At the end of a context where the Hebrews writer is quoting Jeremiah 31 to establish the fact that Christians are under the “new covenant” not the “old covenant,” some are confused by the fact that the phrase “Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” is in the present tense. The 70 ADers especially use this point to try to establish their theory that the old law was not done away until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
This is a mistake. The phrase in question is a truism, meaning it is a truth that can be applied to many different situations. As a general rule, anything that gets old loses its usefulness. The writer here applies this truism to his case in point. In this context, the truism is not meant to indicate the old covenant had not been done away yet at the time of the writing, but just the opposite. For example suppose I wrote today “My three brothers and I never could get my Dad to use a computer. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you know.” The phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” would be a truism. The fact that it is in the present tense doesn’t mean we couldn’t get my Dad to learn something new at the time I wrote the sentence (today), but said truism is meant to be applied to the time my Dad was still living and we were trying to get him to learn how to make use of a PC. Similarly the Hebrews writer is saying that when Jer 31:31ff was fulfilled, leading up to when the new covenant went into effect, the old covenant was ready to vanish away. And since it was ready to vanish away, it did. That is the point of Heb 8:13b.
A second illustration: After seeing me change the oil and seeing an old oil filter sitting on the ground, my wife might ask me why I change the oil filter whenever I change our oil. I could reply “when an oil filter becomes old and gooky, it is ready to be replaced.” I don’t mean by the use of the word “ready” that the oil filter has not been replaced yet; instead I am stating a truism to justify why I just did replace it. The point of Heb 8:6ff is that Jesus the high priest has obtained (past tense) a more excellent ministry, he is (presently) the mediator of a better covenant, which was (past tense) established (enacted ASV) upon better promises. The writer quotes Jer 31:31ff to prove that point – that the first covenant had been done away to make a “place” for the second.
You can tell this is the meaning from the immediate context. The very purpose of Heb 8:8-13 is to establish the fact that the prediction by Jeremiah (that one day a new covenant would come, absolving the need for the old covenant) had been fulfilled, and so the Christians being written to were governed by that new covenant (not the old). Its conclusion in verse 13 is that God “hath made the first (covenant, ptd) old” – past tense. And all would admit the following three stated features of the new covenant had already been in force for a number of years before the book of Hebrews was written:
· verse 10 new law written on hearts
· verse 11 all children of God already know the Lord
· verse 12 God not to remember sins anymore
The remote context also bears out this fact:
· Heb 7:12 teaches the law had already changed else Jesus couldn’t currently be our high priest
· Heb 7:18,22 follows that up by teaching the old law was disannulled leading to Jesus being made a surety of a better testament
· Heb 10:9 teaches one of the reasons Jesus came (the first time) was to take away the first law so that he could establish the second (there is no overlapping of the two laws)
And the rest of the New Testament confirms the old law passed some decades previous to the writing of Hebrews:
· Col 2:14-17 says Jesus took the old law “out of the way” when he died on the cross
· Rom 7:4-7 indicates Christians were already dead to and delivered from the old law at the point of writing
· II Cor 3 shows the old law was already done away, abolished, taken away at that point
· Gal 3:19 teaches the old law was added till the seed should come, referring to the first coming of Christ, not 70 AD
· Gal 3:24-25 proves Christians were no longer under the schoolmaster (the law) after the first coming of Christ
· Eph 2:14-16’s argues Jesus had abolished the old law (past tense) therefore allowing Jew and Gentile to be one (at that time)
Conclusion: There is no sense (from God’s standpoint) the old law was still in effect until the destruction of Jerusalem. It was completely and unequivocally done away via Jesus’ crucifixion.