, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? (7:4-11)
The foundation for St. Paul’s commentary on the priesthood of Melchidisech is Psalm 109, as we have said. It was certainly a Messianic Psalm, being cited as such in the opening Chapter of our epistle (1:13). Our Lord Himself spoke of it in these terms:
And the Pharisees being gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying: What think you of Christ? Whose son is he? They say to him: David’s. He saith to them: How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying: The Lord said to my Lord: Sit on my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool? [Ps. 109:1] If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word: neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions. (Mt. 22:41-46)
Note that the Pharisees did not object that this Psalm was not Messianic. All the Jews accepted it as such. Since Psalm 109 referred to the Messias — the Christ — then it was fulfilled in Jesus. He is David’s son as man, and David’s Lord as God. He is also the “priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.” But St. Paul infers more from the Psalm. Being “forever” a priest, Christ is not like the priests of the Mosaic alliance, who die and have to be replaced by others, He is “always living”; He is singular, whereas they are “many priests.” Being sinless, He is also morally superior to them and had no need to offer sacrifice for any sin, whereas the Aaronic High Priest offered the blood of a bullock for his own sins on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:6).
And the others indeed were made many priests, because by reason of death they were not suffered to continue: But this, for that he continueth for ever, hath an everlasting priesthood, whereby he is able also to save for ever them that come to God by him; always living to make intercession for us. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily (as the other priests) to offer sacrifices first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, in offering himself. For the [Mosaic] law maketh men priests, who have infirmity: but the word of the oath, which was since the law, the Son who is perfected for evermore. (7:24-28)
Chapter Seven is the major Melchisedech chapter. The Apostle had prepared his readers for it in Chapters Five and Six. And, although Melchisedech is not mentioned again after Chapter Seven, the discussion of Christ’s superior priesthood continues into Chapters Eight and Nine. In the following passage, he demonstrates that, unlike the Aaronic priesthood, Our Lord’s priesthood is exercised in the “true tabernacle,” that it is heavenly and not earthly, and that the Levites served the “example and shadow of heavenly things”:
Now of the things which we have spoken, this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of majesty in the heavens, a minister of the holies, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord hath pitched, and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is necessary that he also should have some thing to offer. If then he were on earth, he would not be a priest: seeing that there would be others to offer gifts according to the law, who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things. (8:1-5)
We get more of the same praise of Christ’s priesthood in Chapter Nine, where St. Paul adds that the sacrifice Christ offers is superior to those of the Mosaic Priests:
But Christ, being come an high priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hand, that is, not of this creation: Neither by the blood of goats, or of calves, but by his own blood, entered once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption. (9:11-12)
Those liberal Catholics who would dare to say that both the Jewish religion (which currently does not even have a sacrifice at all) and the Christian religion are equally pleasing to God commit a most heinous crime: They blaspheme the Precious Blood of Christ, which was shed for our salvation. They put an equal sign between the Mosaic Law (which, we repeat, the Jews do not even observe today) and the Law of the Gospel. Nobody who honestly reads Hebrews can claim that this “equality” is the teaching of the Bible.
We saw earlier that St. Paul proved the superiority of Christ’s priesthood by showing that, whereas the priests of the Old Law were many, He was one. A similar argument he uses is that the sacrifice of Christ was one, whereas those others were many. He makes this point three times. We have already cited his first use of it (7:27). We here cite the two subsequent passages:
For Jesus is not entered into the holies made with hands, the patterns of the true: but into heaven itself, that he may appear now in the presence of God for us. Nor yet that he should offer himself often , as the high priest entereth into the holies, every year with the blood of others: For then he ought to have suffered often from the beginning of the world: but now once at the end of ages , he hath appeared for the destruction of sin, by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment: So also Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many; the second time he shall appear without sin to them that expect him unto salvation. (9:24-28)
In Chapter Ten, he makes the same point, adding that, while the Aaronic priests daily “stand” ministering, now Christ “sits” in heaven, while the fruits of his sacrifice are applied to individual men over time. Speaking of the will of the Father, which Jesus came to do, he says:
In the which will, we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once. And every priest indeed standeth daily ministering, and often offering the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this man offering one sacrifice for sins, for ever sitteth on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting until his enemies be made his footstool. (10:10-13)
By the end of this article, it is likely that the reader will think we’ve beaten a dead horse (or a dead goat, as it were). The arguments which prove that the New Dispensation is better than the Old are so manifold that it becomes monotonous to list them out of context. From a logical and grammatical point of view, one of the most emphatic ways the Apostle makes the point is by what is known as the a fortiori argument, a logical construction in which an attribute is assigned to one thing which applies even more to another thing. The reader can replace a fortiori with “by an even stronger argument.” At moments like this, examples help:
“The Smith family can’t afford to eat at Taco Bell: a fortiori , they can’t afford to eat at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.” Or, “Mike can bench-press 350 pounds: a fortiori , he can bench-press 200 pounds.”
