For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.
Hebrews 7:12 (NIV)
How is the Law changed in Hebrews 7:12?
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The Mosaic Law was changed with the advent of the New Covenant. How was the change made? I will deviate a bit from your question, but will come back to it. If I've deviated too far, please feel free to down vote this answer or put in the notes below. I will answer by addressing an often confused verse in Matthew 5.
First, let's examine the words of the Lord in Matthew 5:17-18:
Mat 5:17 Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfill. Mat 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.
These two prophetic verses provides us with valuable information. They tells us that Jesus came to fulfill the law. Verse 18 provides a time indicator by the use of the word till, which relates to His time of its fulfilling. Verse 18 also includes the oft used phrase "heaven and earth" (which we'll examine in a bit). And Jesus emphasized the need of the completion of all things in order to bring about the passing away of the law. Why do away with the law? Because it was unprofitable and weak by design.
Heb 7:18 For there is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness.
Rom 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: Rom 8:4 that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. Hebrews 8:7
What I attempted to do in the above paragraph: 1. Clarify Jesus' statement regarding fulfilling the law by pointing out that it was an aim and purpose of His to bring about an abolition of the Mosaic Law. 2. Prompt the reader to rethink the law of Moses. That is, to make a biblical assessment of the purpose, focus, and duration of the law God gave to Moses at Sinai. 3. To bring to the readers mind the words of the Lord on the cross "it it finished!" and how it relates to the need of all things being accomplished (v 18).
Fulfilling the law
Notice that Jesus stated he came not to destroy both the Law or the prophets. The phase law and prophets in the first century generally referred to what many today call the Old Testament. The Old Testament contains the historical development of three highly esteemed offices: that of Prophet, Priest, and King. The verse in regards to your question (Heb 7:12) speaks of the supremacy of Jesus Christ in His everlasting office of high priest.
Jesus fulfilled the law and prophets; thereby, completing and bringing to reality all that they pointed to in its types and shadows. Jesus asserted that all scriptures had their ultimate reality in him.
Joh 5:39 Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me.
See also: John 5:32, John_5:36, John 1:45; Deut 18:15, Deut 18:18; Act 26:22-23, Acts 26:27; Rom 1:2; 1Pet 1:10-11; Rev 19:10
The Mosaic administration of the law was incapable of changing hearts. Christ, by His finished work of the cross, brought about a New Covenant. The New Covenant brought about a new law which is called the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).
Heb 8:13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away.
The law of Christ is unlike the yoke of the Mosaic law. In Christ souls find their true Sabbath rest from the heavy burden of the law. Jesus beckoned His hearers to come to Him and put off the useless burdens of law they were accustomed to.
Mat 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
For the sake of this answer's brevity please examine the following verses. They support the fact that the law of Moses, although it was given by God, and holy and just, had come to a close and gave way to higher law of Christ of the New Covenant. (Acts 15:10, Gal 3:19, 2 Cor 3:7).
When did Heaven and Earth Pass Away?
When Jesus says "till heaven and earth pass away" He was not referring to the end of the world as some charge. Old Testament examination proves that the phrase heaven and earth meant a nations' establishment, God's creative power and sole headship over it (see Gen 1:1), or simply the entire people of national Israel. Please consider the following verses and their context in support of this.
4:26 Deu 4:26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.
Moses here is not literally calling incorporeal witnesses against the Israelites. He's using a phase known by his listeners.
Deu 32:1 Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; And let the earth hear the words of my mouth:
Here, Moses beckons for the attention to all of the Israelites.
Other verses to consider: Deut 31:28; Isa 1:2; Jer 2:12-13, Jer 22:29-30; Mic 6:1-2;
In the case of Matt 5, heaven and earth passing away meant the Israel Mosaic economy. This occurred the moment Christ paid the price for sin shouting "it is finished" and giving up the ghost. The curtain in the temple was rent top to bottom the moment of Christ's death. This visible indicator proving the insufficiency of animal sacrifice. It was again visibly verified with Jerusalem's destruction in 70 AD. No one, and I mean no one on earth today could follow Mosaic law because there is no temple. That means every person on earth today would be considered law breakers in need of a new gracious law giver. In earnest, I do believe the law was only given to one people, and they were the nation of Israel,
All ordinances and Laws from the time of Moses were abrogated. This does not imply some of the law, or just the ceremonial laws etc. This meant the law in its entirety. Nowhere does the scriptures categorize the law into sub-categories, nor should we.
Till All Things Be Accomplished
Christ's death brought about many changes. Our focus here is regarding the change to the law. The Mosaic law was changed and God's people follow the Law of Christ. In fact, Christ commanded his disciples to preach this important message:
Mat 28:19 Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: Mat 28:20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
Jesus Christ is the law giver far grander than Moses. As Moses climbed the mountain and received the law at Sinai from God, Jesus, God in human flesh, climbed the mount and gave us the laws of the New Covenant. Some call it the Sermon on the Mount.
