Here’s the verse —
(Heb 7:14) For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
The question, thus, is whether the Hebrews writer is arguing from silence in the same sense that many argue that instrumental music is wrong because the Bible is silent on the instrument.
Yes, the writer speaks of silence, but you have to consider the historical context to understand the writer’s point. The Law of Moses plainly commands that priests be Levites (e.g., Num 3:6 ff). Therefore, he argues, the Law must have been repealed in order for a member of tribe of Judah to be a priest.
(Heb 7:18-19) The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
Just as is true for gopher wood and Noah — a violation of a command is never authorized, but authority is not the issue, the command is.
Now, if Noah had tried to use mahogany, his son might have said to him, “Dad, God said nothing about mahogany.” The statement doesn’t imply a law of silence. It just means that you can’t violate a command of God unless God himself grants the exception.
The command is to sing. So long as we sing, we aren’t in violation of the command. If I tell my son to bring bread for a meal and he brings banana pudding instead, he’s disobedient (but I’ll forgive. I mean, it’s banana pudding!). If he brings bread soaked in garlic butter — he’s my favorite son! And there’s nothing to forgive.
More importantly, the last thing the Hebrews writer would want us to believe is that silence creates a pattern that we seek to follow to be saved.
The theme of Hebrews is the contrast between the old covenant of the Law of Moses and the new radically different covenant of Christ. Recall the passage from Jeremiah that prophesies the New Covenant given through Jesus, which forms the basis for the author’s discussion in chapter 8 and following:
(Heb. 8:10) This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
The Hebrews author demonstrates the weakness of Old Testament worship and the necessity to replace it with something vastly superior as follows:
(Heb. 8:13-9:1) By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary.
Characteristic of the “old,” “obsolete,” and “aging” covenant are “regulations for worship” and an “earthly sanctuary”! The presence of regulations for how to worship is evidence of the inadequacy of the Law of Moses. The new worship derives from laws written on hearts (8:10), not fixed patterns that bind our hearts with regulations.
The writer then describes the old temple worship laws, in order to conclude—
(Heb. 9:10) They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
“External” is translated “carnal” in the King James Version. The Greek word is usually translated “fleshly” in the King James.
Now it was God himself who commanded the regulations for the temple service. The practices weren’t fleshly because they were contrary to God’s will; they were fleshly because they were physical, made up of things here on earth and so cannot be perfect — hence, only a perfect temple, worshipped in perfectly, with a perfect sacrifice will do.
No longer are we to try to emulate perfection by following a pattern, as patterns can only be imperfectly replicated —
(Heb. 9:11-14) When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.
God designed the tabernacle and oversaw its construction through the Holy Spirit, and yet the writer calls it “fleshly,” because as part of the creation, it is necessarily imperfect. The only perfect sanctuary is in heaven. Nothing man-made is good enough. Nothing that is a part of this fallen Creation is good enough. Rather, Christ perfected our salvation by achieving the only possible perfect sacrifice in the only perfect temple there can be
Now the Hebrews writer’s point is critical. How do we know that the Mosaic pattern is obsolete and inadequate? Because it’s imperfect. And how do we know that? Because it’s something humans do on earth and hence is necessarily imperfect.
And how else? Because it is governed by “external regulations.” Rule-keeping, ritual, and pattern following cannot save. Indeed, such practices are supplanted by the perfection of the new covenant written on our hearts!
We cannot worship our way into heaven. We cannot perform any Sunday ritual that will satisfy God. But (praise God!) we don’t have to. Jesus has gone into the ultimate temple and presented the ultimate sacrifice so that we are freed from having to honor external regulations in an earthly sanctuary as a means to salvation.
After all, as the New Testament so frequently teaches, we cannot be perfect and so we can’t be saved by our works (even our doctrinal works!), and so we must be saved through the perfect work of Jesus in the perfect sanctuary where he followed the regulations perfectly.
