Translation of Hebrew Text
The Hebrew text of Jer. 31:31-34 (Jer. 31:30-33 Masoretic) states,
לא הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם יַהְוֶה וְכָרַתִּי אֶת בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאֶת בֵּית יְהוּדָה בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה לב לֹא כַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר כָּרַתִּי אֶת אֲבוֹתָם בְּיוֹם הֶחֱזִיקִי בְיָדָם לְהוֹצִיאָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם אֲשֶׁר הֵמָּה הֵפֵרוּ אֶת בְּרִיתִי וְאָנֹכִי בָּעַלְתִּי בָם נְאֻם יַהְוֶה לג כִּי זֹאת הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר אֶכְרֹת אֶת בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל אַחֲרֵי הַיָּמִים הָהֵם נְאֻם יַהְוֶה נָתַתִּי אֶת תּוֹרָתִי בְּקִרְבָּם וְעַל לִבָּם אֶכְתְּבֶנָּה וְהָיִיתִי לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים וְהֵמָּה יִהְיוּ לִי לְעָם לד וְלֹא יְלַמְּדוּ עוֹד אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ וְאִישׁ אֶת אָחִיו לֵאמֹר דְּעוּ אֶת יַהְוֶה כִּי כוּלָּם יֵדְעוּ אוֹתִי לְמִקְּטַנָּם וְעַד גְּדוֹלָם נְאֻם יַהְוֶה כִּי אֶסְלַח לַעֲוֹנָם וּלְחַטָּאתָם לֹא אֶזְכָּר עוֹד
which may be translated as,
31 "Behold, the days are coming," said Yahveh, "and I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I cut with their fathers in the day I held their hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt, which covenant they broke, although I was their husband," said Yahveh.
33 "For this is the covenant that I will make with them after those days," said Yahveh. "I will place My law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 And a man will no longer teach his neighbor, nor will a man [teach] his brother, saying, 'Know Yahveh,' for all of them will know Me, from the least of them until the greatest of them," said Yahveh, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will no longer remember their sin."
A New Covenant Implies an Old Covenant
The prophet Jeremiah prophesies of a "new covenant" (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) which is evidently to be "cut" in the future, as indicated by the phrase "the days are coming" (יָמִים בָּאִים) (v. 31). This new covenant will be cut between Yahveh Himself and the house of Israel and house of Judah (v. 31).
The prophet compares the new covenant to the covenant that Yahveh cut with the fathers after they came out of Egypt. This old covenant, which is implied by the phrase "new covenant" in v. 31, must then refer to the covenant inaugurated at Sinai (Exo. 24:3-8). The old covenant stipulated that the Israelites obey all the words that Yahveh had commanded them (Exo. 24:7-8), but soon after the covenant was inaugurated, the multitude of Israelites had already broken it (v. 32 cp. Exo. 32:1-6).
Hence, Yahveh promises that the new covenant would not be like the old covenant that Yahveh had made with their fathers (v. 32: "לֹא כַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר כָּרַתִּי אֶת אֲבוֹתָם"). The conjunction כִּי (v. 33) commences the explanantion of the distinction between the covenants:
|__________________________________New Covenant__________________||______________________Old Covenant____________________|
| law placed within them (v. 33) || law placed before them (Deu. 4:8) |
| law written upon their hearts (v. 33) || law written upon stone tablets (Deu. 4:13) |
| Yahveh/ the Holy Spirit teaches men (Isa. 54:13 cp. Isa. 11:2) || men teach others about Yahveh (v. 34) |
In the old covenant, men (particularly the priests) taught one another about Yahveh, particularly by reading the Law of Moses, the word of Yahveh. However, the prophet Jeremiah prophesied that men would no longer teach their neighbors or brothers to know Yahveh. Yet, all would know Yahveh, from the least to the greatest. How can this be? By what means can this knowledge be imparted if no longer by reading the Torah? The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of knowledge (רוּחַ דַּעַת) (Isa. 11:2), would teach the Israelites, and thus, they would be taught by Yahveh Himself (Isa. 54:13 cp. John 14:26).
The New Law
The prophet Isaiah prophesied of a time in the future when a law would be promulgated from Zion, i.e. Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-3).
2 And it shall come to pass during the last days, the mountain of the house of Yahveh shall be prepared at the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and all the nations shall flow unto it. 3 And many people shall go and say, “Come and let’s let go up to the mountain of Yahveh, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths, for a law shall originate from Zion and the word of Yahveh from Jerusalem.”
ב וְהָיָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים נָכוֹן יִהְיֶה הַר בֵּית יַהְוֶה בְּרֹאשׁ הֶהָרִים וְנִשָּׂא מִגְּבָעוֹת וְנָהֲרוּ אֵלָיו כָּל הַגּוֹיִם ג וְהָלְכוּ עַמִּים רַבִּים וְאָמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַעֲלֶה אֶל הַר יַהְוֶה אֶל בֵּית אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב וְיֹרֵנוּ מִדְּרָכָיו וְנֵלְכָה בְּאֹרְחֹתָיו כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה וּדְבַר יַהְוֶה מִירוּשָׁלִָם
This "law" that originates from Zion (מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה) could not be referring to the Law of Moses which, at the time Isaiah prophesied, had already originated from Sinai. The very fact that the prophet Isaiah refers to a law originating or being promulgated from Zion/Jerusalem indicates a "new law."