"μετατιθεμένης"(metatithemenes-being changed) is from "metatithemi"
passive of an office the mode of conferring which is changed, Hebrews 7:12; 71 τί εἰς τί, to turn one thing into another (τινα εἰς πτηνην φύσιν,(from Thayer's Lexicon)
This is Aorist passive; the Law itself has not changed, but the 'object of change'(High Priesthood of Christ) has changed. Paul explains further in the same passage,(vss 18-19)
"For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. 19For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God."
What Paul is saying is that in order to effect an eternal fulfillment of the High Priesthood role, of necessity there must "a change"; and that "change" is the 'eternal' priesthood of Mechisedek, of which Christ is representitive of. Since He is from the tribe of Judah, He is not "successor" of the priesthood of Aaron, but rather Melchisedek, fulfilling the passage,(Ps. 110:4)
"The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:"
Therefore, Paul is not saying that the Law be changed, this would be contradictory to Jesus's statement:(Matt. 5:18)
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
What he is saying is that the High Priestly ministry of Christ is not after the order of Aaron, which was prescribed in the Law, but rather after Melchizedek, who is a type of the eternal High Priestly of Christ; able to once and for all eternity fulfill the office of High Priest, rather than the yearly sacrifices required under the Law. The Law is fulfilled; the requirement for a High Priest to offer sacrifices once a year is fulfilled by the High Priestly ministry of Christ, who "forever" makes intercession for the saints of God.
A lot of the prescritions of the Law in the Pentateuch deal with the rights and duties of the High Priest. For example : the fact that he will enter the holies once a year (together with all the attendant rules to prepare for that ritual).
If the identity of the High Priest changes (it is no longer a living man but Jesus Christ), then these rules do not apply any longer, or they apply differently. Hence, the Law is changed.
It would be unthinkable to a Jew that the Torah would be modified because a priest was unqualified under its statutes:
Gal 3:15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.
The point of Hebrew 7:12 is that since Jesus was not a Levite the jurisdiction was different. The concept of "jurisdiction" works like this:
If you travel through Spain you are subject to the laws of Spain. When you arrive in France you are under the laws of France. This does not mean that laws of Spain are modified but that a different law is applicable.
Beginning in Heb. 6:19-20 we are told that Jesus entered within the veil and became a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
Throughout chapter 7 we are told that perfection did not come through the Levitical Priesthood. The author then asks why there was a need for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek and not designated according to the order of Aaron? (Heb. 7:11).
Verse 12 is a key to understanding what follows in chapters 8 and 9. “FOR WHEN THE PRIESTHOOD IS CHANGED, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. “ What will or has changed is regarding the Aaronic priesthood. The Law decreed that priests must be of the lineage of Aaron but Jesus is of the lineage of Judah. So, what must happen? “FOR WHEN THE PRIESTHOOD IS CHANGED, OF NECESSITY THERE TAKES PLACE A CHANGE OF LAW ALSO. There is a change to this portion of God’s Law, not that we are discarding the rest of God’s Law. This part of God’s Law was a shadow of what was to come through the Messiah. In Hebrews I believe that we are witnessing progressive revelation.
Jesus’ priesthood is “not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life.” (Heb. 7:16). So, does this mean that God’s Law must now be annulled? “For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a [singular] former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness [for the Law & the Aaronic priesthood made nothing perfect—did not have the power to regenerate or redeem], and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (Heb. 7:18-19). The Aaronic Priesthood was a shadow of the more perfect Melchizedek Priesthood Jesus would hold. The Messiah was always the substance.
While it is true that the Law made nothing perfect, it is also true that this was never the intention or purpose of the Law of God. However, I think the context supports that the author of Hebrews means that the Aaronic priesthood and the laws pertaining to that priesthood made nothing perfect. Notice too that what is set aside is “a” former commandment because this former commandment was weak and useless…at least in bringing about perfection. But it is also true that the Law never had the ability to cause a person to be regenerated or redeemed. It was not until AFTER God redeemed His people out of Egypt that He gave them His Law. The Law pertained to sanctification not redemption or regeneration. Jesus scolded Nicodemus that as an elder of Israel, he should have already known that to become one of God’s people, to be regenerated or redeemed, he must be born a second time. He did not say that Nicodemus needed to first obey a Law.
Now we begin to run into translator bias that I believe obscures the truth of what the author actually wrote. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.” From Heb. 6:19 through Heb. 8:6 the author of Hebrews is comparing the priesthood of Aaron with that of Christ, the Melchizedek Priesthood. Suddenly the translator “assumes” that we are talking about the Mosaic Covenant versus the New Covenant. Even the translator admits that they are inserting the word “covenant” into the text (that is why it is in italics). They claim this helps the reader better understand the passage and the meaning of the author. However, not once from Heb. 6:20 through Heb. 8:7 is there a discussion of comparing the Mosaic Covenant with that of the New Covenant. The comparison has constantly and consistently been between the Aaronic Priesthood and that of the Melchizedek Priesthood. The way we can know for certain that God’s Law (the Mosaic Covenant) is not under discussion is found in the very next verse. “For finding fault with THEM…” How can “them” refer to the “it” of a covenant? God found fault with the Aaronic Priesthood (THEM), not His Law. “The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (Ps. 19:7-8). What part of this definition fits with what is being said in Hebrews 6-10 about the Aaronic Priesthood being deficient? Are we to believe that God’s Law is faulty or deficient?
