The Regulative Principle: Hebrews 7:14

freedom_authority.jpgI just received an email asking about this passage, and it’s come up a few times in the comments. I figure I should explain where I’m coming from.

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 Therefore, he argues, the Law must have been repealed in order for a member of tribe of Judah to be a priest.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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to The Regulative Principle: Hebrews 7:14

  1. josh keele says:

    The matter is simple. Jesus could not be a priest on earth because he came from a tribe of which Moses, that is, the Law, spake nothing concerning priesthood. Yes, the Law established that the Levites would be priests, but it did not add "Zebulonites shall not be priests. Reubenites shall not be priests. etc." One positive statement that the Levites would be preists was seen to be enoguh, and God did not list all the other tribes–they were forbidden by silence. Even so, God commands us to sing, but does not add "thou shalt not use a piano. thou shalt not use a trumpet" etc. etc. because the one positive command excluded all the like things that are different than it. Even so, again, when God commanded Nadab and Abihu to use a particular type of fire, he did not add "x type of fire is forbidden. y type of fire is forbidden" etc. etc. because in specifying one type of fire, all others were already precluded. This is simple, but those who want to do something prohibited by this silence make it complicated, as Rehoboam did when he installed priests from every tribe.

  2. josh keele says:

    “Hebrews plainly refutes the very notion behind salvation through patternkeeping”

    Nix the salvation argument. Whether or not something is absolutely necessary to salvation is, as always, beside the point. Jesus is Lord, and He is risen! So, whether instrumental music will damn you to hell or not, find out what the Bible really teaches on the matter and follow it out of loyalty to your Lord. Does the fact that God killed Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire mean that he will send you to hell for playing that piano? Doesn’t matter if it does or doesn’t. You shouldn’t play the piano simply because Jesus is Lord and he didn’t say to.

  3. Alan says:

    Hi Jay,

    I've said similar things about the Heb 7:14 argument in the past, though you've addressed it more comprehensively here. You make a very strong point about the obsolescence of patterns. Levitical priests served at an altar that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (Heb 8:5) Jesus entered the real sanctuary in heaven, not a copy (Heb 9:24). The curtain was torn. Therefore we can now enter the real Most Holy Place (Heb 10:20). We no longer worship with copies, shadows and patterns.

  4. Nick Gill says:

    Dear Br. Keele,

    Every single thing that we call an expedient or an aid falls under the condemnation of your last sentence. That which proves too much proves nothing at all.

    in HIS love,
    Nick Gill

  5. summer says:

    Great points, Jay. If "regulations for worship" and an "earthly sanctuary" are two characteristics of the old covenant, then what does that tell us about the new, "better" one?
    And Nick is correct, also. Many expedients we use in the Church of Christ (yes, I am a member) fall into the "unauthorized" category.

  6. josh says:

    You prove the instrumental position to be wrong when you prove that the Mosaic pattern is obsolete. Where do you always go to save your instruments from God? You fly back to the obsolete Mosaic pattern. You would rather worship under the external rituals of the Mosaic pattern that with the heavenly realities of the New Covenant, with the inanimate instrument than with the heart. This is, after all, the argument that all the early extrabiblical writers constantly made, like Justin Martyr, that the Jews worshiped with external worship like animal sacrifices and instruments because they were given a carnal and national covenant, but Christians worship with the sacrifice of praise and not instruments because we have the true whereas they had but the figures of the true.

  7. Mark says:

    Here are some interesting heavenly realities of the New Covenant.
    Revelation 5:8-9 "And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell face down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.'"

    Revelation 15:2-3 "And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: 'Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the Ages.'"

    I realize this is a vision full of symbols and images. It just seems to me that if God agreed with you, he could have had them sing the songs a cappella in both passages instead of handing out harps.

  8. Jay Guin says:


    In what sense is worshiping with the voice — created by vocal chords, lungs, and lips — not "fleshly"? Arguing that instruments are "carnal" (literally "fleshly") while the flesh is not hardly makes sense (sorry, Justin Martyr).

    Now, if your argument is that worship is about the heart, not the externalities, I entirely agree.

  9. josh says:

    Mark, the golden bowls full of incense are the prayers of the saints, so what makes you think the harps are literal and are not merely figurative representations of the praises of the saints? "It just seems to me that if God agreed with you, he could have had them sing the songs a cappella in both passages instead of handing out harps." Did God literally hand out bowls of incense in heaven, or are the bowls of incense figures of the prayers of the saints?

  10. Mark says:

    You missed my point. I acknowledged that the passage, like the book, is full of symbols. In both passages, the references to harps are followed by songs of praise. Why do you need a harp to represent praise when you have the actual praise song presented in the text? I'm not saying there are literal harps in heaven. I am, however, saying that is a strange way to represent praise if you detest musical instruments and intend to judge your children who use them. Why would you even give a hint that you approve them? If your primary interest is to highlight vocal praise, the harps add nothing whatsoever to either passage.

  11. josh says:

    Unless the point is that the praise of the lips is not viewed as base by God but of greater value than a harp. Even as representing the prayers of the saints as incense is clearly meant to show that God highly values prayer in the same way that carnal men highly value perfumes.

  12. Jay Guin says:

    Regarding the Revelation and instrumental music, you might enjoy these posts, especially the first —

    A Debate on Instrumental Music, Part 1

    A Debate on Instrumental Music, Part 2

    A Debate on Instrumental Music, Part 3

  13. Mark says:

    Josh said:
    Mark, the golden bowls full of incense are the prayers of the saints…are the bowls of incense figures of the prayers of the saints?

    THEN, Josh said:
    representing the prayers of the saints as incense is clearly meant to show that God highly values prayer in the same way that carnal men highly value perfumes.

    That's pretty funny, but whatever works for you, man.

  14. Todd Collier says:

    Jesus is the same today, yesterday and forever – except when it comes to instrumental music, incense, dancing, etc . For these things yesterday is fine, even commanded and tomorrow will be great, but for now you face the fires of hell.

    This works for you?

  15. Anthony says:

    Jay, you are the first person that I have read that has really explained Heb. 7:14, especially with this great detail. Most brothers that I know get caught up in the "silence issue". I think that the context of this verse along with the real point is blasphemed by those that use this verse as a proof-text for silence.

  16. Norton says:

    Heb 7:14 is hardly an argument for the law of silence. The Law stated that ANYONE ELSE except the Levites who entered the sanctuary or even touched the holy articles was to be put to death. Members of the tribe of Judah were strictly forbidden to serve as priests, not by silence, but by God's plain and clear prohibition.