The Law of Moses was known as “the book of the Law” (סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה) as well as “the book of the covenant” (סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית). Written therein were “the words of the Law” (דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה) and “the words of the covenant” (דִּבְרֵי הַבְּרִית). In other words, the Law of Moses was the covenant --- the old covenant.
|__________________________________The Law of Moses____________________________________|
| "the book of the law" (2 Kings 22:11) || "the book of the covenant" (2 Kings 23:2) |
| "the words of the law" (2 Kings 23:24) || "the words of the covenant" (2 Chr. 34:31) |
The synonymity of "the law [of Moses]" and "the [old] covenant" is thus evident. Therefore, when the prophet Isaiah prophesies of a new law, or the prophet Jeremiah prophesies of a new covenant, they refer to the same thing, a new covenant (unlike the old covenant) to replace the old covenant, being a new law (unlike the old law) to replace the old law, the law of Moses.
Some might protest that "covenant" does not always equate to "law." This is sometimes true in the case of the Abrahamic, Noahic, and Davidic covenants, to name a few, for they were all unconditional convenants, not contingent on obedience, but rather on Yahveh's own faithfulness to His promises. However, in the case of the law of Moses, a bilateral covenant contingent on Israel's obedience to all its words, law = covenant.
In Midrash Otiot deRabbi Akiva, Folio 27, it is written,
And the Holy One, blessed be He, interprets the meanings of a new law in their presence which, in the future, the Holy One, blessed be He, shall give them by the Messiah.
והקב"ה דורש לפמיהן טעמי תורה חדשה שעתיד הקב"ה ליתן על ידי משיח
Even some rabbis did not regard the Law of Moses as unable to be superseded.
In Midrash Kohelet Rabba, Chapter 71.8, it is written,
The law (i.e., of Moses) that man learns in this world is vanity in the presence of the law of the Messiah.
תורה שאדם למד בעוה”ז הבל היא לפני תורתו של משיח
To be clear, the Law of Moses did not contain any promises of eternal life even if the Israelites had successfully kept all the words of the old covenant, i.e. the Law of Moses. Rather, any mention of prolonged life was only in reference to prolonged days on earth in the land of Canaan (cp. Deu. 4:40). Therefore, a new covenant, wherein Yahveh would forgive their iniquity and no longer remember their sins (i.e., their breaking of the covenant) was promised (v. 34). Only then could they inherit eternal life in the world to come.
However, the old covenant was actually a marriage covenant, hence "which covenant they broke, although I was their husband" (v. 32; cp. Jer. 3:8). Adultery is punishable by death (Lev. 20:10); therefore, the wife (i.e., national Israel) who committed adultery had to die. I wish to discuss this more at length, but it would be off-topic. Suffice to say, some mechanism had to be conceived by which national Israel would die (because of their sins) yet be resurrected and participate in the new covenant wherein they could inherit eternal life.
- Do you agree that this new covenant is forged with Jews/Israel only?
The text doesn't say "only"; therefore, I can't answer positively. If the question implies the exclusion of Gentiles, then allow me to elaborate. Yahveh promised Abraham, "all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in your seed" (Gen. 22:18), a promise which, unless Jesus Christ is the Messiah, remains unfulfilled to this day. By being "in Christ," who is the seed of Abraham, everyone, both Jew and Gentile, are blessed and participate in the new covenant. Even if we should understand it as "the house of Israel and house of Judah only," Jesus Christ is Israel (Isa. 49:3). Therefore, anyone "in Christ" is "in Israel," a member of his body (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27), and thus, a member of the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). The apostle Paul even distinguished between "carnal Israelites" and "spiritual Israelites" (i.e., anyone "in Christ") when he wrote (1 Cor. 10:18),
Behold Israel according to the flesh. Are not those who eat the sacrifices participants of the altar?
βλέπετε τὸν Ἰσραὴλ κατὰ σάρκα οὐχὶ οἱ ἐσθίοντες τὰς θυσίας κοινωνοὶ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου εἰσίν
By saying "Israel according to the flesh" (τὸν Ἰσραὴλ κατὰ σάρκα), the apostle implies the existence of another Israel, that is, "Israel according to the spirit." Otherwise, he would have simply said, "Israel," period.
As St. Augustine wrote,1 (English | Latin)
And thus the spiritual Israel is made up, not of one nation, but of all the nations which were promised to the fathers in their seed, that is, in Christ.
Sic fit Israel spiritalis, non unius gentis, sed omnium quae promissae sunt patribus in eorum semine, quod est Christus.
- What is the meaning of "I will place My law within them and write it upon their hearts"?
Yahveh places His Holy Spirit within the Israelites (cp. Eze. 36:26-27). The Holy Spirit instructs the Israelite in Yahveh's will; the Israelite is thus taught by God Himself.
- In the last stanza which I present, is this a reaffirmation or a modification of Jews/Israel's role as people of God?
The Israelites remain God's people if they participate in the new covenant, as the new covenant replaces the old covenant. In the old covenant, recall that Israelites affirmed their willingness to participate in the covenant by agreeing to obey all the words of the covenant. Similarly, the new covenant is a bilateral covenant in which an Israelite must willingly choose to participate. Those who do not participate cannot be partakers of the covenant and its promises.
- Do you agree that this passage affirms the Torah, rather than invalidate her? That this passage does not allow any concept of invalidating the Torah?
Absolutely not. A new covenant implies a new law. The prophet Isaiah prophesied that a law would originate from Zion, and with respect to the old covenant, the Law of Moses was the old covenant. Therefore, the origination of another law implies the abolishing of the Law of Moses (and old covenant) and the inauguration of a new covenant (and new law).