The Law’s Not Bad

When reading the New Testament, it’s easy to associate negative feelings with “the Law.” We often label it harsh, misguided, or at least boring. The book of Hebrews emphasizes the ways that Jesus surpassed the old setup that the Law prescribed, and here, of all places, the Law can initially appear like a bad thing. For example, consider these verses from Hebrews 10:

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

-Hebrews 10:8-10

In the verses “above,” the author of Hebrews has just loosely quoted three verses from Psalm 40. By quoting from this ancient text, he suggests it should come as no surprise that the old sacrifices were insufficient, that we needed Christ.

However, we should be hesitate to say that the Law was simply bad. The author of Hebrews starts the section by calling the Law “a shadow of the good things to come”–yes, just a shadow, “but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities [that] can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near”–but a shadow nonetheless.

Moreover, when he wants to explain what to make of the Law and the Messiah (that is, Jesus “Christ“), he quotes Psalms, part of that very Old Testament we must be careful not to dismiss. In fact, he puts the words of the ancient psalm on the lips of Christ himself:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ ”

-Hebrews 10:5-7, referencing Psalm 40:6-8

Though the author of Hebrews does highlight the inadequacy of the Law, a slow, thoughtful reading suggests that he would not have us think of the Law as “bad.” Rather, he would have us think of the Law as exactly what he calls it: “a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities.” The Law is not bad because the Law-giver is unwaveringly good. “These realities” were already in the mind of the Law-giver, and now they have appeared in Jesus Christ.

then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

-Hebrews 10:9-10

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