This week’s sermon contained a verse I had never noticed before. Using modern terminology, some would argue that the writer of Hebrews is saying that Jesus spins the law different.
(NLT) Hebrews 7:12 And if the priesthood is changed, the law must also be changed to permit it.
(The Voice) Hebrews 7:12 because when there is a change in the priesthood there must be a corresponding change in the law as well.(NCV) Hebrews 7:12 And when a different kind of priest comes, the law must be changed, too.
Hebrews is a difficult book on the best of days but this verse really arrested me as I looked at it. After checking StudyLight.com and GodVine.com — both of which reprint material from some classic commentaries — I decided to go with Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason Ministries, an excellent apologetics organization. (Greg’s new book The Story of Reality has just released this month; more info at Zondervan.com.)
Today you have a choice; you can read the commentary on this verse by clicking the title below as usual, or you can click through and watch and listen to Greg’s answer on video. (I encourage you to watch the video version.)
Does Jesus change the law? Here, we are referring to the Mosaic Law. The verse says, “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” What it sounds like initially is that Jesus is tinkering with Moses. Moses gives the law, and then Jesus comes in and begins to tinker with it. There do seem to be some occasions where that happens. In the Gospels, Jesus means to clarify and give a deeper insight. That is certainly not what’s going on in this particular case, however. Something else entirely is going on. There’s not a tinkering with the Mosaic Law, there is an exchange of law systems.
We’re going to employ a rule that we emphasize at Stand to Reason all the time. It’s called, “never read a Bible verse.” If you’re going to try to figure out the meaning of a verse, it is not enough to read one verse. You have to read a paragraph or more. Instead of just reading verse 12, you might start with the first verse of the chapter.
In verse 1, there is a discussion about Abraham and a man named Melchizedek who is a priest of the Most High God. Abraham has not yet had Levi, who is to be the head of the priesthood. Abraham gives honor to Melchizedek, showing that Levi, in a sense, is honoring Melchizedek. Therefore, Melchizedek’s priesthood is greater than the Levitical priesthood because the lesser gives homage to the greater. That’s the set up for the verse in question.
In verse 11, the Mosaic Law has Levi and the priests making provision for sin. The writer says that if that were adequate for perfection, what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek? The writer is arguing that Jesus is a priest, but not a Levitical priest. He was born in the line of Judah. He represents a different more unique priesthood. A priesthood like Melchizedek. So he asks, “If perfection had been attainable, what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” There’s our verse.
Do you see how that verse sounds different once we have more context? Never read a Bible verse without the context. What the writer of Hebrews is talking about is not tinkering within the Mosaic Law, but a change of law systems. There was law grounded in sacrifices that make men temporarily acceptable before God through the line of Levi, but that isn’t permanent. We need a different system. Jesus is the priest of that different system. He’s the new covenant, not the old covenant. The old covenant is temporary. It was just holding over until the new covenant came. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins.
The writer of Hebrews says Jesus brings in a new system. He’s the only one, and He makes perfect those who are sanctified and set aside under that particular system.
The following verse says, “For the one of whom these things are spoken belong to another tribe from which no one has ever served at the alter. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” Yes, there’s a change in law, not a tinkering or adjustment of the Mosaic Law, but a putting aside of the entire system because this was just a picture of the perfect priesthood Jesus would provide after the order of Melchizedek.
Jesus is here now, therefore the old system is set aside. That is a central theme in the book of Hebrews, and that is what is being referred to in Hebrews 7:12