Hebrews plainly refutes the very notion behind salvation through patternkeeping —
(Heb. 8:5) [The priests under the Law of Moses] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”
The writer’s contrast is between “what is in heaven” and what is on earth. What is on earth is only a “copy and shadow” of heavenly perfection. And the point the Hebrews writer makes is that the very fact that the tabernacle was made according to a “pattern” shows that it’s only a copy, imperfect and insufficient. Only the original is good enough to save.
(Heb. 9:23-24) It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.
The Most Holy Place in the temple was but a copy of the true Most Holy Place in heaven. The temple itself was but a copy of the temple in heaven. And the sacrifices offered by the priests were but copies of the only perfect sacrifice.
Copies are clearly inferior to the real thing and hence inadequate. But the NIV translation I just quoted conceals part of the lesson. The King James Version translates the word for “copies” more accurately—”patterns.”
(Heb. 9:23 KJV) It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
“Patterns”! What could possibly be wrong with following a heavenly pattern? Everything. Flawed humans make copies from patterns, and seek to earn salvation by replicating something that is perfect. It cannot be done.
Pattern theology is necessarily a works-based theology. And if the Law of Moses was proven inadequate by its insistence on pattern-keeping, surely the same is true of any pattern-keeping.
After all, the problem isn’t the inadequacy of the pattern — the original pattern has always been perfect — it’s the inadequacy of humans to truly replicate the pattern!
I must address Philippians 3:17, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
One might argue that this, and other similar passages, tell us that we are saved by patternkeeping and that Paul’s teachings are a pattern. But, of course, Paul does not contradict Hebrews!
Rather than just assuming that the “pattern” is a pattern of worship or church organization, we should look at the context to determine what Paul has in mind. And, quite plainly, it is salvation by grace:
(Phil. 3:8b-9) I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
And it’s humility in not believing that we’ve earned or even could earn our salvation, but having a desire to nonetheless strive to become more and more pleasing to God —
(Phil. 3:13b-15a) Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
Paul certainly isn’t teaching that the being saved is a matter of getting a pattern of worship or church organization exactly right.
Finally, I must digress only slightly to refer to a badly misused passage, Joshua 22:24, which declares, “Behold, the pattern!” (KJV).
This passage has become something of a rallying cry for many in the rightward congregations of the Churches of Christ. Indeed, it is the theme of a book decrying much of what is written here.
But the passage itself makes the point of the Hebrews writer and contradicts the notion of basing salvation on following a pattern of worship. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Hebrews writer developed his argument from Joshua 22.
Joshua led the Israelites in conquering the promised land. He divided the land among the Twelve Tribes, with some tribes — Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh — remaining on the east of the Jordan River, while the others divided the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.
As the remaining tribes crossed the Jordan River, they discovered that that eastern three tribes had built an altar following the pattern of the tabernacle’s altar. They assumed that the eastern tribes intended to worship at their new altar rather than at the tabernacle with the rest of the tribes.
This so contradicted the Law of Moses, which permitted but one tabernacle, that the nine tribes were ready to put the three eastern tribes to death! The three eastern tribes defended themselves, saying,
(Josh. 22:27b-29) “[We wanted to be sure that] in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the LORD.’
“And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica [KJV: Behold the pattern] of the Lord’s altar, which our fathers built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’
“Far be it from us to rebel against the LORD and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle.”
The point of the passage is that the altar was a mere copy of the original — it followed a pattern — and therefore was inadequate and could not be used! It was only a reminder of the real thing. Had the eastern tribes intended to worship by following the pattern, they would have all been killed!
Therefore, if those of us who are a part of the Restoration Movement wish to truly restore New Testament Christianity, it is entirely right and good for us to follow First Century communion practices and the like — but we cannot impose such practices as requirements to be saved as this is to attempt to earn salvation through pattern keeping. It is not permitted.
Our salvation is in the perfect, completed work of Jesus. We, of course, have committed to obey him, and if we love him, we will honor that commitment. But our salvation does not come from our obedience. It comes from his.
(Rom 5:19) For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.