What makes the translators choice really confusing is that Jeremiah tells us that the New Covenant changes the Mosaic Covenant only by writing the Law on our hearts and in our minds versus being written on tablets of stone.
Again in verse 13 we find that the “bias” continues: “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.’” Once again the word “covenant” is not in the Greek. The Church teaches that over 30 years prior, God’s Law was “nailed to the cross” and is no more. But, here it says that it is “growing old” and is “ready to disappear”. How can it grow old and be ready to disappear when it has already disappeared and been nailed to the cross? What was really growing old and was about to disappear was the Aaronic Priesthood along with the Temple. The book of Hebrews was likely written only about five years prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Now, I would expect, were the Church’s interpretation of chapter 8 true, that the topic would now shift to a discussion of the comparison between the Mosaic Covenant and that of the New Covenant. But, chapter 9 starts off: “Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies,” (Heb. 9:1-3). Once again the word “covenant” is not in the Greek in verse 1. We are instead still talking about the Aaronic Priesthood and the duties and functions of that priesthood.
In verse 11 we are told the glorious news that Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb. 9:11-12).
The comparison between the Aaronic Priesthood and that of the Melchizedek Priesthood of Jesus continues to be compared throughout the end of chapter 9 and then well into chapter 10.
While it is obviously true that “a” law has changed regarding the requirements of becoming a high priest under the Aaronic Priesthood, and that this one law has been changed to allow for a better priesthood, that of Melchizedek, to apply to Jesus, the changing of one law does not nullify the whole Law. The Old Testament provides us with many prophesies telling us about the Messiah to come, this “change” might not really be a “change” but instead a moment when God reveals a fuller understanding of how the Messiah will fulfill the prophesies written about Him. The Church can only make an argument that Hebrews 8 teaches that the Law no longer applies by inserting the word covenant into the text and then assuming that the word they added refers to the Mosaic Covenant. Were we to insert the word “priesthood”, which is the issue being discussed from Heb. 6:20 through the end of Heb. 10, we would come to a totally different conclusion—one that actually fits within the context.
Jeremiah tells us that under the New Covenant God’s Law given to Moses (the only Law to which he could be referring) will be written on our hearts and put into our minds. Why would God write on our hearts something that was going to be abolished and has now been nailed to the cross? What would be the purpose? Why would this virtually be the central and only theme of the New Covenant if it was merely temporary? If God’s Law has been abolished, or nailed to the cross, how do we define sin or what constitutes lawlessness? Doesn’t lawlessness mean that you are not obeying the law? How can God’s Law be abolished or no longer in effect when Jesus tells us this will not happen until Heaven and Earth pass away? Jesus said in Mt. 5:17-19, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
As mentioned above, the central part of the New Covenant is to have the Law put into our minds and written on our hearts. It is because the Mosaic Law is now written on the heart and is in our minds, that we become God’s people and He becomes our God. I believe this means that those under the New Covenant have a heart desire to obey God, to follow the rules/commandments He has placed before His children—for our sanctification. Out of love for God—we do not seek to earn salvation through the Law. This was the false doctrine taught in the book of Galatians that so angered Paul. They were teaching that you had to be circumcised in order to be redeemed. That was adding to the Gospel and Paul called this teaching an abomination. They were not teaching that after you are redeemed, you need to be circumcised. The focus in Galatians was on what you must do to be saved in the first place. The Jews just couldn’t imagine how and on what basis a Gentile could be saved without first becoming a Jew. We can understand this issue because Paul explains to us that we are grafted into the vine which is Israel (Rom. 11). Paul took this argument to the Church council in Acts 15. "And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'"
Ammending the translation will help better elucidate what is being said.
Here is Hebrews 7:12 in Greek (NA28):
μετατιθεμένης γὰρ τῆς ἱερωσύνης ἐξ ἀνάγκης καὶ νόμου μετάθεσις γίνεται
Which may be more conservatively translated into English as:
For, there being a change in priesthood, there must of necessity be a change in law also.
The force of which is that a new priesthood implies a new 'dispensation' or law in which such a change of priesthood is facilitated, acknowledged, given place for, accomodated, and so forth.
For the author of Hebrews, I dare say traditionally Paul, the change in law is that kind of change which the priesthood implies or necessitates ("of necessity"). In the case of the New Testament, Christ's priesthood invalidates and makes obsolete the former priesthood, since His sacrifice is made ultimately for all time, and by Him alone; as such, the offering of animals becomes not only a profitless (pointing to Christ without taking hold of Him, as it were—them being symbols and shadows of Him) but an affront to God (which is also why it would be sinful in the New Testament period to observe Jewish Feasts which implicitly contain a hope of the coming of the Messiah, since the observance of such now is a direct denial that He has come).