We see St. Paul using a fortiori arguments presupposing the superiority of the New Testament to the Old Testament. Here are three such examples:
For if the word, spoken by angels, became steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward: How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? which having begun to be declared by the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard him (2:2-3)
For if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of an heifer being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God?. (9:13-14)
A man making void the law of Moses, dieth without any mercy under two or three witnesses [see Deut 17:1-7; this is the punishment for idolatry]: How much more, do you think he deserveth worse punishments, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath esteemed the blood of the testament unclean, by which he was sanctified, and hath offered an affront to the Spirit of grace? (10:28-29)
“Perfect” / “Perfection”
This epistle is like a fine tapestry. St. Paul artfully weaves certain Old Testament institutions, people, and other themes as precious threads throughout the work. One thread in the tapestry of Hebrews is the concept of “perfection.” The words “perfect”(as a noun or a verb) and “perfection” occur about a dozen times. The point in these passages is that Jesus Christ achieved perfection in Himself, and His perfection can be applied to us by virtue of our union with Him in the Church, which is His Body. We can be perfected because Jesus, who was perfect, offered up a perfect Sacrifice for us.
For it became him [the Father] for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, who had brought many children into glory, to perfect the author of their salvation, by his passion. For both he that sanctifieth [Jesus], and they who are sanctified, are all of one. (2:10-11)
For by one oblation he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (10:14)
By contrast, the Mosaic Law was incapable of such perfection:
If then perfection was by the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchisedech: and not be called according to the order of Aaron? (7:11)
For the law brought nothing to perfection. (7:19)
For the law maketh men priests, who have infirmity: but the word of the oath (which was since the law) the Son who is perfected for evermore. (7:28)
For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things; by the selfsame sacrifices which they offer continually every year, can never make the comers thereunto perfect: For then they would have ceased to be offered: because the worshippers once cleansed should have no conscience of sin any longer. (10:1-2)
Although the faithful of the Old Law could not achieve perfection by the Old Law, those who remained faithful to it were perfected — but by the New Law. The Church teaches that they were in the “Limbo of the Fathers” awaiting the opening of the gates of Heaven, which did not happen until Ascension Thursday. St. Paul mentions this perfecting of the Old Testament Saints in Chapter Eleven, a forty-verse panegyric to the virtue of Faith: Abel, Henoch, Noe, Abraham, and many other Saints of the Old Law are lauded for their Faith and the other virtues built on top of that foundation of the supernatural life. But the last two verses of that chapter remind us that even these great men and women, “of whom the world was not worthy” (11:38), could not receive the promise of salvation until Christ actually fulfilled that promise:
And all these, being approved by the testimony of faith, received not the promise: God providing some better thing for us, that they should not be perfected without us. (11:39-40)
Finally, in the closing exhortation of the epistle, St. Paul shows the perfection offered by the New Testament by contrasting Mount Sinai with Mount Sion. Sinai, where Moses received the Law in the most terrifying of circumstances, represents the Old Law, while Sion represents the New. The faithful of the New Testament
are come to Mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the company of many thousands of angels and to the church of the firstborn, who are written in the heavens, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect (12:22-23)
The Testimony of Jeremias
Lest any Jew or liberal Catholic object that St. Paul’s claims are just Christian anti-Semitism and utterly without foundation in the Law and the Prophets, in Chapter Eight, the Apostle cites Jeremias the Prophet to back up his “supersessionism.” In the longest Old Testament passage cited in the New Testament (Jer. 31:31-34), Jeremias prophesied a “new testament” (or “new covenant” depending on the translation) which will be different from — and, yes, better than — the Mosaic Law. The italicized portion of the citation is the quote from Jeremias:
For finding fault with them, he saith: Behold, the days shall come, saith the Lord: and I will perfect unto the house of Israel, and unto the house of Juda, a new testament: Not according to the testament which I made to their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt: because they continued not in my testament: and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the testament which I will make to the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will give my laws into their mind, and in their heart will I write them: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me from the least to the greatest of them: Because I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins I will remember no more. Now in saying a new, he hath made the former old. And that which decayeth and groweth old, is near its end. (8:8-13)
The passage from Jeremias clearly prophesies a “new testament” which will be better than the Mosaic Covenant (which the Prophet calls “the testament which I made to their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” It also shows the superiority of the new over the old, because there will be no need for men to say, “Know the Lord: for all shall know me from the least to the greatest of them.” The chosen people of the Old Testament constantly needed to be told “Know the Lord” because they fell into idolatry with great frequency, as even a cursory reading of the Law and the Prophets reveals.
Those who would like to see a modern Jewish translation of the passage from Jeremias can read the Jewish Publication Society Bible online: http://www.hareidi.org/bible/Jeremiah31.htm. Their translation is essentially the same as the Douay-Rheims version we cite above.
Expressions Designating Inferiority
Throughout the epistle, there are many expressions which denote the inferiority of the Old Law to the Gospel. They can be found in some of the passages we have already cited. Here are some others:
There is indeed a setting aside of the former commandment, because of the weakness and unprofitableness thereof: (For the law brought nothing to perfection,) but a bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw nigh to God. (7:18-19)
So, according to the Apostle, the Old Law was “weak” and “unprofitable.” Those may be fighting words, but they come from a Jew who realized that the Ancient Alliance was a “shadow of the good things to come” in Christ. He adds that the Christian dispensation brought in a “better hope”: That word, “better,” by the way, is one we chose deliberately to include in the title of this article. In our translation, it shows up thirteen times in the epistle. One doesn’t have to be a genius to compute that, in a thirteen-chapter book, that’s an average of once per chapter.
Another expression of the inferiority of the Old Testament is found in Chapter Eight: “For if that former had been faultless, there should not indeed a place have been sought for a second [testament]” (8:7). No commentary is needed.
We hope the point has been made without too much redundancy. The Old Covenant, which is now both “dead and deadly,” to quote St. Augustine, has been replaced by something better, the New Covenant. This was prophesied in the Old Testament itself and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the “author and finisher of Faith” (12:2). The Apostles preached it, and two thousand years of Catholic tradition uphold it. No matter what a liberal priest may say, no matter what a liberal bishop may say, the Apostolic doctrine remains true. It is not charity to God or to man to hide this truth from the Jews. If they become offended and accuse us of “anti-Semitism,” or repeat other such calumnies, we should heed the exhortation of the Apostle:
Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who, having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. For think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners against himself that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds. For you have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. (12:2-4)
The Bible Only?
Hebrews also furnishes us with many proofs against the perverse Protestant doctrine of Sola Fides , i.e., Faith in Christ is all that is necessary for salvation, with its accompanying:
And being consummated, he became, to all that obey him, the cause of eternal salvation. (5:9)
For whom the Lord loveth he chastiseth: and he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Persevere under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons. For what son is there whom the father doth not correct? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards and not sons. Moreover, we have had fathers of our flesh for instructors, and we reverenced them. Shall we not much more obey the Father of spirits and live? And they indeed for a few days, according to their own pleasure, instructed us: but he, for our profit, that we might receive his sanctification. Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow: but afterwards it will yield to them that are exercised by it the most peaceable fruit of justice. (12:6-11)
By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise always to God, that is to say, the fruit of lips confessing to his name. And do not forget to do good and to impart: for by such sacrifices God’s favour is obtained. (13:15-16)