Does the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 Suggest an End to the Law of Moses?

Recent discussions on my blog and elsewhere have appealed to Jeremiah 31 (and specifically vv. 31–34) as an indication that an end to the law of Moses was prophesied well before the Common Era. In the context of those discussions Jeremiah’s prophecy is being marshaled to undermine the notion that Matthew was a judaizing Christian who asserted the eternal nature of the Law. I’d like to list my reasons for doubting that Jeremiah 31 was intended to suggest a future end to the Law of Moses.

(1) Restoration to former glory is the theme throughout the chapter.

(2) The old “covenant” in v. 32 ≠ the Law of Moses. The Law is a constituent element of the covenant, as seen in v. 33.

(3) No indication is given that any requirements of the Law will be changed, only that it will be interiorized.

(4) The prophecy of restoration in Jer 29:10–14, Jer 32:37–44, and all of Jeremiah 33 parallel 31:31–34 in many ways, but no change in the Law is intimated, only a closer relationship with Yhwh.

(5) Jer 33:17–18 promise there shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, nor will the levitical priests lack someone to offer burnt offerings, grain offerings, and other sacrifices “for all time.”

These considerations lead me to conclude that Jeremiah is prophesying a return to the glory days of the United Monarchy, not a fulfillment of the Law of Moses. The only difference noted between the “new covenant” and the old is that the new will be interiorized by Israel and God, as a result, will be continuously among them. No alteration of the Law of Moses is intimated, and the only references to specific aspects of the law indicate those aspects will remain into perpetuity.

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3 responses to “Does the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 Suggest an End to the Law of Moses?

  • John Meade

    Daniel,

    Thanks for these points.

    How do you interpret 31:27-34? To what does verse 29 refer in the context of new covenant which is not like the covenant made with the generation which came out of Egypt? I suggest that this verse at least signals a change in the covenantal structure between the old and new.

    The other aspect of this discussion is did the people consider the cult to be a part of the covenant? What implications would the new covenant have for this? The answer in the NT is clear, it’s gone.

  • WalkerW

    Thought-provoking points, Dan. They are rather important given the fact that some mainstream Christian NT interpretations often try to downplay (or even remove) the close association of the Christian “New Covenant” and the Mosaic “Old Covenant” (often in the form of a works-vs-grace dichotomy).

    In my presentation for the interfaith dialogue I participated in (once again, thanks for taking the time to review it), I quoted from Mark Nanos, “The Myth of the ‘Law-Free’ Paul Standing Between Christians and Jews,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 4:1 (2009). In my written version, I also reference Paula Fredriksen, “Judaizing the Nations: The Ritual Demands of Paul’s Gospel,” New Testament Studies 56:2 (2010). The latter is especially interesting. She brings up some excellent points regarding Paul’s continual distinction between Israel and other nations, his use of temple imagery, and the ritual demand of pagan converts to foreswear public sacrifice to other gods. In light of this, Fredriksen concludes,

    “This insistence that none other than the god of Israel be worshiped ultimately came from the first table of the Law. It was defining; it was non-negotiable; it was uniquely Jewish. For all of the reasons reviewed above, then, but most especially for this one, the last way we should describe Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles is to say that it was ‘Law-free’” (pg. 252).

    Matthew 5:18-19 seems applicable in this regard.

    Nanos: http://escholarship.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1179&context=scjr

    Fredriksen: http://www.bu.edu/religion/files/pdf/NTS-NTS56_02-S0028688509990294a.pdf

  • diglot

    I think that the Qumranic literature understood Jeremiah to mean the perfecting,/em> of the Mosaic Covenant by means of following their Teacher of Righteousness, and not that the Mosaic Covenant and Law was to end and a new law and covenant inaugurated.

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