The New and the Old
Abstract: In 2Cor. 3, the new covenant is really an old one (cf. 1John 2:7-8). The understanding of new and old here is not properly based on the words of Hebrews (or Marcion), but on the words of the Apostle John. The “letter” of the Law is not its positive precepts for life, but the negative “sentence” in two places in the ten commandments (Exodus 20:5 and 20:7). The sentence of the Law is the penalty clause. As the word “sentence” is in English law, so “letter” is for Paul’s usage.
In 1John 2:7-8 John claims that a new commandment is an old commandment. This goes to prove that new does not mean the old is obsolete. The old commandment is new because it is the old commandment being renewed. For this reason the new covenant involves the Spirit writing old commandments on the hearts of the faithful (Jer. 31:31-34). In the book of Matthew, Yeshua refers to “my blood of the covenant.” The best Greek texts leave out the word “new”! The same thing happens in Mark. The texts leave out the word “new.” The texts of Luke are confused, but as far as we can tell the word “new” is included, and also it is included in 1Cor. 11.
I along with a lot of other Messianics do not accept the book of Hebrews. Hebrews claims that saying new makes the old obsolete. But 1John proves that this is not so. This is because in Hebrew “new” may mean “anew” “again” or “renewed.” In English we approach the sense when we say “make it like new.” A lot of early Christians also did not accept the book of Hebrews, which had to fight its way into the canon, and only became canon when the Church of Rome and Alexndria, which by that time were apostate decreed it so.
Paul refers to the “renewed” covenant in 2Cor. 3:6. No problem there, since what is old can be new, and what is new can still be the same as the old. Paul refers to the “letter” in a negative sense in the same verse. Does the “letter” mean the positive commandments of the Torah which are for life? No! The letter is a “sentence”, a “notice” the violator will be sentenced. This is a valid function of the Law. The person who has no forgiveness is sentenced by the “letter” that the judge determined. The person who repented and faithfully trusts Messiah has forgiveness. Therefore there is no “letter” which sentences him. A letter may be pages of writing, or a letter may be one letter of a word. A sentence is a whole string of words declaring what the penalty will be. In Greek they used the word “letter” the same way we use “sentence” to refer to a punishment or penalty. Therefore Paul means who also qualified us as ministers of a renewed covenant, not a sentence but a breath of life; for the sentence kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Paul is saying that he wants to be on the instructing end of Torah for the faithful, and not in the business of sentencing the unfaithful. He admits that serving justice to the ungodly is glorious (vs. 7),
the ministry of death in sentences engraved on stones was glorious. Everyone knows that the precepts of the law cannot just fade away. That is what some want us to believe. What Paul is saying is that the sentences of the Law will fade away because eventually there will be no lawbreakers left to give the sentence of the Law to. When the Law is completely written on the heart then the sentences will disappear. Therefore, the ministry of death in the sentences of the Law will disappear.
There are in fact two sentences in the ten commandments. The first is in Exodus 20:5 and the second is in Exodus 20:7. And these were engraved on the stones. The first sentence punished idolators. The second sentence punished those who took the name of Yahweh in vain. One sentence for pagans, and the other for hypocrites. Therefore, Paul knew what he was talking about when he referred to “sentences” engraved on the stones. What we call “sentences” today, they called “letters” then. With the ministry of the renewed covenant, the need for “sentences” is fading away.
For until the present, the same veil remains over the correct reading of the covenant of old not being unveiled that in Messiah it is undone. What is undone. The veil. The veil represents the sentences of the law here. So in Messiah the sentence is undone, because he paid the penalty.
So now, with Hebrews out of the way, and new and old explained according to Scripture, and the letter understood to mean a “sentence”, we can see that the new covenant is the same as the old covenant without the sentence.
Many have struggled over the word “letters” because the translators have been unfaithful, and did not give its real equivalent in English which is “sentences.” Many have struggled over the words “engraved on stones” because they were unable to remember to think of the penalty clauses in the law. Many have stumbled over a difference in the words “old” and “new” because the well of good theology was poisoned by Marcion’s paradigm of the old covenant vs. the new covenant. Many have rejected Paul as a true teacher because they could not reconcile him with Torah. Now you can.
On a more technical note here it does not matter that sentence is not provided in Greek lexicons as sense for γράμμα. We do not know all usages current in that time or how quickly a Greek reader would associate “letter” with the the concept of a “sentence.” Yet Paul’s usage demands this meaning. Even if it must be supposed that letter refers only to something written, and not the concept of penal sentences, we need not assume that he means the positive precepts of the law. Two clauses (composed of letters) stand out in the Torah:
visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and
because Yahweh will not acquit whoever carries His name for nothing.